Best Shots Reviews: SPIDER-GWEN #1, STAR WARS: SHATTERED EMPIRE #3, LOIS & CLARK #1, More

"Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire #3" variant by Julian Totino Tedesco
Credit: Julian Totino Tedesco (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Robbi Rodriguez (Marvel Comics)

Radioactive Spider-Gwen #1
Written by Jason Latour
Art by Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Kelly Richards
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

As Marvel enters its second week of its "All-New, All-Different" initiative, Radioactive Spider-Gwen stands as the first of its female-fronted solo titles. Having already amassed a rather impressive fan base and with a costume that is fast becoming iconic, hopes surrounding Radioactive Spider-Gwen #1 are high. Thankfully, it does not disappoint. With amazing artwork and a script that is as jam packed with quips as it is with heart, Radioactive Spider-Gwen #1 is a great start to what looks to be a promising series.

Readers who are not yet familiar with Spider-Gwen or the alternate universe from which she hails may feel a little disorientated at first. However the creative team do a wonderful job of filling in any blanks without relying on large dumps of exposition that would slow the pace of what is an otherwise dynamic narrative. Underneath all those spider-powers, Gwen is a likeable, everygirl type character, and it is easy to see why readers find her so relatable.

Using humor and charm, Jason Latour has created a story that ties together family drama, questions of identity, and slice of life style goings-on with more traditional superhero book subject matter such as issues of justice, vigilantism and the consequences of ones super powered actions. Not unlike the various other spider-themed heroes on Marvel’s roster, Radioactive Spider-Gwen is no stranger to the quip and from her first dream-addled line of dialogue – she wants to wear pizzas to school – Gwen is an absolute delight. Although the supporting cast is currently somewhat limited, the introduction of a new character on the final page should have the dual effect of leaving readers wanting more while promising a change of direction for the next issue.

Through the use of varying line weights, Robbi Rodriguez has been able to make Radioactive Spider-Gwen appear both delicate and robust. Rodriguez has achieved a real sense of movement in this book and the addition of speed lines adds to the frenetic nature of the chase and fight scenes. With posture like a gymnast and a mask that covers her entire face, it is amazing how expressive Rodriguez is able to make Gwen with only her eyes to manipulate – the way her eyes narrow during her final fight, for example, manages to convey both concentration and anger.

Rico Renzi’s colors, meanwhile, are incredible. The use of predominantly flat colors makes the book look and feel fresh and vibrant, and the action scenes feel so much more in your face as a result. Renzi’s multi-tonal neon palettes change as scenes progress and are not only eye-catching and energetic but serve as a useful tool, especially during Gwen’s flashbacks to her relationship with Peter Parker.

Fun, fast-paced, and just lovely to look at, Radioactive Spider-Gwen will definitely appeal to fans of fellow spider-verse heroine Silk as well as titles such as The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Batgirl. This is a strong offering from Marvel’s "All-New, All-Different" lineup, and a solid introduction to one of their female-fronted titles.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire #3
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Marco Checchetto, Angel Unzueta and Andres Mossa
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Marvel’s grand Star Wars experiment can now be comfortably called a success. While Jason Aaron’s main Star Wars title brings the swashbuckling back to a galaxy far, far away and Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader revels in the dark side, it is Greg Rucka’s Shattered Empire that gives diehard fans the clearest hints at what they can expect from the saga’s newest installment. The series’ penultimate issue finds our leads Shara Bey and Kes Dameron fighting the good fight against a fractured Empire aided by Rucka’s deft hand at action plotting and characterization. Along with some explosive artwork from Marco Checchetto, Angel Unzueta and Andres Mossa, Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire #3 whets the appetites of Star Wars fans young and old with a prequel story that has equal parts action and heart.

Split up like a well-timed two-pronged assault, Shattered Empire #3 details Shara and Kes’ respective missions to deal the final blows to a reeling Galactic Empire. While Kes and Han Solo lead the Pathfinders' assault on an Imperial black site in the Outer Rim, it is Shara’s mission as Princess Leia’s escort that provides the issue its juiciest plot to date. After we learned last month that the Emperor’s final wish was to have his homeworld of Naboo scoured, Greg Rucka kicks Shattered Empire into high gear as three kickass ladies take up arms to protect the planet. You don’t need me to tell you that Rucka is a deft hand at writing strong female protagonists, but his handling of Princess Leia is exactly what we should have gotten more of during Mark Waid’s too-short Princess Leia miniseries. Rucka’s Leia is quick to action, decisive, and yet still capable of deep wells of emotional intelligence, amplified by her Force sensitivity, which Rucka slyly hints at with just one well-placed cameo from beyond the grave.

