Best Shots Reviews: BATMAN #21, G.I. JOE #4, NIGHTWING #19, More

Nightwing #19
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Nick Fury #1
Written by James Robinson
Art by ACO, Hugo Petrus and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

HYDRA is in real trouble, if Nick Fury has anything to say about it. In a dazzling debut issue, artist ACO and color artist Rachelle Rosenberg command the spotlight as Nick Fury brings the fun and style back to espionage. Writer James Robinson is clearly having a lot of fun here, but with ACO and Rosenberg, the talented scribe may have found the right dance partners.

From the opening page, the visuals will command the attention of readers. ACO utilizes a variety of panel arrangements, shapes, and sizes, to create equally various effects on the page. The first page is a nine-panel grid that gives the issue a measured pace one might expect from a typical gritty spy-thriller. However, Rachelle Rosenberg’s almost psychedelic palette of orange backgrounds contrasting with Nick Fury’s stylish blue suit subtly suggests the truth to the reader – this is anything but traditional.

Paying clear homage to Jim Steranko’s work with Nick Fury, Sr., Nick Fury #1 is a visual feast thanks to the work by ACO, inker Hugo Petrus, and Rosenberg. ACO’s layouts in particular evoke this feeling, as circular panels over a double-page spread of a casino highlight various points of interest that Nick Fury notices, only for the circles to later encapsulate quick little beats of action within a larger scene. ACO changes the use of these visual devices, creating a really organic read that simultaneously flows quickly and holds the readers interest. And Rosenberg’s color artwork is an acid trip, the way the pinks melt into oranges and then greens. It’s impossible to forget the way Nick Fury #1 looks on the page.

Writer James Robinson might be the more famous name on the credits page, but his economy here really allows the artwork to tell the story, creating a much more engaging story for the reader. The narrative here is quite simple: Nick Fury has tracked a mysterious criminal, Frankie Noble, to a casino on the French Riviera and must take them down. One could imagine a less talented scribe trying to give Fury and his adversary, constant quips and one-liners, muddling the art and ruining the classic feel to the book. In keeping things tighter, Robinson allows the artwork to speak for itself, which then makes Fury’s moments of dialogue even cooler.

If there is perhaps a flaw to the issue, it’s Nick Fury, Jr., himself. As flashy and cool as this issue is, there isn’t a lot of narrative substance, and that may prevent some readers from diving in, especially if they’re predisposed to dislike Nick Fury due to the way he was brought into the universe. If that’s the case, Nick Fury #1 won’t make much of an argument for them to like the character, but that isn’t the goal with this debut. Nick Fury #1 is absolutely selling itself on its visuals and style, and one has to feel that a writer of James Robinson’s ability will bring in the substance later.

Nick Fury #1 is one of Marvel’s best debuts in years. Taking influence from Jim Steranko, ACO and Rachelle Rosenberg deliver a visually arresting story that feels utterly different from the moody spy stories that have come through the market. James Robinson’s dialogue has a real bite to it, but the writer pulls back and lets the art dictate the narrative here, to brilliant results. One can only hope that #2 continues the excellence presented here while building Nick Fury up as a character.

Credit: Jason Fabok (DC Comics)

Batman #21
Written by Tom King
Art by Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

The long-awaited, next stage of the overarching Watchmen plot doesn’t start where you might expect it to. Instead of jumping right into something which encompasses DC heroes, their Flashpoint counterparts and possibly some Watchmen connections right from the first page, Batman #21 instead begins with Arkham Asylum's inmates watching a hockey game, setting up not just cosmic stakes, but also the bruising, bone-shattering brawl to come. With this tone established, the issue opens up from three-tiered pages to a nine-panel grid, which should be exciting to see Tom King and Jason Fabok operate within. However, despite King’s use of this technique in books like The Omega Men, the decompression in this Watchmen homage seems at odds with what made Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ formalism work.

The primary focus of Batman #21 is a brawl between the Dark Knight and the Reverse-Flash, brought back from beyond by forces unknown (but that probably involve someone radioactive and blue). While the issue does have the aforementioned metaphor of the hockey game and some brief set-up for what’s to come, the fight takes up most of the issue, but not in a typical way. While some superhero fights seem unending, instead Batman #21's visceral combat takes place over the course of a single minute, indicated by a timer which gradually ticks down as the issue nears its conclusion. Tom King has been known to structure his issues around a single event or idea, it does mean this issue is light on solid plot progression, a flaw which has plagued other "Rebirth" crossovers and events like Justice League vs. Suicide Squad or "Night of the Monster Men." The use of the nine-panel grid functions as an attempt to overcome this as it means that the reader is slowed down absorbing each of the issue’s many panels rather than churning through multiple double-page spreads, but it comes at the expense of creating some unfortunate subtext which can be inferred.

