Best Shots Reviews: SPIDER-MAN - MASTER PLAN #1, BLACK BOLT #3, More

Dark Horse Comics July 2017 cover
Credit: Dark Horse Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Man: Master Plan #1
Written by Robbie Thompson
Art by Nathan Stockman and Jim Campbell
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

A team from the overlooked critical darling Spidey reunites for the thin but fun Spider-Man: Master Plan #1. Writer Robbie Thompson and artists Nathan Stockman and Jim Campbell return to the high-flying early days of Peter Parker’s heroic career, bringing charm and action along with them. While the issue itself isn’t substantial, the wit and fun found within is, and could just lead to the team’s first efforts getting the kind of reevaluation they deserve. Standing as a neat contrast to the more sweeping storytelling happening in the major Spider-Man titles, Master Plan #1 is a jaunty diversion from Peter’s current status.

Peter Parker is running late, but then again, when isn’t he? As ol’ Webhead attempts to make it to a show, he is waylaid by an escaping pair of robbers and pulled into a citywide blitz of crimes. From the jump, Robbie Thompson displays the kind of scale that he usually worked with in his previous Spidey issues, a street-level but still engaging scale. One that’s not quite Avengers level, but just enough to make us think Spidey is finally getting in over his head.

As Peter rushes to stem the tide of crime and suss out the real culprit behind the crimewave, Robbie Thompson, Nathan Stockman, and Jim Campbell settle back into an easy groove with Spider-Man, bouncing him across the city in graceful displays of his movement with a quip always at the ready. Though the story is very much a 'one-and-done' sort of tale, the energy that comes off the pages is palpably fun and that comes from the synchronicity of this creative team.

Though thin plot-wise, it's so refreshing to see Peter mixing it up with the likes of the Crime Master and bounding from petty crime to petty crime instead of mixing it up in grand dramas and sprawling epic storylines. Stockman and Campbell really excel at this kind of small scale action and Master Plan is lousy with fun displays of the pair’s take on scrawny teen Spider-Man. Since much of the one-shot’s story moves so quickly, much of their artwork is told in montage form, which is both good and bad for the issue overall.

The good comes from the fact that Stockman’s work is so kinetic to start with, so he makes the most out of expository scenes like Peter using his wrist projector to tap into the city’s news feeds and a breathless sequence of Spider-Man hitting specific points of the city on route to Stark Tower shown as an overhead map of New York overlaid with a trail of bubbled panels of Spidey taking down goons. Jim Campbell is right there with him the entire time, using the backdrop of a dusky New York night to highlight the eye-catching colors of Spidey in action as he gets the drop on drab looking hoods.

The downside to this kind of speed is it just highlights how overall thin this plot is and how quickly it is resolved. The argument could be made about how one-shots are usually the most micro forms of comic book storytelling, and that means to expect a quick jaunt and nothing more. That said, Spider-Man: Master Plan #1 is so much fun that you can’t help but want more of it and that, ultimately, is the real hinging point of this issue. They say that performers must always leave an audience wanting more and this one-shot definitely left me wanting much, much more.

But while the fun is over far too soon, Spider-Man: Master Plan #1 is still just that, fun, and a tonic for those growing tired of the large-scale action of the main Amazing title. Even with a limited page count, Robbie Thompson, Jim Campbell, and Nathan Stockman tap back into the kind of frantic, charming energy that their previous efforts sported and funnel it into another fun entry into the canon of young Peter Parker stories. If you like your Peter broke and holding everything together with a joke and some webbing, then Spider-Man: Master Plan #1 is the Spidey story for you.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Bolt #3
Written by Saladin Ahmed
Art by Christian Ward
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

For the past two issues, Black Bolt has felt like a big deal, and of the issues so far none has felt more impressive or urgent than Black Bolt #3. The sense of isolation pervasive in the issue undoubtedly is a major factor in this. While Blackagar Boltagon may be recently allied with a handful of Marvel Wikia footnotes, this is Black Bolt’s story. Perhaps Saladin Ahmed’s greatest contribution to this series is the immediate sense of gravitas that his writing gives to characters and situations. Other characters of grand significance in the 616 are not present to inform readers of the Midnight King’s importance. Ahmed, through narration and character action, shows the significance of the character. Not to be overshadowed, Christian Ward’s art is able to convey that sense of gravitas visually while littering the comic with memorable scenes and panels.

