Best Shots Reviews: SPIDER-GWEN #1, BATMAN #39, DARTH VADER #2 And More

Marvel Comics February 2015 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Gwen #1
Written by Jason Latour
Art by Robbi Rodgriguez and Rico Renzi
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Since the big news of Spider-Man joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a lot of people have been second-guessing Andrew Garfield and the Amazing Spider-Man movie series. But say what you will about the shaky narrative structure, but the one thing that that series did right was it reintroduced the world to Gwen Stacy. Funny, intelligent and altogether determined, Gwen was the heart and soul of the Amazing Spider-Man movies, and it's only fitting that that would-be franchise died with her. But what about the millions of people clamoring to see more of Peter Parker's spunky girlfriend?

Well, that's where Spider-Gwen comes in. For those strictly entrenched in Spider-Man lore, they'll have plenty of Peter Parker stories to read up on, but for those without that overarching loyalty, Spider-Gwen is the best of both worlds. You get Gwen Stacy - who is arguably just as interesting, if not more so, than Peter Parker - while you still get the high-flying action and supporting cast of Spider-Man. With lots of great nods to Spider-Man lore told through the exciting visual lens of Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi, and Spider-Gwen has already hit the jackpot.

Following the larger-than-life drama of "Spider-Verse," it's a welcome sight to see writer Jason Latour bring Spider-Gwen - or as her universe calls her, the Spider-Woman - back to her street-level roots, as she's pitted against an even more savage version of the Vulture. There's a lot that Latour does right with his interpretation of the long-standing Spidey mythos, particularly as eagle-eyed readers might see nods to the Prowler, the Thing and the Punisher pop up through the first few pages, but ultimately it's Latour's sense of pacing that really keeps this issue interesting. He never really sticks around with any one topic, instead piling it on Gwen with the sort of manic soap opera frenzy that makes her seem even more special, considering how frantic her life is. And Gwen has a lot going on: her father, Captain George Stacy, knows her secret identity; her band has kicked her out on their way to indie stardom; oh, and the Vulture is on a rampage, having dropped a cop from six stories.

Who knew the Parker luck was contagious? Maybe it's just the webs.

You'd be forgiven if you think there's a ton going on in Spider-Gwen, but Latour tempers it with his snarky brand of humor. Little beats like Gwen effortlessly taking down her "arch nemesis," the Bodega Bandit - a Hamburglar-esque peon who literally runs off with the entire cash register in his hands - show that even with spider-powers and a sick costume, you don't always get respect. (Gwen's self-deprecation is especially charming later on, as she taunts the Vulture with bad puns like "Heisen-bird" and "Death from a butt.") You combine that with some fast-paced action, and if nothing else, Spider-Gwen is a book that feels streamlined and effortlessly likable.

Of course, a lot of that probably has to do with the artwork. Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi are on a tear with this series, from the kinetic linework to the out-of-this-world colors. Just the way that this team portrays Gwen's Spider-Sense feels electrifying, as green radiation emits from her head. Not only does Rodriguez make his action sequences flow seamlessly from panel to panel as he cranks up the speed lines, but his designwork continues to impress - for this issue, his take on the Vulture looks particularly inhuman, with beady red eyes and a chin reminiscent of a goblin-esque predator. Perhaps most impressive are the sound effects in this book, which are scrawled by Rodriguez as almost living graffiti - if Spider-Gwen is defined by her edginess, than it's only fitting that her entire world would have that same edge, as well. If nothing else, Spider-Gwen is a book that looks like nothing else on the stands, and it's a visual victory that demands your attention.

