Best Shots Reviews: SCARLET WITCH #4, BLACK CANARY #9, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW #1, More

DC Comics February 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday reviews? Best Shots has you covered, with our latest column - which has grown by one, thanks to the addition of new reviewer Joey Edsall, fresh from NewRetroWave! So let's kick off today's column with the new guy, as Joey takes a look at the fourth issue of Scarlet Witch...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Scarlet Witch #4
Written by James Robinson
Art by Chris Visions, Steve Dillon and Vero Gandini
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

There is something immediate about James Robinson's Scarlet Witch. From the very first issue, the world, characters, and overall mood of the series felt fully realized. This is no surprise from an experienced and accomplished writer who is able to often imbue his work with a sense of the gothic. This mixed with the unique artwork of Chris Visions and Steve Dillon makes Scarlet Witch #4 a dazzling display of intrigue and self-assuredness.

Wanda Maximoff is an enigma, and has always seemed bizarre in the context of her Marvel comrades. In a world filled with super-powered genetic mutations and science experiments gone wrong, Wanda's inclination towards magic has always made her seem very much like a fantasy character in a world build from science fiction. It can be very difficult to reconcile her kind of powers in a sci-fi conflict. Robinson understands this, and for the fourth issue in a row Scarlet Witch has been pushed further into her own narrative space, manipulating aspects of the character's history. The name "Scarlet Witch" no longer comes from an angry mob from her village, but rather is a name she felt inclined to choose… just as her mother before her.

While the idea behind introducing Natalya Maximoff works well enough given the dreamlike logic of the setting, the ethereal Witches' Road, it is in the execution of this that issue has its biggest real fumble. Put bluntly, the inclusion of Wanda's mother, Natalya Maximoff, does not have the narrative weight that it had the potential for, and feel like a wasted opportunity. Thematically, the inclusion makes perfect sense. From the outset, this series has had a fatalistic outlook. It makes perfect sense that Wanda finds a sense of lineage and inevitability from her bloodline. When they cross paths, however, they both just instinctually know the connection between one another. Following on the theme of fate, this is all fine, but the trope of "just knowing" one's family is overdone.

In addition to re-establishing parts of Wanda's history, Robinson also gives us a confrontation between the titular hero and her self-appointed archenemy Declan Dane, the Emerald Warlock. Dane, who has had a peripheral presence in previous issues, is given a little more backstory, but his "you're good and I'm bad" speech (his exact words) is weak. I'm hopeful that future issues will explore him as a character more thoroughly. The Scarlet Witch is a very morally nuanced character, and one to often cause extreme harm completely by accident. It would make sense for her nemesis to have just as many subtle flourishes.

The artwork of this series has been a visual feast from the first issue, and #4 doesn't disappoint. This is a dark story, and the coloring by Chris Visions and Vero Gandini is the perfect accompaniment to the writing, and all works in tandem to create a very pervasive and striking atmosphere. The edges of colors and lines blur at times, most notably during magic-based actions. Visions' contributed the art and coloring for the entirety of the issue's time on Witches' Road, with the segments that take place in Ireland being drawn by Steve Dillon. Interestingly enough, Vision's art itself reminds me of some the old Dillon-drawn Hellblazer issues, with its pulp-era grit and severity, while Dillon's art is more restrained, being smoother and clearer. The split of artwork duties helps to emphasize the surreal nature of the Witches' Road beautifully. Chris Visions manages to put his artwork next to a giant like Steve Dillon and have his work better complement the mood of the story, with the full page of Scarlet Witch channeling the power of the various mother goddesses as a beautifully rendered and colored highlight. The series has had rotating artists, and Visions' contribution to the series matches Vanesa Del Rey's outstanding work in #1, both of whom stand as the best in the series thus far.

The Dorian Grey-esque aging of Wanda as she uses more magic remains the most brilliant decision of the series so far, as it both increases tension and adds to the story's theme. The Scarlet Witch will die one day. It is inevitable, and the more she uses her powers to try to help the supernatural noir world around her, the closer that end comes. She is acutely aware of this, to the point that she recognizes omens around her. It is rare to find something that gives a sense of both unpredictability and inevitability, but as Scarlet Witch carves out more of its story, it is abundantly clear that everything is going exactly as planned.

