2014: Tula Lotay, the Jasons, and that whole Shulkie crew

(This was part of The Best of Best Shots Column over at Newsarama)

Bronze – Tula Lotay (Image Comics/Vertigo): In Supreme Blue Rose and in Bodies, Tula Lotay’s art in 2014 has explored consciousness, memory, and the human struggle to connect and understand. In both books the fluid chalk and grease pencil look of Lotay’s art feels fresh and new. In Supreme Blue Rose she creates multi-layered, patterned scenes to get lost in. We may never find our way out of that story’s maze, but Lotay’s pictures make that book something to treasure. In Bodies her style is cleaner and simpler, with fewer elements to disorient us as she draws a character with an emptier mind. Her work gives the impression that she has an intuitive grasp of how to translate the writers’ intentions, especially in the face of heavy poetic license.

Silver – She-Hulk (Marvel Comics): Charles Soule, Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente packed this series with fun, color, and style, making She-Hulk a joy to read. Soule’s excellent dialogue, Pulido’s deceptively simple shapes and dead-on facial expressions, and Vicente’s flat, bright colors all made this team’s interpretation of She-Hulk more fun and funnier than most comics on the shelves. They gave Jen a lot of heart but kept the mood light. This book never took itself too seriously, but always had a core earnestness. Add in an electrifying guest-artist turn by Ron Wimberly, and this series is a phenomenon to get in on if it escaped your attention this year.

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Gold – Southern Bastards (Image Comics): Jason Aaron and Jason Latour have hammered something together that isn’t pretty but has more structural, aesthetic, and thematic integrity than anything else I read this year. Southern Bastards is intensely personal to both creators without being self-indulgent. It’s allegorical without being simplistic. It conveys a strong sense of place but feels universal. Southern Bastard unfolds itself to reveal the small town bruises and scars left by football, abuse, war, vendettas, and simmering hatred. So far it has homed in on two older men left with a legacy of violence handed down from their fathers. Without gentleness, with brutal honesty, this book packs the punch of what violence does to people. And still it manages to be weirdly, darkly fun.

Item to Watch in 2015 – Gotham Academy (DC Comics): Three issues in, Gotham Academy has been flying under the radar compared to some of its cousin publications at DC. It’s had less buzz, less controversy and less praise than a lot of new books but I think it might be a sleeper. The creepy boarding school setting does have the dour, gritty vibe that the new Batgirl team has moved away from. But at the heart of the story, the troubles of Olive Silverlock are deftly handled by writers Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher. Artist Karl Kerschl gives us some of the best facial expressions of believable kids. Maps, Olive and Pommeline are developing into nuanced characters. Something good is blooming there in gloomy Gotham.

She-Hulk #11: Five-Lady Pile-Up

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This review originally appeared over at Newsarama, where I am a member of the Best Shots team!

She-Hulk #11
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Javier Pulido, Muntsa Vicente
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

She-Hulk #11 shakes off all that courtroom civility and devotes itself to a knockdown, drag-out brawl. Muntsa Vicente’s joyful colors are more important than ever in this physical, sprawling issue. Inside the big fight, writer Charles Soule fits a smidgen of plot advancement, a sprinkling of class themes, and a reveal as the story circles back to the blue file. But this second-to-last issue mostly just feels like artist Javier Pulido’s explosive celebration of this team’s She-Hulk run, and it is wonderful.

On the first page of She-Hulk #11, Titania’s bright orange hair and magenta onesie-and-boots ensemble join the color party of Jen’s green skin and royal blue jacket. “Enough talking,” says Titania, just before hurling Jen through several brick walls. There are lots of great details, like how Jen loses one shoe and we see her splayed toes as she flies through the air. It’s fun to see these women with strong jaws and legs like tree trunks, fighting all over a mountain top in New Jersey. Hellcat and Volcana join in and then finally Angie descends in the Fantasticar. Pulido not only makes this five-lady pile-up really fun and silly, he also avoids making it feel exploitative or objectifying.

