Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Ready for the craziness of Comic-Con this week? Get your geek on early with the Best Shots team, as we keep on keepin' on with this week's big review column! So let's kick off with Jake Baumgart as he takes a look at the latest Watchmen prequel, with Ozymandias #1...


Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1

Written by Len Wein

Art by Jae Lee and June Chung

Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy B

Published by DC Comics

Review by Jake Baumgart

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

So far the Before Watchmen books have been an even blend of hit and miss, with the last couple weeks being more miss than hit. Yet Len Wein and Jae Lee have created an excellent book that’s strong enough to stand on its own without walking all over the source material. Before Watchmen: Ozymandias digs deep into the frighteningly cunning Watchman’s development as he becomes both mankind’s savior and history’s greatest monster — a perfect addition to the original Watchmen.

Compared to some of the other installments in the Before Watchmen series, Ozymandias #1 fits really well into the existing story line. Instead of using American history as its spine, the story concentrates on the young hero and doesn’t blur the line of "what happened when, at what time. "The reader is able to focus on the story and protagonist instead of constantly trying to figure out when exactly this fits into American — and Watchmen's — history. With Jae Lee’s art, the tone of the story compliments what’s already been established in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s original work. There are horrific scenes of violence that stir the stomach, startling mental profiles and hints of the exotic in locations and setting.

​Jae Lee’s art is the perfect addition to the story as well. There is a wispy, fluid look to every page that makes the book feel more like a memory than a straight origin tale. The art makes it feel more affected by Adrian’s memories than a clinical retelling of his past. The way the characters look and the details they wear give the page a sense of movement without motion lines or other traditional techniques. The colors swoon on the page and draw the eye inward, yet never distracts from the story. The details of the figures in the panel are subtle and without a lot of lines. It’s as if the particulars of these events have been smoothed out and lost in Adrian’s recollections.

The panel layouts are equally impressive. They’re patterned and reflect on the opposing page which calls to mind aesthetics of Adrian’s costume and ancient settings and tone. When looking at the page as a whole, the panels are reminiscent of stylized picture frames that would hang in a family’s living room. They are full and easy to follow which helps with the fast pace of the story.

Although so much has been packed into this issue, Jae Lee doesn’t let the reader feel overwhelmed or lost. Every few pages feels like an open, broad scene from Adrian’s life, like several mini-stories. There are also the wonderful little visual cues in the background that pay homage to what’s to come. The poster hanging in young Adrian’s room was a nice touch.

There is one slight problem with this book. The team introduces a new character into Adrian Veidt’s life named Miranda St. John. She only appears in a sliver of the book and it’s a real shame because she is captivating. The issue paces so quickly through Adrian’s life that the audience doesn’t get to spend much time with her and delve into what makes her so interesting to Adrian. It’s her drug overdose that sets the young prodigy on the path of superheroism, but instead of working as a catalyst for the story she ends up more like another woman in a refrigerator.

It is nice to see Wein use Miranda as Adrian’s tie to humanity, much like Laurie Jupiter was for Dr. Manhattan. However, the story runs so fast through a very full origin story and something that might capture the reader’s attention is quickly passed. This does open up the next issues and lay some very rich groundwork. This issue wants you to stay tuned till next time.

​Not only is Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1 an excellent addition to Watchmen but it’s strong enough to stand on its own. Where these titles may be steeped in controversy over their existence, it’s hard to complain about this book and its impact on the source material. Hopefully, from here on out, the Before Watchmen titles will be more like Ozymandias #1. Not only is Adrian Veidt the pinnacle of human perfection, but his solo series is conquering the other Before Watchmen titles.


Amazing Spider-Man #689

Written by Dan Slott

Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Klaus Janson and Frank D'Armata

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

I've read every issue of Dan Slott's run on Amazing Spider-Man, and I have to say — this is dark. Between the grisly subject matter and some hard-as-nails artists, this issue's mood is such a swerve that it occasionally overwhelms the story.

