The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1
Written by Ryan North
Art by Erica Henderson and Rico Renzi
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Huh. Whaddya know. She really is unbeatable.
Combining the skillful art of Batgirl, the personal problems of Amazing Spider-Man, and the sheer goofiness of Deadpool, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl proves that one comic truly can have it all. Even though Doreen Green has come from some very humble origins in the House of Ideas, Ryan North and Erica Henderson allow this quirky heroine to transcend her streak of one-note characterization, making for a debut that's as light, fluffy and fun as Squirrel Girl's nutty namesake.
From the very first page, you can tell that Squirrel Girl is going to be able to have her cake and eat it, too - instead of casting aside her gag-filled, over-the-top origins, North and Henderson lean into that comedic curve, selling a hilarious sequence where Doreen beats up a pack of muggers while singing her own, familiar-sounding theme song. ("Surprise! She likes to talk to squirrels!") But instead of mugging for the camera with groan-worthy gags (sorry, Deadpool), North is actually funny. He packs every page with either a clever joke or a clever sequence, including a beat where Doreen brains a would-be mugger with nothing but an acorn. Even the nooks and crannies of this book are funny, with almost unnoticeable jokes on the bottom of every page - I'm still laughing about "Ant-Man's Tiny Vans," "Ant-Man's Aunt's Flans," and "Ant-Man's Rejected Costumes (Off-Brand)."
This is all a very roundabout way of saying what you probably already knew: Ryan North is smart. Really smart. He's smart enough to turn a joke about Squirrel Girl's tail into a powerful body-positive statement, as Doreen just says tucking the tail into her pants provides her with "a conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt." (You go, girl.) Or Doreen realizing that just because she's a superhero with a secret identity, she doesn't need to hide her strength under a bushel. (You go, Tippy-Toe.) Or even Doreen's subversive, crochet-loving roommate, who rebels against unjust laws over pets and decorates with posters saying "Stiches get Riches." (You go, Nancy.) And that's not even including the very, very funny take on Kraven the Hunter, as North winds up completely subverting the necessity of violence in superhero fiction. Like I said before: smart.
You know what else was smart? Putting Erica Henderson on the art for this book. She's about as sharp a pick as putting Babs Tarr on Batgirl, as they share a similar cartoony style, one that goes light on the details in order to provide more flexibility with page layouts. The result is one smooth-looking book, as Henderson plays up as many sight gags as she can pack per page. Kraven swinging past Doreen's dorm is about as hilarious an image as you might expect, as is Doreen just casually tossing him into the air while she thinks about her options. Henderson's expressions are the highlight of this book, as Doreen is so goofy and earnest that it's hard not to giggle when she's surprised, angry, or has her cheeks smooshed together by Tippy Toe. Colorist Rico Renzi brings just the right light touch to the comic, giving it energy but never leaving it flat.
When a comic is this well-crafted, it's hard to not to be impressed. And it's even harder not to give out accolades, especially when you find all sorts of new details every time you look. It's rare for a comic to be this perfectly cast, and, to be honest, this great in general. Doreen Green may have conquered Doctor Doom, Thanos and Fing Fang Foom, but thanks to Ryan North and Erica Henderson, she's now well on her way to conquering readers' hearts.
Green Lantern #38
Written by Robert Vendetti
Art by Admira Wijaya and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Fresh from the sprawling space opera of "Godhead," Robert Vendetti gives Hal Jordan - and his readership - a chance to decompress, as the reluctant head of the Corps takes a trip to a planet he hasn't visited in a long time.
In many ways, Green Lantern #38 feels like a needed palate cleanser after all the relentless adventures in space. Green Lantern may be one of DC's top franchises and its lone hope of challenging the sci-fi dominance of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, but the truth of the matter? Space isn't all it's cracked up to be. Sometimes, space can be just as smothering. Sometimes, a little bit of humanity can go a long way. And it's that humanity - a concept as simple as "a Green Lantern walks into a bar" - that makes this comic enjoyable.
With Hal being censured by the Guardians of Oa, he's left with nothing to do besides go home and blow off some steam. But Vendetti uses this opportunity to ground Hal not only with an issue without his powers, but to bring in plenty of superpowered guest stars, as Guy Gardner and Barry Allen both join their colleague for some brews, some pool and the occasional bar fight.
