Best Shots Reviews: 2 CONVERGENCE #1s, OH KILLSTRIKE #1 Advance, SQUIRREL GIRL #4, KAPTARA #1

'Oh, Killstrike #1' cover by Logan Faerber
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your reviews? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's Monday column. So let's kick off today's installment with Bursting Brian Bannen, as he takes a look at Convergence: Adventures of Superman...

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence: Adventures of Superman #1
Written by Marv Wolfman
Art by Roberto Viacava, Andy Owens and Sotocolor
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The title of this comic is misleading, as this is more and adventure of Supergirl - her big cousin just happens to be along for the ride. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing - it’s interesting to read a comic that focuses so heavily on Supergirl when the author is the man who killed her during Crisis on Infinite Earths back in 1985.

Marv Wolfman uses the Phantom Zone as his MacGuffin, the way to get his characters into a situation where they need to flex their muscle. Smartly, Superman and Supergirl team up with Lucius Fox in an attempt to circumnavigate Telos’ dome and find a way free of his control. The problem with the Phantom Zone, however, is that it was constructed by the El family so all of the criminals blame Kal and Kara for their imprisonment.

While the comic is action heavy, the moments preceding the action are about the relationship between the cousins. In Crisis on Infinite Earths, a dying Kara says to Kal “You taught me to be brave and I was.” Here, though, Wolfman reverses this role and instead has Kal praise Kara, telling her that the world is better because of her and that her optimism and cheer make everyone she comes in contact with a better person.

I wouldn’t call this an apology, per se, but Wolfman is definitely working on trying to explain the necessity of Kara’s role in the DCU when he clearly felt otherwise thirty years ago. Plus, when the action occurs, Wolfman shows that Kara doesn’t need to rely on brute strength like her cousin. In fact, Kara is a pretty adept fighter and she kicks a lot of butt in this issue, much of it more Batman-esque as Wolfman has Kara rely on surprise attacks and strategic assaults.

Wolfman does revisit Kara’s Crisis death and the dilemma she faces when she discovers her fate, knowing that if she helps her cousin and escapes the Phantom Zone, certain death awaits. We all know the decision she chooses, though, so while the moment is meant to humanize the character and give her a bit of self-doubt, the earlier conversation with Superman already paved the way for Kara’s decision. Still, it’s definitely an example of her heroism.

The art styling is even reminiscent of pre-Crisis art styling. Roberto Viacava’s art is simplistic in the best sense of the word. It’s unadorned and clean, a real nod to the artists that paved the way for the characters, artists like Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Neal Adams and Curt Swan. Kara’s internal struggle is captured with heart-wrenching detail that is just as quickly pushed aside to show here ferociousness as she takes out group of Kryptonian prisoners keeping her cousin captive.

The colors provided by Sotocolor really give the imagery a vibrancy missing from the New 52 incarnation of Superman. Given the sterility of the Phantom Zone, Kara and Kal stand out as they battle groups of people whose only aim is to kill them slowly and painfully. The drabness of the setting really makes you appreciate the old Superman and Supergirl costumes, red underwear and all.

If Convergence: Adventures of Superman #1 is meant to be Kara’s swan song, it’s a worthy story. Marv Wolfman highlights Kara’s heroism in a way that seems a way to make up for killing her off years ago, and by the end of the issue, he proves her importance to the DCU. The comic closes out with a solid cliffhanger that should bring readers back for more, especially if Kara is the true star.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4
Written by Ryan North
Art by Erica Henderson, Rico Renzi and Chris Giarrusso
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Galactus - Destroyer of Worlds and Critic of Gender Linguistics.

Wait - what?

There have been a lot of great gags in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, an impeccably drawn and surprisingly subversive send-up of Marvel's trademarked storytelling style. While Doreen Green - that aforementioned Unbeatable Squirrel Girl - has taken down A-list bad guys like Kraven and Whiplash, she's set her sights on one of Marvel's biggest bads, Galactus. Yet unlike the over-the-top throw-downs that usually define superhero books, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a whole different kind of animal - and it's all the better for it.

From the very beginning, Ryan North and Erica Henderson take your expectations for superhero books and turns them on your ear. In this case, opening up the book with Doreen taking a selfie as she sits on Galactus' comatose body. You might think you've missed a few pages as you hit the squirrel-themed letters page, but it's all part of the long joke that Squirrel Girl has continued to harp upon: namely, you don't have to throw a mean punch to be an effective superhero.

In this case, North and Henderson replace Ultimate Nullifiers and Power Cosmics with good old-fashioned empathy - in a genre dominated by violence, this winds up becoming a revolutionary act, tempered with a sweetness and a sense of humor that's unmatched by any other Big Two books. (Plus, y'know, Doreen is about the size of Galactus' pinky toe. As he himself says, "I couldn't tell if you were trying to beat me up or, you know, buff my shoes.")

By avoiding the urge to punch and kick, North actually winds up being able to take on some very interesting angles in comics, showing that maybe the cyclical nature of comics has hidden storytelling possibilities. In the case of Galactus, it's that maybe his constant attacks on Earth are something less sinister than revenge, but is instead a hungry god's cry for help. In that regard, North is able to take a character traditionally seen as a joke, and actually have her earn these way-out-of-her-league defeats.

