Best Shots Review: SILVER SURFER - BLACK #2, BATMAN #75, JIMMY OLSEN #1, DAREDEVIL #8

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 variant
Credit: Ben Oliver (DC)
Credit: Tradd Moore (Marvel Comics)

Silver Surfer: Black #2
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Tradd Moore and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The darkness is spreading in Silver Surfer: Black #2. Picking up after the debut’s Symbiote-covered cliffhanger, pitting Knull, the God of Symbiotes against the Sentinel of the Spaceways, writer Donny Cates transforms another “fight comic” into a balletic read. As the two trade blows, Norrin again provides portentous but engaging narration, peppered with darkly charming dialogue from Knull.

Enhancing Cates’ theatrical script once again is Tradd Moore and Dave Stewart. While the debut issue was a stellar display of the pair’s talents, Issue #2 ups the ante with an intimately focused, almost oppressive take on the Surfer and Knull’s fight and the universe around them. Moore’s incredibly fluid pencils again prove perfect for the lithe body of the Surfer, but he provides a burly, imposing foil in Knull this time around. The whole sequence is drenched in eye-grabbing color from Stewart, leaning into the cosmic tone and timbre of the miniseries. Less of a sophmore slump and more of a confident, assured follow up, Silver Surfer: Black #2 is another galaxy-sized hit for Marvel’s Cosmic line.

“I have seen wondrously horrible things,” says the Surfer in this issue’s opening lines. But Donny Cates isn’t just talking about it. He’s showing it as well. Using the Surfer’s time as Galactus’ herald as a sort of emotional bedrock, Cates’ take on the Surfer is moving further and further away from the sunny Dan Slott era with each issue. Artists Moore and Stewart also visualize this subtextually and textually. The opening flashback sequence in which he delivers this line is set against the Destroyer of World decimating a planet while the Surfer tells us mournful details about the civilizations he’s seen ended. It’s a far cry from the Doctor Who-esque heroism of the previous runs, but I have to say, it is really working for Cates and the book.

We often forget that much of the Silver Surfer’s story is tied up in death, so Cates, Moore, and Stewart set about facing him with the next best thing; Knull. The reveal of their contact in the previous issue made for a canny ending beat, but the follow through on it really is a blast to read. Giving a cooly crazy wit to the miniseries, Knull obviously starts to thrash against the “little light”, attempting to infect the Surfer with a Symbiote all his own. Obviously not the most plot heavy of second issues, but Cates, Moore, and Stewart really make it sing, staging the whole thing in splashy, yet “zoomed in” layouts, highlighting major blocking or visual cues.

And I really cannot overstate the power of Tradd Moore and Dave Stewart’s pages here. Given a much more linear focus with the fight, which grounds the issue well, Moore and Stewart just tear across the stars with the Surfer and Knull. The early pages of the fight between them are all haymakers, as they struggle against one other, Knull with his mighty sword and the Surfer with the Power Cosmic, hobbled slightly by his new black hand. But as the fight draws on, and Knull summons the power of the ooze around him, the layouts become so much more claustrophobic, drawing the reader and the Surfer tighter under a blanket of black slime leading to a brand-new, ultra-creepy Symbiote Surfer that looks ripped from the daydreams of H. R. Giger. From there it explodes outward again into open space, ending on another tremendously off-the-wall cameo from the Marvel Cosmic side. One that Moore and Stewart deliver in all it’s insane Kirby glory, ending this issue on another powerful visual note and cliffhanger. If you were ever looking for an argument against a “house style” you couldn’t do much better than Silver Surfer: Black.

While Donny Cates’ profile has been steadily on the rise for the last couple of years, I think it may be reaching a new peak with Silver Surfer: Black. In teaming with Moore and Stewart, two artists well acquainted with weirder runs, Cates seems to have found the best synthesis of his theatrical voice and expansive scope. We still have three more issues to see if I’m fully right, but after Silver Surfer: Black #2, I am pretty confident I am.

Credit: Tony S. Daniel/Tomeo Morey (DC)

Batman #75
Written by Tom King
Art by Tony S. Daniel, Mitch Gerads and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

If Tom King has to wrap up his run on the Dark Knight, he’s going down swinging, as Batman #75 proves to be a strong milestone issue that delivers an intriguing wind-up to King’s final arc, “City of Bane.” With Bruce Wayne reeling from the labyrinthian plan his father Thomas Wayne and Bane have cooked up to stop him from his life of brooding vigilantism, it’s perhaps even more surprising to see how much Bane and the Psycho-Pirate have transformed Gotham in the Batman’s brief absence. While this issue’s expanded page count suffers somewhat when King is forced to loop in DC’s plans from elsewhere in the publishing lineup, Batman #75 still looks to be ending this ambitious run on a high note.

