Best Shots Reviews: HARLEY QUINN & SUICIDE SQUAD: APRIL FOOL'S SPECIAL #1, BLACK PANTHER #1, More

Empress #1
Empress #1
Credit: Marvel Comics/ICON
Credit: DC Comics

Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad: April Fool’s Special #1
Written by Rob Williams
Art by Jim Lee, Sean “Cheeks” Galloway, Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Richard Friend and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Dear DC Comics: You had my curiosity. But now you have my attention.

When it was announced that superstar artist (and DC co-publisher) Jim Lee was attached to Suicide Squad just in time for the upcoming film, I understood that was DC really putting their money where their collective mouths were, making sure that when moviegoers left the comforts of their cushioned seats, they’d have quality comic book content to peruse afterwards. But when I saw Rob Williams attached for writing duties, I’ll admit that gave me some pause - would he have the chops to keep up with Jim Lee, and to give this struggling comic book series a much-needed shot in the arm?

Well, if Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad: April Fool’s Special is any indicator, I’ll gladly eat my words. Williams absolutely dominates with this debut, which is far and away the best single issue featuring the Joker’s former Girl Friday in years. Bringing a smart concept, snappy one-liners and a great twist to match a tag-team of talented artists in the form of Lee and Sean “Cheeks” Galloway, Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad: April Fool’s Special turns out to be one heck of a calling card for what might be one of DC’s most important books.

From the very beginning of this Harley-centric read - and sorry for the spoiler alert, but this book really just focuses on her as opposed to the rest of her Suicide Squadmates - you can’t help but be surprised by how deliberately Williams plays this over-the-top character. Rather than the hyper-verbal, free-associative dialogue of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner’s more scattered Harley Quinn solo series, Williams brings a tighter focus and planning with his scripts, down to a knowing wink when Harley answers a doorbell with a giant mallet: “Ah, crap, I was hoping for an action sequence!”

But action is something that Williams and Lee provide in spades, with a fast-paced and surprisingly funny aerial sequence pitting Harley against the Man-Bat. “Never use your patient as a surfboard,” Harley snarks in a great-looking image, as she rides the wild and wooly Man-Bat over a crowd of policemen. “But I am all about the unorthodox counseling techniques.” And with Jim Lee’s track record, seeing how well he and Williams work together on this issue has been extremely heartening - while I’ve gotten the sense that he’s bristled trying to wed his iconic style to bigger-name writers like Geoff Johns and Scott Snyder, Lee and Williams seem to really get each other, with Williams giving Lee plenty of room to work his dynamic, hyper-rendered magic.

Yet Williams also takes a play out of the Palmiotti-Conner playbook with an extended fantasy sequence, with Lee passing the baton to Sean “Cheeks” Galloway. Without giving too much away, there’s a great April Fool’s twist to all this, but even without that, Williams and Galloway just plain bring the funny, as Harley explores a new career as a psychotherapist to supervillains. What I think I appreciate the most out of Williams’ script here is that he recognizes that less is more - he keeps his cool with Harley’s banter, not trying so hard and instead choosing his quips carefully, letting Galloway sell a lot of the comedy with his cartoony expressiveness (which believe me, is kind of a shock to see it translate this well in a book that’s as ostensibly dark as Suicide Squad).

While action junkies might start tapping their feet at the sheer length of the Galloway dream sequence, I’d argue that the jokes in this wind up coming across as a real quality over quantity situation - something I think Harley Quinn in particular absolutely needs to avoid becoming grating or difficult to follow. I’m not saying this is comedy you need a PhD to appreciate — there’s a great beat where she asks Killer Moth what seems to be the problem, and after a long pause, he answers, “I’m obsessed with moths” - but it doesn’t talk down to you, and it doesn’t just rest on tired dad humor. It’s a little bit of Mitch Hedberg kind of dumb-clever jokes.

