Best Shots Reviews: WONDER WOMAN 75th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL, NIGHTHAWK #6, More

Marvel Comics October 2016 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special
Written by Rafael Scavone, Rafael Albuquerque, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Mairghread Scott, Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp, Fabio Moon, Marguerite Bennett, Renae De Liz, Jill Thompson, Hope Larson, and Gail Simone
Art by Rafael Albuquerque, Jenny Frison, Karl Kerschl, Brian Bolland, Annie Wu, Riley Rossmo, Liam Sharp, Fabio Moon, Marguerite Sauvage, Yanick Paquette, Renae De Liz, Sebastian Fiumara, Jill Thompson, Ramon Bachs, Claire Roe, Marcio Takara, Colleen Doran, Phil Jimenez, Dave McCaig, Michele Assarasakorn, Ivan Plascencia, Romulo Fajardo, Jr., Nathan Fairbairn, Ray Dillon, Mat Lopes, and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Steve Wands, Josh Reed, Deron Bennett, Jodi Wynne, Fabio Moon, Saida Temofonte, Ray Dillon, Jordie Bellaire, Marcelo Maiolo and Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

When you’re celebrating 75 years of adventures, what do you get for the Amazon who already has everything? In the case of DC’s Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special, there’s only one way to truly honor the most iconic lady in comic books — namely, a jam session featuring nearly a dozen standalone stories of Diana of Themyscria. Juggling this many creative talents for one book is already an accomplishment, but following anniversary issues like Detective Comics #900 or Action Comics #900, Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special shows that DC has continued to perfect its anthology formula.

Alternating between short standalone stories and pin-ups by classic Wonder Woman artists, this 75th anniversary special’s greatest strength is that it embraces the various incarnations of Wonder Woman over the years, rather than attempt to synthesize Diana into one unified take. The Princess of Themyscria contains multitudes, ranging from a World War II fighter in Rafael Scavone and Rafael Albuquerque’s story to a defender of the animal kingdom in Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl's beautifully rendered short (Seriously, DC, back up the money truck, do whatever you need to get Kerschl drawing a monthly superhero book, please) to a compassionate crimefighter stopping a supervillain in the heart of an IKEA, thanks to Hope Larson and Ramon Bachs.

With stories that largely run anywhere from two to eight pages, though, DC knows that striking artwork is key to getting readers aboard this enterprise - and for the most part, the creators involved in this book deliver the goods. Kicking off the special with a story set in Occupied France in 1944, Albuquerque in particular captures today’s Wonder Woman zeitgeist, as he and colorist Dave McCaig bring a muscular sureness and dark palette that evokes the upcoming Wonder Woman film set in DC and Zack Snyder’s movie-verse. Fabio Moon, meanwhile, slays with a three-page short, channeling old-school Frank Miller edginess with his linework as Wonder Woman fans of all types race to watch the Amazing Amazon tackle a three-headed hydra, while Riley Rossmo's bodybuilder physique for Diana makes her exude strength and power. Even the pin-ups show promise - in particular, Claire Roe and Jordie Bellaire score a home run with one beautiful image, while classic Wonder Woman artist Phil Jimenez gets to at least make a quick appearance while still juggling his writer/artist workload on Superwoman.

But while most of the stories bring their own strengths to the table, there are three that stand above the rest in terms of narrative. Current Wonder Woman writer Greg Rucka attempts the biggest gamble of the book, with a prose interview between Diana and Lois Lane that ties somewhat into the ongoing storyline “The Lies,” but more importantly looks at Diana and Lois’s intelligence, their points of views and their shared history with one another. Bouncing between explaining the foibles of Greek gods to frank discussions of celebrity, solitude and comic book continuity, Rucka largely sticks the landing thanks to his deep understanding of Diana’s voice as a character. Meanwhile, Gail Simone and Colleen Doran tap into the inspirational qualities of Wonder Woman with their final story, as Diana has an unexpected team-up with pre-teen superhero Star-Blossom. Doran’s artwork here takes on an expressive quality similar to that of Kevin Maguire, and while that occasionally makes for some low-energy fight choreography, Doran knocks out the emotional beats, like Star-Blossom literally tearing up from excitement over meeting her idol: “I have your action figure,” she says, in one particularly endearing moment. Renae De Liz, meanwhile, links together the World War II setting of the upcoming DC film with the compassion that’s characterized much of Simone’s run on the character, with a clean and cartoony story about Diana dealing with a tortured villain with forgiveness rather than violence. Honestly, if DC had to pick just one story to sum up Diana, De Liz’s story might be my short-list pick, deftly summing up everything that makes Wonder Woman tick.

