Best Shots Reviews: TITANS HUNT #2, RED THORN #1, More

"Titans Hunt #2" preview
Credit: DC Comics

The Best Shots team is back in action with reviews of four of last week's biggest titles, including the relaunch of Ms. Marvel, and the debut of an all new Vertigo series. Let's kick things off with a look at Ms. Marvel #1 from Justin Partridge.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel #1
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona, and Ian Herring
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Kamala Khan has faced many foes in her short but illustrious career. From the Inventor to the end of reality as she knows it, Ms. Marvel faced them all with pluck and determination of a much more experienced superhero. But now that the end of the world has been averted and life has returned to relative normality, Kamala faces her toughest villain to date - gentrification!

Ms. Marvel #1 returns the title to the Spider-Man-like teen stories that made the first volume of the title so relatable and fun to read. But this time, Kamala isn’t just juggling a secret life - she’s also juggling her Avengers career along with new friends, old loves, and new villainous challenges in Jersey City. Writer G. Willow Wilson shows that she hasn’t lost a step since Last Days, immersing herself back into Kamala’s world, both professional and personal. You aren’t truly a modern Marvel A-lister until you have at least two #1's under your belt and now Kamala Khan has joined that exclusive club with a solidly fun new #1.

Quickly sidestepping all the post-Secret Wars exposition, Ms. Marvel #1 drops the audience in the thick of Kamala’s new life as an All-New All-Different Avenger. In just a few short pages, Kamala has already seen more action as an Avenger than she did in the opening salvo of the actual Avengers title, and while its fun to finally see Kamala standing next to Marvel’s best and brightest, the hero life isn’t where Ms. Marvel #1 finds its fireworks. Much like the last volume, much of Ms. Marvel’s real action comes from Kamala’s personal life, which finds her butting heads with a new company looking to “revitalize” Jersey City while illegally using her image to advertise their business.

If that wasn’t enough, Kamala also has to deal with Bruno moving on to another relationship even after their very romantic rooftop encounter, pre-end of the world. G. Willow Wilson throws a lot of stuff at the audience with this new first issue, but it never feels overstuffed. Instead, it feels almost as overwhelming as it does to Kamala as every time she thinks she has her feet under her, a new problem is introduced, up ending her sense of calm. Wilson, as a writer, is one of the rare writers that actually allows teen problems to feel like real problems, instead of trivializing them like other writers tend to do. When you are a teenager, seeing someone that you’ve had a moment with in the arms of someone else feels like a crushing blow and Wilson takes that and runs with it, without going overboard, allowing it to supplement all the darring do.

Adding to the youthful feel and tone of Ms. Marvel #1 is the expressive and stylish pencils of Takeshi Miyazawa, along with the original series art team Adrian Alphona, and Ian Herring. Miyazawa is a great fit for Kamala’s world, with rounded character renderings and tight, emotional visual storytelling. It's a tough feat to follow Adrian Alphona, especially after establishing such a particular visual language for the title, but Miyazawa stands right next to Alphona’s pencils with confidence and a very twee sense of style. While Adrian Alphona might not be handling the full issue, he still gets to display his firm handle on Kamala’s world with an action-heavy flashback detailing how Bruno and his new girlfriend met. Packed to the gills with Alphona’s visual gags as well as his knack for facial expressions, Alphona’s wiry character designs sends readers out on a familiar high note and, along with Takeshi Miyazawa’s work and Ian Herring’s rich colors makes a strong case for Ms. Marvel #1 being one of Marvel’s best looking books on shelves this week.

While Ms. Marvel may now be a card-carrying Avenger, that doesn’t mean that her life has gotten an easier. Ms. Marvel #1 takes Kamala’s new status quo and introduces it in such a way that is sure to please long time Kamala Korps members as well as newcomers to Khan’s life and superhero career. G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring have tapped into the rare, almost impossible to find well of teen storytelling that hasn’t been found since the heady days of the Runaways and most recently Ultimate Spider-Man and Young Avengers. Kamala’s life is sure to get much harder before it gets easier, but, fortunately for us, her problems will be wrapped in a beautifully drawn and fun-to-read package.

