Best Shots Comic Reviews: IRON MAN .1, BATMAN BEYOND, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews: IRON MAN .1

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with a heaping helping of post-Super Bowl reviews with the Best Shots team! Even as you nurse your Packers or Steelers hangovers, we have something that we can all agree upon -- comics. Team Best Shots has got a number of books for you, including reviews from Marvel, DC, Image and Oni Press. Want more? We've got you covered over at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's let Scott Cederlund get his decimal point on, as he checks out The Invincible Iron Man #500.1!

 

The Invincible Iron Man #500.1

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Salvador Larroca and Frank D’Armata

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

Click here for preview

After the glimpse of Tony Stark's future and end days in The Invincible Iron Man #500, Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca use #500.1 to take a look backward, asking exactly what makes Tony Stark the man he is?  In an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, Stark stands up and, on the occasion of the anniversary of his sobriety, he tells his story to a room of strangers. He doesn't talk about armors and arch enemies (at least not directly) but he tries to talk openly about the man he is, a boy born to money who has his own demons to battle. Stark talks about his life, his addictions, his weaknesses and how he’s triumphed over some of them.  Like much of Fraction’s run on The Invincible Iron Man, this is not an Iron Man story; it’s a Tony Stark story.

Matt Fraction's writing is surprisingly honest as he paints Stark as someone who's aware of his own self-inflicted problems but is powerless to overcome them. His problems have made him who he is and, in their own way, are bigger than just himself.  As Fraction points out many times in this issue, Stark’s alcoholism is just one of the many weaknesses that Stark faces on an almost daily basis.  The character has taken big steps over the years but his addictive nature is always going to be there. "Drinking, working, women. It was like some kind of self-destructive multitasking,” Stark says, a bit smugly appreciative at his own self-reflection.  That pretty much sums up Tony Stark's life.  His problems are his and he owns them even if he has trouble controlling them.  And even after he’s poured out his heart and talked about all of his own personal issues, in the end you have to ask just what he’s learned in life as we see him about to make familiar mistakes again.

Larroca and colorist Frank D’Armata do some of their best work on the series in this issue.  Larroca’s art has always walked an annoying line of being distractingly photo referenced and just thinly constructed.  He’s always been great at drawing the technology but has dropped the ball at times when it came to the more emotional scenes.  But in this issue, he changes up his style a bit, going for a Moebius/Jacque Tardi feel when illustrating the flashbacks of Stark’s life.  Here’s more emotion and character in those drawings than we’ve seen in a lot of Larroca’s drawing.  He actually draws more; he’s been very reliant on D’Armata’s colors since this series began that he’s been drawing in a faux claire-ligne style, letting D’Armata do all of the shading.  In the flashbacks this issue, Larroca’s art is more detailed than it’s been before; he’s doing more drawing as he’s trying to subtly mimic older comic art. 

The Invincible Iron Man #500.1 really reveals who Tony Stark is or at least who he is for Matt Fraction’s run on the character. Where #500 raised many questions on where Fraction and Larroca are going with their story, #500.1 sheds some light in where they've been. Going back to their first story line "The Five Nightmares," Fraction has shown us a Stark who is on the run.  He’s been on the run from his enemies, on the run from his government, on the run from his past and his actions, trying to get out of the way before they can explode in his face. As a character piece, this issue lets us a bit behind the curtain and into the mind if Tony Stark. He may or may not be a hero but he is a man who’s trying to grow up a little bit more every day.

 

Batman Beyond #2

Written by Adam Beechen

Art by Ryan Benjamin, John Stanisci and David Baron

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

There's a bit of a guilty pleasure about Batman Beyond #2 -- but if you're looking forward to seeing the Batman of the future take on the entire Justice League, well, this might just be the book for you. Even with its imperfections, it's got enough inherent pleasure in its setup that you'll have a difficult time begrudging it.

In certain ways, you have to admire Adam Beechen for an introduction that, while far from original, certainly gets your attention -- there's a certain amount of old-school gutsyness, giving Terry McGuinness this kind of a challenge so early on. And there's a reason why the old hero-versus-hero trope has worked so well in comics -- it's exciting. Seeing the different ways that this largely unpowered hero can take on superpowered opponents generates its own kind of guilty glee.