It also doesn't hurt that every bit of the visuals helps deliver the humor. Erica Henderson's Squirrel Girl was always funny, but her take on Galactus is downright hilarious. Combined with letterer Clayton Cowles' spaced-out word balloons, Galactus is now a 60-foot dude with a hilarious set of one-liners. (My favorite in the book is when he and Squirrel Girl laugh about her defeating Thanos, once upon a time. "Hah hah, nice," says Galactus. "What a tool.") But beyond the expressive characters and funny reaction shots, Henderson also delivers the drama, as well - there's a one-page silent image of Doreen and Galactus sitting on the moon that's probably the best single image of the week, and the fight choreography she puts together featuring bits and pieces of an Iron Man suit looks superb.

There's a lot of jokes behind Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, but at the end of the day, it's probably one of the smartest superhero books on the stands. Every villain is the hero of their own story, and that means they each have their own motivations, foibles and quirks - and Ryan North and Erica Henderson seem to know exactly what makes these supervillains tick. If only all comics could be this consistently entertaining, funny, and above all, surprisingly smart.

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence: Swamp Thing #1
Written by Len Wein
Art by Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Confession: I’m not a fan of Kelley Jones’ art. When I got heavy into reading comics, it was when Jones was on Batman and his monstrous, savage take on the Dark Knight did not appeal to me at all. I wanted a more traditional illustration, and Jones’ unique styling was jarring for a kid who was used to a certain aesthetic.

His Swamp Thing, however, is work of art. Kelley Jones and Swamp Thing creator Len Wein unite for a solid story that works well as an origin for Alec Holland, a jumping on point for new readers, and one of the best comics to come out of DC’s perplexing Convergence.

My only critique of Len Wein’s writing is that he spends a lot of time rehashing the beginnings of Swamp Thing. We’re given Wein’s original creation, Alan Moore’s solidification of the character, and Scott Snyder’s modernization so by the time Wein gets into the actual story, the comic is almost half complete. I say this as a negative because Wein’s story is so solid -- from his dialogue between Abigail Arcane and Swamp Thing, to the slow, painful demise of the hero -- that it’s hard not to feel a bit cheated when he gets to the actual battle that occurs when the many worlds of the DCU are unleashed upon each other.

Plus, Wein captures the human element of Swamp Thing with aplomb. The story is really about the connection between Abby and Alec, even though one of them happens to be a gigantic walking and talking plant. You forget all of that when you see the bond between the characters and the many ways Abby goes about trying to aid and protect Alec. This kind of methodical writing and excellent pacing make the final pages all the more harrowing, especially given the dire situation Wein has left his characters by the end of the issue.

And the stellar visuals by Kelley Jones bring Swamp Thing to life. Jones is definitely more suited for drawing monstrous characters as the few humans who appear in the comic are often misshapen, lack detail, or change design from panel to panel. But his creature design is a thing of beauty. Jones warps the character as he interacts with the world around him, and this leads to many visceral images. As Alec is cut off from the Green due to Telos’ dome, he begins to lose his powers and therefore he fades away page by page. This slow decline is captured with striking, painful clarity. Colorist Michelle Madsen adds a sickly hue to Alec as he struggles to survive, and this attention to detail pays off whenever Alec is given a boost through plant food or fertilizer. Readers can see the immediate change in the character, beyond Jones’ hulking design.

Call me a Kelley Jones convert after this issue. I’d love to see Jones on Swamp Thing, or really any other book for that matter. Maybe my taste has matured, or maybe I just have a better respect for talent than I did at a younger age. The one benefit of Convergence has been the diverse and eclectic grouping of writers and artists who have taken the reins on the many tie-ins that go along with an event series. Convergence: Swamp Thing is one of the true winners in this gambit. It’s an intimate tale in a sprawling epic, one that shows a clear love of a character, and one that draws its readers through both solid storytelling and engaging art.

Credit: Image Comics

Kaptara #1
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Kagan McLeod and Becka Kinzie
Production by Drew Gill
Published by Image Comics
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
‘Rama Rating: 6 put of 10

Kaptara #1 opens with our protagonist, Keith, posed like a character featured on the Hawkeye Initiative, as he cowers from a bizarre and intensely ravenous beast. We then cut to a conversation aboard ship between Keith and his meathead colleague about how no one loves him for his body. Chip Zdarsky’s tongue-in-cheek vernacular is swift and intact in the first few pages as we meet the cast of Kaptara.

Keith is a bioengineer. He is also a smarmy, apathetic kid who is barely likeable and won’t immediately endear you despite slinging a few clever quips at the even more unlikeable Casey – a guy whose chip on his shoulder is about as big as his muscles. Laurette is the resident doctor and plays a mildly interesting mama bear. Samantha is this ship’s Scotty and is the requisite armchair psychologist. Then there’s Lance, he’s got good hair so of course he’s the Captain. The issue rapidly bounces through moments with each of the ship’s crew and initially builds the context of Kaptara with quippy, yet sometimes shallow dialogue.

