Best Shots Comic Reviews: DAREDEVIL, WONDER WOMAN, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the big column? Then let's get to work, as Best Shots has a ton of new reviews for your reading pleasure. Let's kick off this week as Matt Murdock finds big trouble in little Latveria, all in the latest issue of Daredevil...


Daredevil #15

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Review: 10 out of 10

Matt Murdock, the Man Without Fear, is also a man without senses. Deaf, numb and blind — not to mention trapped in the hostile foreign country of Latveria — Marvel's sonar-powered superhero isn't just in a scrape, he's in full-on peril.

But trouble is just where this character belongs — because writer Mark Waid and artists Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez aren't letting Matt go down without a fight.

As daring in execution as its hero's acrobatic escape, Daredevil #15 gives Matt Murdock some truly harrowing obstacles to overcome, resulting in a tense, gorgeous read. With Daredevil kidnapped by none other than Doctor Doom and infected with nanotechnology that dampens his vaunted super-senses, you actually find yourself asking yourself how Marvel's most versatile superhero going to get himself out of this one?

Waid gives this story its beating heart, as he hinges everything on Daredevil's core concept: If radiation can give a blind man sonar and other hyper-senses, what happens when touch, hearing and scent disappear as well? The answers aren't fully realized, but they are tantalizing — not to mention surprisingly human, as even Matt recognizes his power fluctuation "isn't an upgrade... it's a nightmare." We're drawn into a mystery, beat-by-beat, as we discover the environment along with Matt, as Waid paces and choreographs each page like a burlesque: every piece gets revealed in its own due time.

Since its relaunch, Daredevil has always been a comic that's been artistically dynamic, as well, taking plenty of visual chances for a book about a man without sight. Artist Chris Samnee, aided by colorist Javier Rodriguez and letterer Joe Caramagna, creates a nice cross between solid, gritty action and bursts of beautiful, disorienting synesthesia — there's one small moment in particular that still sticks with me, as the crimson-suited Daredevil hangs off a bright blue building. He can't hear anything, with his senses still askew, so instead we see blank red word balloons rise from the compound. We're just as in the dark as Matt, but unlike the Man Without Fear, we can appreciate the beauty of all this static.

The tension to this book — the fact that it seems that finally Matt Murdock is in a no-win situation — is what really grabs me as a reader. Thanks to Samnee's clean, expressive linework, you see the fear and determination on Matt's scruffy face as he struggles to escape this shadowy, claustrophobic kingdom. Waid shows us what could cause even a Man Without Fear to give pause, ending everything on a cliffhanger that's sure to have repercussions. In an era of predictable, even sometimes formulaic superhero comics, I can't see where Daredevil is going next. But issues like this are letting me trust this blind man's bluff — you don't get super-books that read better than Waid and Samnee's Daredevil. Buy it now.


Wonder Woman #11

Written by Brian Azzarello

Art by Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

This game of thrones may look gorgeous, but is Brian Azzarello really giving Wonder Woman her due? With so many Olympians vying for Zeus's unborn offspring — and the human woman who's carrying it — the overheated superhuman politics overwhelm this comic, barely giving Princess Diana of Themyscria a chance to shine in her own book.

But before I discuss that in more detail, the good stuff is still good — namely, Cliff Chiang. Chiang has become so "on-model" with Wonder Woman that it reminds me of Batman: The Animated Series, with clean, confident lines creating expressive, animated characters. While I wish his inking was just a little bit looser — almost in that Dodson style — Chiang clearly revels in his character designs, from the beautiful and brawny Diana to the lanky, bird-footed Apollo. The moment where Diana reveals her armored breastplate and puts on her trademark tiara and winning smile is a subdued but still effective introduction to the character.

Unfortunately, Azzarello takes it for granted that we'll care about her. At least with the previous issues with Diana being trapped into a wedding with Hades, there were some stakes for the title character. With Diana's return to the real world, we're back to the story subsisting solely on intrigue among her supporting cast. There's no insight to Wonder Woman aside from her diving into the fray, getting beaten up, and rising to do it again. In other words, Diana is a tourist in her own book.

Perhaps my problems with Wonder Woman are about the stakes involved. Olympians are a-plenty here, but do I resonate enough with Hera, Hermes or Apollo to really care who gets Zeus's throne? Is this a grave threat to the world? Indeed, this danger is neither clear nor present, and while it's clear Azzarello is having fun with the supporting cast, they're overstaying their welcome and choking out the character that Azzarello should be focusing on.

