Best Shots Reviews: BLACK PANTHER #170, DETECTIVE COMICS #975, More

Detective Comics #975
Credit: Rafael Albuquerque (DC Comics)
Credit: Phil Noto (Marvel Comics)

Black Panther #170
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Leonard Kirk and Laura Martin
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

T’Challa, Shuri, and the armies of Wakanda face off against Ras the Exhorter and the extra-dimensional horde of originators in Black Panther #170. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Leonard Kirk, and Laura Martin use their crafts to convey the brutal and mystical action as T’Challa’s long plans finally come into play.

Black Panther #170 shows the growth of Ta-Nehisi Coates as a comic book writer. One of the criticisms of the previous arc, "A Nation Under Our Feet," was that the final battle between T’Challa and Tetu’s army came across as less epic than the build-up required. While this newest story has had more action throughout, the climactic battle here feels appropriate in scale and pace, a testament to Coates’ improvement in conveying to his artists what he wants to see on the page.

The art in question is crafted with kinetic power by Leonard Kirk. Kirk’s line art keeps the battle on the page clear and the use of some creative layouts keeps readers in touch with both the scale of the battle and the smaller beats of the combat within it. In particular a page that shows the larger battle with circular panels highlighting different moves T’Challa and Thunderball use is a lot of fun. Kirk is also able to convey a sinister moment between Tetu and Changamire that kicks off the issue, showing his ability to do subtle along with the action. Laura Martin’s colors add a lot to the battle as well, conveying the energy blasts and the shifting environment as Ras, Zawavari, and Storm match powers.

Black Panther #170 isn’t without its flaws. A late arrival by more of T’Challa’s allies turns the tide in a predictable manner. While it’s nice to see that T’Challa was able to plan ahead of his foes for once, the new arrivals show up so late that many are little more than a cameo. This is perhaps most unfortunate in the case of Kevin “Kasper” Cole, who has not yet had a real appearance in the main series, but was instead reintroduced in Black Panther: World of Wakanda #6. For readers who are only following the main title, seeing another man in a cat costume appear without explanation may be confusing.

Still, Black Panther #170 is a nice step in the right direction for a story arc that at times felt like it had lost focus. After being absent last issue, T’Challa is right in the thick of the action here, with his planning proving to be the decisive factor in the battle. The artwork by Leonard Kirk and Laura Martin has all the comic book pugilism one could ask for and Coates’ action writing shows tremendous improvement over the battle last “season.” A clever twist at the end of the issue has a lot of promise as the arc approaches its final chapters.

Credit: Alvaro Martinez/Raul Fernandez (DC Comics)

Detective Comics #975
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Clayface is dead, Batwoman stands accused… and the Bat-Family is torn over what to do next.

But no matter what arguments you might have to make for “The Trial of Batwoman,” the verdict should be unanimous - Detective Comics #975 is fantastic, as this issue marks a superb climax to the storyline that James Tynion IV has been building since he took over the title. While Tynion’s mentor Scott Snyder has brought Batman to the edge of the Multiverse, and Tom King has thrown the Dark Knight head-to-head against both his rogues gallery and the members of the Justice League, with Detective Comics Tynion has tapped into what I would argue is Batman’s most enduring strength - his robust supporting cast. And by splitting them down the middle on a subject as divisive as Bruce Wayne’s no-killing rule, Tynion and artist Alvaro Martinez truly stick the landing with this extra-length anniversary issue.

There’s a reason why out of all of DC’s stable of characters, it’s the Bat-Family that have consistently dominated their publishing catalog - it’s because while these characters have certain core values and traits that unite them, these characters also each have something different about them that make their adventures unique and exciting. But by putting these characters all in the same room - all standing in judgment of Kate Kane, both the least affiliated but the most trained of all of Bruce’s Bat-Family recruits - Tynion brings together a real frisson of perspectives, many of which indict themselves just as much as Batwoman.

It’s a real testament to Tynion’s handle on these characters that he gets their voices so well - of course devil-may-care Nightwing was “just planning on following my heart,” while Tim Drake straddles the line between teenage idealism and a nervous breakdown, following his interdimensional kidnapping and his close encounter with his murderous future self. While Tynion’s inclusion of the gun-toting Jason Todd might take an extra leap of faith to accept, it’s really his take on both the past and present Batgirls that might be my favorite bits of the story - Cassandra Cain, for one, is seen as the heart of the team, even though she’s sidelined by Alfred in a tender but firm way. But for a character who hasn’t been seen in much of this series, Tynion’s take on Barbara Gordon might be my favorite since Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr’s Batgirl run - Barbara is smart, methodical and deeply insightful, not only keying in quickly on Tim Drake’s mental state but turning the whole trial on its pointy ears, showing just how much of this is about Bruce Wayne’s own unresolved issues than it is about Kate Kane’s.

