DC Comics May 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with a handful of big reviews from your favorite team of crackshot critics! So let's kick off today's column with Mighty Michael Moccio, as he takes a look at the sophomore issue of Kanan: The Last Padawan...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Kanan: The Last Padawan #2
Written by Greg Weisman
Art by Pepe Larraz and David Curiel
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

After an incredibly successful first season, Star Wars: Rebels managed to reaffirm that there are still many stories to be told between the fall of the Old Republic and Star Wars: A New Hope. It was fitting that Kanan get his own prequel series, because it’s always fascinating to see how a Jedi survived Order 66 when so many did not. It’s even better that Greg Wiesman, who executive produced and wrote many episodes for Star Wars: Rebels, is the one to explore that backstory.

If this issue shows us anything, it’s that Weisman is a master at using dramatic irony to his advantage. This is Weisman in top form, which is a thrill to see in the Star Wars universe. Kanan remains extremely likable, despite his flaws, and Weisman does a perfect job at transitioning Kanan from a brash Padawan to the equivalent of a kicked puppy after Palpatine executes Order 66. This is his television writing skills shining through, as the entire experience is cinematic. We know before the issue starts that Kanan’s master wouldn't survive, as so from the get-go we’re immediately engaged with the story, wondering exactly how Kanan will escape the onslaught. Weisman does a great job making the sacrifice of Master Billaba feel as heart wrenching for us as it is for Kanan. This is in no small part due to Pepe Larraz’s incredible artwork: all the characters are drawn sleek to have that cartoonish Star Wars feel that evokes a certain nostalgia in it. It helps that Larraz is willing to break normal panel structure in his breakdowns in favor for shots like the double page spread of Billaba igniting her lightsaber to protect Kanan. It’s these kinds of moments you can’t make without stellar art: just as Kanan feels threatened by the clones pointing their guns, so do we.

If this issue is any indication, Larraz and inker David Curiel will be making some of the most beautifully rendered Star Wars fight scenes out of the current Star Wars books being published. The way Larraz conveys a lightsaber swing, using the force to deflect blaster bolts, and even something as fundamental as character poses shows that he completely understands how fights are supposed to look in Star Wars. Everything has that Star Wars feel, especially the environments and the ships, which can be so hard to capture visually.

Kanan gets a helping hand by one of the merchants he met in the previous issue. While we can chock up this merchant’s kindness to the good of his heart, Weisman doesn’t earn this convenient encounter, especially after the merchant gives a lecture to Kanan about how he’s going to have to cheat, lie, and steal to survive. That doesn’t sound like someone willing to risk their neck to help a highly wanted fugitive, but that’s such a minor bump to the story that you quickly overlook it once the tension rises again when Kanan gets the beacon from the Jedi Temple. Again—you and I know what’s waiting on Coruscant for him, which makes his escape and jump to hyperspace that much more tragic and dramatic.

Kanan’s journey is far from over; Weisman makes that clear enough. Despite only being two issues in, Kanan: The Last Padawan easily asserts itself as one of the best Star Wars books Marvel’s doing and one of the best Star Wars books period. The emotional gravitas we have for Kanan is profound - I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that we want nothing more than to have him be safe from the Empire’s clutches. If these past two issues are any indication, though, there’s still a lot more strife in Kanan’s future before he matures to the character we’ve come to know in Star Wars: Rebels.

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence: Justice League #2
Written by Frank Tieri
Art by Vicente Cifuentes and Monica Kubina
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

There's been a lot of similarities between DC's Convergence titles and the dystopian parallel universe of Injustice: Gods Among Us. Not only has DC seemingly been preoccupied with evil, corrupt versions of their own heroes, but there's been a video game-y quality to the storytelling, focusing more on skirmishes rather than deep characterization. Sometimes, though, there's a time and place for that kind of storytelling, and with Vicente Cifuentes on art, Convergence: Justice League #2 feels like a decently effective piece of entertainment.

Featuring an all-female iteration of the Justice League, writer Frank Tieri isn't looking to make any grand political statements. It's not a permanent team like A-Force, and in fact doesn't even waste any time with pleasantries like exposition - if you didn't read the last issue explaining the dome, how this team came together, or why they're fighting the Flashpoint universe's Aquaman, you're SOL. No, this comic is all about the fight, for better or for worse.

And when I think of "for better," I really am thinking about Vicente Cifuentes. While occasionally his inking is inconsistent, leading to some very wonky expressions for some of his characters, the action and characters look good, reminding me of a less scratchy version of Todd Nauck. In particular, there's a great sequence where he has Jade wielding an emerald chainsaw as she fights against the Ocean Master, and he sells his dramatic reveals pretty well (even if he's hampered by the lack of captions introducing each of these characters).

What's slightly inconsistent about this script isn't so much the nonstop action, which can actually be refreshing in its simplicity, but that the tone is a little all over the place. Tieri has some cool beats featuring Mera and Vixen, but at the same time, we also jump from bloodless fights under the sea to what looks like an off-panel, telepathy-induced suicide. It happens again later, when Supergirl gets a great moment as she helps turn the tide (ahem) of battle, but then Mera scores a decisive win that feels especially dark.

