Best Shots Comic Reviews: BATMAN ETERNAL #15, MS. MARVEL #6, More

Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with an even dozen reviews for your reading enjoyment! So let's kick off today's column with Leapin' Lilith Wood, as she takes a look at the latest issue of Ms. Marvel...

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 Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

In Ms. Marvel #6, writer G. Willow Wilson takes Kamala Khan’s story in a more classic superhero direction. The issue is complete with an eccentric archvillain, a threat to the city, and a team-up with another superhero. Wilson continues to craft a story that is light-hearted but earnest. However, the shift in focus combined with guest artist Jacob Wyatt’s less intimate drawing style cuts off some of our access to Kamala’s personality and emotions.

This issue is taken up with three big encounters for Kamala: the intimidating Sheikh Abdullah, a hologram of the bird-headed villain known as the Inventor, and her idol Wolverine. The Jersey City teenager is still a novice, but she has become part of something bigger. The close, familiar interiors of home, school, and corner store are replaced by larger spaces where she is a smaller figure.

Wyatt’s simpler, more cartoony style and Ian Herring’s colors highlight movement, the geometrical composition of panels, and the relationship of figures to the space around them. Wyatt does a great job with this issue, and Marvel fans who previously dismissed this story as too precious might jump on here and love the cleaner style. With the appearance of Wolverine and the Inventor, Ms. Marvel could feel like it is finally getting somewhere to those readers.

Readers who fell in love with Kamala from the beginning will notice that making room for more action and superhero business leaves less room for us to spend with Kamala’s thoughts and more every-day scenes. The change in artist also shows how the writing and art have leaned on each other up to this point. In the first five issues, Wilson brought us close enough to Kamala’s thoughts that we saw how unusual she was, and at the same time related to her more completely than we often get to relate to heroes. Without Adrian Alphona’s sensitive artwork making up the shortfall in the amount of emotional information Wilson has time to give us, Kamala starts to seem like more of a cliché of a teenage girl than the actual teenage girl we’ve been getting to know. Without Alphona’s detail and expressiveness in the goofier scenes, Kamala is both less funny and easier to make fun of.

Historically, there’s been a believable seamlessness to how Kamala is portrayed. Wilson has always showed us Kamala’s confidence waxing and waning as she investigates her new powers and keeps them hidden from her parents. The transitions felt lumpier in this issue, though. Kamala is humble and subdued with Sheikh Abdullah at the mosque, and then freaks out and takes liberties when she runs into Wolverine. Star-struck Kamala verges on ditzy and she becomes a slightly annoying foil for Wolverine’s deadpan one-liners. Wolverine in the sewers with a chatty teenage girl is funny, but also makes Kamala the weird tag-a-long kid in her own story.

Wyatt has one more guest issue before Alphona comes back. It will be interesting to see whether Wilson wrote this issue as more of a superhero story because it was a way to advance the plot while providing a nice set-piece for a guest artist with his strengths. Maybe she and Alphona will circle back later to spend more time on Kamala’s friendship with Bruno, her relationship to her parents, and the way she fits into her community and school. Or maybe this is a whole new phase for Ms. Marvel, and we will just have to see how it feels when Alphona’s influence is added back into the mix.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman Eternal #15
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley
Art by Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs and John Kalisz
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Move over, Batman and Robin - Gotham has a new dynamic duo, and their names are Batwing and Jim Corrigan! Crossovers and team-up books always have the potential for unexpected dynamics, but Ray Fawkes, Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV do a great job at making sparks fly when Batman's most mechanical and magical allies team up.

Oftentimes, the horror nature of the Batman mythos is smoothed over for the more accessible superheroics, but the writing crew here has their cake and eats it, too, as Corrigan and Batwing investigate some seriously disturbing paranormal occurrences going on in Arkham Asylum. Ray Fawkes, scripting a story by Snyder and Tynion, also uses this opportunity to really counterpoint his two leads - Corrigan explains atrocious happenings like "Hellwind" and "aetheric pylons," but it's very cool to see Batwing actually roll with it. This issue does a lot more to show that Luke Fox is a hero (probably more than his well-illustrated solo book), as Fox scans aerosolized human spinal fluid in the air... and keeps on going. It's creepy, and Fawkes not only builds up the nature of this mystical threat, but by the end, he shows just how in over their heads this duo is. It's certainly the scariest characters like the Scarecrow, the Ten-Eyed Man and Joker's Daughter have been in a long time, if ever.

Of course, the strength of a book like Batman Eternal is in its diverse and ever-shifting supporting cast, and Fawkes is able to keep this book from being too depressing or tense by including Red Robin and Harper Row - or, as we will soon come to know her, Bluebird. Similar to Batman shooing off would-be heroes like the Spoiler, Tim Drake is now the crotchety mentor to the spunky young Harper. It's a fun dynamic, considering how young both heroes are, and it's a nice comeuppance for serial busybody Tim. Some of the other supporting characters, however, feel a little bit more jarring - Batman and Jason Bard seem to go a step back from last issue, and even Batgirl, Red Hood and Batwoman comment that their storyline might have a few too many heroes for comfort. But still, Fawkes and company get points for making sure everyone gets at least some page space.

