Best Shots Comic Reviews: MOON KNIGHT #6, JUSTICE LEAGUE 3000 #9, More

Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered with the latest edition, as Juggling Justin Partridge, III takes a look at the last issue of Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey's run on Moon Knight...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #6
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Warren Ellis ends Moon Knight’s first arc, or season if you will, just like he started it, with a savage little yarn about Marvel’s craziest Avenger. Moon Knight #6 is mean, lean and thrilling as all hell, and frankly, isn’t that what we all wanted in the first place? Warren Ellis has always excelled melding high ideas, profane wit and engaging storytelling throughout his creator-owned books, but when it comes to him playing in licensed sandboxes, he turns in tight, highly entertaining single-shot adventures like Moon Knight and his criminally underrated Secret Avengers run. Moon Knight #6 sends Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s run off not with a whimper, but with a swift kick to the middle in the form of a great finale issue. 'Nuff bloody said.

But, that would be a dumb review, right? Moon Knight #6 actually may be one of the rare recent comics to barely feature its titular character, instead focusing on a minor character from all the way back in issue one to close out this first season of Moon Knight. Issue #6 opens with a flashback to Moon Knight #1 right before the eponymous “Mr. Knight” descends into the streets of New York to put down an insane cyborg. We instead see this scene from the eyes of Trent, a put-upon “freakbeat” cop who is none too impressed with Moon Knight and his methods. Ellis packs exposition into a tight two and a half pages, telling the audience everything they need to know about Trent. In the words of his captain he’s “dumb,” has a “crappy attitude,” and is going to be “street police until he dies.”

It is rough stuff to hear, but Ellis goes a bit further before barreling forward with Moon Knight #6. The next two pages are the pièce de résistance with first, a neat eight panel grid, showing Trent throughout the ages getting admonished for showing emotion by an unseen father, getting beaten down for not trying hard enough, being told he doesn’t make the rules, and being told, more or less, that his decisions in life are wrong and that he won’t matter because he doesn’t want anything, culminating in a stark black panel of Trent himself affirming that he will never be good enough. The second page in this fantastic bit of creative synergy between Ellis, Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellarie is Trent venting to his disinterested wife, vowing to find out exactly what is so special about Mr. Knight. Ellis, Shalvey, and Bellarie present the powder keg of a supervillain in two simple and evocative pages. And we haven’t gotten anywhere near the good stuff yet.

The rest of Moon Knight #6 follows Trent as he, lies, greases a few wheels within his own prescient, and forges a S.H.I.E.L.D. ID in order to track down and interview former associates of Moon Knight. As he conducts his sham interviews, he is training his body and working with deadly black darts because they “have to be easier than those dumb moon boomerangs,” all while slowly crumbling under his own obsession. Ellis does just enough to set up Trent as a legitimate, albeit a bit hapless, threat to Moon Knight, as he slowly succumbs to his own inadequacies and rage and adopts the persona of Black Spectre, one of Moon Knight’s former costumed rivals. We spend a lot of time with Trent and we see just how far he is willing to go to murder Moon Knight, which includes ripping off the original Black Spectre’s origin almost beat for beat and murdering his own wife with one of his newly weaponized darts, and it is a very interesting creative direction to take the finale issue of Moon Knight. Marc Spector is really only in a grand total of six pages of this comic, but whoo, boy does he command the final five pages. The taut character drama that makes up the beginning of Moon Knight #6 is merely the lead up to the eventual showdown between the newly christened supervillain and our titular psychopath and this final set piece does not disappoint.

