Greetings 'Rama fans, Aaron Duran here filling in for our reviews editor David Pepose! Are you ready for a tasty does of Monday reviews? You better believe you are, and this week we kick off the column with Erika D. Peterman and her views on everyone's favorite rebel with Princess Leia #1...
Princess Leia #1
Published by Marvel Comics
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Review by Erika D. Peterman
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Luke Skywalker's journey from farm boy to Jedi gets all the glory in the original S" films, but for my money, no one carries a heavier emotional weight in Episode IV than Princess Leia. Though loss comes with the territory of defying the Empire, watching your home planet be blown to dust is the ultimate character-defining moment. However, Star Wars never paused to explore or even acknowledge the princess' state of mind in the aftermath.
In Princess Leia #1, writer Mark Waid begins filling in that huge storytelling gap by picking up shortly after the rebels' victory in the Battle of Yavin. During the throne room ceremony, Leia makes the briefest reference to Alderaan's destruction by asking for a moment of silence. To some in the audience, the gesture comes across as ice cold. "That's all she has to say?" one observer grouses. But Leia's silence is deceptive. There's plenty going on beneath that steely surface.
Waid shows us that Leia is first and foremost a woman of action who isn't content to be a royal figurehead. She wants to do more than sink into what would surely be all-consuming grief. Leia seeks a hands-on role in the rebellion but is stonewalled by the well-meaning General Dodanna, who is determined to keep her locked away and safe from the Empire. Taking charge is what Leia does, so good luck with that.
Princess Leia #1 succeeds in showing the never-ending sense of urgency and danger that surrounds the rebellion. And in terms of the title character herself, Waid gets the tone just right. Leia is straightforward, enterprising and unafraid to confront her critics. In a crucial encounter with Evaan, a rebel pilot and confirmed royalist from Alderaan, Leia asks for her subject's unvarnished opinion. Evaan's assessment of the princess is unflattering. Yet, these two heroic women have more in common than a planetary heritage, and their meeting sets an interesting and very personal quest in motion. If Leia's protectors won't give her a mission, she'll make one of her own.
Terry Dodson's illustration style is smooth and elegant, and he makes the characters recognizable without being slavish to their film likenesses. The illustrations work nicely in tandem with Rachel Dodson's bold inks. Joe Caramagna's lettering provides emphasis when necessary and displays a bit of fun with R2-D2's chirpy droid-speak. The visuals pop with Jordie Bellaire's rich, vibrant color work.
This issue's weakness is that it doesn't fully capture how massive a tragedy has taken place. The obliteration of millions — perhaps the greatest disturbance in the Force, ever — is the Empire's most heinous act. Such an event should cast a darker, wider shadow.
That said, Princess Leia #1 gives readers a fuller portrait of a deserving character and an energetic, well-paced story that bodes well for future issues. Even the casual S" fan will enjoy this entertaining and accessible re-introduction.
Detective Comics #40
Published by DC Comics
Written by Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul
Art by Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
This isn't the easiest review to nail down. Because to be perfectly honest, Detective Comics has rarely been better in the "New 52" since Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul took over the creative reigns. This really is one of the best reading and best looking superhero books on the shelves these days. However, as "Anarky" comes to a conclusion with #40, the critique that's followed Buccellato and Manapul continues its momentum here. The chaos in Gotham grows to a fever pitch as the anonymously masked citizens are preparing to bring the city and it's authority to its knees. Unaware, or arguably unconcerned, that they're under the effects of altered tech from the Mad Hatter. As is the case with some of the strongest Batman tales, the Dark Knight needs to defeat an opponent that will arguable make the city a better place by taking out one of the “freaks."
There is a lot going on in this issue. Not only does Buccellato and Manapul need to bring the primary arc of this new Anarky to a satisfactory close, but they also need to fill in some elements with their longer running Mad Hatter story, and the ever-evolving relationship between Batman and detective Bullock. As it stands, the real strength of this issue comes in the form of that relationship. For all his judgmental comments and actions, Batman does believe in Harvey Bullock. He sees a man that's fallen many times, perhaps even too many, but simply refuses to let the city break him. Sure, Bullock might turn to the bottle, where Batman turns to ancient meditation techniques, but the goal is the same. To protect the city of Gotham. To that end, Buccellato and Manapul draft an adversarial but respectful relationship that is quite enjoyable to read.