Credit: DC Comics

Titans Hunt #2
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Stephen Segovia and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Dan Abnett earned himself a lot of leeway with his return of the classic teen superhero team in Titans Hunt, but with this sophomore issue, even veteran Titans fans might find their patience tested. It's not because of poor characterization or mishandling his characters - quite the opposite, in fact, as Abnett really nails the voices of heroes such as Dick Grayson, Roy Harper, Mal Duncan and Gnarkk - but the pacing of this series is already starting to drag dramatically.

For many readers - myself included - seeing much of the original Titans gang back together again was breath of hope, given that the main Teen Titans series has been ill-served since even before the launch of the New 52. But two issues in, and the band still hasn't gotten back together, as Abnett focuses primarily on the already prominent Dick Grayson, as he strings together the mystery behind his forgotten band of proto-Titans. In many ways, there's some similarity of structure with Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's original arc of Justice League, only without the Parademon horde to give a modicum of action to spice things up - Abnett checks in with his four main Titans periodically, but beyond Roy Harper beating up some cops, it feels pretty prefunctory.

Which is a little frustrating, because beyond Roy Harper's portrayal as a one-note screw-up, Abnett actually has a deep and nuanced understanding of many of his characters. Grayson, based on his newfound popularity as a dashing super-spy, brings a likability and a stability to this team, which has had plenty of permutations and changes since the New 52, while Gnaark winds up becoming a noble caveman who makes an offering before his hunt for the Titans. There's some clear potential between all the characters here, but unfortunately, we just don't have many of them together - last issue was already all the exposition we needed, so to see another scene of Mal Duncan navigating the publicity sprawl as a famous musician feels like a wasted opportunity.

What's not a wasted opportunity, however, is artist Stephen Segovia, who does some of the better work I've seen from him in quite some time. With no inker credited, Segovia's work reminds me a lot of Leinil Francis Yu and Gerry Alanguilan's current output - while occasionally some of Segovia's faces suffer a bit (such as Alfred's scrunched-up face in the Batcave), by and large he lends a real sense of mood and tension to this story. He also seems very ambitious with the bits of fight choreography in this book - the strobe effect of Roy kicking a police officer look fast-paced, and I like the speed and power he brings when Aqualad and Grayson have a beachside brawl. That said, Hi-Fi's colorwork tends to work against him - in particular, the fight between Garth and Grayson looks way too bright, and the fact that Grayson, Roy, Garth and Donna Troy all have the exact same skin color feels a bit off, not just because of their differing home bases but because of the diversity efforts DC has been pushing forward in other books.

The Teen Titans are one of DC Comics' crown jewels, and the fact that they haven't had a coherent, let alone bestselling, series in years is a huge missed opportunity. Dan Abnett has had the opportunity to right some grevious wrongs by bringing back the iconic Titans together, but he absolutely needs to pick up the pace if he's going to get the nostalgia crowd. Right now, Stephen Segovia is growing dramatically as an artist, but the rest of his creative team isn't mining the potential of this book nearly enough.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Extraordinary X-Men #2
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olzaba and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The world has changed since Secret Wars, and under the guidance of Jeff Lemire and Humberto Ramos, the Extraordinary X-Men might be more unsure of their place in the Marvel Universe than ever before. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing - Lemire writes some of his best team superhero books in quite some time, as he gives some new wrinkles to a classic X-Men lineup.

One of the more frustrating things about being an X-fan over the last decade or so is that Marvel has stuck hard with the Gold Team/Blue Team split, with the X-Men's lineup becoming so over-the-top that one team couldn't contain them. Unfortunately, that also meant divvying up that classic Claremont dynamic - honestly, when's the last time you've seen Wolverine, Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler on the same team together? That constant game of musical chairs has been one of the main sources of the X-Men's dysfunction, and in that regard, Lemire's story feels surprisingly refreshing.

With an eight-month gap to propel him, the real story of Extraordinary X-Men isn't so much how to bring the X-Men back together, but what's happened to them in their time apart. The team has changed - Colossus is now a bearded behemoth, Nightcrawler is on the run, Wolverine is an old man, while Jean Grey is an all-powerful college student. Right now, it's just tentative remixing, but it's nice to see Lemire trying something new, while still maintaining these iconic characters and power sets. (In particular, there's a great sequence where Jean rescues a mutant kid from some violent college students, only to discover that he's an Inhuman, and he's just as afraid of her as the regular humans were. It ain't easy being a mutant, kid.)