As opposed to the hyper-decompression of Batman #21, Watchmen used the nine-panel grid in the complete opposite way, with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons using the technique to tell an incredibly layered story where each panel conveyed a great deal of information. While Jason Fabok re-creates the sense of foreboding in Moore and Gibbons’ opus – particularly as multiple images of the Comedian’s Button look down on Batman - another page used to detail nine individual punches that Batman takes winds up represents the biggest flaw in the issue. Watchmen wasn’t afraid to slow down, as demonstrated by the gradual zoom out of the opening page, but even when the narrative slowed, the scope of the series expanded, such as how the opening page also established Rorschach’s journal and the "The End Is Nigh" sign. Instantly, Watchmen was more than just that street on which the Button was resting, rather Batman #21, which feels like just a fight confined to a single location. Colorist Brad Anderson does his best to ensure the yellow of Reverse-Flash’s costume and of the screens on which the plastered don’t merge into one another and does with the heavier, darker colours, and while he does, all it results in is this issue feeling contained, but not very full.

DC "Rebirth"'s plot has been in motion for almost a year at this point, and while "The Button" was promised to be the first major progression of it since then, this first issue doesn’t do more than offer allusions about what’s to come. First issues aren’t meant to accomplish everything, but because allusions are the only thing that this narrative has offered, in conjunction with the extensive manipulation of time, it feels like this is just being dragged out for as long as possible.

For years, people have wondered, "what if the Watchmen did exist in the DC Universe," and while the overarching narrative of "Rebirth" first appeared to be tackling that head on, since then it seems to have been trying to coast on the multitude of hypothesis that stem from it, instead of actually expanding upon it. So while Batman #21 may be visceral and intense, because of those connections to the wider narrative, it feels like an extension of this problem driving to its illogical conclusion.

Credit: IDW Publishing

G.I. Joe #4
Written by Aubrey Sitterson
Art by Giannis Milonogiannis and Lovern Kindzierski
Lettering by Shawn Lee
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The action gets bigger and the intrigue gets deeper in the latest installment of G.I. Joe. New Joe Commander Scarlett is reeling from the previous issue’s Dire Wraith reveal, but there is no rest for the Joes as the field team of Road Block, Quick Kick, Doc Jr., and Rock ‘n Roll are attempting to shake a tail of Dreadnoks as they extract their leader, the babbling Crystal Ball. While writer Aubrey Sitterson is slowly turning over cards, revealing just how big the scope of his tale really is, he still keeps readers engaged by supplementing the plot with plenty of bone-crunching, banter-filled action and a deep bench of Joes and baddies to pull from.

Giving that action sketchy and expressive life are penciler Giannis Milonogiannis and colorist Lovern Kindzierski. This fourth issue continues the team’s commitment to featuring every kind of action sequence known to man; this round is a thrilling car chase which stands as #4‘s main set piece. Milonogiannis and Kindzierski are clearly having a blast with the Joes and that shows in the work, especially in brava sequences like Quick Kick debuting his Meteor Hammer or the literally explosive entrance of Helix and Snake Eyes. With the heart of a Saturday morning cartoon and the mind of a primetime action drama, G.I. Joe #4 continues to live up to series author's framing of it as the “Crown Jewel of the Hasbro Universe.”

Scarlett has 99 problems, and friggin' aliens just put her over into 100. Though the villainous Dire Wraiths have been a lurking villainous presence in the overall IDW universe, Sitterson’s recent reveal and the further developments here in this issue make them a much more personal and interesting threat to the Joes. By weaving them into the team as well as making them responsible for the recently Cobra resurgence, Sitterson gives himself two interesting fronts to do narrative battle on, giving this new series a new personal level of storytelling that was missing before. As Scarlett debates on what to do with Doc Sr. back at the base, Doc Jr., unaware of her Dire Wraith lineage, is still on mission and that mission has gone from bad to worse and the circled back round to just being plain bad.

