Best Shots Reviews: Advance of STAR WARS #1, SQUIRREL GIRL #1, SWAMP THING #38, More

Star Wars #1 variant by Joe Quesada
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with a six-pack of reviews, including an advance look from Marvel! So let's kick off today's column and go to a galaxy far, far away, as we take a look at the first issue of Marvel's Star Wars...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Star Wars #1
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by John Cassaday and Laura Martin
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

As Marvel reclaims the property that saved the publisher from insolvency back in the 1970s, there are plenty of people chomping at the bit, wondering if Disney is on the right track, if bringing George Lucas' famed franchise from Dark Horse back to Marvel would wind up succeeding or blowing up in readers' faces.

Well, Star Wars fans, you can rest easy. Because the Force is strong with this one.

Set in between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars #1 is every bit the comic book event that you might hope it would be. Writer Jason Aaron absolutely nails this reintroduction of Luke, Leia, Chewie and especially Han, and artist John Cassaday delivers some artwork that might just trump his work on Astonishing X-Men. If you're a fan of the Force, you owe it to yourself to pick up this comic, which conjures up every bit of childhood magic of the original trilogy.

Clocking in at 36 pages of story, my favorite part about Star Wars isn't just the characterization, but the pacing. There is a wonderful cinematic quality that Aaron and Cassaday create here, from the three pages of Han's ship landing on Cymoon 1 to the downright scary introduction of Darth Vader, as he wards off a would-be assassination attempt. Aaron is firing on all cylinders here, really nailing the voices of these iconic characters. "What kind of an envoy are you?" an Imperial overseer asks. "The rebellious kind," Han snarks, as he pulls out his blaster. Indeed, Han does steal the show from the onset - something, one could argue, Harrison Ford did in the original film - but Aaron also tacks on a great arc for Luke, as he begins to feel out his abilities as a fledgling Jedi, and seeds out a potentially great bit involving C-3PO defending the rebels' getaway ship. And that cliffhanger... wow.

It's the highest compliment I can give Aaron that these characters sound every bit the same as their cinematic counterparts. But what really sells his characterization is John Cassaday's artwork. Every page he draws - even five panels of letterboxing - just feels big and expansive, and that especially helps make the action sequences feel iconic. The way that Cassaday draws a lightsaber is particularly impressive, as he strobes the blades in a way that fills the panels with sizzling florescent death. (And without giving too much away, his take on Darth Vader using the force might be the highlight of the book.) An interesting trick that Cassaday does a lot in this book is hanging his panels at angles, to make each movement feel more dynamic - indeed, you can almost hear the laser fire on some of these gorgeous shots.

There's something to be said about first impressions, and Star Wars #1 is a master class in how to make a good one. With an expanded page count that allows this creative team to truly breathe, this first issue feels like a reunion with some long-absent friends. This book has action, it has great characterization, and just from a structural perspective, this is some rock-solid execution. Aaron, Cassaday and company should be proud of the work they've done here, and I can't wait to see where they take Star Wars next.

Credit: Marvel Comics

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1
Written by Ryan North
Art by Erica Henderson and Rico Renzi
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Marlene Bonnelly
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Marvel has expanded its roster of light-hearted books yet again with The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, featuring the bubbly, enthusiastic and bushy-tailed Doreen Green. I’m really glad to see this character take the limelight again, since it’s just so hard not to like her. She’s definitely a silly superhero by design, but as we see in this first issue, there is real depth to her character and it’s great to watch that develop.

While Doreen had noted she took classes at New York University in previous incarnations, this rebooted version of the character actually attends the generic Empire State University and spends a good deal of her time in the Marvel Universe equivalent of Washington Square Park. Interestingly, she no longer seems to be a mutant who got her appearance and abilities via a hilarious draw of the genetic lottery, but rather makes a point of repeatedly mentioning she has actual squirrel blood flowing through her veins. How or why that happened we don’t know, but the idea that there’s more to Squirrel Girl than a fluke mutation has certainly piqued my interest as a reader.

