Best Shots Reviews: WAR OF THE REALMS #6, DETECTIVE COMICS #1006, SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1

Spider-Man Annual #1
Credit: David Lafuente (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Arthur Adams (Marvel Comics)

War of the Realms #6
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Russell Dauterman and Matt Wilson
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

After five issues of juggling 10 worlds and dozens of superheroes across the Marvel Universe, Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman stick the landing nicely in War of the Realms #6, thanks to their renewed focus on the mighty Thor in his every incarnation. And as a result, this finale feels less like the bloated, scattered conclusions of events past, but instead feels like an earned - or perhaps one might even say “worthy” - capstone to seven years of stories featuring the God of Thunder.

With Odin and Freyja held hostage by the Dark Elf Malekith, Thor is locked into a dilemma - only the God of Thunder alone can pass through the mystical barrier, but can even he save his parents battling by himself? Aaron’s endgame is an elegant one, drawing all the way back to his opening storyline in Thor: God of Thunder - namely, why settle for one Thor when you could have four? Uniting Thor’s past, present, and future selves alongside his successor Jane Foster, Aaron stirs up a superb final battle that not only cranks the dials to 11, but ties a deeply satisfying bow on the character arc he’s been building for Thor since Original Sin. (To be honest, Aaron might even one-up the thematic punchline from Thor: Ragnarok - because he smartly realizes there’s a much more fitting god for Thor to represent than hammers or even thunder itself.) But even beyond the macro narrative scale, Aaron does an effective job at giving each of these Thors their own personalities, voices and dynamics, making this a fun team-up that echoes his first arc nicely.

But it’s also because Aaron recognizes the limits of his page count that he’s able to prioritize what matters most in War of the Realms, giving this finale a clarity and emotional focus that had been sometimes fleeting in previous chapters. This feels like a Thor story first and foremost, and it’s to Aaron’s credit that he doesn’t get greedy and try to shoehorn in every single tie-in and side character, to make square pegs try to fit into round holes. This allows characters like Captain Marvel to wind up shining brightly even in a two-panel cameo, and while it takes a little while to get to the punchline, Aaron delivers a team-up between Daredevil and a seemingly fallen Asgardian that is exceedingly clever. As a result, even when he’s delivering the big crescendo, War of the Realms #6 feels much more streamlined than its predecessors, with only minimal bloat when Aaron has to set up the inevitable status quo shifting from some of the side characters.

The Asgardian-focused script also plays to Russell Dauterman’s strengths, as he’s able to focus on a singular visual style rather than have to juggle all the discordant designs from across the Marvel Universe. Occasionally, he gets a bit too ambitious for his own good - there are scenes, like Thor’s harrowing test in the heart of the sun in the book’s first pages, where the rendering is so overwhelming that it can be hard to make sense of what’s going on - but for the most part, Dauterman’s linework is intense and hard-hitting, where you can really feel the pain these characters are enduring as they face Malekith and his symbiotic blade. You can also just feel the enthusiasm coming from his pages - not only is Dauterman’s design of the new-and-improved Thor look beautiful and triumphant, but let me tell you, a double-page splash featuring the four Thors hurtling into battle is just a poster-worthy piece of art. Colorist Matt Wilson also deserves a lot of credit for imbuing so much energy into these pages - this is not a dour, moody piece, but instead a kind of high-flying adventure that deserves his fluorescent palettes.

In a lot of ways, I think that War of the Realms wasn’t just a battle between Earth and Asgard’s enemies - it was also the kind of story that was waging war against itself, figuring out exactly what it wanted to be. Economic demands would cast it as a saga that crossed the entire Marvel Universe, page counts be damned, whether the characters really fit in or not; storytelling principles, meanwhile, cast this as a story of Thor not just turning the tide of battle, but truly growing in his ongoing arc for worthiness and redemption. And I think with this finale, Aaron and Dauterman have succeeded by staying true to the core of their story, rather than try to be all things for all characters - in so doing, they’re able to evoke the scale of a line-wide crossover, but still have the satisfying resolution of a solo title. While it’s been touch and go at times, now that the dust has settled on War of the Realms, it’s clear that Aaron and Dauterman have walked away from this battlefield with a victory - and in today’s scattered event landscape, that might be one of the most godlike feats in comic books.

Credit: Kyle Hotz/Dan Brown (DC)

Detective Comics #1006
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Kyle Hotz and David Baron
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The Spectre returns to Gotham City for a bloody fun murder mystery in Detective Comics #1006. After his host Jim Corrigan is kidnapped by a cult seemingly obsessed with DC’s spirit of vengeance, the Spectre turns to the World’s Greatest Detective to help solve the mystery. But will their contrasting styles and philosophies on killing threaten their team-up before it even starts? Therein lies the delicious tension of Peter J. Tomasi’s script. On top of presenting a whopper of a mystery, living up to the Detective title, Tomasi brings the full weight of Spectre’s 'fire and brimstone' characterization of old, pitting him as a booming, self-righteous foil to the cool, collected Batman.

Artists Kyle Hotz and David Baron also make great use of the more “old-school,” slightly supernatural tone of Detective Comics. Summoning the vibes of Kelley Jones and Tom Mandrake, Hotz and Baron deliver properly grungy yet theatrical artwork. The pages are populated by dense character models that lean into the more 'otherworldly' aspects of the characters like Batman’s billowing cape and the Spectre’s ghostly body. Readers have often complained that Detective Comics has strayed away from mystery/investigative storytelling here lately but Detective Comics #1006 stands as fun, intriguing rebuttal to that criticism.

