Best Shots Reviews: BATMAN & ROBIN ETERNAL #1, SECRET WARS #6, PAPER GIRLS #1, More

"Paper Girls #1" cover by Cliff Chiang
Credit: Cliff Chiang (Image Comics)
Credit: DC Comics

Batman & Robin Eternal #1
Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Art by Tony Daniel, Sandu Florea and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Members of the Bat-Family, fear the wrath of Mother! After last year's well received weekly Batman Eternal, it seemed like a return to the format was inevitable. Devised by “showrunners” and modern-day Batman writing dream-team James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder, Batman & Robin Eternal promises to be a six-month epic of espionage and treachery. Dick Grayson's past as Robin collides into his future as Agent of Spyral in this first issue, an up-tempo conspiracy thriller wrapped up in the wrapper of the archetypical modern Batman title.

Snyder and Tynion IV handle the script for this opening issue, an exorbitantly busy comic book with artwork from another perennial Batman artist, Tony Daniel. Snyder and Tynion's script snaps from place to place at super-speed, rarely spending longer than two pages in one place. They've imbued Batman & Robin Eternal #1 with a real sense of the epic, weaving each ex-Robin's life into a tangled web of intrigue. Dialogue-wise, there's zero restraint here; with character after character spewing entire paragraphs on to the page. Despite the dialogue's lack of brevity, it's all important stuff: a combination of ruminating about their shared pasts, character-defining problem solving and desperately trying to band together in the face of the new threat. The dialogue itself is solidly written, there's just little regard for using less of it.

As with most of the recent Bat-books, Batman & Robin Eternal #1 stands firmly in Bruce Wayne's shadow. While last year's Batman Eternal certainly cast the spotlight on Bruce's allies, the man himself stood center-stage. Contrastingly, Bruce Wayne is a passive force here, spoken of but never seen outside of flashbacks. As a result of his absence, the tone here is less brooding, leaning into Dick Grayson's symbolic role as the light to Batman's darkness. Finally, the interior horror of Bruce Wayne rears its ugly head in its purest form for this issue's cliffhanger, disrupting the fragile balance of light and dark once more.

Plot-wise, there's a lot to establish here. Snyder and Tynion bounce from the present to the past, running concurrent stories set during different points of Grayson's life. It's a solid premise, allowing us to see the evolution Dick Grayson's made from plucky Robin to effortlessly cool super-spy. New villain Mother is suitably omnipotent, an unseen mastermind who employs an army of “Orphans” to try and take the team down. Naturally, there's more here than meets the eye, and Snyder and Tynion IV take us across the world and time to show the breadth of Mother's grand plan. It's absorbing stuff, simple enough to understand but not so complex as to become convoluted.

Tony Daniel's clean-cut and precise lines are in full force here, depicting a world of chiselled jaw and rippling muscle. However, in his lavish devotion to the classic superhero, Daniel's artwork lacks character. From Grayson to Red Hood to random guy on the street, everyone in Gotham is blessed with the same perfect features. Occasionally, Daniels work also takes a turn for the manga-styled, although he doesn't seem to strike a consistent balance between the two. This leaves a few pages looking disjointed from the issue's whole, almost as if another artist entirely was working behind the scenes.

Away from figures, Daniel's realistic and intricate pencil-work renders Gotham in all its cracked clarity. Daniel's artwork comes alive when it comes to the ravages of battle, depicting tiny cuts, nicks and scratches with real attention to detail. During action sequences, he shows off his knack for fluid fight choreography; a near-effortless dance of muscle memory with hard-hitting results. Daniel's action leans heavily into Grayson's origins as a trapeze artist, infusing balletic grace into his every movement.

