Best Shots Reviews: INFAMOUS IRON MAN #1, TRINITY #2, More

DC Comics October 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Infamous Iron Man #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

While the imminent Invincible Iron Man will see a new character suit up in their version of the iconic armor (albeit with a new name – Ironheart), Infamous Iron Man #1 continues another trend from Marvel of taking a heroic identity and introducing a more villainous spin to the role. This issue isn’t as bombastic as Superior Spider-Man was from the outset, nor will it be as controversial as Captain America: Steve Rogers’s first issue was, but it’s another intriguing piece in Bendis’ grand Iron Man saga that does enough different to avoid feeling like a retread.

An early warning should be given to the more spoiler-averse of our readers as this does take place after Civil War II, which has not yet finished. This new series builds from whatever ending that event has so it doesn’t have as strong of an impact as the book hopes to have, but to anyone who wants Civil War II to go unspoiled in any capacity, you should probably hold off until that finishes. With this in mind, it’s also important to note that the issue hints at the outcome rather than outright states it, and a case could be made it doesn’t spoil it any more than knowing the books that will be released as part of the new "Marvel Now" initiative does.

While Superior Iron Man was centered around Tony having his sociopathic qualities dialed up, Bendis’ work with Victor von Doom has been focused on him attempting to turn over a new leaf. He’s been a side character thus far, but now he’s put at the forefront. As a result, Bendis takes the opportunity to contrast the old Doom with the new Doom, starting with a flashback to the meeting of the Cabal. Doom is ruthless, but content to sit back and let the Hood bury himself. The sequence ends with a close-up on Doom’s mask, eyes covered in shadow preventing any emotion being seen, then cuts to present day Doom, sans the mask. Still no discernible emotion present, but out in the open. Here he deals with the villainous Diablo, and while there are glimmers of the old Doom, Victor appears to be on the straight and narrow. He has the traditional biting snark that’s a Bendis trademark, but what sets him apart from Tony is how he’s a man of few words, so it doesn’t feel overindulgent.

This restrained approach applies to the book as a whole. While last year’s Invincible Iron Man kicked off with high-octane action in Japan, Infamous Iron Man is focused on character over fights. This approach is in part due to the collaboration with Alex Maleev and Matt Hollingsworth, who were major players in Bendis’ Daredevil run. The approach worked better there because of Daredevil being designed as more of a slow-burn, street crime book, but that isn’t to say it feels out of place here. There’s a chance the book could have been better suited by a tone more in line with Bendis’ Avengers work, but it would have run the risk of the tone not matching the book’s look. With this in mind, the book could have benefitted more from a more dramatic moment to really push the narrative forward.

Speaking of Maleev and Hollingsworth, their work here is fantastic. There’s a heavy black ever-present in this issue, but there’s also a good deal of colour. This darkness doesn’t engulf the colours and while they aren’t as eye-popping as Ponsor’s work with Marquez, they certainly feel vibrant when contrasted with the shadow. In particular, there’s one splash page which paints a high rise landscape in a red which feels warm, but mellow. Maleev takes this patterned use of black in his stride, using it to his advantage for both drawing attention to particular points in the panel, but also using it to highlight power. Going back to the cut between masked Doom and current Doom, it’s framed so the angle is just below eye level which informs the reader that Doom is in control while looking up to him.

Infamous Iron Man #1 isn’t an explosive issue, and its subdued nature puts it in line with International Iron Man and the final few issues of Invincible Iron Man - which is actually a good thing as this doesn’t feel like a dramatic departure from what came before. But one can only wonder if it would have been better with an explosive plot point to get people intrigued and talking.

Credit: DC Comics

Trinity #2
Written and Illustrated by Francis Manapul
Letters by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by John Arvedon
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

When you think about a series focusing on DC’s big three - Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman - what comes to mind? Do you picture hard-hitting action, a rock-solid team dynamic, and battles of epic proportions? Well, you’d be forgiven if that’s the case, but that’s not what Trinity is all about – at least not yet.

With solo titles featuring Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, not to mention Justice League, there is no shortage on action-packed stories featuring the three cornerstones of the DC Universe. This affords Francis Manapul the opportunity to examine some less traveled roads, which he takes full advantage of in this issue. The three titular heroes find themselves seemingly sent back in time to Smallville, and face to face with a young Clark Kent and Pa Kent.

