Best Shots Reviews: BLACK PANTHER #166, THE HOUSE #7, More

Marvel Comics November 2017 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther #166
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Leonard Kirk, Marc Deering and Laura Martin
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Black Panther enters its legacy numbering this month, and Ta-Nehisi Coates finds an effective use for that branding by returning longtime archnemesis Klaw to the fold. In doing so, Klaw gets a more nuanced characterization that will potentially work to the series’ benefit if handled correctly - but unfortunately, it’s hard to say at this juncture what that ultimate impact will be.

The entire issue is devoted to Klaw’s backstory, and that works as a double-edged sword for the issue. On one hand, Klaw has always been a fairly shallow villain, misused throughout most of his publication history as a punching bag for even the rookie heroes (such as Goldballs), and the additions Ta-Nehisi Coates makes here do a decent job giving the Master of Sound new motivation. On the other hand, however, because the character hasn’t had a particularly strong showing in the past, Black Panther #166 seems like it’s taking a lengthy detour that hasn’t earned its place yet, in spite of the reveal of Klaw’s involvement in the previous issue.

While Klaw’s motivation here isn’t particularly original, it works. Readers learn of Klaw’s sister, Julia, and how Klaw is trying to revive her after she was taken to a mental asylum by her parents. While most readers might instinctively make the parallel to DC’s Mister Freeze, Klaw’s new motivation here actually best reflects T’Challa earlier in the series when he was attempting to rescue Shuri. This is an intriguing parallel, and one that will hopefully get further development as Klaw and T’Challa get into a more direct confrontation.

The artwork this issue by Leonard Kirk helps the emotional backdrop of the story. The issue opens with a younger Klaw visiting his sister, and Kirk’s ability to convey Klaw’s despair and Julia’s dead-eyed stare sets the tone for Klaw’s internal monologue. Black Panther #166 is deceptively action-heavy, and while most of this is flashbacks, Kirk uses these moments to convey Klaw’s power, by showing the wake of his appearances rather than focusing on him. This helps to reestablish Klaw as a supervillain to be reckoned with. Klaw’s ability to manipulate sound should make him near impossible to overcome, but unfortunately he has rarely been shown that way. Between Kirk’s staging and Laura Martin’s brilliant color work, Black Panther #166 goes a long way toward correcting that.

What remains to be seen, however, is where the series takes this development. At its worst, Black Panther #166 shows some of the same trends that have hampered Coates’ run on the title. As many parallels as Klaw’s origin had to T’Challa’s in the first issue, those pages with T’Challa and Shuri took up only the back-end of that debut, whereas here Klaw’s monologue is the entirety of the issue. If future issues can properly develop the conflict between hero and villain and give Klaw an effective showing, these additions to his story will seem that much stronger. If the conclusion to this arc comes up short, this will simply add to the bloat.

Credit: comiXology Submit

The House #7
Written by Phillip Sevy
Art by Drew Zucker, Jen Hickman
Lettering by Frank Cvetkovic
Published by Comixology Submit
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Just in time for Halloween comes The House #7, an eerie, emotional war horror comic set against the backdrop of World War II. A U.S. squadron finds themselves lost during a blinding snowstorm, only to stumble across a seemingly abandoned mansion. In true horror fashion, the empty house winds up being far more dangerous to the men than any threat of frostbite in the wilderness.

Co-created by artist Drew Zucker and writer Phillip Sevy, The House is a gruesome tale that leans heavily into classic horror tropes - a spooky house, shape-shifting demons, the psychological impact of traumatic childhood events. Sevy and Zucker deliver a well-paced seven-issue miniseries that follows a cowardly man’s desperate efforts to overcome the devastating loss of his brother, a death that’s plagued him through the war and left him frightened, cautious, and a risk to his squadmates. This month’s final issue follows Jonathan Harker’s climactic confrontation with the spirit plaguing the titular mansion, bringing the tale to a mostly satisfying conclusion.

Jen Hickman’s colors and Frank Cvetkovic’s letters are visually the stars of the show. Horror comics can easily be overwhelmed by the dark and gruesome palettes often associated with the genre, but Hickman delivers impressive, shadowy work that preserves the smaller physical details of Zucker’s linework, and Cvetkovic is a neat and efficient hand who delivers impactful audio effects.

