Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Ready for your regularly scheduled Best Shots column? Your favorite team of reviewers have your back, with the latest edition of books! So let's kick off today's column with a trip to Jersey City, as we take a look at the latest issue of Ms. Marvel...
Ms. Marvel #9
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Superhero comics are pretty much an exercise in static structures. You've got Captain Hero fighting the Evil Guy, and on a broad-strokes level, you're not getting too much beyond that. Sure, the choreography might change, but the ultimate beat-'em-up nature of the beast won't change.
Ms. Marvel #9 is no exception here. But there is something to be said for seeing the tried-and-true structures done well.
Much of this has to do with the incredibly likable central character, Kamala Khan, who has had her squee-factor increased by a hundred Tumblrs by giving her Lockjaw, the Inhumans' teleporting dog, as a sidekick. Still with me? That's the extent of Ms. Marvel #9 in terms of characterization for this issue, and that might be the one bit that is a bit disappointing. Sure, Kamala meets Medusa, Queen of the Inhumans, but we don't get to see Kamala actually develop any further as a character. The result is that G. Willow Wilson's plotting is just a shade forgettable, even if she manages to give it a nice wink by Kamala referring to it as "the Star Wars universe."
But even with a fairly large info-dump in the middle of the story - mainly to justify this cross-promotion of Marvel's Inhumans book - Wilson does give us a bit of bang for our buck. We've got not one, but two fight sequences in this comic, and that's a nice answer to the rampant decompression you might see in certain Avengers books. Like Spider-Man before her, Kamala is still learning about being a superhero, and it's endearing to see her stretch herself - no pun intended - to get out of the Inventor's snares and traps. ("Embiggened fists of rage!" is a great battle cry.) That said, the Inventor himself could stand to get pumped up a little bit more in the threat department - after nine issues, the ubiquitous robots (and the politics behind them) still feel a little weak, and it leaves the cliffhanger even weaker.
Artist Adrian Alphona continues to make this book a treat to read, especially the goofy expressions he gives the hulking Lockjaw. (A dog with a moustache. Priceless.) Alphona really plays up the acting in every panel, like the way Kamala gags when she's taken out of an Inhuman healing tube, or the Inhuman medic Vinatos' bug eyes expressing curiosity. (Alphona also sells a great beat where Kamala looks very awkwardly at Queen Medusa, remembering her mother's talk about puberty.) That said, there are a few snags in the momentum here, particularly with the fight sequences - bits like Kamala lifting up a bit of a brick wall or fighting her way out of a force field feel a little bit too distant, with the composition lacking a lot of energy.
Still, this comic has far more good than bad to it, and while it rails on particularly well-worn superhero tropes, you can't argue with the intent or the execution. Kamala Khan has so many more opportunities to learn and grow, both as a superhero and as a teenager, and it's only natural for her to go through her paces, get knocked down, and get back up again. Even if it's a lower-energy issue than usual, Ms. Marvel is still worth a trip to the comics shop.
Justice League #35
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke, Ivan Reis, Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin, Christian Alamy, Ray McCarthy, Joe Prado and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
This. This is nice.
You know what I'm talking about. The Justice League, all together in the same place. No big events or forced guest stars. Just the team getting together and having a nice, normal adventure.
And it looks like we have Lex Luthor to thank for it.
Despite Geoff Johns taking a page directly out of Marvel's Dark Reign playbook by making Lex the hero of Forever Evil, there's something nice about the team all being focused on one goal - even if that goal is keeping an eye on Superman's archenemy to make sure he doesn't stab them all in the back. But after months and months of sustained, exhausting change for the sake of change, it's nice to see that Lex's involvement gives a little bit of spotlight back to DC's premier superteam, rather than the cosmic events around them.
Part of that comes from the fact that you can tell Johns loves writing Luthor, particularly his back-and-forth with Batman. These are two geniuses playing a game of chess - right now, Lex has the upper hand against Batman, knowing his secret identity as Bruce Wayne. But that's not going to stop Bruce from trying to win the war, as he consistently outplays Lex at being both a revered public figure and a reclusive mastermind who builds his own weaponry. Sure, a lot of Johns' script also provides exposition for Lex, but considering he's the driving force behind the League these days - and, as you can see by the cliffhanger, possibly its downfall - it makes sense.
