Best Shots Comic Reviews: SWAMP THING, MOLLY DANGER, More

Swamp Thing #20
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! You ready for the big column? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's Monday edition! So let's start the week off with your greens, as we take a look at the latest issue of Swamp Thing...

Swamp Thing #20
Swamp Thing #20
Credit: DC Comics

Swamp Thing #20
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Kano, Alvaro Lopez and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Since Scott Snyder stepped down from writing Swamp Thing, Charles Soulehas had the unenviable task of taking over the title. Snyder redefined Swamp Thing,his origin and mythos, and he crafted a story that breathed life back into the character.Soule is trying to pick up where Snyder left off, and he’s doing the smart thing bystarting small, writing a two-part story where Swamp Thing finds his way into Metropolis.The result is a mixed bag of decent story telling and art, but neither makes the comic amust-read, nor as intriguing as it was when it hit the stands 2011.

For starters, the pacing of the story makes the comic a mildly chaotic read. Becausewe’re in Alec Holland’s mind as Scarecrow’s neurotoxin works its magic, Soule goes to great lengths to make the shift from the dream world to the real one lucid, but mostlythrough using his artistic team to offset the two worlds in which the story occurs. Butthe moments inside Alec’s mind are where the comic makes its erratic and jumpy shifts.We’re in Alec’s laboratory, then we’re at a family Christmas gathering with no smoothtransition.

Yet due to the focus on Alec’s humanity, Swamp Thing loses a lot of his former potency.Where he looked heroic and regal in previous comics, here he’s sad, lonely and pitiful.Superman provides a much needed pep talk, and this seems to be the goal of the arc,but coming off the moving and powerful ending of Swamp Thing #18, Soule seems to be working against the grain of Snyder’s conclusion and the peace Alec found in Abigail’s transformation to the Rot.

Kano does a good job with the art and while his visuals are not as striking as YanickPaquette, Kano can still craft some sharp images, especially of all the chaos occurringin Metropolis. His art reminds me of the blocky but sharp imagery of Chris Samnee(who is no stranger to Superman), and the artistic team does a nice job of offsetting the dream world  with the real one (due in part to Matthew Wilson’s tones). None of the imagery really pops off the page the way it has in the past, but this is really dueto the amount of story Soule has to tell, and the panel construction which Kano uses todepict it.

I was a bit disappointed, as well, with Scarecrow’s bit part in the tale. He’s presentedas a bumbling villain who tries to sneak away at the end of the comic, all the whilemuttering to himself about how quiet he should be... with a guy who has super hearingstanding ten feet away. Plus, the final page, meant to be the hook for next month,is dropped without much fluidity and therefor the climax comes off a bit stilted. It’sdecisions like these which keep the comic from finding the same tone as Snyder’s story,and ultimately hold it back from being great. Still, Soule establishes a connection between Superman and Swamp Thing, therefore keeping in line with DC’s goal of having all of its characters more interrelated in the updated, streamlined New 52.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Superior Spider-Man #9
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Ryan Stegman and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Peter Parker. Otto Octavius. Who is the Superior Spider-Man? After months of mystery, Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman finally make good with this meeting of the minds - literally. While this mental battleground doesn't reinvent the wheel, it does provide a decent recap of both main characters, resulting in at least one good twist to keep this series going.

Otto Octavius thought he had pulled off the perfect heist - namely, transferring his mind into the body of his greatest foe. But now that Otto has discovered a piece of Peter Parker still resides in his mind - and is fighting to get free - Dan Slott uses this fracas as an opportunity to show characterization. Before the Superior Spider-Man relaunch, Dan focused mainly on building up Peter Parker - now he performs double-duty by showing us more about Peter by his relationship with Otto. In the stormy streets of Peter's mindscape, Slott pulls some clever bits, such as Peter attacking Otto with the memories of his friends and family - the true source of his strength - and Otto retreating behind his mask, fully embracing his identity as a not-so-friendly-neighborhood wallcrawler.

Yet the one problem I would argue this comic has is that it doesn't fully embrace the potential of its concept. Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus already have such visually interesting body languages that a fight between them should look like nothing else - but Slott and Stegman also have the confines of a psychic battleground to work with. By focusing primarily on the two arguing over who should be in control rather than exploiting the choreography and physics of the playing field, Slott keeps us filled in but at the expense of sometimes rehashing a little too much. With Peter and Otto fighting inside their shared mind, there should have been some more Inception-style opportunities to play with our heads - set pieces which could have yielded even crazier character developments.

