Best Shots Advance Reviews: ROCKET RACCOON #1, STAR-LORD #1, Plus Last Week's Highlights

Rocket Racoon #1
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with last week's biggest releases as well as some new books - from the future! So let's kick off today's column with Gorgeous George Marston, as he takes a look at Rocket Raccoon #1...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Rocket Racoon #1
Written by Skottie Young
Art by Skottie Young and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Letters by Jeff Eckleberry
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

There aren't many truly great cartoonists working in mainstream comics today. There are plenty of excellent artists, but when it comes to the art of marrying the script and visuals, pickin's are slim. That's one of the reasons it's such a joy to see Skottie Young at work, especially on a book like Rocket Raccoon, which has just the right amount of saturday morning silliness, coupled with sci-fi grit to really make use of Young's edgy, cartoonish style, and unique sense of humor. It takes quite a leap to sell an anthropomorphic Raccoon as the heir apparent to the swashbuckling space hero archetype, but Young's bon vivant sensibilities will expel any doubts from your mind by the end of Rocket Raccoon #1.

If you had asked even just a few years ago which D-List also-ran weirdo would be making a top-selling Marvel solo debut, it's possible Rocket Raccoon may not even have made the list. And yet here he is, so joyfully bizarre, and full of as much swagger as Skottie Young can muster through his unrestrained brush that there is no time to even stop and consider whether this book should even make sense. Right from the moment Rocket reveals himself to the captive princess Amalya, there's something unassailably infectious about Young's take on Rocket as a devil-may-care, comfortable in his own fur action hero. He's like that kid in high school who just knew he was cool, who was so charismatic that everyone else started to believe it too. Rocket has no time for doubt, and he brings Young's script right along with him as he leaves all your petty human concerns in the dust.

As the sole creative architect of Rocket Raccoon #1, it's easy to imagine that there's probably a lot of Skottie Young's own unfiltered id making it onto the page. Whether he's welcoming readers into an intergalactic wrestling arena where Groot is fighting for his life, following Starlord on a merry chase across an alien landscape, or showing off Rocket's lady's man/action hero skills over and over again, Young crams so much energy and fun into his visuals that it would be a feat not to be engaged. Young's loose yet intricate brush style is complemented by Jean-Francois Beaulieu's colors, which are bright without being cloying, and pack just as much personality as Young's lines without overshadowing them, or competing for the reader's focus. It's hard to say whether there's another mainstream Marvel title where this pairing would fair so well, but in light of just how strong this issue is, it doesn't even matter.

The bottom line is, Rocket Raccoon #1 is a near-perfect piece of cartoon fiction. It plays the most ridiculous elements of comic books and science fiction against each other without missing a beat, riding entirely on Skottie Young's shoulders the entire time. Very few creators in mainstream comics could pull off an issue like this without skipping a beat, especially featuring as many wacky and outlandish elements as Rocket Raccoon #1. That Skottie Young manages to play up those aspects without coming off as silly or repellent is laudable; that the book goes so far beyond those trappings to be as compelling as it is is transcendent.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Legendary Star-Lord #1
Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco and David Curiel
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Behold - the Legendary Star-Lord!


Well, unlike Korath the Pursuer in this summer's Guardians of the Galaxy film, you probably know who Peter Quill is. But if you don't, well, Marvel's unleashing a ton of Guardians spinoffs to launch one part awareness campaign, one part charm offensive to get fans riled up and ready to pack the cinemas. And in that regard, while Legendary Star-Lord #1 is moving in the right direction, I would argue that it actually doesn't go far enough - while Sam Humphries crafts a fast-paced narrative, it doesn't quite distill the answer to the question of who is Peter Quill.

Humphries drops us into the narrative with the most streamlined of exposition, as we learn that Quill is an orphan after the death of his mother. Beyond that, well, it's expected that we know who he is already, as we jump to the present-day, as he stands dead to rights under the guns of a gang of Badoon. Who are the Badoon? And how has Jason gone from orphan to space scoundrel? That's not really going to get answered here, as Humphries jumps ahead to Star-Lord's inevitable escape from a Badoon cell. There's a bright, peppy sense of humor to keep this story energized, but it also isn't quite enough to hide the fact that this is less of a story and more of just watching Star-Lord kick butt and move to the next plot point.

