Best Shots Reviews: SIEGE #1, BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT #22, BLACK CANARY #2, More

DC Comics July 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

Happy Monday, ‘Rama Readers! Best Shot’s resident Girl Friday here manning the ship for the final day without our fearless leader, David Pepose. Let’s just hope he brings us all back some of those excellent French comic books. Speaking of comic books, let’s get this column started with a trip to Battleworld…

Credit: Marvel Comics

Siege #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Felipe Andrade
Colors by Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

It’s hard not to love a Kieron Gillen title right out of the gate, but unfortunately, muddy artwork threatens to turn Siege’s slow build into a tedious crawl.

Despite the name, Siege is more a spiritual sequel to Gillen’s 2010 S.W.O.R.D series where Siege’s protagonist Abigail Brand led the titular off-ward protection agency. It bears little in common with the 2010 event series of the same name, and prior knowledge of either Siege or the S.W.O.R.D. series isn’t necessary to leap into Secret WarsSiege head first.

In this iteration of Siege, Abigail Brand is now the commander of the force charged with defending the Shield, a planet-spanning wall established by Doctor Doom to separate the more civilized northern realms from monstrous hordes of zombies and Ultrons to the South. A wall that seems, by Brand’s own admission, unnecessary: the same Shield breach that orphaned her thirty years prior was stopped easily by Doom, though only when it became inconvenient enough to him.

So, if Doom is clearly capable of eradicating global threats on his own, what exactly is the purpose of the Shield? This is the overarching mystery of Siege, succinctly summed up in the closing pages by Brand: “There is no ‘win’ here. We just can’t fail.” Unfortunately for Brand, an ominous message from the future puts a strict deadline on our discovery of the truth. In twenty days, Thanos comes calling, and the Shield goes down.

Unfortunately, Felipe Andrade’s art is not a good fit for Gillen’s writing style. Gillen is a clear and concise writer with a skill for building intriguing teams of characters, but much of his dialogue relies on a strong illustrator to clear up the intent in characters’ expressions and body language. Andrade’s expressions fall flat, and the characters feel static and incomplete.

When Abigail and her Asgardian second-in-command, Leah, exchange ‘harsh words,’ their faces are neutral, or can’t be seen. Are they mad? Ambivalent? Resigned? It’s difficult to say. Characters spend much of their time standing around, hands at their sides (where there are hands, rather than unfinished limbs), looking bored or smiling blandly. If Gillen’s premise -- perpetual yet failing heroism as the cruelest punishment -- is to pack any emotional punch, substantially more dynamic artwork is needed, and fast.

The most visually compelling pages in the book are by a guest artist, James Stokoe. His depiction of Eldritch Abomination-style giant Ant-Men descending on the wall is a deeply unsettling two page spread that drives at the heart of what makes Brand’s task as Shield Commander so deeply horrifying. Punctuated by excerpts from Brand’s war journal, the sight of thousands of unrelenting monsters unwittingly created by her own colleagues is the most striking representation of the emotional punishment Doom is clearly trying to exact.

Siegehas the potential to be an interesting and more psychological addition to Marvel’s stable of tie-ins. By sentencing the likes of Miss America Chavez (fresh from her sentencing in A-Force #1) and Lady Kate Bishop (Secret Wars Journal #1) to the Shield, is Doom punishing them with their inevitable death, or punishing them with their failure to protect the lands to the north? But while this philosophical bent is Gillen’s strong suit, Siege #1 lags in large part thanks to a bevy of inscrutable faces and muddled emotions. With any luck, the art will take a more dynamic turn in future issues -- or the story will be compelling enough to make up for it.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman: Arkham Knight, Chapter 22
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Ig Guara, Juan Ferreira and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Following the critical success of the game Batman: Arkham Knight, the Batman: Arkham Knight digital-first series continues with the ‘Who Wants to Kill a Billionaire?’ four part arc in its twenty-second chapter. For those of you who haven’t been keeping up, the Penguin sent a newly-formed government and Amanda Waller-free Suicide Squad, recruited by Harley Quinn, to kill Bruce Wayne. As Batman faces the Suicide Squad, writer Peter Tomasi and artist Ig Guara make great action sequences worthy of the title, exposition and character development that ultimately falls short in quality.

