Greetings, 'Rama readers! Just when you thought Best Shots couldn't get any better, our review team has continued to expand, as we're joined by Kelly Richards of Comicosity! So let's give Kelly a warm Internet welcome as she joins your favorite team of crackshot comic critics. Meanwhile, we start things off with Marvel's new Darth Vader in an advance review:
Darth Vader #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Salvador Larocca and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
There are Jedi. And then there are Sith. To mistake one for the other isn't just folly - it can mean your complete destruction.
These are just some of the distinctions that Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca make for Darth Vader #1, a book that doesn't quite bring the heat of its sister title, Star Wars, but still proves to be a solid if uneven entry into the mind of that most fearsome of movie villains.
Gillen starts this book off by playing to Vader's strengths - namely, his fearsome lightsaber training and his utter capacity to intimidate using the Dark Side of the Force. This one-time Jedi revels in death and destruction, immediately beheading two of Jabba the Hutt's guardsmen for no other purpose than showing he's the biggest, baddest man in the room. When Jabba questions Darth's curious negotiating tactics, Gillen gives Vader a striking reply: "I have only killed two. Do not make me reconsider my generosity." It's these sorts of moments that make antiheroes so satisfying to watch in the first place - they don't hold back, and that leads to some particularly badass moments.
While in Jabba's palace, Gillen fires at all cylinders, particularly with a sequence where Vader shows he's not the type to rely on Jedi telepathy. "Mind tricks are not of the Dark Side," he says, ominously raising a black armored fist. "We prefer force." It's one of the best moments of the entire book - indeed, one that could be considered a defining moment for Vader in the same capacity as choking Admiral Motti back in A New Hope - but unfortunately, Gillen has to undercut his momentum by giving this story some context. It's a necessary evil to put Vader on a path to, well, anywhere, but it's like some bad-tasting medicine, as we go from Vader being the ultimate tough guy to being admonished by the Emperor (not to mention recapping the events of Jason Aaron's Star Wars comic). Tonally, it almost reads like moving from a Clint Eastwood gunslinger to Office Space - work politics are the worst, even a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Bring us more lightsabers!
The one element of this book that's questionable is the artwork from Salvador Larocca. But by virtue of an armored character like Darth Vader, much of Larocca's artistic tics in terms of expressions and character designs are only noticeable in quick bursts. Larocca's Vader looks particularly menacing with his vacant armored stare, and the fact that most of the characters are in masks works to Larocca's advantage. That said, occasionally some of Larocca's page designs lean a little too heavily on longer, letterbox-esque grids. The real issue with Larocca, however, is his action sequences. While he nails the static images of Vader utilizing the Force, the lightsaber battles leave a lot to be desired, particularly one panel where Vader's lightsaber uses a couple of old-school speed lines to show that it's actually moving.
While the second half of this book does stumble a bit, the hiccups in execution don't seem to detract from the potential that Darth Vader brings. Indeed, all the cultural cache that this uber-villain has amassed over the past four decades continues to pay off, as part of the magic of this book is getting to see the Dark Lord of the Sith back in action. Combine that with some great cameos from some other Star Wars ne'er-do-wells, and you've got yourself a book that may tempt even the most virtuous reader to bow before the Dark Side of the Force.
Wolf Moon #3
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Jeremy Haun and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Vertigo
Reviewed by Kelly Richards
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
With Wolf Moon #3, we have reached the halfway point of Cullen Bunn’s unique take on classic werewolf mythology. Our protagonist Dillon is once again closing in on the wolf. Following a string of unexplainable animal attacks to St. Louis, he moves from seedy strip club to crowded mall in an attempt to pin down his quarry. While I am willing to concede that this is among the more interesting and unique reimaginings of the werewolf tradition, its execution leaves a lot to be desired.
There is something quite jarring about the pacing of this story and the narrative moves awkwardly among the characters and locations. This could be an attempt to reflect the growing disconnect between our protagonist and the world in which he lives but this is not explicit. The dialogue suffers similarly, heavy on the exposition, and at times, somewhat stunted. It has a tendency to come across as predictable and lacking in authenticity, for example, Erin, a college student, complaining about having been talked into visiting the strip club says, “This place is skanky!” This does not read as though it were spoken by someone in their early twenties and feels uncomfortable to be attributed as such. In spite of these flaws the book still manages to create an almost palpable sense of fear in the reader.