Although our heroes spend the entirety of the story in-costume (as opposed to Issue #1), Trinity #2 is still very much an exploration of the relationship between Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and Diana Prince. To Manapul’s credit, this is no small task, yet his execution feels incredibly true to the core values of the respective characters. This is perhaps best displayed in the scene where Clark, Bruce and Diana are uncomfortably crammed alongside one another in Pa Kent’s pickup truck. In this sequence, Manapul uses Clark’s inner monologue as a vehicle to showcase Batman’s cynicism (“This is ridiculous,” the Dark Knight grumbles) and Wonder Woman’s empathy, as she later urges Bruce to let Clark enjoy his homecoming. “We are not at war, Bruce,” she says. “This is about a father and his son.”

In addition to re-establishing the team dynamic of DC’s big three, this issue also puts a unique spin on the relationship between Clark and Pa Kent. The dichotomy of seeing Clark and Jonathan connect, not just as father and son, but as one father to another, feels like something out of an Elseworlds title, but works brilliantly in the context of this narrative. This was an intriguing opportunity to traverse the parallels between Pa Kent and Kal-El’s approaches to parenting, and helped highlight how much of an influence the late Jonathan Kent continues to have on his adopted son.

Further enhancing the distinct feel of Manapul’s story are his pencils, inks and colors. His compositions look almost dreamlike, thanks to his soft line work and warm, serene palette selection, evoking slight impressionist influences. Though the panel layouts are relatively simple, certain imagery still manages to pop. For example, seeing Batman and Wonder Woman in the forefront of the page itself as they trek through the forest skillfully creates a focal point to highlight the exchange between the two. Furthermore, the forced perspective in the subsequent panel allows Diana to stand out as the voice of reason, as she remarks to Bruce that they are not at war. Batman appearing smaller in comparison to Wonder Woman thanks to his positioning behind her is also quite fitting, helping to accentuate the fact that the Dark Knight of Gotham is out of his element in the brightly lit forest of Smallville.

As beautifully as Manapul’s art pairs with the story, there are a few issues in this book from an artistic standpoint. Characters’ faces don’t feel quite as expressive as they should, due in large part to small, beady eyes in certain panels. On the double-page spread where we see Superman come face to face with his younger self while holding his unconscious father, it was hard to shake the fact that Pa Kent looked overly stiff. The idea that Superheroes should be seen as larger than life was definitely conveyed, thanks to the perspective of the shot, but having it look as though Superman was holding an oversized doll was a bit distracting. Still, these minor concerns do little to detract from the otherwise distinguished aesthetics.

In the closing pages of the issue, Manapul picks up on a seemingly throwaway moment from Trinity #1 that quite literally planted the seeds for not just this issue, but presumably the remainder of the story arc. This expert instance of foreshadowing serves to show that even the most minute of details require the utmost scrutiny as this tale continues to unfold. Manapul’s ability to tell a story that feels so separate, yet still so connected to the post-Rebirth DCU, is unparalleled, and Trinity #2, while not quite as strong as its predecessor, is another solid outing that both deconstructs and rebuilds the bond between DC’s three most iconic heroes.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther #7
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: 9 out of 10

The Crew come to T’Challa’s aide as he takes the fight to Ezekiel Stane in Black Panther #7. The issue brings an increased sense of urgency as Ta-Nehisi Coates makes both T’Challa and Shuri more active presences in the book as well as reunites a teacher and a former pupil. It’s a welcome change for a series that has felt weighed down in its own philosophy.

Black Panther #7 begins with what is easily the best action set piece in the comic thus far. Chris Sprouse is able to really let loose here, and utilizes less detailed backgrounds to highlight the movement of the combatants through space. T’Challa, Luke, and Misty fare best here; the enclosed interior doesn’t quite lend itself to showing off the more fantastic powersets of Storm and Manifold. The fight between Stane and T’Challa shows off the agility of the hero, and also an ingenious use of his suit’s kinetic properties. Laura Martin’s colors are fantastic throughout the issue, as she contrasts the shadowed environment Karl Story’s inks bring to the table with the brighter colors of the heroes and villains. This works especially well with T’Challa’s suit. Karl Story is able to keep the suit inked solidly throughout, while Martin gives T’Challa’s kinetic power a neon purple lighting that makes the imagery bristle with power.

Moving from that action sequence, Black Panther #7 continues to explore Shuri’s exploration of Wakanda’s history. Shuri’s journey through the Djalia has at times felt superfluous, lacking the immediacy to connect it to the larger narrative. Her story in this issue, however, feels different, in part because Shuri is imparting a story to the reader that she knows. Prior events have simply been the Griot telling stories to Shuri as she wandered through them. The agency Shuri shows in Black Panther #7 makes this interlude more engaging and urgent.

