Best Shots Comic Reviews: MS. MARVEL #1, EARTH 2 #20, More

Ms. Marvel #1
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, as we take a look at last week's biggest releases! So let's kick off today's column with Mighty Michael Moccio, as he takes a look at Ms. Marvel...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel #1
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Look out, Young Avengers, because Kamala Khan has taken center stage as the most interesting teenager in town in this week's Ms. Marvel #1. Through G. Willow Wilson’s strong beginning, paired with the quirky art and coloring by Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring, readers are drawn into the world of an all-American teenager who just happens to be the next Ms. Marvel.

Wilson doesn’t throw us into the middle of a superhero story just yet, allowing the reader to get to know Kamala Khan as a person before getting to know her as the new Ms. Marvel. Beyond her heritage, appearance, and gender, Wilson lets readers know that Kamala is a typical teenager going through typical teenage problems: balancing between her family and social life, who society expects her to be and who she wants to be, and struggling to find her own identity.

Wilson sums up who Kamala is when she says, “I want to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated.” In that moment, suddenly, Kamala isn’t this Pakistani teenager who just imagined the Avengers singing in Urdu — she’s just like every other person on the face of the planet who also wants to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicates (which, admittedly, is pretty much everyone). Wilson makes Kamala relatable to the readers, which becomes one of the book’s biggest strengths. We’ve all had that moment where our parents just “don’t understand” and mispronounce words we would think impossible to butcher (Wilson gets points for creatively turning “fan fic” into “fan feek”). The bottom line is, however, that we’ve now gotten a glimpse into Kamala’s personal life. We’ll be able to see how these new powers and circumstances play into the conflict that’s already present in her life, which makes for a much more interesting story.

The characters in general have such diverse personalities. On the one hand we have Kamala, our protagonist, who’s both loveable and a little naïve at times; Nakia, the slightly judging, but loyal best friend everyone has; and Bruno, the loveable sidekick that has romantic feelings for the lead. Wilson draws from the different teenage stereotypes and filters them through this specific story to great success—it only takes the opening scene for the reader to begin to understand the kind atmosphere Kamala deals with when it comes to her friends, and only another scene after that to understand the atmosphere with her family. All of these choices culminate in the reader understanding how Kamala’s life was before becoming Ms. Marvel, which will be invaluable in the coming issues.

Adrian Alphona leans more towards cartoonish than realistic in his style for Ms. Marvel, which ultimately resonates with the book due to Kamala’s own quirkiness. Herring on colors similarly strays from realistic and traditional flat colors, as his dynamic shading evokes more of a painting feel to the book. They create striking visuals that also go along with the dramatics Kamala often portrays. When Kamala yells “I’m sixteen!” and when she passes out are two great examples of how the art falls perfectly in tune with the character: as Kamala acts overdramatic—as we would expect any teenager to do — the art, in turn, conveys those emotions she’s feeling plainly to the reader.

The book is, however, not without its faults. The ending was the weakest part of the issue, as the reader is left too much in the dark — this causes them to wonder too much about how Kamala changed and what the smoke’s role in the story really is, rather than anticipating what’s going to happen next. Wilson’s initial stereotypical teenage personalities acts as a double edged sword, as well, as some of the characters’ interactions come off as superficial and weak: namely, Zoe. While her faux-charming personality may be believable, it isn’t explored at all beyond the surface; although there’s plenty of time for Wilson to flesh out this cast of character, her introduction was particularly unsatisfying.

Ms. Marvel, none the less, remains a stronger-than-average opening issue, with many possibilities. Wilson has given herself room to go in a variety of different directions with the piece, and as long as she keeps the story centered on Kamala—the girl we know we’ve all been like at one time or another—then she shouldn’t have a problem keeping a dedicated readership. After all, who doesn’t want to be awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated?

Credit: DC Comics

Earth 2 #20
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Barry Kitson, Robson Rocha, Oclair Albert and Pete Pantazis
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

There's a scene in Earth 2 where Val, an agoraphobic Krytonian who may be the key to overthrowing a despotic Superman's invasion, stares into the open sky and says: "It's too big." That might be representative of Earth 2, as well - there's a lot of potential to Tom Taylor's ever-expanding cast of characters, but because he has to introduce so many of them, the narrative of this issue feels light.

