Best Shots Reviews - ELEKTRA #2, JLA #14, DANGER GIRL: MAY DAY #2, More

Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Hope you’ve been enjoying your holiday weekend! There’s been no rest for the Best Shots team, as we’ve put together a handful of new reviews for your reading pleasure! And what’s more, the Best Shots team has grown by one, as we welcome Lilith Wood to Newsarama! So let’s kick off with our newest recruit, as she takes a look at the sophomore issue of Elektra

Credit: Marvel Comics

Elektra #2
Written by W. Haden Blackman
Art by Michael Del Mundo, Marco D’Alfonso
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Elektra #1 began with a blank-faced Elektra staring at a cracked mirror and not seeing her mother or her father in her features. She is just an assassin, she says. In a story about killers hunting a master assassin, all that sets Elektra apart is that she’s the one working a contract to bring him in alive. After reading the second issue, I still only know that she is graceful, low affect, and usually kills people for a living. I don’t know yet whether Elektra’s low visibility is a literary choice at the beginning of an unfolding story, or whether she is going to get short shrift in her own series. I do know, however, that the Michael Del Mundo’s art is lush, W. Haden Blackman’s writing is poetic but restrained, and the two work together in a way that makes me excited to keep reading.

Even if Elektra #2 weren’t well-written (which it is), I would recommend owning it for Del Mundo’s illustrations alone. The issue opens with the cannibalistic Bloody Lips, who is also tracking the elusive and deadly Cape Crow. Bloody Lips stole the first issue from Elektra, and is even more glorious this installment. Del Mundo paints him as both creaturely and god-like, with a spirit face hiding inside the gaping jaws of a lion’s head. As the issue begins, we see the cannibal wading waist-deep in the ocean with sunlight glancing off the green water and lighting up his mane. Everything feels as warm and good as memories of childhood summers. Even though we know he eats people, we’re drawn to him. His stream of consciousness shouldn’t sound reasonable to us, but it does.

The vividness of Bloody Lips just accentuates the emptiness of the title character. We see so much of his strong, ruddy hands in the first three pages that Elektra’s own red-gloved fingers seem brittle and anemic on the fourth page. Her skin is pale and blue-tinged, as if it’s her costume that oxygenates, not her blood. When Bloody Lips is in the water, he is the water. When the sun shines on his mane, he is the sunlight. Elektra, however, is always at a remove. The scenes of her dancer-esque fighting are beautifully painted, but she just seems dancing through her surroundings like a mosquito dodging rain drops. Even fighting and killing don’t seem like intimate acts. If we cared about her more, we would be worried about her.

Whether or not Del Mundo and Blackman bring Elektra to life, I want to spend more time inside this story. I think great fiction pulls readers along as if they are in a dream, guiding them and taking care not to jostle them awake. The dream Del Mundo and Blackman are creating is so strong that pointing out the odd things that intrude on it feels like nitpicking. We might not notice them if everything else didn’t feel so seamless. One of those things is the Matchmaker’s vintage slang. It’s nifty but always on the edge of being distracting (especially when you’re forced to notice anachronisms within her anachronisms). Another small but more systemic issue is that Del Mundo’s art is so expressive that the sound effect lettering feels unnecessary. I know that’s just part of comic book language. I think Elektra is so painterly and narrative that it’s easy to forget it’s a comic—it’s almost like the book itself forgets that it’s a comic. Then it remembers with a start, and goes BA-BOOOMM!!

You do want something as beautiful as this book to have a sense of humor, though, and the Matchmaker’s little quips are too mannered to count. This second issue gives us a glimmer of silliness: a giant monster with a marsupial pouch full of goofy baby monsters. There’s also a small funny part at the end with Bloody Lips’ body language when he tells someone she’s still alive because he “couldn’t decide where to start.” I hope we see more little moments like that in future issues.

At the end of Elektra #2 a new character is introduced, and he is the closest thing to an ordinary person that we’ve seen so far. In a story about ruthless killers hunting down a ruthless killer for money (or power), it’s easy to forget that some people aren’t killers. Some people even operate out of love or loyalty, and it’s nice to be reminded. It made me think maybe Elektra just spends her time with the wrong people. Maybe this new character will be good for her and remind her how to be a person. Maybe I do care about her a little bit after all.

