Best Shots Reviews: DAREDEVIL #3, BLACK CANARY #7, JEM & THE HOLOGRAMS #11

IDW Publishing January cover
Credit: IDW Publishing
Credit: Marvel Comics

Daredevil #3
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Ron Garney and Matt Milla
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Thanks to the mega-popular Netflix series of the same name, Daredevil's Q-rating has never been better - and in the hands of Charles Soule, Ron Garney and Matt Milla, Matt Murdock's not only gotten a dark new costume to match, but the very pacing of his stories has veered towards the TV model. While this may prove jarring to those who had embraced the brighter and bolder stories of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, there's a real solidness to the street-level tales Soule and Garney are developing.

Many superhero writers today struggle with the idea of exposition and accessibility - with all the mythologies and storylines that creep across a character like barnacles, Big Two comic books can sometimes come off as nonsensical to all but the most devout of readerships. But with Daredevil, there's a TV-style balancing act that Charles Soule puts together that I think works nicely - namely, he doesn't go too far off the deep end with introducing new characters and concepts, but he also gives readers just enough to work with, and then trusts them to figure the rest out. From the very first page, you know exactly what Daredevil is up against -- namely, running interference between the Chinatown mob boss Tenfingers and the ninja death cult known as the Hand. While there's tons of action in the mix, where Soule really excels is the drama - Daredevil is all about relationships, whether its Tenfingers' spooky malevolence or Matt wrestling with both his day job as well as mentoring the young superhero Blindspot.

Ultimately though, Soule doesn't reinvent the wheel - indeed, there's nothing broken about Daredevil that needs to get changed, corrected or fixed. Instead, it's just a matter of shifting the tone, coming into line with the gritty darkness of Netflix's Hell's Kitchen. And to that end, Ron Garney and Matt Milla prove to be the perfect artistic team for this book. Garney's angular work reminds me in many ways of Scott McDaniel - but instead of McDaniel's trademark strobing and acrobatics, Garney keeps his characters weighted and down to Earth. Matt Murdock isn't flipping and diving around his enemies, but diving in head-on, as one masterful double-page spread reveals. (Meanwhile, another panel featuring the Hand diving at Tenfingers' men is just the perfect kind of over-the-top.) Milla's colorwork, meanwhile, is a study of contrasts, and his use of black, white and red makes for some of the most visually arresting pages Marvel is putting out this side of The Mighty Thor.

That said, there are a few hiccups to this story. While Soule nails Tenfingers' creepiness as well as the hardships of the New York City legal system, his biggest contribution to Daredevil's mythology - a sidekick named Blindspot - still feels like an unneeded add-on. While the invisible Blindspot is a nice play on Daredevil's blindness - and making him an undocumented immigrant gives some nice potential story threads for Matt as a lawyer - there's nothing to him that particularly feels engaging or dynamic. Matt Murdock, depending on his mood, can osscilate in tone between something akin to Spider-Man, or something much darker and Frank Miller-esque. Blindspot, however, feels a little too upbeat and perky for Matt Murdock's crowd, and doesn't quite add enough to the storytelling mix to feel worthwhile.

Still, Blindspot could grow on us - and complaining about him does feel exceptionally nitpicky when you have all this gorgeous artwork to look at. Ultimately, Charles Soule's biggest success is just how easy it is to slip into Matt Murdock's life - both in and out of costume. Buoyed by some superb artwork by Garney and Milla, and this creative team reminds comic books readers and Netflix fans alike that now is a great time to be a Daredevil fan.

Credit: DC Comics

Black Canary #7
Written by Brenden Fletcher
Art by Annie Wu and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Brenden Fletcher and Annie Wu's rock-'n-roll take on Black Canary has always been about channeling loud superheroics through a musical lens, but this creative team cranks it up to 11 as Dinah faces off against a sonic titan known as the Quietus. While the visual pyrotechnics are firmly established, the structure of this composition can't help but feel off, as the writing often does more telling than showing.

The high concept of this story is probably the strongest hook Fletcher and Wu bring to the table - how better to showcase your sonic-screaming rock star superheroine than by pitting her against a creature that absorbs sound waves? Fletcher gears up Dinah's musical accouterments as "holy weapons in this war for the living universe," sort of taking a Scott Pilgrim or Jem and the Holograms and elevating the stakes writ large.

