Best Shots Reviews: WINTER SOLDIER #5, THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS #1, CULT OF CARNAGE #1

Web of Venom: Cult of Carnage #1
Credit: Joshua Cassara/Rain Beredo (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Winter Soldier #5
Written by Kyle Higgins
Art by Rod Reis
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The roads to redemption and recovery are not straightforward ones. There are forks that require the traveler to make a decision about their trajectory, moments where it can seem like you’re making no progress with no end destination in sight, times where you might have to double back and then feel like you’re stuck in a loop of failure and relapse. Many endeavor to travel these paths and finally move on, yet no one can truly anticipate how much ground will need to be covered to reach that point. In the case of Winter Soldier #5, the two overlap and along the way is a stop in the middle of the woods, with a body in the trunk and a shovel in hand.

Rod Reis’ artwork gradually illuminates the situation across three panels. What is inherently ominous about the framing of these static images becomes illuminated in ghastly fashion by a phone screen, until the sunlight finally reveals all about what first seemed opaque. What you see depends on how you look it at it; how you perceive what’s going on as a result of how much information is available to you. This reframing of events is applicable to how the story of Winter Soldier has played out.

Over the course of this miniseries, Bucky Barnes – in his attempt to help give people second chances and new lives – has been trying to help a kid named RJ. He’d fallen in with HYDRA, but their hold on him could be fought. Along the way to rehabilitation, RJ’s father Richie showed up, something which Bucky felt awfully suspicious about, and in an altercation that came soon after, Bucky killed Richie. And that brings the Winter Soldier to his latest crossroads in the woods, where he considers covering up what he did for RJ’s sake, but not without feeling the need to share about what happened with Sharon Carter.

Much like redemption and recovery, Bucky and RJ became linked over the previous issues, as have cycles of abuse and addiction. Kyle Higgins uses his lead character and his history in order to interrogate these themes. Few characters in the Marvel Universe know how hard it is to break away from what external forces turned them into than Bucky. In RJ, he’s seen someone to save from becoming yet another puppet assassin who had their life and humanity stripped away to better serve the mission. The issue plays out as a 20-page equivalent of a sinking feeling in your stomach, as you wait for the other shoe to drop for RJ and his understanding of events.

That facet of a previous life finding its way back to the surface can be found in Reis’ use of red throughout the issue. It’s an artistic choice that’s evident from the first page, from RJ’s red shirt, the interior of the diner, the server’s red apron. All different shades, yet they coalesce as the scene builds into a combined emotional entity. This is true for Bucky as well, like a beat where he tells Sharon about someone in his past that met a grisly end at his metal hand despite their good intentions, the rage of long ago seeping into the earthy woodland surrounding. There are even more violent uses of the technique later, including one where blood manages to splatter outside of the panel borders.

What’s most nuanced about the issue and the miniseries at large is how Higgins’ narrative delicately treats past and present trauma. The violence depicted has a cost attached to it, even the acts that have occurred long ago. In this case, said cost is that the truth must eventually come out; two steps forward, one step back. As a result of how this issue is structured, it has to move quickly to reach its conclusion after that, and that’s not an easy thing to witness. It’s sobering in a way to see that not every attempt to save people can be successful and the emotional effect is enough to outweigh how the way it all comes out leads the issue to grasp at big ideas – the justification of murder and people’s best interests at heart – it can’t fully get into with the space it has left.

It’s a slight misstep for a book that has otherwise been sturdy, as Winter Soldier #5 navigates murky thematic material, and yet Higgins and Reis still manage to right their course in time for the final scene and the last image of their collaboration here. After the book threatens to get too big from the ideas at play, the final splash is a reminder of what this series is at its heart. The road to recovery is a long one, not everyone reaches their intended destination, but it’s worth it to keep going nonetheless.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Ghostbusters: 35th Anniversary: The Real Ghostbusters #1
Written by Cavan Scott
Art by Marcelo Ferreira, Maria Keane and Luis Antonio Delgado
Lettering by Neil Uyetake
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

IDW’s weekly celebration of the Ghostbusters’ 35th Anniversary continues with a breezy and fun standalone Real Ghostbusters adventure. When a new ghost-hunting outfit has set up shop in New York and snakes business from the boys, Ray has to go undercover within their ranks to find out why they are always one step ahead of them. Nearly set aside from the massive IDW Ghostbusters canon, but still chock full of the kind of humor, heart, and bustin’ action fans want the Ghostbusters 35th Anniversary: The Real Ghostbusters: One-Shot is a worthy tribute.

