Best Shots Reviews: MS. MARVEL #17, MIDNIGHTER #3, CIVIL WAR #2, More

DC Comics August 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel #17
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Is there anything Ms. Marvel fans have wanted more than seeing Kamala Khan and Carol Danvers fight crime together? Probably not, and in this month’s Ms. Marvel #17, G. Willow Wilson has given us a team-up that’s well worth the wait. A continuation of Ms. Marvel’s "Last Days" storyline, this month sees Kamala recruit her role model and namesake for one last act of heroism before the end of the world.

A Kamala-Carol team-up could get played off as a gimmicky gag, but Wilson incorporates Captain Marvel perfectly into the mayhem facing Jersey City during the world’s final hours. Carol’s attitude towards Kamala is curious, but not condescending. Kamala isn’t a joke, or a kid in a costume. Wilson smartly uses this long-awaited cameo as an opportunity to further flesh out Kamala as both a young teen and future Avenger by treating Kamala and Carol as a team on patrol rather than a veteran popping into make a novelty out of a novice.

Aside from the charming story with Wolverine during the first arc of Ms. Marvel, we haven’t had the opportunity to see Kamala interact much with superpowered adults within the confines of her own title. This story is fun, but also vitally important for Kamala’s growth: at heart, she is an idealistic and headstrong teenager who envisions using her powers to save the world and get in good with the Avengers, not always in that order. But she wants to save everyone, and as Captain Marvel tells her here in a page that will break your heart, “You can’t save everybody. Not without damaging yourself.”

It’s important to see Kamala with someone like Carol. She legitimizes Kamala’s anguish at letting any life go unsaved, but gives Kamala the strength to keep moving on to save her brother Amir. While it would have been fun to see Carol and Kamala in more light-hearted circumstances, this tale is the perfect way to round out Kamala’s development as a character as volume one of Wilson’s Ms. Marvel comes to a close.

Artist Adrian Alphona does a similarly strong job incorporating Captain Marvel into Ms. Marvel #17. Alphona makes clever use of Ms. Marvel’s shapeshifting powers and her height difference with Captain Marvel to incorporate a number of playful visual gags, in particular during a fight scene with Jersey City’s “finest punk electricians.” His style is surreal enough to make the powers of Inhumans like Kaboom seem perfectly normal in what could otherwise pass as a slice-of-life tale of Jersey City (apocalyptic chaos aside). He captures Kamala’s personality perfectly with her expressive features, and he and Wilson are the perfect team to round out this arc.

While Ms. Marvel #17 is a strong single issue, it feels incomplete, and will likely seem more eventful when read all at once with the rest of the "Last Days" Ms. Marvel arc. This new twist with Kamala, Amir and the Inhumans is intriguing, but seems insignificant compared to the Incursion event threatening Earth. The lack of urgency is a problem with Wilson’s writing, and more an issue with the timing of the various "Last Days" events. With the luxury of an ongoing solo series, Wilson can take the time to set up future storylines against the backdrop of Secret Wars. Month-to-month readers will find Ms. Marvel #17 a deeply satisfying issue, especially for Kamala and Carol’s relationship, but new readers will want to wait until this arc is finished to catch up.

Credit: DC Comics

Midnighter #3
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by ACO, Hugo Petreus and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

"My name is Midnighter. One of my people told me your story, and I wanted to talk you about finding your daughter and beating, infinitively and repeatedly, the people that took her."

That single line might be the best way to distill Steve Orlando and ACO's take on Midnighter, as well as the best litmus test to determine whether or not this might be the book for you. If you're into crazy action with a streak of jet-black humor, this might be the book for you. If you prefer your comics to be more straightforward and less experimental - one might even say run of the mill - what can I tell you? You're missing out a great book.