Two issues in, the pulse behind the book is still a man who ate his own children’s hearts. I hope Del Mundo and Blackman keep Bloody Lips as a strong character and keep up their mind-meld in general. Del Mundo’s art grabs the eye of anyone who flips the book open, but I think Blackman’s solid writing will prove itself more and more as we go on.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League of America #14
Written by Matt Kindt
Art by Tom Derenick, Eddy Barrows, Diogenes Neves, Vicente Cifuentes, Eber Ferrieria, Marc Deering and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Man, these Justice League teams just can’t catch a break, can they?

It seems like only yesterday that we were witnessing another spinoff of the flagship Justice League getting an ignominious shutdown from the government - but instead of Booster Gold and his band of dysfunctional heroes losing a federal building over in Justice League International, Steve Trevor and his Justice League of America helped drop the ball during Forever Evil when the whole world went to hell. Acting as a bridge towards Justice League United, Matt Kindt gives a send-off to the majority of Geoff Johns’ team of hard-edged anti-heroes, but this final issue does suffer from bad timing more than anything else.

Given that we already saw the first issue of Justice League United a few weeks ago, it’s almost a bit jarring to see Trevor’s gang again. Now that Johns’ Forever Evil has concluded, however, we finally know that the world is safe again — and that means that this title's government-sponsored heroes are getting the shaft. Writer Matt Kindt is stuck between a rock and a hard place here - we’re only 14 issues into this series. We never really got a chance to care about these characters, and now he has to put them back in the metaphorical toy box so other creators can play with them (such as Hawkman being in space, Vibe being on the run, or Catwoman gearing up to be a crime lord over in Batman: Eternal - Element Girl, meanwhile, is just inexplicably gone). We’ve seen this before, but unlike Justice League International, this wasn’t a team of Z-listers - Johns clearly built this team with a reason in mind, and that unrealized potential is probably one of the biggest things you notice in Justice League of America #14.

It doesn’t help that Kindt has to be as vague as humanly possible about the futures of these characters, since they’re likely still not set in stone. Green Lantern Simon Baz just bails arbitrarily, as does Katana, leaving these two characters without a home title. (The Simon Baz scene feels especially jarring, since Eddy Barrows draws a great, actiony splash page of he and Green Arrow running towards us and shooting arrows, only on the next panel to have Baz say he’s not going with the Emerald Archer.) The highlight, however, is the Martian Manhunter rampaging, trying to find his unexpected BFF Stargirl; there’s a surprising sweetness to their camaraderie, which comes from sharing a telepathic bond the past few issues. That said, the tension is undercut by the structure of the script, since we know that Stargirl isn’t in the slightest bit of danger.

The multiple artists on this book are similar enough in tone that the story feels cohesive, but at the same time, Barrows, Tom Derenick and Diogenes Neves don’t really get much of a chance to shine. Barrows is the heavyweight of the book, getting bits like the double-page splash featuring the Justice League and the Injustice Gang facing down the Crime Syndicate during the climax of Forever Evil, and it’s clean and iconic and easy to distinguish which character is which. (Even if his expressions look off, such as Superman smile/grimacing at his evil counterpart, Ultraman.) Beats such as the Martian Manhunter brooding as he breaks into a government facility look appropriately shadowy and atmospheric as well, but it’s also alongside static pages like Catwoman seemingly floating towards a building.

On the one hand, Justice League of America #14 does feel like a needed bridge to get to Justice League United, which now feels like it jumped the gun coming out so much earlier than this and Forever Evil #7. But the weird publishing schedule aside, it feels like this iteration of the team never really got a chance to come into its own; we saw them take their time to assemble, then they were thrust into crossover after crossover, never really getting to interact or even distinguish themselves almond all the other teams in the DCU. It makes this epilogue - or maybe we should call it a eulogy - feel a little light overall.