Yet for me personally, I found myself gravitating the most towards Hope Larson and Ramon Bachs’ down-to-earth story, which seemed to encapsulate so much of what makes Wonder Woman work as a character, not just as an icon. Hailing from an ancient feminist utopia like Themyscria means that modern-day Man’s World is a bit of a culture shock, and Larson bringing Diana to a place as banal and labyrinthian as an IKEA store feels like a perfect setting for readers to relate to our hero, a character who has no place for trivialities like a “Lumpen” chair. But when the Human Tank charges into the showing room - wrecking the place after he couldn’t finish building a dresser - Larson takes this goofy setting and uses it as an opportunity to endear readers to Wonder Woman, as she’s committed to learning the heartbreaking secret of why the Human Tank really went on a rampage. Ramon Bachs’ art sells this story particularly well, bringing an energetic and animated style that really works with a splash page of Diana chasing the Tank through the IKEA showroom. It’s this kind of style that evokes DC’s current approach to "Rebirth" - character-driven drama is the most accessible and engaging to read, and for a character that can sometimes be seen as distant or hard to relate, Larson’s approach makes Diana the kind of hero that’s easy to understand, not just to emulate.

That said, while most of the stories work here, there’s still a little bit of fat that could have been trimmed for this special (whose hefty page count also equals an equally hefty $7.99 price tag). While Liam Sharp is a talented artist whose style brings a nice moodiness to the main Wonder Woman title, his two-page story that he has both written and drawn feels like poetry, but the lyricism doesn’t really connect, with the title of “Oh, Themyscria!” unintentionally evoking the tune of the anthem “Oh, Canada!” Similarly, Marguerite Bennett attempts to use song in a two-page story with artist Marguerite Sauvage, and while Sauvage’s designs look strong, the combination of a muddily-colored background, too-thin lettering and overlong lyrics make for a skippable read. Additionally, while Riley Rossmo's artwork is a great addition to the mix, Mairghread Scott’s story of Diana pondering law versus capital punishment feels a little bit stilted and sermonizing.

Yet even despite its minor flaws, DC has honored its premier superheroine beautifully with its Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special, assembling an eclectic and talented crew for this anthology. Like any great album, Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special succeeds not just because of any one installment, but because of the sheer range and variety of the creators involved, leaving something for everyone (and lots to love for fans of gorgeous comic book art). With the caliber of team involved, Wonder Woman fans are going to find this anniversary one to remember.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nighthawk #6
Written by David F. Walker
Art by Ramon Villalobos and Tamra Bonvillain
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

This past Wednesday marked the end of Marvel’s most political title, as Nighthawk #6 brought the brutal series to a close. Writer David F. Walker, artist Ramon Villalobos, and color artist Tamra Bonvillain craft a brilliant finale that gives Nighthawk a proper sendoff, even if it came too soon for a series as strong as this one.

Nighthawk #6 opens in the aftermath of Nighthawk’s murder of corrupt officer Tom Dixon. As Nighthawk pursues his leads into the influx of high-tech weaponry into small-time gangs, Officer Nina Fuerte must come to terms with the actions of her fellow officer, and her own complicity in letting Nighthawk leave the scene. She stays with her partner at the hospital, as she struggles with how to handle the situation. Writer David F. Walker and artist Ramon Villalobos really give her struggle weight as the issue bounces between past and present as the memories come flooding through her mind. Colorist Tamra Bonvillain does an excellent job, utilizing a natural palette for the scenes in the present and ambers fiery oranges for the past. The layout really brings immediacy to her struggle that wouldn’t be there if the two scenes weren’t juxtaposed against one another.

Nighthawk’s journey finally connects the dots between the real estate mogul and the advanced weaponry that has infiltrated the streets of Chicago. The connection hits both Nighthawk and the reader like a punch to the gut, the reasoning is so obvious that it almost begs application to the real world. During this hunt, Tilda Johnson calls out her boss on what she sees as a hypocrisy in their relationship. Nighthawk has been going out and breaking bones while she has been stuck behind a computer, wasting some of her talents. This is a super-villain that went up against the likes of Captain America and Black Panther after all, surely she could be more useful on the outside. Her anger with Nighthawk is completely justified, but as he continues his rampage, destroying the guns of gang members rather than their skulls, Johnson’s frustration dissolves into appreciation. It’s an incredibly human moment that Walker gives to both characters, and Nighthawk’s succinct speech to the gang members is a microcosm of the book in general, tackling a very real sociopolitical message without coming across as preachy.

