Best Shots Reviews: SUPERMAN #6, MOON KNIGHT #6, More

Marvel Comics September 2016 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Superman #6
Written by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Superman’s first arc comes to a thrilling and deeply emotional conclusion with its sixth issue. Featuring the final showdown between Superman and the Eradicator, Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason deliver huge spectacle as the two battle on and through the moon, but it is the emotional fallout that makes the issue really soar. Speaking of soaring, Gleason is back on art with this finale, along with inker Mick Gray and colorist John Kalisz all of whom provide this issue dynamic panel layouts and iconic Superman poses. Though this Clark Kent may not be Earth-Prime’s, Superman #6 proves that he, along with stirring, high-energy storytelling, is here to stay.

Powered by the souls of long-lost Kryptonians, Superman makes his final push against the machine that would destroy his family. Tomasi and Gleason have gotten a lot of milage out of the returned Eradicator, but with Issue #6, they make it explicit that Superman is through with this fight. They do so with a thrilling set of pages depicting the last blows in this arc’s first long standing battle.

Backed by the heavy inks of Mick Gray and the glossy colors of John Kalisz, Gleason leaves it all on the page as the two smash into each other for all their worth. Starting with a powerful single page splash of Superman knocking back his foe, Gleason, Gray and Kalisz quickly start to break up the pages in interesting and fast-paced ways, selling the ferocity of the battle as well as its urgency. The standout being a page in which the two are burrowing through the crust of the moon, the pair’s decent dominating the background in heavy blacks, fiery yellows and splashes of reds in the form of their capes and Superman’s chest symbol. But while that could have been enough in terms of style, the art team takes it a step further by peppering the foreground with close-ups of the blow-by-blow as they fall. Superman #6 may have plenty of action, but after the dust has settled is when it goes from good to great.

As the battle rages, the world obviously takes notice and it is here where Tomasi and Gleason start to cut to the heart of this sixth issue. After the Eradicator is done and dusted, the killing blow dealt by a heartwarming surprise return, Superman must now take his place in a world he had fought so hard to hide from. While this could have come across as sappy, Tomasi and Gleason play it all very smart, keeping the focus still on the family, allowing them to be audience surrogates, speaking the thesis of the series thus far that “Superman is for everybody” while setting the title and super-son Jon up for some very interesting developments in the future.

Gleason, Gray, and Kalisz even back up this thesis with rousing visual cues that lean into the iconic image of Superman and his bold S. Evoking the spirit of Tim Sale, Gleason, Gray, and Kalisz provide numerous hero shots of Superman like him standing, fists on his hips, facing the world from the surface of the moon with the American flag behind him or him warmly smiling as he accepts the key to the city in front of a huge crowd. Melding action and heart, Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason provide a fittingly great conclusion to Superman’s first ongoing story.

The “Rebirth” initiative has been kind to Superman, and Issue #6 proves that the title is in capable hands for the time being. Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, and John Kalisz take a character that has essentially been a prickly outsider so far and transform into a classically-inspired Superman, one that that DC Universe and readers have been in dire need of. To top it off, they are also keeping the title popping with large scale action tempered with an emotional core in the form of Clark’s family and Jon’s journey to become a hero in his own right. The House of El is finally back on a strong foundation thanks to this creative team and Superman #6 just makes that foundation on the stronger thanks to its tight script and sumptuous visuals.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #6
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Wilfredo Torres, Michael Garland, Francesco Francavilla and James Stokoe
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Marc Spector’s alternate personalities take center stage in Moon Knight #6. Writer Jeff Lemire and a team of talented artists see the start of this new arc add new elements to the story. And what starts as a somewhat disorienting change of pace slowly gives way to a troubling familiarity as it becomes clear that Marc Spector is even more lost than he was previously.

Moon Knight #6 opens with film producer Steven Grant working on a film for Moon Knight. The opening allows for some nice meta-commentary on both the titular character as well as the superhero genre in general. Jeff Lemire uses this element to give another dimension to Spector’s insanity as the line between the fictional world of Moon Knight #6 gets blurred with the real world. At first, it appears that Lemire is using Grant to begin a completely new tale for Marc Spector, but as he enters a taxi, he is suddenly transported to a different world as Jake Lockley.

