Best Shots Advance Reviews: A-FORCE #1, PLANET HULK #1, SPIDER-VERSE #1

Marvel May 2015 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

A-Force #1
Written by G. Willow Wilson and Marguerite Bennett
Art by Jorge Molina, Craig Yeung, Laura Martin and Matt Milla
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

A-Force Assemble!"

On the remote island of Arcadia, Marvel's greatest female heroes have aligned themselves to forge the ultimate alliance: the A-Force. Led by the Baroness of Arcadia, She-Hulk, the A-Force protect their boundary with a team that's unlike anything we've seen in the Marvel Universe before, but they are in for the test of their superhero careers.

Hyperbole aside, Marvel's Battleworld has given us some unique takes on their characters and mythos since it started up, and A-Force had been one of the most talked about since its announcement. Both contributing writers G. Willow Wilson and Marguerite Bennett are two of comics' newest sensations. Wilson with Marvel's teen-centric Ms. Marvel and Bennett on revitalizing the former Spawn character Angela to fit in the Marvel Universe as an Asgardian. Combined, they take charge in giving Marvel's Mightiest Maidens their collective spotlight, even though more than a dozen characters share the stage.

What I liked about A-Force is how the team is seemingly ran. Not by a committee or government entity, but as a sisterhood; a community. Sure, they answer to Doctor Doom and his appointed sheriffs, but the team itself is lead by She-Hulk and she is a leader in every sense of the word. She gives guidance not only on the field, but as well after the battles are fought. Jennifer leads her nation with an open palm and does the very best to represent Arcadia to the fullest, even when her responsibilities weigh down her heart.

Jorge Molina has been a star on the rise as of late, with a style a mesh of the late, great Mike Wieringo and Mark Bagley, he gives the world of A-Force a polished look that tie-ins like this hardly get. The later exchange between Medusa and She-Hulk is a highlight for sure. Even as stoic as Medusa is, you can hear the tone from her voice just by the body language and Jen's reaction is just as golden, but it all comes across so crisp. The way he handles action and movement is so great too. From America Chavez tossing a prehistoric shark to the Royal Atlantan Family coming to the aid of A-Force, it all carries a solid sense of action and urgency.

Marvel's prima colorista Laura Martin is paired up with Matt Milla to give A-Force the shine it deserves. Martin almost has this certain hue of She-Hulk trademarked because she renders her like actual skin instead of some sort of fabric as I tend to notice in other titles. The handling of even the smaller things like Loki's fur cape and the thundering effect around the Thors really pop out as well.

If there was one thing dragging down A-Force from a perfect score its there doesn't seem to be enough time. We know who these characters are, sure, as well as how the team functions internally, but sometimes the chemistry between characters seem out of place or unbalanced; like we're missing a chapter and this feels like an in between story. A-Force is a triumph in itself, though, and something that should have been tried a long, long time ago.

Planet Hulk #1
Planet Hulk #1
Credit: Marvel

Planet Hulk #1
Written by Sam Humphries and Greg Pak
Art by Marc Laming, Jordan Boyd, Takeshi Miyazawa and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It’s a tale as old as stories themselves. A man and his compatriot overcome the odds and battle through waves of enemies in order to rescue his best friend. Except this man is a gladiator version of Steve Rogers and his compatriot is the one and only Devil Dinosaur. This, in a nutshell, is Sam Humphries and Marc Laming’s Planet Hulk #1, a bare bones yet entertaining debut that casts the Star-Spangled Soldier as a warrior forced into the service of the god emperor Doctor Doom and tasked with destabilizing the gamma-irradiated portion of Battleworld. Accompanied by an origin story back up by original Planet Hulk and World War Hulk writer Greg Pak, Planet Hulk starts off the Secret Wars tie-in pantheon with rousing, sword-and-sandal-esque energy.

After a swift cold open that finds the aptly-named Thor Corps having a run-in with the Hulkified denizens of Greenland, we are treated to a brutal peek into the Killiseum, where Steve Rogers and his faithful pet Devil Dinosaur have just defeated his latest wave of foes and earned the favor of Arcade, Doom’s resident game-master. Ever the man with a plan, however, these battles were just a means to an end for Rogers, who is only participating in the bloodsports in order to gain any sort of information as to the whereabouts of best friend, Bucky Barnes. Sam Humprhies quickly turns Rogers’ folly into a call to adventure, as an angry Doom gives the Captain a deceptively dangerous task: assassinate the Red King of Greenland and be reunited with Bucky, or die.

Though the action of Planet Hulk #1 is relegated to the quick glimpses in the Killiseum’s fighting pits as well as a quick and brutal scrap with some gamma-infused mites once Rogers makes landfall in Greenland, Humphries mines enthralling pathos from Steve’s desire to find Bucky and his willingness to dance with the devil in order to find him. Humphries also keeps the narrative of Planet Hulk moving at a brisk pace as we are treated to the quick cold open, then whisked into the fighting pits, and then finally into Doom’s inner sanctum only to end in the desolation of Greenland all in the span of just a few pages. Planet Hulk #1 may move a bit too quickly for some readers, but it is refreshing to see a writer make the absolute most out of a short amount of pages while never sacrificing character or plot.