Does any of this sound familiar? It should. Kaptara is a spoof of sci-fi tropes and archetypes, and as the solicit for this issue playfully states, something “goes horribly wrong because if it didn’t there would be no story.” That thing that goes horribly wrong, it’s an asteroid, and it lands the crew on, you guessed it, a planet called Kaptara. The problem is that this issue is way heavy on the stock trek-turned-lost-in-space story elements and too light on the spoof. This is where Zdarsky’s signature humor and robust characterization should pick up the slack… except it doesn’t.

The characters feel empty and lack agency, particularly the protagonist, which makes it hard to be interested in his fate, let alone root for him. There is one moment, in the form of a flashback courtesy of our armchair shrink, which offers the reader a glimmer of sympathy for Keith. But, by and large, Kaptara #1 is just not that kind of party.

Glib as Kaptara #1 feels at times, Kagan McLeod’s art is fantastic and holds the most powerful presence throughout the issue. Beautiful shades of pink, yellow and teal create a signature tone atop wickedly dynamic action sequences and delicious character and creature nuance. Depicting sudden death and dismemberment, alien terrain, Queens and a queen - McLeod’s work is stunningly stylistic, and totally worth the price of admission.

Touted as the “gay Saga,” Kaptara #1 feels more like a Galaxy Quest spin-off. And contrary to pop-culture’s stereotypical assertion on the matter, making something “gay” does not beget instant fabulousness. Zdarsky did manage to get a couple of belly laughs out of me, and McLeod certainly rendered some strange “Oh, sh#@!” panels. Still, Kaptara isn’t quite the magical unicorn it wants to be. Yet.

Advance Review!

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Oh, Killstrike #1
Written by Max Bemis
Art by Logan Faerber and Juan Manuel Tumburús
Lettering by Jim Campbell
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Every discerning comic book reader's nightmare comes true in Oh, Killstrike #1, as the physical embodiment of the Liefeldian ‘90s comes alive to disrupt a new father's quiet life.

Jared, the quintessential elitist nerd, has struck gold. The bloodspatter variant of Killstrike #1 has just been sold at auction for $100,000, and as luck would have it, he has that issue! Although they printed more than enough copies, Killstrike #1 was so terrible that many people destroyed their issues and now, it's one of the rarest books in existence. After recovering the valuable issue from his mom's attic, Jared flips open the cover only for Killstrike himself to emerge from its pages. Only able to understand the world through the lens of the word “vengeance,” Killstrike attaches himself to Jared in order to find a way back to his own world.

Max Bemis' script is inwardly witty. This is, after all, a comic book about comic books, and he immediately jumps in with a cliff-notes version of the 'grim 'n' gritty' trend that resulted in the brief comics boom of the early ‘90s. As a comics enthusiast, it's easy to overlook narrative clumsiness in favor of pandering content – you're too caught up in “I understood that reference!” to see fault, and those first few pages are awkward in the extreme. There's an unwieldy amount of real-life comic history and awareness required to fully appreciate Oh, Killstrike #1, and although the uninitiated are unlikely to really get the joke here, Bemis bends over backwards to ensure that everyone's on the same page by the end of this first issue.

Once we've been filled in with the background color, Bemis' characterisation is solid. Jared and his wife share the sleep-deprived and exhausted love of a pair of new parents. When Killstrike appears, Bemis easily slips into the lame tough-guy dialogue of early Image and Valiant, offering out such colorful epithets as “I know your stench now, momma's boy” and “You do not want to anger me, gutter-frog.” These amusing interactions are the high points of Oh, Killstrike #1, and the back-end of the book is absolutely filled with them. Like a traditional sitcom, the plot exists solely to hang jokes from, but when all the jokes hit, you hardly care.

On the art front, Logan Faerber's characters are grotesque cartoons, beady-eyed monsters with unshapely jaws and weirdly gaping mouths. They awkwardly grin and leer through the page at the reader in a way that almost makes you feel uncomfortable. As an art style, it's the very definition of acquired taste, especially in those first few pages. While Faerber's pencils are an awkward fit for the average Joe, they perfectly fit the pouch-laden and steroid-fuelled monstrosity that is Killstrike himself. Thicker than a door but with impossibly thin legs and barely there feet, Killstrike is the epitome of ‘90s “style.” Faeber works overtime to render his hulk's intense facial expressions; Killstrike's spasming jaw and sinewy neck dominates entire panels.

While I was writing this review, I kept self-correcting Killstrike to Bloodstrike, Killstorm and any other random combination of violent words you could possibly think of. That's as good a sign as any that Oh, Killstrike #1 nails the abrasive and try-hard tone of the worst comic books of the ‘90s. At the end of the day, Oh, Killstrike #1 is a love/hate thing. It'll either resonate with you or it won't. There's a lot to like here, from Max Bemis' perfectly pitched grim 'n' gritty parody to Logan Faerber's purposefully ugly anti-hero, but it won't be for everyone. Faerber's art-style is initially off-putting and Bemis' script doesn't exactly start off strong, but the issue builds into something satisfying and witty with a promise of stronger issues to come.

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