Best Shots Comic Reviews: BATMAN & RA'S #32, DAREDEVIL #4, Much More

Interior from Batman and Ra's #32
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's big column! So let's kick off with Bruce Wayne and friends, as we take a look at the new issue of Batman and Ra's Al Ghul...

Credit: DC Comics

Batman and Ra's al Ghul #32
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

"It's like Shakespeare... but with lots more punching!"

With apologies to Warren Ellis and the band Thunder Thighs, it feels like the theme song for Marvel's Nextwave might also be appropriate for Batman and Ra's al Ghul. There's a lot of angst and drama between these two longtime foes, as they both stand on opposite sides of a chasm of grief. They both lost people dear to them with the deaths of Talia al Ghul and her son Damian, but the solution - whether or not to resurrect them - has put these two on a collision course.

So what does that lead to? A big ol' fight.

Thanks to the artwork of Patrick Gleason, Batman and Ra's al Ghul remains an exciting read, even if after awhile all the fisticuffs can become a bit numbing. Pitting Batman, Frankenstein and a pack of wild yeti against Ra's and his legion of assassins and ninja Man-Bats, there's a lot of pulpy grist for the mill. Gleason's choreography, for example, shows a Batman who is not going to take any prisoners, as he fires electrified Batarangs that, even on a static page, are hard for the eye to follow, almost as if it were moving in the blink of an eye. He also has some nice quieter moments, too, particularly the subtle heartbreak in Batman's eyes as he carries his son's sarcophagus towards the Batplane.

That said, Gleason's still at his standard excellence, but that's all it is - his standard. Unfortunately, where he succeeds in making the fight look cutthroat, Gleason doesn't quite nail the atmosphere: namely, a Batman who is driven towards the edge, a Batman who may indeed murder his immortal foe in order to keep him away from Damian's body. Even with Peter Tomasi's dialogue, in which Batman threatens to put down the Demon's Head for good, this adventure feels more like business as usual, rather than something that could really rock the foundations of the Batman universe. Additionally on the writing front, Frankenstein and the yetis feel almost forgotten from the last issue - besides Frankenstein giving a little bit of exposition on this iteration of the life-restoring Lazarus Pit, they feel unnecessary. Combine that with an abrupt, out-of-left-field cliffhanger, and you get the sense there's a little bit of shakiness to the narrative.

That may not be what this comic is meant to be, however. Tomasi has already spent plenty of time with Batman mourning the loss of his son - continuing to harp on that ad nauseum might prove to make this too dour of a read even for Batman. This is a fight comic, through and through, and while it's not the most striking superhero showdown I've ever read, Patrick Gleason's artwork makes it striking enough to stand out.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Daredevil #4
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Matt Murdock knows pain. He may know pain more than any other character in the Marvel Universe. Time and time again, writers have torn down Murdock’s life in order to inject stakes into his stories and to give him countless triumphant returns to grace as a hero. Mark Waid seems bored by all this gloom and doom that has made up Murdock’s past. This conscious choice to turn toward the light is what has made Waid’s run so compelling for so long. With Daredevil #4, Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez use Matt’s current optimistic outlook as a compelling foil against a man who is in the exact same place as Matt was all those years ago. The Shroud is desperate, angry and carries a hefty death wish on his head. Matt Murdock knows exactly what that is like, and he may be the only person in San Francisco that can save him.

Daredevil #4 opens with Matt Murdock escaping the Owl’s compound in a thrilling chase scene. Mark Waid has become an old hand at front loading his Daredevil issues with set pieces that not only propel the issue forward but use the springboard of the previous issue’s cliffhanger. Last issue, Matt was facing down the wrong end of the Owl’s fiery deathtrap, yet in #4, he’s leaping forth thanks to a helping telescoping cane from the Shroud, dispensing two-fisted justice in order to escape and plan his next move. Matt's partnership with the Shroud is particularly compelling - the Shroud is everything that Matt Murdock has been in the past, thus giving Daredevil an interesting point/counterpoint for this opening plot. Since the start of his tenure on Daredevil, Mark Waid has gone out of his way to make the title and titular character fun again - that said, giving Matt a partner that is just as misguided and angry as he was during earlier incarnations has proved to be fertile narrative ground. Daredevil has been looking through a mirror darkly with the Shroud, in every possible way, and he knows exactly what it means and how it feels to be that lost.