Ryan Stegman, meanwhile, is an interesting choice for this particular story, but one I think, for several reasons, is a smart pick. First and foremost, it would be so easy for Superior Spider-Man to fall under the weight of its slightly creepy central concept, so having a cartoonier, more expressive artist provides some needed ballast. And it's also fitting that this issue - which arguably provides a strong midpoint for the Superior arc as a whole - is illustrated by the man who started this saga out to begin with. Stegman has certainly upped his game, even from the first arc of this series, with a much cleaner inking style than before. His settings, with Otto looming menacingly over the city skyline, look superb, and the way he mirrors several panels of Peter and Otto taking off their masks (and literally leaping outside of their skins) are the best moments in the book.

Ultimately, some fans might be upset by the final pages of this book - honestly, though, if you believe them at face value, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. This is comics, man, and there are no endings, only twists, and this series has proven that Dan Slott knows how to exploit a good twist. While this particular issue focused on character at the expense of concept, that's a lesson that more creators could take in today's publishing landscape. While the battleground for Peter Parker's mind and soul wasn't as eye-popping as you might come to expect, this is still a solid showing for Superior Spider-Man.

Molly Danger
Molly Danger
Credit: Action Lab Comics

Molly Danger FCBD
Written by Jamal Igle
Art by Jamal Igle, Juan Castro and Romulo Fajadro, Jr.
Lettering by Frank Cvetkovic
Published by Action Lab Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Although the average attendee of Free Comic Book Day didn't know it, Molly Danger had some pretty high expectations to live up to. Not because backers felt a sense of entitlement in regards to Jamal Igle's successful Kickstarter campaign. No, Molly Danger had to live up to the excitement Igle generated with his young female superhero. Well, here was are, our first real look at the book and to be perfectly honest, it's everything I was hoping for.

Considering this is a very short introduction to the character and world, Igle does a great job of laying out a complete story. In classic superhero fashion, we open with an emergency. The city of Coopersville, New York is under attack from a Supermech. Within the first few panels, Igle firmly establishes the level of detail we're going to expect from the series. This is a setting that's been living and breathing far longer than we've been reading. Igle's choice instills an instant sense of believable in the reader. The setup works so well, you never bat an eye when the super-powered girl comes, literally, crashing into the scene.

These are easily some of Igle's strongest pencils to date. I didn't think it was possible for him to top his best work on Supergirl, but all that is gone by the wayside. This book simply pops with excitement and emotion. You get a strong sense of scope and scale as Medulla (the wonderfully pulpy “brain in a suit” villain) trashes the city in his Supermech. This juxtaposes perfectly when the comparatively small Molly Danger rams fist first into the machine. But Igle does more than have fun with bigger than life action. Some of his strongest work is in the subtle facial expressions in all the characters. There is real fear on the faces of those who watch helplessly as a machine trashes their city. Better still is Molly herself. We know rather quickly that this is no ordinary girl. Yet, there is a moment after her initial salvo with Medulla that we're reminded that, for all her bravado, this is still young girl. There is a lot resting on those small shoulders and sometimes that weight pushes through. It's a short and subtle moment, but goes far in connecting Molly to the reader.

Romulo Fajardo, Jr. on colors is a fantastic choice. This is a title that can only thrive in the realm of primary colors and Fajardo does just that. There simply isn't a wrong color choice in the whole book. The tones blend perfectly with both the scene and the emotions Igle is trying to convey. There is also a good care given to the source of light. I know that doesn't seem like a big deal, but when done correctly, it adds a good cinematic feel to the book. I know I keep going back to realism in a comic about giant robots, a brain for a villain, and a pre-teen super-powered girl as our hero, but it's there. You wholly and totally buy into this world. As if at any moment you could look up from your comic and see Molly zip past with a wink as she rushes into danger.

The tagline reads “The hero you've been waiting for,” a bold statement to be true. It's also 100% correct. This is the book you can give to any comic book fan and know they will find something to enjoy. If you're the person that believes The Incredibles is still the greatest superhero movie of all time, then someone finally made a comic for you. Molly Danger really is the hero we've been waiting for.

Green Arrow #20
Green Arrow #20
Credit: DC Comics

Green Arrow #20
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

They say that a hero is often defined by his villains, and that may be the reason why Green Arrow #20 is on its way up. After Jeff Lemire quickly - one might even say hastily - tore apart Oliver Queen's Steve Jobs-esque status quo in his first issue, the last few issues have been more of a brutal slugfest. But with Andrea Sorrentino on art, that's made this knock-down, drag-out fight more entertaining than it probably should be.

