Best Shots Comic Reviews: MS. MARVEL #6, TEEN TITANS #1, More

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel #6
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Jacob Wyatt and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

So excitement! Much comics! WOW!

Seriously though, it's hard not to feel some unbridled enthusiasm when you're hanging out with Kamala Khan. Marvel's newest breakout star is someone we all know, someone some of us might even be, so seeing her embark on adventures like the one she has in Ms. Marvel #6 carries more than a little wish fulfillment. How cool would it be to, in one night, not only discover that you have a real, honest-to-god nemesis, but to have your first super-hero team-up with your top choice for an adventuring buddy? And could you really resist a comic with a Wolverine Doge-style meme? G. Willow Wilson's Ms. Marvel perfectly captures the sense of wonder that many teen hero books have left by the wayside in the last decade, while simultaneously injecting enough Adventure Time style weirdness into the details to make the book, and its star, stand out even among an ever-growing slate of truly memorable Marvel comics.

This issue sees Kamala discovering the horrific truth about her burgeoning arch-enemy, the Inventor, a clone of Thomas Edison whose DNA was accidentally spliced with a cockatiel. If that sounds goofy as hell, it's because it is. But Wilson handles the character with such po-faced aplomb that even something so madcap feels natural. Of course Kamala, whose battle cry of "Embiggen!" is its own flag of nerd pride, would have a mutant bird super-genius nemesis. And of course her first team-up would be with the first pick of her "fantasy hero team-up bracket" - the least goofy, most humorless character possible - Wolverine. Such athletic. Very claws. So amaze. Of course, Kamala is more than prepared to keep up with his gruff antics, proving her capabilities quickly enough to impress Logan, who we all know has a soft-spot for taking capable young women under his wing - er, claw.

But it's not just the perfect combo of wacky high-concepts and fast-paced high-adventure that makes Ms. Marvel special. This issue sees Kamala, in her civilian guise, finally confront the dreaded Sheikh Abdullah over her continued disobedience to her parents. Fortunately, the confrontation doesn't go the way she expects, and Kamala finds an unlikely supporter in her religious adviser. While Kamala's other civilian relationships are touched on only briefly, her home life is a big part of what sets this title apart. Kamala isn't a hero driven by tragedy, or sadness, or vengeance, she's driven by a sense of right and wrong and by the sheer thrill of her wishes finally being granted. Kamala invites us all to remember the fun of superhero comics, and to get lost in them in a way that many jaded readers seem to have trouble achieving.

Ms. Marvel #6 also sees artist Jacob Wyatt join the team. While regular series artist Adrian Alphona will undoubtedly return, Wyatt is a breath of fresh air for the look of this book. Wyatt's layouts are strong and energetic, breathing life even into extended conversational sequences, and perfectly framing Ms. Marvel's biggest action sequences yet. Wyatt takes Alphona's well-defined look for Kamala Khan and runs with it, often using manga-esque impressions to explore Kamala's emotions. Wyatt's sense of contrast is stronger than Alphona's as well, leading him to present the most visually appealing version of Wolverine Marvel has published in a long time. Likewise, his take on the aforementioned Inventor manages to be as alien and menacing as it is zany. As good as Alphona's work on Ms. Marvel has been, I hope Wyatt sticks around for a while, or at least becomes the go-to artist for the times that Alphona needs a break.

It's hard to call a comic perfect - even when a title is consistently great, there's almost always somewhere for it to go. So instead, I will simply say that Ms. Marvel is incredibly timely. In a time when the face of fandom is changing, and readers are clamoring for books and heroes that more accurately reflect the world's diversity, Ms. Marvel is aiming for the bullseye of the zeitgeist, and coming pretty damn close to the mark. It's hard to find a book that is as energetic and upbeat as Ms. Marvel, let alone one starring a female person of color that bucks the stereotypes while staying true to culture being portrayed.