The fight between Nighthawk and the Revelator is a brutal affair, as artist Ramon Villalobos expertly stages the combat over a two-page spread. The layout really sells the back-and-forth nature of the fight as 32 small panels give each thrown punch, each countered kick, equal space and weight. Even within the smaller space, Villalobos is able to maintain a good level of detail, giving the fight a visceral feel as the two men battle over their opposing methodologies.

Though the series comes to an early end, Nighthawk #6 gives the series a fitting conclusion. With the gorgeous and often brutal artwork by Ramon Villalobos and Tamra Bonvillain bringing the cold world to life and scripts by David Walker that never minced words, Nighthawk was a powerful series that deserved more attention from readers than it received, but always rewarded those who sought it out. Nighthawk #6 was no exception.

Credit: DC Comics

Detective Comics #943
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez and Brad Anderson
Letters by Marilyn Patrizio
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

After a short hiatus due to the “Night of the Monster Men” crossover event, Detective Comics #943 feels very much like a homecoming. In part one of “The Victim Syndicate,” we return to the status quo established by writer James Tynion IV in his previous arc, and we also see the return of some familiar faces. However, once again, it’s Tynion’s ability to illustrate dynamic interpersonal narratives within the dark and dreary confines of Gotham City that position Detective Comics as one of the strongest current ongoing DC titles.

As the issue begins, we learn that there has been a mysterious break-in at Wayne Enterprises, and there to investigate are Batwoman and her one-time lover, Renee Montoya. There are clearly some unresolved feelings between the two, and Tynion seems to be slowly building towards this becoming a future plot point in Kate Kane’s personal arc. For now, though, it’s strictly business, as Montoya surmises that perhaps recent events involving Batwoman and the rest of the team have led to increased animosity towards the heroes (“…After the last couple of months, there’s no shortage on scary people in Gotham City who wish there wasn’t a Batman,” Montoya remarks).

The growing tension isn’t limited to the citizens of Gotham, either. Batwoman’s subsequent exchange with Batman reveals that the team is still suffering from the emotional strain of the loss of Tim Drake. Even the stoic Dark Knight himself is still in mourning, expressing his heartache and reminding us that despite his foreboding presence, Bruce Wayne is still human. “Do you really think I would ever forget?” he tells Kate, as he stares despondently at Red Robin’s costume, displayed in the same memorialized fashion as that of Jason Todd’s.

Perhaps equally, if not more so in grief from the loss of Tim, is Stephanie Brown. Rather than bereaving in solitary, though, Tynion reintroduces the former Bluebird, Harper Row, into the post-Rebirth DCU to provide Stephanie with a shoulder to cry on. It’s during this exchange that we also learn Jean-Paul Valley is back on his feet following the brutal attack he suffered at the hands of the Colony in the beginning of the previous arc.

One of the standout moments in this issue, though, is the interaction between Clayface and Orphan, who we see tangling with a group of Man-Bat simulations in Tim Drake’s Danger Room pastiche, the Mud Room. The force of Orphan’s high-five causing Basil’s human form to briefly destabilize adds a small dose of humor to an otherwise grim affair. However, Tynion follows that up with his masterful ability to pull on your heart strings, as Basil asks the computer to give them, “the biggest, ugliest bad guy in the bat-computer, ready for punching.” Like chasing whiskey with vinegar, the sight of Alvaro Martinez’s monstrous depiction of the computer-simulated Clayface, and the subsequent look on the face of Basil is heartbreaking, yet does more to develop the character than we’ve gotten from any previous writer.

Speaking of Martinez, no expense was spared from an artistic standpoint, which is perhaps most evident from the aforementioned break-in at Wayne Enterprises, witnessed firsthand by Lucius Fox. As Fox recalls the happenings of that evening in a video statement, Martinez frames each panel within a media player window, putting a creative and modern spin on the iconic television screen-style panels from The Dark Knight Returns. These overlay similarly styled panels, featuring surveillance footage that gives us our first look at Gotham’s new, ominous threat. As Fox’s statement progresses, the panels begin to shatter, with speckles of blood scattered throughout the negative space. On the final page of this scene, Polaroid-style panels house the gruesome crime scene photos of three slain security officers, whose horrific expressions tell a chilling story in their own right – a harrowing warning of what awaits the City of Gotham.

Martinez’s crisp, clean lines create a beautiful framework, which is reinforced by inker Raul Fernandez, who adds vivid depth, particularly with his delicate crosshatching marks. In addition, the slight stubbly look of Batman’s face perfectly captures the tone of a man who isn’t quite at 100 percent after suffering a loss. That tone is further conveyed by color artist Brad Anderson in the memorial display for Tim Drake, whose typically vibrant Red Robin costume is instead rendered with muted hues, signifying his absence from the lives of the rest of the team. In fact, the most radiant of colors we see throughout the issue is Batwoman’s scarlet red hair, possibly implying that the fire within her burns the strongest amongst the team.