The saving grace of this issue is how it’s connected to the overall Arkham universe and how the combat visually compares to what we’d expect from the games: explosive, seamless and engaging. Guara does a great job on pencils making each panel flow from one to the next on the digital platform, which is critical when you have a mix of fighters like Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang and Deadshot taking on Batman all at once. Because of their different fighting styles — Harley as more acrobatic and the latter two long-distance fighters — it would have been easy to have the art feel stunted if too much ended up happening at once on the page. Guara zoomed in on the focus point of each action, letting whoever Batman wasn’t directly fighting against do their thing off panel. It felt exactly like the game, especially with inker Juan Ferreira’s action lines. That made everything feel more dynamic in movement.

Unfortunately, seeing the game mechanics come to life on the comic book page isn’t enough to overlook some of the more glaring flaws in the narrative. Tomasi attempts to have Alfred cover up the fact that the Suicide Squad saw Bruce getting into the car and then have Batman come out after exiting the tunnel. While it was nice to see Alfred’s acting skills in action, it doesn’t explain why the Suicide Squad was fixed on fighting Batman instead of attempting to just follow Bruce’s trail after Batman “threw Mister Wayne from the automobile.” Nor did any of them question the candid way Alfred acted towards Batman even though the art suggests that at least Harley and Captain Boomerang saw it happen only feet in front of them.

Tomasi’s characterization of Batman is frustratingly inconsistent with the rest of the Arkham series. At one point, Harley shows an actual moment of lucid clarity where Harleen seemingly takes over to realize the horrible things she’s done, and Batman just turns around and says, “I don’t give a crap about your problems!” With a Bruce Wayne so obsessed with rehabilitating Gotham and the games showing that he takes interest in helping villains with the potential for rehabilitation (see Azrael’s storyline), the writing for Batman came off as inconsistent in that moment. The writing for Harley, though, was nuanced and enjoyable. It shows her personality flitting throughout the fight with Batman. That was a great way for Tomasi to continue to demonstrate how the Joker’s death impacted her and how Harley still has humanity in her.

Credit: DC Comics

Black Canary #2
Written by Brenden Fletcher
Art by Annie Wu and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

With every concert resulting in fisticuffs or some seriously bad juju … or both, Dinah prepares her bandmates for the battles they don’t see coming. While music is the top-billed priority for some, others seem to be hiding behind it. Through personal conflicts and dive-bar chaos, Brenden Fletcher is only starting to show us who Black Canary is.

Since the narrative is just getting started, the strength of Black Canary isn’t in the overall plot (yet). Black Canary sings in the finer details, and is beautifully illustrated by Annie Wu and Lee Loughridge. Their art is full of untamed style, unexpected color and a signature cohesiveness with the intended daring spirit of the book. This creates some enjoyable character-building.

The first page strikes us with what a gorgeous issue Black Canary #2 is, filled with remarkable perspectives and tons of emotion. From the barrel of the gun that moves to the focused look in Dinah’s eye to her definitive jawline, Wu makes her stand out sharply as our leading lady and as the gutsy girl that she is. Wu hilariously flips that coin from serious to light-hearted later as Dinah globs purple bleach onto the roots of her blonde hair, and her bandmates look on in horror and awe of the potential scalp burn, deeming her a “superhero.” This bona fide self-bleached blonde chuckled.

That’s also where Fletcher playfully gets to the heart of the matter. Dinah is a superhero. Even if she doesn’t want to be right now, she can’t help herself. She shows her warm, protective side along with boundless martial arts prowess. You could fill an entire story arc with the origin of those skills, and Wu renders those sequences with ferocious dynamism. This creative team does an excellent job of giving Dinah her due gravity. The supporting cast is also worth its weight in nuance and modern characterization. There’s chemistry, conflict and mystery in just the right amounts.

