Best Shots Reviews: PRINCESS LEIA #2, BATGIRL #40, SILK #2, SUPERMAN #39, UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #3, JUPITER'S CIRCLE #1 Advance

Superman #39 cover by John Romita Jr.
Credit: DC Comics
Star Wars: Princess Leia #2 cover by Terry Dodson
Star Wars: Princess Leia #2 cover by Terry Dodson
Credit: Marvel Comics

Princess Leia #2
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It is hard out there for a princess. Fortunately you would never know that reading Princess Leia #2. Writer Mark Waid has found his muse in Leia Organa, flinging her into the far reaches of space with nothing but a blaster by her side and a fire in her heart. Princess Leia #2 is fun and fast-paced, mainly thanks to the outstanding pencils and inks of Terry and Rachel Dodson, aided by the rich color palette of Jordie Bellaire, but Waid’s script goes beyond merely making this a fun comic. Mark Waid understands Princess Leia and her motivations down to the subatomic level and it is that level of characterization that makes Princess Leia #2 a rewarding read as well as an entertaining one.

Princess Leia #2 picks up with our titular heroine, accompanied by her new bodyguard Evaan, en route to Naboo in order to rescue a group of musicians known as the Melodic Order; a group of cloistered Alderaanians who only perform as holograms from inside their cells in order to keep their music unclouded by outside influences. The concept of Princess Leia alone packs a heavy emotional punch, but Mark Waid takes it just a step further with an extended flashback in the opening scene. In this flashback, triggered by a certain vegetable tied to Alderaan, Waid establishes that Leia’s responsibility to her planet and culture wasn’t always as important to her as it is now, casting her as a headstrong child unwilling to partake in diplomatic training. “Doesn’t a princess every get to think of herself?” she complains to her father. “Sometimes,” he retorts. “Of others? Always.” This flashback carries all sorts of narrative weight behind it that informs not only the central concept of the title proper, but of Leia’s motivations in the story about to unfold.

As Leia makes her approach to Naboo it is here that Waid starts to turn things up a bit, reveling in the intrigue of Leia’s mission. Before Leia is planetside we are introduced to Pareece, another Alderaanian and the handler for the Melodic Order. Waid casts Pareece as a tragic figure in this issue as she is the Order’s only contact with the outside world and she cannot bring herself to inform the Order of the fate of their homeworld. Opting instead to keep them concentrating on their music and collecting her paycheck from the sleazy cantina owner that has retained their services. Waid succinctly presents this character and her moral quandary then quickly folds it into the larger narrative at play in this second issue as Leia bluffs her way onto the planet’s surface and starts working to steal away with the Order.

Waid even manages to throw in a nice nod to the prequel movies in as Leia comes across a stained glass window depicting Queen Amadala and feels an odd connection to the former queen. These little nods to previous movies are all well and good, but the real fun of the issue is seeing how Leia and Evaan work toward the rescue of the Order using deception, networking, and a few knees to the face. Mark Waid understands that Leia has gotten the short shrift more than once when it comes to Star Wars stories so he goes for the gusto everywhere he can. Take for instance the scene of Leia, Evaan and R2D2 landing on the Naboo spaceport; in this scene, Leia straight up cons the Imperial dock workers using a stolen starship landing code, manages to get her ship restocked and the costs charged to the Imperial advisor’s office, and then simply walks away leaving only a fake name (First Minister Solo) in her wake. “Thrilling, isn’t it? At large in the universe, living by our wits,” she exclaims to an understandably aghast Evaan. We have all known that Leia Organa was a badass, thankfully now we have Mark Waid to fully illustrate this long held belief.

While Waid’s script casts Leia in the action hero role that we have always clamored for, it is the Dodsons along with colorist Jordie Bellaire that give Princess Leia the slick, multi-million dollar blockbuster look that this title requires. Just from a character design standpoint, Princess Leia #2 is absolutely gorgeous. Terry Dodson’s renderings of Leia and Evaan are beautiful and occasionally vulnerable, but they both hide a deep well of resolve behind their eyes; Leia displays this outwardly, almost on her sleeve as she schemes and fights to preserve her heritage, while Evaan holds it all inward, like the soldier that she is, even as she disagrees with Leia and her flashy methods. Every time these two women share a panel, there is palatable chemistry and Terry Dodson takes full advantage of that by playing with both of their body language throughout Princess Leia #2.

