Best Shots Reviews: PRINCESS LEIA #1, GRAYSON #8, ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #1 And More!

DC Comics March 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Princess Leia #1
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Kelly Richards
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Leia has lost everything - her home world, Alderaan, has been destroyed and her family are dead. Having seemingly lost the respect of her contemporaries, Leia has gone from being an integral member of the Alliance to no more than an asset, something not to be left unguarded, a prisoner among her own people. With no time to grieve, and the threat of the Empire continuing to grow, Leia must reconcile the person she was with who she must now become.

It is clear from the start that Mark Waid is giving us something we have never had before, Leia’s perspective. Although she always been present, she has rarely, if ever, been the focus of the narrative, let alone the star.

The pacing is almost cinematic and does not rush to force details upon the reader. Instead, Waid chooses to take his time and focus more on characterization. Waid writes Leia as stubborn and determined, exactly what you would expect from one of very few women in what has consistently proved to be a man’s galaxy. Paired at this point with Evaan, a pilot and equally tenacious woman from Alderaan, and R2-D2, Princess Leia looks as though it will be the first Star Wars book headed by a predominantly female cast.

The dialogue definitely plays up to the camp aspects of 1970s and 1980s science fiction with Admiral Ackbar mocking his counterparts and their "cursed human hands" and references to alien chemicals and atmospheres. However there are points where the dialogue seems a little off with the regards to characters that we are already familiar with, particularly the exchange between Leia and Luke at the start of the book.

There is something very graceful about Terry Dodson’s pencils and it is brought to life by Rachel Dodson’s inks. With incredibly expressive faces you know exactly what each character is thinking and the decision to keep the backgrounds fairly minimal draws attention to this. The panel of Leia pouting following her dismissal by General Dodonna being particularly charming.

Bellaire’s palette is delicate and complements the softer aspects of Dodson’s work and her layering of colour via paint splatter effects and halftones to illustrate the galaxy is definitely a highlight. The overlay of textures within the color injects a lot of depth, stopping what could be a series of predominantly gray panels appearing flat. Bellaire’s ability to imbue her colors with movement is further exhibited in the pastel colors of the projected planets in General Dodonna’s office which appear tactile and filled with static.

Princess Leia stands apart from its counterparts by being the only of the three recent Star Wars titles that is aimed primarily at a female audience. Accessible to those with no prior knowledge of the Star Wars universe, but not positioned in such a way as to alienate longtime fans, Princess Leia looks to be off to a strong start. However, at this point it is difficult to see whether it will be able to build any real momentum over its five-issue run.

Credit: DC Comics

Grayson #8
Written by Tim Seeley and Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Tim Seeley, Tom King and Mikel Janin end their first "season" of Grayson off right, finally assembling all the superpowered organs of the Paragon while revealing more about the secret life of Mr. Minos. But what's even more interesting about Grayson #8 isn't so much the creative team's confidence with their lead character - instead, this issue is really more about Spyral as an organization, and it's to this book's credit that the supporting cast proves to be just as likable as the former Nightwing himself.

Part of what works so well about Grayson is the fact that Seeley and King drop you into the story without a ton of exposition - and they trust the audience enough to not have to spoon-feed everything to them. The vast majority of this comic makes sense simply by context, and if you can't follow the general metastory that's been unfolding here - namely, Spyral's been picking up nasty, superhero-inspired organs and trafficking in the Justice League's secret identities - well, starting at #8 is probably not your best plan. But this issue starts off with a bang - or in this case, an arrow to the chest - and doesn't let up. There's a traitor in Spyral, and they've already taken out the Huntress. What's a one-time Boy Wonder to do?

