Best Shots Reviews: MOON KNIGHT #188, BATMAN LOST, RUNAWAYS #3

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

Moon Knight #188
Written by Max Bemis
Art by Jacen Burrows and Mat Lopes
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The shadow of Khonshu looms large in the sinisterly renumbered Moon Knight #188. Written by Say Anything frontman Max Bemis (who has been steadily building his profile as a capable writer in comic books), this aims to tell a different kind of Moon Knight story, taking advantage of the certain malleability the character has enjoyed since the Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire’s 2014 reboot. Though Khonshu’s presence lingers on the outskirts of this issue, Bemis leaves Marc Spector on the sidelines while he instead focuses on the origins of a terrifying new villain with a smoldering, dread-filled story. Amped up by pleasantly warm, but unsurprisingly violent artwork from Jacen Burrows and colorist Mat Lopes, Moon Knight #188 is an entertainingly macabre read.

Dr. Emmett is a good doctor, but something keep nagging at the back of her mind; something that wears a white cape, beats up criminals, and suffers from deep psychological issues. But while Moon Knight doesn’t make a proper appearance in this issue, writer Max Bemis keeps the reader hooked with a seemingly simple tale that steadily reveals its own darkness and weirdness. Dr. Emmett works with a man not unlike Marc in that he was a military man who was beset by mental episodes and violent hazing until a major incident drummed him from service and into psychiatric care.

Though the first half of the issue, Bemis’ script hits pathos filled beats of a woman of science working herself too hard to save a broken man. But once the Egyptian iconography starts to trickle in, given a creepy, but reassuring look by artists Burrows and Lopes as they walk among humanity with Emmett and her patient, things take a decidedly darker turn. As Emmett works to untangle the man’s mind, she thinks introducing the opposite deity to Khonshu, the sun god Ra, will quiet the voices that call from her patient’s psyche. But this being Moon Knight, things quickly get bloody, and Patient 86 turns from quiet model patient to a pyrokinetic murder junkie, hellbent on getting making Khonshu and his servant bow before him.

While hardcore Moon Knight fans will be disappointed by Marc Spector being missing in action, #188 and its creative team delivers a dread-filled experience that feels like quicksand - one that draws you in deeper and deeper without you even realizing it. Along with Bemis’ script, which slowly reveals its meanness, Jacen Burrows and colorist Mat Lopes also contribute heavily to this reveal of tone and intent. Though not an artist usually usually described “heartfelt,” Burrows shows a more humanist side to himself and his work in the early pages of this issue, playing up Dr. Emmett’s determined earnestness to help and Patient 86’s wounded, but amicable attitude toward therapy. Colorist Mat Lopes takes it further by washing these early scenes in inviting, sun kissed colors that amplify the character’s expressions and the down to earth tone.

But it couldn’t really be a Jacen Burrows comic book without some good, old-fashioned occult violence, and Moon Knight #188 more than delivers once Bemis starts to turn the screws. After the turn comes, Burrows leans into the style and tone that made him such a household name for the Avatar Comics crowd as he and Lopes turn Patient 86’s once cozy and inviting cell into a hellish house of horrors with dripping blood symbols as this section’s horrible centerpiece. It takes a set of steady hands to pull off that kind of tonal shift, especially one this slow going, but something tells me that Jacen Burrows and Mat Lopes have much more in store for us as “Crazy Runs in the Family” continues.

Marc Spector has been a lot of things since his return. He’s been a protector in a three-piece suit, a broken man at the mercy of modern medicine, and a puppet for Egyptian gods, but Moon Knight #188 casts him in a new role; one of prey being hunted. Though not exactly the kind of story I expected, Max Bemis, Jacen Burrows, and Mat Lopes have tapped into a dark new vein of stories for Khonshu’s avatar, one that I hope keep paying out throughout his new return to store shelves.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman Lost #1
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, and Joshua Williamsoni
Art by Doug Mahnke, Yanick Paquette, Jorge Jimenez, Jaime Mendoza, Wil Quintana, Nathan Fairbairn, and Alejandro Sanchez
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

This one’s a doozy.

There has been a thematic throughline of storytelling throughout all Dark Nights: Metal comics. Lines like “Stop me if you’ve heard this before” and “These are the stories of the Dark Multiverse” have been common among Metal and its related tie-ins, and given how dependent Metal is on Scott Snyder’s own run on Batman, that self-referential streak makes sense. Batman Lost lives and dies by the Batman stories that come before it, and nearly every page of its jarring and surreal exploration of the Dark Knight is brimming with some reference to narratives that have come before, while simultaneously tweaking Bruce Wayne’s history to fit writers Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, and Joshua Williamson’s vision for the event as a whole.

The one-shot opens on an elderly Bruce Wayne debating with his granddaughter about which Batman story to read among a library filled with his exploits, with some cutely self-aware dialogue as Bruce himself notices “half of them contradict each other… [but] everyone has their favorite Batman story.” Beginning with Bruce’s real-world debut in “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” the creative team wastes no time in making things weird. As Bruce gets deeper into his storytelling, he is soon able to manipulate the narrative world around him, particularly with birds constantly crashing into a particular window with bloody results. The set-up and eventual payoff of the birds is brilliant, and has that characteristic that excellent detective stories have where the vital clue is something seemingly innocuous discovered early on.