Warren Ellis has long since been praised for his insanely entertaining fight scene scripting, but this final sequence is all about Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellarie for me. Here the artists completely knock it out of the park yet again as Trent attempts to corner Moon Knight with a series of I.E.D.s and gets a few explosions to the back for his troubles. The team sets it up slowly and cinematically as we see Trent in full costume in for the first time in a wide shot right after a gorgeously rendered and lit panel of the New York skyline. Filling the bottom of the page is a tight panel of Spector, mask in hand, being informed by his intelligent listening system that someone is cutting people’s faces off (a staple of Spector’s torture skill set) and screaming for him in the streets. What follows is a sequence too great looking for me to spoil here, and though it might not top the staircase nightmare of Moon Knight #5, it is still a glorious showing from Shalvey and Bellaire.

The bell is rung, and we gather here not to bury Warren Ellis’ Moon Knight but to praise it, because it was some damn fine superhero comics. Moon Knight #6 doesn’t reinvent the wheel or pretend to be yet another entry into a critical darling of a series. It simply tells a hard-hitting and razor-sharp superhero story that would have felt right at home alongside the Marvel Knights titles of the early 2000s. Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellarie took a character that no one could really call A-list, and shined a spotlight on him simply by telling thrilling stories with him. Moon Knight as a character may not last long within the comic reading consciousness, but the Ellis, Shalvey, and Bellarie run of Moon Knight will definitely stand the test of time as a solid run of gorgeous, filler-free comics.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League 3000 #9
Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Howard Porter, Chris Batista, LeBeau Underwood and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

I've been pretty critical of Justice League 3000 for awhile now, which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see this title pick up in its ninth issue. This two-part issue, featuring the future iterations of Green Lantern and the newly resurrected Flash, finally gives us some heroes we can root for - not to mention cuts to the quick with the action.

The first half of this comic, featuring Green Lantern, starts off a little slowly, but leverages some killer artwork from Howard Porter. The League has learned that they're in grave danger - if the reality-warping Locus doesn't do them in, the micro-mines implanted in their skulls will. After a bit of exposition, however, Porter really tears up the page, as he really excels in throwing around energy effects with the Spectre-ified redesign on Green Lantern. Watching this sequence really makes you realize what this series has been missing - there's been so much bickering amongst the team members that we haven't really gotten to see them cut loose. Say what you want about Howard Porter in terms of his page compositions, but when his characters are throwing energy constructs and punching bad guys through atriums, you can almost hear the buildings around them shake.

But I'd argue that the best part of the comic is actually the second story, featuring Teri, a one-time Wonder Twin and, upon her resurrection, the third iteration of the Flash. I think Teri appeals to me on a conceptual level far more than the rest of the League, and might be Justice League 3000's first major success - it's not just trying to replicate the League with new costumes and watered-down, broad, unlikable characterizations, but actually having a developed backstory to go with all these powers. Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis actually give us a hero with some actual emotional conflict, as she has to reel with the knowledge that her twin brother Terry killed her. Chris Batista's artwork shares some of Porter's heavier inks and sharper angles, but his style does feel a bit flatter and less rendered than Porter's more bombastic take.

That said, while the story construction is much improved, the actual script is a bit overwritten, still. There are a number of jokes and gags that still fall flat - like Teri calling her brother a bastard, and Terry snarking back that "that impugns your own birth, as well," or Superman deciding that Teri will be his intern - but the concepts work. The other big issue is that as a future Brave and the Bold this works well - but Batman only works as exposition, while Superman and Wonder Woman are basically useless in the story. Additionally, the fight sequence featuring the Flash smacks of writer fiat, particularly when the baddie known as Kali gets smacked down by a "superspeed backwash." I get that the writers only have a certain number of pages, but this feels too easy.

Still, credit where credit is due - I was really disappointed with Justice League 3000 when it first hit the stands, so the fact that this series is starting to warm up even a naysayer like me is a victory. Part of the problem with this series when it first began was that it was trying too hard to be the Justice League, but in the future - now that Giffen and DeMatteis are starting to add in their own spin on these characters, like a female scientist Flash or a pocket-sized Green Lantern, this series might be able to stand on its own two feet. That said, the team needs to hurry and find its own identity, fast - because nine issues to find itself is a luxury most series can't afford.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #14
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Steve Lieber, Rich Ellis and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

And now - time for an interlude!

