Best Shots Reviews: SUPER SONS #1, MONSTERS UNLEASHED #3, BLACK PANTHER: WORLD OF WAKANDA #4

Marvel Comics February 2017 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics

Excelsior, 'Rama Readers! The Best Shots team is ready for action this week, reviewing a trio of top titles that just hit stands. We'll kick things off with a review of the long-awaited Super Sons #1 from pulchritudinous Pierce Lydon!

Credit: DC Comics

Super Sons #1
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Super Sons has been eagerly anticipated since the early days of Rebirth, and after months of build-up between Batman and Superman (and subsequently, their sons) in Superman, we finally get to see the next generation of the World’s Finest Team. And with Peter J. Tomasi and Jorge Jimenez at the helm, DC’s penchant for legacy characters has never come through as strong since the pre-New 52 era as it does with these two thanks to a rock solid script from Tomasi. From the outset, Jon and Damian feel like characters that can grow and that readers can grow with, and that’s a rare quality in the fairly stagnant world of superheroes.

I like Tomasi’s in media res approach for the opening of this book. It feels immediate and exciting before dialing back a bit. While jumping to a flashback right away can sometimes steal some of the energy from the opening, Tomasi is doubling down on who these characters are. Jon and Damian aren’t the pillars of the DCU that their fathers are, but they definitely see the world very differently and it’s important to make that clear from the outset. There’s a subtle bonding that occurs between the two of them because they both want to be the heroes they think they are but adults aren’t letting them. On some level, they feel like their rebellion against their parents is for the greater good, and that’s really fun. There’s no real darkness in this book. It’s about kids who butt heads but are striving for the same goal: to be heroes. Tomasi has had more than enough time with both characters and their individual voices really come through. Plus a couple of interesting little gambits add some fun and tension to the book. There’s a lot of set-up here but it doesn’t really feel like set-up and that’s key.

Jorge Jimenez is big part of the reason this book works so well. While his work is similar to Jonboy Meyer’s in it’s elasticity and energy, Jimenez’s lines are a lot rounder and cartoony. This allows him a greater range of expressions to draw from without the book feelings over rendered. His character designs in particular are boisterous and indefatigable. He gives us some great shots like Jon and Damian face to face with the moon in the background or the two young heroes taking a stand in the jungle. The art does was great art should do: it underlines the relationships present in the book with body language and emboldens the script with dynamic pacing and shot choices. On some level, this doesn’t feel like a debut issue. There’s a real feeling that this creative team is very in sync because the art and words weave together in a really special way.

Peter J. Tomasi has another great debut for his resume, and Jorge Jimenez is a big part of that. Most artists have a blindspot when it comes to drawing kids but Jimenez embraces the challenge and delivers greatness. It’s so exciting to see the potential for these characters to grow over time. It’s not something we get to see all that often. DC’s legacies are always very strong but for the first time, it feels like we have two characters who could legitimately replace their parents in due time. Tomasi’s taken the Batman/Superman dynamic and reinterpreted it for a slightly different set of characters. The big difference is that Damian and Jon don’t represent a larger ideal or way of thinking yet. They’re still kids. They’re young and impressionable. And they’ll have just as much influence on each other as their famous dads do.

 

Credit: Marvel Comics

Monsters Unleashed #3
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Michael Jason Paz and David Curiel
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

Monsters Unleashed #3 is one of those books that you’re going to know if you’ll love it or hate it from the very first page. If you’re an aficionado of Marvel’s catalog of weird and crazy Kirby creatures like Fin Fang Foom, Goom and Pildorr the Plunderer, you might appreciate what Cullen Bunn and Leinil Yu are doing with this clash of the titans, but more finicky fans will likely take issue with the book’s interchangeable characterization and mind-numbing action.

If you think that Monsters Unleashed has felt like a kid smashing his Marvel action figures together, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark, as Cullen Bunn’s story has hinged upon an invasion of space-age monsters, as well as a young Inhuman whose drawings are clearly linked to this spike in activity. But when a cadre of classic Marvel beasts decide to show the invaders who’s boss, Bunn’s story winds up losing track of the plot — on the one hand, Bunn’s giant monsters wind up coming across as interchangeable and thus forgettable as they pound away at one another, while the Marvel superheroes shoehorned into this story are rendered completely impotent (“Let the monsters handle the fighting,” Sam Wilson says in one scene; “It’s a classic movie trope,” Ms. Marvel says in another) outside of spoon-feeding readers dollops of exposition.

From the dialogue, it’s clear that Bunn is trying to channel the inner Godzilla of the Marvel Universe, but his story winds up being neither fish nor fowl, unable to decide whether it wants to focus on the monsters or the metahumans, ultimately doing justice to neither. For example, the Guardians of the Galaxy appear in this line-wide crossover, but is there a reason outside of brand placement to have Peter Quill in the thick of things? Do the Inhumans serve a purpose outside of easy plot explanation? (At least when everyone in the Marvel Universe was a mutant, you didn’t have to do a long backstory of the lineage and history behind someone’s powers.) But most unfortunately, Monsters Unleashed never seems to show readers why we could care about these classic Kirby creations — the story is neither bonkers enough to make readers invested, nor is the characterization deep enough to invoke your suspension of disbelief.

