Teeter Topple
Credit: 215 Ink

Face front, 'Rama Readers! The weekend is over and most of us are back on the grind - including the Best Shots team, as we wrap up coverage of some of last week's new titles. Here's convivial Kat Calamia kicking things off with a look at Supergirl: Being Super #3.

Credit: DC Comics

Supergirl: Being Super #3
Written by Mariko Tamaki
Art by Joelle Jones and Kelly Fitzpatrick
Lettering by Saida Temofonte
Published by DC Comics
Review by Kat Calamia
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Supergirl: Being Super #3 marks the penultimate issue of this out-of-continuity mini-series, as Kara digs deeper into her teenage journey of self-discovery. One of the series’ biggest strengths is Kara’s internal struggle between her alien heritage and the life she’s created on Earth, and this issue puts this emotional balance to the test.

The story opens up with Kara trying to get back to her daily routine at school after the passing of her best friend, Jen. Mariko Tamaki continues to give a realistic portrayal of mourning as Kara tries to deal with simple tasks at school, like walking the hallways or making cupcakes in Home Ec. The issue seamlessly weaves the raw emotions of losing a friend with Kara’s newly emerging emotions of losing a planet that she is only now starting to remember.

Kara learns more about her heritage when she meets Tan-On, who’s being experimented on by none other than her track coach, Coach Stone. This leaves Kara confused as flooding memories of her past start to emerge. Kara is in a broken emotional state, so she does what any teenager would do in this situation - she makes a rash decision. She runs away with a boy she just met because she wants to discover more about her past life.

Tamaki has done a great job at creating a world for Kara in Midvale by giving multiple dimensions to Kara’s supporting characters, which makes Kara’s decision at the end even more heart-breaking. But that’s the point! Tamaki allows the reader to go inside Kara’s head, to truly know her character even if she doesn’t know herself. You feel the internal struggle Kara is going through as she has to pick one of the two worlds she feels she identifies with the most.

Joelle Jones’ pencils and Kelly Fitzpatrick’s colors portray Kara’s complicated emotions perfectly throughout the issue. Jones showcases the struggle of Kara going back to her daily routine through her facial expressions and movements. This is shown well in the opening of the story where Kara slouches at the breakfast table, and tries on a few outfits for school - figuring, what’s the point of it all? Jones’ is also able to flex her muscles as an artist with more action scenes in this issue, and finds a good balance as her pencils also portray Kara’s raw emotions in these action sequences. This is especially prevalent in the scene where Kara learns that Coach Stone betrayed her. Jones shows the rage in Kara’s face as she unleashes her heat vision onto Stone’s equipment.

Tamaki uses Kara's story in Supergirl: Being Super #3 to show the struggles all teenagers have as they search for their self-identity and try to find a place in the world. Supergirl Being Super resonates as the perfect coming of age story because it reminds us that in many ways, all teenagers feel like aliens.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #1
Written by Peter David
Art by Mark Bagley, John Dell and Jason Keith
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

If there's anything worse than the ol' Parker luck, it might just be Ben Reilly's. Grown in a lab, forced onto the open road thanks to an earth-shattering identity crisis, graduating from tattered '90s hoodie and a blonde dye job to a full-on Spider-Man uniform only to be unceremoniously killed off to give Peter Parker his spotlight back, and now brought back from the dead as the Machiavellian villain known as the Jackal - it's not easy being Ben.

But unfortunately, it's only going to go downhill further before it has even the hope of getting better - at least judging by Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #1. While artist Mark Bagley does his level best to inject life into this debut issue, writer Peter David's take on this antihero webslinger feels scattered and directionless - and most importantly, won't appeal to fans of '90s nostalgia.

In certain ways, this isn't necessarily David's fault — the Ben Reilly who returned in The Clone Conspiracy is very different than the beloved (at least by some) character of yesteryear. But this new series portrays Ben with little charisma or likability — he doesn't even have the vision and follow-through of Otto Octavius in the similarly toned Superior Spider-Man, instead sometimes veering into Deadpool territory as he mugs for readers about stealing cosplay outfits or tells a robbery victim to pay up for his services. This isn't a story about great power or great responsibility — it isn't even a story about self-identity, or making your way out of somebody else's shadow. For now, Ben Reilly is just licking his wounds, and it doesn't make for a particularly triumphant return for the character.

