Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Ready for your big column? Best Shots has your back, with the week's biggest comics (as well as a sneak peek at Dark Horse's Archie vs. Predator)! So let's kick off today's column with Malevolent Michael Moccio, as he takes a look at Batgirl: Endgame...
Batgirl: Endgame #1
Written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher
Art by Bengal
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
What do you do when everyone around you is laughing during the end of the world? Apparently, play along and you’ll be fine. In this simple – and in no way is that a bad thing – story, writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher give Batgirl one task: save the child from a horde of Jokerized citizens on the Burnside Bridge. What sounds straight-forward evolves into something that’ll make you read on the edge of your seat and cheer when it’s over.
The distinct part of Batgirl: Endgame #1 is that it’s a silent issue. While some might think it’s just a gimmick, it really works. The irony of having a silent issue while the entire city is laughing itself into a stupor isn’t lost in the issue as we’re constantly reminded of the ever present threat the Joker has on the city. If anything, the lack of speech enhances the story because the writers are left to rely on the art to visually tell the story. The one thing to be said about the lack of dialogue is that the writers still rely on symbols like emoticons to convey what’s happening. It feels sometimes like a chat when a thumbs-up icon is sent instead of a radioed message, but the overall quality of the issue definitely makes up for that.
This issue isn’t anything groundbreaking. It’s not as emotionally heart-wrenching as the Batman and Robin issue, but that doesn’t make it any less good. In fact, I would even venture that this issue of Batgirl: Endgame highlights the best of what comics has to offer – a storyline and characters we can become invested in where no one has to die or get maimed to further the plot and we still come away feeling like it was a full and complete story worth the time to read and money to buy the comic.
The success of the story heavily depended on the wonderful art by Bengal. While Stewart’s and Fletcher’s storyline was well thought out and had the right narrative beats to make us invested in the story, it was Bengal’s artwork that really tied it all together. For someone who can produce this quality of work, it’s astonishing that he doesn’t have more art credits with the Big Two. This is going to be a comic that you read quickly, and that’s because the art is so well done that it can convey a story that builds momentum with each turn of the page. The secret is the diagonals of Bengal’s panel structure and layouts. Many characters are often positioned to naturally draw the eyes to the next panel. This makes the reading feel seamless, almost like you’re watching a film instead of reading a comic book.
It’s hard to pinpoint the best pages out of a book that’s this high quality with its art. Seriously, across the board this is one of the most beautifully rendered books DC has put out. Even though the story is set in this crowded bridge filled to the brim, we’re not overpowered by what’s going on in the panels. The focal point is always on the characters and Bengal is able to use techniques like color to convey this. There’s one panel where Tiffany Fox is walking among a crowd of Jokerized citizens and the panel doesn’t feel crowded at all because Tiffany is done in color while the people around her are muted. The colors in general were one of the best parts of the entire issue, really bringing to life the state that’s befallen Gotham. From explosions to bright computer screens and to lighted areas, Bengal shows his versatility with colors by making the different situations distinct and all well done in their own way.
While the idea of a silent comic doesn’t feel as fresh as it could be in this issue, Fletcher and Stewart pull it off amazingly well and have to thank Bengal for the majority of their success. They should be proud of their direct story that immediately draws us in and keeps us hooked until the very end, but silent issues heavily depend on the success of the artist. In this case, Bengal’s art outshone all the other aspects of the book and made it one of the most enjoyable of last week.
All-New Captain America #5
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Like it or not, comics don't appear in a vacuum anymore. With the ascension of the Internet, everyone's got an opinion, and what's more, everyone's got to express it. Rick Remender is no stranger to this, as he's dealt with online controversy on everything from Punisher (RIP Frankencastle), Axis, Uncanny Avengers and, perhaps even more divisive, All-New Captain America.
Which is why it's so refreshing to see Remender kick the haters to the curb.
The first page of All-New Captain America is as pointed a commentary as any the writer has produced in the past few years, as a father and son share in the debate that many on the Twittersphere have already been waging for months: Is the Falcon the right man to take over for Steve Rogers? It's a slice-of-life that also puts a pin in the conservative argument that the appointment is just "to make sure everything's politically correct and color-coordinated" - or maybe just because there's a new, more inclusive status quo, it doesn't mean that it has to be cynical or negative. Anybody - no matter what their race or background - will have some big shoes to fill after Steve Rogers. Why not let it be Steve's long-time partner?