Lord Byron is level-headed, loyal and serves as the voice of exposition. Paloma Terrific is the skeptical discontent, giving way to the creative differences that ultimately force Dinah to shoot straight from the hip – another tenet of the character. Ditto reads as the gentle savant with a magically enigmatic past that drives the narrative and creates curiosity for what’s coming. This characterization is also a nice contrast to the blunt-force, Hollywood-style edge of Dinah, Paloma and Byron.

For all of this solid foundation, the reveal of Dinah’s husband as one of the entities in hot pursuit of the band is disappointingly predictable. Sure, one of the key themes so far is that these characters all have a past. But is it really necessary, in her many iterations pre and post New 52, to intertwine her narrative with that of a significant other? It doesn’t necessarily make her more relatable and she has much more story potential beyond the status of her love relationships. It may be too soon to write this plot point off, and it doesn’t rob the character of her agency, but it does read as a bit boring, though.

Black Canary is a worthwhile issue for the top-notch art alone. That, combined with the distinct characterization, make Black Canary feel authentic, even if mildly predictable at times. Perhaps once the narrative is further established and we move beyond the first arc, Dinah can do her own thing. And if Dinah stays true to herself, we should be pleasantly surprised.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League #42
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The Anti-Monitor has come to Earth and hell followed with him in Justice League #42. We are just two issues into Geoff Johns’ latest epic here with Jason Fabok and already the stakes are sky high. The League’s biggest guns, Superman and Lex Luthor, have been whisked away to Apokolips, the rest of the League are facing down the destruction of Grail and the Anti-Monitor, and Mister Miracle has come face to face with the woman who set this all in motion, Myrina Black. It’s go big or die time for the Justice League and Johns, along with artist Fabok and colorist Brad Anderson, make Justice League #42 properly huge despite this issue’s limited action and predilection toward exposition.

We begin Justice League #42 on Apokolips with once mortal foes Superman and Luthor after Luthor took a bullet thanks to his sister, Lena. It’s on Apokolips that we are treated to the first of a few jaw-dropping visuals from Fabok and Anderson. Superman’s reveal to Luthor is accompanied by a truly striking single page splash of the burning surface of Apokolips complete with dark spires and crowded crops of buildings. This terrifying vista is just the tip of iceberg for the art team, who have provided dynamite visuals throughout their time on Justice League, making it look like the blockbuster title that DC expects it to be.

After a quick check-in on the battle plans of Darkseid, who plans to send the full forces of the Furies, Mantis, and his firstborn Kalibak to invade the Earth and make war on the Anti-Monitor, we are back on Earth where Wonder Woman prepares to strike against Grail and the newly arrived Anti-Monitor. Johns smartly presents Diana as our lead in Justice League #42, giving her an effective internal monologue throughout and positioning her mission to prevent war as an interesting counter-point to the battle hungry forces of Grail and the Anti-Monitor. While Johns’ handling of Wonder Woman is better than expected, it’s short-lived as Metron Boom Tubes to the rescue and spirits the League away to the Rock of Eternity in order to save them. It’s here that Justice League #42 starts to spin its wheels a bit too quickly and not really gain much traction until its required final page cliffhanger.

