Best Shots Reviews: MOON KNIGHT #3, SUPERMAN: COMING OF THE SUPERMEN #5, More

DC Comics June 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

It's that time again! Newsarama's Best Shots crew assembles to review some of last week's top releases, including a very positive take on Moon Knight #3 from Robert Reed. Read on!

Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #3
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Like a magician, Moon Knight #3 relies on illusion in order to win over its audience. Artists Greg Smallwood, Jordie Bellaire, and writer Jeff Lemire take advantage of Marc Spector’s insanity to build a surreal horror tale. In keeping the focus solely on Spector and those he’s trying to save, the creative team ensures that Moon Knight #3 is an entertaining read, in spite of its flaws.

Jeff Lemire’s script stays focused on Marc Spector, now having embraced his alter ego, Moon Knight, after escaping a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest-style psychiatric hospital that's taken a dark and supernatural turn. Though Spector is joined by the majority of his supporting cast, they largely serve to sell the possibility that Spector still has his sanity. Frenchie and Crawley appear to see everything exactly as Marc sees it, suggesting that this Egyptian nightmare is actually real. But not everyone is on board with Marc’s vision. By having Gena perceive the real world rather than the Egyptian environment that Marc and his other inmates experience, Jeff Lemire keeps the reader guessing as to which world is real.

The artwork by Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire is exquisite. In many ways, Smallwood’s design work in his art really builds the sense of illusion in the story. The blotches of dirt and soot in the artwork lend themselves to the transitions between the subway station and the temple as the environments blend into one another. And Smallwood takes great advantage of the anthropomorphic nature of the Egyptian gods to give the story a sense of supernatural horror. Ammut in particular is terrifying, with her crocodilian head and menacing glare.

Smallwood makes great use of the negative space on the page in order to dictate the tempo of the action, with some panels flowing into one another, while others are more isolated. Bellaire’s use of color in these sequences alternates between vivid and minimal, providing great contrast in the imagery and aiding the reader through the story. Bellaire’s palette brings Moon Knight #3 together. By balancing elements of minimalism with a variety of colors, Bellaire gives the book a unique feel. Bellaire shows a great sense of how color can build tension. Opting for darker blues and purples throughout, Bellaire’s colors add to the sense of shadowed danger and claustrophobia in Smallwood’s line art.

While the pacing of the individual issue is very strong, the story itself relies heavily on the reader investing in Marc’s internal struggle. The prior chapters in the story did a great job sinking their hooks into the audience, but in Moon Knight #3 things start to feel just a tad repetitive as Marc is continuously lured forward by his connection to Khonshu. Though the story still needs to maintain its mystery around the god Seth, a few moments to show the connective tissue between Marc and his supporting cast would go a long way to prevent monotony, especially for newer readers who are unfamiliar with the character.

Moon Knight #3 continues this title's stellar run, providing an entertaining tale of a man who doesn’t know if the world around him is the work of malicious gods or the trappings of his own mind. By maintaining that sense of doubt at every level of the story, Jeff Lemire, Greg Smallwood, and Jordie Bellaire ensure that Moon Knight has its own corner of the Marvel Universe. The synergy between the creators ensures that Spector’s story is incredibly focused, and the work is more complete for it.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #5
Written by Neal Adams
Art by Neal Adams, Tony Aviña and Buzz
Lettering by Cardinal Rae
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Even in the face of DC Comics taking a look back at their own legacy through the current ‘Rebirth’ event, Neal Adams’ Superman: The Coming of the Superman still feels decidedly old-school. While a retro inspired take on Superman battling a classic version of Lex Luthor and the collective forces of Apokalips is perhaps something we have been craving for years, it’s difficult to reconcile this series when Geoff Johns’ recently completed Darkseid War has demonstrated what modern version of that blockbuster is expected to be.

Yet even without this comparison, the series has been difficult to get a hold on at times. When Superman isn’t acting like an incongruous jerk and flying off the handle, the plot has veered as wildly as vehicle on a slick road. In this issue, those changes and beats happen at such a pace that it is becoming harder to focus. Metron, for example, is introduced in such a spectacular fashion as to warrant a double-take, but this is also an issue that takes time out for a page and a half to show Luthor bursting into a fit of laughs at Darkseid’s expense for no particular reason.

Which is in essence what makes this series so thoroughly anachronistic. The cheesy dialogue might be charming in its own way (Lois uses the term “bum steer,” but even the Man of Steel mocks this), particularly as Adams seems fully aware that he is writing to a form, but it is harder to reconcile the off-model character turns from just about everyone throughout this series, including the rampaging Superman in the open pages. More confusing is a glob character who randomly appears with nonsensical pieces of dialogue, including such nuggets as “The game is deep in! Daddy gotta go to war.”

While having plenty of story credits under his belt, from his early advertising work to plotting on Deadman and at Marvel, he is known and renowned as one of the most influential artists in this history of comics. On this front, classic is exactly what one would expect from Adams, and the versions of these characters are pleasingly devoid of the modern embellishments that more recent artists have given them. The opening page, with its dramatic font for a heading, endears with its unabashed glorification of the past, and only Adams could get away with some of the dynamic feet-first leaps that Superman does in this issue.

What ultimately redeems this issue is the very thing that hinders it as well. The final page is a cliffhanger so grandiose that it might have been lifted directly out of Adams’ work in the 1970s, and the sixth issue is almost mandatory reading if one has made it this far into the series. Then again, perhaps this is written for such a niche audience that going in searching for modern conventions and speech patterns is folly. Maybe the best way to enjoy Superman: The Coming of the Superman is simply to go along for the ride.