All in all, Batman & Robin Eternal #1 is a comic book that just about manages to pull off its lofty ambitions. Snyder and Tynion IV have slaved over the plot to this tale of back-stabbing and secret history, although they take care to retain accessibility with a healthy dose of action and the obligatory cliff-hanger. Tony Daniel is Tony Daniel, offering up impossibly handsome faces atop detailed and architecturally solid cityscapes. Grayson fans will find a lot to love in Batman and Robin Eternal #1, as well as anyone who's ever had a cursory interest into the tangled web that Bruce Wayne weaves.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #1
Written by Dan Slott, Peter David, Robbie Thompson, Dennis Hopeless, Mike Costa and Christos Gage
Art by Giuseppe Camoncoli, Will Sliney, Stacey Lee, Javier Rodriguez, David Baldeon, Marte Gracia, Frank D'armata, Ian Herring, Jason Keith, Israel Silva, Paco Diaz, Cam Smith, Alvaro Lopez and Scott Hanna
Lettering by Cam Smith, Cory Petit, Travis Lanham and Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Welcome to the world wide web-head! Marvel's head Spidey guy Dan Slott ushers in a new age for Peter Parker with Amazing Spider-Man #1, a massive first issue that combines the standard issue alongside an Spidey-studded anthology of varying quality. Dan Slott's main feature will do nothing to sway over those immune to his light-hearted storytelling, but there's something for everyone in the issue's second half, which features everyone from Jessica Drew to the eponymous Peter Porker.

Slott has fun with the world he's built since he started his run on Spidey way back in 2010. Mockingbird and the ex-Prowler Hobie Brown make great partners for Peter, and Horizon Labs makes a welcome return for fans of Slott's earlier Spider-Man work. Slott's always had a knack for Spidey's trademark combination of quick-fire dad jokes and mid-battle tactical abilities. In costume, he's at his most eye-rolling and ingenious best here.

Visually, Giuseppe Camoncoli's take on the classic Spider-Suit is a triumph. This reviewer's always had a soft spot for under-arm webbing, and the neon green lighting (thanks to colorist Marte Gracia) emanating from Spidey's chest sigil and eye-holes are small but attractive additions that highlight this new Spidey's heavy emphasis on Bond-style big budget gadgetry.

Away from the costume redesign, Camoncoli's artwork is expressive and chunky; stuck half-way between a realistic take on the Marvel Universe and a more stylised one. It tells the story well enough, with the opening Spider-Mobile chase with Mockingbird really exciting readers.

But all these press conferences and worldwide fame for Peter Parker which might rub a few Marvel purists the wrong way. As a character, Spider-Man has always been defined by his status as the ultimate underdog. He had relatable stresses; getting to school on time, the health of elderly relatives, paying this month's rent. Although the character's been drifting further and further away from those initial worries for decades now, Slott's Parker here is almost unrecognisable out of costume. He's a suited-and-booted director of the board, which suits Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne, but not Peter Parker. Slott's aware of the fundamental disconnect (“Doesn't that just make you a poor man's Tony Stark?” asks one reporter), but that doesn't alter the execution of a concept that is, at its core, flawed.

Still, Slott maintains Peter's sense of responsibility through the moving act of opening the Uncle Ben Foundation and imposing a self-sacrificial salary limit on himself, keeping the character as grounded as he could be. Still, as grand as things might be for Peter Parker, you can’t help but feel that this position of power doesn't quite fit Marvel’s most put-upon hero.

Away from the main feature, Peter David and Will Sliney take the reins for Amazing Spider-Man #1's first back-up story. “The Last Time” sees Miguel O'Hara battle with his morals, sick to death of dealing with the criminal element. David's strip sets up the new Spider-Man 2099 ongoing solidly enough, even if Will Sliney's uncannily realistic artwork sometimes veers into the visually unappealing.

It's Silk's turn in the spotlight next, with the very descriptively titled “Breaking Bad”. There's some wonderfully expressive artwork from Stacey Lee here, boosted by Ian Herring's warm pastel color palette. Once again, it sets up the new ongoing decently, offering a few pages of fluid manga-inspired action; perfectly distilling the appeal of Silk into a a criminally short story.

Jessica Drew struggles with the trials of pregnancy in Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez' “What to Expect”, which is by far the wittiest of the bunch. Although Spider-Woman's pregnancy has been somewhat of a controversial new piece, Hopeless tackles it in a respectful and true to life way. By far the highlight of the entire issue, “What to Expect” is also a solid little story in its own right, more fleshed out than the glorified adverts of most of Amazing Spider-Man #1's back-end.

Meet the Web Warriors in “Church and (Quantum) State”, a high-concept premise spinning out from Spider-Verse. The Spectacular Spider-Hog, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Man Noir and co. travel along the web of worlds to solve that which threatens the multiverse. Writer Mike Costa pens another fun little tale here, involving the Carnage of 1602. It's more than enough to hype Web Warriors #1, which will be one to watch.