That said, if you're already in the know, Humphries does craft a perky, likeable character - he just doesn't have any hooks for those not already converted. In particular, there's a great scene where Humphries gets his flirt on with a holographic Skype session with Kitty Pryde of the X-Men, who Brian Michael Bendis unwittingly set up as a potential love interest back in All-New X-Men. "Are you in bed?" Quill leers. "I just have bad luck with Peters," Kitty eventually replies. "So call me Baby Boo. Rocket does," Quill quips back. Those moments actually go a longer way to humanize Quill than the tired Robin Hood tropes of giving back to the (barely established) orphanage he was originally going to steal a priceless gemstone from.

Paco Medina's artwork is that same sort of middle-of-the-road fare - it's clean and doesn't offend, even if it doesn't really revolutionize Star-Lord or really give him much visual punch. Medina's character designs look pretty enough, particularly the way that he has Quill lying down casually as he talks with Kitty. (Small moments like his visor snapping shut also look surprisingly sharp.) That said, his page layouts and action composition could use some fine-tuning, particularly the way that the establishing shot of Star-Lord and the Badoon gang feels pretty lackluster, almost as though we were missing a more dynamic page before that to set it up. That said, colorist David Curiel does give this art some nice weight, particularly with the otherworldly purples, blues and oranges he uses to light up his pages.

While I wouldn't go so far as to say this book is as "legendary" as Peter Quill might describe himself, there's nothing inherently wrong with Legendary Star-Lord. This isn't a "must-have" book like the main Guardians book, and it isn't an auteur's spin on the property like Skottie Young's Rocket Raccoon. But as far as introductions go, Sam Humphries and Paco Medina do create a fast-moving, action-packed romp that quickly establishes all the different angles one could go with Star-Lord. While the cliffhanger does seem a little cliche, Humphries and Medina have every opportunity to make this book as unpredictable and charming as its protagonist.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman #32
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson and Laura Martin
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Superman is the most powerful hero in comics. And finally, he has the most powerful creators in the industry.

Geoff Johns. John Romita, Jr. Klaus Janson. Laura Martin. DC Comics has assembled a veritable Justice League of talent to take on the Man of Steel's flagship title, and it's looking better than ever. Complete with this visual overhaul by Romita, Janson and Martin is a refocus on characterization by Geoff Johns, who is writing some of his best and most accessible stuff in years. While there are some missteps in pacing, it's not enough to stop this revitalization of DC's most important property.

What gets me the most about Superman #32 is the metacommentary from Johns about returning Superman to his roots. He's not just an all-powerful demigod, despite the ceaseless action he's been seeing since his relaunch with the New 52. He no longer dates Lois Lane. He's quit the Daily Planet, starting an online publication with entertainment writer Cat Grant. He's going out with Wonder Woman, for Pete's sake - in almost every important way, Clark Kent has been subsumed by that big red "S."

And that's where Johns is absolutely, positively on the right track - he wants to put the "man" back into "Superman."

Through Perry White, Johns tells it like it is: "You need someone to talk to." Not infallible superheroes like Batman and Wonder Woman, who are busy with their own lives (as Johns cheekily references when Clark has to leave a message with Bruce's butler, Alfred). The most iconic and enduring superhero of them all has no life. He's one-dimensional. And slowly but surely, Johns is correcting that, having Clark cook himself a steak using heat vision, or look through his old photo albums while wearing a backwards Smallville baseball cap. While I wish there would be just a little bit more magic to this realism, Johns is absolutely doing the right thing with the Man of Steel - it's totally cool watching him punch the living daylights out of Titano, for instance, but you get numb to all the fireworks if you don't have a character behind it to root for.

But before I talk too much about Johns, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the other big success of this enterprise - the art team. John Romita, Jr. doesn't just sell the big moments - although his double-page splash of Titano getting his clock cleaned is one of the best images I've seen of Superman since even before the relaunch, and his one-two punch with Ulysses is a great knockout shot - but he adds a great sense of drama to all of his pages. Just the way he has Clark entering his apartment, his shoulders bunched up as he carries in the laundry, portrays just how incomplete Clark's personal life is. He's isolated, as he sits with a solemn look on his face, eating alone. While there are a few pages that show that Romita is still getting the hang of defining the visual vocabulary behind Superman's powers of flight and heat vision, it's a very, very strong showing. He's also aided ably by Klaus Janson's blocky inks, which work well for the action, and colorist Laura Martin runs circles around the rest of DC's stable with her energetic oranges and blues.