It doesn't help that this story feels particularly sloppy in terms of its internal logic and storytelling choices. Because Ben is on the run and doesn't have a solid supporting cast, David winds up having him monologue at us through narration — but then strangely enough, he attempts to use an angel/devil conceit as Ben hallucinates the original Scarlet Spider and the all-new Jackal, using them to try to convey exposition. It's an unfortunate choice that feels goofy because it's unearned — if David had played up Ben's clone degeneration more, maybe we could accept this as a symptom of Ben's declining mental health, but as it stands, it feels like a hokey device, as does a gag about an old woman being a stand-in for Aunt May. Even David's explanation about Ben's unflattering new costume feels like an afterthought, papered together with gags like the previous owner going commando in the suit. Given how much Ben's makeshift costume helped endear him to fans, you can't help but miss the old blue hoodie look.

Mark Bagley, meanwhile, makes the best out of what he can here, but it's hard to forget that he's dealing with a character who not only has a terrible design, but is enmeshed in stories about clones, which can make the page-to-page storytelling difficult to follow. His character compositions look great, particularly with the action sequences, but they're undercut every time you have to see Ben's borderline emoji face appear on his mask. Unfortunately, Ben's scarring without the mask doesn't make him a visually compelling character, either, and a scene with his clone-brother Kaine proves even more confusing given that they now look almost identical. But the energy in these pages is still there, and for those jonesing for Bagley to work on more Spider-Man books, this is as good a fix as any.

But beyond those diehards, it's hard to find many redeeming qualities in Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #1. Peter David is a veteran comics writer with a long and storied past, but whether it was a lack of inspiration or a difficult post-event launchpad to work from, this debut issue doesn't do his prodigious talent justice. Mark Bagley's artwork remains solid as ever, but this Spider-tie-in is squashed flat by questionable designs and even more questionable storytelling choices.

Credit: 215 Ink

Teeter Topple OGN
Written, Drawn, Colored and Lettered by Karl Slominski
Published by 215Ink
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Heart, tragedy, and humor collide in the unexpectedly moving Teeter Topple. Mark is a recently out of work puppeteer and he facing down the end of his twenties. But after he loses his job, increasingly vivid waking hallucinations start to haunt him, in particular the stars of the third-rate children’s show he was just fired from. As the puppets start to break through into his everyday life, so do other icons from his childhood as well as a terrifying man with no eyes; all pulling him toward a realization and memory that Mark has been running from his entire adult life.

If that all sounds a bit sinister, it isn’t as dark as it sounds, but writer/artist Karl Slominski doesn’t shrink away from the emotions at play here in his surreal slice of drama, both in his script and his artwork. Employing a wide range of styles throughout, sometimes moving from sketchy Jeff Lemire like renderings of mundane suburban life to lantern-jawed, Wally Wood-style spaceman comic riffs within the span of a page, Slominski leans into the increasingly mental instability of his protagonist, allowing it to inform the shifting styles and build to a gut-wrenching but cathartic finale. Armed with a strong visual hook and a candid voice when it comes to its more grounded elements, Teeter Topple is a visual feast that also happens to tell a genuinely human story.

Facing down his thirties and recently out of work, Mark, our leading man, is understandably rudderless. After a funny sequence centered around Mark’s constantly ringing phone, Mark starts to take stock of his life and as he does, he is smashed by the story’s first set of hallucinations. Writer Karl Slominski pulls a few impressive narrative feints throughout Teeter Topple, but this first one lets reader’s in on this book’s tone instantly. Unable to let the puppets from his job rot away in storage, Mark has taken them home with him, and now they are walking, talking, and sassing him as he attempts to keep his sanity.

But instead of making this some kind of flimsy framing device, Slominski positions Mark’s hallucinations as therapy as they all, even the more troubling ones like the Gentlemen-esque Man With No Eyes, guide him toward coping with a tragedy that hangs over the story like a storm cloud waiting to burst. Tempered by the humorous and specific voice of each puppet and stirring real life flashbacks to Mark’s childhood, Slominski builds and builds his story in a meaningful way that makes Mark’s journey seem real and sometimes hard to read due to its tactile emotions and genuine care for the cast exhibited by Slominski’s script. When you think “talking puppet” you don’t usually also think of “heartfelt drama” but you just might after reading Teeter Topple.

