Written by Rainbow Rowell
Art by Kris Anka and Matt Wilson
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Don’t panic - it’s just exposition.
Or in the case of the Runaways, maybe you’d call it a necessarily evil. But with Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka’s sophomore installment of the hit series, the momentum can’t help but take a hit as Nico Minoru and Chase Stein explain to their recently-undeceased teammate Gertrude Yorke about everything that’s happened to the team in her two-year absence. In some ways, it’s not Rowell’s fault - Marvel’s been trying to do a lot with the unused Runaways over the years to middling effect - but it can’t help but feel like a slight misstep to go full Wikipedia for lapsed readers.
After last issue’s free-wheeling and unpredictable debut, Rowell slows things down a bit as she tries to catch readers up at the same time as Gert - we get a nod to Nico and Chase’s time in Murderworld during Avengers Arena, we get a hint of Victor’s fate over at The Vision. But it’s also mostly talk and little action, which leaves both the plot and the art spinning its wheels. It’s here also that Rowell seems to occasionally get caught in the trap of overwriting - there are pages with seven-, eight-, nine-, even 12-panel layouts that even Kris Anka has to struggle to make fit, and it’s hard to justify this much recap for so little narrative payoff.
That said, that’s not to say that Rowell doesn’t understand her characters - because she does. Her script is at its best with emotional beats such as Chase or Old Lace reuniting with Gert, and the conflict between Chase and Nico is great, as it brings tension to the arc’s whole theme of bringing the band back together. Which is why I say “necessary evil” - I think this issue is, in many ways, Rowell and company playing it safe, giving us so much information about the Runaways’ scattered pasts that even the most green newcomer should be caught up. But that tactic puts the cart before the horse, robbing the emotion out of introductions to characters like Victor or Molly Hayes.
To his credit, though, artist Kris Anka is doing yeoman’s work with keeping this interlude issue looking as strong as possible. Admittedly, sometimes Anka stumbles - there’s a wordy, nine-panel page that you can’t help but notice a couple panels seeming jammed in there - but his expression work just sings. A silent page of Chase holding Gert is probably the highlight of the book, but he also seems to thrive with the back-and-forth banter, particularly when you have dark moments like Nico revealing Victor’s death over in The Vision. Also of note is the fact that out of all the challenging layouts Anka has to pull off, he does a great job with a 12-panel grid, where he’s able to use small hints of an image to get the point across. It’s a neat trick I haven’t seen done in quite some time.
While Runaways #2 is undeniably a step down from the electrifying first issue, I wouldn’t count Rowell and Anka out just yet - I would imagine that this was a calculated step back, to give us all the necessary exposition before dropping us into the thick of things moving forward. And if that does wind up being the case, I think this sophomore installment is a forgivable stumble, almost a loss leader as far as narrative forward thrust is concerned. But regardless of plot, Runaways is a book that looks truly beautiful, and definitely deserves your continued consideration.
Detective Comics #966
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira and Adriano Lucas
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Tim Drake looks through a mirror darkly in Detective Comics #966. Facing down a very angry Doomsday and a very wrong version of his future self, Drake must come to grips with his new “destiny” in order to escape Mr. Oz’s impossible prison. James Tynion IV has done wonders with Tim’s character from the beginning of this run, but casting him in the role of totalitarian Batman of a crumbling Gotham, picking up a thread from Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans run and running with it is a new level of grit. Couple that with his cryptic, but enticing world-building and Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, and Adriano Lucas’ beautifully expressive artwork, and you have another solidly entertaining issue of Detective Comics.
The idea of one of Bruce’s proteges taking up the mantle isn’t a new one, nor is taking it further by making them extreme or violent in their methods, resulting in the destruction of their mentor’s city. Once again it is Tim Drake’s turn as “evil” Batman, and James Tynion IV gives us the ugly truth of this plot throughout #966. Sent spiraling by some hinted-at catastrophe that apparently Tim’s current team is at the heart of, Tim has become a paranoid and violent Batman, one that dispenses justice at the barrel of a gun. But like our Tim, he was targeted by Mr. Oz and now must work together with his younger self in order to escape. Though Tynion clearly loves Tim like we all do, he digs into the twist just enough to keep the plot mysterious, giving the older Tim world-weary, broken dialogue as he attempts to sway his younger self with cold logic and heartfelt warnings of the future to come.
Tynion also opens the window to this future Tim’s world just enough to really hook us deep, without having to give away too much. We know that “Bats” are illegal in Gotham now, Tim is tracking down Stephanie Brown for some reason, and that the Titans are involved in some kind of everlasting war with an occupying force that has taken several key JLA strongholds, including the Fortress of Solitude. But beyond that, we aren’t told much else as Tynion smartly baits the line for the rest of the arc and keeps this issue firmly focused on both the Tims working in tandem in order to escape Doomsday and their prison outside of time. Time will tell if Tynion can actually pull off this expansive story of revenge and redemption from across time, but at least Detective Comics #966 keeps the tale interesting in its sophomore installment.