Fantastical character designs, however, are not the only visual highpoints of Princess Leia #2. The Dodson’s backgrounds and landscapes are a wonder to behold, thanks in large part to the lush colors of Jordie Bellaire, who does some truly outstanding work in this issue. Bellaire’s Naboo at night is worth the price of admission alone as the pages are covered in luminous pinks, deep, dusky purples, and sporadic wells of blue; not to mention all the wacky different colors of alien skin that Bellaire populates the streets with. You couldn’t ask for a better team than the Dodsons and Jordie Bellarie, especially on a title like Princess Leia.

Mark Waid has delivered a lot of fun and poignant books across his career, but I am hesitant to think of one that strikes a chord as hard as Princess Leia does. For years, Leia has been an afterthought at best and a cheesecake fantasy at worst, but now, under Waid’s respectful pen, Princess Leia is poised to become the story that legions of fans, both female and male, have been eagerly awaiting. Luke, Han, and Chewbacca are nowhere to be found and even if they were, their assistance wouldn’t be necessary. Princess Leia #2 is a story about a woman who is hellbent on preserving what little remains of her culture. She doesn’t need saving. She doesn’t need direction. She simply needs everyone to get out of her way and allow her to do what is required of her. Princess Leia #2 is Leia as she deserves to be presented; a capable, strong, and intelligent lead with goals and agency far removed from the men in her life. It is a pity that it took us this long to get a book like Princess Leia but I am overjoyed that is it here now, when we need it the most.

Credit: DC Comics

Batgirl #40
Written by Brenden Fletcher and Stewart Stewart
Art by Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart and Maris Wicks
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Batgirl #40 is the story of Barbara Gordon's final triumph over trauma. Stewart and Fletcher's interpretation of the character is almost literally a completely different person to the black leather-clad misery magnet that Barbara Gordon has been so often pigeon-holed as, and it's fitting that that interpretation of Batgirl is symbolically the villain here; in the form of the self-aware Batgirl algorithm. And while Stewart and Fletcher comfortably stick the landing from a characterization point of view, the cheesy form that Batgirl's ultimate nemesis takes proves to be more a distraction than the convincing monster she should have been.

Stewart and Fletcher continue their technological focus here, but what was just a simple acknowledgement of contemporary social media use has graduated to full-blown science fiction. Everything from the existence of the Batgirl A.I. to the way it analyzes all the data in order to perfectly manipulate its users seems a little dated in 2015: more Wargames than The Social Network, more The Terminator than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Whilst there's no denying that such outlandish tech makes for a fun comic book, one of the Batgirl of Burnside's biggest draws is how grounded she is as a hero. All this self-aware algorithm stuff just seems like a distracting and disappoint hokey vehicle for the rock-solid concept of “Batgirl versus herself”.

Stewart and Fletcher do away with their villain as quickly as they fully introduce her, but it's done in an organic way that manages to avoid feeling cheap. Indeed, the way Barbara uses all her allies to effortlessly dispatch the algorithm mirrors the algorithm's own master-plan: After all, she's fighting herself. The slightly dated tone once again rears its ugly head as Batgirl introduces the algorithm to a paradox, culminating in that classic “MUST SAVE... DESTROY... BUT... SAVE... MUST... BUT” outburst we've all seen a thousand times, as the computer mind struggles with its own limited knowledge and lack of human insight.

While the Batgirl algorithm is not written as much of a threat, she certainly looks like one. Depicted by Babs Tarr as a gurning mess of negative emotion, the algorithm judders and tears, distorting to reveal the true face behind the friendly mask. By the issue's end, she's a failed facsimile of a human face, horrifying in the same way as a particularly dark episode of Batman: The Animated Series.