But I actually prefer the other Leaguers getting some face time. Jennifer Cruz, the new Green Lantern stand-in known as Power Ring, has a great chemistry with the Flash, particularly as he exhibits a much more carefree attitude that helps stabilize her fear-based power set. (The Flash giving disaster victims ice cream? That's a great bit of characterization, and the sort that DC as a whole desperately needs more of.) Additionally, seeing the one-time Teen Titan Cyborg palling around with the childish Shazam is a nice touch, and even if they weren't dating in the comics, it's nice to see Superman and Wonder Woman commenting on Batman outclassing Lex at a press conference. Aquaman is the real scene-stealer in this book, as Johns gets to let him cut loose with a nice action beat near the end of the book.
While Ivan Reis gets to sub in for the book's first three pages, this comic really belongs to Doug Mahnke. His artwork continues to be solid, although he doesn't really get to cut loose until the last five pages of the book, as Aquaman goes head-to-head with a supervillain. Watching Arthur crash through the ceiling is a nice bit of action, and Mahnke in particular really revels in the explosive energies firing off in several panels. Mahnke does make some of the quiet scenes work, as well - while Superman and Wonder Woman have a bit of a talking-heads quality, a panel of Aquaman standing watch on a rooftop is really striking. That said, there are a few hiccups here and there, particularly on the close-up shots of Bruce Wayne - sometimes, particularly if the character is in shadow, it winds up being a bit difficult to tell whether or not he's Luthor.
If there is anything that hampers this book, it's that the general trends aren't coming fast enough - even with 22 pages at his disposal this month, Johns still could stand to give the actual Leaguers a little bit more page time, cutting down a little of the decompression in Lex's exposition scenes. (There's about seven pages of Lex leading Batman to his private labs and telling Bruce bits of his history, and I feel like there's at least a page or two of fat that could have been trimmed.) Indeed, the big reveal of who is inside Lex's secret lab feels like a bit of a dud, and while Johns might make that a much bigger deal in future issues, it doesn't feel like a game-changer now.
But that could all change in an instant. Johns has really more of set up a prologue to the Amazo Virus with Justice League #35, and it's got the right amount of exposition and action to keep readers interested. Considering the Virus is meant to infect metahumans, it will be very interesting to see how the various members of the League react - and that's something this title sorely needs. If Johns can give the spotlight back to his titular heroes, there's no telling to what heights Justice League might go.
New Avengers #25
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Kev Walker, Frank Martin and David Curiel
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. With just a short time jump of eight months, Jonathan Hickman has taken the Illuminati and reduced them to shells of their former selves. Gone is the high and mighty idealism of their mammoth task and in its place is desperation - a desperation that the Black Swan warned them about from the very beginning. After the bleak blockbuster that was Issue #24, Hickman and company turn in a perfectly serviceable table-setting issue with #24. New Avengers #25 won't blow the doors off your local comic shop, but it will give fans just enough of a taste of what’s to come to keep them hooked for at least a few more issues of "Time Runs Out."
While the previous issue gave readers an in-depth look at Namor and his murderous Cabal, New Avengers #25 is a quiet sojourn into the new normal of the Illuminati, which now includes fan-favorite Amadeus Cho and Captain Britain cosplaying as Deathstroke. After losing their Wakandan base to the Cabal, the Illuminati have taken to holing up in a ruined underground township that looks eerily like a set from Hickman’s passion project S.H.I.E.L.D, which provides New Avengers a nice bit of connectivity to the rest of the Hickman canon. Jonathan Hickman keeps the action of New Avengers #25 largely contained to just three days in the hole with our erstwhile heroes, while Cho is at the mercy of the new and improved S.H.I.E.L.D., which has been tasked to hunt down the Illuminati at all costs. Once the Illuminati where left with limitless resources and power as they lorded over the Marvel universe from the shadows, but now, they are reduced to stealing every bit of data they can and forced to stay one step ahead of their S.H.I.E.L.D. pursuers, who are led by Susan Richards. As Dylan once said, a hard rain is gonna fall, and it is now certainly pouring on the Illuminati.
Hickman has never been a stranger to tossing heroes through the ringer or throwing his own book’s central concept out the window once it has outlived its usefulness, and New Avengers #25, and probably Time Runs Out as a whole, is exactly that. While the incursions plot sustained the book for the majority of its opening arcs, New Avengers has become about so much more than just the fate of the multiverse. Now the Cabal runs rampant throughout multiple universes, Iron Man and Black Bolt are missing, and Amadeus Cho just wants a sandwich - times are getting tough for the Illuminati and they will only get tougher. Even though New Avengers #25 suffers a bit coming after a truly huge issue like the previous one, it is still a very interesting place to find our leads in going forward and the added ticking clock of Time Runs Out gives the title an urgency that it had been sorely lacking in the previous arc.