The rest of the script has its hits and misses. It certainly moves fast, but at the same time, the ending of the JLA fight feels a little bit arbitrary, and Bruce's characterization feels a little weird -- like, why does he want to beat the League that badly? That's leaving traditional Bruce Wayne crankiness and approaching the level of Red Foreman from That '70s Show. I'll also admit that I was a little surprised by some of the language used in this series -- it's not to say that you can't have swearing in comics, but for a book that's traditionally been associated with the all-ages set, I'm surprised that easily-replacable words "bastard" and "damned" made their way into this series.

Yet art-wise, I'm not sure that Ryan Benjamin is delivering on Beechen's premise. Ideally, with the right artist, this book would sell gangbusters -- but it's getting to the point where Benjamin's razor-sharp lines are wearing a little bit thin, taking some of the better qualities of someone like Dustin Nguyen and amplifying them past the point of stylishness. Faces get to the point where they are looking misshapen, and the idea that Green Lantern is just firing out a green wash from colorist David Baron seems like an incredible waste of potential. But in Benjamin's defense -- I do love the design he gives the villain of the piece. That last page looks sick.

Still, if we're only two issues into this ongoing, it's clear that the nostalgia factor can only carry this book so far. I don't think that Beechen is doing badly as far as his scripting goes, as he knows how to hit the continuity lover where it counts -- but artwise, I'm not sure this book is hitting where it should. All this book needs is some cleaner linework to evoke the all-ages audience, and Batman Beyond might soar again for a new generation of readers.

 

Amazing Spider-Man #653

Written by Dan Slott and Fred Van Lente

Art by Stefano Caselli, Edgar Delgado, Reilly Brown, Victor Olazaba and Andres Mossa

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

What's the biggest weakness of "Big Time"? As far as this issue of Amazing Spider-Man goes -- it might just be too big for one book!

There is a lot going on in this issue, and you can't fault Dan Slott -- teaming up with Fred Van Lente as scripter -- for ambition. But there is so much packed into this issue, guest-starring the New Avengers and the newly-enhanced Spider Slayers, that I think sometimes this issue doesn't have enough space to breathe.

I think some of that is based on visuals. I love Stefano Caselli's sense of design, particularly how he shows expression -- even though Spidey wears a mask through the majority of this issue, you can see the exertion in his eyes as he struggles to stick on a runaway rocket ship. (Seriously, those kinds of concepts? That's why I love comics.) But the big problem is that he has so much to pack on these pages is that everything seems cramped. For example, there's two pages of Spider-Slayers crashing in on J. Jonah Jameson's family and friends -- but everyone looks so small, you know? There are very few big money shots on these pages, which feels like a waste of Caselli's not-inconsiderable potential.

So back to the writing for a minute. There is a lot going on script-wise, which results in the numerous five- and six-panel gridlocks I was just talking about. You've got check-ins with John Jameson, the Daily Bugle, Doctor Octopus, Max Modell, Alistair Smythe, Squirrel Girl, not to mention the general Avengers versus Spider-Slayers fracas -- Slott and Van Lente spend so much time introducing all these people that I think sometimes the focus on Spider-Man and how he solves his own problems takes a hit. That's not to say there aren't some good moments to all this -- Spidey's chat with Squirrel Girl is hilarious, and Phil Urich absolutely steals every scene that he's in -- but I agree with Smythe: It does feel a little early to be bringing in the Avengers.

But you know who really steals the show for this issue? Fred Van Lente and Reilly Brown, with their backup story featuring Spider-Man and the all-new Power Man. Power Man has that wonderful mix of impetuousness, power and -- best of all -- a great sense of humor that makes him clash with any hero you pair him up with. Van Lente delivers a huge amount of funny lines: "Remember kids: Friends don't let friends sniff intergalactic whippets." "Aaah! I'm being felt up by a pervert from beyond time and space!" This backup = simply delightful.

All in all, I wouldnt say that this issue of Amazing Spider-Man is a bad one -- merely imperfect. Success is often a relative measure, and in that regard, Slott and company already have a high bar to surpass after the rock-solid first arc. Here's hoping that with some renewed focus on Spider-Man -- as opposed to the rest of colorful heroes of the Marvel U -- this arc can end on a strong conclusion, and tell us what this story is really about.

