Best Shots Reviews: BLACK PANTHER #1, DETECTIVE COMICS #981, LUMBERJANES #50, More

Marvel Comics May 2018 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther #1
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Daniel Acuña
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and artist Daniel Acuña usher in a new era for Wakanda in Black Panther #1. After switching back to the legacy numbering in the middle of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ second arc, the new chapter “Many Thousands Gone” sees the series get a brand new number one. And in this instance, it makes complete sense.

Black Panther #1 opens by introducing the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda, which has existed in isolation from its namesake for nearly two-thousand years. Readers meet T’Challa, enslaved with little of his memory intact, and follow him as he tries to navigate this world. There is little information as to how T’Challa ended up in space – a mystery that is promised to be explored in future issues. There are hints that T’Challa may have been thrown into the future, as his name, along with those of M’Baku and Nakia are considered to be legendary. It may be that Coates is using Jonathan Hickman’s framing scenes in New Avengers and Secret Wars, in which T’Challa promises young Wakandans the stars, as a starting point for this premise.

There are a host of questions for both the reader and T’Challa in this issue, but Coates uses this mystery to help focus the reader on T’Challa. Both his fighting skill and his heroism are on display here as T’Challa escapes the mines he has been enslaved to work in, but also aids in the escape of his fellow slaves. One of the main frustrations with Coates’ previous arcs was the way that T’Challa at times fell into the background of the stories, but here he is definitely at the forefront. And while Black Panther #1 is more action-based, the subtexts about empires growing out of control, slavery, and rebellion show that the deeper explorations in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ prior arcs are not going away anytime soon.

With a fast pace, Daniel Acuña’s artwork has to do a lot of lifting this issue. Acuña’s great figurework, with its even proportions, allows for a lot of dynamic action scenes, as angles can shift between panels without losing the sense of motion. Acuña shows a true expertise with motion lines, able to use them with both backgrounds and the persons/objects involved. In one panel, T’Challa lowers an elbow into the jaw of another slave, Daoud, who is trying to bully T’Challa around. Acuña uses lines white lines around the edge of the panel to draw the reader into the focal point of the action and then motion lines on T’Challa’s forearm, conveying a sense of speed and force with the blow. It’s brilliant stuff.

Veering off into a wildly new direction, Black Panther #1 utilizes shock and disorientation to help focus on the defining traits of its lead character. While some may find it disappointing that plot threads such as the missing Wakandan gods are seemingly on hold, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Daniel Acuña appear to have found a new vein worth exploring. Hopefully the answers to the mystery are as interesting as the question itself.

Credit: DC Comics

Detective Comics #981
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Ariano Lucas
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Today’s Detective Comics #981 marks the last issue in James Tynion IV’s impressive run on the series. While Tynion does an excellent job tying up his series’ remaining loose ends as Batman and the Gotham Knights square off against a Brother Eye-possessed Tim Drake, it’s that sense of finality that makes the issue feel a little strange; this will be a great way to close out a trade, but as a stand-alone issue it feels a little too bogged down in exposition to have the same emotional impact as some of the team’s previous work on the series. It does have a fittingly bittersweet air to it, though — Tynion has created a rich and engrossing look at the entire Bat-Family, one that will be wonderful to revisit down the line, but is tough to let go for now.

There are several stretches of this issue that are heavy on the dialogue, but letterer Sal Cipriano delivers quality work that makes the conversations easy to follow without sacrificing Barrows’ pencils for space. Much of the art is more impactful at a distance — there are several impressive action sequences, but the close-up shots (aside from a fantastic side-by-side panel of Brother Eye and Spoiler) get a little uncanny at times. The body language is generally more impactful than the expressions; the final exchange between Bruce and Tim captures the fine line they’re walking, more relaxed but not still uncertain about exactly what shape their familial relationship will take in the wake of the Batmen Eternal storyline.

Tynion’s two-year run on Detective Comics turned one of the most unusual teams in recent memory into one of the most exciting and interesting in recent Bat-Family history. His fondness for these characters and passion for reintegrating less frequently seen characters like Stephanie Brown or Cassandra Cain back into the fabric of the Bat-Family has shown through in each arc, and while every character doesn’t exactly get an exuberantly happy ending, each throughline from the past few arcs concludes in a way that feels satisfying and most importantly, true to each of the characters involved. A cast the size of the one the Detective Comics team brought together is tough to juggle, in terms of writing and artistic consistency, but Detective Comics has kept up a high quality of work through the very end.

