Best Shots Advance Reviews: GAMBIT #1, BATMAN #12, More


Gambit #1

Written by James Asmus

Art by Clay Mann, Seth Mann and Rachelle Rosenberg

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Meet Remy Lebeau. He's a smooth talker. A mutant crusader. A master thief. A wild card fueled by volatile kinetic energy.

And he just made off with his own #1 issue.

After working his way up from anthologies and side projects, writer James Asmus has stepped up in a big way with the Ragin' Cajun's new series, teaming up with Clay Mann to produce a brisk, refreshing romp that's equal parts X-Men and Ocean's Eleven. Like Remy himself, this book does have a few rough edges, but there's enough charm and panache to Gambit to keep you on for the long con.

Similar to shows like Burn Notice, Asmus keeps the story going with Remy's confident narration, giving the reader an easy partner to listen to while all the pieces come into play. And the pieces do come together nicely, as Remy resumes his career as a high-powered thief — if you haven't read the previews of this issue, I'd actually suggest not doing so, to keep the pacing and flow of this comic intact. The cool thing about combining superhero physics with the usually covert caper heists is that Asmus is able to ramp up the danger and action anytime he likes, particularly when he drops a Sentinel in the middle of a frenetic melee.

The art, however, is a little bit more hit-and-miss. I can understand the appeal of bringing Clay Mann onto the project, given his history with Gambit over in X-Men: Legacy — and I'll admit, he makes Gambit a rogue and a half. Moments like Remy leaning in close to a giggling waitress or flashing a grin as he charges a toothpick with kinetic energy are sexy and sublime, really adding to that mystique Gambit has always had in his prime.

That said, Mann is often held back by his artistic team. Inker Seth Mann leaves Clay's pencils very thin, sometimes making the art look similar to Greg Land's in their photorealism, while colorist Rachel Rosenberg has a muddy, painterly palette that often makes the artwork look unfinished.

There is a twist, of course, which makes the hook of this book seem readily apparent — it's obvious that Gambit's return to a life of crime isn't going to be short-lived, and maybe that's for the best. Asmus and Mann create a superhero comic that has its own reason for being besides people in tights beating the stuffing out of each other. Gambit is charming, suave, full of energy and excitement — all in all, the Ragin' Cajun has been dealt a winning hand.


Batman #12

Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV

Art by Becky Cloonan, Andy Clarke, Sandu Florea, and FCO Plascencia

Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt

Published by DC

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Talk about a palate cleanser.

No Court. No owls. Hardly any Batman, much less Bruce Wayne. No, Batman #12 is something quite different from the year-long struggle Batman has had with the Court of Owls. Back in issue #7, Harper Row was shown briefly helping Batman the best she could, and there was a hint of history between the two. Now, we see what started it all and how Harper tried helping Batman the first time around.

The main thing going into this issue was the knowledge that Harper would be the central viewpoint. It would be about her world and how she came about assisting Batman. Life hasn't been the best for Harper and her brother, Cullen, but they make the best of things out of what they have.

It's always interesting to see how Batman is seen through different Gothamites and after he saves Harper and Cullen from a group of thugs, she wants to find out more. Harper's Bat-obsession is what you might expect out of somebody that has seen this urban legend of Gotham up close and personal. Neither Scott Snyder nor James Tynion IV dumb Harper or Cullen down while making sure they aren't too juvenile.

However, you can definitely see a difference between the two writers on how they approach the character. It's odd to see Snyder not writing a majority of Batman here as Tynion handles the confrontation at the end between Harper and Bats. Tynion doesn't use Snyder's approach of heavy narration, and is more of a "show, don't tell" kind of writer. He lets Andy Clarke do a lot of the visual storytelling and does a decent enough job presenting the end of the story, even if they only have seven pages to deal with.

Speaking of, that's one thing I found difficult to get past. The book has been hyped as Becky Cloonan's debut in the bat-verse, but she only has art duties on a little over half the issue. Then Andy Clarke comes in and finishes it off. The two styles definitely clash and it's almost disjointing. It's like taking a bite out of an apple and it end up tasting like a taco.

That said, neither artists are off their game by any means. I'd love to see either take on a full issue of work in this universe, but the two together just doesn't mesh well. Cloonan has smoother lines, which certainly adds to Harper's femininity, while Clarke's rendering and crosshatching layers on a more serious tone. With Clarke's work reminding of a mix of Brian Bolland and Joe Kubert, it works out where the two teams are almost the opposite of one another. To be honest, it really threw me off.

Issues like this are important in long runs like Snyder's and the rest of Team Batman. It gives a nice moment to get some air and enjoy a change of pace. Snyder has assured we'll see more of Harper, and hopefully that will happen soon. She's a great character to have around and was fun to read. I just can't wrap my head around the conflicting art contributions.


Archer & Armstrong #1

Written by Fred Van Lente

Art by Clayton Henry and Matt Milla

Lettering by Dave Lanphear

Published by Valiant Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The original Archer & Armstrong is regarded as one of the best comics to come out of the first iteration of Valiant Comics. Barry Windsor-Smith set the bar pretty high with his excellent combination of action and humor. Fittingly, Fred Van Lente has built a career on making comics in that mold and on Archer & Armstrong #1 he teams up with former Incredible Hercules collaborator Clayton Henry to deliver a debut that is supremely solid and packed with potential.

