Best Shots Comic Reviews: NOVA #3, BATWOMAN #19, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for more Best Shots after this morning's advance look at Jupiter's Legacy? We got you covered with this week's Monday column! So let's go to infinity and beyond with Sam Alexander, as we take a look at the latest issue of Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness's Nova...

 

Nova #3

Written by Jeph Loeb

Art by Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines and Marte Gracia

Lettering by Albert Deschesne

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

There's a moment early on in Nova #3 that I think really illustrates the main conflict of Marvel's newest Human Rocket.

Zooming along through outer space, Sam Alexander, a precocious kid from the Southwest, run into the Watcher — Marvel's enigmatic herald of bad things to come. Despite some communications issues, the Watcher reveals a vast interstellar armada hurtling towards Earth, leaving Sam to zoom off and prepare.

But then Sam comes back.

This kid, this awkward, excitable, empowered kid, comes back. And introduces himself. To the Watcher. It's a cute moment. A human moment. A moment that even makes this giant bald alien smile in spite of himself.

It's the smile of a parent. It's likely the smile of Jeph Loeb himself, a writer who has long been influenced by the memory of his own son, Sam — our new Nova's namesake, in fact. This is, in many ways, the best moment of the comic, because it's the  most unplanned, the most touching and the most human moment of the script. But that moment also illustrates the main issue with this series: The Human Rocket is firing in so many different directions that he can't commit to a single tone or target audience.

Given Ed McGuinness's cartoony lines, you'd think this book would be targeted towards children — and occasionally, Loeb's script skews that way. When Sam interacts with, say, Gamora or Rocket Racoon, for example, Loeb's script is totally on-the-nose, pushing for the kid vote with McGuinness's bouncy action. But suddenly Sam is asking Rocket Racoon "what the hell do you know about my dad," and suddenly the demo feels a little older than the Disney XD crowd. It's a little bit of dissonance among some gorgeous artwork, as McGuinness really lends a nice sense of mood, emotion and energy to his pages, particularly a one-page montage of Rocket Raccoon and Gamora ambushing our hapless hero.

Additionally, the actual plot feels disjointed as well, feeling more episodic with its scenes than something cohesive. In certain ways, this catches us up to speed after Loeb's decompressed first issues, but it's also all over the place — Nova goes from meeting the Watcher to seeing his mom to getting into a fight with Gamora and Rocket Racoon, who wind up changing Sam's mission on a dime from being a warrior to being a scout. It's a lot to take in, and that's where I think the younger demographic kicks in — you can either see this as diverse or as ADD, and I think the younger you are, the less you'll care about clunky dialogue and the more you'll identify with this energetic kid.

Yet that first scene still sticks with me, and it's something that I think Loeb needs more to make Nova fly. Loeb is channeling a lot of personality as a creator to his fictional "son," but we aren't privy to all those quirks and wonderful moments that make this character so resonant to his writer. And in a lot of ways, a father will love his son differently than that boy's friends and siblings — so who does Nova want to impress? Kids? Adults? Both? It's clear that Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness think the world of this kid, but they need to find an emotional and tonal throughline that will get the rest of us to fly with him.

 

Batwoman #19

Written by J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman

Art by Trevor McCarthy, Walden Wong, and Guy Major

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by DC Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Since its relaunch over 18 months ago, Batwoman has been on of DC's best looking titles. In fact, its visuals make it one of the best books in comics, regardless of company or genre. Still, under J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman, the writing has been less than steady, even frustrating at times. Kate Kane is at her strongest, at least in terms of narrative, when she's placed within a setting that works with her background and focus. Since the very beginning, she's a solider, with all the ethical and moral weight such a life brings. Much of that internal and external drama is lost when the bulk of her villains come from a more supernatural source. Taking Kate from her comfort zone works well in small doses. However, for the majority of this run, it's been about the supernatural world exerting control over Kate, and not Batwoman protecting those that have none.

Issue #19 looks to change some of that, with themes of family and betrayal weighing heavily on all that come into contact with Kate. This is very much a setup issue, with pieces moving into place with hardly a moments rest after the massive confrontation of the previous few issues. I'm glad to see Williams is brining back a more three-dimensional Agent Chase, for too long she's simply been the hard case dogging Batwoman with every step. While I'm sure the rift will grow even deeper between the two women, the conflict I always expected from within Chase is finally surfacing. Williams is obviously trying bring some sense of normalcy to Kane's life, but in that attempt, there are concerns.

