Best Shots Reviews: SECRET WARRIORS #3, BLACK PANTHER & THE CREW #3, DARK DAYS: THE FORGE #1, MS. MARVEL #19

"Black Panther & the Crew #3" variant
Credit: Sanford Greene (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Secret Warriors #3
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Art by Javier Garron and Israel Silva
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partidge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The war gets complicated for Kamala Khan in the latest installment of Secret Warriors. Divided into a tense standoff between the Secret Warriors versus the X-Men and emotionally-fraught flashbacks to Kamala navigating a Hydra-occupied Jersey City, writer Matthew Rosenberg provides an emotional heart for the latest “earth-shattering” event of Secret Empire.

Though the first issues of Secret Warriors were chock full of explosive action and banter, Rosenberg and his art team Javier Garron and Israel Silva alternate between action and slower scenes that show the emotional toll Daisy’s crusade has started to take on this team. And what’s even better is that the fisticuffs are also pretty funny, as the Secret Warriors get into a adolescent-angst-fueled smackdown with the X-Men, capped off with Daisy single-handedly bringing down the Blackbird. It’s a shorter, tighter action sequence than some of the previous issues, but it allows Rosenberg to showcase the wild and untested nature of this team (even compared to teenage teams like Champions or Young Avengers) well.

The concurrent narrative, featuring Kamala dodging Hydra in her home town, is a bit more of a mixed bag, however. As Kamala sees the lengths her teammates Karnak and Daisy Johnson are willing to win this “war” in the present, Rosenberg continually flashes back to the early days of the Empire and the darkness it spread over her small New Jersey neighborhood. These scenes work well in terms of showing Kamala’s emotions and positioning her as the innocent everywoman on the team, making her a (comparatively) sunny foil alongside the clearly damaged Quake.

That all said, the pacing of Kamala’s flashback scenes winds up flat-tiring a lot of Rosenberg’s momentum with the X-Men scenes, robbing the conclusions of these scenes of their punch. It’s also a bummer because Javier Garron and Israel Silva aren’t given the free reign to splash action across the page as much as they had in previous issues. Aside from the aforementioned Blackbird destruction and X-Men/Inhuman dust-up, the pair are fairly fenced in here.

Stories about young heroes becoming disillusioned is nothing new, but Rosenberg takes the time to show us and Kamala both sides, the one of the “soldier” and the other of the oppressed masses, driven to destruction and violence. As an established superhero known for her optimism, Kamala is an very interesting character to explore this with — what makes the Secret Warriors better than Hydra if they are willing to torture in order to gain the upper hand? It’s a question that Rosenberg and company let us ponder with the conclusion of Secret Warriors #3, a book that may stumble, but still manages to impress.

Dark Days: The Forge #1br> Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Art by Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr., Scott Williams, Klaus Janson, Danny Miki, Alex Sinclair and Jeremiah Skipper
Lettering by Seve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

While Scott Snyder has been telling Batman stories in All Star Batman, Dark Days: The Forge #1 gives Snyder and co-writer James Tynion IV the doorway to return to themes and struggles began in Snyder and Greg Capullo’s New 52 Batman series. Whether it’s the strange alchemy that the Court of Owls used to resurrect their Talons or the idea that there are more mysteries in Gotham and beyond than the Batman even knows about, Snyder, Tynion IV and their trio of art teams begin to pull strings that threaten to unravel Batman’s sense of control over the world around him. Snyder and Tynion IV’s writing takes the work that they’ve done on Batman over the past six years and extends it to the whole DC Universe, expanding Batman’s role from being a superhero of the world to being a hero of a multiverse.

Dark Days; The Forge #1 is largely just part of a prologue to DC’s upcoming event Metal, but the writers are already seeding the reintroduction of major characters and concepts to this rebirthed DC universe in this issue. Other than a few minor continuity changes, Snyder’s Batman was not affected as much by DC’s New 52 initiative in the major ways that Superman and Wonder Woman had been. Even now in this age of DC Rebirth, Superman and Wonder Woman are having to deal with the ramifications of major meta-narrative changes while Batman gets to keep on being Batman and just moving forward. Dark Days: The Forge #1 sets up the mystery of the multiverse and something that seems to be altering it. This comic sets up questions that we never even knew needed to be asked in this age of continuity revision after continuity revision.

The art teams of Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson, John Romita Jr. and Danny Miki, and Jim Lee and Scott Williams offer this glimpse of a DC Universe that is its own house of mystery. Whether it’s the depth of the seas, the Fortress of Solitude at the top of the world or Batcaves in Gotham City or on the moon, these artists take us on a quick tour of the unseen corners of the world as even its heroes are entering these uncharted territories. The three art teams provide a consistent yet rich view of this world. Kubert and Janson do the heavy lifting on (yet again) rebuilding the history of Hawkman, providing a more classic perspective in this issue. The teams of Lee and Williams and Romita Jr. and Miki move us into the darkness of this story, providing just enough visual hints to give a sense of the scope that this story will ultimately be.

That hint of scope is the tease of this issue. This is all prologue, and it will be a couple of months before we hit the main event, but Snyder and Tynion IV tickle just the right areas for any DC fan, new or old. Even as they make links between the stories of the past six years, they open the door to the even further past. Hawkman and his history seem like they’ll be important to the central conflict that’s coming but Snyder and Tynion IV hint that other characters and teams that we haven’t seen in the New 52 or Rebirth eras will be important to this story.

