'Archie vs. Predator #1' variant cover by Eric Powell
Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with our latest salvo of last week's releases! So let's kick off today's column with a tale of teenage love and heartbreak, as we take a look at the latest issue of Ms. Marvel...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel #14
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Takeshi Miyazawa and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

"All this time, I thought I was alone... that I was the only nerdy Pakistani-American-slash-Inhuman-in the entire universe."

Oh, Kamala. Love stinks.

Everybody remembers their first love. And their first heartbreak. It's a universal experience, and in that regard, it's great to experience it alongside Ms. Marvel. There's very little action in this issue, but it all comes secondary to some really charming characterization - all in all, it's yet another solid outing from G. Willow Wilson and company.

Given how singular Kamala Khan has been since her introduction, it's been a real stroke of genius for Wilson to give her exactly what you think she'd want - Kamran, a fellow Pakistani Inhuman who happens to love World of Warcraft - and the resulting euphoria is a little bit contagious. No matter what Kamala's religious upbringing is, she's still a 16-year-old girl with the same kind of hormones pumping, and combine that with Kamran's good-natured charm and the fact that he hits at least surface-level criteria with Kamala's family, and of course she'd be into him, Inhuman connection notwithstanding. There's a little bit of a romance novel aspect to this particular issue, particularly the way they sneak out at night and watch Manhattan from a water tower. What's not to like, when you see an endearing heroine fall head over heels?

Well, that's the thing about love - sometimes it's double-edged. In particular, Wilson is a little bit cruel to her lead character here. It's crazy-fun watching her fall for Kamran, and that makes his heel-turn even more heartbreaking. Meanwhile, I'd argue that just as compelling a plot as the Kamala-Kamran romance is Bruno, who not-so-secretly pines over her. There's a great, heartbreaking conversation he has with Kamala's brother, Aamir, where Aamir tells him flat-out that Kamala isn't going to date a non-Pakistani Muslim. It's not meant to be accusatory or partisan, but instead reads exactly how someone growing up in Kamala's household would react.

Artwise, Takeshi Miyazawa is a great fit for this comic, giving a wide-eyed cartoony style to this tale of love and heartbreak. His characters always look expressive and gorgeous to look at - in particular, he and colorist Ian Herring's take on Kamran is a highlight of the book, as he looks like a human piece of glowing glass. They know how to set a scene properly, and in particular Herring knows how to stage a scene at night that never lacks energy or ambiance. (That splash page of Kamala and Kamran on the water tower is downright gorgeous.) There's also a nice bit of comedy that leavens this story, so the way that Miyazawa has Kamala standing ruefully after she's punched out a wall. It's that kind of self-effacement that makes her such a likable character.

If love were easy, everybody would be doing it. And yet, everybody does. Much of Ms. Marvel has been the story of one girl's coming of age as a new breed of superhero - but now G. Willow Wilson is expanding her purview, and turning this comic into the story of a girl who simply is growing up as a person. It's a very human approach to a story filled with inhumans, and it's that kind of relatability that has made Ms. Marvel such a great gateway comic. While this isn't a traditional kicksplodey kind of action comic, it's exactly the kind of issue this series needed.

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence: Green Arrow #1
Written by Christy Marx
Art by Rags Morales, Claude St-Aubin, and Nei Ruffino
Letters by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Convergence hasn’t gotten off to the best start. Thankfully, Convergence: Green Arrow #1 shows promise by taking the other worldly stakes of DC’s latest event and bringing it to the streets through the eyes of everyone’s favorite bow-wielding liberal, Oliver Queen. Writer Christy Marx uses the jumbled continuity of Convergence to reunite Oliver and his long-lost son, Connor Hawke, who is busy with heroics all his own in the newly domed Metropolis. Convergence: Green Arrow #1 isn’t entirely in line with the blockbuster tone of Convergence just yet and that is the best thing going for it. While not perfect by any stretch, Convergence: Green Arrow #1 at least strives for something a bit more than just tights and fights.

