Best Shots Reviews: CAPTAIN MARVEL & CAROL CORPS #4, WE ARE ROBIN #4, INHUMANS: ATTILAN RISING #5, More

DC September 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
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
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Stories are often about the journey rather than the conclusion and Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #4 exemplifies this idea. Serving not only as the finale to this Secret Wars tie-in, this is also the capstone to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run on Captain Marvel. Thankfully, Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #4 is able to meet expectations by focusing on Carol’s character and bringing some emotion to the proceedings.

The issue primarily focuses on the battle between Captain Marvel’s team of pilots and the Thor Corps, who have been told to bring in Carol Danvers and James Rhodes for violating several of the terms of Battleworld. Writers Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Thompson use this opportunity to create some humor based off of Carol’s expectations of the Thors, namely that they are all vikings and not always the best at recognizing strategy. What Carol doesn’t count on, however, is that one of the Thors leading the attack is her friend and protégé, Kit.

It is in this interaction that Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #4 really takes off. The face-off between Kit and Carol is an emotional one for readers who have followed DeConnick’s run on Captain Marvel since the beginning. Even though these are not the main-universe versions of the characters, the set up in the debut established that they had a similar relationship and so seeing them come to blows here makes for an entertaining read. However, this fight likely won’t carry the same weight for those who have only started reading this run during the Secret Wars portion. Kit wasn’t really given a lot of development prior to her turn here, so the impact is lessened.

The fight itself, however, is incredibly fun to read thanks to the art by Laura Braga and Paolo Pantalena. The dynamic poses that Carol and Kit take in their brawl really convey a sense of power. These are bruisers, not finesse players, and the artwork reflects that. Braga and Pantalena take over for David Lopez in this final issue, but their styles are similar enough that the change isn’t jarring. The shuffling in artists is also mitigated by Lee Loughridge remaining as colorist, with his distinctive golden hues maintaining a cohesive look throughout this issue and the series at large.

If the artwork does suffer anywhere, it is in the dogfight towards the beginning of the issue. The previous chapter contained some truly impressive pages by David Lopez, and so it’s unfortunate that the aerial combat in Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #4 never quite attains the same feeling of motion. Braga and Pantalena focus more of their artwork on the characters within the combat, and while that alleviates this problem, the fight between Carol’s squadron and the Thors never quite hits the mark.

Fortunately, Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #4 ends on a high note, touching not only on some of the unanswered questions Carol had about Battleworld, but also giving new meaning to this series’ motto. It’s a powerful ending, made more affecting by the heartfelt letter from Kelly Sue DeConnick at the end of the issue. The issue, like the mini-series, has some bumps, but Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #4 makes for an emotionally satisfying end to a series that always looked up to the stars.

Credit: DC Comics

We Are Robin #4
Written by Lee Bermejo
Art by James Harvey, Diane Egea and Alex Jaffe
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Starting a new series is always a tricky business, particularly when you're starting a character's storyline from scratch. There's a learning curve, just like when you're raising a kid, as you watch them slowly start to develop into something special.

And then you turn around, and suddenly they're all grown up.

With a new artist and a more focused, somber status quo, We Are Robin has suddenly become a brand new book. In an era where DC Comics have leaned more towards the hyper-rendered, action-packed artwork inspired by Jim Lee and the Kubert brothers, Lee Bermejo and James Harvey have put together a single issue that seems to evoke the sort of eclectic, pop art style of David Aja or Michel Fiffe. Combined with a special cameo from an increasingly popular member of the Bat-Family, and this issue proves that the fourth time is the charm.

One of the bigger critiques of We Are Robin's previous issues was the fact that Lee Bermejo's gang of teenage Robins felt too interchangeable, lacking the sort of personality or focus to really get us invested. The idea of a gang of teen Robins felt a little too similar to bygone ideas, ranging from Bruce's Bat-Boy gang in The Dark Knight Returns to the team of youthful misfits in The Movement. Turning the mantle of the Bat into a youth movement was a revoluntionary concept 30 years ago, but where was that spirit of innovation and newness here?