 

Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1

Written by Paul Levitz

Art by Keith Giffen, John Dell, Scott Koblish and Hi-Fi

Lettering by John J. Hill

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

When is a Legion of Super-Heroes story more than just another Legion story?  When you have both Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen telling the story.  Apart, these two creators have told some of the most enjoyable Legion stories, from the death of Superboy to the 5 Year Legion.  But together, they redefined what the future looked like, created “The Great Darkness Saga,” and relaunched the Legion as one of DC’s Baxter paper series.  They’ve made their mark on the future, molding the Legion 30 years ago into the Legion that DC is so desperately trying to recapture today.  And what better way can you do that in Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1 than by having Levitz and Giffen team back up to create more Legion stories?

It’s odd how this book is such a throwback story, revisiting a story that Levitz and Giffen told over 20 years ago, the death of the original Emerald Empress.  Levitz and Giffen’s story feels like a Legion story circa 1988.  Part of that is Levitz’s writing style, as he introduces a new Empress.  How he tells a story has not changed that much over the years as he still constructs his stories in the same way as he always had, layering in characters and history to eventually get to a big, climatic scene.  He plays with continuity, welcoming it and using it as a plot device to build off of.  Where it feels like the past 20 years have been spent trying to ignore that there’s a history to the Legion, Levitz embraces that legacy as easily as he does the myriads of characters running around in the 31st century.

Levitz has never been scared of the Legion’s history.  He’s always incorporated it into his stories and he does that here but it’s his own continuity that he’s incorporating now.  In the last year of his historic Legion run, he killed the original Emerald Empress and that’s a story that he’s now returning to as Sensor Girl has to return to her homeworld and even face up to her part of the Emeral Empress’s death.  It’s a death 20 years old that hangs over this issue as Levitz tries to recapture the magic that he once had.  And he does an admirable job, blending his old storytelling style with more modern tastes.  He writes a good, quick story that at times is a bit thin on characterization but highlights the strengths (and occasional confusion) of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  But as there have been at least 2 or 3 different Emerald Empresses since Levitz’s last series, you have to wonder at how quickly he introduces a new one and concludes her story.

Over on the art, Keith Giffen is channelling his own inner-Jack Kirby here, striking poses and creating energy right out of an old issue of The Fantastic Four.  Giffen has always worn his artistic influences on his sleeve and his panel compositions here just scream Kirby homage, from the upshots of characters to the poses his characters strike are practically culled from any Kirby book post-1965.  Kirby never drew a Legion story so this annual is the closest we’ll ever get.  Unfortunately Giffen also employs his patented 6 panel grid, the workhorse layout he used during DC’s 52  While there it kept the story unified and running on time, here it dampens Levitz’s story, making every page look the same.  Page after page of 6 panel grids makes everything flow together, giving almost no break or excitement to any individual page or scene.  Everything blends together until the story is just a uniform mass of even-tempered beats and plot points.

There’s a certain sense of “getting the band back together” in Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1.  All that’s missing is Larry Mahlstedt to relive the classic Legion of the 1980s. Levitz and Giffen have certainly created some memorable stories separately but together, they defined the Legion for at least a generation of readers.  And this issue is certainly a nice reminder of what was once a great team.  You get glimpses of what makes the Levitz/Giffen run memorable but you also get some just standard storytelling, as both fall into ruts of characterization and artwork that keeps this from being a great issue.  It’s a fun Kirby-esque action romp through the future.  And that’s never a bad thing.

 

She-Hulks #4

Written by Harrison Wilcox

Art by Ryan Stegman, Michael Babinski, and Guru eFX

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Smith

Click here for preview

Forget 3-D technology: if a company wants to produce images that pop out toward the audience with force and style, it should just hire Ryan Stegman.

In the fourth (and sadly final) issue of She-Hulks, Stegman’s art leaps off the page in a way that’s so close to literal I actually found myself pulling back from the comic on more than one occasion.  His fight scenes are full of flying debris and crazy perspectives, emphasizing everything from the might of our heroes to the force of an explosion to the danger of a villain’s menace.  Too often modern comics leave the dynamic art to splash pages and covers, filling the pages in between with static talking heads, but Stegman crams action into even the smallest panels, stuffing them to bursting with the kind of power and momentum that would make Jack Kirby proud.

All of that would mean nothing, though, if Stegman’s art wasn’t also expressive and gorgeous, full of characters whose clothing, faces, and anatomy make them feel like real people, despite their green skin.  A great portion of the issue takes place at a high school dance, and I couldn’t help marveling at the variety in the students’ formalwear and body types, a variety that made the crowd scenes feel genuine as a high school milieu.  The two most detailed outfits at the dance, Lyra’s long, sleek, high-collared red-and-gold dress and her frenemy Amelia’s short pink-and purple number, correspond not only to their hair colors (brought to vibrant life by colorist Guru eFX) but to their personalities: Lyra barely composed beneath the restrictions of her non-Hulk form and Amelia happy to make a statement.  It’s art like this, art that pays such careful attention to character and story, that elevates a comic far above the pedestrian and enhances every word of the script.