While occasionally some of the subplots can be a little weak - right now, the Mary Janes aren't quite ready for primetime, as an example - there's just enough of a balance between the familiar and the new to make Spider-Gwen a spectacular debut. By switching the mythos and having Peter as dead victim in their dynamic, Marvel has given themselves a backdoor to continue capitalizing on the best parts of the Amazing Spider-Man, even if that movie universe is now effectively dead in its grave. There is so much likability associated with Gwen Stacy - and so much uncharted narrative territory for her to grow and develop as a character - that, in retrospect, this idea seems long overdue. That's how you know that Latour, Rodriguez and company are on the right track. So do yourself a favor, and don't miss out on the best new Spider-book on the stands.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #39
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, FCO Plascencia, Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs and Dave McCaig
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The DC Universe is filled with some pretty low immune systems, but its not from a lack of a running bodies through its wringer. While the Amazo Virus attacks the heroes in the pages of Justice League, the same capes have been battered by a disturbing mix of the Joker’s own concoction in the last few issues of Batman. While conservative citizens of Gotham might be reconsidering their controversial stances against vaccination, Scott Snyder’s “Endgame” arc is rapidly making up for lost time as the unstoppable forward momentum carries us far away from the 12 months or so spent pottering about in “Zero Year”. As we see from the opening pages of this issue, it also brings us full circle back to where Snyder began his New 52 version of the Caped Crusader.

Picking right up from where the last issue’s twisty conclusion left us, with Batman pleading to the erstwhile Court of Owls for an answer, Snyder plays with time a lot in this issue. It’s a technique that keeps the best surprises just out of sight until they have the most impact, such as Batman’s unlikely choice of allies in the final pages. A fight with a 400-year-old Talon may prove to hold the key to the Clown Prince of Crime’s origin, but Snyder cheekily holds back a crucial answer for another day. Yet along the way, he is relentless in his reveals, some bloody, some simply flat-out cool. The new allies fall into the latter camp, although a vicious attack on an existing member of the Bat Family will have more immediate impact, and this will undoubtedly result in changed relationships in the near future.

Of course, it isn’t just the Court of Owls arc that Snyder is revisiting, with “Endgame” effectively being a sequel to “Death of the Family” as well. That does, of course, mean the return of the Joker, as close to the anarchic psychopath as we’ve seen in a while. Snyder’s implication in this run is that Joker may be something ancient, something other than a nutty enigma. Of course, in true Joker fashion, this too may be a fabrication concocted by the villain himself, an idea supported by the superb “The Last Smile” back-up story by James Tynion IV. In that case, the inmates are running the asylum, and Dr. Mahreen Zaheer learns the truth about her “research” into the Joker. Like most of these second features, it forms a symbiotic tale with the lead story, hinting that almost everything we have seen and learned so far is purely a manipulation of the Joker.

Artist Greg Capullo pulls out his A-Game here, or something even further above the top shelf quality he’s been running for the last few years. It’s not simply the standard of the art, but the range he demonstrates as well. There’s some unadulterated “goddamn Batman” moments as Bats brings down a model of Gotham around the Court of Owls’ feet with the deiberate flick of a Batarang. There’s the creepy progress of the Joker as he sneaks into the Bat Cave to pinch some memorabilia, and he’s only ever shown from his damaged “bad side” in any given panel. Yet there’s also psycho color carnival of one of the most messed up nostalgic parades in town, perhaps finally giving Bruce Wayne a reason to keep a dinosaur in his base of operations. Constrasting against this are Dustin Nguyen’s pencils in the back-up story, a Gothic display filled with shadows thanks to Derek Fridolf’s jet-black inks.

“Endgame” is about to rapidly expand and spill out into the other Bat-titles before it concludes, and this is a shame in many ways. Snyder’s arc has been tense and tight so far, stringing us along just as the Joker has pulled Batman’s chain. This is where Snyder’s storytelling excels, in these focused pitched battles between the Dark Knight and enemies that can truly challenge his supremacy as Gotham’s defender. Yet with only one issue of the main arc left, we’re left on the precipice of a story that has not simply returned the Joker to comic book pages, but one of the best versions of Batman, as well.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Darth Vader #2
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Salvador Larroca and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

There are few phrases more apt to describe this comic than “the Force is with this one.” It nothing short of impressive that writer Kieron Gillen is so quickly able to get us back into the classic Star Wars mood and make us feel for Darth Vader despite the despicable and deplorable things he’s done and continues to do. After all, murder, framing fellow Imperials for crimes, and pursuing our favorite farm boy are decidedly evil things to do.

