Best Shots Reviews: GHOST RACERS #3, GOTHAM ACADEMY #9, ADAM.3 #1, More

DC Comics August 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Ghost Racers #3
Written by Felipe Smith
Art by Juan Gedeon and Tamra Bonvillain
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Disappointed in this year’s movie offerings? Look no further than Marvel’s Ghost Racers for the perfect summer blockbuster. All-New Ghost Rider writer Felipe Smith has created one of the strongest tie-ins of the entire Secret Wars event in this clever, curious revisiting of the Ghost Rider mythos, and this month’s Ghost Racers #3 is his most harrowing offer yet.

After a dramatic escape from the Killiseum that hosts the Ghost Rider races, Robbie and Eli – the Spirit of Ignition that gives him his otherworldly abilities – are on the run in downtown Doomstadt with his fellow racers in hot pursuit. Cornered, Robbie implores the racers to remember their lives before their capture. But his efforts are wasted when he discovers that as punishment for Robbie’s escape, Zadkiel and Arcade have captured a new rider to race in his stead.

At their best, each issue of Ghost Racers feels like a perfectly paced episode of what would make a great addition to Marvel’s growing stable of Netflix series. Smith has carved a strong stand-alone story out of Secret Wars, making this one of the few tie-ins that can stand entirely on its own without any knowledge of the main event.

But despite its compelling story, Ghost Racers #3 is at times light on character development. Smith’s writing is at its strongest when he focuses on one or two characters rather than the entire cast at once. He uses one of the Ghost Riders’ innate powers, the soul-searching Penance Stare, as a shortcut to inspire a change of heart in the other racers and bring them around to Reyes’ cause, meaning his dramatic confrontation with the other ghost racers is over almost as soon as it begins. The fleeting glimpses of their lives before the race aren’t enough to give any emotional weight to their inevitable re-capture after they let Reyes go free.

It’s a dull spot in an issue that will otherwise leave you on the edge of your seat. The twists and turns of Smith’s story will get you hooked despite the weak points, and Juan Gedeon’s incredible artwork will leave you pining for a world where this team could have brought Ghost Rider to life on screen. There is a shark on a motorcycle. There is a gorilla Ghost Racer.

Gedeon and colorist Tamra Bonvillain bring the other racers’ confrontation with Robbie to life in a way that will leave you breathless without seeming contrived or so frenetic it’s impossible to focus. Their action sequences would be right at home in any Hollywood blockbuster and perfectly fit the surreal, survivalist game show world Smith has created for these characters in their slice of Battleworld.

Regardless of its weak spots, Ghost Racers #3 is a dramatic and entertaining read that makes it worth a spot on your pull list. For All-New Ghost Rider fans, or fans of Smith’s work in general, you can easily pick this up without having to be up to date on any other Secret Wars titles. If you’re itching for something dramatic and action-packed addition to your summer reading, look no further than Ghost Racers #3.

Credit: DC Comics

Gotham Academy #9
Written by Brenden Fletcher and Becky Cloonan
Art by Karl Kerschl, Serge Lapointe and MSASSYK
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The slow-burning mystery of Gotham Academy finally ignites in this month’s Gotham Academy #9. Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher’s take on young Gotham has been a fun and delightfully eerie read so far, but this issue gives the overarching mystery surrounding Olive Silverlock’s origins a much-needed jump-start.

Part of the charm of Gotham Academy has been Cloonan and Fletcher’s ability to give classic gothic horror themes a quirky Gotham twist: poor Tristan, turned into something like a vampire by the Langstrom virus, and now this issue’s primary foe in the form of a werewolf who suffers from a similar ailment. The fun is the way these “scientific” iterations of vintage monsters coexist with the traditional lore. Olive, Maps, and their motley crew of fellow “meddling kids” dabble in occult solutions to extreme experiments gone awry in a story reminiscent of Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated or Thirteen Ghosts: fun and kid-friendly, with a more eldritch horror edge than some of the series’ lighter counterparts.

Karl Kerschl does an excellent job bringing that edge in his unsettling depiction of Calamity, a fire spirit and supervillain also known to residents of Gotham as Olive Silverlock’s mother before she was whisked away to Arkham Asylum. Though ‘her’ (we get no confirmation in this issue that this Calamity is, in fact, Olive’s mother) appearances are brief, Kerschl’s illustrations of her spindly fingers and stooping posture are enough to send a shiver down your spine at the very first glance. The look in Olive’s eyes as Calamity attempts to draw out the fire Olive seems to have inherited will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. This is a ‘young adult’ book, but neither Cloonan, Fletcher nor Kerschl write or illustrate these characters as if they, or the target audience, are too young to handle a good scare.