Ultimately, though, you're really not reading a comic like Convergence: Justice League #2 for anything other than the fireworks. This event, which has felt more than a little stitched together, is all about fan service rather than deep storytelling or characterization, and after awhile, it gets a little old blaming a book for being anything other than what it is. This book is an action book, and while sometimes it osscilates between bright and peppy to something altogether darker. Still, for a series with such retro sensibilities, the expansive cast and fun artwork makes this a fun read.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ant-Man #5
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Ramon Rosanas and Jordan Boyd
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas have done some great things with their relaunch of Ant-Man, but it's clear that with this run-of-the-mill conclusion to their first arc, they've still got some bugs to work out. While Spencer in particular is often capable of sharp, engaging storytelling, this issue feels like it's on some well-worn superhero territory. It's not a bad book - but sometimes, apathy might be an even worse reaction.

Stop me if you've heard this one before - a costumed crusader screws up enough strength to stop his powerful archnemesis and rescue his loved one from their clutches, and then pushes said loved one away to protect them from further repraisals? Yep, that's basically the plot of Ant-Man #5 in a nutshell, except that Spencer and Rosanas don't have enough laughs or enough thrills to make this superheroic cliche stand out from the pack. Structurally, Spencer's script is pretty textbook - he's got the standard bite-sized bits of peril for Scott Lang, as he trades blows with his formerly deceased archfoe, Darren Cross. In a lot of ways, this book is basically Spider-Man 2, minus the spectacular fight choreography or the compelling villain.

It also doesn't help that this book is weighed down by some pretty leaden exposition and zero tension. For example, does anyone really think that Cross's hostage - Cassie Lang, who was recently resurrected for the sole purpose of being a supporting character in this series - is really going to die five issues in? (And the way that Scott winds up rescuing her winds up feeling pretty wonky, even by comic book science standards. Somehow Doctor Sondheim just happened to have another heart lying around?)

That said, while the script feels pretty hollow, the artwork is still quite strong. Ramon Rosanas reminds me a lot of Kevin Maguire, with some very clean, expressive characters. Admittedly, some of his characters read a little stiffer than usual - in particular, Darren Cross, who looks a bit like a pink Neanderthal in a Speedo - but he really does some nice work with Scott's size-changing effects, utilizing a strobe effect to show how he shrinks down to escape danger. (He also seems to really relish the last action sequence of the book, no matter how out of left field it comes.)

Consider it growing pains - Ant-Man is going to be part of Marvel's collective consciousness for at least a little while, thanks to the character's upcoming film. But just like moviegoers are going to be curious how this character is going to stand out amongst the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spencer and Rosanas really need to carve Scott Lang's niche out further. While he's a little bit of a screw-up in the same vein as Spencer's Boomerang was in Superior Foes of Spider-Man, it's not pronounced enough to really make him stand out. There's tons of potential behind Ant-Man, but this issue barely scratches the surface.

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence: Nightwing and Oracle #2
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons and Wes Dzioba
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Who said again that superheroes can’t get married or be happy? It probably doesn’t even matter at this point, considering Gail Simone has done it in Convergence: Nightwing and Oracle #2 where the two tie the knot after soundly defeating the Thanagarian Hawks.

For an industry that’s obsessed with keeping its heroes single and emotionally downtrodden, it was refreshing to see something different. This is a big sell point for a lot of fans, but I didn’t grow up reading this relationship in the comics, which is - I think - why the final two pages of the issue lost me. For 21 pages, Nightwing, Oracle, and - with a surprise appearance - Black Canary fight against the invading Thanagarian Hawks, which is where this book suffers the most. One of the most challenging aspects of making a fighting-driven issue is that the writer has to make sure that it stays interesting and engaging. Readers should constantly be wondering what’s going to happen next and hopefully, along the way, some dialogue and exposition will drop some thematic gravitas as well. Convergence: Nighting and Oracle #2 simply falls short in that regard.

It’s incredibly clear from the get-go that Nightwing and Oracle are going to win - it is their book, after all. Unfortunately, that made it incredibly difficult to feel invested in what was happening. Simone gives some nuance to the fight by holding back the introduction of Black Canary until her entrance became the most dramatic; Oracle, also, got a wonderful moment where she faced down Hawkgirl on her own. But these weren’t enough to make the fight interesting enough with which to stay consistently engaged. Sure, the quips between the characters were witty and charming, but that wasn’t enough to make the fight more important than wanting to know what comes after Nightwing and Oracle’s obvious success. Though, it has to be said that the art team - consisting of penciler Jan Duursema, inker Dan Parsons, and colorist Wes Dzioba - did a phenomenal job rendering the art. While there were repetitive poses and images, the fight was illustrated fairly dynamically. It was also interesting to see the damages the fight caused on the characters; this was the first time in a while where I noticed visible injuries and bruises on characters during and after the fight, which ultimately made it feel that much more real.

Unfortunately, there are only two pages after the fight scene and all is wrapped up neatly in a bow. That’s not to say that ending that wrap everything up aren’t appreciated - because, trust me, they are - but Simone does it in such a way that it’s too quick to feel much or appreciate what just happened. This is where, within the context of Convergence, Convergence: Nightwing and Oracle #2 falls short. The Hawks are allowed to stay, under the stipulation that they can’t attempt to conquer Gotham, and Dick and Barbara get married. It would have been nice to see Simone address with her characters what kind of life they’re facing now that they bested the Hawks in Telos’ challenge, but no such luck.

Nonetheless, those last two panels of Dick carrying Barbara bridal style from the wedding and crossing the threshold into their home made that fight scene worth it, even just momentarily. Regardless of the shaky battle, the art was the highlight of the book; though there were several points that earn high praise from this reviewer—specifically Oracle’s panel of facing down Hawkgirl - it wasn’t enough to evoke a significant feeling. Hopefully, however, this won’t be the last time we get two see two heroes exploring their feelings and eventually getting married.

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