For those who had been following this series, ask and ye shall receive. Following the climax of the third issue, where "Robin" Troy Walker is killed in a subway bombing, Bermejo has brought a renewed focus and style to his story. Instead of overwhelming readers with an overlarge cast, Bermejo instead focuses on Riko Sheridan, who fits in with an increasingly large archetype of Batman fangirls ranging from Harper Row to Maps Mizoguchi. But where we see Riko differ from Harper and Maps is that she is a girl in mourning, as she is learning first-hand that capes and cowls are not a game. It's a smart concept, and one that Bermejo actually approaches with a decent amount of subtlety - we don't see Riko outwardly angsting about Troy's death, but instead she sulks, Tweets, reads, and eventually takes to the rooftops to clear her head. Whereas these characters felt like ciphers before, Bermejo has suddenly crystalized their characterization through the lens of this shared tragedy.

But the real victory here is the artwork. James Harvey is a revelation, and if DC knows what's good for them, they'll lock him down on a book before he can get poached like Russell Dauterman. From the first double-page sequence featuring a chaotic high school featuring gruff cops manhandling students through metal detectors, Harvey's layouts are jam-packed with detail, and he and Alex Jaffe's colorwork straddles the line between graffiti and Roy Lichtenstein-era pop art. Every page in this book is bright and bold and complex, and honestly, even if you aren't reading the Tweet captions that Bermejo is throwing in there, you'll still want to drink in every bit of nuance that Harvey's throwing in here. With his powerful usage of reds, oranges and blacks, you'll likely enjoy Harvey's depiction of The Lord of the Flies far more than you will Riko's perfunctory fight against a gang of social media-hungry wannabees. Indeed, the best compliment I can give this book is that a cameo featuring Batgirl isn't even close to the most memorable thing going on here.

While DC Comics will always go heavy on Batman books, you couldn't help but feel that we were in a period of supersaturation for the Dark Knight, with more than a dozen Bat-family titles going on at any one time. It's easy to get lost in the mix, and I feel that in many ways, that's what's happened with We Are Robin, especially with the already-fresh inclusions of characters like Harper Row and Stephanie Brown. Sometimes it takes a real shake-up to get someone's attention, and in that regard, We Are Robin #4 has definitely earned readers' respect. They might be inexperienced, and they might be hurting, but in the hands of Bermejo and Harvey, at the end of the day, the kids are all right.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Inhumans: Attilan Rising #5
Written by Charles Soule
Art by John Timms, Roberto Poggi, and Frank D’Armata
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

While Inhumans: Attilan Rising started as a story about insurrection and the fragile empire of the Inhumans, it has ended looking more like an episode of The Twilight Zone. After a breathless build up to Black Bolt and Medusa finally working together to shake off the yolk of Doctor Doom, writer Charles Soule yanks the rug out from under his characters and readers with a bewildering twist. Getting to this point was entertaining enough, thanks to Soule’s interesting take on the Inhumans of Battleworld and their allies, but the final pages of this book renders all the fun up until this point inert and even a bit macabre.

Though the final hard right turn was always Inhumans: Attilan Rising’s final card to play, the journey to get there in this final issue is still thrilling to behold. Charles Soule, the new caretaker of the Inhumans side of the Marvel universe shifts quickly into his endgame as Medusa and Black Bolt finally present a united front in order to stand against Doom and his machinations. Though the final twist gives their efforts a certain swimming-against-the-current feel, it is still great to see Battleworld’s version of Marvel’s royal couple standing together in the face of a literal god. Less great however is how the rest of the Inhuman crew get the short shrift as the story shifts focus to mainly Black Bolt and Medusa, while the rest of the characters are treated a lot like cannon fodder. Though the tough talking, trenchcoated Ghost Rider from the first issue returns and an Inhuman loyalist version of Kamala Khan receives a fun cameo, reading Inhumans: Attilan Rising #5 you can’t help but feel that these characters deserved a bit more to do even before Doom snaps his fingers and begins the grand experiment all over again.