Credit: DC Comics

Teen Titans #1
Written by Will Pfeifer
Art by Kenneth Rocafort and Dan Brown
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The old saying goes “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover,” and Teen Titans #1, a book that’s been put through the wringer because of it’s cover, is does it’s best to prove that statement. The previous volume became mired in convoluted plots that were further bogged down by bad dialogue and heavy-handed exposition. But Will Pfeifer and Kenneth Rocafort avoid some of the pitfalls of their predecessors and craft an effective take on the Titans for the New 52. All things considered, that’s a huge step in the right direction.

The cover is the most obvious eyesore. Not for the art, though. (Something tells me that you’ve heard a thing or two about the art.) It’s the design and the packaging of the product. While Young Avengers was setting the world on fire for teenaged superhero team books and even Avengers Arena executed its fairly stock concept with surprising pathos, Teen Titans couldn’t find a foothold. This time they try to borrow a bit from Young Avengers, but what’s the play? Young Avengers’ clever nods to Tumblr and social media grew out of an understanding of its audience, and so DC’s hackneyed attempt to capture that same energy is more groan-worthy than exciting. DC is essentially shouting at potential readers “WE MADE THIS FOR YOU!” And potential readers are whispering back, “No.”

But those readers are missing out. Will Pfeifer has a very clear understanding of his team and the roles that they fill, both socially and with their superpowers. For a book that’s predicated entirely around the action at hand, there’s are some good bits of character development and these heroes have more potential to grow than they have in the recent past. Pfeifer isn’t perfect though. The team’s handling of three terrorists strapped to bombs is cause for alarm, especially for Red Robin, who was raised with a “don’t kill” mentality. It’s a little jarring that the kids don’t even really react. But overall, Pfeiffer hits his beats and the pacing is great, eventually leading to a minor conflict at the end that has potential to define the book.

Kenneth Rocafort does his part as well. Varied shots and page designs help translate the action effectively while still moving along as a good clip. Rocafort has a knack for balance. He provides enough detail to set a scene and establish his characters but not too much as to clutter the pages. His work with Beast Boy’s transformations is excellent. It injects the book with some visual humor that plays nicely against Pfeifer’s script. Bunker’s power set is also deftly handled with a big assist from Dan Brown’s coloring work. There are some small issues with foreshortening throughout the book but nothing that’s enough to be distracting. Rocafort’s worst offense is generally in his character rendering, though. His characters look far too old, and the costume designs for Wonder Girl and Raven are lackluster.

Teen Titans is a welcome surprise. It’s doesn’t have the style or the substance of other teen superhero books that are out there but it definitely has it’s merits. After the more melodramatic, grim n’ gritty take we had gotten before, it’s nice to read a book that’s a bit lighter superhero fare. Kenneth Rocafort’s thin lines and Dan Brown’s expressive coloring help highlight the book’s new direction and dedication to making its heroes actually heroic (despite a couple of more dubious moments). The tone is closer to DC’s animated entries into the Teen Titan/Young Justice universe, and it’s about time. There’s definitely room for improvement, but Teen Titans overcomes most of its pitfalls with aplomb.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Uncanny X-Men #23
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Kris Anka
Lettering by Joe Caramanga
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

With the Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier, it seems that Uncanny X-Men has finally gone full superhero soap opera. As solicitations to this issue started to surface, I found myself shocked that this hadn’t happened before. Uncanny X-Men as always been a title willing to turn into overwrought dramas amid robot fights and trips into the Danger Room; a secret will by a patriarch is a classic Sweeps Week trope tailor-made for the pages of an Uncanny X-Men comic. While this issue never actually delves into the specifics of the will, the looming contents and the daytime TV scenes between the team itself gives Uncanny X-Men #23 an almost lurid feel.

Bendis, always the master of structure, builds Uncanny X-Men #23 much like a soap opera episode, staging each set of characters presented in tiny one-act plays building up to the major climax. The last arc, which pitted the Uncanny team against SHIELD, as well as yet another future self bent on their present destruction, dragged a bit because of this very same structure, but here Bendis’s issue construction benefits from the Dynasty-like hook. The last arc teased the man behind the curtain until the very last issue of the arc, which took the teeth away from the conflict around the X-Men. Uncanny X-Men #23 dangles the carrot right in front of your faces from the cover, and lets the characters tied to Xavier's will and testament react as such. Of course, Bendis can write action really well, but drama and conflict he deploys around his characters has always been his greatest strength.