Another character that Waid has invigorated is the Owl, taking him from gimmick to legitimate threat. While other writers like Ed Brubaker and Nick Spencer have used the Owl to some effect, highlighting his sadistic methods, Mark Waid seems to be casting him as the main villain in a slasher movie, making him equally feral and calculating. After a particularly harrowing set piece in the previous issue, Waid allows the Owl to bide his time in Daredevil #4, waiting for his time to strike. Waid also gives the Owl a major power upgrade on top of his general nastiness, setting him up as a major antagonist going forward. While he may spend the majority of his time in this issue as a spectator, the Owl still has a metric ton of story potential working for him going forward. I will be very curious to see how he rears his ugly head again in later issues.

Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez turn in amazing work once again with Daredevil #4. Samnee and Rodriguez turn in such consistently great work that I am hard pressed to find something new to say about their talents. Samnee, in the opening chase scene, spreads the panels across the entire page, allowing the scene to feel as cinematic as previous issues. Samnee has always used this visual tool in his comics, but with Daredevil he has found his blockbuster like style. Daredevil looks exactly like the book that it should and that has everything to do with Samnee and Rodriguez. Rodriguez injects a Technicolor energy into Daredevil that is a joy to look at each month. Here he uses the Shroud’s powers as a storytelling tool as he spread his inky black cloak over Daredevil after he confronts him about his death wish. Rodriguez spreads the blackness over DD’s bright red costume, choking the color out of the panel save for Matt’s trademark eye slits and horns. It is yet another evocative image from a team that has given us a multitude of striking visuals just like that.

Matt Murdock has hit rock bottom many times before now, but how do you save someone who is determined to not only hit rock bottom, but to die from it? We may not get a definite answer from Daredevil #4, but we still get a fast-paced, compelling issue all the same. Waid, Samnee and Rodriguez have become a team that you can depend on like clockwork to deliver energetic and gorgeous comic books, month after month. Daredevil has been flying high since its reboot and from the looks of this fourth issue, he shows no signs of coming back to the ground any time soon.

Credit: Image Comics

The Wicked + The Divine #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Teenagers are used as vessels for reincarnated gods who moonlight as pop stars. Leave it to Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie to turn such a deceptively simple premise into something much more enigmatic. Since its announcement The Wicked + The Divine had become the focal point of much debate within the comic reading community. Would it be Gillen’s take on the concept of divinity? Would it have any sort of connective tissue to the long promised third volume of Phonograph? How would it stack up against other Gillen and McKelvie works? Upon its release we got something not entirely unexpected, but still surprising nonetheless. We got a first issue that was fairly straight forward, personal feeling, and laser focused. The Wicked + The Divine #1 wears its power-pop-loving heart on its immaculately dressed sleeve, and it is glorious to behold.

As stated above, the premise of this series is fairly cut and dried. Various gods from across all pantheons are reincarnated in the bodies of teenagers once a century. They live for two years on the material plane and then they die, returning to the ether. Kieron Gillen presents this world as a world under an uneasy understanding of this supernatural phenomenon. As Luci says, addressing the nonbelievers is the same as granting an interview to a journalist. The world may be seeing gods walk among them in the bodies of their young, but they still haven’t fully accepted it. Our audience surrogate into this world is a young woman named Laura, who steals away with a bag full of costume materials and makeup to join the throng of others just like her to see Amaterasu, a new god who has only been active for a few weeks. Gillen has always had an uncanny knack for writing younger characters, but Laura feels like a true analogue for fandom. She is independent, excitable and is longing for something more. Amaterasu is everything she wants to be so she shows that longing in the form of cosplaying her. Laura then gets way more than she could have possibly imagined when she is pulled into the world of teenage divinity by the current gorgeous form of Lucifer, who introduces her to Amaterasu and the dangerous world of living gods, along with a world who hates and fears them.