This issue, however, belongs to Changamire. Coates weaves together some of the disparate elements of earlier issues as the elder philosopher comes face-to-face with Tetu and Zenzi. The past relationship between Changamire and Tetu that was alluded to in previous issues becomes more prominent here as both men try to make appeals to one another. Tetu wants the approval and cooperation of his former mentor, while Changamire must come to terms with the fact that his teachings led Tetu to such a violent worldview.

While some readers may have grown weary at the philosophical back-and-forth that has taken up pages in this series, this interaction plays off of Coates’ investment in the characters to make for riveting drama. And while the focus is clearly on the two men in the scene, Coates never loses sight of Zenzi, who at first shows Changamire respect, but then tries to break him when Tetu’s appeal fails. The relationship and power dynamics between Tetu and Zenzi have not yet been explored in detail, and their interaction here suggests that a fracture is awaiting them.

Chris Sprouse’s staging of the characters here is powerful, as both men circle each other, not to fight, but to try to assess the mindset of the other, while Zenzi waits in the background. Karl Story’s inks bring out subtle details in Sprouse’s linework and the different levels of blacks emphasize the drama. This is especially noticeable as a shadow subtly builds over Tetu’s face as he proposes his answer to Changamire’s riddle.

Black Panther #7 benefits from a renewed sense of urgency. From the Crew’s attack on Stane, to Shuri taking the lead in her quest for self-discovery, to Changamire and Tetu pleading for one another’s allegiance, the issue builds momentum for the series. Chris Sprouse, Laura Martin, and Karl Story bring out each other’s strengths for a visually dynamic issue that brilliantly gives life to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ dramatic script.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Spell on Wheels #1
Written by Kate Leth
Art by Megan Levens and Marissa Louise
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Female friendships, beautifully rounded pencils, and eye-catching colors await readers behind the cover of Spell on Wheels #1, the latest supernatural genre mash-up from Dark Horse Comics. Written by Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! scribe Kate Leth and drawn and colored by Megan Levens and Marissa Louise, respectively, this debut introduces readers to a trio of witches who must embark on a road trip in order to recover their lost tokens of power.

But while Leth and company play coy with the supernatural aspects of the series, it is the relationship between their three leads, coupled with Leth’s talent for dialogue, that makes this first issue such a fun read. Leth’s script also finds the perfect duo to bring it to life in Levens and Louise, both of whom bring a specifically stylish look and color scheme to the series. Armed with compelling characters, beautiful artwork, and a killer hook, Spell on Wheels #1 might just be your latest occult obsession.

From the very start, Kate Leth and her art team let the reader know that Spell on Wheels isn’t going to be empty exercise in spell-slinging with cheesecake art. Fortunately, this series has more on its mind than just vapid visuals. Hopping between the Sister Witches’ home and their work at a local Boston fairground, Leth introduces both the stakes of the series and the main players in it effortlessly. As the Witches work, a man is rifling through their home, pilfering magic icons. While that is happening, Leth shifts back to the Sister’s tent and gives the reader a quick introduction to Jolene, Claire and Andy and their magical school of study in a quickly deployed narration box.

The trio’s introduction in the middle of their occult work is a nice step from Leth as it instantly shows off the women’s personality and their skill sets, but she even does us one better. As they race home to find their home ransacked, Leth delves into their interpersonal dynamics. The back half of issue is filled with fantastic human moments between the Sisters, which instantly humanizes the trio and make them feel like real people. While the actual hook and action of the series isn’t as developed as I would have liked for this debut, Leth’s character work in Spell on Wheels #1 makes it hard not to wonder just what these ladies will get up to in Issue #2.

Another major selling point for this new series is the expressive and sartorially sharp artwork of Megan Levens and the rich colors of Marissa Louise. Levens’ pencils impress from the beginning, as she hops from the tense opening break in to the sunniness of the fairground, showing that she is adept at all sorts of tones very early on. But more than that, she instantly telegraphs the personalities of the Sister Witches just by their clothing choices and body types. Each woman is rendered with an eye toward body positivity and diversity, which is always a plus in my book.

Levens also provides each lead a fantastic array of costumes that also hammer home their personalities and temperaments, making sure the audience knows who these women are on every possible level. Costuming is a detail often overlooked in comics, but Levens leaves nothing to chance in this debut issue. Levens’ artwork is also given an extra stylish dimension thanks to Louise's colors. Playfully clashing with the usual color palette of occult-themed stories, Louise’s colors add a bright and light tone to the issue, but one that still feels in line with the output of Leth and Levens, culminating in pages that are satisfyingly gorgeous.

