Best Shots Reviews: GRAYSON #12, CAPTAIN MARVEL & CAROL CORPS #4, BATGIRL #44, More

Marvel September 2015 Solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Grayson #12
Written by Tom King
Plot by Tim Seeley and Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin, Hugo Petrus, Juan Castro and Jeromy Cox
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The prodigal son returns in Grayson #12, as Dick Grayson returns to the city that raised him for a sort of farewell tour. Grayson for a while now has been DC’s little title that could. What started as a slick spy drama starring DC’s most recognizable slice of beefcake has morphed into one of the company’s most consistently entertaining superhero yarns. #12 is just the latest example of this tonal shift, as it trades the super-espionage for a heartfelt family drama as Dick visits each member of the Bat-family before returning back to his duties at Spyral. Of course, this being Dick Grayson, the farewells are much more than mere farewells, as the creative team finally arms Grayson with the proper ammo he will need to take down Spryal from the inside once and for all.

Grayson #12, cleverly titled “A Fine Performance,” finds our titular cover boy finally revealing to the Bat-family that he left behind months ago that not only is he alive, but working deep undercover on the orders from the Batman himself. Writer Tom King, working off a plot co-scripted by Tim Seeley, plays each encounter honestly, and true to each character’s voice, despite Dick’s ulterior motives hiding just under the surface. First on Dick’s farewell tour of Gotham is, naturally, the amnesiac Bruce Wayne who thinks that Dick is a long-lost friend named Mr. Sparrow thanks to Alfred’s almost supernatural talent for stage makeup. This meeting, shockingly, is interrupted by Agent Zero, who gives Dick 24 hours to make his amends and return to work as an agent of Spryal. Yet clearly his time as a spy has rubbed off on him — Dick has a plan, and thus the wheels within wheels start to turn.

After seeing Bruce’s new status quo first-hand, Dick starts face the brothers and lover that he left behind and bestow upon them personal tokens that are much more than they appear. As stated before, King handles each of these scenes with a deft touch, allowing the emotions of the characters to take center stage as Dick delivers his monologues to each one. Tim and Jason are understandably angry at the deception, while Barbara is unsurprised that Dick asked “How high?” when Batman said to jump. Most adorably of all, however, is Damian’s reaction to seeing the best partner he ever had is alive and well, as is Dick’s reaction to seeing Damian back from beyond the grave for real. King doesn't just stop with emotional scripting however. Keeping in lock step with Grayson's spy story tone, the tokens of appreciations that Dick is giving away to his family hold more than just sentimental value; they are the key to finally gaining the upper hand again Spyral. Employing a trick seen all the back back in Grayson: Futures End #1, Dick's heartfelt speeches are meticulously worded to fit into the Cluemaster's Code, giving Tim, Jason, Barbara, and Damian their marching orders as well as a look into the still beating heart of Dick Grayson, their brother in arms. While Grayson #12 might lack for action, it more than makes up for it with fantastic character work and a cleverly scripted twist.

King’s script leans into the camaraderie of the Bat-family, but Mikel Janin, along with inkers Hugo Petrus, Juan Castro, and colorist Jeromy Cox, heightens the emotion of the script with a few interesting, history-filled splash pages. Janin’s kinetic and acid-tinged art style has been one of Grayson’s high points since the beginning of the series, and that same kineticism is alive and well in Grayson #12 in the scenes of Agent Zero attacking Wayne Manor as well as Dick and Barbara leaping off of a crane and flipping gracefully through the air. However, it is the scenes of Dick and his family meeting that make Grayson #12 really shine. Each scene is staged normally with the characters sharing the panel as they speak, but before and after they are book-ended by two fantastic collages. The first thing we see each time is a stark black page with the characters taking center stage as the only sources of color on the page, flanked by numerous speech bubbles of things they have said in titles past. Afterward, the page is flooded with a ghostly collage of the character’s history in the background as Dick and whomever he his speaking to dominate the foreground. It is such simple visual storytelling, but Janin, Petrus, Castro and Cox sell the absolute hell out it, showing that they are capable of much more than just trippy and visceral fight scenes.

