Best Shots Advance Reviews: SILK #1, VENOM: SPACE KNIGHT #1, WITCHBLADE #185, More

Marvel Comics November 2015 cover
Credit: Marvel Comics

It's the day before new comic book day, and that means it's time for an advance look at some of this week's biggest titles. As usual, the Best Shots team has your bases covered, with reviews of three of Marvel's top releases, as well as the Witchblade finale. We'll kick things off with a review of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1 from Best Shots team lead David Pepose.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1
Written by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder
Art by Natacha Bustos and Tamra Bonvillain
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

"My brain is all the super-power I need."

In a world with Kree Nega-Bands and Ultimate Nullifiers, this might be a revolutionary statement. But then again, Lunetta Lafayette is kind of a revolution herself. She's a young, African American girl with a keen interest in science and technology - two fields society often tries to steer women away from - and by the time you're done reading about her exploits, you can't help but fall in love with her.

That is, until the dinosaur shows up.

Ultimately, writers Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder and artist Natacha Bustos do too good of a job introducing their lead character in Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur that the fantastic elements of this series struggle to keep up. Because the lead character is such a revelation, this first issue is one that's still worth your time, but it's not terribly surprising that for as endearing as Lunetta is, the rest of her world still has to catch up.

From her rejection letters from the Future Foundation to the roller skates tucked inside of her shoes, you immediately see there's something special about Lunetta Lafayette, who far and away steals the show in this book. Precocious, driven and more than a little awkward, it's way more fun reading about a character like Lunetta - as opposed to stodgy geniuses like Reed Richards or preening narcissists like Tony Stark - because Lunetta keenly understands the flipside of great genius: great isolation. Her classmates, her teachers, even her own parents don't understand her, and so it's perhaps no surprise that this budding super-genius goes out with her homemade Kree detector in the middle of the night.

The artwork by Natacha Bustos and Tamra Bonvillain also looks superb. Bustos' scratchier inking reminds me of the Chris Samnee and Michael Walsh school of artwork, which goes light on rendering and heavy on the expressiveness and technique. While Montclare and Reeder do a great job spelling out what kind of character Lunella is, Bustos distills the character down into one perfect, charming image, as she races out the door on her techno-roller skates with a paper lunch bag gripped in her mouth. Bustos' storytelling is also totally on point - there's a fantastic sequence in Lunella's Stone Age high school that is subtle but very well-done, with panels broken up in such a way that really plays up on the contrast between Lunella and her classmates.

Unfortunately, though, this series is still called Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, and while Lunella can light up a room, her crimson counterpart is lacking some serious teeth. As organic as Montclare and Reeder were building up Lunella, the introduction of Devil Dinosaur feels clunky and forced even by superhero standards, with very little endearing qualities given to DD's original partner, the prehistoric man-ape known as Moon Boy. Part of the problem is that Devil Dinosaur not only reads as one-note - he reads as terminally boring, as does the prehistoric bad guys he brings with him. Because we are blessed to live in world with Jurassic Park, The Good Dinosaur or even Runaways, we already have a wide range of dinosaur-centric entertainment, and while it would be silly to expect Devil Dinosaur to have any dialogue, there can be a lot more done with characterization than we see here.

With its winning protagonist, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur could become a slam dunk, but only after some major work is done to the other elements of this series. Given Lunella's prodigious intelligence, she could easily wind up on any adventure she so chooses - but with a giant red dinosaur in tow, the rest of the story is struggling to keep up. Yet if Montclare, Reeder and Bustos can make Devil Dinosaur as interesting as his new partner, this comic could be a breakout success.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Silk #1
Written by Robbie Thompson
Art by Stacey Lee and Ian Herring
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

New #1s are a staple of the Big Two's publishing plans these days, giving readers a chance to acquaint themselves with new characters and creative teams that they might not have been following until now. But in the case of Cindy Moon, it feels like introductions are all we're getting nowadays. Between her debut in Amazing Spider-Man to her first #1 earlier this year, we've now gotten three entree points for Silk in just 18 months, and it's getting to the point where even Stacey Lee's beautifully stylized artwork can't keep this series from feeling repetitive.

