Best Shots Extra: MY LITTLE PONY #1, AQUAMAN #14, More

 

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic #1

Written by Katie Cook

Art by Andy Price and Heather Breckel

Lettering by Robbie Robbins

Published by IDW

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Strange things are ahoof in Ponyville, and your favorite characters from the Hub's My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic are on the case. The creative team of Katie Cook and Andy Price mesh together perfectly, and the comic adaptation captures all the wonder and fun of the series that doesn't stray too far.

Creator Katie Cook has captured fans' attentions with her webcomic Gronk, as well her famed "mini-paintings" and her unique, cartoonish style. Here though, she takes up the writer's reins for the most part (she does have her own short story at the end of the issue) and nails the word of Esquestria with a fine hammer. Her sense of humor plays well into this world. Not really having any laughing out loud moments, but did make me smile. Each pony has their distinctive voice, and Cook is pitch perfect with each one. The story itself plays like an Invasion of the Body Snatchers homage, and even takes a little continuity from the show (they mention the royal wedding of Shining Armor and Princess Cadance) as an old enemy reemerges.

It's difficult not to hear the ponies' voices from the show as you dive in reading. Cook certainly has a handle of each one's characteristics and nothing sounds off or different from what you'd expect. Near the end, it begins to get a little too wordy and artist Andy Price's pages seem to get cluttered with word balloons. Nothing too horrible, but definitely something to take down a notch further down the road. Speaking of Price, he excels here and compliments Cook's words magnificently. For what is deemed a comic just for kids, there is a lot of detail into every page. Even the backgrounds look very well put together and if you look carefully, you can see Price and his wife, along with Cook in the midst of Ponyville Square. You have to appreciate the expressions going on here; a true sign of a highly skilled cartoonist. Heather Breckel's colors are impressive to say the least. Each page is just bright and makes the book all that much enjoyable. Price and Breckel's styles work together well here and neither overshadows the other.

The biggest fear adult fans are probably having is whether or not they'll "get" it. Is this geared towards them or the younger audiences? Simply put: both. Much like the nature of the show, it has comic sensibilities for the young and young at heart. Yes, there are mentions to other pop culture staples in here, but doesn't go overboard with them. Cook has made this first issue accessible to all sorts of readers. It's fun, magical, and captures your imagination. While I do think non-fans of the series would be a tad confused on who's who, fans of the show will love this to pieces, and with good reason.

 

Aquaman #14

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Pete Woods, Pere Perez, Marlo Alquiza, Ruy Jose, Sean Paraons, Cam Smith and Tony Aniva

Lettering by Dezi Sienty

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

There's often an expectation in comics for relentless action, for big set pieces that excite readers and shake up the status quo.

But that's not what Geoff Johns has to offer with Aquaman #14. Instead, he brings us a conversation. A challenge. A call to arms that's more like a whisper. It doesn't embody the blockbuster sensibilities that Johns has brought to his other works in the New 52, but subtly adds new depths to the history of Arthur Curry.

But first, a warning — ignore the cover. It's much more satisfying to read this book without the spoiler image. Because this comic reintroduces a longtime Aquaman character not with the sort of splashy energy that Johns brought with Arthur's wife Mera, but something altogether slower. Some might have a problem with that speed; I, on the other hand, would argue that deliberate pacing really establishes the gravity of the situation. It's like that old Hitchcock scenario about the ticking bomb underneath the table — Arthur doesn't realize the threat underneath his nose, but we do, and that makes this story that much more tense.

Additionally, another cool aspect of this book is that Johns keeps building up the DCU not with new personalities or status quos, but alluding to an all-new history that we are not yet privy to. It reminds me a lot of Chris Claremont with his Uncanny X-Men, to be honest — just because we don't know every single thing that's happened to Arthur doesn't mean Johns doesn't, and these slow reveals illustrating the conflict between his human and Atlantean heritages. There's a nobility and a cruelty to humans, as well as to Arthur's Atlantean contact, whose face remains wisely in shadow throughout.

The art, I will admit, may slow some readers down. Pete Woods and Pere Perez do mesh well together (thanks to an army of inkers and the unifying, if somewhat flat colors of Tony Avina), but they do lack that sort of cinematic polish that Ivan Reis brought to the table. Woods and Perez do give Arthur himself some nice expressiveness, really playing up his trusting nature (as opposed to the chip on his shoulder that Johns has given him in the past). The storytelling here with Aquaman's undersea ally is nice, but other times there are some real hiccups — one example is an encounter with Atlantis from the 1800s that looks so similar to present-day that it's very easy to miss the punchline later in the issue.

There are a number of other threads in this book that could be seen as superfluous, or at the very least saps this book of its energy and speed — the two qualities that, along with Johns and Ivan Reis's star power, helped elevate Aquaman to a top slot month after month. That said, this prelude is just that — a prelude to something more. Where Johns succeeds in this book is to slowly build new histories between Aquaman and his greatest foes, and that victory, while a quiet one, may make bigger waves soon enough.

 

Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #1

Written by Brandon Seifert

Art by Lukas Ketner and Andy Troy

Lettering by Brandon Seifert

Published by Image Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Not only was Witch Doctor the break-out hit for Skybound last year, but the Eisner nominated miniseries was one of the strongest debuts in comics in a very long time. Which means co-creators Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner have quite the challenge in, at the very least, matching the fun with their follow-up arc. Not only does Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #1 meet this readers expectations, but they manage to blow it out of the monster infected waters.