By the time Convergence: Green Arrow #1 starts, the dome has been up for months and Ollie is struggling to keep things together. Families are separated and the citizens are getting more and more restless every day. This might sound like small potatoes compared to the fireworks happening in other tie-ins, but Christy Marx makes it feel compelling all the same. We’ve seen Oliver storm the breach against some pretty insane odds, but his most effecting stories have always been of smaller scale, and Convergence: Green Arrow #1 is no different. Meanwhile, across the city, his son Connor is dealing with a situation all his own. A local hate group going by the name of the Brotherhood of Purity is driving families out of their homes based on the color of their skin and so, Connor, with the aid of his longbow drives them back for the time and shelters the families in a building he’s converted to his own personal ashram. Marx quickly dovetails both plots into one and puts the Queen boys face-to-face, but still allows them to feel like two parts of the same fight for the first half of the issue. Of course, Connor would be working on the side of the angels, just like his old man, in his own way. Marx does this issue a great service by keeping the action small until the dome comes down.

Handling the art on Convergence: Green Arrow #1 is an artist we don’t see nearly enough from: Rags Morales, aided by inker Claude St-Aubin and colorist Nei Ruffino. Morales takes to the streets beautifully with appropriately grounded depictions of the streets of Metropolis in the midst of crisis. Along with the flatly metallic color choices of Ruffino and the heavy inks of St-Aubin, Morales makes Convergence: Green Arrow #1 look like the dark inverse of his work on DC’s pulpy First Wave. But it isn’t all gloom in domed Metropolis, Morales’ trademark expressiveness when it comes to his character design is on full display in this tie-in, in particularly his depiction of Connor, who could be described as adorable more than once throughout this issue. Even Morales’ villains display a full range of emotion beyond snarling or screaming in pain. Convergence: Green Arrow #1's characters feel more alive under Morales and his team’s hand and that gives this debut a much-needed jolt of energy amid the other duds that make up Convergence’s opening salvo.

And so, as the dome comes down and champions must rise, a family is reunited, but for how long? Convergence: Green Arrow #1 sidesteps all the melodrama that usually comes with AAA event titles and replaces it with something even more narratively fertile: family drama. How long writer Christy Marx can sustain this remains to be seen, but the smaller stakes and human drama of Convergence: Green Arrow makes it stand out among its contemporaries that seem more concerned with just skipping to the punching. Adding the pulpy, expressionist art of Rags Morales and his art team is just the street-level icing on the cake. Convergence might not be off to the best start, but at least Oliver Queen and his family are putting their best foot forward. How long they stay on this path, however, will be the real test.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Archie vs. Predator #1
Written by Alex de Campi
Art by Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski and Jason Millet
Lettering by John Workman
Published by Dark Horse
Review by Michael Moccio
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Archie Comics has been making waves in the comic book industry the past year or two because of the risks they’re willing to take to stay relevant. Pairing up with Dark Horse to make Archie vs. Predator seems so far out there as an idea, I wondered how it could possibly work, but the buzz started growing from the minute it was announced. Writer Alex de Campi and artist Fernando Ruiz make it clear from this first issue that Archie vs. Predator is going to be one of the most fun books coming out and will immediately make your pull pile that much more rewarding.

One of the best things about this series so far is that’s unapologetic for what it is. It’s clear that de Campi and Ruiz are embracing the ridiculousness of this whole premise. The Predator is a more ethereal presence in this issue, which fits because we see exactly what he can do without him actually interacting with the group or seeing the gruesome deaths of Cheryl and Jason Blossom on screen. We do, however, see the aftermath and it’s hilarious – in a macabre way – to see the ripped apart bodies and bones of these two spoiled teenagers in Ruiz’s art style, but it works. It works because we’re in the Archie universe and the plot is so enjoyable we’re willing to bend over backwards to suspend our disbelief and just go with it.