But it's the core story that brings the real critique. The critique that's been felt ever since this team started on the title. Buccellato and Manapul are long game storytellers. As in their previous arc, the setup was simply gold, but the end result didn't seem to carry the weight of the story as a whole. The same can be said for "Anarky." Buccellato and Manapul promised a wide scope that would encompass much of the city, and perhaps even alter how the characters move forward in their varied pursuit of justice. In the end, we get a wrap-up that is a little to clean and sadly, rather predictable. Even more concerning, it was an ending that felt rushed as tacked on. That's not to say Detective Comics #40 is not an enjoyable issue. Indeed, the reason for feeling so disappointed lies in the fact that this creative team is making some great comics, but the endings just aren't there.
Still, the slip-up in storytelling is easy to forgive when you take in just how much are and skill goes into the visuals. To be perfectly honest, I don't know if there is a better looking book at DC Comics right now. The art by Francis Manapul and colors by Brian Buccellato are dynamic and has a sense of life that many lack. This issue is almost a class in the history of DC panel composition of the 1980s and 90s. There are panels that echo work from Norm Breyfogle (a co-creator of the character being reintroduced). Only to then shift into composition that has hints of Frank Miller, with the up close visceral detail of Klaus Janson. Truly, this is a comic created by an artist that knows their medium and history. And yet he never once allows these styles to over shadow his own skill. Even the more complex layouts never lose the reader and help to tell a much stronger visual story.
Even with the slight plot disappointment, there is still much to love about Detective Comics #40. The road to the finale was strong and filled with many moments of excitement and drama. And thankfully the comic is just so darn nice to look at, it's easy to led the less that stellar ending slide. But I truly hope the creative team of Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul can tighten up their storytelling. Because together they have the makings of a truly classic run.
Guardians Team-Up #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Arthur Adams and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
One of the major successes of the Guardians of the Galaxy film was its sharp sense of humor. The debut of Guardians Team-Up #1 continues this comedic streak ten-fold. The first issue of this rollicking Guardians spin-off hits the ground in a dead sprint and never slows down, leaving a trail of destruction and laughs in its wake. It also doesn't hurt that the legendary Arthur Adams is handling art duties for this first mini-arc, giving Guardians Team-Up #1 a hefty bit of name recognition. The Guardians of the Galaxy are now huge stars both at the box office and at the comic shop and Guardians Team-Up #1 is exactly the kind of book new fans and long time readers will want to read.
Guardians Team-Up #1 chronicles a normal day in the life of our favorite space-faring reprobates. A day that includes them crashing their ship on a strip mall on Earth, while being pursued by a strange ship piloted by Chitauri. Writer Brian Michael Bendis tosses the Guardians and the audience into the fire from the title page and keeps the jokes and action coming throughout. Bendis juggles all these huge personalities handedly, and keeps them all bouncing off of each other like the dysfunctional family that they are. It really is a joy to read Rocket trying to pass the buck as the ship's pilot as they careen into Earth's airspace. While Quill tries to keep them all on task as Gamora and Drax howl for a counter-attack. The banter may be heavy but it never rings false.
This attention to character also carries over to the issue's team-up, the Avengers. Of course after the Guardians make their grand entrance back on Earth, they draw the attention of Earth's Mightiest and give us some truly hilarious interactions between the two teams. Acting as host, Clint Barton is the MVP of this issue for his droll wit in the field and with characters. A highlight being the Guardians' introduction to this newest incarnation of the Avengers. There are nearly seventeen characters on the page at this point, but Bendis and Arthur Adams keeps everything and everyone straight as Hawkeye's arrow with more banter and action beats than you can shake a stick at. It is impressive that Guardians Team-Up #1 balances so many as characters still keeps the story flowing and engaging.
Arthur Adams really goes for the gusto and makes Guardians Team-Up #1 a gorgeous debut issue, filled with innovative panel layouts and sharp visual jokes. From the first pages detailing the Guardians' rocky entrance into Earth's atmosphere, Adams tilts the majority of the panels on their side just to hammer home the rough trip for the audience. Adams shifts gears a bit for the next page, taking full advantage on a comic's ability to sell silent gags. As the Guardians' ship and the strange craft make their way past Avengers Tower, we are treated to three panels of Hawkeye enjoying, or at least attempting to enjoy a sandwich. He looks up, takes in the sight of the two craft engaged in combat, and then silently rests his head on the table in defeat. It is a textbook set-up to a simple visual punch line, but it is still effective as all hell.
