Best Shots Reviews: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #2, SUPERMAN/WONDER WOMAN #22, KARNAK #1, More

DC Comics October 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #2
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, and Marte Gracia
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Amazing Spider-Man has under gone a lot of changes since Peter’s return to the red-and-blue suit. Not only has Spidey’s friendly neighborhood grown to encompass the entire world, but now he’s the head of a multi-million dollar global company as well as working R&D for the big guns at S.H.I.E.L.D. That said, the biggest and best change for this series is writer Dan Slott’s committal to his own Spidey continuity. Amazing Spider-Man #2 confidently places Peter on a large stage, pitting him against an even larger evil force, but it is Slott’s ability to use Peter’s past exploits and failures to inform his decisions now that makes this second issue such a rewarding read. Along with stalwart Spidey artist Giuseppe Camuncoli, Dan Slott shows that Amazing Spider-Man #2 isn’t just another issue of another Spidey reboot, but rather the latest chapter in a long-running, well-plotted saga.

Picking up shortly after the debut, Amazing Spider-Man #2 finds Peter Parker and the Prowler tracking the prototype webware device to a massive underwater Zodiac base. While this book's trademark wit and high-flying action are intact in this second issue, it is Slott’s continuation of Peter’s growth that sets this series apart from the previous Amazing Spider-Man series. Just like in the debut issue where Peter reveals that his former mission to keep everyone alive was naive, this second issue takes that a step further by having him rescue two henchmen as the base starts to implode. Slott smartly uses a quick flashback to the tragic events of "The Ends of the Earth" to not only remind readers of what happened, but to show that Peter isn’t the same man that he was back then. Slott shows the audience a Spider-Man that is aware of his failings and working toward making himself better. Peter Parker’s greatest strength has always been his selflessness and ironclad sense of responsibility, but Slott shows a Peter that knows he is human, despite his amazing powers.

While Slott’s characterization of Peter is evolving, the artwork on The Amazing Spider-Man is staying consistently great thanks to Giuseppe Camuncoli, along with inker Cam Smith, and colorist Marte Gracia. Camuncoli’s name has become synonymous with Amazing Spider-Man and as Spidey moves onto a larger stage of adventures, so has Camuncoli’s pencils. Starting this issue off with two giant double page splashes of Spidey and the Prowler’s infiltration of the Zodiac base, Camuncoli then switches into wide, cinematic panels as well as long, vertical-panel layouts to capture the kinetic action as well as the claustrophobia of fighting in a confined space. While Camuncoli’s pencils haven’t lost a step since the last Amazing Spider-Man series, they are made even sharper by the fine inks of Cam Smith which add a deep level of dimension to The Amazing Spider-Man #2. Taking that depth a step further are the metallically rich colors of Marte Gracia, who colors this second issue with a neon inspired color pallette that fits the robotic costumes of the Zodiac as well as Spidey’s new glowing costume.

To grow is to change and Amazing Spider-Man #2 is changing beyond just a mere superhero yarn. As Peter’s influence grows, as does his responsibility, and we all know how Peter Parker feels about responsibility. While it is fun to have Peter back in the suit full-time and juggling a life as a CEO and superhero, it is even better to see Dan Slott not keeping his characterization static and using the stories that came before this new series as bedrock for Peter’s new adventures. Nothing is more frustrating as a reader to find that arcs that were important at the time now don’t matter now that a newer, shinier story is being publishes. Thankfully, Amazing Spider-Man #2 side-steps all that and makes the Slott era feel more connected than ever.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman/Wonder Woman #22
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, Sean Parsons, Johnny Desjardins and Wil Quintana
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

"I don't think I love you anymore."

While most of DC's previews in the back of the Convergence miniseries were primers for new and revamped series, the eight-page story for Superman/Wonder Woman was an altogether more ominous kind of foreshadowing for the World's Finest Couple - and was even more jarring as a dangling plot thread, as Peter Tomasi had to tackle Clark Kent's status quo as an outed and depowered hero. But five issues later, the chickens are coming home to roost - still, while there's plenty of promise behind Clark and Diana's latest relationship hurdles, a jarring narrative structure and some unconvincing emotions leave this issue feeling cold.