The X-Men are teetering on the edge, in every sense of the word and Bendis digs into it throughout this issue, revealing the humanity in mutantkind. Uncanny X-Men #23 contains more than a few choice character moments, including cameos by everyone’s favorite and least favorite green characters, She-Hulk and the Skrulls respectively, yet it is Dazzler who steals the spotlight and seems to be poised to make the famous Bendis transition from cult favorite to A-lister. As Dazzler becomes more and more aware of the crimes she supposedly committed thanks to a hijacking by Mystique, she becomes more and more vengeful and erratic. As far I know, Dazzler hasn’t gotten the grim reboot treatment just yet, but here Bendis presents her as a woman thirsty for bloody revenge and a dramatic image rebranding. It was about time Alison Blaire did a riot grrrl and her transitionary period on display in Uncanny X-Men #23 is a ball to watch.

Handling the intimate yet dynamic renderings of Bendis’s highly dramatic script is comics wunderkind Kris Anka, designer behind Dazzler’s upcoming new look. Anka’s work is always a joy to read, as he deftly balances comic book action with emotive characters and striking design work. In Uncanny X-Men #23 he alternates between dense, traditionally structured panel grids that sit neatly upon ther page to long, expansive panels that dominate both pages with heightened emotion. Particularly the scenes with Scott remembering that fateful day where he killed Xavier and with Dazzler heading back to the building where she was kept, seeking retribution. Both of these contain highly fantastical elements with Scott under the influence of the Phoenix Force and Alison’s power outburst in the plaza, yet the prevailing element of Anka’s work is the emotion he displays with the characters. Alison is almost feral looking in her fruitless search, while Scott is stoically coming apart at the seams across four panels. Kris Anka may draw everyone in incredible and sleek costumes, but he never once renders them like empty supersuits with lantern jaws and beautiful bone structures. He draws them like people.

Uncanny X-Men has been called a superhero soap opera for as long as the days of Bryne and Claremont. If anyone was the heir to the throne of this era of emotional and engaging superhero stories, it would be Brian Michael Bendis and Uncanny X-Men #23 is proof enough. Since their Marvel NOW! debuts, Bendis’ X-Men books have always occupied their ends of the X-Men yarn spectrum. All-New being the high adventure, Blue Team-like book, while Uncanny took on the more brooding, high drama Gold Team spot. The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier seems to be the Uncanny X-Men’s most explosive drama yet, but let's hope that we aren’t chasing the carrot of story resolution for too long yet again.

Credit: DC Comics

Robin Rises: Omega #1
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Andy Kubert, Jonathan Glapion and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Do you like Andy Kubert?

That's pretty much the only question you have to ask yourself to decide whether or not to dive into Robin Rises: Omega. Because yes, this comic is basically just one part recap and two parts fight sequence. But in the hands of Andy Kubert, even a run-of-the-mill fight comic can pack some serious punch.

That also makes for a (relatively) easy-to-follow comic. Haven't read an issue of Batman and Robin in the last five years? No problem - it may drag some for the people throughly in-the-know, but Tomasi dutifully recaps everything in the Batman saga since Damian came on the scene, ranging from the icky circumstances behind his birth to Bruce Wayne's death and New God-fueled resurrection.

The rest of the comic - seriously - is a fight scene.

There's not any character arc, not any revelations made, it's just Batman, Frankenstein and Ra's al Ghul fighting Apokolips regular Glorious Godfrey and his horde of killer Parademons. There are a few other superpowered guest stars that make an appearance, but really, the whole meat of this comic is based squarely on the appeal of whether or not you'd like to see Andy Kubert draw Batman kicking ass and chewing bubble gum. Tomasi gives Kubert some appropriate badass moments, like him screaming at a Parademon "let's see if you can fly blind!" as he jams a Batarang in its eye, or watching Batman literally chop a Parademon's hands off for touching his son's sarcophagus. Kubert's Batman isn't just angular, he looks cut in every sense of the word, a brooding beast of muscle and rage, leaping and scowling and punching on every page.