Grayson #12may not be the most high-flying issue of the series to date, but it is an important one all the same. Armed with a sharp, pathos-filled script and a few pages of visual bombast from the art team, Grayson #12 is yet another winner in a long line of winners. Its funny to think that a book like Grayson, one that was met with wide-spread derision and doubt upon its announcement has now become one of DC’s most entertaining and innovative titles on shelves right now. Fingers crossed that Dick Grayson’s winning streak continues long into the months to come.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #4
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Thompson
Art by Laura Braga, Paolo Pantalena, and Lee Loughridge
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

What a way to go.

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #4 marks the end both of one of Secret Wars’ stronger tie-ins and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s time with Captain Marvel overall. In many ways, Carol Corps #4 is the perfect bittersweet farewell for the Carol Corps fandom, capturing the true and authentic spirit of both Carol Danvers and the passionate fan following DeConnick inspired despite its somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #4 is a strong, emotional issue, but leaves too many threads of what could have been a very intriguing plot unraveled to be a strong finish for one of Marvel’s better summer spin-offs.

It is a testament to DeConnick and Thompson’s talent, however, that they can bring so much life to an almost completely new cast of characters in such a brief run. In just four issues, DeConnick and Thompson gave us a Banshee Squadron we could love and fight for, not because this was a Captain Marvel title, but because they were headstrong and passionate characters with their own quirks and motivations that stood out in a cast of formidable characters. The finale issue stumbles not for any qualitative writing faults, but only because it felt like Thompson and DeConnick simply didn’t have enough time to flesh out Carol and the squad’s investigation of Doom’s motives in a way that serviced the mysteries introduced earlier in the series.

But Carol Corps #4 packs an emotional punch in its resolution of the Banshees’ story. At its heart, DeConnick and Thompson’s exploration of the Banshee Squadron captures the heart of the Captain Marvel that DeConnick has penned for the last three years. This is a story about what inspires Helen, Mackie, Jolene and Bee to follow Carol to literally the ends of the earth and sky to determine their place in the world. Higher, further, faster, more: we may not know where Hala Field’s Carol came from or what Doom’s intentions were for her, but in the end she and the Banshees found the strength to want more from their slice of Battleworld, to push further and higher in their quest for the truth.

It’s hard not to wish there was more time to spend learning Rhodey’s secrets, or to discover what the Baroness’ motives were in sending the Banshees after Rhodey’s ship. But is it worth it to follow this tale as an intriguing exploration of an alt-world Carol Corps? In Colonel Danvers’ own words, “hell yes.” Laura Braga and Paolo Pantalena deliver several Top Gun-worthy action sequences and dogfights in their incredible artwork, highlighted by a dramatic confrontation between Captain Marvel and this world’s Thor, Kit. Lee Loughridge’s colors have consistently given the title a nostalgic edge fitting for this slightly retro take on the Banshees, and the final panel of Carol and the Banshees rocketing through the clouds to finally discover what’s beyond the sky is breathtaking. The heart and soul poured into this title by the creative team makes it a must-read for Carol Corps diehards and any Carol Danvers fans.

At the end of the run, it’s hard not to wish for more. More issues, more plot, more answers. It’s disappointing to think we’ll never find out what the stars that formed Kit’s hammer look like, and the simmering dramatic tension between Carol and the Hala Field Baroness, Baroness Cochran, could easily have filled several more issues. But Thompson and DeConnick end the series on such a strong emotional note that the deficiencies in plot are easy to overlook. Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #4 is an exhilarating, emotional send-off to an intriguing tie-in, and a solid way to close the book on DeConnick’s Captain Marvel run.

Credit: DC Comics

Batgirl #44
Written by Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart
Art by Bengal and Serge Lapointe
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and guest artist Bengal unleash the beast in Batgirl #44, as the eternal D-lister Velvet Tiger makes her Burnside debut. Fletcher and Stewart continue to refine Barbara Gordon's colorful world whilst Bengal admirably puts his own spin on regular artist Babs Tarr's trademark style, but disrupted pacing and a flawed splash page blemish an otherwise excellent issue.

With the perpetrator behind last issue's spate of attacks revealed, and with animal activist Jo still missing, Batgirl's got Velvet Tiger in her sights. For all the care that Fletcher and Stewart put into building relatable and realistic relationships between the main players of Batgirl, they just can't restrain themselves when it comes to maniacal bad-guys. Much like Babs Tarr's motorcycling Jawbreakers or the controversial Dagger Type, Velvet Tiger is deliriously unhinged. With wild eyes that scream reckless abandon to the way she seems constantly coiled to pounce, Fletcher and Stewart's Velvet Tiger is an energetic take on an obscure and unremarkable villain.

