Best Shots Reviews: DAREDEVIL #4, DARK KNIGHT III #3, CHEW #55, More

Image Comics February 2016 cover
Credit: Image Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Daredevil #4
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Ron Garney, Goran Sudzuka and Matt Milla
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

"I'm afraid I've made the biggest mistake of my life."

While Daredevil may be the Man Without Fear, that doesn't mean that he's also the Man Without Doubt. On the contrary, this Catholic lawyer-cum-vigilante has been defined by his inner struggles just as much as his grungy turf of Hell's Kitchen. And with this fourth issue of Daredevil, Charles Soule, Ron Garney, Goran Sudzuka and Matt Milla really tap into that Matt Murdock's crisis of faith, finally giving this run the emotional foundation it's needed.

Perhaps it's because of the guest stars. As Matt runs operations for Steve Rogers, it's clear that this once-and-future Captain America really brings out the best in Charles Soule as a writer - there's something striking about putting this paragon of unequivocal goodness alongside someone as morally conflicted as Matt Murdock, who sees an unsettling reflection of himself in the crime boss known as Tenfingers. For all of his legal kung fu, Soule knows that Matt is in fact a very singularlydriven person - and Soule cleverly shows how easily that assuredness can turn people into zealots and monsters. It's the same sort of moral grayness that defined Daredevil's Netflix series, and with similar questions of the ethics of vigilantism already being asked in Season Two's trailers, this feels like a great fit for the comics, as well.

It's also telling that even though there's some gripping action acting as a foundation to Matt's ruminations, it's very secondary compared to the deep character work that Soule is doing here. While I've been fairly skeptical of Matt's new apprentice, Blindspot, I have to give Soule credit where it's due, as the character finally justifies himself in the greater narrative. One of the strengths of Daredevil as a series has always been to give nuance and layers to its villains, and having Blindspot be so intimately connected with Tenfingers' operation allows for some emotional scenes. In particular, there's a wonderful moment where Sam's mother, who has become consumed in Tenfingers' thrall, learns her son is a superhero, and slaps the Blindspot mask off his face. "It's all right, Mom," the now-invisible man responds. "I don't want to see you anymore either."

These great moments are anchored by Daredevil's artistic team, which is now far and away one of the best new arrangements in Marvel's relaunched lineup. Ron Garney and Goran Sudzuka have a beautiful angularity to their work - in particular, the nighttime sequences with Daredevil feel scratchy and wild, almost like the Scott McDaniel stories of the '90s. Steve Rogers, meanwhile, has a roughness to him that almost evokes Frank Miller himself - and believe me, I can't think of a higher compliment than that. But the secret weapon of Daredevil, as always, is colorist Matt Milla, who gives this book a wonderful sense of mood and atmosphere, alternating between washed-out office sequences to bold reds, whites and greens when Daredevil comes out at night.

While the first few issues of Daredevil were largely setup, Soule, Garney, Sudzuka and Milla are now cooking with gas, showing that there's still plenty of punch to Matt Murdock's post-Waid and Samnee adventures. While that previous era of Daredevil was about opening Matt Murdock up to new emotions and new readers, this run is all about Matt Murdock making his inevitable return to the darkness - a characterization which almost feels like gravity at this point. When you fight for the angels but have a face like the Devil, perhaps that faltering is inevitable. So it's great that this creative team makes a fall from grace look this good.

'Dark Knight III: The Master Race #3' variant cover
'Dark Knight III: The Master Race #3' variant cover
Credit: DC Comics

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #3
Written by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello
Art by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, Brad Anderson, John Romita Jr., Frank Miller and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Clem Robins
Published by DC Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

With the "New 52" era of DC Comics pretty much now heading into the rear view mirror, Dark Knight III: The Master Race is shaping up to take its place right beside Before Watchmen and maybe even The Sandman: Overture as the uneventful events of the past few years. These prestige products won’t define this portion of DC’s publishing history but they will be fascinating looks at the way that DC is trying to mine its own past trying to find the “next big thing.” With the caliber and the fears of Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello driving DKIII #3, there should be something interesting happening here. Both creators can be powerful and provocative when they want to be, making you question just what you’re reading. But the merger of these two writers comes off as a watered-down version of each of them, trapped in a very by-the-numbers kind of event comic book of the 21st century.