The artwork by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs is also much improved from their last issue on the book. There's a dirty yet animated look here, as the rusted, almost bloody-looking Arkham looks like a bomb hit it. Nguyen's Batwing looks smooth and streamlined amongst the chaos, while Corrigan's perpetually unsurprised scowl fits in perfectly in this abbatoir. John Kalisz also provides some nice pop, particularly with Corrigan's Spectre-esque green coat and signature red hair. That said, some may find Nguyen's pencils to be a bit sketchy, sometimes even beyond the point of someone like Sean Murphy. Still, the sheer range - showing Scarecrow hanging from a ceiling, or showing the Ten-Eyed Man huddled in terror in a dirty cell, or the straightforward superheroics like Batwing fighting a horde of zombie-like creatures - is worth the price of admission.

This issue of Batman Eternal is very far removed from the usual Batman story, and I think that shows the flexibility of this ensemble title - it's not afraid to deviate from a "traditional" Batman story, instead tapping into many different types of stories, all united by that omnipresent Bat-symbol. This comic leans into Batman's horrific side without regurgitating the old stories about the symbolism of bats, instead showing the kinds of horrors that Arkham can conjure up. And with protagonists this unexpectedly good - a compliment you can also give the creative team - this book is the best kind of magic.

Credit: Image Comics

The Wicked + The Divine #2
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Pantheons exist almost everywhere you look nowadays. Maybe we call them other things - G.O.A.T, Top 5, Top of the Charts, Desert Island Picks - but we have a way of deifying celebrities, sports stars, comic creators, pop stars and even scientists, in ways that set them apart, in ways that elevate them above the common humanity. Even superheroes are a kind of divinity that assemble into various supergroups as if they were Greek or Roman gods. And all of those pantheons have their worshippers or fans. The Wicked + The Divine #2 is all about that relationship of the divine and their worshipping throngs as we see Laura, the ultimate fangirl of the newest twelve pop star demigods, pulled into the subtle trappings of another young woman who calls herself Lucifer (just what is the nature of her game?)

Pop stars accused of crimes is nothing new. Pop stars accused of killing two assassins and a judge by simply pointing at them may be something that can only happen in the comic books. In this second issue, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie start to show us what a world where a woman can begin by dressing as Thin-White-Duke era David Bowie and call herself Lucifer is really like. As in the first issue, this issue is about Laura’s entry into this new world of pop gods. It’s the ultimate fangirl experience as she sneaks into a prison to have a one on one discussion with Lucifer and learn possible secret origin of one of her idols. It’s a fine line that Gillen walks with his writing this issue, but there’s always a difference between what his characters say and what they do so you have to slightly doubt almost everything anyone other than the all-too-innocent Laura has to say about their past, present or their future.

The true magic of The Wicked + The Divine #2 isn’t some kind of all=powerful, hocus pocus magic, but it’s all about how Gillen and McKelvie embrace the fan experience. As our entry character into this reality where pop stars are quite literally gods, Gillen and McKelvie construct these situations that feel so authentic. There may be a palpable artifice to the personas that their characters are trying to wear but that’s the whole journey of every person in their youth to discover who they are. From Phonogram to Young Avengers, that’s the quest that McKelvie and Gillen’s characters are on in one way or another. From their assembled personalities that are worn as badges of honor to the wonderfully replicable fashions perfect in the age of Tumblr, they’re rebuilding the fan experience even as they get their own fans. How many pictures can we expect from this year’s convention circuit featuring The Wicked + The Divine cosplay? The creators have tapped into some vein of existence that’s all about the real and the meta fandom that exists around comic books and music. That’s the real magic in Gillen and McKelvie’s stories.

McKelvie makes you believe in the earnestness of Gillen's characters. Too many of the recent Marvel-to-Image writers have only two solid types of motivation; anger and desperation. That's what mainstream storytelling is built on, but Gillen approaches his writing from a fascination with the pop world. Laura is curious about her world. It’s refreshing to find a comic based off of curiosity more than a furious rage. The fascination with the world around them is what sets a Gillen/McKelvie joint apart from the comics around them. From the music and celebrity to the fashion and pacing, Gillen and McKelvie start with the real world and bend it around their stories so that when Laura takes a trip to the Underworld, it’s really just a trip into an underground station, but it’s no less dramatic or perilous than a trip into any other netherworld.

As their characters perform their roles, Gillen and McKelvie, you’ve got to read The Wicked + The Divine #2 as you would any gossip rag or TMZ-like website. This is about celebrity, the people who have it and the people that want it. Godliness and worshippers are just another type of fame in Gillen and McKelvie’s world; it’s a fame that has all of the highs and lows of any fame that someone on the top of the charts right now has. You’ve got to wonder who these people are. What are the differences between Lucifer and the girl she was before she became a god? There’s the story that Gillen and McKelvie are telling here about stars and fans but then there has to be the story that they coyly are-but-aren’t telling about fans who became the stars of their own stories. In this story, Lucifer tells her story, but we all know that Lucifer lies, don’t we?