But then again, maybe that's the primal revulsion that the Lizard brings out of all of us. Forget the hulking CGI beast in the new movie, Dan Slott's take on Curt Conners is far more chilling than anything else I've seen since, well, the heavily praised Zeb Wells story "Shed." Slott makes this villain a stealth killer, a psychotic, inhuman mastermind, and it's all sold with a wild look in his eyes, drawn by the masterful Giuseppe Camuncoli.

Camuncoli has always been an artist with a hard edge, and paired with inker Klaus Janson, his linework looks more chiseled than drawn. But when you've got a story with vampires, homicidal killers, exhumed child corpses — yeah, did I mention this story was pretty dark? — that sort of take-no-prisoners style does work for the story. Frank D'Armata's colors also lend a somber mood to the issue, even during a sun-lit showdown between Spider-Man and Morbius, the Living Vampire.

That said, while both Slott and Camuncoli are united in terms of pursuing a darker, even scarier tone, the problem is that they might be too good at it. Peter's characterization just comes off as angry — perhaps just because of the graphic nature of these crimes — but it's hard to not actually feel the same way as a reader. Between Peter yelling at random people or Camuncoli pulling no punches with vampire bites and frozen remains, the general feeling is one of disgust and revulsion, rather than a fist-pumping sense of investment.

But at the very least, Slott, Camuncoli and company are committed to a set tone, and that is something they achieve in spades. Spider-Man has always been a character known for his flexibility, with stories ranging from Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane to "Kraven's Last Hunt." But have we reached our limit for how dark we can make a mainstream Spidey book? Perhaps, like the title of the arc says, there is no going back.


Worlds' Finest #3

Written by Paul Levitz

Art by George Perez, Kevin Maguire, Scott Koblish, Hi-Fi and Rosemary Cheetham

Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

They've got the looks. They've got the spunk. But even Huntress and Power Girl — the Worlds' Finest of any current DC Universe — can be have a little bit of a stumble. Don't worry, the camaraderie and stellar artwork are still intact, even if the stop-and-start plotting for Issue #3 takes this Dynamic Duo down a peg or two.

Of course, don't tell George Perez and Kevin Maguire that. Perez is the MVP of this issue, with some really gorgeous fight choreography that meshes clean characters, detailed backgrounds and some actual dangerous situations — there's a moment where the Huntress backflips over a missile of steel debris that comes so close, you can almost feel the wind rush past your face. Hi-Fi's colors also provide a nice energy here, with warm reds working wonderfully against Helena's cool purples.

Maguire, meanwhile, gets more quiet scenes this go-round, but he still pulls more than his own weight here. Not only are his Kara and Helena gorgeous, but they're human, too — and therefore relatable. Watching Kara puff away Helena's Superman files with some super-breath is surprisingly endearing, as is her impish smile when she alludes to her naughtier explorations of this new universe.

The human moments are where Paul Levitz thrives the most, making this team a 20-something Thelma and Louise for the superhero set. The protectiveness the non-powered Helena feels for the fallen Kara is a great and impressive motivator, and watching Kara oscillate between absentmindedly dropping Helena in a forest to seeking her sage advice is surprisingly endearing. Who doesn't have a friend like that?

But this is a superhero story, and so things do have to move, and move with action. That's where this story's warts show. There are logical potholes that are pretty jarring — like Huntress shrugging off being drenched with actual radioactive waste — and the flashback scenes don't really make much progress in telling Kara's story. By the end of the first issue, we've enjoyed these ladies' company, but we're almost exactly in the same place that this issue began.

Seemingly accidental decompression aside, Huntress and Power Girl have a dynamic to them that I haven't seen in any other DC Comic, and that partnership thankfully remains intact. Nobody's perfect, not even the Worlds' Finest, but who they are is even more important than what they do. Friendship is the heart of Worlds' Finest, and that trumps much of the plot missteps — at least for now.