That's not to say that Silk isn't a likeable, charming character in her own right. Indeed, writer Robbie Thompson's dynamic between Cindy and her boss at the Fact Channel, J. Jonah Jameson, is one of the more endearing beats in this book - after all, if Cindy can get a skinflint like JJJ to compliment her, who are we to disagree with him? In many ways, it's because Cindy has experienced some truly horrible stuff - being locked in a bunker for 10 years, Kimmy Schmidt-style, or seeing her brother have to go through extensive therapy following his involvement with the Goblin Nation - and still manages to come out sunny and positive, cracking jokes while juggling a job and a superheroic career. And you can tell the other characters in this series feel the same way, with guest stars such as the Black Cat and Mockingbird all seeming to have a degree of respect for New York's newest wallcrawler.

Despite that characterization, though, this issue might seem a little familiar to anyone who's been reading Silk before. You can chalk it up at least partially to the Secret Wars break, but Thompson's leaned so much on exposition and setting up Cindy's world, that he doesn't exactly give her a ton of forward momentum. We have scenes to establish Cindy's job at the Fact Channel, her superheroic extracurriculars, not to mention some dangerous new dynamics with Black Cat and Mockingbird, but Thompson winds up leaning on narration as a crutch, rather than giving Cindy some actual goals or directions to strive towards. There are readers who might disagree, since Thompson does inject the prerequisite superhero action sequence as Cindy takes on the Goblin Nation, but it feels too light, too disconnected.

But that doesn't extend to the artwork. Stacey Lee and Ian Herring continue to give Silk its edge, as the pages all look dynamic, expressive and energetic. Given that Silk is wearing half of a face mask, it's always amazing to me how much Lee brings to the table - the look on Cindy's face, for example, as she sits on a downed Goblin glider is hilarious, while you can't help but relate to her as she gets up in her cramped New York city loft. (We're not talking about Jessica Jones palatial estates here!) Herring's colorwork also takes on a light, pastel palette, which keeps Lee's artwork looking light without draining it of any energy. Lee also does great work with design, really helping sell Mockingbird's new costume (fresh from her cameo in Amazing Spider-Man!), with the black, white and orange outfit looking really sharp. That said, sometimes Lee's compositions don't always work out - there's a splash page where Cindy punches Mockingbird that focuses way too much on Mockingbird's back, while an opening splash featuring Silk and the Goblin Nation gang makes our heroine feel tiny in comparison.

Ultimately, Silk isn't a bad book, but it is playing in a very competitive field. With the Spider-Office already producing some top-notch work from Spider-Gwen and Spider-Woman - not to mention the flagship Amazing Spider-Man series dominating every month - the bar has been set very high for Silk. Right now, Robbie Thompson has a great character and a great artistic partner to work with, but we need a deeper story than that if Silk is going to truly stand on her own two feet.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Venom: Space Knight #1
Written by Robbie Thompson
Art by Ariel Olivetti
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Flash Gordon used to be the only "Flash" in space, but Flash Thompson is now in that very exclusive club in Venom: Space Knight
. After Secret Wars, Marvel is taking some huge risks with titles like this, but the payoff is looking to be huge. Since "Guardians of the Galaxy" became a megahit last year, Marvel has taken an initiative to expand its cosmic repertoire, and Venom: Space Knight could one of those books to take this corner of the universe to new heights.

After a brief recall of Flash's other adventures as Venom, we check in with Flash in the Venom suit, on assignment as an Agent of the Cosmos. Similar to Star Lord, but weighs probably 200 pounds more. Robbie Thompson isn't exactly treading new ground here, but he's certainly taken this relatively new character conception and made him actually matter. On the first mission, he takes down a drug lord, rescues an alien family, and saves a robot with a death wish. So far so good, right?

The dialog is straightforward and easily accessible. You won't find any drawn-out bits of information or heavy exposition, just Venom being a straight up good guy doing good guy things, but sometimes that's all you need. The biggest problem is that this literally could be anybody in space doing these things, so tighten in on why this is Flash doing it, it could be a more cohesive vision. The inner-narration is heavier than expected, but since this is a solo mission, there's no one to really bounce dialog with until later. Future issues could easily remedy this.