One thing I've really enjoyed about Witch Doctor is the tonal nods it plays to classic 70s television, in that every arc begins in medias res, generally with crazy demonic action. Mal Practice #1 is no different as Dr. Vincent Morrow does his best to help a kid with a few too many possessions for his (and our) own good. It's a great device to not only bring news readers up to speed with this cast of characters, and the world they inhabit, but also remind early fans why we dug this series to being with. Drained by this most recent case, the good doctor seeks some R and R. As expected, things do not go well for this Occult Physician as he wakes to the worst of post-bender hangovers. And, perhaps, a demonic infection or two.

Although as much fun as I had with the general story, it's the growth and evolution of both the doctor and his supporting cast of Penny Dreadful and Eric Gast that solidified this issue as a winner. The first story arc from writer Seifert had the always daunting task of introducing the reader to a wholly new, though familiar, world. To say nothing of the bizarre characters that inhabit it. As a result, the story was a strong read, but lacked the subtle character nuances a story of this style needs to make it a classic. Such is not the case with Mal Practice #1. Each character has a small moment to shine and build a strong connection to the reader. Better still, Seifert counts on the reader embracing these characters, regardless of the reason. No one is perfect in the Witch Doctor world and it's the slow reveal of these truths that makes us want to learn more. The bleak wit doesn't hurt either.

Then there is artist Lukas Ketner. Something ain't right with that boy. It was said so often during the first mini that I grew tired of reading it, but it's true. Ketner is the stylistic evolution of Bernie Wrightson, with a little gooey sprinkling of Richard Corben. With Mal Practice #1, Ketner really comes into his own. Gone are the slight missteps of an artist still trying to find his footing in a comic. His lines are chaotic, but never once lose a bit of detail. He makes sure our attention is exactly where it needs focus, but plays around just enough to let our vision drift into the horrors on the edge of the panels.

Ketner's focus towards facial expressions has also vastly improved from the first outing. With particular detail played to Penny Dreadful. This young girl that doesn't need to let the monster out in order to send a chill down the readers spine. (Although when she does, that ain't right either). One final note on the art must be paid to colorist Andy Troy. This is a far more vibrant installment of Witch Doctor and the story is better for it. Although some would suggest muted tones play well to horror, one must remember that these characters firmly live in the weird horror genre. A genre that has it's own rules to color and tone. As such, the bright colors popping from within the horrible creatures only add to the otherworldly nature of the series.

On all fronts, Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #1 is a step up for a series that was already hitting all the right notes. This is some can't-miss comic reading right here. Bring on issue #2.

 

Superman #14

Written by Scott Lobdell

Art by Kenneth Rocafort and Sunny Gho

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

The first page of Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort's Superman #14 is one that will fill you with hope. Focusing on Lois Lane with x-ray vision, you can see why the Man of Steel becomes putty in her hands: She's tough. She's accomplished. She's beautiful. And she won't take no for an answer. In other words, it's an emotional heart for Superman, a character who has long been lacking a central throughline for writers to grasp.

But unfortunately, it doesn't take long for everything to go to H'el.

Scott Lobdell knows how to write soap opera. And to be honest, those sorts of personal stakes are way more interesting than the impersonal, relentless, tiresome combat that DC puts Superman through, as if making him the strongest superhero also makes him the most relevant. But as "H'el on Earth" kicks off, Lobdell has to make some jarring swerves to not just introduce this Kryptonian supervillain, but to also wrangle in Supergirl and Superboy to the mix.

To his credit, Lobdell's pacing moves fast, and he cuts to the chase quickly. That said, he has to take all that out of his characters. Supergirl, for one, is immediately unappealing, as she coldly snipes at her cousin for his earthly affectations, including his secret identity and his compassion for ordinary humans. (Although that comes into question when Superman literally knocks H'el into a populated used car lot, sending exploding cars flying near a teenage girl and her dad. Whoops.) Superboy, meanwhile, doesn't even get a line in the book, acting as a (flimsy) excuse for Superman to throw the first punch. And H'el? As a villain, he kind of grates on you, with his melodramatic speech, his vague-but-convenient power set and his flat "take over the world" motivation.

The art is a little all over the place, as well. As I said before, Kenneth Rocafort starts off this comic with some utter beauty with that splash page of Lois Lane. Yet oftentimes his portrayal of the scenes contradict what Lobdell has written — for example, Lobdell says Clark's apartment looks like a mess, yet Rocafort focuses mainly on the pristine shelves and countertops instead of the boxes and garage hugging the bottom of the panel. This also extends to the fight choreography — H'el's last blow, for example, doesn't even make any contact with Superman, let alone a hit that merits a giant "KR-WHAM."

Self-indulgent panel layouts aside, Rocafort's real signature is in his character design. That said, that's pretty hit or miss. Supergirl in particular looks a little oversexualized in Rocafort's hands, particularly with a red diamond emblazoned along her crotch, and H'el, well, is not exactly the most inspired look on the planet. (That said, that one might not be Rocafort's call to make.) Superman and Lois, however, look gorgeous, just a natural (if also unnaturally pretty) couple.

I just wish I saw more of them. Lobdell clearly has chops, but they're being forced in the wrong direction. Scott Lobdell can make us care about the Man of Steel, even if his dialogue occasionally can be ham-fisted and over the top. But we need human stakes and smoother, more linear storytelling to get us to that point. Superman has survived street fight after street fight, and unfortunately, people haven't cared any more about him. But if you give us a glimpse into the heart and soul behind those otherworldly eyes — I'm looking at you, Lois — and you'll find that the Man of Steel and his extended family have plenty of fans left. But right now, without something for readers to resonate with, H'el on Earth doesn't feel like a knockout — it just feels like a dud. 

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