Now that Boomerang and the Sinister Six (Five... well, Four, ever since Boomerang locked the Shocker in the back of a trunk and pushed it into the river) have completed their heist of the priceless portrait of Victor Von Doom, Nick Spencer and company slow it down for the fourteenth issue of Superior Foes of Spider-Man. While it's funny and frenetic, it is missing a certain something - namely, Boomerang's masterful manipulations - that have made this series one of the best in Marvel's publishing lineup.

Spencer really breaks down this story into three parts, starting with (because you demanded it!) the origin of everyone's favorite getaway driver, Overdrive. With a little bit of metacommentary amd a knowing wink, Spencer gives a little bit more oomph to a character that even Speed Demon referred to as "the one none of us paid attention to." (That said, I'd still argue that Overdrive will remain the character that, well, no one pays attention to.") But to his credit, Spencer sticks the landing with the end of Overdrive's story, as he finally explains why he and Beetle showed up with a weaponized schoolbus and an increased sense of self-consciousness. Chase sequences in particular are tough to pull off in the static medium of comics, but Rich Ellis sells it with more than a liberal dose of goofiness.

The one downside to this comic is that the Overdrive sequence is amusing but not essential - the conceit of the purple weaponized schoolbus isn't funny or mortifying enough to really stick in our heads, and between that and this comic's lengthy delays, the joke doesn't hit as hard as it could. Boomerang's master plan - and how Shocker might throw a wrench into the works - has always been Superior Foes's bread and butter, and that dynamic only makes incremental progress here. Spencer also cuts away with a three-page silent gag featuring Speed Demon and his kidnapped dog Inspector, but it's a chuckle rather than a laugh out loud.

Steve Lieber and Rich Ellis do great work as usual in this issue, but beyond Ellis's striking, cartoony car chase sequence, there isn't much in terms of the visual gags for them to work with. (Although Lieber's panel of Shocker hiding in a bathtub while Beetle pees behind him is pretty funny.) The characters are still expressive and kind of pathetic, and I really find myself enjoying the off-kilter colorwork by Rachelle Rosenberg, particularly the sickly yellows that characterize the flashbacks.

It's always darkest before the dawn. There's always silence before a big bang. That's sort of where I feel we're at with Superior Foes of Spider-Man #14, which continues to demonstrate this creative team's potential, even if it doesn't always seem to tap it as deeply as it could. This comic is amusing, and is a chuckleworthy detour from the overarching plot - and judging by the cliffhanger, I think we're going to see Spencer get to the meat of the story soon enough.

Credit: IDW

The Squidder #2
Written by Ben Templesmith
Art by Ben Templesmith
Lettering by Ben Templesmith
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Opening the second issue of The Squidder is like peering into a dark, scary forest and wondering if you really want to go back in there. It’s partly because the book is lushly gory and grim, but also because the pages are just so packed with every kind of information. In The Squidder, writer and artist Ben Templesmith imagines a future when squid-like alien overlords treat humans like cattle. In the second issue, the protagonist gets a traveling companion who challenges his beliefs. Templesmith’s beautiful art and the allure of a nice meaty dystopian story carry the reader through The Squidder #2’s extreme seriousness and occasional clumsiness.

In a future where humans barely make it to age 40, the squidder is a very old, very angry mercenary named Hitchens. In the first issue we learned that Hitchens lost his wife and child several decades earlier, after surviving the war the squids won. In The Squidder #2, Hitchens takes a job to recapture a “priestess of the squid” (a former human) who has been bought, sold and kidnapped by various human gang leaders. Templesmith shows the conflicted emotions Hitchens goes through as he begins to see the priestess as more than a traitor to his species. Templesmith doesn’t use sexual tension between the two as he establishes their connection. Instead he focuses on what they have in common and the fact that they hold different pieces of the same puzzle.