This twist, employed in the final pages as an inverse of the first scene in the debut issue, makes Inhumans: Attilan Rising #5 possibly one of the most nihilistic Secret Wars tie-ins, aside from Shield. This entire series has shown us Medusa becoming aware of how her people have been manipulated and controlled by Doom since day one and this finale finally brings her into the fray proper, but even for all their efforts, Doom brings their insurrection to an end with a mere snap of a finger. Its a heartbreaking ending for a group of characters that have been defined by their living on the fringe and brings their entry into the Battleworld canon to an unexpected and crushing end.

Though their fight may be in vain, Inhumans: Attilan Rising #5 still sports some fantastic Terry Dodson-like artwork from John Timms, along with inker Roberto Poggi and colorist Frank D’Armata. Aided by the heavy inks of Poggi, Timms’ pages lean heavily on moody reaction shots of the Inhuman royal family and their subjects, accentuated by the issue’s sporadic action beats. These action beats are where D’Armata shines. Most of the action beats in Inhumans: Attilan Rising #5 concern some sort of energy attack, all leading to Black Bolt finally exposing himself to the terrigen mists and becoming the regal screamer we all know. D’Armata covers the entire issue in rich colors, but the random energy attacks, fire breathing, and Lockjaw teleportations give this finale an injection of crackling neon that sets it apart from the vibrantly colored issues that came before it.

Inhumans: Attilan Rising #5 may be a bummer of a finale, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. As the Inhumans are poised to finally take their place among the A-list of the Marvel Universe, Charles Soule, John Timms, Robert Poggi, and Frank D’Armata give us the Black Mirror version of an Inhumans story and largely, it works. While other Secret Wars stories are having fun with their respective characters and storylines, Inhumans: Attilan Rising showed us kings and queens can and will fall in the face of an malevolent god.

Credit: Darby Pop

Side-Kicked #1
Written by Russell Brettholtz
Art by Miguel Mendonça, Bong Dazo, Glauber Matos, Rick Ketcham and Sara Machajewski
Lettering by HdE
Published by Darby Pop
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The superhero genre has been remixed, rebooted, deconstructed and spun-off so many times over the decades that every few years we begin to wonder how far the elastic can stretch before it snaps back on itself. Just last year, J. Michael Straczynski took a darkly comic look at the long-suffering second stringers in Sidekick, while Marvel flipped the script on henchmen only a month ago in Hank Johnson, Agent of HYDRA. Yet writer Russell Brettholtz aims to show there is still some life left in labor law, with a fun twist that might result in the unionizing of sidekicks.

Side-Kicked immediately grabs our attention as Richard (a.k.a. Phantasm), a sidekick to Chicago hero Mr. Marvelous, holds a gun to his head contemplating suicide. Dumped by his fiancée, and fed-up with his lot in life, a few drinks with fellow sidekicks fail to cheer him up. Each is suffering a lack of respect from their hero partners, with only Dan (a.k.a. Mustang) beloved by the city even more than the hero Captain Celerity. When Dan’s popularity causes Celerity to fire him from the job, Richard decides that it’s time for action: industrial action.

One of the motifs that Brettholtz plays with is the idea that almost all of the superheroes of the city are arrogant and dismissive to their counterparts. While not a new concept, it’s a refreshingly frank response to some of the typical criticisms superheroes receive in the mainstream. Phantasm suggests that Mr. Marvelous’ showboating puts civilians in unnecessary danger, an incredibly topical point given the recent devastation caused by comic book counterparts on the silver screen, and is verbally slapped down for it. Treating superheroes as territorial celebrities or as an analogy for fame is the kind of stuff that Mark Millar and Grant Morrison have played with frequently, but here it’s also a nice piece of commentary on the ‘one-percenters’ and worker rights without being heavy-handed. It also helps that Brettholtz’s deadpan comedy allows few breaks for the sidekicks throughout, tapping into the down-on-their-luck wave (think Hawkeye or Ant-Man) that has proven to be a winning formula in the last few years.

