Best Shots Reviews: GREEN ARROW #14, NOVA #2, FALL & RISE OF CAPTAIN ATOM #1

"Nova #2" preview
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: W. Scott Forbes (DC Comics)

Green Arrow #14
Written by Benjamin Percy
Art by Eleonora Carlini, Carlos Rodriguez, Gus Vazquez and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Writer Benjamin Percy has really hit his stride with the "Rebirth" version of Green Arrow. The current "Emerald Outlaw" arc has tapped into the Robin Hood origins of the character that Mort Weisinger instilled as early as the 1940s, but the various "Ollie on the run" arcs that Mike Grell played with in the 1980s and 1990s. As we reach the end of this current storyline, Percy and the current art team of Eleonora Carlini, Carlos Rodriguez, Gus Vazquez, and Hi-Fi don’t let up the tension for a second.

Picking up from the previous month’s cliffhanger, Green Arrow has been framed for the assassination of Seattle’s most beloved football star. Working against the law while trying to track down the real killer provides the impetus for much of this issue, and it’s a good fit for the character. Similar scenarios have played out in the book’s history before, of course, but the same could be said for about any comic book icon. What we get here for the first time in a while is a really good sense of Team Arrow working together as a unit, including a action-packed and often amusing parallel plot point of Black Canary posing as a cop.

So if Percy’s series to date has been about restoring some modicum of the status quo to Green Arrow, something it has desperately needed for the last six years or so, he does so using the characters most historic totems. The ultimate revelation of his foe’s identity shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone with a passing knowledge of Green Arrow’s limited rogues’ gallery, or even avid viewers of the CW series. Yet Percy keeps the momentum going constantly, so when the reveal finally does come to pass, it still feels like a fresh perspective on the old rivalry.

More than that, Percy wears some of his influence on his sleeve here as well. He’s made no secret of Mike Grell’s stories as a source of inspiration, with Percy’s Seattle a natural 21st extension of Grell’s. The nods are more overt here, with references to a game of hunted/hunter in monologues that recall the earliest issues of Grell’s The Longbow Hunters. Make no mistake: this is not a nostalgic lift, but a recognition of the many shades of green this moving target has worn.

The art team has an energetic fluidity to their work, and fits in stylistically with the work of Stephen Byrne, Juan Ferreyra, and Otto Schmidt that preceded it. There’s even a little of Tom Fowler in there too, with a visual quotation of a famous rooftop encounter from his run with Judd Winick. Mostly, it’s a speedline extravaganza, filled with angular panels to create a sense of perpetual motion. It’s all to make the reader go faster as well, so that when a beautifully-rendered reveal of the main villain drops only half a dozen pages before the end of the issue, it stops us dead in our tracks. Hi-Fi’s vivid colors only heighten the sense of urgency.

There’s the odd bit of cheese in this issue, from the undercover Dinah calling herself “Officer Kiniry” to a group of football players declaring “This here’s the gladiator ring. We hurt for a living.” These are hiccups that might take you out of the moment temporarily, but Percy restrains himself to keep this runaway train moving constantly. As this wraps up the current arc, it also leave plenty of room to move forward, showing that these last few arcs are exactly what the Emerald Archer needed to get back on target.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nova #2
Written by Jeff Loveness and Ramon Perez
Art by Ramon Perez and Ian Herring
Lettering by Albert Deschesne
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

To borrow from an old saying, it's clear that two Novas are better than one - that is, if Jeff Loveness and Ramon Perez have anything to say about it. Teaming up the classic '90s Richard Rider with his modern age counterpart Sam Alexander, Nova's breezy visuals are complemented by its charming odd couple of leads.

Given how loose the overall plot is, it'd be easy for Loveness and Perez to lose the thread, having to juggle two Novas from two very different eras of comic books - not to mention a swirling mass from the Cancerverse sounds exactly like the kind of faceless, forgettable antagonist that has hobbled many a superhero book. But Loveness and Perez keep things together by never losing sight of the characters - Sam Alexander is as charming as we've ever seen him, taking out the embarrassments of puberty on his zit-like enemy ("This is for making me smell bad all the time!"), while the mellowing of age is a good look for Richard Rider, who shrugs off weirdness like being called a clone but still struggles to deal with the emotional scars of the Annihilation War. Each Nova has their own deep-seated issues bubbling underneath their shiny surface, and watching these two damaged Human Rockets still play off each other so smoothly makes this a sleeper hit.

With the two Novas together, this also gives the storytellers an opportunity to expand this book's purview, allowing for exposition and new cast members to play off these already charismatic leads. Loveness and Perez show a smart read of the room in gauging how crazy to lean into - and with some scenes, like with Sam's teammates on the Champions, they essentially throw their hands up as our surrogates, giving up on trying to navigate the weirdness of clones, time travel, new Avengers teams, Annihilations and Civil Wars. But as we see with Sam and Richard bonding, all that stuff is beneath a Nova - a Nova's place is the stars. And with a quick scene change to a place that Guardians of the Galaxy fans might recognize, not only do we increase the scale and stakes of this story, but Richard gets a hero's welcome that might make some kids of the '90s a little bit verklempt.