Popeye #3

Written by Roger Langridge

Art and Lettering by Tom Neely

Published by IDW​ Publishing

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Wimpy has been accused of being many things, but…a prize fighter?  This one puts the mayo on the hamburger!  Popeye’s exclamation on the front page of “Blow me down!!” has never been more accurate as Roger Langridge returns to form and delivers a knockout punch in the third issue of Popeye.

After the crushing disappointment of last issue, where Langridge stayed a bit too true to the source and included ideas and attitudes that have no place in a modern comic (regardless of what it’s homaging), I was happy to see that that this issue was everything I liked about the first one.  From the opening page, which features Popeye incredulous at the idea of Wimpy in the ring while ready to chomp on his signature spinach, Popeye is back on a working model for the 21st century.  Langridge is using the ideas of the old Segar material (Popeye is an all-around good guy who packs a punch, Wimpy is a schemer with a huge appetite, Olive Oil likes strong men and has a fiery temper, Bluto is a comic relief bruiser, etc.) without taking it to  point that it’s a slavish recreation — and that’s how it should be.

In this story, Langridge weaves all of those ideas into one cohesive plot (rather than splitting into two) that features Mr. Geezil, a straight man character, planning an exquisite revenge on the conniving Wimpy by forcing him into a boxing match that he cannot possibly win.  Popeye steps in to be Wimpy’s trainer, leading to several hysterical set pieces and a montage sequence that shows off Tom Neely’s abilities as an artist.  By the end, the inevitable intervention of Popeye occurs, but the results are not what you’d expect (though they are quite funny).  One last gag finishes off the issue, as we see that the status quo is not quite as changed as it might have appeared at first.

Langridge is at his best when his stories have dense plots and multiple elements going from the start to the finish of the issue.  That’s definitely the case here, as we weave in and out of what could have been easily three separate stories that would have worked and might have been several issues worth of material in the hands of a different writer.  Instead, this is another action-packed story that displays Popeye’s large supporting cast and uses them in ways that are unique to their character.

Everything in Popeye #3 is note-perfect, and a lot of that is due to Langridge having a great art partner in Tom Neely, whose work in the second issue was very strong, even if the subject material was not.  Given a chance to illustrate Popeye this time, Neely shines in every capacity he’s asked, from close-ups to splash panels to crowd scenes.  His art captures the impossible dimensions of the sailor and his friends in a way that makes them look normal, even if they all have their unique design quirks.  The only exception is Bluto, who looked a bit off-model to me.

Though body shapes vary among the cast, they look as though they could all come from the same universe.  In creating similarities, especially in the crowd scenes, Neely actually makes those who are slightly different stand out.  When there is a field of Wimpy heads, the Popeye who sails out of the ring and over top of them is very noticeable. (And hey, who knew that Popeye could crowd-surf?)

Neely’s style and coloring do a good job of evoking the newspaper strips, with the tones being just a bit muted and his line work doing just enough, with no busy parts or anything that would distract from the main action.  He keeps the characters moving, even if they are in the background (such as when Popeye is acting and Wimpy is reacting), so that you get the impression that anything we see is important.  I also like that Neely chose to include some African American characters in his group shots, showing that this may be classic Popeye, but we’re in a far more modern world.

Though I still wonder a bit about the target audience for Popeye, I’m happy to report that the comic, after a hiccup with Issue #2, is back to being a pleasure to read. This is highly recommended for fans of Langridge or classic cartoon characters revisited.


Earth 2 #3

Written by James Robinson

Art by Nicola Scott, Trevor Scott, Alex Sinclair and Pete Pantazis

Lettering by Dezi Sienty

Published by DC Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Perhaps even more so than current DC proper, James Robinson and Nicola Scott have a harder road to travel. They have the tricky task of creating something long time readers will recognize, while making the world feel fresh in Earth 2. And, unlike their counterparts, they don't have 52 titles with which they may do so. They just get one, which might explain why Issue #3 is packed with bits of potential, while never once hitting the mark.