Ever since Superman/Wonder Woman debuted, it's been a different kind of team-up book, distinguishing itself not just because of the romantic relationship the two leads enjoyed, but how unorthodox a pairing these two were. Anyone who believes that DC ever meant to have Superman and Wonder Woman as a long-term couple is a bit too trusting - and unlike most serialized romantic stories, which celebrate the union of a couple, Tomasi is taking the opposite extreme as he tears these lovebirds apart. Watching Wonder Woman race through space to save her love and then be blindsided by his true feelings is the absolute highlight of the book, as Tomasi builds on the external action before hitting us with an emotional haymaker instead. In many ways, Tomasi is playing into readers' expectations - we know Superman and Wonder Woman won't last until "death do us part," but is this where their partnership ends?

But the problem is, Tomasi can't emotionally commit to his own premise. This isn't necessarily his own fault - ironically, I doubt he can truly pull the plug on the Clark/Diana romance without prior approval from some major higher-ups - but ultimately, both the leads of this book are too stoic to really register this as an emotional earthquake. Superman, at best, reads as just surly, while Wonder Woman doesn't have any of the hurt or shock that would come from an out-of-nowhere breakup. Just because both of these leads are invulnerable shouldn't extend to their emotional state, you know? It doesn't help that Tomasi puts his big reveal in the middle of the book, which makes things feel all the more disjointed with Superman and Wonder Woman go out on a mission immediately after Clark cruelly shuts Diana down. A break-up should be one of the most universal experiences out there, and even if we obviously have several more issues solicited before Superman and Wonder Woman can truly call it quits, shouldn't we at least feel like there is some sort of tension?

Doug Mahnke, meanwhile, is the kind of artist who is only as good as his inkers. With three inkers credited for this issue, this isn't quite the best-looking installment of Superman/Wonder Woman we've seen yet, particularly with the scratchy-looking final action sequence. Between the line weight not being consistent throughout, you're immediately jarred by a very off-model-looking Flash, whose costume seams have expanded and transformed into some very large and distracting lightning bolts. (I get that artists can take license with these costumes, but we've officially overcomplicated the most streamlined outfits in comic book history here.) That said, once you get over the inconsistent inking, Mahnke's storytelling is often quite strong - the splash page featuring Clark dropping the bombshell is beautiful (even if Diana doesn't really react), and watching Diana pilot a spaceship through hyperspace conveys a ton of speed and power.

Breaking up is hard to do, but I wouldn't be surprised if this isn't actually the end of the road for Superman/Wonder Woman - because if it is, this would be a particularly anticlimactic way for it to happen. (Still, if someone pulls the plug on this status quo, it won't be Tomasi's fault if he has to wrap it up immediately.) But at the same time, while Tomasi is going into some fairly subversive territory by watching this superhero romance turn sour, there are some consistency issues with the art and a real lack of emotional response that keeps this issue from being everything it could be. Right now, this is just a decent series - hopefully next month it will go back to being great.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Karnak #1
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Gerardo Zaffino and Dan Brown
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Kelly Richards
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Unlike some other of Marvel’s other forays into what they have dubbed their "All-New, All-Different" lineup, Karnak #1 actually does feel like something that is both new and different. Fans of Warren Ellis and his sardonic style of scripting will not be disappointed as Karnak #1 is filled with the dry wit and antagonism that is so frequently associated with his writing. Karnak is stoic and commanding from his very first appearance, and thanks to Gerardo Zaffino and Dan Brown’s incredible artwork, consistently the most important and intriguing character in any panel he graces.

Following his escape from the underworld and decision to leave behind his position amongst the Inhuman royal family, Karnak has instead chosen to live a more ascetic life as Magister of the Tower of Wisdom. Drawn from relative solitude by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Coulson and Simmons to help locate the whereabouts of a recent victim of the Terrigen mists, Karnak #1 situates its titular lead as a bleak anti-hero as he positions himself firmly above those he intends to help.

Bordering on malevolent, Karnak’s characterization is shaped heavily by his philosophy, a philosophy borne out of his abilities and it is this that sets him apart from similarly churlish characters. Ellis writes Karnak as understandably world-weary and rightfully arrogant as he moves through life all too aware of the flaws and faults that surround him. For the most part, Karnak #1 feels like something of a slow burner but this is not to its detriment - Ellis alludes to this later when Karnak ruptures the liver of a man he is questioning. When Agent Coulson asks why not start with something less life threatening, Karnak states that "one starts with the attention-grabbing scene before progressing the plot." This, while recognizable of the kind of acerbic dialogue that Ellis is known for, also lays in opposition to the way in which Ellis has constructed his narrative. A narrative that begins by allowing the plot to unfold before anything particularly attention grabbing occurs.

