Best Shots Reviews: SUPERGIRL: REBIRTH #1, POWER MAN & IRON FIST #7, DEMONIC #1

"Demonic #1" preview
Credit: Image Comics / Skybound Entertainment
Credit: DC Comics

Supergirl: Rebirth #1
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy and Michael Atiyeh
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

“Help! Can anyone hear me?”

“I can.”

DC’s Kryptonian renaissance continues with Supergirl: Rebirth #1, which bridges the gap between Kara Zor-El’s convoluted "New 52" reimagining and the CW’s primetime Supergirl television show. Writer Steve Orlando briskly introduces us to Kara’s new status quo as well as a fun, high-concept relic from the Silver Age, while artist Emanuela Lupacchino gives the Girl of Steel her most solid visual foundation yet.

With all the expectations and required continuity tweaks for Kara Zor-El, you’d have to be faster than a speeding bullet to pack it all into 20 pages - and yet Steve Orlando passes with flying colors here, reestablishing Kara’s powers thanks to a trip to the sun, introducing her connections to the D.E.O. (including her foster parents and D.E.O. handlers, Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers), as well as hinting at Supergirl’s future foes. But Orlando is also all about introducing some out-there additions to his scripts, and he can’t help but steal his own show with the inclusion of Lar-On, a Kryptonian werewolf whose condition got him a one-way ticket to Phantom Zone quarantine.

In this regard, Supergirl: Rebirth #1 brings readers two great tastes, even if they don’t necessarily go together = while Lar-On has some great moments like transforming under Earth’s moon (or barking out heat blasts), it does distract a bit from what’s most important, which is the character of Supergirl herself. It’s here that I think Orlando taps into this book’s greatest potential - while Clark Kent is certainly a proactive and effective hero in his own right, Supergirl’s empathy winds up being her greatest strength. When D.E.O. agents are in trouble and there’s no one there to save them, she’s the one who can hear them - and that level of compassion and understanding even extends to her deadliest foes, as she tries to reason with Lar-On even as she attempts to subdue him. That sort of likability winds up being infectious - while it might strain credibility since they’ve only known each other for a few weeks, Eliza Danvers’ knowledgeability and protectiveness of her daughter gives both characters a warmth that will go a long way to this series’ long-term survival.

But Supergirl: Rebirth #1’s greatest strength has to be its art. Teaming up with inker Ray McCarthy, Emanuela Lupacchino draws her best work yet with this debut issue, evoking shades of Yanick Paquette with her clean but weighty lines. Lupacchino’s Supergirl has some really beautiful expressiveness here, from a close-up of her gazing back at Earth as she responds to a distress call, to the pure toughness on her face when she brings the fight back to a rampaging Super-Werewolf. Colorist Michael Atiyeh also deserves some special praise here, keeping the energy high with bits like Kara flying into the sun, or Eliza tossing a red solar grenade to halt Lar-On’s assault. That said, there are a few bits where Lupacchino still has room to grow - while her Supergirl looks engaging and on-model, some of her other female characters, like Cameron Chase, look a little too similar to one another, while Eliza winds up falling into the Hollywood trap of having to have a “mother” figure still look like a super-fit model (albeit with a shade more rendering to show her “age”).

Yet despite its minor hiccups, DC has been overdue in giving the spotlight back to Kara Zor-El, and with Supergirl: Rebirth #1, they succeed handily. For those who don’t know anything about Kara’s previous adventures, this is the perfect entree, and for those who have followed some of Supergirl’s more hit-or-miss runs, this much-improved effort is a breath of fresh air. Coming from Midnighter and Starfire, respectively, Steve Orlando and Emanuela Lupacchino are both DC creators on the rise, and this proves to be the next big platform to showcase their talents. If you’re champing at the bit before Supergirl makes her debut on the CW later this year, Supergirl: Rebirth #1 is a great place to get your fix.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Power Man and Iron Fist #7
Written by David Walker
Art by Sanford Greene, Flaviano and John Rausch
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

As two of the most street-level of Marvel’s superheroes, there’s a lot that could be said about Civil War II through the stories of Power Man and Iron Fist. While Iron Man and Captain Marvel are about to throw down over the politics of precognitive justice, Danny Rand and Luke Cage are living the consequences, with Danny now in prison for a run-in with the police. There’s a lot of potential here, but David Walker’s story never really comes together in terms of a solid message, leaving a team of talented artists essentially just marking time.

On paper, Walker’s story has some strong selling points - on the one hand, Danny Rand has surrendered himself to police custody in the hopes of trying to protect reformed criminals from getting incarcerated once more from overzealous vigilantes. And having Luke Cage, now an established family man, having to weigh whether or not to throw his domestic life into upheaval by sticking with his best friend is a great source of drama, particularly when a frazzled Luke and his wife Jessica tell each other, “I am thinking clearly. I am a @#$%& super hero, and I think clearly.”

