Best Shots Reviews: DR. STRANGE #5, BATGIRL #48, DEJAH THORIS #1, More

"Dejah Thoris #1" variant cover by Tula Lotay
Credit: Tula Lotay (Dynamite Entertainment)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Doctor Strange #5
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Mark Irwin, John Livesay, Victor Olazaba and Jaime Mendoza
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Marvel has revitalized the magical side of their universe, and Doctor Strange is at the center of it all. As the title gears up for the “Last Days of Magic” crossover with Scarlet Witch and Hercules, Jason Aaron uses this issue as a sort of prologue that sets some of the stakes. Chris Bachalo needs the help of an army of inkers to get through this one, but it doesn’t affect the quality of the book, which is a rare feat. Compared to what seems to be on the horizon for Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme, what we’ve seen so far has just been fun and games. Aaron, Bachalo and crew are dedicated to redefining how magic plays a role in the Marvel Universe, and that’s what makes this book so exciting.

Bachalo’s pages are much more restrained than we’ve seen them in the past and the amount of inkers seems to suggest that the artist was cutting it close on his deadlines. And that might be why there’s some simplicity to his layouts. Bachalo is one of the better artists working today but sometimes his penchant for making a page look cool affected its readability. This issue doesn’t have that problem at all and the inkers remain remarkably consistent throughout. I’m always going to get hung up on Bachalo’s coloring, though. While I realize that using certain washes of color are an aesthetic choice that in many ways are meant to enhance the script, the dull grays causes the panels to run together and don’t create enough pop to make some moments more memorable.

For his part, Aaron gives us more insight into how Doctor Strange’s powers work, and pulls a common thread that we’ve been seeing in the other magic-focused titles. There is a heavy price to pay for tapping into magical forces, and the each spell costs the caster a bit of their life. So while we’ve seen Marvel’s magic users put on great displays of power, this paints those in a different light. The cost to protect humanity is much higher for these characters. This twist also provides a great beat for Wong, Strange’s best friend and confidant. To call him a sidekick would undermine their years together, and finally we see how Wong is able to consistently nurse the good Doctor back to health time and time again after suffering from the maladies of black magic. Aaron gets to go a soft horror route with the narrative while upping the threat level. That’s a good bit of comic book writing.

It might be some time before this run is remembered as fondly as Mark Waid’s Daredevil or Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, but that’s because Aaron’s aspirations have always been so much bigger. Marvel’s solo title have recently tried to remain a little bit insular, to provide heroes with smaller conflicts that they can handle on their own. But Aaron has always had a “go big or go home” mentality. When he wrote Wolverine and the X-Men, he made Krakoa the site of the school grounds. When he wrote The Mighty Thor, his big arc was called “Godbomb.” With Doctor Strange, his plan is no different: tell a huge story that speaks to the heart of the characters involved. Aaron is lucky enough to have a collaborator that is suited for these particularly sensibilities and as the the “Last Days of Magic” approach, the writer looks to keep deliver a story that’s right in line with his mighty Marvel tradition.

Credit: DC Comics

Batgirl #48
Written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher
Art by Babs Tarr, Rob Haynes, Serge LaPointe and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Barbara Gordon has taken on some colorful criminals in the pages of Batgirl lately, but now Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr are hitting Burnside's finest where it hurts. Teaming Babs up with fellow Birds of Prey alum Black Canary, Batgirl #48 continues its streak as a thoughtful, energetic and tense book.

Part of Batgirl's appeal since Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr have taken over has been the fact that they've never wallowed in the darkness and despair that has defined much of the rest of the Bat-family - from the bright colors to the Millennial-friendly villains, Batgirl has been a book that's been fun above all else. And from the very beginning of this issue, this creative team has shown us how awesome it would be to be Batgirl, including a romantic rooftop picnic with Luke Fox (donning his Batwing armor as a nice touch), or snickering at Dinah Lance as she almost judo-chops a group of Black Canary super-fans. These moments give us a touchstone to the humanity underneath all these costumes and superpowers, and gives us a real reason to care about Barbara Gordon and her supporting cast.

