Best Shots Comic Reviews: ANIMAL MAN #29, MS. MARVEL #2, More

Ms. Marvel #2 interior art by Adrian Alphona
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel #2
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

For years, Marvel Comics has been defined by the litany of credos that its heroes live by. None of these are more famous than the wisdom imparted to Peter Parker by his beloved Uncle Ben, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”. This simple, yet intensely profound phrase has echoed through the minds of readers for decades, and writers have tried for just as many years to capture this kind of narrative lighting in a bottle in regards to their own characters. But now, in the pages of Ms. Marvel #2, G. Willow Wilson has given us a story and character that embodies the idea of great power and great responsibility in such a way that it is sure to resonate with a whole new generation of comic book fans.

Ms. Marvel #2 picks up directly after the cliffhanger of the debut issue with young Kamala Kahn struggling to understand and control her new found powers after exposure to the mysterious Terrigen Mists. Here G. Willow Wilson gets right to the meat of a truly great origin story. Kamala is scared, confused, and experiencing what she calls a “new sense” but, upon seeing the girl that mocks her, her faith, and culture on a daily basis fall into the Hudson, she can’t help but react heroically. Wilson does an excellent job with this first inciting incident. This isn’t some master villain looking to destroy the city or some threat from beyond the stars. Its simply a panicked girl and a hero just finding herself. Its this kind of simplistically powerful story that makes Ms. Marvel #2 such an effective superhero tale. Kamala is still unsure of herself and she barely understands her powers, yet she jumps in for the rescue without a second’s hesitation, because that’s what Captain Marvel would do. This is pitch perfect “Great power, great responsibility”, thus making it a great superhero origin story akin to Spider-Man. Every superhero has a defining moment and this is Kamala's. G. Willow Wilson has taken the tried and true formula and given us a stellar take on it.

Wilson also does a tremendous job bringing Kamala back down to Earth after her debut as a superhero. After sneaking back into her home, she is promptly caught and grounded by her worried parents. Its been a long while since Marvel has given us a true teenage hero aside from Miles Morales over in the Ultimates universe, but while Miles and his friends are dealing with earth shattering enemies, Kamala Kahn just wants to have a normal social life like her friends and be treated like an adult. G. Willow Wilson, from the first announcement of the series, said that Kamala’s parents and upbringing were going to play a central role in the book and in Issue #2, she makes good on this promise. This adds another compelling layer to Kamala’s story beyond your standard superhero fare. How can she tell her parents that she’s become something more than human? More so, how can she hope to balance her life as a young Muslim with her budding life as a superhero? We can’t even hope to know at this point, but you can rest assured that readers will be and are chomping at the bit to know more.

Before Ms. Marvel it had been a while since we had seen the name Adrian Alphona on the cover of a comic, but in this issue, he more than makes up for his long absence with some truly great work. Displaying the same level of emotion that he brought to the pages of Runaways Alphona makes Kamala just as awkward as her age would make her and twice as expressive. Now, with the added visual flair of her having superpowers, Alphona really gets to play, translating her emotions into physical manifestations. When she wants and needs to feel small, Alphona makes her contort into a waif like pose as she shrinks herself down to stay out of sight. When she feels the resolve of being a hero, her fist becomes large and powerful. Alphona has an almost infinite canvas to explore with Kamala Kahn and her new found shape shifting powers and this second issue illustrates that he plans on using as much of it as possible. Ian Herring also does some tremendously interesting things with his colors, adding real depth to Alphona’s work. He is more or less working with the same color pallet established in issue one, yet the night time setting gives each color a mutedly vibrant look, as if each splash of bold color is trying to shine brighter than it is. Its also refreshing to see a colorist actually color people of different ethnic backgrounds as real people instead of the exaggerated way they are often times portrayed. Kamala and her family are real people and the art team treats them as such.

No one actually utters the words “With great power, comes great responsibility” in the pages of Ms. Marvel #2, yet the message echoes throughout the comic. Kamala Kahn has experienced her first brush with something larger than herself in this issue and all the while her father’s words from the Quran repeated in her head: “Whoever kills one person, it is as if he has killed all of mankind and who ever saves one person, it is as if he has saved all of mankind.” That always made Kamala feel better, and it should make us feel better, too. Uncle Ben would be very, very proud.

