Best Shots Reviews: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #10, GOLDIE VANCE #1, CONSTANTINE #11, More

Marvel April 2016 cover
Credit: Marvel Comics
DC Comics April 2016 solicitations
DC Comics April 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

Constantine the Hellblazer #11
Written by James Tynion IV and Ming Doyle
Art by Travel Foreman, Joseph Silver, Ivan Plascencia and Kelly Fitzpatrick
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Go west, young Constantine.

Call it the Land of Opportunity, the City of Angels, or just another New York Times thinkpiece — but the escape from New York is real. The City That Never Sleeps has also become the City That Never Settles Down, as thousands of people have made the leap not to New York, but from it, landing in the only other city as sprawling, as wild, and as full of dreams and demons alike — Los Angeles. And it's not just John Constantine who's made the leap — it's clear from the first page this story comes from personal experience, stemming from the real-life cross-country move of one of Constantine's own writers, James Tynion IV. The result is a darkly funny point-counterpoint of two cities, two polar opposites seen through the prism of underground black magic.

"Look, I'm not going to pretend I don't get it. The whole sun thing," narrates Tynion and Ming Doyle's roguish anti-hero. "But it doesn't mean I like it." It's a funny perspective for someone who has seemingly stepped in paradise, but as a brand-new transplant to California myself, this story couldn't help but get to me. I couldn't help but chuckle, knowing intimately that's not just a John Constantine-type of reaction — that's a New York response. Tynion and Doyle get that there is a mythology to cities, and it's hard to find two cities more different — but each powerful and even dangerous in their own special way. As a dirty and disheveled John horns his way into an A-list party to confront Gabriel, the patron angel of entertainment and self-destructive teen stars alike. The best magic stories are all about yins and yangs, about power and consequences, and Gabriel giving a speech about the "aspirational power" of this city — a city which can chew you up and spit you out just as easily as the Big Apple — is a particularly insightful, perhaps even inspirational angle.

But it's perhaps not surprising that even for the most well-adjusted of transplants, the siren call of New York is difficult to ignore — particularly in the form of a well-placed cameo by Deadman, who implores John to return East to stop the demonic Neron. Seeing displaced monsters sadly shuffle off to an Orange County theme park ("Saw a one-bedroom house up a few miles off that's about five times the size of the craphole I lived in Manhattan for the same price," a resigned gargoyle says), it's easy to understand why John would stay on the outskirts, terrified of getting directly involved in a fight that could not only kill him, but have him fail his new boyfriend Oliver. But Tynion and Doyle bring John home with a very funny sequence as Deadman possesses him, with the Hellblazer literally punching himself in a cab on the way to LAX.

With a new locale comes a new look, and Travel Foreman provides just the right amount of eeriness to this town full of beautiful people. Foreman's inker, Joseph Silver, goes light on the rendering with the angel Gabriel, while characters like Deadman have a gruesome detail that fits in Constantine's world. The physical comedy of John going to the airport is probably the highlight of the book, but Foreman also brings a nice sense of drama to the mix, such as the first page transitioning from a gorgeous sun to a dirty and beat-up John crouching underneath a palm tree. Admittedly, sometimes the inking from page to page can be a little inconsistent — sometimes John has very little detail, while on the next page he's drenched in cross-hatched shadow — but for a book that dabbles in horror and magic like this, a little inconsistency can keep readers on their toes.

While it seems as though John's stay in Los Angeles might only be temporary, Tynion, Doyle and Foreman deliver a fun look at how the other side lives, showing readers the magic of another coast. While the perpetual sun and glitziness of Hollywood might have overshadowed a shady character like Constantine the Hellblazer after too long, this creative team has clearly drawn upon some real-world experience to create a fun jaunt that readers of any geography can enjoy.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #6
Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Juan Jose Ryp and Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

While Wolverine is the best at what he does, this month Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #6 shows that Gilad Anni-Padda is coming for that title, one axe swing at a time. Hot on the trail of those who kidnaped his first born, Gilad storms a royal palace in a stunning display of violence and straightforward storytelling. Though writer Robert Venditti is locked on a path toward the title’s latest arc, "Labyrinth," he shows that he has no problem putting that tale on hold to simply let Gilad pile up the bodies in inventive and gruesome ways, lovingly rendered by the art team of Juan Jose Ryp and colorist Jordie Bellaire. While this issue doesn’t shine much light on the mystery of who is tormenting Gilad or really advance the title toward its newest arc, Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #6 is still a bloody good time.

Picking up directly after last month’s tragic installment, we are once again transported to ancient Mesopotamia where Gilad has again taken up his axe in order to cut down those who shattered his idyllic life and stole his first son for some nefarious purpose. While Robert Venditti clearly has a plan for this newest storyline, as evidenced by the enigmatic cold open with an old man remembering his many past lives, Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #6 is all about the blood letting and that is perfectly fine with me.