Of course, there are some missed opportunities here - it isn't until the end of the book that Hal finally gets a word in edge-wise, as Guy and Barry just use this time to recap what's been going on elsewhere in Hal's absence. But once Vendetti finally gets going, he gets going, as Hal Jordan finally has to face up what's been nagging at him since the end of "Godhead:" the fact that Carol Ferris is in love with someone else. This is what we're really itching for here, underneath all those crazy aliens and interstellar fireworks: Some real human conflict. Some real emotion. And in that regard, Vendetti does deliver.
The artwork by Admira Wijaya is a decent fit for this issue, as well. His take on Hal in his costume is gorgeous, as he circles around the globe. However, once the characters get into their civvies, Wijaya is a little rougher with his inks and his expressions, occasionally coming off as a little pinched or nondescript. That said, his Carol Ferris is admittedly gorgeous, and her combination of beauty and sensibility really sells her as the girl that got away. Surprisingly, Wijaya's use of negative space near the end of the issue actually lends some real energy, which is good, as it offsets the overuse of brown and gray in Andrew Dalhouse's backgrounds.
Admittedly, this trip isn't all you'd think it was cracked up to be - a little too much of it is spent delivering exposition for other series - but the intention is right, and the landing has been stuck correctly. Sometimes some time at home is what you need to clear your head, giving you a chance to breathe with some simpler pursuits. Green Lantern could use a break from some of its rampant mythmaking, to give readers a chance to get reacquainted with the man behind the mask.
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Nick Bradshaw, Walden Wong, Alisson Borges and FCO Plascencia
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
Wolverine is dead, but we’re still kicking off 2015 with a book that bears his name. Ol’ Canucklehead affected many characters while being the best there was at what he did, and Wolverines throws a bunch of them together. But the reasons behind keeping them together are threadbare from the outset. Daken, X-23, Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike and Mystique have been kidnapped by a group of new Weapon X test subjects and strike a deal with them to ensure both groups’ freedom and survival. The key lies in Paradise, the compound where Logan met his end. Artist Nick Bradshaw is a good fit for this title considering the action that ensues, but some of his shot selection is questionable considering what writer Charles Soule needs to achieve. Soule’s narrative is bogged down by exposition and it robs the issue of any flow it might have had when coupled with a few artistic missteps.
The issue begins in medias res, giving readers a preview of the bloodbath that one can expect when reading a title about a group of mutants with razor blades coming out of their bodies. The big weakness comes from Soule having to explain how we got here. If you didn’t read The Death of Wolverine: The Weapon X Program, the five Paradise refugees appear with little context (that goes double if you didn’t read the recap page). So Soule does what he can to have the characters over explain their situation and the plot in order to make the title a bit more new reader-friendly. Thankfully, he spreads it throughout the issue, allowing smaller groups of characters to converse on their own in order to make it seem more natural but it’s hard to ignore the panels that are suffocated by word balloons. Soule also tries to make the introduction of the Paradise refugees as seamless as possible, but the dialogue in those spots comes across as stilted and forced. (Not to mention, it’s a little hard to believe that this ragtag group of, basically, brand-new characters could kidnap five of the Marvel Universe’s most hardened killers.) Soule does give us some nice character moments between X-23 and Daken though and the final pages are a surefire hook for the next installment. But getting there is a drag.
Nick Bradshaw is a very capable artist but some of his decisions work against the book. In an effort to inject more emotion into the script, there are a lot of close-ups and mid-range shots early on. Unfortunately, those are also the panels where Soule needs to provide the most expository dialogue. So the result is pages that are split between crowded expository panels and more wide-open in-between ones. It makes the book look a bit unbalanced in spots, almost like Bradshaw zoomed in too much in some places and maybe not enough in others. He delivers on the action, though. Bradshaw balances the large cast well, all things considered, and his Wrecking Crew is extremely formidable. I’ve always been a fan of his character designs, and this issue is no exception.
