Best Shots Reviews: SUPERIOR OCTOPUS #1, WONDER WOMAN AND JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK: WITCHING HOUR #1

Superior Octopus #1
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Entertainment

Wonder Woman & Justice League Dark: Witching Hour #1
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Jesus Merino and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Nobody is saying you need to listen to the Suspiria theme while reading the beginning of Wonder Woman & Justice League Dark: Witching Hour #1, but it certainly helps. The comic opens with the suspenseful and the dreamlike before becoming bombastic, wasting little time in establish the stakes of the story it is telling. Rather than relying on the recently introduced concept of the Otherkind, writer James Tynion IV instead focuses on a new threat, and in doing so gives artist Jesus Merino and colorist Romulo Fajardo, Jr. the opportunity to create some impressive and memorable panels. Despite some tonal interruptions stemming from this being a team book, this is an explosive comic with an air of dread at every turn, and one which will surely rope in new and established Wonder Woman fans.

Tynion opens on a young Diana running through the woods while being pursued by disorienting and unpleasant depictions of women conjoined by threes and chanting the name “Hecate.” The art in these opening moments is fantastic, and the horror is played less as visceral body horror and more absurdist. The conjoined women are scary not because there is an air of revulsion, but rather because of the surrealism of it all. And as a scarred Diana eventually leaves the scene, with her mother losing all memories of the incident, we learn that regardless of if the opening sequence was a dream or real, it has implications.

The opening is flawless, and while some steam is lost in the middle of the book, what follows is still strong. After recapping the threat of the Otherkind, the comic goes into what can only be described as narrative clerical work, briefly explaining why certain characters are not helping and dumping some exposition to carry over the story from the first three issues of Justice League Dark. Luckily, it doesn’t take up too much time, and would be less noticable if the open weren’t so exemplary. The scene also introduces the divide Wonder Woman is placing between herself and the Justice League, as Hecate takes extra precautions to keep Earth’s mightiest heroes at bay. It’s a great scene that acts as a payoff to when the plot element of Hecate messing with memory was introduced in the opening. Watching the Justice League fall back on mundane and less pressing issues helps ramp up the sense that things are not going well for the DC Universe right now.

Several magic-wielding characters who will likely become key players are introduced in the Oblivion Bar, including Witchfire and Constantine. The scene is a clever bit of misdirection. The characters are all introduced as though they will be some sort of team to combat the threat against magic in the world. Witchfire soon enters the same state of incredible power that Diana entered in Justice League Dark #3, and accidentally kills the majority of the bar patrons. What initially felt like introductions to key players earlier in the scene turned out to be a moment of humanization for characters and a location that Tynion was planning on destroying. As Swamp Thing, Bobo, Man Bat, Zatanna, and Diana escape Hecate from a door to the bar beneath the Hall of Justice, they come upon the only living person remaining in the bar, Constantine.

The comic is a masterpiece at introducing and nurturing threats. It lets readers know it has the Otherkind card in its hand, but then goes full force with Hecate. It makes readers assume that Diana is the only one with the Hecate mark, that she was chosen as a vessel for it by the goddess herself, but then shows that there could be countless vessels for Hecate’s power by showing Witchfire completely lose herself to the power in the symbol on her forehead. The themes at play with the comic seem to be those of controlling oneself and of the danger in being afraid to ask for help. It doesn’t play much with these outside of a few panels, but has done enough that the story can still say something profound about it down the road. Themes aside, it is a well plotted and exciting comic.

Merino and Fajardo can just draw characters losing themselves to Hecate’s power for 30 pages and it would be better than most comics. There’s something unstable about the line work, and in particular the flames paired with Witchfire’s pyromancy makes for some volatile art that will stick with readers.Fajardo’s coloring is interesting and adds nuance to what is happening on the page. The juxtaposition of clearly demonic color signifiers and divine color signifiers compliment a similar juxtaposition in Merino’s artwork. It seems pretty clear that the magic within Wonder Woman will somehow be the deus ex machina for the conflict in the long term, and the art alone works as a set up to it.

The book is a treat visually and narratively, and operates extremely well as a set up to the next Wonder Woman arc. There’s enough potential here for an incredibly long story and an exploration of the archetype of the Witch with a character as interesting as Wonder Woman, and Tynion sets a lot up. It will be interesting to see the payoff and how that will reflect revisiting Wonder Woman & Justice League Dark #1, but at the time being it kicks off October for comics with a spooky bang. Between his high stakes storytelling and the dynamic art throughout, there’s a lot to love.