Detective Comics #981 feels like the ending this team always had in mind for this iteration of the Bat-Family, a luxury in an era of comics where series launch and abruptly end as stealth miniseries that never quite get the space to play out to their natural conclusion. If you’ve fallen behind on this run, or haven’t been reading but started to get curious, this issue in the context of the full series will cap things off perfectly and promises a great end to a similarly great period for Detective Comics. Skip this one if you’re a little behind — I can’t emphasize enough how thorough Tynion is in tying things up — but know that once you dive in, the journey and the destination will be equally satisfying.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Invincible Iron Man #600
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Stefano Caselli, Alex Maleev, David Marquez, Daniel Acuna, Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Jim Cheung, Mike Deodato Jr., Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessy, Scott Hanna, Andrea Sorrentino, Marte Gracia, Guru-eFX, Romulo Fajardo, Marcelo Maiolo and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

And so Brian Michael Bendis’ mammoth 18-year tenure with Marvel Comics comes to a close, with yet another “jam session” and an overstuffed putting away of toys. Though blessed with truly dynamic visuals thanks to a stacked bench of artistic talent, Invincible Iron Man #600 will never be accused of being a great finale either for Bendis’ run on the title or his overall tenure at the House of Ideas. Standing as yet another example of his tendency to put everything “back in the box” before moving packing up and heading to sunny Metropolis, Bendis hastily ties up all his loose plot ends at the expense of cohesion and entertainment, just like Avengers and New Avengers before it. For those hoping for a return to Tony Stark’s status quo, Invincible Iron Man #600 is a true triumph, but for the others looking for Bendis to head over to the Distinguished Competition on a win, this issue is just more of the same.

Let’s start with the good, shall we? Invincible Iron Man #600 looks really, really great. Though Bendis and the editors are drawing the last bit of water out of this “jam session” well, one that may very well have gone dry back in the pages of Jessica Jones, this issue is graced with a stellar action set piece from multiple art teams. Centered around The Hood’s evil machinations into Stark Industries stock (scintillating, I know), Bendis and no less than five art teams gussy up what could have been just another brawl with their distinct art styles. Starting with the sketchy, rawly rendered Leinil Francis Yu and Gerry Alanguilan, this jam sesh gives us the best and brightest of Iron Man visuals both past and present, thanks to an armor-filled double-page splash from Jim Cheung which then moves to into a laser-singed chase from Andrew Hennessy and Scott Hanna.

The scene is then capped off by a meticulously laid-out showdown between the Hood, Tony, a newly resurrected side player (more about that in a sec), and Infamous Iron Man Victor Von Doom from Mike Deodato Jr. and Bendis’ visual right hand at Marvel, Alex Maleev. Though the Cheung page will be the issue’s “water cooler moment” as it is positively stocked with glossy armors from the recent past and beyond, it’s Deodato and Maleev who really steal the show, thanks to their blending of action and character. The Deodato splash is showy, but never sacrifices readability for style. The Maleev denouement is quite the opposite, going for singular focus on Doom and the Hood with his watercolor-esque pencils and dazzling display of arcane power from the two practitioners of the Mystic Arts.

But all the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak and glossy fan-favorite armors in the world can’t distract from the laziness and constant movement of Bendis’ version of “bringing it home.” Yet again, all the stuff that he disrupted during the run, and grabbed attention at the time, is brought to a convenient and inoffensive close. Riri Williams gets set up for a new team, the drama surrounding Tony’s third pair of biological parents is buttoned up, and even War Machine James Rhodes is brought back from the great beyond, following his inauspicious demise during Civil War II.

If this sounds familiar, it's because we have seen it again… and again… and again. Invincible Iron Man #600 stands emblematic of Bendis’ tenures as a whole; big ideas and moves that receive unearned endings and lazy resetting. Rhodey’s resurrection especially rings false. It is nice to have him back, but it would have been better to have a bit more solid narrative foundation underneath and less of Bendis’ particular band of “snark.” The issue even undercuts it by quickly shuffling through his return in order to wrap up Riri’s flimsy arc and getting Doom back to a place of Doom-yness.

So say hi to the new boss (which is same as the old boss) for Invincible Iron Man #600 and Brian Michael Bendis. Though undeniably one of the most prolific modern writers in recent Marvel Comics history, this last issue shows, yet again, that Bendis still doesn’t have a handle on endings, beyond gathering art teams to razzle-dazzle readers with fan service-powered set pieces. Still, after nearly two decades of playing the Marvel sandbox, have fun in Metropolis, Mr. Bendis and thanks for putting away all your toys.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League: No Justice #3
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and Josh Williamson
Art by Riley Rossmo, Marcus To and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Andworld Design
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

“With cosmic gods seeking all our ends, is it possible for you to be something greater?”