Earth 2 #3 picks up seconds after the fiery train crash that left the now-gay Alan Scott a single man again. Making his engagement to his partner one of the shortest in comic book history, and to be perfectly frank, that annoyed the heck out of me. DC made a big deal out of something that, honestly, shouldn't be a big deal anymore. But, they did, so to rather callously use Alan Scott's partner as a tragic catalyst for heroism is weak. Real weak. Yes, I know such has been the trope with women in comics for decades, and that ain't right either. I guess I was hoping for more from Robinson, someone whom I know can write honest relationships within the confines of capes and cowls, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Just as Alan's rather fast acceptance of lovers passing feels stilted, so too does the introduction of Hawkgirl and the Flash. However, there is a level of confusion from both characters that reads as honest and rewarding. This new Flash is still wholly untried and uncomfortable with his abilities. While Hawkgirl is clearly overcompensating with her knowledge of the superhero business. It makes for a fun dynamic to overlay the rather cliched “allies always have to fight before becoming friends” moment in the issue.

As was the case in Issues #2 and #3, the strongest element to Earth 2 #3 is penciler Nicola Scott. I am fairly certain she could pencil insurance claim forms and I would enjoy the work. Although Scott rarely works outside or breaks the traditional rules of visual storytelling, her understanding of the medium makes her work stand out.

All the heroic characters in Earth 2 have an almost mythic look to them, and yet never once do they stray into the realm of outlandish. Sure, Green Lantern stands as physical perfection, but under Scott's pencils, that perfection almost feels attainable. The small encounter between the Flash and Hawkgirl has a good scene of energy and movement. Scott's lines suggest this is merely a test match, a sparring round, rather than a knock-out, end-all battle. It's a subtle little trick, but one that goes farther in suggesting the mood between these two characters than Robinson's dialogue.

Inker Trevor Scott and colorists Alex Sinclair and Pete Pantazis were a little too heavy and haphazard in this issue. Much of Nicola's line work gets lost in a sea of heavy blacks. I know heavy shadowing helps convey mood and emotion, but in this case, it was simply too much. Much of the coloring also feels muted, taking away much of the definition from the characters and their setting. Interestingly, (and going against traditional style) both the inker and colorists up their detail when introducing this new “grey” villain and really help to sell him visually. Now if only the same attention can come through when Issue #4 drops, we'll have a darn near perfect-looking comic.

For all my frustration with Earth 2 #3, it's still a title I'm really excited about. This reads like an honest take on classic characters, unlike much of the New 52. It just feels like it's all happening a little too fast and coincidentally for my tastes. In a way, Robinson is building a team in the classic Golden Age style, but is hampered by modern sensibilities. We want fast pacing, but not at the cost of development. This is where Earth 2 trips the hardest. If Robinson ever finds that balance, then he and Nicola Scott are going to have one heck of a book on their hands. It just ain't there yet.


Amelia Cole and the Unknown World #1

Written by Adam P. Knave and D.J. Kirkbride

Art by Nick Brokenshire

Lettering by Rachel Deering

Published by MonkeyBrain Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Part "Harry Potter" and part "Alice in Wonderland," titular character Amelia Cole balances her life between a magical world and our own. However, her frequent trips back and forth between the two weaken the magical barrier and things start to unravel. While the first couple of pages were very promising and up my alley, as it went along, the pacing dragged immensely. Unfortunate, as I was really anticipating this one.

Amelia Cole and the Unknown World's biggest problem is the constant narration and massive exposition that bogs down the dialogue. None of it has a solid flow to it and it just seems like a ton of information at once and most of it you could figure out due to the visuals. This book has a lot going for it and the cliffhanger at the end is definitely enough for me to give it another go, but it's as though the story is talking at me and not to me.

I'm not as familiar with Adam P. Knave's work as I am D.J. Kirkbride's, and while having MonkeyBrain giving guys like this with serious indie cred is admirable, I can't help but think this script could have been slightly tighter in execution. Not to say it's terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but a lot of information is thrown at you, much of which you can determine just by the characters' reactions. Some of it doesn't need to be told and feels repetitive at times.