And that script, by Harrison Wilcox, is certainly worthy of Stegman’s art.  The A-plot, the capturing of the members of the The Intelligencia, provides an opportunity both for action and for more personal menace, and the subplots about Lyra’s dance and Jen’s date with Wyatt Wingfoot intertwine with that A-plot in logical, if devastating, ways.  I was struck here by how much Jen Walters has grown up, becoming a mentor figure to her niece and trying to have a stable, adult romantic relationship.  Unfortunately, the price of that growing maturity is the repression of memories of her own past – in trying to push Lyra into all the “normal” trappings of high school, Jen has clearly forgotten how shy and awkward she herself once was (without the excuse of an alternate universe upbringing).  Young Jen Walters would have had even less luck at a school dance than Lyra does, had she even attended.  But ultimately the two women are able to bond over the shared frustrations of not fitting in, and the ways superherodom threatens any scrap of normalcy you might have gained.  The final shot, green-skinned Jen and Lyra walking away from a garbage can draped with Lyra’s torn dress, is a clever, melancholy reversal of the classic Spider-Man-abandoning-his-costume panel.  When you’re a Hulk, you don’t get to leave your superhero identity behind; it’s your human identity that threatens to get lost in the shuffle.  Much as Jen tried to play fairy godmother, this Cinderella was never going to get her happily-ever-after at the ball.

I’ve refrained from including too many direct spoilers in this review, primarily because I hope everyone with even the slightest interest in this story will pick up the trade collection.  Wilcox has secure work in the TV industry and Stegman will soon be bringing his expansive talents to X-23, but the future of the She-Hulks themselves is a Hulk-sized question mark.  The story contained in these four issues, short as it may be, is a great jumping-on point for getting to know these two wonderful characters, and I can only hope that it will spark interest in the comic book reading public for more She-Hulk goodness, now and in the future.

Unearth the Chinese Underworld w/ DAOMU
Unearth the Chinese Underworld w/ DAOMU
 

Daomu #1

Written by Kennedy Xu and Colin Johnson

Art by Ken Chou

Lettering by Tom Orzechowski

Published by Image Comics

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

“My brain felt frostbitten.”

Daomu is based on the bestselling series "Dao Mu Bi Ji" by Kennedy Xu. Also knows as the “Tomb Robber’s Journal,” while relatively unheard of here in the states; the title has sold millions of copies in China. Concept Art House has done an excellent job bringing this title to life. The source material is deemed horror-fiction, which had me a tad skeptical at first. But the first issue proves to be haunting without gratuity. Daomu #1 is an action-packed jump start into a fascinating world of intrigue.

Sean Wu returns to China for the first time since he was a child to bury his father. The mysterious and bizarre circumstances that surround his father’s death are about to catapult him into a world beyond anything he’d imagined possible. There is an elaborate network of tomb systems under ground. They exist all over the world. They used to be a secret to all but a few esoteric groups. One of these groups is known as the Daomu. Sean’s dad was Daomu. The tombs have been discovered, as well as Sean’s ties to them.

The estranged son returning home only to uncover a grander mystery for which he is the center of is not exactly new. Sure, okay. But this is really good. Colin Johnson pulls you in, and avoids the pitfalls of cliché. I found myself enthralled by the premise, the story flows easily and I was left completely hooked. Ancient history, archeology, secret societies, underground tunnels, and monsters; it’s just a matter of time before Hollywood snatches this one up. My only issue with the story-telling was minor continuity details in regards to Sean’s age in the story versus the data featured in Sean’s dossier-file in the end. It wasn’t so striking as to ruin a perfectly exciting story. I was able to let it go, but I noticed.

Ken Chou’s haunting cover image is beautiful but screams of monsters and blood. One quickly discovers how apropos that is. His interior art is a beautiful mesh of ethereal blues highlighted with warm golds and moments of red; making it seem as if blood and fire are always a possibility. The color work is exceptional. I’m growing fonder of digital art, especially when it is given a more “painted” look as opposed to photo-realism; which is done here. The transitions and perspectives from panel to panel were not typical, but suited the pacing quite well. Another thing that intrigued me is the first person shooter perspective that is used. I wouldn’t necessarily think that would work in a comic, but it does. It adds an air of intensity.