Credit: DC Comics

Animal Man #29
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman, Jose Villarrubia, and Lovern Kindzierski
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

How does one say goodbye? How does one even attempt to sum up more than two years of stories and character work in just twenty pages? Well, if you are Jeff Lemire, you do it as simply as possible. You do it with a bedtime story. Thus concludes the tale of Buddy Baker and his family. Animal Man has always been the quietly innovative and compelling secret weapon of The New 52 and with this finale, Jeff Lemire and his team gave us a proper ending to a consistently entertaining, emotional, and often times scary title.

Most finales are often times so bogged down in wrapping up their still dangling plot lines that there is usually little time to tell a compelling story. Jeff Lemire, a writer known for his tight and economic plots, gracefully avoids this pitfall and is allowed to tell exactly the story that he wants to tell to send Buddy off into the unknown. After filling the power vacuum left by Brother Blood’s attack and assuring that his daughter is forever kept out of The Red’s plans for a future avatar, Buddy comes back to our plane of existence to say goodbye to his family before heading back into space. Its here that something wholly unexpected happens. Buddy takes a backseat in the narrative and his daughter, Maxine, takes center stage as the narrator of a bedtime story for her father. Lemire has always hinted at the prospect of Maxine becoming the protagonist of the comic since the very first arc but this issue casts her in a different role; one of the care giver. The bedtime story is, more or less, a recap of the entire series up until this point, but its also a tale with something just underneath the surface, much like Animal Man itself. Its a story of loss and pain, but ultimately acceptance and absolution for Buddy. The bedtime story is Maxine, and in some part, Jeff Lemire, forgiving Buddy for the death of Cliff and the horrors that his superhero career has put his family through. Its a wonderfully cathartic way to end Buddy Baker’s solo adventures and immensely satisfying for a reader.

Travel Foreman makes his triumphant return to the pages of Animal Man giving the title’s art the proper feeling of closure that it deserves. His lean linework and cinematic panel layouts are just as welcome in the last issue as they were in the first issues. His work is fantastic here as per usual, but its Jeff Lemire who emerges as the star artist of the issue. Lemire lends his trademark pencils to the bedtime story scenes and the issue is all the stronger because of it. Lemire’s work gives these scenes a personal feeling and emotional weight that Foreman, though incredible, doesn't have. As writer, Lemire has put Buddy and his family though absolute hell, in some cases, quite literally. With this in mind, there is a deep sense of almost reverence to these scenes. Bedtime stories are designed to give comfort and solace to a worried mind, and Lemire renders it as such, even the scary parts. Jeff Lemire has always held Animal Man and its characters close to his heart and you can really feel this when looking at these scenes. The dual artists on this issue feels less like a gimmick and more like a tribute to the book itself. They give us what came before and a look as what would come beyond the story and its beautiful. Fans of this title will be more than pleased with the creative choices on display here.

We are all stories in the end, and in Buddy Baker’s case, it was a damn good one. Animal Man was never a story JUST about a superhero, that would be too mundane. No, Animal Man was a book about a family and the struggles that family goes through to stay together after the loss of a loved one. Animal Man was about celebrity and how that effects you and those you surround yourself with. Animal Man was about accepting who you are and what you can and cannot control. Most of all, Animal Man was a horror story and like most great horror stories, it rose above its own genre and held a mirror up to its readers and asked what they saw in themselves as they read. Jeff Lemire and the myriad of artists he has working with him throughout the tenure of Animal Man were always concerned, first and foremost, with giving us great stories that scared us, thrilled us, and aimed for our heart a bit more than other superhero comics and in this regard they have succeeded with flying colors. Endings are notoriously difficult in comics, yet Lemire and Team Animal Man make it look deceptively simple in their execution. They had a story to tell and they told it in the best possible way that they could and that’s all that we could have hoped for in a finale. Thank you, Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman. Thank you, Steve Pugh. But most of all, thank you, Buddy Baker. We part only to meet again.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Daredevil #1
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

When it was announced that Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's beloved Daredevil was coming to a close,an huge outcry went out among fans. That is, until it was announced that Daredevil would be getting a new volume marked not by a change in creative team, but a change in scenery and setting. With Waid and Samnee still on board, Matt Murdock has publicly acknowledged his identity as DD to save his friend and partner Foggy Nelson's life, and as a result, hoofed it across the country to San Francisco. Rest assured that while Waid and Samnee's particular charm is still in full effect, this new #1 definitely feels like a fresh start.