While the kinetic panel layouts and visual gags are all well and good, the real selling point of Arthur Adams is his old-school character designs. Each character's distinct personality is on full display in the hands of Adams, as well as the slick design of their costumes. Guardians Team-Up #1 looks like a classic, but never tired, superhero comic. Even Groot gets to return to his Jack Kirby roots with a few choice hero shots. Adams' art is sharp as is, but the colors of Paul Mounts gives the pages even an more crisp edge. Mounts' colors are almost too bright in parts, but that just adds to the kinetic design and doesn't distract from the issue. Even if the script doesn't hook, you would be hard pressed to find any fault in the visual storytelling of Adams and Mounts.
When a character is so popular, solo titles often aren't enough. So publishers flood the shelves with team-up, but this often leads to over-saturation. It's the Wolverine/Batman Principle. Thankfully, Guardians Team-Up #1 never feels like this in the least. This debut issue is just a fun, fast-paced yarn chocked full of jokes and sharp visuals. A book that thankfully doesn't allow itself to get bogged down in the team-up aspect of the title. Brian Michael Bendis, Arthur Adams, and Paul Mounts swing for the fences and absolutely hit it out of the park with a first issue. If Guardians Team-Up #1 is them setting the bar, then we are in for some truly fun and hilarious issues in the near future.
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Stefano Caselli and Frank Martin
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating 8 out of 10
If the Marvel Cinematic Universe is planning on integrating The Avengers with The Guardians of the Galaxy by the time Avengers: Infinity War comes out, it is going to need Jonathan Hickman’s help.
Avengers #42 is an example of “how it’s done” in that Hickman seamlessly integrates about twenty-five characters into twenty-three pages of story, and he does so effortlessly. While having such a large assortment of characters in one space might mean that some are less developed than others, Hickman proves that you can have a large lineup of heroes and villains and still develop them well over the course of your story.
Granted, much of this is build up for the remaining issues of Avengers (before Secret Wars hits) and by the end of the comic we’re no closer to a solution. Instead we're given a more dramatic conflict to sift through, but the urgency with which Hickman writes the story makes the climax feel grandiose. He’s laid a few threads of promise in the issue, so there is at least hope that the Multiverse can be saved. And that final page of the comic is chilling in its implications. It definitely made me feel both nervous and excited to see what Hickman has in store next month.
Hickman’s best writing, by far, is the last sequence involving the Guardians of the Galaxy. His portrayal of Rocket Raccoon is perfect, even though the character only appears in the last three pages, he clearly steals the show. The comic is definitely about planting seeds rather than racing towards the finish line, but this kind of methodical writing is more impressive than an action heavy issue, mostly for the focus on character.
Stefano Caselli also provides solid art in the issue. The comic shifts scenes several times, and Caselli and colorist Frank Martin give each sequence its own unique design. Martin is great at using colors to indicate levity or seriousness, particularly when Sunspot, Cannonball, and Smasher are starting at Josiah as he sits on the ceiling. The visuals are soft and bright, and much different from the more dramatic moments of the comic.
Caselli gets a few moments to shine, but he’s really relegated to smaller panels, probably due to the amount of story that needs to be told. But when he gets the space, he delivers some top notch art that really presses the idea of an expansive universe and a substantial threat to Earth.
Avengers #42 is great as a build up to a finale. While it doesn’t kick the story forward a lot, it plants a solid foundation for a fitting end, both with the threads it dangles and the characters it develops. With only two issues left, and an interlocking story with New Avengers, there’s still a lot of ground to cover. Still, Hickman is providing the path towards the end. And while the future doesn’t look so bright for the intergalactic heroes of this issue, we can rest assured that they’ll be given a proper send off by a talented team or writers and artists.
Rat Queens #9
Published by Image Comics
Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art by Stjepan Šeji?
Lettering by Ed Brisson
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
It's been a while since we've visited Palisade and all the danger and excitement the city offers. A normal comic would take into account the months-long gap between issues and perhaps bring the readers back up to speed. However, if we have learned anything in the past year, it is that Rat Queens is anything by a normal comic. And to be sure, #9 is no exception to that rule as "The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth" arc continues to cause death and strife for our adventuring ladies. The Lovecraftian beasts spread their special brand of chaos as a member of the Queens' past is literally taking vengeance upon the entire city.
