Best Shots Comic Reviews: SUPERIOR FOES #15, GRAYSON: FUTURES END #1, More

Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with the biggest releases of the week! Let's kick off today's column with Jaundiced Justin Partridge, III, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Superior Foes of Spider-Man...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #15
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Steve Lieber and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It seems that there isn’t even a shred of honor amongst thieves, and honestly, I don’t know why I’m surprised.

After a metric ton of betrayals and lies, Superior Foes of Spider-Man #15 finally finds things taking an up turn for the Sinister Four, which they celebrate by promptly making moves against each other behind each other’s backs. While I’m sad that Spencer, Lieber and Rosenberg’s comedy opus is heading toward its conclusion, Superior Foes #15 is a treat, building on the hanging plot threads of the previous issues to deliver a satisfying look into the lives and exploits of the Marvel Universe’s most charming bottom feeders. While the Foes may be on the verge of imploding from the inside, Spencer does them one better (or worse, perhaps) by finally putting Fred Myers in the crosshairs of the book’s main heavies, the Owl and Chameleon. Superior Foes of Spider-Man #15 sets the stage for how the Foes will make their inglorious exit, and if this issue is any indication, we are in for one hell of a show.

While Spencer’s script is clever and fast-paced as usual, it is Steve Lieber and Rachelle Rosenberg that really propel this issue, and they do so almost effortlessly. Lieber and Rosenberg’s artwork has long since been a big part of why Superior Foes is so enjoyable, but I hadn’t actually put my finger on why until Issue #15. It is because they render the book in almost a simplistically charming way. From the costume designs, to the pithy visual jokes, and back again to the goofy facial expressions that Boomerang and Overdrive display on a monthly basis, Lieber and Rosenberg’s artwork is, honestly, something that shouldn’t work as well as it does.

None of the set pieces or page layouts so far have been particularly flashy or ground-breaking so far, and really, they don’t have to be. Our leads aren’t really the kind of characters to get, or really deserve, a book with flashy art or innovative set pieces (even though they have received more than their fair share so far), but Lieber and Rosenberg’s work on the title has been fantastic all the same. Superior Foes #15 in particular makes full use of the standard six- to eight-panel grid to deliver jokes and action at a machine-gun pace, while Lieber’s characterizations and Rosenberg’s simple, no-frills colors fill each of these grids with charm. In particular this issue, Lieber and Rosenberg completely cut loose with a simple yet effective rendering of a bar fight between our a-holes and the scabs that they used to break into the Owl’s compound a few issues ago. The fight takes place over two simple pages, and it still felt like a huge slobberknocker. This bar fight is completely silent until the last two panels of the second page, yet both pages are chocked full of great character moments.

After all the gushing about Lieber and Rosenberg, you may be asking yourself, “Yeah, but how is the script, ya palooka?” and the answer is “Still pretty damn great.” I don’t think I’ve read a comic this consistently funny since Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., a comparison I’m sure writers much smarter than me have made way before now. Nick Spencer has excelled at balancing all the points of view as well as double- and triple-crosses of the book while never once failing to deliver a punchline. Comedy is a precious resource in comics, but Superior Foes of Spider-Man has had that market cornered for months. Issue #15 is no exception. Superior Foes #15, however, goes a step further than just a barrage of jokes this month though by finally bringing the foes to a head with Shocker and giving the audience a hefty check-in with the book’s real villains, the Owl, Hammerhead and Chameleon.

The confrontation with Shocker is as quick and short-lived as Hermann’s quest for respect, and we shouldn’t have expected anything else. Spencer smartly kicks the issue off with this long-teased clash, but he ends it almost as quickly as he starts it, thus adding to Shocker's hilarious, pathetic nature. Herman has long been the Meg Griffin of Superior Foes, and his swift defeat and cruel burial just endears him to readers more, while proving once again that our protagonists are nowhere near good people. We really didn’t need much more evidence to this fact, as we’ve seen them do pretty horrible things across 15 issues, but somehow it is still always funny when Shocker is the one receiving the short end of the stick. Fingers still crossed that he ends up on top by the time the finale rolls around.