Danger Girl: May Day #2
Danger Girl: May Day #2
Credit: IDW Publishing

Danger Girl: May Day #2
Written by Andy Hartnell
Art by John Royle, Eeshwar and Romulo Fajardo
Lettering by Neil Uyetake
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

Danger Girl: May Day wants to be simple and fun, but seems labored instead. The second issue is more cohesive than the first one was, but it isn’t a jumping on point for people new to this long-running cheesecake spy franchise.

The second issue could have worked as the first issue. It lingers in the beginning long enough to acquaint the readers with the situation: a female pirate is cultivating a female spy operative who has lost her memory and her identity. When Danger Girl dives back into action, there’s a training montage and then the story cuts over to Russia where something disastrous is happening with a secret weapon. It becomes clear that the amnesiac woman is being trained to deal with this situation.

Danger Girl wouldn’t be itself without all of the sexy women in sexy poses, and that comes at a cost. John Royle and the art team have a limited number of panels, chances, and choices to illustrate a story. If the priority is to focus on a butt one more time, that’s deciding not to try something else that might have advanced the story better. An even bigger handicap is that the women’s faces are treated like sexual body parts instead of like faces. This makes the women seem like mannequins and forfeits more chances to tell the story well. Readers can glean a lot of information from faces, but not when faces are treated like T&A.

Andy Hartnell’s dialogue is often left to make up for other storytelling weaknesses in Danger Girl, and it can’t. With no narration and no access to characters’ thoughts, a lot of backstory and exposition has to go into conversations. It is hard to have the characters talk naturally to each other when their words are always trying to catch the reader up. A playwright might have the deftness to pull that off, but in Danger Girl it just makes the female characters seem even more like mannequins.

The characters also seem to explain a lot of things that are happening right in front of them, as they are happening. Some of this could be visually shown instead, and some should be in the dialogue—just written less ham-handedly. There’s a panel where a man is looking at a leaking canister and saying to someone over the radio “The canisters…one appears to have ruptured.” And he hears: “Ruptured? Are you certain!?” and he says “Yes. I can see gas leaking out. Is it dangerous?” It feels clunky and like they decided to show us that he didn’t know it was a secret weapon in order to underscore how secret it was, and then they had the other person tell him it was a secret weapon so that we could know it was a secret weapon. But right before this whole sequence began, April (the pirate) had alluded to a mysterious threat, so it was pretty obvious already that the leaking canister was the mysterious threat.

Which illustrates my last point: Danger Girl: May Day is in over its head in the spy genre. I associate spy stories with intrigue, the interweaving of story threads, and the sprinkling in of hints. Danger Girl: May Day does not pack the gear to do any of that. When it does try to deal with a spy story theme like the amnesiac’s missing identity, it just comes across like a weak soap opera. Usually I like the talking-and-feeling parts of comics, especially between women. But in this case, I just thought “this is too much talking, why don’t you fight each other some more.” I’m not going to care about one woman’s missing identity when it doesn’t feel like a single other person in the story has an identity either.

I don’t think anyone routinely reading Danger Girl wants it to be anything other than cheap, glossy sexiness with a side of gore. The target audience seems to be men who are nostalgic for the “bodice-rippers for boys” they enjoyed back in the ‘90s. The book is freighted with the obsessive frustration of a teenager—nothing sexual ever seems to actually happen, but every non-sexual thing is dripping with a kid’s idea of what sex is. If the financials make sense to keep focusing on this aging demographic’s particular fix, then I suppose these books will keep showing up on the shelves. But with other comics (and other media) combining sexiness and storytelling better, I doubt May Day will make many new fans for Danger Girl.

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New Doop #2
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by David Lafuente and Laura Allred
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The X-Men universe is profoundly weird.