This second segment, with artwork by Francisco Francavilla, sees a disturbing revelation as Crawley is able to recount the events of the previous arc, which Lockley is unable to recall at all. Francavilla’s artwork with its blue and golds and purples creates a moody atmosphere that works perfectly for seedy environment that Lockley navigates and helps to shatter the illusion of Steven Grant’s world. The scene is short but gripping, and reveals to the reader the frighteningly fragile state of Spector’s mind. Later in the issue, appearances by several of the hospital workers adds to the tension as it seems that external forces are at work against Spector. The way Jeff Lemire’s script bounces between the personas of Steven Grant and Jake Lockley is appropriately disorienting, capturing the way that Spector’s mind is triggered by the different things people say.

The majority of the artwork in Moon Knight #6 is handled by illustrator Wilfredo Torres and colorist Michael Garland. Torres’ bold, clean lines, work beautifully with the Hollywood setting of Steven Grant’s persona. Torres’ take on Grant is of a handsome man, clean-shaven and seemingly always dressed to impress, providing a false sense of stability for the reader. Michael Garland utilizes a naturalisticpalette, providing a stark contrast with Francavilla’s artwork on first glance. However, Garland uses shading in his colors in a subtle manner, creating a noir atmosphere that works well to keep the transition between personalities visually cohesive.

For fans of Moon Knight, seeing these new personas emerge may be a welcome change of pace. However, this added dynamic makes Moon Knight #6 a tougher entry point for readers looking to begin the series with this new arc. Moon Knight is not a traditional superhero story by any means, but the intentional lack of clarity as to Marc’s predicament may turn away readers. At the very least, James Stokoe’s segment at the end of the issue promises a more traditional man vs. monster affair from a visual standpoint, even though it is almost certainly not what it seems.

Ultimately, Moon Knight #6 is a solid entry that furthers the story of a psychologically broken protagonist. While it doesn’t quite invite new readers in the way that one might hope a new story arc would, writer Jeff Lemire, and the talented artists still deliver a story that continues to find new ways to show a hero lost in his own mind. Moon Knight might have escaped the confines of his mental hospital, but it appears his journey is only going to get more mind-bending from here.

Credit: Derek Charm (Archie Comics)

Jughead #9
Written by Ryan North
Art by Derek Charm
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Jughead Jones navigates the complex world of relationships this week in Jughead #9. Though not as surreal as the Chip Zdarsky era, writer Ryan North immediately sets his first issue apart from the previous ones by taking Jughead way out of his comfort zone and developing his relationship with the Riverdale gang, especially one Betty Cooper. Artist Derek Charm, now fully installed as the title’s regular artist, continues to fit in quite well in New Riverdale with cutesy, slightly over exaggerated pencils. For those worried that Chip Zdarsky’s departure would lessen the title’s edge or humor, Jughead #9 stands as a confident continuation of what made the title great in the first place.

Jughead has a crush and he hasn’t the slightest idea what to do about it. After meeting a charming new employee of Pop’s, whose main job is to stand outside the burger joint and hand out flyers, dressed as a burger, Jughead accidentally finds himself accepting a date and actually wanting to follow through on it. As far as opening gambits go, Ryan North delivers a bold one, while still staying true to Jughead’s established asexuality and the title’s overall humorous tone.

In fact, this outward development of Jughead instantly starts Ryan North’s tenure off on a great note. Though Zdarsky’s run didn’t exactly treat Jughead like a cypher, the jokes usually came first and the character development just happened to be incidental. But in Jughead #9, North shows us a whole new side of the character, one that is unsure of himself, despite his wry demeanor and North’s cheeky commentary of the issue throughout the bottom of the pages.

North also uses Juggy’s brush with relationships to bring him closer to Betty, who takes the main confidant spot that Archie usually played in the previous issues. North’s Betty is exceedingly charming and self-assured, while still cognizant of Jughead’s nervousness and more than willing to serve as his wingman, which gives the issue one of its funniest gags. Though the guest-star touted on the cover only truly appears on the last page, Ryan North’s development of Jughead, his friendship with Betty, and his adorable “courtship” of the Burger Lady make Jughead #9 more than worth the price of admission.

Also worth your hard earned snack money is the artwork of Derek Charm. After two solid entries with Zdarsky’s final issues, Charm again impresses with his first issue as full time series artist. Much like Erica Henderson before him, Charm’s style is cartoonish and big when it comes to reaction shots, but never overbearing or obnoxious in its presentation. Take for example the scene in which Jughead comes to Betty to explain his newfound “crush”. Charm plays this scene just the right amount of big, with both Betty and Jughead gesticulating wildly to convey their emotions, but Charm never lets it get quite to manga levels of emoting, keeping each reaction firmly in character, while still keeping the emotions clear and the reader’s attention focused on them.