Nonetheless, when the Emperor puts up red tape and assigns Darth Vader a new watchdog to keep him in line, we immediately start to root for our favorite villain. Though Gillen hasn’t started on any overarching stories, he keeps us interested by staying true to what we love about Vader and giving us a reason to keep coming back for more. Bottom line, whenever Vader enters a room, we know important things are about to go down and someone might not make it out of the room alive. There’s power in tapping into that feeling made iconic by A New Hope and Gillen takes complete advantage of it. We keep wanting to turn the page because we remember how it felt to experience Star Wars for the very first time - Darth Vader recaptures that feeling perfectly so you’re reading on the edge of your seat.

It’s nice to see, however, that Vader gets his own moments to shine as a force of good—as good as one can be when you’re the apprentice of the Emperor. These actions add depth and complexity to his character. They also make us think about all the circumstances leading up to these events and force us to appreciate all the history and backstory that goes into Darth Vader: how can he say “Have faith,” before saving an Imperial Officer when we know about all the times he himself didn’t have faith? It’s these kinds of subtle choices that add another layer to the story that makes it that much more enjoyable.

One of the most compelling aspects of this story is how different Grand General Tagge and Darth Vader are. From the first few pages, Gillen is promising us a rocky working relationship that will hopefully create wonderful tension throughout the coming issues. Though we only see maybe three or four Imperial Officers who aren’t in Storm Trooper armor, there’s a distinct lack of diversity in the cast of characters. It’s exciting that a woman will be joining Darth Vader’s team—at least based on the promotional image for Darth Vader #3 - and hopefully that will start to curtail the precedent set by the original trilogy in terms of how many women populate the Star Wars universe.

It would be absolutely remiss to have a review of Darth Vader #2 without spending ample time talking about the art. Star Wars would be nothing without the iconic visuals and art that brings it to life. Artists Salvador Larroca and Edgar Delgado are able to capture everything we loved about the original movies and both modernize it and make it their own. From the clean, crisp lines of the space ships and weaponry to the metallic and luminescent colors of technology, Larroca and Delgado make us sometimes forget that we’re in the middle of a firefight or any other kind of dangerous situation and immediately make us wish we’re in the Star Wars universe.

If you’re at all a Star Wars fan in any capacity, Darth Vader is for you. Gillen continues to make him a dynamic and multi-faceted character, giving him the spotlight in these character-driven stories that capture all the best aspects of Star Wars. Between the strong writing and the even more stunning artwork, this isn’t a book you’ll want to miss.

Credit: DC Comics

Gotham Academy #5
Written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher
Art by Karl Kerschl, Msassyk and Serge Lapointe
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Between Scott Snyder's critically acclaimed Batman run and Fox's hit show Gotham, the secret history of Gotham City has recently become a bit of a recurring theme for Mr Wayne and company. Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl's Gotham Academy has continued to mine that fast-dwindling well with its popular brand of high school drama against the backdrop of the DC Universe's eeriest private school. With #5, Cloonan and Fletcher still struggle to produce a believable threat to face Gotham Academy's bubble-wrapped cast, seriously hampering a gorgeous-looking book.

After uncovering the hoax of the spirit of Millie Cobblepot, Olive Silverlock discovers a secret labyrinth within the walls of the school. While exploring, she soon comes face-to-face with an unlikely ally: Killer Croc!

Cloonan and Fletcher balance Olive and co.'s adventures with the social demands of a busy boarding school. The snap-jerk way in which they switch from “Killer Croc On The Loose In School” to “I Need A Date For The Dance” is certainly bold and brave, but it's pulled off in a convincing manner. After all, Gotham Academy's cast is almost exclusively made up of high schoolers, and friendship anxieties can easily seem to overwhelm more threatening concerns at that age. Even so, the lack of any dramatic tension at all chokes the book's potential. Olive meets Killer Croc, Killer Croc turns out to be harmless. Olive needs a date, Olive easily gets a date. There are no tangible stakes, which is a problem that can quickly lead to reader apathy. What has Olive got to lose? Everything and everyone in Gotham Academy is working with her: even the welcome and unexpected introduction of a new Man-Bat turns out to be an ally.