Strange Attractors
Strange Attractors
Credit: Archaia

Strange Attractors #1
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Greg Scott, Art Lyon, Matthew Patz, Soo Lee, Felipe Sobreiro and Robert Saywitz
Lettering by Thomas Mauer and Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

”New York is a character in itself!"

A phrase you have surely heard before, either in reviews or in the deluge of press surrounding a book before its release. But what if, it was more than just sentiment? What if the city itself actually was alive and had its own needs? And, even crazier, what if you could see the patterns that kept the city alive and thriving? This, in essence, is the idea at the center of Charles Soule’s Strange Attractors #1, the first issue in a monthly reprint of his early original graphic novel for Archaia Entertainment. In it, Soule, going full Jonathan Hickman, with a narrative warped around a fascinating academic theorem visualized by gorgeously intricate maps from designer Robert Saywitz, presents a story of slowly burning dread and the academics embroiled therein. Aided by the rough hewn artwork of Greg Scott, the Bryan Lee O’Malley-esque pencils of Soo Lee, who handles the first issue’s never-before-printed backup story, all tied together by the colors of Art Lyon, Matthew Patz and Felipe Sobreiro, Strange Attractors #1 is a comic that finally gives readers a look at the pulse beneath the NYC streets and the madness that comes with seeing what everyone else can’t.

This debut issue opens innocently enough, with the TA of a Columbia University math professor addressing the assembled students. But while the scene reads mundanely, Charles Soule quickly takes things down a dark corner. As the TA goes on, almost ranting about how the island of New York is dependant on a complex series of deliveries of food, water, and other supplies, an “uncelebrated miracle” as he calls it and that this miracle cannot possibly last forever, his words take a more sinister tone. “There are some that will tell you otherwise,” he says with grim finality “That the city can be saved but, they are liars.”

With this, artists Greg Scott and colorists Art Lyon and Matthew Patz give us the first taste of what he sees; a gorgeous, yet overbearing complexity map in the form of a crowded hallway. As the students move through the hallway, the TA is overwhelmed by bright red beams of light set against an infrared like background, delineating their path through the school and piercing through the man’s mind. The only thing allowing him to move freely is throwing a handful of change into the hallway, disrupting the flow with a new set of variables, also dynamically rendered by Scott and company with the same beams. Though Greg Scott’s artwork is vastly different in both tone and look than Soo Lee’s back-up panels, both artists and their teams of colorists harness the differences to their specific needs. Scott’s panels, that draw comparison to a rougher, more sketch like version of that of John Paul Leon’s, present a visually effective version of the controlled chaos of the central mathematic theme while Lee’s panels show New York in a more hopeful light with clean lines and stylized character designs, despite the story being set during the city’s most turbulent time, the 1980s. Both artists and their colorists offer a distinct visual dichotomy for this debut issue and keep the reader engaged by making the most of Soule’s script across the years.

Soule then downshifts into exposition mode, but keeps the dread filled fuse ignited by the TA’s death burning until the issue’s hopeful back up story. We are introduced to our lead characters, graduate student Heller Wilson and disgraced eccentric mathematician Dr. Spencer Brownfield, in a greasy spoon diner that is suspiciously out of bread, thanks to a missed delivery. As the two men talk, Soule thoughtfully threads in the definition of complexity theory as well as presenting the title’s central plot.

Heller is working on his thesis in the field of complexity theory, the study of complexity systems in the field of strategic management and organizational studies. In other words, using math to plot out specific ways in which cities and humans interact and function as a system. But, he has hit a wall and has sought out Brownfield in order to unblock his thinking. Soule presents the two men as mirror images of one another with Heller being the wide-eyed eager version of Brownfield in his prime, which we see briefly in the back-up story, but Brownfield sees in Heller something more than just himself at that age. He sees a new ally in his grand ongoing project of keeping the city going stating that everything he does is “always for the city,” up to and including releasing a live rat into the diner after their meeting with little explanation aside from the above line.

After a quick scene of Heller at the threshold of his call to adventure with Brownfield, establishing his motivations for his chosen field of study (anything with military applications gets funded, he tells his friends in a crowded nightclub) and more effective glimpses of the city starting to break down this time in form of old newspapers that haven’t been replaced by the new editions, he meets the man in his apartment and sees that he has been plotting the city. But instead of using computers like most people in their field, the doctor has been doing it by hand and for years across hundreds of notebooks. Bolstered by more glimpses of overwhelming yet fascinating map work from Robert Saywitz, Strange Attractors #1 sends us into the pointedly optimistic back-up story showing a young Brownfield bombarding the city with paper airplanes carrying the message “Someone Cares” knowing full well that we have just scratched the surface of this story and that optimism is surely shortlived.

While the original graphic novel format would make this story a quick and surely satisfying afternoon read, the monthly format has already hooked me as a reader in deep and has me scrambling, as it will you, for the next installment. Though some could argue that the first issue doesn't show enough of its cards to merit the new format, this first issue comes across, to this reviewer, not as withholding, but as coy with its dark opening scene, flashes of the world beyond the one we see with normal eyes, and barely noticed cracks in New York's infrastructure. Of course the OGN format would give you everything up front and while that understandably is what some readers want, this first issue of five makes you work harder for its secrets, daring you to keep with it to see where Soule and his art team take it.

New York has been the setting for a myriad of stories across all kinds of mediums but Strange Attractors #1 not only uses the city as its setting, but gives readers a fascinating well-researched look beyond the concrete, injecting into an energy beyond surface level “characterization”, given visual life by the work of Greg Scott, Soo Lee, Art Lyon, Matthew Patz, Felipe Sobreiro, and Robert Saywitz. BOOM! Studios have made a bold move with this reprint. In breaking Strange Attractors from its OGN format, it has given it a whole new energy and feeling of suspense as well as introducing a new crop of readers to a largely overlooked work from one of comic’s rising stars.  

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