Credit: Marvel Comics

She-Hulk #6
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Ron Wimberly
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Nightwatch is the latest old friend to reconnect with She-Hulk in this story that toggles between the challenges of starting a private law practice and a mysterious lawsuit. There are things to latch on to and enjoy—a sprawling melee against little blue monsters, and Hellcat on pain meds in a hospital bed—but the production quality and energy level generally flags in She-Hulk #6. Guest artist Ron Wimberly doesn’t execute as well as he did in the last issue, and Charles Soule’s writing seems to thin out even as the plot thickens.

Wimberly’s style at its best made us see and demand more emotional depth. But when Wimberly has less control of his rougher, rawer style, it exposes chinks in Soule’s writing. The lack of a separate colorist and the pervasive sense that the pages were rushed take this issue farther afield from the effect established by Soule with regular artist Javier Pulido and colorist Muntsa Vicente.

On the one hand the story (as told by the regular team) has been a glossy compendium of superheroes reuniting for heart to hearts and colorful fights. On the other hand Soule seems to be developing an elaborate, half-hidden mystery in fits and starts. I thought he was really digging in to this main storyline in She-Hulk #5, and the structure of that issue seemed refreshingly businesslike. In this issue he dances away again. Something important happened beneath the surface with Nightwatch, but it’s papered over with a snap-of-the-fingers upturn in Jennifer’s professional luck. Even when I see that Soule seems to be going for deceptive breeziness, it still feels more like actual carelessness.

Maybe it will all look brilliant in the end, but Soule hasn’t supplied enough narrative consistency for us to trust in him. We can’t tell what the rules of his story are but it always feels like he’s not sure either. His transitions between superhero concerns and private law practice woes aren’t very graceful in this issue either, and we can see the cracks as plain as the cracks Wimberly digs into the characters’ faces.

I think Pulido provided Soule with cover in the first four issues of this series. Pulido gave Soule a chance to sneak up on us with a clever longer story arc while they both distracted us with surface-level brightness, wit, and fun. We didn’t notice inconsistencies in the storytelling as much, and we didn’t expect profundity or complexity. It bought Soule time to develop the greater storyline without having to be consistent about it. Pulido’s art (with Vicente’s colors) is bubbly and simple but with locked-down control of shape, color and composition. It’s a style that doesn’t so much transcend the need for substance as it makes us forget to look for it.

Pulido will be back for the August issue, and will probably return his ad-man gloss to She-Hulk. Jennifer Walters can go back to her less fashion-forward, more preppily polished incarnation, and we can go back to enjoying banter, hijinks, shapes and colors without expecting too much more from the story.

Credit: Archie Comics

Life With Archie #36
Written by Paul Kupperberg
Art by Pat Kennedy, Tim Kennedy, Jim Amash and Glenn Whitmore
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by Erika D. Peterman
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Handling the death of major comic book characters is tricky business. The events are usually spoiled well in advance of the stories hitting the shelves, so the writers have their work cut out from them in providing elements of surprise. When the task is done well, it feels like an actual loss, and not just a headline-grabbing stunt that eventually will be undone.

Archie Comics made it clear that the demise of its iconic redhead is for real. That's a shocker even for people who haven't cracked open an Archie book since elementary school. Granted, Life With Archie has served up many twists and turns in its run, taking on serious topics no one ever expected to see explored in Riverdale. It's been a juicy, satisfying soap opera and an example of Archie Comics' applause-worthy modernization.

Writer Paul Kupperberg has the daunting task of not only bringing Archie's story to a powerful close but also, in a way, paying tribute to more than 70 years of the character's existence. It's obvious that he handled this issue with great care, and diehards — I consider myself one — will certainly feel an emotional tug during the flashback sequences to Archie's childhood, tween and teen years. "It all started with the touch of her hand," he reminisces. The average person on the street will know he's talking about either Betty or Veronica.

Unfortunately, too much of this issue feels like a summary that's hurtling toward the inevitable. Archie has no idea what lies ahead, and yet his inner monologue comes across as a long goodbye. He practically says as much in an encounter with his old high school principal, Mr. Weatherbee. Archie also reflects upon the love of his life, but because Kupperberg has to reconcile two timelines — one in which the character is married to Betty and another that has him wed to Veronica — we never see his wife's face. It would have been a seriously gutsy move to depart from that construct and reveal one or the other, though I get why Kupperberg chose otherwise.

It isn't spoiling anything to say that Archie is killed taking a bullet for Kevin Keller, Archie Comics' first gay character, a U.S. senator and war veteran who is passionate about gun control. Perhaps the intent was to show how abrupt and out-of-nowhere death can be, but story overall didn’t deliver the impact one would expect. It might be even more of a letdown for readers who aren't familiar with the previous issues but picked up this comic out of curiosity.

