Best Shots Reviews: DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS, SECRET WARS #5, ACTION COMICS #43, More

"Doctor Who: The Four Doctors" #1 cover by Neil Edwards
Credit: Titan Comics
Credit: DC Comics

DC Comics: Bombshells #1
Written by Marguerite Bennett
Art by Marguerite Sauvage
Lettering by Wes Abbott
Published by DC Comics
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

DC Comics: Bombshells #1 is inspired by a 1940s aesthetic and the kind of media that was prevalent then: newsreels, propaganda films and war stories. Artist Marguerite Sauvage does an impeccable job of capturing the spirit of each of these formats, as well as bringing the much-loved, beautiful Bombshell statues to life. Writer Marguerite Bennett works seamlessly with Sauvage creating a world that tugs at all the right parts of the nostalgic heart while also seeing these characters and the World War II period with new eyes.

It is no secret that Batman is the unofficial king of DC Comics, with more Bat-books on the stands in the past decade than the number of times that Wolverine has regenerated. So, to open a DC book and see Batman's origin preempted by having Batwoman save his parents’ lives is a remarkably cheeky move. Bennett comes out of the gate swinging (her bat), clearly making the intention known that none of these heroines are going to be derivatives of their male counterparts.

This take on Batwoman is shown in her A League of Their Own styled baseball costume, immediately endearing the fans of the Bombshell statues. Sauvage also draws Kate Kane in a period-style, tea-length dress bringing dinner to her darling Maggie. It’s a more domestic Kate Kane that plays ideally in the opening story, especially as she regales and longs for her time at war.

Meanwhile, as we meet Wonder Woman and Supergirl, it’s a real treat to see how Sauvage uniquely and picture perfectly styles these iconic characters. Wonder Woman is bold and forthright as the Princess of Themyscira articulating the multiple sides of battle and eager to know of the evil that Steve Trevor’s army fights. We aren’t immediately presented with the kerchief-tied, biker statue version of Wondy. Instead, Sauvage draws a simple yet delightful homage to Amazonian character design.

Supergirl’s chapter is the most distinct, and reads as an innovative call to Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son. Kara Starikov, raised on farm in the Soviet Union, now fights on the side of the Soviets. Bennett’s story-telling really shines through Kara leading her story with the monsters of Old Russian fairy tales and nimbly leading into the modern “monsters.” It is a savvy character presentation. Sauvage illustrates it with emotional fervor and compelling action sequences that are masterfully colored with contrasting military green and fiery oranges all sharply accented by Supergirl’s signature blonde hair.

Sauvage, faced with the challenge of creating a digital-first layout that then combines and translates into print is no small feat. Her work here is stunning and the panel layout provides plenty of movement and opportunities to hone in on character moments. Still, it is an adjustment to experience these three character snap-shots sequentially. It feels too quick at times. The up side of that is, that you are left wanting more.

Bombshells #1 is a strong start to the series. Each character packs a powerful punch in design and personality. Set in the era when DC Comics was in its infancy, these women are the flagships and the trailblazers. Full of potential and personhood, they usher in the Age of Heroines. Bombshells is a cleverly orchestrated breath of fresh air and quite fun to read.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Secret Wars #5
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

“Meandering” would be a good word to describe this installment of Secret Wars. Marvel’s tentpole summer event is doing less and less to inspire any confidence in the upcoming “All-New, All-Different” Marvel Universe because it keeps doing more of the “same old, same old.” The issue to issue pacing is so haphazard that the book is screaming “wait for the trade,” even with art as good as this. (I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, Esad Ribic is the only one making these issues interesting.) This issue ends up being a whole lot of exposition and flashback exposition, which after last issue’s events feels pretty lackluster.

What is there to like in Hickman’s narrative, though? I’d say that a throughline in all of his work has been rebuilding Doctor Doom as a Machiavellian mastermind of incredible villainy. Hickman’s Doom has been especially compelling in Secret Wars, as the weight of the entire Marvel Universe rests on his shoulders. But part of his appeal here was the way he interacted with Doctor Strange, who was killed at the end of the last issue. Strange acted almost as Doom’s conscience and without him, we’ll surely see a much more impulsive god, but one that loses some of his charm, because the one character that he had a shred of respect for is gone.