It’s clear that Ruiz is going to be a master at using the traditional Archie style of art with the Predator’s gruesome acts. We only get a short glimpse of what we’ll see in future issues now, but we do get to see the Predator from several different angles as well as his handiwork. The Predator isn’t as menacing or scary looking as it would be in the movies, but the tension and horror comes from the dramatic irony de Campi creates. We know that the Archie gang is in trouble – but how long will it take for them to realize it themselves?

This book really has something for everyone, whether you’re a fan of the Archie gang, a fan of the Predator, a fan of horror, or a fan of humor. De Campi has a great grasp on writing dialogue that’s both funny and sounds authentic to the teenagers in the story. Few scenes will make you laugh harder than Veronica and Jughead simultaneously wishing for flawless victor and an all-you-can-eat buffet at the same time or when Veronica sends Reggie out into the cold with a fashion tip instead of a kiss on the cheek. Veronica takes the spotlight many times throughout the issue and serves as the element pushing the plot once the gang goes on spring vacation.

The hardest thing to wrestle with this book is that for all its successes when it comes to defying tropes and gender stereotypes, de Campi perpetuates them as well. It’s definitely nice to see Veronica operating as her usual badass self and Betty sticking to her beliefs, it’s frustrating to see them being pitted against each other. The main conflict in this issue was Cheryl using Betty to get back at Veronica after Veronica upsets Betty. There has to be something more than just staging a cat fight in the middle of a Caribbean resort with the Predator around. Witty and feminist one-liners are great and appreciated, it would be nice if the overall book reflected that sentiment as well.

If anyone asks, “What should I be reading right now?” I’ll be hard-pressed to find a better answer than Archie vs. Predator. Beyond anything else this book has to offer, it’s incredibly fun. Seeing the Archie gang in full swing with a horrible monster waiting to kill them all – with two deaths already from this issue – this series has me hooked. The only question waiting to be answered is if this will be a slaughter, or will the Archie gang find a way to fight back?

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #2
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #2
Credit: Archie

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #2
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art by Robert Hack
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Review by Erika D. Peterman
Published by Archie Comics
’Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The first issue of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina set the bar extremely high for this new series and left readers hungry for a follow-up. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. Not a page is wasted in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #2, which, if possible, is even better than its predecessor. It kicks up the darkness and suspense to new levels.

For now, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa puts Sabrina in a supporting role to introduce Madam Satan, a riveting character who begins wreaking havoc as soon as she emerges from the depths of a lake. She casually and deliberately leaves a trail of devastation on her way to Sabrina’s hometown of Greendale, and her victims don’t stand a chance.

While backstory has the potential to slow down the narrative, Aguirre-Sacasa finds an excellent balance between keeping readers grounded in the present and showing Madam Satan’s past. It is hellish, sometimes in the literal sense, and artist Robert Hack doesn’t spare readers the grisly details. However, those scenes never feel forced or gratuitous.

Madam Satan is in no way a sympathetic figure, but there’s no denying that she has experienced the worst kind of suffering. True to her name, she carries out a revenge-driven mission with a similar lack of mercy. Innocent and not-so-innocent bystanders aren’t spared, but her most disturbing acts are highly personal. In one of the most shocking turns, Madam Satan makes a last-minute decision to summon her powers and burn someone from her past to mere ash. Those kinds of moments, and there are several, show just how powerful and unpredictable a character she is.

Hack’s highly detailed art continues to impress, and he has a gift for expressing the nuances of body language and facial expression. The largely autumn-toned palette works well with sparingly used reds and bright yellows, giving this book a lovely classic quality. The panels showing facial close-ups are gorgeous or repulsive, depending on what the moment calls for. Madam Satan’s eyes alone are works of art.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #2 also stands out in terms of its sheer meatiness. This issue rewards readers’ patience by delivering a series of memorable moments that make it well worth the $3.99 price of admission. Rich in story and visually compelling, this is a comic to be savored.

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