Spencer also uses Superior Foes #15 to remind us that the Sinister Four aren’t the only villains lurking around New York. As the head of Silvio Silvermane is still floating around the criminal ether, and Hammerhead is struggling to come to grips with his own conflicted feelings about his former boss. Spencer turns this throwaway gag from a previous issue into a truly hilarious sequence detailing Hammerhead’s struggle to find a therapist. (His current therapist is some unlucky mug from his gang who is forced to hear Hammerhead’s problems while the weekly poker game happens in the background.) Elsewhere, Spencer checks in with the genuinely creepy Owl as he interrogates a costumed Z-lister as to the whereabouts of Fred Myers and finds an unlikely partner in the Chameleon, another one of Fred’s burned employers. While the Hammerhead sequence is mostly played for laughs and is centered around a central bit, Spencer uses every panel of the Owl/Chameleon meeting to remind the audience of why these two guys have gone toe-to-toe with Spider-Man so many times and almost came out on top. Nick Spencer has made these two characters legitimate threats again and the odds are not in our small time crook’s favor.

We don’t get many books about how mundane superhero life could be. We get even less about how some of the obscure villains and heavies of these stories go about their daily lives, scraping and trying to claw their way to the top. Superior Foes of Spider-Man scratches that itch in the most entertaining way possible. Characters that I never thought twice about are now living, breathing people to me. We’ve seen them date, argue, and pull jobs with varying degrees of success across the board. Issue #15 is just another example of how fun a book like this can be with the added layer of setting the board for a very explosive finale. While I’m sad that Superior Foes is ending, if we get more issues like fifteen until then, the whole long con would have been very much worth it.

Grayson: Futures End #1
Written by Tom King and Tim Seeley
Art by Stephen Mooney and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Spyral may be a tough learning curve for the original Boy Wonder, but this tie-in to Futures End puts Grayson in much hotter water, as Tom King, Tim Seeley and Stephen Mooney bring us a tale of a bleak and hopeless future. Exceptionally constructed using hidden codes and a story structure that travels backwards, this comic is largely too clever for its own good, even if it comes a bit too soon after this title's bold relaunch.

The comic starts off with a bit of a grotesque streak, as we find our hero getting hung to death by his one-time C.O. Helena Bertinelli, a.k.a. the Huntress. Though some of our more hateful reviewers might take issue with Dick getting killed in yet another DC event, it definitely provides a wake-up call, as we wonder what exactly brought Dick Grayson to his death in totalitarian Russia. Leading readers back in time, page by page, Tom King's script acts as both an origin story and a chronicle of Dick Grayson's descent into bloodshed. Every scene is carefully constructed, only taking a page each, providing one of the smartest storytelling conceits I've seen in a long time from the New 52, or even arguably the Big Two in general.

Dick Grayson may be the new guy at Spyral, but this comic gets to cut through some of the lengthy wait time of an ongoing narrative, instead letting us know of new relationships, the hard choices and the horrible fate in store for him. One of the things that keeps this story from getting too bleak, however, is Grayson's unorthodox upbringing, giving him a sense of humor even in the face of Gotham crooks, killer sharks and hordes of Parademons. When getting tied up and captured with the Huntress, King weaves in a subtle gag that turns into a hidden fart joke, which readers can laugh at along with our hero. Now, less generous readers might frown upon how fast some of the scenes progress, resulting in the occasional disorienting jump, but even if his final fate might be gory, our lead character still takes the cake in likeability.

Filling in on art duties for this issue is Stephen Mooney, and he is a far cry from superstar artist Mikel Janin. At the same time, however, Mooney's scratchier linework does show that this future isn't the clean, hopeful place that Janin's ultra-smooth characters inhabit. Nevertheless, there are some places where it could improve, particuarly the inking of the faces, which are lined with unnecessary hatching and awkward expressions. But that all said, the colorwork by Jeromy Cox looks great, setting each scene with vivid purples, sultry reds and tense oranges. One of my favorite pages, however, happens to be a simple one, as Helena and Dick leap out from a pile of junk to fire at a Parademon squad, all while exchanging their own kind of quasi-pillow talk. Yes, it might be a little cheesy, but it's those bits of humanity that make you appreciate the smothering war story (unless you have no heart whatsoever).

Still, there are a few flaws at the heart of this inventive read. It's hard to understand the jump from working for Spyral to working under K.G.Beast in Russia, and arguably the shell-shock that Dick feels after the war feels unearned. (This comes primarily from the art, which doesn't get a moment to really focus in on Dick's inner turmoil.) Some of the metaphors also feel a little unfinished, as well, such as Helena struggling with blood on her hands, and the scene where Batgirl says who Dick really wants to date Batman feels a little self-conscious and awkward. (Just how much does Dick idolize Bruce Wayne? Usually half-decade-old theories from Dr. Wertham doesn't get this much play in a modern comic!) Some of the ideas just don't get as much screen time to blossom here, but to King and company's credit, a lot of them bear fruit. The final page, which uses a burning rope to mirror the first, even gives hope that this story might not be as cut and dried as we think.