While the quality of previous issues has been high and consistent, the plot has been slow-moving, and Gotham Academy #9 appears to kickstart the story anew. This isn’t necessarily a book exclusively about Olive Silverlock, but her past and future seemed central to the plot in earlier issues. The opportunity to explore characters like Olive’s ex Kyle was an interesting change of pace, but seemed to slow the overarching story to a crawl. The new looming threat of Calamity and Olive’s newfound knowledge about her mother give the story a renewed focus, while still giving ancillary characters like fan-favorite Maps or the somewhat taciturn Pomeline a chance to shine.

Gotham Academy is a stellar title, and a refreshing “younger” addition to the Batman and Batman-adjacent family of comic books. Cloonan and Fletcher excel and writing relatable young characters with real flaws that make even someone as steeped in the supernatural as Olive feel like a young kid you could have gone to school with yourself. There are no mean girls or jocks or misunderstood heroines painted in broad strokes. The shifting relationship shown this issue between Olive and Pomeline (who could easily have taken a turn as an unredeemed Regina George) is a perfect example of the work Cloonan and Fletcher do to give each character depth and opportunities to grow and develop as the story progresses. If you’re a new reader, Gotham Academy #9 is not an issue you’ll want to jump in with, but it definitely stands out as the most compelling issue so far of Gotham Academy’s second arc.

Credit: Scott Kolins (Dark Horse Comics)

Adam.3 #1
Written and Illustrated by Scott Kolins
Lettering by Michael Heisler
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

There’s more than a little bit of Jack Kirby in Adam.3, one of Scott Kollins’ stated influences on his inventive new debut. Taking a leaf out of the likes of Kamandi, the first two chapters of "S.E.E.D.S." (short for Survival Enemy Epidemic Death Sacrifice) present us with a world that is simultaneously familiar to comic book readers, as well as being wholly unexpected in places as well.

On the surface, Kolins presents a straightforward jungle story of the might Adam, who reunites with his estranged son Beo on his ‘bornday’. As Adam’s wife expects their twins, and the (talking) animals gather in a tributary right out of The Lion King, the jealous Beo causes some minor havoc. The twist in the proverbial tale comes from this idyllic setting being constantly watched by a highly advanced satellite monitor, one that also seems to provide technology to the inhabitants and distinguish Adam’s world from our own.

One can’t fault the ambition of writer and artist Kolins, perhaps best known for his work on The Flash and Past Aways. Throwing us head first into this world he has created, he trusts the audience enough to immerse themselves in the sights and sounds, and it’s a rare treat to not have to deal with pages of exposition. To this end, Kolins has developed his own language notes for the natives. “Obvidense” stands in for “obviously,” and the aforementioned “bornday” for “birthday.” It’s a double-edged sword, for while it does undoubtedly draw us further into this world, it occasionally serves a barrier that inhibits the reading flow from one panel to the next. Perhaps it adds to the ‘alien’ quality of this world that isn’t quite like our own, yet it does occasionally seem incongruous with the soap-opera style interactions between Adam and his son.

The widescreen format has never been more appropriate than on this title, where Kolins really shows his Kirby influenced with the square-jawed (and equally square-fisted) figures. Making a terrific case for digital comic books viewed on as wide a screen as possible, the lush jungle backgrounds are jaw-dropping, more so because they are peppered with the bright blue highlights of technology. With the art, Kolins draws us into the world a little more slowly than he does with the narrative and language, bringing us a familiar set of Kipling’s jungle regulars at the start, before introducing less recognizable hybrids, and Adam’s wife, who is bathed in an unearthly golden glow, and using hitherto unseen science. The nightmarish visions Adam has of the world’s end are bathed in red, bookending the first and second parts of this issue, and distending his own gorgeous creations.

The unique approach to Adam.3 might not work all of the time, and is essentially a spin on a very traditional story, but it will undoubtedly have you thinking about it after you’ve put the book down. Kolins has created something new out of some clear influences, and it is undoubtedly a labor of love that has gone into producing it. There is enough here to warrant at least a second look, and a solid world to continue building upon.