The best way I might describe Midnighter is if you wanted a team-up between his co-creator Warren Ellis and David Aja, this is the kind of book you'd probably want to read. While he jumps from scene to scene in a manner that might confuse you, Steve Orlando's enthusiasm is contagious, as he gives Midnighter all sorts of brutal one-liners and over-the-top fits of violence, as he searches for a kidnapped girl and instead finds himself fist-to-face against the self-replicating villain Multiplex. "I'm the Devil, Dougie," a smiling Midnighter tells a thug who is literally crumpled up on the floor. "I've just dug my way up from Hell and I subsist completely on the whimpering of tough-aspiring excrement such as yourself." That's some speechifying at Warren Ellis or Mark Millar's level, and it ultimately steals the show from the actual action.

Yet what might make or break Midnighter is the fact that this issue jumps around at a frenetic pace - after a first page filled with bravado, Orlando jumps to a Boston nightclub and then an Oakland apartment building. Thankfully, you'll want to slow down to catch up, thanks to the magnificent artwork of ACO, who is giving DC Comics their long-overdue answer to Marvel's David Aja. ACO does some very interesting things to compress the action, whether its his super-tight panel layouts, or the way he throws together a dozen almost psychedelic insets featuring bad guys screaming in pain. People have long talked about reading books by the trade, but I'd argue books like Midnighter should invite a different paradigm - reading it on mobile. Indeed, while ACO's pages are jam-packed with exquisite detail - all he needs is one page of a smiling Midnighter beating on Multiplex to show how bad it gets - seeing it on a small screen actually breaks it up, unspooling what is in fact a truly dense read.

If there's one element that Midnighter still struggles with, however, it's the human aspect. It's not for lack of trying, though - Orlando goes to great lengths to show Midnighter out of the mask, but the same sort of bleak enthusiasm doesn't necessarily translate here. Looking back at Midnighter's breakup with Apollo is the most heartfelt this book gets, and while it's smartly written, it's also starting to retread the same ground they did last issue. Unfortunately, Midnighter's new beau, Matt, doesn't quite hold a candle to Apollo - he's certainly a supportive guy, but at the moment there's not much depth to make him as interesting as a supporting character. Who knows, maybe Matt will turn out to be a crazy supervillain or a decisive ally, but as it currently stands, his scenes just make for an awkward bookend that hampers Midnighter's flow.

Yet even where Midnighter stumbles, it's still plenty of steps ahead of just about any other book from the DC lineup. There's an enthusiasm and drive to experiment from all the creators in this book, and that leads to a freshness that you'd be hard-pressed to find in most cape and cowl comics these days. It's very clear that Orlando, ACO and company are having a blast telling the Midnighter's stories, and it's difficult for that feeling not to become contagious.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Civil War #2
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan and Sunny Gho
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

While I was a bit lukewarm to Charles Soule and Leinil Francis Yu's Civil War #1, now that this book's purview has expanded, it's turned into a much more interesting look at the way things could have escalated. The thrill of this second issue - much the same as the original Civil War - is not so much seeing Steve Rogers and Tony Stark continue their feud, but seeing how the rest of the Marvel Universe has been warped in their wake.

If there's one thing that might be holding Civil War back, it's that it's constantly building up, rather than having strong moments of cathartic upheaval. Steve and Tony are eying each other wearily, each recogizing the detente. Yet the first issue of Civil War was ultimately Charles Soule having to work with the templates Mark Millar set up nearly a decade ago - now he finally gets to draw his own party lines.

There's an implied history to Cap and Tony's factions in Civil War #2 that makes for some fun reading. Elektra, for example, has a new Daredevil-inspired outfit in the wake of Matt Murdock's death, while you can't help but wonder what caused those rust-covered scars across Colossus' left arm. (Admittedly, there's also some curveballs to the mix, like why Bucky would join the Iron, or why Steve would ever ally himself with Magneto.) Still, it's that history that lends some credence to this alternate Civil War, giving it its own identity outside of the Millar/McNiven megahit.

