Best Shots Reviews: DETECTIVE COMICS #935, DR. STRANGE #9, ARCHIE #9

"Archie #9" cover
Credit: Archie Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Detective Comics #935
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira and Adriano Lucas
Lettering by Marilyn Patrizio
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It’s training day for the sidekicks of Gotham City, but thanks to from truly next-level work from James Tynion IV and Eddy Barrows, I think it’s safe to say that the kids are all right. Juggling action and characterization with equal aplomb, Detective Comics #935 builds upon the successful launchpad of Batman Eternal and Batman & Robin Eternal, fleshing out Batman’s lesser-known associates with an exciting new dynamic and reminding us why we loved them in the first place.

This new run of Detective Comics in many ways feels so appropriate for Tynion. Rising up the ranks at DC as a student and protege of Batman scribe Scott Snyder, it makes sense that a story about mentorship and precocious youth would be right up his alley. But in many other ways, Detective Comics feels like a case of the student becoming the teacher — there’s a real rhythm to the pacing here, starting with a nightmarish opening sequence featuring the Bat-trainees fighting a losing battle against a horde of homicidal Jokers, and ending with a truly excellent cliffhanger as Batman squares off against a veritable army of bad guys. Action choreography is often overlooked in today’s talky and decompressed landscape, but Tynion works well with Barrows to make all these fun set pieces seem exciting.

And if DC’s "Rebirth" is about fleshing out forgotten characters while bringing new ideas to the DC Universe, consider Detective Comics mission accomplished. Down to the Danger Room-esque “Mud Room,” Tynion seems to be taking a page from old-school Chris Claremont/ John Byrne Uncanny X-Men with this series, balancing striking action with some endearing melodrama. When you combine that with the potent characteristics of the Bat-family, and you’ve got yourself some truly compelling stuff. Watching Tim Drake wrestle with deciding between a prestigious scholarship or remaining in Gotham is a great dynamic for a Robin, while his budding relationship with the Spoiler is almost diabetically cute. Even Batwoman’s critiques of her charge’s fighting styles are a great insight into the team as characters, from Spoiler’s lack of conditioning to one-time assassin Orphan compensating for everyone else’s shortcomings.

And let me tell you, Eddy Barrows is really something here. The amount of growth he’s had over the past five years is nothing less than astonishing — he, along with inker Eber Ferriera and colorist Adriano Lucas, do some fantastic work here, with some hints of Bryan Hitch, Alan Davis and Mike McKone that anchor this book nicely. Like Tynion, Barrows has really struck a nice balance between the frenetic action sequences and the human drama — while scenes like Tim and Stephanie’s rendezvous looks tender and heartwarming (although that last panel with their costumes seems to inadvertently echo that infamous Nick Fury gun holster panel from the ‘70s), he ramps up to a pretty spectacular car chase at the end of the book that really showcases his versatility as an artist. Even little bits of experimentation, like showing the Bat-symbol while Batwoman swoops away, is a fun nod to the character’s most memorable artist, J.H. Williams III.

There’s a certain subsection of DC Comics fans that’s likely been a little forlorn in recent years, with the spike in Damian Wayne’s Q rating coming at the expense of Batman’s other beloved sidekicks. And for those readers, Detective Comics #935 is like Christmas come early — it seems like a no-brainer to have Batman’s various associates under one united team, and yet no one has been able to make it work until now. But not only is this title a new bright spot in the Bat-books, but already seems to be marking a career high for the creative team involved. For lapsed readers, now is the time to enroll, because Bat-class is officially in session — and this is some reading you’re going to want to finish early.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Doctor Strange #9
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Chris Bachalo, Mark Irwin, John Livesay, Victor Olazaba, Al Vey, Tim Townsend, Jamie Mendoza and Java Tartaglia
Lettering Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

One of the most pleasant things about the current “Last Days of Magic” arc of Doctor Strange, a one-shot compilation of short stories notwithstanding, is that it has maintained an epic feel within an entirely self-contained setting. In this penultimate chapter to Jason Aaron’s second arc, many of the threads that he has been weaving the last few months come together.

With Strange gathering the last magical items on the planet together, Wong brings all the magic bearing people around the globe to Tibet for a last stand against the Empirikul. However, the good Doctor is unwilling to let anybody else die for his cause. Meanwhile, back at the Sanctum Sanctorum, the Empirkul’s soldiers have discovered a monster Strange and Wong quite literally keep in the cellar, made up of all the pain and suffering they’ve encountered. Seemingly able to take down the enemies of magic, it would seem like a complete deus ex machina were it not for the fact that Aaron leaves us unsure as to whether the creature is friend or foe.