Combining all this with a shockingly well-thought twist that really sums up the new mission of the Suicide Squad, and you’ve got yourself a real winner with Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad: April Fool’s Special #1. It’s clear from the trailers of the film that Harley Quinn is likely going to get the same public awareness boost as Wonder Woman did once the Suicide Squad movie kicks off, and I honestly think she’s the easiest character to alienate people with, so the fact that Williams, Lee and Galloway did justice to her gives me high hopes for the rest of the team. DC Comics has put out a lot of big - and most importantly, high-quality - books out this week, but if I had to pick just one to buy, it would definitely be this one.

Black Panther #1
Black Panther #1
Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther #1
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

With Ta-Nehisi Coates taking on the Black Panther for Marvel, he immediately becomes the highest-profile writer to deliver his take on the character, and the weight of expectations is very real and very heavy. Marvel has done a great job of putting new characters in the cinematic universe front and center in their publishing efforts, Black Panther not only creates some movie synergy but brings a talented writer into the fold and helps the Marvel continue their mission of diversity. But can Black Panther stand on his own? The character has figured into many starring vehicles over the years, but none of them as long-lived or well-remembered as those of his Avengers counterparts. Coates looks to change that. Building on essential runs by Christopher Priest and Reginald Hudlin as well as the events of Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers, this is T’Challa as we’ve never seen him before. Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

Coates drops us right into the story, quickly trying to bring us up to speed with current events. Unfortunately for readers that are somewhat unfamiliar with the landscape of Wakanda and how their society works, the learning curve is a bit steep. Wakanda is a foreign country, and Coates makes no bones about using the country’s native language with regularity. T’Challa is a king and there is a certain air to the way he and his peers speak to each other. Recent events have heavily affected the political climate of Wakanda, and T’Challa is something of an outsider to his own people. This is a much different take than we’re used to. On some level, T’Challa has always been the prideful and arrogant leader of a people who mostly adored him but since the death of his sister and the Doctor Doom’s failed invasion, he doesn’t have the handle that he once had on the throne.

That’s what Coates really wants to play with here: the dynamics between these characters in the wake of their unique position in the Marvel Universe. There is nothing like the trials that are faced by the Wakandan Royal Family. T’Challa is not just a superhero. He is a world leader and the gatekeeper of one of the rarest elements known to man. His decisions have a trickle-down effect that are completely different from someone like Luke Cage or Spider-Man and Coates attempts to communicate that to us. In between T’Challa’s inner turmoil, we get so see little vignettes about other parts of Wakandan society like the Dora Milaje, T’Challa’s elite all-female fighting force. Coates has said in interviews that he didn’t love the concept of the Black Panther having what’s essentially a harem, so he took a closer look at them. That right there is the mark of Coates’ run; a closer look at the world that surrounds T’Challa. By putting everything else in better focus, we get a better idea of who he is, how his culture and identity informs his character and what the means for the Marvel Universe at large.

There is a dearth of action in this issue, and it definitely feels like a book written by someone outside of comics because of that. Coates takes his time to set up the themes and world that we’ll be exploring. He introduces many of the major players over the course of 30 pages in order to lay his cards on the table. If readers can keep up, they’ll surely be rewarded as the book continues but it’s clear why Vulture annotated the first issue to give context to the characters that and locales that Coates uses. Coates doesn’t gloss over any details, but there is a lot of information here and at times it can be a bit daunting.

Brian Stelfreeze’s work in this issue is a reminder of why he’s considered one of the best in the business. He is a perfect fit for the Black Panther because of his strong lines and excellent character designs. He takes advantage of the fact that Wakanda is a fictional African nation by imbuing its look with recognizable parts of other cultures that do exist. This amalgam of influences leads to a mixture that feels authentic and lends itself to helping Coates fill out the world of T’Challa’s story. I mentioned Stelfreeze’s line work especially because Black Panther is such an unyielding character and the scenes in this book are very tense. Whenever T’Challa is on the page there’s a rigidity and respect amongst the other characters that is palpable. Juxtaposed with the scenes where T’Challa isn’t present, it’s easy to see how his subjects and peers think of him. The only thing that throws a wrench in Stelfreeze’s work is Laura Martin’s inconsistent coloring. When she loses sight of the deep blacks of Stelfreeze’s inks and tints them with the color palette she’s using on the page, it undermines the contrast that works so well in other scenes. Meanwhile, by hanging back in scenes like the one featuring two lovers by a fire, we’re able to see both artist and color artist really shine.

