Best Shots Reviews: SPIDER-MAN/DEADPOOL #4, ACTION COMICS #51, DIVINITY II #1, More

'Vader Down' trade paperback
'Vader Down' trade paperback
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Man/Deadpool #4
Written by Joe Kelly
Art by Ed McGuinness, Mark Morales and Jason Keith
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Nobody puts Deadpool in the corner - especially not Spider-Man. So Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness give everyone the bromantic comedy that nobody asked for in Spider-Man/Deadpool #4, and it’s a surprisingly good time. Spidey and Deadpool have always had a pretty good rapport and their quick wits really lend them to starring in a team-up together. Many thought Deadpool fatigue would set in years ago, but the character has never been more popular and Joe Kelly’s return to the Merc with a Mouth should be enough to pique even the most jaded readers’ interest. Having Ed McGuinness join Kelly is a treat as well and quickly makes this book a star-studded affair?

The premise is simple: Deadpool just wants Spider-Man to love him (what exactly that entails for DP is another discussion entirely) and Spider-Man thinks that maybe Deadpool isn’t all that bad. So they hang out. The pacing is a little rocky at first, and Kelly’s jokes run the gamut from toilet gags to veering into some pretty questionable racebending. But as soon as Thor shows up the book starts to shine. With a more concise angle for his humor, Kelly is able to flip the expectations of the entire encounter for the reader and make it that much funnier and enjoyable to read. (I know I’m being a little vague but I wouldn’t want to spoil some of the fun.) Peter Parker isn’t really a guy who lets loose and arguably Deadpool lets loose too often, so they’re able to balance each other in interesting ways. Toss in a demon succubus and the Goddess of Thunder, and that’s when Kelly is really able to tap into what makes Spidey and ‘Pool so entertaining when they’re together.

Ed McGuinness was the penciller on Joe Kelly’s first monthly assignment at Marvel, and the team behind that defining run on Deadpool is reunited here. It’s easy to see why McGuinness is such a good fit. His facial expressions are effective, enabling Kelly’s jokes to land a bit better than they might in the hands of a lesser artist. Plus a big joke in the issue is about Spidey and Deadpool’s physiques so McGuinness is a perfect fit. He’s been known to draw a good-looking, musclebound person or two during his comic book career. Jason Keith and Mark Morales mostly stay out of McGuinness’ way, not doing anything to overcomplicate the pages or over-render them. A book like this needs its art to be clean and simple and that’s what the team delivers here.

Spider-Man/Deadpool #4 is a lot more fun than I thought it would be, and that’s definitely a win. The ending of this book will obviously garner a lot of questions, but considering that everything is a set-up, I’m kind of excited to see how Kelly hilariously writes himself out of this one. It’s great to see him teamed with Ed McGuinness again and they are very clearly in sync here. Funnybooks aren’t usually all that funny anymore outside of a couple of titles, so it’s nice to see Marvel give their marquee characters a chance to do something a little silly for once. It’s a great change of pace and a great way to give readers a better understanding of their favorite heroes.

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

Action Comics #51
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Paul Pelletier, Sandra Hope-Archer and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

That which comes up, must come down. After two strong showings from Peter Tomasi, "The Final Days of Superman" hits a snag in its third chapter with Action Comics #51, which succumbs not to Kryptonite poisoning, but to choppy structure and some half-hearted continuity shuffling.

Teaming up with artist Paul Pelletier, Peter Tomasi’s knack for solid characterization felt like a sure thing when it came to reintroducing Supergirl to the DC Universe, in the wake of her well-received show on CBS. But unlike his previous issue on Batman/Superman, Tomasi doesn’t wind up doing much with the Girl of Steel, beyond giving exposition from the recent Vandal Savage arc in the Superman books as well as name-dropping some key bits used in the Supergirl TV show, such as National City and the D.E.O. Whereas Batman was a character with agency, a powerful figure making his own moves, Supergirl is unconscious and strapped to a machine, leading Tomasi’s previously calm and collected Superman to stage a reckless (and ultimately unnecessary) rescue. Given how much potential Kara has as a character, especially given her primetime exploits, you can’t help but be a little bit disappointed, even when Tomasi ends the story with a heartfelt moment in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. While there’s a very funny cliffhanger at the end of this issue, you can’t help but feel like it’s a case of too little, too late.