Finally, Dan Slott, Christos Gage and artist Paco Diaz tie the whole issue together with “The Cellar”. As the villains bested by the Spideys in each of their short stories are transported to Ryker's Island, a hideous plan helmed by the big bad from Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, Regent, is unveiled. Conceptually, tying each little story together was a wise choice that adds a little gravitas to stories that otherwise seemed disposable and inconsequential.

Amazing Spider-Man #1 is an absolute beast of comic book. At 60-odd pages, there's more than enough bang for your buck here, even if Slott's vision of Spider-Man ignores what makes one of Marvel's greatest great. Between the main feature and six short stories, there's something here for every Spidey fan, even it's not all perfect.

Credit: Cliff Chiang (Image Comics)

Paper Girls #1
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

"I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?"

That’s the last line of 1986’s Stand By Me, a film that embodies the best of ‘80s coming-of-age stories and it stands as something of a thesis for Bryan K. Vaughan’s latest foray into four-color fiction. He trades the spaceways and familial drama of Saga for something a little bit more ordinary: the streets of Cleveland and a group of girls on a paper route. Together with artist Cliff Chiang, Vaughan is able to do what he does best in this first issue, creating a world that feels lived in and real, one that we’re joining already in progress and that continues even after we’ve closed the cover. The set-up relies on a few recognizable tropes but when Vaughan veers away from them, the book really sings. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen enough in this issue to really dazzle us, but this is definitely the best start to a book that Vaughan has had since Saga.

There are a number of ways to establish that you’ve set a book in the ‘80s. Opening with a nightmare featuring the Devil and late Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe, probably isn’t the first one that springs to mind, but that’s where Vaughan decides to kick things off. It actually works really well, as it forces you to leave your preconceived notions about this book and its creators at the door. After the opening dose of weirdness, we’re thrust into the streets of suburban Cleveland and the mundanity of the morning paper route despite the relative danger of the morning after Halloween.

Whether it’s in the heart of suburbia or the psychedelic dreamworld, Vaughan never loses sight of his goal, though, and that’s to provide an interesting narrative that flows naturally through the characters rather than in spite of them. The four girls at the center of the book, Erin, Mac, Tiffany and KJ, all get a few moments for Vaughan to shed some light on their personalities and motivations. It’s this kind of character work that is the throughline in Vaughan’s work as far back his initial Big Two work. With characters and setting as a foundation, the plot feels organic and causes this oversized 40-page debut to fly by. It’s a more refined version of the kinds of things that we’re seeing Emi Lennox and Jeff Lemire do in Plutona or James Tynion IV in The Woods, both talented creators in their own right, but neither as singularly effective at creating meaningful characters as quickly as Vaughan does so often.

Cliff Chiang is a big reason that the world of this story feels so accurate. Working with a relatively small cast allows Chiang to give each one a very distinctive look that fits with the fashion of the times and suits the characters themselves. While there are a lot of ‘80s signifiers in the dialogue, Chiang is able to sprinkle them into the backgrounds of the art as well. It might seem insignificant but Chiang’s detail-oriented style does a lot to help envelop the reader in the world. Then when the script calls for more fantastic elements, they’re already grounded in a reality that we believe in. Chiang has the room to see how far he can stretch our suspension of disbelief but, for this issue at least, I think he plays it pretty safe. The sci-fi elements of the script creep in as the story progresses and the art lends itself to the scripts very deliberate pacing. Matthew Wilson’s colors deserve to be talked about as well. Wilson puts on a show, carefully selecting a palette that enhances our understanding of the book and sets the mood for the title. The coloring is never in your face, but when you hold the page back and look at how the art is composed in terms of both linework and pencilling, you realize that this is something exceptional.

The look of Paper Girls will draw you in. The familiar feel of the story will pique keep you turning the pages but the characters will get you hooked. Paper Girls is a book that’s indebted to what has come before it but arguably, you can say that about all of BKV’s best work. He’s a master of remixing stories that we take for granted as a known commodity. Time will tell if this book blows up to be a big a phenomenon as Saga or Y: The Last Man, but it certainly has the DNA to make people pay attention.

