Best Shots Reviews: SUPERMAN - LEVIATHAN RISING, BLACK PANTHER #12

Black Panther #12
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC

Superman: Leviathan Rising #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Greg Rucka, Matt Fraction and Marc Andreyko
Art by Yanick Paquette, Mike Perkins, Steve Leiber, Eduardo Pansica, Julio Ferreira, Nathan Fairbairn, Paul Mounts and FCO Plascencia
Lettering by Simon Bowland, Clayton Cowles, Tom Napolitano, Troy Peteri and Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Superman: Leviathan Rising #1 manages to string together four ostensibly different stories with surprising effectiveness, which is no small feat considering there are four writers, five artists, three colorists, and five letterers attached. While the first and last part of the massive comic book follows Superman, the fallout of what happens in those moments casts a shadow on the middle of the comic book. As a massive book with a lot of moving parts, it drags at some parts more so than others, but it never feels like four creative teams arbitrarily stitched together.

The comic book opens with the Invisible Mafia’s Ms. Leone having an ominous conversation with a holographically-disguised Leviathan. Leone assumes that this interaction will lead to her death at the new villain’s hands. It’s interesting to see the conversation, which is mostly about capturing Superman, in such a public setting. With Leone’s appeal being her ability to be undetected and less flashy than most Metropolis’ villains, the idea that Leviathan can not only blend in with a crowd, but can change complete appearance on a whim. They are essentially the most inconspicuous villains, so it makes sense that this conversation can happen anywhere.

The plot really kicks off in earnest a few pages later when Superman learns that several people are in his apartment to kidnap Clark Kent. He decides that this could provide an excellent story for Lois and allows himself to be apprehended by a Leviathan-aligned Talia al Ghul. A well-written Superman is one with believable flaws and character limitations, and the writing here shows a Clark that is perhaps a little too complacent with things always working out. Talia straps kryptonite to Clark’s chest and his plan is immediately a failure. This is the moment that hangs over the rest of the comic. Lois, Batman, and Wonder Woman all find out something is very wrong after not hearing back from Superman. Meanwhile, Jimmy Olsen makes his own unique discoveries at the end of a very strange morning at a hotel in Gorilla City.

The Jimmy Olsen and Supergirl portions of the book are the real highlight, even if they exist largely in the shadow of the larger Leviathan story. Everything about Matt Fraction’s Jimmy Olsen story pops, from the outlandish plot of Jimmy waking up married to a dimension-hopping jewel thief, to Steve Lieber’s art style, which takes an almost pop art aesthetic, and Nathan Fairbairn’s coloring, which brightens up everything in an otherwise tamely colored book. It’s light-hearted and is a good introduction to the character’s upcoming series, both from a narrative and visual standpoint. Supergirl’s story by Marc Andreyko and Eduardo Pansica has the least to do with the overarching comic book itself, but is perhaps the most emotionally resonant. All the power in the universe can’t make someone love you, and readers see Eliza dealing with the fallout of her divorce in flashback while dealing with the literal fallout of a collapsed building. It isn’t a subtle metaphor, but the visuals and dialogue coalesce to make a really moving section of the comic.

With the book regularly passing the baton amongst its art teams, the quality of the visuals throughout is strong barring a few facial expressions in some of the later pages. The Jimmy Olsen sections by Lieber are by far the most visually unique, and their placement midway through the book really does work for the benefit of the whole book. Being radically different allows the rest of the book to not feel like it’s been dragging more than it already does in its later pages. The scenes of Olsen maneuvering through the gallons upon gallons of blood thrown up on him by a cat are filled with a real sense of momentum and weirdness. Paquette’s work on Clark Kent’s interrogation also sings, and the more we see of Leviathan and his mask later on also stand out as memorable and extremely well-done parts of the book.

What could have been a skippable preamble to a highly anticipated event winds up feeling important in Superman: Leviathan Rising. Whether the event itself hinges on any of these plot points remains to be seen, but there’s enough going on in the pages of Superman: Leviathan Rising that there’s something for anybody. With the biggest highlights being the cartoonish Jimmy Olsen story and the dramatic Supergirl, it runs the range of emotions. Not much is really revealed in terms of what to expect for the event itself, but with the mysterious tone throughout this comic and the choice to place such an emphasis on the investigative journalism of Clark and Lois, there’s some early signs that the event will be unique.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther #12
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Jen Bartel, Kris Anka, and Tríona Farrell
Letters by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jen Bartel take T’Challa on a journey of restoration and self-examination in Black Panther #12. With Emperor N’Jadaka closing in on the rebel forces, M’Baku must assist with the evacuation of Agwé while Bast works to restore T’Challa. If there is going to be a future to Wakanda, its king and its people must have their memories.

Memory and the strength it gives has been a focal point throughout Ta-Nehisi Coates’ run on Black Panther, seen both in Shuri’s arc in the Djalia, as well as T’Challa’s story throughout this current series. In Black Panther #12 that focus is magnified again as T’Challa goes through his own journey in the Djalia. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ journey for T’Challa is quite different, however, as T’Challa relearns how he arrived in the empire, providing revelation for both T’Challa and the reader. In doing so, he also ties in pieces from both Evan Narcisse’s Rise of the Black Panther miniseries as well as Nnedi Okorafor’s ongoing series Shuri, rewarding readers who have followed the stories outside this one.

At the center of this journey and rediscovery is an intimate scene with Storm that has been built throughout the series. Artist Jen Bartel does a wonderful job throughout the issue, but in this scene excels with her intimate framing, and figure work. Bartel’s T’Challa and Ororo are beautiful beyond belief, and the subtle way in which their bedroom gives way to the stars only heightens the intimacy between them. Color artist Tríona Farrell also makes a brilliant use of color here, using warm reds and cool purples to highlight the couple, while the rest of the dream sequence is awash in oranges and teals. This gives a completely different tone to the scene, and creates the sense of time stopping in the book to preserve this one moment of wholeness in T’Challa.

Where the issue suffers, however, is in the execution of its revelations. Ta-Nehisi Coates nicely ties together T’Challa’s reclaiming of his memories with his regaining of his troubles as the burden of kingship is once again thrust upon him. Coates’ run has seen clashes between monarchy and democracy, between T’Challa’s duty and his own identity, and here those points once again emerge. Coates uses the Djalia to both validate T’Challa’s rule as an individual and chip away at the legacy of the Empire, showing that while a man can be a good king, monarchy seems destined to fail. However the issue doesn’t utilize this conflict enough, instead leaving both T’Challa and reader in the past. The final page is set up at the beginning rather well, but the tension isn’t as well built because it’s unclear for the reader if the journey through the Djalia is set to continue next issue or if it has somehow allowed T’Challa to be restored at this earlier point in time.

Readers are ultimately left in a frustrating position. This will likely read immensely better in the trade format, as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ past arcs have. Coates packs his stories with subtext and payoffs that often only reveal themselves when the work is seen in whole, rather than part, but it’d be nice if the parts were a little more rewarding on their own. As of now, thanks to Jen Bartel and Tríona Farrell, Black Panther #12 is a beautiful piece of a puzzle that Coates has been building throughout his run with the character. The hope for most readers is that the puzzle will ultimately come out clean and clear.

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