Best Shots Advance Reviews: AVENGERS WORLD, BLACK WIDOW, ADVENTURE TIME, 5 GHOSTS

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers World #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer
Art by Stefano Caselli and Frank Martin
Lettering by Joe Caramagna and Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Slowly but surely, the Avengers are finding their way again. Continuing off of Jonathan Hickman's pre-Infinity story arcs, Avengers World focuses a bit more on the team rather than their adversaries, and that makes for a much more engaging reading experience. That said, it's clear that Hickman and his co-writer Nick Spencer are still wrestling a bit with Earth's Mightiest Heroes, so this book's rough edges keep it from really scoring a knockout victory.

To Hickman and Spencer's credit, however, this issue is one of the best ones yet in terms of balancing out the Avengers' enormous roster. While Captain America, Maria Hill and Bruce Banner coordinate from the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, this issue splits off into several teams - Shang-Chi and Wolverine, for example, steal the show as riots explode in Madripoor, while Cannonball and Sunspot score some major points as they debate about Star Trek while launching a strike against A.I.M. Island. Considering how long Hickman's run on Avengers has been going, this is a good thing - there has been so much focus on the villains that the real stars of the show have largely been forgotten, almost delegated to bit players in their own book. While the team dynamics still aren't as deep as, say, Rick Remender's Uncanny Avengers, it's nice to see the team actually interacting with one another for a change.

That said, Spencer's involvement in this book is readily apparent here, as the dialogue for this book feels less self-indulgent and a bit more character-based. There are a lot of small moments that are fairly endearing, particularly Bruce Banner's smartass rapport with Captain America (which feels actually just as organic, yet more refreshing and self-deprecating, as his dynamic with Tony Stark), or Starbrand snacking on some leftover Italian bread. In certain ways, it seems counterintuitive, as it feels like the goal for a book like Avengers World is to anchor an event story - but these small character moments are what make these team books truly click.

The artwork by Stefano Caselli, however, doesn't add a tremendous amount of heft. When he gets the opportunity for action - especially the establishing shot of Thor, Hyperion and Captain Marvel dealing with a tremendous rainstorm - he knocks it out of the park, with his characters looking particularly iconic and fluid. (He also really knocks out Cannonball, Smasher and Sunspot as they zoom across the sky.) That said, some of the talkier sequences wind up feeling slow, even with Caselli trying to inject some expressions into nondescript characters like Starbrand and Nightmask. Captain America and Maria Hill get the worst of it, as they spend much of their time grimacing or looking away from each other.

Hickman and Spencer do a great job at keeping a lot of balls in the air, even if they don't necessarily catch all of them this time - there are a few plot points that fall flat, and much of the bloated roster of the team still feels fairly underutilized. That said, there is a lot going for Avengers World, as Hickman and Spencer go against the grain in this era of decompression and pack a lot of story into one comic. This book doesn't quite nail its potential yet, but there's a lot to like about Avengers World #1.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Widow #1
Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Phil Noto
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Though she's been a mainstay of Marvel Comics for over 50 years, Black Widow has never had as high a profile as she does right now. As one of the breakout characters from the Avengers film, the Russian super-spy turned American super-hero is a no-brainer to receive her own title. Consider this a case of Marvel striking while the iron is hot, but not exactly following the heat. Despite a tight script and a clear visual language, there's little in Black Widow #1 to differentiate Natasha Romanoff from Marvel's many other enemy agents made good.

That's not to say this book doesn't work; on the contrary, the narrative is fairly solid. Establishing early on that Black Widow is the most super of super agents - a master of disguise, a fearless combatant, and a flawless beauty - with a dark past and the will to make amends, Nathan Edmondson does a fine job of introducing the character to those who will undoubtedly follow her here from her film appearances. Edmondson's terse script balances just the right amount of neo-noir and superhero elements to show that he has a solid grasp on where Black Widow fits in a world of Gods, monsters, and supermen.

On the other hand, that's really all there is to Black Widow #1. This done in one tale makes it clear that, while she's done some pretty terrible things in the past, Natasha is now working - to coin a phrase - to wipe the red from her ledger, and then just kind of fizzles out. There's little of any bigger picture, and even less to establish a long term hook for the character. Edmondson establishes Natasha's supporting cast, consisting of her attorney/business manager, and a cat named "Liho," with whom she has a strained, but affectionate relationship, but gives little depth to Natasha's world. As a solo character, Black Widow's failing has often been that she is a bit of a cipher, that she lacks much personality beyond that of an ultra-competent, unflappable gun for hire. Edmondson doesn't delve deep enough to establish that baseline for Natasha as character outside of her Black Widow persona to really encourage investment beyond the obvious action thrills. Edmondson seems to have a good grasp of the trappings of Black Widow, but very little of his own vision for her.

Meanwhile, Phil Noto is working far outside his usual box, channeling even further the elements of fashion design and graphic art that have always informed his work, and filtering that with some Sinkiewicz style impressionism for results that, while often compelling, don't always work. Noto's strengths here are his grasp of storytelling, particularly in the rapid fire scenes of Natasha's infiltration of her target's Dubai stronghold, and his grasp of Black Widow's physique and personality. What falls flat is, most often, the color, which leaves the art looking almost unfinished. It's a little ironic that a book called Black Widow should be so bright and airy, and while that's almost certainly intentional - Natasha herself is often the only source of actual black on the pages - it's not exactly visually appealing. In many cases, it almost looks as though the line art was accidentally left off, leaving only colors behind. While this makes Black Widow often the only element of the page with real definition - ironic, given that, personality wise, she's such a cipher - it also leaves the pages looking muddy and under drawn.