There's something about Diana of Themyscria that has kept her alive in pop culture all these years — but this isn't it. While we're not in Tim Burton levels of self-indulgence anymore, Azzarello's story is getting away from him, and there's only so much goodwill Chiang can muster with pretty art for a nonstarter plot. Gods and monsters have thrived in this run of Wonder Woman, but until we get some humanity from the lead character, this book will never reach its true potential.

Saga #5

Written by Brian K. Vaughan

Art by Fiona Staples

Lettering by Fonografiks

Published by Image Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

With the opening page of a royal robot on the toilet, it's going to hit you that this is something out of the ordinary. Yet, if you're five issues into Saga and you haven't figured out that out, you might want to check up on your observation skills. Saga continues to push the boundaries on story developments and this issue gets downright gruesome.

If there's one thing Brian K. Vaughan knows how to do, it's engaging the reader into wanting to come back for more. At the end of the last issue, it looked like Marko, Alana, and little Hazel were about to be in for a fight. That fight turns into a slaughter. You want to root for Marko defending his family, and it's rough to see him like this, especially when he's taken a vow of peace. Another cool concept is Vaughan still fleshing out the notorious freelance assassin The Will. Having to escape with a child sex slave he freed was more problematic than he had thought. Of course, in addition to that subplot, his counterpart The Stalk — who also has one of the most badass designs in a comic I've seen in a while — ends up in her own sticky situation, with the last splash page leaving her fate uncertain. It looks like this might be it, but with this book you never can be assured of anything.

Now on to Fiona Staples laying out some serious stuff. The rage of Marko is shown violently, but paced in a way that gives it just enough time to show what he's capable of without slowing down the overall issue. She is terrific at displaying emotion through body language, and that has to come in handy when you're working with a character whose head looks like a TV monitor. She even gives Hazel the perfect baby smile and Lying Cat some of the best expressions you'll find on non-humanoids. She's stuck to a really solid color palette that gives the right amount of detail and just goes crazy with it. The backgrounds are kept to a minimum, unlike last issue, but are still nothing sneeze at.

I am not sure how many times I can express how good Saga is without overly gushing about it. It's completely enchanted me and to wait for the next installments are always a chore, but it's one of the best books on the market and one of the most original I've read in a long, long time. Saga sports some solid storytelling, great characters and visuals that stay with you.


Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2 #3

Written by Scott, David Tipton and Tony Lee

Art by J.K. Woodward and The Sharp Brothers

Lettering by Shawn Lee

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The Doctor boldly goes to where his mind has prevented him from going before, as a previously unknown link between the two universes of these iconic franchises unfolds, with the Borg and the Cybermen moving to crush all opposition in their path in a much-improved third issue of this historic crossover.

I have to admit, the second issue of this series was a bit disappointing. This one, while still having a few issues, is a lot better. Instead of merely talking, we get an actual story on two levels, as the crew of Picard’s Enterprise try to stay out of the clutches of the cybernetic villains while the current incarnation of the Doctor involuntarily recalls a time when he — as the fourth Doctor — helped out Captain Kirk escape the Cybermen.

I know that a Borg-Cybermen team-up seemed like the right way to link up the cast of the two shows, but after reading this issue I can’t help but wonder if a classic Trek (or even, Movie Trek) pairing would not have been better. While it still feels like the trio of writers are struggling with getting a feel for the way to make Picard, Data and the rest sing (though it was definitely better here), as soon as we switch to Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Spock, the writing sparkles in a way it hasn’t since we first saw the Doctor and the Ponds in Issue #1. Perhaps it’s just that they are better explored or more well-defined over time, but the reactions of the quartet to the Tom Baker Doctor (you gotta love Spock eating a gummy bear) or how they take on the Cybermen flows far more smoothly.

Once we switch back to the present time, relatively speaking, it’s almost as though the breather has corrected some of the dialogue and action issues the writers were having with the Next Generation cast. Picard sounds far more like himself, and his plan to have the Doctor meet with a particular cast member with ties to the Borg who I had completely forgotten until then sets up what could be an awesome scene for the start of the next issue.

