Best Shots Reviews: SCARLET WITCH #12, AVENGERS #1, BITCH PLANET #9, MOON KNIGHT #8

Marvel Comics November 2016 cover
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Scarlet Witch #12
Written by James Robinson
Art by Annapaola Martello and Matt Yackey
Lettered by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Few characters are as hounded by the past as Wanda Maximoff is. She’s spent the past decade trying to move past uttering those three little words “No More Mutants” and most of her publication history has been embroiled in an oft-convoluted family history – losing her twin children and magicking Billy and Tommy of the Young Avengers into existence or finding out that Magneto isn’t actually her father to name just two events of recent memory. This issue, which closes out the first year of James Robinson’s stint on Scarlet Witch also brings a sort of closure to Wanda’s familial confusions in order to let her carve a new path forward, while doing what’s become standard for the series in showcasing a new artist to keep an eye on.

It was an intelligent decision by Robinson to put family at the forefront of this book, as over the course of the series, she’s been investigating the corruption of witchcraft in the Marvel Universe. Faced with the threat of losing something which has defined her identity as a hero for so long has caused her to turn the lens inwards for some introspection. Forced to confront something else which defines who we are - family. And here it builds to the crescendo of this journey, in the forests of Serbia, Wanda finds Marya Maximoff - who she believed to be her mother - is dead. However, the truth is that Marya is her aunt, and it is fact Natalya Maximoff who is Wanda’s mother. It’s a little confusing for sure, but let’s not act as if this is going off-brand for stories involving Wanda.

While Robinson layers in some plot points from previous issues, much like said issues, this is so focused on the events at hand, that it could function as a self-contained issue for any fan aware there will always be stuff that’s come before. This narrative in particular encompasses all of the mother figures who have helped to shape Wanda in some form; even if their current form happens to be ethereal. By engaging with the idea of Natalya as the first Scarlet Witch, Robinson’s also able to engage with the concept of legacy which was a driving factor in his Starman run, a seminal text over at DC. It echoes through the family tree as a sign of persistence, a trait which demonstrates why Wanda’s determined to become the hero she knows she can be.

Annapaola Martello isn’t an artist that’s been in the interiors game for a long time, but her work here makes her name one to watch. Fire is an important motif in the issue - Marya was presumed dead years ago and while it didn’t take her life, she’s been scarred by the flames. In the present day, she and Wanda stand around a campfire as they discuss Wanda’s parentage and its intensity is an ever present source in panels. When the flames subside later in the issue, they give way to magic and hexes that Matt Yackey colors with a deep scarlet, central not only to Wanda, but demonstrating an escalation of events from a mellow yellow to an intense red. This is in contrast to earthy green and brown’s which make up the woods. For an issue that’s largely a conversation, the pair work in unison to craft a location which doesn’t look as if the characters have been copy and pasted in front of the same four trees in each panel. This scarlet persists until it becomes the primary color of the final page that indicates there’s a new path for Wanda on the horizon.

Which is what this book was structured around in a nutshell. Not only does this issue continue the trend of spotlighting artists, some well-known, others which will hopefully become known, but it also provides closure on Wanda’s quest that’s driven her in these first 12 issues. This issue is lighter on the magic than others, but delivers on the thematic content about family to really drive home the point about this chapter of Wanda’s life being resolved meaning those emotional beats hit as intended. These past experiences have caused Wanda to grow as a person, and keeping these fresh in her mind, she’s ready to walk the Witches’ Road and see where it leads. There’s no doubt that you should be following it as well.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers #1
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Mike Del Mundo and Marco D’alfonso
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Jon Arvedon
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

As many series in the Marvel Universe begin to relaunch with new #1s, so too do Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers. While #1 issues generally act as jumping-on points, which cater to new or lapsed readers, Avengers #1 is very much a continuation of the All-New All-Different Avengers series that concluded in October. Granted, this issue introduces some new faces to the faction, but the Alex Ross cover art and Mark Waid’s unmistakable voice echoing throughout the pages clearly set the precedent that this is not a reboot, but rather a new beginning for the Avengers.

“Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” It’s commonly believed this order was directed to Colonial soldiers before the Battle of Bunker Hill, but perhaps Waid missed that day in history class. From the moment you open up Avengers #1, Waid is already firing on all cylinders as Thor, Hercules, Wasp, and Captain America Sam Wilson engage in an intense battle with the Frost-Wolf Hoarfen. Waid depicts Hercules as a warrior that already fits smoothly within the well-oiled machine that is the Avengers, and there’s even a brief callback to his former membership status when Sam offers him a spot on the roster. An editor’s note also helps provide context for the whereabouts of former Avengers Iron Man, Nova, Spider-Man (Mile Morales), and Ms. Marvel, clouded with just enough obscurity as to not spoil the outcome of the still-in-progress Civil War II.