With Bruce Wayne wandering across a snowy mountaintop, his city rests in a peculiar sort of order. Yes, Two-Face is on the loose, having murdered Dr. Double-X with a pair of superpowered heavies - but the Gotham City Police Department is on the case… featuring Detectives Riddler and Joker. It’s an intriguing twist, one in which that King positions Bane as one of Batman’s ultimate foes not because of his strength or purpose - but because he threatens to actually beat Batman at his own game, by stamping out crime and turning it into a brutal sort of order.

King’s exploration of this new status quo is the highlight of the book, taking the usual bleakness of Gotham and shoving it through a villain-centric kaleidoscope, with the villains being their own form of strange heroes, while the usually unassailable heroes are off having their own dark (k)nights of the soul. It’s in part because the axis on which this series usually rests has been kicked aside, replaced with a darker center - namely, Thomas Wayne resuming his Flashpoint duties as Gotham City’s harder, more vicious Batman. Between him, Bane and Psycho-Pirate, the new order has come frighteningly fast, and seeing how King stacks the deck against Bruce makes this inevitable finale - dovetailed with King’s upcoming Batman/Catwoman series - feel all the more exciting.

It also helps that King is working with a tag-team of superlative artists. It feels fitting to have Tony S. Daniel tackling these pages, given his role in upending Batman’s world a decade ago with Grant Morrison in “Batman R.I.P.” - it’s almost like having George Perez drawing a book with the word “Crisis” in the title, but there’s something portentous about having Daniel be the one to introduce us to this brave new world of Gotham. Ironically, though, even while this take on Gotham feels like the darkest storytelling that King has delivered in awhile, Daniel excels most when the story is at its brightest, as he channels Jim Lee’s dynamism when he draws Gotham Girl swooping in as Thomas Wayne’s superpowered sidekick.

Artist Mitch Gerads, meanwhile, revels in the mood of this new Gotham, and it’s his contributions that make the tonal twist of the last few pages not have too much of a sting. Pouring Gotham in neon-drenched rain and ominous flames, Gerads makes Gotham feel half like a packed metropolis, half like a terrifying war zone, as we see Batman’s brainwashed foes “serving and protecting” their own brands of brutal justice. But that said, these pages are also where King’s storyline hits its singular flaw — namely, having to shoehorn in Lex Luthor’s new status quo as a superpowered being, and explaining how Bane’s stratagems have to sidestep the goings-on in Justice League and other DC books. While there’s a chance these storylines might sync up in future installments, spending such a lengthy amount of time on this subplot feels more like continuity cleanup rather than King being able to serve his own storytelling ends.

Yet with this issue kicking off Tom King’s biggest and most ambitious Batman arc, it’s easy to overlook what an achievement that this 75th issue means. To tackle such big concepts — even if the execution didn’t always stick the landing — with such a level of experimentation (and at such a rapid, unbroken pace at two issues a month) is absolutely unheard of in today’s comic book landscape, and to see King’s trajectory only rise is certainly encouraging. This issue feels weighty and substantial, introducing readers to a brand-new twist on Gotham City rather than ruminating on Batman’s deteriorating mental state — a risky move that, thanks to Daniel and Gerads, I think ultimately pays off, even with having to include a nod to DC’s Year of the Villain. If King and company can make their finale as strong as this arc’s introduction, “City of Bane” will prove to be a hell of a send-off to one of the most ambitious Batman runs in history.

Credit: Steve Lieber/Nathan Fairbarn (DC)

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Steve Lieber and Nathan Fairbairn
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
Review by Adrian Care
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen delivers something hugely entertaining by shining a new light some classic aspects of comic book’s quintessential sidekick. Told through a series of interconnected and crash cut vignettes that follow Olsens of different eras, this first issue sets out to explore the DC universe through the eyes of the titular character while at the same time exploring Jimmy through the eyes of those closest to him.

Matt Fraction turns in something completely different from a standard superhero comic script. His narrative is strange and bold in equal measure, distancing itself from conventional structures and even from being like anything Fraction has written recently with (possibly) the exception of FF. The story starts with a historical focal point and bounces around time without ever veering towards becoming too confusing. Meanwhile, Fraction’s portrayal of Jimmy as a well-intentioned, optimistic, and affable scamp is spot-on. His rebranding of Jimmy into a multimedia attraction is an inspired move that follows the logical progression of some of Jimmy’s early iterations. Cub reporter, photographer, tabloid news anchor, and now this.