Black Panther isn’t for everyone yet. The book is knee-deep in its own world for now, and that might be off-putting for some readers that are hoping to jump into something a little bit less dense. But it does stand as a great way to take continuity and make it your own. Coates is unapologetic about the things he doesn’t like about Black Panther, and so he sets out to change them. But he doesn’t so that wholesale, making changes that run counter to the character or previous events - instead, he seeks to lead the narrative in a way that the changes he wants to see are part of a natural story progression. That’s something we don’t always see from writers. Stelfreeze continues to be one of the best and my nitpickings with the color work are minor compared to the wholly effective work that‘s present and the scale of this book. Black Panther’s a winner that should be making it on to pull lists everywhere as soon as possible.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League: The Darkseid War Special #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Oscar Jimenez, Paul Pelletier, Tony Kordos and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Beyond the main showdown of Darkseid versus the Anti-Monitor, Geoff Johns’ focus in "The Darkseid War" has been on the heroes and their own dark sides (pun intended). Johns has shown us many facets of Batman; as the hero we know, as a New God of knowledge and, in the Crime Syndicate’s Owl Man, as a villain. We’ve seen similar distorted visions of Superman and other members of the Justice League as Johns’ story has been as about heroes fighting against their ultimate essence, unshackled by the human morality that makes them the heroes we know and love. Justice League: The Darkseid War Special #1 brings the stories of heroes and gods down to a more personal level, focusing on a ringless Power Ring, trapped in her ring, and Grail, the daughter of an Amazon and Darkseid.

This issue (and the whole storyline so far) shows what an epic DC story should be, wrapping a universe threatening story around the humanity of their heroes and villains. It’s what every DC event has tried to recapture since Wolfman and Perez laid down the template in Crisis on Infinite Earths. It’s been the key of Johns’ success in The Sinestro Corp War and Blackest Night. And while DC and Johns have also had unsuccessful attempts to create this synergy in more recent events, "The Darkseid War" is the grand Justice League event of this current modern age of comic books. Amid the cacophonous sturm and drang of the main story, this special pulls back from the action to expand the role of two characters who have gotten a bit lost in all of the action.

Power Ring’s story, drawn by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, takes a character whose existence and power is based off the presence of fear and shows her acting heroically. Unlike Green Lantern or Sinestro, whose rings are powered by the ability to overcome or to instill fear, Jessica has the ring because it can overpower her fearful personality. She’s constantly battling her own fear and, at best, has barely been able to overcome it. Now trapped in the ring as it’s taken over her body in the war, Johns and Reis show Jessica fighting to regain her freedom even as other spirits try to get her to give back into her fear.

Along with Oscar Jimenez and Paul Pelletier in the other half of the book, Johns shows the life and times of Grail, Darkseid’s daughter, who set up the events leading to this war. In the "New 52," there are many ways that Johns’ story for Grail reflects and comments on Wonder Woman’s story. Where Batman has been his own, twisted reflection in "The Darkseid War," Grail provides that refracted insight to Wonder Woman. Grail is the “What If?” version of Diana, showing an Amazon who doesn't necessarily fight with the purpose or morality of the Amazons.

Reis, Jimenez and Pelletier are very different artists but their styles each play nicely together as the stories that they’re drawing on weave in and out of each other in this issue. Following the lead of main "The Darkseid War" artist Jason Fabok over in Justice League, these three artists take Johns’ story and approach it very straight forward and narratively. The steadiness of each artist is very faithful to the type of superhero melodrama that Johns is writing. Alex Sinclair’s colors creates another strong bond between each artist’s sequence while shifting into slightly different tones and hues for each one.

