Best Shots Reviews: DEATHSTROKE #16, ROYALS #1, PENNY DREADFUL #2.1, More

Image Comics April 2017 cover
Credit: Image Comics
Credit: Bill Sienkiewicz (DC Comics)

Deathstroke #16
Written by Christopher Priest
Art by Larry Hama, Carlos Pagulayan, Roberto J. Viacava, Jason Paz, Sean Parsons, and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Willie Schubert
Published by DC Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Never yell to an assassin, “You can’t kill me.” That should be a rule. Unfortunately for Deadline, he does just that in the opening page of Deathstroke #16. Written by Christopher Priest, and brought to life by a team of artists that include Larry Hama, Carlos Pagulayan, and Roberto J. Viacava, Deathstroke #16 sees Slade, under the guise of Twilight, try to take down his fellow assassin.

The artwork throughout Deathstroke #16 is simply fantastic. Hama’s breakdowns bring out the best of Priest’s work and keep an edge-of-your-seat tension throughout the issue’s 20-page story. A standout visual moment is the slow motion effect created when Power Girl is shot by Deadline and falls back from the force of the blow. It’s a story beat that really comes together thanks to the way it was broken down.

Though the issue has a bevy of artists lending their talents to it, there’s a strong sense of visual continuity maintained by Carlos Pagulayan, Roberto Viacava, and their respective inkers, Jason Paz and Sean Parsons. The line art throughout the issue is fantastic, clean, with just a small bit of grit that works really well given that Slade is donning the guise of a superhero. The fight between Slade and Deadline sis simply stellar, a brutal beatdown that utilizes the power sets of both characters to great effect, and stays visually inventive with the way Slade’s tactical display adds tension to the fight.

It’s clear from the opening page that Priest is having a lot of fun with this issue. Priest has always had a good sense of comedic timing, and layers a lot of humor throughout Deathstroke #16. And at the same time, this never breaks the sense of drama in the issue. This isn’t a script laden with characters sarcastically quipping so much as it is Priest taking advantage of Deadline continuously finding out just how in over his head he’s gotten with Slade. It’s Slade slipping and then regaining his Daredevil-esque composure. And it’s these little moments, peppered throughout Priest’s script, that elevate Deathstroke #16 above so many action books on the stands.

At the same time, Priest doesn’t let the issue exist as solely a fight scene. A phone call between Rose and Etienne continues furthers the tension between the two characters, and it will be interesting to see just how the pieces fall when Priest focuses in on that narrative thread. At the same time, a desperate Jericho, still waits to hear any good news regarding Dr. Ikon. It’s only a brief moment in the book, but it’s a smart moment from Priest to keep that particular story point from fading into the background as it highlights the trauma of death, providing a bit of thematic layering for a book starring a character who so readily deals it.

Deathstroke #16 continues to build on the series’ excellence. The brutal artwork is bolstered by a script that isn’t afraid to let the readers have a laugh and Priest continues to nail tonal shifts in a way that seems effortless. The book serves as a nice antidote to the melodrama that courses through so many comics, and it’s nice to see humor that doesn’t rely on biting one-liners. With two issues left in the arc, one can only hope that Priest and company can keep the quality as high as it is here.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Royals #1
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Jonboy Meyers and Ryan Kinnaird
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Faced with the possibility that they are not quite who they think they are, the Inhumans turn to space in Royals #1. Written by Al Ewing, a creator known for giving new life to longstanding continuity, such a reveal has good prospects of sticking the landing. But while Royals has an interesting premise, what really anchors the debut issue is its talented art team of Jonboy Meyers and Ryan Kinnaird, who hook readers in with the art’s sense of adventure.

For the most part, Al Ewing’s writing is able to mask the tropes being used; a sense of adventure pulses through the pages. The choice to use Medusa as the point of view character feels inspired under Ewing’s pen, her narrative captions building up to a final page reveal that will have strong implications moving forward. The inclusion of Noh-Varr, also feels like a compelling decision. Ewing has always been one to use the massive tapestry of the Marvel Universe’s continuity and mythos to find new wrinkles, so there’s already a sense of anticipation to see just what he has planned for Marvel Boy and his Kree heritage.