In this case, it's dive into the action - but he's not doing it alone. That's the real victory of Grayson #8, and has been an understated strength throughout this book's entire run: Dick Grayson isn't the only interesting person here. In fact, I might even go so far as to say he's not even the most interesting person in the book. While we don't have his archnemesis the Midnighter running around with his snide insults, we do have a gaggle of teenage students hilariously ogling the main character. (There's a great running gag that has named Dick's Internet-famous butt, with one cheek being named "Jim" and the other being named "Juan." Who's to say we shouldn't have some objectification on the male side of the superhero spectrum, for once?) Meanwhile, Agent 1 acts as a great foil to Grayson, and Mr. Minos proves to be a complex character with some very intense motivations.

Artist Mikel Janin also continues to impress with this issue with his gorgeously rendered characters. While occasionally he relies a bit too heavily on thin, letterboxed panels, he's got a style that sometimes evokes Paul Gulacy's, in that his use of shadow evokes so much drama. Other times, Janin seems to channel a cross between Frank Quitely and Barry Kitson, keeping his characters fully lit and smooth with their features. In particular, a double-page splash featuring Grayson and Agent 1 bouncing around the page to keep up with Paragon is a great action sequence, and in general, the way that Janin choreographs Grayson's acrobatics is superb. Colorist Jeromy Cox also dominates with his trippy, psychedelic sequences featuring Mr. Minos - while sometimes he and Janin drop the ball with the blank backgrounds, it's ultimately a fun read.

With Convergence coming, it seems that there'll be a brief hiatus - think a mid-season break - before we see what happens to Spyral in the wake of this first season of Grayson. But what Seeley, King and company have figured out is that Dick Grayson's appeal is that he's fun. He's got the moves, he's got the toys, he's got the sex appeal, and when you combine that with the undercover spy games, you've got yourself a recipe for an exciting comic. Here's hoping they can keep this momentum up when Grayson returns.

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New Hawkeye #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Ramón Pérez and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

DC stalwart Jeff Lemire makes his Marvel debut with All-New Hawkeye #1 and unfortunately, it might not be what fans were expecting. Lemire’s work has always maintained certain themes; family, coming of age and loneliness are just a few that he’s gone back to throughout his career. Clint Barton is a character who is not only on the rise but also fits Lemire’s M.O. almost perfectly. So where does this one fall short? Well, it might have something to do with the timing (Matt Fraction’s essential run on the character still has yet to reach its conclusion) and Lemire’s relatively safe approach. Ramón Pérez is similarly afflicted. While it is definitely the best work that Pérez has done during his time at Marvel, it’s still a strange amalgam of his own style and that of incumbent Hawkeye artist David Aja.

Lemire chooses to frame his book with a look into Clint and Barney Baron’s childhood. It works as a way into the character that was only briefly explored in Fraction’s run. It also gives Lemire a chance to jump into some of his favorite themes very early on. Just like his work on Sweet Tooth, the more recent Descender and to some extent Animal Man, there’s an adolescent boy that is essential to the story. For All-New Hawkeye, we’re seeing the very beginnings of how that boy becomes the somewhat troubled hero with a giant chip on his shoulder. While this half of the book works in achieving Lemire’s goals, it has yet to really say anything that wasn’t said in Fraction’s brief exploration of the subject. But I think part of that can be attributed by Lemire’s decision to balance these (definitely heavier emotional scenes) with some good ol’ fashioned lighthearted superheroing. But the juxtaposition is a little jarring. An obvious connection can be made between Clint’s childhood and then how he does his job as Hawkeye, but through all the quipping and arrow shooting, the message gets lost.

It’s incredibly hard not to compare this run’s early stages to that of Fraction’s. At the end of each of them, they will be different books that have (hopefully) realized different things about this character. But Lemire’s pacing sets up an “if-then” dichotomy between Clint’s past and his present as Hawkeye that I don’t think sits well with the character. Fraction was able to recreate Clint as something of an ultimate everyman because his problems outside of superheroing felt real and relatable. By expanding Clint and Barney’s backstory, Lemire forces the reader to reconcile what they already know about the character with this retroactive continuity and it’s not a perfect fit.