Once again, Babs Tarr excels during fight sequences, offering up dynamically posed characters that look everything but static. Tarr's manga influences come across strongly here. She utilizes small but uniform square panels, scattered haphazardly across the page like a spilled deck of cards; each one showing a different blow as Batgirl pulverizes Riot Black with a series of lightning-fast attacks. Motion lines are liberally spattered across an empty background in panels that showcase the animation of the fight.

Colorist Maris Wicks drenches the pages of Batgirl #40 in appealing shades of orange, red, pink and purple, offering an night club aesthetic that seems distinctly night-time without resorting to flat black. During a morose flashback that portrays Barbara as ostracizing and permanently angry, the first time in Stewart and Fletcher's run that we've seen Barbara in her wheelchair, Wicks underlines the Barbara's volatile emotion by tinting the entire page in the light blue of her laptop screen. It's simple, but incredibly effective.

Batgirl #40 is a cathartic and necessary chapter in Barbara Gordon's life, representing the real turning point from the darkness of years past to the new-and-improved Batgirl of Burnside. Stewart and Fletcher's repeated and varied use of the “Batgirl's worst enemy is who she used to be” motif reaches its natural conclusion here, and her final healing moment should resonate with all of us; after all, recovering from trauma is a process we all must endure at some point in our lives.

Maris Wicks' unique and visually arresting use of color atop Babs Tarr's fluid and expressive hand make for a gorgeous conclusion to a story that suffers a little in this final chapter. While Stewart and Fletcher arrive at the destination of Barbara's emotional journey in style, they get there on a rickety and tired vehicle that seems better suited to an '80s cyberpunk protagonist than the fiercely modern Batgirl of Burnside.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Silk #2
Written by Robbie Thompson
Art by Stacey Lee and Ian Herring
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Supernatural writer Robbie Thompson one-ups himself on his sophomore issue of Silk, utilizing Stacey Lee's slick artwork and a very strong sense of narrative structure as, after 10 years of solitude, Cindy Moon gets used to a brave new world that's long since moved on without her. In many ways, this issue could have actually superceded the last issue, as it's a perfectly user-friendly way to get introduced one of Marvel's newest heroines.

Perhaps what's most impressive to me is how in four pages, Thompson perfectly distills what makes Cindy Moon an interesting character. She's inexperienced but a little bit cocky - that comes with the territory when you're a high achiever like Cindy - who despite losing 10 years of her life hiding out in a bunker, is still capable enough to juggle a high-powered internship and a full-time life as a superhero.

Oh, and she can still get jumped by a robotic tentacle monster.

Not only does Thompson's economic introduction really get you rooting for Cindy, but he also balances out action, a sense of humor, and some great soap operatic riffs to keep things interesting. Much of this issue revolves around two challenges for New York's other friendly neighborhood webslinger - namely, the threat of this killer robot, as well as Cindy reminiscing about her high school boyfriend Hector, who she abruptly left behind to hide out in her mentor Ezekiel's bunker. Is it a little convenient that Silk happens to run into him on the street (literally seconds after climbing out of a sewer)? Yes, but it's a cliche for a reason - it adds some sparks and longing to Cindy's life. What's not to love?

The answer is certainly not Stacey Lee's artwork. I think without her on board, Silk might be seen as just a little too middle-of-the-road to have its own identity, but with her cartoony, fast-paced style, she's channeling the best parts of Babs Tarr and Emma Rios. Considering Silk is typically covering half her face, the character is remarkably expressive, and Ian Herring's colorwork shows some very smart choices in palette (while also using red accents to masterful effect). Lee's compositions and layouts are incredibly striking, whether its Silk swinging through the city, or dangling upside-down, about to be eaten by a robot. It's wonderful stuff.