Art duties on this issue are split between J.K. Woodward’s painting and the more standard illustrative style of the Sharp Brothers. I had some issues with the stiffness of Woodward’s characters in Issue #2, but here we have far more natural placements and expressions. His Riker is a lot better this time, feeling less like a promo shot and more like a man who’s second-in-command. Woodward also does more with panel placements which aids in making the characters look less posed, and his collection of Borg and Cybermen ships is stunning. The symmetry of balance between Borg and Cybermen is amazing, every time we see them. It’s great work and a major improvement on Issue #2.

While I wish we’d have had a chance to see Woodward’s take on Kirk and company, I think the idea to change up the art was a good one. After all, if the action is playing out in the playful Matt Smith Doctor’s head, it makes perfect sense that he’s think of it almost like a cartoon. Like Woodward, the Sharp Brothers are on-model without being slavish to photos of the Original Series cast and use bright colors that bring the contrast between their story and Woodward’s to the front of the reader’s mind.

They also do a very good job with evoking classic movements from Trek and Who, such as the Cyberman bursting out on the scene (I really hope Woodward gets a chance to do that, too) or Kirk’s patented leg-kick attack. Working mostly in medium shots, the artistic pair still manages to get a large range of emotions, which makes up for some of the standing and talking scenes.

Pairing Star Trek and Doctor Who together is a thankless task, filled with double the usual licensed comic fan angst in terms of getting things just right. All of the parties involved here are doing a great job of juggling expectations while still telling their own story. This is not a perfect comic, but it’s a lot of fun for televised science fiction fans.


The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #5

Written and Illustrated by Brian Churilla

Lettering by Ed Brisson

Published by Oni Press

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper comes to an end with a thrilling final issue, featuring a war fought on two fronts, a story full of action, clever plot twists, government cover-ups and a satisfying conclusion that finally exposes the truth behind the mystery of what happened to D.B. Cooper after he jumped out of that hijacked Boeing 727 in 1971.

Throughout this entire series, Brian Churilla has performed some highly impressive storytelling, beginning with an intriguing real-life mystery, then mixing in elements of government cover-ups, conspiracy theories, and a fantastical world of psychic warfare against Soviet Russia. He then filled the story with fascinating and well-developed characters, none more so than Dan Cooper, the protagonist, whose fractured psyche allows him to exist both in the real world as well as the psychic world of the Glut. Over the series’ five-issue run he’s gradually built the story up, adding in interesting side plots and story elements, as everything has lead to Cooper boarding that fateful plane flight.

Now with this finale he attempts some of his most ambitious storytelling yet, as he tells two separate stories, which are told in parallel, and that mirror each other — the story of one half of Cooper’s psyche battling a CIA agent and boarding the infamous flight, and the story of the other half of his psyche battling a KGB operative and hideous monsters inside the Glut.

The two sets of events happen to Cooper at the same time, as he mentally exists in both places at once, and Churilla choreographs the action so that the events happening to him in one reality are mirrored by those happening in the other. It’s an incredibly effective story device, and Churilla executes it perfectly, weaving the two story threads in and out of each other, until they come together for the climax, and provide a rather clever explanation for why Cooper was never found after jumping off the plane. Following this adrenaline packed conclusion, he ties up all the loose ends with a touching and heartwarming epilogue that wraps things up very nicely indeed.

Churilla writes some great dialogue for the issue, which feels very natural and in character at all times. He also tells the story with no narration, monologue, and very little exposition of any kind, confident enough in the ability of his artwork to convey the flow of the plot to the reader.

Churilla’s artwork on this final issue, and throughout the whole series has been nothing short of spectacular. He has a very distinctive and recognizable cartooning style, which is clearly inspired by predecessors and luminaries in the world of horror comics, but has a strong flavor all of its own. His characters have a carved out of stone quality to them, with statuesque physiques, and chunky facial features that exhibit a vast array of highly emotive expressions.

There’s a minimalist quality to his backgrounds and scenery, which helps to keep the reader’s attention focused on the foreground action, allowing him to push the story forward at a rapid pace, as the reader is not distracted by superfluous content. His monster design is probably the most impressive thing of all, as every creature he illustrates is incredibly creepy and unsettling, with an inherently horrific feeling to them imparted by the highly visceral textures that Churilla provides with his linework.

Churilla inks the artwork with bold and confident brushwork that has a rather tidy and tight feeling to it, enhancing his linework and really making it stand out. He makes great use of heavy blacks, placing them against plain backgrounds to play with contrast. He also makes good use of techniques like hatching to play around with texture, and force lines to illustrate movement and speed.