Right off the bat one needs to commend writer Kurtis J. Wiebe for not using any valuable page count in an attempt to remind readers of the story. Shift in art notwithstanding, you'd be hard pressed to remember that any time has passed. And the stakes have never felt higher than in this issue as the memories and souls of the Queens are laid bare for us all to read. In fact, for a story that is so deep into the main action, it's quite impressive that Wiebe is able to essentially write a character study and no one complains. Because for a city that's under siege by horrible tentacled monsters that cause madness and death for all, this issue is light on the sword and spell fights. In fact, for all the previous talk of this issue not recapping past events, it still does an entertaining job of bringing newer readers up to speed on the characters, without ever once resorting to safe exposition.
However, there is still the one question on every fans mind: the new artist. For readers that have followed the series over the past few months, there have been hints and teases at what Stjepan Šeji? would bring to the book. If #9 is any indication, Rat Queens is in very safe, creative, and slightly demented hands. Which is the perfect tone for this title. Šeji?'s characters walk that fine line of powerful where needed, yet never once fall into the lazy trap of the action woman trope. Each character has tone and mass where it makes sense, while keeping their own sense of physical individuality. It's a very subtle visual notion, but one that goes a long way in maintaining the appeal and enjoyment of Rat Queens. In addition, Šeji? gives a lot of attention to the backgrounds. An attention that is less focused on high detail, but more in bringing a setting to life. Just as the camera (or our eyes) lets the background fade ever so slightly, yet remembered in great detail, so too does Šeji?'s design.
And when there are scenes of insane fantasy combat (as if this title knows any other kind), Šeji?'s pencils with a great eye towards fluid motion. His art on the page reflects a creator well versed in American, European, and even a touch of Japanese style lines. Each tradition melding into chaotic panels that sell a story of action with plenty of danger. If there was one flaw, and while minor, it would be the coloring. While most of the book has a gorgeous tone, with hints of watercolor throughout, it the action scenes where his style trips. While it by no means takes away any enjoyment of the book, it would be nice to see the colors tighten up a bit during those moments. While it could be argued this is a stylistic choice to capture the insanity of combat, it's getting just a little lost in translation.
Finally, Ed Brisson on lettering does a great job of making sure the dialog and art are never once in competition. Indeed, there is more than one occasion in this issue where the lettering itself becomes part of the emotional kick. Not many books can break the standard rules of lettering and get away with it. Rat Queens #9 does just that. In the end, this is a fantastic return to form for fans of these butt-kicking adventurers. And while this is probably not the best place for brand new readers to jump on board, it will still be some of the most fun you'll ever have reading a comic.
Green Lantern #40
Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Billy Tan, Mark Irwin and Tony Avina
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating 8 out of 10
Robert Venditti closes out his initial run of Green Lantern with a lucid explication of what makes a Green Lantern a Green Lantern. For years, the series has explored different characters in different roles -- Hal as the leader, John as the will, Kyle as the utility player -- but the one constant has been Kilowog, the greatest trainer of all Green Lanterns and heart of the Green Lantern Corps.
This issue is fitting in that it focuses mostly on Hal and Kilowog. While Hal has a plan to get rid of the Corps’ negative image in the universe, Kilowog is the one through whom Hal has to pass in order to make his plan a reality. Robert Venditti does so by pulling at the emotional connection between the two as they spend the majority of the issue pounding each other, as Kilowog tries to give Hal one last lesson in being a leader.
Before they fight, though, Venditti has the characters sit down and share one final heartfelt moment. It’s a goofy scene that aims more at humor than character, but it’s fitting. It solidifies the bond these characters have with each other and it makes Hal’s decision -- and Kilowog’s role -- all the more powerful. Soon after, the characters get int a knock-down, drag-out brawl that is charged with emotion and history.
The fight is truly dramatic, punctuated by Kilowog’s incessant need to push Hal to make the choices he doesn’t want to make. Choices that are still needed in order to successfully break from the Corps and make his plan a reality. Their final moment in the comic is both heartfelt and harrowing, beautifully rendered by Billy Tan. Of course, the end of the issue leaves matters uncertain but Venditti has found a solution to Hal needing a ring by cleverly pulling from Geoff Johns’ run, giving Hal a solid exit that leaves the future very open and very interesting.