Three issues in and this is really the first one with Bruce Wayne in it - an old Bruce once again having to deal with his age. And even though he tells his protege Carrie that “the fire went out,” he knows it's his body that has given out after the years of punishment. So he lets Carrie be the hero in a world where, unknown to Bruce, radical fundamentalist Kandorians have been loosed on the world, wanting to remake our world into their lost Krypton. Superman sits in his Fortress of Solitude, frozen in place on a throne as the Kryptonians burn his planet. The Kandorians are an old-fashioned threat, so they need old-fashioned heroes like Batman and Superman.

And yet after three issues, we barely know these heroes as Miller and Azzarello have spent their time on the super-daughters of these two, Carrie Kelly and Lara. As the world has been abandoned by the previous generation of heroes, it was looking like it was going to be up to this next generation to define and defend it. Unfortunately, when trouble shows up in this issue, Carrie and Lara become at best sidekicks for the old men - the old, tired men who have to save everyone once again. Sound the trumpets and let the cavalry ride in to the rescue.

Switching the story to the old men feels like a retreat from the writers. There are still five issues to go after this one but this issue turns DKIII into an old fashioned World’s Finest story. There’s nothing new, exciting, dangerous or even angering here. Miller has spent the better part of the current century trying to be an agent provocateur, winding up his audience in All-Star Batman and Holy Terror. Azzarello has never seemed to back down from a fight, except when DC gets him to write mainstream and Azzarello turns into Johnny DC. Then he becomes just another Batman writer, strangely hesitant to do anything dynamic with the character.

At least, with Andy Kubert drawing the comic book, you know just what you’re going to get. The artistic flourishes of the first issue and Klaus Janson’s inking flair has recessed deeply into the backgrounds and Kubert produces a very stable and workmanlike issue. Janson, who has been a heavy inker in the past, lets Kubert be Kubert, occasionally supplying some embellishment that looks more like Joe Kubert than Klaus Janson. As the world is taken over by a race of Supermen, Kubert fills his pages with solid superheroic melodrama.

Any real excitement in this issue is generated where it’s been in the previous issues-- in the attached minicomic. Miller and Azzarello’s Green Lantern story tries to actually swing a few emotionally and even politically-charged punches. Far more exciting is the John Romita Jr. breakdowns, finished by Miller himself. We’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands of pages, of Romita Jr. and Janson but the Romita Jr./Miller artistic airing is something unique. Miller’s line in this story has power and strength to it. The artwork feels different from anything else that’s on the comic racks today. Miller and Azzarello also feel more alive here as they take more chances with the story in these minicomics than they do in the main story this issue.

The first Dark Knight series was revolutionary. The second series was rebellious. But with this third series, attitude has given away to assuredness, as Miller, Azzarello, Kubert and Janson pull away from the new, young and unknown characters in favor of something a bit more commonplace. Batman and Superman overshadow their younger counterparts, making this latest issue a very conventional team-up of DC’s two oldest heroes. Dark Knight III: The Master Race #3 is the most traditional DC superhero issue that either Frank Miller or Brian Azzarello have had their names attached to, playing this issue safe and tame rather than pushing the story forward for the daughters and futures of Batman and Superman.

Credit: Image Comics

Chew #55
Written and Lettered by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The last few issues of Chew have been all about the plot twist, as John Layman and Rob Guillory prepare for their final arc with foodie detective Tony Chu - and after months of teasing, this creative team definitely delivers.

While some of the best issues of Chew have typically focused on unique angles on weaponizing food, Layman knows that longtime readers don't need those kinds of tricks to stick around - at this point, with only five issues to go, you're either in or you're out. Instead, this issue focuses mainly on Mason Savoy, following the cliffhanger of last issue. It's less of a narrative issue and more like being led with a blindfold - you don't know where Layman is taking you, but the experience of fumbling around trying to anticipate where he's headed is half the fun. But in so doing, Layman also gets to flex his muscles in his characterization, which so often gets overlooked in favor of his plotting and culinary gags - the chatty Savoy is a poet in a brute's body, and there's a certain soulfulness that comes across in his dialogue.