The harmony of the three-man art team is quite fitting within this issue of Detective Comics, where Tynion manages to balance a massive ensemble cast, yet still give every character their own distinct moments to shine. It’s the character development that continues to be the highlight of this series, where Tynion allows Batman to play second chair to the greater Bat-family at large. Still, the intrigue surrounding the Victim Syndicate is given a hefty shot of adrenaline in final page, which should result in some hard-hitting action in the next issue.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain America: Steve Rogers #6
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Javier Pina and Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The fog of Civil War II muddles the latest chapter of Captain America: Steve Rogers. While Nick Spencer delivers harrowing flashbacks to Steve’s Cosmic Cube conjured alternate origin, his emotional energy is sapped away when he inevitably has to check in with the rest of Team Iron Man, hip-deep in the long delayed event. Spencer makes the most of the baggage of Civil War II, especially in the latest in a long history of Tony and Steve conversations, but the title has bigger, more interesting things going on.

Fortunately Javier Pina and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg make a meal out of the dialogue-heavy script. Though not given much in the way of action, Pina and Rosenberg inject momentum into the issue with naturalistic facial expressions and dynamic color choices. Steve Rogers is working toward the glory of Hydra, but first he has to rise above the dreaded tie-in slump.

If anything Captain America: Steve Rogers #6 proves a long standing theory of mine about this book; the new origin flashbacks are far and away the most interesting thing about this book. Opening in 1928, Spencer recounts the chilly training Steve went through at the hands of his new handlers and, frankly, it is heartbreaking stuff. Seeing a young Steve Rogers being pursued by vicious dogs and strapped to chairs not only works to make adult Hydra Cap a sympathetic figure but also furthers Spencer’s most powerful narrative thread; Kobik’s layered new reality for Steve Rogers. Spencer even makes great use of new cast member the Kraken, positioning him as a father figure within the organization. However, its when Spencer cuts back to present day when things start to get unsteady.

Morale is low throughout the battlefields of Civil War II. Spencer directly deals with the fallout of the vision of Miles Morales killing Steve on the steps of the Capitol, but as of now, the direction this plot takes in this tie-in doesn’t seem to make much sense. Though Spencer’s adult Cap is still a compelling figure, but what seems to be the idea of Steve trying to reverse-engineer his death for the glory of Hydra is... far-fetched to say the least. Compounding this narrative reaching is the fact that Spencer has to check in on so many characters. Cap’s scenes with Miles and Tony are standouts as they showcase Spencer’s ability to make him both a manipulator and empathetic ally, but there is an extended scene with Rick Jones, Maria Hill, and Sharon Carter that adds absolutely nothing to the issue aside from a few jokes about Minority Report. While Spencer has made great use of large casts before Captain America: Steve Rogers #6 gets stuck in the trenches of Civil War II.

Thankfully this sixth issue is armed with an art team that make even talking heads look great. Javier Pina’s character focused artwork truly shines here as he frames each scene for the maximum effect, wanting readers to really connect with each person, especially young Steve Rogers. Pina’s attention doesn’t just stop in the past fortunately. All throughout Pina is rendering these larger and life figures as simply real people at the end of their wits, staging this issue more like a dramatic play instead of a comic book event.

Pina’s pencils have a fantastic partner in colorist Rachelle Rosenberg who dances well between the moody darkness of Steve’s past and the shiny, screen lit mood of his present. In the flashbacks peppered through the script, she casts heavy blacks and greys on the characters, setting them against blood red backgrounds, giving them the look of an Italian horror film and amping up the nerve wracking feel of the training. Then we have the present, which is littered with glaring florescent lights and the greenish blue glows of advanced computers like in the Rick Jones, Sharon Carter, and Maria Hill scene giving way to smoky purples as Cap comforts a distraught Miles and more warm blues as Tony and Steve talk about the ongoing conflict. Pina’s pencils may look real, but Rachelle Rosenberg’s colors make them feel truly alive.

Though there is some great stuff to be seen in Captain America: Steve Rogers #6, readers will have to sift through the chaff of Marvel’s Summer blockbuster in order to get to it. Nick Spencer, Javier Pina, and Rachelle Rosenberg delivered a great looking comic filled with fantastic characterizations that suffers from the scarlet letter that is event tie-in storytelling. It’s an stumbling block for sure, but not one that completely hobbles the book for the foreseeable future. While the war drags on, Captain America: Steve Rogers holds the line as best as it can.

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