Best Shots Reviews: EARTH 2 #25, BLACK WIDOW #7, More

Marvel previews for June 4, 2014
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has your back, with the latest reviews of the week! So let's kick off today's column with Jocular Justin Partridge, III, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Black Widow...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Widow #7
Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Phil Noto
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Christine Feehan once said that “The trouble is not really in being alone, it’s being lonely.” Natasha Romanov leads an intensely lonely life by her own design. But is this the best way to achieve her goal and to stay one step ahead of her enemies? Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto explore this thread in Black Widow #7, an issue that uses one of Nat’s defining relationships from the past as a contrast against her one-woman crusade to finally wipe her ledger clean. Black Widow has always been a character defined by her self-reliance, but as Black Widow #7 illustrates, this unwillingness to trust those around her may be the thing that gets her killed.

Black Widow #7 opens with a flashback to Natasha’s time in San Francisco when she was an even more ruthless character than the one that we know today. After carrying out a dubious errand for Nick Fury, she is admonished by her then-boyfriend Daredevil for her lethal methods and her comfort with lying to the man that she loves. After this quick set of establishing scenes, we find Natasha back in San Francisco for another mission that she may not be completely suited to complete on her own. Nathan Edmondson has never been shy about displaying Black Widow’s near-limitless capacity for violence and deadly pragmatism and in #7, we may be seeing the most ruthless Natasha of this current run. This isn’t to say that Natasha is now just killing people left and right like the Punisher, but she isn’t above putting a few bullets into people to complete her assignment. Edmondson illustrates this with a grim reveal after Natasha readies herself to infiltrate a group of cyber-terrorists. She showers, brushes her teeth, and puts on her makeup like it is just another day - right next to the dead man she's impersonating lying in the tub next to her. It’s this juxtaposition of the mundane and violent that makes Black Widow such an intriguing solo title. Like any good spy, Natasha knows just what to show the outside world and who to take out of said world in order to get the job done. It may look grim on the outside, but this pragmatism is what has kept her alive for so long. It’s great to see a writer and series willing to explore this facet of the character when others might gloss over it or leave it unsaid off panel.

Edmondson also uses Daredevil and Nat’s lawyer Isaiah to further explore both how far Natasha is willing to go and how far she has drifted away from her support system. Edmondson uses both characters as voices of reason in #7, but never makes them feel didactic or like they are talking down to Nat. Edmondson offers a lower stakes parallel to Natasha’s mission with Isaiah as he, seemingly on purpose, distances himself from his sister in order to continue to be Natasha’s support, citing that she “needs people she can trust in a world full of people that she can’t.” In order to do that, Isaiah may have to be just as alone as Natasha, is and while that may look sad to us the outside viewer, it’s also just the way that these people have to live their lives. Nathan Edmondson has taken what could have been just a generic spy story and injected mature thematic ideas into it, making it less tights and fight and more John LeCarre.

With his inclusion of Daredevil into this issue, Edmondson casts a familiar voice in order to air some concerns that the audience (and Natasha herself) may have. As Nat chases down and starts to work over a sniper connected to the larger terrorist network that she is after, Daredevil stops her as she is about to shoot the now-unarmed man. Matt Murdock knows Natasha probably better than anyone in the Marvel Universe, but here he doesn’t recognize the woman standing in front of him. He can’t read her heartbeat anymore, and he wonders if it is just because she has finally perfected lying to herself and to others or if she doesn’t recognize the difference between the truth and the lie anymore. Edmondson keeps Matt’s scenes briefly terse, never letting Daredevil overstay his welcome or dominate the story, but these scenes are used to maximum effect. These two characters have a long and sorted history together, but now, Natasha is a much different woman and Matt can see that. These scenes though illustrate yet another huge strength of Nathan Edmondson’s Black Widow, he has yet to shy away from just how messed up Natasha is. He doesn’t write her like a human train wreck, yet he isn’t afraid to let her faults as well as her strengths bubble to the surface. Edmondson gives us the good as well as the bad in terms of Black Widow’s character, and the title is all the better for it.