I’m giving whole-hearted kudos for a rather flawless transition from prose to sequential art and East to West with this fascinating story; Daomu #1 is super-cool. The West wants more.

Deadpool and Cable #26

Written by Duane Swierczynski

Art by Leandro Fernandez and Steve Buccellato

Lettering by Jeff Eckleberry

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Smith

Click here for preview

Fabian Nicieza’s Cable and Deadpool, like Nextwave and X-Statix before it, was the kind of book Marvel needs: a book that uses satire, parody, and flat-out absurdity to lovingly point out the foibles of the Marvel Universe, superheroes, and the comic book industry in general.  The combination of Cable, the inherently ridiculous straight man, and Deadpool, pure insanity and id, set up a perfect balance for this loving critique, and the book was consistently one of the best (if not exactly best-selling) on the shelves.  Then Cable died, and the book was cancelled, and Deadpool went on to star in approximately fifty-seven billion books of varying quality, all of which, no matter how good, lacked the balance and contrast that Cable provided.

Since Cable is dead (again), Deadpool and Cable #26 might have been another on that long list of unbalanced Deadpool-centric books if not for the talents of Duane Swierczynski, who wrote Cable’s most recent solo series.  Like Deadpool’s solo titles, Swierczynski’s Deadpool-less Cable book lacked the delicate Cable/Deadpool equilibrium, but as a serious title about Cable’s time-hopping attempts to protect Hope, the mutant messiah, Swierczynski’s book never tried to be like Nicieza’s in the first place.  When Swierczynski did get to cut loose with a Cable/Deadpool teamup, as in the Cable/X-Force “Messiah War” crossover and last year’s Deadpool and Cable #25, his humor writing got a chance to shine, and harkened back to the Nicieza era more than any of Deadpool’s recent solo books have done.

Deadpool and Cable #26 is another strong example of Swierczynski writing in the Nicieza mold, and as such it’s a rare nostalgic treat for fans of the earlier series.  Deadpool returns to Rumekistan, the Eastern European country Cable once ruled, looking to honor his fallen friend, and hijinks, predictably, ensue.  Swierczynski writes Deadpool’s manic, fourth wall-breaking dialogue with skill, writing speeches laden with pop culture references and humor, and he manages to capture the spirit of Nicieza’s work while simultaneously incorporating the changes to the character (like the multiple, conflicting speech bubbles from various inner personalities) that Deadpool writers have developed since.  Cable isn’t technically present, but the weight of his absence (not to mention flashbacks to his finest moments) is very much felt, giving the issue the balance Deadpool’s books have lacked for so long and making the writing that much shaper as a result.  Deadpool’s climactic moment before the final battle is utterly perfect and laugh-out-loud funny, and the book manages to tell a new story while simultaneously serving as a refresher course on Cable and Deadpool’s strange, violent, co-dependent past relationship.  That refresher course makes the few moments of genuine pathos in the comic hit home, even as they’re surrounded by absurdity and lowbrow humor.

Artist Leandro Fernandez ably conveys Swiercznyski’s story with his clean, cartoony style and does an especially good job evoking flashback panels from Nicieza’s series without simply aping the original artists. Colorist Steve Buccellato also deserves credit for masterfully rendering the contrast between the brightness of Deadpool’s costume and cartoon violence with the bleak sepia of war-torn Rumekistan. Perhaps the only flaw in the comic is Rumekistan itself, which, as a fictional former Soviet republic, is the frequent punchline of the issue’s jokes.  Fictional though it may be, there’s something off-putting about mocking the citizens of impoverished countries ruled by dictators, or mocking revolutions that redraw the borders of those nations, and while Swierczynski surely wouldn’t have known this at the time he wrote the issue, it reads especially poorly given the current situation in Egypt. This is a minor complaint, however, since the lens through which Deadpool views the world is inherently skewed, if not downright wrong; his insanity serves to soften the blow of his remarks.

Deadpool and Cable #26 may be a oneshot, but for old school fans of Cable and Deadpool, fans of Duane Swierczynski’s solo Cable work, and fans of Deadpool’s seventy-nine billion titles, I highly encourage picking it up.  With any luck, it will lead to another excellent teamup somewhere down the line, when Cable is (inevitably) back in action and the satiric balance is found once more.

