Best Shots Comic Reviews: ROBIN RISES: ALPHA #1, DAREDEVIL #11, SUPERMAN/WONDER WOMAN #14, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with the latest batch of reviews! So let's kick off today's column with Battlin' Brian Bannen, as he takes a look at Robin Rises: Alpha...

Credit: DC Comics

Robin Rises: Alpha #1
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Andy Kubert, Jonathan Glapion, Andy Kubert and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating 6 out of 10

How can you make an arrogant, smart-mouthed ten-year-old crime fighter better? Give him superpowers.

If you thought Damian Wayne’s return from the land of the dead was going to be a relatively normal one, you thought wrong (I know I did). It seems the Chaos Shard did more than bring Damian back from the dead - it bestowed him with the powers of flight, speed and super-strength.

The most disappointing thing about Robin Rises: Alpha is that Peter J. Tomasi spends the first 10 pages rehashing the finale of Batman and Robin #37. I only say this is “disappointing” because I felt cheated out of ten more pages of seeing Damian use his new powers as he, his father, and the rest of the Bat-Family (including Titus and Alfred) battle an enraged Kalibak who follows them back from Apokalips, hell bent on repairing his shattered ego by killing those who made him look foolish in front of his father.

The rest of the comic, post-Batman and Robin #37 is an old fashioned throw-down. Watching Damian come to the aid of his teammates is impressive, especially when you see what the kid can do now - something Tomasi leads to quickly, but impressively. That said, I’m a bit thrown off by the fact that the team was able to keep Kalibak at bay while on Apokalips, one of the harshest environments in the universe, yet he poses a grave threat to them in the Batcave where they’re in their element, surrounded by all their gadgets. The inconsistency is jarring, and little more than set-up for Damian’s big reveal.

Furthermore, Andy Kubert’s composition makes for inconsistencies from panel to panel, particularly with Kalibak. In one panel, he’s only a foot or two taller than Bruce, but in another panel, he towers over him. The same can be said in respect to Damian. At one point, the kid’s the size of Kalibak’s head. The lack of clarity directly correlates to a lack of clarity in the action sequences. It’s difficult to tell distance, point of view, and sequence. The fight scenes are pretty cool - especially when Damian realizes what he can do - but they lack smoothness so that the action is more bumpy than fluid.

In the rest of the comic, after the fight, Tomasi does his best writing as we see Damian reunited with his family (his moments with Alfred are particularly touching), and still possessing that arrogant egotism that pretty much made him everyone’s favorite Robin. The pacing up to the final page is superb where Tomasi brings closure to Damian’s death in a stoically written graveside scene between father, son, and butler. The only out of place moment is one involving Talia, one that serves to create more mystery but which also doesn’t have enough staying power to make a solid impact.

Kubert’s art also doesn’t get any clearer in the final pages. Faces are distorted by excessive shading, and odd focal choices. Visually, it’s a distraction that such a poignant comic can do without, but Brad Anderson adds some beautiful colors throughout at least making the imagery eye-popping if it is a bit muddled.

Robin Rises: Alpha serves as a punctuation mark on Damian’s death and return. Tomasi paves the way for the future of the characters, opening a lot of new doors on stories by the addition of some major changes in the characters. Personally, I’m excited to see Damian back. Batman and Robin went through a very dark period while Bruce struggled with Damian’s death. Hopefully, this means we’ll see a return to the dynamic duo - albeit with some super additions.

Credit: Marvel Comics

She-Hulk #11
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Javier Pulido, Muntsa Vicente
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

She-Hulk #11 shakes off all that courtroom civility and devotes itself to a knockdown, drag-out brawl. Muntsa Vicente’s joyful colors are more important than ever in this physical, sprawling issue. Inside the big fight, writer Charles Soule fits a smidgen of plot advancement, a sprinkling of class themes, and a reveal as the story circles back to the blue file. But this second-to-last issue mostly just feels like artist Javier Pulido’s explosive celebration of this team’s She-Hulk run, and it is wonderful.

