Best Shots Advance Reviews: PATSY WALKER A.K.A. HELLCAT #1, SURVIVING MEGALOPOLIS #1, More

"Leaving Megalopolis: Surviving Megalopolis #1" cover by J. Calafiore
Credit: J. Calafiore (Dark Horse Comics)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat #1
Written by Kate Leth
Art by Brittney L. Williams and Megan Wilson
Lettering by Joe Sabino and Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

The letters page for the first issue of Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat begins with, "And now for something completely different."

If only that were actually the case.

Unfortunately, despite a veritable avalanche of goodwill for the creators and character since this book's announcement, Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat doesn't feel different at all. In fact, it feels all too similar to another Marvel breakout book - namely, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. With the same irreverent humor and cartoony style, this would already lead to some cannibalization at best, but unfortunately, writer Kate Leth nor artist Brittney L. Williams neither differentiate their character or measure up to their predecessors.

For a character like Patsy Walker, you'd expect some dedicated fans, particularly after the spotlight cast upon her on Netflix's Jessica Jones series. But if you're looking for nuanced characterization, this isn't the place to get it - Leth channels Kathryn Immonen's flighty, ditzy Patsy Walker, as she bounces around New York City, making friends and picking up plot points along the way. Unfortunately, Leth's gags don't really connect here - or at the very least, you can't help but think you'd see it done in a funnier way in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Having Patsy grab for laughs by making connections to Broadway shows, yelling out details to She-Hulk, or constantly reminding readers that She-Hulk fired her but they're still cool doesn't make her endearing, and unlike Immonen's work with David LaFuente, this take on Patsy doesn't feel energetic or over-the-top enough to make it worth the outing.

Speaking of the artwork, Brittney Williams is a nice addition to Marvel's lineup, but, like Leth, she's at a disadvantage coming after talents like Silk's Stacey Lee and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl's Erica Henderson. Williams' work is cartoony and inviting, but strangely enough, her work on Hellcat's outfit doesn't quite click. There are a few moments where Williams tries to make Patsy a little more expressive while she's in costume, but ultimately as a character she looks pretty nondescript. Williams does dig in deep with her detailwork, however, and she definitely has an eye for settings, such as Patsy's new apartment, a Brooklyn comic book shop or a dance club she attends. Megan Wilson's colors do add a nice bit of energy to the mix, reminding me of Rico Renzi's work on Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

But the thing is, there's little about this first issue of Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat that isn't done better - or more inventively - but Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, a series that's already gotten two #1s this year. There is clearly something different about this one-time model/investigator/superhero/romance star, but right now, the low-level stakes and quirky sense of humor has been done already. And as a result, Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat is a surprisingly disappointing debut from a pair of otherwise promising talents.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #2
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: 3 out of 10

Kids think they know everything these days. They've got smartphones, they've got the Internet, they've got TV...

But is today's youth really so jaded that even a T-Rex can't give them a moment's pause?

Unfortunately, things feel a little too business as usual with the sophomore issue of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, which seems to have largely given up on the precocious promise of budding inventor Lunella Lafayette, instead focusing on the big dumb dinosaur in the room. With all that charming characterization out the window, Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder do not play to artist Natacha Bustos' strengths, resulting in an anemic second chapter that squanders last issue's good will.

From the first pages, it's surprising how blase Lunella feels about her current situation, considering that situation is right in the jaws of a giant red killing machine. It's unclear what Devil Dinosaur wants with his new young charge, as he wrecks cop cars and causes property damage - but because neither of the lead characters have a strong emotion, the sequence feels empty - in no small part because of the bright and cheery artwork that Natacha Bustos and Tamra Bonvillain are producing.

But as Montclare and Reeder have Lunella immediately whip up a solution for this rampaging reptile, their lead character begins to feel less and less like an actual human being who might actually be concerned or overwhelmed. Instead, the writers give us a huge exposition dump, burying the lede of why Lunella is so determined to thrive - namely, that she wants to neutralize Inhuman DNA so she herself can avoid being transformed by the Terrigen Cloud. It could be compelling stuff, but here, it almost reads like an afterthought.

