Best Shots Reviews: JANE FOSTER - VALKYRIE #3, THE BLACK GHOST #1

Black Ghost #1
Credit: Greg Smallwood (New Wave Comics)
Credit: Mahmud Asrar (Marvel Comics)

Jane Foster: Valkyrie #3
Written by Jason Aaron and Al Ewing
Art by Cafu, Ramon Perez, Cian Tormey, Roberto Poggi, Frazer Irving and Jesus Aburtov
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Stop me if you’re heard this one before - comics are a visual medium. And while our industry is often guilty of praising the writers first and foremost - hey, I’ll admit blame where blame is due - the stories in comics only have as much impact as the artists who bring them to life.

Which is why Jane Foster: Valkyrie #3 is such a fun book - given that comics are so shaped and influenced by the artists who produce them, having such an organic storytelling hook for this jam-band issue makes this a breezy, fun read that doesn’t just have the best of both worlds, but perhaps the best of ten realms. Assembling Cafu, Ramon Perez, Cian Tormey, and Frazer Irving in one 20-page story is no small feat, but writers Jason Aaron and Al Ewing really get out of their artists’ way, much to this done-in-one story’s benefit.

His physical form destroyed, the Asgardian watchman Heimdall wants his final resting place to be a place never seen by god or man - as Aaron and Ewing call it, a journey into mystery. Riding shotgun with Jane Foster, there’s a sense of propulsion to this issue, as these Asgardian heroes barrel headlong into the realms of Heven, Hades, and beyond. Yet for the most part, Aaron and Ewing’s script is more perfunctory than anything - instead, they use the multidimensional conceit from the flagship Thor titles to justify the rotating cast of artists, and beyond bits of exposition to establish each setting, they let the artists off to the races.

And it helps that the quartet of art teams are each strong, yet with their own individual styles to make them stand out. Series artist Cafu kicks off the adventure, and he continues to nail the balance between cartoony expressiveness with enough of a realistic weight that Jane feels like a strong presence to anchor the book - he’s the kind of artist who is imminently reliable, and deserves as much spotlight as he can get. Meanwhile, Ramon Perez brings Jane and Heimdall through an aerial dogfight in Heven, and he brings this Scott McDaniel-style kineticism to the whole affair - while Perez’s linework isn’t as clean as Cafu’s, it certainly exemplifies the spirit of the chase that these Asgardians are after.

Out of the four artists, Cian Tormey is the newest and freshest face of the bunch, and it feels like his style is still finding itself - but to be fair, Jane’s overall design is a bit of a wonky one, and I have the sense that some artists even more experienced than him would find things to trip over. Still, Tormey brings plenty of ambition with a crowded fight scene in Hades, with a cave full of hands reaching out for Heimdall - while Tormey and inker Roberto Poggi’s rendering feels a little off, you can sense the artist stretching himself. Finally, Frazer Irving wraps up the affair with a brief three-pager, and if you were only going to get the man for three pages, the finale to Jane and Heimdall’s journey feels like the right fit, with his characters having an otherworldly glow as they approach a black hole on the other side of the universe.

There are a lot of benefits to an issue like Jane Foster: Valkyrie #3, not least of which is that it gives the core creative team some wiggle room with a publishing schedule that has only gotten more demanding in recent years. But even beyond these practical benefits, it’s so easy to get focused on Big Two comics as the buildup of story and continuity, rather than embracing the numerous ways that artists themselves can impact a narrative. While the script can serve as a blueprint of sorts, the artists serve as architects and as the actual builders of the narrative, making crucial decisions that directly impact how a story is realized and consumed. It’s a smart lesson for us all to remember, and it’s one that Jane Foster: Valkyrie seems to relish in reminding us.

Credit: Greg Smallwood (New Wave Comics)

The Black Ghost #1
Written by Alex Segura and Monica Gallagher
Art by George Kambadais and Ellie Wright
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by New Wave Comics (as a comiXology Original)
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The Black Ghost #1 is full of surprises. A modern pulp thriller in the spirit of The Shadow, The Black Ghost follows hard-nosed reporter Lara Dominguez in her quest to uncover the truth about the titular local masked vigilante. Lara faces down deadlines and deadly thugs with a quick wit and a stiff upper lip, only to find herself falling deep into a dangerous conspiracy that puts not just Lara, but the entire city of Creighton at risk.

Writers Alex Segura and Monica Gallagher pack a lot into this week’s debut issue, modernizing the traditional elements of classic pulp stories with mixed success. Equal parts Lois Lane and Jessica Jones, Lara is a journalist assigned to cover the city’s police force whose view of her beat often conflicts with her editor’s - and her coworkers’, given that nobody else seems to believe the Black Ghost exists. She moonlights as a GED prep coach, tying her to the family of a local politician facing danger from the criminals she encounters in the opening scene, and on top of that, sometimes gets intel from a secretive tech genius named LONE.

The pace of the script doesn’t quite keep up with all the moving parts introduced; the opening and the startling final page pack a massive punch, but the story lags every time it leans into expository scenes, as Segura and Gallagher work overtime to seed in elements that will likely have callbacks in future issues. A little jarring at times too is the script waffling between being fixated on Lara being a woman - yeah, criminals aren’t very nice, but it’s a writer’s choice to dive in with dialogue like “crazy whore” and “uppity slut” - and otherwise almost exclusively surrounded by men. There seems to be only one other woman in the issue, Lara’s editor Mags, and there's LONE, who Lara refers to with “they” pronouns, though it’s unclear if that’s their actual pronouns or if we’ll get a more definitive reveal later. With luck, this improves in future issues, but leading with extremely gendered language in the early pages makes it hard not to notice the gender disparity of the characters through the rest of the issue.

While at times the script oscillates at times between being a modern-day Shadow and something more along the lines of Person of Interest, artist George Kambadais and colorist Ellie Wright perfectly nail a fresh take on older pulp comics. There’s something timeless about Kambadais’ linework, while Wright’s lively colors give the issue a distinctly modern feel. Wright’s work with the scenes set at Creighton’s shady docks are particularly impressive, helping capture the moody uneasiness of Lara’s investigations into dangerous places and people. Lara is such an expressive protagonist; Kambadais and Wright have made her a charismatic and relatable hero who’s earnest visual reactions to the events of the issue give the final panels the punch they need to keep readers coming back for more.

Despite some hiccups, The Black Ghost #1 revitalizes the pulp crime genre for a brand-new audience. It crams a lot of plot into a single debut issue - sometimes to its detriment, particularly with LONE, who seems strangely out of place for now as a secretive high-tech tipline for a reporter as resourceful and dogged as Lara. But even if the introduction of these various elements don’t always work in this first issue, the implications of the story’s final moments are so unexpected and intriguing that you’ll absolutely want to stick around to see how they play out through the rest of the series.

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