Templesmith spends a lot of panels on creepy squid tentacles and exploding bodies. He draws with bundles of organic-looking lines, like muscle tissue under pulled-away skin, twisting and sagging in places like ropes. In almost every panel, some of these loose but intentional lines run hard into a cleaner, heavier boundary line. These bolder lines cut through the frame as the edge of something—a jaw, a skull, a forearm, a tree, a collar or a sword. Behind all the lines the pages are washed with blotches and puddles of color—murky olive greens on some pages, dark blues on others, and sometimes the reds and oranges of conflagrations. In this layered forest of visual information, the faces of both Hitchens and the priestess are like little clearings and draw the eye. Templesmith makes both characters’ faces equally compelling.

The priestess is treated by her captors as a trophy, a sexual novelty, and a bargaining chip. It’s the perfect set-up for the kind of damsel in distress cliché that would make a lot of readers roll their eyes. But Templesmith sidesteps those tired tropes. The priestess is not bad-looking, but she is as hardened, weary, and self-possessed as Hitchens is. Templesmith gets a little plummy with the extended dialogue between the two characters, but he puts them on equal footing. Even as Hitchens calls her a witch or tells her to shut up, her gravitas and long memory affect him. Hitchens is the sort of jaded tough-guy protagonist who performs some righteous actions for ostensibly callous reasons. The nuances of his own motivations don’t always seem clear to him and Templesmith does a good job of showing this ambiguity.

There’s a lot of backstory conveyed in the conversation that runs through most of The Squidder #2, and Templesmith mostly avoids making us feel loaded down by expository dialogue. His writing could be clearer and more economical, though. In several places, I had to re-read his text balloons to understand who did what to whom because of pronoun confusion. Also, because whole sentences were mixed with sentence fragments in such a cramped lettering style, I had trouble telling commas and periods apart and it kept me from smoothly reading the story. Probably the biggest danger the writing faces is its tone, which is always serious and sometimes ponderous.

At a higher level, Templesmith seems to be setting this series up with a good structure for an unfolding mystery. One of the strengths ofThe Squidder #2, is that Templesmith introduces some glimmers of hope to this dark story. He rolls his dense illustration-style out like wallpaper, and readers will know at a glance whether it appeals to them. Those who don’t like the art right away might find this book impenetrable. But those of us who do like the art won’t mind the heaviness, especially since some of the gory scenes are so over the top that they act as their own sort of visually hilarious release valves. The Squidder #2 is worth a look for anyone who wants to get in on the ground floor of a post-apocalyptic underdog story with extravagant tentacle action.

Credit: Dynamite

Terminal Hero #1
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Pitor Kowalski and Kelly Fitzpatrick
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

There is a special kind of disappointment to be found when you read something that you’ve been excited for for ages only to find that it is less than impressive as a whole. Terminal Hero #1 is that special kind of disappointing. Upon its announcement, I was excited at not only the prospect of Peter Milligan tackling a new creato- owned book, but also Dynamite Entertainment taking a stab at a auteur line of comics in a big way. But with its first issue, Terminal Hero doesn’t exactly wow in the way that one would expect a debut issue to. Though the hook is still a fascinating one - a man gains super powers from an experimental treatment for his inoperable brain tumor - the issue itself is a tonally confused mish-mash of scenes that delivers nothing of note except for the core concept.