It doesn't help that the villains of the piece are so nondescript. Beyond one truly funny panel by Bustos featuring this prehistoric gang wearing their best approximation of modern-day clothes, it's unclear what Montclare and Reeder want out of their bad guys. Having them speak only in guttural shrieks doesn't do readers any favors, and spending several pages with them trying to pick up modern day customs of currency and clothing just stops this story dead in its tracks.

It's only once we get to the final few pages of this story that this book starts to show some of its earlier promise again. Once Montclare and Reeder get past having Devil Dinosaur throw a tantrum, Bustos really shines, showing how expressive this dinosaur can be as he looks around for Lunella, staring sadly at the moon. It's these moments that show how deep Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur can be - and it's these moments that this book desperate needs to capitalize upon. We've already seen plenty of child geniuses in the Marvel Universe, and plenty of brainiacs trying to cure themselves before its too late. It's up to Montclare and Reeder to really figure out what makes this book tick - and they're quickly running out of time to do so.

Credit: J. Calafiore (Dark Horse Comics)

Leaving Megalopolis: Surviving Megalopolis #1
Written by Gail Simone
Art by J. Calafiore and Jason Wright
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Gail Simone and J. Calafiore's Kickstartered graphic novel Leaving Megalopolis was Crossed with a cape; a mean-spirited and explicit hundred-odd pages of ugly horror about a superhero-filled city whose extraordinary protectors suddenly began to butcher its unlucky inhabitants. Although Leaving Megalopolis seemed easy to dismiss on face value, it was an effective story of survival, betrayed trust and abuse, even if it was almost distractingly explicit in content. Now published by Dark Horse Comics, the ordeal continues with Surviving Megalopolis #1, an impactful comic book that occasionally falls prey to schoolyard levels of childishness.

Newcomers need not apply here, as Simone immediately opens “ONE MONTH LATER.” Simone has wisely steered away from the slasher-esque gore-porn that dominated the pages of its predecessor, instead focusing on the plans and plots of the ex-heroes and the unlikely group that managed to escape Megalopolis in the first graphic novel. Just as Leaving Megalopolis told the sordid story of protagonist Mina's life, Surviving Megalopolis #1 is centered around the events after her apparent death. In Leaving Megalopolis, Mina was a security guard in a police-woman's uniform, and here she's a survivor wearing the garb of a vigilante; a dark reincarnation of her older self which brings her uncomfortably close to the super-powered monsters who sought her violent end. It's compelling stuff that plays to Simone's strengths as a writer.

Despite the strength of Mina's arc, some extra insight into the ex-heroes' existences falls a little flat, mostly due to the fact that the evil superheroes sound as if they spend their days at South Park Elementary. Their characterization here detracts from the sheer terror of their presence in Leaving Megalopolis, where they mostly let their unimaginable acts speak for themselves (“What-the-f--k-ever, string-cheese,” says Creature of the Black Lagoon-alike Amphibonaut to Plastic Man-alike Ribbon, to the amusement of nobody). It's when the psychotic heroes take center-stage that Surviving Megalopolis #1 feels like a try-hard off-cut from the '90s, which dampens the book's oppressive, tense atmosphere and undercuts the tremendous threat that these characters are supposed to present.

Calafiore's detailed and realistic artwork fits the grimy and brutal world of Megalopolis to a tee. His attention to detail extends to each slash in every costume and each crack in every wall, achieving effective horror through sheer viscerality. His hero designs are delightfully old-school, each one either looking ripped from the pages of an obscure Golden Age Fawcett title or a forgotten Malibu monstrosity. Colorist Jason Wright marrs clean white, blue and red with dirt and blood, adding to Calafiore's realistic vision of destruction with an equally tainted color palette. Although the word “gritty” has been overused in modern times, it's definitely a fitting adjective for Calafiore and Wright's work here.

Over all, Gail Simone's story of one woman's life of struggle against those in power is a valid contribution to the “ultra-violent heroes” subgenre of the modern superhero comic book, even if her potty-mouthed psychopaths dull the sheer horror of this issue's predecessor through misplaced humor. Visually, J. Calafiore's nuanced and detailed linework and Jason Wright's equally effective coloring brings Simone's world to disturbing life. Leaving Megalopolis: Surviving Megalopolis #1 sure ain't pretty, but it is a worthwhile read.

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