Right off the bat, Chris Samnee's game has leveled up. Samnee's art has been evolving since he took the reigns of this book from Paolo Rivera, and honestly, he's grown into a perfect fit for Waid's alternately carefree and darkly motivated Daredevil. Splitting between the noir-ish opening of Matt Murdock using his particular gifts to isolate clues in a kidnapper's ransom message, and Daredevil careening around San Francisco in a desperate bid to find his bearings, Samnee also finds a perfect balance of old school, grounded storytelling, and innovative panel layouts that make these pages really feel like something special. With Javier Rodriguez, Samnee's longtime Daredevil colorist, still on board providing a pitch perfect rendition of San Francisco's foggy-but-not-dismal atmosphere, the art on this book is just incredible. Chris Samnee is one of the absolute best working cartoonists in mainstream comics, if not the very best.

While Daredevil's dichotomy comes through in the art, it also takes hold in the script. Though Waid's plot focuses on some fairly generic villains with a much more sinister motive than their scheme implies, it is the small thematic touches that really bring the whole issue together. Things like Matt Murdock operating in a dark, sealed off room, while his alter ego has found a home in the bright daylight perfectly highlight the changing dynamic between Murdock's two identities that Waid has been cultivating for some time. And, in a way, that is what makes San Francisco such a perfect setting for this new era of Daredevil - a city that is at once open to all, but hard to know, which harbors a history of dark but colorful periods, and which is almost always cold and foggy, but sunny and inviting. Sounds just like Waid's take on Matt Murdock.

Speaking of "foggy," if there's one big flaw in this issue, it's that it leaves the previous volume's biggest ongoing x-factor as yet unresolved. Throughout the previous Daredevil run, Foggy Nelson's health has been failing steadily. While there are hints and allusions to his fate, readers have been baited and switched and teased with Foggy's condition enough times that it's a little frustrating to see that plot point be this new volume's first major cliffhanger. Still, it's not the kind of thing that should be brushed off or tossed aside in a bit of conversation - Foggy's cancer was, after all, the impetus for Matt's unmasking and cross-country move - but it's starting to feel a little gimmicky, and that's dangerous ground for such a touchy subject.

Mark Waid and Chris Samnee have already proven themselves the shepherds of one of Daredevil's classic runs. And while a relaunch with the same creative team can occasionally feel like a bit of a waste of that apparently still important "#1" on the cover, Waid and Samnee are already proving that, not only is Marvel's "season" format working for Daredevil, but ol' Hornhead's storytellers still have new ground to break as well. Daredevil #1 may not be a groundbreaking reboot, but it is a new direction, a new city, and a new style for the swashbuckler in scarlet, and one that fits damn well.

Credit: DC Comics

American Vampire: Second Cycle #1
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque and Dave McCaig
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by Vertigo
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The band is back together as Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, and Dave McCaig are back bringing you fangs, guns, and a little bit of genealogy in the second coming of American Vampire. While the team took a break last year, they're back in beast mode as they deliver an accessible issue for new readers with only a slight bump and give longtime fans something to immerse themselves in once again.

Right out of the gate, Snyder starts planting seeds of later revelations concerning the new big baddie, the Gray Trader, then jumping forward 150 years to see Pearl Jones taking in vampire children refugees. Without heavy exposition, we're treated to a double-page splash establishing her origins as well as getting the impression that despite her monstrous form, she's a compassionate individual. We're also introduced to some of Pearl's (now living as her daughter, Henrietta) orphans and we see that Pearl isn't just rescuing these kids, but learning about the different strand of vampire lineages (there's actually a family tree, as it were).

