Best Shots Reviews: ACTION COMICS #975, DOCTOR STRANGE & SORCERERS SUPREME #6, SUPERGIRL #7

DC Comics March 2017 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Action Comics #975
Written by Dan Jurgens and Paul Dini
Art by Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, Wil Quintana, Ian Churchill and Mike Atiyeh
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

In part one of "Superman Reborn," the Man of Steel’s son, Jon, mysteriously vanished before his very eyes. Clark doesn’t quite know how it happened, but he knows the prime suspect is the man who shares his face, but not his abilities. Now, as chapter two begins to unfold, we find Supes racing to Metropolis, with Lois in tow, to confront his doppelganger. However, is the Man of Steel mighty enough to combat the secrets that await him?

Action Comics #975 capitalizes on the heat of the moment from the closing pages of Superman #18, with writer Dan Jurgens pushing the pedal to the floor from the moment the issue begins. Seeing this father consumed by his determination to find his missing son at any and all costs greatly humanizes the Kryptonian native, while also adding a fun superhero spin on the ever-relatable man-on-a-mission concept. Furthermore, Jurgens continues to display his profound understanding of what truly makes Superman the Big Blue Boy Scout, as Clark puts his own anguish aside to offer some reassurance to his wife (“Lois… think positively,” says Kal-El).

When Superman and Lois finally do confront the doppelganger Clark, the sequence starts off strong, and Jurgens does a stellar job building up the suspense leading into the reveal of the imposter’s true identity. However, while the eventual reveal does lend itself to some intriguing possibilities for the rest of the "Superman Reborn" crossover, the execution leaves a bit of a bad taste. The Man of Steel’s dialogue as the imposter shape-shifts from one Superman foe to another feels a bit cartoonish (“you aren’t – Brainiac,” and, “you aren’t Mongul!” says Clark), and the entire sequence seems to drag on for far too long. Nevertheless, the payoff is satisfying, as we get to see a longtime thorn in Superman’s side – Mister Mxyzptlk – make his triumphant debut in the post-Rebirth era. What’s more, rather than waiting for the next issue to address the hows and the whys, we get a fun backup story written by Paul Dini once the main narrative comes to a close, with plenty of expository dialogue from the imp, himself, to explain his motivations.

From a visual standpoint, Action Comics #975 offers up a nice double dose of talented pairings. In the main story, we have pencils by Doug Mahnke, inks by Jaime Mendoza, and colors by Wil Quintana, and for the back-up, it’s Ian Churchill supplying the lines and inks, with colors by Mike Atiyeh. As for Mahnke, he’s certainly no stranger to delineating the Man of Steel, and while this isn’t his best work, his aesthetics are still solid throughout, and his layouts provide a nice, smooth flow, particularly in the pages where he depicts Superman’s various villains.

Mahnke’s tight linework is complemented beautifully by Mendoza’s inks, which range from deep black while inside the doppelganger Clark’s apartment, to the subtle crosshatching that adds gorgeous depth to the characters’ faces. Meanwhile, Quintana proves that he’s a true workhorse in his own right, with an expansive palette selection rich in pinks, purples, yellows, and oranges that bring the twisted, child-like world of Mxyzptlk to life.

The only thing that truly hurts the visuals in the main story, though, is that they’re outdone by those in the back-up. Churchill’s linework is incredibly crisp, and he employs a wide range of styles to capture the look and feel of Superman and Mxyzptlk throughout their various incarnations. Additionally, his utilization of negative space, combined with unique panel shapes and layouts, lend themselves perfectly to the story that focuses on the imp from the fifth dimension and the Boy of Steel. In that respect, much like Quintana, Atiyeh does a superb job employing a vibrant and lively palette selection to add just the right amount of whimsy to the imagery.

Action Comics #975 is an over-sized issue, and it’s safe to say you certainly get your money’s worth, with two great stories by two great writers, accompanied by sequentials from two outstanding artistic teams. Despite a couple of bumps in the road, Action Comics #975 is a solid second chapter in the "Superman Reborn" story, primarily because it succeeds in delivering on the mystery of the doppelganger Clark’s identity that’s been brewing since issue #957. However, Jurgens is sure to leave you wanting more, with plenty of questions, including the mysteries surrounding Mr. Oz, still left unanswered for the time being.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme #6
Written by Robbie Thompson
Art by Javier Rodriguez, Alvaro Lopez and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Reading comic books can often be a one-sided, passive pursuit - creators produce the storylines, which readers buy and consume, with the greatest amount of responsiveness largely being mentions on social media or thinkpieces on the Internet (guilty). Which is what makes Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme #6 such a refreshing alternative from the rest - structured as a Choose Your Own Adventure story, writer Robbie Thompson and artist Javier Rodriguez let the readers direct the action. And while that approach doesn't always allow for the deepest of characterization given the constraints of a 20-page comic book, the innovation in the storytelling makes this a book to check out.