Haun’s chaotic style, all frantic lines and expressive faces, works well to drive the tension, and his renderings of the wolf are easily the highlight of the whole book. With relation to color, Loughridge’s choices seem a little off kilter. The transitions between panels and pages are abrupt and there is little tonal synchronicity within the palette. However this does well to demonstrate the drastic changes in location both geographically and within the narrative. The cuts between the blues and greens of the first attack, the creams and browns of Cayce’s apartment, and the pinks and purples of the strip club over three consecutive double-page spreads are particularly bracing.
Keeping in mind that this is a horror comic and that it is aimed at more mature readers, neither the application nor frequency of the violence or gore present is unexpected or overused. However, one instance in particular stands out due, not only to its nature but also its usefulness in terms of the narrative. I refer to the images which show a disemboweled exotic dancer. While the images do highlight the psychological damage and creeping insanity the wolf causes its host, it very easily could have been rendered in such a way as to not equate violence with sex quite so explicitly. Additionally, the lack of representation found within the pages of Wolf Moon is more than a little disappointing. The handful of female characters present are limited in scope and lacking in agency, framed only as nagging girlfriends and easygoing sex workers. People of color are similarly overlooked, as the cast remains predominantly made up of white men.
Though not without its flaws, Wolf Moon could be viewed in very much the same way as so many B-list horror movies are: campy, gruesome, tongue-in-cheek, and most importantly capable of ascending to cult status with ease. When approached from this perspective much of what could be considered as problematic is transformed into a positive as it moves beyond the avenues of what some would refer to as good taste.
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
“How much worse could it get?” muses Clint Barton in the opening pages of Hawkeye #21. Clint, since the beginning of this series, has had a knack for taking bad situations and salvaging them into something at least halfway manageable. One could almost say it is his super-power. But, much like boomerang arrows, it all comes back to you in the end, and in Clint’s case, what came back was a metric ton of fresh hell. Matt Fraction, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth’s penultimate issue of Hawkeye has been a long time coming, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying of a read. What started out as a indie inspired look into the everyday life of the Avenger’s most unlikely member has evolved into a complex, tense, and emotional tale of a man just trying to do right by his family, friends, and neighbors and paying a heavy cost in order to do so.
Hawkeye #21 details the long coming confrontation between Clint and the Tracksuit Draculas for control of the apartment building. Now, on paper, this may not seem like the highest stakes in the world but David Aja and Matt Fraction wring every bit of tension they can out of this long simmering plot. The first six pages of the comic display Clint putting his affairs in order, both personally and professionally, as he takes protective measures, preparing for the scrap ahead. Hawkeye has been a book plagued with delays, but you would never think that reading Hawkeye #21. Fraction picks up Clint’s story line with ease, as if the release dates have never changed once. While the big blow up between Clint and the criminal element is the main draw of this issue, the emotional story lines, such as Clint’s fractured relationship with Jessica Drew and the fate of Simone and her boys also get just enough page time to feel like they matter. Hawkeye, throughout its run, has been much more than a story about two people with bows doing hero stuff; its become as much of an ensemble book as an Avengers title, so, to me, it was nice to see the side characters that aren’t actively participating in the battle of Bed-Stuy not lost in the shuffle.
This brings us to the actual battle itself, which takes up the majority of the issue, and hoo, boy, is it a barnburner. Right from the start, Fraction lets the audience know that we are dealing with a changed, laser-focused Clint Barton, instead of the screw-up goofball that we have come to know. Fraction uses Clint’s interactions with Barney and Jess to inform his actions in the ending set piece; Clint tells his brother that he needs him to be all the way in with him in order to last the night, but leaves him with a warning that if he screws him over that he will kill him with his bare hands. With Jess, Clint finally owns up to his indiscretion with the femme fatale Cherry, who also gets a single panel cameo, hinting at a final appearance before Hawkeye’s final page. But not only does Clint apologize, he finally seems to want to be the person that his teammates seem to see him as. For Clint, this is about a big of a decision that he could make, and for the audience, it is a much needed show of growth from a character that we have seen be a perpetual futz-up for 20 issues.