Justice League: No Justice is now three-quarters through its run, and to date, it’s been something of an interesting feat. Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and Josh Williamson have navigated a large cast through a fairly straightforward plot but keeping the focus on the characters - allowing No Justice to serve as a somewhat effective opening salvo for the Justice League titles to come. Lack of artistic consistency plagues the mini-series, though, and this issue features the biggest gap between cover expectations and interior reality. However, there’s still a lot of fun to be had here.

A lot of your enjoyment of No Justice is going to depend entirely on how much you buy into the main conceit. Unlike the Dark Celestials currently wreaking havoc in Marvel’s Avengers, the cosmic titans that the various Justice League are facing have a little less of a foundation in past lore. So if you don’t think about it all too much, there’s a lot to like here. The strength of this book is seeing somewhat odd combinations of characters interacting - whether it's the newly sassy Starro the Conqueror getting some encouragement from Martian Manhunter or Harley Quinn hashing out a plan with Cyborg, it's fun to see the writing team expanding past the tradition Big Seven lineup. But this is a big cast and depending on which team works best for a reader, they might not find that there’s enough of their specific favorite team-up.

Some of the reasoning for that is simply a byproduct of the plot itself. It’s a bit impersonal and requires quick cuts to keep the tension high. But when you get right down to it, essentially the League are just trying to stop a bunch of Galactuses (Galacti?). When you look to closely at that aspect of it, the end of the world scenario feels kind of dull, and that shines an unwanted light on those same character interactions that seem to work so well. If the end of the world is just another day at the office, why is everyone freaking out?

Riley Rossmo turns in a really solid effort, but a book like this one doesn’t suit his sensibilities. We’ve seen Rossmo get weird in the past with his work on Constantine, but it's clear that he thrives in a book that has an intimacy to it and a tangible emotional arc that isn’t just everything dialed up to 11 the entire time. That said, his work is extremely energetic, fitting the frenetic pacing of the plot. In particular, the sequences with Wonder Woman and the rest of the magic-based Leaguers work well with Rossmo’s art (which makes sense considering his past with that corner of the DCU). He renders a powerful-looking Diana and the zipatone shading gives an almost smoky look to the proceedings. Marcus To’s art is a departure from Rossmo’s, delivering a more “standard” version of the characters as opposed to Rossmo’s buoyant, expressionistic take. That would work better for the book if To didn’t insist on giving us all the action in mid-shots that allow him to eschew details. To doesn’t take any chances, and while there’s merit in that, it definitely flattens out the action. Both artists aren’t able to elevate the stakes and subsequently make the book feel a lot smaller.

There’s something for just about every kind of DC fan in No Justice, but there might not be enough of it to keep them fully invested. It’ll be interesting to see how the dynamics that are beginning in this miniseries play out moving forward. It’s great to see a step towards focusing on characters versus giant plot machinations, but this event feels a little like a hangover from Dark Nights: Metal. It’s not quite big enough or unique enough. The character interactions are there but some of them are too new to be more than just laden with potential. But the execution as a whole is about as good as it can be for something like this. If you squint, you can imagine that more than a couple of cool books could come spinning out of this.

Credit: DC Comics

The Flash #47
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Howard Porter and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

While DC’s major spotlight is likely shining on its revamped Superman and Justice League lineup and the shifting creative teams on many of its prestige titles, it’d be understandable if you overlooked Joshua Williamson’s unbroken tenure on The Flash — but with the opening salvo of Flash War, you’d also be missing out on some fun superhero storytelling. By weaving together unaddressed threads from the DC Universe Rebirth Special as well as pre-Flashpoint continuity, The Flash #47 is a tautly paced and superbly executed start to an event that very well could affect the DCU in major ways down the road.

Piece by piece, drip by drip, the return of the original Wally West has brought about questions of continuity in the DC Universe — events have gone missing, relationships have disappeared, even major franchises like the Justice Society and the Legion of Superheroes are currently MIA. But for the Speedster family in general, there’s been something a bit more chilling about Wally’s personal losses — the dissolution of his longtime relationship with Linda Park, the disappearance of characters like Max Mercury, Impulse… even his own children, Iris and Jai West.