Charm also proves himself quite capable of well-rendered visual storytelling in the adorable scene of Jughead and Burger Lady’s burgeoning relationship. Framed as a two-page splash, Charm takes us through the several days that Jughead went out of his way to go to Pop’s to see Burger Lady. In terms of execution, its a fairly simple splash page but Charm’s body language between the characters conveys a genuine connection, even though one of them is just a set of arms and legs in a giant burger costume. With a firm handle on both the tone and humor of the title, Derek Charm again shows that he’s a great fit for Jughead.

While the departure of the original creative team usually portends a dip in quality, Jughead #9 shows no sign of slumping as it heads into its new arc. Ryan North and Derek Charm adhere to the title’s original tone and sense of humor while not playing it safe with their storytelling and developing Jughead past his love of food and aloof nature. Magic is in the air and if Jughead #9 is any indication, North and Charm will have many more spells to cast on readers before their time is up.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Squadron Supreme #11
Written by James Robinson
Art by Leonard Kirk, Paul Neary, Marc Deering and Chris Sotomayor
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

With Marvel being split down the middle with its increasingly homogenized Civil War II tie-ins on one side and its quirky character comic books (looking at you, Squirrel Girl and Spider-Gwen), there’s something to be said about some good, old-fashioned superhero action - and in that regard, Squadron Supreme #11 assuredly delivers. Despite the Civil War II banner on the cover, Tony Stark and Carol Danvers’ bickering doesn’t factor into this issue one bit, but the inclusion of Spider-Man as a guest star gives the Squadron a fun enemy as well as a familiar touchstone to hopefully hook in new readers.

The Squadron Supreme made headlines when this run first began, as this group of antihero analogues brutally murdered longstanding Marvel character Namor the Sub-Mariner. But writer James Robinson brings lapsed readers up to speed quickly, as Warrior Woman breaks into the Baxter Building and winds up squaring off against its corporate bodyguard - the Amazing Spider-Man. While the transition between Warrior Woman and the rest of her former teammates on the Squadron is a little clunky, Robinson gets the real hook of a book like this - he’s able to give readers the comfort of familiarity by the way he writes his sarcastic Spider-Man, but he’s also able to give his “heroes” some interesting obstacles to overcome, as he winds up taking out the Squadron Supreme in the same way that Spidey might ordinarily take out one of his numerous super-villains.

The result is some no-frills action portrayed beautifully by Leonard Kirk. Working with tag-team inkers Paul Neary and Marc Deering, Kirk’s compositions look solid as ever, occasionally evoking artists like John Romita, Jr. and Mike Deodato Jr.. The way that Kirk choreographs the hyper-agile Spider-Man is a particular highlight of the book, such as the strobe effect we see when Spidey bounces around a panel as he dodges the super-fast Blur. Considering Spider-Man is seen as a street-level hero, you’d be forgiven if you thought that a team of Justice League analogues should have no problem wiping the floor against this lonesome wall-crawler, but it’s Kirk who really sells Spider-Man as a credible threat, ranging from the huge bursts of webbing that he launches as the Squadron like machine gun fire, or the bone-crunching way he slams the Blur into a concrete pillar. But Kirk also sells the small emotional moments, too, like the sheer shame in the Blur’s eyes as she tries to grapple with the fact that she has to fight a hero that she truly admires.

That said, while this comic book scratches the kind of itch you had as a kid when you just wanted to see some uncomplicated action, you could also make the point that because Spider-Man has such a dominant personality, that Robinson winds up giving his actual main characters short shrift. Warrior Woman, for example, is a bit of a cipher in terms of her personality despite her intriguing mission to go back in time and prevent Namor’s death, while characters like Hyperion and Doctor Spectrum don’t really make a strong impression before Robinson throws them into a perilous spot. Additionally, Robinson has some kinks to work out with bits of his script, like taking two panels for Human Torch Jim Hammond to make a positively unfunny joke with one of his S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, or the fact that Spider-Man oh-so-helpfully tells the audience Warrior Woman’s exact plan.