Though the violence of this issue is near constant, Venditti makes sure that it isn’t just mindless carnage for the sake of it. Gilad moves and speaks like a man possessed as he single-handedly takes on the king’s royal guards in order to avenge his wife and rescue his son. Venditti keeps the exposition to a minimum as Gilad curtly questions his first victim and then promptly relieves him of his head to move deeper into the fortress. Though Eternal Warrior's violence is satisfying enough on its own, Venditti never allows Gilad to be just a mindless killing machine. He is, though scary great at murdering legions of foes, at his heart, a grieving husband and panicked father which is evidenced in Venditti’s cold and sparse dialogue from Gilad. While it may be a bit of an extreme it is still a wholly human and relatable theme to be playing with in this sixth issue and one that makes Wrath of the Eternal Warrior that much more of an engaging title.

And speaking of engaging, the artwork this month from Juan Jose Ryp and colorist Jordie Bellaire is really top notch. Packing each page with action and detail, Ryp, whose work reminds me of a rougher, almost unpolished version of that of Ron Garney, really sells both the insurmountable odds that Gilad is facing as well as the ease in which he cuts through them all. Ryp also seems to really lock into the emotion that Robert Venditti is conveying with his script. For example, the eventual showdown between Gilad and the leader of the raiders who stormed his village and destroyed his family is fraught with tension that is amplified by Ryp’s renderings of the sneering leader and the stoic warrior, all leading up to a gruesome yet cathartic series of panels in which Gilad bests the raider in a way that only he can. Its tough stuff to look at for sure, but, oh man, does it nail the emotions of the scene and raises it up from mere exploitation to full on drama. Tying it all together are the richly rustic colors of Jordie Bellaire who keeps the action and setting firmly set in the distant past with bold earth tones and the violence looking vibrantly gory as the gallons of blood shown on the page are so red you can practically feel it from the page.

Though it stacks the bodies high this month Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #6 has a lot more going for it than just explosive carnage. Robert Venditti, Juan Jose Ryp, and Jordie Bellaire deliver a story about the most capable man in the world still coming up short as well as the ever evolving hidden machinations that are working against him, wrapped in a fast paced and spectacularly blood soaked package. Though the Labyrinth still awaits our hero, Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #6 shows that the journey can be just as fun as the destination if you really want it to be.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Goldie Vance #1
Written by Hope Larson
Art by Brittney Williams, Sarah Stern, Jim Campbell
Published by BOOM! Box
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

There’s an unfortunate dearth of teen sleuth tales these days, but Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys fans, BOOM! Studios has delivered Goldie Vance #1 to deliver the void. Hope Larson and Brittney Williams’ light-hearted mystery mini-series is a delight from the first panel, following the adventures of titular girl detective Goldie Vance as she volunteers her services to the Crossed Palms Resort house detective.

Though Larson’s writing is excellent, Goldie Vance #1’s tone is truly sold by the artwork: illustrator and co-creator Brittney Williams, colorist Sarah Stern, and letterer Jim Campbell perfectly capture the vibe of a sultry summer resort town in the early sixties. Just the typography in the Crossed Palms advertisement on the opening page would be enough to set the stage, but Williams’s character designs are filled with decade-perfect fashion choices, from Goldie’s cute scarf and rolled sleeves to a glimpse of a Jackie Kennedy-inspired outfit in the panel of one background. Her faces are expressive and she takes advantage of any opportunity to sell a fun moment in the background of her panels; the Jackie O pillbox hat and baby Tav’s faces in the opening panels are particularly fun.

Sarah Stern’s colors are the perfect complement to Williams’ joyful artwork. She uses gorgeous pastels to give life to the Crossed Palms Resort and St. Pascal, Florida in a way that makes you feel like you’ve just checked in for a summer vacation yourself. Black and white flashback panels still feel rich and engaging, and Stern subtly and deftly helps set the pace of the story with colors that shift gorgeously from afternoon to dusk to evening. Her work during the issue’s dramatic drag race climax are particularly gorgeous, and if all three future issues were set at the same time of day, it’d be worth it for more of Stern’s sunsets.

Goldie Vance #1 is a strong book on all counts, featuring strong writing from Larson bolstered by gorgeous artwork from Williams, Stern, and Campbell. It’s a fun and light-hearted read -- unfortunately a bit too light in places, with a somewhat hollow introductory mystery that, sparing one hint of a clue early in the story, likely couldn’t be solved by anyone but Goldie. That’s not bad, necessarily, given that teen sleuths through the ages have featured flimsier premises and Larson is aiming to sell Goldie’s skills, but it would have been fun to see Goldie solve the mystery and to have the chance to go back and put the pieces together with her on a second reading.

With luck, the bigger mystery teased at the end of the premiere issue will be a more involved saga that gives readers the chance to follow hints and twists through the coming issues. But while the mysteries surrounding the Crossed Palms Resort could use a bit more meat to them, Larson and Williams have created a charming cast of characters and an intriguing setting that will capture your interest enough to make up for its first issue stumbles. If you’re looking for a fun summer read, Goldie Vance #1 is a delight for readers of all ages, and definitely a miniseries worth your time.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #10
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith and Marte Garcia
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Dan Slott’s been writing Spider-Man for a long time now and that’s a testament to his love of the character and how popular his work has been. But in the "All-New, All-Different," post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe, his work is starting to stagnate. This book is far from the only Spider-Man title on the stands these days and Slott has always stuck to a tried-and-true storytelling method but his process has handcuffed him on some level and made the stories that he’s telling a little bit stale. Giuseppe Camuncoli, a frequent collaborator of Slott’s, handles the art for this one and the result almost boringly effective.