Seeing Doreen in action is also very fulfilling. There’s something about her innocent, carefree attitude coupled with ridiculous strength (let’s not forget that she annihilated Thanos back in the day) that makes her adventures really charming. I can even get behind her theme song and some of the painfully cheesy dialogue, because it fits in with her persona. I especially like that although she held her ground against Kraven, even tossing him through the air at one point, she ultimately defeated him with sheer wit and ingenuity. That resolution backs up North’s focus on Doreen’s studies and the importance she places on receiving a good education in a field she finds useful; she clearly has goals and aspirations outside of fighting crime all day, although she does enjoy the latter. North also did a solid job of introducing side characters like Tomas and Nancy, who I expect will become central to Doreen’s efforts in navigating college and her dual persona. Nancy, in particular, is the perfect counter to her squirrelly roommate’s hyperactivity and go-with-the-flow attitude. Nancy is more serious and down-to-earth, so the fact that she’s already already become friends with Doreen despite their differences is heartwarming.

Henderson’s art style could not be more well-suited for the tone of this book. Her adorable designs and close-ups of Doreen’s cartoony, expressive face carry the issue beautifully, channeling Squirrel Girl’s quirks in the best possible way. Subtle changes, like the way Doreen’s shape is consistently different when she’s hiding her tail in her pants, are well executed and add a further layer of fun on top of North’s humor in the script (and on the bottom of each page, if you look closely). Renzi’s colors, too, are vibrant without coming across as overwhelming or cheap, and complement Henderson’s lines well.

All in all, this first issue was a well-paced introduction to a lovable character with a pretty decent story and some genuinely interesting obstacles to overcome. I’m impressed by the start of this series and, given the fantastic cliffhanger it left off at, I'm looking forward to the rest of the action in Squirrel Girl’s future.

Credit: DC Comics

Swamp Thing #38
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Javi Pina and June Chung
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Call it the Green Lantern syndrome.

Let me explain: Back when Geoff Johns took over writing Green Lantern, he shot the comic's sales into the stratosphere by introducing the Sinestro Corps. Indeed, the heat around that book became so fevered that he wound up introducing an entire rainbow corps to the DC Universe, playing on the "Roy G. Biv"-inspired "emotional spectrum." The result? The comic became a DC franchise second only to Batman. It also became harder and harder to read.

In a lot of ways, the Green Lantern syndrome seems to have transmitted to another book, as Swamp Thing begins to buckle underneath the various avatar kingdoms. The "New 52" began with the Green, the Red and the Rot, but now we have even more kingdoms, including the Machines and the Fungus. The result, however, is more emphasis on spectacle, and increasingly less on characterization. Indeed, Charles Soule provides a horrific desecration of Alec Holland, but the impact is lost. It's not easy being green, and without any humanity behind him, it's even harder to care for Swamp Thing.

Part of this has to do with the division of spotlight - in many ways, this feels less like Swamp Thing's story, and more the story of the Machine Queen, a one-time avatar of the green hell-bent on bringing Alec Holland to his knees. You can see that Soule seems to like her more than he does his own hero, particularly when you see the fiendish plan she has - namely, turning Alec's human corpse into something altogether unholy. (The fact that there's a heavily implied menage a trois between three horrific avatars is a surprisingly sick touch.)

That said, however, beyond their inhuman new pawn, the actual plan here feels a little bland. Soule has done a lot of montages to eat up space with Swamp Thing, but the jumping between scenes doesn't play up Alec's power as much as it minimizes the impact of the fight. If he's bouncing around from place to place and essentially multi-tasking his fights, where's the tension? Where's the danger? From a process perspective, it makes sense - Soule needs as much space as he can get to hit all of his various villains, including Anton Arcane, the Machine Queen, and more. But the shift in balance feels misplaced, as the villains also feel one-dimensional. Aside from a poignant moment of Alec leaving his one-time girlfriend Abby to fend for herself against a giant robot, there's very little impact in any of these scenes.