And while Leinil Yu has undoubtedly earned his place as an A-list artist, Monsters Unleashed simply doesn’t play to his strengths. Part of what made the Kirby monsters so exciting was the energetic visuals behind them, but this book is as dour and low-energy as it gets. Much of this comes down to David Curiel’s oppressively dark palette, which tries to lend real-world stakes to some incredibly goofy character designs, but even Gerry Alanguilan, Michael Jason Paz and Yu’s inks come across looking sketchy rather than atmospheric. Yu is often so hamstrung trying to fit huge groups of characters in his pages that much of the introductions come across as obligatory rather than organic, with a giant caption announcing Old Man Logan as he gives just a simple line of dialogue to Elsa Bloodstone. And the thing is, Yu can clearly draw the hell out of the Marvel superheroes — his take on Groot and Rocket Raccoon is actually really striking, but he just cannot find that Kirby crackle that makes these monsters go.

It might be asking too much out of a book titled Monsters Unleashed, but the best monsters still had a heart beating underneath their fur, wings or scales. This comic instead tries to rest entirely on spectacle while delivering almost nothing in substance — it winds up making this latest Marvel event feel disposable and meaningless. With the wrong art team attached and with the actual Marvel superheroes being reduced to bystanders in this latest issue, only diehards will find much to like about Marvel’s latest monster mash-up.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther: World of Wakanda #4
Written by Roxane Gay
Art by Alitha E. Martinez, Roberto Poggi and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Black Panther right now is a hard title to get excited about. Though the artwork has been consistently great and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ scripts are as poetically beautiful as always, its glacial pacing, especially in the current arc, has turned off certain readers, myself included. Thankfully, its sister title World of Wakanda has had no such problems, and it just gets stronger heading into the penultimate issue of its first arc.

Picking up directly after the Black Order’s devastating attack on the Golden City (all the way back in Infinity, True Believers!), writer Roxane Gay has given the main title some much needed context for Ayo and Aneka’s motivation as well as their all too human struggles as both soldiers and lovers. This strong character work coupled with plot threads that are being drawn tightly going into finale make this spin-off title much easier to champion than its royal namesake.

Even better, Gay is teamed with a penciler and colorist that understand her intimate and raw scripting and details it in kind. Artist Alitha E. Martinez, backed by the fine inks of Roberto Poggi and the heavily shaded color pallette of Rachelle Rosenberg, shines an honest, but not unfeeling light on our lead Midnight Angels, making them more human than the main title ever has, even through ten plus issues. Though it doesn’t have the same high-minded political ideas as its namesake, Black Panther: World of Wakanda #4 makes a very strong moves toward being the superior Black Panther title.

Queen Shuri is dead, and Aneka carries the blame unfairly on her shoulders. Though a large part of this fourth issue is some much needed table-setting for the pair’s upcoming mission of righteous insurrection, Roxane Gay’s focus on all aspects of Ayo and Aneka’s relationship is still paying hefty dividends for the title as a whole. Wracked by guilt, Aneka pushes Ayo away once again, which in turn only sours Ayo’s thoughts on the relationship, despite her deep love for her partner. This warts and all approach Gay takes makes them feel like real people and not just token, yet eloquent baddies like they are in the main title. This tight and human focus also gives the rest of the plot an air of unavoidable tragedy; not for the couple, but for the nation of Wakanda itself.

While Ayo and Aneka struggle to reconcile their feelings with duty, a chieftain has been performing deplorable acts on the woman of his village and a local implores the Midnight Angels to do something about it. If you’ve read Black Panther #1, you know where this is going, but Gay makes it more than just a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of just marching blindly to the plot’s bloody resolution, Gay ties in the Dora Milaje’s personal battles alongside the wayward journey of WoW’s antagonist Folami as well as showing us the fallout of Aneka’s righteous kill. Though the story is a much more low-key affair, World of Wakanda #4 shows the full power of context and a more grounded approach to Wakandan society.

In keeping with Gay’s more grounded scripting, the art team of Alitha E. Martinez, Roberto Poggi and Rachelle Rosenberg make this issue look and feel like a slickly produced cable TV drama. Peppered with classic comic thought bubbles from letterer Joe Sabino, Martinez’s pencils remind me of a Pia Guerra’s work on the seminal Y: The Last Man, another high concept character study. Inker Roberto Poggi accentuates Martinez’s pencils but does just enough to make the emotions and sparse action pop instead of throttling up into full on stylistic flair. Colorist Rachelle Rosenberg brings it all home with a muted, but still evocative set of colors that darken the mood of the issue, but keep it from coming across dour or maudlin.

While it doesn’t pack the same sociopolitical punch as the main title, Black Panther: World of Wakanda #4 shows that stripped down stories can be just as rich and compelling as one with all sorts of lofty ideas. Roxane Gay, who has handled the weight of spinning off from a blockbuster title with grace and focus, provides some much needed context for the main title while still creating her own world; no easy feat for sure, but Gay makes it look easy. Though readers in the loop know where this story ultimately ends, World of Wakanda #4 shows that there are many more tales to be told beyond the throne and the king who occupies it.

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