Best Shots Reviews: SUICIDE SQUAD #7, GHOST RIDER #1, WITCHFINDER - CITY OF THE DEAD #4

"Witchfinder: City of the Dead #4" cover
Credit: Julian Totino Tedesco (Dark Horse Comics)
Credit: Jim Lee/Scott Williams/ALex Sinclair (DC Comics)

Suicide Squad #7
Written by Rob Williams
Art by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Jonathan Glapion, Sandra Hope, Jeremiah Skipper and Christian Ward
Lettering by Pat Brosseau and Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Jon Arvedon
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Do you ever feel like you’re going crazy? When you begin to lose your grip on reality, the writing is often on the wall well in advance. But what if you’re already crazy? What if the world around you descends into chaos and meanwhile, you suddenly find yourself going sane? That’s the question Suicide Squad #7 seeks to answer in part three of “Going Sane,” titled “Beat on the Brat.”

With Belle Reve in a state of chaos and disarray, it’s up to Harley Quinn - or rather Dr. Harleen Quinzel, M.D. - to serve as the voice of reason in Suicide Squad #7. In this issue, the suddenly-sane clown princess finds herself fending off against her band of semi-reformed baddies as she uses her newfound clarity to try and put an end to the madness brought on by the Black Vault. The premise is interesting, and it gives writer Rob Williams a chance to explore a different side of Harley Quinn. Throughout the issue, though, this plot point starts to feel a little too tongue-in-cheek, with Harley making reference to her sanity no less than six times before the story concludes.

Still, the issue is fast-paced and fun, with Williams firing on all cylinders from start to finish. Within the first three pages, we see Katana slice the hands off a Belle Reve staff member at the forearms, in true gratuitous Suicide Squad fashion. Thankfully, it’s "waste not, want not" for Harley, who picks up one of the severed limbs still clutching a taser gun, using it to momentarily subdue Katana. It’s here that we see this newfound feeling of level-headedness is both a gift and a curse for Harley, as Williams humanizes the character by showing that she now feels fear, just like the rest of us (“I’m… not used to this… being scared,” says Quinn). Despite her sanity being a bit overplayed, on the whole, this was a great moment of character development for the eccentric ex-girlfriend of the Clown Prince of Crime.

Keeping with the theme of presenting someone we all know and love in a different light, the main artist on Suicide Squad #7 is penciler Jim Lee. Although there are traces of Lee's outstanding aesthetics sprinkled throughout the issue, it's by no means on par with his work on Batman, or even the "New 52" Justice League. The trigger-happy line work on the close-up profile shots feels like a hyper-exaggerated version of Lee's traditional style. On the contrary, Lee employs a minimalist approach when characters are further off in the background, resulting in final compositions that can't always seem to find a happy medium. These inconsistencies are further exacerbated by the fact that this book uses a three-person inking team (Scott Williams, Jonathan Glapion, and Sandra Hope). Still, even if this isn’t his best work, Lee is an exceptional artist, as evidenced by the stunning splash page with Harley diving into the midst of chaos, with Katana firmly on her tail.

Colorist Jeremiah Skipper does a solid job alleviating some of the artistic woes, utilizing a slightly muted palette that’s heavy on purples, reds, and oranges. A bit more saturation might have better embodied the tone of the story, but nonetheless, the scorching flames exploding from el Diablo’s hands still manage to steal the show before they’re extinguished by Harley.

As per usual, Suicide Squad #7 ends with a back-up story, this time focusing on June Moone, a.k.a. the Enchantress. The back-up stories typically switch to a much slower pace than the main narrative, a transition that can sometimes feel awkward. In this case, the pacing feels much more consistent, slowing things down just enough to keep you from feeling overwhelmed, while still managing to avoid an overly abrupt tonal shift.

Unlike the other backup stories, this one focuses on the Enchantress partaking in a Task Force X mission, rather than the pseudo-origin stories we've gotten in past issues. The art and colors by Christian Ward also make for a great change of pace, with clean linework and gorgeous display of vibrant reds and greens, which are quite fitting given the time of year.