Part of the other problem with this issue is that Superman and Supergirl don’t even get a ton of spotlight here, as Tomasi burns more than a third of his page count seeding in subplots, including a plot involving the Chinese supervillains known as Four Pillars, as well as a bizarre interlude at The Daily Planet featuring a superpowered creep who thinks he’s Clark Kent. While the Four Pillars storyline at least gives some context to the semi-gratuitous action sequence in Batman/Superman, The Daily Planet scene feels like an unwelcome interruption, both in terms of tone as well as the surprising amount of violence (including a pair of char-broiled skeletons right in the middle of the newsroom, which Perry White, Lois Lane and the rest of the staff seem to take in surprising stride). While there’s always going to be a certain degree of soap operatics in superhero comics, especially ones as interconnected as the Superman family, the risk of having little to no context like this is that you risk the reader finding something altogether foreign and unwelcome in what was otherwise an organic and logically growing story.

It may be due to the content in the script, but this also isn’t Paul Pelletier and Sandra Hope-Archer’s finest work, either. Hope-Archer’s inks look surprisingly wispy with this issue, and combined with the too-sunny, almost flat colors of Tomeu Morey, the tone and gravity of this arc — literally Superman telling his nearest and dearest of his impending demise — is totally lost. This chapter also comes at a weird point, following some atmospheric earlier chapters by Mikel Janin and Doug Mahnke — Pelletier’s work comes off as surprisingly old-school, reminding me of the days of Tom Grummett during the ‘90s Superman books, but considering this arc is meant to be read back-to-back-to-back, the visual inconsistency is a bit jarring. Additionally, Pelletier’s style winds up undercutting some of the more dramatic beats of this book, like Superman’s rage at his cousin’s “capture,” or Supergirl’s shock and sadness when she sees a touching hologram left for her at the Fortress of Solitude.

Given Tomasi’s strong characterization, it’s a shame that Supergirl continues to be a missed opportunity for DC’s published offerings, since she’s now had an entire season on one of the biggest viewing platforms in the world. But even if that were not the case, I think I’d still have some issues with Action Comics #51, which winds up short-changing its lead characters at the cost of some pretty jarring (and ultimately not engaging) subplots. Hopefully this is just a case of a minor hiccup in consistency from some of DC’s more reliable creators, and that the arc rallies in its next chapter.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Divinity II #1
Written by Matt Kindt
Art by Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn, and David Baron
Letters by Dave Lanphear
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The Superman is real, and she is a Communist. Divinity II, the sequel to Valiant Entertainment’s hit miniseries, isn’t your typical comic book title. Of course, it has all the staples of a good title, superpowers, alien planets and global stakes, but the themes found in this debut issue are much deeper than just super-people punching each other. Writer Matt Kindt, along with a powerhouse art team, pick up exactly where they left off in the first installment and deliver a story that is about duty, sacrifice and the iron will to become something more than what you are. Though it may look like a slick and polished superhero adventure, Divinity II has its mind set on being so much more than that, and by in large, it succeeds, culminating in a debut issue that may feel and look familiar, but is wholly singular.

Right off the top, Divinity II is absolutely gorgeous. With pencils by series artist Trevor Hairsine, along with inks by Ryan Winn and almost luminescent colors by David Baron, this debut issue’s artwork bounces between trippy science fiction and hardened historical drama with ease. Starting out on the mysterious planet designated the Unknown, Hairsine, Winn and Baron deliver almost Jack Kirby-esque renderings of insane, lifelike flora, bright alien sunrises and jagged pink rockscapes. Though the action in space is beautifully strange, the art team shows that they are just as capable handling the hard streets of Moscow as they are the far reaches of space Thanks to Ryan Winn’s heavy inks, the action back on Earth conveys a very scrappy, yet photoreal look for our lead’s tough time on Earth; providing a stark, but welcome contrast to all the far-out visuals out in space. While Divinity II’s main strength lies in its grim, yet engaging script, the art of this debut issue proves to be every bit the blockbuster that its predecessor was.

As for the script, Kindt really goes for the gusto here. While the original Divinity was essentially about a good man returning to his home with the power to change things, the sequel takes a decidedly different path, but one just as thematically rich. In this debut, we are introduced Valentina Volkov, former orphan and the first woman in space. As one of the three members of the Russian mission to the Unknown, she was abandoned by Abram Adams, the lead of the original Divinity. But as Matt Kindt’s heartbreaking origin and stone cold take on Volkov shows, she isn’t going to just lie down and die. Taking extreme measures in order to return home, Volkov surrenders herself to the will of the Unknown and finds herself imbued with the same god-like powers that Adams found himself with the first time around. Except, unlike Adams, Volkov has no intention of hiding herself once she makes planetfall. She is now a powerful tool of the state, and she intends to use that power to further the glory of Russia, by any means.