To his credit, Taylor's got some very fun characters in his stable, particularly the powerful new Aquawoman, who stands poised and regal as she literally drowns a horde of Parademons using the moisture of the clouds around them. In that regard, there's a sort of brazen charm about Earth 2 that deserves some praise - while the rest of the New 52, with its ever-changing creative teams, are essentially launching and relaunching most of the same characters as they were two and a half years ago with run after new run, Taylor is a one-man factory of retooled concepts. Between Aquawoman co-opting the best parts of Mera from the mainstream Aquaman title (but not having to share a power set with an ultimately undeserving mate), the new Batman being a sly new spin on the old Hourman concept, or the Red Tornado having much more humanity than we ever saw before the New 52, the sheer concepts at play are quite intriguing.

The problem is, with so many characters running around, Taylor has about enough time to introduce all of them - but he doesn't really get a chance to let them loose. Besides Aquawoman's display of power and a perfunctory scene of Superman causing destruction (just so we readers know there's a timetable at play), most of this particular issue are the characters telling us what's going on, rather than Taylor just showing. We get that Val, a Kryptonian, is completely freaked out by his new surroundings. We also get that Lois Lane has an insight into Superman's psyche that cannot be erased - even if she's now a robot. But there's not much meat to this story, no real hook either in the character arcs or the outside action to really get readers invested.

Which can be a bit of a waste for the artists involved. Barry Kitson makes all of his characters look sleek and charming, even though the characters aren't doing too much physically. (Even Aquawoman drowning the Parademons is largely a static pose - a gorgeous pose, but still a pose.) Much of the rest of Kitson's artwork is used for Taylor's dialogue-heavy script, leading to a lot of shoulder-high shots that feel a little less than energetic. Still, Kitson brings some emotion to the page, particularly the interplay between the all-too-human Red Tornado and the terrified Van. Where the art stumbles, however, is with the action beats, draw by Robson Rocha. Following Superman's rampage on a Buddhist temple, the statue of Christ the Redeemer and (inexplicably) a branch of Church of Scientology, the pages feel dirty rather than destructive. In particular, Rocha's expressions look smooshed and off-putting, especially the scratchy cartoon lines of the Parademons' faces.

There's a lot of potential that's going untapped with Earth 2, as Tom Taylor has a murderer's row of characters that aren't bound by continuity or crossover edicts to dictate their status quo. But his pacing still has a ways to go - he has so many good ideas and even more superheroes to choose from, and by trying to cram them all in he doesn't do justice to any of them. Earth 2 may be a diamond in the rough for DC Comics, but it can - and should - be one of its crown jewels.

Credit: Image Comics

Minimum Wage #2
Written by Bob Fingerman
Art by Bob Fingerman
Lettering by Bob Fingerman
Published by Image Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The cover looks like some beat up, seedy paperback novel that’s all about titillation rather than story. A surprised looking man sits on a bed as a woman stands feet away from him, presenting herself to him. The cover looks folded up and bent from being well read over the years. “He was a naif, knee deep in a miasma of demon weed and carnality,” the cover teases. While not telling the whole story, that statement isn’t far from the truth in Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage #2, a simple story of a man trying to find love. And if he can’t find that, he’s willing to just get lucky for a night. But really, he wants the lasting and deep love.

Fingerman recaptures some of the fun of the old alternative autobiography and underground comics but spins it off in new directions. Minimum Wage started off as a veiled autobiography but now Fingerman is writing about things outside of his life, of a man who once felt like his world was altogether and is now finding out how wrong he is. Recently separated from his wife, Rob took to online dating services to help him find a date. May was the only woman that he met that it felt like he could have a relationship with. This latest issue shows the fumbling early days of that relationship as both Rob and May try to feel one another out. Fingerman explores their relationship and their sex as a series of encounters, each one leading to a new revelation and new experience with the other.