While reading this book, I found myself thinking often of Peter Parker's death in Ultimate Spider-Man. Though that event had been hyped for months, it was still a powerful story that managed to capture everything readers loved about Peter. That’s what made his end so tragic, and that feeling of deep loss is what’s missing here.

Art-wise, Pat Kennedy and Tim Kennedy’s illustrations are clean and visually appealing throughout. They depict Riverdale in detail as a pleasant and warm Everytown, U.S.A. This series has always succeeded in depicting the characters as older but recognizable versions of themselves. Archie doesn’t look much different in a sequence where he imagines himself as a middle-aged dad, but that’s a quibble.

Though Archie will live forever as a teenager in other titles, there's something automatically poignant about knowing his mid-20s are the end of the line. Those of us who grew up on a steady diet of his adventures will mourn. I only wish Life With Archie #36 had done more to show us why.

Credit: DC Comics

Red Hood and the Outlaws #33
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by R.B. Silva and Matt Yackey
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

From the very first page of Red Hood and the Outlaws #33, you couldn't help but wonder - what would this title have been like, had it launched with a different artist? "What if" may be a fruitless question when it comes to reading and reviewing comics, but there's a lot more likability to the cartoony, almost innocent vibe that R.B. Silva brings, rather than the hard-edged, sexified pencils of Kenneth Rocafort. When it comes to comics, the visuals inevitably impact the story, and Silva makes for a very different take on Red Hood and the Outlaws.

Focusing on the odd woman out on the team - Starfire, who has drawn the most attention and the most criticism since this book launched in 2011 - this comic takes a very different angle, reading more as a space opera than the grim 'n gritty team adventures that used to define this book. And to be honest, I kind of like that - Scott Lobdell, and more importantly, R.B. Silva make Starfire a much more sympathetic character here, as they add a few more layers to her traditional backstory. The young Kori, a princess of Tamaran, now uses her past a slave to a positive end, secretly liberating hapless aliens from their captors as a kind of interstellar Underground Railroad. It's a nice twist, and I have to say, seeing Kori covered up is a nice change of pace. It's a lot easier to see her as a character when she's not being drawn with the focus directly on her breasts.

Lobdell also wisely leaves out Jason Todd and Roy Harper, who are delegated to a short B-plot as they wonder where Kori is. Maybe that doesn't speak well to the premise of the series - but it's amazing how, when left to her own devices, how much Starfire feels like a compelling character that could very well stand as a solo heroine. It's a little bit Men in Black, a little bit Kill Bill, as she hunts down hidden aliens on Earth in the present. Sure, the pacing is a little bit off, with a double-page splash that could have been used to really differentiate today's Kori with her past (and that then abruptly ends with another splash), but for the most part, Kori has a direction and conviction that her crasser teammates lack.

But the real draw of this book is R.B. Silva. For the most part, his take on a much more innocent (and conservatively dressed) Starfire makes this book so much more readable, with his cat-faced aliens probably being the cutest thing to come out of the whole New 52. This series has leaned on its visuals far more than its narrative high concepts, and seeing a bit more equilibrium on that front means that Lobdell can also flex his muscles more, because we're not so turned off by the sheer presentation of his characters. (And as I alluded to before, a sexier artist will inevitably lead to more titilating subject matter - something I think this book doesn't need any more of.) By the end, however, Silva does make the adult Starfire go back to her hypersexualized self, achieving Power Girl levels of T&A.

Even if the book stalls by the end, Red Hood and the Outlaws is definitely a step in the right direction. Starfire in particular is the one character who is so much better defined than Red Hood or Arsenal, a couple of jerks with fighting skills and varying degrees of angst. Those two are fads - Starfire is a classic, with a history, personality and power set that will keep her going for years to come. I'm glad that Lobdell and Silva have given their star character some deserved care and spotlight.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Squidder #1
Written by Ben Templesmith
Art by Ben Templesmith
Lettering by Ben Templesmith
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The comics of Ben Templesmith have become fairly synonymous with squishy tentacles, eyeless corpses and many-eyed demons, with some scarred-up badasses and ritual child sacrifice thrown in for good measure. So it comes as no surprise that his newest series incorporates all of these things, and then some. Squidder #1 provides readers with a bleak glimpse into a grimy, post-apocalyptic world where cephalopods reign supreme.

There's something to be said for a man who sticks to his guns. I made a joke. There are guns in this comic. Templesmith has found a formula that works for him and he is taking it out of the vault once again to bring us his newest effort. Protagonist Mr. Hitchens, or Squidder, as he is often called, is something of an action hero: three parts hardened combat vet, one part tortured sentimentalist. Watch him has he drinks in excess! Admire the vivid memories he keeps of being buried by bodies while fighting, only to see the face of his loved one turn to ashes! A fun time to be had by all.