Dark Days: The Forge #1 lifts a veil on the DC Universe, but it doesn’t reveal too many secrets as opposed to just revealing that there are more secrets to be told. Snyder and Tynion IV hide things in this story like Batman hides artifacts in his moon Batcave. With a superstar team of artists, the writers put Batman directly at the center of this multiverse while surrounding him with teammates and proteges and secrets. This issue may be a prologue to the next big thing, but you have to wonder whether this is a teaser to what’s coming or if it’s the first chapter of the next big epic? Either way, Dark Days: The Forge #1 sets up the promise of exciting things to come.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther & the Crew #3
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Butch Guice, Mark Chater, Scott Hanna and Dan Brown
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

?After two issues, T’Challa finally arrives on the scene in Black Panther & the Crew #3. The issue focuses on T’Challa’s perspective, and how he became entangled in Ezra’s life. Penned by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the mystery gains an added dimension as the king of Wakanda solves a major piece in the puzzle. ?

?After the odd choice to go nearly two full issues without an appearance by the title character, Black Panther & the Crew #3 sees T’Challa join Storm and Misty Knight’s investigation of Ezra’s murder. The issue’s preamble states that the events of this series take place prior to the events of Coates’ Black Panther, an important distinction considering the way T’Challa is portrayed here. This is still a T’Challa that doubts his role as ruler and Wakanda’s system of government. However that doubt, well explored in his own series, is not the focus here. Rather, Coates explores the emotional strain between T’Challa and Ororo. ?

?The divorce between the two characters seems to be something Marvel regrets, as have been continuously put into a will-they-or-won’t-they scenario ever since. Between his work here and in Black Panther however, Coates seems to be genuinely interested in exploring them rekindling their love for one another. T’Challa laments that in the aftermath of Secret Wars he was unable to save his marriage when he rebuilt the universe, “I knew then that I had broken my marriage not for Wakanda, but out of my own fear.” Coates never outright states what was at the root of T’Challa’s fear, but the implication seems to be that T’Challa felt unable to serve the relationship as he needed. Hopefully this will pay off in either this series or his solo title.

?The artwork by Butch Guice really captures the internal drama here, drawing a pensive T’Challa. Without the beautiful character work, the story would fall flat on its face. The background work by Guice and Mack Chater also really helps build the atmosphere and the world, creating a living, breathing Harlem for the mystery to occur in. There are even a couple visual gags, from the blueprints to a condominium complex, to a reference to one of Marvel’s Netflix shows.

?Black Panther & the Crew #3 also provides a major development by unveiling the series’ antagonist. Like any good twist, the reveal hits like a ton of bricks and yet is completely well established by the material preceding it. Furthermore, it answers the question as to whether or not the threat of the series could necessitate the response of a team as powerful as the Crew’s roster. ?

?After a slower buildup, Black Panther & the Crew turns the corner in a major way. The reveal of a larger web behind Ezra’s murder is well done, as is T’Challa’s arrival into the story. Ta-Nehisi Coates seems in his element crafting this mystery, and the art by Guice and Chater is a stellar fit for this genre. It’s unfortunate that this series is already cancelled, but if the series can maintain this quality in the back half, it will be a solid story and addition to the mythos of the heroes involved.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel #19
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Marco Failla and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
?Published by Marvel Comics
?Review by Kat Calamia
?‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Ms. Marvel #19 starts a new arc for the series where G. Willow Wilson puts a focus on the community of Jersey City, and raises the stakes for Kamala Khan and her supporting cast. This is a solid issue that showcases the importance of Wilson’s gradual character-building for the people of Jersey City.

The issue centers around Kamala spending time with her family and her Jersey City community as they celebrate the first day of Eid Al-Adha. But this celebration doesn’t last for long as Wilson brings back Civil War II villain Lockdown to target unregistered superpowered residents. It’s nice to see the return of a familiar face for this arc, as it makes this plot more personal for Kamala. In Civil War II, Lockdown started out as a thorn in Kamala’s side, but Wilson and Marco Failla make her a more menacing villain for this issue.

Lockdown is not alone in this fight as she teams up with Discord, a masked villain who Ms. Marvel seems to think she knows, adding a nice mystery to the story. Failla’s pencils are great in this scene as their battle showcases Kamala starting to master her powers for defensive tactics. You can see just from the facial expression how well Failla allows Kamala’s confidence to seep through these panels.

The set-up for the villain storyline is a highlight for the issue, but the focus on Kamala’s supporting characters is also a strength. Last arc put a spotlight on Kamala’s high school friends, but with this issue we receive more interaction between Kamala and her family. The opener of this issue with the sacrifice of the goat for Eid Al-Adha showcases the strength of their interaction as Willow hits some great comedic beats between Kamala and her family. This scene shows the closeness of the family while also putting a nice focus on Kamala’s heritage. This builds the tension for the issue’s cliffhanger involving Kamala’s brother.

Marco Failla is a new artist for Ms. Marvel, but is a wonderful fit for the series. Failla has some great clean line work, and puts a lot of expression into the characters’ facial work. This is needed for a book that is so focused on the people and community of Jersey City. Ian Herring’s colors continue to be a staple for this book, and his consistency make artist shake ups less jarring for the series.

Ms. Marvel continues to be one of Marvel’s strongest series as G. Willow Wilson continues to plumb new depths with her fan-favorite heroine. With civilians and politics making Jersey City almost a character unto itself, Ms. Marvel #19 pushes Kamala on a personal level and tests her perseverance as a hero.

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