Ahmed and Ward also excel at making that which is alien feel truly alien, which they accomplish by placing the aggressively weird alongside the familiar. When Black Bolt is tasked with stealing Spyder’s box, he overhears a bounty hunter named Death’s Head exchanging a prisoner for payment in a reception area. Given what he have seen and heard of this prison in the two issues prior, there is a real disconcerting effect to seeing a reception area. The strange cruelty of the prison with the innocuous front desk is just the first of many strange pairings throughout this issue. When Death’s Head and Black Bolt’s fight reaches its climax, the credit transfer into the bounty hunter’s account is complete, prompting him to abruptly leave. It’s an intense sequence subverted by another mundane element. When Black Bolt’s band of prison escapees stumble upon the mark that Death’s Head was exchanging, Monsteroso, they jump into a fight. This is stopped when Blinky, using her inner eye, reveals that the utterly massive Monsteroso is actually a child younger than Blinky, and again the presence of something “normal” like childhood is confronted by something very abnormal to the reader, like a giant. The final turn that the issue takes in revealing the disembodied array of organs and limbs controlling the prison pushes this unsettling feeling to its most memorable.

Ordinarily an artist has one set piece within in issue which they can use to show off. As with the previous two issues of the series, artist Christian Ward shows off multiple times leading to several scenes and moments that stick with the reader in Ward’s unique and colorful style. Raava’s spectral blades stand out for the wide range of color effectively used in a single panel. By contrast, the scene in which Black Bolt and friends discover the power source to the prison is beautifully depicted with subdued backgrounds and vibrant purples and magentas. The scene where the Jailer phases through the monitors and the Metroid-esque horror of the truth of the prison are both made terrifying by Ward’s art, somehow making one significant threat feel immediately dwarfed by a far greater threat.

Despite how aesthetically pleasing and generally well-paced Black Bolt #3 is, it suffers from some clunky narrative moments that slow it down. There is no real reason that the receptionist had to be Spyder. For a prison that often feels infinitely vast, this makes the story falter. When Raava delivers a triumphant message about body positivity it is a fantastic moment in the comic, but it’s one that feels like part of the conversation where she’s instigated to defend herself was cut from the script. It’s a stellar message, but it could have been seamlessly added with very little dialogue. The issue also ends one panel too soon in a cliffhanger that feels cheap. Rather than leaving readers with a moment that changes our understanding of the narrative or the characters, readers are left with a moment where they’re waiting to see if their understanding will be challenged.

As a series, Black Bolt is consistent and engaging and this issue manages to build on the intrigue that has been piling up for the past few months. The story frequently leads to unexpected places and has possibly the best art of any comic in 2017. Even the biggest detractors of Inhuman stories would be hard-pressed to not be engrossed by this story. While it’s impossible to predict where Ahmed will take the story and what Ward will draw in the next few months, if you read this book you’ll definitely want to find out.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Zodiac Starforce: Cries of the Fire Prince #1
Written by Kevin Panetta
Art by Paulina Ganucheau, Sarah Stern
Lettering by Christy Sawyer
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The cadets are back for another death-defying adventure in this week’s debut of Zodiac Starforce: Cries of the Fire Prince #1. The second installment of co-creators Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau’s magical girl tale is as engaging and fun to read as their 2015 debut, and the series has only gotten better with time. Fans of the original miniseries will find plenty of familiar faces in today’s new issue, and while it’s a solid starting point for new readers, beware - you’ll definitely find some big spoilers for the finale in the opening pages!

Cries of the Fire Prince #1 picks up a few months after the cadets’ final climactic battle against the evil queen Cimmeria in the previous series. With the monster threat seemingly cleaned out of their hometown of La Reina, Virginia, the cadets are once again left to deal with the mundane frustrations of civilian life: boyfriends, break-ups and sweet baby turtles. Panetta’s scripting is tight and fast-paced - where the original miniseries’ debut issue got bogged down at times with exposition, Panetta and Ganucheau do an excellent job of reintroducing the characters and establishing the looming threat of the series through dialogue, Ganucheau’s wardrobe choices, and adorable short sequences like “Checkin’ In with Savi.”