What follows is an engrossing tale of a woman rising above her lot despite her humble beginnings, not once, not twice, but three times; once in the streets of Moscow as a child thanks to her mysterious foster father, known simply as the Doctor, again as a member of the elite cosmonaut program, and then once again as a newly superpowered being with her sights set on resorting Russia to its former glory. Though this first issue is just an extended origin story for Volkov, the themes of duty to state, honor, and a woman breaking through the patriarchy through sheer force of will elevate Divinity II #1 into an origin with much more going for it than just mere introductions. And judging from where Kindt leaves this first issue, he and Volkov have a very clear direction moving forward; one that could spell doom for the West and possibly the world along with it.

Divinity II #1 puts the drama back into superhero drama in grand fashion. Though packaged as a science fiction yarn with engrossing visuals, Matt Kindt, Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn, and David Baron take the genre and warp it to include themes of responsibility to the state, self-actualization, and cold logic in the face of death. Divinity II #1 shows what superhero comic books can be when they are given a chance to be something more than what they are expected to be, much like Valentina Volkov herself. Underestimate this debut at your own peril.

Trade Review!

'Vader Down' trade paperback
'Vader Down' trade paperback
Credit: Marvel Comics

Star Wars: Vader Down TPB
Written by Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen
Art by Mike Deodato, Salvador Larroca, Frank Martin, Jr. and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Joe Caramagna and Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

"He was the best star pilot in the galaxy and a cunning warrior."

Those are the words first used to describe Anakin Skywalker by Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker, who wanted to know about his father. Any Star Wars fan can quote that movie and know the ins and outs of the dialogue like they know their own name, but to see what old Ben actually meant is another thing entirely.

While we saw several examples of Anakin's piloting skills in the prequels, the now Darth Vader is far from rusty as we see what the Dark Lord of the Sith is capable of without the Empire, as he finds himself crash landing onto the remote planet Vrogas Vas trying to find his son. Luke is also on Vrogas Vas in hopes of finding a lost Jedi temple. Vader's quest to find Luke has been the focal point of the Darth Vader series — which is part of the crossover in the Vader Down trade — and the lengths he goes to get his son have some of Vader's most human moments. 'Human' in terms of actually showing some sort of emotions instead of being so robotic, because by no means is Vader humane.

Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen have constructed a story that shows off how Vader may have had his redemption arc later, but was most definitely the villain of this story. In the first issue alone, he takes out an entire Rebel Squadron, and I'm talking about 40 to 50 armed soldiers by merely detonating their grenades while still attached on their person. Vader is not messing around. At all.

With this being Star Wars of course there's going a few new characters to fill this new extended universe and we have bounty hunter Dr. Aphra and her homicidal droids Triple-0, the anti-Threepio, and Beetee, an astromech packing immense heat. They're proper foils to Han, Threepio and Artoo, and expand this Star Wars universe following the retconning of the EU. It seems like there's a lot going on, but the conflict goes over rather easily, which is probably the book's biggest letdown as there's no real drama. We know that Vader doesn't get Luke, but instead we get moments of real tension as Leia confronts the Dark Lord and has a moment of PTSD as she relives the moment where her planet was destroyed. It's a genuine scene that gives Leia a solid bit of characterization. She's not just royalty, but military and a former prisoner of war.

The art team behind Vader Down is so superb and gives the franchise cinematic feel that looks fantastic every page. The two different styles of Mike Deodato Jr. and Salvador Larroca aren't that conflicting, save for Deodato's heavier inking, and Larroca makes Luke appear more like Tom Welling than Mark Hamill in a few scenes, but how each compose tense moments or action scenes kick things into lightspeed each time. Deodato and colorist Frank Martin Jr. deliver such a powerful battle in the first few pages with the "space graveyard" being one of the most haunting images I've seen in quite some time. Star Wars: Vader Down has Vader being the force of nature, pun intended, we've only briefly seen in the movies, but here, he's allowed to let loose and be the cunning, and absolute savage, warrior he had the reputation of. With Star Wars movies coming out every year till God knows when, stories like this are a sharp reminder why we shouldn't take the Star Wars comic books for granted.

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