Best Shots Reviews: SPIDER-GWEN #6, GREEN LANTERN CORPS: EDGE OF OBLIVION #3, More

DC Comics March 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Gwen #6
Written by Jason Latour
Art by Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez bring closure for the radioactive Gwen Stacy in Spider-Gwen #6, as we come to the satisfying end to an engaging, frenetic and stylish first arc for the Spider-Woman of Earth-65. Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn's independent struggles to process the death of Peter Parker come together in the concluding installment of “Greater Power," an issue which blends action and drama together to make for a focused finale.

Jason Latour has a great handle on character: Harry Osborn's misguided anger and frustration hit all too close to home for Gwen, who just sees Peter's death repeating itself, spurring her into greater action. With Captain America incapacited and S.H.I.E.L.D. in her ear, it's up to Gwen to talk Harry Osborn down from his misguided quest for vengeance over the death of Peter Parker. This is an action-packed issue, working to Robbi Rodriguez's strengths in presenting fluid and dynamic fight sequences. Onomatopoeia rings out in harsh, sketchy letters on the walls behind each impact, while Gwen and Cap's surroundings buckle and deform as they struggle against a beast. Rodriguez maintains a tight focus on his characters' facial expressions, capturing Cap's defiance and Harry's sorrow in equal measure as Latour heads towards the finish line of their story arc. As always, colorist Rico Renzi splashes neon blue, pink and green atop Rodriguez's animated panels, making for a graffiti-inspired aesthetic that underlines the weirdness of Earth-65.

Latour's realistic approach to the sensitivity of teenagers and the ramifications of bullying is perfectly demonstrated here in Gwen's dialogue with the mutated Harry; Harry makes a darkly comedic reference to their Dungeons & Dragons sessions in happier days before claiming he was “just trying to do the right... thing.” Gwen cuts through Harry's attempted pledge to the greater good with the stark truth; that we lash out most when we feel weakest. Peter's experiments in becoming the Lizard, Harry's devolution into the Green Goblin and Gwen's initial bravado as Spider-Woman all stem from childhood social ostracization. At its core, this entire arc has reinterpreted the cautionary tale of the death of Uncle Ben to an entire group of childhood peers; Peter is the Ghost of Spider-Man Past, Harry is the Ghost of Spider-Man Present and Gwen is the Ghost of Spider-Man future. With great power comes great responsibility, and Latour has shown us three unique reactions to that most famous of creeds.

Poignant character moments and exciting fight sequences make up the bulk of Spider-Gwen #6, finally lifting the shadow of Peter Parker's death from Gwen Stacy's life. Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez have successfully refreshed the core tenets of Spider-Man to create a unique new universe of characters that, although positively ancient, feel brand-new. All in all, Spider-Gwen #6 is a fitting conclusion to an absorbing story arc.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Lantern Corps: Edge of Oblivion #3
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Ethan Van Sciver and Jason Wright
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

While Tom Taylor has proven his characterization chops over on Batman/Superman, the combined weight of Guy Gardner, Kilowog, John Stewart, Simon Baz and more proves to be a little too much to handle in Green Lantern Corps: Edge of Oblivion #3, a book that has some sparks of promise, but ultimately gets drowned out in a cavalcade of sci-fi action.

That said, I'd be lying if this issue didn't start off strong - there's a wonderful two-page sequence where Taylor gets to the heart of former space princess Iolande, as he shows how her childhood on the Planet Betrassus has informed her current pursuits as a heroic Green Lantern. It's these moments that show some real excellence in this issue - but unfortunately, Taylor also has to jump from character to character to character, leaving him little time to do much more than set up the next big plot point. Characters like Guy Gardner - whose aggressive characterization has already been well-mined - and Kilowog instead get the majority of the spotlight here, which winds up hamstringing Taylor and makes Edge of Oblivion look a little too familiar.

The other familiar thing about this book is the reliance on big action set pieces - but just like the characterization, there's so much going on that it winds up looking, well, like kind of an unfocused light show. That's not to say that Ethan Van Sciver doesn't make it look superb - there's a splash page of the entire Corps in action that's about as striking an image as I've seen from this franchise in quite awhile - but having Marniel, a bad guy who fires ghosts as the Lanterns, is awesome-looking but at the cost of needed context. He's a bad guy who often plays well to Van Sciver's strengths - aside from a few panels of the Lanterns standing slack-jawed at the world of hurt that's about to come their way - but it doesn't really play to Taylor's.

That context winds up dulling Green Lantern Corps: Edge of Oblivion in a big way - we either already know what Guy and Kilowog are going to be up to, but once you start adding in sentient planets, the alien protectors of Perduron, the politics of the Corps, and all the various alien members of the team, and it winds up being a little difficult for even longtime fans to follow. That's not to say there aren't plenty of strengths to Green Lantern Corps: Edge of Oblivion - but their light could use some needed focus.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Mockingbird #1
Written by Chelsea Cain
Art by Kate Niemczyk and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Kelly Richards
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Mockingbird #1 is not an origin story. It’s not even the beginning of the story that it's trying to tell us. Drawing on psychological and medical thrillers Mockingbird #1 is sharply written with incredible artwork and is filled with way more questions than it's likely to answer.

