Best Shots Review: CAPTAIN MARVEL #1, BATMAN #48, MS. MARVEL #3

DC Comics January 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain Marvel #1
Written by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters
Art by Kris Anka and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Kelly Richards
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Carol Corps rejoice, Captain Marvel is back.

Ready to launch herself headfirst into a new mission, with a new supporting cast and a whole new creative team, Captain Marvel #1 is a return to form. Written by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, with art from Kris Anka and Matthew Wilson, Captain Marvel #1 sees Carol take command of the Alpha Flight Space Station and punch her way out of trouble the way only Captain Marvel can.

While there is no doubt that Fazekas, Butters, and Anka have a daunting task ahead of them and some understandably big shoes to fill as they follow Kelly Sue Deconnick and David Lopez’s run on Captain Marvel, they have more than taken it in their stride and given readers and fans a book that stand ups to those they love.

Known primarily for their time working as showrunners and writers for Marvel’s Agent Carter, Fazekas and Butters have made what looks to be an almost seamless transition to comic books. Injecting their own brand of storytelling and snappy dialogue while retaining Carol’s no-nonsense, punch-first persona, they have givens readers something that is both new and familiar.

The internal monologue that runs the length of the first issue allows readers some insight into Carol’s progression from the front line to what is essentially a desk job aboard the Alpha Flight Space Station, and is the most interesting and relatable part of the book as it illuminates her doubts and anxieties surrounding the next two years aboard the station. While the majority of the new characters and burgeoning relationships feel fairly authentic and speak of the difficulties of being both the new guy at work and the boss, the tension between Carol and Abigail Brand may benefit from being pushed a little further. Their relationship, while negative, is the only one that fails to hit the mark. They also fall down somewhat on the pacing as the issue does feel a little drawn out at times and the cliffhanger conclusion does not pack the intended punch.

In addition to the masterful composition and simplistic yet expressive faces found within the pages of Captain Marvel, Kris Anka has given the series a look that is both practical and fitting for a space-bound, ex-military superhero, via a uniform update, a new hairstyle and a rocking physique. He has done similar work on the uniforms worn by the crew aboard the Alpha Flight station which are functional and show very little differentiation between the male and female incarnations. Anka includes some nice little background details such as the crew members taking photos on their phones of Captain Marvel as she arrives on the station and takes care to ensure a level of diversity is visible amongst the background characters and the supporting cast.

The space setting and science fiction leaning of Captain Marvel allows colorist Matthew Wilson to let go and utilise a palette that covers the entire spectrum and pops against the sleek chrome of the Space Station. The cyans and magentas, in particular look stunning against the purpley blue hues of space and the yellows and oranges of the firefight that occurs later in the book creates a sense of depth and motion.

Balancing action with character development, Captain Marvel #1 does not fail to entertain. While some may find the book a little slow, Fazekas and Butters work hard to keep readers engaged with their tight script and the intrigue they have created through the reveal on the last page will undoubtedly leave people curious as to what comes next.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #48
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and Fco Plascencia
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Jim Gordon has been captured and bloodied. Mr. Bloom’s mutant gang ravages the streets and an army of mechanized Bat-Suits march to meet them. Citizens are fighting each other tooth and nail for Bloom's mysterious seeds. And through it all Bruce Wayne and an oddly familiar stranger sit on a park bench and discuss parasites. Happy Tuesday, Gotham City.

Batman #48 ramps up the stakes on a lot of fronts. Mr. Bloom, thought captured by the Gotham City Police Department, violently reveals his master plan and thus the city is once again under siege by the strange new villain. While Jim fights for his life in the clutches of Bloom, the original Batman struggles with the realization that his new found personal life is yet another mask he found to keep him from his true self. Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and Fco Plascencia are old hands at this kind of pre-pre-finale, one that keeps the plans spinning dangerously fast in order to make the actual ending as explosive as possible. In Batman #48 all seems lost and that’s what makes it so much fun.

Employing two-pronged approach to the narrative, Scott Snyder keeps us following both Batmen throughout as one struggles against a powerful enemy and the other struggles against himself. After thinking that Bloom was finally down for the count, Jim Gordon is now paying for his hubris at the hands of a giant Mr. Bloom and his army of gang members turned acolytes. Snyder’s knack for writing villains has been well-documented since the start of his career, but there is something especially off-putting about Bloom. After growing almost two stories, Bloom engages in a meticulously crafted rant about how gardens are pits of murder and trickery, much like Gotham itself. It isn’t the speech that makes Bloom so scary nor does his newly expanded power set; its his aloofness. Snyder writes Bloom as almost disinterested as he scoops up Gordon and needles him for his lack of backup. Bloom’s detached attitude and propensity for random violence has been detailed before, but now in Batman #48 we see just how far he is willing to go to reap what he has sown in his new garden.

As Bloom amps up his attack Snyder adroitly dovetails it into the issue’s B-plot: that of Bruce Wayne’s realization that he has to be Batman. Snyder tempers Bruce’s struggle with one of his trademark Gotham folk tales told by the one-time Clown Prince of Crime, before blowing up this tense quiet with Bloom's destruction of Gotham. One particular highlight of this carnage is when we watch Liv, Bruce’s first real friend his new life, attempts to fight fire with fire in a harrowing scene, made even more so by Capullo’s eerie pencils, Danny Miki’s heavy inks, and Fco Plascencia’s restrained colors. Batman has never been a title to shy away from darkness, but Snyder’s attention to character, familiar story beats like the Gotham folk tales, and ambitious plotting never make it feel punishing. Batman #48 is a deliberate issue that has a clear voice and direction, something that is sometimes overlooked in big DC releases.