Hickman hands the reins over to the Molecule Man who discusses how the world came to be and we’re left to question who is really in control. Doom dismisses the “chicken or the egg” scenario, but Hickman very purposefully puts some chinks in his armor. This is a man whose madness is meant to be terrifying, and seems he’s slipping off the rails.

But besides this little bit of character work, there’s nothing here. The plot has stagnated. The other characters do little if anything of interest, and all the big moments are essentially happening during a retelling of Battleworld’s “Big Bang” moment from New Avengers. The seeds are being planted for a big face-off later on but this issue is a drag.

Now Esad Ribic, on the other hand, is still on top of his game. There’s nothing this artist can’t do. While I’m usually in favor of truer and deeper black inking to create contrast, Ribic’s approach lends an almost storybook feel to the issue. The fact that you can see the individual line in his shading is really interesting and sets his art apart from nearly everything else on the shelves. It’s almost like a more organic take on Alex Ross. The characters feel a little bit rougher and less defined. The decision to shade with dark grays instead of deep backs is maybe a commentary on this story itself: there are no definites outcomes in Battleworld and even God Doom is not absolute. Ive Svorcina’s color is a perfect companion for this issue using a full range of blues, oranges, purples to tell this story and give each scene a distinct feel.

Call it event fatigue. Call it whatever you want. I can’t believe we still have three more issue of this. Hickman’s the type that doesn’t include details for no reason. Molecule Man’s appearance is a sort of Chekhov’s Gun that almost inevitably will pay off somehow. Which side will wield it has yet to be seen, but hopefully Hickman picks up the pace a bit. Convergence suffered from a similar problem of slogging through exposition and by the end, the payoff wasn’t worth it. Hickman and Ribic have three more issues to avoid that same fate.

Credit: DC Comics

Action Comics #43
Written by Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder
Art by Aaron Kuder and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

"We're all in this together."

With a decreased power set and imagery evoking the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., Superman has felt more real lately than he has in a long time. Leading the way with this revamped Man of Steel has been Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder's Action Comics, a series which continues to strike the right balance between street-level humanism and superpowered action. While the second half of this issue feels a bit anticlimactic, you can't deny that these gorgeous pages still pack a serious punch.

One of the major themes that Pak and Kuder have focused on since Superman's unmasking and depowering has been his change in demeanor and personality. Clark Kent used to be the man who had everything, and with invulnerability and super-speed, it was easy for him to be patient and dispassionate. But Action Comics has brought Superman back down to earth, face-to-face with all the civilians that were ordinarily just collateral damage during a superhero fight. Even Clark thinks to himself how crazy this all feels: "Me... punching a cop? In anger? This isn't what Superman's all about."

But in many ways, that is what Superman is about. Deep at his core, Clark Kent has always been about saving lives - and it makes plenty of sense that as he begins to accept his diminished capabilities, he may lash out in frustration, desperation or worse. We've all heard about great power and great responsibility - so in a way, the inverse may hold true. But even if he's more reckless, it's hard to begrudge Clark, as Pak's internal monologue shows that he's not just getting mad for his own ego - it's everybody else that Clark is worried about.

Unfortunately, the other part of what held this arc together inevitably has to collapse. While critics of the last few issues might disagree, today's Superman wouldn't survive as a purely liberal construct - so even as Pak and Kuder have placed Clark in a situation very similar to that of Ferguson, there's no way they can get away with painting the Metropolis Police Department as corrupt authoritarians who get their kicks out of pushing around civilians. But that cop-out feels a little too artificial, as the malevolent Sergeant Binghamton turns out to be some other kind of creature entirely. If only real-life tension with the police could be solved so quickly - this sudden turn is one of convenience and political expediency, and unfortunately leads into an extended, anti-climactic epilogue that barely pulls out of its tailspin thanks to a strong cliffhanger.