Giving Planet Hulk #1 an interesting leg up when stacked against run of the mill tie-ins is an engaging origin/back up story by original series writer Greg Pak. Entitled “Phoenix Burning,” Pak gives readers a thrilling look into just how Greenland became the gamma-infected wastelands that it is today. Spoiler alert, it involved fan-favorite super genius Amadeus Cho, attempting to save the citizens of Phoenix, Arizona (the HQ of BannerTech Industries) but instead infecting them with a virulent strain of gamma radiation, resulting in the Greenland shown in Planet Hulk proper. Coupled with the Conan-esque man on a mission tale of Planet Hulk, Pak’s quick peek into the tragic first days of Greenland adds another unexpectedly emotional look at Battleworld as a whole, as well as providing a strong connective tissue to the original hit series.

Handling art for Planet Hulk’s main story is portrayed by Marc Laming, whose rough-hewn linework expresses a full range of realistic expressions even as they are surrounded by post-apocalyptic sets and props. Laming’s redesign of Steve Rogers looks like it would be right at home during a screening of Mad Max: Fury Road, complete with a DIY version of his signature shield. As if that wasn’t enough, Laming even goes so far as to depict Devil Dinosaur as a photo-realistic T-Rex instead of the Kirby-esque dino that we are used to seeing in comics. Handling the back up story is artist Takeshi Miyazawa, the very first person to ever draw Amadeus Cho all the way back in Amazing Fantasy  Vol. 2 #15. Miyazawa’s flowing, manga like panels are a stark contrast to Laming’s hard-knuckle pulp inspired pages, but it sends the reader out with a nice charge of artistic energy and provides merely a taste of what Miyazawa could do with something just a bit longer.

Providing colors for Planet Hulk #1 are Jordan Boyd and Rachelle Rosenberg; Boyd handling the colors for the main story and Rosenberg rendering the bright poppy colors of the manga inspired back-up. Both colorists acclimate themselves beautifully to their respective stories. Boyd reveling in the grime and dust of the fallen landscape of Battleworld while Rosenberg drenches the high technology and brightness of the pre-fall world in shining, metallic colors. Both art styles perfectly suit their perspective stories and give Planet Hulk #1 an interesting visual duality and will surely set it apart from titles that only present a single story and art style.

It’s a simple story. A man going to the ends of the Earth to save his friend. Of course, set against the backdrop of Secret Wars, nothing is really that simple. However, Planet Hulk #1 presents its men on a mission tale with speed, pathos, and even a giant bug fight. Writers Sam Humphries and Greg Pak throw themselves headlong into the uncharted territory of Greenland and deliver a classic pulp yarn stocked with the new versions of Marvel mainstays as well as a few choice connections to a fan favorite story arc. People may complain that not much happens in the pages of Planet Hulk #1 or that the action beats are few and far between, but not all stories need constant battle to feel important or engaging. Planet Hulk #1 is printed proof of just that.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Verse #1
Written by Mike Costa
Art by Andre Araujo and Rochelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

The original Spider-Verse story from which this comic gets its name was about Spider-Man as a universal symbol, a hero whose aura and persona appeared in every dimension in some way, shape or form. The original Spider-Verse was grand in scale and scope, and a way to define the character as a necessary piece of the Marvel Universe foundation.

But now that Secret Wars is upon us, Spider-Verse has returned in a new incarnation - but where the original series had a defined purpose, this one does not. Mike Costa clearly has love for the characters and the concept, but his execution is faulty in that we aren’t given enough to really see the purpose of this altered Spider-Verse, only a vague notion that the Spider-Men and Spider-Women of the Marvel Universe will once again be drawn together, but this time the stakes don’t feel as dire.

Part of the problem with the issue is the bouncing narrative. We go from Gwen Stacy to to Pavitr Prabhakar back to Gwen for no other reason than the convenience of the storyteller. This shift doesn’t allow us to solidly gravitate towards one hero. Gwen gets the most face time in the comic, and her personality is definitely the most “Parker-ish” with her use of humor and her lightheartedness, but the switch in the middle breaks the thread of the story so that we’re waiting to see how Pavitr will play a role in the issue, but in doing so we’re distracted from Gwen’s story, which is really the most intriguing.

And this is because Costa hits upon some neat concepts in Spider-Verse, namely that the convergence of worlds leads Gwen to the knowledge of her death. This idea is toyed with, but never fully explored which is disappointing because of how much promise it holds. No character’s history is safe, and this new world is an amalgam of all the histories of the Spider-Verse characters, therefore every Spider-Man could learn about every other Spider-Man, and in doing so, learn some dark truths of about themselves.

But while Costa struggles to find the right balance in his storytelling, artist Andre Araujo provides consistent visuals which are simple, but effective. His designs are not flashy or ornate, but they work. The action sequences are especially fluid, and Araujo captures punches and kicks with exceptional lucidity. The opening sequence - where Gwen battles a trio of grave robbers - shows her punches connecting with visceral clarity. The Jackal’s shocked face is both hilarious and detailed, and this fluidity of design carries over into every aspect of the visuals.

The final page was definitely a fun shock (particularly the return of a fan-favorite Spider-character), and Costa hints at a cool inversion of the “Sinister Six,” but the purpose of the storyline is still too vague. I like how Costa plays with a universe of Spider-Men, but he hasn’t done enough to establish his intent, and this is more frustrating given how solidly he writes the characters. Hopefully, #2 will smooth out these wrinkles and make the story as interesting as it could and should be.

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