Phil Noto soars once again with the visuals of Black Widow #7, deploying several very effective establishing shots and quiet reveals to hammer home certain emotional beats. Noto’s work on this series has been stellar from the very start, but here, he plays with silence even during the issue’s main action set piece. As Nat chases the would be assassin across the rooftops of San Francisco, the panels are devoid of sound effects and other erroneous details that would be more than at home in other titles, but not in Black Widow. Noto’s usual cinematic style that he has used from the start of Black Widow is still in full effect here, but he also punctuates certain panels with stylish flourishes that add to the cinematic quality and set #7 apart from the issues that came before. In the scenes featuring Daredevil, a heart monitor’s ever-spiking line cuts through the panels as the characters speak, fluctuating with each lie told. While the comic as a whole is missing certain staples of comic book storytelling, Noto makes sure to pack each page with other visually interesting details that add to the noir-ish tone of the title as a whole.

No man is an island, but no one ever said anything about women. Natasha Romonov’s lone wolf attitude has long been a defining aspect of her character and one that has been used time and time again as her saving grace. With Black Widow #7 Edmondson and Noto take this attitude and present to the audience the inverse of this “strength”, subverting the expectations of the reader to back Natasha against a wall in order to show the audience just how far she is willing to go to survive and complete her mission. Black Widow is a jewel in Marvel’s solo title crown for a myriad of reasons. It’s always visually interesting and deftly written, making it a welcome addition to any pull list. But it’s the willingness to present its lead in an unflattering light, painting her as the complex, flawed, and dangerous woman that we’ve always heard she was that puts Black Widow just a cut above the other solo titles that Marvel is now presenting monthly. We asked for the best, and Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto seem fully committed to delivering it.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Arrow #32
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Green Arrow has really risen up the ranks to become one of the better books in DC’s publishing line under the guidance of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino. “Broken” is the start of a new arc that sees Ollie return to Seattle and inevitably, things have changed. To this point, they’ve spent a lot of time building up the New 52 Green Arrow’s mythology. Taking him out of the more familiar urban setting has given the character room to breathe and the creators have taken the opportunity to define who Oliver Queen is and why he must be the Green Arrow. With that foundation in place, putting him back in the city presents a load of new problems for the emerald archer and ultimately, it’s the readers who win out.

Jeff Lemire has a strong track record at DC. He was able to parlay his early success with The Atom and Superboy into a critically acclaimed run on Animal Man and subsequent work on Justice League Dark and of course, Green Arrow. The common thread in his work is opening up continuity and creating space for new stories. By taking Oliver Queen out of the city, Lemire was able to give New 52 Green Arrow a mythos more in line with other modern takes on the character (notably the CW’s Arrow) as well as put a less traditional superhero tale in the hands of DC’s readership. But “Broken” is definitely a shift away from that. Lemire has a lot of fun here. Ollie is only beginning to understand what’s changed while he was away and how his absence has affected the people that he cares about. There’s a bounty on his head, further putting his friends in danger and Lemire digs up some D-List villains to take on Ollie.

Unfortunately, that’s where Lemire’s work starts to flounder a bit. I loathe using a fight scene to give villains weight (see also: the first fight between Phil Urich Hobgoblin and Spider-Man) when Ollie should be able to dispatch them fairly quickly. And while Lemire has pretty much perfected Ollie’s snappy comebacks and somewhat flippant nature (the same airs put on by Nightwing, Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Iron Fist, The Human Torch, ad infinitum), his other dialogue is stilted and unnatural. Some of it is just lame. (The whole “you know what you get when you add three D-listers together...” bit is especially groan inducing.) But on the whole, it’s a fun issue. There’s a lot of action and the plot is moving forward nicely, including an exciting last page reveal.

Andrea Sorrentino has generally been on fire in this book, and while he cools off a bit in this issue, the coals are still hot. Sorrentino uses a lot of blacks to set the mood and it usually looks really great. Unfortunately, in this issue the art looks like some of Alex Maleev’s more heavily photo-referenced work at best and at worst, some of the characters are just human-shaped blobs of color with hints of facial details. Sorrentino also incorporates some of the more stylistic methods that have become something of a hallmark for archery-based books, throwing in retro-styled panels in order to relate a flashback scene. Overall, the art is consistent but it does feature a few moments where storytelling takes a backseat to style and that does take away from the readability somewhat.

