Best Shots Reviews: MOON KNIGHT #14, THE FLASH #23, GENERATION X #2, SPIDER-GWEN #20

Marvel Comics May 2017 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #14
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The final issue of Moon Knight has arrived as writer Jeff Lemire, artist Greg Smallwood, and color artist Jordie Bellaire hurtle Marc Spector towards his final showdown with the moon god Khonshu. After building up questions as to what is real and what role Khonshu was playing, Moon Knight #14 had a lot riding on it to deliver a satisfying end - and for the most part, it succeeds.

Jeff Lemire’s script for the final issue begins where Marc first met Khonshu at a temple in Egypt. Called by Khonshu, he enters the temple and becomes Moon Knight. This sequence is intercut with the present day, where Marc is still in the mental hospital, but Jeff Lemire adds another layer of otherworldliness when Khonshu acknowledges the changes in time. This adds another philosophical question as to how “real” the past is, when compared to the present. It’s a bold move to break the fourth wall in the final hour, but it pays off because Lemire has built up these questions of verisimilitude throughout the series.

In the end though, this is still about Marc’s personal journey and the expressiveness of Greg Smallwood’s characters really comes into play here. Each panel has to display the high emotions for the stakes to be properly conveyed, and Smallwood excels at this challenge. His character work has been strong throughout the series, but here he brings it to another level. It isn’t just pain that Smallwood displays either. In the flashback, after Marc has been brought back by Khonshu, the hypnotic look on Marc’s face shows just how drunk on Khonshu’s influence he has become. And finally, when Marc faces off against Khonshu, there is a level of peaceful acceptance that comes across in the way Smallwood draws Marc’s eyes.

Jordie Bellaire’s colors here enhance the high stakes of the story. In the early parts of the book, a more natural palette is used, even within the confines of the supernatural hospital. But as Marc gets closer to Khonshu, the colors shift to more dramatic tones – first a blood red wash, then an olive green sky. In a clever and subtle choice, Marc’s skin tone throughout this final sequence is a pale blue even as the world returns to normal, not only calling back to his moniker, but showing his internal unity and peace under it.

After a ton of buildup, the conclusion to Moon Knight #14 can’t quite land everything perfectly. The final bit with Khonshu is perhaps too readily telegraphed; one becomes increasingly aware of the pages remaining to show the final showdown with the Egyptian god, and once it arrives, the brevity feels like a missed opportunity. The way in which Khonshu is defeated is predictable, and though the story lands its biggest moments, some readers are going to be disappointed that Moon Knight never really gets to let loose in this series.

What makes Mark Knight #14 such a powerful conclusion to the series is that Marc does not “defeat” his mental illness. He copes with it. The way Lemire, Smallwood, and Bellaire choose to end the series puts the character in a position where he can have new adventures with his other identities without being plagued by them. Marc may have days where he’s Steven Grant, or Jake Lockley, or even days where he isn’t sure. But he’ll always be Moon Knight.

Credit: DC Comics

The Flash #23
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico and Ivan Plascencia
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Following the much-hyped Batman crossover “The Button,” Barry Allen returns to a sense of normalcy - or at least as normal as the life of the Fastest Man Alive gets. The first issue in the new arc, “The Color of Fear,” isn’t ready to follow the consequential ripples of that preceding story just yet, but it does set up a few new threads in this bridge issue.

Ostensibly an excuse for a team-up with Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Barry’s birthday is interrupted by the weight of his own guilt and the attack of the self-duplicating Multiplex. After an amusing aside about which one of them Multiplex belongs to, the Fast Friends fight a villain who is ultimately two shades away from being a needy Tinder date. Wally has to put aside his temporary quarrel with Barry to carry Iris to safety, only to find that a returning foe has left them with no safe place to turn.

For an issue that is pretty much about spinning its wheels in anticipation of the next reveal, it certainly has a fair bit of momentum behind it. The panel-by-panel action is non-stop, and even amidst the expected scenes in which Barry’s inner angst is highlighted, this is primarily an action issue. The consequence of this is that the reader never really gets the opportunity to anticipate the next move. This is terrific for delivery surprises, especially in the final page, but as soon as the book is over we are left with an unnerving sense of being cheated somehow.

Di Giandomenico and Plascencia’s artwork revels in the kind of fluidity needed to make The Flash work, although the star turns in this issue are all around the villains. Witness the red and gold darkness of Barry’s projection of the Reverse-Flash’s potential killing spree, a series of panels that might be all in the hero’s head, but are made all the more deadly by the artists’ renderings. The tidal wave of Multiplexes that threaten Hal and Barry in the climactic moments of the book is an innovative use of bodies being literally flung at the protagonist.

The biggest problem with the issue is that the cliffhanger ending undoes some of the impact of the previous issue. On page and screen, there’s been an overreliance on speedster villains for the last few years, and the spectacular end(s) to one of them in “The Button” gets seemingly reversed (get it?) in a single panel. It’s why the Joker has recently been kept out of the comic books for a year or so at a time. Even so, this is a solid issue that hits the ground running and rarely lets up.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Generation X #2
Written by Christina Strain
Art by Amilcar Pinna, Felipe Sobreiro, Jay David Ramos, and Chris Sotomayor
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It’s evident that "ResurreXion" has traded on a sort of ‘90s sentimentality and nostalgia. X-Men: Gold and Blue harken back to the two previous teams’ glory days, while Weapon X and Cable seem to be attempting the ‘90s extremity without the over-the-top violence and edginess. Generation X’s title also provides a link to the decade, but the content of the series isn’t looking that far back. Instead, the first two issues of this series have more an X-Statix-style sensibility, and as the rest of the line has looked to get back to basics and deliver consistent and typical displays of superheroics, Generation X is more inclined to lampoon this and see where it can go with it.