If you have been wishing for more diverse female-led supernatural stories with some of the industry’s top talents behind it then consider your wish granted with Spell on Wheels #1. Kate Leth, Megan Levens, and Marissa Louise conjure pure comic book magic with this first issue, hooking readers with a tight down to earth script and fantastic body positive artwork. Though readers will have to wait for #2 for the actual road trip to start in earnest Spell on Wheels #1 is a fantastic first outing for the Sister Witches and the trio of talented ladies behind them.

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Credit: Koren Shadmi (Top Shelf Productions)

Love Addict: Confessions of a Serial Dater
Written & Illustrated by Koren Shadmi
Published by Top Shelf Productions
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

When apps like Tinder began melding the ubiquitous nature of cellphone culture with casual dating in unprecedented fashion, thought pieces started flying up on every trendy news site imaginable. Equally praised and derided, such apps have yet to have a measurable influence on fiction in general, and comic books specifically. Koren Shadmi, writer and artist of In the Flesh and The Abbadon, has a wealth of unexplored thematic territory in Love Addict: Confessions of a Serial Dater. Perhaps the worst thing you could say about the novel is that it keeps the strongest, most profoundly unique ideas at arm's length, while devoting many of its pages to the alienation often found Shadmi's works.

Shadmi's writing is often more atmospheric and mood-based than pure plot-driven, which is more or less the case with Love Addict. In the prologue, our protagonist K, who looks conspicuously like Shadmi, enters and breaks off a one-year and six-month relationship with a woman whose name comes up only once, and whose story of why the relationship ended we are not given. While the efficiency of covering this in a few brief pages makes sense, it feels underdeveloped and one-sided, a problem which rears its head on a few occasions throughout the book. After the relationship implodes, K is pressured by his awful roommate Bryan to start a Lovebug account, which seems like a mixture of Tinder and OK Cupid. There is an interesting bit of dialogue, where Bryan justifies his pressuring of K by asking, "Who says they don't want the same thing we do?" The implication of the extended dating / sex montage that dominates the bulk of the book is that they might.

When the graphic novel is exploring the idea that women can be just as predatory as men when it comes to sex, it is at its best. A few of the women that K hooks up with are clearly aggressors and initiate sexual activity, and as such these are some of the more thematically rich portions of the book. It would be very interesting to see these situations momentarily from the more aggressive womens' perspectives, or to see a situation where K wants more than a casual encounter only to be rebuffed. The comic is deep in K's POV, so the latter would have fit in nicely.

Eventually, K's actions begin to spill over into other aspects of his life. K works as an animator for a series called Princess Warrior. After around forty conquests, he begins drawing Princess Warrior in a much more suggestive manner, going from an empowered character to a completely objectified one. Shadmi doesn't explore this notion much beyond this, instead opting to leave it there as a one-and-done scene. It is fascinating to think of how a changing personal view of women can unconsciously influence the way that you represent them in your art. It is given a few pages in the comic, but it could have easily been the primary statement of the entire book. Instead, the book seems the be indecisive on what its ultimate statement is. It flirts with the ideas of how our worldviews influence our expression, and it flirts with power dynamics in casual sexual relationships, but it feels most comfortable as an examination of how accessibility to connection does not necessarily mean one's loneliness is cured. That's a solid theme to explore, and Shadmi is among the best-living authors at delving into it, but the idea that "maybe social media makes us less social" isn't as biting in 2016 as it might have been five to 10 years ago.

While the art might not be as overtly engaging or jarring as Shadmi's previous works, it functions as a perfect complement to the story and never distracts from what the novel is trying to achieve overall. In fact, you could remove all dialogue and narration and walk away with a complete understanding of the plot. It is noticeably efficient visual storytelling. It has a more cartoony style than some of Shadmi's prior works, but it benefits the story overall. K is a cartoonist, and the story is deep into his point-of-view, so the cartoon style is appropriate. It illustrates, for lack of a better word, K's immaturity at a lot of the situations in which he finds himself. The juxtaposition of the art with the graphic depictions of sexuality and nudity subtly creates an unsettling effect that permeates the entire work.

There is just so much interesting that isn't given enough time or isn't explored fully to not be mildly disappointed. The issue isn't with the quality - Shadmi is a tremendous talent with an ability to tap into the darkest aspects of human desire. It might be asking too much for this book to be an exploration of how our relationship with people affects our art, or how there is a performative aspect to sex on the part of both genders, or even how the cultural expectations on men as sexual conquerors is ultimately a toxic stereotype. The comic presents these ideas, and while it would have benefitted from devoting more time to at least one of them during its lengthy middle section, the artwork and examination of the addictive quality of casual online dating makes this a worthwhile read for anybody who likes Shadmi's previous work and anybody who is fascinated by the interstices of technology and love.

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