Zucker has an excellent eye for horror elements, but a less consistent eye for anatomy; the inhuman figures pursuing Harker as he tries to fight his way back to the outside world are unsettling and truly creepy, but Harker himself never seems to have quite the same proportions or face from page to page. It’s possible this is intentional, a visual indicator of the way the House warps reality around Harker on his journey, but it gets distracting early on and is hard to ignore.

The climactic final moments of Harker’s time in the house fly by strangely quickly given the imposing physical presence he’s confronted with in his final moments, but the framing story Sevy hints at - the idea that whatever is haunting this particular place has been there since the world began - offsets the mild disappointment you might feel at the speed with which Harker dispatches his true foe. Harker doesn’t defeat the house, he just escapes it. It’s the fleeting panels of this concept, a spread in the middle and a spread at the end, that offer the most interesting moments. The House is a setting, but there’s something more at play, and the final moments suggest that it’s only Harker’s tale that’s come to a close at the end of the series.

If you’re looking for a horror tale to enjoy this Halloween, The House is a solid and spooky miniseries to check out on Comixology. It’s gruesome but without some of the over-the-top, stomach churning gore of modern horror flicks, and the emotional beats will keep you on edge during the squadron’s increasingly frantic explorations of the house’s Escheresque architecture. If you don’t mind waiting a little longer for the collected edition, Sevy and Zucker are currently crowdfunding a print run through Kickstarter, including a $10 collected digital edition of the full series.

Credit: Lion Forge

The Castoffs: Into the Wastelands TPB
Written by MK Reed and Brian “Smitty” Smith
Art by Wyeth Yates, Kendra Wells and Brian Smith
Lettering by D.C. Hopkins
Published by Lion Forge
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Magic versus machines: when three young priestesses are charged with putting a stop to the return of a powerful mechanical collective that devastated their country in a hard-fought war years earlier, they wind up unraveling closely-guarded secrets about both the mage guild they’ve been trained by and the machines themselves. MK Reed and Brian “Smitty” Smith deliver a fun and action-packed exploration of magical gifts and what happens when others attempt to replicate them with disastrous results in The Castoffs: Into the Wastelands, the second volume of their YA fantasy/sci-fi tale for Lion Forge’s Roar imprint.

Smith and Reed do a solid job introducing enough of the events from the first volume that it’s possible to pick up Into the Wastelands on its own, but without the context of the first trade paperback the characterization will feel a bit thin. Trinh, Charris and Ursa are a trio of young priestesses coming of age against the backdrop of a country still struggling to recover from the ravages of a mechanical/magical conflict that ended in a stalemate. The three of them are as cantankerous and desperate for adulthood as most young people tend to be, particularly in YA fiction, but Smith and Reed do an excellent job making them feel authentically youthful. They’re grating and pushy and overconfident, but who wasn’t as a young person?

Smith and Reed contrast their characters well, showing that they come from all walks of life - when the priestesses’ mentor gently chastises Charris for her brash overconfidence, it doesn’t feel like Charris is being put in her place, just a gentle note that there’s a time and a place for showing off (that perhaps doesn’t involve setting fires in an enclosed space). Through the four-issue collection, all three priestesses are forced to reckon with life-altering decisions to share or not share parts of themselves, to choose a new path that will redefine them forever. In the book’s final moments, Reed and Smith’s excellent pacing culminates in choices that ring true for each of their heroines, and make perfect sense in the context of the arc.

Artist Wyeth Yates and colorists Smith (Issues #5-6 in this volume) and Kendra Wells (Issues #7-9) do an excellent job bridging the gap between the sci-fi and fantasy elements of Into the Wastelands. The more advanced technological elements of the mechanical Surrogate feel alien and unsettling contrasted against things like the land-faring sailboat the priestesses use for long-distance travel, while little details like the piercing red “eyes” Wells gives and the glowing blue of a mage’s magically-enhanced sight underscores some of the series’ themes about the machines’ origins and human nature. Yates manages the elements of body horror within the series particularly well; there aren’t many instances of it, but they’re off-putting and memorable without visually overpowering the rest of the scenes. The color work on Trinh and Charris’ magical abilities is similarly impressive, and the combination of ghostly blues with the way Yates illustrates Trinh’s particular skill is a delightfully unique take on a well-worn powerset in magical/superhero comics.

Into the Wastelands is a fun and beautiful trade paperback, and Castoffs on the whole is an engaging comic for young readers featuring a richly developed world and history with fully-realized and distinct young female protagonists. Through their Roar imprint, Lion Forge has done an impeccable job curating a line of excellent young adult/teen comics and graphic novels, and Castoffs is no exception.

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