Best Shots Comic Reviews: JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK, HAWKEYE, More

Justice League of America Dark #22
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Justice League Dark #22
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Michael Janin, Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The pieces begin to come together in the third chapter of the so-called “Trinity War”, the DC event of the year that promises to reveal the secrets of Pandora’s Box. Spanning all of the Justice League books, the one team that never sat well with the name is perhaps the most appropriate to the crux of the narrative. A mystic energy as old as time itself is in the world, one that is potentially connected to everything in a post-Flashpoint world. While the opening pages of this chapter might negate at least one of the "shocks" of Justice League #22, it is perhaps the most fun outing of the event to date.

With this chapter, the reluctantly named Justice League Dark are drawn into the fray, although very few of their adventures seem to begin with willing. As Wonder Woman draws the Justice League Dark into her search for Pandora, the Phantom Stranger appears to members of all three teams and warns that it could be the death of them all. Lines are drawn and factions begin forming, and they don’t necessarily fall along defined team boundaries. Meanwhile, Madame Xanadu may not be as far out of the game as we were led to believe. The feeling that they are all being manipulated grows, but this doesn’t stop them from running headlong into the fourth chapter, where we will find them in the coming weeks.

While many events that run across multiple titles often slap a logo on an existing series and call it a tie-in, quite the opposite is happening in “Trinity War”. While the second chapter, in last week’s Justice League of America #6, put the titular team in a supporting role, Lemire ensures that his team are an integral part of the overall arc in Justice League Dark #22. Seamlessly integrating the often convoluted world of magic alongside the capes and heroes, the team finally feels as though they are part of a wider DC universe. Indeed, in many ways, this appears to be the primary goal of “Trinity War”, in that it unites the often disparate strands of the New 52.

Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #1
Written by Chris Yost
Art by David Lopez, Andy Owens and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Why would Otto Octavius need a partner, when he can just take on the entire Marvel Universe by himself?

With the first issue of Superior Spider-Man Team-Up, Chris Yost and David Lopez hit the ground running, as they produce an action-heavy, fast-paced story that defines this sinister Spider-Man's place in the Marvel Universe as a whole.

Part of what makes this comic so much fun is that Yost just dives into the action immediately - considering we've all been waiting for Superior Spider-Man Otto Octavius to revert to his villainous ways, watching him suddenly assault characters such as Cloak and Dagger, Daredevil and Doctor Strange immediately piques your interest. Additionally, having Otto so effortlessly take down these A-list heroes calls back to the main theme of Superior Spider-Man as a whole - namely, that Peter Parker is more powerful than anyone ever gave him credit for, and it was only his great sense of responsibility that kept him from reaching a more ruthless pinnacle of potential.

For the most part, David Lopez does some great work here as well. His take on Spider-Man is particularly strong, with his anatomy of the character reminding me a bit of Chris Samnee. He doesn't particularly go for flashy poses or composition, but his fight choreography does look nice - especially a page where Spidey is dodging a round of attacks from the combined might of the Avengers. That said, Lopez does wind up stumbling a bit towards the end, particularly with some awkward posing from Hyperion, as he stands on one wobbly knee.

While some people might see the end coming from a mile away, there's a lot to like about this first issue of Superior Spider-Man Team-Up, particularly the scale and stakes involved - this isn't just some one-off team-up, but a smorgasbord of cameos and guest appearances from across the Marvel Universe. Ending on an intriguing cliffhanger, this first issue nicely reflects the more sinister angle Superior Spider-Man has taken lately - given Otto Octavius's less-than-heroic tendencies, I'm excited to see what kind of team-ups he has in store.

Batman/Superman #2
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Jae Lee and June Chung
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Sometimes less is more. And sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Case in point - Batman/Superman #2. What started out as a showcase of characterization and artistic talent has already gotten muddled in this book's sophomore outing, as alternate universe tropes threaten to derail a comic with a ton of potential.

And that's a shame, because Pak's handle on Batman and Superman as characters is among the best I've seen in the New 52. Superman in particular reads as pure poetry, as he recalls his father's death: "His last breath sounded like a hurricane. And then the silence that followed nearly broke my eardrums." Batman, meanwhile, is younger and brasher than his methodical present-day counterpart, but that's actually refreshing - for once, the omnipotent Dark Knight can actually be threatened by crooks like Catwoman, and the tension rises when he recklessly dives into fights he can't possibly win.