While Fraction’s script is filled with amazing human moments and pulse-quickening action, it is David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth that bring it all home with some truly gorgeous panels. Annie Wu has been amazing during her tenure on Hawkeye, giving Kate’s issues a breezy and fun look and feel, but this series started with Aja and Hollingsworth, and it is only fitting that they should end it. Returning to Aja’s blocky and minimal take on Bed-Stuy after spending so long in Wu’s sun-drenched California was exactly what the title needed heading into its final issue. Aja’s trademark attention to character detail and set design was on full display in Hawkeye #21, yet he still managed to throw in a few narrative driven bits of visual flair as well.
While they may not be as flashy as Pizza Dog’s grayscale murder investigation or the shifting timelines of previous issues, Aja’s title page rendering of Clint’s building and its fortifications and the multiplying headlights of the Tracksuits’ vans are still more than enough for readers to chew on even after they have finished reading. And, of course, when everything goes pear shaped, Aja and Hollingsworth are right there, making the audience feel every blow and black out with visceral feeling panels, aided by Hollingsworth’s choices of deep reds, heavy blacks, and sporadic shading. The final two pages of Hawkeye #21 are gut-punches in every sense of the word, but just when you think everything is lost, there is Pizza Dog in the middle of the panel, and with a single image David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth have given us a single ray of hope after more than a few pages of pitch darkness.
Clint Barton has known loss and heartache; sometimes he’s directly responsible for the fallout, but Hawkeye #21 shows just how good of a man Clint can be and the how dearly that can cost him. Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Matt Hollingsworth tapped into something special with the debut of Hawkeye and as the series barrels toward its conclusion, the title has become less about the lovable loser that pals around with Avengers, despite his normalcy, and more about a man desperate to do the right thing in the face of a cruel world. Hawkeye #21 is one of those rare comics that makes a reader feel a myriad of emotions from start to finish. It will make you laugh, it will thrill you, and leave you feeling breathless as you take in the final pages, but even rarer still, it will show you a character that has become something more than what he began as - a man worthy of his place among earth’s mightiest heroes.
Green Lantern #39
Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Billy Tan, Mark Irwin and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating 6 out of 10
To quote Kilowog, “We’re frayed.”
For a long time now, Green Lantern has bounded from one major crisis to another. Kilowog and Hal Jordan break down just how many dire situations they’ve faced and as refresher for long time readers, it’s a lot. But this issue doesn’t feel like the series is moving away from the epic scope of its many crossovers. Instead, it seems more that Green Lantern is taking a breather before jumping right back into the fray.
The latest issue of Green Lantern is one of the more self-reflective. Writer Robert Venditti uses Hal and Kilowog to express the continuous fires that the Corps has to put out, and how each one is greater in scope than the last. Venditti also tries to simplify one of the Corps’ major problems - its standing in the universe - by having the Guardians give Hal Jordan a new task, and one that involves good press rather than facing down another universe-ending threat.
But Venditti opens the comic with just such a threat - an event that sends major ripples throughout the universe, so much so that Constantine, Raven, and Shazam are all affected. So the switch to a simpler story is out of place with the events the precede it. Furthermore, due to the constant shifts in tone, the comic reads more like a hodgepodge of ideas rather than a connected and fluid story. A lot of the issues addressed by the characters are ones that certainly need addressing, and ones that could make for good storytelling, but put together in the same comic means they shoulder each other for attention rather than having a solid focus.
The one constant, though, is Billy Tan. His composition in the beginning helps sell the seriousness of the intergalactic calamity Venditti hints at. Tan’s focal points are a lot like a camera's and he has a way of choosing the right shot for the scene - particularly in the “quieter” moments of the comic. Hal’s conversation with the Guardians is cinematic in its use of angles, and the humor of the scene works well because of the point of view.
Also, one of my favorite things about reading Green Lantern is the creativity of the artists when they depict intergalactic beings. Tan does a superb job in the opening when Hal aids a group of miners stranded in an asteroid field. The scene allows Tan to be creative in his character designs, and the results are fun to look at. Of course, the comic is so clean due to Mark Irwin’s powerful inks and Alex Sinclair’s vibrant colors.
