Best Shots Reviews: SHAZAM #1, KILLMONGER #1, GOLIATH GIRLS #2, More

Goliath Girls #2
Credit: DC Entertainment

Shazam #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Dave Eaglesham, Mayo “SEN” Naito, and Mike Atiyeh
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Heart, family, and magic are the orders of the day in the debut of Shazam #1 from Geoff Johns, Dave Eaglesham, and Mike Atiyeh. Standing as the antithesis of Johns’ "New 52" Justice League back-up serial, this new series brings back the wholesome, family-based dynamic of the Shazam Family, rendered in Eaglesham’s vintage-inspired style. Capped off with an emotional Mary Marvel back-up story from Johns and artist Mayo “SEN” Naito, Shazam #1 is a breezy, old-school return for the Marvel Family ahead of their cinematic debut.

While this debut issue’s plot is a bit scant beyond the revelations at the end of the book, the experience and overall vibe of Shazam is where its real power lies. Centered around a field trip to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, Billy and the new Marvel Family make a thunderously fun debut as they foil an attempted robbery. The crooks disguised by plastic masks of the Justice League. The comparisons to Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man: Homecoming is pretty apparent but this sweet and screwball tone really works for the characters and instantly endears them to readers old and new.

Johns’ last tenure with the character was overly grim and often times Billy would come across petulant and mean, but in this new Shazam, Johns has seemed to have learned his lesson about unlikable protagonists (especially since the protagonist in question is known for his charm and warmth). Even before the magic words get uttered, Johns is working overtime to humanize the Marvel Family, giving them all distinctly sweet personalities and dynamic as an adoptive family. Mary Marvel gets a bit more time in the spotlight as Johns positions her as Billy’s foil and friendly rival as leader of their ragtag group, but even the less-developed characters feel fun and engaging to read about.

But with his heart-wrenching backup story with artist Mayo “SEN” Naito, Johns goes a step further with Mary’s characterization. Detailing her journey into the Vasquez household, Johns and Naito end the issue with another cliffhanger, but one with more emotion and heart, amplifying the aspects of family introduced in the main story. Like I said, some might be turned off by the lack of explicit plot development, but Geoff Johns and his artists channel the tone, heart, and warmth of C.C. Beck and Bill Parker’s creations well and, after Billy’s other misfired reintroductions into the larger DCU, that is really all that should matter.

While Johns is clearly in a more heartfelt gear with his script, a large part of the issue’s charm is derived from its artwork. Handling the main story is Dave Eaglesham and colorist Mike Atiyeh. I am a really big fan of Eaglesham’s work and the world of Shazam well suits his expressive, classic style and attention to detail. We open with a sumptuous, highly detailed interior of the Rock of Eternity, recapping how Billy came to be in an expansive two-page splash. From there the pair move onto classic comic fisticuffs, inset in dynamic panel grids, heightening the vintage energy of the scene. Some might see the pair’s sometimes exaggerated work as “old-fashioned,” but it really drew me in deeper to this new series and left me with a bubbly, engaged anticipation for the next issue, which promises some more high fantasy hijinks. Mayo Naito sends us off on a manga-inspired emotional high with her adorable, ultra-charming back-up story. Though it begins in a fairly dark place, she and Johns bring it back up with a tender story of Mary Marvel’s domestic origins and her connection with her new foster family. It is a big step up for Naito from her fan art on Twitter, but it’s clear she is more than ready by the look of these pages.

With classic and more than a little heart, Shazam #1 brings Billy and the Shazam Family back to shelves in grand, old-school style. Geoff Johns brings back that grounded, emotional style that made his career in the first place, and teaming up with Dave Eaglesham, Mayo “SEN” Naito, and Mike Atiyeh, this creative team taps back into the magic of the title for a fun and beautiful first issue.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Killmonger #1
Written by Bryan Hill
Art by Juan Ferreyra
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

It’s easy to see why Killmonger’s Q-rating is at an all-time high, but if you need a reminder, the character was played by unknown actor Michael B. Jordan in a surprisingly successful indie flick called Black Panther. So it’s easy to understand why we have a new limited series starring the Rage of Wakanda. Bryan Hill and Juan Ferreyra are tasked with continuing Killmonger’s success and showing us a little bit of how he became the charismatic antagonist that influenced the film. But they buckle a bit under the weight of expectation and the disadvantage that comes with readers knowing where they’re going to end up.

