Best Shots Comic Reviews: DAREDEVIL #8, MULTIVERSITY, More

Marvel Comics September 2014 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday reviews? Best Shots has your back, with the latest installment featuring last week's biggest releases! So let's kick off with Jousting Jake Partridge, III, as he takes a look at Daredevil...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Daredevil #8
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The word “redefined” gets thrown around a lot these, but Mark Waid and Chris Samnee have earned that distinction with the character of Daredevil, pulling the character out of the abject darkness that seemed to define him for years. Now with Daredevil #8 they have turned there attentions to an antagonist sorely in need of a new direction: Zeb Killgrave, otherwise known as the Purple Man. Before this issue, Killgrave would have been mostly known by his dubious appearances in Alias and New Avengers, but with Daredevil #8, Waid and Samnee add some much-needed layers to the character as well as a hefty helping of creepy as they introduce the issue’s true antagonists for this upcoming arc. All this combined makes for another solid issue of Daredevil that has a lot going for it beyond superhero hijinks.

Every time I read an issue of Daredevil I am always pleased to see that Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson are more than willing to try new things with gusto. Honestly, their work on the series could be just more of the same things we have seen from them before, month after month, and I would still be happy, but, thankfully, Samnee and Wilson aren’t those kind of artists. In Daredevil #8, the art team balances the moody darkness of the scenes with Killgrave with the sunny exploits of Matt and Karen to stunning effect. The opening scene, which shows Killgrave and his brood breaking into a house to kidnap another child for his grand scheme, drips with a heavy mood and rich colors. Samnee and Wilson have shown before that they are capable of handling dark scenes before, but this opening goes beyond the use of negative space and shadows to allow the color purple to become almost a character itself. The shadowy renderings of the white eyed, purple skinned children conjures a terrifying image that would be right at home in a Stephen King novel, as they tap at a window with bold, purple lined sound effects. For this opening, Samnee draws them less as children and more like wraiths just hovering outside your window, eager to whisk you away from your mother. It is one hell of an opening that just gets even more off putting as Killgrave coolly dispatches the mother of his newest addition to his “family”. Samnee and Wilson have never done an outright horror book but the opening of Daredevil #8 comes very close to just that.

As Waid’s script switches gears after this creepy opening, so do Samnee and Wilson, displaying an ability to deftly switch between tones at a panel’s notice. Daredevil #8 is all about fathers and after a truly adorable date at the zoo, readers finally get to meet Karen’s, complete with sunny ocean vistas provided by Samnee and Wilson. Waid has long since gotten the voice of Matt Murdock down pat, not only in action, but with his fantastic narration, but Kirsten McDuffie truly shines in Daredevil #8 and in just four pages at that. Matt has always been defined by the women that he surrounds himself with, but Mark Waid has tapped into something special with Kirsten in this new volume. Waid seems to be using the Lois Lane model when it comes to writing Kirsten as she is capable, whip-smart, and could probably easily carry her own title without Matt. Kirsten has her own agency and concerns that are apart from Matt’s, yet she chooses to take Matt to a zoo to quiz him on certain animals to see if he can identify them with his radar sense. It is a fun little bit that instantly sets Kirsten apart from Matt’s past girlfriends. She is fascinated by Matt’s superhero life instead of being repelled or frightened by it. It is such a small bit, but it speaks volumes to Kirsten’s character as well as the overall tone of Daredevil now.

While Daredevil #8 flirts a bit with the darker tone that readers have seen in prior runs, Waid, Samnee, and Wilson still seem committed to delivering slick, charming comics filled with compelling character work. Daredevil is now the kind of book where its lead can go out in public wearing a shirt with his own superhero logo on it and no one bats an eye. Before Mark Waid’s tenure, it had been a long while since we had seen Matt Murdock smile, and while his life still may not be perfect, he isn’t getting tortured every Wednesday anymore. While Daredevil #8 is light on action, it packs a heavy tease as to what Matt is going to be coming up against next, both in his private and professional life. Let’s just hope he doesn’t lose his smile after everything is said and done.