Despite my critiques, I actually like the pacing of the beginning of the issue. The transition between the opening and the rest of the comic, though, is jarring, but I’m sure Venditti has a plan. The Guardians' request of Hal Jordan is odd given the gravity of the prologue, and I can’t help but wonder if they’re as conniving and calculating as the previous Guardians (despite the comic’s insistence that they’re different). The answers will be coming soon, but with “Convergence” bearing down on the DCU, I’d think this story has to wrap itself up rather quickly. And given the urgency placed on the conflict, I wonder if we’re going to end up frustrated rather than satisfied.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #2
Written by Ryan North
Art by Erica Henderson and Rico Renzi
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Kelly Richards
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
With great squirrel agility, comes great squirrel agility responsibility. It also comes with a sweet tail, a super cute costume, and a squirrel sidekick, but hey, no big deal. Genuinely funny with a cast that is diverse in body type, race and species, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is something new on the Marvel, all-ages spectrum. No longer playing babysitter to Jessica Jones and Luke Cage’s daughter, Danielle, or living in the attic of the Avengers mansion, Doreen Green has enrolled in college and plans to be a completely regular college student with a conspicuously awesome butt.
As Galactus edges ever closer, we find our completely oblivious, yet totally rad, superhero superstar Doreen Green on the hunt for semi-structured social interaction (it’s how you make friends) and a proper college experience. Getting somewhat sidetracked and then completely enthralled by megahunk Tomas and his razor sharp cheekbones, Doreen is saved from falling victim to hot babe overdose and death by embarrassment by roommate extraordinaire, Nancy. But all that college normalcy can’t last forever, as our hero takes a trip to Stark Tower, looking for a ride into space to fight that biggest of bads – Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds!
When it was announced that Ryan North would be launching a Squirrel Girl series I was more than a little excited. Two issues in, and I am not disappointed. It’s genuinely funny, and laugh-out-loud funny at that. The dialogue is charming, and Doreen’s inner monologue is completely on point. As with his previous work, North elects to include amazingly tongue in cheek, fourth wall breaking, footnotes. While these aren’t exactly 100% necessary to the narrative, or the reader’s enjoyment of the book as a whole, they are completely hilarious and you are doing your brain a disservice by skipping them.
Erica Henderson’s style is completely adorable and when paired with Rico Renzi’s bold and playful use of colour takes on the feel of a Saturday morning cartoon. Henderson’s renderings of Squirrel Girl are just amazing, and the decision to show Doreen as so normal is utterly refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, Doreen is super cute, and curvy, and she has thighs that could crush dreams, but in an everyday, random girl you might see at the store, kind of way. As a random girl, this means a lot. Team this with all the little touches like Doreen’s bra strap poking out of her top, or the signed Speedball heartthrob poster on her dorm room wall, and you can really see the heart that this team is bringing to the book.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is cute and fun, and assuming you are in fact a human person who likes things, chances are you will enjoy this book. If you are a little reticent about the cutesy nature of this book let me assure you that The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is in no way a girl’s comic. This book is for everyone and I promise you, you will not lose dude points or catch girl germs if you read it. If anything, you will catch awesome - an illness for which there is no known cure.
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by Clem Robbins
Published by Image Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10
Something wicked this way comes.
Wytches #4 is Scott Snyder’s creepiest entry yet as he pulls back the curtain on both the Wytches and on the Rook family, however what we see is darker and more mysterious than we could have imagined. Gone are the quirky characters we met in the first issue. Instead, Snyder moves the story more into the realm of horror, delivering both the eeriest issue and best cliffhanger yet.
Snyder moves the story between past and present, and Charlie and Sailor. The pacing of the comic is absolutely brilliant as the story moves seamlessly between both time and space. We’re given the most information about the Wytches yet, but it’s very cryptic and very engaging. I love a good mystery, and Snyder is definitely defining his fictional world with a solid mythos that is intriguing, scary, and foul. We knew the Wytches were unnatural, but their purpose is clearer - and so is their payment.
Additionally, Charlie and Sailor’s relationship is more and more becoming the crux of the series, but we see a different Charlie than we’ve seen in previous issues. Snyder has dropped hints about the man Charlie used to be, but in this issue we get to see it. And it’s not good. We also see that Sailor is anything but weak. The past few issues, she’s really grappled with the Wytches and we’ve mostly seen a meek and frightened character (and who could blame her). Here, though, Sailor shows both her resilience and determination, and I’m glad to see the solid character development.