The Wicked + The Divine #1 may be Gillen trying to come to terms with where the art comes from, as stated in the beautiful letter to readers published in the back of the issue, but it feels very much like a love letter to comic fandom as a whole. We, as fans, revere and almost worship the characters that evoke a reaction in us, and we show it in a myriad of ways. Laura does the exact same thing in this first issue. She pines that she “wants everything that she has,” and don’t we want the same thing? Kieron Gillen, ever the writer plugged into his readership, is finally giving fandom its own opus with The Wicked + The Divine #1 and instead of it thumbing its nose as us or painting us in some kind of fanatical light, it shows us as we really are; mere mortals reaching out to touch the infinite and the beautiful. Comic fandom finally has its Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and it couldn’t have come at a better moment.

Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson just keep getting better and better. While The Wicked + The Divine #1 may not be as explosively inventive as Young Avengers, this debut issue more and exemplifies why McKelvie and Wilson are two of the best artists working today. McKelvie replaces the bombastic set pieces of Young Avengers and replaces it with inventive panel blocking, making full use of the 6 to 9 panel grids in certain scenes. Take for example Laura’s flight from her house right after the title card 1-2-3-4 that dates the action in the present day. As she makes her way down the street toward Amatersau’s show, McKelvie breaks up the action with stark number cards that cut through the action like a black and white knife. It is stylish little details that come from seemingly nowhere that makes McKelvie’s work so exciting. These small cosmetic details make the bigger displays of artistic prowess like Amatersau’s first appearance and Luci’s finger snapping attack all the more powerful. Jamie McKelvie is the kind of artist that could tell a story just with a few immaculately placed panels. He doesn’t even need narration. He is a true natural talent and we are lucky to have him. We are just as lucky to have a colorist like Matthew Wilson, another natural talent that has more than made his name as one of the premier colorists working today, Wilson gives The Wicked + The Divine a clean, smooth color pallet that seems to leap off the page. Laura’s preparing of her costume is lit with a harsh florescent light with bright shocks of red and gold as she dons her effigy. The next scene is an explosion of concert lighting and an ethereal glow coming from the dancing goddess in front of the crowd. Matthew Wilson and Jamie McKelvie make the unnatural seem natural.

Comic fandom has never had a book like The Wicked + The Divine. Every month we travel to our local source of comic books and we read about the exploits of gods and goddesses. We write fan-fiction starring these immortals. We don the costumes of these heroes and commune with others who share the same reverence in exhibit halls all across the world. Superheroes are our gods. The Wicked + The Divine #1 translates this concept literally. Gillen and McKelvie are a pair who have always been fully aware of the impact their works have on the comic reading populace so, of course, they would be the pair who gives fandom its first pure fable. Laura is all of us, and we are all Laura. We just want to have everything they have. The Wicked + The Divine #1 offers us just the smallest taste of what that could be like. This debut issue understands the feeling of being a fan, and that is more than other comics can say. Fandom used to be such an ugly word, but now we are just as fashionable as every other group. The Wicked + The Divine shows us that we all have our place, immortal and mortal alike.

Credit: DC Comics

Harley Quinn #7
Written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Chad Hardin, Alex Sinclair and Paul Mounts
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

DC's favorite manic pixie dream killer is on the hunt for the person putting out a hit on her life - and the answer may not surprise you. That's not necessarily a bad thing - in this case, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti wrap up this mystery in a way that's pretty fitting for Harley Quinn, which continues to cut its erratic but nevertheless singular path through Brooklyn.