Credit: DC Comics

The Multiversity: Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors from the Counter-World #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Walden Wong and Dave McCaig
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The intro for the Gerry Anderson TV show Stingray used to boast that “anything could happen in the next half hour!”

That is kind of the feeling you get when you read a Grant Morrison book. The Multiversity #1 was a prime example of this “anything goes” mentality that Morrison brings to his works, and while that issue’s cosmic freak-out team-up was engaging, Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors from the Counter-World is a superior comic in many ways. There are two reasons for this assertion; One, it is a much more contained story that the first issue. Morrison is often rightly accused of taking reader’s down needless rabbit holes, but here he covers a lot of ground very quickly. Reason two is Chris Sprouse. SOS: Conquerors from the Counter-World #1 is a wooly, fast paced pulp yarn that is steeped in the rich history of comics while telling a story that feels epic in scope. Grant Morrison hasn’t been a writer normally known for this kind of direct, high-octane storytelling, yet here it is, upping the ante for Multiversity in a big way.

I’m going to speak about the second reason listed above first because whoo, boy, does this comic look gorgeous. Chris Sprouse could be on six books a month and it still wouldn’t be enough for me. Along with the heavy inks of Karl Story and Walden Wong and the smoldering colors of Dave McCaig, Sprouse and his team turn in a comic that absolutely nails the look of pulp comics. You could open this book to any page and see a fantastic visual or set piece staring you in the face. Sprouse, a vet when it comes to pulp visuals, packs this issue with every punch possible from the opening single page splash of New York’s Fifth Avenue. dominated by the awesome site of Doc Fate’s windowless tower. Sprouse never once shies away from delivering cinematic and bombastic visuals in wide panels that dominate most of the page. The shots of Vandal Savage’s huge aircraft and his troops descending through the space between worlds to conquer are grand in all the right ways, but those are just two examples of the great pencils found in this book. Dave McCaig keeps the colors muted, yet bold against the coolly rendered backgrounds. The brighter, more flamboyant characters like Doc Fate, Abin Sur, and Lady Shiva pop against the stark reality of the setting, but that in turn, makes the book’s visuals all the stronger. These characters are ridiculous, but are rendered almost workman like on the page, much like the characters of the time. Sprouse and his team give us a synthesized version of these pulp characters while never making it feel synthetic. This is pulp seen through the lens of a fashion designer and a blockbuster movie director.

Grant Morrison, script wise, also quickly downshifts with this issue from the feverish cosmic storytelling that made up Issue #1. While Society of Super-Heroes still maintains many of the major themes introduced in that first issue, it also succeeds in being a fairly straight forward story of superhero high adventure. Doc Fate, of Earth-20 is looking for heroes to defend against the coming invasion from another world and some answer the call, including the Blackhawks and Anthro, the Immortal Man, and the Mighty Atom, who wears a mask that we may have seen a few times before now. Morrison quickly introduces the team as well as Vandal Savage’s antagonist squad from Earth-40 and then just gets to it. After a succinct and devastating five year time up, Earth-20 is fully under siege by Savage’s forces, and the S.O.S. is rallying for a final push. Society of Super-Heroes scales down the stakes from the cosmic to the local level, letting this issue be more about a single engagement in the war for the Multiverse in order to truly sell the stakes and cost of the whole story. Morrison makes each character engaging and heroic while gut punching the reader with the final page realization that this is merely the first volley in a much larger conflict. Morrison aims with Society of Super-Heroes to fit a genre story into the huge meta-narrative that he has been construction and it really, really works here.

But while Society of Super-Heroes largely succeeds by being an entertaining and gorgeous comic, it is really put over by the insane amount of meta-textual detail that Grant Morrison heaps into the script. Society of Super-Heroes is a great one-and-done story, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t reward eagle eyed readers with rich details. Take for example the inclusion of Anthro, a character that Morrison last handled in the opening pages of Final Crisis. See, in that book, Anthro was seen receiving the gift of knowledge from Metron of the New Gods near the dawn of humanity. He then went to war with another caveman tribe leader in the form of Vandal Savage. Society of Super-Heroes is the story of the culmination of a 40,000 year old hatred. It is also no mere coincidence that Doc Fate looks a hell of a lot like Calvin Ellis, the Superman of Earth-23. Honestly, I could go on, but no one wants this review to turn into an annotation. Basically it boils down to, come for the genre storytelling, stay for the insane meta-narrative.