Ramón Pérez is a great fit for this book and his work on the flashback scenes is truly inspired. The watercolor washes and nontraditional page layouts make this comic feel more like a storybook at certain points that anything else. (And to that end, kudos to to letterer Joe Sabino for ditching the word balloon outlines in an effort to capture the feel of those scenes.) But then we’re jolted into the present-day with more more modular designs that are much closer to the aforementioned Aja’s work and the book begins to lose a bit of its visual identity. Is it meant to be a brand new book? Is it meant to be a continuation? Was this kind of visual continuity required to ease reader over from one book to the other? The cartooning itself is some of the best we’ve seen from Pérez in both sections of the book his design sense is strong even if it doesn’t always feel very distinctly Pérez at points. I think the book really falters when the two different approaches are forced to blend together. The two looks are a bit too incongruous and while it’s not unreadable or particularly bad, it is odd to look at.

All-New Hawkeye is suffering from a little bit of identity crisis right now. Lemire definitely has a direction he wants to take the book in, but he doesn’t dig deep enough into yet and then drowns himself out by aping Fraction’s quick quipping on the superhero side. Pérez pulls something similar, letting loose during the flashbacks but then moving closer to Aja’s style for the rest of the book. The book tries to play both sides of the new reader/old reader coin to some only middling effect. If the creative team continues to cuckold itself by hewing to the one that came before them, it’s going to take a while for this book to find its own voice. If that’s the case, they’ll have to hope that readers stick by them.

Credit: DC Comics

Swamp Thing #40
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Jesus Saiz, Javi Pina and June Chung
Letters by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

“This is a story. And so eventually, there will be a final page.”

Thus begins Swamp Thing #40, the final issue in the New 52‘s take on Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s monstrous creation. Throughout this series, writer Charles Soule has thrown everything he could at Alec Holland and his ever rotating band of companions and in this final issue, it all finally comes to a satisfying crescendo. Swamp Thing #40 isn’t bound for instant classic status nor will it be the issue that everyone is talking about come Thursday, and that it more than okay. Soule and artist Jesus Saiz still deliver an ending that is wholly their own, managing to tie together all of the loose threads that have been neglected up until now, while still leaving the audience with something to chew on after the last page.

Swamp Thing #40 wastes little time cutting to the quick of the action. The finale issue picks up moments after the last installment with Anton Arcane having infiltrated the inner sanctum of the Green as the armies of the Mycos and the Machine Queen move to destroy Alec and his newly released Avatar allies for good. Charles Soules’ run of Swamp Thing has really made the most of the history surrounding the Swamp Thing mythos, having used characters like Capucine and other former Avatars of the Green to great effect. Now, as the forces of darkness close in around the Green, Soule assembles these Avatars like some sort of vegetable army, and for long time readers, seeing an army of Swamp Things march across the page should be immensely satisfying.

Soule also finally gives us the Alec Holland that we have been desperate to see for a while now; an Alec Holland of action, instead of one of indecision. Soule’s run with the book has been somewhat mired by his tendency to make Alec a bit wishy-washy when it comes to his responsibility and place in the Green as its warrior king, but here, all traces of that indecision are blasted away as Swamp Thing rallies the former avatars and Abby’s forces of the Rot into a single, deadly force. Soule has always presented Holland as a dimensionalized person throughout his run, hence the indecision and struggle against his destiny, but it is nice to see that in the final act of the series that Alec has finally become the Swamp Thing that he was always meant to be.

Artist Jesus Saiz, along with guest inker Javi Pina and colorist June Chung also send us out with more than a few bangs in Swamp Thing #40, giving this final issue multiple epic vistas and excellent character design. Saiz’s renderings of the different Avatars of the Green has long been a highlight of Soule’s run with the title, but seeing each Avatar, each with their own specific time-period and body make up, standing shoulder to shoulder as they march is really a treat and will probably inspire more than a few tattoos in the coming months. Saiz also throws himself into the action scenes with reckless abandon, opting to start with a huge double page splash of each army clashing in the Gobi Desert, only to hone in on specific moments on the next page, which also functions as a splash, but with intercut vignettes of specific moments in the overlaying panels. Chung wields the color green like a sharpened blade among the dull greys, scorching browns of the sand, and the shining blue-blacks of the Machine horde. While the art team goes for the gusto in this finale Swamp Thing #40 never feels excessive or cluttered, which is the truest mark of talent.