It's here where Sitterson and his art team display a tight and dynamic working relationship, as Milonogiannis and Kindzierski’s eye for both action and comedy take the reigns and translate another of Sitterson’s character focused set pieces onto the page with ease. Cutting neatly between the Dreadnok car chase to Gung-Ho and Lady Jayne’s blown undercover op, the trio keep the reader engaged at all times, either with a quippy line, an awesome power move, and sometimes both at the same time. Milonogiannis’ cursory style has given this new volume a nice distance from the cold and military precise art of the previous and in #4, he leans into it even more than he has before, making both sequences crackle with energy.

The colors of Lovern Kindzierski bring #4 home with more rich splashes of molten reds and yellows, deep blacks, and buzzing bolts of pink as the Joes and the Dreadnoks engage in a good ol’ fashioned laser gun fight. Colorist Kindzierski keeps the issue looking warm throughout, another welcome change from the sterile, almost metallic colors of previous runs. Though I would have loved a bit more of the Joe’s new Cybertronian support, Skywarp, who makes his field debut here in all his boxy and purple metal glory, G.I. Joe #4 again displays Milonogiannis and Kindzierski’s steady hands and their knack for making the action feel like it matters.

Sticking to his guns, Aubrey Sitterson continues to commit with G.I. Joe #4, providing the title some choice action and engaging storytelling beyond the rote military action the property is sometimes associated with. Artists Giannis Milonogiannis and Lovern Kindzierski continue to provide the title ample support, delivering rousing action, tight visual comedy, and, perhaps best of all, plenty of laser gun fire all coated with a rich coat of many dynamic colors. I once thought that putting “The Crown Jewel of the Hasbro Universe” on the cover was a cheeky advertisement, but after G.I. Joe #4, this book might just have earned its tagline.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther: World of Wakanda #6
Written by Rembert Browne
Art by Joe Bennett, Roberto Poggi and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

After a intriguing premise involving the Dora Milaje failed to live up to its premise, Black Panther: World of Wakanda takes a bow with what is undeniably its best issue to date. Shifting focus to T’Challa’s former protégé, Kevin Cole aka the White Tiger, Black Panther: World of Wakanda #6 brings journalist Rembert Browne into the fold, and pairs him up with the talented Joe Bennett to tell a story of superhero detective work, featuring some deep cuts into Marvel’s roster.

For a single issue story, Black Panther: World of Wakanda #6 packs quite a bit into its twenty pages of story. Both the previous issues of World of Wakanda and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther have at times been slowly paced, the characters and the narrative spread too thin, but there is none of that here as Browne reintroduces Kevin “Kasper” Cole to the page, gives him a mission, and then sets up the character’s future with a quick pace that never feels rushed (at least on a macro level).

Browne’s script really helps flesh out the character’s development a bit. There’s a weariness to Kevin Cole that wasn’t there when readers last saw him, but that’s to be expected – the character hasn’t seen action beyond a few cameos since before Civil War. Browne contrasts Kevin’s weariness with Black Panther’s appearances. Those who have found Coates’ take on the character lacking may find Browne’s T’Challa more to their liking as the king has a swagger and assertiveness here that hasn’t been seen in some time.

While the one-and-done format gives the issue its strengths, it also contributes to the issue’s single weakness: the lengthy captions. Writer Rembert Browne was put in a catch-22 of sorts when taking up this story. A leaner style may have made for a better paced read, but left readers in the dark with regards to who Kevin Cole was a character. In opting to use longer captions, Browne gives readers more insight (especially for those who have never read Christopher Priest's Black Panther or The Crew), but sacrifices economy of the page to do so. As the issue moves forward, the issue gains speed however, and one has to hope that Browne is given the opportunity to carry Kevin forward in the future.

The artwork here is handled by Joe Bennett, whose dynamic style gives the issue the flexibility to handle this stacked narrative. The fight between White Tiger and Cardiac is a thrilling back-and-forth affair as vigilante and mercenary trade punches and kicks. For fans who love the depths of Marvel’s expansive roster, this fight is a dream come true. Bennett, who contributed to Kevin’s earlier appearances, also brings back the phantom like nature to his costume. While the rest of Bennett’s style has a gritty detail (given brilliant emphasis here by inker Roberto Poggi), Kevin’s White Tiger suit is devoid of any line work beyond the suit’s outline, creating a white silhouette look for the hero that is unnerving and evokes the look of a supernatural predator.