Soule’s She-Hulk has been an enjoyable reunion of Marvel characters, but one of the best things about it has been the unassuming Angie, a new character who presented herself as a slightly eccentric but otherwise normal paralegal (with a pet monkey). Soule has hinted that there is much more to Angie than we’ve seen. Now that there is only one issue left before the end of this She-Hulk run, we have to wonder if we will ever really know who Angie is. She’s been a great part of Jen’s team, and it was fun to see a stout, frumpily clad person hold her own in a fight with giant glamazons like Titania in She-Hulk #11.

Titania is a hired gun, but makes it clear to Jen that she holds a working-class grudge against Jen’s lawyer life. It feels like Soule used Titania’s anti-intellectual voice and an ultra-physical episode as an antidote to the three straight issues of lawyer banter that came before. This push and pull reflects the contrast between Soule’s dialogue and the art of Pulido and Vicente. The art comes in colors and shapes that are bright, bold, and simple enough for babies to latch onto and enjoy. I think it’s incredible, economical art that verges on design and goes straight down the hatch. Then Soule layers in his light, clever dialogue that is sophisticated in a whole different way. These two elements work together reliably to give the series its confident charm.

Beneath the solid art and dialogue, She-Hulk has had less assurance in its plotting and structure. The reveal at the end of She-Hulk #11 shows that Soule really has been writing a 12-issue arc, and hopefully that will give readers a sense of closure. I think a 12-issue arc might have been a bit ambitious, though. With so many zany superhero cameos, and so many fun subplots to explore, this story spent more time taking a break from its main plot than it spent on the main plot. Even moving away or toward the Blue File storyline has been awkward sometimes, which disrupted my attention on the story as I wondered what was going on with the storytelling. For instance, the abrupt ending to She-Hulk #6 after Nightwatch’s visit left me wondering if an arc had just ended clumsily or if I was just confused.

Soule, Pulido and Vicente are all very skilled, and the plot hiccups might lessen when the whole series is read in trade paperback form. With this team’s chemistry, they could roll out She-Hulk wallpaper of Jen and her friends chatting while grocery shopping, and it would be enjoyable. I would have welcomed another dozen issues, but it’s been fun watching She-Hulk unfurl in 2014. Whether you’ve been following along or not, I recommend She-Hulk #11 as a great standalone fight issue, with pages and pages of action to gaze upon.

She-Hulk #9: Structurally Sound and Bittersweet

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This review originally appeared in the Best Shots column at Newsarama

She-Hulk #9
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Writer Charles Soule and artist Javier Pulido just seem to be getting better together, which is bittersweet now that we know She-Hulk only has a few issues left. She-Hulk #9 is the most serious and focused issue to date, and builds on the strength of the previous issue. Centering this arc on an elderly Captain America has added weight to She-Hulk without displacing its zany streak.

She-Hulk #9 is the middle issue of a three-issue arc that takes Jen and her legal team to California to defend Captain America in court. The plot thickened at the end of the last issue when Jen realized that opposing counsel was her old friend Matt Murdock. In this issue we find out what happened in 1940 to get Captain America in trouble, although the flashback raises more questions than it answers.

The drably colored flashback, along with several pages of courtroom talking scenes, make this issue more constrained than usual. Muntsa Vicente’s colors inject energy into the courtroom panels, with Jen’s bright red dress popping against her emerald green skin. Charles Soule once again demonstrates his ability to write tight dialogue as he keeps us clipping along through legal language and witness testimony.

As well-crafted as the flashback and courtroom pages are, it’s a welcome visual release when She-Hulk and Daredevil take a midnight run across the rooftops of Los Angeles near the end of the issue. It feels like Soule, Pulido and Vicente are glorying in the joys of comic book storytelling as She-Hulk and Daredevil glory in their superhuman strength. As the pair bounds across the city, Pulido zooms in on Jen’s profile in mid-leap and we see a grimace of frustration turn into a devilish grin. It’s a moment that represents this team’s take on She-Hulk unique mix of brains and brawn. They’ve made her wild-eyed, a little supercilious, and always full of life.

