Best Shots Reviews: SUPERWOMAN #2, BLACK PANTHER #6, DOOM PATROL #1, More

"Superwoman #2" variant by Terry Dodson
Credit: Terry Dodson (DC Comics)

Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Our Best Shots crew has grown by one this week, as we welcome Matthew Sibley of Streamed Consciousness into the fold. So let’s kick off today’s column with our newest member of the team, as Matthew takes a look at the sophomore issue of Superwoman

Credit: DC Comics

Superwoman #2
Written by Phil Jimenez
Art by Phil Jimenez, Matt Santorelli, Joe Prado and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Superwoman is a book that embodies the spirit of DC’s "Rebirth." Launched during an initiative designed to reinstate a sense of legacy that had been lost in the "New 52" while still moving forward and telling new stories, here we have a scenario reminiscent of the 1990’s when Superman died and other heroes stepped up to fill the void - but thankfully, Superwoman has enough differences to make it feel fresh instead of a retread.

After watching Lois Lane get killed in front of her, Lana Lang finds herself as the sole Superwoman - that is, if a Bizarro “white skinned horror scene” doesn’t end her as well. I understand that Lois fans may be frustrated with her being taken off the board so quickly in spite of her being the main focus of the book’s promotion, this is very much a book about parallels. Not just old and new, but Lois and Lana – writer/artist Phil Jimenez used his first as a way of establishing both of them as heroes, and even though Lois is no longer in the land of the living (at least for now), her presence is still felt due to how close she and Lana were shown to be.

That said, the lack of banter between Lois and Lana is noticeable, and while the book doesn’t drastically suffer without their back-and-forth dynamic, it’s a shame that something that worked so well in the first issue doesn’t look like it’ll be coming back any time soon. Jimenez does counteract this somewhat, however, by the welcome additions of Steel, his niece and presumably Maggie Sawyer to Lana’s supporting cast, but we’ll need to wait until next issue to see if it’s enough to balance out the loss of Lois completely.

Despite that issue, Superwoman #2 does work as a Lana-centric story. She’s not a late-game replacement treated like an afterthought. Instead, she’s a fleshed-out character with a great deal of power, but also someone dealing with anxiety, an idea which the arc is tackling head-on. This is shown in a subdued moment outside of the action where it’s just Lana and a pill bottle, but also reflected in how Lana copes with the loss of Lois and later on when a Superwoman is needed. There’s a moment mid-way through the book where Lana lies and initially it felt off, as if a member of the Super-family shouldn’t do that, but within the context that she’s affected by anxiety, it’s perfectly understandable that the choice to lie could be made while under pressure.

Another thing the book benefits from is the fact that for these two issues Jimenez has also been on art duties, which allows for his artistic vision to be translated on the page as intended. As a result we get to witness these titans clash in a dynamic way – extremely powerful entities that cause explosions and energy pulses whenever they come to blows, but the art is clean so that characters never get lost in the chaos, presumably due to both Matt Santorelli and Joe Prado, whose inks help to define the characters. The action is also framed appropriately so the sense of scale is conveyed.

In the quieter moments, there’s a greater number of panels and not only does the art still feel as bold as it does in the fights, but you never feel overwhelmed by the increase in dialogue, so praise should also be given to Rob Leigh in helping the conversation flow throughout without it feeling unnecessarily wordy. As a final note, Jeromy Cox is given a great number of different environments to color and is able to make each one feel different from the last, reflecting the required tone for the moment – a set of intercut panels which flashback to earlier events are given a sepia tone resulting in them feeling like images from the past rushing forward in Lana’s mind and at the lowest point in the issue the shadows seem to be engulfing our heroine.

What started out as a book that impressed me with its character dynamics and surprised me with its final page twist in Superwoman #1 has become my favorite book of "Rebirth" with how committed it is to the ideas of the new line. It’s jumped right into to dealing with legacy and what it means to Lana Lang in not only a post-Superman world, but a post-Lois Lane world, and I can’t wait to see how this is further explored.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther #6
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Chris Sprouse, Karl Story and Laura Martin
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

After several issues in which T’Challa’s opponents have had the King of Wakanda seemingly on the ropes, Black Panther #6 sees a change of fortune as Ta-Nehisi Coates begins to unveil T’Challa’s plan for his foes. Beautiful artwork by Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, and Laura Martin brings to life a story about a king and a scientist putting the pieces in place to save his kingdom.