Nick Brokenshire's art is somewhere between Evan Shaner and Peter Gross. The figure composition looks fantastic and has a Tintin vibe to it. It's simplistic, but gets his ideas across. As he does his own colors as well, you can tell he has a good idea of balancing his inks and detail work. His palette has a soft tone, but again, he knows how to make a page work. Even a panel that has minimal detail, the colors come out to shine and do a great job conveying what's going on.

Having seen the previews for this book and I had hopes it would be something I'd rally for, but it was just overwhelming with all the otherworldly knowledge being tossed at you. Amelia Cole had unlimited potential to be a great read and something in the vein of Suburban Glamour, and I think could be with some slight trimming. There a great story here for any fan of the Harry Potter series, or even Vertigo's The Unwritten to appreciate and pick up. Here's hoping the sophomore issue holds up better because I want to be amazed.


Crime Does Not Pay Archives, Vol. 2

Written by Bob Wood, Dick Wood and Unknown

Art by Jack Alderman, Richard “Dick” Briefer, Sam Burlockoff, Alan Mandel, Norman Maurer, “Roy”, Bob Wood, and Unknown

Published by Dark Horse Comics​

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Put ‘em in a book, Danno!  Dark Horse presents four more issues of pre-code crime comics from one of the classics of the genre, Crime Does Not Pay, giving fans of old comics and true crime a treat that’s a real steal for readers.

Reading over these stories, it’s truly something to imagine a world where, according to Greg Rucka’s excellent introduction, these comics sold a million copies each.  As he notes, the idea of crime fascinates us and despite the title of the comic, also quite profitable for both the criminal and those who tell of their adventures.

And what adventures they are!  In these four issues, readers are treated to the life story of Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Pretty Boy Floyd.  Feature tales are narrated by a Cryptkeeper-like ghost called Crime (it’s right on his top hat) who eggs on the criminals in their illicit deeds.  The character is drawn to evoke the evil man who ties the lady to the train tracks and he carries a cane with a skull for a head.

Crime Does Not Pay was a digest-sized comic, and after the main feature came multiple shorter stories (including a prose piece) that start putting the “all true crime” claim from the cover to the test.  Set in the height of the war effort, one story features boys who are accused of stealing war bond money, which seems to be designed more to teach a lesson than an actual crime.  Similarly, “The Corpse That Would Not Stay Dead!” strikes me as being impossible, but it’s certainly entertaining!

Not all the crime is based on gangsters — some are set in the Wild West, like one on the Dalton Boys.  There’s also a story of murder, love and betrayal centered on a bullfighter, as well a lighthearted tale of murder gone wrong in France.  Each issue also asked readers to try and solve one of the crimes, which I admit I took pleasure in being able to do!

Dark Horse has done its best to attribute the creators of these comics, though there are little to no writing credits and five of the illustrators are unknown.  There was definitely a house style at work, as the seven credited artists have a similar look and feel to their work, with the priority being on straight-up six panel storytelling that echoes the newspaper sections of the time. There are no Eisner-like innovations here, though Norman Maurer does play with the panel designs on occasion.

Overall, the artwork is not unlike what those who have read early Batman comics or others from this time period would be familiar with seeing.  I definitely was reminded of Kane and his peers as I read through the hundreds of pages of murders.  Nearly everything is drawn full-figure or at best, from a medium shot, making it hard to create a strong sense of detail or clear emotion on the faces of the characters, except when we have a face-only shot.

There is also is a lack of dynamic action in these stories, which I admit does make it a bit harder to appreciate them as a modern reader.  Of the artists credited, I think that Maurer and Burlockoff are the strongest, but this is not a collection you pick up for the art.

One last interesting note is that Dark Horse has, where possible, preserved the ads that came in the comics, giving readers a great insight into the mind of those who were seeking promotion in the comics.  Some are house ads (there’s a cool one with Golden Age Daredevil), but most feature similar marketing as we’d see in comics right up into the 1980s.