It is another night on the mean streets of Gotham, as GCPD Detective Jim Corrigan and his partner are responding to the murder of a John Doe. But soon their investigation is interrupted by gun-wielding weirdos, all dressed like Corrigan’s alter ego. In the scuffle, Corrigan is kidnapped and his partner killed. The Spectre responds with bloody retribution - essentially mowing down two of the cultists with some cannons of his own - and then seeks out the Dark Knight in an attempt to track down his host.

But even before this pulpy team-up hook is introduced, Peter J. Tomasi impresses with his take on Corrigan. Carefully walking through the crime scene like the famed homicide detective he is, Corrigan, backed by Tomasi’s punchy scripting, runs down all the evidence, setting the stage nicely for a superhero procedural. Tomasi then doubles down on this, bringing Batman in on the investigation. Not only do we get “fresh eyes” on the case, also given an entertaining voice by Tomasi’s solid take on Batman. But he starts to seed in this issue’s secret weapon; the ideological divide between Batman and the Spectre.

As you know, the Spectre is pretty okay with wholesale murder, citing his station as “God’s Vengance” as justification. Batman, we also know, has a firm line on killing. But instead of just glossing over this in his team-up, Tomasi instead makes it textual in the script. Part True Detective and part Gotham Central, Tomasi’s script pushes the tension to the forefront with a tense dialogue exchange between the characters. It’s also given an extra weight by its staging in the middle of the Spectre’s “wrath,” where bodies and blood literally coat the walls around them, given a gory bioluminescence by colorist David Baron. The mystery of Detective Comics #1006 is great on its own, but couple that with pitting the investigators against each other in a way that only comics can deliver? You’ve got one hell of a start for this new arc.

Matching the classic pulp scripting of Tomasi are artists Kyle Hotz and David Baron. Hotz’s pencils, along with the moody colors of Valiant Comics regular Baron, present a burly, thick-lined window back to the Batman of the ‘80s and ‘90s. While this sort of beefy, gritty style might not be for everyone, it is absolutely perfect for the story here. Starting from the low-key grunge of Gotham alleys and moving onto the intricately designed rooftops of the city, Hotz brings a ropy, sort of Spawn”-like energy to the character models, keeping Batman’s cape and the transmogrifying form of Spectre always present in the scene as dynamic visual cues.

David Baron’s earthy colors are the icing on the cake of Detective Comics #1006. Though I might have liked a bit brighter of a “lighting scheme” only to keep the shadowing from overwhelming the pencils in parts, Baron’s tones here are very impressive. There is only so much you can do with “night in Gotham City,” but Baron’s swatches of colors amid all the deep greens, the pallid skin of the Spectre, and blue-blacks always stand out in the best ways.

If you have been wanting a street-level mystery from the new era of Detective Comics, then #1006 will be a breath of fresh air. Not only that, but it serves as a larger-than-life return for the Spectre, one handled by a creative team who understand how fun and weird his inclusion can be. If you have fallen off of Detective Comics here lately, then #1006 is a great place to pick back up.

Credit: Ron Lim (Marvel Comics)

Spider-Man Annual #1
Written by Jason Latour, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord
Art by David Lafuente, Jason Latour and Rico Renzi
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Despite kicking around for a few decades, it took 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to make Spider-Ham a household name, and Marvel has finally gotten around to honoring the superstar swine with an annual dedicated entirely to that artiodactyl mammal. Jason Latour guides this affair, writing the first story with art from David Lafuente while providing art for the second story that he co-writes with Into the Spider-Verse scribes Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. And let me tell you — this is just a blast from start to finish. Granted you have to be onboard with Spider-Ham’s specific brand of cartoon humor, but if animal puns are your tonic, I suspect you’re the target audience.

We get started with some pretty standard superhero action, as Spider-Ham takes on the Ringmaster to rescue Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen. David Lafuente really leans into the zaniness of the setting and lets that cartoon flag fly, giving us work that revels in its silliness rather than apologizes for it. And that’s an inherent strength in this team-up. Latour and Lafuente have serious chops, and you can tell how much fun they’re having. Puns can sometimes be derided as pretty low-hanging fruit in the comedy world, but Latour throws them out so quickly that there’s not enough time to roll your eyes. Lafuente delivers really solid visual gags throughout the book and his renderings of the Marvel Universe’s various animal counterparts like Jean. D Wolf, J. Jonah Jackal, Spider-Guin, Ant May and more are just delightful. It’s rare that books like this are this consistently funny.

And the comedy really hides the more serious themes inherent in both Latour’s solo story and his team-up with Lord and Miller. In the solo story, Spider-Ham is having a crisis about being useful and finding his place in a world where he’s already seemingly served his purpose. In the second story, Ham and Howard the Duck lament their sort of doomed life cycle as fictional properties destined to rebooted and reimagined until the end of time. Both stories are extremely funny, but when you think about it, it’s hard not to see artists commenting on feeling like commodities in a world that repeatedly chews up and spits out creative types. It’s a somber rabbithole to go down even with work as bright and colorful as this.

It’s excellent to see such a fully-realized one-shot, and I think Latour and Lafuente really make the case for something of a Spider-Ham ongoing with their work here. Latour is really able to draw some pathos out of a pretty silly concept while still staying true to the energy and legacy of the character. You can’t ask for more than that. And perhaps the funniest joke of all is getting to say that this might be the best book that Marvel puts on the stands this week.

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