Artist Ariel Olivetti's painted style captures this planet's strange and varied aliens quite well. The owl lady that is enchanted by Flash is distinctive and a fun little bit outside of the usual alien designs. The colors used are bright and expressive and other-worldly (pun intended). Olivetti's style is one of the most distinctive looking artists out there, but while he nails the creatureshop details, his human features aren't as strong. The sequentials laid out could be a tad stronger and more compressed, so there's room for more story and getting a better idea of who Flash is. Thompson even asking a few times of what he's supposed to be is weird, and a page or two more of him expressing to want to be a hero could've sold this. Not necessarily more exposition, but something to solidify his stance and ranks among the Agents.

Venom: Space Knight is a fun offering from one of Marvel's newest titles, but not exactly one of the strongest. While there are little in the way of consequences for this light popcorn action, Thompson and Olivetti have this Space Hero business down to a T. Hopefully with Flash's new robot sidekick and his intergalactic sense of purpose, this creative team can flesh this out to something truly unique. This book is ready to launch, so let's see how high it goes.

Witchblade #185
Witchblade #185
Credit: Top Cow

Witchblade #185
Written by Ron Marz and Matt Hawkins
Art by Abhishek Masluni, Zsolt H. Garisa, Neeraj Menon, Nanjan Jamberi, Michael Turner, Nelson Blake II, Stjepan Sejic, Linda Sejic, Isaac Goodheart, Phillip Sevy, Randy Green, D-Tron, J. D. Smith and Bill Farmer
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Top Cow
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Twenty years is a strong run for any independent title, but this week, Witchblade comes to an end. For now anyways. Detective Sara Pezzini was a staple of the '90s "bad girl" comics pantheon that eventually progressed into something much more. This issue doesn't wrap things up exactly, but celebrates of what has come before in not just Sara's past, but also the Witchblade's legacy. Die hard fans will appreciate how things end, but the fact that they just end with such fanfare feels slightly off.

The issue is divided into two parts, one with Sara and Gleason at the Rialto Theater, where it all began, and Sara realizing that it's time to hang it up. Not just the Witchblade, but with everything that comes with it. Ron Marz writes this half, and he's always excelled in delivering the quieter moments of Sara's life. There is some action involved, but it's not the centerpiece of the story, it's Sara's relationship with both Gleason and the legendary weapon. Those two aspects have defined Sara as both warrior and woman for the majority of the past two decades.

Marz brings over his John Carter art team of Abhishek Masluni, Zsolt H. Garisa and Neeraj Menon for his half of the story. The story itself seems like a really weird way to end things with a movie coming to life trope, but again, it's not about the supernatural elements here. Those unfamiliar with the Masluni, Garisa, and Menon combo pack over at John Carter, get a helpful dose of what you're missing out on with these pages here. You have Sara fighting cinematic zombies and monsters, as well as past Witchblades that Sara sees in a trance. Their collective style definitely meshes within the usual Top Cow fare, with beautifully rendered faces and detailed bodies and environments.

The second half is more retrospective, but offers actual closure with Sara trying to find a replacement. That's not really how the Witchblade works, though. Matt Hawkins tells his half of the story with a slew of Top Cow alumni, including Michael Turner, whose work from Sara's first introduction to the Witchblade has been reprinted with modern-day Sara narrating it. Hawkins offers a fresh take on Sara's first outing and a bit of a history lesson in the meantime. Sara is trying to pass the gauntlet on, but nothing is sticking, as the story hops from artist to artist. Cameos include former alt-timeline Witchblade Dani Baptiste and the Magdalena as Sara tries to let it go, but she finds herself still with the Witchblade the next morning. Stjepan Sejic's pages showcasing Patience and Sara together is the possible biggest takeaway from the entire issue, with two of Top Cow's badasses take down vampires. It's a lighthearted moment that breaks from the quest at hand, but you hardly mind.

This part offers a take on what is going through Sara's mind right now. She's 45 and has left instructions on who the next bearer should be. She's not entirely ready to let it go as this is such an important part of her life. That being said, the ending of the issue is a lot more peaceful than I had originally anticipated. Again, a quiet moment. No real drama, or cliffhanger, but also no real big and lasting questions answered. A simple moment between two people, and the life they're about to start together.

Witchblade #185 unfortunately isn't the strongest finale, but what a run overall. Sara Pezzini is one of modern comics' biggest success stories, ushering in a wave of fans that helped put Top Cow on the map. Her story as the Witchblade might have ended here, but it's just a matter of time before we check in with her again, hopefully. Maybe that time around, she'll have everything she wanted, much like how she gave her devoted fans everything they wanted.

