Greetings ‘Rama readers! Pierce Lydon here, filling once again for Best Shots editor extraordinaire, David Pepose. We’ve got your New Comic Book Day covered with a few reviews tackling new releases from Marvel, DC and Boom! Studios. We’ll get started with Rip-roarin’ Richard Gray’s look at the latest from Brian Michael Bendis’ Wonder Comics imprint, Naomi #1.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis and David F. Walker
Art by Jamal Campbell
Lettered by Josh Reed
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Following the massive of buzz surrounding Brian Michael Bendis’ arrival at DC Comics in 2018, Naomi represents the launch of his all-ages imprint Wonder Comics. Billed as “the biggest new mystery in the DC Universe,” Bendis and co-writer/filmmaker David F. Walker immediately go about living up to the imprint’s name by re-injecting a sense of wonder into mainstream comics.
Like Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ 1994 masterpiece Marvels, and the scores of imitators that followed, Naomi is a piece of parallel fiction that shows how a small town is impacted by a fight between Superman and Mongul. The battle in Port Oswego “only lasted seventeen whole seconds” but in a 12-panel opening grid, Bendis, Walker, and artist Jamal Campbell show how many lives it touched. It is also a way of introducing the eponymous Naomi, a Superman fan who seems to keep missing all the drama.
Naomi arrives as a wholly rounded person, a teenager with the same hang-ups and FOMO of anyone yearning to be something special. Her therapist – an additional layer that indicates the holistic approach to Naomi – hits the nail on the head by identifying her ‘Superman Complex.’ Naomi identifies with Superman because he is adopted just like her. She doesn’t simply want to be Superman but she wants her uniqueness recognised. This alone would make for a fascinating character study but setting it against the backdrop of the DCU gives Bendis and Walker the platform on which they stage their mystery.
Unhurried and complex in its narrative structure, Naomi slowly begins to reveal some of the secrets that lie under the surface of Port Oswego. A communal silence on the last time supers apparently came to visit indicates a deeper conspiracy. For the moment, the writers seem to be pointing us in the direction of Naomi’s adoption as an origin story, but we’re shrewd enough to know by now that the most obvious answer is not necessarily the right one.
Campbell’s art is nothing short of stunning. We turn the page from the aforementioned grid to a red-streaked widescreen spread of Superman and Mongul clashing, a beautiful collage of delicate soft palettes mixed with vibrant color set, lightness, and surgically precise Ben-Day dots. It is matched only by the 3-panel series of spreads that immediately follow, showcasing the continuing fight and its aftermath.
Campbell maximizes every inch of the page. As Naomi investigates online mentions of the Superman incident, a series of inserts are strewn across the pages like digital Polaroids or Instamatic moments. There’s a particularly spectacular use of color and light when Naomi meets her friends at sundown. A series of 5 horizontal panels feature a hyperreal sun swirling in orange and purple hues as the figures dance like cut-outs in and across the borders of the panels. It’s really quite breathtaking.
As the debut title in a new imprint, Naomi is much more than just a promising start to a new series. It’s also a success as an all-ages comic, offering a low barrier of entry to new readers and relatable lead character. More than anything, it’s a bold statement about the direction DC Comics is willing to go in 2019 and trust the audience to go along with them.
Uncanny X-Men Annual #1
Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Carlos Gomez & Guru-eFX
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
With all the fuss about Wolverine’s return, you could be forgiven if you forgot about the return of another prominent X-Men leader - the one and only Cyclops. Despite his heel turn in 2012 and the fallout that surrounded Avengers vs. X-Men, Scott Summer remains one of the pillars of the franchise and without the adult version around since Death of X, the X-Men have sorely missed the steadying hand that he provides. Well thankfully, the best (and simultaneously, worst) mutant is back in all his dutiful glory thanks to Ed Brisson and Carlos Gomez in a story that really forces readers to stretch the limits of suspension of disbelief but ultimately still works to reintroduce the character to the Marvel Universe.