But even with this book's abandonment of its Ferguson metaphor, part of what makes Action Comics so striking has to be Aaron Kuder's artwork. Kuder has a fantastic sense of expressiveness to all of his characters, which winds up making this battle seem intense, despite a nebulously designed, shape-shifting shadow-creature being the instigator. (Seriously, that first splash page of Clark punching out Binghamton looks superb.) There's a ton of character in Clark's bruised and bloodied face, and you can see just how much humanity there is in a double-page splash, featuring all of Clark's neighbors, each with a very deliberate sense of design and body language. Colorist Tomeu Morey never overwhelms with his palette, but instead gives Kuder's lines a nice depth that never skimps on the energy.

In some ways, Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder's work on Action Comics has been more revolutionary and provocative than the Man of Steel has seen since his early days in the 1930s. Yet you can't help but be a little disappointed that Pak and Kuder have basically had to backpedal out of their convictions, leading to a Superman book that has suddenly lost much of its bite. But the thoughtfulness in the rest of the execution - and especially the show-stopping art - has made Action Comics a true flagship book for the Superman franchise, and one that demands your attention month in and month out.

Credit: DC Comics

Constantine: The Hellblazer #3
Written by Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV
Art by Ming Doyle, Vanesa Del Rey, Ivan Plascencia and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Shawn Aldridge
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Manchester. The Newcastle Crew. John Constantine’s northern heritage has been a huge part of the character’s foundations on page and screen (the 2005 film nothwithstanding), so it’s terrific that after only two issues the new creative team is sending him back to Manchester, as well as back in time. In the latest and increasingly darkening issue of Constantine: The Hellblazer, Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV not only brush heavily against those Mancunian roots, but do so while acknowledging the puns and jibes of the "New 52" by introducing the Heckblazer.

The split narrative takes place between the Manchester of Constantine’s youth, where he was taking his first forays into the world of demonology, and a present day case involving the simultaneous post-coital deaths of over a dozen people. While the former introduces us to Georgina Snow, as well as a more reckless John Constantine in his clubbing days, the later period sees her elevated to the position of Consulting Exorcist to Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The arc so far as been about John being visit by ghosts both literal and figurative, and this issue is very much following the idea of having “no way of keeping their spirits safe, keeping them with me.”

The “Heckblazer” character of Snow might be a knowing nod to the mocking name that the Internet developed for the watered down version of the former Vertigo title, but Doyle and Tynion take John and his erstwhile partner to some pretty dark places in this issue. There is still a sense of being hamstrung by some of the restrictions of the mainstream imprint, including a string of blanked-out words that are undoubtedly a devastating string of profanities the likes of which humankind has never witnessed. Nevertheless, the writers carve out their word on this character’s origin and moral compass in this ongoing soft-reboot of the character for the DC You line of books.

The change of locale comes with a new set of artists, and after only two issues the amazing Riley Rossmo steps aside for a few outings to make way for the equally innovative Ming Doyle and Vanesa Del Rey. Doyle’s flowing art suits the lighter tone of the flashback scenes, filled with a simple purple glow and actual sparkles to suggest better times are behind them. Del Rey’s modern day mood is something else entirely, retaining some of the noir from the Hit 1957 series for BOOM! Studios, while her Constantine is a mountain of a man, with broad angular shoulders. It’s a stark contrast with the very young-looking Constantine that Rossmo gave us, even if he looks more heroic than huckster here.

Constantine: The Hellblazer is a harder sell than most, because undoubtedly many fans of the classic Vertigo series will have been turned off by the lighter version that has been playing out over the last few years. This is a shame, because this current series comes close to that same darkness that inhabited earlier books, and while it may not capture the same magic of the original, it at least captures its spirit.