But character isn't everything - and the plot is what hampers this book. We have "Year One" Batman and Superman squaring off against their modern-day (yet alternate universe) counterparts, and considering this book is supposed to be an easy entree for DC's two biggest properties, that is way too complicated for a second issue. The two Superman are decently defined from one another, especially as modern-day Superman knocks down his younger doppelganger with zero effort, but the two Batmen, for example, are almost impossible to distinguish. It's a shame, as Pak's original premise - seeing DC's most dangerous men spar for the first time - was plenty to work with. Alternate universes is a concept that, particularly after the relaunch of the New 52, DC should be steering clear.

The art, unfortunately, doesn't help. You know how I said less is more? Not quite the case when it comes to Jae Lee. When Lee is on, he is on - but for some reason, he relies entirely too much on silhouettes and unfinished artwork this issue. Considering the entire comic hinges on two different versions of the same character, that winds up being a problem - it doesn't matter how cool Batman looks when he launches a flying kick at Catwoman, or how cool modern-day Superman looks when he touches down in Smallville, if you can't tell which character is which. Indeed, more than half of this book's 20-page count is covered in black, which makes the storytelling difficult to comprehend. Combined with a lack of backgrounds, this is a rare misstep for one of DC's most talented artists.

Who would have thought that twice the Batman and twice the Superman would be too much? Yet Greg Pak winds up putting the cart before the horse with a needlessly convoluted plot, compounded by some messy artwork by Jae Lee. Considering how talented this creative team is, it makes for a somewhat frustrating time - while this book still stands above much of the rest of DC's catalog, you can't help but feel this book could be better. The World's Finest, this isn't.

Mice Templar vol 4 #5
Mice Templar vol 4 #5
Credit: Image Comics

Mice Templar #5
Written by Bryan J.L. Glass
Art by Victor Santos, Serena Guerra and Michael Avon Oeming
Published by Image Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Without a doubt, the previous issue of Mice Templar was the most gruesome and chilling story in the entire series as it brought readers down the dark hole of Captain Tosk’s past up to the present. Glass wisely fleshed out this villain, as Tosk will no doubt play an integral role in bringing this pint-sized yet epic story to its eventual conclusion. However, his decision to dedicate the majority of Issue #4 to this endeavor left readers waiting to discover the results of Cassius and Karic’s journey to the seat of the animal gods. And this is where this issue picks up. It is clear this issue provides a key piece of the puzzle to not only volume four, but the also the entire Mice Templar series; moreover, it appears to set Karic on an unexpected path.

One aspect I greatly appreciate about Glass’ writing is the understanding he demonstrates about the difficulties of telling an epic tale. Epics are narratives that are grand in scope and deal with a number of moving plot pieces, and when well-orchestrated, they come together in the story’s final act seamlessly. Having spent the bulk of the past issue delving into one player within his grand narrative, Glass holds off on diving into the action and provides readers with a re-introduction to the material. There’s no need to go back and reread the previous issues to get back up to speed as he provides readers with just enough context to pick up where the previous thread left off. It’s an effective technique that allows for a smooth and consistent reading experience. Moreover, this exposition does not come at the expense of interior, sequential pages unlike some other mainstream titles that apply this technique over the first splash page in a crowded and busy manner – or tack it on at the end of an issue in a forced way.

One party that has been absent from recent issues has been the priesthood in the Great Ash Tree, and the issue opens with bringing readers up to speed with the events transpiring amongst the corrupt priests and the truly faithful mice residing there. This scene provides readers with further insight into the relationship between its leadership and the mad tyrant, Icarus, in addition to hinting at future sources of conflict as the series creeps towards its inevitable conclusion. It’s an important scene as it reinforces the level of decay within the Great Ash and the desperate need for renewal from within.

Of course, the greater part of Mice Templar Issue #5 is spent on Karic and Cassius as they interact with the animal deities in the Otherworld. Both Mice Templar and the reader learn about the secrets behind the curtain, so to speak. While supernatural beings have appeared and their origins guessed at throughout the past issues and volumes of the series, much more is made known about the prophecy surrounding Karic and his destiny. In many ways, this scene mirrors the internal struggle taking place within the young warrior mouse, while Cassius reflects the reservations many readers will likely begin to experience as the scene plays out before him. I’m don’t want to go too far into the details as 1) It’s just too complex to summarize within a few lines, and 2) I don’t want to chance spoiling it. But know that understanding what happens in this issue will no doubt be integral to seeing the rest of Karic’s journey play out. And given Karic’s response to the revelation about his destiny, it’s like to take more than a few readers by surprise.