Brisson tells his story through a series of shorter vignettes that serve as a summary of how we got to this point and to show exactly how Cyclops rejoins the land of the living. There’s really no narrative trickery here - it’s as straightforward as a story with Cable time travelling can get. I have to appreciate Brisson’s economy here even if the story does hinge on a character that we’ve never seen before almost magically solving the problem at hand - the narrative never overstays its welcome. Brisson does a good job tying together AvX, Death of X, Phoenix Resurrection and his recent Extermination miniseries - making the decisions made in those story have more weight and feel more intentional than they might have seemed at the time. Looping everything back to Scott’s relationship with his son is a nice touch too, as it brings the memories of the young Scott Summer from the O5 full circle as well. Brisson is really trying to dot all the I’s and cross all of his T’s here.
But how satisfied you are with this return will have a lot to do with how you feel about the character, who you think Scott Summers is and your feels about how he was handled in the aftermath of AvX. We aren’t really sure exactly who this Scott Summers is yet. The deus ex machina that brings him back is kind of secondary to the threads that Brisson is trying to tie together.
Carlos Gomez does a good job in this issue, especially as he has to juggle different time periods and costumes for the X-Men. There’s a flashback scene that he really simplifies his linework for that together with Guru-eFX’s coloring really works in terms of diversifying up the visual language of the book. (Though, thinking too hard about Marvel’s sliding timeline, especially post-Secret Wars, makes the 60s throwback nature of the scene seem odd.) If there are nits to pick in this issue, it’s that Gomez doesn’t exactly nail the big moments in the script. He gets good acting from his characters but when he needs a splash page or big panel to really sell a moment like Cyclops coming out of his grave or Cyclops making an appearance near the end of the book, his work just isn’t quite as impactful as it could be.
When juxtaposed with Wolverine’s long, drawn out return, there’s a lot to like here as something that pushes the whole line forward and leans into continuity to show us the roadmap that got us here. Gomez gives a good effort in this one should at the very least get him some fill-in gigs when similar artists like Pepe Larraz need a month off. Ultimately, it’s great to have Scott Summers back even if the way he gets there is a little convoluted and strange. I mean, this is still an X-Men comic, we’re all aware of what we signed up for. Welcome back, Cyclops.
Written by Carly Usdin
Art by Noah Hayes, Rebecca Nalty
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Welcome, new students! School’s in session at the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts in this week’s Avant-Guards #1, a brand-new sports comic from BOOM! Studios. Following in the footsteps of BOOM’s success with the likes of Fence and Dodge City, Carly Usdin’s Avant-Guards follows the story of Charlie Bravo, a transfer student who finds herself unexpectedly roped into a rag-tag team’s attempt to kickstart a fine arts college basketball league. Avant-Guards is a little familiar, but extremely fun, thanks in large part to lively art and colors from artist Noah Hayes and colorist Rebecca Nalty.
As a fine arts college graduate, Avant-Guards is almost uncannily familiar -- in a good way. Usdin captures the uncertain vibe of being a fine arts major with interests that might be considered a little off the beaten path on a campus awash in music and theatre oriented majors and student organizations, but never once elevates the arts or athletics as better or more valid (another surprisingly frequent conversation). Olivia Bates, the passionate entrepreneur-team captain-actress who makes it her mission to recruit Charlie, is especially endearing in this regard. There’s no hand wringing in this issue about having to choose, Olivia just decides she still wants to play basketball, and she does everything in her power to make it happen.
This week’s debut issue is a bit slow in terms of pacing; it focuses primarily on Charlie, who spends a number of pages on her own and the rest primarily interacting with Olivia. It would be easy for these pages to be, frankly, a bit dull, but Hayes’ framing and panel layouts give these sequences an intentional and very pervasive sense of melancholy, particularly in a series of panels where Charlie remains framed in the center, constantly alone as the scene changes around her. It’s a thoughtful and effective way to build up to Charlie’s decision to give into Olivia’s enthusiasm, and keeps the book moving even when there’s not a great deal going on.