Despite this issue's qualities, pacing takes a hit here. The intricacies of Velvet Tiger's exploits are explained both by herself and Barbara's crew in a way that dangerously borders on info-dumping. Fletcher and Stewart's dialogue isn't usually so expository, and there are a few pages where the story lags as Velvet Tiger's plans are laid out as bluntly as possible. Away from these weaker moments, Stewart and Fletcher's strengths lie in drama, as best exemplified by Batgirl's stern condemnation of Jeremy's collaboration with Velvet Tiger.

Thematically, contemporary reliance on technology has been something of a recurring motif for the Batgirl of Burnside, which continues here through Velvet Tiger's use of a hacking device to evade capture and loose cannon Frankie's Batbike trickery. It's all firmware, remote attacker and kernel panic here, but the definition of each technical term is easily gleaned from context. Using computer tech as a fundamental plot point is a tricky balancing act that can all too easily melt down into technobabble, but Fletcher and Stewart manage to keep things accessible and plausible enough.

Everyone's a detective in Burnside. Batgirl pinballs from place to place and person to person, with each new friend offering another piece of the Velvet Tiger puzzle. There's a sense of community to Fletcher, Stewart and Tarr's Batgirl that is rarely touched upon in modern superhero. She isn't the necessary evil that Batman is so often painted as, she's supportive and fair. The people of Burnside help her almost as much as she helps them; just another facet of what makes Fletcher and Cameron's Batgirl so unique.

Guest artist Bengal performs admirably here, honing Babs Tarr's frenetic and wide-eyed style with a finer line. A splash page at the issue's mid-point serves as the crack in Bengal's solid illustration, which depicts Batgirl triumphantly breaking through a plate-glass ceiling with wide eyes and a toothless expression of mild surprise. Her body language and the script both point to fury, but her face doesn't reflect that at all. Aside from that one niggle, Bengal's fluid and expressive hand ably visualizes Fletcher and Stewart's script. Layout-wise, Bengal mimics Babs Tarr's trademark action-packed panel shards, sometimes stuffing as many as 12 panels into a single sheet of paper.

Finishing off the issue's look, Bengal touches upon his own artwork with thin, barely perceptible lines, letting Serge Lapointe's soft palette of pastel blues and peach take centre stage. It's confident and striking stuff from a team who knows how to create an eye-catching page.

This clearly isn't the best issue of Stewart and Fletcher's memorable run. A fumbled splash page and stuttering pace hamper the overall issue, but a memorable baddie, rock-solid drama and a carefully chosen guest artist show that this creative team's dynamic take on Batgirl is still one of the best books that DC currently publishes.

Credit: David Mack (Dark Horse Comics)

Fight Club 2 #5
Written by Chuck Palahniuk
Art by Cameron Stewart and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

In the last issue of Fight Club 2, it seemed evident that Chuck Palahniuk was speaking directly to his audience, telling us that if anybody was going to punch his creation in the face then it would be him. It’s a self-destructive meta spiral that frequent readers of his works will undoubtedly be familiar with, yet for the first time in this otherwise superb series to date, it seems as though this public display of self-harm has hit a wall.

The issues of this limited series have so far been split between an incredibly fluid (albeit self-referential) journey through the familiar, and a chaotic series of panels that mimic the firing of synapses in the brain. This issue firmly falls within the latter camp, as Tyler comes to the realization that he no longer has a need for alter ego Sebastian. What follows is a disjointed series of vignettes where chaos reigns supreme, along with a fleeting examination of just how far Tyler Durden’s empire has expanded in the intervening years.

This fifth issue is somewhat problematic. It’s undeniably Fight Club at its core, and there are enough visual references to the original designed to keep the faithful satiated. Yet for a series that has been carefully constructing a mythology that is bigger than a single novel (or film), one that the author has compared to H.P. Lovecraft or Stephen King in its ambition, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Palahniuk is just spinning his wheels at the midpoint of this new saga. We’ve seen all of this before: the pills, the Project Chaos recruitment, the flashes of characters long-thought dead. Only a few issues ago in fact. When we do learn some new information, especially concerning the truth behind the prematurely aged child traveling with Marla, the impact of this is glanced over for some gratuitous (if amusing) man-boob. Indeed, Marla’s journey is rapidly becoming the far more interesting one, and we’re hopeful that loosening the shackles on the “boys-only club” leads to more stories around the female clubbers.