Power Ring and Grail have been central to the story that Geoff Johns is telling in "The Darkseid War" but neither of them has really been at the forefront of the story until now. Justice League: The Darkseid War Special #1 gives both characters nice spotlights and stories that create personal stakes in this large, grand story about heroes and gods. Even as Johns is writing this huge story that has multiversal ramifications, he -- along with Reis, Jimenez and Pelletier -- strike with these moments that aren’t about being Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman, but about being Power Ring and Grail: two women whose destinies are tied into the fates of gods, monsters and heroes.

DC Comics April 2016 solicitations
DC Comics April 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

Bloodlines #1
Written by J.T. Krul
Art by V. Ken Marion, Sean Parson and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Back in the 1990s, DC Comics ran a crossover event across the annuals for the year, in which aliens descended to Earth to feed on human spinal fluids. The B-movie plotting was an excuse to bring a wave of debut superheroes, or 'New Bloods' thanks to their activated metagenes, into a DC Universe that was at the time trying to look under the decades worth of super-heroics and see if a new generation of legacy characters like Kyle Rayner and Connor Hawke offered anything new to the genre. So it’s really interesting timing that as the "New 52" reaches its penultimate month, bringing an end to five years of remixed capes, writer J.T. Krul has revived a storyline that is almost a quarter of a century old.

Krul uses that classic schlock motif to bring his Bloodlines to life, slowly introducing us to the teenage characters of a town that could exist anywhere between the 1950s and today. The focus is on two classic characters: Eddie, the downtrodden teen who is suffering from a genetic disease that impacts his mobility, and Graham, the jock archetype that sees it as his duty to look out for Eddie. Much of this issue is dedicated to the characters of this town, indicating Krul is setting up his world-building for later, although the odd LexOil sign indicates that this still sits within the wider DC Universe. Yet the simplicity of Krul’s script is such that it could be set anywhere, and this deceptively familiar tale lulls you into a false sense of security.

There are shades of Mark Millar and Leinil Yu’s Superior in this new version of Bloodlines, in that a self-deprecating protagonist with a debilitating illness is suddenly given powers beyond his imagination. While Eddie is not quite the instantly rounded character that Millar’s Simon Pooni was, it’s early days yet, and the model has been set. Krul leaves us in little doubt that the ecosystem of his world has irrevocably shifted by the end of  #1, although gives us precious few clues as to why this is happening yet. Indeed, if one were completely unaware of the 1993 crossover event, much of this version of Bloodlines would be a mystery sci-fi story to a new reader.

K. V Marion is on art duties, having collaborated with Krul on several Aspen Comics projects in the past, and the eventual metahuman designs are somewhat reminiscent of the overly muscular characters of the 1990s that inspired this outing. The bright and vivid colors of Parson and Dalhouse allow readers with deeper longboxes to easily slip back into their early days. It’s a perfect art team that manages to capture the spirit of an era while carving out something new, like building an architecturally designed house over the shell of a structure that is stuck in a particular place in time. It could only be more authentic if Marion’s cover came as a gold-embossed variant inside a black plastic sleeve.

While the bottom of the barrel has been scraped clean with this particular revival, Krul compresses something that originally spanned two dozen annuals down to a self-contained and far more focused story. It’s a joyful throwback, one that leaves the creative team of plenty of potential opportunities to branch out into different corners of their own universe. Perhaps some of these 'New Bloods' will make their way into the world of DC’s Rebirth, ensuring that the dream of the ‘90s is alive and kicking.

Empress #1
Empress #1
Credit: Marvel Comics/ICON

Empress #1
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger and Ive Svorcina
Lettering by Peter Doherty
Published by Marvel Comics/ICON
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

There's something about Mark Millar that leaves makes him polarizing in the comic book community. Though when Millar wants to tone down the hardcore violence and go full speed ahead with accessible storytelling, just like with he achieved with Starlight, he can do great things that anybody can get behind. Case in point: the first issue of his and Stuart Immonen’s creator-owned sci-fi series, Empress.

