Best Shots Reviews: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1, BLACK PANTHER #11

Marvel Comics February 2017 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Justice League of America #1
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Oclair Albert, Julio Ferreira and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The Justice League of America: Rebirth issue left a lot to be desired, but now with a proper debut, Steve Orlando and Ivan Reis’ plans are becoming clearer. After being bogged down with character introductions, the creative team gets to dive in a little bit, and we’re starting to have some fun with a fairly atypical Justice League cast. This issue features a good balance of action and setup work that goes far in terms of propelling the book forward. It can be worrisome to see three inkers contributing to a book but the art team keeps things fairly consistent. Reis injects more energy into his classic character poses and delivers some fine work. But despite the improvements over last issue, it’s hard to tell if the conceit of the series is really working yet.

Batman has reiterated to his amalgam of Justice League outsiders that the reason he put them together is that people need to see that their heroes are human. Obviously, that makes at least one of his choices (Lobo) a bit strange, but suspension of disbelief, right? With the introduction of this arc’s villains, Lord Havok and the Extremists, suddenly that call to action has more context. Lord Havok was created as a sort of homage to Marvel’s Doctor Doom and using him here makes this feel a lot more like a riff on the Avengers than it does a traditional JLA story.

While the action beats are your typical superhero fare right down to the monologuing villain, Orlando’s character work is really strong. Batman can be an overwhelming presence in any story but especially one featuring B- and C-list characters. Orlando cleverly uses Bruce to build up the team (and specifically Vixen) in a way that allows them to keep being a team should he be taken off the board. But despite good work with Vixen and Frost, Orlando just doesn’t have enough pages to do meaningful work with his whole cast, making the decision to introduce them so early a questionable one.

Ivan Reis reminds us why he’s considered a top tier artist at DC in this one. There’s a lot in Orlando’s script to juggle, and Reis proves that he’s got the chops. In particular, double-page spreads like the one Reis gives us to show the team all together are the reason he was put on this book. Suddenly, this ragtag group of heroes and villains actually looks like a team and that important to the success of the book. It’s also great to see Vixen leading the charge as it's clear that she’ll be the leader in Batman’s absence. Reis also delivers solid action sequences that help sell the clever strategies employed by the team in Orlando’s script. It’s not all good, though. I don’t think he’s great at selling us on the Atom’s power set - those sequences are a bit punchless. And his beady-eyed Batman is an aesthetic choice that doesn’t endear me at all to his art style. Still, with a lot more to sink his teeth into this issue, Reis turns in pages worthy of the title on the cover.

This is still a pretty strange book. Lord Havok is a unexpected character for the League to battle right away. Batman’s need for people to see that their heroes are human does seem to hew closer to Marvel’s general M.O. If indeed Orlando’s doing a little meta riff on the distinguished competition, it could be fun to see what he comes up with. Regardless, the creative team got the laborious team introductions out of the way in the specials leading up to this debut and it’s nice to see some good ol’ fashioned superheroics. There’s not as much style or substance here as in some of Orlando’s work but he’s laying a foundation for what could be a really unique and exciting Justice League as it progresses.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther #11
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Chris Sprouse, Goran Sudzuka, Walden Wong, Karl Story, Roberto Poggi, Laura Martin, Matt Milla, Rachelle Rosenberg, and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

The grand finale to Ta-Nehisi Coates's “A Nation Under Our Feet” arrives in Black Panther #11. After a long build-up, Coates does his best to close off the story arc in bombastic fashion as T’Challa and Shuri face off against the forces of Tetu and Zenzi. Unfortunately, some recurring problems in the series show their faces at a time when they are least needed, as the massive battle never feels like more than a skirmish.

This lack of scale undercuts a lot of the tension in the issue. At one point, Tetu uses his power to draw the roots of plants away from the ground, creating a massive sinkhole underneath T’Challa’s forces. However since only a handful of soldiers are ever shown at one time, it’s impossible to gauge how damaging it was. Remember how the Battle of the Pelannor Fields in Return of the King pales with the pulsing tension of Helm’s Deep in the previous film? Black Panther #11 suffers the same issues tenfold. The tanks and planes that appeared in the final pages of the previous issue are nowhere to be seen, replaced by soldiers with conventional weaponry. For all the visual splendor and ingenuity in the world-building of Black Panther, it’s a shame that it did not extend to the armory of a warrior nation.

It’d be easy to lay this at the feet of Chris Sprouse and the team of artists providing finishes for his layouts, but much of this is on Coates as well. The daytime setting, while it makes sense from a logistical standpoint, visually undercuts the drama. Color artist Laura Martin and her team could have added visual tension, even to a small skirmish, had the fight been set at night or during a storm. Instead, the combat is waged against an undramatic blue sky. Even with an expanded 25 pages, the economy of the medium means that a lot of the emotional to-and-fro of the battle is condensed to the point of nonexistence. There is a big moment in the battle that, while cool, creates more questions than answers. What should be an emotional relief and validation for T’Challa comes across more as a “how did you get that resource back?”

It’s extremely frustrating, because the battle for Wakanda’s soul doesn’t reach the heights it needs to, neither as a catharsis for the drama that’s been building, nor as an impetus for Wakanda’s looming change in governmental structure. Coates never quite nails down what makes Tetu’s rebellion different from any of the coup attempts by Erik Killmonger. If Wakanda is going to evolve, the forces driving that growth need to be better illustrated. Zenzi’s role towards the end of the issue proves that there are still some loose ends that need to be addressed, but it feels like showing the scale of the People and how it the battle affected the Golden City on a macro level would have helped in displaying the urgency for a new Wakanda.

Black Panther #11 isn’t entirely a failure, the individual pieces of the battle readers do get are wonderfully illustrated, and it’s nice to see each of the major combatants show off just what they can do on an individual level. But in terms of showing a large battle between the heroes and enemy forces, the issue is a bit of a dud. Coates’ weaknesses at a comic book writer are on display here, but as issue twelve looks to truly close out the arc, perhaps his deft handling of politics can close out the arc on a high note.

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