 

Gotham City Sirens #19

Written by Peter Calloway

Art by Andres Guinaldo, Walden Wong and J.D. Smith

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

You know when you try a new recipe, and it has all your favorite ingredients, but when you put it all together -- it just doesn't taste as amazing as you expected? That's how I feel about this series. The bad girls of Gotham? Check. The Harls/Joker love/hate story? Check. Zatanna? Check. All the ingredients are there, but this book has been falling flat more often than not and this issue is a "great" example of why.

We've got arguably the hottest residents of Gotham in this book, and somehow we wind up with an Ivy who appears as green as She-Hulk, Zatanna in a navy blue variation of her current costume, Selina with a face that seems to morph each panel, and a Harley that's built like my middle school phys ed teacher. Oh, I guess Talia looks okay. There's a point in the book's favor, but considering that Talia's appearance just kind of trails off mid-book, that point doesn't really get the book very far. There's no "big baddie," it's just the ladies bickering with each other.

So not only do we have art that not only fails to wow, but serves to puzzle me more often than not -- we have a story that greatly underserves these characters. Zee is mad at Talia, Selina is mad at Zee, Harley tries to play therapist, and winds up upset with herself. There's a lot of emotional conflict going on, but none of it strong enough to make your jaw drop or catch you by surprise. So what does happen in this issue? Uhhhh. . . . they move into a new "house." The end starts us toward a potentially interesting storyline with Harley declaring she's going to kill the Joker.

However at this point, I find myself just not caring. There's been little to endear me to these characters, aside from knowledge of how well they could be written from other books. We'll see where it goes from here -- I mean, if this series can't make a great story out of a Harley/Joker death match. . .  it's going to have to go by the wayside for me. It's a damn shame, I want to love it so -- but even the best characters need a strong story that taps into their attributes, with solid art to match. This isn't a book where I'm seeing that.

 

Spider-Girl #3

Written by Paul Tobin

Art by Clayton Henry, Tim Seeley, Sergio Cariello, and Chris Sotomayor

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Smith

Click here for preview

The tonal difference between the first and second issues of Spider-Girl couldn’t have been more stark.  The first issue featured a spunky teenage girl fighting crime with the approval of her loving father, bonding with Sue Storm, and trying to make heads or tails of her high school life.  The second issue, on the other hand, featured the death of that loving father and the funeral and grieving process that followed.  This flip-flop was a gutsy move on the part of writer Paul Tobin, and while both issues were incredibly well-written, they left readers with a conundrum: what kind of book would the new, all-ages Spider-Girl actually be?

Issue three sets out to answer that question, and it does so by taking the best aspects of the first two issues and mixing them together into a cohesive whole with forward momentum.  Our protagonist, Anya, is still mourning her father, still dealing with the fallout of an event to an extent that’s rare in superhero comics.  Her rage and sadness are palpable on every page, and Tobin excels at highlighting the unexpected details, problems, and necessities that always follow death: learning to move on in the place where the departed once lived, figuring out how to get by without their income.  As Anya copes with these and other issues, she’s accompanied and assisted by her friend Rocky, who knows what it’s like to lose a parent to a supervillain attack.  The growing friendship between Anya and Rocky, who is African-American, is one of the best parts of this series so far, especially considering how rare it is for two women of color to have extended conversations with each other in mainstream Western media.

That’s not the only instance of female bonding in the comic, however.  As Anya narrates her problems over the course of the issue, it becomes increasingly obvious that she’s talking to someone the reader can not see – and that someone turns out to be, appropriately enough, the Invisible Woman.  Sue has known Anya since she was a child, and when Anya confesses her Spider-Girl identity, Sue assures her that she already knew, and that she’s proud of her.  This approval and comfort from an adult mother-figure is exactly what Anya needs, and the scene between them is incredibly touching.  Sue also helps to solve some of Anya’s problems by granting her money through a Fantastic Four scholarship fund dedicated to Anya’s father, money that will allow her to survive -- and continue fighting crime.

With these physical (if not emotional) obstacles cleared, Anya is free to take part in the unfolding action plot, the hunt for those who poisoned Anya’s father and made the Red Hulk go on a rampage.  The Red Hulk is not a character I’ve traditionally enjoyed, but he’s used to good effect here as a target for Anya’s mixed emotions and a mouthpiece for the issue’s necessary exposition.  The unpowered Anya’s complete lack of fear in the face of the near-omnipotent monster she blames for her father’s death is especially awe-inspiring, and I look forward to seeing them team up to take down the bad guys in future issues.