With all the highlights in the main narrative and backup story, it’s actually the conclusion of the secondary plot thread with newcomer Hack that creates the most hype for the next issue of Suicide Squad. Although a certain character’s return was all but inevitable, the reveal sets the tone for what’s to come, with the gears beginning to turn as we prepare for the upcoming Justice League vs. Suicide Squad.

Despite the moments of character development for Harley Quinn, they’re sure to be short-lived as things return to the status quo for Task Force X. Still, Suicide Squad #7 is ultimately a fun ride. It doesn’t require you to check any baggage at the door because Williams delivers exactly what you would expect from the ragtag band of rogues - hard-hitting action, humor, and the most bizarre team dynamic in the DC Universe.

Credit: Marco Checchetto (Marvel Comics)

Ghost Rider #1
Written by Felipe Smith
Art by Danilo S. Beyruth, Val Staples, Jesus Aburtov and Tradd Moore
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

With the all-new Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes roaring onto the small screen in this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s only fitting he return for a new solo title, out last Wednesday from Marvel. While Ghost Rider #1 picks up seamlessly where last year’s All-New Ghost Rider left off, writer Felipe Smith’s cursory reintroduction to Robbie Reyes may rely too heavily on the previous runs in an issue with more guest stars and bonus content than Ghost Rider action.

Ghost Rider #1 finds teenage mechanic Robbie Reyes still raising his little brother Gabe in Hillrock Heights, the Los Angeles neighborhood where he moonlights as the Ghost Rider with the spiritual assistance of the evil Eli Morrow. While Robbie’s short storyline through the issue is a straightforward villain of the week tale, it gives new readers a glimpse into Robbie’s home life, his close bond with Gabe, and succinctly captures his constant struggle with controlling Morrow’s viciousness and channeling it towards protecting the residents of Hillrock Heights.

Smith weaves through the real mystery of this introductory arc with a side storyline featuring the Totally Awesome Hulk Amadeus Cho, and though the initial transitions between Robbie’s infrequent appearances and Amadeus’ comical misadventures are somewhat jarring, the final pages of the issue weaves the threads together with an intriguing cameo that offers an intriguing promise for the arc’s next three issues. This issue is light on Robbie Reyes and heavy on other, perhaps more notable Marvel personalities. Cho and other appearances make Ghost Rider #1 feel as if it’s being bumped up to part of the proper Marvel universe, but it does make for surprisingly little screen time for Robbie Reyes in the first issue of his new solo.

Though All-New Ghost Rider illustrator Tradd Moore returns for Ghost Rider #1’s bonus story, Danilo S. Beyruth has joined Smith as the primary artist for the series and does a stellar job maintaining the unique aesthetic that has made Felipe Smith’s Ghost Rider books true visual standouts amongst the Marvel titles of the last few years. Beyruth transitions between the light-hearted pages with Amadeus Cho and Robbie’s action-packed outings as the Ghost Rider with ease, and color artists Val Staples and Jesus Aburtov do gorgeous work with the fiery car chase scene - the return of a welcome staple of Smith previous All-New Ghost Rider series.

Smith also penned this issue’s bonus story, an interesting short introducing a personal trainer who moonlights as a car thief who has her heart set on the souped-up car that plays host to Eli’s spirit. Moore’s art and Val Staples’ colors are stunning, particularly the vivid blues for the thief, but the story seems like the start of an entirely separate arc and doesn’t offer much more insight into Robbie’s character. While the story is fun, both Robbie’s storyline in the main issue and the new villain introduced here would have benefitted from more pages and development. It’s hard to tell if the bonus story takes place at the same time of the main story or is its own independent tale, and in an issue where Robbie as a character takes a backseat to introducing Amadeus and the antagonist of this opening arc, a bonus story feels superfluous.