At the end of the day - arguably misguided minority opinions aside - there's a lot to like about Grayson: Futures End #1. Rarely do comics have such a great replay value, but it's clear that King wants to add layers to what could be a thin storyline on paper. Even death isn't what it seems after reading this once or twice. Very few comics have made such a dramatic shift as this series, and to make such a bold departure only three issues in is even more courageous. I definitely would recommend this comic, if only because it shows more thought than most of DC's lineup. Even if you're not sold on Grayson's new status quo, the writing alone makes this worth your time. What a knockout.

Credit: Marvel Comics

She-Hulk #8
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Charles Soule’s writing on She-Hulk has always been smart and snappy on a panel-to-panel level, but it’s been hard to tell what kind of story he’s been trying to construct. It has often felt like Soule and the art team made some gorgeous fabric together, but Soule didn’t know how to turn it into a dress. Each storyline until now has seemed either too ambitious or too frivolous, and all of them seemed a bit fumbled in execution. In She-Hulk #8, which begins a new arc, nothing distracts from what this creative team can do together.

Captain America guest stars in this issue, as Jennifer’s team heads out to Los Angeles to take on a wrongful death suit against him. As always, Javier Pulido’s figures, Muntsa Vicente’s colors and Soule’s dialogue all say “we are here to have fun.” But in this new arc, Captain America’s gravitas and Jennifer’s earnest desire to help him both act as a counterbalance to the glitz of L.A. and the story’s trademark larkiness.

Behind Soule’s word balloons of banter and law office talk, Pulido’s lines and Vicente’s colors give the pages of She-Hulk a clean, stained-glass window effect. Pulido inks bold lines and strong shapes with few interior details and shading. Color is always important, but Vicente’s bright, solid color combinations for walls, clothing and the sky are especially, mysteriously important. The colors all seem to revolve around Jennifer’s vibrant green skin-tone, and the panels bloom off the page.

Pulido’s art is so deceptively simple that when I talk about him, I might sound like Paul Cezanne saying “Monet is only an eye, but my God what an eye!” But in She-Hulk #8, we also see how directly Pulido underwrites Soule’s clever dialogue and helps to make the characters real and funny. When Jennifer, Patsy and Angie are sitting in a bar having celebration drinks, there’s a panel that shows Jennifer getting bad news over the phone that makes the celebration seem premature. Jennifer looks chagrined as she hears the news. As you scan across the panel to the others at the table, Angie is completely expressionless and Patsy and Hei Hei the monkey have simultaneously and identically turned and gestured for the waitress to bring another round of drinks. It’s a small moment that is easy to sweep past but will make you laugh on a second or third reading.

Soule and Pulido get away with a lot of sincerity by down-playing the serious stuff and keeping the tone playful. Jennifer’s worries about failing Captain America come across without Soule having to harp on them. It makes us like Jennifer all the more for being a little over-confident, cracking jokes, and getting excited about little things like using the intercom in her office. On the morning of the trial, Jennifer says to Captain America “I’m not nervous at all. I slept like a baby last night,” when actually we saw her work all night in a mostly wordless (and still mostly light-hearted) montage.

This Captain America arc has room to run, with a surprise twist at the end of this issue, allusions to a secret mission for Patsy, and the details of the wrongful death suit still undisclosed. She-Hulk has been worth watching from the beginning, but this eighth issue gives me hope that the series is starting to live up to its potential.

Futures End: Action Comics #1
Written by Sholly Fisch
Art by Pascal Alixe, Vincente Cifuentes and Pete Pantazis
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Futures End so far as been a middling mess that has offered up more characters asking questions instead of capitalizing on the teeming ideas that it has introduced, but when it came to the one-shots that would accompany it, well, it's actually had a lot of potential. Offering introspective stories that serve as a breather amidst all the hustle of Futures End, this comic takes us through a hero’s perspective five years into a dystopian future. Futures End: Action Comics #1 ends up telling a fairly decent Superman story without Superman - something which is quickly becoming Sholly Fisch’s writing niche - but ultimately adds up to nothing that anyone but a completist would find value in.