From the beginning, it’s clear that Hill has a handle on Erik Killmonger as a character and he understands that’s made him so appealing to fans so he immediately tries to push the character toward something recognizable. (We even get a reference to the “colonizer” line from the film.) Erik is smart and focused, but he’s also been slighted. He doesn’t just have a chip on his shoulder - he’s got a boulder. And that’s really what drives the story. But it feels like his anger is the thing that most holds him back. A wildly capable character quickly becomes his own worst enemy. Hill blends that narrative in with the Marvel Universe, enlisting Kingpin and the Chessmen to flesh out a story that centers around Erik and Klaw. And that’s an important detail, too - this is a story without heroes.

However, it’s hard to draw blood from this stone. Hill said that he didn’t want to take the easy route and hew too closely to the film’s portrayal of the character, but what he delivers is a character study that doesn’t really expand on what we know about Killmonger already. It’s a deliberately paced story but it doesn’t work too far outside the realm of a typical revenge story, and in a weird way that seems beneath Killmonger because he seems like he’d be smarter than that.

Juan Ferreyra is a solid artist who does a great job elevating certain parts of the script. This is certainly some of the strongest work that we’ve seen from him this year. Ferreyra makes the decision to colors directly over his pencils in some flashback scenes that gives them a very distinct look compared to the rest of the book. And there are a bunch of double page spreads that really add sense of energy to the pages. The best one probably being a scene where Killmonger looks to assassinate Klaw. And Ferreyra is really able to deliver on subtler cues in the scirp that underline parts of Hill’s script - one standout being a pane of glass splitting our view of Killmonger’s face into two colors, a visual metaphor for the duality of man. But there are a lot of facial inconsistencies throughout and for as many good choices as Ferreyra makes, there are some strange ones as well, like a woman suddenly standing and fully awake when she was previously fast asleep. Overall, it’s a good effort but too often a couple of dud panels distract from the really good stuff.

I like this creative team and I’m excited to see what they do as they become even more familiar with one another and the world of this story. Hill is too smart of a writer to give us something this straightforward without plans for something that we don’t expect. Ferreyra is definitely onboard with Hill’s vision and I’m sure the best is yet to come from him. Killmonger #1 is an interesting recalibration of a character who could be a much larger player in the Marvel Universe. Can Hill and Ferreyra get him there? Only time will tell.

Credit: Riley Rossmo/Ivan Plascencia (DC Comics)

Martian Manhunter #1
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Riley Rossmo and Ivan Plascencia
Lettering by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

For a certain generation of fans, the Martian Manhunter is one of the most sacred cows of DC Comics, exemplifying a level of gravitas, heroism and empathy that has made J’onn J’onzz the chairman of the Justice League itself. Which is what makes Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo’s take on the series so subversive and so unpredictable - and perhaps by default, so exciting. Rather than playing up the noble stranded alien of Darwyn Cooke or Grant Morrison’s vintage, Orlando and Rossmo dive deep into Martian culture, and the red dirt we find under this Martian’s usually squeaky-clean facade.

Martian Manhunter begins fairly conservatively, with police detective John Jones using his telepathic gifts on the scene of a brutal murder - but that comparatively small-scale introduction is treated with just the right bit of levity by Orlando, who makes J’onn’s chemistry with his human partner Diane believable and engaging. There’s a level of sadness that permeates J’onn’s spartan life as he gets up and goes to work - particularly when psychic residue on the crime scene alludes to the traumas of his past - but there’s a certain breeziness to Orlando’s script that keeps this down-to-earth scenario from feeling too leaden.

But this book really kicks into high gear when we leave the confines of Earth and explore Martian culture - this is where Orlando is really able to get his Grant Morrison on, showing just how wild (and weird) the red planet truly is. It’s incredibly clever the way that Orlando leverages the Manhunter’s two major power sets - shape-shifting and telepathy - and embeds it throughout Martian culture, whether it’s J’onn’s daughter K’hym not having chosen a social shape to show the world, or J’onn’s wife M’yri’ah chasting him about keeping secrets partitioned away from even her telepathic gaze.

Yet Orlando is able to zig as well as zag here, because while readers might be dazzled by the splendors of Mars, J’onn himself is seen in a light we’ve never viewed him in before - namely, seeing how his time in Martian law enforcement might not necessarily have been on the up-and-up. It’ll be jarring for fans who expect J’onn to be as upright a boy scout as Superman, but showing J’onn beating a perp into the ground and hiding secrets from his family is a bold, subversive take on this longtime character, and shifting J’onn’s moral bedrock makes the trajectory of the rest of the series seem delightfully up in the air.