'Invincible Iron Man #1' preview
'Invincible Iron Man #1' preview
Credit: Marvel Comics

Invincible Iron Man #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Marquez and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Number one issues are firmly within Brian Michael Bendis’ wheelhouse. While the series that follows them are usually subjects of much debate, his #1's are consistently fun, sharp, and auspicious affairs that present the characters as their core selves as well as introducing more than a few interesting plot directions. And with Invincible Iron Man #1, Bendis strips away all of Tony Stark's extraneous narrative baggage, bringing him back to his grease-monkey roots with a new, slick suit but the same devil-may-care attitude. Bendis, along with his Ultimate Spider-Man art team of David Marquez and Justin Ponsor, deliver a fast-paced, character-centered first issue that brings Tony back to the basics while still presenting a few juicy glimpses at the future direction of the book.

After a brutal and teasing cold open starring Invincible Iron Man’s first big bad, Madame Masque, the first image we see of Tony Stark is him delivering a sharp inner monologue in his shop as he tinkers and toils away on his new suit. Framed in one of David Marquez’s patented two-page, twenty-four panel grids, Tony’s personality is laid bare by the images of a cluttered workbench as well as through Bendis’ thesis statement of who Tony is at this point. Worried that he is falling behind a world that is starting to match him, Tony realizes that he needs a new direction and to once again be so ahead of the curve that he can’t see the curve. The creative team uses this first splash page of sorts to plant a flag about who exactly Tony Stark is this time around; gone is the cocksure, yet broken man of the Kieron Gillen run and in his place is a more assured Stark, one who is making time for himself as well as putting himself out there as a man and as a hero.

This new personality shift is personified by Tony’s slick new armor; an armor that, instead of seeing modular add-ons depending on the mission, can shift itself thanks to being connected to Tony’s synapses. The armor, as always, has been and extention of Tony himself, and this new armor can shift itself depending on the exact situation, much like Tony can in everyday life. It's as adaptive as a tool as Tony is as a character. We don’t see much armor action this first issue, but David Marquez and Justin Ponsor still make sure that the armor, even when its stationary, cuts an impressive profile and when it does go, it goes all the way, creating a large sonic boom when Tony finally gets to take his new baby out for a spin. As I said before, Invincible Iron Man #1 pares down Tony to his base characterization to great effect, but one thing that will never change is that Tony will forever love his toys.

While the armor may be Invincible Iron Man #1‘s major selling point, it is Bendis’ character work and trademark fine-tuned scripting that makes this first issue soar, though having a slick as hell art team like David Marquez and Justin Ponsor rendering your script doesn’t hurt either. Bendis’ back to basics approach to Tony is exactly what the title needed after the heady ideas of the Gillen era and Bendis even introduces a worthy and intimidating foil for Stark in the form of Sri Lankan biophysicist Dr. Amara Perera. Much of Invincible Iron Man #1‘s page count is dedicated to their first date, one in which Tony does not make a total ass of himself, which should be counted a big win on its own. This debut issue only gives us the smallest taste of Amara as a character, as well as holding back on what exactly Whitney Frost is up to, but the character work along with Marquez’s slick pencils and Ponsors rich colors are more than enough to keep readers interest piqued for next month’s installment.

Brian Michael Bendis’ #1 issues might not ever be as forthcoming as fans would like, but dammed if they aren’t entertaining and teasing enough to leave audiences wanting more. Invincible Iron Man #1 gives readers just enough that they understand the tone of the book as well as Bendis’ direction with Tony, but not enough that the whole thing is laid at the feet of the readers. Bendis, Marquez, and Ponsor make Invincible Iron Man #1 Tony’s grand reintroduction into the Marvel solo title landscape with a character first debut that still keeps many of its cards still close to the chest. Who knows what the future holds for Ol’ Shellhead, but one thing is for sure, he is headed there in good hands.

Credit: DC Comics

Telos #1
Written by Jeff King
Art by Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz, Sean Parsons and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

For all of the misguided steps in Convergence, it was full of good ideas. There was, of course, the most enticing notion in the DC Universe since the 2011 reboot, with the realignment of the Infinite Earths timeline and the possibilities that presented for storytelling. Co-writer Jeff King also left us with several loose threads, including the true name of Telos and the fate of his character once he was set free by Brainiac. Yet it just doesn’t seem as though he is ready to follow-up on any of that just yet.

Telos represented something of an anti-villain in Convergence, and here he immediately comes out swinging as a justly angered and powerful victim of his former master Brainiac. An elongated power-play, one that occupies almost half the issue, establishes that all Telos wants to know is the whereabouts of his family. His anger is understandable, especially if you have read the events series that preceded this. However, as the first issue in a new series, it is difficult to find a hook to hang onto, short of the visceral pounding the titular character is giving Brainiac for the duration.

