Best Shots Comic Reviews: SHE-HULK #5, DETECTIVE #32, More

Marvel previews for June 11, 2014
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

She-Hulk #5
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Ron Wimberly, Rico Renzi
Lettering by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

In She-Hulk #5, fill-in artist Ron Wimberly presents an alternate vision for what this character and story could be. The dramatic change in art comes just as Charles Soule’s writing is hitting its stride. This issue is wonderful as its own entity, but will strain some readers’ connection to the heroine they thought they were getting to know.

In its first four issues, She-Hulk took us on a campy little jaunt with Jennifer Walters, city girl and hulk-lawyer. The story was cleverly put together and always had a feeling of style over substance. Javier Pulido’s panels fit neatly together and the objects within them didn’t seem so much composed as merchandized, like product in a high-end boutique. He was selling us the bold shapes he designed, including Jennifer Walters’s big green head. He made her eyes exactly the right size and shape to balance her deadpan with sweetness. He gave her just enough affable clumsiness to make her lovable despite her glossy exterior. We couldn’t quite gain purchase on her rounded, unblemished surfaces but we didn’t mind because the story was always about bright colors and fun.

Wimberly’s She-Hulk still has bright colors and fun, but his art is much more angular and kinetic. His fisheye angles and busted-up facial planes bring shadow and depth into his panels. Wimberly drains the quirky-cute out of She-Hulk, and tempers her prettiness with don’t-give-a-damn rock ugliness. It suits her disaffection, and it suits Charles Soule’s writing.

In earlier issues, Soule wrote Jennifer as discriminated against and down on her luck, but the art was too full of fun rom-com coding to make that stick. Even her hard times were spiffy and aspirational. The way Wimberly draws Jennifer, it’s easier to believe that her feelings are real. For this one issue, she can slouch on Shocker’s couch drinking a beer with him, her knees splayed just as wide as his. Pulido’s She-Hulk would have crossed her legs.

Soule’s writing feels different in this issue even without the influence of Wimberly’s art. For the first time, he is telling a smaller piece of a bigger story. We’re finally down to the hinted-at blue file - a strange lawsuit against She-Hulk and several other supers. Angie Huang and Patsy Walker/Hellcat are deputized as She-Hulk’s agents and Soule does well cutting back and forth between these three threads. He fits them together to advance a single story with mystery, action, secrets and danger. The longer story arc gives him more room to fit conversations into his pacing. With help from Wimberly’s expressiveness, interactions are funnier and themes of what it is to be hero begin to emerge more clearly.

I don’t think it will be easy for Pulido to step back into his gig and seamlessly take back art duties. This aesthetic change amounts to a protagonist swap and it will be jarring again when the two Jennifers are switched back. It doesn’t help that Soule chose Wimberly’s issue to get serious about his main storyline. The episodic stories of the first four issues seemed all right at the time, but now feel aimless and loose in light of the fifth issue. I don’t think four of those issues amount to a set-up for this fifth one. With very little adjustment, this could have been the first or second issue of the series.

Readers loyal to Pulido might be put off by Wimberly’s fill-in issue, but it is simply too exciting to look at and too important to the story’s over-all development to miss. Enjoy it as an island unto itself and join me in regarding this series as an on-going experiment.

Credit: DC Comics

Detective Comics #32
Written and Illustrated by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by Jake Baumgart
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

First and foremost, the detective is back in Detective Comics. We have Batman trying to solve actual mysteries. This may not sound like much, but since every other Batman title has him fighting supervillans or catastrophic threats, it's nice to see him get those boots back into the Gotham grime. Storytellers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato will have a masterwork on their hands when their run is over.

The scenes between Bullock and Bruce are especially enjoyable. These two sides of the same coin mix like water and oil and give this title that crime drama feel. There might not being anything better than watching two curmudgeonly bitter detectives square off because their heart is too big for either to back down. Although we've seen the "mystery drug invades a major city" storyline before, Manapul and Buccellato put Batman through the motions naturally and with great characterization for his dual roles as Bruce and Batman. You can feel the clock ticking for Batman - but he isn't the only detective.

The successor to the Robin mantle will no doubt be handled as a huge event, so it seems very unlikely that it would evolve naturally in Detective Comics. However, from what we've seen, Annie Aguila would be a perfect fit for the black domino mask. Manapul and Buccellato are building her story much the same way Denny O'Neil did for Tim Drake those many years ago. Like Tim, Annie isn't some kid caught in the cross fire and the death of her mother sends her off on her own detective case. We saw that she has the skills and courage (and a bike uniform that's only missing a little red) in Detective Comics #30, but now we see she has what it takes to dig in to the Gotham underworld and solve the murder of her mother.