Credit: DC Comics

Black Canary #9
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Art by Moritat and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

From the very first page, you know something is different. Hitting readers with an almost blinding yellow, Matthew Rosenberg, Moritat and Lee Loughridge bring Black Canary up to 11, with a defiant pop art splash shouting, "All right, everybody! Let's go!" It's a rebellious, fun fill-in for Dinah Lance, as this creative team takes that rock 'n roll spirit and makes for a fantastic issue of Black Canary.

While previous installments of Black Canary have jumped uneasily between Dinah's new role as musician, her past as a black ops operative, and quasi-mythology involving sound waves and shadow creatures, Rosenberg takes all these crazy concepts and boils them down to their most simple: Black Canary is a band, and they're looking to get paid. So what if they're performing at a teenager's birthday party? And who cares that all the host's "family friends" are notorious bad guys who want to kill the girl of the hour? It's a fun high concept, and it's one that immediately humanizes Dinah and company - rock 'n roll isn't always fun and games, but sometimes the most brutal gigs are the ones that bring out the most character.

There's sometimes a trend in superhero comi books to have the stakes get so high that there's nothing to relate to, but that's not something that happens with Black Canary #9. Rosenberg keeps this story confined to a very stable framework - namely, the band still has a job to do, and they've got to keep this girl safe and sound while they do it - and that adds a lot of comedy and tension to the mix. Not only that, but because Rosenberg eases the readers on board, he's able to start introducing some of the more eclectic aspects of Dinah's past - and instead of the readers being blindsided by literally faceless shadow monsters, we're able to follow what could be a weird left turn thanks to having the important human context.

It doesn't hurt that the art team here looks superb, as well. There's an Andy Warhol sort of pop art vibe to Moritat's artwork here, particularly when combined with Lee Loughridge's downright electrifying colors. It's a bold visual statement for Black Canary, a sort of ironic twist on an already ironic foundation. Moritat's linework is clean, but he's also not afraid to go dark with his inks, leaving characters like Dinah streamlined and easy to follow, while high rollers like Tobias Whale have an almost Eduardo Risso-like level of grime to them. From a throwback to Dinah's past as a mercenary to the bratty teenager who is hosting the party, there's a real diversity in style to these characters in terms of their design, and I think that lends another layer of depth to them.

Matthew Rosenberg is one of Scott Snyder's first students in the DC writer's development program, and if this issue is any indication, that class is definitely going to be the next hotbed of DC Comics writing talent. This story is fun and easy to follow, and when you start off with that foundation, the crazy visuals are only icing on the cake. Here's hoping that this isn't the last we've seen of this fantastic creative team.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Web Warriors #5
Written by Mike Costa
Art by David Baldeon, Walden Wong, Roberto Poggi and Jason Keith
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

As a fan of the "Spider-Verse" event, it's difficult to approach subsequent stories with Marvel's multiverse of web-slingers. Particularly in early issues, the storyline did a lot of things right and utilized rich characterization to make its characters stand out in a sea of spiders. Marvel's current Web Warriors series, on the other hand, has been hit or miss. It has managed to consistently do a handful of things very well - namely anything involving Billy Braddock's Spider-UK, Anya Corazon's Spider-Girl, Gwen Stacy of Earth-65, and Mayday Parker. They are all still present, and manage to be the greatest strength of Web Warriors #5, but giving the Spideys something meaningful and interesting to do seems to be the biggest challenge the series is facing.

Mike Costa's story choices give an impression of trying equally hard to pull all of these universe-hopping heroes towards any common goal and scrambling to resolve parts of the story with no real payoff. The choice of multiple Electros as a big bad, for example, feels like a misstep, and has since its introduction. They are never given any sort of nuanced or original objective, seeking the nebulous idea of conquest, which is disappointing compared to how different the multiple spider totems all feel from one another. It's the sort of motivation that was cliché a decade ago. Ultimately, it is the clichés of this series that are holding it down most. Spider-UK devises a plan using the team's newly conductive webbing to trap all of the Electros of the multiverse in one spot, neutralizing them in a massive cage. The difficult part of this plan involves trapping the Electros' leader, Battery. Fortunately, they can do this by wiping his mind entirely with the tele-consciousness helmet. How do they get the helmet to do this, you might ask? Easy, heroic alt-Doc Ock Octavia Otto just needs to recalibrate it. How does she do that? Don't ask questions; the other spiders don't.