Cameron Stewart remains one of the chief reasons that the series has an overall consistency, and as beautiful as the art is, even he seems somewhat constrained by the narrative this month. The repeated symbolism of the pills and blood obscuring the truth behind both Tyler and Sebastian, suggesting that neither is their true face, is again a motif that Stewart has used to great effect in previous issues, although here it smacks of obligation. The slow-moving story this issue is given a rapid flow in the art, on the other hand, making a quick read of the lighter material. Yet for all of the giggling references of vandalized art (“Fun fact: Yes, it’s a dildo”), Stewart is the master of restraint, literally bathing the page in blood to mask the reality of the violence.

The halfway point to Fight Club 2 highlights one of the concerns some have had with the story since the beginning, in that receiving the information piecemeal diminishes the overall impact of the story. To date, the method of delivery has delivered us a gripping series of reasons to believe that Palahniuk has been the master of his own creation’s destiny, although this might be the first time that he shows some of the contempt he has for what that creation has become as well.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Fury #1
Written by David Walker
Art by Lee Ferguson and Jason Keith
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Just like any kind of art, comics can often be seen as a study of balance.

You have a lot to carry on your shoulders, whether its determining your dialogue versus your visual cues, your sense of pacing, how much weight to give each of your subplots — it’s a tricky business. It’s made all the trickier with David Walker and Lee Ferguson’s Fury #1, which attempts to balance time-travel, racism and father-son dynamics in the span of just 20 pages. Unfortunately, a balancing act like this requires a steady hand and a light touch, and without that, Walker’s end product comes off as uneven as it is ham-fisted.

I’ll start this review off with a bit of a spoiler warning, as this is this book might be better discussed by using specifics. Fury #1 starts off with a necessary evil, as Walker has to work double-time by introducing not one, but two Nick Furys — the current Nick Fury, Jr. watching a Ferguson-style incident in 2015, and his father, the original Nick Fury, stewing over the Watts Riots of 1965. Unfortunately, the execution here stumbles right out of the gate, as Walker and artist Lee Ferguson wind up splitting the first four pages vertically, interrupting the flow between these two eras, and muddling the set-up with cramped, tiny panels. You’ll likely have to take a couple of reads before you realize that Fury, Jr. is not only chasing down the Hate-Monger, but has wound up accidentally falling in a time machine to the year 1965. The Hate-Monger is out to change history — and Nick Fury, Jr. can only turn to one man for help: the man who will one day become his father.

This is where Walker winds up being conflicted about exactly what kind of story he wants to tell: a story about a long overdue reunion between father and son, and a story about the long trail of racism over the course of American history. Walker often bounces between both, but whereas the dynamic between the Furys is often philosophical and nuanced, his tackling of systemic racism feels like something pulled out of a Denny O’Neil comic book from the ‘70s, down to Fury, Jr. immediately being tackled by nightstick-happy cops who are all too quick to call him “boy,” and Dum Dum Dugan making a cringeworthy comment to Gabriel Jones — S.H.I.E.L.D.’s highest-profile African-American agent until Fury, Jr. came along — that “the Negro in America is getting a bum deal, ‘specially after all they been through.” Jones rightfully cuts the clueless Dugan off after he continues with the word “but,” but the sequence is about as subtle as a hammer, taking the easiest route over and over again. It’s also fairly representative of how much of the rest of this book reads. For example, once you get to this issue’s big twist — namely, that the Hate-Monger traveled back in time to travel to Honolulu to kill a four-year-old Barack Obama — it’s hard not to respond with a sigh and an eye roll. With a topic as ripe for discussion and unique perspectives as racism in the United States, this was the best twist that Walker could come up with?

It’s a shame, because I’d argue that the rest of Walker’s story shows off what a thoughtful writer he can be. He has a strong grasp of Marvel’s sci-fi-infused brand of spycraft, down to Fury, Jr. telling his father there’s very little he can say thanks to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s time displacement protocols. The best scene in the book, by far, is when the elder Fury winds up being the most emotional out of the two, as his future son basically writes off the deaths of the Watts Riots as simple history. “This is normal,” Fury, Jr. says sadly. “How it’s supposed to be.” It’s here that Walker succeeds in all of his ambitions, and I think he does so accidentally — to Fury, Jr., the people dying in Watts are ultimately part of some sort of cosmic balance, but to Fury, Sr., these are living, breathing people whose deaths cannot be ignored. This question about the ethics of time travel — what can be changed, what can’t — ultimately informs much of the father-son dynamic between the Furys. There’s a level of pragmatism that comes with being the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., and watching them discuss that shadowy moral calculus gives this book a nice shot in the arm throughout most of its middle sections.