As mentioned, Billy Tan does some excellent work in this issue. The fight between Kilowog and Hal is energetic and fluid. One panel in particular shows Hal laying the smack down pretty heavily, and Tan’s composition is both engaging and impressive. Top this off with Tony Avina’s radiant colors and the imagery comes to life.
Not all the images are sharp, though, as the earlier part of the comic -- where Hal tries some of Kilowog’s disgusting Grublet Hash -- is noteworthy in how oddly-shaped the characters look. Hal’s face changes from panel to panel, almost as if a completely different artist stepped in to contribute, and Tan decides to layer some images over each other making for an awkwardly composed page. Visually, this is the only real hiccup in a comic that is rather sharp.
As frustrating a conclusion as it is, I’m happy with where Billy Tan left Green Lantern. There’s still a lot more story to tell, and Hal’s escape shows that he doesn’t need a ring to battle evil. Although his new mode of power probably has its own set of problems. Plus, if he thinks the Corps is going to let him get away with beating up one of its greatest members, he’s in for a rude awakening. There are bound to be repercussions from his most recent actions, and while we have to wait a while to see what they are, I have no doubt we’ll be both surprised and pleased. Robert Venditti has proven both his love of the character and his ability to write solid Green Lantern stories, so while the Hal may be without a ring, the series looks like it has a bright future ahead of it.
Written by Shaun Simon
Art by Tyler Jenkins and Kelly Fitzpatrick
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Kat Vendetti
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Shaun Simon and Tyler Jenkins' new series promised an intriguing concept: the titular Neverboy, an imaginary friend, escapes into the real world through medication and fights to maintain the new life he's built for himself. But despite the potential of this premise, Neverboy #1 unfortunately underperforms in its execution, delivering a weak plot and underwhelming conclusion in this debut issue.
Neverboy #1 seems to struggle between what the reader should already know going into this series and what they should discover as the story progresses. The majority of Neverboy #1 serves to establish Neverboy in the real world. The events culminate in a twist that dismantles everything that had been set up in the previous pages. It's a revelation that would have resulted in a surprising conclusion that felt earned; however, just by knowing the premise of this series, the reveal can be easily inferred and loses its impact. The choice to introduce us to Neverboy through a gradually fading reality would have been a fascinating one, had this series' pitch not already divulged where that would lead.
And the route Neverboy #1 takes to reach that conclusion is a safe one. Things happen too conveniently, such as Neverboy's easy acquisition of his drugs and the means by which he loses them. Scenes are thinly carried by dismissive dialogue that falls short in establishing much depth in Neverboy's wife and son, as well as his attachment to them. Though presumably moved by Sam -- the boy who imagined Neverboy -- his featured scenes are all too brief to deliver the full scope of his effect on Neverboy and the emotion that drives him to preserve his family. But where Simon's script falls short, Jenkins' characterization succeeds in depicting the range of Neverboy's emotions. From his distant gaze as he reminisces on Sam, to his pained expression as the reality he'd worked so hard to build breaks away. The people and places around Neverboy, however, feel flat. While this all does lend to the sensation that Neverboy's reality is fragile and unstable, it's hard to say whether it was an intended effect.
Simon does find some success in alluding towards Neverboy's crumbling reality throughout this issue. Neverboy's interaction with a little girl and her imaginary friend in the opening scenes draw parallels with Neverboy and his experience as an imaginary friend; experiences which are recalled later on when a memory of Sam echoes the conversation. Subtle visual clues imparted by Kelly Fitzpatrick's colors grow more and more predominant as Neverboy's drugs wear off--the color in his hair fades away as water develops rainbow hues, and swirls of color invade drab grays and browns as the imaginary bleeds into reality. Fitzpatrick revives an otherwise static plot, creating a dichotomy between Neverboy's world as an imaginary friend and the reality he's created.
Though its debut issue misses the mark, there is still promise that Neverboy can reach the potential of its concept. With the preliminary setup out of the way, there is room yet for Simon and Jenkins to delve into the more unknown territory of which their premise is capable and establish a stronger narrative for its eponymous imaginary friend.