That said, while Lemire's concept work reads strong, there's plenty of fat that could be cut from this issue. There's a lot of exposition, particularly as Storm discusses Xavier's dream ad nauseum. It doesn't help that Lemire anchors a lot of this to a fairly lackluster action sequence featuring Colossus and Magik, as they prowl through the sewers looking for their missing colleague Nightcrawler. Some of this just happens to be Lemire being too ambitious with how many plates he's trying to spin - some of his ideas wind up being a little underdeveloped - but the character work is strong, and Logan and Jean Grey in particular wind up feeling like fully-fleshed, realized characters, and new additions like the Sentinel Cerebra feel like fitting additions to the X-Men mythology.

The artwork by Humberto Ramos, meanwhile, will make or break this series for a lot of readers. His ultra-cartoony style doesn't necessarily fit with the tone of Lemire's writing, and while his action sequences are full of energy, the fine details and layouts wind up lacking. There are plenty of panels where Jean Grey's face gets contorted in a monstrous snarl, or Colossus hunkering over like a solid steel ape. Some of this just happens to be because of Lemire's dense scripting - he tries to fit a lot of panels per page, and an eight-panel fight sequence page is just unrealistic no matter how you slice it. That said, his flashbacks featuring Old Man Logan's destruction of the X-Men are some of the highlights of the book - not only are they composed well, but the painterly colors from Edgar Delgado are really striking.

There's a lot going on in Extraordinary X-Men, and that's why it's too soon to say whether or not the Children of the Atom are on the mend once more. Lemire is trying to throw in a ton of different plot threads, and Ramos' artwork struggles to keep it all together. But there are some seeds of greatness with Lemire's new but all too familiar team - if his characterization can match his frenetic pacing, this could be one fantastic series.

Red Thorn #1
Written by David Baillie
Art by Meghan Hetrick and Steve Oliff
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by Vertigo Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Writer David Baillie has appeared in several Vertigo anthology publications to date, but is more likely to be known to readers as the writer on numerous 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Magazine issues. The Scottish writer draws upon his roots for his latest creator-owned work, dipping into some of that old time mysticism for a mystery/horror hybrid that speaks to the very imaginative demons that comic books are made of.

American Isla Mackintosh returns to her familial homeland to search for her missing sister. Isla’s sister disappeared before she was born, yet she is compelled to carry out a detailed investigation with everyone that might remember her. As we discovered that everything is not quite right with the Glaswegian locale that Isla has found herself in, we also find out that Isla has her own secrets that she is having trouble keeping a lid on. Images she has created in the past have come to deadly life, and now that she is in Scotland, those powers are becoming less predictable.

One of the greatest strengths of Red Thorn is its initial pacing. It presents as a mystery, with allusions to Isla’s sister disappearing never elaborated upon. It takes its time establishing the location, and slowly giving us an idea of how Isla not only found herself in this place, but what might actually compel her so fiercely. Her first memory of bringing a person she drew to life is as intriguing as it is frightening. It’s somewhat ironic then that this same pacing is what trips up the book from being really great out of the gate, rushing a stack of exposition in the final few pages that could have been metered out over the course of the next issue or two. Baillie wants to immediately tie his story to an ancient set of gods, where the hints that something was amiss had been enough to keep us hooked.

While Meghan Hetrick’s art opens with a dark and brooding couple of pages, what is most surprisingly is how joyful much of this work is. There is clearly an intimate knowledge of Glasgow on display here, with locally raised Baillie’s script indicating some of the local tourist traps and local knowledge alike. The U.S.-based Hetrick worked from reference photos to bring some of the local club scene to life, but where she excels is in the creature features. A two-page spread that is meant to showcase Isla’s sketchings actually indicates Hetrick’s versatility. A shambling swamp creature is either going to be grotesque or adorable depending on your point of view, while another one of Isla’s creations looks like she might have just stepped out of a Japanese manga.

There’s a lot of promise in Red Thorn, especially if it takes the time to allow some of these individually great concepts to breathe on their own. Isla comes fully formed out of the gate, and the mystery it initially presents is genuinely compelling. The only issue is that Baillie undercuts some of his own drama by over-explaining a climax, albeit one that does neatly set us up for the next chapter.

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