While I love the new aspect to Kate and Maggie's relationship, I can't help but wonder if Williams and Blackman fully grasps these two. The entire time we've known Captain Maggie Sawyer, she's not been a fan of the Gotham capes. And, with her perceived intrusion into the child kidnapping case, she really wasn't a fan of Batwoman. But now that the face if revealed, it bugs me that Maggie is almost instantly okay with her girlfriend's nocturnal jaunts. And, even if the readers are expected to buy Maggie's 180, telling Kate she'd never understand the pain and nightmares doesn't ring true. Considering one of the first things Kate did was tell her all her past (sans the cape), I'm pretty sure Maggie knows just how much hell her partner's been through. Brushing her off with “you wouldn't understand” simply doesn't work.

Okay, so I spent a while there digging into an aspect of the comic that is, literally, two pages long. Just so we're all clear here, I did enjoy this issue. There is a lot to this book and those that understandably slipped away for a few issues have much to return to. One of those elements is artist Trevor McCarthy. Although Batwoman is almost synonymous with Williams' symbolic art, McCarthy is an incredibly welcome change of pace for the comic. His panel design has some hints of the tone of issues past, but works in more traditional superhero pacing to make the title a steadier and more enjoyable read. All his characters move in a highly expressive and cinematic fashion. His is an art that spent a lot of time studying movement and pose and the book is stronger for it. There are a few visual hiccups, primarily in the faces. Everyone looks just a little too young for my tastes, especially the moment between Kate and Maggie that I spent way to much time writing about. Still, he has some great inks and washes that blend perfectly with his line work. Working in tandem with Guy Major on colors and this is a Batwoman that just as visually compelling and satisfying as any previous issue. Unlike some previous issues, the art works elevate the story, not exceed it.

Batwoman #19 is not a perfect book. Williams and Blackman still have some pacing and character issues to work out, but it is a fresh start and a good place for new or lapsed readers to jump on. Things will never be sunshine and rainbows for anyone wearing that bat symbol on their chest. Still, I'm glad to see a return to the elements that made me fall for this character all those years ago.

 

Captain America #6

Written by Rick Remender

Art by John Romita, Jr., Tom Palmer, Klaus Janson, Scott Hanna and Dean White

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Image Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

I’ve always grown up knowing that Captain America was, like Superman, a symbol of greatness and courage. Joe Johnston and Joss Whedon captured this spirit perfectly in their respective movies, both of which showcased an heroic and valorous leader who put the lives of innocent people first, sacrificing his own well being for their protection. Similarly, Rick Remender attempts to put his own stamp on Captain America, but without a true focus for the book, the comic seems aimless, moving from scene to scene without any strong connective tissue.

Remender’s Captain America is not the hero we saw in Johnston and Whedon’s movies. This Cap is cold, ruthless, dark and violent. Given the savagery of Dimension Z, the land where Steve Rogers has been transported, he should be able to rise above this and supplant himself as the beacon of hope in a world lacking any. Unfortunately, Remender takes Cap to dark places, and I think the character suffers for it.

From a story standpoint, Captain America #6 tries to be everywhere at once and unfortunately this results in an inconsistency in character and pacing. When the comic opened, I thought we were going to follow Jet Black as she prayed to Zola for guidance, a focus which humanized the character. But we’re just as quickly shunted to a grizzled and battered Steve Rogers who kills indiscriminately, marching over the broken and dying bodies of Zola’s mutants.

Zola himself can’t figure out the kind of character he wants to be either. He laments his violent tendencies as the reason his children hate him (regardless of the fact that he looks like an updated version of Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), then goes on to threaten his son if he refuses to join Zola’s cause. The same goes for Jet who becomes obtuse and stubborn at the end of the comic after she meditates on Steve’s choice to spare her in a previous issue. These constant shifts in persona make the comic frustrating as its lack of consistency overrides the main story.

And that’s my main gripe with Captain America #6. The book touches upon a few major ideas — science fiction, post-apocalyptic words, character exploration — but without establishing any of these as a guidepost for the series. Does it need to? Not necessarily, but it would help give the comic a true sense of purpose.

John Romita’s art is the perfect compliment to this story. His finishes have softened over the years, so much of the landscape looks opaque and undefined, but wholly disgusting. The stench of Dimension Z is palpable due to the working team of John Romita, Jr., Tom Palmer and Dean White, all three of whom have worked on Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass books. Klaus Janson and Scott Hanna pitch in to create a drab world of hopelessness, a tone that unfortunately permeates the comic.

The changes Zola makes to Ian, the child whom Steve intends to save from Dimension Z, make for an interesting dynamic in future issues, but this kind of darkness is difficult to engage with. If the story could focus less on breadth and more on depth, I’d be more inclined to keep reading because I want to see Steve succeed — but not at the price of his soul, or what he’s come to stand for in a world of ever increasing violence, sadness and terror.