Black Panther #6 is bolstered by the renewed focus on the titular hero. While earlier issues saw T’Challa seemingly on the ropes, Ta-Nehisi Coates depicts him here as a man regaining his footing and going on the offensive. Drawing on the character’s history (both “Enemy of the State” and “Doomwar” play a part here), Coates paints T’Challa as a man of science and curiosity, and repositions previous actions in T’Challa’s continuity as being motivated by those desires. This slight adjustment as to T’Challa’s worldview also affects how readers can interpret his actions in the series thus far. Like a boxer, T’Challa doesn’t wait for his opponent to make mistakes but rather studies his opponents for tendencies that can be exploited. It’s a trait that Coates uses to thrilling results and even larger implications.

At the same time, Black Panther #6 still displays the series’ penchant for giving depth to supporting characters. Artist Chris Sprouse brings these characters to life with his expressions, whether it’s the commanding stillness of Tetu’s body language or the distrust of foreigners displayed by T’Challa’s advisor Hodari. Later, a conversation with Tony Stark gives the usually stoic Black Panther a chance to try out some humor, and Sprouse gives T’Challa a confident smile, visually telling the reader that the hero is in a better headspace than he was in previous issues.

There are two places that don’t go quite as well in Black Panther #6. The first is the combat sequence between the Hatut Zeraze and the Dora Milaje. Chris Sprouse’s artwork is strong, the characters move in each panel with kinetic energy, but the scene itself is too compressed to have much impact. The back-and-forth nature of the battle is conveyed well enough, but the brevity of the scene means some important details remain murky. For example, it is a bit unclear whether the Hatut Zeraze are actually trying to kill the Dora Milaje or whether their futuristic guns are meant to merely incapacitate their opponents. That being said, Sprouse doesn’t illustrate any dead bodies, and with the way Coates depicts T’Challa outmaneuvering his foes towards the end of the issue, it does appear that there are still more moves to be made.

The other question mark in the issue lies with a scene between Shuri and the being impersonating Ramonda. The scene itself is, in isolation, one of the most beautiful in the series, as “Ramonda” relates to Shuri the story of Ife, who lived in a place called Nri before she was enslaved. The story speaks to the damaging power of bondage to both captive and captor, while also tying in thematically to the gender-related questions Black Panther has dealt with. Laura Martin’s colors are truly remarkable here, and the panels with Shuri looking towards the birds in the sky have a triumphant feel to them thanks to the choices Martin makes. What hurts the scene, though, is that it feels out of place where it occurs.

Occurring just after T’Challa prepares to go on the hunt for Stane and just before he actually arrives, the sequence feels like an awkward pause in the action where perhaps the issue might have been better served returning to Zenzi and Tetu. The uplifting tone of Shuri’s journey also clashes with the tension that should be building as T’Challa begins his assault on Stane’s hideout. In a collected format, this may not be a hindrance, but within the single issue format, it’s a rough transition.

Pacing issues aside, Black Panther #6 is one of the stronger issues in the series, thanks in part to the fact that Ta-Nehisi Coates places T’Challa firmly in the leading role. The artwork by Chris Sprouse and Laura Martin is gorgeous to look at, and one can’t help but be excited to see what happens when T’Challa’s reinforcements get into the fray.

Credit: Nick Derington (DC Comics / Young Animal)

Doom Patrol #1
Written by Gerard Way
Art by Nick Derington and Tamra Bonvillain
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by DC Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The multiverse contains many stories, and Doom Patrol #1 contains a multiverse. In one universe of this multiverse, Casey Brinke is an ambulance driver who is great at her job and has a lousy, judgemental roommate. In another universe, Cliff Steele, a.k.a. Robotman from the original Doom Patrol, fights a war that ends with him launching missiles, destroying that universe. Oh, and Cliff Steele’s universe may or may not exist in a gyro that Casey’s partner is enjoying a well-deserved break. Her partner Sam even uses the gyro as a metaphor for the multiverse; “We think we know this gyro, but we don’t know everything. What’s going on in there? Endless possibilities? Good versus evil--?” So, quite literally, Doom Patrol #1 contains a multiverse and Gerard Way, Nick Derington and Tamra Bonvillain are our guides to these brave new worlds.

