Best Shots Reviews: BATMAN #15, BLACK PANTHER: WORLD OF WAKANDA #3, SLAM! #3

"Black Panther: World of Wakanda #3" cover
Credit: Afua Richardson (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Stephanie Hans (DC Comics)

Batman #15
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Review by Jon Arvedon
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Much like its predecessor, Batman #15 is a story of love and lust between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. As the issue begins, the story picks up right where part one of "Rooftops" left off, with Bruce and Selina in a post-coital embrace and pieces of their respective costumes tossed nonchalantly around them. Almost immediately, in the true spirit of "Rebirth," the two un-costumed lovers debate over the circumstances surrounding their initial introduction to one another, with writer Tom King incorporating elements from both the Golden Age and the post-Crisis "Year One" continuity.

Eventually, the deliberation comes to a close, and Bruce and Selina express their mutual love for one another before once again suiting up and assuming their true identities of Batman and Catwoman. Even after sharing a night of passion, though, Catwoman makes it clear that she’s hungry for more. In costume, it’s the thrill of the chase that satisfies her deepest desires, and it’s interesting to see a Batman that’s willing to put his guard down for the sake of love, only to quickly regret his decision as he takes off in pursuit of Selina.

In the previous issue, Selina had mentioned she leased an apartment under the alias “Holly Robinson,” whose name is prominent in Frank Miller’s aforementioned "Year One." As the story unfolds, that plot point continues to play out in this issue. What’s great about King’s execution here is that it provides captivating progression to the narrative, while simultaneously reintroducing beloved elements from the Dark Knight’s past to the post-"Rebirth" DCU. It also allows for longstanding, quintessential Batman moments, like Alfred giving Bruce a taste of the old “I told you so…” when he says, “Ah. I see, sir. She ran.”

Eventually, Batman is able to track down Holly, thanks to some assistance from Commission Gordon, and confronts her in her apartment. Unfortunately, Bruce’s attempt to plead to Holly’s humanity is met with a vicious slice to the throat, disabling the Dark Knight and allowing Holly to escape. However, when a bleeding-out Batman falls from the apartment window, Catwoman returns, making the save before the Caped Crusader has a chance to redefine what it means to “fall” in love. With this moment, King further solidifies the point that ultimately, he’s telling a love story between Bruce and Selina; between Batman and Catwoman.

As Bruce lies motionless in his bed, bandaged and unconscious, Selina finally admits to him what the World’s Greatest Detective has known all along - the reveal as to who is truly responsible for the 237 deaths she's been accused of. At this point, it doesn’t exactly come as a shock, but it’s a satisfying conclusion to a subplot that’s spanned the past six issues, and it still leaves the door open for expansion if King or another writer wishes to revisit it in the future.

Another aspect of this story that will hopefully be revisited soon is the artwork by Mitch Gerads. It’s unfortunate that his work on Batman comes to a close with this issue, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of his gorgeous aesthetics throughout the book.

Mitch’s smooth linework and knowledge of the human body allow for an absolutely beautiful opening splash page, with Bruce and Selina lying naked in each other’s arms. While it’s certainly the kind of imagery that earns this book its Teen rating, it’s handled tastefully, adding emphasis to the “love story” theme of the book without feeling gratuitous in any way. From that opening page on, Mitch continues to impress. Normally, when you see three different art styles on one page, it can feel jarring. However, Mitch’s ability to recreate and integrate the Golden Age and post-Crisis art styles into his sequentials is outstanding. The layouts play a large role in this, too, with simple yet effective compositions that guide your eyes effortlessly from one panel to the next, accompanying King’s writing step for step.

One minor point of contention is that the inks and colors appear a little too dark at times. When Batman is struggling to return to his feet after being attacked by Holly, it takes a moment to adjust your focus to the varying shades of grays and blacks of Batman’s cape and cowl and make sense of his perspective. However, the color art shines nearly everywhere else. The solid red background when Batman is attacked stabbed adds a dynamic layer of contrast, and your eyes are immediately drawn to Batman’s, as he seemingly witnesses his entire life flash before him. Furthermore, Mitch perfectly captures the tone of the story with his sunrise over Gotham as Batman is in pursuit of Catwoman. The fading tranquility of the blues meeting the invigorating brightness of the solar glare that’s cast across the city mirrors the end of Bruce and Selina’s romantic evening as the duo return to their usual song and dance.