One odd artistic decision to note are the two pages drawn by Alisson Broges. They’re solid pages in their execution but they come at an awkward time in the story. To shift the art so drastically is jarring. I’d love to see more of Broges’ art in the future (it has a bit of a Jae Lee feel to it) but having those two pages kind of thrown in at a key moment did even more to work against the flow of the narrative.
Wolverines is a weekly series and as we’ve seen with the likes of Batman Eternal and The New 52: Futures End, that’s a pretty tall order for anyone. This title has the benefit of having all the main players in one place but that also puts the impetus on the creative team to really provide a tight story issue in and issue out. Soule doesn’t really get a chance to lay out the concept because the story jumps right into the fray. Obviously, we’ll see some slower issues as we move forward. But this issue would have benefitted from better pacing rather than trying to balance exposition for new readers and action for more familiar ones. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing task but the combination approach is a tough one. Wolverines is definitely a comic book made by some talented creators that is coming out this week and it definitely has a lot of characters tangentially related to Wolverine in it. It may live up to its name by the letter of the law, but the story just doesn’t live up to its legacy yet.
Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #6
Written by Robbie Morrison
Art by Daniel Indro and Slamet Mujiono
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Doctor Who can be a great many things. It can be a whimsical trip through the veil of science fiction or, other times, it can be a highly emotional journey into the lives of the Doctor and his companions. However there is a third thing that Doctor Who can be, probably my favorite thing, if I’m being totally honest; it can be a straight-up horror show, complete with terrifying monsters and circumstances. Titan Comics’ Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #6 aims to be that third thing, as it kicks off a brand new storyline after the five-issue arc that preceded it. Series writer Robbie Morrison takes the show’s most popular (and scary as hell) antagonists, the Weeping Angels, and plants them smack in the middle of one of history’s most turbulent eras, World War I. Just as a pitch, it sounds like a winner, right? Well, thankfully the end result of that pitch ends up being a creepy, Vertigo-esque first installment in what could be another fantastic Weeping Angels story.
While The Tenth Doctor #6 carries the fan-favorite Doctor’s name on the cover, Robbie Morrison smartly starts the issue off with a classic Who cold open that takes place light-years away from the Time Lord’s current location, seeding the audience into the world in which the story takes place. Framed with a soldier’s letter home, we are slowly established into the front and harsh realities of trench warfare as Jamie, our audience surrogate in this time period, and his comrade conduct a recon mission through a graveyard near their headquarters. As you can probably guess, things go very much pear-shaped for Jamie’s friend, as he encounters one the universe’s most effective killing machines in a particularly harrowing two pages. Morrison, clearly a fan of the source material, makes this scene not just a lead-up to the scare, but a scene filled with genuine humanity. Both Jamie and his friend are already full realized characters before the craziness starts, which makes the death of Jamie's friend feel more than just a hollow inciting incident. The Doctor said himself that he has never met anyone who wasn’t important, and Robbie Morrison seems to have learned that lesson well in his scripting.
Shortly after, the Doctor and his new companion Gabby arrive on the scene, not fully aware of where exactly they are. Morrison, clearly aware that a Who story lives and dies by the dynamic between the Time Lord and his companion, fills this scene with the proper exposition but never once makes it feel like a straight info dump. Morrison’s Tenth Doctor is a bit more stern than the show’s incarnation, which could be explained away as a post-Donna Noble hardening, but I don’t want to think about that because it will just make me cry through the rest of this review, and no one wants that. That said, Morrison still nails the aloof, quippy cadence of David Tennant as he susses out just exactly when they are and trades barbs with his new companion, whom has really grown on me as Titan’s Tenth Doctor series has gone on. Gabby combines the sass of Donna with the proactive compassion of Martha Jones, a combination that can only pay large dividends as the series continues. It isn’t all banter however, as Morrison also makes the classic choice to strand the Doctor and Gabby for the time being with a well-placed German mortar shell hitting the TARDIS. From that point on, we are just waiting for all the running... and screaming.