Giving the issue a rustic, almost Neal Adams-esque look are artists Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, and Adriano Lucas. Barrows, whose work can go from intimate to epic at the turn of a page, melds those two sensibilities, giving this issue multiple splash pages that sell the action and scope of this story in full carefully chosen details. Barrows’ pencils here almost look like old French comics, all raw emotion and hazy detailing, especially in the reaction shots like future Tim smirking through his cowl and Red Robin’s shocked reactions to his future self. But while Barrows’ character work gets a bit muddled this issue, he more than makes up for it with engaging action, given a firm line thanks to the skillful inks of Eber Ferreira. Ferreira’s inks keep each splash page and set piece looking clear and moody thanks to the deep black inking, which in turn makes Adriano Lucas’ colors pop all the better. While I would have liked a better merging of the rawness of the emotion during the intimate scenes with the snappy action, something Barrows has delivered before in this title with Tim’s last stand, the art team still makes this issue jump off the page whenever they can.
Time travel is always tricky, and in Detective Comics #966 Tim Drake is learning first-hand just how unpredictable it can really be. But for all the issue’s Hypertime-based bells and whistles, this creative team continues to keep the focus on the characters, pushing them to reveal new facets of themselves while staying true to what made them compelling in the first place. Detective Comics has been a consistently entertaining title since its renumbering, but only time will tell if it can continue to sustain itself through this new “lonely place of living.”
The Falcon #1
Written by Rodney Barnes
Art by Joshua Cassara and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
It’s been an interesting few years for Sam Wilson. Following his Q-rating spike with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the high-flying Avenger has become the new Captain America, led the Avengers, hooked up with Thor, had a key role in the controversial Secret Empire… but with the Stars and Stripes in the rear-view mirror, what’s the next step for Sam now?
Unfortunately, The Falcon #1 is still figuring that out. Paired with his new sidekick Patriot, Sam Wilson is taking a trip to Chicago to deal with gang violence, but the doubt and uncertainty in the Falcon’s mind weighs down writer Rodney Barnes and artist Joshua Cassara’s debut story like an anvil. Overwritten and overrendered, The Falcon is a title that should be important for the Marvel line-up, but is one that needs some overhauling before it can truly take flight.
You can see early on Barnes’ TV roots in this series, which is part of what trips up this debut issue. A problem many TV writers have had jumping into comic books is that without actual actors to emote and deliver dialogue, you lose a lot of tools that make overwritten or clunky dialogue actually work. But even on the first page of this book, Barnes’ writing feels awkward - with lines like “those hopes fall on ears filled with the sweet music of their own delusions” or “the vestiges of the past revealing themselves as young minds locked in conflict” doesn’t sound really like normal human dialogue, and doesn’t give readers an effective hook for the personality underneath the Falcon’s mask. Additionally, there’s very little use of the Falcon’s actual power set in this book - in this issue, Sam arguably rests more on his superheroic reputation than he does interesting uses for his powers of flight or avian telepathy.
Yet to Barnes’ credit, things do pick up when the Falcon tries to tackle gang crime in Chicago. This is a thread that Nick Spencer dropped in his previous Captain America run, but it bears repeating here - with superheroes inherently being so supportive of the status quo, what does that mean for Sam’s relationship with the people of color who the system has so badly failed? “They ain’t giving one of us power unless they can be sure he’ll use it against his own,” says gang leader Drey - and as we see a quick montage of the Falcon beating the hell out of people, he might not be too far off the mark. But at the same time, Barnes teases the politics of superheroism but doesn’t go all the way with it - beats like a public press conference with two gang leaders feels like too far a suspension of disbelief, and by the time that he reveals the secret villain pulling the strings, you can’t help but think… isn’t all this kind of small potatoes for the guy leading the Avengers?
Meanwhile, artist Joshua Cassara’s linework reminds me a bit of Jerome Opena, Rod Rei,s or Leinil Francis Yu, but he’s not nearly as polished as any of the previous artists. He and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg have a few cool moments, such as a sequence featuring the Falcon flying high above Chicago, or Falcon and Patriot shooting the breeze at night, but the meat-and-potatoes staples of superhero comics still are wobbly, like the Falcon’s big reveal slamming on the roof of a car, or the big reveal of the series’ big bad. Meanwhile, colorist Rachelle Rosenberg hasn’t quite gotten a handle on Cassara’s style - her daylight pages often look flat and garish, while her nighttime pages have a much stronger balance between shadows and light.
But at the same time, for a book that should be as important in the general Marvel pantheon, it’s surprising that The Falcon has such an untested pair on the series. Barnes has had a rightfully storied career in television, but as plenty of people have come to realize, comic books is a whole new beast, one that can’t be finessed by acting chops or post-production. Additionally, Cassara might be in over his head with a book and a script like this, which might have gotten a punch-up from a more veteran draftsman. Either way, this debut feels like a definite downgrade from the man who was once Captain America - hopefully The Falcon ups its game soon, because otherwise Sam Wilson is going to wind up right back on the B-list.