Best Shots Advance Reviews: CAPTAIN MARVEL #1, ALABASTER #4


Captain Marvel #1

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Art by Dexter Soy

Letters by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

For the last five or six years, starting with her solo ongoing series by Brian Reed, Carol Danvers has been Marvel's premiere female character. And why not? She's always had a great look, a strong personality, and a rich history. However, it seems like she's failed to stick with a larger audience. Maybe it's because, despite her characterization, she's never filled a specific niche. No matter how you boil it down, she's always been the female version of a male hero. With Captain Marvel #1, Carol has successfully made the jump from being a gender-switch of a character who hasn't regularly appeared in comics for over 30 years to fully owning her identity.

Kelly Sue DeConnick's energetic, emphatic script quickly expounds on the groundwork laid in Carol's first real appearance as Captain Marvel in last week's Avenging Spider-Man, establishing Carol as not just a competent military woman, but as a daredevil pilot with a competitive streak. The most obvious comparison for the character is Hal Jordan, another limit-breaking pilot wrapped up in cosmic adventures, but there's a confidence to Carol that only comes off as arrogance from Hal. That, and her status as a natural leader and team player definitely set her apart from others of this archetype that we've seen before, and DeConnick nails Carol's voice and internal narration. If there's one thing this book gets absolutely right, its the establishment of its theme of risk, and the slow death that comes from always playing it safe. DeConnick does occasionally falter with the dialogue — she doesn't get Captain America quite as right as Captain Marvel — but by and large she vaults the unfortunately high wall of establishing a compelling female superhero with ease, drawing on some familiar tropes, but positioning the newly christened Captain Marvel as a powerful woman without resorting to pandering.

There are some downsides to this issue, however. While DeConnick's take on Carol as Captain Marvel is engaging and fun, her sense of pacing and plot is a little less well-formed. I'm unclear on who the woman Carol is helping in the second half of the issue is. She seems to look similar to Helen Cobb, Carol's mentor and inspiration, as seen in flashbacks, but that may be more a product of the art than the intent. The inclusion of Carols scenes with this mystery woman come off as a little bit obligatory without any background as to her identity. These scenes seem to drag, particularly after Carol's racing, high-flying decision making process takes center stage in the preceding pages.

Dexter Soy is another issue. Some of his panels are great; full of energy, dynamic, and easy to read, but too often they seem arbitrarily posed and muddy. There are a few too many gratuitous butt-shots and not enough attention to depth and detail for this art to match DeConnick's script, with is rife with well-composed moments of personal introspection contrasted with high-energy action sequences. Having seen some of Soy's line art, I feel confident that much of what's wrong with the art can be blamed on his digital coloring and inking process, which leaves the art feeling over-rendered, under-drawn, and hard to read. There are moments when it shines, such as Soy's take on Absorbing Man, and some of his splash images of Carol flying, or Captain America throwing his shield, but by and large it's too messy to convey any of the emotional content.

Though this issue's art is a major drawback, there's enough at play in DeConnick's script to keep me coming back for more, if only for the character moments as Carol finds new ways to push herself, to find risk and reward, and to truly own the mantle of Captain Marvel. Marvel is in a unique position with this title to capitalize on a contingent of readers who feel alienated by a lack of strong female superheroes creators, as Captain Marvel can certainly boast both, but they're gonna have to work a little harder to make this book all it can be with an improved art team to match the already solid direction and writing.


Alabaster: Wolves #4

Written by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Art by Steve Lieber and Rachelle Rosenberg

Letters by Steve Lieber

Published by Dark Horse Comics    

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Iron bars do not a prison make, but the supernatural is another matter entirely. Dancy finds she may have lost more than just her faith in this small town and there’s a very good reason why the wolves are at the door as we race towards the climax in this excellent limited series.

When reading an ongoing comic book, it’s not unusual for one storyline to expand into a new wrinkle, just as we think we’re beginning to understand it. In this case, Kiernan has taken the bold step to do the same thing in a story that has only one issue left. I was completely blown away by the revelation at the end of this chapter, as it puts a whole new spin on Dancy’s desperate situation while preserving everything that has happened so far. Kiernan doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater in order to shock the reader with something even bigger. Instead, this is yet another layer added to a story that’s already very complex. I really like that Kiernan, best known for her prose work, doesn’t treat writing a comic as slumming, the way I’ve seen other novelists do. She and Duane Swierczynski realize the potential of the medium and are not afraid to script in ways that remind me of Mark Waid’s best multi-level storytelling.

As with the prior issue, we are given more backstory, although this time it’s the wolf who has a tale to tell, in her own irreverent manner, punctuated by Dancy’s playful (but totally earnest) interruptions that serve just a bit as meta-commentary on the familiarity of some horror tropes. We finally learn just why there are werewolves in this area, drawing on the South’s rich and complex history and a side of the American Civil War that exists but doesn’t get a lot of talk in the 150th commemorations. Kiernan weaves the tale seamlessly, slowly, and with just the right pacing so that when we hit the reveal as a reader, it jolts us back into the grave danger Dancy is in.

All of this is accomplished by some of the strongest dialogue to art connections I’ve read in a comic in a long time that did not feature a creator doing both art and script. Steve Lieber really outdoes himself this time, posing the ghostly werewolf to perfectly match her acid tongue. The first time we see her in this issue, she’s got her head in her hand, depressingly watching Dancy get beaten up by a bear-creature that’s been stripped of its fur and skin while she curses at the need to intervene. In another, her human face turns into a wolf’s snarl at Dancy’s inaction.

Every panel that features the werewolf is a visual treat, but my favorite might be what I can only describe as the least-sexualized female changing scene ever to appear in a comic book. Dancy has to switch clothes, but Lieber tastefully does this through making the act as natural as anything else while creating a visual joke in the lettering that fits Dancy’s ghostly companion on multiple levels.

That one panel isn’t Lieber’s only visual trick, however. Regardless of the subject, whether it’s Dancy, the werewolf, or the backstory, Lieber is able to select the image that sells the narrative. He gives each panel just the right amount of detail, whether it’s skeletons strewn everywhere in a dark and musty basement or an army of werewolves scattering in all directions, with two headed directly at the reader. Rachelle Rosenberg keeps the colors muted but varied, changing things up depending on the setting and using light to highlight the horror of the situation, perhaps best reflected when we learn how the ghost was turned. I also just noticed this issue that Dancy’s eyes and those of the werewolves have a similar look, red and piercing, that really stands out against the rest of the color palette.

Alabaster: Wolves is such a fine horror comic that gets everything right, from story to art to just the right amount of acidic wit. There’s a potential for a letdown as everything must be resolved by next month, but I have confidence that Kiernan, Lieber, and Rosenberg can pull it off, based on the excellence we’ve seen so far.

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