People beyond the Kubert fans will likely find this comic to be a bit insubstantial, even despite the expanded 35-page count - perhaps maybe because in spite of the title, this book isn't really about Robin. He's a plot device, an excuse for a battle royale. In addition, the inclusion of Apokolips and the New Gods does feel jarring compared to the decidedly non-cosmic adventures of the Batman, although the same people arguing that point likely argued it when Grant Morrison did almost the same thing during The Return of Bruce Wayne. And admittedly, there's one panel that references Greg Pak's early Batman/Superman run that is a bit of a head-scratcher, even for people like me who read every issue of that series. It's not narrative - it's continuity used as window-dressing to try to explain Batman being in a weird place. It's pretty, but don't expect anything deep out of it.

In a lot of ways, Robin Rises: Omega is almost a critic-proof comic. There's no use imagining any new twists and turns, because there seriously aren't any. This is a fight comic. The only escalation is more people causing more punching, leading (theoretically) to the next set of punching in Batman and Robin #33. After all the needless twists and turns following Bruce Wayne's death, maybe a little bit of straightforwardness is needed. Or maybe, given the long, twisting road towards the resurrection of Damian, this is where Peter Tomasi's universe-spanning saga finally jumps the shark.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Original Sin #6
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Mike Deodato and Frank Martin
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

"This is all some weird cry for help, isn't it?"

Perhaps - but is it a cry coming from Jason Aaron, as he thrashes amongst the violent and contradictory waves of Marvel continuity, or the hapless readers bombarded month after month by Original Sin? Six issues in, and this comic's mix of characters is starting to clash and shake almost to the breaking point, as the secret history of Nick Fury seems to become only more alienating.

To his credit, Jason Aaron finally explains why he's put together a team as weird as Doctor Strange, Black Panther, the Punisher, Gamora, Rocket Racoon, Ant-Man and Emma Frost. It's not about putting a spotlight on some of Marvel's quirkier offerings as a test to see if any of them could be breakout hits (unless you're being a cynical comics reviewerhooboyIbetterstopnow). It's about who is going to step up to the challenge of guarding Earth from secret interstellar and interdimensional threats once the one, true, old Nick Fury finally shuffles off this mortal coil.

But after that, you better get ready for some drawn-out teasing of Fury's motivations, as well as a whole lot of punchin'.

I wouldn't say that Aaron necessarily earns the fight at the end of this comic - it's pretty arbitrary. And it doesn't really give a whole lot of focus to any particular one of these characters - Gamora slashes, Punisher shoots, the Black Panther gives an acrobatic kick. The Avengers also eat at some pages, making their way towards the space station. But it winds up feeling like a deeply exhausted, meandering plot - it's moving around, and it's trying to give the people what they want, but boy, it doesn't really seem to have any deeper meaning or emotion. It's mystery after endless mystery, fight after endless fight. Surely the Marvel Universe - secrets and warts and all - has to be a more exciting, more fun place than this?

Maybe some of that malaise comes from artist Mike Deodato. That's not a dig at him - that's simply his style. Deodato's characters live in the shadows, particularly as the old Fury skulks around a darkened lab, with the schizo supervillain the Orb strapped to a steel table. He also really plays up the grossness of some of these characters, like the wires sticking out of a Fury LMD's head, or the fleshy nerves attached to the Watcher's eyes. His larger images are also very iconic, like Captain America gearing up for a fight, or the Avengers assembling in their space gear. It's almost a shame, then, that he's given so many pages with talking heads, usually with one character explaning the whole scene to a bunch of other appropriately nodding superheroes - partially because that also means Deodato's quick bursts of action force him to choreograph so much action in the span of two or three pages.

The last page, featuring a bad man in a robot suit, maybe explains it all. It looks like an action figure, and that's really what this series is about. It's putting together the action figures in a way that looks new, and then hoping a story comes out of it. To Aaron and company's credit, this series has triggered a few new developments in each of these characters' own books, like Thor's new sister, Luke Cage's father's secret superteam or Spider-Man's new counterpart. But this book is so concerned with setting up other people's stories that it never really bothered to set up one of its own. Maybe that's Marvel's true Original Sin.