If Convergence suffered from a lack of coherence and a failure to reach its potential, then Telos appears to have inherited that problem in the debut issue of this limited series. It’s not as though King is devoid of ideas here, and indeed the opposite might be true. Yet unable to settle on one immediately, it meanders into exposition, rapidly shifting genres and presenting new characters entirely via a feature-length conversation between these two figures of ambiguous intent. Despite this, we never really get a sense of the character that we will presumably be spending the most of our time with, Brainiac’s offhand remark about how Telos’ family will receive him the only clue to new readers that there is anything going on beneath the surface of this very angry man.

Carlo Pagulayan’s art has a much wider scope, mirroring the look and feel of Convergence while dropping some impressive set pieces along the way. A two-page spread of Telos travelling across the cosmos is comparable to the bigger multiversal pieces found in the events. Yet much of his art is hamstrung by having very simple and repetitive set-ups of punching, standing, and talking.

The debut issue of Telos feels like an extended prologue to the series it actually kicks off at best, or a muddled collection of half-finished thoughts at worst. Telos has been imbued with the ability to travel through all of space and time, has been initially tasked with what appears to have all the makings of a heist story. There’s still a long way to go, but it’s hard not to feel disappointed that the promise of the DC You and this intriguing character has so far yielded something less than the sum of its parts.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Secret Wars #6
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina
Lettering by Chis Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. But whoever said that clearly never read a Marvel event book.

It's been nearly two months since the last issue of Secret Wars, and unfortunately, Jonathan Hickman doesn't hit the ground running with his return. This comic still feels as cerebral and inaccessible as before, and while Marvel's surviving heroes inch their way closer towards dethroning Doom, it's difficult to say that this book has been worth the wait.

People have compared Secret Wars to DC's 2008 epic Final Crisis, and structurally and tonally, they wouldn't be far off the mark. Like Grant Morrison before him, Hickman is exploring a world where evil won, with a huge cast of heroes and villains scrambling to find their place in the aftermath. But also like Morrison, Hickman often falls prey to self-indulgence, as he assumes readers will care about his characters as much as he does. Valeria Von Doom has a crisis of faith about her father, Reed Richards debates morality with his Ultimate universe counterpart, and Namor and the Black Panther put aside their rivalry in the face of a weapon that could even humble Doom himself. On paper, any of these could be interesting, but Hickman bounces between these dialogue-heavy subplots so quickly that it's difficult to really feel much of anything about this story.

Ironically, despite being unceremoniously pilloried at the box office and cancelled in their own book, it's Hickman's take on the Fantastic Four that happens to be this book's strong suit. Hickman's revised origin of the FF - a Fantastic Four that had Dr. Franklin Storm as its moral compass rather than Reed Richards - shows why Sue would be so devoted to her worst enemy, and Doom's punishment for Johnny and Ben both feel poetic and cruel. "God needed someone to keep the nightmares out," Ben says, now the gigantic rocky consciousness of the Shield. Thanos gives him one of the most thought-provoking responses of the entire arc: "Your god put you here to keep you out of the way. Because he fears you." Taking Doctor Doom out of the equation, it's a powerfully subversive question for any theologist.

What's become an unfortunate trend in this book, however, is that Hickman has gotten so caught up in his heady dialogue that he doesn't give his artists a ton to do. Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina are reminding me more and more of Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove in 1602, but they're given page after page after page of people just talking with one another. The most dramatic scenes in the book are when Ribic is actually allowed to play with some larger-than-life concepts, such as the gigantic, shape-shifting Ben Grimm, or watching Namor and T'Challa as they sneak through Steven Strange's sanctum. That said, while Ribic is great with unlocking mood (largely due to Svorcina's colors), his sense of emotion still needs some fine-tuning, particularly with a weirdly over-the-top reaction shot of the Black Panther.

They say war is hell, and I'm sure writing an event comic book is no picnic, either. Secret Wars is not only in danger of losing its momentum due to its uneven publishing schedule, but Hickman's ultra-dense plotting isn't winning him any converts, either. For a book that's supposed to be about bringing together the best eras of Marvel's storied publishing line, there is so much focus on dour characters, robbing this series of its energy and its promise. One would hope that Hickman could score a victory with his final two issues, but with much of Marvel's publishing line already beginning their post-event relaunches, Secret Wars might turn into yesterday's news.

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