Hayes’ art and Nalty’s bright, warm colors are a perfect match for the world Usdin has created. The character designs, paired with Hayes’ skill with body language and expressions, make each of the characters in Usdin’s cast distinct with an abundance of personality. Avant-Guards #1 is a fun and engaging read for anyone who loves a good found-family story -- while this week's introductory issue take a little while to build, the cast of characters and the promise of hijinks to come will leave you hooked and anxious for more.
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Andrea Sorrentino, Justin Ponsor and Erick Arciniega
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Jason Aaron’s decision to intersperse his Avengers with flashbacks to the prehistoric Avengers has certainly been a somewhat divisive approach. On one hand, it fills out backstory for characters that we don’t really know and given Aaron’s track record, it’s almost sure to pay off somehow. On the other hand, it kills the momentum of the stories going on with the modern Avengers and generally make the book feel a little scattered tonally. But this standalone story featuring Andrea Sorrentino on art that centers around Fan Fei and the Power Stone is really the best case scenario for one of these stories. Aaron gives Sorrentino tons of big moments and despite the narration that looms heavily over the issue, there’s a really effective flow to this issue.
It might seem a little bit reductive to compare a story about an ancient Iron Fist to the Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction run on Iron Fist. But I think that on some level those guys codified what a really good Iron Fist story looks like, especially as it delves into the history of K’un L’un. Aaron’s voice for Fan Fei is definitely different than Danny Rand’s but I love how Aaron has maintained the flourishes of her martial arts techniques. Aaron writes to the rhythm of the fight scenes and lets those be the star of the book despite the exposition he needs to get through. That makes the whole story feel a whole lot more propulsive even when Fan Fei doesn’t really have anyone to talk to.
Sorrentino is ultimately why the book works so well. With Aaron ceding the reins a bit to let the action drive the book, it’s up to Sorrentino to visualize Fan Fei’s fighting style but also the effect of these moves on her opponents. This is a brutal and unrelenting book in that regard. Fan Fei si certainly not one to take prisoners. We also see a much softer inking style here than Sorrentino has utilized in the past which allows for a lot more line clarity and let’s colorists Justin Ponsor and Erick Arciniega emphasize the linework in a different way than we’ve seen in the past. Impact shots in previous Sorrentino comics would usually come with a shock of color contrasted with sharp black and white. Here the art team shies away from that approach. Those kinds of panels still exist but they aren’t meant to hit you as hard, instead they are able to show passage of time or allow the colorists to show contrast between characters and their color pallets rather than between the character and the action or background.
Aaron does a really good job helping us get to know Fan Fei, but more than that, he gets us to care about her and see the power of the Iron Fist in a different light. Sorrentino utilizes a different approach than what we’re used to seeing from him and it’s a welcome change. This is a story with a more gray morality and his usual approach wouldn’t have been a great fit. By changing things up, he’s able to underline the subtleties in Aaron’s script and make something truly memorable. If Iron Fist or high octane, kung fu comics are your jam, you’re in for a treat with Avengers #13
Written by Gary Whitta
Art by Darick Robertson and Diego Rodriguez
Lettered by Simon Bowland
Published by Image Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
When you think about properties crying out for a gritty reboot, Oliver Twist is not the first that comes to mind. The Charles Dickens classic has seen some varied adaptations, from the classic musical to animated series, anthropomorphic animals, and a gay-themed film set in the contemporary underground scene. Writer Gary Whitta, known most recently as one of the story co-writers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, twists the Dickens out of the tale and flings it to a future dystopian landscape. So far it kind of works.
Whitta is no stranger to post-apocalyptic scenarios, having penned The Book of Eli for The Hughes Brother and co-written After Earth with M. Night Shyamalan. Opening John of Gaunt’s death-bed speech from Richard II, one in which he prophesied the downfall of an idealized England, Whitta crafts something that sits between the future shocks of Danny Boyle and the harsh realities of P. D. James' The Children of Men. Whitta casts the titular orphan as the last of the “purebred infants” born into a post-conflict world filled with manufactured humans designed to weather toxic conditions.