This isn’t a bad book. In fact, it’s far from it. Dan Slott knows how to tell a story and even more so he knows how to tell a Spider-Man story. You might be asking what the problem is and there isn’t really one. But Slott’s work has become stunningly by-the-numbers recently. The main plot progresses with Spidey taking on Scorpio as he struggles to figure out the Zodiac’s plan. In the process, he pushes his body to its limits and Slott takes an opportunity to set hero and villain apart by beating us over the head with Spidey’s “responsibility” maxim. It’s all fine. But Slott’s writing hasn't been better than when Doc Ock had taken over Peter’s body. That’s because it was a character being faced with new and unique challenges. Now, Peter is faced with running an international company and despite the fact that it makes sense in the world of the story, flying around Paris feels very divorced from his roots. By the time we get to the big “My responsibility!” line, the whole issue starts to feel a little like an afterschool special.

Camuncoli’s work has definitely lost some of its brooding edge and that might be mostly because of inker Cam Smith. It’s most noticeable in Camuncoli’s facial expressions that have lost the heavy brows that used to be a telltale sign that it was Camuncoli’s work. With the added smoothness in the line work, the kinetic energy translates much better than it had in the past and there’s a really good flow to the book. Slott doesn’t give Camuncoli the best set pieces to work with but he rolls with it anyway. It’s unfortunate that Slott doesn’t give him anything interesting to draw because the artist has proven that he can deliver on big moments in the past. Marte Garcia’s coloring works very well in this book as well. It’s clear that this art team is like a well-oiled machine at this point.

Amazing Spider-Man is a little cheesy but it has heart. It might be a little bit ho-hum for long-time readers but Slott shows that he knows how to work with his collaborators and turn out an entertaining story. The team has coalesced so much to this point that sometimes they’re going to churn out an issue like this. They moved the chains on the A, B and C plots just like you would expect. That was the goal here. It only feels disappointing because of the talent involved. We’ve seen what these creators can do when they let loose. I guess we’ll just have to wait a bit longer.

Credit: Oni Press

Another Castle #2
Written by Andrew Wheeler
Art by Paulina Ganucheau, Jenny Vy Tran
Published by Oni Press
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

After a solid premiere issue last month, Andrew Wheeler and Paulina Ganucheau’s Another Castle #2 seems to be hitting its stride this month. This month’s issue finds kidnapped Princess Misty in her element, engaging in all manner of skullduggery with the help of a colorful cast of characters as she endeavors to escape the evil Badlug to save not just her own kingdom (and hapless Prince Pete), but Badlug’s kingdom of Grimoire. Misty suffered in last month’s opening pages, coming across as flat and one-dimensional against the backdrop of her family in Beldora. Misty in Grimoire remains much more compelling, and issue two provides a healthy dose of her charming dynamic with the still adorable Gorga to help develop Misty as something more than a one-note ‘rebellious princess’.

Wheeler unapologetically writes Misty the way most fantasy media writes princely heroes, and her confident attitude becomes deeply engaging as she and Gorga maneuver their way through the seedy underbelly of Grimoire’s mean streets (or just Grimoire’s regular streets, as the case may be). This issue reads like a blend of 'buddy cop' comedy and high fantasy espionage, but there are some solid emotional beats as well, including a heartfelt moment looking in on her father that is elevated by Paulina Ganucheau’s expressive art. The anger in Misty’s face after she looks on to a scene of her distressed father is palpable, and a truly believable motivator for her passionate efforts to unseat Badlug from his throne.

Ganucheau’s art and colors continue to impress. Her background work is not always intricate or detailed, but she offers clean lines and dynamic character designs that make the book both easy to follow and a delight to read. Her characters truly sell the world of Another Castle #2, right down to little touches like how expressive and unique she takes the time to make something as simple as each characters’ eyebrows (keep an eye on Misty’s in particular if you want to see what a difference something so minor can make on a character’s face).

Another Castle #2 isn’t perfect by any stretch, though it continues to improve. It’s a good book -- fun to read, lovely to look at -- but not a great book just yet. But Wheeler is laying out several storyline threads with a great deal of potential, and it bodes very well for the series’ future that it’s managed to improve on some of its pacing issues and Misty’s place in the story from one issue to the next. Misty being told no was not very fun to read; Misty kicking butt and taking names in the name of her kingdom with some fun sidekicks is more engaging by a mile.

Together, Wheeler and Ganucheau are beginning to build a compelling cast and intriguing world that will be interesting to see continue to grow in future issues: now that we’ve had a taste of what Misty is capable of, and on the flip side what her would-be savior Pete is not, it’s hard not to want to keep reading future installments to see how her efforts are received by her father or by Badlug, when one or both of them inevitably find her out. Another Castle #2 shows the series is living up to the potential it showed in its premiere.

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