Doom Patrol #1 is an issue that doesn’t want to make it easy for you. Using Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run as their spiritual template, Way and Derington introduce a lot of different concepts that are hard to find the connective tissue of. Casey and Cliff’s stories are only two of the many stories that are beginning here. But Casey’s story is immediately the one that we need to pay attention to as hers is the story that all the others are revolving around. She’s the center of this multiverse and even she doesn’t understand what’s happening to her as her newest roommate seems to blow up her old roommate. And how does that relate to the apparent death of a god (a brick to the head, don’t you know?) or aliens wanting to use a sentient street to supply their fast food dynasty? While a key may be hidden somewhere in this issue, Doom Patrol #1 is asking a lot of questions that we’ll probably get answers to sooner or later.

Way is writing in full Morrison mode here. The labyrinth-like nature of his story recalls 1989’s Doom Patrol #16, where Morrison and Richard Case transmuted a superhero team into some absurd statement about the nature of our stories and art. Way’s issue follows the lead Morrison set over twenty years ago, serving as a tribute to those stories and to others that Morrison has written since, including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it callback to Morrison’s work with Greg Rucka, Mark Waid and Geoff Johns on DC’s 52. In a lot of ways, Way’s Umbrella Academy felt like his tribute to Morrison’s Doom Patrol so here he turns fully into writing a continuation of Morrison’s (and we’d be remiss if we didn’t also include Rachel Pollack’s follow-up) run with this group.

Nick Derington’s art and Tamra Bonvillain’s colors make Way’s heady story more grounded. There’s a clarity in their artwork that helps make the whole issue much clearer. Sometimes in stories like this, you’ll get art as confusing as the story but Derington’s artwork has such an ease to it that it makes the story that much clearer and fun. The images of Casey wearing Cliff Steele’s jacket after she’s had to collect his robotic parts in a box after he was hit by a garbage truck illustrates so much about Casey without having to come out and having some narration say “this is who Casey is.” And Bonvillain’s colors provides a lot of the character of this issue, with her bright and solid colors making this issue a pure joy to read.

Since their debut in 1963, there have been just a small handful of memorable Doom Patrol runs, the original stories by Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani, then Grant Morrison’s take on the team in the 1990s. Drake and Premiani’s version of the team looked at how a team of misfits became a family. Morrison’s stories were his own surreal, dadaistic take on the superhero genre. Way, Derington, and Bonvillain are obviously leaning a lot on the storytelling that Morrison established while remembering that this is a superhero title. Doom Patrol #1 is actually a fairly simple story as the individual parts of this issue are fairly straightforward even if the ways that the many sequences go together remain a mystery.

Credit: DC Comics

Deathstroke #2
Written by Priest
Art by Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz, Jeromy Cox and Larry Hama
Lettering by Willie Schubert
Published by DC Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Stories featuring a lead with a long history can quickly become convoluted. However, if the creators can take advantage of the mythology, it can result in a gripping read. Fortunately, Deathstroke #2 is one of those instances, as writer Priest and a talented team of artists meld Slade Wilson’s past with his present in order to build a mystery with high stakes.

Priest’s narrative here is an intricate web of subterfuge and betrayal as Slade and Wintergreen track down the man who gave up Wintergreen’s location. However the issue opens with a scene at Slade’s home. Adeline, furious due to Slade’s absence, leaves their youngest son Joey at home as she prepares to track Deathstroke down. Joey takes the opportunity to throw a party, and from there everything goes south.

Priest’s use for title cards in this sequence is brilliant. The word “Ishmael” carries the same foreboding power as the word “Tuesday” in The Shining. As Adeline returns home, she finds the house torn apart, with no sign of Joey, except for a blood-stained message on the wall, “Call me Deathstroke.” At first glance, it’s tempting to infer a comma and change the phrase to, “Call me, Deathstroke,” a message from Joey’s kidnapper. But between Carlo Pagulayan’s detailed artwork and the title, a more disturbing truth is revealed.