And the comic is so scary because of Jock’s art. Snyder has some great settings, but they’re all dependent on Jock’s art, and if readers couldn’t see it before, this issue shows just what a solid duo Snyder and Jock make. The establishing shots - like Sailor discovering where she’s been hidden, and Charlie’s encounter with the mysterious woman who attacked him last issue - are brought to life with Jock’s gritty, jagged style. The Wytches themselves are disgusting and Jock clearly tried to make them as unnatural as possible by distorting their shape and making them asymmetrical - and he succeeds.
My only critique is the “hero splatter” - the spotty watercolors that finish the pages. Sometimes, they distract from what is otherwise a solid visual on the page. This is mostly in the scene between Charlie and the woman who attacked him. While the scene takes place at an abandoned and wrecked cabin, the splashes muddy up the already dark imagery. They work well in the softer scenes between Charlie and his wife, but when you want to see what’s on the page -- without any adornment -- they become a hinderance.
This minor criticism aside, the issue is fantastic. The final line delivered by Lucy is a horrifying for how it leaves Charlie completely on his own, and this is in addition to the quest Snyder has outlined a for his character. Every issue of this series has been better than the last, and the depth Wytches #4 displays is more evidence of Scott Snyder’s abilities as a one of comics’ premier writers.
Detective Comics #39
Written and Illustrated by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato draw the absolute hell out of Detective Comics, but while their artistic vision is second to none, their narrative structure could use some work. This comic jumps all over the place as Batman tries to track down Anarky, and while Manapul and Buccellato begin to connect this masked terrorist with the frequent Bat-villain known as the Mad Hatter, it's undeniable that this book doesn't quite read as well as it looks.
To their credit, Manapul and Buccellato try to have Batman do some actual detective work in Detective Comics, as he teams up with Detective Harvey Bullock to try to track down Anarky's whereabouts. Unfortunately, like some of the previous issues, a lot of the steps Batman takes on his investigation feel a little too convenient or just plain difficult to follow, like Batman spotting a critical "blue house" in the background of some photos Bullock withheld from evidence, or Batman instantly recognizing "Hatter tech" based on one blood-splattered clue. (That said, it took more than a couple reads for me to get that - there's one page where the voiceover barely lines up with the action on the page - and when that's the page you need to make your plot work, that's a problem.)
But while the actual story structure is a little wobbly, you can't help but admire the facade. Manapul and Buccellato take chances with their page layouts that nobody else at DC can even come close to, and that rewards eagle-eyed readers, as this artistic team carves hidden "A"s throughout the book. Additionally, while some of the action sequences take a little while to warm up, there is a superb double-page spread featuring no less than 18 panels, showcasing the Dark Knight beating his foes to a pulp. With Buccellato alternating between cool blues and violets to pulse-pounding reds, Detective Comics thrives on its visual spectacle more than anything else.
Additionally, while I have some misgivings toward the plot as a whole, you can't fault Manapul and Buccellato for their overall trajectory. I've been skeptical about the inclusion of the Mad Hatter in this book, thinking that he distracted from the overall threat of Anarky. I still stick to my guns about the overall sentiment, but it's nice to see that Manapul and Buccellato are at least tying the two villains together, utilizing Tetch's skeezy history as motivation for these crimes. That said, the lack of focus is something that ultimately harms this book, particularly one as supposedly cerebral as Detective Comics - just when Manapul and Buccellato start to find their groove, like an Anarky-led riot in Gotham, they cut away, leading to a somewhat unsatisfying experience.
On the one hand, Detective Comics is a beautifully drawn book, one that's probably within the top five best-looking books in the rest of the DCU. The problem? Most of the rest of those books are also Batman books, which makes the bar that much higher when you're going up against great art and writing like Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman or Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Batman and Robin. It's difficult to take the time to really tease out a mystery in comics form, and Manapul and Buccellato seem to be trying their damnedest to show Batman as a thinker as well as a brawler. The end result is imperfect, but their overall talent as artists keep this book from being a wash.
