Best Shots Reviews: WEST COAST AVENGERS #1, JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #2

Justice League Dark #2
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

West Coast Avengers #1
Written by Kelly Thompson
Art by Stefano Caselli and Triona Farrell
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Armed with an oddball cast, the West Coast Avengers might just be the most delightful new book in Marvel’s publishing line. Taking cues from Dan Slott’s Great Lakes Avengers, Kieron Gillen’s Young Avengers and the buoyant sitcom energy of Brooklyn 99 and Parks and Rec, Kelly Thompson and Stefano Caselli have crafted a book that is a clear extension of Thompson’s Hawkeye run while avoiding that book’s early missteps. The most noticeable difference is a focus on superheorics that would almost seem out of place for that Hawkeye run, while still maintaining Kate Bishop’s unique voice. Caselli, like Leonardo Romero before him, has a mastery of facial expression that makes Thompson’s script makes great use of. This might not be action on the size and scale of the main Avengers title, but it doesn’t need or want to be.

I rarely bring up TV shows when talking about comic books, but it feels really appropriate here. Kate Bishop feels like she’d fit right in with the Amy Santiagos, Leslie Knopes, and sometimes the April Ludgates of the small screen. West Coast Avengers has a bright and optimistic attitude towards superheroics - the idea that doing what you can is better than trying and failing to do everything. It’s refreshing in its simplicity and reliability.

Thompson frames the story with a couple of character interviews for a reality show being made about the WCA so that they can secure funding to be a superteam. It works really well to quell concerns that people had about the lineup of this book, and it's a great setting for additional humor. There’s a bit that’s borrowed straight from Mystery Men when Kate’s finding new heroes that does as much to send up dark DC heroes as it does straight-up goofy ones. More than anything else, this is a fun book that heavily relies on character interaction. Hawkeye and Kate, Gwenpool and Quentin Quire, Kate, and America - Thompson does a great job of giving all of these pairings and more, room to breathe which gives a lot of texture to the book.

Stefano Caselli is a great fit for this book. He really leans into the physical humor of the book - from the facial expression work to the action scenes. Part of that is recognizing the strengths of the cast. No matter what the situation is this is a group that for the most part has to really get their hands dirty. Kate Bishop riding the “land sharks” (ya know, sharks with arms and legs) and guiding them back into the sea is one of those scenes that in the hands of the wrong artist could be disastrous for a book. But Caselli renders them with as much care as any of the heroes and the sequence really sings. We already knew that Caselli was good, but he really elevates this book.

In an era when some fans claim to only want “fun, apolitical comics,” it will be telling to see the response to a book like West Coast Avengers, which is the very definition of fun and apolitical. This a great debut that plays not only to the strengths of both the writer and the artist, but finds a unique home for a few characters who can’t really handle a book on their own. It’s a blend of those individual voices and sensibilities that make for a really effective team book. West Coast Avengers deserves to be on your pull list, even if you didn’t have a lot of faith in the roster right away. Thompson and Caselli will make you a true believer.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League Dark #2
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Alvaro Martinez Bueno, Raul Fernandez and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the necronization of magic in the DCU, Wonder Woman’s squad of spellslingers and monsters finally come together Justice League Dark #2. While the first issue was very much a roll call of sorts, this second installment improves on the promise of the debut by finally bringing everyone together and getting them active in the plot. Making great use of that solid foundation, Justice League Dark #2 builds upward really well, slyly laying out more plot and an entertaining team dynamic to carry the title into future entries.

Writer James Tynion IV gathered a really eclectic and interesting group of heroes for his debut issue of Justice League Dark, but they didn’t really feel like a true team until this issue. Though this issue opens with an mythology-inspired cold open depicting Wonder Woman’s dark history with magic, Tynion really works hard this issue to make his team gel. He already introduced a ton of great character work and friction between the heroes in the debut, but this second issue finds him using that friction and narrative track to bring his heroes closer, working toward a common goal.

The cold open really gives Diana a commonality with fellow Dark Leaguers like Zatanna and Swamp Thing, and the overall plot continues Tynion’s commitment to weaving this new threat into the old guard of DCU magic users. The first issue merely hinted at the threat, but issue #2 makes it deadly and explicit as Tynion sics twisted mutants on the Dark League for a stakes- aising punch-up led by the chilling Upside Down Man, who the League will be clashing with throughout this “Last Age of Magic.” Though we still don’t know what his plans are outside of a “reclaiming” of magic as one of its “original owners,” before humanity and the original Lords of Order stole it, Tynion and his art team really make the most of the final page reveal of the striking new lead antagonist through heavy shadows, skin-crawling character design, and poetic narration.

While Tynion brings the goods when it comes to characterization and plotting, artists Alvaro Martinez Bueno, Raul Fernandez, and Brad Anderson do an excellent job balancing superheroics with the dark undertones of magic. Starting from the ritualistic and surreal cold open in an unseen section of Paradise Island and ending with the scaly, cobwebbed, and drooling debut of the Upside Down Man, Bueno’s pencils, given heavy definition by Fernandez’s inks and the splotchy colors of Anderson, really gives the issue a persistent spookiness and unsettling tone as Wonder Woman and her team delve into the dangerous magical underbelly of the DCU we are used to seeing.

But while they work hard to maintain the spooky atmosphere of the script, Bueno, Anderson, and Fernandez aren’t afraid to go a little broad with their artwork, giving this issue a real jolt of whimsy to go along with its creepiness. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the scenes in the Tower of Fate. While Zatanna and Wonder Woman commiserate with the good doctor, Kirk Langstrom and Detective Chimp are left to their own devices in the Tower’s version of a living room. The colors of these scenes really lighten up, thanks to the torch-lit set dressing and various gleaming curios that litter the set. Bueno even starts to shuffle around the point of view of the scene, jumbling the panel construction as Bobo and Kirk attempt to get their bearings in a room that refuses to play along with the laws of physics. Magic is a mixed up, shuffled up, messed up world and it is really nice to see this art team leaning into that.

By committing to its team dynamic, spooky main plot, and goth-as-hell visual aesthetic, Justice League Dark #2 keeps the fledgling title exciting and entertaining. Tynion, Bueno, Fernandez, and Anderson take all the darkness and weirdness of the DCU magic characters and then add their own personal spin on it, making it feel both new and reverental to other “dark hero” books we have seen from the publisher. We see shall see how this “Last Age of Magic” turns out, but for now Justice League Dark #2 remains a cleverly dark delight.

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