Out of all of Silk's accomplishments, the one I'd say might be the most impressive is the fact that while she's a direct spin-off of Amazing Spider-Man, we really don't need him at all to make Cindy Moon a fun, iminently readable protagonist. (Indeed, Spidey's only in one expository panel.) Not bad for someone who has to share comic book real estate with other spider-heroines Black Widow, Spider-Woman and Spider-Gwen. Silk might not be as flashy as some of her counterparts, but between the solid characterization and the spectacular artwork, she holds her own just fine.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman #39
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

After all the bombastic action of Geoff Johns' first arc, Superman takes a surprisingly down-to-earth approach this issue, and while this kind of characterization might not bring down the blogosphere with headlines, it's a nice bit of building a foundation and focusing a character who has been a bit inconsistent over the past few years.

One of the big arguments that has surrounded Superman over the past few years is what comes first: the super or the man. The alien invaders versus the homespun foes. The powers or the characterization. And most of the time, spectacle seems to win out over substance, which for a character as all-powerful as Superman, means there's something lost without the nuance. So this issue - which features a temporarily powerless Superman having revealed his secret identity to his best pal, Jimmy Olsen - proves to be a refreshing turn in the other direction.

What's it like for the most powerful man in the DC Universe to be just a man, for just one day? It's in that regard that Johns shows just how well he knows the Man of Steel. How does an invulnerable man deal with temperature? He looks at air density, and wears heavier or lighter clothes to match. (It's tough to gauge when you don't feel temperature.) What about food? Things taste different when you don't have superhuman senses anymore. (That might be better when it comes to street vendor hot dogs.) It's a nice little way to bring some humanity to all of Superman's omnipotent power set, and having Jimmy as a true human confidante is a great new wrinkle, one that makes Superman seem more relatable than ever.

And perhaps even more interesting is the fact that despite his big blockbuster bonafides, John Romita, Jr. seems perfectly at home with this lower-key story, as well. Instead of the fireworks and pyrotechnics of Ulysses and his giant alien spaceship, we've got Superman standing up to a gun-wielding hostage-taker - even though he doesn't even have his invulnerability anymore. While inker Klaus Janson might be a little too blocky for my tastes, there's no denying the expressiveness in this book, particularly the way that Jimmy Olsen channels readers' own tension as Superman walks into danger without a moment's hesitation. Hi-Fi's colors are particularly bright and sunny, which works fine for a slice-of-life story like this.

As far as interludes go, Superman #39 is a pretty good one. We've got lasting changes to the lead character, a neat new dynamic for writers to play upon, and most importantly, you inject some much-needed humanity to an invincible alien powerhouse with an Arctic bachelor pad who happens to be hooking up with the beautiful demi-goddess of war. Sometimes you need to walk among human beings to remind yourself of what you have in common with them. And in this instance, a day of being grounded might not be such a bad thing for Superman after all.

Credit: Marvel Comics

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #3
Written by Ryan North
Art by Erica Henderson and Rico Renzi
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

You can't keep a good squirrel down!

Marvel's The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is the perfect answer for anybody looking to get away from heavy tie-ins and mega events to just have plain old fun in the Marvel Universe. Doreen "Squirrel Girl" Green is just your regular college student these day attending class, hanging out with her roommate, beating down baddies like Kraven and Whiplash...wait, I guess there's really nothing "regular" about her, huh?

After "borrowing" some of Iron Man's armor, Squirrel Girl gets wrangled into a fight with Whiplash, right as Galactus is headed towards Earth for his dinner. What's a girl to do, right? Well if you're Squirrel Girl, it's kick all the bad guy butt as well as stop a bank robbery...with a suit made of squirrels. Afterwards? Head to the moon of course and stare down the Devourer of Worlds. Easy peasy. Well at least writer Ryan North makes it seem so in Squirrel Girl's funnest issue yet. It's difficult to find the right word for this book as "charming" and "fun" seem so overused, but maybe "delightful" can be thrown in there, too. Yeah, let's go with that!