The previous Ghost Rider series were marked by gorgeous art and relatable characters like Robbie and Gabe whose powerful family bond drove the series. Beyruth captures the spirit of the Reyes' Ghost Rider aesthetic without coming across as an imitation of previous artists, and there are promising glimpses of Smith’s characters here that would have benefitted from a few pages of breathing room. The end of the issue suggests that room may be coming. Ghost Rider #1 feels like the start of a solid new installment in Reyes’ adventures as the fiery Legend of Hillrock Heights, but the series will only flourish if Robbie Reyes is the focus of the full book rather than just his solo title’s bonus story.

Credit: Julian Totino Tedesco (Dark Horse Comics)

Witchfinder: City of the Dead #4
Written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson
Art by Ben Stenbeck and Michelle Madsen
Lettering by Clem Robbins
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Sir Edward Grey battles the supernatural with practicality in Witchfinder: City of the Dead #4. In the penultimate issue of Grey’s latest adventure, writers Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson sends our man Grey on a compellingly competent vampire hunt, flexing the full might of his royal post in his crusade. Giving Mignola and Roberson’s staunch leading man life are artist Ben Stenbeck and colorist Michelle Madsen, a pairing that dance well between the gothic tone and theatrical flair that has made this latest series such a dark pleasure. Sidestepping the usual next to last issue trap of being a threadbare set up issue, Witchfinder: City of the Dead #4 delivers a satisfying set-up to a surely satisfying finale.

When we last saw Sir Grey, he and his companions were caught between a snake and hard place as thousands of venomous serpents ambushed them for intruding in a hidden temple. But Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson have weirder things to get to, if you can believe it. After a brisk, but claustrophobic action sequence from Stenbeck and Madsen, the script quickly shifts into its real plot; Grey’s search for the revealed enemy, the returning and newly empowered Giurescu. Grey’s methodical and planned approach to his position contrasted between Giurescu’s theatricality is a big selling point to the latter part of this new series, but Mignola and Roberson’s commitment to character still shines brightest.

Though Grey might seem like kind of a square to a normal readership that is used to action-heavy protagonists, but he’s still the same Witchfinder, just having a harder few days than usual. Mignola and Roberson’s droll, antiquated take on monster-hunting continues to pay dividends for this new series and even has an extra layer of pathos thanks to the dogged state of Grey that the pair have put him in across the previous three issues. With that solid of a foundation character wise, all the occult weirdness is just gravy, but Witchfinder: City of the Dead #4 continues to offer readers both sizzle and steak going into the final installment.

Keeping the title hip deep in gothic mood and character models that look straight off the covers of penny dreadfuls are penciler Ben Stenbeck and colorist Michelle Madsen. After a slithery set piece set in a crumbling temple filled with dangerous serpents, Stenbeck and Madsen settle into the issue’s mundane legwork detailing patrolmen slogging through cavernous sewers and crowded hobo camps. Like the script’s tone, the art team give equal attention to gloomy reality and the supernatural giving the issue the look of a particularly dark and dreamy episode of Masterpiece Theater.

Michelle Madsen’s colors continue to keep the look of this series firmly locked in the spectrum of the Mignolaverse, dominated by deep greens and dusky grays, but special consideration should be given to the pencils of Stenbeck for this fourth installment and his weathering of Sir Edward Grey. As I said above the Witchfinder’s latest case has completely hit the skids and Stenbeck shows the series’ hardships on Grey’s face. The Edward Grey of Issue #1 wasn’t exactly a ball of sunshine, but the man we follow in this new issue is sullen and tired, even as he loads himself down with stakes and magical weapons to bring the errant vamp to heel. That kind of attention to detail isn’t par of the course, but Ben Stenbeck and Michelle Madsen take the time and the issue is all the better for it.

With an almost realistic take on vampire hunting and a staunchly compelling narrative Witchfinder: City of the Dead #4 makes the most of its penultimate offering. Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson keep making the old feel new again with grounded stories about a grounded, almost bored man standing against the monsters for Queen and Country. Adding to the vintage flavor of the series is Ben Stenbeck and Michelle Madsen who render the script with a steady, old school influenced hand and tone appropriate colors that make the most of the universe’s established look. Armed with a stiff upper lip and a sharp steak in its hand, Witchfinder: City of the Dead #4 is a robust lead up to the series’ end.

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