But these grin-eliciting moments also help leaven a story which could otherwise turn very dark, very fast. While the book's initial villains - the florescent-colored video game criminals named Co-Op - open this book with some great buoyency, there's a much more insidious subplot going on underneath the surface. This creative team has pit Barbara against some flashy villains, but with this issue, Batgirl is in much more serious peril - namely, that her photographic memory has begun to fail. Stewart and Fletcher actually play on the monthly nature of their title, as characters deliver exposition that completely contradicts what Barbara (and even her readers) might remember. Thankfully, Stewart and Fletcher don't drag this subplot out, giving us just enough answers so that Batgirl and Black Canary can kick some collective butt - and believe me, it's a fun sequence - while still leaving us on a tense cliffhanger.

Tag-teaming with colorists Serge LaPointe and Lee Loughridge, artist Babs Tarr continues to draw expressive, exciting work that never lacks in clarity, playing nicely with Rob Haynes's ambitiously dense layouts. Tarr's sense of design has been praised in the past, but this issue feels like an especially strong showing from her - not only is there a great sense of weight to Batgirl's mask, which feels like an extra layer to her expressive faces rather than something just painted on her skin, but her take on Batwing is especially engaging, with a pair of glowing lenses that really play up his tech background. LaPointe's colorwork feels a bit more electric than Loughridge's, who sometimes lacks energy in the book's second half.

While plenty of Batgirl's rogues gallery have been bright and bubbly villains, Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr remind us there's more to Barbara Gordon than just fun and games. Tackling some bigger perils than we've typically seen of this series, Batgirl is delivering an ambitious and superbly constructed storyline.

Credit: Marvel Comics

A-Force #2
Written by Kelly Thompson and G. Willow Wilson
Art by Jorge Molina and Laura Martin
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

If you're looking for classic Avengers action, A-Force is the book for you. While the All-New All-Different Avengers have delivered four issues and just recently filled out their whole roster, A-Force does it in a stylish and propulsive two issues. Writers Kelly Thompson and G. Willow Wilson assemble the Marvel universe’s most powerful ladies to stand against a threat that no one of them to face alone, all while butting heads and punching bad guys as they fight to save their mysterious friend from another world. If that wasn’t enough, artist Jorge Molina renders it all with a keen eye for action and character beats, aided by the grounded yet rich colors of Laura Martin. There are a slew of team books under the Marvel banner, but A-Force #2 stands out among them and provides a very strong case for A-list status.

Battleworld has long been destroyed, but Singularity has survived, and is now in the hands of her former teammates. Acting as our point of view through the duration of this second issue, writers Kelly Thompson and G. Willow Wilson invest us in this new, strange character that charmingly talks like Starfire from Teen Titans GO! occasionally while quickly surrounding her with the most badass women the Marvel universe has to offer. And when I say quickly, I do mean quickly. A-Force #2 moves like a bullet train in a refreshing change of pace from the typical sluggish team origin. Thompson and Wilson cast the team in a meta-human chase film as Antimatter is always a step behind looking to end Singularity and her no-longer long-lost friends.

While the plot is moving at double time, Thompson and Wilson still give us plenty of character interaction as the dialogue comes as quickly as the action. With Singularity as our "in," Thompson and Wilson give her poignant moments with each of her team members, while taking full advantage of the natural tensions that rise between them and their natural hierarchy as a team. Its no surprise that Jen and Medusa clash, or that Carol slots into the ultra-superpowered Leslie Knope-like leadership role from up in her Alpha Flight space station. Thompson and Wilson display a deep understanding of what makes these women great as solo heroes, but when they put them all together, that’s when the real fireworks happen. It also doesn’t hurt that we didn’t have to wait an additional two issues to see just how awesome they are together.

A-Force, when you really think about it, is one of the most powerful teams currently occupying the Marvel universe and thankfully, artist Jorge Molina and colorist Laura Martin know exactly how to display that in the most exciting way possible. Molina, an artist who has been with this team since Battleworld, makes the most of the space on every page, filling it with either explosive action or tightly-packed character work. Rendered mostly in panel grids, Molina allows each team member a showcase of their powers, like Medusa using her hair to whip Antimatter into a building or Nico Minoru unmaking her foe with her arcane powers.