And speaking of soulfulness, Rob Guillory is delivering some really moving stuff with this issue, from the first page of Tony finding his girlfriend Amelia's bloodied body, to the small smile on Savoy's face in an old photograph of him and his wife. There are lots of pale white figures clashing with dark shadows and red skies here, lending a wonderful air of drama to the whole issue. For someone who has built their career on cartoony and hilarious work, Guillory sure knows how to lay on the pathos, with even the exaggerated Savoy coming across as a haunted, tortured soul.

If there is any critique I'd have to give about Chew #55, it's that because Savoy's storyline is so compelling, Layman's B-story can't help but suffer in comparison. As this series has progressed, Tony Chu has often become the straight man to everybody else's weirdness and drama, whether it's his sister's death, his daughter's disappearance, or the impending end-of-the-world investigations Amelia has commenced. As Tony winds up having to battle a carrot-slinging terrorist, you can't help but feel like his struggle is perfunctory when placed alongside the mystery Savoy is unspooling. It's not even a matter of Layman and Guillory slipping up artistically - it's simply the comparison of end products that can't be argued with here.

That said, Layman and Guillory have promised us a big swerve, and with Chew #55, that moment has finally arrived. In many ways, an issue like this really drives that finality home, reminding us that while we've had 55 amazing issues of this series, once Chew is gone, it is truly gone. The end is nigh, and maybe the time for laughing is over. The last supper of Tony Chu is fast approaching - and while it may be bittersweet, issues like this remind us that this series deserves your attention.

Credit: Image Comics

Wynonna Earp #1
Written by Beau Smith
Art by Lora Innes, Jay Fotos and Carlos Guzman
Lettering by Robbie Robbins
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

The only thing more reliable than a '90s revival are the inevitable television and film adaptations that mine the creator-owned works of one of the most profitable decades in the industry. With Wynonna Earp, we get a handy two-fer, as Beau Smith’s character returns to print on the occasion of her titular TV series making its way to Syfy in April. For the fans of the original series, both prospects are liable to elicit some joy, but for the uninitiated it is a pleasure that will be limited in its appeal.

Like just about every other comic book that has followed Men in Black from the early 1990s, Wynonna Earp works for special organization that hunts the supernatural threats of the world. Her point of difference, such as it is, is that she’s a loose canon intent on bringing down Mars Del Rey, the head of the demon cannibal cartel that has taken over a small town. This alone should make the book engaging from the beginning, but unfortunately for the descendant of Wyatt Earp, things are far from OK at this particular corral.

Smith does a pretty decent job of catching up new readers with the basic premise, but if you are like this reviewer and have no prior knowledge of the character, then there is little here that is likely to win you over. The exposition comes thick and fast in the first page, and never makes good on the promise of the setup after this. The paper-thin plot has some unintentionally hilarious dialogue (“I find that if you spit a mouthful of milk in someone’s face, you learn a lot about their personality”), which is an absolute shame given that the narrative lends itself to a irreverent take on the genre. Instead, it feels every bit the police procedural, just with more random acts of vampire violence.

There are times when Lora Innes’ art meets the expectations of the genre, her splattered panels of Earp casually chatting to a colleague while covered in blood come the closest to the twisted sense of humor that Smith is going for here. Yet her art also feels raw to the point of being undercooked, an inconsistency that is hard to overlook when the book partly relies on the mood necessary for the horror setting. There are establishing shots that deliver on the eeriness of small town America, while in other scenes, backgrounds disappear complete as if they were forgotten in the process. It’s a frustrating inconsistency, or at least a stylistic choice that doesn’t feel conducive towards drawing in anything more than a casual reader.

Wynonna Earp has a solid, if wholly familiar, concept that is chomping at the bit to be something bigger than it is. Unfortunately for the forthcoming series, this book offers little hope of the setup being anything other than another variation on the "lone gun with a vendetta story," married with a procedural narrative we’ve seen countless times before.