North's time on BOOM!'s Adventure Time series was a good litmus test for what the man can do with taking serious contexts and not really "dumb them down," but still make them enjoyable for all-ages. You still have supervillains and crime and giant celestial beings looking for a meal, but it's still incredibly fun, even with the danger being quite present. North's imaginative ways that Doreen solves her obstacles keeps going with the takedown of Whiplash horribly funny ("I know. A second ago, you thought you were winning, and now you've got squirrels crawling inside your mouth.") and Doreen's gutsy attitude makes her more of a legitimate hero instead of a goofy one-off joke.

Erica Henderson. For real. It would be hard to imagine somebody else on this title, even if just three issues in. Her visuals and style are the book's voice just as much as North's quips and humor (and yes, the mentioned twitter accounts are real. Go check them out!) are in that they establish this world's feel. North and Henderson make an integral mesh that puts a stamp on Squirrel Girl's history, legacy, and has introduced her to a new generation of readers. It's almost like Squirrel Girl has taken down some hefty villains already and now calling out Galactus...and this is just the start of what this team has in store. Rico Renzi backs up Henderson with a whimsical palette, and even a place that has her seeing red. It's bright and cheerful that fits the tone of the book rather well.

If you haven't figured it out by now, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is perfect book for any younger reader and for Marvel fans who might want a dose of light-hearted fun (there's that word again), but it's also shining a light on one of Marvel's more off-beat characters and giving her a platform to do some serious heriocs and giving us a few laughs in the process.

Advance Review!

Credit: Image Comics

Jupiter's Circle #1
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Wilfredo Torres and Ive Svorcina
Lettering by Peter Doherty
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Deconstructing the superhero genre is nothing new. Grounding them in reality is also nothing new as well. So what makes Mark Millar and Wilfredo Torres' Jupiter's Circle so charming even if it doesn't break new ground? Unfortunately, it's a pretty much one-sided victory on who shines more here.

Set as a prequel to the Jupiter's Legacy universe, we're taken back to a more "innocent" time of 1958 of good, clean, and wholesome caped heroes. They are people to look to for guidance, leadership - role models, if you were. They were the biggest celebrities on the planet, but at their core, they were just human and as we're told "to err is human." Jupiter's Circle at its face value is hardly an innovation. There's a few tropes in here like the closeted gay hero and it's explored more in the context of American pop culture at the time, There's F.B.I. head honcho J. Edgar Hoover around to try to get the team's secret identities, and looks like he may do so.

A lesser artist could have easily turned this into another Watchmen rehash, but it's Wilfredo Torres' art that makes this world accessible. The team is a Justice League analog so the characters are relatable and even with some of them having little screen time, you get the idea of their purpose. Torres's throwback style that echoes Alex Toth with contemporary vibes like that of Chris Samnee with broad inks along with solid and classic figure composition, it gives the retro feel for this world the proper boost. Keeping things simplistic, we have colorist Ive Svorcina giving the world more muted tones and letting Torres's art do its thing. There are some visually cool moments with the team fighting an octosquid (squidapus?) and Svorcina shines with alien blue tones and a creepy spectrum to work with.

What simply doesn't work is the full story here. If you haven't pick up Jupiter's Legacy, you might feel a bit behind, but there' s time to catch up as Jupiter's Circle doesn't hit the shelves until April 8. True, that story takes place in the future with these character's progeny, but you don't have a lot of exploration here besides Blue-Bolt, the Green Lantern-ish character. None of their names are mentioned, aside from real names, but I guess that's what Millar is doing here. Giving the alter-egos some focus instead of just the superheroics of their adventures. You'd never know that Sheldon Sampson is called Utopian, for example. It's like a thrift store-bought puzzle, you can see the picture, but you're still missing a few pieces to really get it all. Hopefully that's remedied later on down the line.

Jupiter's Circle is far from revolutionary and acts more as a TV pilot than a debut issue. The characters are all named in passing, but the history has yet to be written and it's not exactly the easiest to approach, so it's hard to feel for all of them. Torres' superb rendering and even how he handles some likenesses of celebrities of the time are where the charm lies here. Millar does deliver some good dialog along the way, especially between Blue-Bolt and a certain Hollywood starlet, but everything else just feels out of reach to fully enjoy.

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