However, Royals #1 can’t quite escape feeling like so many first issues – a team of heroes is introduced, given a goal, and one of them has an ulterior motive for their behavior that may or may not have bad implications for the rest of the team. And while longtime readers of Ewing’s other work know to anticipate twists and turns anchored by amazing character moments, it’s somewhat frustrating that the book doesn’t quite get off to a running start after a strong cold open with a character known as the Last Inhuman.

The artwork by Jonboy Meyers and Ryan Kinnaird is what really makes the issue pop. Meyers’ lineart is slick and detailed, with everything from the characters to the backgrounds oozing cool. Part of this is the angles that Meyers chooses to use – early in the issue, Meyers utilizes low angles looking up at the characters, making them appear larger and more imposing within the frame. This gives the characters an almost mythic feel, which works well with the sense of adventure Ewing’s script is providing the dialogue and captions. As the issue progresses, Meyers brings his angles back to a normal straight-on view, putting the characters within the panels on a more even eye-level with the reader, making them appear more vulnerable in the process.

Meyers also shows a penchant for detail that should work really well with Ewing’s love for twists and reveals. In a particular panel, when Medusa and her team is trying to subdue an inhuman that has grown into a giant monster, a single tear drops from Medusa’s eye as she realizes that she could be looking at the last new inhuman. It’s a subtle moment – Meyers’ framing doesn’t draw immediate attention to it – but it adds a new layer that really helps differentiate the scene from so many other comic book superhero fights.

Ryan Kinnaird’s color art helps sell Royals #1 as an adventure story. From the light bloom in the opening pages to the way the characters pop off the page thanks to their vivid outfits, Kinnaird adds that extra layer that makes the issue really stand out. The colors work really well with Meyers’ lines, and whether the characters are out fighting, or in the cold interior of a spaceship, Kinnaird makes sure that the eyes of the readers are always drawn to the right place without feeling overcrowded.

Though Royals #1 can’t quite escape some first issue tropes, Al Ewing still crafts an engaging series debut with a good hook and some good character moments. For now though, the issue’s strengths are in its art team of Joboy Meyers and Ryan Kinnaird, whose visuals give Royals #1 a grand sense of adventure and mythic scale. And one has to assume that Ewing, whose recent work has been developing the cosmic side of Marvel’s universe, will hit his stride now that the Inhumans have left Earth. There’s a sense of new and promise to Royals #1, which has all the makings of a blockbuster in waiting.

Credit: Titan Comics

Penny Dreadful #2.1
Written by Chris King
Art by Jesus Hervas and Jason Wordie
Lettering by Rob Steen
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Penny Dreadful is dead! Long live Penny Dreadful! Rising from the grave of cancellation to deliver more Hammer-inspired Victorian thrills, Titan Comics delivers a soft reboot of the cult Showtime hit ready made for the pulpy pages of comic books. Co-executive producer of the show Chris King keeps the show’s gothic voice and tone intact as he builds a new team of oddities to face down a new threat in the ongoing war of good versus evil.

While King’s script keeps the cadence that fans will expect, artist Jesus Hervas and colorist Jason Wordie keep the action and plot moving with sketchy, emotive pencils clearly focused on the emotions and monsters in play. Hervas’ work, reminiscent of that of Mitch Breitweiser, is made complete by the splotchy but effective colors of Jason Wordie. Wordie’s colors explodes open the color scheme of this property and shows that Penny Dreadful can look just as good soaked in sun or bathed in warm ballroom lights as it is dank sitting rooms and shadowy moors. If there is a witchy, morbid hole in your heart, then pick up Penny Dreadful #2.1 and it will feel like Ethan, Sir Malcolm and the rest of the gang never left.

Six months have passed since the tragic events of the show's season three finale, and Ethan Chandler still cannot find a way to move on. Focusing on one of the main strengths of the television counterpart, its ensemble cast, writer Chris King makes Ethan our entry character - but not for long. Instead, King's script bounces from one cast regular to the next, providing neat check-ins on their post-cancellation status and providing a solid base for the upcoming plot. Better still, they all seem to have made the transition from screen to page quite smoothly. King approximates the performances of the show’s cast to the best of his abilities, and while they spout a large deal of exposition early, you can’t help but hear the voices of Patti LuPone and Timothy Dalton echoing through the script.