Green Arrow #32 is a good place for new readers to jump on because it will feel instantly familiar (especially to fans of the TV show). Because Green Arrow isn’t held in the same regard as Batman or Superman, it gives the creators more room to tell different kinds of stories with him and take more chances with the visuals as well. To date, Lemire and Sorrentino haven’t been a letdown and while this issue isn’t up to the same standard as the last arc, it’s still a solid superhero story that has a lot of potential to wow its audience.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #12
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Steve Lieber and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Clayton Clowes
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

You had me at "Lenin mummies."

A year into the Marvel fold, Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber are back in top form after a few softballs and a fill-in issue. This issue does have a lot going on with the subplots of dealing with the Owl, the Chameleon, and the Maggia all coming together for one big payoff. Fred Myers, aka Boomerang, has finagled his way out of getting killed by all three, and somehow is both still standing and still the ever-loving jerk that he's always been. Even after a few months off, Spencer and Lieber give readers the goods that made us fall in love with this book in the first place.

While not the greatest jumping-on point, Spencer does his best juggling everything that has been going on with the series thus far, leading us down the ultimate heist, with some nice twists, turns, and new teammates along the way. Issue #12 feels as fresh, funny, and just plain fun as the first issue, giving a look inside what it's like to be a C-lister on an A-lister's rogues gallery. The chemistry playing off between Fred and his cohorts is as charming as it is just plain hilarious. Spencer also has some fun with other goons, such as Hammerhead doing his best Cagney impression (but trying not to overdo it in front of his goons). It's like the Ocean's Eleven of super-villainy.

Artist Steve Lieber makes all the action in this issue not really about the action at all. There are a few punches thrown, but it's how he uses everybody's body language and gives a sort of hint of realism but still with a cartoonish flavor. The bits where he's actually cartooning are just as funny as the rest of the book. The flashback sequence of Boomerang "explaining" how the Chameleon stole his identity is just laugh-out loud funny, you almost want to root for the bad guys. Color artist Rachelle Rosenberg is just dynamite here, too. Giving a slightly muted down with some minor depth, let's Lieber's linework shine and do its thing. There's a hint of an old-school vibe with the palette that gives the book a distinguished look and feel. Even the cover by Ronald Wimbley sets the tone as a '60s heist flick homage, and the book delivers that easily.

I hear that this book isn't doing so well, which is a shame as it's probably one of the best books that the House of Ideas has on the shelves right now. In the same vein as Fraction's Hawkeye or Kot's Secret Avengers, Superior Foes of Spider-Man is a great balance of Marvel lore, villainy, and comedy. The characters, while even in grand costumes and super-powered, are still just grounded crooks looking for that big score who don't play well together. This book, and issue, come with a large recommendation. Unless you don't like fun. If that's the case, you're probably not reading it anyways.

Credit: DC Comics

Earth 2 #24
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira and Pete Pantazis
Lettering by Dezi Sienty and Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

It's a war of the worlds over on Earth 2, but even with the hordes of Apokolips overrunning the collective might of DC's rebooted Justice Society characters, this comic is missing some spark. There are a few punches landed in this issue, but for the most part, the plot moves so slowly that it's hard to justify reading this comic in anything other trade format.

Tom Taylor splits this issue into two storylines, the first featuring Green Lantern and Hawkgirl rescuing the Flash from captivity, and the second featuring Batman and Jimmy Olson getting into an argument over the super-powerful Val choking during the Parademons' attack. Green Lantern's tough-guy posturing is probably the best part of this comic, as Taylor really conveys how powerful this guy is. That said, because we don't really care too much about Alan Scott as a character, the action is pretty standard beat-'em-up fare, with even the rescue of the Flash feeling a bit inconsequential.

Taylor's take on the characterization of Batman, Jimmy and Val is a bit stronger, even if his pacing makes the comic drag a bit. His take on Batman is the best of the bunch, as he dresses down Val for the death of Arsenal at the hands of Parademons. Taylor is good at teasing out some of the philosophical arguments inherent in this wartime environment, but I do think he could take a few more steps to back up his arguments - it's hard not to agree with Batman when he says that Val needs to grow a pair and enter the fray, especially when Jimmy's only argument is that it's "pretty amazing" for someone with the power to end this conflict deciding to stand away from it all. Uncle Ben, he ain't.