In certain ways, Harley Quinn feels like a horror-mirror version of Fox's "New Girl," in the fact that the lead character is a crazy (oftentimes to the point of annoying) free spirit who makes plenty of trouble for herself - and then has her own very unique style of getting herself out of it. In the case of Harley, however, she's not going to put on teeny-tiny hats or try to lead a handbell class for children, but instead alternates between kicking it on the beach and killing a bunch of assassins with knives, guns and even a barbed wire fence. Admittedly, I think that's been the weakness of Harley Quinn as a whole - it's hard to not compare it to Marvel's Deadpool because of how easily both titles move from groan-worthy jokes to over-the-top blood and violence. While Deadpool has the fourth-wall-breaking winks to further leaven the story, Harley really only has two settings - quip or kill - which can make the tone of this book sometimes feel a little jarring.

That all said, people who are still reading Harley Quinn already know this, and are happy to consume this sweet-and-sour combination. And I'll be the first to admit that Conner and Palmiotti really distill that disparity to the fullest with this issue, as Harley enlists her gal pal Poison Ivy to get to the root of who's trying to kill her. The answer is about as "Harley" as it gets, in the fact that this is very much her own weirdness coming back to haunt her - and that's when the fighting starts. Conner and Palmiotti do burn a lot of pages with the mindless violence, with the appeal feeling more on the juvenile side of the spectrum (like Harley and Ivy betting on what direction an assassin will fall after being impaled on a barbed wire fence) rather than as something laugh-out-loud (although inside baseball fans will laugh at the beefcakey cameos from artists Dave Johnson and Dan Panosian).

The artwork by Chad Hardin continues to impress, as his style feels right in the middle of Joe Eisma and Terry Dodson. His characters are big and broad, and he's always looking to play up the physical comedy, particularly with some of the expressions he gives his characters. (Watching Ivy and Harley unglamourously eat Chinese, for example.) While his page layouts are fairly old-school, with little use of verticals to divvy it up, Hardin does manage to pack in a lot per page, as well, including a fairly lengthy (if somewhat unmemorable) fight scene. Near the end of the book, however, some of the color work really drowns out Hardin's pencils, as the fight scene near the end of the book is drenched in dark purples.

Some people might cry foul at some of the twists in this book, particularly the way that Ivy saves the day more than Harley herself, or some of the abruptness in the scenes featuring Tony, Harley's Danzig-inspired tenant. But, to use the "New Girl" reference again, Harley Quinn has become somewhat of an ensemble piece now, where readers should be coming in for the whole family - Ivy, Tony, even Bernie the Taxidermied Beaver. Some people won't like them, and they'll leave. Others will like the whole package, and they'll stay. Even if it's an imperfect read, even the attempt at humor makes this comic a rare commodity in the otherwise ultra-serious New 52. It may be an acquired taste, but would you ever really expect Harley Quinn to fit anyone else's standards?

Credit: Marvel Comics

Elektra #3
Written by W. Hayden Blackman
Art by Michael Del Mundo and Marco D’Alfonso
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Elektra #3 is full of hurt, but the title character is coming into focus and that’s good for the series. The issue chimes throughout with themes of memory, violent death, and family - and offers no relief from these heavy feelings. It was a risk to make this third installment so dark and psychological, but W. Hayden Blackman and Michael Del Mundo have put a crack in Elektra’s shell.

A criticism of this series has been that Elektra doesn’t inhabit her own story. I now think Blackman has been writing her that way intentionally. Elektra’s so damaged that she’s not even inhabiting herself fully. On the first pages of the first issue, Elektra declared that all her attempts to fill different roles in people’s lives were over. She was just an assassin, she said. Combined with her cold blank stare, it was like a warning to readers: “Don’t try to get to know me, and don’t try to connect with me.” She then went on to act like an unemotional killer and a depressive jerk in every scene. At the end of the second issue she flatly said she couldn’t do the one thing protagonists have to do: change.