Terminal Hero #1 introduces us to protagonist Rory Fletcher, a junior doctor struck with a large, inoperable tumor in his brain who is also partly based on a friend of Peter Milligan. I use the word protagonist lightly for this first issue, because Rory really isn’t much of a proactive character here, at least not in a way that would make an audience identify or sympathize with him apart from his dire prognosis. After Rory’s friend Raz supposes a controversial experimental treatment hilariously called Treatment Q (“It sounds like something from Doctor Who,” Rory scoffs), Rory’s cancer is diminished substantially - and he is also endowed with ultra-powerful Akira-esque mind powers. Rory also becomes a bit of an ultra-creep, and that is when Terminal Hero #1 truly jumps its own story rails. Peter Milligan is no stranger to writing scoundrels and anti-heroes, but Rory, in this first issue, is less of a character and more of a ever-shifting wraith with no real character motivation besides snorting coke and trolling brothels in order to quiet his raging headaches. With these scenes, Terminal Hero #1 becomes less about the physiological impact of cancer and more about hedonistic wish-fulfillment with a hefty dose of rape threats against the book’s already mishandled female lead, Emma Flowers, a fellow doctor.

We actually need to talk about Emma for a second, because Milligan's handling of her is one of the biggest problems of this book. Emma isn’t a character in this comic. She is the promise of sexual gratification and acceptance for Rory. Milligan is also much better than this. This is the man that gave us Epiphany Greaves, for Christ’s sake. When Emma is introduced, she is throwing herself at Rory following his terminal prognosis, tears streaming down her face. Rory then glibly rebukes her, asking her why she couldn’t have said this when he had a future. This scene is icky enough with the tears, and the thought that Emma would have no problem having sex with a dead man walking just to make him feel better, but it is elevated to straight up creeper level with Rory reaffirming throughout the entire scene that he would take her in a heartbeat if it wasn’t for his pesky morality.

Fortunately for Rory - and unfortunately for literally everyone else reading Terminal Hero #1 - his morality isn’t much of a problem for long as his newly gained mental powers allows him to be perfectly fine with sewing up a little girl’s mouth for being loud and then following up that horror show with a midnight visit to Emma’s apartment. This scene comes about midway through the issue and it is just flat-out disgusting. I understand that Milligan is a writer that is comfortable confronting his readers with darker themes and confronting us with the nasty reptilian nature of humanity, but that isn’t any reason to show me a protagonist that has no problem bursting into a woman’s apartment and ripping her clothes off with his mind with the clear intent to rape her. Furthermore, I have a a major problem with Milligan treating the comic’s only female character as a sexual chew toy in order to give his garbage protagonist something to chase. Emma also sweetly offers her attacker a bloody cup of tea as she attempts to hide her nakedness as if she is unfazed by the brazen sexual assault and sees only a seething void of man-pain in front of her, wanting nothing but to fix it - because women clearly respond to outright assault by healing the hurt with womanly ways and whiles. Emma deserves much better. We deserve much better. Terminal Hero #1 aims high, but yet can’t seem to drag itself out of the muck of a dying era of comics.

If this comic had a saving grace it would be the pencils of Pitor Kowalski and the sumptuous colors of Kelly Fitzpatrick. Terminal Hero #1 may read like a 13-year-old’s hormone-infused fever dream, but it at least looks gorgeous. Kowalski’s renderings of Rory imbue pathos into Terminal Hero #1 that the script forgets to. Kowalski’s Rory is hunched, broken and diminishing by the second before Treatment Q and after, Kowalski draws him like a street-level Firestorm as energy flows freely from the top of his head in spurts and columns of light. Pitor Kowalski’s pencils adds a level of dynamism that is sorely missing from the slog of a script, making even the most mundane of conversations in this book feel interesting with emotive character expressions and cinematic panel blocking. Kelly Fitzpatrick’s colors are the glue that holds everything together despite the script’s best efforts to rip everything down. Fitzpatrick colors the entirety of Terminal Hero #1 in striking and stylish bright colors that heighten the reality of the already unreal feeling book. Fitzpatrick, a former assistant to Jordie Bellarie, takes more than a few cues from her colorist sensei and injects a familiar, yet wholly unreal pallet into this world, making it a feast for the eyes even though most of the action takes place in places that we have all seen time and time again.