Despite what it says on the cover, Nicola Scott is not the artist on this book - but that's not to say that Eddy Barrows doesn't acquit himself well here. While his page layouts aren't anything to write home about, he gives his characters the kind of cleanliness and weight that reminds me of Ivan Reis - his characters look appropriately iconic, especially when we watch Hawkgirl slam a Parademon against a wall, or seeing Green Lantern coiling up like a spring, ready to unleash waves of green energy against his opponents. Sometimes, however, Barrows falters with his detail work, with some of the big splash pages, like the destruction of the White House, feeling wasteful rather than powerful.

Judging by his output in books like this and Injustice, it feels like Tom Taylor is a writer better suited for binge-reading rather than month-to-month installments. As part of a larger whole, I think that Earth 2 might be a more palatable read, with the breaks between action and characterization feeling a little less pronounced. However, as a single issue, this comic feels a little bit directionless, with long speeches and battle sequences stopping and starting and petering out just before they begin.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

The Woods #2
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Michael Dialynas and Josan Gonzalez
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Twenty-three minutes into the first issue of The Woods, a Midwestern high school was beamed to a moon orbiting a gas giant in another solar system. No one knows why. In the second issue, taciturn engineering-type Adrian Roth leads a small band of kids into the alien forest while the faculty tries to figure out what to do at the school. The problem with this second issue is that the story split in two, and only one of the new storylines is interesting.

There are plenty of good stories that James Tynion IV could write about the kids and teachers who stayed at the school. One of the best panels in that part of the issue shows the basketball court in the gym from above. The students sit around in clumps, waiting for something to happen. It looks normal and familiar but you know that the students’ feeling of safety has been shattered. Some students have already been eaten by things that flew in through the windows, and everyday comforts like running water are gone. We’re reminded of more ordinary horrifying things like school shootings and natural disasters.

But the story doesn’t zoom in on any of the students we see in the gym. Instead it dwells on the faculty talking among itself, and ultimately on a power struggle between the authoritarian Coach Clay and the student body president, Maria. Maria is a student but might as well be a member of the faculty — she comes across as a nag with no personality and no friends. She’s the one who knows what to do, but we don’t like her for it. The coach character feels just as concrete and flat as Maria does. He seems written to be sinister, with the suggestion that he has been fantasizing about turning the high school into a forced labor camp for a long time and now he finally has the chance. In light of everything the student body is going through, Maria’s power struggle with the coach feels stiff, procedural and beside the point.

The kids out in the woods must band together to survive in a hostile environment, and that makes this story come alive again. Although the characters in the woods are all stereotypes, they have a malleability that the adults (and Maria) back at the school don’t. There are a couple of girl jocks, a joker/burnout, a smarter-than-he-lets-on big guy, a chatty theater nerd and Adrian, who leads the group into the woods despite his lack of people skills. We can see that these characters have already begun to grow and change.

Josan Gonzalez’s colors also come alive in the woods and make us feel how strange everything is there. The story clicks through a rotation of flat solids: tangerine, teal, purple, moss green, dark yellow, and a deep sunset pink. Dialogue panels and emotional solo moments are often backed by a solid sheet of one of these colors. The backing colors make the characters seem like stage actors, adding weight to their words and emotions. Tynion’s dialogue and Michael Dialynas’s faces show how new relationships are forming. Tynion writes the kids with humor that isn’t always laugh-out loud funny, but will make you crack a smile. Dialynas uses just the right amount of detail to get across facial expressions and body language. We never forget that they are out in the dark woods, and the constant shift from color to color adds to our sense of the characters’ disorientation.