But if that pedigree isn't enough to sell Sam Wilson as the all-new Captain America, well, Remender is also determined to put him through hell to earn the shield. On a sheer power level, Sam isn't Steve - he doesn't have enhanced speed or strength or durability, he's just got wings, a telepathic connection to birds, and an overwhelming need to not dishonor the name. But from the get-go, Remender's not making it easy - to the point where by page two, Sam is already grabbing onto a razor-sharp sword in order to stop Baron Zemo. Combine that with some globe-trotting action that juggles Nomad and Misty Knight, and Remender's typical style of fast-paced action continues to impress.
Speaking of impressive, Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger's fluid artwork makes the action in this book look spectacular. In particular, Immonen's splash pages of Nomad and Batroc both leaping into the fray move like lightning, and in general, I love how expressive Immonen's cartoony characters look, even people wearing full face masks like Baron Zemo. Admittedly, sometimes the colorwork by Marte Gracia sometimes crosses the line from bold and unorthodox to occasionally garish, like the plague-carrier Lucas in his pink- and purple-drenched airship. But for the most part, there's a lot of energy and excitement to these pages that really makes this feel like a rollicking action movie.
But that said, this is not a perfect issue by any means, as there's still a few strange choices and pacing issues coming after this solid introduction. The return of Nomad feels a bit too convenient for my taste, and he unwittingly steals a little bit too much of the show from Sam once he's back in the ring. (Misty Knight's victory feels a bit convenient, as well.) These are blips on the radar, however, compared to the final cliffhanger, which feels a bit anticlimactic - if Remender has set up Sam's relationship with Redwing a bit more, I'd feel more shocked, but if your conclusion is the possible death of your pet falcon, well... I'd still say most people would count that as a win.
Some hiccups aside, it's clear that Rick Remender is listening to his critics - listening, but far from letting them deter him. In many ways, this first arc of All-New Captain America feels like it has just as much promise as Remender's first Captain America arc with John Romita, Jr. - it feels like a fresh new take on a long-time character, and Remender seems to be particularly thoughtful in terms of making an exciting, important new status quo for an Avenger who is long overdue some spotlight.
Batman Eternal #50
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, Kyle Higgins and Tim Seeley
Art by Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez and June Chungv Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Reading monthly comics can be a sprint - but reading weekly comics is more like a marathon. And just imagine what it feels like to the people making them. Hitting its fiftieth issue, Batman Eternal builds up to a crescendo with a worn-out Dark Knight returning to a city in flames. While the overall reveal of Batman Eternal's criminal mastermind feels a little suspect, in general this is a brisk, entertaining, if somewhat lightweight read.
With no less than nine villains appearing in this issue, you'd be forgiven comparing the final arc of Batman Eternal to classic stories like "Knightfall," "Hush" or "War Games." Things are bad in Gotham, and James Tynion IV's script bounces from villain to villain like a skipping stone across a riverbed - if an exhausted Batman takes too long to dwell on any of these threats, he's liable to fall hard. But unlike "Knightfall," which focused much on a burned-out Batman dragging himself to victory, this iteration of Batman is beaten down but never broken, defiantly telling Bane, "This is my city, Bane. Here... I don't lose."
While the plus side of this script is its breadth - we have a ton of Batman villains, and all the supporting cast members of the Bat-Family, to the point where Batwing and Red Hood's appearances feel almost obligatory - the downside is that Tynion's pacing is so fast, we're almost given whiplash from scene to scene, having to piece together how each character got there in our heads. Scenes like Commissioner Bard teaming up with ex-Commmissioner Gordon to take back Blackgate, for example, come so quickly and are sandwiched between so much other information that it's tough to take in. It's one thing for dense storytelling - this just happens to feel a bit less focused than anything else. That said, because there's so much action in this book, it's rarely a problem - it just feels like lighter entertainment rather than something that will stick with you.
Meanwhile, the artwork by Alvaro Martinez feels appropriately gritty, but never so much that it drags down the story or makes it depressing. In particular, Martinez sells Batman, whether its the 36-hour stubble creeping up on his exhausted face, or the sight of Batman riding a fleet of drones to take down the Scarecrow. Between Martinez and inker Raul Fernandez, there's also a nice bit of texture to the scratched-up Batman, which constrasts nicely to comparatively clean-cut Red Robin and Batgirl. June Chung's colors also elevate the artwork, providing some nice contrasts with her icy blues and warm oranges to really play up the destruction going on in Gotham.
