Best Shots Reviews: GOTHAM CITY MONSTERS #1, SILVER SURFER: BLACK #4, EVENT LEVIATHAN #4

Marvel Comics September 2019 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC

Gotham City Monsters #1
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Amancay Nahuelpan, Trish Mulvilhill
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Gotham City Monsters #1 reminds me of 2002’s Queen of the Damned, the cult classic Anne Rice adaptation that features the vampire Lestat as an international superstar front-man of a hard rock band. There’s an undercurrent of delightful weirdness that weaves through every bit of the debut issue — the kind of delightful weirdness that can make or break this kind of modern monster tale, from the gleeful tongue-in-cheek script and action of The Mummy (Rick and Evie forever) to the more recent and ill-fated Tom Cruise adaptation of the same name, whose weird waffling between overwrought emotional drama and Russell Crowe’s fantastic, scenery-chewing Jeckyll and Hyde brought a swift end to Universal Studios’ Dark Universe dreams.

In this week’s debut issue, the Gotham City Monsters team aims to do what Universal Studios couldn’t: deliver a world where Earth’s supernatural-est heroes come together to face down a threat only they could take on. In Monstertown, a forgotten Gotham neighborhood left to its own devices while Bane rules the city proper, former vampire king Andrew Bennett discovers his vampire brethren have formed a cult celebrating a new master — a Martian menace that only Frankenstein himself may be able to stop.

Writer Steve Orlando’s enthusiasm for the concept is clear throughout, though the script this week is at times slow-moving; there’s five different disparate origin stories to cram into a single issue, tied together by narration that has a hint of scenery-chewing dramatic flair. The moments that are good are great: Frankenstein and Bennett in particular are standouts, not just because they’re the primary focus, but because of the way artist Amancay Nahuelpan and colorist Trish Mulvilhill lean into some extremely specific character designs that I can really only describe as being extremely horny for monsters. Bennett, shirtless, in abs and all black with his tousled hair, screams for some Hozier to blast in the background, while Frankenstein, who should absolutely be voiced by Brendan Fraser in an animated Gotham City Monsters movie, looks like he snuck off the set of an early-aughts My Chemical Romance video.

I say this with fondness and frankly delight — there’s something about these designs and Orlando’s almost Shelley-esque literary dialogue that imbues Gotham City Monsters #1 with enough glee and charm to carry you through the slower moments to the dramatic final pages, introducing the big bad and hinting at the gang getting together in very short order. This series hits on the particular kind of weirdness the likes of Fables or Once Upon a Time or Sleepy Hollow hit on, media that capitalizes on the novelty of bringing all those things you love to the present day in weird and exciting ways. It helps that this miniseries is to a degree divorced from the “main” DC Universe. Nahuelpan and Mulvilhill bring some liveliness to the house style through the design choices and eye-popping moments of high visual drama (the second to last page rules extremely hard), which keeps the issue from feeling too Dracula Untold or I, Frankenstein (the movie, not the comic). Keep an eye on this one — Gotham City Monsters has the potential to be one of the best comics events of the fall.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Silver Surfer: Black #4
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Tradd Moore and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

If you don’t believe that Tradd Moore is the most bombastic and innovative artist in superhero comics today, he and writer Donny Cates certainly make a compelling case in Silver Surfer: Black #4, a trippy and mind-bending morality tale that balances heartfelt philosophy with insane interstellar spectacle. This is the kind of book that needs to be seen to be believed — while Cates’ work on Absolute Carnage is a well-deserved commercial juggernaut, it’s Silver Surfer: Black that feels like true capital-A Art.

Fleeing to Ego the Living Planet to escape the symbiote god Knull, the Silver Surfer has a dilemma on his hands — does he murder the embryonic form of his former master Galactus in order to gain the power needed to save the day? Taking his question from Cosmic Ghost Rider about whether it would be better to murder young Thanos and magnifying it across millennia and trillions of lives, the Silver Surfer’s moral dilemma might seem obvious on paper, so it’s a testament to Cates and Moore’s skills as storytellers that they manage to give the other side some weight.

Much of this is due to some smart visual metaphors — while the encroaching darkness across the Surfer’s arm has felt ominous and foreboding in the face of Knull’s threat, Moore and Cates wind up framing this as the dichotomy the character has always grappled with. Norrin Radd has been both savior and mass murderer, a martyr and a pariah, but there’s a sliver of truth underneath all that power cosmic — namely, that the Silver Surfer is a creature of both darkness and light, and only be embracing that balance can the day truly be won.