In all fairness, the majority of comics and their continuity is built on a strong foundation of weirdness, but the X-Men universe has always reveled in this, instead of trying to explain it away or justify it. In a narrative that has been dominated by such out there concepts like the Mojoverse, multiple alternate realities, and cosmic deities, it would take quite a bit to upstage these insane ideas. Thankfully, we have Doop, the protoplasmic mascot of X-Statix, a character so odd and singular that it makes all the sense in the world that he would be a mainstay, and unofficial mascot, of the X-Men universe. Peter Milligan and Mike Allred tapped into something very strange with the creation of Doop, and now in All-New Doop #2, Milligan joins with artist David Lafuente to go back to that mine to find that its still filled with weirdo gold.

All-New Doop #2 continues following Doop as he courts Kitty Pryde while traversing though the Marginalia in and out of the events of Battle of the Atom. Milligan presents everything that is happening on the page with a seriousness that only highlights the charm of the book. Though I’m not the biggest fan of Doop-speak being tossed to the wayside, Doop’s newfound English skills replaces his enigmatic nature with straight-up cuteness as he tries his hardest to court Pryde, another welcome addition to the weird proceedings.

Milligan also taps into something really interesting with the invention of the Marginalia (aka Doopspace), explaining once and for all just how Doop is able to seemingly be anywhere and everywhere at once. Too much backstory and explanation into a character’s past and motivations usually is the death knell of that character’s mystique (remember how awesome Logan was when we barely knew anything about him?), but here, Milligan just endears us more to Doop and his exploits and throwing Kitty into the middle of all this gives us a familiar, beloved face to follow down the rabbit hole. Milligan seems to understand that Doop and his adventures may be a bit too weird for certain X-fans so he bets on a character that he knows is a sure thing, lending a sense of familiarity amid the wall to wall strangeness.

While Pryde may be the character that we know the most going into All-New Doop, its still very much Doop’s book and that’s where the real fun lies. As Doop and Kitty pop in and out of the events of the X-Men’s latest team event, Milligan interweaves the over-the-top heroics with strange, yet charming romantic comedy troupes. Doop takes Kitty through the Marginalia on a weird first date of sorts starting at his favorite restaurant, Chateau Du Armpit Hair, and ending in one of Doop’s many personal movie theaters. While Doop’s actual purpose might not be clear as of yet, it is very, very hard not to want to hug the poor schlub. Milligan intercuts strangeness of the character with genuine pathos and likability, making him the most charming potato-looking thing this side of a Toy Story movie. The first issue more than baited the hook, now issue #2 looks to bring you into Doop’s world further, and it succeeds in spades.

While Mike Allred may have co-created Doop and delivered some of his most iconic adventures in X-Statix, it is David Lafuente and Laura Allred that have given him a brand new, highly energetic look and feel. Milligan’s script slams the pedal to the floor in terms of weirdness and Lafuente and Allred are right behind him, keeping up the pace to almost breakneck speeds. Lafuente’s Doop displays a full range of emotion from heart broken to cheeky and everything in between. While Mike Allred’s interpretation has always skewed more toward just right out odd and sometimes ugly, Lafuente’s is like a precocious child, quick to smile and quicker still to tantrums, as the last few pages display.

Lafuente also displays his knack for sprawling action scenes with the travels through Doopspace, the events of Battle of the Atom unfolding all around Doop and Kitty as they weave their way through behind the scenes. It’s really heady stuff, but exciting nonetheless. Everything is tied together with the insanely bright colors of Laura Allred, lending her masterful brushes to heighten the style of All-New Doop #2. Every book could use a dose of the Allred Touch and here readers get all they could handle as the colors burst from the pages in fountains of greens, yellows and reds. The issue may be wild and wooly, but it looks gorgeous.

While comic fans have praised certain comics for their realistic portrayal of superheroes and their exploits, there is always a large part of us that clamor for abject weirdness in the pages of our favorite funny books. It has been there since the very start; the need for the surreal. Drama and consequences are all well and good, but every once and awhile you need a book that completely cuts lose in regards to character and ideas. All-New Doop #2 is that book. It’s a book that wears its heart on its sleeve, while throwing itself off the deep end as to how weird it can be and is. While the X-Men universe is home to a great many insane concepts and characters, Peter Milligan, David Lafuente, and Laura Allred present a very convincing case for Doop taking the cake as the weirdest, most charming member of the X-Men universe.

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