Credit: IDW Publishing

String Divers #1
Written by Chris Ryall and Ashley Wood
Art by Nelson Daniel
Lettering by Neil Uyetake
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

From the Masters of the Universe to the original Secret Wars, comic books and action figure lines have always been inextricably linked. Ashley Wood's take on the combo action figure/comic book line is String Divers, an elite group of micro robots who save the universe on a subatomic level under Switzerland's CERN super-collider. As action figures, they're heavily reminiscent of Takara and Mego's fondly remembered Micronauts line. There's no denying it; this is one cool concept. And yet, a simplistic script and some eye-catching but flat artwork hamper it from being a comic book truly worthy of its imaginative premise.

Ashley Wood and Chris Ryall waste no time introducing their wise-cracking team of tiny androids. The team act like a group of hyper-active children on a field trip; constantly questioning their surroundings, extrapolating their thoughts into fresh understanding, unable to keep themselves from not poking “that interesting looking thing” with a stick. Wood and Ryall pull heavily from video games to establish their Divers, filtering each android into a category such as such categories as science-class, assassin-class and tactician-class.

The abstracted elements of String Divers should be unique. Miniaturized down to a subatomic level is as equally alien as arriving on another planet, so it's a pity that the best Wood can come up with are the same robo-bug that invariably only show up when the words “nanites” are uttered.

For such a strange and complex concept, Ryall's written an accessible script here. String Divers #1 is unashamedly an all-ages comic book, but that accessibility comes at the price of depth. There's some average action and adventure here, but “average” isn't enough to justify the cover price. Characterization-wise, Wood and Ryall stick to the well-worn tropes. There's the surly and unfeeling director-general, the emotional one, the pragmatic one - in other words, things we've seen before.

Away from the fairly simple archetypes that make up their team of handlers, it's the String Divers themselves who pique the most interest. Their flat and grey but unmistakably human faces trigger the same “uncanny valley” effect as the white-blooded robots of the Alien universe. They look basically human, they definitely sound human, but there's something ineffable about them that just isn't right. The Divers' odd presence leads to some solid conflict between them and their superior who cares little for their well-being because, after all, they're just dispensable tools each built for a single job. Again, it's a simple hook but it works.

Elsewhere, Ryall spins a “what is human?” undercurrent into his script that should come into play as the series develops. The Divers themselves are more enthusiastic at work in the very atoms of the universe than the team of scientists monitoring them. When combined with the endless “they're just cyborgs” narrative pushed by the Director-General, there's definitely going to be something a little meatier to chew on in future issues than the shallow plot at play here.

Visually, Nelson Daniel puts in a solid effort here. His characters are noodle-armed and their bodies wildly expressive, which occasionally comes into conflict with his overwhelmingly sullen and moody expressions. Chris Ryall's script has given him a lot of room to work with. Pages often open up into four or less massive panels, giving the tiny String Divers a larger than life sense of presence and immediately giving the cavernous CERN super-collider complex enough room to breathe. Whilst Daniel solidly carries Ryall's script, his lines do seem to lack depth. Characters seem to be pasted flat on to their surroundings, giving very little sense of 3D space. Daniel inks his own work with a thick black line, further highlighting the flat look of the entire issue.

Colorwise, Daniel utilizes a palette of aquatic blues and greens. There's something very primordial about the ocean, and Daniel taps into that to help flesh out the String Divers' subatomic explorations. He also uses bright primary colors to differentiate the otherwise identical Divers, which really makes them pop atop the subdued blue of the background. As effective as it is, it's another aesthetic choice that highlights just how flat everything seems.

String Divers #1 is a frenetic and saturated mess of a comic book, in the most complementary terms. Ryall's script is simplistic, although there are some big themes here that should ripen nicely as the series continues. Artistically, Daniel's artwork is full of expression and excitement, even if it does look flat and depthless. String Divers has the potential to be something really special, but it isn't - at least not yet.