The mission to capture Battery does give us some great Gwen Stacy, written with sharp wit and an interesting taste in television shows (she actually watches AMC's Halt and Catch Fire - Earth-65 really is different). As mentioned, Costa's command of a handful of center-stage spiders is impressive. The actual capture of Battery itself, however, is a rather disappointing part of the issue. It all just happens really quickly and is difficult to follow, and the art doesn't give the story much help, despite some beautiful coloring by Jason Keith. In the process, Octavia is wounded by the electrocution of another Electro. (Unfortunately, given how interchangable they feel, it's difficult to differentiate.) The choice feels like Costa trying to stack the deck - none of the spiders with her can be electrocuted, because we know they can physically withstand that hit. Octavia was obviously chosen by Costa as emotional leverage to raise the stakes in a moment that doesn't have a great deal of tension to begin with.

The final moments of the issue, however, do provide a satisfying conclusion. The art, colors and stories crescendo into a very impressive climax to a lackluster conflict. The depiction of the sealing of the conductive-web-cage and the attempt of Spider-UK and Mayday to escape before the team is forced to seal it shut shines for a glorious six pages. The desperate rush of the two trying to escape is beautifully rendered by David Baldeon, as the slanted panels give an uneasy urgency to what is happening. In an unexpected turn, Spider-UK and Mayday do not make it out of the cage, although it is a near certainty that they survived. We aren't left with much in the way of permanent closure on the Electros, but hopefully the search for their lost comrades will give the Web-Warriors something better to do in their next issue. More than anything, that is what this series needs. Web Warriors has, at its core, the raw materials to weave truly interesting and inspired stories, it just quite hasn't figured out exactly what it wants to do or how it wants to do it.

Credit: DC Comics

Legends of Tomorrow #1
Written by Gerry Conway, Aaron Lopresti, Keith Giffen and Len Wein
Art by Eduardo Pansica, Rob Hunter, Aaron Lopresti, Matt Banning, Chris Sotomayor, Bilquis Evely, Ivan Plascencia, Yildiray Cinar, Trevor Scott and Dean White
Lettering by Corey Breen, Michael Heisler, Tom Napolitano and Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow #1 is, given the success and recent renewal of its television namesake, a series not about what you might expect. Instead of a tie-in series in the vein of DC’s long-lived Arrow title, Legends of Tomorrow #1 instead kicks off an unrelated anthology series intended to imbue classic heroes of comic ages past with new vigor.#1 kicks off four stories (including one featuring Firestorm, which is where the comic and tv similarities end) and clocks in at roughly 80 pages total -- and while the book carries a proportionately larger $7.99 price tag, the four stories ultimately justify the cost.

Gerry Conway’s Firestorm: United We Fall tale serves as a clever gateway for new readers who may have been looking for more of Jax and Dr. Stein, instead offering younger iterations of Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rausch as they work through the complexities of sharing the Firestorm Matrix. It bears no relation to the Firestorm of the DC television universe, giving viewers-turned-readers a familiar starting place without the risk of storyline spoilers. While artists Eduardo Pansica and Rob Hunter make a solid team, this introductory issue doesn’t give their strong, punchy action sequences much time to shine.

The strongest offering of the set is undoubtedly Keith Giffen’s Fashion Sense, which introduces a new take on Sugar and Spike. The tiny tots from DC’s early days have grown into very capable private detectives who specialize in metahuman investigations, and their pursuit of Killer Moth is a humorous romp strengthened by Bilquis Evely and Ivan Plascencia’s pulpy art style. Legends of Tomorrow #1 is a fun collection of stories, but Giffen, Evely, and Plascencia develop a witty, lighter noir take in just a few pages that could easily stand alone as its own title.

Aaron Lopresti’s Metamorpho tale Bound but not Broken (both written and penciled by Lopresti) and Len Wein’s Metal Men short Robots, Go Home! are great introductions to DC heroes who have been underutilized in recent years. Lopresti’s Metamorpho fills an otherworldly niche in Legends’ line-up, giving the first issue a well-rounded sampling of DC’s various genre offerings. Wein’s take on the Metal Men in particular, brought to life by Yildiray Cinar and Trevor Scott, may leave you wondering what it might be like to see the tv Legends stumble upon this motley crew of well-intended, misunderstood, and very powerful robots. Wein gives each their own distinct voice, and Cinar and Scott further develop them through their body language and combat styles. If chainsaw arms don’t give you a hint about Gold’s character, that his first instinct on reconstituting is to take a look at himself in his own mirrored palm certainly will.