Dialogue-wise, Fletcher retains the contemporary soap opera style that works so well on Batgirl, but whereas Batgirl seems rooted in our everyday lives, Gotham Academy is the height of fantasy – unfortunately, not the good kind. From its eccentric teachers to its seemingly unending coffers of glitz and glamor, Gotham Academy just isn't a believable place. Elsewhere in the DC Universe, Gotham City is a corrupted city filled with disadvantaged souls, and yet here is this fairy-tale private school for the elite. It's Hogwarts in Detroit, and it just doesn't work.

Killer Croc's appearance is another ill-thought addition. Far from the menacing figure of Forever Evil, this Killer Croc is a meek and dull creature who serves very little actual purpose in the actual story. Introducing himself as a friend of Olive's deceased mother, Croc reveals that he once promised to look over Olive, so he's been spying on her through the walls of the school. It's such a randomly out-of-character role for Croc, and it doesn't really play to his strengths of ripping, tearing and roaring. It just seems like another Arkham inmate or employee would have been a more logical choice for Olive's appointed overseer.

On a more positive note, Karl Kerschl's heavily manga-influenced pencilling is solid stuff, but it's the coloring team of Msassyk and Serge Lapointe that really makes this book shine visually. Their understanding of theatrical light-sourcing is clear, and the book positively glows like a glow-worm at midnight. Elsewhere, a palette of purples, pinks and oranges make Gotham Academy #5 stand out even on a cursory flick-through. Kerschl, Msassyk and Lapointe heavily favor background texture over character texture, which has the effect of making Gotham Academy's cast look like porcelain dolls amidst rubble. It brings to mind the elaborately painted backdrops of the Golden Age of Disney, complete with economically simple character models placed atop.

All in all, Gotham Academy #5 isn't a very compelling read. Cloonan and Fletcher's light-hearted approach has produced a light-weight comic book, free from tangible threat and consequence. Even the imposing man-eater Killer Croc has been reduced down to a harmless oaf in an appearance which conflicts a little with his usual characterization. There's no denying the craft that has gone into the visual elements of this comic book, but there's little here to recommend other than as a shallow feast for the eyes.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #15
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, Roberto Poggi and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Six months of “Spider-Verse,” and here we are. We’ve reached an epilogue after the last issue’s hurried and anti-climactic ending. Unfortunately, you shouldn’t get your hopes up that this issue picks up any from the last one. It’s not for lack of trying, though. Dan Slott tries desperately to give us a little bit of action and recreate some of the tension that existed at the end of his run of Superior Spider-Man. He even sets up Anya Corazon and Spider-UK for some further adventures in the upcoming “Secret Wars” event. But it’s the stakes of that upcoming event that make this ending feel frivolous.

It’s not even one of those books where you can get by on the art. I can’t say for certain that the addition of Roberto Poggi on inks is the reason that Giuseppe’s Camuncoli’s art looks less sharp than we’ve seen before, but that’s the only difference I can discern from the last few issues. Combined with a main setting that is completely uninteresting visually, the art only serves to help drag the pacing of the exposition down to a crawl. “Spider-Verse” was, by and large, a fun event that coupled a silly premise with exciting art with some big moments. Camuncoli doesn’t get an opportunity to deliver any truly big moments in this one, and colorist Justin Ponsor is restricted to a fairly boring color scheme, making this issue just as dull to look at as it is to read.

The narrative goals of this Dan Slott’s script are clear from the outset. He’s got to wrap up Otto’s arc regarding his knowledge that Peter comes back, send all the Spider-Men and Spider-Women home and tie a bow on Karn, the Inheritors and the Web of Life. But this issue reads like a visual recap page. There’s nothing in here that’s all that enthralling. The setup for Spider-UK and Anya Corazon for "Secret Wars" could be interesting but their situation could’ve been explained pretty quickly. Overall, this whole issue feels like an overly long ending to what was already a long, drawn-out event. Slott even rehashes a moment from the end of Superior Spider-Man that not only feels undeserved here but also undercuts the original moment. A lot of explanation serves to attempt to make some sense out of the aftermath but instead of well-thought out plans, it reads like hastily planned reactions to events that built tension in the plot.