Like Orlando, Rossmo excels most when he’s delving into the cityscape of Mars. It’s here that Rossmo’s sketchy style really sings, as these characters are able to shift and distend as part of their physiology - colorist Ivan Plascencia also seals the deal nicely with greens, yellows and hot pinks that make this alien world seem truly, well, alien. Watching this art team flex their design muscles is for sure the highlight of Martian Manhunter, because there’s no expectation for fidelity to anatomy or even simple consistency from one page to the next - instead, it’s all about escalation, whether it’s J’onn shifting from his on-duty “social shape” to a more loosely defined “family shape,” or watch J’onn and M’yri’ah merge into a chaotic cloud of slime as they have Martian sex (one of the best gags of the book).

However, that looseness Rossmo’s style does work against him when we’re back on Earth - while the double-page splash of the opening crime scene looks superb, John and Diane’s expressions look a little over-exaggerated, with some pages feeling over-stuffed to the point where important moments feel undercut.

You think you might know J’onn J’onzz, but Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo are challenging you to think again in Martian Manhunter #1. This book is not going to be for everyone - indeed, purists might actively cry foul at this revised take on the beloved character - but I’d argue that it takes so many risks in the design and world-building, that why shouldn’t you attempt to make a swerve with one of the most stand-up characters in the DC Universe? It’s clear that J’onn J’onzz has a heroic arc to explore as this series unfolds, and this debut issue proves to be a stellar launchpad for this Justice League stalwart’s solo adventures.

Credit: DC Entertainment

The Green Lantern #2
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Liam Sharp and Steve Oliff
Lettering by Tom Orzechowski
Published by DC Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

With The Green Lantern #2, writer Grant Morrison doubles down on the weirdness that many readers were gravitating to in the previous issue. Despite this, and the fact that an overreliance on it is something of an Achilles’ heel for the issue, Morrison also shows how much he can allow mood and atmosphere to drive a scene. This is, no doubt, assisted by the incredible art team assembled, with artist Liam Sharp and colorist Steve Oliff making most pages into a visual feast. All of this coalesces into a story that ends with an impressive amount of intrigue.

Opening with Evil Star being broken out of his isolated dark prison, we soon learn that he’s not the target of the Blackstars’ liberation - it’s his weaponized Star-Band, which these space mercenaries have reverse-engineered and mass-produced, offering their services to an insectoid race in exchange for planets. On one hand, it’s a shame to see Morrison’s mystery of the abducted planets explained so quickly. It’s a strange notion, and the longer readers are spent reading about it, the more uneasy it is to linger on the implications of it. On the other, it’s still a mystery to the readers what planet abduction entails for the living things of the planets in question, and the idea of planets being used as essentially commodity is unique in its own right.

This is intercut with Hal Jordan’s interrogation of the Spider-Pirate of Vega, a thread which is ultimately the stronger of the parallel stories. Sharp’s artwork is stellar in these scenes at providing the Spider-Pirate with enough humanity to keep the scene from devolving into the absurd. For his part, colorist Steve Oliff gives the scenes a noir-inspired palette to complement how harsh Sharp makes his background edges and linework. Hal finds out that the casino heist that the pirate took part in was a distraction while something called Component One was smuggled undetected. This ties in with the Star-Band being called “Component Three” earlier in the issue. The grand sense of conspiracy beneath this scene is fantastic. Morrison displays Jordan as savvy with his interrogation, but it’s clear that this is just the tip of a vast iceberg. Jordan then hurries to the deathbed of a dying and withered Evil Star, who has one of the most poetic lines I’ve seen in a comic book in a long time: “She drained the stars from my veins.” When the Green Lantern makes it back to Earth, he stands on the moon as he notices it is now missing.

There is certainly a thematic relevance to the casual nature of Morrison’s frequent use of jargon in his script. It seems ludicrous to think that any of book’s substantial cast, and Hal Jordan in particular, would need exposition and context for every piece of information they come across in the cosmos. Morrison’s desire to reinforce both that Jordan’s life is outlandish by readers’ perspectives and that the threats he faces are perhaps the most unique of all DC heroes is a double-edged sword. When there are speech bubbles littered with lighter font depicting “no translation,” readers are reminded of how bizarre everything is in a surprisingly effective manner, and moreover it does so in a way that literally only comic books can. Sometimes, though, Morrison gets a little excessive with it. The back half never suffers from this as the emotions of the characters is at the forefront of every panel, but since the opening of the comic seems more concerned with reminded readers of how weird space can be, it ends up just feeling like empty words. It doesn’t work as worldbuilding when you can substitute a word or phrase with “weird stuff” and the comic doesn’t suffer.