Credit: Titan Comics

Doctor Who: Four Doctors #1
Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Neil Edwards and Ivan Nunes
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The multi-Doctor story is a staple of Doctor Who event storytelling. While the last multi-Doctor story that TV viewers got was the huge 50th anniversary episode, Titan Comics looks to scratch that Whovian itch with Doctor Who: Four Doctors, a new weekly epic. Written by Doctor Who alum Paul Cornell and penciled by former Fantastic Four artist Neil Edwards, Four Doctors #1 is a banter-filled debut that barely hints at the timey-whimey adventure to follow, but keeps readers engaged with the fun cast as well as a set of photo-realistic pages from Edwards and colorist Ivan Nunes. Four Doctors #1 is just the start of this crazy weekly series, but if this debut is any indication, we are in for one hell of a ride through space and time.

We open on the sands of Marinus, in some arcane year of the Last Great Time War. The War Doctor, along with a race of liquid metal cyborg warriors called the Voord Group Mind, has just brought down a Dalek war ship. Now they all fear for a future beyond the Time War, and the War Doctor can offer them no solace. As quickly as we are introduced to Marinus, Paul Cornell whisks us away from it and back into the safety of the TARDIS along with Twelve and Clara Oswald, who seems to have the word “Marinus” flitting around in her head. This kind of narrative layering is all throughout Four Doctors #1 as Cornell takes some of the narrative seeding troupes of the most recent series and applies them to this weekly event.

Cornell even takes this layering a bit further by sidelining Doctors Ten, Eleven and Twelve and focusing instead on Clara, Gabby, and Alice, as Clara gathers them all for a sort of companion summit in order to prevent the Doctors from meeting. You see, Clara, on a routine planetary adventure, discovered a museum that chronicles terrible fates throughout the universe and, of course, all three Doctors are headed toward a fatal turning point that will cause reality to collapse. Cornell displays a firm handle on exactly what makes each companion fun and interesting, and the companion summit taking place in Paris is easily the highlight of the issue as Alice, Gabby, and Clara have a full on gab session about their Doctors and how this whole situation is like an all-you-can-eat danger buffet for our errand Time Lords. Cornell doesn’t relegate the banter to just the companions, however. As each Doctor finally susses out what is going on with their respective companions, the insults and hilarity starts to fly as Ten, Eleven, and Twelve clash in a set of pages ready made for the DW Tumblr tag. After this debut, it will be hard for me or other fans to not refer to Ten and Eleven as the Manic Pixie Dream Doctors just like Twelve does. Doctor Who: Four Doctors #1 may be light on action, but it still hums with a manic and hilarious energy thanks to Paul Cornell’s character heavy scripting.

While Cornell showcases a firm handle on all the big personalities that star in this weekly event, artist Neil Edwards and colorist Ivan Nunes renders Four Doctors #1 like an idealized version of the television show. Each actor is lovingly recreated by Edwards and the same attention is given to the non-televised characters Alice and Gabby, whose fierce and fun looks and costumes bring some much-needed color to the increasingly Caucasian cast of Doctor Who. Edwards doesn’t reach the gonzo science fiction heights in Four Doctors as he did in Fantastic Four but the cold open set on Marinus shows that the potential is still there. Four Doctors is a much more exposition-heavy debut than I was anticipating, but Edwards still stages it beautifully, playing with POV angles throughout and even making full use of a repeated angle of the coffee shop that houses this issue’s companion summit. Colorist Ivan Nunes also contributes heavily to this issue’s anchored, photoreal look by coloring every page in basic, yet evocative color choices that fall in lock step with the look established on television and the rest of Titan Comics Doctor Who line.

The multi-Doctor story can be a fine tight rope to walk. You can either reach dizzying narrative heights of a 50th Anniversary Special or descent into nostalgia baiting of a The Two Doctors. Thankfully Titan Comics’ Four Doctors #1 skews toward the former and starts this new weekly Doctor Who event on a funny and engaging note that is sure to please fangirls and boys alike. Paul Cornell, Neil Edwards, and Ivan Nunes all understand what makes these Doctors and their respective companions entertaining and then deliver that full force. The plot and enemy will fully reveal themselves in time, but for now, let us just enjoy the fabulous time traveling ladies and their dense Doctors as they argue in a coffee shop.

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