Best Shots Reviews: MOON KNIGHT #5, JUSTICE LEAGUE #2, TORCHWOOD #1

"Torchwood #1" cover
Credit: Titan Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #5
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Greg Smallwood, Jordie Bellaire, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Garland, Francesco Francavilla and James Stokoe
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Marc Spector’s existential crisis comes to a head in Moon Knight #5. Or is it heads? The main creative team of Jeff Lemire, Greg Smallwood, and Jordie Bellaire are joined by a bevy of artistic talent to bring to life the personalities that emerge from the ashes of Marc’s broken mind. It’s an entertaining journey that doesn’t offer easy answers to Marc’s problems.

Leading from last issue’s cliffhanger ending, Moon Knight #5 features Marc Spector face down Moon Knight at the footsteps of a pyramid. Jeff Lemire’s script plays with the reader’s expectations here; the series has questioned Marc’s perception of reality throughout that one questions whether or not Marc’s fight here is real or some manifestation of an internal conflict. Unfortunately for Marc, this Moon Knight figure is able to gain the upper hand and takes off with Marlene in tow.

In the pursuit of his enemy, Marc’s mind splinters. It is here that the multiple art teams appear, with each artist taking on a different personality. James Stokoe takes on a distinctly more sci-fi scene as Moon Knight, here an astronaut, runs from space wolves that pursue him. Wilfredo Torres and Michael Garland take on a segment that shows off Marc Spector's "Steven Grant" personality. And finally, Francesco Francavilla handles the portion with Jake Lockley. The four art styles are distinct enough for the reader to identify, but at the same time, the book never feels incoherent.

The segments also play to the strengths of each artist. Stokoe’s intricate linework brings a chaotic feel to the segment on the moon, and the space wolves appear simultaneously foreign and familiar in their design. The smooth, heavy lines of Wilfredo Torres add a crisp feel to Steven Grant’s life as a producer, and Michael Garland uses subtle grading in his colors to add to that. And, as one might expect, Francesco Francavilla’s dynamic colors and use of shadows works wonders in the seedy underbelly of New York.

Even with the guest talent in Moon Knight #5, series artists Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire refuse to be upstaged. Smallwood’s linework continues to be exquisite, but equally impressive are his layouts. A particular highlight comes towards the issue’s climax. Marc, having traveled through the gauntlet of his multiple personalities finds his master, Khonshu, awaiting him. Realizing what the god intends for him, Marc runs away from his destiny, diving out of the pyramid. Smallwood renders this leap of faith across a two page spread, in three panels. In a digital format, this may be less impressive, but on the printed page, the effect is stunning, especially with Jordie Bellaire’s colors contrasting Marc’s leap with a warm memory of his friends.

Moon Knight #5 is a powerful ending to the initial arc, concluding a section of the titular hero’s life while also propelling him further along, hinting at just how far into insanity Jeff Lemire, Greg Smallwood, and Jordie Bellaire intend to send him. The use of other artists to show the different personalities of Marc Spector is a choice that pays off in spades, and it will be exciting to see just how far the series is willing to go with the fracture.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League #2
Written by Bryan Hitch
Art by Tony Daniel, Sandu Florea and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

As far as their respective career trajectories, there are few pairs at DC Comics right now more interesting than Bryan Hitch and Tony Daniel. Both having served as writers and artists for acclaimed storylines such as The Ultimates and "Batman R.I.P.," Hitch and Daniel have worked with some of the best of the best, learning from writers like Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns and Warren Ellis. Yet whereas Hitch feels like a realist with his bold and brawny style, Daniel has more of a cartoony streak that’s hardened and softened over various times of his career. Putting these two collaborators together can create for a volatile clash of dynamics, but it’s a testament to both of these writer/artists that Justice League continues its slow and steady buildup.

If there’s one word you could use to describe Bryan Hitch as a creator, it would be “scale” - Hitch’s superheroes don’t fight crime, they stop disasters, they don’t beat the odds, they withstand actual forces of nature. And on a story level, that fits in nicely with the concept of the Justice League as a whole, as a team of superheroes uniting to stop the threats no one caped crusader could tackle alone. It’s that element of teamwork that permeates the best parts of Justice League #2 - Hitch nails the interpersonal dynamic between rookie Green Lanterns Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, with the former creating hyper-detailed constructs to rescue people, while the latter uses more abstract shapes to stop a thundering tidal wave. Meanwhile, Batman and the Flash get another great team-up moment, as the Fastest Man Alive catches an alien bioweapon, and even the issue’s main emotional crux - namely, the League reaching out to the all-new Superman - rests on Batman and Wonder Woman getting over their distrust for the greater good.

Of course, with a series focusing on environmental disasters, you can see how Hitch might have envisioned this in his head - but that’s what makes him writing for Tony Daniel such an interesting experience. Whereas Hitch is all about scale, Daniel has that stylized and ultimately reassuring style to his characters - his Flash, for example, has a beautiful strobe effect as the character darts across a two-page panel, while his meeting between Superman and Batman has a darkness and tension that plays well tonally in a post-Batman v. Superman landscape. That said, there is still a little bit of dissonance between Hitch’s script and Daniel’s execution - Hitch is all about environments, with big moments like tidal waves, underwater collapses and crowds converging on our heroes, but that’s a pretty unorthodox way to draw for most artists, who focus so much on adopting their own visual style for characters first and foremost. Thus, there are a few moments where Daniel’s art doesn’t pack as much of a punch as you might expect - you don’t necessarily feel much danger when the Green Lanterns stop the tsunami from hitting, while a threat facing Aquaman in Atlantis doesn’t feel quite as horrific as the concept might let on.