And so we have reached the final page for Swamp Thing and while the actual final panel may raise questions that only Charles Soule has the answer to, the comic that preceeded it is still a satisfying finale on all fronts. Soule filled some very big shoes when it took over the title, but you would never know it from the confidence of his plotting up until and including this final issue. Charles Soule just used the momentum that was already there from the previous writer and turned it into something that was wholly his own. Swamp Thing ended on its own terms and that, as fans, is all we can ask for from a title. Rest well, Alec Holland, you have surely deserved it.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Woman #5
Written by Dennis Hopeless
Art by Javier Rodriguez and Alvaro Lopez
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Don't call it a comeback - Spider-Woman's been here for years.

Over the past 15 years, Marvel's other, other spider-superhero has gotten plenty of love, but not a whole lot of consistency. She's been a triple agent juggling the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra; she's been an alien-hunting ex-P.O.W. clearing her head while working for S.W.O.R.D.; she's been Hawkeye's long-suffering girlfriend, Captain Marvel's neurotic BFF and a goofball Secret Avenger; she's jumped around across dimensions as a de facto addition to the Spider-Man family; and she's even been the butt of some major Internet criticism, following a very provactive #1.

But that's all behind her now. With a new costume, a new artist and a new mission statement, Dennis Hopeless has changed this struggling comic's tune with Spider-Woman #5, which will fill the spot left open with the cancellation of She-Hulk. It's charming, it's gorgeously rendered, it's down to earth, and it's exactly what the continuity-swamped Jessica Drew needed the most: a fresh start.

I think this is the part of the review where I owe Dennis Hopeless an apology. It's something I sensed after the first few issues of Spider-Woman, which tied into Dan Slott's "Spider-Verse" event. Needless to say, I... didn't like it very much. It's not to say that Hopeless was an automaton completely removed from the process, but let's be clear - the first three issues of his own series, Hopeless was not really telling his own story. But now that the shackles of corporate synergy are gone, Hopeless is off to the races. "After all these years of insanity... a little ordinary sounds pretty #$%^ great," Jessica thinks to herself, and she's not wrong. Hopeless is going back to basics here, bringing Jessica back to the streets and getting her back in the game as a private investigator. She's not tangled up in plot, but instead is given a chance to show off herself as a character. She self-doubts (she shame-Googles "Spider-Woman butt"), she screws up (by messing up a police exercise), she self-sabotages herself out of the game.

In other words, she's three-dimensional. She's not just defined by whatever high concept people think will make her a hit. She's a flawed hero in the mighty Marvel tradition. And it's long overdue.

Of course, I probably wouldn't be this kind to the book if it wasn't for the massive artistic overhaul it just received. Javier Rodriguez - both as a penciller and a colorist - elevates this book to must-read status, regardless of the content. And it's not just the more sensible uniform. In certain ways, his style reminds me of a cross between Daniel Acuna and Babs Tarr - in particular, there's a fluidity of motion to Jessica when she's roughing up a robotic-looking suspect, and the way he lays out his panelwork is in the same economic tradition as Chris Samnee or Cameron Stewart. There's one great sequence in particular where we watch Jessica leap up the side of a building, flip over the roof and land like her arachnid namesake. It's a beautiful silhouetted sequence, and it just shows that Jessica is moving to the A-list in more ways than one. Colorwise, Rodriguez also outdoes himself - in particular, I love the variations of blue he uses to portray a rainy night, as Jess's red-and-black costume (and her neon green venom blasts) really pops off the page nicely.

