Best Shots Reviews: BLACK PANTHER #5, SUPERWOMAN #1, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #16

DC Comics August 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther #5
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Chris Sprouse, Karl Story and Laura Martin
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

After a lackluster finale to the first act of this story, Black Panther #5 sees the series turn a corner as T’Challa recruits foreign resources to assist him in stopping this rebellion against the kingdom in its tracks. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Laura Martin bring penciller Chris Sprouse and inker Karl Story into the fold as both king and rebel try to outplay one another.

Let’s get this out of the way, Manifold’s presence in Black Panther #5 is more of an extended cameo; while readers see T’Challa’s admiration for the Avenger, Eden doesn’t get to do much. In a way, that’s a blessing - Black Panther #5 is the first issue in the series that feels squarely focused on T’Challa. And what an issue it is, as T’Challa tries to maneuver around his opponents.

The centerpiece to the issue is a scene in which T’Challa meets with foreign rulers of some of the dictatorships in the Marvel universe. Genosha, Symkaria, and Madripoor are all represented here, and each presents T’Challa with their opinion on how best to deal with the current rebellion. Some readers are going to balk at the idea of T’Challa seeking foreign help, especially from men of such low character. However Coates’ script makes it clear that T’Challa is doing this at the advice of his new advisors – men who could turn against him if he were to make them feel unappreciated – and both Coates’ captions and Chris Sprouse’s artwork make it clear that T’Challa is not fond of this meeting.

Sprouse’s artwork throughout the issue is gorgeous, and he makes a fitting replacement for Brian Stelfreeze. Sprouse’s artwork makes use of thin detailed lines that give the world a sense of realism, which works well given the script’s subject matter. This is the world of superheroes, but Black Panther is concerned with the politics of that world as much as it is the action. Inker Karl Story does great bringing out the detail in Sprouse’s artwork and contrasting it with the heavy shadows that dominate some of the issue’s scenes.

As has been the case throughout the series, Laura Martin’s colors are exquisite. In the combat scenes, Martin uses yellow and green backgrounds to highlight dramatic moments, contrasting nicely with the dark costume of the titular hero, and at the same time dispelling a sense of danger that using the color red might instill. It’s a fitting choice considering that T’Challa has the upper hand here, the punches that land on him are when he purposefully leaves his chin open, both as a tactic to charge a kinetic blast as well as seemingly a means of punishing himself for his failures to his country.

T’challa’s sister Shuri also returns in this issue, continuing her journey in the spiritual world, the Djalia. Coates’ script here is interesting, as the being appearing as Ramonda divulges some of the history of Wakanda to Shuri. The story is of a king who sacrificed himself to become one with his nation and drive out a foreign invasion. Beyond the obvious parallels to the mains story, the scene is juxtaposed next to a scene in which T’Challa interrogates a man who had joined up with Tetu. There’s a subtle shift in Coates’ writing here, as the captions that give readers access to T’Challa’s internal workings disappear. Readers are now only privy to the information that T’Challa gives to the man before him, and a callback to Priest’s run suggests that the hero – who has appeared to be on the back foot through much of the series – has a larger plan in the working.

With its focus almost exclusively on T’Challa, Black Panther #5 is the strongest issue yet in the series. T’Challa’s struggle with the rebellion leads to some surprising connections to the larger Marvel Universe, from a guest spot by Manifold to foreign tyrants. Chris Sprouse is a wonderful artist in his own right, and readers will find no lapse in quality from Stelfreeze’s work on earlier issues. After previous issues stumbled a bit in their pacing, Black Panther #5 feels like the series finally got running full speed. This isn’t an issue with a heavy focus on action, but the moral complications of being a superhero and king have rarely been this riveting.

Credit: DC Comics

Superwoman #1
Written by Phil Jimenez
Art by Phil Jimenez, Matt Santorelli and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

And she’s more than capable of carrying her own book.

Move over, Clark Kent of Krypton, because Superwoman just might have you beat for the best Super-title on the stands. With Phil Jimenez pulling double duty on both writing and art, the ongoing adventures of Lois Lane and Lana Lang proves to be the most fun and energetic debut from DC I’ve seen in ages, injecting a much-needed dose of girl power to the city of Metropolis.

With the Man of Steel’s place in the DC Universe still in flux outside of the engaging father-and-son flagship title by Peter Tomasi and Pat Gleason, Jimenez is able to fill that gap nicely with two of Clark Kent’s most iconic supporting characters. Part of what makes Superwoman such a success is that while it’s easy for Superman to fall into the role of a nigh-Puritanical cipher, Lois and Lana have very distinct personalities that translate well into how they operate in this brave new Metropolis. Lois, who has been making headlines as the brand-new Superwoman, has the brawn to back up her blunt outspokenness, while our narrator Lana is more thoughtful and reserved, “a farmer by blood [and] engineer by trade” who is able to use her acumen as a Daily Star science correspondent to save the day. It’s a fun dynamic, one that has a bit more fun and camaraderie than Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz’s similar but more combative relationship over in Green Lanterns.