At the end of the day, what will really make or break Batman Eternal #50 is the big reveal of the mastermind behind this plot against Gotham - and to be honest, that's probably the biggest point of contention for me, personally. It's almost a sure thing that Tynion and company will explain this mastermind's rise from D-lister to man of the hour, and while it certainly affects a few other members of the Bat-family, I can't help but feel like it's a retread of "Hush," only with an even more implausible character. But with two issues to go, the Batman Eternal creative team will likely work hard to sell their plot twist. While readers and creators alike may be eagerly awaiting the finish line, this is one last sprint that feels breezy and fun - but time will tell if it ultimately comes off as satisfying.
Written by Robbie Thompson
Art by Stacey Lee and Ian Herring
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
For a woman who spent her late teens and most of her twenties locked in isolation, Cindy Moon is surprisingly upbeat. Between Silk and Spider-Gwen, being a unique spin on Spider-Woman with a fresh costume is 2015's hottest ticket. Whereas Spider-Gwen's inner turmoil comes from the death of Peter Parker, Silk's issues stem from 10 years of self-sacrificial imprisonment. A far cry from the classic Spider-hook of “my super-heroics are endangering those I love!”, Cindy Moon has nobody left to endanger. Silk #2 is a competent second issue of a fresh character who is chock-full of potential.
While still getting to grips with returning to active duty, Silk searches the city a lead on her missing family. Soon enough, a painful battle with a rampaging Hydra-bot and an even more painful reunion with her high-school sweetheart throws a wrench into Cindy's plans to rebuild.
Robbie Thompson portrays Cindy Moon as a character full of self-doubt, hiding behind the wise-crackin' facade of a card-carrying wall-crawler. He uses Cindy's reflective nature to push Cindy around her environment, showing us snap-shots of her search whilst always focusing on her outward expressions of worry and loss. It's during scenes like this that the Silk's somber origins are the focus, and it's where the creative team comes slightly unglued. As a character, Silk represents missed opportunity, but so does Lee's depiction of Ms. Moon. Silk spent her youth locked up, denying herself human contact for the perceived greater good, and her character would only be strengthened by an artist willing to depict the gravitas of Cindy's life in her face. As it is, she's a fresh-faced teen instead of a woman in her mid-to-late twenties who hasn't seen the sun for the better part of a decade.
The main villain of the issue, a maniacal screaming skull-squid, is an entertaining diversion; with all the limb-flailing you would expect from such a creation. Penciler Stacey Lee slashes these action-packed panels into fierce diagonal shapes, the power of Silk's talons reverberating through the battle to shape the panels themselves. In dialogue-heavy scenes, Lee's tendency to default to around four wide panels per page can be a little repetitive. Overall, her clean and simple line-work is undoubtedly appealing, even if her characters' fresh porcelain faces jar with their troubled lives.
Slowly but surely Thompson is putting together the pieces of Silk's first arc. She's making connections, finding herself as a superhero, carving out a career and unwittingly becoming the target of a shadowy overseer. It's not hugely original stuff, seeming a flavorless in comparison to the punk madness of Spider-Gwen, but it's early days. Silk is distinctive enough in demeanor and appearance that there's a place for her among the many Spider-Folk already knocking around Marvel's 616 Universe.
Elsewhere, Ian Herring highlights the inwardly somber but outwardly smiling nature of Silk with a muted palette that depicts a city at permanent sunset (or rise! Glass half-empty, etc.), whilst letterer Travis Lanham neatly arranges Thompson's script with small balloons and boxes that hang discreetly in the dead-space of Lee's artwork. The jagged edges of the ninja-star style word balloons of the Hydra-bot are an especially nice touch.
Thompson writes a solid issue here for the soul-searching web-slinger, capably drawn by Stacey Lee. A renegade Hydra-bot action sequence and a heart-rending reunion scene make Silk #2 a great comic book, even if Cindy and her world should probably look a little less breezy and a little more mournful.
Green Lantern: New Guardians #40
Written by Justin Jordan
Art by Diogenes Neves, Roge Antonio, Marc Deering, Daniel Henriques & Antonio, and Wil Quintana
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
Justin Jordan, facing the end of his run on Green Lantern: New Guardians, wants to leave Kyle Rayner with some hope on the other side of “Convergence,” DC’s next event that kicks off next month. Does it do what a final issue needs to do? Absolutely. Does it provide resolution? Yes – in spades. But nothing that Jordan delivers in New Guardians #40 is surprising or unexpected, and that’s what makes the final issue of his run so disappointing.
Kyle was facing a real threat at the end of last month’s issue, and Jordan picks up right where he left off, but first reminding readers of how Kyle got here and what this moment means for him as a hero. The one aspect of Kyle that separates him from the other Lanterns is that he never loses hope. He’s the one that brings St. Walker back to the Blue Lantern Corps., the hope of the emotional spectrum, so seeing him doubt any chance of survival in this issue is a bit out character. He spends the majority of the comic doubting and saying what he can’t do rather than what he can.