This introductory issue has its problems, and they are all in the writing department. The pacing is a bit ponderous, and the timeline is sketchy. Establishing the protagonist as an A+ killer needed about three pages, but took most of the book, and I honestly couldn't tell whether the opening scene was set in real time or the past. These complaints aside, the book was a smooth read. A lot of character development early on, with a solid set-up for what's to come. Hitchins is not a relatable guy, yet he is able to cull the readers sympathy. You're not rooting for the underdog here, but it's either him or the squids.

The visuals for this book are incredibly complimentary to the storyline. Templesmith's style hasn't evolved much in recent years, but there is a subtle improvement to be seen in the colors and staging of the panels. The range of emotion seen in this hellish landscape is not large in scope, but the sneers and grimaces all hit their marks. The are the requisite amount of tentacles, boom boom sticks, blood, cigarettes, and booze. Also worth noting, Templesmith is on all art duties, as well as writing. The credits list him as, "Creator, Executive Producer, Writer, Artist & Letters (& Whatever else he can think of)." Henceforth known as Jack-of-all-trades Templesmith.

This is not a comic for the faint of heart. There are many loud noises followed by red liquid. Some of the character designs could be described as grotesque at best. The main character is almost certainly a psychopath. Even so, the reader is left wanting more. Squidder #1 is a winner, it looks damnation straight in the eye and gives it the finger.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Silver Surfer #4
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Michael Allred and Laura Allred
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

They say you can’t go home again. While for some people it is true, but not for Dawn Greenwood, recent savior of the universe and citizen of Earth who has found herself in the company of the one and only sentinel of the spaceways, the Silver Surfer. The Surfer has always thought of the Earth as his adoptive home - even if it was his terrestrial prison for a stretch - but what would happen if the Surfer actually took a bit of time to slow down once again and enjoy what humans had to offer? What if he, once more, didn’t have a choice? All of these threads and more are explored in yet another ginchy, yet slowly paced, issue of Dan Slott and the Allreds’ far-out Silver Surfer. Slott and the Allreds offer this issue as a cool-down to the graphic freak-out that was the first arc, and while that allows Slott time for great character moments and fun cameos, Issue #4 lacks the cosmic energy of first three installments.

Silver Surfer #4 finds Dawn and the Surfer en route back to Earth after saving the Never Queen and all of reality. On their way they are stopped by the Guardians of the Galaxy, fulfilling the team’s contractual obligation to appear in most Marvel books until August. Yet Slott isn't done with the guest stars, as a few pages later he delivers a fun cameo featuring the Defenders. As the Surfer and Dawn sail the cosmic winds toward Earth, Dr. Strange and the Hulk are battling classic movie monsters on the lawn of a retirement home in Jersey City. Mid-battle, Strange is struck with a powerful mystic vision portending of doom ahead. Does this have anything to do with the Surfer’s impending arrival? Of course it does. It’s the Silver Surfer, and any tease of a Defenders reunion is enough to get me excited. Unfortunately, this first page along with a small gag of a page later on in the issue is the last we see of Doc and Hulk, but the trap is baited for future issues.

While that paragraph might sound like a grumpy Defenders fan scorned, Silver Surfer #4 is actually a quietly effective character showcase for the Surfer, as well as Dawn and her family. After the cameo dust has settled, Norrin and Dawn touchdown in Anchor Bay and Norrin Radd breaks one of the Doctor’s cardinal rules: “You don’t do domestic.” Slott slows the action way, way down, and writes Surfer as truly alien as he interacts with Dawn’s father, twin sister, and slightly clueless extended family. While it isn’t quite aliens and hijinks packed into every panel, it is still interesting to see Slott plop the Silver Surfer at a table for a family dinner. Slott’s trademark humor also shines in a big way, as Norrin tries and fails at a humorous Wizard of Oz reference, while Dawn’s family draws a blank at exactly who the Silver Surfer is. “I’m the Silver Surfer,” Norrin laments. “A friend to the Fantastic Four.” Dawn has no idea. Her life is largely devoid of the exploits of superheroes. Dan Slott seems to have no problem putting Norrin’s ego in quick check and it makes for a really fun read.

What more can be said about Mike and Laura Allred at this point? Silver Surfer seems like a no-brainer of a book for them to be on and every month they display a dazzling talent with the title. While issue four is largely action free, the Allreds still inject an a heady, cartoonish momentum to the issue, much like they did with some of the quieter issues of FF. The giddy tone and look is still there, but this time, there is much more talking and character interaction instead of Kirby Krackle and alien races. The Allreds’ pop art energy still propels Silver Surfer forward as a singular creative experience, I just wished that they had a bit more to do in this issue. Slott engages the reader with great character moments and the Allreds make it all look gorgeous as always, but it really never amounts to anything other than a few talking heads and some cameos.