Empress follows the story of a runaway space queen and her children with the help of a general that is utterly loyal to her. There's hardly no exposition and heavy narrative, but you get the idea of who these characters are within the first handful of pages without the need for an index of unfamiliar terms and jargon or a long-winded origin story. It's all right there ready to soak up. Though it does have the all-too-familiar "long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" type of introduction, it cuts off right there and indeed takes you to a planet ruled in tyranny and a small rebellious crew out to escape the clutches of said tyrant.

But what Millar does here is pretty much make his own Star Wars similar to how Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples did with Saga four years ago. We have the Queen Emporia, her bodyguard Dane, and King Morax, the baddest of the bad. The brief flashback we're shown shows how deep Morax and Emporia's relationship actually was (not very) and you can kind of tell from even that small glimpse, he's not used to being told "no." Imagine Game of Thrones' Joffrey Baratheon, but in the body of Darkseid, and you've got yourself King Morax. The world at large doesn't really need to be explored, as Millar jumps right into the action, but something to tell us more about where we are would have been good to know.

Where the story might lack in world-building, Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger and Ive Svorcina bring the house down on artistic duties, giving us sharp visuals and distinctive characters. That's the big takeaway from Empress is how everybody has their own vibe and feel to them, even if their character is far from avant garde, the look to this world and its inhabitants are very distinguishable from anything else out there.

The main reason for that is that they kept things simple and grounded. From Morax being an iron golem-like ruler with crimson skin to Emporia's hair and horned headdress, the visuals for this book are still very much sci-fi based, but feels a lot more like a video game with how they handled their design approach rather than something to be read. Ive Svorcina's sharp palette wraps everything up so nicely as well. From the subtle warm colors of everyone's skin tone, to the explosions and the action scenes, the details are most impressive.

For the fans that loved the Buck Rogers homage that was Starlight, they might also love Millar's take on space adventures once more with Empress. Millar and his killer art team are out to give readers some good-old fashioned space adventures and intrigue, and this premiere issue definitely delivers the goods.

DC Comics April 2016 solicitations
DC Comics April 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

Midnighter #11
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by ACO, Hugo Petrus, Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

This week’s Midnighter #11 is bittersweet. With Midnighter absent from DC’s June solicitations, it looks like this may be the penultimate issue of Steve Orlando’s solo run. Thankfully, Orlando seems prepared to draw the series to a satisfying conclusion, as unfortunate as it is to see the series draw to a close. Midnighter #11 blends bone-breaking action scenes with more of Orlando’s thoughtful character examination of Midnighter as an extraordinary man attempting to build a more mundane life (by Midnighter’s standards) on the foundations of a past he knows nothing about.

Midnighter #11 continues this arc’s impressive blend of older Midnighter elements with the current DC Comics universe, integrating Stormwatch villain Henry Bendix in as a scientific genius who has crafted the genetically superior the Unified with the help of Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad. It’s a perfect story for Midnighter: intelligent and violent, showcasing the dry humor and wit that Midnighter has brought to his appearances in other series like Grayson (and, perhaps, making the case for future Midnighter appearances in other DC titles post-Rebirth).

Artists ACO and Hugo Petrus’ styles work together well, transitioning seamlessly between scenes focused on Midnighter and scenes focused on Waller and the Suicide Squad without allowing the pace of the story to falter. ACO and colorist Jeromy Cox in particular shine in giving life to the emotional range of this issue’s story, punctuating a dark and quiet moment with Midnighter and Apollo with small panel overlays that perfectly capture the emotional beats of and between lines of Orlando’s dialogue. Midnighter’s fights are as frenetic and entertaining as ever; the visual references to Midnighter’s computer-assisted combat skills have been a clever touch throughout the run and are on full display here in a dizzying but impressive head-to-head with Midnighter and the Unified.