The artwork by Javi Pina has similar ups and downs. The character designs he's implementing - showing the cactus-inspired Swamp Thing in Chile or the seaweed Swamp Thing off the Pacific looks great - but ultimately his compositions and page layouts aren't lending a ton of energy to this book. There are a lot of distance shots to accommodate all of these various characters, which winds up crunching in key details (particularly Arcane getting his power back, which almost feels like an afterthought on the second-to-last page). Pina clearly savors Swamp Thing, however, and his take on Abby Arcane also has a particular lushness to the inks.

Ultimately, it feels like there's one too many avatars in the Swamp Thing ecosystem, and the entire title is starting to suffer as a result. We've seen this before with Green Lantern - a deeper mythology can supercharge sales - but I would also argue that with its quintet of viable lead characters, there's a bit more humanity to connect readers to the Lantern Corps. Alec Holland, however, is as alien as any Green Lantern at this point, with powers that serve only to distance him from friends and readers alike. With Soule already on his way out, even this new attention to world-building makes it feel like Swamp Thing's salad days are already behind him.

Lady Killer #1 cover by Joelle Jones
Lady Killer #1 cover by Joelle Jones
Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Lady Killer #1
Written by Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich
Art by Joëlle Jones and Laura Allred
Lettering by Crank!
Published by Dark Horse
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Josie Schuller is an assassin. She is also a wife, mother and as demure as they come unless you’re on her hit list, of course. Whether she’s home making sure dinner is on the table for her family and tolerating an inconvenient live-in, mother-in-law, or out on the job when your hit doesn’t go quite as planned and you have to resort to more extreme tactics; Lady Killer presents a striking duality of a polished presentation set upon a clandestine underbelly.

Lady Killer #1 plays very much like an episode of The Donna Reed Show, a homicidal episode complete with wallpaper inspired by The Shining. Josie has got a quaint home, two kids, an adorable dog and a kind husband content with his after-dinner martini and his wife cozied up on the couch next to him. A knock on the door prompts him to say, “Go see who it is, would you dear?” Josie feigns a conversation about a bake sale to keep her two worlds from colliding.

Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich take the camp inherent to the aesthetic of this era and turn the stereotype of the clueless, stay-at-home wife on its head. Instead, it is Josie’s husband who remains blissfully ignorant while she lives the double-life. An idea inspired by the superficial ads of the ‘60s and born in Jones’s art, Jones and Rich have created an off-beat, intriguing protagonist and a solid, character-driven opening.

Enough can’t be said about Jones’s flawless execution of the art in Lady Killer. Jones nails character expressiveness, exquisitely detailed backgrounds, high-energy movement, and interesting perspectives and panel layouts throughout the entire issue. Those are just the mechanics. The real treat is in Jones’s deliberate and outright gorgeous style. Not only is every panel pretty, but it drives the story in a way unique to Jones. It is the blood splattered on Josie’s tea-length, turquoise dress that inspired this story.

As you move through the story, you’re inundated with impressively willful niceties like the Mode Magazine on the coffee table next to an ashtray full of cigarette butts, the matching butterfly pattern on sequentially-sized kitchen jars, and the Kit-Cat Clock on the wall. These wonderful details immerse you in the period known for being prim and proper making the revelry in Josie’s eyes as she drives a knife into flesh that much more salient. So tightly-knit are Jones’s panels that we move from a blood bath to dinnertime seamlessly. She throws accents of ink spatter on top of the American dream so you don’t forget that things are not what they seem.

The confinement of expression in the 1950s led to a trend of brighter colors in the '60s. Laura Allred not only captures this trend, but does so in a way that harmoniously fits the tone and imagery of Lady Killer. Allred’s pink and pale blue are necessary and lovely. Her bright yellow creates well-timed contrast against a malicious red. Overall, Allred’s pastel pallet accentuates Jones’s bold inks bringing Lady Killer to life.

Lady Killer #1 is worth its weight in gold for the art alone, but the enigmatic Josie Schuller is the real appeal. We’ve been properly set up with what she does and how she does it, now we need to know why. I’m thinking we should tune in for the next episode to find out.

Ant-Man #1 Shrinking variant
Ant-Man #1 Shrinking variant
Credit: Marvel Comics

Ant-Man #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Ramon Rosanas and Jordan Boyd
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

By now, you have heard quite a lot about Scott Lang.