Back on pencils for New Avengers #25 is Kev Walker, supported by the colors of Frank Martin and David Curiel. While Walker’s first issues of New Avengers didn’t wow me, Issue #25 is a huge improvement. Walker’s pencils look much more fluid here, instead of the rushed jaw lines of his previous issues. Walker also makes a meal out of all of the backgrounds in Issue #25, conveying a real sense of scale within the confines of the Illuminati’s new hideout. The opening establishing shot of the ruined underground base in particular offers a sense of desolate beauty that the book has batted at before, but never truly nailed. Walker’s character renders are also leaps and bounds better than his previous attempts; each hero now finally looks like they are carrying the weight of the multiverse on their shoulders, instead of looking like the artist was hurrying toward a deadline. His Captain Britain and Reed Richards look properly grizzled and tired as they work in tandem to save everything while Doc Green and Beast look like the noble creatures that we love seeing in panel. New Avengers mainstays Frank Martin and David Curiel also finally gel into Walker’s pencils as they saturate the pages with heavy greys, blues and fluorescents that work in lock step with the new bleak tone of her series. New Avengers has never been a book known for being artistic dynamite, but each art team that has taken on the book has made it their own in various ways and Walker, Martin and Curiel have finally made it their own in a big way.
As Black Swan said in an earlier issue, “One can only live in darkness for so long before panic starts to set in.” While we have yet to see the Illuminati panic, New Avengers #25 could be the start. Our heroes are routed and hunted at every turn and a cadre of villains spills the blood of worlds at their leisure. Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers has always been a book built on a great concept that wasn’t afraid to test our favorite characters in ways we would have never guessed. Now, with that concept pushed to the background, the true tests can truly begin, which will feel like a just reward to readers that have stuck with the book for this long. Everything has its time and everything dies, but the Illuminati aren’t done fighting just yet.
Supreme Blue Rose #4
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Tula Lotay
Lettering by Richard Starkings
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Supreme Blue Rose #4 continues a nebulous, beautiful-looking story full of characters who have a shaky grasp on time and reality. Readers should expect to be confused as writer Warren Ellis keeps his cards close to chest and sends us in wide circles. Tula Lotay’s luminous artwork grants this book a literary quality, but without it Ellis’s script would read like the metaphysical version of business school jargon. This fourth issue does not give the story much additional traction or forward momentum, consigning it to visual poetry for patient aesthetes.
In Supreme Blue Rose #4, protagonist Diana Dane has fully entered a dream world, leaving behind a recognizable reality where people talked about Instagram and Karl Lagerfeld. Now she’s taken a limo ride on a bridge to the moon, which is the long way round to a town called Littlehaven in upstate New York. We have learned that time can get sick and die, and that the world as Diana (and we) know it is actually only four months old. As Diana says at the beginning of this issue, “I am just not even questioning these things anymore.”
Tula Lotay’s illustration is mostly of and for disorientation, with interludes of connection between pairs of people. One of these connections is between Diana and Doc Rocket. Ellis and Lotay give Doc Rocket a different persona than the original Supreme character, making him an older man with a kindly face. Tula Lotay draws this Doc Rocket with a calm warmth that brings out Diana’s own warmth. The two characters generate a chemistry at the beginning of the issue that cuts through some of the story’s relentless confusion.
To convey a warped sense of time and place, Lotay uses wandering lines that look like pastel crayons and black grease pencil. These float above or beneath washes of color. Sometimes the lights of a night-time city scene or the aurora borealis try to force their way through from the back of a panel. In contrast to the swervy, loose look of Lotay’s lines, almost every panel is rectangular and uniform with clean black borders. Some of these panels are scenes from a television show that is trying to transmit a message from the future.
Besides Diana’s dream-reality and screen caps from a telenovela called Professor Night, this issue also cuts to the hallucinations of scientist Chelsea Henry. The things and places Chelsea sees are some of the most glorious things Lotay has had a chance to illustrate in Supreme Blue Rose so far. Chelsea sees ruins, giant stingrays, dinosaurs, and plaintive figures labeled coolly “late human render ghosts.” Chelsea, like almost everyone else in the story, does not know what is happening to her or how things work.
The overriding message of this book has been that a message is being forced across time and is coming through as garbled static to be decoded. Supreme Blue Rose #4 reaffirms that Ellis has made a book that is garbled static, beautifully rendered by Lotay. So far, this impressionistic success comes at the cost of traditional story elements such as dramatic irony, collectible clues, and energy that builds toward a crisis. Readers who like to get from point A to point B should swim at their own risk. Readers who like the sensation of Brownian motion should come on in, the water’s fine.