Some readers were understandably turned off by the universally spanning and hard to pin down story of the debut issue of Multiversity. Thankfully those that may have been less than impressed with that first issue can probably find something to enjoy about Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors from the Counter-World #1 which plants its feet confidentially in pulp conventions to tell a story both large and small. Anything could happen in Stingray, and anything does happen in a Grant Morrison comic. Morrison and his art team make the most of this second issue in order to prove that Multiversity aims to be more than just navel-gazing about the concept of the 52 worlds. It aims to be an entertaining and creative statement about them. Stand by for action.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Edge of Spider-Verse #2
Written by Jason Latour
Art by Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Spider-Gwen! Spider-Gwen! Does whatever a Spider-Man can!

She also has a thoughtful style and grit that Spider-Man doesn’t. That style bit is probably the most remarkable aspect of the character and this issue. Credit for this spiffy new character design goes to artist Robbi Rodriguez. I’d also like to offer up a round of applause in addition to the credit. Rodriguez has captured a tone and trend that superhero comics needs in a delightfully functional and realistic way. As she moves through the panels, Spider-Gwen is perfectly believable.

As iconic as her design is soon to be, Jason Latour has bestowed an unmistakably distinct voice to our little drummer girl. Actually, every character is slinging pitch-perfect dialogue, but the star of this show is Gwen. Edge of the Spider-Verse #2 defines and endears you to Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman, and this wonderfully tangible character quickly draws you in. Gwen is thoughtful, brave and honor-bound. Despite some (earned) navel-gazing and irreverent language, Gwen keeps her chin up and faces the music. Latour gives her authenticity, relatability and leaves you wanting to know what she’ll do next. Spider-Gwen could carry her own title, for sure. Gwen’s opinionated bandmates, her pitbull of a father and the goofy beginnings of her rogue’s gallery testify to that.

For all that is gratifying about the character development, that much definition ways heavy in just one issue and the pacing pays the price. Even being romanced by how pretty the panels are, Gwen’s quasi-origin and plight ham-fisted into a two-page splash of panels is still hard to swallow. It is particularly jarring considering how smoothly the story begins.

Still, the artwork helps make it a fun read. The issue opens with rock band the Mary Janes practicing in the Midtown High gym for an upcoming gig. The first panel is a subtle yet vividly colored panorama of the high school with the lyrics of the song being sung aggressively etched over it. It’s a simple concept, but we know these girls are rocking out, and it immediately sets a bold tone that serves the entire issue well. Rodriguez carries that boldness forward with dynamic perspectives as Gwen swings through the city, evades the cops and brawls with a giant Russian. The way that Rodriguez simultaneously portrays character detail juxtaposed against a chaotic, kinetic background defines his style. And it is an exceptional style, particularly when colored as well as it is. Renzi’s warm pinks and oranges, calm blues, greens and purples match and accentuate that contrast seamlessly while also articulating the brash, youthful spirit of the issue and the Spider-Woman character.

The only downside to the visuals in this issue are the speech bubbles. More specifically, it is the tail of the bubble that is a problem. On the dialogue bubbles, the tail juts out in a straight line with a rounded tip that contrasts too starkly with the bright colors and frenetic lines of art. (I'll be honest - it ends up coming off as cartoonishly phallic.) It is a minor transgression considering how collectively delightful the art and most of the other lettering is, as a whole. But it is distracting and slightly diminishes the feeling of quality.

Strange speech bubble tics aside, from start to finish, Edge of the Spider-Verse #2 offers a fresh new character, an honest evolution, eye-candy art, a lot of story and cosplay inspiration for years to come. That’s quite a feat for one issue. It is a must-read, and Spider-Gwen is worthy of the prime universe.