The advantage of established fanbases in the comic book medium is that you sometimes get to mess with the formula a bit, and after establishing Doctor Strange as being complete outside the world of men in his first arc, here we get to see him stripped entirely of all the things he thought made him “special.” Strange himself is cast as a kind of Indiana Jones character, right down to a sequence where he runs from the natives (in this case, magic-eating monkeys) into the cockpit of a waiting propeller plane. Of course, Aaron is pulling on elements he dropped in back in the first few issues of the arc, especially the notion of the price that magicians have to pay for their craft. The rest of the magical cast, including the Scarlet Witch, Magik and Doctor Voodoo, are the last warriors standing. Librarian Zelda Stanton finally comes into her own, and we can only hope she sticks around for the long haul.

The long list of artists above is somewhat misleading, as this is unquestionably Chris Bachalo’s show, providing all of the pencils (and some of the color art). Every other name only the list is credited as an inker, undoubtedly needed for the heavy-lifting that Bachalo’s finely detailed art. Standout moments include the aforementioned plane sequence, presented as a two-page series of vertical panels; a splash page of the pain monster encircling a footvsoldier in a swirling black morass of evil; and the very sight of Strange standing in the snow with a battle axe.

There’s a little bit of a swagger about this issue, self-assured that Stephen Strange is every bit the hero without his magic as he is with it. It’s designed to make all of these characters as proudly epic as their spandex-clad Avengers friends. With a film due out in only a matter of months, Jason Aaron’s take on Strange is becoming close to a definitive one, perfectly accessible to the layman while providing something new and exciting to reward those who have stuck with it.

Credit: Archie Comics

Archie #9
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Veronica Fish, Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Veronica Lodge and her relationship with Riverdale’s favorite redhead gets some much-needed development in Archie #9. Though the fun, flirty and feisty brunette opposition for Betty Cooper wasn’t exactly flat before now, Mark Waid shows that all it takes to make her a full-fledged sympathetic female lead is a misunderstood grocery list. Along with some more truly hilarious visual gags and expressive body language from Veronica Fish, Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn, Archie #9 stands as another big win for New Riverdale and its creative teams.

This ninth issue is a classic fish-out-of-water story. Hindered by Mr. Lodge’s declaration from the previous issue, Archie and Veronica are forced to only hang out at Archie’s humble abode, much to the confusion of Veronica, who just assumes that she has only been seeing the guest house so far. Veronica in the hands of any other writer could come across haughty and pompous, but Mark Waid writes Ronnie’s high-class confusion as adorable; the scene of her being told that those are the wine glasses as she looks at a cabinet filled with mismatched tumblers is a particularly hilarious example.

It is also this confusion that leads to the issue’s best moments. As Veronica flounders in Archie’s middle class existence, she decides to brings a little bit of her world to Archie’s, in the form of a giant TV, a wait staff, and various other rich people perks. This in turn leads to some healthy tension between Veronica and Archie’s mother and, in large part, Archie himself. Though Veronica’s heart is in the right place, Waid doesn’t just keep the issue settled into easy comedy and offers some real consequences for Veronica’s short-sighted display.

Waid understands that this display, while fun and beneficial to a point, isn’t really for Archie and his family, but for Veronica, and doesn’t shy away from that emotional fallout in the form a poignant bit of reconnection between Archie and Betty. Betty, annoyingly sidelined in the title for a bit up until this point, pointedly asks if she has to change the world around Archie to be with him, then what’s the point? Though this scene adds another log onto the fire of Archie/Betty shipping, Waid stokes the flame just enough before pivoting to the completion of Veronica’s arc this issue, a tearful breakdown in the middle of a grocery store as she attempted to personally buy groceries for Archie’s mother. Though Veronica Lodge hasn’t been an undercooked lead up to this point, Archie #9 shows that maturity and development can come in the most unlikely of places.

While Waid’s script allows him ample opportunity for character layering, Veronica Fish, Andre Szymanowicz, and Jen Vaughn take the issue and turn it into another testament for their knack for comedy and emotional beats. Opening with a hilarious panel grid of the lengths Mr. Lodge is going to keep Archie out, including a live shark and sniper towers, the art team keeps the laughs coming throughout. That said, they don’t allow Archie #9 to stay comfortable with just easy comedy beats, and once the turn into pathos happens, they are right along with it, shelving the laughs for genuine emotion like the scene of Betty and Archie rekindling their connection and Archie kissing Veronica in the middle of her grocery store breakdown. While Archie has been mostly known for its laughs, Fish, Szymanowicz and Vaughn show that they can deliver heart just as well as they do comedy.

Archie #9 is a big turning point for Veronica. Before she was a sassy foil for Betty and very much defined by her relationship with Archie. However, now Mark Waid, Veronica Fish, Andre Szymanowicz, and Jen Vaughn show her in a new and surprisingly flattering light that allows her to stand apart from Archie as her own character, though the ginger did provide a strong push toward the development. Relationships are all about compromise and now with Archie #9, Veronica is finally at a place where she can comfortably do that for the man she loves.

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