The implication that there may be more than one Deathstroke plays carries on throughout the issue as Slade and Wintergreen hunt down the men that served with them on missions. Priest juxtaposes this with one of their past missions in Cambodia. Throughout it all, Priest builds up Slade’s character without forcing him into unnecessary dialogue or captions. Every action Slade takes speaks to his cruel efficiency. At one point, Slade tracks down his friend Rax, only to discover that Rax has been murdered and hung from a window. Rather than move his former ally’s body into a more dignified position, Slade simply departs.

Carlo Pagulayan’s work here is based off of Larry Hama’s breakdowns, and Pagulayan’s art continues to be stellar. Priest’s script changes locations in time, but Pagulayan ensures that the characters that appear are recognizable, giving the narrative a fluidity that it might have otherwise lacked. Pagulayan makes great use of shadows, with subtle crosshatching always on the edge of the frame, creating a tense atmosphere even when the locations are well-lit.

Jason Paz’s inks do a fantastic job bringing the detail in Pagulayan’s artwork out while enhancing the theatricality. This is perhaps most evident in the scene in which Deathstroke and Wintergreen confront Fredric in his bar. Paz utilizes a great amount of variance in his inks here, at times emphasizing the weathering Pagulayan has given to the faces of the characters, while other times using the shadows to emphasize the tension of the scene. The synergy between penciler and inker is phenomenal throughout the issue, but here it is the highlight.

Rounding out the art team is colorist Jeremy Cox. Cox has used a naturalistic palette throughout the series, and continues that here. The realism with his coloring makes the events of the comic all the more unsettling. The muted blues and greens of the Adeline’s home feel familiar and Joey’s absence more impactful for it. This also allows for Cox to punch up certain moments, such as the reveal of Dr. Ikon. The first reveal of the hero is appropriately mesmerizing as the white and gold of the costume is surrounded with the deep blues of the night and lights from the buildings appear as flashes of light. It instantly conveys a sense of who this character is, or at least who he’s pretending to be.

Deathstroke #2 is a solid outing that builds its characters through their actions rather than their words. Priest’s choice to present the narrative in different segments allows for the tension in the story to build even as the narrative jumps around in time. Carlo Pagulayan’s artwork is a perfect fit for the character, and the synergy between he and Jason Paz and Jeremy Cox really makes the book come together visually.

Credit: DC Comics

Suicide Squad #2
Written by Rob Williams
Art by Jim Lee, Ivan Reis, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by DC Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

After the launch of a certain tentpole film, it’s not surprising to see that the comic book version of Suicide Squad is doing a lot of similar stuff to the movie, but that means it’s also just as easy to have a similar response to the comic as you might have had in the cineplexes. Overall, the book hasn’t been the most engaging: the plot is too decompressed, resulting in slow pacing towards the objective and instead of taking this as an opportunity to have character interaction that develops the squad’s relationships in a meaningful way, the team simply has too many characters for everyone to have a moment in the spotlight.

The issue picks up with the Squad in arctic waters scrambling to save themselves while Amanda Waller finds herself meeting NSA Agent Harcourt, who promises they’ll “do great things together.” The idea of someone trying to push for control and force Waller out is an interesting one, and in another universe could result in a game of Chess being played by grandmasters with the Squad and their adversaries as mere pawns. Moreso than usual, at least.

But instead, this issue still focuses on the Squad’s mission to get into the Black Vault. Unfortunately, this op does little to endear us to this team of supervillains, who fight their way through a mob of goons spouting one-liners and barely venture beyond generic stereotypes such as “soldier” and “Australian.” There’s a two-page sequence where members of the Squad work together which I like more than the rest of the issue, but it’s not mind-blowing or brings anything new to the table and can’t redeem the issue.

One new addition to the book, a woman named Hack, has no character beyond being a fan of Harley, while Croc’s defining characteristic just seems to be throwing up. The final page reveal with the Squad’s potential newest member (or deadliest adversary) is intriguing, but the quality of the other pages in the main story are justification enough for me not to care about where this story goes.