With all these new characters in the mix, it also gives Leinil Francis Yu more to do. I really like the more realistic designs he's given characters like Storm here, as there's a nice military spin to her '80s mohawk look, or the more streamlined take on Venom. When the action picks up, Yu also looks very dynamic - in particular, a parajumping sequence looks superb, and I kind of love the quasi-mystical look Peter Parker as, as he readies his webshooters in case one of his oldest foes tries to escape. Yet while Yu's design chops are getting stronger, some of the fine detail work from inker Gerry Alanguilan and colorist Sunny Gho is lost. Captain America in particular looks pretty bland and overrendered, and his bright yellow hair looks out of place for Gho's otherwise textured palette.

Ultimately, this series follows its namesake when it comes to having trouble finding a focus - but the original Civil War also was relatively simple in scope and scale compared to this. Yet if Soule can really dig into this alternate history, he'll find a whole world of storytelling possibilities. Here's hoping that this Civil War continues to heat up.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League: Gods and Monsters - Wonder Woman #1
Written by Bruce Timm and JM DeMatteis
Art by Rick Leonardi and Allen Passalaqua
Lettering by Saida Temofonte
Published by DC Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Bruce Timm and JM DeMatteis' Justice League: Gods and Monsters casts the spotlight on Wonder Woman, but we soon find that Bekka of the New Gods is no Diana of Themyscira. This Gods and Monsters take on Wonder Woman is probably the most inspired of the reimagined Trinity, even if its simple but effective script is hampered by some dodgy artwork.

Brought to Earth in the 1960's by the sentient Mother Box to escape the war between Apokolips and New Genesis, New God Bekka soon settled into a peaceful life. Alas, rampant inequality and conflict brings Bekka's inner warlord back out into the open until she finds a kindred spirit in a commune of hippies. But when psychedelic drug manufacture turns into human experimentation, Bekka must take a stand...

At its core, DeMatteis' Wonder Woman is about the struggle to find balance between a far-fetched dream and cold-hearted reality. Timm and DeMatteis have chosen wisely by setting Bekka's descent into darkness in the thick of 1960's youth culture; a movement that championed hedonism as an antidote to a fast-changing and seemingly unkind world.

DeMatteis' script is a big improvement on his work on Gods and Monsters: Batman. He mostly reins the narrative exposition in without eliminating it completely, letting the more dramatic moments speak for themselves. Or at least, he tries to until the issue's climax, when the need to spout descriptive prose all over his final battle sequence becomes too much to bear. It's unnecessary, but kind of works if you take it as a fun little stylistic throwback to the silver age. Dialogue-wise, De Matteis isn't one for subtle characterisation. This is a loud and brash comic book, complete with a sunglasses-wearing, weaselly haired “Saturday morning cartoon”-style scientist for a villain. Justice League: Gods and Monsters - Wonder Woman #1 a fast food comic book; technically average but hugely enjoyable for what it is.

Rick Leonardi's bold and loose artwork solidly tells DeMatteis' script, but lacks even the most basic detail. Characters and backgrounds alike often appear completely unadorned, save for the most rudimentary of features. For instance, about midway through the book, a young woman with three white dots for a face watches Bekka lift a car with outstretched arms. In her left hand is five deformed fingers, and on her right only three. It's unacceptable, even for a comic book that was initially digital only. On a more positive note, Leonardi's panel composition is great, always focused and able to tug the reader along at the pace dictated by DeMatteis' script. Leonardi is at his best when he gives himself room. His big and bold action scenes pop out of the page, while his sloppy lines and lack of attention to detail matter less when all eyes are focused on his characters' dynamic poses.

Atop Leonardi's pencils, Allen Passalaqua's palette of vivid color injects the tone of the Timm's DC animated universe on to the page. His bright greens, reds and flesh tones completely dominate Leonardi's flat and empty artwork, lending it a Filmation-esque look that is surprisingly attractive.