Ultimately, while Squadron Supreme #11 might not wind up being the most memorable comic book that’s ever hit the stands, it’s certainly a solid one, and the inclusion of Spider-Man as a guest star will likely give this struggling title a bit of a sales bump as Peter Parker fans invariably check in to see what the hubbub is about. And those readers will likely find more than a little fun in this 20-page diversion, as Robinson, Kirk and company deliver an entertaining three-sided battle royale. Sometimes comics don’t have to be events, and sometimes they don’t have to be particularly complicated or even particularly innovative - sometimes they just have to speak to the simpler pleasures. Consider Squadron Supreme to be one of them.

Credit: DC Comics

Aquaman #6
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy and Gabe Eltaeb
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“I’m the King of Atlantis, Superman! Please give me a chance to show what that means! Or there’s no damn point of me existing at all.”

While Superman has been paired off against Batman and Wonder Woman with no small success over the years, I’ve always found Clark Kent’s potential against Aquaman to be of particular interest. Sure, in one corner, you’ve got a solar-powered Kryptonian capable of pulling planets out of their orbit. But there are many definitions of power, and that’s what makes any story pitting him against Aquaman so interesting - because Superman, at the end of the day, is just one man. But Arthur Curry isn’t just inhumanly strong and durable - he’s a king. A world power, capable of withstanding the crushing responsibility of leadership as well as the burden of holding back a force that could make or break our entire world.

It’s that friction that creates such great sparks with Aquaman #6, as Dan Abnett and Brad Walker conclude their first arc featuring the King of the Seven Seas, who now must face down the Man of Steel himself as an international incident quickly begins to spiral out of control. Not only does the inclusion of Superman give Aquaman a sizable threat to deal with, but it ties in nicely with the overall themes that Abnett has been playing with throughout his run thus far, about the moral quandaries of political leadership and diplomacy that keep volatile factions from descending into war. While Abnett does occasionally overplay his hand with some of the unnecessary self-deprecation that’s haunted Arthur Curry since the "New 52," there’s still plenty to like about both the artwork and the philosophical debates that grounds Aquaman #6.

With the guest appearance of Superman, Abnett is able to have his cake and eat it, too, as he’s able to not just scale up the threat that Aquaman must face, but he’s able to justify why this is a threat that only Arthur can face, rather than being the sort of global-scale event that might typically call together the entirety of the Justice League. Abnett never lets us forget that while there might be no rules when it comes to punching Starro in the face, when it comes to international debacles such as the brewing tensions between Atlantis and the United States, there is protocol that must be taken into account before leaping into the fray.

When this conflict results in Aquaman and Mera punching way out of their weight class as they go toe-to-toe with Superman, the tension is palpable - however, Abnett does go a little too far with it, as later on in the book we see that much of that tension comes from Aquaman’s self-image problems as the “black sheep” of the Justice League (and, metatextually, of the DC Universe as a whole). We’ve heard Aquaman jokes forever as fans, and while they can be in good fun in a comic shop, playing into those self-defeating stereotypes isn’t necessarily the best of looks when it’s in your own book. We live in a world where certified badass Jason Mamoa is going to be playing the role in a multimillion dollar movie - Aquaman can be cool. Own it!

And when it comes to owning that coolness, it’s clear that Brad Walker gets it. While Abnett might betray some insecurities about the character in his script, Walker makes Aquaman look tough as hell, ready to stare down an ominous-looking Superman, who hovers just high enough to give himself a massive height advantage. While occasionally some of the fight choreography might be just a shade over-the-top, Walker makes this fracas between Aquaman and Superman a really dynamic one, with the two locked in combat like a pair of Roman gladiators. Walker fits these two combatants together like puzzle pieces, with Superman leaping towards Aquaman as Arthur holds up an elbow to hold him back, or Clark slamming his adversary into a splintering tree trunk. Inker Andrew Hennessy, meanwhile, has softened his rendering nicely with this issue, while colorist Gabe Eltaeb gives this fight just the right amount of energy, keeping everything legible and easy to follow.

Ultimately, Aquaman #6 might not wind up having a ton of lasting fallout for Arthur and Mera Curry, but as far as concluding its first arc, Abnett and Walker have done an admirable job, using standard superhero tropes as a backdrop to a surprisingly rich and nuanced political landscape. And that makes perfect sense - Arthur Curry isn’t just a superhero, he’s a world power, and as Abnett has shown us, great power doesn’t just equal great responsibility, but it also entails great complications as well.

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