Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Suicide Squad #20
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Patrick Zircher and Jason Keith
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Forget suicide — Ales Kot and Patrick Zircher have pulled off a resurrection. What was once a struggling title has found a startling new voice and new direction, as the new creative team behind Suicide Squad #20 dive deep into their sociopathic cast and reveals more than a few tricks up their sleeves.

Even with books like Change or Wild Children under his belt, for most of the comics community, Ales Kot really isn't a name yet. Judging by his first Big Two outing, I think that problem is only going to be temporary. He immediately imbues a macabre yet somehow enthusiastic voice to his work, as Suicide Squad director Amanda Waller already establishes a combative relationship with her new partner — a reveal that might be the smartest spin I've seen in the whole of The New 52. 

Showing the Squad in their natural habitat — jail, and at each other's throats — Kot really defines his characters through some dark, memorable scenes, following in the tonal footsteps of a book like Warren Ellis's Thunderbolts. Whether it's learning how master marksman Deadshot has cheated death so many times or that the mutated King Shark is still a virgin, even if you had no idea who the Suicide Squad were, you'll be invested. Yet Kot isn't content with just characterization, as he injects a smart new element into this book that absolutely changes the stakes for this team. Without giving too much away, let's just say that Waller's grasp on this team is far stronger than anyone might expect.

The artwork here is also a great fit for this slower, moodier book. Patrick Zircher keeps his characters expressive and realistic, and he largely avoids flashy layouts in favor of clean storytelling. The facial expressions in particular are some of the best I've seen out of DC in a long time, with even the mutated King Shark radiating a lost loneliness that might make him the razor-toothed heart of the team. Another sequence, where Harley Quinn comes face-to-face with her worst fear, is downright beautiful, as you can almost see the tears in her eyes. The only misstep, really, in the entire issue is Harley's Hello Kitty costume, and that's just because it didn't feel as particularly over-the-top and chuckleworthy as it could have been to counterpoint the rest of the story's bleak mood.

Considering this book's meandering path, putting two creators with little name recognition didn't seem like a bad idea — it seemed like suicide. Yet it's always the quiet ones that wind up making the most noise, and Suicide Squad definitely is coming back with a bang. With new characters, a revised status quo and striking execution from both the writer and the artistic team, this wayward book just shot to the top of my DC reading list.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Avenging Spider-Man #20
Written by Christopher Yost
Art by Marco Checchetto and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

I'm always a fan of watching creators stretch and work outside of their comfort zones, and Avenging Spider-Man #20 feels like a prime example of that. Ever since Otto Octavius took over Peter Parker's body and became the Superior Spider-Man, Chris Yost has written several done-in-one stories teaming up this antihero with his Avenger buddies, usually wrapping the story up with a neat bow and a little too much simplicity.

Not so here. Consider this "The Helicarrier Job."

Over the past few issues, Otto has also started collecting a trophy room of sorts — a collection of all his former compatriots in the Sinister Six. Flashy powers might prove no match for gadgets, a mean streak and the proportional strength of a spider, but when the shape-changing Chameleon is stuck in the clutches of S.H.I.E.L.D.... well, Yost has to get a little trickier than that. The extra ambition here makes for a nicely compelling read, as we share Otto's enthusiasm for the task ahead — break out the Chameleon, and don't blow your own secret identity while doing it. 

That said, much of this first issue is setup, but Yost is introducing so many elements that you hardly mind — not only do Secret Avengers agents Hawkeye and Black Widow show up (along with Nick Fury 2.0 and Agent Coulson), but several other well-known S.H.I.E.L.D. hangers-on make some appearances here, resulting in a wonderfully surprising cliffhanger. In a lot of ways, stories like this are the fruition of a shared universe gone right. But it's all set on the foundation of Otto Octavius as the Superior Spider-Man, as you can't help but get a kick out of his arrogant trolling of everyone in sight. He's a jerk, but he's our jerk, and that means even if he loses, we win.

The artwork here also really ups the stakes, and sets the mood of the Chameleon's escape nicely. This isn't a high-flying adventure story — Dmitri Smyerdakov is seriously messed up, down to the moment where he tries to introduce himself using his psychiatrist's name. Brrrr. Marco Checchetto's characters may look ultra-sleek, but combined with Rachelle Rosenberg's darker colors, suddenly this world feels a lot more claustrophobic and bleak. Otto's triangular eyes really burrow into characters like Nick Fury, as does the look of menace in the Chameleon's. There's a great sequence where we're seeing the world from Otto's perspective, but actually from behind his spider-lenses — we're disconnected from the world, seeing it through a distorted, voyeuristic perspective. In other words, we might be seeing things just like a supervillain should.

The minor downside to this, of course, is that there aren't any huge action setpieces to fully exploit a concept like a breakout on the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, but those may come in time. For the moment, Chris Yost and Marco Checchetto have upped their game, and really succeeded in some exceedingly ambitious setup — when you combine the Superior Spider-Man, a handful of Avengers, a shapeshifting supervillain and two powerhouses to screw up everyone's plans, there's a lot to enjoy about this arc. I'm excited to see if Otto can untangle this twisted web next issue.

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