After the League is rescued, in another fit of Fabook and Anderson razzle-dazzle, we cut to Mister Miracle who is now in the company of Myrina Black in her hidden sanctum. It’s with this scene that Johns realizes that he still has a lot of narrative ground to cover and not a lot of time in which to do it, so Myrina is the vessel of one his patented info dumps in which she reveals that she is Grail’s mother and she tasked her daughter with traversing the cosmos in order to find a being powerful enough to kill Darkseid. Enter the Anti-Monitor and enter the complete halt of any and all momentum that Justice League #42 had accumulated. To make matters worse, when we check back in with the League and Metron, Johns marks time for a few pages more with a reminder of who Metron is and how he gains his knowledge just to get to the issue’s cliffhanger. This would be pretty egregious stuff if Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson weren’t here to render it all beautifully and with genuine gravitas. Fabook’s Metron looks suitably regal and each hero of the League is detailed gorgeously aided by the rich colors of Anderson. The Justice League may not have many secret weapons in their arsenal, but Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson surely fit that bill.

All told Justice League #42 is a good, but not great issue from a creative team that has touched greatness before. Geoff Johns, Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson are a solid creative team and have the potential to make "The Darkseid War" a proper blockbuster once they blast away the exposition and playing for time. Thankfully though, we are just two issues into this arc. They have plenty of time to right the ship, and get to the good stuff hiding just underneath Johns’ verbosity. What remains to be seen is if the Justice League is left standing after the smoke clears.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Hawkeye #22
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

It’s hard to stick the landing. It’s even harder when readers have been waiting for it for months on end. When talking about Hawkeye, it’s impossible to ignore the numerous delays the series has had throughout its schedule. This finale was released five months after the previous issue. That anticipation builds and builds and ultimately, the issue either delivers or it doesn’t. Luckily for fans, Hawkeye #22 delivers.

The success of Hawkeye #22 begins with the scale of the story being told. Writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja pass on the temptation to go big in the finale. There are no worlds at stake here, just an apartment complex. This scaled down conflict has always added to the intimacy of the series. Not just with the titular duo or their supporting cast, but with the villains as well. That the Tracksuit Draculas fight so intensely over the apartment complex suggests that, as with the residents, this building is a huge part of their lives. And bro do they fight. Hawkeye #22 is an all-out brawl as Hawkeye (Barton), Hawkeye (Bishop), Lucky the Pizza Dog and the hotel residents battle it out with Ivan, the Tracksuit Draculas and the Clown.

With so much going on, it’d be easy for the issue to be a confusing mess, but Aja brings a beauty to the proceedings. There aren’t any fancy layouts here, though one has to marvel at the way Aja can make a page with seventeen panels work. Aja’s storytelling here is beautiful. Each moment is given just the right amount of page space, and the detail means that Fraction is free to craft some wicked dialogue rather than explain the scenes. In addition to his storytelling ability is his brilliant character work. A standout for me is his take on Kate Bishop, who has always possessed an assuredness that belies her age. Here, that confidence takes on a ferocity that is rarely given to young women in comics, and it works brilliantly.

Aiding Aja is color artist Matt Hollingsworth. Using a muted palette, Hollingsworth has always brought an indie feel to Hawkeye that has made it stand out from the rest of Marvel’s offerings. His use of a more realistic palette as opposed to the bombastic colors of a superhero story or the cold blues and greens of a spy story has made the adventures of Hawkeye all the more relatable. When the apartment comes under attack, there’s a sense that this could be happening just down the street, and that connection makes the book all the more endearing to the reader.

What Hawkeye #22 does exceptionally well is that it works both on its own and as a finale to the series. If a new reader would pick this book up, they’d likely seek out the rest of the series, and returning readers will find an extremely satisfying end. There are a number of series payoffs in this issue; the return of the boomerang arrow is one that stood out for me. The brawl between Clint Barton and the Clown is a particularly exciting climax after the latter has done so much to hurt the former. And the issue’s final pages are some of the most gratifying I have read, perfectly encapsulating the world of Hawkeye.

Long waits can build anticipation to points where a book cannot recover, no matter how solid the content is. But Hawkeye #22, through brilliant work by Matt Fraction, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth, exceeds expectations and delivers a satisfying ending that doesn’t lose sight of what the book was. In the end, Hawkeye #22 succeeds by staying true to its characters and itself. Goodbye, bro, and thank you.

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