With the prerequisite loose ends tied up, another former Avenger makes an appearance in the form of Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man, and it appears Waid’s plans for Spidey in this series are two-fold. As he is first presented, Peter will seemingly fill the role Tony Stark has played in past runs, using Parker Industries funding to support the Avengers financially (“I imagine that without Tony Stark’s checkbook, avenging can be… costly,” Parker quips). The second, and more obvious purpose for his inclusion, is filling the spider-shaped hole left behind by Miles Morales.

Although the team dynamic is shaping up to be solid, the decision to use Kang as an antagonist is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it would have been great if Waid didn’t simply return to the well, rehashing a villain he used in his previous run, which, at this point, is still less than a year old. On the flip side, it makes sense, given that the Vision kidnapped an infant version of Kang in All-New All-Different Avengers #13. This plot point has since remained in ambiguity, until he reveals it to his teammates after a brutal beating that leaves the android with a shattered face. The inclusion of the Scarlet Centurion helps freshen things up a bit, but it’s pretty clear that Waid’s previous run will have heavy implications on the Avengers series moving forward. That being said, despite the #1 on the cover, this may not be entirely new reader-friendly, so buyer beware.

With such an explosive introduction to the series, Mike Del Mundo’s art, as well as his and Marco D’alfonso’s colors, feel perfectly at home within the confines of this issue. As this fast-paced story unfolds, Del Mundo follows Waid’s stride step-for-step. His distinct line work has a soft, painterly quality, sharing many similarities to Jerome Opeña’s work in the pages of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run.

Del Mundo’s style is a unique blend of photorealism and expressionism, and he expertly incorporates both traditional and digital elements to enhance his imagery. In one panel, we see the side of Captain America’s face as he speaks with Thor. Thor, being in the background, is digitally defocused, adding a layer of realism, as well as establishing Cap as the focal point. Those who are put off by highly stylized art might have trouble with the visuals, but regardless of personal taste, Del Mundo manages to not just capture, but accentuate the larger-than-life presence of the grandiose team of heroes.

It isn’t entirely clear who did what as far as color art, seeing as both Del Mundo and D’alfonso are credited. In any case, the switch-off, wherever it may be, is virtually seamless. The heavy use of bright primary colors throughout the issue is complemented at every turn by cooler, more muted secondary hues. The tranquil aqua-green of Vision’s outer-cranium contrasts gorgeously with his vibrant red faceplate, and likewise, Thor’s goldenrod hair plays nicely off the dark blue of her costume. All of these elements come together in perfect harmony to form exceptional compositions, such as double-page spread depicting Vision’s aforementioned defacing. With only a single sentence of dialogue, it’s Del Mundo and D’alfanso’s visualization that truly does the talking, as the palette transitions from the serene to the severe end of the color spectrum. Meanwhile, shards of Vision’s face explode aimlessly into the air, while his contorted limbs remain stiff after bracing for impact.

Whether or not Avengers #1 is a suitable jumping-on point for new readers remains up for debate. It’s the beginning of a new arc that also sees the formation of a new iteration of the team, which Waid contextualizes early enough in the issue. Still, a first-time reader may easily find themselves lost within the continuation of plot threads from the All-New All Different Avengers. For existing or returning readers, this won’t detract from the effectiveness of the story, but with a big, bold #1 on the front cover, it would be a disservice to not set the proper expectations. However, regardless of which side of that particular fence you fall on, Avengers #1 is a fun, action-packed story, with dynamic sequential art that fully embodies the extravagance that is Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

Credit: Valentine De Landro (Image Comics)

Bitch Planet #9
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Valentine De Landro and Kelly Fitzpatrick
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Bitch Planet returns to shelves with an explosive new installment. A bloody riot has engulfed the ACO, but instead of directly focusing on the chaos writer Kelly Sue DeConnick merely frames it as a backdrop for the tightening of existing narrative threads all leading up to a potentially game-changing finale. But while DeConnick herself doesn’t revel in the violence of the plot, artist Valentine De Landro and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick do, alternating between neatly-packed panel grids and dense splash pages detailing the warring inmates and guards in all their gorgeously violent splendor. With its breakneck pace and commitment to expanding its own narrative, Bitch Planet #9 keeps the series at the level of quality we both want and need from a book like this.

Picking up directly after last issue’s monumental cliffhanger, Kelly Sue DeConnick allows readers little time to process it. After discovering the mysterious prisoner Eleanor Doane, unlikely partners Kamau and Whitney use the opportunity provided by the riot to track down Kamau’s sister, who is being held along with her girlfriend in a another part of the facility. This sort of wheels within wheels storytelling is what DeConnick has excelled at during Bitch Planet and #9 is no exception. While the macro arc surrounding who Doane is and why she has been incarcerated has been touched on in the past, DeConnick dwells little on it. Instead she promptly shifts focus back to Kamau and Morowa’s plot, allowing it to be the driving force of this issue, letting the macro stuff simmer for a bit longer in the background. But while Doane’s story simmers, the story of the ACO and its two facilities is just starting to boil over.