While Midnighter #11 hits some impressive notes as it brings Midnighter’s conflict with the Suicide Squad to an explosive conclusion, there are moments that feel rushed -- namely the reintroduction of Apollo -- in a way that may just make you wish there were one or two more issues coming. There isn’t much happening in Midnighter that doesn’t make sense in the context of the full run, and given the space available in any comic, Orlando has done an impressive job creating a cohesive tale that will undoubtedly have a great deal of repeat reading value in trade paperback form. Midnighter #11 leaves the impression that the series will end with the bulk of its loose ends tied up, but moments like the interaction between Midnighter and ancillary characters like Marina or Apollo have enough emotional heft that you just want to see more laid out on the page.

That’s the strength of Midnighter: Orlando has created an iteration of this character that would be home across any genre of DC Comics, from the supernatural to street-level brawls, and there’s not much you can fault this installment for if its biggest flaw is not being a long enough issue. It’s violent, but heartfelt, like the series as a whole, and as disappointing as the series' impending end is, Midnighter #11 is still an impressive issue in a landmark series that will hold up well for years to come.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Uncanny Avengers #8
Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Ryan Stegman, Mark Morales, Dave Meikis and Richard Isanove
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The Unity Squad gets psychically hijacked this month in Uncanny Avengers #8. After facing down the All-New All-Different Avengers team in last month’s installment of that title, the Unity Squad finds themselves mind-wiped by Kobik and transplanted into Pleasant Hill, the supervillain prison that has been ground zero for all the ruckus currently spreading throughout Marvel’s titles. Writer Gerry Duggan’s knack for writing this team shines despite an inert and exposition-heavy tie-in issue, aided by some slick pencils from Ryan Stegman, detailed by inkers Mark Morales and Dave Meikis, and made complete with colors from Richard Isanove. Though Uncanny may suffer this month from being drawn into the ongoing event conflict, the Unity Squad still manages to charm, despite not having much to do this month.

After being scooped up, along with the rest of her team and the other Avengers squad that she was facing off against, Rouge senses that something is very off with her new home and status quo. Gerry Duggan, who has made some real headway in developing this team beyond its splintered beginning, smartly uses Rogue as our POV character for most the beginning of this issue, dovetailing not only her deep history as a pupil of Charles Xavier, but also planting seeds for her and her team’s eventual showdown with Red Skull. Though too much of Uncanny Avengers #8 is spent trying to assemble this Avengers team, it is nice to see Duggan paying particular attention to these plot points and making the most of a character that has been marginalized for too long.

Thankfully Duggan’s attention to character work is what keeps this issue from feeling completely skippable. While the "Standoff!" event has fully kicked off in earnest now, its co-opting of this title and All-New All-Different Avengers has slowed both titles way down; Uncanny Avengers #8 proves to be the most egregious example of this thus far. Though we are treated to a short, but sweet action sequence between Ms. Marvel and Rogue that is energetically rendered by the art team as well as Duggan deftly handling the awakening and voices of both Avengers squads, Uncanny Avengers this month doesn’t offer much in the way of forward momentum. Mainly its just serving its purpose in getting all the characters featured in the right position for next month’s installment of All-New All-Different Avengers, which is a shame. While Uncanny Avengers #8 keeps the characters on track, it is disappointing that Gerry Duggan isn’t really allowed to fully take advantage of them. At least not yet anyway.

Though this issue doesn’t offer much in the way of action, artist Ryan Stegman, along with inkers Mark Morales and Dave Meikis along with colorist Richard Isanove, still make the most of what they have. The aforementioned action scene between Kamala and Rogue is a quick and clean high point for this issue, as Rogue easily scoops up the unaware Kamala in her arms in kinetic widescreen panels. Thanks to the heavily detailed inks of Morales and Meikis, Stegman’s pencils pop off the page just a bit more and it adds a visual energy to the issue as the art team attempt to compensate for the exposition-heavy script. While Stegman and the inkers make the most of what they have, colorist Richard Isanove brings it all together with a set of colors that keep in in step the mundane, yet heightened reality of Pleasant Hill that other artists have taken advantage of. While not given much room to really run with it, Uncanny Avengers #8 does allow a great art team to deliver a singular, if a bit limited, version of a setting that a few art teams are tackling as well.