The characterization of the supporting cast new and old has no fat on it either. Perry White is gruff and surly without losing heart or being embedded in newsie stereotypes. Meanwhile, Jimmy’s new landlord really allow Fractions comedy chops to shine through too — and boy do they. There are some big laugh out loud moments that lose nothing on repeat readings. Although they are weighted more towards the end of the book and the shift in moods is often quite sudden there’s plenty of fun to stitch whatever seems disjointed back together.

Steve Lieber’s pencils are instrumental in ensuring Fraction’s jokes land. They are crucial to the fun atmosphere of the book and perfectly blend the sci-fi elements with the newsroom setting and street level environments. Lieber treats every moment as a chance to shine, so that — even though he only really appears once, and briefly — Superman still gets enough attention to allow this book more than just a tangential link to a character whose name is in the title.

There are moments when the art calls back to the Silver Age so much I had to check if the panels were aping or paying homage to a cult moment in Jimmy’s lore and there are other times (the new Turtle Boy) where the art style is distinctly modern yet still conveys a lot of reverence for the often silly history of the character. Lieber also displays a great skill for making subtle shifts in style depending where the story goes. The downtrodden slum-like Gotham surrounds are exact opposites to the high stakes adventure of the pal who fell to earth. He also gives everyone from Perry, to Luthor, to the “moider”-adverse landlord, their own distinct visual identity. Every character stands out without outright stealing the book from Jimmy.

This is a book that emphasizes fun. Reading it is nothing but a good time packed with creativity, laughs, and quick paced adventure. It’s clear that being Superman’s Pal is a ball, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen is undoubtedly enjoying himself as he takes us along for the ride.

Credit: Chip Zdarsky (Marvel Comics)

Daredevil #8
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Lalit Kumar Sharma, Jay Leisten and Java Tartaglia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Adrian Care
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The best thing about this current story arc of Daredevil isn’t Daredevil at all, but rather the effort and nuance being worked into Matt Murdock’s personal life. Part three of “No Devils, Only God” continues to make good on the premise that Matt has given up his costumed identity and explores how Matt perceives the world as a civilian, as a flirtation with the new character Mindy sees him sitting as a guest at an excruciatingly uncomfortable dinner… with a family of mobsters.

There is just one single action sequence this issue — Chip Zdarsky uses it to show us Matt’s reflexes haven’t left him — but the lack of action does nothing to lesson how engrossing this issue is. A long theological discussion between Matt and a mobster is the bulk of the issue. It’s written with balance, entertaining views of what justice means from both sides of the law and coming off as deeply thought-provoking. It feels as though Zdarsky is rebuilding Matt before our eyes and, through conversation and interaction, really delves into what makes him tick as a person. He’s trying to discover what his place in this world is without Daredevil to help him navigate.

In this respect, two lynchpins of his character are given a lot of attention. One of these is Matt’s steadfast belief in the law. The other is his roguish charm. This aspect is the real treat of Zdarsky’s writing as he does a great job of making Matt ineffective as a lady-killer, awkward and foolish even, as he trips over his cool façade around Mindy. It’s a great angle that gives a lot of dimension to a character with a 360-degree radar sense, and one that lampshades what might be considered as some goofiness that Matt is caught off-guard by a table full of known felons.

The art by Lalit Kumar Sharma has improved in recent issues. Scaling things back from big splash pages and grand attempts at action, to focus on conversational or smaller moments works very well. But it’s still haunted by inconsistencies. The attention to detail given to Matt and Mindy’s interactions are of excellent quality and really aid the script with what it tries to do, but other characters come off as sketchy, even generic at times. Mindy’s family is the perfect example where most members are drawn with shape and character, but Dante and Tom seem to have less detail and effort applied to their design mannerisms.

There’s also some nicely laid out panel work here. The single action sequence is a boon for the art team as they clearly revel in getting the chance to break away from the dialogue-heavy panels. But the interlude where Kingpin shoots ducks with the Governor is more of a mixed bag. Fisk doesn’t seem to have as much visual presence as the character should, and beyond when he’s standing next to ordinary-sized characters, his girth and size rarely present Wilson Fisk as the ominous and threatening behemoth he is.

Daredevil #8 opens with charm and becomes ultimately engaging as the ideas discussed take center stage. While the last few pages don’t maintain that consistency, the story arc and this issue itself does a great job of picking up were previous arcs have left off while still allowing the reader to explore the character of Matt Murdock up close, personal, and through a different set of shades.

Twitter activity