Rather than relying on the familiar story beats of Dickens’ original story, Whitta instead wraps Oliver in a bit of mystery. During his birth something occurs that shocks the cloned soldiers, and it’s only overtly referred to later in the issue. Other big questions, like why society has lost some of the basic tenets of knowledge, form part of the background texture that slowly eke their way out in the relationship between Oliver and his adopted father figure.
From the opening panels, in which a lone figure in a fallout suit makes their way through an abandoned London, superstar artist Darick Robertson brings delicate decay to recognizable landscapes. The first act of the comic is a heavily shadowed series of close-ups, and despite the fact that all but one of the characters is meant to look identical, Robertson alters each of them just enough to make them unique individuals for the reader’s benefit. From there the book jumps forward three years as Robertson follows the lithe movements of the lead ragamuffin across rooftops and down alleyways. That said, the toned Oliver look a lot older than three years old during his solo scenes, but perhaps this is something else that will be explained as time goes by.
Color artist Diego Rodriguez deserves at least half of the credit, serving up some rich lighting sources for Robertson’s wastelands. As he progresses through the various arcs, Rodriguez shifts the tone tone gradually, either bathing what’s left of the city in a rich golden glow or desaturating it for a cool collection of blue tones. There’s three short panels that recap the origin of the world are framed as old newsreel footage to great effect.
At its core, this is Oliver with a twist but Whitta sets us up with an entire world that is waiting to be explored. Rather than simply update the story to a shattered Earth, Whitta has used the character as a way to open the door to something darker and more mysterious. As Dickens, quoted in the final panel, once wrote: “Surprises, like misfortunes, rarely come along.” Dare we say: we want some more?
Blossoms 666 #1
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Laura Braga and Matt Herms
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
There’s always been something unusual about the way that CW’s Riverdale has portrayed any plot thread involving the Blossom’s. While the rest of the show is characterized almost entirely by its chameleon aesthetic, Blossom plots are uniquely gothic. There’s repressed sexuality, incestuous overtones, generation-spanning consequences, and it sometimes feels like each time the show visits Blossom Mansion we could find Bronte’s madwoman in the attic. It should come as no surprise that Blossoms 666 #1’s creative team consisting of writer Cullen Bunn, artist Laura Braga, and colorist Matt Herms excel at both imbuing the more gothic scenes and locale with a thick atmosphere of dread and at making the juxtaposition between the world of the Blossom’s and the rest of Riverdale’s youths pronounced without being overly jarring. While the central hook of the story, that Jason and Cheryl are competing for the throne of hell, is prominent in press material and thus spoiling a little of the intrigue the opening issue builds, the comic still hints at a grandness to this Cruel Intentions meets The Devil’s Advocate that gives readers more to wonder.
The comic is neatly divided into two sections. First, readers watch the Blossoms as they go through their day at Riverdale High while hyping their pool party. While this is the weaker portion of the comic, both visually and narratively, it fulfills a need in introducing the surprisingly large number of characters being pulled into the story, it still pulls readers in with Cheryl and Jason’s nefarious machinations on Dilton and Jughead respectively. Having even a passing knowledge of Satan-worship plots will likely give readers the notion that the Blossom’s victims will likely be sacrificed. Bunn, a writer with a flair for gothic tales and subverting expectations, twists that significantly in the comic’s closing moments. Despite how slow the opening is, it still highlights juxtapositions between appearances and inner character. This is obviously present in the conceit of the Blossom’s being hellspawn, but it’s also there in Miss Grundy’s interest in Jason Blossom.
Things change once the comic settles into the mansion, and suddenly the atmosphere is dripping with an uneasy energy that carries through most of Blossoms 666 #1’s panels. In a single page reader’s get cherub statues and mounted boar heads. Jason and Cheryl walk down to their basement to greet a group of hooded individuals offering blood upon a pentagram. The two talk about snacks and refreshments amid an otherwise grotesque scene, again reinforcing the banal and the upsetting, and making a literal and visual representation of the theme of appearances and dark reality. This is further developed when two of the hooded figures are revealed to be Mr. and Mrs. Blossom, who dote on their children in some aw-shucks framing while talking about how one of them will usher darkness into the world.