I have loved Peter Milligan's work for as long as I can remember. Books like Shade the Changing Man and X-Statix shaped my tastes for years even after I read them. These feelings aside, I cannot in good conscious recommend Terminal Hero #1 to anyone. The hook is an interesting and the intention as a story about stripping cancer of its gruesome, ugly power is pure enough, but the execution is poor at best and insidious at worst. I understand that this may sound like hyperbole, but I challenge anyone to read this book and not feel grossed-out by Rory’s disregard for human decency during certain scenes. I challenge anyone to read the scenes with Emma and not feel ashamed at the sheer ugliness of her role within the story. Remember when your parents would say that they weren’t mad, they were just disappointed? Well, I’m not mad at Peter Milligan - just very, very disappointed.

Trade Review!

Credit: Oni Press

The Bunker, Vol. 1
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Joe Infurnari
Lettering by Joe Infurnari
Published by Oni Press
Review by Edward Kaye
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Imagine if you received a letter from your future self, telling you about all the mistakes that you will make in your life. What if you knew that those mistakes would lead to the end of civilization. Would you try and make different choices, even knowing that you can’t change a future that’s already happened?

This is the central premise of Fialkov and Infurnari’s Internet sensation turned multi-print sellout indie comic. The fight to change a doomed future is of course nothing new to comics, but Fialkov manages to breath new life into the concept by having five friends receive different letters, which their future selves tell them not to show the others. Many of the messages contain secrets about the others and some of the instructions act at cross purposes. This seeds fear and suspicion, which causes the tight-knit group of friends to drift apart.

The series has been classified as a horror comic, but I think that may be selling the concept a little short, as there’s a strong sci-fi element in here with the time travel, as well as some engrossing drama, as the one-time friends plot and scheme against each other—keeping secrets, forming alliances, and doing anything to improve their own futures at the cost of each other's.

Fialkov has created some great characters for this story, all with distinct personalities and goals, and through some excellent character work, you really feel like you know them by the end of the the first chapter, and are really invested in their fates. This is incredibly important in a story with such a strong human element, and coupled with an engaging plot filled with twists and turns, this makes for a real page-turner.

What is particularly impressive is the way in which Fialkov manages to introduce the reader to such a high-concept premise with such ease and efficiency. Exposition in comics can often feel horribly forced and clunky, but here it is accomplished through the script of the letters that the characters receive from the future. As the characters themselves are having something explained to them, the reader hardly notices that they too are having information imparted to them. It just feels like a natural part of the story and flows smoothly.

Fialkov also writes some brilliant dialogue to support and flesh out his strong characters, with each personality having a distinct, unique voice and way of interacting with each other. It all feels very genuine and makes for some wonderful reading.

Joe Infurnari’s artwork on this series has a very distinct look. As is often the case when an artist tries something slightly out of the norm in comics, this seems to have divided people into “love it” or “hate it” camps. I’m very much in the former, but can see what might put people off about it. It’s a slightly abrasive style, with hard lines, lots of dark ink washes and sketchy black fills, odd textures, and some pretty grotesque-looking faces every so often. It seems like he’s experimenting throughout the first few issues, as he refined and defines his style, which is something that should be applauded in today’s market, where so many artists find something that fans like and just stick to it for the length of their career.

Infurnari’s color work is similarly unorthodox, with some slightly unusual choices of hue, tint, shade, and tone that greatly contribute to the overall odd look of the final artwork. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but it works perfectly for an existential horror/sci-fi, and really enhances the sense of unease that the plot fosters.

Lettering doesn’t come up much in reviews, but one minor problem with the comic is that the cursive script used in the letters from the future can be a little hard to read at times, and as it is conveying important information, you have to take extra time to read it, which messes with the flow of the story somewhat.

The Bunker is an incredibly captivating and unique story that mixes equal measures of sci-fi, horror, mystery, and drama to create something greater than the sum of its parts. I have high hopes for the rest of the story and can’t wait to see what Fialkov and Infurnari have in store for us.

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