There’s a lot in The Woods to enjoy. Besides the rich use of color, the book has mystery, fun details, and some classic tropes that we love to love. I hope in the next few issues the creators can goose the school storyline while keeping up the momentum of the questing part of the story.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Miracleman #7
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Alan Davis, Chuck Austen and Steve Oliff
Art Restoration by Michael Kelleher, Kellustration and Digikore
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The word “masterpiece” gets thrown around quite a bit these days. It seems that nothing is simply “pretty good” or “passable.” Alan Moore is a name synonymous with the word. Since the 1980s, Moore’s works have shaken the very foundation of the medium with their constant barrage of ideas and densely packed prose. For the longest time, however, Moore’s great lost work Miracleman seemed out of reach for the majority of the comics reading public. Hailed as one of the best unread works of modern comics by those lucky few that had come across some of the long out-of-print copies of Warrior magazine, Miracleman’s first printed home, fans seemed resigned to the fact that it may be one of those runs of comics that they would only get to hear about instead of experiencing. But with Marvel’s recent restoration and reprinting of the series, fans are finally getting to experience Miracleman as if it’s being published brand new today. Now fans are finally seeing Miracleman for what it truly is - a masterpiece in every sense of the word.

Miracleman #7, the second installment in the second act of the series entitled The Red King Syndrome, finds the evil Dr. Gargunza recounting to Liz Moran the details of Miracleman’s origins, as well as the source of Project Zarathustra’s first breakthrough, a crashed alien ship which contained an alien life form capable of splitting its body apart while sharing one mind. As Gargunza delivers the exposition, Miracleman and the enigmatic Mr. Cream rip through Gargunza’s defenses in order to save Mrs. Moran and her unborn baby. Miracleman may have started slow and steady with its action and exposition, but now with #7 (and The Red King Syndrome as a whole), the title seems to be moving along at a barreling pace, with the action coming just as fast as the exposition reveals. As Gargunza recounts the origin of the Miracleman Family, he also reveals his true ultimate goal of living forever in a perfect body, a standard mad scientist’s goal thwarted by Gargunza’s advanced age.

Since Moore has had plenty of time to develop Miracleman, Book Two has been primarily Gargunza’s time to shine. Moore takes what was once a standard mad scientist character in the original Mick Anglo Miracleman strips and twists him into a power hungry, yet wholly human enemy for the god-like Miracleman. Gargunza aims to conquer death itself, and will go to any lengths to achieve this goal. This includes planning to use Miracleman and Liz’s unborn baby as his genetic template for his continued youth and power. Moore, a writer who has always upturned reader expectations, also uses this issue to inject a hefty dose of comic book weirdness into the title, which has largely played much of it’s events deadly straight. Miracleman #7 features Gargunza, and Moore, finally cutting loose with the comic book villainy as he strips Miracleman of his powers (using the inversion of Miracleman's special magic word) and then sets a monstrous housecat on Moran and Cream. Miracleman has been a stellar series since the opening issue, but #7 feels like a true paradigm shift for the title going forward as it’s scale is widened and it’s tone shifts from realism to a thoughtfully epic superhero yarn.

The art of Miracleman is also interesting to discuss, because instead of dealing with an issue that was drawn recently, these issues have been overhauled from top to bottom in order to give the book the look and feel of a modern comic. In this regard, Miracleman #7 is another triumph for Michael Kelleher and his restoration company, Kellustration. The restoration team makes the pencils of Alan Davis and Chuck Austen look as if they were laid down a mere month ago instead of decades ago. The restoration though doesn’t take anything away from the power of the original pencils, however. Instead, Kelleher and his team add a sheen of museum-quality shine to the artwork, presenting it like it should be in gloriously bright color instead of the yellowed paper of old reprints. David and Austen did incredible art back in the day, but Kelleher and his team made sure that Miracleman’s new audience sees the series as it was meant to be seen, in fantastic Technicolor panels.

Alan Moore has a plethora of titles in his bibliography that one could argue as his masterpiece: Watchmen, From Hell, Top Ten, the list goes on and on. But now, we are finally getting a chance to experience one of his seminal works with fresh eyes. Moore’s comic work has become so sporadic that even the smallest bits of new material is a gift to fans across the world, but with Miracleman we not only get something new of Moore’s to chew on, but we get a work that feels much more raw and fresh than the rest of his past works. This is Moore before the word “masterpiece” followed him around. This is Moore before the legend overtook the writer. This is Miracleman and it has every right to be called a true masterpiece. .

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