That said, this book isn't perfect by any means - while Johns does great work with rehabbing Superman as a character, he does spend just a bit too long on Ulysses, an analogue for Superman who was shot into another dimension by doomed scientists from Earth. The thing is, we've already seen a ton of Superman analogues lately, such as Wraith in Superman Unchained, Zod in Superman/Wonder Woman, or even Val-Zod over in Earth 2. It's a decent concept, just one that suffers from bad timing. The other issue is that, at least in this first issue, Ulysses winds up stealing deserved spotlight from Superman himself, as we don't really get to see him solve his own problems. That will probably come by the end of this first arc, but considering how much work Superman needs, it's not great to steal even small victories from him.

Regardless of some issues with high concept, Superman has suddenly become the comic to beat over in the DC Comics wheelhouse. It has a collection of DC's best talent working without crossovers or tie-ins to hold them back - this is just us getting to watch Superman go through his paces, and after so much retinkering and fruitless twisting, it's nice to have some normalcy. It's great to see John Romita take his inimitable style to characters we've never seen him portray, and it's even nicer to have Geoff Johns come back and show us how this character should be done. Back in the overwrought, ultraviolent Man of Steel film of last summer, Henry Cavill told us that "this symbol stands for hope." In the hands of Johns, Romita and company, I'm finally starting to believe it.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel #5
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

At the beginning of Ms. Marvel #5, Kamala Khan is still in a makeshift costume and half in a pretend-world, even as she becomes more assertive about her powers. By the end of the issue, Kamala owns the Ms. Marvel name, has assembled her official costume, and is openly representing her city. Adrian Alphona’s swirling lines and emotive faces, Ian Herring’s matte, homey colors and G. Willow Wilson’s writing have fit together perfectly throughout this first arc. Like Kamala, the book has engaged readers with its elasticity and self-assurance.

Kamala’s powers of elasticity seem like a natural extension of adolescent awkwardness and discovery. Sometimes Alphona draws her body as ribbony and beautiful as her hair. Other times it is unwieldy, like when she has one giant hand and arm that is much too big for the rest of her. Kamala’s face shifts from moment to moment too, from a beautiful young woman to a disarranged, goofy-looking child and back again. The dialogue switches easily from plain and earnest to silly and sarcastic. The story takes its time with set-pieces and hasn’t been afraid to wander through Kamala’s feelings and thoughts.

However much Kamala changes, she always returns to being herself. She vents about being different and having religious, immigrant parents, but her family has given her a strong sense of self and a good character. Most importantly, she’s not afraid of being different. It’s this combination of elasticity and bedrock that makes Kamala so lovable without trying. It’s why this book never feels like it’s trying too hard either. It feels like the creators know they have a winning combination and grant themselves the freedom to do what they need to do without worrying about whether or not readers will follow along.

This issue marks the end of the beginning of this series. Now that Kamala is coming into her own as a superhero, her rate of change will naturally slow and her fumbles probably won’t be as hilarious. We won’t see again the big leaps that took Kamala from zero powers to powers that she can marshal at will. I don’t know if anything will be as funny again as the clumsy, childlike nerdiness of her planning and costuming. For me the humor feels like it peaked one issue ago in #4 when Kamala triumphantly pulled an ugly yellow fanny pack out of her bedroom closet; this fifth issue is already less laugh-out-loud funny.

There are still a lot of directions for this story to grow in. Ms. Marvel has been so much about Kamala’s internal world that it’s easy to forget how much is left underdeveloped. Not only is Kamala just getting started as a community superhero, there are a lot of other aspects of her life that are unresolved. How much latitude will she be able to negotiate in her home life? As endearingly as her family is drawn, we still don’t really have an idea of who they are as people. What will her social role at school be? Her best female friend is absent from this issue, and so far doesn’t have much more depth of characterization than the obnoxious popular girl. Will anything romantic happen between Bruno and Kamala? Bruno is still just emerging as a more fleshed-out character in this issue as he becomes a member of Ms. Marvel’s team, and of course she takes him for granted.

When Kamala first wished and dreamed for powers, it was something she just wanted for herself. At the end of the fifth issue, it’s officially not just about Kamala any more. She speaks to a small crowd on a street corner, standing proud in her costume with her hands on her hips. She uses the word “us” and merges her own identity with that of Jersey City. This book has all the ingredients to keep charming us on details, beauty and wit. In order to keep us fully invested, Kamala can never stop learning or making mistakes.

Credit: Skybound

Outcast #1
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Paul Azaceta and Elizabeth Breitweiser
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Outcast #1 begins a story about demonic possession in a small town in West Virginia. This book has the potential to be better than Robert Kirkman’s two long-running series, Invincible and The Walking Dead, though its sadness might limit its popularity. Kirkman also verges on heavy-handedness with his religious themes, but this issue is a good buy for 44 pages of Paul Azaceta’s art and the beginning of a mystery.