Jimenez, whose style has long been influenced by figures like George Perez, applies the same dense storytelling to his scripting as he has his artwork — but this winds up being a shrewd move for the creator, as he not only knows the limits of how much he can pack a page, but is able to pace conversation scenes and necessary exposition while still maintaining the level of endearing characterization readers need to remain interested. Ironically, while Lois has been touted as the main heroine of this book, Lana steals the show in more ways than one — while Lois drives much of the action as she pushes Lana to help her control her powers in the same way she helped Clark control his, Lana not only explains the status quo to new readers, but her very human struggles with anxiety and doubt make her instantly compelling.

With this solid bedrock of strong characterization, Jimenez is able to ramp things up nicely with the action sequences. Designwise, Jimenez is able to have his cake and eat it, too — while Lois evokes a classic design with her Superwoman costume (complete with classic Super-powers), Jimenez gives Lois a surprising new partner as well, a partner who is able to take the garish Electric Blue Superman design and give it an energetic new lease on life. Marked by bursts of crimson lightning, the second Superwoman proves to be this book’s most engaging visual, particularly a densely0paneled page where Jimenez has her power up to stop a runaway aircraft carrier. Colorist Jeromy Cox is in fine form working on Jimenez’s pages, in part because the artist smartly incorporates the gutters of his pages to create bursts of white imagery. But Cox is able to juggle these nine- and 10-panel pages without losing out on the energy or clarity of any of the characters.

Admittedly, Superwoman isn’t without some minor flaws — Jimenez has to go out of his way to introduce the newly-powered Lex Luthor as the source of much of the trouble (before having to conveniently sideline him so he doesn’t horn in on Lois and Lana’s turf), and while it’s a cool set piece, the idea of a giant warship named the Gestalt feels a little weird, especially in a town crawling with superheroes like Metropolis. Additionally, sometimes Jimenez leaves a little bit of fat on his scripts that could be trimmed, like a brief beat about Lana taking anxiety medication — but beyond these minor hiccups, he’s hit the writer/artist track running, producing a potent debut for Superwoman that is certainly a must-read for Super-fans everywhere.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #16
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Peter Parker might be heading into his latest event with “Death No More,” and hopefully, that arc will bring back some Spider-swagger to Amazing Spider-Man. Right now, this prelude has the same solid base with Dan Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli, but there’s so many characters and concepts that are established here that the Webslinger’s adventures have been slowed to a crawl.

Dan Slott has been keenly aware of Peter Parker’s characterization over the years, and has never been afraid to pick upon the Wallcrawler’s foibles as both a superhero and an ordinary civilian — and in the case of “Death No More,” it’s Peter’s need to save everyone and fix everything that makes him the prime target of the Jackal’s latest plot, a scheme involving organ transplants and cloning technology. Given the previous issue’s cliffhanger featuring Jay Jameson’s collapse, you’d think that there would be a solid emotional hook here — but unfortunately, Slott winds up sidelining Jay and Aunt May through much of this issue, with even Peter’s usually neurotic narration barely referencing this real family drama.

Instead, Slott spends a lot of time focusing on the bad guys of this arc, including the Jackal, the Lizard and Electro, all of whom are enjoying the fruits of cloning technology as they are reunited with their lost loved ones. There’s a strong sci-fi bent to Slott’s script here, as he analyzes the efficacy of cloned organs and the possible applications they might have as a sort of global form of superheroism — it’s smart philosophy, but it’s not particularly character-driven, which makes Spider-Man feel a bit like window-dressing in his own book. There’s an obligatory action sequence featuring Spidey rescuing workers from a Parker Industries facility, but it feels like a cold and impersonal way to reintroduce him to one of his greatest foes, when there are several problems that are much closer to home.

While this prelude feels a little low-impact in terms of story, the artwork feels as solid as ever. Camuncoli’s new Egyptian-inspired design of the Jackal is a nice take on what had traditionally been seen as Green Goblin-lite, while action sequences like Peter racing the Spider-Cycle up a wall provide some much-needed energy to the exposition-heavy proceedings. (There’s also a fun homage to a classic Spidey image for eagle-eyed readers.) There are few artists who are able to balance action with emotion the way that Camuncoli does, but there are a lot of surprises to this script that he’s able to convey with wide eyes and shocked expressions, while bits like Peter’s stunned reaction to New U’s cloning technology shows there’s still an enthusiastic scientist hiding behind this billionaire superhero’s veneer. Colorist Marte Gracia keeps the mood ominous with this issue, with lots of greens showing that the Jackal is hiding and plotting just out of sight, in addition to bright, energetic blues that show off Spider-Man’s technological expertise.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise that an arc featuring the Jackal might be a tough sell for readers, considering the character set off a chain reaction that nearly killed Spider-Man’s viability as a series. To try to riff on such a potentially explosive storyline shows that Dan Slott must have an ace up his sleeve, one that will likely give this event the direction and emotion it needs — but as far as this prelude goes, Amazing Spider-Man #16 does feel like a bit of a misstep, missing out on some of the evocative human connection that’s made Peter Parker such a fun character to follow all these years. Hopefully with all this exposition out of the way, this spider will find its footing soon enough.

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