When Elektra appears in Issue #3, she is swimming to an underwater city and remembering how as a child she wished she could swim away from her life. She doesn’t know that the cannibal Bloody Lips has tasted her blood and is tracking her. When he finds her and attacks, Elektra catalogues his traits and guesses at who he might be. If anything is funny in this dark issue, it’s that this guy is trying to kill Elektra and she is robotically noting the components of his bad breath. She thinks she’s just going to be able to get rid of him and move on with her day. Instead they grapple face to face and start to drown together. They are at first curious and confused, and then frightened as they find themselves standing among dead people from their pasts. On the last page, they each learn something that challenges what they had always thought was true.

Everything is pretty to look at in Elektra #3 except for a two-page spread at the beginning, where Del Mundo illustrates an ugly mash of memories in the cannibal’s mind. Bloody Lips stores the violent memories of the killers he has eaten. The splayed fingers and grimaces of his victims’ victims are drawn instead of painted, and arrayed chaotically in different styles. It’s more scrawled, layered, and doodled than it is composed, making it look like the school notebook of a disturbed teenager. The fuschia color rippling along the edges of the pages clashes uncomfortably with the brick red of the cannibal’s thought bubbles. It feels ungainly compared to the rest of this book, but it does establish strong themes of memory, death, and consciousness. It also gives weight to the idea that Elektra is damaged; we see a jumbled representation of her mind and the assertion by Bloody Lips that Elektra is “the most troubled of all.”

Everywhere else, Del Mundo’s illustrations are graceful and work well with the wateriness of the issue. He paints beautiful splashes, currents, air bubbles, floating hair, plumes of blood, and the rippling effect of light coming through water. The underwater blues and greens mute Elektra’s reds and the cannibal’s gold. Everything is darkly dreamy, including the revelations at the end.

A lot of magical fiat power happens in the story at the end, and the creators risk painting themselves into a metaphysical corner with this issue. Elektra and Bloody Lips have both died before, been brought back to life, are now dying again, and are talking to dead people. It is both convenient and confusing. Another risk is that the story could stay too long in this dark, stifling, sad place inside the minds of brutal killers. It’s good to see the clear use of themes because they promise a human, relatable story. But in this issue, the heavily psychological themes threaten to drown out the action.

Still, the biggest risk for this solo series was that the title character would always be sidelined and unfeeling. With this issue, Del Mundo and Blackman seem to be addressing that problem and blasting a way forward for Elektra. She hasn’t changed much yet but she’s been synced up with the more resonant Bloody Lips, and she’s experienced something that can smash her sense of who she is. As long as some light filters back into future issues, readers will want to see where Elektra is going.

Credit: Image Comics

Mice Templar #11
Written by Bryan J.L. Glass
Art by Victor Santos and Serena Guerra
Lettering by James H. Glass
Published by Image Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Throughout the fourth volume of Mice Templar, Bryan J.L. Glass has labored to introduce readers to the various factions of the once dominant but now scattered Templar. The Templar were once a noble order of mice that protected the realm from the vile bats, rats, weasels, and other such creatures of the night. However, a civil war at the sacred Tree of Avalon allowed Icarus the "Mad King" – a former leader of the Templar and a catalyst to the war – to seize control of the kingdom and usher in a period of darkness. Now, years later, a young mouse named Karic has answered the hero's call to take a stand and unite his people against the growing evil in his homeland. In Issue #11, readers see this unlikeliest of heroes rise up amidst the political squabbling of lesser mice and send forth the same call he took up back in the very first volume of the series.

This issue is a real standout for colorist Serena Guerra, particularly with the night scenes. Her bluish-green skies create an eerie glow that is all-too-familiar for readers who have ever gone for a walk in the woods late at night. She is able to cast shadows in picture and make effective use of backlighting to further bring Glass' shadow world to life. The scenes where Karic begins to address the massed forces of the Templar factions is but one such example where the use of light and shadow come together to drive home the young hero's conflicting feelings of doubt over his own ability to unite the people and his hope in their doing so.