Credit: Image Comics

The Wicked + The Devine #4
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The Wicked + The Devine is just as much about celebrity as it is about divinity, although at its heart it is a murder mystery. It’s been a year for some corker whodunits, from 1940s noir to the Marvel cosmic. Yet Kieron Gillen’s tale has remained one of the more intriguing by cloaking its riddles in a stylish high-collared cape, covering it in glam glitter and riding its F major scales all the way to Mars.

The central conceit of the series is that a group of gods, reborn as young people every 90 years, have been born into our age inhabiting the forms of rock stars. At least one of them is responsible for the murder of a judge. Luci, or Lucifer reborn in the form of a post-Bowie androgynous woman, is accused of the crime, but says she didn’t do it. In this verse of the ongoing song, journalist Cassandra (the skeptic) and fangirl Laura (the true believer) are out to uncover the truth, but it leads them straight into the heart of Woden’s Valhalla in London, where fellow god Baal introduces Laura to the rest of the Pantheon.

One of the strengths of The Wicked + The Devine is its ability to skirt a thin line between weighty symbolism and outright self-mocking, and the opening pages of this fourth issue are prime examples of this. We’ve seen an analogue for Florence Welch in the first few issues, and if Luci is a cross between the Thin White Duke and Annie Lennox, then Baal draws his roots from Kanye. Describing himself as humble before revealing a painted wall mural that shows him flanked by angels, “I’ve always claimed I was a god, even before I knew I was one” could have easily slipped from the lips of Yeezus. Here it’s simply an amusing device to delay the skeptic’s questions as the true believer tries to play it cool.

Of course, the best moments in this issue come (as they do in every chapter so far) from the inimitable Luci. Losing hope that her fellow Pantheon members will come to her aid, she proves that the devil has a few more tricks up her sleeve, just as Gillen continues to prove that beneath the cool facade and sheen, he is by no means done with spinning us around like a record.

Likewise, McKelvie has the dual task of creating a surface sheen that conveys the unattainable godliness, and the minimalist backgrounds and clearly defined line-art prove once and for all that it is next to cleanliness. Showing a mastery of visual plotting, a series of tight six-paneled pages give way to a double-page spread showcasing the Pantheon on their thrones, a visual that is equal parts fashion shoot and Jodorowsky film. This is contrasted immediately with the starkness of Luci’s cell, and the final panels quite literally depict chaos bursting out of calm.

Gillen has spent the first few issues introducing us to this world, and ensuring we know where all the main players stand on his stage. With this installment, he confidently opens the world up a little bit more, inviting readers to step inside. As such, this issue doesn’t quite share the momentum that the first few outings did, concerned more with exposition than the wider world building of the first three parts. Yet just like the awestruck Laura, we might try to downplay our excitement, but it’s just too damn cool.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man #5
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Marquez and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Where others might complain about Brian Michael Bendis’ methodical peeling of the layers of his mystery in Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man, I’m personally loving it. Bendis reveals a bit more about how Peter Parker has come back, but the issue is mostly focused on characters, and while the dialogue and narration can be excessive at times, the issue is well paced. So while the major arc of the series has yet to be resolved, it inches towards its major mystery by building conflicts and relationships with confident and meticulous skill.

The issue is mostly meant to move the plot along, so much of the writing is about getting from point A to point B. I wouldn’t say this is a weakness, though, as we get some great interactions between Miles and Peter. Bendis’ punchy dialogue is in full swing at the beginning of the comic, and such moments make me want to see these two together more often.

Bendis also gives a bit more information about his two new villains, men who have been breaking into seemingly random locations in order to pilfer secret items. The undisclosed reason behind their motivation shows itself slightly, and while I’m not crazy about Bendis’ attempt to make us sympathetic towards their situation, I like the additional mystery put into the comic, especially when we get a glimpse of their target scores.