Rachelle Rosenberg’s colors work well for the story. Browne keeps the narrative street level, and Rosenberg’s palette captures that feel, with grays and browns broken up by nighttime blues and greens. The muted palette really helps Kasper’s costume pop off the page, and helps create a stunning of power when the hero uses his vibranium daggers.

Black Panther: World of Wakanda #6 is an excellent example of what can be done with a single issue story. Rembert Browne does excellent in his debut, and brings a nice energy to the page and the character. Joe Bennett’s artwork is phenomenal, giving the action beats a kinetic energy that most comics struggle with. While it’s unfortunate that Black Panther: World of Wakanda is ending, it’s nice to see it go out on such a high note and with a promise of what the future holds.

Credit: DC Comics

Nightwing #19
Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Javier Fernandez, Minkyu Jung and Chris Sotomayor
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

After working his way up the chain from Deathwing to Professor Pyg, Nightwing #19 finally puts the titular hero in pursuit of the true mastermind behind the vigilante’s recent woes: Dr. Simon Hurt.

However, Dick Grayson isn’t alone in his efforts to take down Hurt and rescue Damian Wayne, as the beginning of the issue reveals that his overly stubborn and possibly pregnant girlfriend, Shawn Tsang, has insisted on tagging along. While writer Tim Seeley uses Nightwing’s inner-monologue to try and rationalize the hero’s willingness to put the possible mother of his child in harm’s way (“…if you mess with her or someone she loves… She takes it real personally”), it does feel a bit odd that he doesn’t express a little more initial reluctance. Thankfully, though, that minor head-scratcher is addressed shortly after, in a rather touching dialogue exchange between Shawn and Dick. Nightwing's Robin Hood book has been a subtle plot device in several issues, and to see it brought up again as a means of Shawn gaining a better understanding of Dick’s character, thus leading to her feeling the need to join him on his mission in order to prove her own maternal worth, shows just how crucial the minutiae of Seeley’s scripts are to the overarching narrative.

Unfortunately for the two love-struck heroes, their heartwarming moment is quickly interrupted by Deathwing, whose main purpose in the story seems to be picking at the scab that is Nightwing’s grip on his true identity, as evidenced when Dick uncharacteristically presses the cold steel of a dagger against a defeated Deathwing’s cheek. Still, despite Nightwing coming to his senses and dropping the blade, Seeley certainly seems to be hinting towards an impending identity crisis, as the story takes a supernatural turn and Nightwing once again experiences visions of various iterations of himself.

Of course, the main premise of this issue is ultimately the search for Damian, so as the action/narrative-heavy story approaches its conclusion, we finally see Dick come face-to-face with Dr. Hurt, as well as the missing Boy Wonder. Although the apparent fate of Robin certainly achieves the initial shock value Seeley intended, the character’s importance to the larger DCU, as well as the mystical elements at play, shouldn’t leave readers too worried. Regardless, it does pose the intriguing question of how Seeley plans to go about “picking up the pieces,” which just so happens to be the subtitle of the next issue.

Joining Seeley on Nightwing #19 is the two-man art team of Javier Fernandez and Minkyu Jung, as well as color art by Chris Sotomayor. Having two artists switch off on a single issue, rather than allocating one to the main story and the other to flashbacks, dream sequences, etc. can sometimes be troublesome, but thankfully Fernandez and Jung’s distinct styles play well off of one another, making it far less jarring when one artist passes the baton to the other. Even though Fernandez employs a rougher, scratchier style while Jung takes a smoother, more refined approach, it serves the purpose of the story by allowing each artist’s aesthetics to complement the tone of the narrative, be it the heartfelt exchange between Dick and Shawn, or Nightwing seeing Dr. Hurt’s twisted world through his third eye. What truly marries the styles of Fernandez and Jung, though, is the color art, as the two artists serve as the variables in the visual equation with Sotomayor’s colors that acting as the constant to bring the final composition together. Sotomayor’s palette selection consists of cool, slightly muted tones that set the atmosphere perfectly, with distinct, flat shades that allow this book to stand apart from many of the over-digitalized comics on the stands today.

Overall, Nightwing #19 is a fun, fast-paced issue, with equal parts action, humor, and heart. Given his history on Grayson, everything about Seeley’s depiction of Dick feels true to the character’s core principles, particularly his affection for Damian, which is the driving force of the story. The entire art team is in perfect sync with Seeley’s script, and although the current arc has been hit-or-miss at times, things are definitely firing on all cylinders now for Bludhaven’s favorite costumed crime-fighter.

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