Part of what makes this comic work is that Lemire also doesn't over-write it. There's a tendency in superhero comics, but especially at DC, to write five balloons when one will do. Lemire has been known to overwhelm with dialogue and exposition from time to time, but when he delves into the villain of the piece, Komodo, you get a very simple, easy-to-follow character: he's a supervillain and he's also a daddy. That's a fairly interesting spin on the usual superhero-sidekick dynamic, and in certain ways, it makes you root for the villain a bit more than the hero. He's got something to prove, and he's also got something to lose. Suddenly, the Komodo has a reason for his ferocity.

And that provides a great platform for Sorrentino to strut his stuff. I wouldn't have thought his dark, shadowy style would be a good fit for Green Arrow, but he does stir up a lot of mood and a lot of tension with this arc. His layouts are probably his greatest skill, as he chops up Ollie and Komodo's brawl like a movie editor, focusing on short, sharp moments as the two fire arrows across hallways and pummel each other hand-to-hand. To be honest, there's a moment early in the script that leaves me even more intrigued - namely, when Sorrentino doesn't drench everything in shadow, leaving a surprisingly clean, cartoony line that plays nicely off Marcelo Maiolo's colors. With his layouts and sense of pacing, drawing in that more accessible style might mean big things for this up-and-coming artist.

That said, the one thing this book is missing? A protagonist you care about. Lemire builds up Komodo, he builds up his daughter Emi, he builds up Q-Corp hostage Naomi (and her nerdy rescuer Henry)... but Ollie himself still feels like a plot device. He can angst and he can give exposition, but I still don't buy him struggling with his role in the universe. When Ollie talks about his role as a son and as a superhero, I couldn't help but think, what brought this on? The character arc doesn't quite make sense, and so he feels more like an avatar in someone else's game - it's a fun game, and it looks great when he gets his shots in, but Ollie himself still feels like a blank slate.

It could be worse - considering DC has been so focused on rebuilding their characters that many of their stables of villains have languished, it's nice to see a bad guy really give Green Arrow a run for his money. This issue also illustrates a triumph of style, as Lemire and Sorrentino are really starting to get in sync, with one not having to overwhelm the other. This won't be one of Oliver Queen's most memorable stories, but it's nice to see this comic start to solidify its new direction.

Credit: Oni Press

The Strangers #1
Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Scott Kowalchuk and Dan Jackson
Lettering by Ed Brisson
Published by Oni Press
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Think MI:6 meets the Doom Patrol, and somewhere in that amalgam, you'll have Oni's new series The Strangers. Created by writer Chris Roberson with up and comer Scott Kowalchuk, it blends the superhero and super spy genres well together with the end product being something completely different than what you might expect. 

Set in the 1960s, The Strangers is essentially a product of the era that never existed. Roberson took inspiration from the James Bond series, as well as TV's "The Avengers" with perhaps a nod here and there to Batman '66. The Strangers themselves are a team of super-powered super spies, led by Absolam Quince, a paraplegic with a mansion headquarters. That might sound a bit too familiar, but Roberson does a great balancing act of doing his own thing and going in too deep with the things that inspired this.

Scott Kowalchuk was the perfect artist for this book. His style definitely has a Chris Samnee/Mike Allred edge to it with bold lines and great use of negative space. He gives everybody in the book their own distinct look, even minor players. His designs are equally great along with a comprehensive panel layout with an array of sharp visuals. Dan Jackon's color scheme is something else to be applauded. The creative intro to the character using bright mod colors reminiscent to the era is a nice touch. It's a simplistic and delicate palette that still allows for Kowalchuk's art to shine through.

The one thing stopping this from having a perfect score is that I never felt the actual threat of Capricorn (essentially the Hank Scorpio/Ernst Blofeld of this world) or his agency. Yeah, it's stated among the characters that he's the main baddie, but nothing really is explored with that notion. Roberson will hopefully give him a little more exposure soon, but in the meantime, nothing really to see just yet. I was hoping they'd play up a more "man behind the curtain" bit with him, but when he was in the first few pages, the mystery sort of fell apart. Interesting concept and possibilities (is there a Zodiac, a la SPECTRE?) to hopefully come.

 

The Strangers has a great set up so far with Roberson making it accessible to pick up for anybody looking to dive into something new. While there's a long wait for the ongoing to start up in July, this Free Comic Book Day pick up is a nice way to start things off. See you soon, Strangers.

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