Though the Golden Age of Comics has passed, we are living in a new golden age of reprints, with most major publishers offering everything from classic Archie stories to newspaper strips.  For those of us who have seen every episode of the first 10 years of Law and Order and grew up watching reruns of Dragnet, Dark Horse’s collection of these Crime Does Not Pay stories is a chance to revel in a time when all things were possible on the printed page.  Just make sure you don’t listen to “Crime,” and pay for your copy!


Tales of the Buddha (Before He Got Enlightened)

Written by Alan Grant

Art by Jon Haward and Jamie Grant

Lettering by Jamie Grant

Published by Renegade Arts Entertainment

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Tales of the Buddha (Before He Got Enlightened) is a comic book that answers that eternal question, “what was the buddha really like before he found enlightenment?” It should be noted that this comic is designed for open-minded adults, and takes a stab at pretty much every religion out there, while also portraying historical and religious icons enjoying sex, drugs, alcohol and much more. This is not for the easily offended.

One day, while trying to reach nirvana, the Buddha’s patience is pushed to its very limits, and he decides that it’s not worth bothering to try any more, so he goes off to join the Hare Krishnas. What follows is an incredibly lighthearted take on the Buddha’s journey of discovery and his path to enlightenment. Told as a series of one to five page comic strips, the cartoons follow Buddha as he enjoys many anachronistic journeys that see him partying with deities like Zeus and Jesus Christ, travelling through ancient Babylonia, Greece, and Rome, meeting fictional characters like Merlin, and historic icons like Elvis Presley. Along the way he takes every opportunity to enjoy the finer things in life, like women, alcohol, betting, and lots and lots of drugs.

Alan Grant has written many humorous stories over the years, but it’s been some time since he’s written an outright funny comic like this. Examples off the top of my head would include Ace Trucking Co. for 2000 AD, and Bob, the Galactic Bum for DC Comics. The stories in "Tales of the Buddha" contain many alternate and hilarious takes on historical, mythological and biblical tales, which remind somewhat of the early Discworld stories of Terry Pratchett, as well as several of Goscinny’s classic Asterix tales. The humor that Grant uses here is a lot more lewd than the type in those stories though, and has a strong British feel to it that feels a bit like a lighter version of the kind of comedy found in early issues of Viz, though nowhere near as low-brow.

Grant does a good job of equally offending nearly every religion and culture so that no one feels excluded, while at the same time telling some of the most outrageously funny comic stories I‘ve read in a long time. The stories are told with no narration or monologue, and make the assumption that the reader knows their religions, history, and mythology — as many of the comedic moments depend upon knowledge of the original tale. Other than that, nearly every line of dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny, and should be able to be appreciated by all.

Jon Haward illustrates the collection, and draws every story in a fun and lighthearted cartooning style that seems to makes every scene implicitly funny, no matter the content. Having grown up reading British boys comics like The Beano and The Dandy his style here feels very British to me, but probably the closest U.S. equivalent would be the work of Sergio Aragones, particularly on Groo the Wanderer — where the artwork has that ridiculous quality to it that has the reader ready to laugh even before the joke has been told. His linework is flowing and smooth, and his inking is incredibly detailed, showcasing a vast array of techniques that are belied by the cartoony look of the final art.

Jamie Grant provides the color art, and gives the comic its final look with the use of a vibrant and resplendent palette that really enhances the lighthearted and warm feeling of the strips. Grant has a fantastic command over color, and seems to have an uncanny ability to pick just the right shade, hue and tone to really bring a page to life, and also increase the comedic effect of the artwork.

Tales of the Buddha (Before He Got Enlightened) is a great collection of side-splittingly funny tales that will have readers rolling with laughter. With silly jokes on every page, and implicitly funny artwork, these hilarious strips will have even the least pious readers seeking the path to enlightenment.

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