Of course where there's Pearl, there's usually Skinner Sweet not far behind. The small fumble here is the handling of the crash course on who Skinner is in relation to the book itself. While he also has his origin explained with gorgeous Albuequerque art just like Pearl did, there needed to be something more to really get the gist of who he is and what he does. True, he's all "Easy Rider" now and looking like a typical biker badass, but his connection to the overall universe seems distant by comparison. Snyder strayed away from his usual heavy captioned narration, but here it might have been a tad useful.

The artistic tag team of Rafael Albuquerque and Dave McCaig are right on target with jumping back in with the cinematic flair and murky warm colors that the book is known for with McCaig's western sunset palette over Albuquerque's inkwashed pages. These guys might have been away for a second, but you'd never notice with them keeping up the tradition they've established visually with this world and these characters. Again, with the aforementioned origin stories being handled in splash pages, Albuquerque and McCaig have told these character's story for us in an almost old-school Hollywood movie poster sort of way.

Team A.V. comes out swinging with this re-debut and delivering a near-perfect knockout combo. Snyder's want for this issue was to be a jumping on point for new readers, and for the already established fandom to want to come back for more. For the more part, American Vampire: Second Cycle #1 excels in that aspect, but an ounce more for "Sugar Man's" motivations and where he lays in the Venn Diagram of this world might have made a little bit of difference. Though give it up to Snyder for laying the groundwork again and fueling our nightmares with the horrors that are about to come.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Wolverine and the X-Men #2
Written by Jason Latour
Art by Mahmud Asrar and Israel Silva
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Starting over is never easy. Jason Latour and Mahmud Asrar had huge shoes to fill when taking over the relaunch of Jason Aaron’s mostly beloved volume of Wolverine and the X-Men, and so far it’s a slow climb to level of quality that Aaron and artist collaborators Chris Bachalo and Nick Bradshaw put on display each month. Latour and Asrar are competent storytellers, but their difference in style and tone from the previous volume has given the book an uneven energy. In trying to build a worthy threat and carve out a niche in the X-Universe, they may have bitten off more than they can chew.

Quentin Quire still remains at the center of Latour’s narrative, and he’s the right kind of character to have readers latch onto. He’s clever and self-aware, and his thinking is just ambiguous enough to keep readers guessing as to his true intentions. Latour is starting to open up how Quire’s presence and actions affect the students and subsequently the school as a whole. But just like Latour’s usage of the Phoenix in Issue #1, we’re given a bunch of reminders about Apocalypse’s role in the X-Men’s history. These characters are familiar and obviously have huge stakes attached to them but Latour hasn’t made clear in either case whether he’s using these known commodities in any new or interesting ways. Surely, a Phoenix/Apocalypse faceoff could potentially be coming, but the lack of clarity regarding how we’ll get there makes this issue come off as a bit of jumbled mess in terms of pacing and intent.

The inconsistencies Asrar displayed in Issue #1 have cleared up a bit here. It’s natural that the more he draws this collection of characters that we’ll see more consistent renderings from him. I really like how he sets Quire apart from the other characters with his unique clothing style and the punny t-shirt slogans are great (“2pacalypse Now!” “Days of Future Pasta”). Asrar’s first big action scene doesn’t play well in the story though. It’s meant to make Storm and Wolverine look bad and raise the stock of the villain, but Asrar doesn’t sell it. The choreography of the fight comes across clunky and awkward.

When you have a superstar handling Uncanny X-Men and All-New X-Men and one of your titular characters appearing every third book in Marvel’s publishing line, there’s a lot of pressure to deliver a unique addition to the publishing schedule. But Wolverine and the X-Men lacks enough of a direction to make it unique. It’s hard to write off an X-Men book that’s teasing Phoenix and Apocalypse implications in its opening arc but propping up an as-of-yet undefined concept with arguably the largest parts of the X-Men’s mythology is a recipe for failure. Latour and Asrar are building something here but it will have to come together faster to keep readers’ interest.

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