When you’ve got a idea that’s as huge as something like “Spider-Verse,” there’s a lot of potential for success and failure. As a whole, this event hit somewhere in the middle. Following so closely on the heels of a mostly stellar Superior Spider-Man run, Slott couldn’t keep up the momentum and some of the work came across as stale because the concept was wasn’t as airtight. I think it might have also been too soon to bring back Morlun. J. Michael Straczynski's “The Other” storyline wasn’t all that long ago, and Peter Parker’s predilection for more science-based villains isn’t an accident. We’re talking about a bunch of made-up concepts that should allow for really any kind of story, but we’ve seen over the years that more scientific or even street-level villains tend to work better in Peter’s world. Slott came out swinging by introducing so many different Spider-Men, but as the Inquisitor’s motivations became muddled and they themselves tended not to really stand up to the rest of Spidey’s rogues, “Spider-Verse” lost steam. With so many ideas in play, it’s no surprise that we needed an epilogue to tie up loose ends. It’s just too bad we couldn’t get a better one.

Credit: DC Comics

Catwoman #39
Written by Genevieve Valentine
Art by Garry Brown and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The least flashy of all the Bat-book makeovers, Catwoman has nevertheless seen a renaissance under the stewardship of Genevieve Valentine and Garry Brown, who have done away with Selina Kyle's leather jumpsuit and over-the-top flirtatiousness and replaced it with a seedy crime drama in the vein of The Wire or The Godfather. However, like those high-concept dramas, there's a sprawling cast of characters and a complicated set of politics in Catwoman that may scare off new readers - but if you're willing to really take the time to read (and re-read) to parse through the plot, you'll be rewarded.

Since taking over the Calabrese crime family, Selina Kyle has become a different kind of animal in the Gotham underworld. Her aesthetic choices are the perfect representation of the tonal shift Catwoman has undergone - there's no more leather jumpsuits or cat-o-nine-tails, any more than there are freeze rays or fear gas or any of the other trappings of a Gotham cape comic. The costumed criminals may get all the spotlight, but Catwoman now lives in the shadows, where the real power players of Gotham City reside. Under Genevieve Valentine's pen, this comic is now ruled by backroom dealings, the sort of shady politicking of Gotham's crime families, with the only one even vaguely smelling of supervillainy is the scarred Roman Sionis, a.k.a. Black Mask.

For some, this change in tone might be a tall order - it's hard to believe that this is the same series that had Catwoman cartoonishly stripping off Batman's shirt at the end of the first issue. Whereas Catwoman used to be one of the more shallow books in the DC lineup, now it's one of its most demanding and complex. There are plenty of families running around in this book, lots of loyalties being questioned, and to make matters even more complicated, there's a new Catwoman running around, much to Selina's chagrin. On the one hand, the wheeling and dealing is great, and in particular, Selina's reaction toward an unexpected ally is one of the more interesting swerves I've seen in a long time. But that all said, it's still a lot ot take in. If you've ever heard someone complain about not being able to remember all the names in the Godfather films, for example, this is not the book for them - while Valentine offers a little bit of exposition, every panel is crucial towards moving the story forward.

You can't just fill in the blanks from the visuals, either. Artist Garry Brown will make or break the book for many readers - he stands in the footsteps of gritty Bat-artists like Gotham Central's Michael Lark or Detective Comics' Jock or John Paul Leon. There's a shadowy, angular style that absolutely builds up the dark and claustrophobic corner that Selina has painted herself into - but on the downside, that also makes several of his characters look a little too similar. People like Bruce Wayne and Selina's consigliere look almost identical from page-to-page, and if Valentine hadn't mentioned the daughter of a crime lord by name, you'd have no idea who was holding a tense meeting with Selina. It's another reason of many that readers might be turned off - this is a demanding book, perhaps too demanding, given the fickle nature of comic book fans.

But ultimately, if you're paying attention, Catwoman fills a more serious niche than any of the rest of the DC Universe. While other books ramp up the violence and the sex in the hopes of drawing older crowds, Catwoman actually treats its readers with respect, expecting them to follow the plot without spoon-feeding them details. It's a refreshing change of pace to many comics on the stand, even if it's not necessarily an approach that will award this creative team with smash-hit numbers. But even that feels fitting, in terms of Catwoman's mob drama - don't all good crime bosses rule from the shadows?