Credit: Marvel Comics

The Superior Octopus #1
Written by Christos Gage
Art by Mike Hawthorne, Wade Von Grawbadger, and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

San Francisco gets a new strong-armed hero in The Superior Octopus #1. Attempting to make a new life for himself out of the shadow of Doctor Octopus and Hydra, Otto Octavius has taken on a new identity both in and out of costume. This debut issue, written by Christos Gage and given an expressively moody look and tone by artists Mike Hawthorne, Wade Von Grawbadger, and Jordie Bellaire, really dives into Otto’s new headspace, ramping up the tragedy and self-sacrifice he has had to endure since his first foray into being a Spider-Man. While this issue could have used a bit more follow through and a little less set-up, The Superior Octopus #1 is still an intriguing walk on the wild side with this infamous former baddie.

Right from the first sequence, Christos Gage proves that this Superior Octopus lives up to his name. Clashing with the Night Shift on the streets of San Francisco, Gage and his art team really open this issue up with a dazzling display of Otto’s new suit. Readers of Secret Empire will recognize the design, which melds his foreboding Superior costume with the segmented metal arms of a classic Doc Ock design (which in turn invoke the look of the Ultimate version). But this one has an all-new color scheme and piping elements thanks to Hawthorne’s plaintive, but well constructed pencils, Von Grawbadger’s delicate inks, and Bellaire’s richly sound colors.

But beyond the novelty of his location change, this Otto is really trying to affect some real change, having targeted the city’s main sources of crime and starting to eliminate it via a sort of network of reformed bad guys to keep him abreast of the city’s status. It is very much a scientist’s way to look at vigilantism and gives this debut a neat hook and narrative justification for the new setting. This intro issue also drops on whopper of an idea into Otto’s life that, if stuck with, might provide him either a creepy self-made army should he ever turn heel again or a new edge in the upcoming Spider-Geddon. Either way, it will never be said that The Superior Octopus and Christos Gage lacked ambition going into this new ongoing.

Gage also delivers a neat take on the tragedies that befall those who wear the spider symbol. now that Otto has a new civilian persona as Horizon University professor Elliot Tolliver, he cannot reconnect with his lost love Anna Maria Marconi. Furthermore, Otto’s costumed persona is still very much tied into the public’s perception of the HYDRA takeover, so he must work twice as hard as a hero in order to step out of its shadow. Gage really lays out a lot of narrative track throughout the issue, but while it comes across a bit expository, you get the sense that he is really trying to account for every variable that could pop up in a story as steeped in continuity as this one. It may drag down the issue a bit, but it is nice to see Gage really putting some thought into this beyond just making Otto a hero again.

Mike Hawthorne, Wade Von Grawbadger, and Jordie Bellaire also give this issue an unexpectedly weird set of visuals to open up the series with. Though Hawthorne really nails the stagey, kinetic action of a Spider title and the soapy emotional beats along with it, his pencils, highlighted by the fine inks of Von Grawbadger and the smoky, earthy colors of Jordie Bellaire really make this issue stand out from the usually sunny or splashy other Spider-Man titles.

Most of the action sequences take place at night or in Otto’s underground cloning lab so already most of the action has a darker, sort of “Lethal Protector” sort of vibe thanks to Bellaire and her green-drenched take on heavy shadows. Most of the villains Otto fights this issue are also clad in darker costumes that way the white accents and silver appendages of his costume cut a more eye grabbing profile as Hawthorne and the team bounce and glide him across the two action sequences. This darker tone makes some of the stuff out of costume look a bit drab, and I’m not too sure how to feel about Otto’s black webbing just yet, but at the very least The Superior Octopus is an intriguing new take on the visuals of a Spider-Man story from a really talented trio of artists.

With a darker look and heady ideas The Superior Octopus #1 is a new kind of Spider for the West Coast. Tying into the threads established by Superior Spider-Man and Spider-Verse, Otto Octavius’s new adventures add just enough new wrinkles to the tried and tested superheroics that this series will definitely catch your interest. Time will tell if this portends something darker or greater for the reformed Otto Octavius, but for now, San Francisco is in at least eight good hands.

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