Dragon Age: Magekiller #1
Dragon Age: Magekiller #1
Credit: Dark Horse

Dragon Age: Magekiller #1
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Carmen Carnero, Terry Pallot and Michael Atiyeh
Lettering by Michael Heisler
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Bioware's Dragon Age franchise is an embarrassment of narrative riches, and now Dark Horse Comics has brought those riches into the world of comics. Dragon Age: Magekiller #1 brings readers into a long-teased but never-seen corner of Thedas, the Tevinter Imperium, with a story of two hired mage hunters. Greg Rucka, a writer known for delivering character-centric potboiler stories, takes to the hardened fantasy setting of Dragon Age extremely well, mining both humor and pathos from leads Marius and Tessa as they carry out their contracts with extreme prejudice. Along with some simplistic yet effective artwork from Carmen Carnero, Terry Pallot and Michael Atiyeh, Dragon Age: Magekiller #1 is sure to entertain both diehard fans and casual gamers alike.

Kicking off with blood and violence, Dragon Age: Magekiller introduces us to Marius and Tessa as they face down an Apostate blood mage before she can sacrifice her victim and summon more horrors from beyond the Fade. Greg Rucka and the art team start off the issue with a hard-hitting action sequence that displays just how good our leads are at their jobs, but Rucka supplements the action with thoughtful narration from Tessa. Rucka never rubs the audience’s nose in Thedas’ history, but instead makes it feel like just another layer of the story, respecting the audience enough to know that they are at least a bit familiar with it. Yet first-timers to Dragon Age lore shouldn't find it overwhelming - it's merely more flavoring for the debut itself.

While Magekiller #1 is heavily steeped in the lore established by Bioware’s hit games, the story itself is an all-too-familiar one. Tessa is the motormouthed partner to Marius’ hardened magic fighter, and after the issue’s opening job is done, they are approached by an Elvish slave who starts them on the path toward killing an Tevinter Magister who is engaging in child sacrifice in order to supercharge his blood magic. While the hook of finally seeing the inside of the Tevinter Imperium is a strong one for Magekiller, Rucka makes us care about both Tessa and Marius long before they are even given their new job. Rucka is no stranger to writing broken protagonists and he finds another one in Marius, and with Tessa’s mile-a-minute banter, he finds an entertaining dynamic between the two leads. While Dragon Age: Magekiller #1 makes use of more than a few familiar beats (the strong, silent lead, the jokester sidekick, as well as the simple job turning into a not-so-simple job), this debut issue carries the same charge and momentum as the latest installment of Hard in Hightown.

Adding to the hardened tone of Magekiller #1 is the pencils of Carmen Carnero, along with the heavy inks of Terry Pallot and the flattened colors of Michael Atiyeh. Looking like a more rough edged version of Mark Bagley, Carmen Carnero renders the entirety of Magekiller in simple, no frills panel construction. You’ll find no over-the-top splash pages or innovative panel layouts here, but what you will find are deeply set panel grids detailing natural body language as well as taking full advantage of the visual and costuming cues already set in the game franchise. Wrapping it all together are the drably beautiful colors of Michael Atiyeh, who like Carnero, takes a more realistic approach to the coloring of this issue, opting for more grays, olive greens and beiges throughout Magekiller to hammer home the grounded fantasy tone of the book and Dragon Age as a whole. Dragon Age: Magekiller #1 may be high fantasy, but that doesn’t mean it has to look cartoonish, which is exactly what this art team avoids, much to their credit.

Dragon Age: Magekiller #1 might be the latest installment in a long-running franchise, but thanks to Greg Rucka’s grounded and familiar approach to the material, this debut issue feels like it was meant for everybody, not just diehard Dragon Age fans. Along with some no-nonsense artwork from Carmen Carnero, Terry Pallot and Michael Atiyeh, Dragon Age: Magekiller #1 shows that fantasy doesn’t have to be all flowing robes and flowery speeches. Thedas is a hard world, and Marius and Tessa are just trying to make a living the only way they know how - with their wits and their swords. Here’s hoping that’s enough to keep them safe and alive in the heart of a land built by magic.

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