On the first page of She-Hulk #11, Titania’s bright orange hair and magenta onesie-and-boots ensemble join the color party of Jen’s green skin and royal blue jacket. “Enough talking,” says Titania, just before hurling Jen through several brick walls. There are lots of great details, like how Jen loses one shoe and we see her splayed toes as she flies through the air. It’s fun to see these women with strong jaws and legs like tree trunks, fighting all over a mountain top in New Jersey. Hellcat and Volcana join in and then finally Angie descends in the Fantasticar. Pulido not only makes this five-lady pile-up really fun and silly, he also avoids making it feel exploitative or objectifying.

Soule’s She-Hulk has been an enjoyable reunion of Marvel characters, but one of the best things about it has been the unassuming Angie, a new character who presented herself as a slightly eccentric but otherwise normal paralegal (with a pet monkey). Soule has hinted that there is much more to Angie than we’ve seen. Now that there is only one issue left before the end of this She-Hulk run, we have to wonder if we will ever really know who Angie is. She’s been a great part of Jen’s team, and it was fun to see a stout, frumpily clad person hold her own in a fight with giant glamazons like Titania in She-Hulk #11.

Titania is a hired gun, but makes it clear to Jen that she holds a working-class grudge against Jen’s lawyer life. It feels like Soule used Titania’s anti-intellectual voice and an ultra-physical episode as an antidote to the three straight issues of lawyer banter that came before. This push and pull reflects the contrast between Soule’s dialogue and the art of Pulido and Vicente. The art comes in colors and shapes that are bright, bold, and simple enough for babies to latch onto and enjoy. I think it’s incredible, economical art that verges on design and goes straight down the hatch. Then Soule layers in his light, clever dialogue that is sophisticated in a whole different way. These two elements work together reliably to give the series its confident charm.

Beneath the solid art and dialogue, She-Hulk has had less assurance in its plotting and structure. The reveal at the end of She-Hulk #11 shows that Soule really has been writing a 12-issue arc, and hopefully that will give readers a sense of closure. I think a 12-issue arc might have been a bit ambitious, though. With so many zany superhero cameos, and so many fun subplots to explore, this story spent more time taking a break from its main plot than it spent on the main plot. Even moving away or toward the Blue File storyline has been awkward sometimes, which disrupted my attention on the story as I wondered what was going on with the storytelling. For instance, the abrupt ending to She-Hulk #6 after Nightwatch’s visit left me wondering if an arc had just ended clumsily or if I was just confused.

Soule, Pulido and Vicente are all very skilled, and the plot hiccups might lessen when the whole series is read in trade paperback form. With this team’s chemistry, they could roll out She-Hulk wallpaper of Jen and her friends chatting while grocery shopping, and it would be enjoyable. I would have welcomed another dozen issues, but it’s been fun watching She-Hulk unfurl in 2014. Whether you’ve been following along or not, I recommend She-Hulk #11 as a great standalone fight issue, with pages and pages of action to gaze upon.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman/Wonder Woman #14
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, Norm Rapmund, Christian Alamy, Don Ho, Tomeu Morey and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating 5 out of 10

Keeping a secret is tough, and for Peter J. Tomasi, one issue is all he can stand before revealing the true nature of Wonderstar, the superpowered mystery he introduced in Superman/Wonder Woman #13. Personally, I like the reveal, but I think the impact could have been greater if Tomasi were willing to give readers a bit more of a mystery because the lack of development hinders the cliffhanger from having a great impact rather than an interesting, but not very shocking one.

Tomsi uses this issue to show off the powers of Wonderstar. Much like Superman and Wonder Woman, he has the power of flight, strength, eye-beams, and an overall good natured persona. But obviously, something is amiss. Therefore when Wonderstar reveals his true nature, we’re not really surprised. This was a case of a “too good to be true” hero, so readers were already on their toes. Tomasi doesn’t give us an opportunity to relax so the climax doesn’t deliver the shock it means to.