Artists Miguel Mendonça and Bong Dazo are no strangers to reflective comic books, having recently worked on the Zenescope Grimm Fairy Tales and Marvel’s Deadpool respectively. It’s a clean and neo-classic style of comic book art, using repetition to hammer home some of the visual puns in the book. The aforementioned suicide attempt sets the tone, juxtaposing the depressed Richard with flashbacks to his fiancée leaving him in a simple but effective layout.

While the real crux of the forward momentum doesn’t come until the final page, Brettholtz neatly lays out his world in this opening issue. Indeed, that the signal for the coming conflict doesn’t arrive until late in the piece is a positive sign that there is much more to tell in this engaging reflection on superheroics. The series is worth a look if you are keen to venture outside the mainstream capes.

Credit: Comixtribe

Exit Generation #1
Written by Sam Read
Art by Caio Oliveira
Letters by Colin Bell
Published by ComixTribe
Review by Jeff Marsick
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

In 2035, the hope of the human race lies in E.X.I.T., or Extraction by Interstellar Transport, which is essentially a mass evacuation of 95% of the planet. Where are they going? Unknown, other than anywhere but here. Fast-forward twenty years and the world’s a pretty great place: no wars anymore, no conflict, plenty of space, and happiness all around. For Jack, a young man whose father was on one of the outbound “arks” but whose mother was one of the five percenters left behind with him in her belly, this new idyllic existence is boring, which explains his fascination with old noir flicks and the oeuvre of John Woo. As the old saw goes, be careful what you wish for, and by the end of the issue, Jack and his dutiful Muslim friend, Mo, have their lives upturned.

I was really looking forward to this book, given the terrific script that writer Sam Read wrote for ComixTribe’s Find, and while I don’t think this is as strong as that first one, it’s still a portent of great promise in Sam Read as a writer. For instance, the opening six-page scene that sets up E.X.I.T. and executes it over ten years is in itself a master class in delivering an introduction where simplicity rules. Read also does dialogue really well, and it helps that he’s a skinflint with words, only delivering what is necessary and never letting characters fall victim to delivering long discourse for the sake of spoon-feeding the reader with information. A great scene is a three-pager between Jack and Mo just hanging out, an organic and believable exchange between two friends where we learn a lot about Jack and why he longs for some action in his life. But at the same time, we can appreciate Mo’s bristling at his friend’s apparent ignorance for what his family has had to endure for Earth to achieve paradise. While the writing is certainly laudable, Read’s primary strength is that he does what great comic book writers do: let the art tell the story.

To that end, Caio Oliveira’s style works well with the story, with a sparseness that allows the action and characters to dominate the panels, which are often just characters sans background details. This serves to keep the focus where it should be: on the characters. Again, that opening scene is terrific visual storytelling that does not waste any space and is only marred by spaceship designs that I find curiously campy. The juxtaposition between the arks in space and life back here on Earth are well done, but nothing rends the heart so much as the realization that dawns simultaneously on Jack’s parents in two panels side by side. Later, as the issue’s final cliffhanger rolls out, Oliveira offers a glimpse of what he can do if he went with a more serious look for his technology, and I hope we get more of that in future issues. Ruth Redmond’s colors could easily overpower the pencils, but the whole book is somewhat subdued in the palette, restrained enough to afford a great synergy between pencils and colors so that the fore doesn’t disappear against the background and mire the pacing in obfuscation.

While the unanswered questions are intriguing enough for me to want to return for the next chapter, the book feels at times like it’s trying to find a tone by switching from serious in some places to a little B-movie silly in others. Still, it’s a fun book and a great read by a terrific writer and artist combination. If you’re reading Saga, then you’ll want to add this to your list, too.

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