Yet in practice, Walker’s story doesn’t seem to deliver this potential in its execution. There’s just too much quiet to Danny and Luke’s parallel stories, with the exposition outweighing the emotional content far too heavily. Luke’s story, for example, should have the same sort of moral ambiguity hanging in the air as the original Civil War, which yielded one of the all-time great Luke Cage stories in New Avengers. Instead, Luke’s hemming and hawing feels like too much naval-gazing, while Danny’s story winds up boiling down to flashbacks, exposition and prison cliches, as he winds up having to survive a battle royale in the mess hall. We don’t get a sense of Danny’s determination as he pursues a surprisingly progressive quest for a white kung-fu billionaire, and there’s zero tension about whether or not he’ll survive in jail. He’s the Iron Fist - anybody dumb enough to come after him in jail deserves what’s coming.

But the saving grace of this book has to be the tag-team art efforts of Sanford Greene and Flaviano. For my money, Flaviano is a welcome addition to this book, as he draws Luke’s story with a fluid and cartoony style that gives every character a unique design and some truly engaging expressiveness. (Even his more out-there characters, like Piranha Jones and Cockroach Hamilton, look like their namesake animals, but it lends a nice sense of humor to Luke’s story, which had already been the main leavening agent of this series.) Greene, meanwhile, lends a scratchiness to Danny Rand’s time in prison, and unfortunately, he’s not given a ton of memorable moments in the script to work with, and that’s compounded with the fact that all of his characters are dressed in the same prison oranges, making some pages just grind to a halt.

While there are some highlights to the art, it’s a shame to see Power Man and Iron Fist swing and miss like this. Given the clearly defined personalities and philosophies of Luke Cage and Danny Rand, you’d think there would be a lot of grist for the mill when it comes to Civil War II, but that winds up being largely window-dressing here, as Walker takes way too long to get to the real meat of his storyline. Flaviano’s artwork alone should draw some eyes here, but that doesn’t feel like a sufficient hook for this well-intentioned but ultimately flawed book.

Credit: Image Comics / Skybound Entertainment

Demonic #1
Written by Christopher Sebela
Art by Niko Walter and Dan Brown
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Published by Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Demonic #1 is a bloody good example of visceral storytelling. Detective Scott Graves has it all, a family, a steady job, and peace of mind. But, that all changes after a violent encounter with a name from his past which brings all manner of demons, both literal and figurative flooding back into his life.

Returning to shelves since its 2010 debut as one of Top Cow’s Pilot Season offerings, writer Christopher Sebela takes the reigns from creators Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri to deliver a tense exploration of all manner of horror. While Sebela brings the pain with his script, artist Niko Walter and colorist Dan Brown render it with stylish panel construction and rich textures. Demonic may have been on hiatus since 2010, but that time away has done nothing but make it even more of a gut punch of a debut.

During Demonic’s opening pages everything seems normal. Christopher Sebela, a writer with a true ear for dialogue, presents Detective Graves and his partner Fischer as just two normal humps, shooting the breeze and answering a routine domestic abuse call. These opening scenes are crucial to the title’s success because it lulls the reader into a sense of calm right before Sebela delivers the first of many fantastic twists. As Graves and Fischer approach, still bantering in a way that never reads as forced, a body falls from the high rise, splattering at their feet. This is the first of many bloody displays from Niko Walter and Dan Brown, but it is certainly not the last.

What follows is a deep dive into all sorts of horror, both supernatural and personal for our lead Graves. As the normalcy of the opening scene is blasted away, Sebela starts to layer in just how complex this world is and how tumultuous of a personality Graves has suppressed. After a violent, strangely poetic encounter with a deranged woman, Graves’ world is turned upside down as she makes him face a word that he hasn’t heard in years, “Novo”. He then becomes truly desperate when his daughter, suffering from some unknown illness, is sent into the hospital. It is only then that the demon Aeshma makes herself known and their bloody work begins.

Though the hook of possession and being forced into a violent corner is enough to sustain this debut, Sebela isn’t content just with the obvious horror route. All throughout the well-written interactions between Graves and the rest of the cast, he plays with themes of cult de-programming, martial discord, and the fear of losing ones child. Make no mistake, the lure of Demonic is certainly the violent demonic vigilantism at its heart, but Sebela and his knack for dialogue know that there are scarier things beyond the blood and monsters. Those very human fears are what makes this debut hit and hit so damn hard.

While Sebela’s script explores many different avenues, artist Niko Walter and colorist Dan Brown deliver a visual look to Demonic #1 that is as precise as it is elegant. Drawing comparisons to the realistic pencils of artists like Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano, Niko Walter’s offerings here are extremely down to earth, even when he starts to dip into serialism after Graves’ possession; playing with the perspective of scenes even when his characters still look very real. But more than that, Walter’s panel construction throughout wows, opting to break up certain widescreen panels with rack focused smaller panels containing only a single picture like a fly or bit of action. Also consistently great are the colors of Dan Brown, as they pitch and shift depending on the mood of the scene. As the comic open, Brown’s colors are sun baked and almost bleached looking as Graves’ and his partner make their way to just another crime scene, but as the horror starts they start to take on a more sickly and heightened look, accentuating either the darkness surrounding Graves, the blood on his hands, or the haziness of his new life.

With blood to spare and a strong human element at its center, Demonic #1 is a winner from start to finish. Christopher Sebela has taken the pilot one-shot and completely ran away with. Running along side him are Niko Walter and Dan Brown who nail the both the horror and mundane elements with equal aplomb, making this debut strong not only narratively, but visually. There are many horror books on shelves right now, but Demonic #1 is one that more than deserves your attention.

Twitter activity