Churilla finishes the artwork off with a fantastic coloring job that in general uses a slightly muted palette of pastels and earth tones. Color use becomes important in this issue to distinguish between events occurring in the two different realities, with events in the Glut have a slightly orange tone to them, and those in the real world having a slightly blue tone to them.

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #5 is a perfect conclusion to a fantastic series that has had very few low points. This fascinating and highly original series should be on every comic fan’s pull-list.


Prophecy #2

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Walter Geovani and Adriano Lucas

Letters by Troy Peteri

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The creatures of the night—what partners they make! Red Sonja puts aside her hatred of vampires in order to take down the evil sorcerer Kulan Gath once and for all. Unfortunately, Gath has some supernatural help of his own. The cast of well-known guest stars grows larger as the battle is joined in another great issue of Prophecy.

I really enjoyed the many twists and turns that the first issue of this series took in the hands of writer Ron Marz, who was not afraid to keep introducing characters into the narrative, right up to the final page. That’s the case again with this issue, as we have another extremely public domain figure enter the picture, done with a dramatic mostly-splash page by artist Walter Geovani.

Juggling the large cast could be an issue down the road (a certain detective makes no return appearance) but for right now, Marz is doing an excellent job of giving each of the players a nice amount of page time and playing their interaction off one another quite well. The way Sonja instinctively hates Vampirella fits her character like a glove, and I admit, I’m a sucker — so to speak — for stories where villains like Dracula or Doctor Doom have to join forces with good in order to take down a larger evil.

The big surprise this issue is the introduction of Lovecraftian elements to the narrative. I wasn’t expecting the mythos to creep into this one, but it appears that Marz may be attempting to weave a variety of apocalyptic plots together here into one major threat, which would make an already cool story absolutely awesome. Whether they like it or not, Sonja and her companions will have the aid of a crazed doctor with secrets man was not meant to know. He’s drawn by Geovani to look like the actor who most famously portrayed him, too, which is a nice touch. I also appreciate that Marz is writing him to evoke the movie character, too, with a combination of comedy, earnestness, and just a bit of latent menace. It’s going to be interesting to see if the unlikely ally will make things better — or worse.

Marz’s story, with its twists, turns, and periodic in-joke quips (“Apparently they visit the same clothing merchant.”) would be enough to make me recommend this story, but we as readers are fortunate to have this one paired with a great artist who really makes the material sing. Geovani opens with a Miskatonic Asylum shot that homages the many times Batman fans have visited Arkham. He uses angled shots in the old-school Marvel tradition, and in places this issue, his work really has a look of a blend between Gil Kane and John Romita.

The placement of Geovani’s characters shows that a lot of time and effort was taken to think about how to get the most out of each panel. While Dracula prepares to chow down on Sonja, Vampirella stretches out against the ruins of a temple, enjoying the view. In a long shot, we see how much distaste Sonja has for her “allies” as she refuses the touch of Vampirella. In another scene, rather than try to draw six people into one panel, Geovani reminds us of the presence of others just by having their shadow loom in the background. Little touches like that go a long way to taking comic book art from “good” into “excellent” territory for me.

The highlight of this issue artistically is the work Geovani and colorist Adriano Lucas do when Gath conjures up his Heralds of the Apocalypse. They loom larger than life, leering out at the reader with gaping mouths, just begging to be described in the classic prose of Howard or Lovecraft. Designed to conjure up the statues we see in museums from long-dead cultures, they arrive with weapons wielded, ready to serve death. It’s such a great two-page offering, and I hope we get to see them battle in the next issue with the fate of the world at stake.

In only two issues, Ron Marz has built up big expectations for Prophecy, joining two literary friends’ properties together with several others in what is shaping up to be an epic battle that is not to be missed!

In Case You Missed It!


Ant-Man: Season One

Written by Tom DeFalco

Art by Horacio Domingues

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Do small ambitions make for small stories? Ask Hank Pym. He's a scientist. A widower. A man struggling with trauma, loss, anxiety, and even paranoia. He also created a technology that allows him to grow and shrink at will.

With all these things on the table, you'd expect greatness out of Ant-Man: Season One. Unfortunately, Tom DeFalco's script is so by-the-numbers that it runs smoothly, but without any knockout hits. For the young or the uninitiated, Hank Pym's journey from sanitarium to superhero will be serviceable enough; but for those who expect more commitment to the core story elements at play, this comic may be a bit bite-sized for their taste.