Gerardo Zaffino uses loose lines and heavy shadows to create a gritty look that perfectly encapsulates the tone set by Ellis’s script. The gruffness of Karnak’s character is evident from his perpetually hooded eyes and the deep set lines that mark his face while his discipline can be seen from his posture and the calculated nature of his actions. Karnak’s ability to see the flaw in all things means that he rarely needs to exert more force than can be exerted by the tips of his fingers, but still Zaffino creates action sequences that are equal parts exhilarating and brutal.

With a palette made primarily of washed out blues and grays, Dan Brown cuts through the book with the green of Karnak’s costume and tattoos. The use of halftones simultaneously speed up and slow down the action sequences as they trick the eye into perceiving the smallest movements by blurring the edges of the imagery. This is particularly apparent when Karnak stops the double agent’s bullet with just a swipe of his finger.

Calculated and brimming with an underlying tension, that feels like a hint toward what is still to come Karnak #1 is yet another strong offering from Marvel’s "All-New, All-Different" line of titles, and an even stronger approach to a character who is often pushed to the sidelines.

Credit: DC Comics

Clean Room #1
Written by Gail Simone
Art by John Davis-Hunt
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by Vertigo
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Vertigo has undergone any number of changes in the last few decades, allowing creators to take darker turns on characters new and familiar. With Vertigo having been a creator-owned focused imprint for the last few years, some of the bigger successes in recent years have been around zombies, vampires, and quantum physics. With Gail Simone’s Vertigo debut, there’s a pervading sense of darkness that gets back to the very roots of what Vertigo has always been about, creeping the pants off us in the process.

From the opening pages, there’s an unnerving feeling one gets when reading Clean Room. There’s a vibe that links it to 1970s European horror film classics along the lines of Dario Argento’s Suspiria or Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, and that’s not just because it begins with the violent death of a child in Germany. The disturbing image of a man willfully and repeatedly running over a child, only to be met with equally visceral street retribution from the onlookers, is a gripping way to start but it is only part of the twin narratives in this issue. In Florida, Chloe wakes up in hospital from an apparent act of self-harm, haunted by the suicide death of her fiancé. Linking it to his involvement with the self-help philosophies of enigmatic guru Astrid Mueller, she uses her journalistic connections to try and secure an interview with apparent cult leader and find out more about the Clean Room.

There are obvious links to Scientology and similar groups in Simone’s shopfront, with Mueller stated as previously being known for “poorly regarded Gothic horror novels.” Yet what Simone taps into more than anything in this first issue is an intangible sense of dread, the idea that there is something or someone out there that has a grip on a portion of the population and nobody dare speak of it. In the course of Chloe’s investigation, she meets old acquaintance Mikey, whose homelessness indicates he has seen better days. Yet for all of his problems, he is terrified of speaking out against the group, and is reduced to tears. In what might prove to be one of the most telling lines of the series, Mikey says of Mueller, “I’m more afraid of her than Satan.”

2000AD artist John Davis-Hunt is an essential ingredient in adding to this foreboding. His precise attention to detail is equally relevant in the future landscapes of Dredd as it is in Simone’s contemporary setting, and no less brutal than the former either. The pacing of the initial car accident is superb, culminating in a rapid series of tiny panels that burst into a widescreen shot of one of the most legitimately terrifying demons ever to grace the page. The sheer violence of the piece is mitigated by a restrained series of close-ups, either on the eye of the driver/mob victim or a blood-splattered bear, and one that becomes a recurring motif later in the issue. On the flip side, Davis-Hunt shows great delicacy to his art as well, a shot of a near-naked Chloe swimming up towards the moonlight is jaw-dropping in its elegance. This series of balances and counterbalances throughout the issue give us the sense of the darkness being present at almost every turn.

Clean Room is a mystery from the start, one that has multiple paths laid out before us. Chloe’s self-affirming “Let’s see what f--king havoc a journalism degree can create” isn’t just a cool line worthy of Spider Jerusalem himself, but a challenge taken on by Simone to see how far down the rabbit hole these notions go. A first issue that is equal parts thrilling and ominous, this has all the makings of an outstanding series.

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