If the issue has one flaw, it’s the art, which is parceled out in some unspecified way between three different men.  While all of them are skilled artists, their styles fail to mesh, and inconsistent coloring on the part of Chris Sotomayor doesn’t help matters.  Anya’s hair color, hair length, and facial features change constantly throughout the comic, with no clear divisions within the narrative to ease the transitions, and she looks at least ten years older in some scenes than she does in others.  While a new, precariously-positioned book like this one likely wouldn’t survive delays, the multiple-artist compromise for the sake of speed has been used to much greater effect in other books.

Overall, though, the split focuses on grief, female bonding, and superhero action make Spider-Girl #3 an incredibly strong issue that successfully ties together its two disparate antecedents.  I look forward to seeing where this forward momentum will take the book in the future, over the course of what will hopefully be many, many issues to come.

Ivy

Written and Drawn by Sarah Oleksyk

Published by Oni Press

Review by Lan Pitts

"I just imagined all the best parts of you...wish I could do that for myself."

Nobody ever said adolescence was easy.

Highschool student Ivy Stenova lives in a small town in Maine and dreams big of becoming a famous artist. She excels at painting and would be considered "alternative". There's no real time setting to this, but I would assume sometime in the early to mid-90's. There are no cell phones, and people still used cassettes. Though the time period is insignificant to the story, as this is really a timeless story. Rebellion, troubled relationships with one's parents, the longing to just run away and never return...all of those things I'm sure most people deal with sooner or later.

Ivy isn't popular, but has a couple of friends: Brad and Marisa, whose friendship goes through an evolution throughout the story and tested. On a visit to Boston to check out local art colleges, Ivy meets a young man named Josh, who appears to be a kindred spirit. Like most teens, she falls head-over-heels in love with him and they become pen pals (another indicator this is a time before email). It is also here that the strands of friendship begin to wear with Marisa. It's also where Ivy get a taste in reality as art school after art school rejects her portfolio and offers advice. She's finally given an application into an art school and could not be happier about that. One problem: her mother isn't too keen on her going to an art school. That's putting it lightly.

Ivy's mother does not approve of her daughter enrolling into an art school and supposedly wasting her life. Of course, Ivy responds with shutting her mother out of her life even more and vents her frustration into her art. While her infatuation and relationship with Josh becomes more intimate, other aspects of her life begin to crumble, namely her friendships with Marisa and Brad (whose father is an abusive drunk).

The interesting part for me was seeing Ivy lose herself after meeting Josh. He is, what could be defined as, the catalyst for her transformation. She starts using drugs and her friends start to leave her behind. When she is accepted into her school, which her mother finds out about. Both frustrated, a fist fight ensues with Ivy running away to Josh. Of course this is where her life takes a turn for the adventurous, and somewhat dangerous. With hardly any money the two runaway together and hitchhike to Georgia, but being turned away by Josh's brother, since Josh isn't exactly a saint and had stolen some money to get as far as they did. Desperate, the two hide out in an abandoned house.

Around Chapter 5 is when Ivy realizes her mistake. She can runaway from her friends and family, but she can only blame so much of her anger and outlook on life on them. The rest lies within her. We see what Josh is really made of, or should I say what is lacking as companion and partner for Ivy. He cheats on her, doesn't care about her, he seems just to have this cavalier attitude about everything. All the while reading this, you want the best for Ivy, for her to find peace. Josh is certainly not the answer to that.

Ivy finally does find her way back home and mother and daughter are reunited. It's endearing as you can see the emotion through the characters, even with Oleksyk's simplistic style. The thing that I loved about Ivy was the fact I saw a lot of myself in her. That might sound a bit odd, but I had similar experiences that almost mirrored Ivy's story. The art and panel construction are sincerely incredible. From the way Ivy's imagination takes flight, to the last few pages with Ivy saying goodbye to a part of her life, it's all handled in a form of grace and sincerity that doesn't come along often.

While the central character is shy of 18, there are a few moments that are more mature. I'd easily recommend this from anybody who enjoyed such young adult stories as Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson or even Juno. Ivy Stenova and her world might be a work of fiction, but in actuality, come across as very real and possibly real for those who have "been there."

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