There's a lot to like in Justice League: Gods and Monsters - Wonder Woman #1, but it's far from perfect. Rick Leonardi's artwork is mostly sub-par, even if Passalaqua's bold and bright colors bring out the best of it for the finished article. As a concept, Wonder Woman running a 1960's hippie commune is up there with the best that Elseworlds has ever had to offer, but DeMatteis' script doesn't quite wring all the potential it promises.

Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

The Shadow #1
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Giovanni Timpano and Marco Lesko
Lettering by Rob Steen
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Relaunches are commonplace in the world of comic books; more uncommon, however, is a relaunch that recaptures the feel and tone of the book it was before. Taking place after July’s rousing zero year adventure, writer Cullen Bunn along with artists Giovanni Timpano and Marco Lesko unleash the Shadow as he conducts a one man war against the might of the United Society of Magicians in order to keep the secrets of Harry Houdini. The Shadow #1 is a lot of things: fast-paced, viciously entertaining, but above all else, it's a wonderful entry point into one of Dynamite’s most consistent titles. Free of laborious continuity and designed as a gateway for new readers, The Shadow #1 soars as a hard-knuckle yarn that aims to show the less pulp minded comic readers just what they’ve been missing.

Picking up just mere days after the events of The Shadow #0, the comic opens on the vile lengths the Society is willing to go to learn the secrets of Houdini as well as our macabre hero rousting any and all Society hideouts he can find. Writer Cullen Bunn smartly keeps The Shadow #1 moving at a brisk pace as we follow Lamont Cranston from interrogation to action scene all throughout this debut issue. After tearing through a big top circus in search of a Society deserter and tracking down a phony medium bilking rubes out of hard-earned money, the Shadow has the information he needs to strike deep at the wicked hearts of the Society, but, unfortunately for our hero, the magicians are not above spilling as much blood as they can in order to protect themselves and their secrets. Cullen Bunn starts The Shadow #1 with a bang and ends it with a gout of blood, thus proving that he knows exactly what pulp audiences want and isn’t afraid to give it to them with gusto. Thankfully The Shadow #1 isn’t just mindless pulp exploitation; its exploitation wrapped in a compelling story tailor made for comics. Who wouldn’t want to read about a vengeful vigilante taking on a guild of stage magician?

While Cullen Bunn’s script brings the sizzle, the pencils of Giovanni Timpano and the colors of Marco Lesko provide one hell of an artistic steak with The Shadow #1. Keeping firmly in the tone and design scheme set by Colton Worley in the zero issue, Timpano and Lesko provide some truly arresting pages throughout this debut, such as the Shadow’s chase of the errant circus magician and the bloody end of that same deserter. Timpano’s Shadow glides through each page like a resting spectre, lashing out when provoked or on the hunt for some evil-doer. Timpano also has a real eye for the period costuming and the blocking of action scenes. Like Bunn’s script, Timpano’s blocking never feels excessive or hard to follow like certain comic book action sequences tend to be, mainly thanks to his clearly defined sharp lines that keep the energy contained to the characters and certain props and vehicles employed in the set pieces. Colorist Marco Lesko also does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to keeping The Shadow #1's energy from going wild. Lesko colors the entirety of this debut in exaggerated color choices, but never so exaggerated that they feel out of place. Lesko colors this debut like a half-remembered dream with deep blacks, garish purples and greens, as well as a heavy dose of yellowish lighting. Pulp artwork can find beauty in the muck and blood that stain its pages and Giovanni Timpano and Marco Lesko bring more than enough beauty and blood to The Shadow #1.

Relaunch doesn’t have to be a dirty word when it comes to comic books. The Shadow #1 shows that, in the right hands, a relaunch can be precisely what the doctor ordered. Fast paced, unrelenting, and a blast to read this debut from the latest in a long line of creative teams hits the sweet spot between established property and perfect entry point. You don’t have to read The Shadow #0 or any other Shadow title in order to fully enjoy The Shadow #1, you simply have to like good comic books.

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