There is a scene between her and Batman on the pier shows that these two have a similar relationship that comes with the yellow cape. It's a foregone conclusion that Batman will have a Robin again someday. There's the obvious choice of Carey Kelly in Batman and... , or the return of a fan-favorites Tim Drake or Damian, but with the care that's being taken by Manapul and Buccellato, Annie would be a refreshing choice. It certainly wouldn't feel forced like Harper Row did in Batman.

Perhaps the greatest gift of Manapul and Buccellato's collaboration is the artwork. It cannot be overstated - every page is an amazing work of art to behold. It’s tempting to want every page as a print for your collection. Their Batman is all their own. There are flashes of influence from Dustin Nguyen all the way to Lee Bermejo (just look at that cape!), and that should give you some idea of the gamut their talent can cover. The duo is credited as "storytellers" in the credits, and this could not ring more true. Every panel breathes story. The artwork is inseparable from the plot. They've taken coloring cues from Danny Miki and Greg Capullo over on Batman, with a Gotham that's coated in orange and magenta. However, in Detective Comics #32, the coloring choices are handled with more grace and lend a gentle aura to the setting. Manapul and Buccellato aren't simply just coloring in the lines, but building an emotion that stays with the reader from fight scene to dialog.

It's a rare feeling when you're only three issues deep into a new arc and you know it's going to be amazing. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato are a rarity on DC titles. They are a perfect team that elevates a time-tested character, like Batman, from monthly serials into a true experience. The storytellers are in complete control of their craft: narrative, artwork, and legacy. They are leaving their mark on Batman. In Detective Comics #32, Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato establish Batman as the great detective in the forefront of a vibrant and destructively beautiful Gotham City.

Credit: DC Comics

Infinity Man and the Forever People #1
Written by Dan DiDio and Keith Geffin
Art by Keith Geffin, Scott Koblish and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10.

There is always something off about cover versions of great songs. Sure, every once and awhile you get a “Blue Bayou”, but more often than not you are left with a dime store version of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”; vapid and well worn in the worst possible way. That was the thought that constantly ran through my mind as I took in Dan DiDio and Keith Geffin latest Jack Kirby adaptation, Infinity Man and the Forever People #1. A comic that completely leans into the scale, scope, and weirdness of the Kirby original, looks almost exactly like the Kirby original with the extra layer of sheen due to the digital colors, but yet feels completely devoid of the crackling energy of the original. This debut issue may have the look, but completely misses the opportunity to recapture the spirit of the King’s original opus.

Infinity Man and the Forever People #1 opens with a densely gorgeous four panel grid leading into an expansive establishing shot of New Genesis. DiDio and Geffin (who for the rest of this review will be referred to together as it is billed as a wholly collaborative process) quickly establish facets of the New Gods’ culture, using the narration over this grid and splash page to expound on the glory and destruction that the New Gods are capable of, while using the images that the narration thuds through to really hammer home the near limitless scale in which these characters inhabit. This is a truly gorgeous opening and I applaud the creative team for it. As amazing as this opening is, the comic that proceeds it never once gets off the ground until the last four pages, which contains a pretty effectively harrowing chase leading up to a great reveal of another Kirby creation.

Unfortunately, DiDio and Geffin completely drop the ball and momentum as soon as the Forever People start to interact. Infinity Man and the Forever People #1 presents the Forever People as bickering, posturing exposition machines instead of wild ideas and sources of, if you’ll excuse the pun, infinitely interesting stories. Vykin is the pushy overprotective brother who dislikes the rakishly aloof Mark Moonrider, while most of the female cast, Vykin’s unnamed Barda-esque girlfriend, Seraphina, and the inexplicably renamed Dreamer Beautiful, are relegated to getting pushed around by the men and scowling at each other while spouting off on the nose bits of dialogue about everything that is occurring in the scene around them. In their bickering, they activate the Mother Box and are transported to Earth, meeting the last member of the team, Big Bear.

I am hesitant to call them a team, carbon copies may be more apt. DiDio and Geffin write these characters as rigid as their character designs, offering no real conflict or spark to this first issue. The majority of the action is confined to an argument presented like an inciting event to gather a super team. We know absolutely nothing about these characters aside from their names and New God lineage. DiDio and Geffin seem to be coasting on name recognition alone and that can’t support the weight of a debut issue.