The last issue left off with a cliffhanger involving mutant-hating Purifiers, and writer Christina Strain gets into that reasonably quickly, albeit from a new perspective. Instead of starting her story off outside the school, she includes a brief scene inside involving Quentin Quire before jumping back into the action. Strain has previously described the team of this book as lovable losers, and the introduction of Quentin here allows for a sharp edge to that, while simultaneously showing that Strain has a handle on more than just Jubilee’s headspace. It should be said that, aside from Jubilee and Quentin, the main cast of this book aren’t the most well-known characters - they normally exist on the edges of panels for a quick gag. While X-titles may normally be unconcerned with these characters, the inverse is true in Generation X, with the Purifiers as more of the set-dressing.

There’s a freshness that this approach invokes, not just in general, but within the confines of the current X-line, and the reason it works is because both the previous Generation X and X-Statix were both playing with a type of cynicism. This series isn’t trying to be gritty or extreme, as Quentin provides a more biting type of snark to the rest of the characters’ more casual useage. An early exchange between Quentin and Broo sees the former remark, with some surprise, that the latter isn’t dead. Not only is wickedly funny, but simultaneously astute as looking at the line-up, you might wonder how these characters survived so long.

The characters also wonder that, and the inherent absurdity of their survival until now is what’s driving this series. Which is why the Purifiers are almost second-fiddle to the character interactions here. Rather than looking back at yearning for a Claremontian era, Generation X is forging ahead. You’ll note that Jubilee is still both a mother and a vampire, and while she may have fallen to the wayside following those developments, Strain is putting her back into the mix alongside others like Nature Girl and Eye Boy and seeing how they handle being at the forefront of the page instead of hanging around in the occasional background.

Speaking of backgrounds, Amilcar Pinna’s work crackles and their sense of perspective is phenomenal. With the Purifiers attacking, there’s a lot of people caught in the crossfire, and Pinna’s blocking of these characters works consistently. Over the course of a sequence, Jubilee and others gradually push forward and even when the focus is elsewhere, by the time they come back into the layouts, the path they’ve travelled to get there is evident. This timing is a real strength of the book, proven later in a three-panel gag where the joke is set-up and paid-off in a continuous pan. Despite the involvement of three colorists, it’s hard to say where one’s input ends and another’s begins which allows for a vibrant uniformity, even when the linework stretches to fit the panel, resulting in clear action, but exaggerated emotion.

This series is likely not what people expected it would be - it’s very different to its namesake and is pretty abstract when compared to the rest of the X-lineup. When it comes to X-Men, it is particularly difficult to put together a team because every person has a different idea of what the X-Men should be. When it came to X-Men: Gold, I was struck by a tagline on an ad – “You asked for it. You got it” – as it seemed to suggest they were going with a straight superhero book because that’s what was being demanded the most. That might be what people thought they wanted from the X-line, but Generation X is what never knew you needed.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Gwen #20
Written by Jason Latour
Art by Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Kat Calamia
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Spider-Gwen #20 is a fun, action-packed issue that brings new layers to Jason Latour’s Earth-65 universe. This issue introduces familiar Marvel characters in a new refreshing way, while also building Gwen and Harry’s already established friendship.

The story opens up with Harry and Gwen on the run from Mr. Murderhands, a.k.a. Earth-65’s Wolverine, a hit-man with his claws set on Harry Osborn. Latour does a great job at introducing Wolverine’s origins without losing any momentum from his chase with Gwen and Harry in the present. This Wolverine’s personality feels familiar to other incarnations of the character, but there are some nice twists spread throughout the issue keeping fans on their toes.

The nicest surprise was seeing Earth-65’s version of Shadowcat. Logan and Kitty have always had a great father/daughter relationship in the regular Marvel universe, so it was interesting to see Earth-65’s Kitty following in Wolverine’s footsteps as a hitman. This leads to a new dynamic between the characters where they start to butt heads over Harry’s bounty.

Latour uses Spider-Gwen #20 to introduce new characters to his universe, but doesn’t forget to put a spotlight on Matt Murdock, Gwen Stacy, and Harry Osborn. During Harry and Gwen’s team up, Harry is shocked to find out that Gwen is working with The Hand. Up until now Gwen has been alone trying to clear her father’s name, but using Harry in this arc gives Gwen the opportunity to talk to someone she trusts about recent events. The interaction between Gwen and Harry allows her to reevaluate her relationship with Matt Murdock. This sets up a fight for physical and metaphorical power between Matt and Gwen in a war that has only begun.

Latour fits a lot of story into this issue, as Robbi Rodriguez keeps the issue fast-paced with his fluid action sequences. Many of the issue’s visuals consist of Gwen leaping through the city as she’s tries to keep Harry safe. These scenes help the story keep its speedy momentum. The lettering by Clayton Cowles perfectly weaves in great sound effects in these action sequences. I was especially impressed with the issue’s credit page. Cowles uses this scene to mirror what feels to be an introduction to a stylish action movie as the creator’s names are interwoven into Wolverine’s slashes.

Rico Renzi’s vibrant color palette really shines in this issue with the glossy city scape backdrop contrasting Wolverine’s cowboy look. This Western vibe is especially showcased in Wolverine’s flashback where Renzi uses different shades of orange to paint the scene. The Western tone adds for an interesting dynamic between the Japanese influence Rodriguez showcases in his pencils.

Spider-Gwen #20 is a packed issue that finds a nice balance between action and character-driven narrative. This series is always on top of its game when focusing on character and world-building, and this issue does both perfectly.

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