Best Shots Reviews: BLACK PANTHER #15, SUPERGIRL - BEING SUPER #4, EDGE OF VENOMVERSE #1

DC Comics June 2017 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Edge of the Venomverse #1
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Art by Roland Boschi, Adam Gorham, and Daniel Brown
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Following the format of the Spider-Verse event of 2014, Edge of the Venomverse #1 kicks off another bout of multiversal mayhem. In this first issue of the prelude series, writer Matthew Rosenberg combines two of Marvel’s most highly marketable unit shifters as the alien symbiote latches onto Wolverine clone X-23.

Taking us back to some of the earlier days of Laura’s clawed career, X-23’s escape from the Facility is aided by the strange alien symbiote that latches onto her during the getaway. Months later, Laura is hiding out in a warehouse when she crosses paths with some local street kids. Still pursued by her captors, what follows is a chaotic series of chases that ultimately build up to X-23 coming face-to-face with another member of the Venomverse.

Despite being a prelude to a bigger story, this issue effectively operates as a one-shot story that introduces a “new” character. There are certain limitations that come with this approach, including an inability to give us any depth or context to this character. Given the recent cinematic high-profile of Laura, there perhaps comes some assumed knowledge on the part of the reader.

Or maybe it doesn’t really matter for a book that is all about momentum. The book is a flurry of action that is on a singular track. If you’re of the school that likes to see your clawed mutants hacking and slashing their way through a series of unnamed bodies, then this approach might be right up your alley. For everyone else, it’s a very superficial issue, one that regularly wanders away from any sense of narrative coherence.

Roland Boschi, Adam Gorham, and Daniel Brown’s artwork is striking, and much of it has to do with the lighting that the art team gives the characters. Laura appears like a gothic vampire scoffing fries, under-lit with the sickly blue glow of an elevator. The red hues of the alarm lights bathe her shortly afterwards. While this doesn’t define the entire issue’s aesthetic, as much of it takes places on the gritty mean streets, where Earthy tones and a dirty wash give the images some texture. Looking at times as though it has been filtered through a black wash, that’s entirely appropriate for a character that’s been “Venomized.”

Many of shortcomings of Edge of the Venomverse #1 could be overlooked if there was a hook for what comes next. Unfortunately, while the final moments tease Laura’s first steps in a larger collection of worlds, there’s no real incentive or threat to keep us interested. Where Spider-Verse kicked off with Morlun declaring that all spiders will die, there is no equivalent menace to the Multiverse present here. If the next few issues are to be a random series of symbiote encounters so be it, but the core story that starts in September may be of more lasting interest.

Credit: DC Comics

Supergirl: Being Super #4
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: 10 out of 10

Supergirl: Being Super #4 marks the finale of Mariko Tamaki and Joelle Jones’ out-of-continuity Supergirl origin story. The series continues to be a beautiful coming-of-age story that explores the difficulties teenagers have as they try to figure out their identities, and the boundaries they must push through to find out what type of person they want to become.

In this issue Kara is put through the ultimate test as her best friend Dolly is kidnapped by former coach/current evil scientist, Coach Stone. Kara goes to the coach’s evil lab in chances of saving Dolly, but discovers that fellow Kryptonian Tan-On doesn’t have the same moral compass as she does. This leads Tan-On to become the true villain of the story. Mariko Tamaki creates a perfect final battle between Kara and Tan-On as the theme of “home” comes full circle. As the battle unfolds, Kara starts to remember her time on Krypton. This helps her embrace the love her biological parents had to let her go, and the love she’s found in Midvale growing up on earth.

One of Supergirl: Being Super’s biggest strengths is the series’ character building. Kara has a strong supporting cast, and this issue puts a much-needed spotlight on Kara’s best friend, Dolly. She’s a character that embraces Kara to use her powers for good, and pushes her to reach bounds beyond Midvale. Mariko Tamaki developed a great and realistic friendship between Kara and Dolly.

The theme of friendship is one of the most important things to develop in any coming-of-age story, it’s like that old saying your parents use to nag you about - the people you hang out with shape you into the person you will become. In Supergirl: Being Super, Dolly helped Kara realize she shouldn’t be ashamed of who she is, and instead should embrace it.