Silver Surfer has been one of Marvel’s ambitious creative gambles that has more than paid off during its debut arc. That said, even great titles disappoint sometimes. Silver Surfer #4 is a beautiful-looking comic that is peppered with a few engaging character moments, yet as a whole, it lags a bit. While not unreadable, I don’t see much in issue four that I could give to a new reader of the Surfer to get them to come back next month, aside from the promise of more jokes and a possible Defenders reunion. Silver Surfer is a book that is more than worth a spot on your pull list, but issue four might not be the best jumping on point unless you are a Guardians of the Galaxy completist. They say you can’t go home again and for the Silver Surfer, that may be more true than he ever cared to realize. Time will tell if that makes a good story or not.

Princess Ugg #2
Written by Ted Naifeh
Art by Ted Naifeh and Warren Wucinich
Lettering by Warren Wucinich
Published by Oni Press
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

When faced with a physical foe, Princess Ulga has few equals. But snobbery is an enemy without form and its wounds cut deeper than a sword blade. Ulga tries to find her place at a school that doesn't seem to value her virtues in a story that wears its message on an incredibly well illustrated sleeve.

From presenting ridiculous "skills" such as balancing books on their heads to a running commentary that attacks everything from the whims of women's fashion to the loveless nature of political marriages, writer-artist Ted Naifeh makes it clear that he's out to attack the traditional portrayal of princesses by showing one that is antithetical to anything we've ever seen in a Disney movie. Girls who espouse conformity to a sexist stereotype are seen as cruel and heartless, taking pains to attack Ulga for her inability to understand a culture that's foreign to her.

In small doses, that would be okay, but Naifeh piles it on from page to page, with only a few comedic moments, such as when Ulga breaks the strings of her lute or destroys an archery target with her axe, putting the lie to the need to be close-up to her foes. It's simply oppressive in its relentless desire to show why they're so wrong and Ulga is right, which is unnecessary. Most readers are already going to be familiar with the stereotypes Naifeh wishes to ridicule, and a few scenes would have sufficed. It also allows Naifeh to use sterotypes instead of fully fleshed-out characters. This shortcut and overplaying the theme hurts his valid argument that young women are forced towards media consumption that highlights beauty and daintiness above all else.

It's a tricky minefield, as the good points being made by Naifeh are muddled by the plotting and dialogue. Fortunately Naifeh's illustrations are enough to carry the book, though only just barely. His layouts capture just the right moments to express his arguments, even if there are issues with what he chooses to portray. The opening sequence with Ugla pits her against the conventions of school, and the scene where she kicks the door open in the middle of an already-started class, with young women dressed in the finest clothing gawking at her, the center of attention on the page, shows just how much care and skill went into designing the structure of the panel.

The depth of the art is simply stunning in places, with Naifeh alternating between heavy shadowing and thin lines to give varied life to each scene. Combined with Wucinich's colors, which remain subtle yet provide visual cues for each scene by changing hue, the effect is striking. When we see the twisted muscles of Ulga compared to the sleek lines of her fellow princesses, the difference is so striking as to make the pages of comparison that comes before them unnecessary.

Another area of strength is the facial depictions given here by Naifeh. Looks range from anger to confusion to pain across Ulga's face, with the clincher being the close-up when she's given the dismissive nickname "Ugg" when misspelling her name. Her nose wrinkles, eyes darting, ready for someone to attack-yet at the same time, there's pain hidden behind them.

Similarly, Naifeh's comedic moments work mostly because of the pacing inherent in the art. The first panel of the issue shows the headmistress with her eyes closed, dodging spittle from Ulga's outraged roommate, eyes that remain closed as she dismisses the complaints. Ulga's perplexed look as she shows her broken lute or the dainty bow ruined by her strength is played for laughs and work well.

Had there been more of this and less hammering home just how awful the others were, this issue would have been a pleasure to read. However, instead of telling a strong story that focuses on doing amazing work with a non-traditional character (such as Bold Riley) or spring-boarding off a trope to develop something new and positive (like Princeless), Princess Ugg can't get past the chance to make snarky digs at easy targets. Like Ulga herself, the reader is left longing for something more that Naifeh hasn't provided yet. The window for doing so is closing quickly.

The Shadow #0
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Colton Worley and Marc Rueda
Lettering by Rob Steen
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It's a match made in pulp heaven - Lamont Cranston, the man who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of man, and Harry Houdini, the world’s greatest magician. Both singular men of a wondrous age are tied together by a cracking tale of high adventure that feels exactly like Shadow tales of yesteryear in The Shadow #0. Written by Magneto scribe Cullen Bunn, this book is a grim and creepy introduction for new readers and a solid Shadow story for fans of old. Bunn delivers a story that spans decades yet confidently delivers a solid one-shot experience amid Dynamite Entertainment’s thriving pulp character lineup.