And that's not even getting into Perez's beautiful artwork. Going back to Tale of Sand (and even before that), Perez has always excelled at drawing handsome, expressive protagonists, but seeing him switch gears between the rugged Richard and the youthful Sam might set a new bar for him — this book often lives and dies based on how endearing these heroes look, from Sam and Richard sitting on the Empire State Building to the surprising reaction they get in an alien bar. Perez's action work, meanwhile, is as engaging as it is counterintuitive - there are plenty of scenes featuring the Novas being dwarfed by whatever is going on around them, and yet even these tiny figures have a spark to them, almost standing as twin stars ready to shine in defiance against a gloomy New York City sky.

It's funny that after years of wanting to like Nova but failing, it would take this creative team just two issues to make me a believer. It goes to show you that there is no such thing as bad characters, only bad execution, because Loveness and Perez deliver such a likable pairing with Sam and Richard, weaving together characterization and the weirdness of comics with such naturalism. Marvel's teen books are already an embarrassment of riches, and Nova is a quality read that aims for the stars - and almost always reaches its mark.

Credit: DC Comics

The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom #1
Written by Cary Bates and Greg Weisman
Art by Will Conrad and Ivan Nunes
Lettering by Saida Temofonte
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Nathaniel Adam receives a fractured and oddly familiar reintroduction in the first issue of The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom. Set during the tail end of 2013, writers Cary Bates and Greg Weisman return to the adventures of Captain Atom in order to set the stage for his role in the upcoming drama that is the "Rebirth" continuity. Though the dialogue of the issue reads a bit wooden at times, the pair deliver a neatly compact debut that playfully dances around the anomalous narrative mass that surrounds Captain Atom.

Keeping the script packed into realist movement-inspired panels and pages is artist Will Conrad and colorist Ivan Nunes. Conrad and Nunes play the proceedings with tightly buttoned seriousness, making this debut look more like a military documentary than a superhero comic book with quasi-photo-realistic action and character models throughout. While it isn’t quite as ambitious as I would have liked, The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom #1 might stand to prove the old adage that big things have small beginnings.

Captain Atom is breaking apart, and there isn’t a single thing he can do about it. Employing a neat but slightly tired narrative structure, Cary Bates and Greg Weisman start the issue out with a big moment, only to cut to minutes earlier before the meltdown which makes up most of the issue’s bulk. Its a bit of a weak feint, but one that doesn’t completely hamstring the impact of the overall story. That said, the silted dialogue that plagues the issue does however come dangerously close to it, especially when Cyborg shows up and delivers a few choice clunkers. But even despite these stumbling blocks, Bates and Weisman still have a few nuclear powered tricks up their sleeve.

For one, the pair’s take on the returning Atom is a very interesting one. Presenting him as the humanist inverse of the detached Doctor Manhattan, Nathaniel is headstrong and altruistic, putting himself and his unstable body makeup in danger in order to save a capsizing cruise ship. But while his heroism is still very much a part of his character, so is his deeply rooted PTSD stemming from the volatile and unpredictable nature of his powers, which wreaks havoc on a location that versions of Captain Atom are infamous for ruining.

Speaking of the good Doctor Manhattan and allusions to Kingdom Come, Bates and Weisman throughout deploy these tiny continuity bombs to entice readers into their tale. Culminating in some trademark time warping from the pair, The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom touches on many different touchstones of Atom’s insane narrative thread, including his fate as a destroyer in Kingdom Come and focus of concern for the Justice League both as a hero and villain. Though this debut plays coy with these points, its too specific of a direction to be mere happenstance or callback. As "Rebirth" moves to some sort of shift or collision with seminal titles, The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom #1 could be the unexpected hinge point of said shift in later issues.

Keeping the action of the title focused and clearly rendered are penciler Will Conrad and colorist Ivan Nunes. Eschewing usual comic book bombast, Conrad’s pencils look like segmented realist acrylic paintings spread across panels comfortably, allowing readers to take in all the detailing that Conrad lays upon the pages. Complimenting Conrad’s approach are the colors of Ivan Nunes who keeps with the photo real tone of the book, but injects a bit of rich plasmatic color into the story, mainly in the form of Atom’s metallic skin and the flaring energy escaping from his body. Though not quite a dynamic as other superhero books, the work of Conrad and Nunes show that you can sometimes have it both ways when it comes to realism and the fantastical.

Packed with interesting Easter eggs but hampered by a worn structure and flat dialogue, The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom #1 is a interesting, if a bit limited, debut issue. Cary Bates and Greg Weisman clearly have plans for their former charge and that plan may put him into the forefront of whatever the future or past of the DC universe looks like now. Along with a grounded and novel approach to the visuals from Will Conrad and Ivan Nunes, The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom #1 might be flawed, but offers a potential too weird and precise to outright ignore.

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