I mentioned consistency before, and it’s worth bringing up again. Santos, Guerra, and the other artists involved in this issue and series are absolutely consistent when it comes to delivering high quality artwork that does not come off as rushed in any way. Each member works to ensure the different mice are distinguishable from one another and emote as powerfully as any human character might (especially as seen in their eyes). I also really love how readers are immediately cued into the type of atmosphere, tone, and general setting simply through the consistent use of lines, lighting and color palettes. We know we’re in the realm of Bradan Feasa due to the bright lights and gold colors, just as we are also aware that something wicked this way comes when the shadows grow long in the chamber room of the Great Ash Tree and upon Karic as he and Cassius leave the cavern. It might seem like a small artistic detail, but inconsistency in the visual presentation of a story can quickly lead to reader confusion, and it’s not something I’ve observed in this series to date.

If there’s something this series and its creative team does right and deserves credit for, it’s delivering a generous serving of top-notch storytelling on time every month. This issue, like those before, recalls myths of the past in the narrative it weaves. Yet, as Karic shows readers here, it is not rigidly beholden to the heroes of legend who may have originally inspired Michael Avon Oeming and Bryan J.L. Glass when they originally started out. Instead, Glass finds new ways to tell these old stories of young boys and girls on journeys to become the warriors and leaders of their generation, and it’s done incredibly well. Image rightly deserves kudos for continually bringing exciting new comic series to readers, but it amazes me this series is not getting more buzz for the deeply rich and intelligent type of storytelling it continues to provide.

Hawkeye Annual #1
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Javier Pulido and Matt Hollingsworth
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Who is Kate Bishop? That's the question Matt Fraction's now Eisner winning Hawkeye asks as the title circles back to "The Tape," a story from issues #4 and 5 that focused on young Ms. Bishop, Clint Barton's protege/social superior. With the rivalry she started with Madame Masque coming back into focus, this annual takes the time to establish exactly why Kate Bishop is the perfect successor to Clint Barton, whether she'd admit some of the reasons or not. After the murder of a tenant in his building and the return of his estranged brother Barney into his life, Clint Barton is languishing. Refusing to be sucked into his spiral - and fleeing an increasingly awkward relationship with her father - Kate packs up her arrows and steals Lucky the Pizza Dog, and jets off to sunny California to make her own fortune. Despite Clint's derisive comment "Yeah, because the west coast totally needs a Hawkeye," it becomes clear that it's more like Kate needs the west coast.

And so begins Kate's second adventure against her accidental arch-nemesis. Matt Fraction has a clear grasp on Kate Bishop, and despite asking herself who she is, time and time again, it's pretty clear that she's every bit the resourceful, impulsive hot head that her mentor is at the best of times, and an unseasoned but eager young adult at the worst. Kate makes mistakes, she dotes on shallow cultural artifices, but when the going gets rough, she proves herself time and time again. As a counterpoint, Fraction establishes a side of Madame Masque that is rarely seen, taking her out of her mask, and bonding her with Hawkeye just enough that when her inevitable betrayal comes, it almost hurts.

Taking over for David Aja, who just won an Eisner for his work on Hawkeye, is Javier Pulido, who also illustrated Kate's earlier encounter with Madame Masque. Pulido is an accomplished story teller, and his grasp of characters rivals Aja's, though here he skews a little simplistic, reducing some of his art to principles so basic that it resembles a story book more than a comic. That's not all bad, as it allows Pulido to convey some very raw emotions in very simple ways, but it does feel a little off-putting at times, especially during the action beats.

While I hope that Fraction doesn't keep Kate and Clint separate for long, as their dynamic is one of the driving factors of the book's success, it is really exciting to see Kate striking out on her own, and truly living up to everything the Hawkeye name embodies. Gifted with her own shortcomings, and her own wild luck, Kate is the kind of female hero you rarely see, who dares to be feminine and girly, but is also uncomposed and rough around the edges at all the right times. As much as Clint Barton is the focus of Hawkeye, Kate Bishop is definitely the book's break out star.

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