Edmondson's first Black Widow story is called "Raison D'Etre," which is fitting since that seems to be all it's willing to establish for its main character. As a pilot, this issue works to establish Black Widow's function and her modus operandi, but there's nothing on the page to make readers anxiously await what happens next. In fact, there don't seem to be many long term seeds sown at all. Undoubtedly, this issue will have its supporters in spite of its flaws, and ultimately, that may be a good thing. Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto clearly have a grasp on the surface elements that make Black Widow a fan favorite character, so it's hopeful that with time, they'll be able to better pry back the veneer of the aloof super-spy and find the compelling character inside.

Art from Adventure Time: Flip Side #1
Art from Adventure Time: Flip Side #1
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Adventure Time: The Flip Side #1
Written by Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin
Art by Wook Jin Clark
Lettering by Audrey Aiese
Published by Boom! Studios
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

One of the strength’s of Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time universe is its limitless possibilities. It opens up a lot of room for creators to put their own spin on the property while still remaining dutifully devoted to the characters and what makes them work. Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin, coming off the success of MonkeyBrain’s Bandette, have a little Justerian (as in Norton Juster, author of The Phantom Tollbooth and not whatever you were thinking) fun with Finn, Jake and BMO as the quest they take from the Adventure Posting Board is not exactly what it seems.

The Phantom Tollbooth comparison is very apt. Finn, Jake and BMO are similar in set-up (though, not in personality) to Milo, Tock and The Humbug. The Land of Ooo is filled with puns and wordplay just as the Kingdom of Wisdom is. Coover and Tobin pack the script with jokes and even a callback to the very first Adventure Time Nickolodeon short. The pacing is very tight despite how much is going on and what originally looks like just another “Save the Princess” quest for Finn and Jake (a reliable trope for Adventure Time if there ever was one), Coover and Tobin turn it on its head which will force out heroes to do almost the exact opposite of what they’re used to in order to finish it.

Wook Jin Clark should be familiar to fans of Oni Press’ Megagogo and The Return of King Doug. Clark’s art is a perfect companion for Coover and Tobin’s writing. Not afraid to distort the characters in the service of a joke, Clark’s take on Finn, Jake and BMO is lively and expressive. It’s definitely not the cleancut approach that fans of the cartoon are familiar with. But Clark’s outside-the-lines style is very exciting and fun to read. Probably the best moments in the art come when our heroes finally find King Painting and his daughter, Princess Painting. Since they have paintings for heads/faces, Clark co-opts the style of different artists throughout history to show their expressions. It’s a great little bit in an entirely entertaining issue.

Boom! is continuing to pump out quality Adventure Time work and The Flip Side is no exception. Coover and Tobin are clearly familiar enough with the property to what works and what doesn’t. They’re packing in so many jokes that this issue will beg a second read. They have the benefit of being coupled with an artist with a talent for visual gags in Wook Jin Clark, as well. This a definitely must read. So Adventure Time fans who have plenty of time, now you know the way.

Credit: Image Comics

Five Ghosts #8
Written by Frank J. Barbiere
Art by Chris Mooneyham and Lauren Affe
Published by Image Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

"Honor Amongst Thieves" provides readers with the second part of the current story arc of Five Ghosts. This issue picks up the main story from Issue #7 ,with Fabian and Jezebel setting off on the search for the key to unlock Silvia from her present comatose-like state. For readers of the series, this part of the story sets the stage for the next issue and shouldn't be missed.

Barbiere makes use of the traditional heist scenario for this story, and this creates an opportunity for Fabian to show off his trademark skills as both a thief and host for the supernatural. For my part, I enjoyed getting to see some of the different spectral aspects contribute to Fabian's heroic feats. Moreover, Barbiere creates a nostalgic atmosphere reminiscent of the early-twentieth century cinema through his choice of setting: the deck of a pirate ship replete with swashbuckling rogues! Perhaps my only complaint was that it still felt like the story had yet to take off now two issues into the new arc as the ship and its roguish crew still hadn't fully embarked upon their journey. Still, it speaks to the point that Barbiere is able to generate enough interest in his characters and their quests to make his audience anxious to set sail especially given the hints about the next villain whom Fabian will encounter in his adventures on the high seas as seen on the final splash!

Artistically, I really enjoyed the way this story was laid out. Each panel felt like a still from a high-adventure movie from early Hollywood, and this further contributed to the nostalgic reading experience this series continues to generate. I also really enjoyed Mooneyham's work on his character's facial expressions – especially their eyes – which helped convey subtle elements to the story's mood and tenor. On a different note, I couldn't help but notice a slight shift in the increased shading Affe applied to her colors in this issue. It seemed as if there was a movement away from the slightly flatter coloring employed in earlier issues (which seemed to mimic earlier industry applications of color) towards a richer set of colors in this issue more in line with contemporary comics. For example, I it felt like there was a greater range of pigmentation in the various character's individual skin coloration lending to a slightly more contemporary coloring of characters versus what look like a more traditional (pulp era) approach. Again, this isn't necessarily a criticism, but I was curious about the rationale behind this subtle change.

Overall, this issue seemed to slow down a bit from the faster pace of Issue #7 as it only follows one narrative thread compared to Part I where there were multiple storylines in play. Further, we are still left wondering how the scene with the Fabian adrift at sea and battling the shark factors into the overall story since it was not addressed in this issue. However, I suspect this is less of a problem with the writing as it is the nature of the serialized format – something readers of the collected edition won't even notice. Overall, readers of the series will enjoy seeing the foundation for this storyline continue to be established, and even newer readers should be able to pick up and follow along with relative ease.

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