After two pages of pool-based hijinks, the Blossom’s transition the core cast into a game of truth or dare, and it’s here that Bunn’s story and escalating dialogue, Braga’s facial art, and Herm’s sleek and moody colors elevate the comic. It all starts off as innocuous, “What do you think is sexiest about a guy?” and “Who are you most attracted to?” are pretty standard truth or dare fare. But stranger questions get mixed in, like “What would you like to be reincarnated as?” and “Have you ever thought of killing someone?” These add to the horror atmosphere in their own right, but also serve an additional thematic purpose when the twist on the virgin sacrifice trope is revealed in the comic’s closing moments. Cheryl doesn’t want to offer Dilton as a sacrifice. She wants Dilton to sacrifice his bully Reggie, who has been tied to a tree on yet another pentagram-adorned ground.
Once you get through the necessary exposition, you’ll find a comic that offers a lot in terms of thematic consistency and entertaining storytelling. Bunn is in his element here, and is clearly channelling what has made him such a strong writer in prior horror series. It’ll be interesting to see what he does with this particular comic sandbox. Braga’s art and Herms’ colors make each panel feel lived-in and carefully constructed, particularly in the comic’s back half. The comic is heavily indebted to the two when it comes to the very obvious tone that it carries. Blossoms 666 #1 is a great comic in its own right, but with the artistic depictions and theme-heavy plot, the devil is in the details.
In Case You Missed It
The Batman Who Laughs #2
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock and David Baron
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
After being exposed to the deadly Joker toxin in the first issue, Batman pumps so much antitoxin into his body but it appears to be a losing battle as we follow how infected his eyes look throughout this second issue from the sickly reddish tint colorist David Baron puts on them. At some points in the story, his eyes are as red as the words coming out of The Batman Who Laughs’ mouth. Red is the color more associated with the Joker, but with his red, grinning lips. Baron has the color thematically connect all three characters in Scott Snyder and Jock’s story that focuses on a villain that’s as dangerous as Batman and the Joker combined because that’s what The Batman Who Laughs is. Slipping into the diseased Batman’s mind, Snyder, Jock and Baron try to define Batman not by who he is but by what he is not.
Jock’s inky abyss that is Gotham City plays into the psychological trauma of the story. To essentially fight a twisted version of himself that was first introduced in Snyder’s Metal event, Jock creates pages that make you feel like you are falling into this sickness yourself. His and Baron’s take on Batman and Gotham City is haggard and old. It’s not yet decrepit but it wouldn’t take too much for this city to start falling apart, much like it won’t take much for Batman to succumb to the Joker’s poisons racing through his blood. But more than just being physically run down, Jock’s art reflects the darkness in Batman’s soul and the trauma caused by the death of his parents. Jock and Baron’s pages show a Gotham where the darkness is less a mirror of the city and a more of the natural state of it and its inhabitants.
If you look at Batman stories of the past 15-20 years (and even possibly further back than that,) many of them try to define Batman by showing how other people aren’t Batman. That was the crux of Grant Morrison’s run on the character when he had Dick Grayson take over the cowl but it also led to Batman Incorporated, which formed a multinational legion of Batmen. Even Scott Snyder has taken repeated steps toward defining Batman by who he isn’t, whether it was with a never-before-seen brother or recruiting Jim Gordon to be Batman for a while. Snyder and Greg Capullo continued that theme in Metal, showing dark and twisted What If versions of the character fighting the Justice League. Where that story was large, colorful and brash, The Batman Who Laughs #2 is much smaller yet the stakes for one man feel much greater than the fate of the multiverse ever did.
So Scott Snyder defines what his Batman stories have tried to express, the question of whether Bruce Wayne is doing the right thing being Batman, by having two characters give him two different answers. The loyal Alfred, seeing the doubt but Bruce’s unerring ethics after he refuses to allow Alfred to permanently harm the Joker, tells him that it’s the things that Bruce worries about that make him strong. Later in the issue, The Batman Who Laughs tells Bruce how all of the other multiversal Batmen look at him and judge him as ineffective because of his sense of right and wrong, something that other Batmen appear to lack. So which one is right? As he feels himself slipping away due to the Joker toxin, Batman is confronted by these two views of himself even as he feels their works battle in his soul.