Artist Paulina Ganucheau’s work throughout is a delight, and her character designs keep the Starforce Cadets youthful and fully-realized through their distinct aesthetics. None of the characters look the same or dress the same, and their individual styles are as much a reflection of their backgrounds and personalities as Panetta’s dialogue. New cadet Lily’s frustrations trying to live up to her girlfriend’s expectations during training are relatable for anyone who’s struggled (or is struggling!) with overwhelming new changes as a teen, even if our changes weren’t rad magical powers. The easter eggs scattered throughout cadet Kim’s room give you as much insight into who she is as her quintessentially teenaged argument with her dad, and Molly is right — she doesn’t look like someone who wants to ride a public bus.

There are moments where the dialogue and the speakers don’t quite seem to match (it’s hard to tell who chastises Molly for being too good for a bus, for example, which is a shame because they’re right) but Christy Sawyer’s lettering work is otherwise solid throughout. Most conversations are easy to follow, and the sharp edges and big, bold fonts Sawyer uses to punctuated heated conversations are expressive and well-suited to the bright, bold aesthetic of the book.

Sarah Stern’s rich colors are a perfect complement to Ganucheau’s expressive, emotional art, and it’s exciting to introduce some spookier scenes and settings in this series that highlight Stern’s skill in taking full advantage of shadow and low lighting for atmospheric effect without making characters body language indistinguishable in the darkness. Their work on the final page in particular is a gift. The inky beasts that take on the cadets in this issue’s climactic battle are a stark and eerie contrast to the otherwise bright surroundings, and Ganucheau and Stern both do a stellar job making them appear to ooze threateningly off the page.

I hated the idea of only ever getting four issues of Zodiac Starforce, and Cries of the Fire Prince #1 brings back all the magical girl charm of the first series with even stronger writing and artwork. Today’s debut issue will undoubtedly delight longtime fans of the original miniseries, and this is a perfect time to catch up on the first volume before diving back into Panetta and Ganucheau’s heartfelt take on a much-beloved genre.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Hawkeye #8
Written by Kelly Thompson
Art by Leonardo Romero and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Kat Calamia
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Hawkeye #8 continues to unravel Kate Bishop’s family drama as she comes face-to-face with her newly supervillainous father, Derek Bishop. The story is at its best when Kate and Derek are sharing panel time with each other, but slows down when Kelly Thompson tries to create parallels with Kate’s story in the present.

This issue opens up where the last issue left off, with Kate having a much-needed conversation with her father about his involvement with Madame Masque and her connection to his younger, cloned body. Thompson does a great job with the emotional beats in this scene, and portrays the awkwardness between the estranged family members perfectly. Leonardo Romero brilliantly uses Derek’s desk to visually show the emotional distance between Kate and her father. It acts as a border widening the separation between the two.

In this scene, it’s also interesting to see Kate dressed up in her Hawkeye costume while having a conversation with her father wearing a well-dressed suit. Thompson adds a comment about this in her dialogue where Kate says the worst type of super villains are the ones who wear suits – they’re the most dangerous. This adds to their interesting “good guy” versus “bad guy” dynamic between father and daughter.

The plot sadly slows down when Kate returns to Hawkeye Investigations, and continues to investigate her father’s actions with the previous cases involving her new friends. These scenes would’ve been intriguing if the characters were more developed, but their connection doesn’t compare to the intense relationship between Kate and her father. The pacing becomes a bit jarring since Kate’s conversation with her father is scattered throughout the issue as the story with Kate’s friends unfolds.

Leonardo Romero’s pencils are a highlight for Hawkeye. The small targets that appear as Kate is analyzing her surroundings is a nice, unique aspect for his art style in this series. My favorite use of this in the issue is when Kate figures out her client is lying about her age by looking at the girl’s makeup and clothes. The reader really gets to see how Kate views the world through this visual feature.

Hawkeye #8 is a very emotional story for Kate, but Romero balances this with some great action sequences in this issue. The paneling for Kate’s escape after the meeting with her father is amazing. In this scene, Romero shows Kate concentrating as she uses her archery skills to maneuver herself from free falling to the city streets. Romero adds so much expression through Kate’s facial features and body movements making this scene one of the most memorable parts of the issue.

Hawkeye #8 is at its strongest when focusing on Kate’s relationship with her father. This interaction makes the mystery surrounding the Bishop family even more intriguing as Kate spirals deeper and deeper into her own family drama. While some of the other plot elements can read as somewhat distracting compared to the intensity of Thompsons’ father-daughter drama, there’s still plenty to show that Hawkeye remains on target.

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