Instead it falls to the back-up story to be the stronger part of the issue, like it did with #1. Reading like the interview tapes from the Batman: Arkham Asylum game, Williams’ backup story with artist Ivan Reis sees Amanda have a sit-down discussion with Captain Boomerang about what led him to this point. What starts as a story about childhood morphs into a tale about an Australian James Bond who can’t hold his liquor. This has more substance and thematic content in eight pages than the main story can manage in 13. It’s not the deepest tale ever told, but its proof that Williams can engage with ideas of heroism, how the Squad is perceived by others, why they’re villains and if being in the squad is enough to redeem their roguish actions of yore. This is the Williams that I want to shine through in the main story.

The back-up somehow manages to make the main story look worse with regards to both story and art. By engaging with actual themes, it stands out from the main story, which is managing to achieve generic blockbuster action and nothing better. And when it comes to Reis’s art, it also allows for an interesting discussion when you compare it to the main story by Jim Lee. Lee was the artist that defined DC’s house style which the following generation of artists set to emulate, but since then Lee’s style hasn’t progressed. It’s become largely static. That doesn’t make it bad - there’s a reason it became the house style - but those artists that followed put the work into making their art distinct even within Lee’s wake. Artists like Jason Fabok and Ivan Reis. Artists responsible for this series’ back-ups and thus made this even more apparent to me. This back-up in particular uses more dynamic camera angles while Lee seems comfortable placing the camera at a slight distance away from the characters and going for the mid-level shot.

Three issues in, Suicide Squad’s biggest crime might simply be that it hasn’t really done anything new yet. The additions to the team could result in that, but the series has been hindered by the unfortunate combo of being decompressed and not having a full issue to tell a story. There’s a reason that John Ostrander’s run is revered so long after it was first published, but almost everyone that’s been on the book this decade has tried to be Ostrander, but with less of an edge. If Williams’ reveal had been at the end of the first issue, I could see myself sticking around and wondering where it goes, but at this point, readers might be forgiven if they’ve already lost interest.

Double Shot!

Credit: Terry Dodson (DC Comics)

Superwoman #2
Written by Phil Jimenez
Art by Phil Jimenez, Matt Santorelli, Joe Prado and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Superwoman is one of the more interesting titles to come out of "Rebirth," because it does have significant history at DC Comics but was simultaneously unexpected. The circumstances that led to the creation of superwomen Lana Lang and Lois Lane come from the tail-end of the "New 52," but where writer and artist Phil Jimenez left us last issue was equally surprising. This issue deals with the immediate aftermath, but slips off the hook that dragged us in the first place.

With Lois Lane/Superwoman apparently gone, Lana Lang must pull herself out of self-doubt and use her ill-defined set of powers to defeat a bizarro new threat. Lang’s arc will be a strong one once she steps out from under the shadow of her more established contemporaries, although here we are yet to see her fully established as her own character. As she is still working out how her abilities work, the reader will also be at a loss as to how to connect with the fledgling hero. Not helping matters is the sheer volume of information that accompanies this story.

A lot happens in this second issue of Superwoman, and Jimenez rarely pauses for breath along the way. Which is almost a problem, because there’s simply too much going on at times. While nominally about Superwoman, just as much time is spend on Steel and Luthor as substitute Supermen throughout this issue. A lot of it is movement and noise if you aren’t that familiar with the current Superman Family of books, and you almost need to have Wikipedia open next to you as you read this issue just to keep up. Which is a major problem only two issues into a new series that is otherwise designed for newer readers. More than that, some pages get a little muddled going from one panel to the next, so the plethora of characters certainly makes it hard to keep up for the casual reader.

The layout is at least party to blame for this difficulty, as it isn’t always clear how one scene transitions to the next. Jimenez keeps his action close-quartered, which makes the action linear in fashion. It works best when the focus is on the tech aspects of the environment, such as industrial machinery or the reveal of the Insect Queen armor, which is a cool tease of things to come. In other places, what should be the triumphant appearance of the eponymous character reads more like an anonymous figure in a sea of red and purple light.

There’s a lot of promise in Superwoman, with the previous issue setting up some beautiful character moments and potential pathways going forward. However, the shock twist at the end of the first issue has set this second issue somewhat adrift from those possibilities, created several awkward fits and far too many moving parts for an early issue. Yet much of that promise still remains if the book can harness one or two of those elements and focus in on the things that matter.

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