The Green Lantern #2 is far and away at its strongest when it embraces its medium. Liam Sharp supplies the perfect sequential art to these ends. The perfect example of this is in the eldritch abomination that graces the page early on in the book. Everything in that panel is designed to disorient readers. The creature itself is obvious in that endeavor, but if you were to remove it from the panel, the abstract shapes and textures of the background are just as dizzying and inscrutable. Sharp likes to juxtapose scenes where you have a hard time making sense of what you are seeing with more straightforward images, like the mostly two pages that precede this one. Another subtle thing he utilizes to great effect is the way background stars contribute to atmosphere, such as when we visit the planet Oa. This is where Jordan has the most support and is the least isolated. Likewise, other shots of Jordan flying around inhabited space makes a point to show more stars in the background than when we see the Blackstars shady dealings. When Hal is on the moon looking at the vacant space where Earth used to be, there are no stars in the background. He is completely cut off. It’s a simple but effective method of conveying emotion through art.

Two issues in, The Green Lantern is a bombastic but uneven comic book. It will certainly satisfy the Morrison faithful, and its commitment making the Green Lantern distinct will be appreciated by Hal Jordan fans. It suffers most when trying to double down on its own oddities, but when the comic is trying to convey fear, tension, or that sense of unease at unearthing a conspiracy, Morrison and Sharp both shine. The momentum of the back half and the undeniably strong ending mystery gives readers more than enough to mull over as they wait for the next installment. Regardless of if you grabbed the first issue, the second one is an easy recommendation. It may not hit everything out of the park, but it manages to be a book that is, above all, interesting, and one that promises even more interesting things to come.

Credit: Alti Firmansyah (comiXology)

Goliath Girls #2
Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Alti Firmansyah, Brittany Peer
Lettering by Jodi Wynne
Translation by YouHei-Penguin with Yuu Yoshikawa
Japanese Lettering by Know Idea
Published by Comixology Originals
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The Goliath Girls return, bringing with them even more intrigue, action, and giant monsters. Out today from Comixology, this kaiju tale packs a big punch, not just in story but in the amount of content made available. In addition to today's new second issue, there's a special edition re-release of issue Goliath Girls #1 that boasts new process art and script pages from artist Alti Firmansyah and writer Sam Humphries.

Goliath Girls lands somewhere in between Sailor Moon and Pacific Rim, a blend of the team camaraderie of the magical girl genre and Pacific Rim’s somewhat more light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek look at the kaiju apocalypse. Juliet, Eunice, and Zelda are the last of the titular Goliath Girls, a squad of kaiju hunters who helped subdue the city-destroying beasts (sometimes called goliaths or omegafauna) when they first appeared on Earth. Together with their domesticated kaiju Ginger Spice and an extremely rad pink reindeer named Mango, the remaining Goliath Girls are on a quest to not only save humans from monsters, but save monsters from exploitation by humans who think controlling a kaiju could mean controlling the world.

Goliath Girls #2 picks up immediately after the dramatic ending of the first issue, when a new kaiju interrupted both the Girls’ and the mysterious Ajax Agency’s search for the elusive King of All Goliaths. The Goliath Girls are forced to contend with not just the potential threat to the city of Kinshasa, but with the interference of the Ajax Agency in both their professional and personal lives. Writer Sam Humphries keeps the tone light and the action fast; Goliath Girls really does feel like an action movie and also manages to pack an impressively small-scale emotional punch in between scenes of city-scale destruction.

Humphries navigates not just the drama of monstrous beast fighting but the stress being rogue monster hunters has on being able to maintain a normal life; interpersonal relationships can easily get lost in the shuffle of works like this and wind up feeling flat and shallow (when they’re explored at all), but it’s small moments like Eunice’s break-up that help drive home the emotional stakes of what the Goliath Girls are doing in a world where the creative team seem committed to keeping the non-villainous body count and damages as low as they can in context. The book touches on a lot of the tropes that make its inspirations so successful and manage to add twists that keep it fresh — Eunice’s personal struggles are a trademark of magical girl media and, honestly, what’s not fresh about a loving kaiju named Ginger Spice?

Artist Alti Firmansyah and colorist Brittany Peer create a vibrant and engrossing world that makes a well-tread genre feel almost brand new. The kaiju designs are impressively monstrous and unsettling and every character has their own distinct design from head-to-toe — combined with the distinctive voices Humphries gives them, it’s easy to keep up with who’s who and to get a sense of the cast dynamics at play. Firmansyah and Peer do a particularly great job with the team from Ajax — from their personal color choices to their distinct fashion aesthetics, they scream “Utena Student Council” in the absolute best and most menacing way. Goliath Girls #2 is a blast from start to finish, and a great way for folks who love the lighter side of monsters to get their kaiju fix.

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