Which brings me to the main plot, that continues the show’s meaty and horrifying overarching storyline of Lucifer rising to conquer the Earth. King plays to the horror-loving cheap seats by throwing the characters in the bloody warpath of the newly awakened Mummy, keeping the property’s penchant for showcasing Universal/Hammer movie monsters for a new generation. And while the plot itself of a group of acolytes (the aptly named Sons of Darkness) raising a monster for their master’s gain isn’t exactly the most groundbreaking, King still makes the most of it, thanks to his economical storytelling tempered with recognizable and engaging characters.

As for the artwork, penciler Jesus Hervas and colorist Jason Wordie let a little light in on Penny Dreadful. While the first volume reveled in dreamlike and bloody design flourishes from artist Louie De Martinis, Hervas and Wordie take a much more traditional approach, rendering this opening more like a conventional comic book than the previous volume. This isn’t a knock against this opening’s visuals however. In fact, Hervas sketchy and character focused approach puts it much more in like with the staging and design of the films in which it draws influence. And coupled with the focused colors of Wordie, the art in this volume seems much more apropos than the theatrical first volume.

Penny Dreadful’s abrupt cancellation was a blow to horror hounds all over the world, but lucky for us, Titan Comics has more than a few skilled necromancers on staff, and now our favorite gothic soap opera is back and is largely unchanged. Writer Chris King, who also co-wrote Titan’s first foray into this dark series, pulls back the curtain on what might have happened should the show had continued, translating the feel of the drama to the page with relative ease. With its pulpy voice, solid scripting, and colorfully engaging artwork, Penny Dreadful #2.1 greets the world of the living with a luridly dark opening gambit.

Credit: Image Comics

Paper Girls #13
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics
Review by Kat Calamia
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Paper Girls #13 is a character-driven story that gives the reader more clues about the mysterious world Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang have been delivering to readers. This issue connects plot threads from previous story arcs, allowing the audience to see the bigger picture this creative team has been building with every issue.

This issue focuses less on religious undertones, and more on the time and technological themes of the series. Erin, Tiffany, and the young mother introduced earlier in the arc come across a small magical portal. Erin quickly figures out that this is the same portal that allowed her to receive K.J.’s field hockey stick when she was with her older self. This connects the current story arc to the previous arc, making the series feel like it’s coming full circle.

The biggest connection to time and technology in this issue is with the story’s cliffhanger. K.J. and Mac find a triangle-shaped floating machine that K.J. is tempted to touch. This transmits visions to K.J., allowing the reader to receive big clues for what’s to come for the future of Paper Girls .

Even though this issue gives us more world building compared to previous issues, the strongest aspect of this series is still its character development and interactions. In Paper Girls #13 we still see K.J. and Mac separated from Tiffany and Erin. This allows the two set of girls to build a stronger bond with each other.

Vaughan creates an interesting dialogue between Tiffany and Erin talking about motherhood as they take care of baby Jahpo. The readers learn how Erin feels about seeing her 40-year-old self not have children, and Tiffany reveals that she was put up for adoption after her mother had her at 17. This affects how both these young girls perceive motherhood.

But the strongest interaction in this issue is between K.J. and Mac, especially after learning at the end of the issue where their arc will be going. Vaughan revealed in #12 that K.J. received her first period, and he doesn’t drop the ball with this story thread in #13. He uses this story to showcase K.J. and Mac’s differing personalities, and their knowledge on women’s health. It also makes for an interesting commentary on sexual education as a whole.

As for the art, Vaughan gives Cliff Chiang some great range for this issue. This story uses more visual clues to unravel the mystery presented in the series. This is especially true in K.J. and Mac’s narrative where Chiang presents multiple objects that are connected to the future, like the weird floating triangle K.J. touches at the end of the issue. Chiang's pencils are also very strong for the emotional side of the story, creating great facial expressions between characters. Matt Wilson’s colors are a highlight for the series, and are especially strong when showing the weird and out-of-this-world type elements presented in the story.

Overall, Paper Girls #13 is a great addition to the series. It expands the mysterious world of Paper Girls more than previous issues, but the strongest aspect of the story is still the relationships forming between the main girls.

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