The Shadow #0 follows Lamont Cranston as he trains his body and mind with Harry Houdini in 1925, as well as when he tracks down Houdini's Society of United Magicians as the Shadow in 1936. Cullen Bunn, a writer who has impressed consistently as of late, delivers a propulsive quasi-origin story with this zero issue while retaining his unique voice. This is, from top to bottom, Bunn’s show, and he handles the Shadow franchise with ease. The scenes with Houdini feel genuine, amid the pulpy ridiculousness of a magician training a cackling psycho how to escape from impossible situations. Bunn’s scripting of the interaction between these two oddities posing as men sparks with an energy you feel when you read a particularly good origin story. It makes all the sense in the world that Lamont Cranston would be trained by Houdini, we just needed Cullen Bunn to tell us about it.

Bunn doesn’t stop there though. The scenes in 1925 with Houdini are just the lurid hook to get readers in the door. The Shadow #0 also delivers as a rousing and hard-hitting pulp story. As Lamont thinks back on his time with Houdini, he is storming the hideout of the Society of United Magicians, dodging their inventively deadly traps as he aims to bring them all to justice at the barrels of his .45s. Bunn writes the Shadow as force in constant motion, much like a certain bald and self-righteous master of magnetism over at Marvel. Bunn’s talent for narration fits the Shadow like a glove as he cuts his way through the Society’s deadly defenses. The Shadow is one of Dynamite Entertainment’s top shelf characters among their pulp line and Cullen Bunn delivers a rock solid backdoor pilot for what his run with the character would read like. The Shadow #0 is pulp done right.

Handling the gritty pencils of this zero issue is Colton Worley and colorist Marc Rueda. Worley, an old hand at drawing pulps, packs each panel with either action or emotion as Lamont leaps towards his goals in both timelines. Worley’s Shadow looks like a spry Jonathan Frid of Dark Shadows as he makes his Tumble checks and springs forth into the fray against criminal magicians. As Bunn writes Cranston in constant motion, Colton Worley depicts him as such, injecting dynamism into every scene whether it involves lock picking or hand to hand combat. Worley hits the ground running with page one and never stops until the very end. Worley’s Lamont is distinguished and his Shadow is a shifting wraith across the panels. The Shadow #0 is a striking visual story. Adding to the striking and evocative nature of the artwork is colorist Marc Rueda who drenches the panels in a dreary, yet satisfying color pallet. The scenes in 1925 are rendered in hazy blues or sepia toned yellows giving these pages an almost vintage newsstand feel, while the scenes in 1935 are soaked in gorgeous reds and deep blacks, adding to the hyper reality of the setting and characters. While Colton Worley makes The Shadow #0 move quickly and look great doing it, Marc Rueda makes it look truly gorgeous. This is an art team I would buy a comic specifically for.

The pulps are alive and well at Dynamite Entertainment and The Shadow #0 is a shining example of how true that is. Cullen Bunn continues his hot streak of impressive comics while delivering dream of a pulp character team-up. The Shadow #0 also walks the walk with gorgeous panels from Colton Worley and Marc Rueda rounding out a one-shot more than worthy your attention as a reader. Are you watching closely? Dynamite Entertainment wants to show you something that will astound your very eyes - the mystery men of yesterday by the top talent of today.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men 100th Anniversary Special #1
Written by Robin Furth
Art by Jason Masters, James Campbell and Vero Gandini
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Marlene Bonnelly
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Forty-seven years in the future, the X-Men are nothing like we know them now. The story has taken the team on a very different path, eventually culminating in the election of Scott Summers as president of the United States. The idea that an alleged terrorist could be elevated into the highest office is a little difficult to believe, sure, but I buy it as Cyclops has proven himself a capable leader over his many incarnations. Still, while the premise of President Summers makes for an interesting start, this one-shot's story fails to prove convincing throughout, ending with a lackluster resolution that doesn't offer readers much satisfaction.

The beginning did capture my attention. It's strange to see Scott appear genuinely content, even briefly, surrounded by friends at a party in his honor. He's finally settled down and married Emma, and though protests rage just outside his new home at the White House and the stress has impacted his sleep, he seems comfortable in a position of power. The idea may be odd, but with the emphasis of his platform and desire for equality for all, it also feels right. In an alternate universe where I can shoot sparks out of my hands, I might have even voted for him.

After that introduction, though, things get rocky. Emma is suddenly erased from the picture in the most literal sense, her existence wiped from everyone’s memory save for Scott's. That in itself isn't a terrible twist, but Hank’s immediate dismissal of "only Professor X or Jean Grey could do something that complex" kills the suspense. It doesn't take a seasoned X-Men fan to know where this is going, especially given how many times a certain redhead is mentioned throughout the issue. The hunt for the culprit is rushed and incredibly easy, utilizing a program that is conveniently immune to the effects of the catastrophe. The story just isn’t innovative or surprising in the least: we’ve seen life-ruiner Jean Grey a hundred times before as standard Marvel fare, and her actions as the story progresses are fairly predictable to anyone who’s read House of M.