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Ramon Rosanas and Jordan Boyd
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
The idea of the downtrodden superhero isn’t a new one, and has in fact been Marvel’s stock-in-trade at least since the first time Peter Parker had to juggle his superhero responsibilities with the difficult social decision of which brown sweater-vest to wear to school. Over the last few years, this has been elevated to the next level in Matt Fraction’s superb take on Hawkeye, focusing more on the everyday struggle on not getting kicked in the ribs by life in the big city. Nick Spencer’s Ant-Man pushes the notion of the pathetic superhero even further, with his Scott Lang, a one-man army against lucky breaks.
Scott Lang is the perfect example of the deadbeat anti-hero: indeed, he became the Ant-Man after stealing a costume during his days as a criminal. After turning down a lucrative security job with Tony Stark, Lang has moved to Florida to be closer to his daughter. In one of the comic’s more genius touches, he lives inside a toy house on someone else’s roof. In this fashion, he is set upon by Grizzly (the enemy of another Ant-Man who is wearing a bear exoskeleton), unsuccessfully petitions a bank for a loan by offering security solutions, and sets himself up to be sued by Iron Man.
While keeping in the same deadbeat mold as Hawkeye, Spencer’s sophomore issue of Ant-Man immediately distinguishes itself by still focusing on the “Astonishing” rather than the urban. Down on his luck he may be, Lang still leads a life of miniature adventuring, albeit one where even his own hero quips fall flat. For every victory inside the workings of a Nazi robot that spits gold, there’s an equally humbling conversation with the aforementioned Grizzly over burgers and fries. It’s this rapid juxtaposition throughout the whole issue of the amazing and the mundane that not only keeps readers on their toes, but sells Lang to new readers as a complete package that is worth investing some time in. The introduction of the mysteriously enigmatic benefactor Mrs. Morgenstern also begs more questions, and is undoubtedly leading somewhere unfortunate for Lang, but her hints at a superhero past may bring past eras of Marvel sharply into focus again.
From the opening pages, Ramon Rosanas gets the tone just right, keep the character design simple and fluid. Color artist Jordan Boyd also deserves a lot of the credit here, shifting the atmosphere from the bright and vivid Miami exteriors, to the more muted retro colors assigned to the Nazi robot or the noir he conjures as Lang stands on top of a street lamp at night. Special mention must also be made of Mark Brooks, whose superb covers ensure that this is seen as an A-List title. This month’s cover, with Lang trapped inside a Floridian themed snow globe, captures just about everything that makes this book work.
Bears, robots, and would-be assassins aside, at its core Ant-Man is a human drama, the kind that Marvel does so well. It’s terrific to see that despite several major characters now existing outside the confines of New York, the essence of that dichotomy remains. In fact, in the case of the Scott Lang version of Ant-Man, the “fish out of water” only serves to heighten this notion of the loveable loser, one that we will enjoy checking in with each month.
Written, Illustrated and Lettered by Jorge Corona
Published by Archaia
Review by Kelly Richards
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
The second part of Jorge Corona’s six-part miniseries Feathers begins as Bianca, having escaped the watchful eyes of the city guards, sets about exploring the maze with new friend Poe, the series’ titular indigo-colored wingman. Unafraid of Poe’s somewhat unusual appearance, Bianca draws a comparison between him and the City’s protector – The Guide – a beautiful woman covered in white feathers. Excited to learn that he may not be alone, Poe’s resolve to go to the City solidifies whiles Bianca’s desire to escape it becomes all the more clear. As Poe escorts Bianca around the city we are given a much broader view of the world Corona has created.
The real standout feature of this book, by and large, is the artwork. Every panel is absolutely stunning. The character design and would building is incredible and so rich in detail. The Maze is vastly populated, with all manner of people, no two alike and the differences between city-born Bianca and the street urchins known as the Mice is obvious not only from their dress but their posture and facial expressions. I could honestly spend hours just looking at this book, it’s so pretty. A decidedly muted palette, courtesy of Jen Hickman, teamed with Corona’s crooked edges and bricked up windows, adds a dash of early Tim Burton to the already overtly gothic, fairy tale essence this books emits.
The characterization comes through strongly in the dialogue. Bianca is as precocious as you would expect a young girl born to privilege would be and Poe is as eager as ever to learn about city life and protect Bianca from the dangers of the Maze. We hear snippets of conversations from guards and passersby and it is clear that every character is in possession of their own voice. That said, however, unlike the previous issue, this has failed to grab me. The pacing seems a little off, and as a result the story feels as though it’s dragging.