Credit: Marvel Comics

Uncanny Avengers #2
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Daniel Acuna
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

It all started with an idea; an idea that brought the heroes of the Marvel Universe together in a way that we never expected. Earth’s Mightiest would finally accept those who protect a world who hates and fears them into their ranks, and together they would be stronger than ever. While that didn’t pan out as well as any of us could have hoped, Uncanny Avengers is back with a whole new volume and a largely all-new team. Rick Remender and artist Daniel Acuna have gone the extra mile to make this new incarnation of the Avengers Unity Squad a wholly different beast than the splintered faction that we had before. While the roster has changed significantly and the current plot has taken a hard right turn into the strange, Remender still falls into the same traps that he did the first go-round, limiting the potential of the Uncanny Avengers yet again. This second issue continues upswing from the dour speechifying and constant misery that made up the previous volume into fun, fast-paced superhero weirdness, but still, Uncanny Avengers #2 is not without its flaws.

Uncanny Avengers #2 finds our Avengers Unity Squad once again splintered as they each deal with the High Evolutionary’s despotic grip over Counter-Earth. The previous sentence is everything good and bad about this issue. The good is most definitely Counter-Earth, and the High Evolutionary planting his feet as the main baddie of this first arc. The High Evolutionary has long been one of Marvel’s most underrated villains, and Remender has quickly found his voice with the character, rising him up as a self-important dictator who will decimate his population at a moment’s notice in his pursuit of genetic perfection. Remender’s villains, espcially in Uncanny Avengers, have really followed the old adage that every villain is the hero of their own story, and Remender’s take on the High Evolutionary certainly fits that mold to a tee. Take for instance, his speech to his populace right before he condemns them all to die. When he first starts to speak, he addresses them as a concerned leader, conscious of their plight and working hard to keep them comfortable and safe in the face of the invaders from Earth. But as he speaks, his words take a darker tone as he chastises his flock for having the gall to be born imperfect and to give themselves over to the lie of love. It is really chilly and sinister stuff, but Remender presents it all in an almost elegant way.

But just a great take on the High Evolutionary doesn’t a great comic make. The bad bit of that above sentence is still the splintering of the team, especially this early in the comic. In my mind, the previous volume of Uncanny Avengers failed to connect with a larger audience because of Remender’s constant need to put the heroes through their paces separately, as if they were all starring in their own separate mini-arcs, instead of pulling together like a fully formed team. The Unity Squad, finally and thankfully, did live up to their name, but we had to wait until the final issues of the series in order to finally see it. By then, readers had already given up in frustration. In Uncanny Avengers #2, Remender has fallen into that exact same pit; the heroes are all off doing their own things on Counter-Earth, and while I’m sure each thread will coalesce into one further down the road, it is still disappointing to see the same narrative tactic deployed with the same results. This run of Uncanny Avengers carries the logo of the new "Avengers NOW!" initiative on its cover but, still reads like everything that came before it, right down to the team not functioning as a team, or even being on the same page as one another. The whole point of this new volume was to cast off the baggage of volume one, but Uncanny Avengers #2 still is needlessly weighed down.

Despite the script for Uncanny Avengers #2 stumbling a bit, artist Daniel Acuna has yet to miss a step. In the previous volume Acuna delivered some of the best looking issues of the series and his stint has regular artist of the "Avengers NOW!" era has continued in that vein of quality. Acuna’s art has always impressed, and while he doesn’t have as much to do this time around, Acuna still makes the most of each page, injecting emotion and dynamism into even the most mundane of shots. For example, his work with the crowds during the High Evolutionary’s speech adds a level to the story that even three more pages of dialogue couldn’t add. With each shot, Acuna elevates the extras in the comic to actual characters as they exchange knowing looks when their leader addresses them. It is that attention to personality that makes Acuna such a standout addition to Uncanny Avengers. He puts the same level of detail into extras that he does into main characters and it is really refreshing to see. Acuna also knocks Brother Voodoo’s single scene out of the park by deploying a double-page splash, intercut with two establishing panels that never looks too busy or cluttered. Daniel Acuna has been a big selling point for this series thus far and Uncanny Avengers #2 is just another example of his talent.