Don’t get me wrong, this book had some highlights - it was great seeing Logan with an eye patch and actually (brace yourselves for this) getting along with Scott. The tension between a newly elected President Summers and the “purist” protesters outside was also fascinating, since it’s not hard to draw parallels to real life. Unfortunately, the issue’s pacing is off. Furth spends too much time introducing and fleshing out characters that play no significant role or, in fact, disappear a page later, only to speed through some sort of investigation and resolution moments later.

Plot aside, I must give the art team credit for producing a decent issue. Crowded scenes can often read too busy or a mass of unidentifiable shapes, but Masters and company avoid that, giving weight to the raging protesters or mutant gatherings. Even so, the line work is questionable in some scenes, particularly with close-ups of faces or Scott’s torso when shirtless. While the colors are definitely decent, the shading is simplistic bordering on flat and there are many missed opportunities to add more detail into dull backgrounds. Alone these shortcomings are not significant, but together with a weak story they make for an issue that I deem below average.

I began reading this one-shot with few expectations, but I still managed to finish it mildly disappointed. Recycling classic X-Men themes is par for the course, but their implementation was mostly unoriginal and the issue’s art was only acceptable. What should have been a “happily-ever-after” ending just made me shrug, unimpressed, and remember how silly I must have been to think anything could have permanence in the X-Men’s world, even in an alternate universe. All in all, while we may feel a bit of anticipation and even nostalgia with the title of “anniversary special,” this is a special you’d be safe with skipping.

Credit: First Second

The Shadow Hero
Written by Gene Luen Yang
Art by Sonny Liew
Lettering by Janice Chiang
Published by 01:FirstSecond
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

In 1944, the superhero genre of comics was experiencing what is now referred to as its "Golden Age" – that period of time that gave birth to the very first superheroes most notably Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America. Not surprisingly, each of these heroes were little different from the vast majority of those characters coming out of this period of nationalistic fervor as they reflected the dominant culture of the time. However, an obscure publisher by the name of Rural Home released a comic called Blazing Comics, and it was over the course of five issues in this series that what is arguably the first Asian American superhero appeared in the form of The Turtle. Uncovering this lost history, Yang and Liew reimagine this overlooked superhero in the form of their original graphic novel, The Shadow Hero.

The Shadow Hero tells the story of Hank, the son of Chinese immigrants, who unwillingly plays the role of superhero. Although he does not initially have superpowers, he does this to appease his sometimes-overbearing mother after she encounters a true superhero. However, certain events lead to Hank becoming impervious to being shot, thanks to an agreement with a traditional Chinese turtle spirit. As a result, he dons a homemade cape and cowl, and Hank begins his life as a superhero actively seeking to bring down the villainous Ten-Grand and his mob empire, which had been controlling the majority of his hometown, San Incendio.

The story itself is a straightforward one and follows many of the standard tropes one expects to encounter in a superhero book. Hank is a down-and-out youth who experiences the tragic loss of a loved one due in part to his attempt at being a hero. This in turn results in his receiving super powers, and he experiences the call to use his newfound abilities for the betterment of his family, friends, and the greater Chinese community against the local mobsters who ruled the city with an iron grip. What's worth noting, however, is that while Yang and Liew prove adept at demonstrating their familiarity with the conventions of the genre, they also introduce readers to a new perspective on the old superhero story through telling this narrative through the eyes of someone from a long-marginalized demographic. This story challenges the history of how Asians were depicted in comics with the reversal of the main character as a hero and not a grossly stereotyped villain – something Yang hoped to draw out from his original source material. In some regards, fans of G. Willow Wilson's Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel will find many of the same reasons to be just as enthusiastic about Yang and Liew's The Shadow Warrior in the ways they both demonstrate the genre's ability to create space for more than just heterosexual, Caucasian men to be "super". There is also a rather unique plot twist that fans of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' collaborative work on Batman and Detective Comics will appreciate as well if for less lofty and more "fan-ish" reasons.

Artistically, there are some great moments in this story for Liew. His overall approach is an energetic and only slightly exaggerated one that lends to the type of superhero story he's telling. Although he generally applies a fairly traditional grid to his pages, there are times when he changes with the occasional half-splash or near-splash to emphasize key events or actions. Liew also does a fine job of using darker coloring to block out the background details during certain scenes, such as a rather tragic point in Hank's life, to fully command the reader's attention to where it needs to lie. He also manages to poke fun at the stereotypical representation of Asians in comics during the era of "The Turtle" with the false Ten-Grand while allowing readers of all backgrounds to enjoy the humor as he simultaneously drives home the problematic nature the character. Overall, Liew's art successfully manages to strike a balance between the exciting, action-packed sequences and the more emotional and socially aware scenes.

Finally, this book will be especially valuable to comic scholars and historians as it relates to the back matter. Yang includes a brief but detailed analysis of "The Turtle," including information about its creator, Chu Hing, as well as color copies from the first 11-pages of Blazing Comics #1, which covers the first adventure of this groundbreaking – if unpopular and long forgotten - superhero. This is a superb graphic novel where fans and non-fans of the superhero genre alike will find something to enjoy.

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