From the debut of his first major motion picture trailer to the unveiling of the first issue of his new solo series, Ant-Man has been a hot topic of conversation for the past few weeks. While the timing of Ant-Man #1 conjures an image of a hastily thrown together solo title that aims to ride the wave of name recognition that comes from an entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the actual product couldn’t be further from that. Nick Spencer, Ramon Rosanas and Jordon Boyd’s first issue into Scott Lang’s life is bittersweet, funny and surprisingly melancholy. While Ant-Man #1 is certainly joke-heavy and does serve as a pretty good intro into the life of Scott Lang, it still goes a bit farther than one would expect, despite missing some choice bits of characterization from previous incarnations.

Right off the bat, Nick Spencer doesn’t hold back on the comedy. Ant-Man #1 opens with our errant hero taking on the security systems of Tony Stark, all the while narrating his thoughts and actions in a tone that drips self-effacement. Spencer, a writer who knows when and where to take things seriously, presents Scott from the very start as a self-aware loser trying desperately to make good. This is a drastic change from the broken, yet selfless leader we last saw in FF, but we will get into that a bit later. As an opening, this scene nails not only the character motivations but voice of Scott Lang for this title quickly in order to get to the real meat of the issue which comes directly afterward in the form of a flashback. Spencer quickly downshifts the brisk action of the heist to an exposition heavy interview with the HR rep for Stark Industries. It is here that Spencer deftly catches the audience up on just where Scott’s head and life is at since the last time we saw him, and the results are... less than great. Scott Lang has always been one of my favorite lovable losers of the Marvel universe, and Ant-Man #1 rearranges him back into the role, just with a bit more self-awareness.

While this self-awareness is something that gives Ant-Man #1 such an edge comedically, it is still a little disappointing to see so much of Lang’s recent history wiped away with ease. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of Ant-Man #1 works and works very well, especially the new dynamic between Scott and Cassie and the opening plot of Scott gunning for a job as Stark’s head of security solutions. But, all of that aside, I just kept wondering to myself “Where is Darla from FF?” I understand that Ant-Man #1 is suppose to serve as a new status quo for Scott and his role within the larger Marvel universe. I also understand that even though Spencer’s jokey take on the character is really showing a man that almost reflexively japes in order to mask his guilt and has trouble with commitment, it is still disappointing to see all the recent work put in with FF wiped away with only a passing line of dialogue and single page splash. I love Scott Lang and I will probably grow to love Nick Spencer’s post-modern take on him, I just wish that he would have used the already solid foundation that was laid for him.

That aside, Ant-Man #1 also looks gorgeous thanks to the eye-catching color palette of Jordan Boyd and the Phil Hester-like pencils of Ramon Rosanas. Scale is something that is wildly important to a book like Ant-Man and Rosanas displays a firm handle on it with the opening and closing action scenes, which find Scott shrinking, leaping and ant-riding toward his objective. For the rest of the comic, however, Rosanas displays a tenderness that is rarely seen in mainstream superhero comics. Since Spencer’s script is very dialogue- and narration-heavy, Rosanas doesn’t have many opportunities to really go all the way in terms of visual dynamism, but in place of that momentum, Rosanas finds a happy medium with interesting shot composition between the characters as they speak. The scenes between Cassie, Scott and Scott’s ex-wife are presented in alternating two-shots and intermittent close-ups to highlight certain lines or reaction shots. This is all tied together with a shiny coat of colors from Jordan Boyd, who hammers home the book’s down to Earth, yet quasi-stylish tone. There are no metallics or over-the-top color exaggerations to be found here, which is exactly what a book like this needs. Rosanas and Boyd offer a simplistic yet emotive visual style to the book that can only keep impressing as the title continutes.