Rob is caught in a the particular conundrum of trying to figure out whether he’s still a boy or a man. Everything in him tells him that he’s a man but after the divorce, he’s back at home and watching over his shoulder so his mom doesn’t catch him masturbating. His friend call him up for an emergency and after rushing over, his friend is just having trouble with a kaiju model. And then there’s the sex and the forgetting of condoms, like he’s just an inexperienced kid who hasn’t done any of this before. Rob’s just getting by in the world but he’s hardly ready to be a grown up in it.

The weight and presence of the characters creates a solid foundation for Fingerman to tell his stories. He draws his characters as fleshy creatures. Rob and May aren’t beautiful or exotic but they are actually like people you would encounter every day, warts and all. The way Fingerman draws his characters is also the way that he draws their world. There's a real physicality to his cartooning that works perfectly in a book like this. As Rob wonders what May actually looks like naked, you've got to wonder the same thing because Fingerman draws her as a real person. She's not a waif and she's not a runway supermodel. She's got weight to her and her body hangs and sags in real ways. As the lights go out as they get into bed, it's sweet and frustrating simultaneously. Not because it's titillating or anything but because it's real and it's right. Fingerman captures this relationship between the physical and romantic nature of the moment.

The best thing about Minimum Wage #2 is the genuineness of it. And even if it isn't completely authentic, Fingerman makes it work within the boundaries of his story. Fingerman’s story rings true for his characters. Rob may be directionless right now and his relationship/sex life with May feels that way as well as even after spending the night together, Rob ends up finding out things about May that he has trouble processing. Bob Fingerman takes the risqué magic of the old underground comics shows us that it can still be revealing in 2013.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men #10.NOW
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Kris Anka, Clay Mann, Jason Keith and Paul Mounts
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Last time we saw the X-Men, they were in throes of a brawl with the all-new Sisterhood in Dubai. Amora the Enchantress had a bone-crushing hold on Monet St. Croix and all signs pointed to a climactic battle. X-Men #10.NOW opens with Monet pummeled into the concrete and that fight is abruptly over. The first eight panels are dedicated to bringing the reader up to speed, glossing over the final events of the last story arc and beginning the new one, Ghosts.

Pacing has been an ongoing problem for Brian Wood's X-Men and #10.NOW is wrought with odd starts and stops. The rush to conclude last issue's conflict feels forced and arbitrary, particularly because the Sisterhood - Lady Deathstrike, Typhoid Mary, Enchantress and Arkea - headline this issue. Yet, we get very little in the way of substance for the story, motivation or characterization of these unlikely bedfellows. By mid-issue, if the boredom doesn't make you pause the realization of the missed opportunity to evolve and expound upon these antagonists will disappoint you.

While X-Men boasts fierce antagonists, Wood also has access to a gamut of interesting protagonists like Psylocke, Storm and Jubilee. On a title with so many great characters, there shouldn't be any room for disappointment. But apart from two witty lines of dialogue, even our protagonists lack nuance. Between the staccato story beats and an enormous cast of untapped characters, X-Men is dancing with convolution.

If you throw away the end of a perfectly good story arc to lead into another and spend two pages of precious comic real estate to bring readers up to speed, then you can't take for granted that readers are familiar with the characters in the first place. We know Mary's mind is merged due to Arkea's power - what does that mean for her? Rachel had a thing with John Sublime, but why? Storm continues to apologize to Monet, for what? Define these ladies. Give us a reason to care, not fractured, fleeting moments. Otherwise, it is near impossible to sympathize.

The only stoke of momentum in X-Men #10.NOW is the grand reveal towards the end of the issue. That makes the third time in this volume that Wood has employed this tactic. First, revealing Lady Deathstrike, and then revealing Typhoid Mary. Now, even more powerful characters are coming into play. What good is the showboating if their motivations aren't explored? It's not good. It's a plot device.

Since Wood's story choices in this issue leave much to be desired, X-Men #10.NOW relies heavily on the art to add complexity and dynamism. The issue has two opportunities to meet this task because there are two artists on the book and two colorists. Kris Anka's clean lines animate 16 of the issue's 20 pages. But apart from a few panels of character close-ups, Anka's art and panel layout are overly simple and only meet the bare minimum of the narrative. Jason Keith's colors add some depth, but not enough to make it interesting.