While he’s hamstrung for his first few pages, artist Lee Ferguson provides some nice, if not particularly flashy visuals in this book. His use of shadow is probably his best asset, which enhances the drama of his pages, and also works to mask some occasionally inconsistent facial features. Ferguson’s at his best when his pages are given room to breathe — his double-page sequence of the Furys talking looks dynamic despite the talky circumstances, and the scenes with them watching the flames of Watts are particularly potent. However, there are pages where Walker throws way too many panels at Ferguson, including the eight-panel final sequence where Fury, Jr. defeats the Hate-Monger, while Fury, Sr. gets to uncover the would-be victim’s identity. While I might argue that Walker’s eyes might have been bigger than his stomach as far as his script goes, Ferguson definitely has taken this opportunity and run with it, showing that he’s definitely an artist on the rise. Colorist Jason Keith does spectacular work here, particularly with his sense of contrast, giving Fury, Sr.’s introductory scenes warmer colors while Fury, Jr. gets cooler blues and grays.

Comics are always a balancing act, and it’s never easy to pack together action and an emotional throughline within the confines of 20 pages. However, the bigger your premise, the easier it gets to take a shallow approach — and unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens with David Walker’s Fury #1. There is a story with some deep, deep potential here, whether it’s about a son learning what his father was really like back in the day (and maybe even teaching him a lesson along the way), or showing that racism in America has had so many important figures and events, any of which could have had lasting effects on our history. Instead, both topics feel short-changed in one capacity or another, making this comic a well-intentioned but groanworthy footnote in the histories of two of Marvel’s greatest spies.

Credit: DC Comics

We Are... Robin #4
Written by Lee Bermejo
Art by James Harvey, Diana Edea and Alex Jaffe
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“The choice is yours. You have to write the story you want to be told.”

The pillars of the Big Two are basic ideas about good and evil dressed up in spandex but they’re fully formed and concrete in their view of the world. The fact is that there is something that younger characters have that adult stalwarts like Wolverine and Captain America don’t and that’s the propensity to change.The younger characters in both universes can evolve and that allows readers to project onto them more or to take a little bit of nostalgia trip to some long-buried feelings. Up until now, however, We Are... Robin hadn’t completely lived up to its potential. Lee Bermejo tried to create realistic teenagers, but time and again his dialogue has betrayed him. With James Harvey on art duties this time around, however, Bermejo finally hits his stride, and We Are... Robin proves that its intentions are pure while reminding us that this whole teenage thing is a feeling.

I liked the work that Jorge Corona was doing on this title but James Harvey is a rare talent and his work oozes with style. Harvey, for the most part eschews traditional panel borders, packing every page with as much detail as possible. It makes sense. In the harried, hurried world of a teenager with a smartphone, the visual excess serves to underscore the sensory overload that Riko must be feeling in the wake of her friend’s death. Every page is a mish-mash of texts, Twitter replies and in-person interactions. Even Riko’s room exists as a shrine to her obsessions, with her walls plastered with Batman ephemera and her legs emblazoned with leggings bearing a repeated pattern of Bruce Timm’s Batman. But all the business allows Harvey to pull back quite effectively. When Bermejo needs to have a moment between two characters, Harvey is able to hone in on key colors to provide the backgrounds for panels and allow the characters to stand out.

And it’s more than just the coloring and the pencils. At some points, Harvey takes an almost graphic design approach, imbuing the pages with textures and symbols that bring Gotham City to life. It helps differentiate between Riko’s reading/remembering of Lord of the Flies and her reality as well as adds some dramatic tension to the books proceedings. Reading the book in Comixology’s Guided View gives the book a sense of danger as it shifts from Riko in her room to an image of a scared boy to suddenly a pig’s head on a stick. It’s jarring but effective.