Spider-Woman #5, in a lot of ways, is the best and truest indictment of editorial interference in the development of a title - if Hopeless and Rodriguez had produced a comic like this four issues ago, Jessica Drew would be talked about in the same excited tones as Batgirl, She-Hulk, Spider-Gwen and Squirrel Girl. But with this massive turnaround in quality, Spider-Woman has proven to be fashionably late to the party. You'd be forgiven if you were turned off by this book's first arc - but it'd be downright criminal not to give Jessica Drew a second chance.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Arrow #40
Written by Andrew Kreisberg and Ben Sokolowski
Art by Daniel Sampere, Daniel Henriques and Gaeb Eltaeb
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

A far cry from the left-leaning hero to the little guy that he once was, Green Arrow seems to have proven to be the most difficult character to nail since the New 52 launched. Globe-trotting billionaire dilettante, playboy having menages with triplets, and a broke adventurer with familial problems are all hats that the beardless archer has worn in the last few years. Throughout Andrew Kreisberg and Ben Sokolowski’s run, both being writers on the successful Arrow television series, there has certainly been a more consistent tone to the character. However, it also seems to be one with a definite agenda of synergy, even if that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself.

It’s approaching “endgame” in Ollie’s war with John King’s seemingly endless supply of minions, and Team Arrow launches an all-out assault during the villain’s most triumphant hour. It’s an excuse for a lengthy action sequence, and that’s just fine for what is not only a conclusion to this arc, but potentially the end to the character in the New 52 guise at least. Viewers making the transition from the screen to the comic will find the presence of Felicity and Diggle comforting,

If Jeff Lemire’s recent Green Arrow run was comparable to Mike Grell’s historic run, both in tone and content, then the Kreisberg and Sokolowski era is reminiscent of the mid-1990s structure that immediately followed Grell. Both Grell and Lemire consciously kept Green Arrow in his own mythos, eschewing the rest of the DCU for character development mostly in isolation of super powers. That 90‘s period, dubbed “Crossroads," was distinctive for bringing random heroes and villains onto Ollie’s radar, and in Green Arrow #40 he is leading a small taskforce consisting of Arsenal, Katana, Emiko, Lex Luthor, Cupid, a purely perfunctory Batman, and the Arrow Cave irregulars.

The only problem with this otherwise cool scenario is that it is starting to smack of repetition. Many of the second and third season episodes of the Arrow series have used this same motif of a misguided powerful leader (be it Merlyn, Blood, or Brick) taking over a section of the city, requiring (Green) Arrow to join up with uneasy allies to form an impressive looking collection of capes. Indeed, it’s something that Judd Winick used effectively in his last run on the book, something that adapted to the small screen by Sokolowski earlier this year. The exciting return of Mia Deardon, the neo-Speedy of the pre-Flashpoint era, is hamstrung by an attempt to feed in the Thea/Merlyn dynamic from the TV series, setting up the notion of a would-be warrior with daddy issues. More worrying is that Kreisberg and Sokolowski begin to repeat their own dialogue in this issue: Ollie tells his double-crossing girlfriend “If it weren’t obvious...we’re broken up,” before she gets socked in the jaw by Felicity. This would be a totally badass line if it hadn’t already been used almost verbatim in last month’s issue as well.

Yet for all of its internal problems, the issue cracks along at a pace as well, bringing all the action of a live action episode to bear on 20 pages of comic bookery. Daniel Sampere has some stellar “blockbuster” moments in this issue: the opening shot of the “Team Arrow” ensemble, Ollie and Felicity ziplining up an elevator shaft and a lightning-infused final fist/sword fight with the King himself. While the costume designs have returned to the pre-Lemire artificiality that is characteristic of the rest of the New 52, it helps with the artistic consistency at least, especially given the rousing sight of Arsenal and Green Arrow fighting side-by-side again, even if it is only for a few panels.