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 Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Set in a bygone time of World War II, DC Comics Bombshells is another digital-first book that finally sees its first print edition. Similar to the women-centric Ame-Comi series, Marguerite Bennett and Marguerite Sauvage take some of DC's leading ladies and put them in this newly-created universe. Based off of the incredibly popular statues of the same name, Bombshells delivers both smart character moments and clever spins on your favorite heroines.

I think DC learned from what went wrong with how the Ame-Comi was presented, starting with the designs and leading into the storylines. The statues, designed by Ant Lucia, don't try to modernize the costumes, but gives these characters distinct character traits with their look. Kate Kane's A League of Their Own motif could be easily constructed by fans, much like the Batgirl of Burnside design or even Spider-Gwen, the costumes for the most part are easily constructible, which helps the reader gain a rapport with these superheroines.

The first issue collects the first three digital "issues" which ties together Batwoman, Wonder Woman, and Supergirl almost seamlessly. Bennett does her best to string this world together without it making it feel like an anthology series like Ame-Comi was. The Batwoman story is easily the strongest, as it establishes both Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer as a couple that want to make the city better, but both come from different sides of the law. The introduction of the book, where Batwoman saves Thomas and Martha Wayne, is a nice touch that keeps in check with Bat-mythos to a degree, but adds something to this universe.

Marguerite Sauvage is an up-and-comer that should have your full attention. She already has some fantastic variant covers from almost every major comic company, as well as been featured in both of the Big Two in the past year, and shows no signs of stopping. Her soft palette echoes the retro-sexy vibe of this world, from Kate's flame-like hair to Steve Trevor's trippy fever spell conjuring intense blues with an almost Warhol-inspired presentation. Sauvage's design for Wonder Woman in her Amazonian attire was brilliant as well, evoking classical mythology by covering one breast, while the exposed one still adorned her classic costume. Also, big props go to Sauvage for retooling how the pages are laid out in digital format, as when they are transferred over to traditional media, you wouldn't know otherwise. A book like this should be commended, not merely for it being an intelligent and well-crafted idea that came from just a line of statues, but because of who is behind it. Bombshells is a win for both female characters and female creators, and that double victory is well worth celebrating. I know that this creative team isn't for the long run and it'll be switched out, but it's absolutely off to a grand start.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Inhumans: Attilan Rising #4
Written by Charles Soule
Art by John Timms, Roberto Poggi and Frank D'Armata
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Over the past two years, Marvel has doubled down on its Inhumans franchise, in a move that many have said is to supplant mutantkind and to provide a newer, more corporate-friendly nation of powerhouses. Yet try as they might, even with heavyweights like Charles Soule and Joe Madueirera at the helm, this would-be superteam has been a bit of a nonstarter.

So why is an overlooked alternate history event tie-in somehow one of the best representations of the Inhumans that we've seen lately?

Perhaps it's because the chains of continuity have been discarded. Maybe it's because the silent Black Bolt finally has gotten a chance to become an active, charismatic leader. And maybe because after slogging through all the dull royal intrigue, Charles Soule finally has something deeper to say. Whatever the case, Inhumans: Attilan Rising has become a solid, even engaging read, and one that could potentially provide the cornerstone to saving this floundering franchise.

Part of what makes Inhumans: Attilan Rising such an improvement has to be Charles Soule doing away with Black Bolt's one defining characteristic - his silence. And that's an important thing - having a silent character might be cute for a supporting character (like fans of the monosyllabic Groot might attest), but it's difficult to understand why we (or the Inhuman royal family) should follow a guy who can't even emote. But here, Soule gives Black Bolt intelligence and even some sass, reminding me in certain ways of George Clooney in the Ocean's Eleven movies. He may be getting tortured by an Inhuman sadist, but Black Bolt never wavers - indeed, Soule gives him a great speech about power not just corrupting, but co-opting people into a system of great disparity and death. While the storyline may be Black Bolt telling Medusa why he doesn't buy into the Inhuman tradition of terrigenesis, Soule has actually given readers a lot to chew on for our own privileged, powerful world.

It also doesn't hurt that Soule has some excellent artistic collaborators with this book. Penciller John Timms is aided by some lush inks by Roberto Poggi, while colorist Frank D'Armata gives this book some real depth, even channeling Laura Martin with some intense purples during Black Bolt's interrogation. Timms' work reminds me of a cross between Jim Cheung and Thony Silas, relying on lots of sharp angles that only make the occasional smooth features all that much more pronounced. Timms makes much of this talk-heavy book look interesting, whether its Triton engaging in an undersea battle against Fin Fang Foom or Black Bolt giving Medusa a cocky grin.