Infinity Man and the Forever People #1 also cribs the pacing and layouts of a Jack Kirby comic with its large panels, simple layouts, and use of the opening splash page (a tatic Kirby would also employ with single or double page splashes, almost presenting a second cover as a set piece). The art of Keith Geffin, Hi-Fi, and Scott Koblish may be this debut issues single saving grace. No page is every more than six panels and each panel is stacked high with Kirby like body poses and technology. Geffin soars with his workman like renditions of the King’s characters, injecting an energy into the panels that is lacking in the script.

As previously stated, the opening panels leading into the two page splash are gorgeous to behold and the characters look properly lantern jawed and ready to burst forth from the page. Though he may be slavishly devoted to the adaptation, this is still the same Geffin that drew the Legion, though with an apparent glee at getting his pencils around the Forever People. It is great to know that certain pillars of the industry still have it when sat in front of a design table. Though it is a pity that the script couldn’t live up to the beautiful panels throughout this issue.

Great covers often sound absolutely nothing like the original and therein lie their strength. Half of the fun is listening to one and getting something wholly unexpected. Infinity Man and the Forever People #1 isn’t unexpected. It isn’t filled to the brim with new ideas and concepts for the DC Universe. Worst of all, it isn’t any fun. Kirby comics were and are exciting because they seem to hum in your hands as you read them. They leap from the pages into your imagination and infect your thoughts with something Grant Morrison referred to as "pure comics."

Infinity Man and the Forever People #1 just tramps along, looking beautiful, but offering nothing of substance for comic fans. This comic may walk the walk as a cover song, but it comes nowhere near talking the talk.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman/Wonder Woman #9
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Tony Daniel, Matt Banning, Sandu Florea and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Loyalty, betrayal and goodbye. There’s some powerful stuff in Superman/Wonder Woman #9. It’s just too bad it all felt so contrived. For a title that typically boasts great momentum and heart-string tugging, this issue is not a good representation of the quality that has come before it. With the exception of Diana, Kal and company are out of sync and out of character, believability has left the building.

As is the nature of the crossover, there are obviously moments throughout the issue where the story exposition happened in another title. Writer Charles Soule does a fine job of letting the dialogue pick up some of those pieces, but it’s not quite enough. It still feels like you’re missing something. When you consider how dire the circumstances are for our protagonists, this robs the issue of some much needed gravity.

As Superman continues to struggle with containing the Doomsday virus, he’s on the verge of losing himself. Wonder Woman can’t do much more than watch him suffer, so she attempts to help her boyfriend turned death-beast by recruiting her Amazon sister, Hessia, who happens to be one of their greatest healers. Involving Hessia seems like a perfectly Diana thing to do. She would, of course, want to heal a loved one. But Hessia’s choice to betray Diana in a moment of vulnerability seems like a very un-Amazon thing to do and a one-dimensional attempt at a catalyst.

How can we drive Superman off-planet? Let’s have an Amazon pick a fight with the Doom side of him. But that begs the question, why wouldn’t he just leave in the first place? The choice to stick around in the face of imminent doom seems very un-Clark. Also, Hessia’s treachery draws a line in the sand for her and Diana that does not bode well for future characterization. In fact, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the issue. The lack of plausibility makes everything else borne of that moment a little too convenient, undermining what could have been a powerful scene for Supes and Wondy. Were in not for Diana’s compelling moments of influence, I don’t know that the Superman/Wonder Woman #9 would have had any verity making it that much more unfortunate that she’s second fiddle for most of the issue.

Thank goodness Tony Daniel’s art works so very well. He draws a beautiful, kinetic issue, conveying much of the intensity and emotion that is intended by the plot. Clark is pensive, Super Doom is terrifying, Diana is wrought and in a stunning splash-page, Hessia is glorious. Where the narrative misses the mark, Daniel’s meticulous lines and Tomeu Morey’s definitive colors offer bold exposition in stirring character moments and in action, as well. In addition, the angles and landscapes give way to stunning perspectives, particularly when Diana must channel her Goddess of War persona and the fight takes to the stars.

Superman/Wonder Woman #9 may be a necessary chapter in Kal and Diana’s relationship to move the Superman: Doomed story along, but it does so at the expense of character authenticity. Whatever resolution may come of Superman’s fight with death, a return to the honest repartee between two of the DCU’s most powerful people will be a welcome one, if it ever comes. Let’s hope for the composure of this title that it does.

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