I also have a problem with the pacing as the heroes all take a break in the action to discuss Wonder Woman’s lasso before being reminded that there’s still a villain left, even if he fails to pose any threat whatsoever. So the fight becomes an unnecessary means to an end, and one that Superman and Wonder Woman could have accomplished by asking - especially given the seeming good nature of their new found friend.

The art, too, isn’t much to celebrate. The comic is an example of too many cooks spoiling the brew because while, for the most part, I like Doug Mahnke’s illustrations - the man is good at designing heroes - four different inkers contribute to the comic which makes for visual inconsistencies. Occasionally, the images are clean, particularly in the later sequences of the comic, and the splash page at the end is highly detailed. But some of the other work is muddled, making the comic look unpolished. I also have issues with the faces, but mostly for Wonder Woman. I don’t know if it’s the way Mahnke spaces her eyes, or the shape of her mouth, but there’s something off about her, visually. She seems to work best in profile.

Superman/Wonder Woman is being written and illustrated by proven commodities. Tomasi is an excellent writer and Mahnke a great artist. But after two issues, they haven’t found their groove yet. This isn’t a reason to dismiss this comic, but they have an uphill battle if they want to keep the readership that Charles Soule built. I have faith, though; I only hope that people have the patience to let the team get its footing.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Daredevil #11
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Joe Carmagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Sometimes you don't need a high concept to succeed. Sometimes it's all in the execution.

Perhaps no creative team in comics represents this better than Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, as they take a fairly innocuous plot - a motorcycle-themed bad guy called the Stunt-Master - and uses it to create a personal, heartfelt story for Daredevil. This comic ties into Waid's long-standing themes of conquering depression, and in so doing, gives you plenty of reason to root for Matt Murdock.

In a lot of ways, Daredevil #11 reads like a really well-structured episode of television, and for good reason - Waid introduces his characters with some endearing humor, as Matt... embellishes the story about his first meeting with Hawkeye. ("Hawkeye flattened him with one punch!" Foggy chimes in helpfully.) But Waid leavens this humanity with some pathos, with one panel quickly describing Matt, Kirsten and Foggy's new dynamic - Matt may be writing a lucrative new tell-all, but it's just for the purposes of paying off Foggy's cancer treatments. It's that empathy that really makes Daredevil a likeable protagonist, even more than the years of depression that defined the character for so long.

What's also great is that it's that empathy that finally kicks Matt into action - and sends him into a rage. Without giving too much away, Waid takes a surprising swerve about two-thirds through the story, and it's kind of heartbreaking. Waid is able to give some real soul to the clients Matt represents, and that gives Daredevil a ton of room for unpredictability. And that's good for Daredevil's set pieces, particularly one beat where the Stunt-Master literally drives through a malfunctioning helicopter. Needless to say, considering how corny the concept is, it's absolutely shocking how fun it all reads.

While Waid is the one with all the big ideas, it's Samnee who realizes them with beautifully laid-out pages. From his expressive characters to the way he portrays Matt playing "chicken" with a villainous biker to the way he cuts away to X-ray vision to show off clues to the audience, Samnee is the artist to beat at Marvel. (The nearly silent page where Matt flies into action is as iconic a page as I've ever seen in this series.) Colorist Matt Wilson also deserves a lot of praise for what he brings to the proceedings, as he gives a wonderful amount of depth and weight to Samnee's characters.

In the hands of two master craftsmen like Waid and Samnee, even a nobody like the Stunt-Master can get you revved up - or in this case, can leave a lump in your throat. The level of detail and sheer skill these two put into this book month and month again can make even the lamest-sounding high concept read like greased lightning. Daredevil #11 succeeds precisely because Waid and Samnee are able to direct this silly foe and make him resonate in a way that makes sense for Matt Murdock. If only every other creator in the industry had their knack at characterization.