Similar to the fallout of Batman’s mind-wipe in Identity Crisis, Williamson sets up the high stakes immediately, with Wally demanding to go back in time, while Barry cautions against such a ploy by alluding to Flashpoint. In certain ways, it’s a little bit of metatextual jiujitsu by Williamson, who not only is talking about the end-of-the-world dystopia brought about by that miniseries, but by the universe-altering retcons that severely hobbled the DCU in its wake. It becomes almost a case of ethical calculus for the Flash’s readership, as we’re not quite sure who to root for — after years of shaky storytelling during the New 52, the DC Universe has finally gotten back on track with its Rebirth initiative. Is the return of Wally West’s children enough to justify upsetting the apple cart all over again?

It’s that undercurrent that electrifies this first chapter of Flash War, as we already see the tension building between Barry and the time-lost Wally — it’s anchored nicely against a strong set of super-foes from the 31st century, the Renegades, which have a certain overpowered weapon waiting in reserve for this issue’s strong twist. Not only does Williamson do a superb job juggling the four members of the Flash family as well as a cadre of bad guys, but artist Howard Porter shows why he’s among the best in the business, as he lends a superb sense of energy to his high-speed characters, not to mention a show-stopping image spreading across two pages of the Flashes dealing with a crowd of plasma-based characters. This sort of story also plays nicely into Hi-Fi’s brightly colored wheelhouse, giving Porter’s uniquely rendered characters just enough depth to give them weight but never to hold them back.

Giving Barry Allen and Wally West a supremely organic reason to come to blows, The Flash #47 is a strong debut for Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter’s latest event. By leveraging DC Comics as a publisher’s recent past, the stakes for this story feel higher than most, and if this first chapter is any indication, things are going to get brutal, and fast. While it’s easy to get distracted by some of DC’s other headliners, The Flash is a series you should be checking out immediately.

Credit: Kate Leyh (BOOM! Studios)

Lumberjanes #50
Written by Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh
Art by Dozerdraws, Maarta Laiho and Brooklyn Allen
Lettering by Aubrey Aiese
Published by BOOM! Box
Review by C.K. Stewart
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Happy anniversary, Lumberjanes! Today’s Lumberjanes #50 marks 50 issues and four years of weird adventures at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, and the Lumberjanes team is celebrating in the best way possible: by kicking off what hopefully turns into another four years with big mysteries and badge shenanigans. The Roanoke and Zodiac cabins have teamed up for a rainy day round of board games — except for April, Mal, and Ripley, who plan on spending the day exploring creepy abandoned tunnels beneath the campground.

Lumberjanes #50 captures everything that makes the series so delightfully engaging: a broad spectrum of characters and personalities and all the different types of relationships that come with having so many different people living in close quarters, some weird camp antics and even weirder supernatural elements that keep the mystery of Miss Quinzella’s alive. Watters and Leyh do a fantastic job balancing such a large cast, splitting time between the catacombs and an increasingly dramatic game of town development turned conquest by deceit. Watters and Leyh give all the campers a chance to shine, and the use of a board game as character development is executed to perfection… especially with the shocking heel turn of a fan-favorite character, whose actions will be deeply relatable to those cutthroat board gamers among us.

Artist Dozerdraws and colorist Maarta Laiho deliver gorgeous, emotive art throughout the issue, from the vibrant colors of a very chaotic board game to the eerie, murky underground Mal, Ripley, and April are exploring. Dozerdraws’ expressions are absolutely perfect — Diana’s smug benevolence (and frustration) are some of the highlights, and the way Laiho captures the eerie glow of the catacombs beneath the camp makes them feel spooky but strangely beautiful rather than grim and horror film scary (well, until the massive bugs show up).

At its best, Lumberjanes is a heartfelt exploration of friendship and growing up, and Lumberjanes #50 is the series at its best. It’s great to see so many different personalities in so many different situations; Ripley, Mal, and April down in the catacombs, faced with insects of unusual size, have their own distinct dynamic, much the same way Diane, Hes, Barney, Jo, and Molly’s game has a vibe all its own. Fifty issues is a long run for any series, but the Lumberjanes team has made the most of it, and finds little moments to add new depth to these characters with each issue — including finding time to revisit the camp’s long history, as in this week’s back-up by Watters and returning illustrator Brooklyn Allen. Lumberjanes has a little something for everything, and Lumberjanes #50 introduces a brand new mystery that promises to keep the excitement going, hopefully long into the future.

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