Under Cavan Scott’s fun script, the “animated” Egon, Ray, Winston, and Peter charm just like they did on Saturday mornings. Sure, Scott’s writing seems a bit simplistic at times, reading as an unironic translation of the cartoon’s tone — you’ll see Ray being distracted any time there is food around and Peter going out of his way to talk about how many women he is attracted to. But even despite the retrograde tone, Scott’s plot and reverent (to a fault) adaptation of the cartoon’s whole vibe makes for a pretty entertaining read.

An outfit called “Spooks-Away” has set up shop on the Busters’ turf — even worse, they somehow seem to always be one step ahead of the team, monopolizing the ghost catching trade with state-of-the-art equipment. Though a lot of IDW’s best uses of the “Real Ghostbusters” team have been in major arcs or event crossovers, this one-shot shows that the characters can support a single story by themselves. Scott delivers a tight episode of the series, hopefully serving as an audition piece for either more stories in this universe or maybe even a “Real” ongoing down the line.

It also doesn’t hurt that IDW artistic staple Marcelo Ferreira provides this one-shot a wonderful visual adaptation, keeping pace with the script’s adherence to the show’s tone. Trading in time-travel for ghost-busting, Ferreira, along with the heavy inks Maria Keane, and the vibrant colors Luis Antonio Delgado, delivers all the fun and looks of the cartoon on the page. Anchored by the wonderfully expressive and familiar character models, the art team stages the comic in classic panel layouts filled with a sort of “higher budget” version of the cartoon’s visuals. They even manage to throw in their version of the show’s slightly-too-scary-for-kids monster design, pitting the team against a kaiju-sized gestalt of thousands of ghosts with a thousand faces and feet. It is precisely the kind of gross fun you would want from the Ghostbusters.

Standing as a sort of lost episode of The Real Ghostbusters, this one-shot has all the fun of a Saturday morning cartoon, but all the skill of a worthwhile single comic book. It also manages to thread the needle of being a great tribute for the property’s anniversary, as well as a coherent weekly series — a quadruple threat, indeed. The IDW Ghostbusters books are often overlooked in terms of long-term comic book world building, but fans looking to dive in will find well-made books like this one-shot waiting for them.

Credit: Joshua Cassara/Rain Beredo (Marvel Comics)

Web of Venom: Cult of Carnage #1
Written by Frank Tieri
Art by Danilo S. Beyruth and Andres Mossa
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Cult of Carnage #1 is a decent premise that never reaches its full potential. Set in the wake of Carnage overtaking and ultimately destroying the sleepy town of Doverton, Cult of Carnage #1 follows Misty Knight as she heads into Doverton to retrieve the missing John Jameson, son of J. Jonah, former astronaut, and current Man-wolf. She finds John, fortunately, but also finds a host of other gruesome secrets that suggest that someone isn’t quite done with Doverton just yet - or maybe that Doverton was just the beginning.

From script to art, the comic is solid and serviceable, but you can’t help but feel that it could have been something special. Writer Frank Tieri delivers a book heavy on flashbacks and exposition, which makes this debut issue a bit of a drag, and artist Danilo S. Beyruth and colorist Andres Mossa offer up eerie and slightly stylized work that almost gives the book a Twilight Zone vibe. “Almost” is where the full issue gets hung up, though. There’s promise here, but everything feels rushed; the script off-loads heaps of backstory to catch readers up quickly and the artwork feels hurried in a way that’s pressed for time rather than particularly atmospheric.

It’s frustrating, because there are elements of a pulp horror Invasion of the Body Snatchers kind of story that could be perfectly suited to everything Tieri and Carnage have to offer — something a little more off-kilter and irreverent than the Venom books, which have lately been geared more towards emotional explorations of the symbiote and its host. The issue does pick up steam towards the final pages — the portion of the book that offers the most promise for the rest of the series moving forward, with pages rich with the discomfiting body horror at any symbiote series’ heart in some impressive linework and grim crimson colors from Beyruth and Mossa. It just takes too long to get there; this script could have started halfway through and packed more punch.

Ultimately, Cult of Carnage’s stumbles are not necessarily issues of craft but of what feels like a rushed editorial process. The script could have been a bit tighter in the expository sequences, and there are three several panels of Misty Knight appearing to have two smooth brown arms that were so incredibly distracting I spent five minutes skimming forward and back just to see if it happened anywhere else. “Where did Misty Knight's cybernetic arm go” is the sort of seemingly minor oversight that encapsulates the book’s bigger issues; a bit rushed, and not as well thought-through as you’d hope considering the premise.

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