Van Lente starts the book ten thousand years in the past, quickly setting up a little bit of Armstrong's origin in Ancient Mesopotamia before moving on to Archer. Archer is clearly Van Lente's hook. We meet Archer as he's leaving a weird amusement park cult to go on a mission of some sort. While most would consider cult members a few sandwiches short of a picnic, Van Lente navigates Archer's characterization with precision. He is not stupid. He is not crazy. He's just a kid who means well who has no reason to believe that he's being lied to. Van Lente also puts Archer's martial arts skills on display early on, even including little descriptions of the different styles of combat he uses. Not only does this help flesh out the character by spelling out some of his capabilities but it makes it a lot more fun.

Just as we are warming up to Archer, Armstrong makes his presence known and the chemistry between the two is instantaneous. Van Lente clearly knows how to develop the relationship between them and the results are entertaining. The plot here only serves to get our characters acquainted and that's just fine for a debut issue. The questions raised by the end of the issue are filled with enough intrigue to have readers on board for the second issue.

Clayton Henry's art fits the tone of the book perfectly. Expressive characters allow Archer's confusion and Armstrong's anger to leap off the page. The fight scenes are also well choreographed and Henry is able to differentiate between our two heroes' styles quite easily. The layouts are strong and allow for clear, concise storytelling. And while the coloring does possess some of that otherworldly, computer-generated sheen that plagued Bloodshot, it's usage is measured and doesn't distract from an otherwise strong showing.

This isn't the old Archer & Armstrong but Van Lente and Henry are definitely off to a good start. They've packed an impressive debut full of punches and punchlines that are sure to enthrall new readers and jog some old-timers' memories.


Godzilla: Half-Century War #1

Written and Illustrated by James Stokoe

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Zack Kotzer

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

So, what do we want out of Godzilla? The original, by Ishiro Honda, was a bleak, destructive reaction to the seeming futility towards nuclear terror. The Raymond Burr cut, which was the first version to hit Western shores, gave the impression of calamitous goofiness, full of madness and hokey panic, and has since set the standard on how the king of all monsters rips apart a poor metropolitan area. It's that standard imprinted on most of the plentiful sequels, even when he's Earth's defender, and Roland Emmerich's infamous American take. Where the upcoming Warner Bros. take plans to frame the beast is anyone's guess.

The huge monster is, and can be, reequipped with themes that still permeate today, even post-Cold War and long after the bombing of Hiroshima. Godzilla is still omnipotent violence, a beastly x-factor that tramples the safety and security we think we have. Orc Stain creator James Stokoe's taken a few rounds with a few Godzillas, likely the Honda original, which was released when this mini takes place, because he's not too shy to stray away from darker war themes, throwing an allusion to the unpreparedness of young Vietnam soldiers. But stomping on these softer grounds, does Stokoe have the tough enough skin to bite in deep?

Half-Century War focuses on Lieutenant Ota Murakami, a young thrill seeker who joined the Japanese Defense looking for a more adventurous path. Nearly two years in his service, Tokyo is attacked by some massive, unknown behemoth, which rips through not only the city structure with ease but almost the entire army, leaving only Murakami and his tank driver, Kentaro, to use their wits to save the citizens of Tokyo.

I'm not confident enough on the decades of Godzilla comics to confirm this is the first story to take place on the ground looking up, but I can confidently say this is the first time James Stokoe is weaving the chaos together. In his own series, Orc Stain, Stokoe was free within his own fantasy to indulge himself and therefore us, the reader, with mystical fantasias that need not any justification aside from the wonderment it satisfies with. Here, Stokoe is not only working with an outside property but floating by real-world gravities, and that's where his slights as a writer come through.

Ota Murakami, our guide to the Godzilla warpath, is inconsistent, sometimes the John Rambo ready to leap into action, assess the situation and blaze led into the sky, sometimes he's First Blood, and the shock of the moment leaves him stuttering and thinking grizzled waxed poetics. Moreso, the latter isn't quite up to snuff, and reads like mushy surface-level war theatrics.

While Stokoes' dormant weaknesses of Orc Stain crossed over, so have his obvious, prevailing strengths. Stokoe is a magnificent artist. A quilt of elements from Pini, Otomo, Pettibon, and Hewlett, Stokoe, through his flash-bang of textures and warm colours, makes tumbling scenes of destruction a beautiful thing.

Godzilla, who looks like a blunt, terrible product of nature, towers over Murakami's model-sized Metal Slug-looking war machine, making the tiny-town gags of the old films seem suddenly imposing. Color is another one of Stokoe's strengths, and, with assist from Heather Breckel, is also out in full glowing force. There's a scientific palette, soft, red and faded, like dyed smoke rising over the sinking sun. Boy, no one draws brick-a-brack destruction like him.

To be frank, for Stokoe to take the subject anywhere other than streaming havoc is already flights above the expectations of a Godzilla comic's duties, even if the subject Stokoe ends up playing with may be a few steps above him. It's difficult to tell where the story will continue on, the title suggesting some more epic, ongoing contra between the human Murakami and the mammoth reptile, which may continue following the footprints of the films. But as long as we can continue trailing behind Stokoe's pretty path of destruction, then I'm willing the bare the fallout.

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