As the Imperials alter the weather in order to crack the planet in half, Shara, Leia and Naboo’s combat-certified new Queen leap into action with a few mothballed starfighters, standing against the united might of a Star Destroyer and all its fury. While Rucka keeps the action rolling on both fronts, his interactions between the three women are a delight to read as they banter and hold their own against the Empire with no illusions that they are guaranteed to make it back alive. They are simply doing their duty, no matter the outcome. Rucka’s characterization of both Shara and Kes give readers a pretty clear sense of what to expect from The Force Awaken’s new hero, Poe Dameron, just by showing exactly what kind of people raised him. Heroes beget heroes, and Shattered Empire’s leads are heroes in the truest sense.

Much like the plot, the artwork is split in two as well with Marco Checchetto’s rough-hewn style rendering the assault on the black site while the smooth, Stefano Caselli-like pencils of Angel Unzueta handles the action on Naboo. Tying both sets of pencils together are the rich colors of Andres Mossa who adapts to both artists’ styles with seemingly little to no effort. The artistic split of Shattered Empire #3 gives it a distinct duality that separates the rough and tumble mission of the Pathfinders and the smooth and fast paced assault of Naboo clearly. The two artists’ styles also perfectly fit the tone of both the set pieces that they handle with Checcetto’s sketchy pencils adding to the chaos of the assault, while Unzueta’s pencils lend themselves keenly to the high-flying orbital dogfight.

Fans have been scrambling for even the tiniest hints of what The Force Awakens has in store for audiences, but they need look no further than Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire #3. Shattered Empire is the prequel that we expected from the actual prequels. It hits all the right notes of a classic Star Wars yarn; selfless heroes, insurmountable odds, and rousing set pieces that aim to excite and enrich the characters instead of just offering empty spectacle. While Marvel has been nailing the original trilogy tales, Greg Rucka, Marco Checcetto, Angel Unzueta and Andres Mossa send us into the theater to watch the new adventures on a high note.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman: Lois and Clark #1
Written by Dan Jurgens
Art by Lee Weeks, Scott Hanna and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Joshua Cozine and Troy Peteri
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

They say that what's considered "classic" is really just the things people consumed as a child. And with that in mind, perhaps it's nostalgia that powers Superman: Lois and Clark, which brings the return of the pre-Flashpoint Man of Steel to the modern DC universe. While writer Dan Jurgens' familiarity with the character might prove to be a comforting hook, when you combine it with the spectacular artwork of Lee Weeks, you've got yourself a striking addition to the DC pantheon.

If there's been one overarching critique of the "New 52" since its inception more than four years ago, it's that the enduring qualities of DC's characters have largely been thrown out, with characterization, powers, affiliations and even secret identities being constantly remixed and tweaked in the pursuit of a larger audience base. Perhaps it's this transient quality of the DCU that makes Lois and Clark so immediately engaging, as Jurgens' take on Clark Kent feels as simple as it does confident. This is a hero who could have single-handedly taken on Darkseid in the midst of Geoff Johns' first arc of Justice League, a hero who remembers Cyborg being a longstanding member of the Teen Titans rather than a fully-fledged Leaguer. Longtime readers might nod in understanding as Clark admits, "I may never get used to this world."

Yet even as Clark spends much of this book's first half simply reciting exposition, there's a confidence and conviction to Dan Jurgens' scripting that you can't help but feel engaged with. This is not a Superman who constantly needs reinvention, whether by depowering or by Kryptonian armor - he's not full of doubts or constantly unsure of himself. This Superman is absolutely sure of himself, and carries himself like the rock that the DCU was founded upon. Even as Jurgens has Lois and Clark living in anonymity in the New 52-verse, he still acts as a covert hero, while Lois still fights the good fight with her writing. Superman might have a beard and a black suit, but we know it's the trappings of the characters that have changed, rather than the characters themselves, and that's an important distinction to make. And for those who have been missing some of Superman's more iconic villains, Jurgens has you covered, as Clark himself comes off as remarkably genre-savvy - he's been hunting down his former enemies, trying to stop them before they become a hassle in this new universe, with the one-time Cyborg Superman Hank Henshaw now at the top of his list.