A major shift occurs in the middle of the issue, though, and Kyle is able to remain triumphant by “changing the rules.” Jordan definitely opens the doors for some new storytelling with his solution to Oblivion, but beyond this, the comic is what you’d expect of a final episode of a beloved television series. Kyle dispenses some hopeful catharsis, and then one by one, his new and old friends part ways, waving and beaming with the excitement of a new tomorrow.
And this is what I mean by nothing surprising or unexpected. It’s a painfully cliche finale that starts with a solid battle between good and evil, yet ends in the way you’d fully expect.
The most memorable moment of the comic is when Kyle finally defeats Oblivion, and these five pages are illustrated by Roge Antonio. The dissolution of the villain is gorgeously rendered and striking in now well is it drawn. Antonio’s art is easily the best in the issue, and its complete shift of style is jarring. Diogenes Neves draws the majority of the comic, but his art can be inconsistent. Oblivion is particularly impressive in Neves’ hands, and based on his distortion of the body, he’s a perfect candidate to draw Venom sometime in the future.
But the other visuals tend to be too sketchy, too erratically inked, and sometimes too distorted. This inconsistency is probably due to the excessive number of artists and inkers on the book, which makes me question why the editorial staff wouldn’t want its farewell to Kyle Rayner to be a bit more uniform.
Justin Jordan’s farewell issue is full of everything you’d expect from a farewell issue, but none of it is really unforgettable save for Antonio’s art. Jordan definitely leaves the future open for his hero, but it’s a future you’d anticipate or assume. The solicits for The Omega Men tell us that Kyle is murdered post-“Convergence” so how the end of this series ties in with that one is the biggest mystery yet to be revealed.
Guardians Team-Up #3
Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Mike Mayhew and Rain Beredo
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
I’m a little puzzled by Marvel’s attempt to use Guardians Team-Up as a tie in for “Black Vortex,” even though the story involves both the The Guardians of the Galaxy and the X-Men. Guardians Team-Up hasn’t really found its footing yet, and now that it’s shoehorned in with another crossover series, the comic is even less a story about the Guardians of the Galaxy, and more a way to further the plot of “Black Vortex.”
The comic succeeds in having Ronan the Accuser as its star. Fans of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie know Ronan as the bad guy with the big hammer. Comic book fans, though, know that Ronan eventually becomes a heroic character, and this is the Ronan we see in Guardians Team-Up. Sam Humphries’ narration is great for how it puts us in Ronan’s corner from the onset. With a little help from Peter Quill, he’s able to take control of the Black Vortex and do some incredible things to save the Kree empire of Hala.
The plot, though, is a bit clunky. Humphries tries to tell a character story in the midst of a galactic war, but while still adhering to the “Black Vortex” crossover. So at times, the comic has rapid shifts between scenes and characters, but these are not fluidly executed. Even the introduction of a new threat from the Viscardi race – the one responsible for the Black Vortex itself – is little more than a throwaway scene.
Other major events don’t have major impacts either, even though some of them (like Hank McCoy breaking the fabric of space-time) are pretty harrowing and should result in major changes to the entire universe. The story works well as a tale about the Kree’s greatest protector, but not really anything else. Peter Quill has some funny moments, but the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy are absent save for quick appearances thrown in for good measure.
So while the story is uneven, the art isn’t. Mike Mayhew’s visuals are neither flashy nor drab. They’re solid and effective. Occasionally, they look a bit stiff, but then Mayhew follows a rigid image with a dynamic one. Ronan’s fight with Gamora, in particular, displays his ability to craft engaging and well-paced action. Plus the poignancy of Ronan’s narration is perfectly captured by Mayhew’s art as he knows when to go for tight shots over long ones. Kudos to Rain Beredo, too, for providing colors that excellently capture the tone of the scenes.
Guardians Team-Up #3 is a great book about Ronan the Accuser, but not for the Guardians of the Galaxy. Granted, the comic is part of a larger tale so that connective tissue needs to be present, but even Humphries seems more concerned with writing a cool story about Ronan rather than being part of another major crossover event.