X-Men #10.NOW's saving grace is Clay Mann's superb detail, beautiful shapes and keen perspectives combined with Paul Mounts vivid, complex colors on the final four pages of the issue. Mann and Mounts make Jubilee's kitschy pink shades, Sentinels emerging from the ocean and Pixie's magic memorable, closing the issue on a high note.

A flagship title with this powerhouse of characters shouldn't be burdened with unmet potential and wasted momentum. But it is and X-Men #10.NOW suffocates from its depthless characterization and inconsistent narrative. If these characters and stories are given more room to grow, then X-Men can be better. A book of this caliber simply should be better.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Arrow #28
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: 8 out of 10

What was the secret of the island that Oliver Queen washed up on, all those years ago? Jeff Lemire is unearthing a grand conspiracy in the pages of Green Arrow, one that - if you don't think about it too hard - stands up on pure spectacle and dense pacing.

In certain ways, Green Arrow has been a character that has always struggled to find his way, particularly trying to define himself beyond a bow-and-arrow-wielding version of Batman. Politics didn't work. Grim and grittiness didn't work. Being a tech magnate didn't work. So Lemire deserves some credit for introducing Ollie to the secret war of the Outsiders, several clans of mercenaries and assassins defined by their weapons of choice: a fist, a shield, a spear, a sword, an axe, and - perhaps no surprise - an arrow. Reminiscent to Immortal Iron Fist, Lemire is showing that there's a much deeper world than Ollie ever recognized, and that helps separate him from the standard supervillain fare that has defined Batman (and so many other vigilantes) for so long.

The other great thing about this new status quo is that it gives Ollie some new, organic villains (and allies), all of whom add tension to the proceedings because you know just how outgunned and outclassed Ollie is. A couple years on an island may make you into a living weapon, but how about when you're taking on people who have been playing the part for their entire lives? There's a lot of exposition involved, but Lemire manages to keep the action running hot, especially when Ollie learns the role his father played in his survival "training" on the island. Add that in with some political intrigue involving the Outsiders, as well as the return of Diggle, Fyff and Naomi on their quest to stop Richard Dragon from tearing up Seattle, and you've got a lot of story to enjoy here.

But the real superstar here continues to be artist Andrea Sorrentino. Think of Alex Maleev with David Aja's panel layouts, and you've got a good sense of what Sorrentino is about. Out of all the artists in DC's stable right now, Sorrentino is one of the most ambitious in the way he breaks an action sequence down - with colorist Marcelo Maiolo keeping the readers focused on where they need to be, Sorrentino is free to experiment, particularly with an eye-popping, 22-panel flashback showing Ollie kicking the tar out of his dear old dad. Sometimes Sorrentino steps a little too far, however - in particular, with a fight against Kodiak of the Shield Clan, where the panels double as sound effects, making both difficult to read.

That said, you have to take this comic with a grain of salt. The internal logic of the Outsiders - weapon-themed fighter clans, with Ollie's industrialist father somehow buying into all this, not to mention bringing his hapless son into the mix - strains the reader's suspension of disbelief all the way to the breaking point. To compare it again to Batman, the reveal of the Court of Owls made some sense, because you got the sense that all its members were insane, either by upbringing or by the long ravages of time. The Outsiders, on the other hand, seem a little too serious to genuinely make a "Fist Clan" or a "Spear Clan" not seem, at least on its surface, a little ridiculous.

If you can get past that caveat, however, Lemire and Sorrentino's latest arc of Green Arrow is a fun, ambitious story that tries to show off previously unknown depths to the Emerald Archer. Right now, Ollie himself hasn't show his hidden potential, but Lemire is relying on changing the world around him to make his point. If we can see Ollie himself step up to the plate, this might be one of the best stories to come out of the New 52.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Loki: Agent of Asgard #1
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Lee Garbett and Nolan Woodard
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

It seems that Loki is poised to take center stage, as Marvel wastes no opportunity to give Loki room to shine. After Tom Hiddleston brought new life and popularity to the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel has capitalized on that popularity to the point where our favorite sometimes-hero gets the spotlight in Loki: Agent of Asgard. Feeling more like magical-espionage than a superhero book, Loki: Agent of Asgard has great potential to succeed and appeal to a wide variety of teenage fans.