But the real draw here has to be Lee Weeks. Whatever DC is paying him, they need to be paying him more, because Weeks has some of the cleanest linework and best storytelling in the DC lineup. Acting as some sort of missing link between the Kubert and Romita family trees, Weeks doesn't succumb to some of the distorted cartooniness that the Kubert brothers or JRJR can fall prey to. Indeed, Weeks' consistency is probably his chief virtue, and that keeps this story going even when Jurgens' devotes a large percentage of it to Lois and Clark's domestic life. It's when Weeks gets to utilize bursts of action that you see what he's truly capable of - the opening pages with the Justice League fighting Darkseid might look even better than Jim Lee's original arc, while a sequence with Superman flying into space to rescue a falling space probe is full of energy and drama. Like I said before, nostalgia is a crucial element to Lois and Clark's success, and I think that Weeks' art is part of that appeal - he has a consistency and deliberateness to his layouts and storytelling that I think is largely forgotten in today's hyperstylized marketplace.

Where this book doesn't necessarily work, however, is with the additions to the rock-solid Superman mythology. The idea of the son of Superman has been attempted several times - with perhaps the best outing being the nature vs. nuture debate with Geoff Johns' Superboy - but Jon Kent feels like a bit of a dud here. Whereas Jurgens gives Lois and Clark each a rich inner voice, Jon feels a bit one-dimensional here, just a caricature of a kid who goofs off at school and doesn't want to finish his chores. Jurgens sets up a hint of some greater story here - namely, that Jon will someday learn what a hero his aging father was - but for now, the Jon Kent scenes invariably grind this story down to a halt, particularly towards the end of the book. Additionally, Lois feels a bit like a cipher here, acting more as a narrator than an active protagonist in the book. Her voice may seem solid, but ultimately, she's mellowed with motherhood - she's no longer the daring and reckless reporter that made her such an icon.

While the book does stumble a bit towards the end, Superman: Lois and Clark is a surprisingly effective debut issue, one that takes fanboy nostalgia and repackages it in style. For Dan Jurgens, this is a return to form, as he takes on a character that he knows like the back of his hand; for Lee Weeks, this is a long overdue display of recognition, giving the original comic book superhero an artist worthy of all that history. And ultimately, history is what gives Lois and Clark its strength - while they might now be in a world that's unfamiliar to them, that's a feeling that many DC Comics readers can relate to these days. A little bit of familiarity and a little bit of conviction will go a long way towards getting people to believe in the Man of Steel again. Maybe this is the team to do it.

Credit: Marvel Comics

New Avengers #1
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Gerardo Sandoval and Dono Sanchez Almara
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

One of the problems with sliding timescales is that older characters never really fall by the wayside, and so it becomes harder for newer ones to find a foothold in the minds of both older and newer readers. As new readers come in, they will be reading almost exclusively about the same heroes as generations past. In many ways, New Avengers #1 seems to be addressing that issue, using a vivid art style and a good amount of humor to introduce its youthful cast.

The New Avengers #1 launches out of an iteration of the Avengers that was introduced towards the end of Jonathan Hickman’s run on both Avengers and New Avengers. Namely, this is a team operated by Roberto da Costa, aka Sunspot, and whose mission is a global one. Ewing deftly uses captions to get the exposition out of the way as well as providing readers with a quick idea as to the characters’ abilities. This leaves the characters free from carrying huge amounts of expository dialogue and better introduces the reader to who they are as characters. This is an especially young group for an Avengers squad as Ewing pulls Wiccan and Hulkling from Young Avengers and also grabs two of his Mighty Avengers alums, White Tiger and Power Man. In addition, the roster includes Songbird, Squirrel Girl, and Pod, a member of Sunspot’s first Avengers squad.

With the younger cast, Ewing leans heavily into banter between the heroes. They aren’t overly sarcastic, but there’s a general vibe that these are heroes who enjoy what they do. The plot here is simple enough: someone is turning the denizens of Paris into crystal-headed zombies and the Avengers aim to find out who and stop them. But the book is presented in such a lively manner that it stays away from the dour, end-is-nigh feeling that has carried throughout the Avengers line for several years.

Gerardo Sandoval’s art is likely to be a divisive factor for most readers, but the flowing style with its exaggerated body types, feathery hair, and detailed expressions really lends to the book a sense of constant movement. Sandoval’s lines never leave the reader in question as to what they should be feeling. When Dum Dum Duggan arrives on A.I.M. Island, he is covered in thick shadows and the implication is clear: the audience is not supposed to trust him at that point. The style also gives a certain vitality fitting the young cast of characters. This team is extremely young for a main Avengers squad – Sunspot is one of the older members – and so it feels right for this team to have the energy Sandoval injects into the artwork.