It would be easy to accept Alfred as the voice of truth here but the rub is that The Batman Who Laughs is Bruce Wayne himself. When Batman hears the Batman from the Dark Multiverse analyze him, he’s hearing his own voice and his own words. That’s got to be a kick in the guts. It’s not a voice inside his head that’s filling him with doubt but himself, standing right there in front of him saying these things. That’s the kind of troubling exchange that you won’t get in a huge crossover event so it’s great that Snyder has the opportunity to explore the knowing words of The Batman Who Laughs further in this miniseries. Fatherly Alfred’s reassurances versus the proclamation of ineffectiveness and guilt from your own voice and experience sets up a fantastic conflict for the future battles between these two very different Batmen.
Bruce Wayne is sick in The Batman Who Laughs #2 and by the end, we have to question whether the Batman himself is a symptom of the illness or the sickness itself. Back in 2011, Snyder, Jock and Baron told their first Batman stories in the Black Mirror issues of Detective Comics so it’s right that this issue hints at connections to that story. That was another story of a Batman fill-in, back in the days when Dick Grayson wore the cape and cowl to try to live up to Bruce Wayne’s legacy. But Dick was just a substitute while The Batman Who Laughs is Bruce Wayne himself, one who is on a mission to reshape the world in his own blind, corrupt and grinning image. But more than that, The Batman Who Laughs wants to break Batman, to take the hero and turn him into every fear that he’s ever had about himself.
Black Panther #8
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Kev Walker and Stéphane Paitreau
Letters by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
The “Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda” story has been an excellent addition to the Black Panther mythos, and Black Panther #8 helps push the series to new heights. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Kev Walker have crafted a tightly paced chapter in T’Challa’s fight against the Wakandan Empire that not only provides some great action, but furthers the hero’s development.
Like the better issues in this series, Black Panther #8 focuses on a smaller story that forces T’Challa to confront his own identity. When word comes that an Imperial Freighter is carrying Vibranium cargo, T’Challa infiltrates the ship to steal it. What he finds, however is that the ship is also carrying slaves for the Wakandan Empire. The questions is a simple, but important one. Will T’Challa remain the soldier and follow his orders to steal the vibranium? Or will he take control and aid the people on the ship?
The “Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda” arc has seen a nice continuation of T’Challa’s development. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ earlier arcs focused on T’Challa reckoning with the evils of rule. His heroic ideals were in conflict with his duties as leader. Now, those same ideals are calling him to lead. In this issue in particular, T’Challa is literally leading a slave child through the freighter, taking out the imperial guards along the way.
Kev Walker captures this journey with bristling rage. Walker’s pencils and framing capture T’Challa’s disgust with the Empire’s actions. Kev Walker depicted some of T’Challa’s most aggressive moments in Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers, so it should come to no one’s surprise that he excels here.
Tilted panels of action create visual excitement on the page as if to suggest that a normal panel structure could not contain T’Challa’s fury. Panels in which T’Challa dual wields pistols may also remind Black Panther fans of Kevin “Kasper” Cole.
Color artist Stéphane Paitreau heightens these moments with beautiful flares of color. The olive tones that permeate the spaceship work well to convey T’Challa’s stealth, and the deep blacks used for T’Challa’s suit further the notion of a true panther ambushing its prey. When T’Challa strikes, the highlights of purple energy pop off the page. T’Challa’s mask, rendered in deep black, becomes a part of the story, a shield that T’Challa bears before handing it to the child that follows him. Normally when a hero loses their mask, it’s to convey a sense of danger and vulnerability. But what is laid bare here is T’Challa’s wrath.
It’s this compact storytelling that makes Black Panther #8 such an enjoyable read. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Kev Walker have crafted a near-perfect short story within the larger arc. The way Coates has crafted T’Challa’s journey has been brilliant, highlighting both what makes him a hero and a good king – and how, just maybe, those traits don’t quite have to be in as much conflict as they were before.