Scott Snyder has been a consistent presence for Batman for a long while but the title wouldn’t be anywhere near what it is today without the work of Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, and Fco Plascencia; three other consistently great forces at work on Batman. #48 is no exception as that trio effortlessly sell the chaos and pain of Bloom’s first attack by filling the page with flames, debris and blood before messing with scale quite a bit as Bloom lumbers into the city with Jim Gordon in tow. While the art team’s action beats are lovingly rendered, the issue’s quite scene by the lake also proves to be a highlight as the team down shifts with expressive exposition shots and a burnt amber and grey color scheme, emanating from the street’s sole street lamp working against the darkness. Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, and Fco Plascencia are deft hands when it comes to Batman and you don’t have to be an eagle-eyed reader to see why. You simply need to pick up an issue and look for yourself. Batman #48 is just the latest in a long run of slick, expressive and vibrant comics.

While this may be just an ordinary Tuesday in Gotham City, both Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne stand at crossroads that are anything but ordinary. The people’s Batman may be at death’s door thanks to his first proper rogue, while the genuine article stands at the edge of the abyss, willing to dive in once again to save his city and reclaim his crusade no matter what the personal cost. Scott Snyder and his art team, while consistently entertaining, don’t rest on their laurels with this eighth part of "Superheavy." They started this arc big and they intend to end it even bigger.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel #3
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Takeshi Miyazawa and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Carmagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

"This doesn't feel like a victory."

Kamala Khan has gotten quite the promotion following Secret Wars, but while she's become an Avenger under Mark Waid's tenure, in her own title she's remained remarkably down to Earth. Perhaps a bit too down to Earth, if we're being honest - G. Willow Wilson continues to inject plenty of endearing characterization in Ms. Marvel, but the conclusion of this arc still feels a bit anticlimactic.

Part of what has hampered this arc a bit is the high concept - gentrification as the new supervillainy has been very in vogue since Netflix's Daredevil, but having this be the opening arc for Ms. Marvel feels somehow reductive. We've seen Kamala gain her powers, fight Jersey City's own supervillain, wrestle young love and her own Inhuman heritage with Kamran and Lineage, and even seen her meet her idol and maintain order at the end of the world. Having a new Ms. Marvel #1 was the opportunity to make a great second impression, but having Kamala take on Dr. Faust and his purple hypno-gas feels a little bit like a step back.

Yet while the overall premise feels a bit hokey, Wilson does deliver with her execution. Her fight sequences never feel overwrought, as Kamala shrinks and "embiggens" to beat down a cadre of "Kombucha-drinking weenie" HYDRA supporters (Kamala's words, not mine). But while Wilson opens the story strongly with a burst of action, the real strength of this issue is Kamala's growth as a teenager, not just as a superhero, as she teams up with Mike, the new girlfriend of Kamala's BFF Bruno. It's here that Wilson really digs deeply into the complicated, messy life of a teenager, as Kamala learns first-hand that Mike is just as likable a character as anyone else in this series.

And speaking of likable - Ms. Marvel may cast a spell on readers, but so much of that comes from the endearing and energetic artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa and Ian Herring. Miyazawa not only keeps the action looking fresh and kinetic, but he always remembers to keep the spotlight on Kamala's expressions, whether she's narrowly avoiding a HYDRA taser or smirking as she slams two bad guys together. His take on a possessed Bruno also looks appropriately eerie, while Mike steals the show when you see her face as she thinks about the missing Bruno. Miyazawa's action sequences also look superb, particularly when he uses a strobe effect to showcase Kamala in action. Colorist Ian Herring also produces some strong work here, giving energy and versimilitude to this world with bright yellows, blues and purples contrasting against easy-to-follow browns and maroons.

Yet while the first two-thirds of this issue operates smoothly, Wilson loses control of the narrative by the end of the issue, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Kamala and Mike's solution to cure Dr. Faust's hypnotized minions feels incredibly too convenient - can a cure to nanotech mist really be created by a 3D printer in the span of eight or nine hours? - and Faust's overall defeat feels a little too cartoony, even for this perpetually upbeat title. And speaking of perpetually upbeat, Wilson's attempts to inject a bit more angst into Kamala's life feels a bit forced - Kamala's family drama was perfectly sufficient conflict, but turning the public against her Peter-Parker style doesn't feel like the right fit.

While it's been wonderful watching Kamala Khan grow into her own as a teenager and as a superhero, her post-Secret Wars relaunch feels like a step backward rather than a step forward. The challenge with superhero stories - especially stories as new as Kamala's - is that there needs to be some degree of escalation to maintain momentum. This arc, unfortunately, feels a little anemic now that it's gone back to its street-level roots. While this book continues to be a decent read, that feels like too low of a bar for a title - and a creative team - this good. Here's hoping that Wilson and company can reignite the fun and excitement and innovation that made Ms. Marvel such a welcome title in the first place.

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