But while Slominski’s script aims for the heart, his artwork and colors inhabit another planet entirely, giving this OGN a veritable wealth of looks and tones apart from the grounded depictions of post-twenties ennui. Standing as a vibrant patchwork quilt of Slominski’s personal inspirations, Teeter Topple bounces through looks like it is going to be illegal at some point, hopping from heavily shadowed and inked black and white flashbacks to splashy watercolored and wildly lined depictions of Mark’s subconscious, which looks like a set taken directly from the Cool World cutting room floor. But as quickly as they are introduced and made use of, Slominski moves on even quicker giving us newsprint-style renderings of classic spaceman comics, complete with a flattened colors scheme throwing it all the way back to the '60s. Sometimes this kind of style hopping can come across as hyperactive or jumbled, but Karl Slominski gives every page a purpose as he and Mark work toward the goal of moving on and growing up.

Genuine dramas are a rare breed in comics, but Teeter Topple goes out of its way to add to the conversation while never sacrificing what makes comics dynamic in the first place. Offering up a work of true vision and heart, Karl Slominski wears his heart on his sleeve as does his book and us, the readers, are all the better for it. While it may not have the bloody angle or crime basis that people might want, Teeter Topple is the kind of brutally honest human story we need more of in comics.

Credit: Zander Cannon (Oni Press)

Kaijumax: Season 2
Written by Zander Cannon
Art by Zander Cannon, Jason Fischer
Published by Oni Press
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Last week’s Kaijumax: Season 2 takes us back to the world of fugitive mega-monsters and the morally gray system that seeks to control them with six collected issues of endearing and heart-wrenching tales of men and monsters struggling to make their way in a world that feels inherently dangerous to both of them. Artist Zander Cannon, with assists from Jason Fischer, delivers a series that navigates a potentially fraught satirical premise with surprising thoughtfulness in both its art and narrative.

Set immediately after Electrogor and Green Humongo’s explosive escape from the Kaijumax facility, Kaijumax: Season 2 shifts from its exploration of life for the monsters and guards within the confines of the facility to their navigation of the outside world, from fugitives to parolees to former Kaijumax guards trying to find ways to serve despite finding out they may not be cut out for life as monster-hunters. Season 2 opens on a shot of a glowing and mysterious powerful figure reading a simple print-out memo as a framed photo of his family looks on from an otherwise boring bureaucrat's desk.

Cannon touches on the morass of institutional red tape that hamstrings the efforts of reform-minded officers like Warden Kang and the kaiju-inflicted violence that shapes the perspectives of hardliners like his supervisor Nobuko Matsumoto with a careful touch that acknowledges the events that shape our individual lives without conflating it wholesale with the institutional and generational pain that perpetuating systems like Kaijumax inflicts on the kaiju taken there for minor infractions blown out of proportion by Science Force members antsy for a badge of honor for taking down a megafauna.

The art and colors of Kaijumax are deceptively simple, featuring thick lines and charmingly chunky character designs illustrated in playful pastels and the bright colors you might find in Gatchaman or Thunderbirds. While lacking some detail, Cannon’s characters are surprisingly expressive, from the anger in Electrogor’s big blue eyes to the sadness on the face of man-made mecha officer Chisato Denki as she struggles with her first major losses as a police officer. Kaijumax: Season 2 looks like a fun monster tale but reads like a crime drama, exploring the struggle of nuclear-fueled prehistoric monsters struggling to carve out places to survive in a world they once ruled that’s now overrun by humans who aren’t interested in sharing it – even with the monsters humans may have had a hand in creating.

Kaijumax is an unusual and engaging read for any kaiju fan looking for a new take on their favorite monstrous pop culture figures, and for anyone who appreciates a healthy dose of emotional turmoil with their graphic novels. Cannon has created a world that’s at once outlandish and relatable, touching on the critical roots of Japanese monster films with an American twist that delivers emotional intensity without getting bogged down on offering a take that’s excessively grim or adult for the sake of it. It’s a series worth following, and for those as new to the book as I am, it’s a perfect time to jump on – the first two volumes are out now in trade, and Season 3 kicks off on July 12.

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