Best Shots Reviews: WONDER WOMAN #71, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #3, MANFRIED SAVES THE DAY

War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery #3
Credit: Valerio Schiti (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Terry Dodson/Rachel Dodson (DC)

Wonder Woman #71
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Xermanico, Tom Derenick, Scott Hanna and Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Lettered by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Wonder Woman can be a tricky character to write for. Considering the level of compassion for others that she can exemplify, it takes a lot for her to take up arms and go on the offensive, instead hoping that a diplomatic approach will be more successful. As a result, finding a middle ground between these two ends of the spectrum is also what the person writing her will need to do, something which G. Willow Wilson appears to intrinsically understand.

Since Wilson started her run, there’s been a grander narrative at play, where Diana is attempting to uncover what’s led to the gods of Olympus’ arrival on Earth. But what’s so interesting about this is that Wilson has approached this via a series of smaller arcs, each with different styles and scales, that all build on top of one another. While the preceding arc was more bombastic in nature - literally having Diana and Giganta team up to battle a Titan - the current “Love is a Battlefield” arc has been quieter and anthropological in its nature thus far.

Following their discovery of the sword of Antiope, Diana and her allies have followed the trail to Summergrove, Connecticut where the child of Aphrodite, Atlantiades, has been conducting an experiment based around letting people give into their heart’s desires. Following such an action-packed arc, the first two installments of this new storyline have been a welcome moment to catch your breath without losing the ongoing momentum. There’s a rise and fall to the pacing, even in the individual issues. This one begins with the town having turned against Atlantiades, while the B-plot of Maggie and Aphrodite discovering more about why the sword’s led them here ramps up. Wilson having that bubble away in the background for the first two parts of the arc shows she’s not interested in rushing one big reveal in the her plotting to another.

Atlantiades has been a fascinating character during this arc, as well, not just in the sense of how much their presence has affected these small-town suburbs, but in how much their growing understanding of Earth has begun to affect them. Even when staring down a mob of increasingly angry townspeople, their belief that this potential was inside the people all along – “I merely encouraged them,” they respond to Diana at one point – shows a character who has changed yet is not yet aware of the effects. This has been an arc about free will and power, what happens when these go unchecked and every impulse can be given into. Just as the citizens of Summergrove realize the downside of this demigod’s actions, so too does Atlantiades - even utopia can have its downsides. And this is all before there’s even been a chance to further observe Atlantiades’ relationship with Aphrodite.

Xermanico portrays Atlantiades in an androgynous manner, a factor which highlights the difference between his work on the bulk of the issue and the portion provided by Tom Derenick and Scott Hanna, who treat the character as more directly female-presenting. Xermanico’s commitment to character in this way shows how considerate an artist he is. As a part of the narrative that’s more about conversation than action, the panelling is built around close-up imaging, with the level of acting and emotion on display being all the clearer as a result.

Couple this with the blisteringly gorgeous colors of Romulo Fajardo, Jr. (as per usual), and the issue has a radiance to it at the start, an aesthetic choice that gradually morphs as the debate moves forward. This then runs counterpoint to the B-plot’s use of shadow, darkness and taller panels. Considering how many issues Fajardo’s worked on over the course of the series, working with multiple writers and artists, it feels fair to call him one of Wonder Woman’s definitive colorists, considering he brings this same level of craft to each issue.

Xermanico’s understanding of scale is clear in how he shifts the dimensions of the page to correspond to the type of story being told, something more adventurous demands more expansive images. Even more so when this plotline is being told from the perspective of a human in the presence of gods. That he’s capable of both modes, let alone melding them in the same issue, is something that makes Xermanico the strongest artist to collaborate with Wilson thus far, and DC would be foolish if didn’t let him do so on further arcs down the line.

Much as the series at large is providing a balance between the grand and the intimate, Wonder Woman #71 represents how the series can transition between these two, gradually bringing Maggie’s subplot to the forefront as the action becomes more imperative to the narrative. This run might not be as vitally fresh as Wilson’s Ms. Marvel was for the industry back in 2014, but this is further proof about how compassionate, considerate and entertaining her comics can be.

Credit: Valerio Schiti (Marvel Comics)

War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery #3
Written by Clint, Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy
Art by André Lima Araújo and Chris O’Halloran
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Most things are revealed War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery #3, the middle issue of the McElroy clan’s five-issue debut series for Marvel Comics. The gang takes a detour into an abandoned Old West tourist trap and find themselves overrun by — well, the kinds of things you would expect to find in an “abandoned Old West tourist trap.” Thanks to the supernatural skills of Sebastian Druid, Balder and company find out that little baby Laussa isn’t quite the bundle of joy she appears to be, throwing the true purpose of their quest to keep her out of Sindr’s hands into question.