As the issue comes to a close, King treats longtime Batman readers to a moment of fan-service that won’t soon be forgotten, as he confirms that, at least for now, "Year One" remains the definitive origin of the Dark Knight. It’s a great way to cap off the two-part "Rooftops" story, and it should definitely leave readers with something to smile about before heading into the "I Am Bane" arc. The conclusion seems to put a pin in the Batman/Catwoman love story for now, and if that is the case, it’s a satisfying send-off for the wayward lovers for the time being. The same can be said for Mitch Gerads, too, whose visuals will be sorely missed. Still, together, King and Gerads round out what ends up being a beautiful story of betrayal, revelation, and love.

Credit: Afua Richardson (Marvel Comics)

Black Panther: World of Wakanda #3
Written by Roxane Gay
Art by Alitha E. Martinez, Roberto Poggi, and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Black Panther: World of Wakanda #3 continues the story of a burgeoning romance between Ayo and Aneka, two members of the Dora Milaje who feature heavily in the current run of Black Panther. With the Dora Milaje now having turned their backs on their former king in the previous issue, Ayo and Aneka must make decisions as to their own future.

If there was any confusion in previous issues, the newest chapter of Black Panther: World of Wakanda solidifies the book as a romance title. Writer Roxanne Gay’s deft character work keeps the tension high as Ayo and Aneka struggle not only with their love for one another, but how that love may change their place in Wakandan society. The Dora Milaje are not just body guards, they are wives-in-training for the king, and while Christopher Priest’s run on Black Panther showed that T’Challa only maintained the institution as a way of keeping peace between Wakanda’s various tribal factions, Gay’s work in Black Panther: World of Wakanda helps to show how the institution affects the women involved. This isn’t entirely unique to the mythos - Priest’s run featured Nakia, who went mad at the idea that her king might actually love her - but Gay handles it with nuance by making Aneka and Ayo the leads.

While much of the issue is focused on Ayo and Aneka, some of Gay’s strongest characterization comes with the character of Folami, a Dora Milaje who is upset by the group’s abandonment of T’Challa. Folami makes a great foil for the lead characters; her loyalty to T’Challa drives her to a dark path here, mirroring the fall from grace by Ayo and Aneka over in Black Panther. Artist Alitha Martinez gives Folami a quiet rage that builds slowly. When Zola, the leader of the Dora Milaje, shuts down Folami’s protests over their collective actions, Folami’s pained confusion comes through the artwork loud and clear without needing to say another word.

The art throughout Black Panther: World of Wakanda #3 is equally nuanced. Martinez gets so much expression from her characters’ eyes that even without Gay’s dialogue, it’s easy to tell the back-and-forth emotions that run through conversations. Inker Roberto Poggi does a great job highlighting these details with some careful work. The tattoos that run across the faces of the Dora Milaje are given no real emphasis, which makes them appear like scars. Rachelle Rosenberg’s colors are beautiful, especially the purples that appear throughout the issue, helping to build a romantic tone.

That being said, the issue isn’t perfect. The visit Ayo and Aneka make to New York City feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. While the romantic getaway makes sense from the characters’ perspective, the choice of New York as their destination feels a bit unimaginative, considering its prominence in the Marvel Universe. Ayo and Aneka go to get away from their world and go to the one place T’Challa definitely has friends. Had they run into other heroes, Gay may have been able to create a nice contrast between the way Ayo and Aneka had struggled to love one another to the potential freedom they had with T’Challa’s American allies. The story never goes in that direction, however, leaving the scenes feeling as if they could have been anywhere else in the world that wasn’t Wakanda.