The youthful vibrance is further emphasized by Dono Sanchez Almara’s saturated color palette. Almara doesn’t shy away from the wide array of colors this team provides and makes sure that even the browns of Squirrel Girl’s attire pop off the page. Almara’s colors work well with Sandoval’s lines, especially toward the end where the cooler blues and heavy shadows create a sinister feeling for the Maker’s lair.

It is with the Maker, however, that the issue falters somewhat. Ewing’s characterization comes across as a bit too one-dimensionally evil, with the only flavor coming from a bit of wit. This may very well be intentional, much of The New Avengers #1 feels like a Saturday morning cartoon that parents watch with their children, and the Maker’s appearance here would fit that mold. Future issues could very well hold the depth that readers have come to expect from the Maker, but for now, it’s a bit disappointing to see such an interesting villain turned into an evil scientist trope.

All told, New Avengers #1 is an exciting debut. The stylized artwork by Gerardo Sandoval and Dono Sanchez Almara really gives the proceedings the energy they need, and Ewing’s strong characterizations and sense of humor keep the story from being a routine first issue. There are some problems with the depth of the villain, but this issue gets the setup for the series out of the way. New Avengers #1 makes good use of its youthful cast and offers a lot for both existing and, perhaps more importantly, younger readers to enjoy.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Man 2099 #1
Written by Peter David
Art by Will Sliney and Frank D’Armata
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Trapped as he is in the 21st century, Spider-Man 2099 isn’t so much a location anymore as it is a destination. It’s been a long time since Peter David first created the character in the early 1990s with artist Rick Leonardi, but thanks to Dan Slott’s Superior Spider-Man and the "Spider-Verse" event, the character and his alter ego Miguel O’Hara have found their way back into the mainstream Marvel Universe. Yet with a multiverse of stories out there at the moment, does the “Spider-Man of the future” still have the same impact he did over two decades ago? More to the point, with the previous title relaunch just over a year ago, it’s worth pondering what this particular spider offers to separate him from the cluster.

Residing once again in his past, Miguel is in a new position of having a job at Parker Industries and a steady relationship. There’s more than a little bit of Booster Gold about his immediate actions, using his powers to handily win televised game shows, even if they might put his secret identity in jeopardy. However, any future that he might be able to return to is a devastated wasteland, leaving the mystery of what he must do (or perhaps not do) to prevent it from happening. For the moment, there doesn’t appear to be any urgency to that particular mission, which is why the rebooted Spider-Man 2099 is something of an oddity.

Following the pattern of many post-Secret Wars tales, assuming Secret Wars ever comes to a conclusion, Spider-Man 2099 picks up in a very “business as usual” fashion. The hitch for Miguel is that this new-ish world isn’t really business as usual, with a problem that the character himself identifies to Peter Parker. “Between you, Silk, Spider-Woman and Miles, there’re enough spider-people running around these days. One less isn’t going to make a difference.” He is giving reasons as to why abandoning his costumed lifestyle won’t matter, but the problem is that he is absolutely right. The rapid expansion of the Spider-Verse has given the original wall-crawler the comic book infrastructure he’s often deserved, but the strength of new characters such as Silk (and of course Spider-Gwen) do make Spider-Man 2099 less compelling than he was during previous events.

The cover of this issue, gorgeously rendered by Francesco Mattina, promises a particularly cool new costume for the titular character, but this is unfortunately nowhere to be seen in the book itself, at least not yet. That Booster Gold connection is even more evident in the goggles and athletic gear Miguel is sporting in the opening pages, which is the closest he comes to “suiting up” in this outing. Sliney manages to give a visual point of difference to New York, and while Parker Industries tech might be more familiar to readers of Amazing Spider-Man, the romantic glow of the Bijoux restaurant provides the perfect atmosphere for what comes immediately afterwards.

The basic premise of Spider-Man 2099, in which the hero must fix the future and return home, is a tried-and-true formula that remains compelling. David’s final pages may have been telegraphed earlier in the issue, but nevertheless offer the impact and impetus Miguel needs to go forward into a intriguing arc. However, the technical skill and superficial enjoyment aside, it still leaves the book with the self-identified problem of being yet another spider on a familiar web, and this setting can only last for so long.

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