Kreisberg and Sokolowski’s run has to date felt like the TV show they would have written if they had access to all of the characters in the DC universe. With next month’s Convergence event set to change the status quo, this issue of Green Arrow brings about its own kind of “convergence”, updating the comic to a point where it could comfortably run concurrently with the TV series, complete with its own versions of Felicity, Diggle and a surrogate Thea. As such, if this does end the New 52 version as we know it, it’s a logical conclusion, albeit one that treads familiar ground.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Guardians Team-Up #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Art Adams and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Long-time Marvel veterans Brian Michael Bendis and Art Adams form a dream-team of the creative kind to take on Guardians Team-Up: an ongoing series that marries concepts of the past and present to produce a fun and accessible book that fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will undoubtedly adore.

Debuting in 1972 and with Spider-Man as its central superhero, Marvel Team-Up provided a fun and unique spin on the traditional super-hero formula, pitting otherwise unrelated characters together for the sheer thrill of it. (A particular favorite story of mine lies between the covers of Marvel Team-Up #36, when Spidey met Frankenstein's Monster.) A few attempts to revitalize the concept have been attempted since that original run of the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, but none have managed to match the zany, anything-can-happen energy of volume 1. Enter Brian Michael Bendis, who offers a decidedly different approach with Guardians Team-Up. Running contrary to the canon-free, one-shot set-up of the classic Team-Up concept, Guardians Team-Up spins out of the current Guardians of the Galaxy ongoing and promises fully-featured story-arcs alongside the fun and novelty of watching the Guardians of the Galaxy crash-land into New York City and butt heads with that other Marvel mega-franchise – the Avengers – before coming together to overcome a shared threat.

Script-wise, Bendis continues to rocket down the track already built by himself, Dan Abnett and the hugely successful movies, attempting accessibility without ignoring current continuity. The Chitauri are the main villains here, presumably in an attempt to soften the leap from screen to page. (Before you start: yes, yes, I know they're a 616 species now, I read Nova too.) Bendis also demonstrates enough self-awareness to acknowledge the unorthodox nature of the current Avengers line-up to someone only aware of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (“I know the Avengers! This is not the Avengers!” barks Drax when the Guardians crash-land and meet Earth's Mightiest Heroes.), while offering a fun selection of character moments as the Earth-bound heroes try to quickly get to grips with the exotic nature of the Guardians. Working to Adams' strengths, Bendis writes a fast-paced issue of cover-to-cover action, which whilst exciting, also means that Guardians Team-Up #1 is a fairly quick read.

In fact, with its simple “bashing the action-figures together” approach and almost-constant pandering to new blood, its almost difficult to recommend Guardians Team-Up #1 to the fanatical comic book reader. (Indeed, Hawkeye almost looks straight through the page as he introduces Sunspot, Shang-Chi, Spider-Woman, et al to the Guardians. “...Black Widow you know...” he remarks, with a knowing grin.) For those of us with meatier pull-lists, its simplicity could be seen as detrimental. Although well-executed, this is the kind of story we've all read a thousand times before, so your mileage may vary.

Art Adams is on penciling duties here, reminding us all why he turned everyone's heads back in the mid-eighties with his attention to detail and keen sense for fluidity and dynamism. He works in synergy with Bendis, using expression and body language to great effect: landing the flurry of giggle-worthy jokes. One panel, which features Hawkeye's crap-eating grin at the forefront, is especially on-point and the action sequences are tackled with equal aplomb. You can almost hear the fanfare as a poster-worthy splash page heralds the arrival of the Avengers, and a giant-sized Groot makes for another memorable moment.

That said, it’s not always perfect. A few gangly limbs and hastily scribbled faces suggest that Adams was run ragged towards the end of the issue, but it’s the kind of thing that's only apparent under extreme scrutiny. Meanwhile, colorist Paul Mounts works with a heavy hand that often leaves Adams' artwork looking like the front of a cereal box. It's a major weak point that... if you'll excuse me... colors the entire book with the saturated feel of a mid-nineties eyesore.

In summation, if you can forgive the crude colors, a few dodgily rendered background beasties and the ever-present evocation of the MCU, Guardians Team-Up #1 is a witty and accessible start to what will surely be a fun addition to anyone's pull-list.

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