With solid characterization and beautiful artwork, Black Panther: World of Wakanda #3 makes for an entertaining read. While a storytelling choice does feel like a missed opportunity, the work Roxanne Gay and Alitha Martinez put into building the characters and this world is solid. And yes, this is a book about romance between supporting characters in a small niche of the Marvel Universe. But it’s nice that Marvel is supporting the variety of genre represented in this book.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Slam! #3
Written by Pamela Ribon
Art by Veronica Fish, Brittany Peer and Laura Langston
Lettering by Jim Campbell
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Pamela Ribon’s heartfelt and authentic exploration of roller derby newcomers hits its stride in last week’s Slam! #3, even as CanCan and Knockout’s fast friendship takes a rough hit as their draft positions begin to draw them apart. Ribon’s days on the track give Slam! an authenticity that her strong writing makes accessible to readers of any derby knowledge level, capturing the subtle ways different teams can shape a skater’s relationships and approach to life.

Slam! #3 perfectly captures the emotional roller coaster of a friendship hitting its first rough patch, and the unique hiccups of friendships formed in a sport where derby personas are almost treated as a superhero secret identity, kept carefully separate from their off-skate civilian lives. Even as their teammates begin to draw them apart, Jennifer and Maisie keep up a weekly movie date, and it’s the slow intrusion of texts from CanCan’s Meteorfights mentor Gal Broker that leads Jennifer to realize the derby league that drew them together may be their downfall.

Knockout, the more confident skater, retreats back to newbie “fresh meat” open skates and takes solace in guiding new skaters herself, while CanCan grows more confident and brash with the guidance of a team for whom she was a conditional draft pick. Ribon captures the positive influence of derby as much as the negative, though, as Knockout begins to find her footing as a mentor to freshies and Maisie uses her newfound confidence not only to ask for a raise, but to go back and successfully fight for it after being denied, with the support of her teammates and new boyfriend.

Slam! #3 is an incredible and touching exploration not only of the power of derby but the strength and subtleties of relationships forged between women on skates and off. Going through fresh meat will help you make a new friend, but what happens after "graduating" can sometimes come as an unpleasant surprise. After CanCan crosses skates with a new skater in a group practice and snaps at Jennifer not to call her "Maisie" on the track, Jennifer begins to discover that between “CanCan” and Maisie, she may only enjoy being friends with one of them.

The strength of Slam! is that Ribon presents this with relatively little moral judgement about who’s right or wrong, either in the incident that brings Jennifer and Maisie to words or in their argument afterwards. They’re still new friends, who got to know each other at very specific and difficult points in their lives, and both are now beginning to learn that their friendship may not be strong enough to survive their transition into their post-derby selves. Ribon presents it as a natural consequence of personal growth, and a conflict that may fester until the two find a way to strengthen their bond or accept it’s time to move on.

Veronica Fish’s artwork is well-suited to the hard-hitting beats of the derby practice panels and the quiet, emotional moments of Maisie and Jennifer’s personal lives. Jennifer’s journey in this issue is particularly touching, capturing her uncertainty and loneliness in the moments where she realizes Maisie may be drifting away from her. Her work with the skaters is impressive as well, capturing the subtle changes in body language that occur as the new skaters’ skill grows. Brittany Peer and Laura Langston’s blues, purples and pinks capture the playfulness at the heart of Slam, and the touches of red that punctuate the skaters’ hard hits on the track or the speed they pick up in a whip is a smart touch that will get your blood pumping (though not quite as much as a pair of quad skates would). Jim Campbell's lettering is skillful as usual, making it easy to distinguish between present day and flash backs and even illustrating derby moves without seeming out of place.

Pamela Ribon is an excellent writer, but it’s the entire artistic team that makes Slam! such a vibrant and readable book. Slam #3 is the strongest issue so far, hitting highs in execution despite the lows Jennifer and Maisie hit at the issue’s conclusion. Ribon captures the uniqueness of derby-forged friendships in particular, but her emotional writing will ring true to anyone who’s had to struggle with the changing nature of old friendships as they grow older. Slam! is an engaging and relatable slice-of-life book that will delight readers of all ages or with any level of derby knowledge.

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