Structurally, DeFalco does manage to crack something that none of the other Season One writers have before — namely, this comic doesn't feel like a slog to get through. Whereas the other books jarringly jumped from adventure to adventure, almost like single issues trying to get to the next cliffhanger, DeFalco approaches Hank's story like a single screenplay, and that's to this book's benefit. Hank's quest to avenge his wife and stop the villainous scientist Egghead is simple enough, but that means his growth as a superhero is built up somewhat organically — and the bits that aren't wind up being lampshaded by Hank's mental history anyway.

That said, I can't help but be disappointed by some of the pieces he left on the table. Pym's psychological health problems are particularly softballed, with "paranoia" suddenly becoming used as a tactical advantage rather than something that helps define Hank as a character. Like Spider-Man's neurotic sense of humor or Iron Man's cocky, narcissistic bravado, there was a real opportunity to show us a slightly darker perspective here, but DeFalco's all-ages bent has taken the teeth out of dangers ranging from forced institutionalization and giant killer wasps.

The all-ages vibe also comes with Horacio Domingues' artwork. Cartoony and sharp with his linework, Domingues draws very open and inviting pages that will have the younger set in particular clamoring to this book. Again, it's a matter of experience — jaded readers won't find Domingues' scenes of Hank mourning his murdered wife to be particularly heart-wrenching, but younger kids won't have nightmares reading it, either. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Young Justice's Todd Nauck, which isn't a bad thing at all.

Of course, "not bad" isn't exactly the same kind of ringing endorsement as "must-read!" Ant-Man Season One seems to make a conscious choice to target a younger demographic, and for that DeFalco and company should be applauded — considering Hank's mainstream Marvel status quo is hinged primarily on mental illness and spousal abuse, starting young readers fresh isn't a bad idea at all. That said, older readers will find this book isn't nearly sophisticated enough to suit their palates.


Guerillas Vol. 2

Written, Illustrated and Lettered by Brahm Revel

Published by Oni Press

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

What is the opposite of the sophomore slump? Whatever it is, Brahm Revel has accomplished it in spades with the long awaited second volume of Guerillas, his series of graphic novels about a young soldier in the Vietnam war who finds himself fighting alongside highly trained, and incredibly deadly ape soldiers.

Revel truly accomplished something with the first volume of Guerillas, evoking the terror and hell of war, but framing it against a premise that is just cartoony enough to offset the often upsetting and violent nature of the story. With volume two, Revel has only gotten better at portraying the wild emotions that Pvt. Clayton begins to experience while falling into a routine with his ape comrades. Clayton struggles to balance his military training and will to survive with his hesitation to engage in combat or kill, but as he starts to form bonds with Goliath, Goblin and the other apes that he never felt with his human allies, he begins to embrace and understand the instinctive nature of the animal soldiers.

Weaving Clayton's story with that of his former platoon as they trek through the jungle, hot on the trail of the apes, Revel's narrative is exciting and breezy without sacrificing depth. Pressures mount between Captain Stewart, Clayton's commanding officer, and Dr. Heisler, the scientist responsible for the super-apes, resulting in ruminations on the relationship between man and animal, and the motivation to go to war. Meanwhile, Heisler's last remaining ape Adolf seems to have some goals of his own. It's powerful stuff that comes off as natural, never answering its own questions, but leaving plenty to contemplate as the action packed combat scenes fly by.

Revel strikes a gorgeous balance between the quiet, character driven moments that really drive the story, and the dynamic, chaotic battle scenes between the apes, the GIs and the VCs. Revel's storytelling abilities truly come alive in the long stretches of dialogue free action, where his simple, expressive characters do more than enough to convey the emotions and energy at play. While his art is often more cartoony and clean, Revel is not afraid to dirty it up, channeling the best elements of Joe Kubert's legendary Sgt. Rock strips when necessary. There's an edge to Revel's line weight and sense of lighting that makes shifts between jungles, cities and suburban homes both visually smooth and emotionally jarring. Guerillas is a treatise on masterful cartooning and expressive storytelling.

Unquestionably the "Empire Strikes Back" of the Guerillas series, Volume 2 is at once fun and powerful, captivating and chilling. As Pvt. Clayton finally learns what it means to be a soldier, with the violence, brotherhood, and loss all intact, his former allies struggle to prove what it means to be human. Rife with tragedy, characterization, emotion, and action, this is already the OGN to beat for 2012.

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