Fletcher and Wu also do superb work once the Quietus actually arrives, as Fletcher runs silent, simply pacing the choreography and getting the hell out of Wu's way. Wu and colorist Lee Loughridge are the highlights of this book, particularly with a very imaginative sequence featuring the Quietus knocking Dinah through sheet music. The visual signifiers Wu is playing with are great, such as a mute symbol as the Quietus steals people's voices, as well as the close-ups on Dinah's mouth as she lets loose her trademark sonic scream. Loughridge's colors are hot and energetic, with his use of hot pinks rivaling that of Spider-Gwen's Rico Renzi.

Unfortunately, though, while this story's concept is cool, Fletcher's rhythm is a bit off here - this issue starts off very slowly, with heaps of exposition to wade through, like Maeve's relationship with the band, Ditto's secret origin, or how Kurt Lance became an old man. Kurt might be the anchor across Black Canary's neck in this issue, as he takes the lead by laying out Team Canary's master plan - he comes off as annoying at best, and patronizing at worst. In certain ways, the high concept of this story would be a superb jumping-on point for lapsed readers, but having to navigate Dinah's supporting cast - many of which don't have a strong emotional hook in this issue - slows this Canary's roll.

While the plotting could use a tune-up, there's something electric to the artwork in Black Canary, which keeps this book going even when the silent sequences feel a little hollow. Music, more than anything else, is about rhythm and pacing, and a better division of exposition would have done wonders to keeping this issue moving. Still, the premise and art of Black Canary are undeniably exciting, and that makes this issue one that's worth checking out.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Jem and the Holograms #11
Written by Kelly Thompson
Art by Sophie Campbell, M. Victoria Robado and Shawn Lee
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Artist Sophie Campbell returns to kick off a new arc in Jem and the Holograms #11, ominously titled "Dark Jem - Part 1." The "Dark Jem" arc marks Kelly Thompson’s biggest departure yet from the original series in a spooky storyline that plays to this creative team's strengths. While Dark Jem is not as creepy in as Campbell’s downright gothic cover art implies, it’s an interesting new development in tune with some of the underappreciated sci-fi elements of the source materials. Something has gone wrong with Synergy, and she uses her new technoviral tunes to transform Jerrica and the other Holograms into mini-Misfits: dark, broody, and ready to cast a wide net for more new “recruits” with their new style and sound.

You can’t pretend the storyline isn’t a little trite, or executed with some expected cliches. Synergy turns Jerrica “bad,” so she gets a new hairstyle and a new wardrobe all at once. But Kelly Thompson knows what she’s about: Jem and the Holograms #11 isn’t out to be the most avant garde comic book hitting stores, it’s out to be an unapologetically fun read. "Good girl goes bad" storylines may be nothing new, but Thompson’s strong grasp on the characters and the promise of fresh eye-popping designs for the Holograms from Campbell will leave you itching for the rest of the arc. Thompson has made these new iterations of the Holograms lively and relatable characters whose growth you can’t help but want to follow through anything and everything Thompson decides to throw at them.

And fear not, Misfits fans: the Holograms’ nemeses are strongly represented in this arc as well, facing some slightly more mundane struggles (as the lives of rock superstars go). With front-woman Pizazz still recovering from the harrowing car crash that closed out the Viral arc, the Misfits are forced to find a new temporary lead singer. Finally it’s time for one of Campbell and Thompson’s original characters to take center stage. Though she’s had some page time here and there in previous issues, Blaze hasn’t had many opportunities to shine as much more than a friend of Clash and ally of the band and it will be intriguing to see if Thompson is able to give her as much life as she’s imbued in the show’s original cast.

Though Jem doesn’t necessarily pack a big emotional punch, it will keep you reading on the strength of its charm and the skill of its team. Campbell’s cover art promises some big changes for the Holograms that the issue doesn’t deliver on, but Jem and the Holograms #11 is a fun read with some strong hooks for the arc it’s introducing. The Jem and the Holograms team has set a high bar for themselves with their reimagining of a classic ‘80s cartoon, and with more emphasis on truly original storylines and characters on the way in coming issues, it will be interesting to see if they continue to deliver.

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