Scott Lang may be a bit of a loser, but he is our loser, and Ant-Man #1 brings him back into the fray with wit and style. Though I may not have loved Ant-Man #1 as much as my colleagues and the larger Marvel audience, I still found a lot to enjoy in Nick Spencer’s latest indie-flavored superhero yarn. Scott Lang is a character that has a lot of legs, and I’m not just talking about the millions of ants at his command. Scott can be a hero one minute and a total louse the next. Ant-Man #1 shows an understanding of that and shows that Spencer isn’t afraid to paint Scott in an unkind light, even though we all know that is heart is in the right place. My FF-related nitpicks aside, Ant-Man #1 is a funny, fast-paced, and emotional re-debut of one of Marvel’s future franchise players. Pray to whatever gods will hear you that Scott doesn’t screw it all up in the meantime.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Feathers #1
Written, Illustrated and Lettered by Jorge Corona
Published by Archaia
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

This is going to be one of those stories that you just really want to love, but doesn’t give you enough reason to keep going. Jorge Corona gives us a story with all the right beats and elements: overarching plot, serious potential for character development, and mystical intrigue as we’re thrown into the world of Gabriel, a poor man, who finds the baby Poe, inexplicably covered in black feathers, in the destitute town called “The Maze.” It’s unfortunate that, by the end of the issue, Corona fails to use these elements in a meaningful way to really make us care about these characters, though the premise and idea remains interesting.

The book’s greatest failure is not giving us a reason to care about what’s happening. We open with two ominous god-like beings bantering back and forth, not that we see them or know what’s going on. It’s frustrating because Corona continues the story without giving us a hint of what’s going on - we’re left totally in the dark. It’s alright to keep the main characters, Gabriel and Poe, in the dark as to why they happened upon each other, but when we’re just as lost and that does nothing to invest in the story.

Corona makes things obvious in terms of character motivation: we can assume why Gabriel is protective (Poe’s appearance signifies something dangerous), we can assume why Poe wants to get out in the world (he yearns to break out of that protective shell), but we can’t assume why Gabriel took Poe or why Poe has such a deeply instilled need to help. Corona leaps from narrative point to narrative point, alluding to important things without actually telling us them, and by the end of the issue, when Poe meets a girl that will bring him the adventure he’s longed for, you’ll struggle to care.

In that same regard, it’s hard to figure out what Corona wants this story to be. There are certainly biblical allusions in it: a feathery creature falling from the sky, a biblical name attached to the caregiver, and a devil-like figure. All these make it seem like there’s some grand narrative and theme Corona is trying to achieve. However, there’s little follow through in the rest of the issue. Because Corona sets this up as such a big story, it’s jarring for us to jump from such an ethereal event like two God-like figures releasing a baby into the world to street-level antics with a character now 11 years old with the moniker “Ghost of the Maze.” Without having a sense of where this story is going to go, there’s no immediacy. It’s easy to assume who the villain is, but Corona gives no hint of specificity of what happens if Poe meets this devil-like figure, which is a waste of an opportunity because the musical aspect is so intriguing.

Even though there are so many unexplained components already that make this issue feel long and arduous to get through, you’ll realize by the end that not much really happens. Corona sets up the next issue well, but it doesn’t feel like anything substantial happens beyond the first few pages. The middle of the book feels longer than it is because Corona puts us ahead those eleven years later and expects us to take interest in politics of a town we don’t know, a girl who seems cool and interesting that we know next to nothing about, and want to know what happens next while we’re still trying to figure out the causes behind what’s already going on.

The artwork doesn’t help expediting the read, either. While Corona’s lines, breakdowns, and inks are spot on, giving these characters wonderful and vibrant clothing and designs, the coloring is what falls flat. It feels as if there’s an overlay muting the vibrancy of the colors, so even when it’s daytime outside, it doesn’t look as bright or contrasted as you’d expect comparing them to the scenes at night.

Overall, Feathers is worth reading through that first issue. It takes time-old tropes and spins them anew, making for an interesting premise that has potential to be a fantastic all ages story. Even though Corona doesn’t take as much time with character development in this issue, it’s understandable because he’s worldibuilding. Perhaps as the series continues, we’ll get more of a focus on who Poe is as a character, why he does what he does, and what exactly is at stake in the story. Until then, just enjoy the cool character designs and artwork, because it is that good.

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