I also find myself a little disappointed with the direction of which Bianca’s characterization seems to be heading. It seems the more that we learn about her the more she begins to display the classic signs and behaviors of the manic pixie dream girl. Her current role in the narrative seems to be solely to motivate Poe to take risks, to come out of his shell, and to break free of the virtual exile place upon him by his father. #1 positioned Bianca as possessing far more agency than #2 has allowed her character to exhibit and I am a little troubled by this, hopefully my worries will be put to rest in #3 and we will see Bianca take on a role more fitting for a character as intelligent and energetic as she is.
Forgetting about the City and the Maze, the Mice and the guards, the story that lies at the center of Feathers is one of friendship. Friendship and the way it changes people, makes them better and braver and bolder. Both Poe and Bianca have spent their lives shielded from the outside world, whether due to fear of hurt, or respect of order. Ultimately, the result, is the same - Poe and Bianca are lonely. They are both desperately in need of a friend. Not only is this a book for readers of all ages, it is a book for outcasts. It is a book for kids who are looking for adventure and, more importantly, someone to share it with.
The Woods #10
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Michael Dialynas and Josan Gonzalez
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The Woods continues to be one of the strongest comics BOOM! – or any publisher, for that matter – is putting out right now. Between the fascinating setting and story that James Tynion IV has written, how he manages to balance between drama, romance, and tension, and the simply fabulous art from Michael Dialynas and Josan Gonzalez, it’s no surprise that even an issue without much momentum is able to still impress.
This issue’s purpose was primarily for exposition, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We get to learn more about New London, its history, and we’re able to get more of a sense of where this story is going to go. In the next few issues, that’s going to be invaluable since we’re constantly going to try and figure out how far the story progresses compared to where we think the story’s going to go – this will make us even more invested in these characters and push the momentum forward. Despite the slower pace of this issue, it’s arguably necessary, especially with the issues prior to getting to New London and how quick those were. Tynion is smartly varying the pace of the issues so that when he goes all out and this story moves, it’ll move. Regardless, the choices he makes to show us more about the culture are spot-on: showing us a library and how the mothers of New London love Pride and Prejudice, having the host family’s son taking a more active role to inject the colony’s perspective, and splitting the kids up to give them all a chance to breathe and show us how they’re coping with everything.
One of the best parts of the entire issue is the interaction between Isaac and Ben. Tynion’s able to give Isaac room to show his grief, show the insane capacity Ben has for empathy, all the while subtly pushing the plot forward to seamlessly transition in the next scene. Dialynas continues to do a stellar job with breaking down panels so that a tender moment has the ability to feel slower and more connected without sacrificing the forward momentum of the issue itself. Not to mention his character designs and pencils continue to be dynamic – very rarely is it that characters are standing still, whenever Dialynas draws them, they’re doing something and moving, adding to the cinematic quality of The Woods. It also helps that Josan Gonzalez continues to bring these pencils to life with his coloring – one of the most constant and beautiful aspects of The Woods is the ever present luminescent magenta and purple sky, which serves to remind us of how the gang is constantly in danger.
It’s clear that everything in The Woods has purpose and meaning. There are subtle instances where panels linger on certain objects or people that would otherwise be unimportant and it seems like Tynion is working with the art team to leave hints for us as to how everything connects. Hopefully in the coming issues, the current Duke of New London will be more fleshed out so that we can understand more of his motivations, especially as Tynion reveals more about his and the Coach’s plan for the school. Tynion already starts to do this, connecting the beginning of the issue to the end, showing that perhaps these stricter measures are necessary for survival.
These are the kinds of small nuances that push The Woods from a pretty good comic to a pretty great comic, even with an issue that feels more expository than anything else. It’s these characters that have and continue to keep us interested in the story; it’s Tynion’s structure and narrative elements that keep us fascinated with the plot; and it’s Dialynas and Gonzalez that beautifully render this world to help us see clearly Tynion’s vision and convinces us to stay. It helps that there’s a budding romance between Isaac and Ben, too, but it’s clear that we’re headed towards a confrontation not all these kids will make it out of alive. Let’s hope they last the night.