With all this good potential, why not a higher score for this book? Right now, it's still only a start - while Soule has gone a long way towards rehabbing Black Bolt as a viable leader for readers to latch onto, the supporting characters still feel a little shallow, and the overall direction of this book still is up in the air. This is where the whole Secret Wars setting does Soule no favors, as he has to bounce the younger Inhumans to the different Battleworld realms and include an obligatory mention to Emperor Doom, which ultimately distracts from any deeper story at hand. But after watching the Inhumans struggle to find their footing after a hefty Marvel push, you can't help but feel heartened with Soule and company's latest effort. Maybe Attilan's best times are still ahead.

Credit: Sean Phillips (Image Comics)

The Fade Out #8
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser
Published by Image Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The Fade Out #8 draws the second act of this series to a close, as screenwriter Charlie Parish continues to discern the truth about actress Valeria Sommers’ murder. New elements are brought into the fold as a person that Charlie has forgotten about comes storming back into his life with information that may help him. Strong characters and evocative artwork anchor an issue that, in lesser hands, could have faded in the minds of readers.

Set on Halloween night, the primary set piece this issue is an extravagant Halloween party where Charlie is expecting to meet Tina, the woman who wrote him a mysterious note regarding Val’s murder. Charlie comes dressed as the Invisible Man, and artist Sean Phillips demonstrates his great figure work by making sure that Charlie’s unique head shape retains form under the wraps. Brubaker’s penchant for dialogue really shines here as Charlie is greeted by a number of figures who believe he’s the actor who played the role, and it’s fun watching each character react as they learn it’s Charlie under the wraps, as well as seeing who can recognize him with his costume on.

Brubaker’s characters have really come into their own by this point in the series, and their verbal tics have started to become familiar to readers. From the way that Earl Rath calls Charlie “Chuck,” to the way Dottie always seems to know more than everyone else, these are characters that have a shared history and that makes them all feel more three-dimensional. This is especially true for Charlie, who lumbers through the plot completely lost. A scene with Charlie and Maya Hansen reveals more about his past and his prejudices that further brings him to life for the reader.

Artist Sean Phillips and color artist Elizabeth Breitweiser do a fantastic job evoking film noir lighting in their work. There’s a great panel where Charlie sits in front of his desk, and the lighting from outside the window creates such a stark contrast that it feels as though the image might be in black-and-white. Even in the scenes that are well lit, such as the Halloween party, there’s a great use of shadow that adds tension to the work.

If there is one major criticism to lob at The Fade Out #8, it’s that it doesn’t really feel like the end to an arc. The cliffhanger here is a big one, but the rest of the issue doesn’t quite build up to it in the way one would want for the end of the arc. Instead, it feels more like the end to a second act, appropriate given the type of story this is and the way the trades are being advertised. This goes to show, however, that while the two mediums are oft-compared, there are some major storytelling differences between comics and film. Comics are built towards sequential stories, relying on cliffhanger endings and the build ups towards them. Films are meant to be consumed in one sitting, and so while shocks and twists are utilized, a film can move on without them. Ed Brubaker is well versed in not only his craft as a comic book writer, but in knowledge of films and filmmaking, so while I’m sure his choice of structure with The Fade Out is deliberate, I’m not sure it pays off entirely.

That being said, The Fade Out #8 is still a fantastic read, relying on Brubaker’s strong character work and the dark beauty of the artwork by Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser. The mystery of Valeria Sommers’ murder is still going strong, and if the upcoming third act can match the quality found here, than The Fade Out will make for a great tribute to the film noir of the ‘40s and ‘50s.

Pellet Review!

Credit: Marvel Comics

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It goes without saying that this book is nuts, a pun that’s not only obvious, but undoubtedly delivered in kind several times throughout this issue. The sheer audacity of Ryan North’s script mirrors Howard the Duck, in that Doreen and her companions are going toe-to-toe with Asgardians. For every bit of art Erica Henderson has ever delivered in her delightfully cartoony style, the introduction of Cat Thor (and Meowdin, The Allpawther) might just be the cat’s pajamas. Each issue of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a sensory overload, and this one is no exception. Major characters in Marvel Comics serve happily as background fodder, all of which is an excuse just to fit more insanity into every panel. Even the panels can scarcely contain it, with notes along the bottom margins. Yet the best thing about each issue is that there are happily few consequences, allowing us to simply go along for the ride.

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