As Kamau and Morowa fight to be reunited, distraught father and instigator of the riot Makoto inadvertently lowers the barriers between the two facilities of the ACO and after that, there is no going back. This turn of events also speaks to DeConnick’s other well-trained weapon when it comes to this series, her expansive world-building. For a while now readers have known of the existence of a second compound but that was about it. Now, with the riot spilling over into both facilities, the world of Bitch Planet has gotten that much bigger and possibly more dangerous. While DeConnick still keeps the focus on Kam and Morowa’s emotional reunion, it is so refreshing to see her continuing to expand outward instead of keeping comfortably within the set scale of the series.

Helping that expansion hit as hard as it can is artist Valentine De Lando and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick, both of whom make the chaos of this issue look absolutely beautiful. While De Lando’s character focused panel layouts impress throughout the issue, it is his depictions of the war between guard and inmate, made whole by the dominating colors of Fitzpatrick that truly steal this issue. After dutiful and expressive check ins with all the major characters at play in this issue, including a bright jaunt to Earth to drop in on the Josephson family in the cold open, De Lando delivers several pages dedicated to the violent struggle spreading through the ACO, including the issue’s title sequence which finds the fight barely contained by the fantastic Rian Hughes logo.

Furthering the intensity of the pencils is Kelly Fitzpatrick’s pervasive use of the color red. Aside from the sunny cold open and the pale greens of monitor screens, most of Bitch Planet #9's pages are drenched in various shades of red and its a bold and tonally appropriate choice from Fitzpatrick; one that further amps up the violence of the riot and the desperation of the entire cast. Though the argument could be made that this choice gets stale toward the end of the issue, De Lando and Fitzpatrick deliver evocative visual choices worthy of the incendiary script.

With an eye toward bigger narrative spaces and blood on its knuckles Bitch Planet #9 is a worthy return for the hit series. Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Lando, and Kelly Fitzpatrick prove that the time between issues hasn’t dulled their focus on the cast nor their sharp storytelling. #9 positions the title to go from big to grand as it expands its scope, armed with a diverse compelling cast and Margaret Atwood level satire. The fight for the ACO may be ongoing but Bitch Planet #9 is a decisive victory in the name of non compliance.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #8
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Francesco Francavilla, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Garland, James Stokoe, Greg Smallwood, and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

After several issues of his personalities going on separate adventures, Moon Knight #8 sees the disparate lives of Jake Lockley, Steven Grant, and Marc Spector come crashing into each other. Multiple artists combine their talents to create a story that is terrifying and disorienting as Moon Knight struggles to even discern who his enemies truly are.

The issue opens as Jake Lockley is interviewed by Billy and Bobby regarding the deaths of several people within a diner. As Lockley tries to explain his innocence, Detective Emmet, an incarnation of his enigmatic opponent, appears and takes over the questioning. Francisco Francavilla handles this segment and the heavy use of shadow and the narrow palette of blues and yellows really create a bleak tone.

As the interrogation intensifies, the issue cuts to Steven Grant, who has just experienced the Jake Lockley segment. He calls “cut” on the set of his new film, disoriented by the experience. The art is done by Wilfredo Torres and colorist Michael Garland. The cleanliness of Torres’ line art and the more natural palette contrasts nicely with the stylization of the previous segment, making Steven’s disorientation more immediate.

It’s these transitions that make Moon Knight #8 such a success. The coordination between artists, which go on to include James Stokoe and his sci-fi segment from previous issues as well as a great finale from Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire, is impressive. As the various personalities become increasingly aware of one another, the art teams begin to share pages and the characters within the segments begin to blur together. The effect is never disorienting for the reader, but it helps display the confusion and horror experienced by the characters as they try to figure out what is happening to them. Writer Jeff Lemire does a great job balancing out the script, minimizing the dialogue and as the artwork illustrates the confusion needed for the story on its own. This disorientation is even more impactful because it illustrates the way that some people with dissociative identity disorder struggle with maintaining a sense of reality. Moon Knight has long been a character that’s been associated with various disorders, but this creative ensemble really makes the effort to illustrate the effects in a disturbingly realistic way, while still keeping the trappings of a superhero comic intact.

That being said, as the penultimate issue of a story arc, Moon Knight #8 is not the most inviting issue to readers looking to hop on board. The transition between characters isn’t explained, so if someone isn’t familiar with the character may ultimately be confused as to just what these separate pieces were doing. This isn’t a major criticism of the issue itself, just a warning to readers that they may be best off trying to start with Issue #6.

With a talented roster of artists, Moon Knight #8 tells a riveting story of a splintered mind crashing back together. The contrasting styles of Francisco Francavilla, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Garland, James Stoke, Greg Smallwood, and Jordie Bellaire make for a visually arresting narrative, especially with the coordination between teams to the point that the panels can transition between art teams without becoming disorienting for the reader. Writer Jeff Lemire does a great job with the narrative, creating the transitions for the art teams and utilizing minimal dialogue so that the story can be told in a wondrous visual chaos that works perfectly for the character.

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