Lastly, the issue ends with two solid cliffhangers. One that we all knew was coming, and the other completely out of nowhere and involving J. Jonah Jameson. Bendis’ Jameson is a complete split from his 616 counterpart and his character has some of the best moments of the issue. This kind of twist is what makes Bendis’ series so fun to read - you never know just what the guy is planning, or how he’s going to alter the established mythos.

Because much of the issue is centered on plot over action, David Marquez’s work sits in two separate modalities. His action sequences are where he does his best work. The beginning of the comic is a mixture of cinematically constructed pacing and imagery, and easily the most visually appealing part.

The times where Marquez has to illustrate conversation, however, lack the same buzz. Mostly, it’s a very paint by numbers back and forth between characters with no real dynamic shots. Save for Jameson’s conversation with Norman Osborne, the rest of the character interactions consist of he said, she said panels, but ones that fail to really capture Marquez’s true skill.

Justin Ponsor, however, delivers another stunning array of colors and finishes. Even the most mundane shots are rendered with a luminescent polish. Shadows and light play a major role in the comic, and Ponsor knows how and when to use colorful detail to bring the panels to life. Bendis is lucky to have such a talented artistic team.

I was skeptical about Bendis bringing back Peter Parker, especially after having grown so fond of Miles Morales. I’m still not sold on Peter’s return, but the experience of reading Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man continues to be a fun one, even in issues where the writing is building the plot. Save for his occasionally excessive dialogue, Bendis is still crafting solid issues with well-developed characters and exciting stories.

Art from Oddly Normal
Art from Oddly Normal
Credit: Image Comics

Oddly Normal #1
Written and Illustrated by Otis Frampton
Flats by Thomas Boatwright
Published by Image Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

From the opening page, Oddly Normal has a very Tim Burton-esque feel in both its visuals and its heroine. The story follows a half-human, half-witch named Oddly Normal, a girl who struggles to fit in and therefore wishes to be different. Taking cues from many stories of rejected children, but doing so by firmly creating its own persona, Oddly Normal plants its unsteady feet firmly, and draws us in with a achingly relatable character, and a gorgeously illustrated comic.

Oddly Normal plays with a lot of the same tropes the Addams Family did, but without the same comedic, upbeat tone. Unlike Wednesday and Pugsley, Oddly isn’t proud of her heritage, nor can she find an escape in her home. Her parents lack the same grace as Gomez and Morticia, instead living with the deluded belief that their daughter is an accepted member of society, a point enunciated by a poorly attended birthday party that serves as the climax of the issue.

Otis Frampton’s Oddly is the stereotypical outcast, but even from the opening line of the comic, we feel for her. Frampton starts Oddly’s story in the cruelest of settings: school. Because she doesn’t fit in with her classmates, Oddly is treated as a pariah, her only interactions being the insults of students tossed indifferently her way. But as we follow her home, we see that nothing about Oddly’s story puts us at ease. She has nowhere to turn for respite, and this is where we understand the overwhelming weight of her situation.

Frampton also illustrates the issue, and his composition deftly aids his tone. Every page has a feeling of distance, whether it’s Oddly walking down the hall of her school or the halls of her house, her world seems expansive and empty. Frampton also captures Oddly’s desolation through her facial features, the eyes in particular. He has a solid grasp on the mechanics of the face so that every image of Oddly is heart-wrenching to the point that you just want her to get a break.

The muted color schemes also help sell the visuals, particularly Oddly’s bus ride home. The pages are awash in a soft purple, and the detail Frampton puts into illustrated a rainstorm only add to the hopelessness the character feels. When the colors finally change, it’s like a breath of fresh air and the oppressiveness lessens, if only slightly.

Oddly Normal is equal parts “careful what you wish for” and the adolescent need to belong, but rendered with palpable woe. The final page offers a glimpse of what is to come in Oddly’s life and I’m sure she’ll come to terms with her person, but the trip with be long and arduous - it usually is for everyone. And this is where Oddly Normal best succeeds. We’ve all felt out of place, and wondered what about our purpose in this world. Looking back on it, through Oddly’s experience, is a reminder that we can and have survived. I can only hope the same for Frampton’s character.

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