Unrelated though the two series may be, Legends of Tomorrow #1 features an intriguing range of stories that introduce heroes who could find a home in any current small-screen adaptation. While that may not be DC’s end goal, it’s a fun ride for fans both old and new -- diehard DC followers will find something to enjoy with new tales from old heroes, while television converts will get a solid introduction to characters they may only know in passing. Somehow, Legends of Tomorrow #1 manages to be a tie-in done right without being a tie-in at all.

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New Inhumans #5
Written by James Asmus
Art by Andre Lima Araujo and Andres Mossa
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Putting superheroes in a position of political power never seems to work out like it should. That is the main point of contention for All-New Inhumans. With #5, writer James Asmus places Crystal and her NuHuman team into their biggest political powder keg to date; contenting with the mysterious skyspears along with Chinese officials and our friendly, newly world traveled Spider-Man. Though hindered by a B-plot centered around NuHuman Jack’s contentious training, All-New Inhumans #5 still manages to make Crystal’s new politically charged position in the world an interesting read. Rendered by the smooth, sure hand of Andre Lima Arujo and colored by Andres Mossa, All-New Inhumans #5 starts this new arc on a sure footing.

Opening with a silent set of panels, set four months ago, All-New Inhumans #5 is mainly about the origins and nature of the skyspears, a plot thread that has been hanging from this title for a while now. Some months ago, seemingly at random, the spears cracked the Earth’s surface and then stood still, baffling world governments. Finally, China had had enough and now, present day, has called in experts from Parker Industries, which includes Ol’ Webhead. However, after coming up short, Spidey calls in a second opinion in the form of Crystal and her team. James Asmus displays a firm handle on Crystal’s new position and even gives her a moment of politicking clarity as she attempts to excuse herself and her people away from the situation before it, inevitably, goes south. While superheroes in any kind of position of power never goes quite the way it should, and this fifth issue is no different, it is is refreshing to see a writer actually attempt to allow the characters to fulfill their duties, instead of having them abandon them as soon as the action starts.

While All-New Inhumans’ political aspirations are where the issue soars, its its B-plot, one involving a new NuHuman, that drags it down. Having started recovery from their latest loss in Sin-Cong, Gorgon starts intensely training Jack, their team’s newest asset. However, Jack doesn’t seem to want to be trained and therein lies the trouble. While Asmus has these tense scenes actually lead up to an interesting development, everything up to that point is just grating posturing from a new, un-established character. Though All-New Inhumans’ superpowered political thriller plot really brings it, it is disappointing that the same can’t be said for its entire cast.

Though Jack’s posturing is undeniably annoying, just as undeniable is the artistic prowess of artist Andre Lima Araujo and colorist Andres Mossa. Rendered in a smooth, deliberate hand, Araujo gives this issue an accessible look that is still full of personality. For example, the scene in which Flint and Grid talk about their recent missions and Grid’s styling choices is filled with small moments of emotion that is all thanks to Araujo’s naturalistic facial expressions and body posing. Andre Lima Araujo also proves himself quite adept at action scene blocking as Jack attempts to best Gorgon’s danger room like training. Jack leaps and defends himself from all sorts of drone strikes as well Naja’s offense by zooming around the panels and clutching the speeding drones for dear life. Tying it all together are the flatted colors of Andres Mossa, who gives this fifth issue a metallic, yet simple color scheme that highlights the emotionality and character work of Araujo’s pencils.

All-New Inhumans #5 might not gel together completely, but there is still a lot of fun to be had with Attilan’s team of ambassadors. By making this fifth issue a solid jumping-on point and anchoring it with solid character work and an accessible plot, James Asmus, Andre Lima Araujo and Andres Mossa have turned what could have been a dry look at superhero politics into a rollicking lesson in aggressive negotiations, starring some of Marvel’s newest bit players. We still might not be any closer to understanding the skyspears or why they have shown up now, at this turbulent time in Inhuman history but if this fifth issue is any indication, solving this mystery will be a fun ride regardless.

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