Though Uncanny Avengers was riding a pretty consistent wave of momentum going into this crossover, you can’t help but feel let-down reading this month’s installment. While not completely evaporated thanks to Gerry Duggan’s firm handle on this team’s voice and an art team that can make lemonade out of lemons, that same momentum has been more than a little siphoned thanks to this sojourn into Pleasant Hill. Crossover issues are the nature of the beast this day and age and while it may not be the most exciting team book this month, Uncanny Avengers still stands as an example of what a book can get away with by having a detail-oriented team behind it and having characters you enjoy reading about.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Arrow #51
Written by Benjamin Percy
Art by Szymon Kudranski and Gabe Eltaeb
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

After five years worth of high-tech indulgences, ménage à quatres, art-led reinventions, and werewolf storylines, writer Benjamin Percy has brought the now re-bearded Oliver Queen to a much-anticipated confrontation with his frequent adversary Deathstroke. After so many fits and misfires, this otherwise classic issue has a lot of ground to cover to make up the goodwill even the most dedicated fan has lost in this sometimes bizarre saga. Is it enough, or has contemporary version of Green Arrow become even more of a pastiche of other heroes than he was in the 1940s and 1950s?

Percy has taken the long way around to bring us back to the social relevancy that Green Arrow became known for from the 1970s, often getting stuck between his leanings towards horror fiction and the genuinely sharp political commentary of his earlier issues. Now landing Ollie in Nigeria in a search for a cure to the disease that is slowly turning him into something resembling a werewolf (or “Warg”), he’s confronted by a gang of warlords who call themselves the Whites - Africans who have enacted their own “cultural appropriation” to be the “rapists, the pillagers, the blood-starved neo-colonialists” in a way that is actually succeeding for them. It’s a little heavy-handed as far as commentary goes, unsurprising in a series that has name-checked 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham and Malthusianism to date, but a welcome change of pace from Oliver threatening to fang-out.

By far the most interesting characterization in this issue is that of ‘Doctor Miracle,’ here portrayed as a haunted man who finds the power to be the bandage for the world an incredibly heavy burden. While he would appear to hold the key to Ollie’s salvation, and is a minor player when compared with the oncoming storm that is Deathstroke, his few key scenes have more emotional weight than much of Ollie’s story over the last few years. Deathstroke is more of a streamlined player, here paired down to a relentless killing machine, although one suspects there is some of that infamous tactician waiting to reveal itself in the next issue.

Kudranski’s art is sharp and on target, the heavy use of shadow recalling the growing darkness that Patrick Zircher instilled in the series at the start of Percy’s run. His newer characters are large and imposing, perpetually half in shade, and while the Warg persona isn’t always an easy fit with Green Arrow, there is something incredibly pleasing seeing a Green Arrow with a beard punching out a power-hungry fat cat or two. Likewise, Deathstroke’s balletic gunplay is a giddy thrill, worthlessly cutting a swathe through the Whites, with only the exaggerated onomatopoeic “Thut” of gunplay giving him background music. The grounded color palette is an odds with the fantastical nature of the story, but while the stories have often wavered, the art has been consistently amazing throughout Percy’s run.

Nevertheless, this penultimate issue of the "New 52" Green Arrow is frustrated by some rushed pacing, now trying to reconcile several of those aforementioned narratives to bring this chapter of Oliver Queen’s life to a conclusion, or at least a new beginning. The drama of the cliffhanger is undercut by the fact that there is a man standing in the room that can bring people back from near-death, coupled with a preview title that is virtually telling us how this is going to unfold. Even if it doesn’t go that way, and Percy surprises us with the final curtain, it’s a case of too little too late in this otherwise solid action issue.

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