The juxtaposition of the Lord of the Flies imagery helps drive Bermejo’s narrative home. Piggy’s dying words echo subtly throughout, “Which is better -- to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?... Which is better, law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up?” With Troy’s death hanging heavy on their heads, is the Robins’ mission worth it? Bermejo seems to think so. Borrowing a little bit more from Lord of the Flies, the book's big confrontation centers around a fire that’s meant to attract capes. It works, leading Riko to the rooftop bonfire before she gets a helping hand from a character she thought she might have conjured up in her mind. In the wake of her friend’s death, Riko has a lot to prove to herself. She grapples with feelings that we all have: Is anything I do worthwhile? Will I ever be remembered? Can I really make a difference? Or is everything just pointless? Is everything a futile attempt to justify my own existence? Am I really just being selfish? But Riko doesn’t let the self-doubt get to her and Bermejo in turn delivers one of his strongest scripts. Superheroes are symbols and Bermejo reminds us that while the people behind them may change, their intent remains the same and you need to earn your part in that legacy.

People tend write teenagers off. Their intentions are too idealistic. Their view of the world is too naive. Their ideas are half-baked. And while some of that may be true, where’s the joy in killing that kind of optimism? While the new Batman has already reprimanded the Robins for getting involved in Gotham’s affairs, it’s easy to understand why they wouldn’t listen and why Troy’s death would strengthen their resolve. Bermejo and Harvey deliver a compelling character piece that stands as a thesis for just about every teenaged hero that’s ever existed. To quote the great American Football, “All my teenage feelings/ and the meanings/ they seemed too see-through/To be true.” The Robins mission is simple: do good. That’s a concept that, understandably, might be too pure for adults to wrap their heads around. It’s a good reminder that as we grow older, we lose some of that idealism but if we didn’t we might be better for it.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Runaways #4
Written by Noelle Stevenson
Art by Sanford Greene, Noelle Stevenson and John Rauch
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It’s tough when the last issue of a run is its best. Noelle Stevenson does an excellent job tying a neat bow with the story of Runaways #4 and so perfectly captures the spirit of the original Runaways team that it’s hard not to read her Secret Wars tie-in as a strong audition for a longer reboot. Reimagining a series as beloved as Runaways in only four issues is a huge lift, but Stevenson manages to give each member of a large ensemble cast brief arcs of their own to a satisfying end in this month’s final issue.

Most Secret Wars tie-ins would benefit from an additional issue or two, and Runaways #4 is no different. Bucky Barnes stands out as a one of the bigger opportunities of the series; with so much time spent on the core band of runaways, we don’t have many opportunities to explore his background or motives as part of Doom’s Institute for Gifted Youth, and the sacrifices he makes towards the end of the issue ring hollow. His existence seems to serve Valeria’s arc more than his own, though her story is striking enough in this issue to make Bucky’s presence worthwhile.

Valeria is the stand-out of the series. Stevenson made excellent choices in pulling from established characters for her new iteration of runaways, but her choice for the series’ antagonist in Valeria Von Doom. Valeria is an unsettling and intense character in her own right many times, but Stevenson and artist Sanford Greene perfectly capture the balance between Valeria’s age and her role as Doom’s left-hand girl. Greene doesn’t attempt to illustrate her as if she’s a tiny young adult; she grins with a big gap-toothed smile and climbs on chairs, full of youthful energy. But Stevenson doesn’t shy away from hitting Valeria full-force with the horror of what she and her father have both created, and the way Greene illustrates a little girl facing these realizations will leave readers appropriately unsettled.

For all of the emotional intensity Stevenson brings to Runaways #4, she balances it with a heartfelt and youthful humor that feels authentic to such a young cast. Seeing Tandy tease Tyrone each time he gets called “general” feels like goofy sibling joking and takes the dramatic edge off the Runaways’ battle to take back the Institute and free their classmates from the pain and tragedy of their deadly final exam. The romances are sweet and don’t feel forced or overwrought, instead serving as side plots to showcase that these are teenagers who have forged close friendly or romantic bonds in the midst of a tumultuous fight for their freedom.

This is one of the better spin-off titles of Secret Wars and will make an excellent read as a trade in the future. Sanford Greene’s artwork is perfectly suited to a youthful title like this, and his work culminates in some striking panels in Runaways #4 (particularly the culmination of Bucky and Valeria’s tales). It would be easy to make a title like this “too fun” or carry over the drama of the main Secret Wars title in a way that doesn’t fit a “Breakfast Club meets Die Hard” teen-oriented tale. Stevenson may be known for somewhat lighter books like Lumberjanes, but Runaways #4 is a solid close to a great series that demonstrates that she could easily handle more action-oriented titles in the future.

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