While action is always appreciated in superhero comic books, Jorge Molina also displays a wry sense of visual humor throughout, with exaggerated, yet endearing facial expressions and playful destruction like Antimatter destroys the wedding Nico was attending in the background while the ladies talk strategy in the foreground. Molina’s practiced pencils are great, but wouldn’t look anywhere near as good without the colors of Laura Martin, who gives a grounded look to the insanity happening throughout this second issue. Martin hammers home the ethereal looks of Singularity and Antimatter but tempers it with muted, yet striking color choices for the team’s costumes as well as backgrounds that seem just a touch darker than the colorful characters that occupy them.

A-Force #2 reads like a Sleater-Kinney song sounds: all confident bravado and a relentless pace. While the original series was inescapably tied to a company wide, Kelly Thompson, G. Willow Wilson, Jorge Molina and Laura Martin quickly cast off those ropes of continuity to let these ladies stand on their own and get down to the important work of punching weird stuff and giving each other sass. Teams are a dime a dozen in comics, but very rarely do you get a team like A-Force; one stocked with fan favorite powerhouses with a creative team with the talent to give them stories worthy of their station. There’s the All-New All-Different, the New, and even the Uncanny, but make mine A-Force.

Credit: DC Comics

Midnighter #9
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by ACO, Hugo Petrus and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

With a multi-million-dollar movie coming up, it's perhaps no surprise that DC Comics would push the Suicide Squad onto its other books, but in the case of Midnighter #9, they actually wind up being the least of this issue's hooks. Call it a tribute to the consistency of Steve Orlando and ACO, as this book continues to take on all comers with its unique blend of black comedy and ultraviolence.

In certain ways, it almost feels like Midnighter #9 is two comic books jammed into one, as Orlando keeps Midnighter on his quest to find the missing superweapons of the God Garden. By now, the formula of this book should be apparent to any reader - Orlando comes up with a bad guy with crazy or just plain over-the-top powers, and then the Midnighter gets to dispatch said bad guy with a quip and various dismembering implements.

In other words, it ain't broke, and Orlando doesn't try to fix it, as Midnighter breaks into a space station and battles a vicious super-speedster, which ACO portrays with numerous inset panels and some particularly dangerous-looking lightning. And since I'm talking about what people should already know about Midnighter, it's this - ACO is what makes this book, as he not only translates the sublime lunacy from Orlando's scripts, but he adds on his own layer of visual intricacies that pushes this book to ths next level of awesomeness. Hugo Petrus, who takes on a few action-packed pages for ACO, does great work at meshing his style, keeping the trademark inset panels and lush inking. Combined with some eye-popping colorwork from Romulo Fajardo, Jr. - who should be praised as one of DC's best colorists in their stable these days - and this book consistently outclasses much of its competition.

With all this going for it, in many ways, the inclusion of the Suicide Squad almost feels unnecessary. Consider it one of the evils of marketing that DC had to promote the Squad front-and-center on the cover, as if this story was actually about them - Orlando is playing the long game, and so if we see much in the way of resolution with Harley Quinn, Deadshot and their band of ne'er-do-wells, it probably won't be until next issue. In particular, Orlando's new character, Afterthought, feels like he comes a little too soon after the big bad of the last arc - but in Afterthought's defense, he does put up the fight that the previous villain never had it in him to mount.

While the plot structure may feel a little jerky, that's a small price to pay for Steve Orlando, ACO and Hugo Petreus essentially giving us two stories for the price of one. Orlando truly has been enjoying an embarrassment of riches with his art team, and I can't help but feel like he must be inspired to keep upping his game every time he sees pages come in. And honestly? That's how comic books should be. It feels like there is more craft, care and consideration in one issue of Midnighter than there is in half a dozen bigger name titles at DC and Marvel, and it continues to be a pleasure to watch this scrappy title succeed.

Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

Dejah Thoris #1
Written by Frank J. Barbiere
Art by Francesco Manna and Morgan Hickman
Letters by Erica Schultz
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Dynamite Entertainment is in the midst of a major revamp of its female heroes. Mere weeks ago, the new and improved Red Sonja hit shelves to critical acclaim and a quick second printing. This month, it's Dejah Thoris turn, and so far, Dynamite Entertainment is two for two when it comes to its newly redesigned female-led solo titles. Treachery is afoot in the kingdom of Helium and its rightful ruler has gone missing but before the Princess of Mars can ascend to her throne, the shocking revelation that Dejah is adopted shakes our heroine down the core and sends her into a self-imposed exile in order to learn the truth. Writer Frank J. Barbiere, co-creator of the pulpy Five Ghosts, acquits himself admirably to the regal world of Barsoom as well as the poised, yet gritty voice of Thoris herself. Aided by some slick pencils by Francesco Manna and vibrant colors by Morgan Hickman, Dejah Thoris #1 stands as a confident example of what an imprint can do when they put their money where their mouth is in regards to their female heroes.

They say the bigger you are, the harder you fall, and when our story begins, Dejah Thoris is a living, breathing example of that. Forced to abandon her royal name and join some sort of military outfit in the outlands of Barsoom, Dejah is fallen but not broken as she adapts to her newfound hardscrabble existence by training as hard as possible, wielding a Martian axe in each hand. After this tease of Dejah’s life outside the comfort of Helium, Barbiere tosses us back in time to a few days before the cold open to give us context.

One of the most enjoyable things about Barbiere’s first script for this new title is that while we start with a brand new status quo for Dejah, Barbiere doesn’t waste page space retelling us who the princess of Mars is before shattering her world. Dejah Thoris #1 assumes that you, the audience, is at least aware of her, even if its just in passing. After the cold open, Barbiere gives us the smallest taste of her life and duties in the palace before stripping all the away and introducing us to the series’ possible antagonist, Councilman Valoris. In the space saved thanks to skipped reintroduction, Barbiere lays the court intrigue on thick as Dejah’s true love, John Carter, reveals that her father has gone missing and Dejah must take the throne in order to keep Helium from descending into chaos. This, of course, goes aganist the plans on the bent councilman who quickly imprisons Dejah and starts to make accusations that she isn’t the royal daughter that she has always believed she was.

The theme of identity carries through all throughout this debut issue, giving it a more personal plot tempered by the action of the cold open, the subterfuge of Valoris’ plan and Dejah’s subsequent escape to the outlands. Red Sonja #1 employed a similar approach by making Sonja an unwilling enemy of her homeland, but Dejah Thoris #1 completely tears down Dejah’s persona as the princess of Mars and starts her over at square one, peeling away the expectations the audience may have had for this title thanks to the previous one and making this new number one as fresh as possible for a whole new audience. It is risky stuff, but sometimes you have to tear everything down in order to build something better and Dejah Thoris #1 is a confident first step in a wholly new direction.

While this debut is all about getting Dejah out of her comfort zone, Francesco Manna’s pencils and Morgan Hickman’s colors hit the sweet spot between classic pulp visuals and flashy modern comic artwork to deliver a slick looking and richly colored debut. Drawing more than a passing comparison to the rounded pencils of Terry Dodson, Francesco Manna does a wonderful job with the regal details of Helium as well as making Dejah herself look powerful and beautiful without going full cheesecake, like other takes on the character. Adding another layer of visual energy to the debut is Morgan Hickmanm whose sun-baked colors hammer home the alien nature of Mars as well as setting this debut apart from other darker and dour entries into the Barsoom canon.

Dynamite Comics made us a promise last year in regards to its top three female characters. With Dejah Thoris #1 hitting the shelves this week, we have yet another example of Dynamite delivering on that promise with a fun, engaging issue from a solid creative team. Frank J. Barbiere, Francesco Manna, and Morgan Hickman are playing with house money with Dejah Thoris but know enough not to over play their hands. Dejah Thoris #1 is another great reintroduction to a character that has always been on the verge of being A-list, even if she has to lose it all to finally become the hero that she has always meant to be.

Similar content
Twitter activity