This story is more mature and scary than Kirkman’s other works because he shows the ripple effects of demonic possession as if it were a more commonplace horror such as addiction, abuse, depression or childhood trauma. Outcast #1 mostly takes place in darkened rooms, with hints of a rural landscape that we don’t get a good look at for most of the issue. Azaceta’s dark, shadowy lines and Elizabeth Breitweiser’s heavy coloring convey the literal and figurative darkness of this story. Kirkman focuses on just a few characters, and Azaceta’s linework and Breitweiser’s lighting dig furrows into their tired faces.

The two main characters are a weary reverend and a withdrawn man named Kyle who the reverend believes can help exorcise a demon. Kyle has been living like a shut-in when the story begins, and we sympathize with him more as his past is gradually revealed. The reverend is a hard-working man of God who soldiers on. From the beginning, you notice that the small-town preacher in the dark creepy story is not sinister. He has vices, but he’s not corrupt. When he plays poker until morning with other town leaders, they actually seem like the good guys. This earnestness seems unusual for dark rural tales, and gives us something to hang on to in the midst of sadness and demonic possession.

A careful reader might think Kirkman plans to use the ghoulishness of demons as bait so that readers will sit still and learn something about Christianity. On the back page, he writes in his letter to readers that unlike zombies, there is evidence that demonic possession could be real. He also writes that the book “is not pro-religion or anti-religion in any way,” which seems like the sort of pre-emptive thing you would say if your book actually were pro-religion or anti-religion.

Setting aside the possibility of an agenda, this story has a great look to it, unfolds well, and contains some truly gross and spooky imagery. It leaves you wanting to learn more about Kyle’s story, and it’s just interesting to see Robert Kirkman start something new.

Whether Outcast runs as long as Invincible and The Walking Dead feels like a moot point, because it would be more in keeping with the maturity of this story for it to run for a while and then stop at a natural ending point. But with a TV show already in the works, there may be different factors at play than what suits the narrative.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Original Sin: Hulk Vs. Iron Man #3.1
Written by Mark Waid and Kieron Gillen
Art by Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessy and Jason Keith
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Retroactive continuity will always plague mainstream superhero comics. At worst, they create unnecessary context for events we had long since accepted and undermine how powerful the original stories were. At best, however, they allow for new creators to make a lasting mark by opening up the story possibilities of a property. Kieron Gillen and Mark Waid find themselves somewhere in between, in this addition to Original Sin and turn out something that reads well, makes an initial bit of narrative sense but is, ultimately, a completely inoffensive change.

Tony Stark and Bruce Banner have had a long history as friends and enemies over the years. The Orb’s psychic wave that reveals the heroes’ original sins causes Tony and Bruce’s recollections of the first time they met to meld together. Essentially, Gillen and Waid place Stark at the scene of the Hulk’s creation and on paper, it makes a lot of sense. Both characters are brilliant scientists who started their careers in weapons manufacturing. They both have their flaws and vices. And while their goals and upbringing at this point are very different, its not much of a jump that they would be in a room together. Waid's script does a great job communicating Stark’s guilt as the story unfolds and the final shift in perspective to Banner is pretty heavy. The pacing is excellent and so despite a lack of any real “Hulk vs. Iron Man” action outside the opening scene, the plot can still hold your interest.

Mark Bagley looks better in this issue than he has on any book since his Ultimate Spider-Man days. The opening action sequence was a surprise considering his recent work hasn’t had the same amount of energy that’s on display here. A big opening can usually set an artist up for a fall especially when the rest of the book is mostly conversational. But joined by inker Andrew Hennessy and colorist Jason Keith, Bagley really brings the younger Stark and Banner to life. There are definitely a few wonky faces and out of proportion bodies but not enough to really distract. Bagley does his best work with Bruce. The young scientist’s eyes have a glint of rage even before he becomes the Hulk and it’s that rage that’s echoed consistently throughout the book.

Overall, Waid, Gillen and company create a justifiable entry into Original Sin. Fans might feel that the events of this book throw too much of Marvel continuity into flux but it’s hard to argue with the craft at work here. Waid has consistently prove that he writes some of the best scripts in the business and he’s able to make a potentially divisive decision at least a palatable one. Bagley and the rest of the art team are definitely in sync and despite a couple of minor missteps, pull together a consistent look. This isn’t a world-changing issue that you’ll want to read again and again, but it is a solid entry in an otherwise scattered event.

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