Archie Vs. Predator #1
Written by Alex de Campi
Art by Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski and Jason Millet
Letters by John Workman
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Archie vs. Predator #1 isn’t a perfect comic because of the inclusion of the Predator. Adding the galaxy’s deadliest hunter does give this title an over the top, only-in-comics feel, but that isn’t where its strength solely lies; Archie vs. Predator #1 is a perfect comic because it is a deftly written and very clever Archie story. Alex di Campi had already established herself as a writer more than comfortable with the strange and macabre with her work in Dark Horse’s Grindhouse series but with this debut issue, she proves that she is capable of handling the Riverdale gang with respect as well as a hefty dose of biting satire. Dark Horse even does us one better by allying her with two mainstays of the Archie’s stable of artists; Fernando Ruiz and inker Rich Koslowski. Archie vs. Predator #1 is fun, irreverent, and more than a little hilarious. That is what makes it a perfect comic, though adding a deadly alien killer to the mix certainly doesn’t hurt.
Archie vs. Predator #1 starts off like any Archie Double Digest would; the gang, fresh out of school and on the cusp of spring break, are trying to decide just how they will spend their vacation and fielding the insults of Jason and Cheryl. Things are looking bleak for our favorite Riverdale students when all of the sudden Jughead hits the big time in the form of an all-expenses-paid vacation courtesy of the bag of Tayto-Chips he was chowing down on. Alex di Campi hits all the right notes of a classic Archie set up as well as nailing the voices of all of the main characters. This reverence to the classic Archie comics is what sets this title apart from its contemporary, Afterlife with Archie. While that title presented its story with a darkly cynical bent, Archie vs. Predator #1 more than leans into the gee-golly nature of old-school Archie tales and ends up being a better read because of it. Alex di Campi doesn't want to deconstruct these characters or present them through some sort of absurdist lens; she just wants to write the Riverdale gang on spring break, and she ends up writing the hell out of them.
di Campi’s apparent love for Archie also plays into the issue’s other main strength; its acerbic sense of humor. While di Campi sticks to the core personalities of these characters, she isn’t afraid to have fun with them or present them as just a bit ridiculous. Archie vs. Predator #1 is often laugh-out-loud funny with di Campi deploying sharply constructed jokes left and right, but never at the expense of the characters. Take for instance the comic’s main splash page, which comes at about the center of the comic and depicts the gang wishing upon what they think is a falling star, but is actually the Predator’s ship making landfall in the jungle surrounding them. di Campi sums up each main character perfectly in their single panel as they wish upon the “star”, but it is all just a set up to a killer punchline. Archie, of course, wishes for a memorable holiday. Jughead for an all you can eat buffet. Betty wishes for Archie, as per usual. Veronica pines for flawless victory. Reggie grossly wishes for third base. Finally, we come to Cheryl who wishes for only one thing: death to the proletariat. This splash page is just one of many howlers that Alex di Campi peppers throughout Archie vs. Predator #1. Moody cynicism is all well and good some of the time, but nothing beats good old-fashioned rib ticklers.
I said above that part of Archie vs. Predator #1‘s charm is that is functions roughly the same as your average Double Digest and while that is true of Alex di Campi’s script, she has three strong allies helping in keeping that tone throughout: artist Fernando Ruiz, inker Rich Koslowski and colorist Jason Millet. Ruiz, Koslowski and Millet render Archie vs. Predator in such a way that it would look right at home next to the digest format books that you see in line at the grocery store. For Ruiz and Koslowski, two artists who has been handling Archie books for years, Archie vs. Predator is just another day at the office, which makes the book feel all the more legitimate and fun. Putting Ruiz and Koslowski on this wacky title makes it feel like a true Archie book, instead of just a funny one-off. Of course, Archie vs. Predator #1 isn’t even close to canon, but seeing Ruiz’s clean lines and Koslowski’s heavy inks on the characters makes it at least feel like it. Jason Millet’s vibrant colors also gives Archie vs. Predator a vintage, dime rack look throughout. Millet’s old-school color choices clash beautifully with the nutty concept of the title itself, but fit in perfectly with Ruiz and Koslowski’s tried and true renderings.
Archie vs. Predator #1 is a book that no one will see coming. People going into this title expecting some sort of gory deconstruction of the Archie universe will instead be greeted by a fun, tried and true Archie story filled with jokes and vintage artwork. Alex di Campi clearly loves these characters and wants to do right by them, as well as the format, but that doesn’t stop her from making Archie vs. Predator #1 fun; she does all of this and more without relying on the promise of bloodshed. The script is sharp, the artwork is the genuine Archie article, and it features one of sci-fi’s favorite killing machines; I am hard-pressed to find a better way to sell it. Archie vs. Predator #1 has no place on grocery store shelves, but it has certainly earned a place in your pull list.