Futures End: Action Comics follows three citizens of Metropolis who are suddenly gifted with extraordinary powers reminiscent of those wielded by Superman. The bearer of these gifts is a golden, spectral Superman look-alike, who delivers these gifts to people at a junction in their lives, debating between doing good or doing wrong. While this may sound a bit hokey on paper, the book works despite itself, due in large part of Sholly Fisch’s earnest scripting. Fisch, a Superman story pinch-hitter since the days of Grant Morrison’s run on Action, does yet another fine job handling the story of this one-shot, relying once more on the idea of Superman more than the actual character. While Clark toils in the barren soil of Ethiopia, this golden, ghostly Superman flies about, saving a woman from a suicide attempt with the power of flight and granting a child the strength to stand up to his alcoholic father. The specter, made up of energy from Superman’s last battle with the nefarious Mr. Mxyptlk, explains to Clark that he embodies the very idea of Superman, and uses that to inspire people to be their very best just like Clark did before he “turned his back on the world”. Even though this is a trope that is used ad nauseum in Superman stories, here, it doesn’t come across as ham-fisted as it does in other stories. Of course Superman is inspiring, that’s why he’s Superman and amid the gloom and doom of Futures End it is really nice of Fisch to remind us of that.

Handling this one-shot’s art is the team of Pascal Alixe and Vincente Cifuentes with Pete Pantazis on colors, and here is when things start to get a bit wonky. While Alixe and Cifuentes’ rough-hewn pencils look great when depicting the spectral Superman, other characters and scenes come across looking muddy and rushed feeling, particularly the action scenes or scenes of movement. The forced perspective on one character makes his head look small while his shoulders, arms and hands look way too large for his body as he attacks another character. The team’s facial expressions also illicit one or two bits of unintentional comedy. The aforementioned character’s scene in particular has a bit of Glen Fabry-esque grimacing as well as an Asian-looking Clark Kent for a few panels, as his face looks almost pinched through his beard. These random missteps littered throughout could be chalked up the penciler’s styles not meshing as well as they do with the rest of the book. What they do do well, they do very well, which makes the weird bits of badness stick out even more. Pete Pantazis’ colors, however, are great throughout, as his boldly bright color palette highlights the pencils quite well. Keeping with the overall tone of Futures End, Pantazis injects a deep metallic feeling into his colors with rich blues, coppered oranges, and the swirling ethereal gold of the spectral Superman to invoke an almost operatic feeling to the one-shot as a whole and he really nails it.

While it would be easy to just outright dismiss a line of one-shots that are co-opting regular titles for a whole month, complete with gimmicky 3D covers, that would be unfair to stories like Futures End: Action Comics #1. Admittedly, there isn’t much here for causal readers looking for a plug into Futures End, but that doesn’t negate that this one-shot is a pretty decent Superman story that aims to be a bit brighter than the event title that spawned it. That alone is worth attention, if even a fleeting look. Sholly Fisch has long since been quietly turning in Superman stories that tug at the heartstrings and display a deep understanding of the character of Superman. Futures End: Action Comics #1 may not be great, but it is good enough and even that exceeds most expectations.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #7
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Accept no substitutes.

But try as they might, that's what Moon Knight #7 is. Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey produced a critical success with their relaunch of the Lunar Avenger, but for all their big ideas and wonderful aesthetics, what they didn't bring to their project was staying power. After only six done-in-one issues, they've passed the baton to Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood, who are put in the unenviable position of trying to emulate two inimitable talents who, to be brutally honest, didn't give them any throughline to follow. The result is an immediately jarring story that tries so hard to be a Warren Ellis-esque thriller, but brings neither the edge, the intelligence or the voice required.

From the get-go, you sense that Wood is trying to do his best cover of a Warren Ellis story, complete with a soldier with a cloaking device, drone targeting and a high-powered sniper rifle trying his damnedest to take out an African general in New York City. Wood gives us the exposition we need through bursts of radio transmissions, but the conceit backfires - some people would ignore it as background noise, while the people who do read it see it as heavy-handed. The same goes for Moon Knight's opponent, who never really congeals as a concept the way that cyborg kidnappers, long-dormant assassins or psychedlic dreamscapes do. Wood's premise - Moon Knight defending a man with some serious blood on his hands - has that sort of moral ambiguity that Ellis might write, but can you seriously imagine a Warren Ellis character defending a war criminal? Unfortunately, Wood paints himself into a corner by putting Moon Knight on the wrong side of history, and it makes for an unsatisfying read.