Putting the readers in Doctor Strange's shoes, Thompson wastes no time dumping us into the thick of things - Strange is trapped amongst a series of astral worlds, and only you can decide which of the Sorcerers Supreme he saves first! Like any good Choose Your Own Adventure, Thompson's failed endings are almost more engaging than the successful ones - he actually bakes failure into the conceit of the story, counting on readers to put Strange and the gang into insurmountable peril, with only the mystical Bones of Ey-Yuh allowing us to go back to undo the mistakes of the past.

But it's to Thompson's credit that while he has limited page real estate to delve into the characterization, he's able to shift things up enough from scene to scene that no character feels interchangeable. And while sometimes the actual mechanism of Choose Your Own Adventure can sometimes get confusing, jumping to specific panels of specific pages, the artwork from Javier Rodriguez is still eye-catching enough that it doesn't matter if you take a detour to pasts and futures that might be or never were.

And to his credit, Rodriguez absolutely carries this audacious storyline on his back. Because the actual narrative doesn't have a ton of characterization to mine, Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme #6 rests largely on spectacle and originality of structure - and Rodriguez does superb work at keeping his pages clean and dynamic, particularly with the more psychedelic pages of Strange in his own mystical trap, culminating in an awesome Moebius strip with the characters reuniting.

Ultimately, will Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme #6 redefine the character or the superhero landscape? No. But is it a fun and risky one-off that plays with the actual medium of comics, delivering a narrative unlike most on the stands? Absolutely - and that also allows a lot of leeway over some of its minor flaws. It's easy for comic books to be a passive pursuit - and even easier for creators to stick tried-and-true tropes. The fact that Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme #6 doesn't makes it well worth your time to seek out.

Credit: DC Comics

Supergirl #7
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Matias Bergara and Michael Atiyeh
Lettered by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

In a sense, Supergirl was sold on the idea of Kryptonian werewolves, considering Lar-On's appearance in the "Rebirth" issue, which like the others was designed to present what the series will be like going forward. It’s certainly what sold me on trying the series out before it launched. The first real arc of the book caused this plot line to take a backseat, but Steve Orlando gets back to it here and due to the first arc having driven themes of family and notion of Krypton home, it works far better that it would have had Orlando dealt with it straight away.

Since the "Rebirth" issue, a miraculous cure hasn’t been found to order to help Lar-On with the transformation that ails him so and Kara believes that the answer lies within his mind, and more specifically his memories, instead of the first reason that someone may point to - the Moon. Thanks to the DEO, he’s now in stasis and they also have technology that allows Kara to delve into his subconscious via an "energy twin." In the grand scheme of things, it’s an idea which has been played with plenty in the past, but it works better here than it does in something like the most recent issue of Superwoman because unlike that tie-in, Supergirl is allowed to provide answers instead postulating through ambiguous dialogue in order to not spoil the main crossover. Supergirl has no such commitments (currently), meaning that the scenes that Kara’s able to uncover make immediate sense, even as she drifts from actual events to fears of the young Lar-On’s mind.

Orlando takes particular care in these pages to reinforce the idea of family. The first arc of this series also did so, with Kara’s connection to Krypton and Earth. It’s clear that this isn’t just an idea that happened to crop up in one issue because it’s relevant then, more so it’s part of the book’s ethos and the continual reinforcement results in this actually working better than it would have as the opening arc because it’s clear how it relates to Kara. One failing of the book that stems from this is that it didn’t build up Lar-On over the course of the first arc to make this journey into the subconscious even more personal. The use of this particular theme shows how the series takes cues from the show as both aim to hit similar beats on a regular basis, but unlike the show, the supporting cast hasn’t had enough time devoted to them to make this land as well as it does on the show when dealing with Kara and Alex.

Brian Ching takes the issue off, which sees Matias Bergara step up to the plate. Their styles are similar, most noticeable when looking at the locations instead of the characters, but Bergara’s style does lean closer to the cartooning you might expect from a series like this. It doesn’t have as much of a sense of dynamism as Ching, but the issue doesn’t call for this as much as an arc where the lead character is fighting Cyborg Superman does. Bergara’s strengths come into play in a later scene, tinged in red, comprised primarily of close-up shots. Here, his faces are more detailed than the looser nature of Ching’s, these characters feel like teenagers having a conversation and it’s the reason that the beat lands as it does. That said, even with this praise, it still doesn’t fit the book perfectly unlike Emanuela Lupacchino who drew the Rebirth issue and set a precedent that the actual series has been unable to match as of yet.

As the issue progresses, it hits when it needs to, until the end which while not a complete whiff, it’s certainly missing something. If this were an episode of the show, we’d be wondering where the sixth act was to wrap the episode up in a neat little bow. It’s frustrating because the book doesn’t run out of space in the traditional sense, the pages which could have done this is there, but they’re occupied with Superman: Reborn-related plot instead. While the book’s general structure may result in Orlando returning to this every so often, it’s just disappointing to see that it doesn’t get a chance to reach the natural, and expected stopping point within the covers of this issue.

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