Journey Into Mystery #3 is some of the best writing and art of the full series so far. The entire team seems to have gotten into a strong rhythm, with the Scooby Doo-inspired hijinks of the McElroys’ script well-balanced by André Lima Araújo’s art. Araújo draws these characters with a warmth and liveliness that keeps the snappy, referenced-infused dialogue sounding fun and sincere. There’s never a sense the book is asking you to be the most plugged-in or to keep up with any particularly deep cuts as a reader; it’s just the natural rhythm a group’s banter start to take on the more time they spend together. His knack for drawing physical comedy accentuates the wackier moments without going over the top — the vibe of Journey Into Mystery is very late ‘80s/early ‘90s teen comedy, but the book never tips into the full-blown Rube Goldberg string of goof-em-ups you’d expect of something with such a strong 3 Ninjas vibe.

Colorist Chris O’Halloran seizes a few excellent opportunities to lean into the dusty oranges and yellows of the Old West without saturating the issue in them, making the team’s stop over into Six Gun Territory truly feel like a place out of time. One shoutout in particular to O’Halloran and Araújo for an incredible fight scene near the end of the book that somehow manages to keep little baby Laussa as its focus, thanks to her unsettlingly cherubic expression and her piercing and slightly off-putting blue eyes. It’s the effect of a painting’s eyes following you around the room in precisely the Scooby Doo way, though maybe more spooky Thirteen Ghosts than old-school, silly Where Are You. There’s something supernaturally off about this little baby, but she’s been too cute to think about what it might be until now.

There’s only two issues left in War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery, but the team has done an excellent job of creating a fun, self-contained tale whose story is compelling but not so high-stakes or convoluted as to leave too many loose ends untied heading into the final stretch. There’s the team and little Laussa, and Sindr and Ares, and the pacing so far makes two issues feel like plenty of time to get the gang back together. If you haven’t been reading Journey Into Mystery month-to-month, it might make more sense to wait for the trade at this point, but no matter how you wind up reading it, you’re sure to have a good time.

Credit: Kelly Bastow (Quirk Books)

Manfried Saves the Day
Written by Caitlin Major
Art by Kelly Bastow
Published by Quirk Books
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Manfried the Man and Steve the Cat return in Manfried Saves the Day, a new foray into a world where cats really are top dog from Quirk Books. Written by Caitlin Major and illustrated by Kelly Bastow, Manfried Saves the Day directly follows the event of their smash-hit Manfried the Man. Steve is juggling his newfound fame, a job illustrating comics about his celebrity cat, and helping Henrietta help the neighborhood men at her man shelter. But when a shady local developer attempts to buy out the shelter, Steve, Manfried, and their friend Chelsea find their lives turned upside down by a last-ditch effort to save the shelter from the city. Can the trio get themselves together long enough to train a man to take home best-in-show at the Catlanta Man Show and keep the shelter open for good?

Manfried Saves the Day is as much about learning to be an adult as it is about the novelty of a world where men are cats and cats are men. Henrietta, Steve, and Chelsea are young adult cats struggling to find their places in a world that seems stacked against him — Steve still struggles with balancing his work and his personal life, Henrietta’s pride keeps her unaware of the offer on the shelter until it’s almost too late, and Chelsea’s struggle to pay her way through grad school leads her to sabotage the group’s foray into the world of show-men training before they can really get off the ground.

Bastow’s playful illustrations of the varied men in the world, rescue and pedigree alike, are perfectly suited to Major’s script; Bastow follows the journey of Manfried and Garfield, a new rescue man in Chelsea’s life, through the trials and tribulations of their owners. The little men don’t have much to say except “hey,” but Bastow’s expressive character designs and lettering go along way in setting the scene. There are some truly heartbreaking moments as Garfield struggles to fit in with Roger, Chelsea’s other man, and Manfried himself, and as Manfried attempts to coax Steve out of his hyper-focused work life — if you’re a pet owner, this book will leave you itching to cuddle up with your pet or take them outside for a walk or some playtime together.

Major and Bastow do an excellent job building on the events of the original Manfried the Man and showing the continued growth of the cats in the face of an all-new nemesis; growing up isn’t necessarily about lucking out once and riding the high forever, but about learning to constantly adjust to new and often difficult circumstances, and remembering when it’s time to ask for help. These cats are deeply relatable, and the world of Manfried is as much about watching them continue to grow as young adults as it is about the novelty of a world where tiny pet-sized men get dressed up in costumes to help get them adopted. Manfried Saves the Day is at times a deeply emotional read, but it’s also playful and fun — this feels like a perfect book for the summer time, something fun and touching to read while lounging in the sun (especially with your own furry friends).

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