The other thing that this story lacks - and it's kind of been crucial for this run on the character so far - is a sense of meanness. Even with his crisp white suit, Marc Spector is a creature of meannness, a guy who isn't just going to hit a guy over the head - he's going to bash his damn teeth in. There's a couple of good moments here, such as Marc dressing down a cop who wants to arrest him rather than deal with the aftermath of an EMP-related blackout - indeed, the blackout in general is such a great concept, but one that only gets about two pages of page time - but overall, it feels like Moon Knight has lost his brutal streak. This isn't a guy who stands out for being the toughest guy in the room. This is a guy asking a sniper if he carries a badge, tries to appeal to him as a one-time soldier. There's no danger to him anymore.

The artwork is even a more unfair comparison, because Greg Smallwood is a decent artist. But coming after Declan Shalvey? It's just unfair - his Moon Knight looks perptually wide-eyed, almost frightened, and while he does get ambitious with his blackout scenes, his panel layouts are so cramped that you gloss over them rather than take in all the great details (in particular, snatching a cop's nightstick away while he runs past a flaming car). His style reminds me a bit of Chris Samnee's, but it's stiff in terms of the character compositions, and his take on the suited Moon Knight feels surprisingly bulky, as he's always hunched down. Colorist Jordie Bellaire does a great job at trying to maintain the visual consistency of this comic, and she hits everything in all the right places - it's just that Smallwood has the bad luck of filling some very big shoes.

I feel bad for being so down on Moon Knight #7, because ultimately this isn't even Wood and Smallwood's fault, at least not all the way - it's clear they've come after a very short but very influential run on an already convoluted character, and they're given a style to emulate but no clear plans to follow up on. It's no insult to say that Brian Wood is no Warren Ellis, or that Greg Smallwood is no Declan Shalvey - they're their own artists, with their own styles. Unfortunately, they can't seem to bring those unique voices to Moon Knight, making this series feel like a lackluster cover of a short-lived song.

Green Arrow: Futures End #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Arrowites around the world were shocked in the opening chapter of the weekly Futures End when their favourite Emerald Archer met his untimely end. Oliver Queen is no stranger to death and near-misses, but DC killing off one of their new flagship characters is about as likely as Marvel doing away with Wolverine. So with this one-shot, Jeff Lemire finally lets us know what transpired during the interim, and paves the way for an interesting future in the lives of the Green Arrow(s).

Unlike some of the other “Futures End” one-shots, the regular series creative team of Lemire and Sorrentino use the event to not only hip the readers to what has happened in the five years between drinks, but to blossom some to of the seeds they planted before a new creative team starts next month. Ollie’s half-sister Emiko is now the city’s Green Arrow, with Naomi serving as the new Dart. Vertigo has henchmen with low-level powers running around town. An older and raggedly hirsute Oliver Queen returns, but with a new mission involving the super-powered refugees from Earth 2. Quicker that you can say “Arrow: Season 3 debuts October,” Deathstroke shows his costumed visage, while Ollie makes a deal with the Outsiders.

Not everything in Lemire’s run has been smooth, although some of it appeared to be due to his attempts at reconciling elements of characters established before his tenure with those borrowed from the TV series. Yet Green Arrow: Futures End #1 gives us a glimpse of his long game. All those bits and pieces that felt like too much weight on a slender origin story smack with meaning, and probably would have even more if we’d felt the ubiquitous Green Arrow’s absence at all in these last few months. It’s an instant resurrection if you will, but no less powerful in the delivery.

Sorrentino’s presence on this one-shot elevates the story even further, taking his next-level art to new places. The beauty of his precise framing, his clever use of color and the strategic absence thereof has been well covered. Here he gets to cut loose on an older Oliver Queen, and effectively a new design for a Green Arrow in Emiko. It’salso pleasing to see the return of Shado, and some elegant acrobatic moments show Sorrentino’s mastery of action sequences and movement.

The ending of the issue is a tiny bit of a cop-out, and even Ollie admits that he has used this particular “trick arrow” before. We’re told the story will continue in an upcoming issue of Futures End, although that’s only ever going to be a taste of what Lemire has left us craving here. He began his run with a soft reboot mid-series, and in many ways ends with one as well. It will be interesting to see what incoming writers Andrew Kreisberg and writer Ben Sokolowski do with the foreknowledge. Ultimately, Lemire and Sorrentino’s Green Arrow can proudly stand next to Mike Grell, Kevin Smith or Judd Winick’s modern takes on the character.

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