Credit: Ballantine Books

Seconds
By Bryan Lee O'Malley
Art assists by Jason Fischer
Colors by Nathan Fairbairn
Lettering by Dustin Harbin
Published by Ballantine Books
Review by Brendan McGuirk
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

One of the most rewarding aspects of following the work of auteurs is taking note of their thematic throughlines. Artists tend to have a grand unifying theory, a central question that each project examines through inventiveness and shifted convention.

Bryan Lee O'Malley is interested in growing up. As themes go, that could seem like YA fare, but dismissing his work on those grounds would be as big a mistake as failing to take his work seriously because he draws his characters cutesy. Like a comedian whose punchlines distract from his somber cultural concerns, O'Malley's honeyed style is merely the lure he uses to draw readers in while he sorts out the existential anxieties that come with the search for one's place in the world.

Katie Klay is not the woman she means to be. But she has a lot in common with her. An accomplished chef with some significant life-accomplishment notches under her belt, she takes pride in the one restaurant she helped build into an institution (one she still, in fact, resides above), and has another on the way that she will own and operate with confidence thanks to her considerable experience. Knocking on the door of thirty, she insists to anyone that will listen that she is in no way challenged by the prospect of aging, that she is plenty young, vibrant and pretty. She's pretty great. She's pretty sure.

But she may have, like, some doubts. Maybe she and her business partner chose the wrong location for their new restaurant. Maybe she could have handled some romantic dealings better. Maybe her happiest days are behind her. Maybe turning thirty is the actual end of the world.

Katie has some dissatisfaction, but her life isn't bad when a strange nymph empowers her to change it with the power of reality-altering magic mushrooms. It's not so much her life's failures she wishes to avert with her newfound ability to change the past, and thus the course of history, but disappointments. Her failures, and her remorse, only arise when she tries to micromanage everything to perfection, which brings new tensions, and loosens her tether to the core fabric of herself and her life. Her journey is a charming story of ambition, community and acceptance.

O'Malley's cartooning is at an all-time best. It's nearly impossible to separate the writing from the artwork, it's all one toolbox. Sound effects, cutaways, zooms and pans; when it's time for the hammer to drop, for consequence or humor or the sweet spot in between, it's all perfectly paced and in sync. The drawing is immaculate, with lush and specific scenery and a cast where no two characters look even remotely alike. Each page, even the stripped-down ones, feels pored over and strongly considered. It's a breezy read, but there's enough detail to find something new to enjoy with each inspection.

It's impossible to examine O'Malley's first major work since the completion of his seminal Scott Pilgrim series without doing some comparing.

Scott Pilgrim couldn't accept responsibility, and didn't want to grow up. Katie Clay wants nothing more than to grow up, but her rigid vision for herself impedes her growth in profound ways.

With Scott Pilgrim, O'Malley seemed like a natural, raw talent. He had something personal to say, the “video game logic” conceit he pioneered was crucial and clever, and its commercial success proved there to be a huge audience that, it turned out, was yearning to discover a voice that could speak both to and for them. He was like a twenty-year-old rookie phenom, who burst into the majors after a moderate September call-up (2003's Lost At Sea) and slugged 40 home runs in his inaugural campaign.

It was an impressive feat, but with Seconds, O'Malley ascends from phenom to virtuoso. He might've proven an ability to hit for power before, but now he's simultaneously batting .400 while shouldering the weight that comes with fans' expectations. There's a striking confidence to the telling of this story, from everything to its structure (he seems to enjoy the closed-circle narrative after spending years on a sprawling six-part series), to its narrative voice. The semi-omniscient narrator with whom Katie shares a running (internal?) dialogue gives Seconds its flavor, and many of its most telling and hilarious moments. For all the doubt within the story, the author himself projects nothing but certainty.

Bryan Lee O'Malley's creative maturity clearly outpaces that of his self-doubting protagonists. Perhaps he's posing the same question each time around, but its a trenchant one, and he's found bigger answers each go-round. Seconds asks something complex, but its conclusion turns out to be pretty simple.

Your life is what you made it. Accepting the architect is the best way to accept the architecture. Probably.

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