He-Man: The Eternity War #1
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Pop Mhan and Mark Roberts
Lettering by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

If your only memories of Masters of the Universe are stilted animation and wonky voice acting on Saturday mornings, Dan Abnett’s He-Man: The Eternity War will be something of a surprise for you. Shaking off the confines of a limited cartoon budget, the debut issue of DC’s latest entry into the He-Man canon is everything the show couldn’t be, despite hanging on to a few of its worst qualities. Deposed from his rightful seat of power, Prince Adam and those loyal to him are forced underground as a new evil rises to power in Eternia; a power bent on the destruction of his entire bloodline. Heavy stuff for a comic based on a ridiculous show, I know, but Dan Abnett, no stranger to the ludicrous, keeps it all from going completely off the rails with a script that never once winks at its audience. He-Man: The Eternity War #1 is big, colorful, and a bit stiff in its execution, but it may the closest we get to a big budget Masters of the Universe adaptation and that alone is worth more than a passing look.

The Eternity War opens with a creepy unveiling of the series’ big bad, Hordak the leader of the horde that has beset the lands of Eternia. One of He-Man’s strengths just in general is the colorful characters and villains and Hordak is one of my dark horse favorites. Once the main villain of the He-Man spin-off She-Ra, Abnett casts him as a fallen king, still bitter about his defeat and exile by the former King of Eternia, Prince Adam’s father. The Eternity War already starts us off in an interesting place with our heroes driven into hiding in Snake Mountain due to the events of the last series, but throwing a classic insane despot that is a weird mixture of science and magic into the fold as the series’ main antagonist is just icing on a very crazy cake.

Though Abnett frontloads this first issue with weirdness and recognizable characters that will surely add a nostalgia factor for some, it is his scripting that keeps it from being as fun as it could be. Abnett is a writer that is used to huge, bizarre casts of colorful characters, but here, for some reason, he can’t shake their already defined personalities. Every character acts and speaks like they should, but their isn’t much spark behind them all just yet. The Eternity War may look like something bigger and better than the show, but it still reads stiffly, much like the dialogue of the show. This may add to the charm of the issue for some readers but for this reader, it all came across as bland for bland’s sake. The Eternity War does have a lot going for it for future issues, but it all feels a bit squandered as the main cast fails to charm despite the interesting plot and engaging protagonist.

On the art front, however, He-Man: The Eternity War #1 delivers, thanks to the Alan Davis-like pencils of Pop Mhan and the wild colors of Mark Roberts. Mhan’s rounded lines and classic panel layouts are a great compliment to the retro feeling of Abnett’s script, but while his words feel dated, Mhan’s pages feel as a fresh as a mint-in-box Orko action figure. Mhan starts off in a sprint with the meticulously designed cold open featuring Mordak’s prison in Despondos, the land of darkness. The first image we see is Mordak anchored to the center of a cell with a myriad of wires and a Sandman-like face mask; the walls of the cell are detailed with all manner of faces in pain and terror. Mhan then employs a series of effective zooms as he builds to a fantastic single-page splash that reveals our villain in all his dark glory, complete with a classic looking-title card and credits. Mhan only gets better from there with workman like renderings of the characters and a stylish three page flashback in which the events of the past are replaying themselves around our leads, as if using them as some sort of anchor point. All of this is tied together with the outlandish color pallet of Mark Roberts, who clearly had a bunch of these action figures as a kid. Every character is an exact color match to their cartoon counterparts, even the unarmored Man-At-Arms and the newly appointed Serpent Queen, Teela. Roberts goes all the way with his color selections, particularly the scene in which Mondak storms Castle Greyskull and forges his own sword of power. Roberts saturates the page with deep reds, blacks, and heavy shadows to really hammer home just how bad things have truly gotten in Eternia. He-Man: The Eternity War #1 may read a bit flat, but I am happy to report that it never once looks it.

He-Man: The Eternity War #1 could be the start of something pretty cool down the line. Even though Dan Abnett’s first script falters despite an interesting premise, there is still promise to be found. Nostalgia can be a funny thing, so much so, that I could have gotten more out of this comic had I completely given into it upon first reading it. That said, I don’t want a comic to sustain itself only on the feelings generated by my prior feelings for the property. That’s what He-Man: The Eternity War #1 feels like; a great premise hindered by set characterizations. Thankfully, this is only the first issue, and there is nowhere to go from here but up.

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