But while much of this book focuses on Bruce Wayne’s inner circle, there’s also a lot of foreboding that Tynion laces through this issue, as he’s torn the Bat-Family in two following Kate’s defection. With Batwing and Azrael on her side, Kate feels almost as aloof and mysterious as her cousin Bruce - she’s building to a decision, and as Tynion eventually reveals what that is, you can’t avoid seeing the shockwaves coming. I said when Tynion first took over Detective Comics that he was channeling a lot of old-school Chris Claremont X-Men, but with this latest step, he winds up evoking more than a little bit of Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Civil War, and with her differences of opinion being backed by quite a bit of technology and armaments, things could get dicey for Gotham City very soon.

Meanwhile, Alvaro Martinez, paired with inker Raul Fernandez and colorist Brad Anderson, continues to impress, churning through 28 pages of densely plotted story without skipping a beat. While sometimes his panel layouts fall under the Olivier Coipel school of counterintuitive, Sal Cipriano’s lettering guides the readers nicely across double-page spreads - and let me tell you, Martinez really knocks them out. There’s such a beautiful sense of drama to the way that Martinez portrays his characters, from the cold open at Kate’s mother’s funeral to watching her adult self staring coldly in her bed - it’s a perfect compliment to artist Eddy Barrows’ work, but also borrows stylistically from Bryan Hitch, David Mazzucchelli and Phil Jimenez. Perhaps most telling about this book is that even though the action is actually quite limited - we just get a scene of Batwoman putting the smackdown on Gorilla Boss as a humorous palate cleanser - you can’t help but get drawn into the Bat-Family’s deliberations, and much of that comes from how endearing and engaging Martinez makes his characters.

Anniversary issues used to be a major occurrence for DC and Marvel, but in an age of double-shipping, ever-changing creative teams and regular relaunches, it’s difficult to get a sense of consistency long enough to be deemed worth celebrating. But James Tynion IV and his crew have proven to be one of the best, most consistent creative teams in the DC line-up ever since the "Rebirth" initiative began, and that is one reason of many why Detective Comics #975 feels so satisfying. There’s such a wonderful grasp of character that pairs so nicely with the top-tier production values of the artwork - it’s almost commonplace to have comics try to dazzle you in spectacle, but it feels all too infrequent to have characters really challenge each other and engage with their readers on the merits of their personalities. If this anniversary issue is any indication, Detective Comics is in great hands as it makes its way to its 1,000th issue.

Credit: Titan Magazines

Black Panther: The Official Movie Special
Edited by Jonathan Wilkins
Art Direction by Oz Browne
Published by Titan Magazines
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Celebrating the release of the blockbuster film, Titan Magazines has published Black Panther: The Official Movie Special, an in-depth look at the film, with exclusive interviews and pieces of concept art. Covering aspects of production and the character’s history, the Black Panther: The Official Movie Special provides a comprehensive look at the film.

While Black Panther: The Official Movie Special has interviews with all of the major cast members, it’s these interviews that feel the least revealing. The magazine covers just about every named character in the film (notable omissions are John Kani, Atandwa Kani, and Sterling K. Brown), and so it’s nice to have these interviews in one place. However die-hard Black Panther fans - the ones that have followed the film’s production and obsessed over the press junkets  will likely find the cast interviews disappointing, offering little in the way of new information. Where the magazine makes up for it, however, is in the crew interviews.

Interviews with Kevin Feige and Stan Lee are only the tip of the iceberg with the crew section. In particular, the interviews with Special Effects Coordinator Jesse Noel and Fight Coordinator Clayton J. Barber offer tons of new information, especially as it relates to the fights that take place at Warrior Falls. It’s here that the Black Panther: The Official Movie Special really shines, as these interviews offer background details that haven’t necessarily been given much attention in the way that Ruth Carter’s costumes or Hannah Beachler’s production design has.

The other major hook for Black Panther: The Official Movie Special is the concept art. While The Art of the Black Panther book is still the most comprehensive in this arena, Black Panther: The Official Movie Special has a lot of nice pieces, especially for this price point ($10 versus $50). The paper quality of the magazines ensures that the art is nicely reproduced and not smudged, ensuring that you’ll be able to look at these illustrations time and time again.

Black Panther: The Official Movie Special is a nice package, offering a lot for a fair price point. While the most loyal of fans might find the cast interviews a bit dull, the magazine still offers a lot of new information and imagery. For those who haven’t followed the film’s production in quite so much detail, the magazine is even more informative, as the comprehensive coverage means that no matter who your favorite character was in the film, you’ll likely find something to sink your teeth into.

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