Of course, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t pick up on any of that, and instead just drank in Moore’s unbelievable artwork for every panel. This is some truly sublime stuff — setting much of this issue on Ego is such a gift for an already immensely talented artist, as he’s taking his own hyperkinetic style and adding in some Jack Kirby, some Sgt. Pepper, and some mind-melting LSD just to spice things up. The way that Moore shifts the Surfer’s board is elegant, ingenious and gorgeous — whether it’s Norrin transforming the board into epic chains or a simple staircase will leave you marveling at the visual intelligence on display. A double-page splash of the Surfer nearly losing his mind in the wake of all of Galactus’ victims is particularly powerful, as Norrin tears at his own flesh amidst the waves of the dead. To be honest, I’m not sure a review can do this kind of artwork justice — it is some of the most daring stuff to come out of mainstream comics right now.

Most comics live or die based on their merits as a story, but Silver Surfer: Black #4 excels thanks to the heady type of experience it brings to the table. While Cates is swinging for the fences in terms of the sheer scale of this book, Moore is a singularly unique creative force in the comics industry, one whose frequent evolution and reinvention is shockingly impressive. To say that this is a creative team born to tell the story of the Silver Surfer is perhaps both hyperbolic and putting it mildly — if you pick one Marvel book this week, make sure to bet on Silver Surfer: Black.

Credit: DC

Event Leviathan #4
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev
Lettering by Josh Reed
Published by DC
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The power of Leviathan meets the might of Superman in Event Leviathan #4. Unfortunately, while that sounds fairly exciting, Brian Michael Bendis uses Big Blue’s inclusion to ferry through more exposition. Gathering at Stately Wayne Manor, Bendis’ group of detectives interview Superman, who just last issue faced down Leviathan in an attempt to bring Amanda Waller back into the fold.

But while this sequence provides the issue a wonderful display of Alex Maleev’s more bombastic artistic qualities, the pacing of this event still feels off, mainly due to Bendis being locked in tell-don’t-show mode. This is exemplified by the constant, pinging dialogue about everything that’s happening around them without every really giving us that, aside from some scant flashbacks. Part of me wonders if this would have been better suited just as an arc of Action Comics, because where I’m sitting, Event Leviathan has yet to live up to the “Event” in the title.

An hour ago, Superman was facing down the combined might of Leviathan and their followers. But still the “world’s greatest detectives” are still no closer to finding out anything solid. And unfortunately, neither are we. Standing amid yet another long-form exposition dump, Event Leviathan #4 seems to be overestimating readers’ engagement in this mystery, and the continued lack of any real answers is still very much bogging down the pace. Though certain exchanges of dialogue here bring a spark of fun, like Oliver Queen and Damian Wayne and Plastic Man listing their goofy villains, nothing really comes of them. Instead we just get more and more character moments, and less and less hard answers toward the title’s endgame.

Bendis does, however, happen upon one very interesting turn. It seems that most of the events we have seen so far — the interrogation of Steve Trevor, Manhunter’s frame up, and the evidence pointing to the Red Hood — have just been large-scale feints by Leviathan to keep the heroes looking and sniping at each other instead of working the actual problem. But again, as soon as this idea is introduced, it’s promptly tossed on the backburner in favor of the issue’s cliffhanger. Mysteries are supposed to keep you on the hook with teases and clues, but it seems like Event Leviathan has other goals on its mind at the moment.

But what isn’t disappointing, however, is Alex Maleev’s artwork this time around. While last issue was a bit bland and featureless, Maleev really amps up the visual energy here — well, as much as he can with a script largely only featuring people talking. Thanks to the inclusion of Superman, Maleev is allowed a bit more splashiness and otherworldly colors, such as in the standoff between Leviathan and Superman, in which Supes attempts to “push through” the villain’s bizarre temporal energy weapon. The visual result is a dynamic Superman splash page, one awash in blazing blues and crackling silvers as Superman attempts to break through the center of the page, the captions of the page sent spilling around off-centered at the gravitational pull of Superman.

Alas, however, one good splash page does not a satisfying experience make, and that’s largely how Event Leviathan feels — unsatisfying. Though armed with a great hook and plenty of fantastic characters, Brian Michael Bendis just can’t seem to make it all pop as much as he wants to. Even despite Alex Maleev’s best efforts to do so. Somehow both overstuffed and underbaked, Event Leviathan #4 fails to get to the point.

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