Another relationship that is highlighted in this issue is Kara’s friendship with Jen, her friend who was killed in Midvale’s devastating earthquake. It’s the final knot the series must tie before Kara leaves Midvale. Kara learns that it’s the good and the bad that shapes a person, and the bad helped Kara appreciate the importance of her friendship with Jen, which may help her understand what it means to be a better hero for the future.

The book ends where most coming-of-age stories should - the beginning of a next chapter. Kara is forced to leave her life in Midvale, the representation of teenagers leaving their childhood behind after high school, but she doesn’t forget how the life she lived in Midvale helped shape her into the person she is today.

The pencils by Joelle Jones is some of her strongest work to date as this issue delivers a well-balanced mix of action and emotion. This is especially showcased in Tan-On and Kara’s final fight where Kara must use her powers to save Dolly and the town all while dealing with her own emotions as Tan-On’s true colors come to light. Jones draws some great facial expressions to show Kara’s shifting moods during the battle as she unearths more memories of Krypton, perfectly establishing Kara’s weariness turning into determination.

This is also the first issue where we really get to see Kara’s powers on display and Jones doesn’t hold back. There are some great shots of Tan-On and Kara flying and punching each other all while Kara tries to keep the town’s damage to a minimum. Jones even throws in a classic Supergirl power set that hadn’t been shown in the series previously, which was a nice surprise.

Supergirl: Being Super is one of comic books’ strongest coming-of-age stories in recent years as the series puts the spotlight on Kara being the hero of her own tale. Tamaki and Jones’ series with the Girl of Steel ends on a satisfying and action-packed note while still leaving plenty of room for a potential sequel.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther #15
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Wilfredo Torres, Adam Gorham, Terry Pallot, and Laura Martin
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

T’Challa continues his search into the supernatural occurrences in Wakanda in Black Panther #15. Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates with art by Wilfredo Torres and Adam Gorham, this issue is a bit of a mixed bag as it ends up highlighting some of the recurring issues the series has had from the beginning.

Part of the problem is that Black Panther #15 doesn’t connect particularly well with the previous issue. The villains who are working behind the scenes are nowhere to be found here, and while Zawavari makes an appearance, it’s more like a limp guest spot than anything significant. If you had any questions as to who Asira was last issue, you’ll have to wait at least another month to find out. And while that gap might work for readers who already know the character or those waiting for the trade, it’s a bit irritating that this issue doesn’t touch on what seemed to be a big plot point at all.

A recurring problem within the series has been Coates’ handling of T’Challa. While Coates’ exploration of T’Challa as a king that would rather be a hero has been rather interesting. What doesn’t work is when T’Challa is shown as being poor at both, apologizing for his actions as king while relying on his supporting cast to do the hero-work. The best runs of Black Panther have seen T’Challa excel at both, with the character drama emerging when those duties have come into conflict, such as when he plunged the world’s economy to draw out his frequent adversary Erik Killmonger.

In Black Panther #15, readers are treated to T’Challa relying on the Midnight Angels to fight against the ape-like Vanyan, while his sister Shuri is given a power that seemingly makes part of his “King of the Dead” abilities redundant. From an artistic standpoint, the sequence is awesome, with a playful tribute to the X-Men that foreshadows the issue’s final scene. Torres’ linework is much more consistent here than it was last issue, and Laura Martin’s color art gives the scene a moody atmosphere with the stormy clouds and the snowfall.

However, it is T’Challa’s relegation to the background in this action scene that makes the final sequence in the book a bit of a mixed bag. What we see here is a reconciliation of sorts between T’Challa and Storm, who are seemingly trying to rebuild their relationship. T’Challa seemingly apologizing for his marriage proposal to Ororo is particularly frustrating given the history of how that marriage was portrayed in the comics. It’s one thing for T’Challa and Storm to both apologize for their parts in how the relationship ended, and to that end, it’s nice to see Coates having them talk in such an adult manner. But at the same time, when T’Challa is repeatedly upstaged in the action sequences and then expresses regret for decisions that had previously been portrayed as extremely positive aspects of his character, it makes him appear less like a humanized Spider-Man and more like Captain Milquetoast.

At the core, this is what makes Black Panther #15 a frustrating read. Coates’ self-critical T’Challa worked extremely well when the emotional stakes of the series were based around philosophy and the fog of politics. Now that the book has moved firmly into the realm of the supernatural, those explorations are no longer strengths for the book. T’Challa needs to find the bass in his voice if he’s going to have any reasonable chance at facing the threats against him now.

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