Credit: Oni Press

Rick and Morty #11
Written by Pamela Ribon
Art by Marc Ellerby and Ryan Hill
Lettering by Crank!
Published by Oni Press
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

What do you get when you mix a body-switching comedy with a high-concept story about a hyper-advanced (and unaccredited) high school simulator? You get Rick and Morty #11, an issue that takes the wacky sci-fi stakes and emotional core of the Adult Swim hit and translates it wonderfully onto the printed page. Written by veteran TV writer Pamela Ribon, this eleventh issue deftly balances its A- and B-plots throughout culminating in a hilariously satisfying read that isn’t unlike watching an episode of the series. Accompanied by Marc Ellerby and Ryan Hill on pencils and colors respectively, Ribon brings the funny in a big way in Rick and Morty #11 but also manages to display the properties’ secret weapon - its deep well of emotion toward its characters - in an unexpected way. Though this issue may just feel like a longer episode of the TV show, it still manages to give readers a singularly fun and engaging experience.

Opening in deep space, this issue follows Rick, having just drugged and kidnapped his grandson Morty, as he is bound and determined to make him a man this day. In order to do that, he has signed him up for the prestigious and very expensive HSS Academy, a company that subjects its customers to “real” high school situations in order to have them graduate in a single day. As if that wasn’t enough, Summer and Jerry have stowed away on Rick’s ship and accidentally activate one of Rick’s dormant experiments, which switches their bodies Freaky Friday style.

Right from the jump, Ribon wastes no time laying the groundwork for her story. She quickly establishes the A-story and then quickly shifts into the B-story, jumping back and forth between them throughout until its time to dovetail them into one for the conclusion. While Ribon’s plotting is tight as a drum, it's her character work that really makes this issue soar. Ribon displays a fast and firm handle on the big personalities at play in this installment, especially that of Rick’s. Early on, while Rick, Summer and Morty are still in route to the academy, Summer’s hook up from the night before also wakes up in the ship. Rick then jettisons him from the capsule without blinking an eye explaining, “No non-family stowaways! It's a rule! It's a new rule, but I like it.”

Ribon’s Rick is hilariously manic throughout and she doesn’t slow up on the humor once through Rick and Morty #11 however, it is the writer’s use of the heart underneath the humor that makes this issue exceptional. While Morty is repeatedly murdered in his high school simulator, Summer and Jerry end up having a fulfilling side adventure that draws comparisons to emotional episodes of the series like ”Rixty Minutes” and the season two finale ”The Wedding Squanchers”. While Summer is an unwilling participant in an impromptu couple’s weekend planned by Beth, Jerry uses his time in Summer’s body to have a fun camping trip with her girlfriends, rendered in quiet and beautiful panels by Marc Ellerby and Ryan Hill. Rick even gets in on it a bit by revealing to Morty that the reason he planned this whole thing in the first place was to recapture some of his own lost youth and to show Morty that he would always be behind him if things got truly weird. It is a beautifully written button on top of a hysterical sci-fi comedy and one that sets Rick and Morty #11 apart from some of the more joke heavy installments in the series.

While Pamela Ribon brings the humor and the heart to Rick and Morty #11, Marc Ellerby and Ryan Hill deliver some choice visuals while still adhering to the established look of the show. I mentioned above Ellerby and Hill’s low-key and engaging interpretation of Jerry’s girl’s weekend as a stand out, and it really is. Especially when compared to the indie comix horrors of the HSS Academy. While Jerry’s idyllic weekend is all well and good, Ellerby and Hill really go for the gusto in the academy scenes, throwing all manner of aliens, face ripping pets, and cars with razor sharp teeth at Morty as he attempts to level up throughout each grade. I really like that Marc Ellerby and Ryan Hill don’t stray too far away from the established look and color scheme of the show, but I like even more that they are willing to push it just a bit further for comics, where television ratings mean absolutely bupkis and they can draw and color whatever their weird little hearts desire.

Rick and Morty is a property that is quickly becoming a sure thing, but as this eleventh issue shows, all the jokes in the world don’t amount to much if you don’t care about the characters telling them. Pamela Ribon clearly cares about Rick and his dysfunctional family and she wants us to care to, so she delivers a story where they are more than just joke machines, they are people; weird, semi-broken, and wanting people. Aided by the show accurate colors and pencils of Ryan Hill and Marc Ellerby, Rick and Morty #11 is the kind of story that would be right at home on your TV screens and one that you give to any reader on the fence about this property and have them be converted.

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