As far as this second issue is concerned, Hitch also has the necessary evil of having to seed in future plot points. The League feels a bit scattered with this installment, and so while individual components work - like the Green Lanterns, or Batman’s scenes with the Flash and Superman - other characters, like Aquaman, feel a bit disjointed, while characters like Wonder Woman and Cyborg don’t get much more than a quick cameo. Additionally - and this isn’t necessarily Hitch’s fault, as this exists to a lesser extent in the main Green Lanterns book as well — Jessica Cruz’s characterization comes across as a little regressive, as she constantly bemoans how difficult the situation is or, in one moment, asks Cyborg “did I touch something?” when the Watchtower starts to ominously shake. Having a newbie is part of any superhero team, dating back to the era of Kitty Pryde and the X-Men, but having Jessica be defined by things other than her self-doubts and inexperience will go a long way.

Still, while these two experienced creators are still feeling each other out, there’s a sense of urgency and panache that characterizes Justice League, making this a worthwhile team book in the aftermath of Geoff Johns’ flagship run. But unlike Johns’ series, there’s no expectation to make Justice League a trendsetting book for the rest of the DC Universe, allowing a larger-than-life, anything-goes kind of storytelling that I think can pay big dividends down the road. While this second installment of Justice League has some flaws in pacing and scale, the good moments of this book far outweigh any missteps, showing that DC’s greatest superheroes remain in good hands.

Credit: Titan Comics

Torchwood #1
Written by John and Carole Barrowman
Art by Antonio Fuso, Pasquale Qualano, and Marko Lusko
Letters by Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Captain Jack Harkness is back and he is bringing a whole mess of trouble along with him. Scripted by the man himself and his English professor sister, Torchwood #1 is a fast-paced reintroduction to Jack and his new ragtag crew on board the alien tech-infused freighter, the Ice Maiden. While the overall plot and antagonist are only seen in teasing glimpses, the Barrowmans make up for the lack of forward motion with cheeky scenes of banter and a return of a classic Torchwood antagonist that is sure to get shippers and fans excited for a right reasons. Torchwood #1 might not be the most substantial of debuts, but it still delights with plenty of intrigue, charm, and slick artwork.

Using the recent Big Finish audio continuity as a basis, Torchwood #1 quickly and painlessly establishes Jack’s new status quo. Though a lot of fans have only kept up with Jack’s adventures on TV, most recently in the Miracle Day miniseries, John and Carole Barrowman barrel through a reintroduction to Jack’s new, strange home and work life. With clever, but not winking character bios inserted into the page as they appear, the Barrowmans bring readers up to speed on Jack’s new crew and the state of the ship that they inhabit as they flit around the universe putting out fires that humanity has no idea were even lit. But while Jack and his crew are gallivanting through the stars, things are starting to get weird here on Earth.

It is here that John and Carole bring the last surviving member of the original Torchwood, Gwen Cooper, back into the mix, as well as seeding the first arc’s big bad into the narrative, which involves ninjas on flying jet skis and an unseen tentacled monster pulling ships to their doom. Further complicating matters is the return of another former Time Agent, Captain John Hart, who pulls a daring assassination in Torchwood Manor and absconds with a surely powerful alien artifact. While all this is going on, John and Carole Barrowman keep the characters pinging off one another, allowing each new cast member to shine and keeping Jack, Gwen, and Gwen’s husband Rhys all firmly set within the boundaries of their canon characterizations. Though I would have liked a bit more development as to the main overall plot, Torchwood #1 shows that these characters and the science fiction weirdness that fans expect from the series are still intact.

As for the art, this debut is gifted by John Paul Leon-like style thanks to the pencils of Antonio Fuso and Pasquale Qualano, all tied together by the colors of Marko Lusko. Fuso and Qualano’s styles meld really well during this first issue culminating in pages that look both blocky and stylized as well as expressive and genuinely human. Captain Jack in particular benefits from the two artists as they capture the character’s well defined heroic profile with his trademark trenchcoat and suspenders as well as John Barrowman’s irrepressible charm in scenes like him and new beau Hollis emerging from their cable with a wry smirk dancing across his face. Colorist Marko Lusko also provides a nice bit of sheen to this debut issue thanks to his metallic yet warm color scheme. While the scenes on the Ice Maiden are predictably chilly with plenty of gun metal grays, silvers, and florescent greens, Lusko shows that he can also shift moods and settings easily like drenching a South Wales beach in a beautiful sunset or rendering a moon-lit manor house on the Scottish moors.

With great characters and a deep well of continuity that never feels oppressive, Torchwood #1 is a solid start for the latest installment of the Doctor Who spin-off. John and Carole Barrowman clearly care about this cast, but also seem to grasp what kind of stories would be well suited for them. While they may play their cards close to the chest plot-wise this month, their voices are too well refined to be disappointing. It is fan service done right. Couple that with an art team that delivers both style and substance and you have another solid installment in a thriving licensed line.

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