Uncanny Avengers could be a really great comic. It has all the makings of one, for sure, and it also has a writer and artist behind it that is willing to push it into places that are unexpected and weird. That is why Uncanny Avengers #2 is disappointing. Instead of using the momentum from a solidly odd debut issue, Remender went with what was comfortable with diminishing returns. Instead of feeling like the new, fresh series that was promised, it feels like more of the same, wrapped in a great-looking package. A team book should function like a team book, instead of a book with seven leads that barely want anything to do with one another. We have seen these characters fractured, despondent and broken, but now it is time to make good on the idea that started all of this. Hopefully, in time, we can get there.

The Black Hood #1 cover by Michael Gaydos
The Black Hood #1 cover by Michael Gaydos
Credit: Archie Comics

The Black Hood #1
Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Michael Gaydos and Kelly Fitzpatrick
Lettering by Rachel Deering
Published by Dark Circle Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Dark Circle promised us storytelling inspired by the likes of HBO and AMC. Though Black Hood #1 might not pack as much excitement or immediacy we’d expect from shows on HBO, the issue nonetheless provides us with the start of a superhero story that seems like it’ll be more complex and character-driven than many of the other superhero stories we’ve been getting recently. Between writer Duane Swierczynski and artists Michael Gaydos and Kelly Fitzpatrick, and judging by the first issue, it seems The Black Hood is in good hands.

If there was only one thing to be said about Swierczynski’s story, it would be that it’s a solid start to a great character-driven story. It was good, but there wasn’t anything substantial to push it into the “great” category yet. By the end of the issue, it’s clear why Officer Hettinger does what he does. Swierczynski is able to organically create this backstory to make it believable, which allows us to suspend our disbelief. It was a smart choice to start with seeing the Black Hood as a man first and establishing his priorities. The ways Swierczynski includes these cues are seamless and have depth: having Officer Hettinger defending a school immediately makes us like him as one of the good cops. Seeing the altercation between him and the Black Hood gives Hettinger depth and a reason for his future personal anguish and struggle. At the end of the issue, when we really get to the superhero aspect of this story, Swierczynski already has us hooked with this character that we actively want to see all the trouble he gets himself into, how he deals with it, and how it impacts his personal and professional lives.

The creative team’s synergy is on point. Michael Gaydos is able to beautifully render art that matches the gritty tone of Swiercyznski’s story; Kelly Fitzpatrick is able to use muted colors that perfectly tie the tone together between the writing and the art. Even Rachel Deering’s lettering integrates seamlessly into the flow of the book. Gaydos takes advantage of classic and traditional layouts that echo the uniformity and discipline Hettinger emulates as an officer of the law. Gaydos’ approach to the layout evolves in the last two pages where he changes pace in his layout to only have four long panels and then a page spread at the end, which marks a transition in both the narrative storytelling and Hettinger’s evolution as a character. It’s those subtleties that make it clear this is a book that has an absolutely thorough creative team dedicated to bringing the best story possible.

One of the only drawbacks of this piece was that the actual exposition from panel-to-panel was heavy, especially in the beginning. It’s important to set the scene, absolutely, but there were pages like the first one where Officer Hettinger traveled on a motorbike - which made me want to breeze through the images as fast as I imagined Officer Hettinger to be travelling - but I had to stop and read through the long exposition. That dissonance between what’s happening visually and how long it took to read through all the information takes us out of the story, especially because we’re itching to get to the next page.

It was certainly a surprise to hear that Dark Circle Comics would be trying out a dark and gritty superhero story when so many fans have complained about an overabundance of that kind of story. It wasn’t a surprise, however, to see that writer Duane Swierczynski and artists Michael Gaydos and Kelly Fitzpatrick were able to tell the beginnings of a dark and gritty superhero without making readers feel emotionally drained afterwards. What the entire team accomplishes in The Black Hood #1 amounts to a solid start that promises a story about the complexities of taking up the superhero mantle while also dealing with the decisions you’ve made in the past. Dark Circle promised us great character-driven stories, and it looks like they’re set out to meet that promise.

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