I also find this issue of Mice Templar is a great example of the growth Victor Santos is demonstrating as an artist in his ability to render a large scale battle sequence in a fashion that makes use of the medium without feeling overly rendered or complicated. There is a large, double-page splash where the Bats of Meave suddenly attack Karic, and the rest of the Templar spring into action to defend their would-be-savior. It's a great opportunity for Santos to show the once-splintered, now-united forces coming together to overwhelming defeat their foes – a sign of things to come – through placing representatives of the different groups in the center of the spread while layering multiple snapshots of dying bats in a circular fashion around the center panel. Not only does it show the action in a creative fashion, readers will have no difficulty figuring out what's happening – smart design and storytelling all at once.

Although Mice Templar #11 does not pass the test as a standalone issue for new readers, I do not believe it should be made to bend to this standard. Part of the strength behind this series is the epic scale and richness of the story Glass is telling. There various factions and storylines in play that would be weighed down if Glass and company had to contextualize every thread being (re)introduced. For example, they should be able to depend on readers knowing the backstory between Karic, Cassius, and Ronan to appreciate how tentative their alliance truly is when he arrives at the beginning of the story without having to go back and re-explain something that was already covered in depth. Therefore, it's important to understand that with such a high rating of this issue comes the recommendation to read the previous issues of the fourth volume. Otherwise, the significance of Karic's final speech at the end will (in large part) fall short of delivering the emotional impact on readers. However, regular readers will find this issue ends on a highly charged note that will leave them more than ready for the reckoning that will no doubt take place in the next issue.

Fans of Lord of the Rings, King Arthur, and Game of Thrones should already be reading this series. It works in both the familiar tropes and stories of mythology and tradition while still injecting contemporary themes today's readers will readily identify with and appreciate.

Pellet Reviews!

Credit: Marvel Comics

Wolverine and the X-Men #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The cover of this one is a bit misleading, but Jason Latour and Mahmud Asrar come through with the best issue of their run yet. Watching Quentin Quire really take the reins over the course of this story has been interesting because it's forced him to take responsibility to not just himself, but the lives of his fellow X-Men. A task he's never really had to consider before. Latour also shines a light on Fantomex and his complex relationship with his ward, Evan, during a fight with Faithful John. And that's where this book really comes together. Mahmud Asrar has built a reputation on strong character renderings and clear visual storytelling. This issue is no different and he delivers some truly astounding moments, including an excellent parallel between Storm and Idie. Although the Phoenix / Apocalypse story still hasn't been resolved, this is a fight book worth checking in on.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman Eternal #11 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Where has DC been hiding Ian Bertram? A mix between Ramon Villalobos and Frank Quitely, Bertram's art is a welcome change of pace for Batman Eternal and that he gets a good script to draw is a bonus. Writer Tim Seeley ties the women of Batman Eternal together with a common thread: sheer determination and strength of will. All of these women are taking control of their situations, which is a nice change for a lot that is usually played to further assert Batman's masculinity and/or dominance of Gotham. On top of it all, this issue features great pacing and balances each of the four stories remarkably well.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Silver Surfer #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The origin of the Impericon is revealed, and the Surfer faces off again the Incredulous Zed as the first arc wraps in this issue. Dan Slott delivers on what he said this book was all along: a love story. The Impericon's origin is the kind of gooey, heartfelt sci-fi that typifies Doctor Who but it works well here because it's balanced by the Surfer and Zed's fight. Mike Allred builds on his strong showing in the last issue and he really gets to let loose with many displays of the Power Cosmic on the page. Dawn still rings a bit hollow because Slott still plays her for laughs so often that her emotional beats lack impact. But, on the whole, Slott and Allred are crafting a solidly entertaining story.

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