Al Ewing writes the issue with a disjointed temporal narrative, which makes for an interesting, but ultimately contrived, story not without its merits. By starting at the climax, Ewing let’s readers know exactly where the issue is going; however, because the first picture readers see is Loki stabbing Thor in the back, Ewing leaves no room for the reader to get engaged in what events lead up to it. Often times, the characters’ actions feel contrived and only meant to push the plot forward. Such was the case with Loki heading straight for Thor, and then making a distraction; the reader is left wondering why Loki didn’t just make a distraction to erase the Avengers’ database entry on him, or some other, more straight-forward distraction and misdirection tactic.

Loki is almost unfairly the star of the book: although he interacts heavily with the Avengers in the issue—all three-dimensional and interesting characters in their own right, they’re mainly used as a sounding board for Loki to push the plot forward and get another quip in. And it should be noted that Ewing’s dialogue is organic and enjoyable, never feeling forced or tiresome. Thor, particularly, is reduced to just an uninteresting and aggressive brute; even though that’s explained by the malevolent entity inhabiting his body, it’s still less than riveting from a reader’s perspective. It also raises the question of why none of the Avengers suspected anything, either.

Beyond everything, though, the book has an undeniable sense of fun about it. Between Loki singing in the shower, Clint hastily apologizing for shooting Bruce, and a heart-felt moment between Loki and Thor, there’s a lot of great moment in the book that makes readers smile and enjoy the ride. Anyone who isn’t too familiar with the Marvel universe might find it difficult to ascertain the importance of some events—like the ending—but those moments are far and few between, which allows even the casual reader to enjoy Ewing’s story.

The star of the book has to be Lee Garbett on art. He isn’t afraid to draw from unconventional perspectives and angles, which make for a more interesting read, as seeing characters straight on can quickly get boring. He gives us great visuals—no one’s complaining about Loki’s shower scene, mind you—that border on almost too cartoonish, like the Hulk punching the wall, but they’re sleek and visually enticing enough to overlook that fact.

Nolan Woodard is a great addition for Garbett and Ewing, as he smartly uses his visuals to play along with the story. He establishes from the first scenes that Loki’s magic is conveyed through an ethereal green light to the reader, which makes scenes like Hawkeye shooting Hulk easily understood by the reader. Without Ewing outright stating that Loki did something, Woodard was able to convey Loki subtly influenced Hawkeye during the conversation by outlining them both in green.

Likewise, Woodard lets the reader know that something’s wrong with Thor by the gratuitous amount of red around his eyes for the majority of the issue (they return to normal by the end). It’s these subtle artistic decisions that let the reader know all facets of the creative team are on the same page, and that kind of resonance between the writing, penciling, inking, and coloring seems too rare today.

Suffering from underutilized characters and a sometimes contrived plot line, the issue none the less remained an enjoyable between the great dialogue and stunning visuals. Loki: Agent of Asgard has so much potential, it’ll be exciting to see where Ewing takes the God of Mischief.

Pellet Review!

Credit: Marvel Comics

Punisher #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Greg Rucka’s a tough shoe to fill, and Nathan Edmondson can’t quite pull it off. This new volume sells Frank as relatable and likable when he’s not doing his Death Wish thing, but making the guy somewhat sociable isn’t the same as giving him character. He’s still a one-dimensional caricature who monologues simply for the sake of it, kills bad guys, gets away, rinse and repeat. There’s a group hunting him, but they’d be more intriguing if they didn’t feel so familiarly spun from The Activity. Mitch Gerads’ art is the perfect tone for the book, but it would be better served if not so over-inked and details weren’t obliterated under swathes of black. The Punisher’s back, but there’s really nothing new or exciting here.

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