 

Miniature Jesus #1

Written, illustrated and lettered by Ted McKeever

Published by Image Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Miniature Jesus tells the story of Chomsky, a recovering alcoholic who quotes Whitman, speaks to dead cats and floating demons, and who struggles through the daily existence of a man cut off from society due to his habitual penchant for getting drunk.

This is a story a lot of us can relate to.

In a world where nearly everyone knows someone who struggles with addiction, Miniature Jesus is a story that deals with the loneliness and inner turmoil most addicts must feel, particularly after they recover and have to rebuild their shattered lives while maintaining a strong distance from the people and substances that ruined them.

The lead character, Chomsky, wanders alone through this world. Ted McKeever emphasizes Chomsky’s isolation by always putting him at odds with society. The one human interaction he has is impersonal and cruel, and you immediately sympathize with Chomsky. People, in McKeever’s eyes, are selfish and self absorbed. This is particularly apt with a preacher who appears at the end of the book, and the one miracle he witnesses is seen more as an abomination than a sign of divinity, mostly because it interrupted him in the middle of his fire and brimstone sermon.

Granted, the book has a few minor flaws. It hits upon a few tropes — like the crazed, ranting preacher — and the dialogue can be a bit tedious, but McKeever salvages the story with an interesting and hollow lead, as well as its dissection of the psyche of an addict and the continuous badgering he/she receives, not only from others, but from the self. But McKeever aptly demonstrates the solitary fight of the recovering hero.

As for the art? Miniature Jesus #1 is a visual masterpiece. McKeever’s black and white inks are beautiful and crisp, reminiscent of Rashan Ekedal’s work in Echoes. McKeever offsets his realism with some fantastical elements, particularly the demon and cat Chomsky talks, but sets are rendered with impeccable clarity, and shading is masterfully added for perfect effect. This comic is an exercise in artistic prowess, and fantastic visual introduction for a new series.

For a first issue, Miniature Jesus has all the necessary elements to draw readers back for a second helping. This is not a feel-good story, and the tone of the comic spells doom for Chomsky’s future, but the hopefulness is somewhat present, and I’m sure Chomsky will eventually meet the miniature Jesus (who is literally a miniature Jesus), and I’m curious to see the conversation the two will have. Add this book to your list of weekly pulls — you won’t be disappointed.

 

Catwoman #19

Written by Ann Nocenti

Art by Rafa Sandoval, Cliff Richards, Stefano Martino, Jordi Terragona, Walden Wong and Sonia Oback

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Out of all of DC's "WTF" storylines, I have to say that Catwoman has had one of the smartest premises — in a town filled with costumed crooks, who's the one holdout who's never had a trip to Arkham Asylum? Ann Nocenti puts Selina Kyle under lock, key and straightjacket with a story that sometimes even moves too fast to capitalize on a super-smart idea.

Nocenti knows that Catwoman has been a polarizing book to say the least, and with creative teams coming and going, she's got one shot to make this buzzworthy gatefold cover count — the result is this comic moves at unheard-of speeds, showing off Selina's capture, escape and taking down two separate villains all in the span of... 20 pages. Nocenti's dialogue is an acquired taste ("Diamond-cutter claws are handy for hard candy," Selina says as she cuts the glass of her cell), but it's just as much a signature of her style as Grant Morrison's scripts.

The art style, however, is about as far from "signature" as it gets. Three pencilers, three inkers and one colorist jam together to make 20 pages work, but there are enough distance shots that the real differentiation in expression is hard to tell. Rafa Sandoval's style is the best fit to start the comic with, I think, with Selina having a clean, animated style that also has a slight bendiness to it all — perfect for the off-kilter, eerie locale that is Arkham Asylum. Cliff Richards and Stefano Martino are a bit harder to differentiate, although the last pages of Selina and Jeremiah Arkham are much more rendered than Sandoval's lines. Colorist Sonia Oback keeps the visual dissonance to a minimum, linking all three pencilers with a cool, uniform color palette.

To be honest, this comic's one problem is actually unique in the industry — it actually rushes through some superb territory. DC's aborted Supermax script, for example, would work great with Catwoman as the unsteady lead wavering between heroism and villainy, between selflessness and thievery, between sanity and madness. Instead, this comic just rushes from scene to scene, and winds up actually moving so fast the reader forgets the plan to begin with — the last page, for example, Selina escapes to a location I can't even determine, having reread the comic five times.

If Nocenti had pitted Selina against a cadre of Batman's foes — simultaneously, and on their home turf — I think she would have had a bestselling trade on her hands. That's saying a lot for this character and for DC right now, as they continue to throw WTF curveballs that spike sales but leave little lasting effect. No matter — while this comic doesn't quite hit its full potential, Catwoman #19 is definitely a huge improvement from what's come before. This is certainly worth a look.

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