Reading like something of a puzzle, Mockingbird's writer Chelsea Cain uses non-linear storytelling to create a sense of intrigue and uneasiness that increases along with Bobbi’s paranoia and alcohol consumption. Cain writes Bobbi as sarcastic bordering on sardonic and manages to get every line of dialogue to feel as though it's been delivered through a smirk. Compared to some of Marvel’s other female-led solo titles, Mockingbird feels like something of an anomaly. She’s not in control, or hanging out with her cute friends, or even on the run. Instead, Bobbi Morse is painted as willingly being kept on a very short leash by unknown superiors, subject to weekly medical examinations and constant observation. This in itself is quite an unnerving when considering the skill set Bobbi possesses.

Set almost entirely within a S.H,I.E.L D medical facility, readers spend as much time sitting in the waiting room as Bobbi and as a result are subject to the shared anxiety of waiting to see a doctor. However, due to the waiting room’s rotating cast of Avengers and a seemingly ever present, and constantly worse for wear, Hercules, it provides a lot of humor with its awful soundtrack and excellent selection of reading material. Similar visual gags can be found in the doctor's office with posters bearing slogans such as "Can you get cancer from radioactive friends?" While these serve to lighten the mood, they are often presented alongside pages the substitute dialogue for somewhat overzealous blood taking and again help Mockingbird establish a tone that will leave readers with a sense of disquiet.

In contrast to a script that while witty would not be difficult to interpret as something much darker, Kate Niemczyk’s line work is clean and features none of the loose linework or heavy shading usually associated with stories of this genre. The book as a whole feels fresh despite the '70s feel Niemczyk has created through details such as the doctor’s office wallpaper and geometrically-patterned carpet. Additionally, Niemczyk’s attention to facial expression and body language tells the reader so much about Bobbi as an individual. Bobbi’s body language, for example, becomes increasingly closed and guarded as the story progresses, to the point where is her irritation is palpable, while her face remains unreadable in the face of numerous medical examinations. In conjunction with Niemczyk’s artwork, Rachelle Rosenberg‘s colors function to elevate the story from what it so easily could have been -- a dark and gritty, psychological thriller. Instead, through the use of Rosenberg’s soft palette, rich in pinks, purples and teals, Mockingbird becomes something far more nuanced its its approach to leaving readers feeling unsettled.

With Mockingbird, Cain, Niemczyk and Rosenberg set out to create something different. Something unlike the rest of Marvel’s current stable of heroes and spies, and it is not unfair to say that they have gone above and beyond. Mockingbird is tense while remaining lighthearted, beautifully illustrated, and will no doubt leave readers guessing.

Credit: DC Comics

The Dark and Bloody #2
Written by Shawn Aldridge
Art by Scott Godlweski and Patricia Mulvihill
Lettering by Clem Robins
Published by Vertigo
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

There’s something lurking in them there woods, and Shawn Aldridge is rapidly demonstrating his mastery of keeping that something in the corners of our eyes as he takes us deeper into The Dark and Bloody world. Having spent the first issue thoroughly creeping us out with an inventive set-up and a well-rounded collection of characters, he proves that the series has legs, or more appropriately, big and nasty talons that are waiting to sink their way directly into your discomfort centers.

Alridge’s split narrative maintains the pace of the debut issue, dividing us between the 2004 wartime service of Iris Gentry and his current day attempts to survive as a moonshine bootlegger with a baby on the way. While his son makes friends with a morbid girl in the woods, the two aspects of Gentry’s life begin to dissect, allowing pieces of the past to unravel while hinting at some past malady that has brought a curse upon him.

Like the best episodes of The X-Files or a psychological horror piece from the 1960s and 1970s, Aldridge recognizes that the best horror comes from keeping the audience uncomfortable rather than outright terrified. There’s a sense of inevitability to The Dark and Bloody on the one hand, with monsters descending on Gentry’s house and a familiar tale of a Middle Eastern massacre seemingly lifted directly from several works of popular fiction. Indeed, the trope is certainly not confined to the horror stories coming out of the most recent of the global conflicts. Yet the story continues to be a layered piece, mixing the very real-world problem of returning troops with PTSD and the fantastical ideas of backwoods Kentucky being haunted by literal and figurative ghosts of the past.

Scott Godlewski’s art is completely engaging, and much of the weight of Alridge’s scares come from the visuals. Playing with Patricia Mulvihill’s phenomenal color choices, the duo create a terrifying splash page with nothing more than a figure on a chair, various tones of red and the threat of a shadowed attack. Yet there’s great nuance in the designs as well, and there’s foreboding in every frame that contains Gentry’s son Shiloh and his mysterious friend Ayah. We often genuinely don’t know what is real or what has been imagined until the scene breaks, and this is skillful visual plotting indeed.

The Dark and Bloody achieves the difficult task of keeping the audience guessing at the end of the second issue, developing the plot further and yet still wholly shrouding the piece in mystery. About the closest thematic cousin would be something like Locke and Key, especially as the relationship between Shiloh and Ayah becomes more intriguing and supernatural. This is definitely a series to watch, with the hopes that it lives up to the best aspects of its promise.

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