Morrison uses the entirety of The Tenth Doctor #6 as a slow build-up to a truly scary reveal that I would be undercutting if I spoiled here, but amid all the craziness, he never once lets the audience forget just how turbulent the setting is and will be throughout the arc. After the bombing of the TARDIS, Gabby and the Doctor once again take a backseat to Jamie, who has now been made corporal. While the science fiction/horror elements of the story are always there, boiling just under the surface, Morrison uses this second Jamie interlude to give us a Paths of Glory-like look into the hell that was trench warfare. Helping along in this regard is the Glenn Fabry-like pencils of artist Daniel Indro, who leans into the ugliness of war, not just in his depictions of battle, but also in his renderings of that characters. To say that The Tenth Doctor #6 is ugly may sound like a slight against the book, but quite the opposite, Indro just delivers exactly what the script asks for and does it with gusto. In the middle of the story Indro delivers a two page splash of a push over the wall that would be right at home in Garth Ennis’ Battlefields and the last thing I would expect to see in a Doctor Who title. Indro gives us an honest look into the squalor that was WWI, aided with a murky, mud-caked color palette from colorist Slamet Mujiono. Indro’s Doctor is a bit more craggy and wild eyed than the suave renderings of Tenth Doctor that we have seen before but it all absolutely works. The Tenth Doctor #6 is well aware of the ugly nature of war and just because its ultimately telling a sci-fi horror yarn doesn’t mean that it has to look glossy and pretty. I certainly didn’t expect that, but I can surely respect it.
The television version of Doctor Who can be a great many things, as I said before, but Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #6 benefits from taking the elements of the show and translating them onto the page, not with slavish accuracy, but with a desire to be its own property. Robbie Morrison and his art team clearly have an understanding of not only the structure of a great Who episode, but how that structure is applied in the best possible way. While The Tenth Doctor #6 feels and reads like a particularly harrowing episode of the show, its look is wildly divergent and much darker than what we have seen before. It is that willingness to try something new with the format that makes Titan’s Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #6 a great jumping on point for fans and the unaware alike. Fans of old can revel in the familiar, yet fresh nature of the story as well as the name recognition of the villains while newbies can see what all the fuss is about with an emotive and scary new story arc. It is a win all over; just make sure not to blink.
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Ramon Rosanas and Jordan Boyd
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
There's that saying about it's not the size that matters, it's how you use it. Well, Nick Spencer and Roman Rosanas have taken Marvel's micro-sized hero, and they gave him an A+ relaunch. Scott Lang - the man or the hero - might not be perfect, but you have the perfect start in Ant-Man #1.
Taking cues from the fan-favorite Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Spencer takes his knack for fleshing out flawed individuals and injecting a dose of humor and wit in them, making them more personable. I never knew a lot about Scott Lang, but here, he's so accessible and chummy it feels like I've known him about as long as Hank Pym. Lang might be the the latest in a line of Ant-Men, but Spencer gives him a first-rate spotlight to prepare fans to get to know Lang before the Ant-Man movie this summer.
This book feels a lot like Hawkeye's relaunch where it's down-to-earth characters in a world full of outlandish beings just trying to be the best men they can be. Being the best man includes also being the best father for his daughter, Cassie, formerly known as Young Avengers' Stature. There are some genuine moments Spencer lays down in which you really feel for Lang and how he's just doing what he thinks is good for his daughter and the betterment of her life. Sort of like a less selfish Boomerang, but all the while still the same sort of putz. There are some superheroics sprinkled in towards the end, but this acts like a view into the world of a man trying to find a balance in his life.
Ramon Rosanas is a name to look out for, too. Man, somewhere where Chris Samnee and Marcos Martin meet in some big artistic Venn Diagram is this guy. You have this slick linework that gives us both a wide range of expressions with a solid action and still have room for those intimate moments (ahem, not including one with Tony and the newly reformed Beetle) all wrapped up in one tightly-knit package. And I do mean tightly. There's a lot of exposition going on with Lang's narrative, but with a terrific lettering job by Travis Lanham and Rosanas' panel and page composition, you are getting all the bang for your buck with this first issue.
So I guess one of the big questions is, why another Ant-Man book? The simple answer would be because he has a movie coming out and they wanted fans to get reacquainted with Scott Lang and his world at large. Yet there's something else to be discovered here, and that's a father and daughter story, and being a dad in and outside his Ant-suit. What dangers and fun times ahead is unsure at this moment, but with this top-notch team on board, you need to score yourself a front-row seat.