Meanwhile, as the team moves on to recount “Dark Knight, Dark City,” the art gets to show off its strength in both composition and coloring. As the team includes pencilers Doug Mahnke, Yanick Paquette, and Jorge Jimenez, inker Jaime Mendoza, and colorists Wil Quintana, Nathan Fairbairn, and Alejandro Sanchez, readers are being treated with a diverse mix-and-match of styles. While the transition between the artists gives the comic book as much forward momentum as the breakneck pace of the plot, the “Dark Knight, Dark City” section has the best series of panels from a purely visual perspective, with the coloring making an extremely well-lit scene feel very at home not just in the Gotham underground, but also in the dark oeuvre that is the Metal house style.

As Bruce gets closer to the truth, climbing through stories in a comic book hybrid of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Inception, the narrative falls apart - meaning the panels literally start to tilt before dislodging completely as Barbatos reveals just how carefully constructed and designed Bruce’s entire existence has been, how the Dark Batmen are examples of Bruce Wayne’s without his cosmic oversight. It’s a lot to take in, inviting readers to pause over back-to-back splash pages of dizzying and chaotic vibrancy. You can’t help but contemplate the way that this revelation reframes the stories that were themselves deconstructions of even older comic books - it’s this revelation that will make and break this one-shot. While on one hand it undoubtedly has a huge impact, conveying a real feeling of helplessness in Bruce, it also may make some readers feel as though the story was either not content to be merely the culmination of Snyder’s Batman work or even worse, that it’s self-important to the point of preemptively elevating itself as a classic. Despite some awkward forced edginess with Batman’s granddaughter dropping the obligatory censored swear before turning into a demon, the impact of this twist is enough that the comic book genuinely sells that level of importance, which is honestly something that the entire event has been effective with.

Revelations aside, Batman Lost #1 is at once a love letter to a character’s classic stories and a horror tale full of existential dread, and if the tonal balance between those two extremes seems delicate on paper, you aren’t wrong. What’s not only surprising but also deeply enjoyable is that this comic book manages to strike the balance between its two tones effectively, telling its meta horror stories without relying on simple cleverness. What’s most impressive is that this might be one of the only times that this sort of storytelling has been achieved in this medium, at least with this level of success. Apart from cosmically large and somehow claustrophobic storytelling and revolving but lush panels of art, this is a comic that manages to succeed in ambitions which would be lofty enough to crush the stories of lesser creators.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Runaways #3
Written by Rainbow Rowell
Art by Kris Anka and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Kat Calamia
Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes, and she’s gone.”

Karolina Dean is the Runaway we’ve seen the least since the team’s disbandment, and there’s a reason why - instead of living her life on the run, Karolina decided to become a normal college student... and even more importantly, she’s happy. Bringing the team’s Lucy in the Sky back in the spotlight, Runaways continues to beautifully portray the realities of growing up by putting a focus on changing relationships, and how time can affect even the strongest of bonds.

The issue opens up with the team crash landing into Karolina’s normal life as she fittingly dances to the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which is nicely expressed through Joe Caramagna’s rainbow italicized text. In these opening pages Kris Anka and Rainbow Rowell are able to present the team’s fish-out-of-water mentality as they enter Karolina’s collegiate new world. This is comically shown when Old Lace and Karolina’s neighbor awkwardly meet eye contact, which adds a nice light moment before heading into the heavier elements of the story.

Runaways #3’s main focus is on interpersonal relationships, and the strongest portrayal of this is between the complicated friendship of Karolina and Nico. When opening the door for her friends, Karolina doesn’t drop her heart mug for the return of Gert, but instead when uttering Nico’s name. This scene is a great showcase of how much attention to detail Anka and Rowell both put into this comic book, as Karolina’s heart drops physically and emotionally.

This leads to a one-on-one discussion between Karolina and Nico - and perhaps more importantly, all the things Karolina and Nico don’t say to one another. Throughout their whole conversation, the two avoid eye contact, as Nico scours through Karolina’s room, finding clue after clue of evidence of her happy new life. Through Nico’s non-verbal communication, it’s easy to see Nico’s sadness over her friend’s success - following her own failures at normalcy, Nico’s main goal now is not to be happy, but just to stay good. Just like her other teammates, she doesn’t want to turn into her parents. By the end of the conversation, Karolina’s old feelings of guilt come back to the surface as she smothers her face into a pillow. Will Karolina stay happy? Does she even deserve it?

Another complicated relationship explored in this issue is between Gert and her team members. Teenage Gert wants to put the band back together, but is once again reminded through her visit with the now college-aged Karolina that the team has grown up without her. Gert isn’t the type of character to keep her feelings to herself, and it feels fitting for her emotional breakdown to be anchored by sarcastically lashing out at Chase. This scene shows that there are actual consequences to Gert’s return, which ties nicely into the original and current series’ coming-of-age theme.

Runaways #3 gives small teases of the encompassing plot for “Find Your Way Home”, but the series’ strength continues to be with its realistic portrayal of growing up. People change, and that means relationships also change. Can this group of orphans run away forever - and do they even want to?

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