After their rooftop run, Jen and Matt compare notes on Captain America and his motivations. Soule seems to be more in charge of the situation than they previously knew, but they still don’t understand any of the hows or whys. It looks like this arc will conclude next issue, when Patsy Walker will be back from some secret business conducted off-screen for Captain America.

The exploration of Captain America’s status, regrets, and mortality were sound themes to match with Jen’s wit and legal smarts. Soule and Pulido has always been bursting with potential and talent, and it’s good to see that come to fruition. It’s been fun all along to watch the team develop Jen and her world through details and dialogue, but this She-Hulk run has unfolded in fits and starts. I loved She-Hulk #8, but I half expected She-Hulk #9 to be a letdown, because Soule hasn’t consistently held stories together well across multiple issues. Instead, the opposite happened. This second issue is strong and this arc feels even stronger than I hoped it would be. Readers new, old and lapsed should get in on this show while they still can.

She-Hulk #8: I Can’t Get Enough of this Silliness

My review from yesterday’s Best Shots column at Newsarama:

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My review in yesterday’s Best Shots column on Newsarama:

She-Hulk #8
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Charles Soule’s writing on She-Hulk has always been smart and snappy on a panel-to-panel level, but it’s been hard to tell what kind of story he’s been trying to construct. It has often felt like Soule and the art team made some gorgeous fabric together, but Soule didn’t know how to turn it into a dress. Each storyline until now has seemed either too ambitious or too frivolous, and all of them seemed a bit fumbled in execution. In She-Hulk #8, which begins a new arc, nothing distracts from what this creative team can do together.

Captain America guest stars in this issue, as Jennifer’s team heads out to Los Angeles to take on a wrongful death suit against him. As always, Javier Pulido’s figures, Muntsa Vicente’s colors and Soule’s dialogue all say “we are here to have fun.” But in this new arc, Captain America’s gravitas and Jennifer’s earnest desire to help him both act as a counterbalance to the glitz of L.A. and the story’s trademark larkiness.

Behind Soule’s word balloons of banter and law office talk, Pulido’s lines and Vicente’s colors give the pages of She-Hulk a clean, stained-glass window effect. Pulido inks bold lines and strong shapes with few interior details and shading. Color is always important, but Vicente’s bright, solid color combinations for walls, clothing and the sky are especially, mysteriously important. The colors all seem to revolve around Jennifer’s vibrant green skin-tone, and the panels bloom off the page.

Pulido’s art is so deceptively simple that when I talk about him, I might sound like Paul Cezanne saying “Monet is only an eye, but my God what an eye!” But in She-Hulk #8, we also see how directly Pulido underwrites Soule’s clever dialogue and helps to make the characters real and funny. When Jennifer, Patsy and Angie are sitting in a bar having celebration drinks, there’s a panel that shows Jennifer getting bad news over the phone that makes the celebration seem premature. Jennifer looks chagrined as she hears the news. As you scan across the panel to the others at the table, Angie is completely expressionless and Patsy and Hei Hei the monkey have simultaneously and identically turned and gestured for the waitress to bring another round of drinks. It’s a small moment that is easy to sweep past but will make you laugh on a second or third reading.

Soule and Pulido get away with a lot of sincerity by down-playing the serious stuff and keeping the tone playful. Jennifer’s worries about failing Captain America come across without Soule having to harp on them. It makes us like Jennifer all the more for being a little over-confident, cracking jokes, and getting excited about little things like using the intercom in her office. On the morning of the trial, Jennifer says to Captain America “I’m not nervous at all. I slept like a baby last night,” when actually we saw her work all night in a mostly wordless (and still mostly light-hearted) montage.

This Captain America arc has room to run, with a surprise twist at the end of this issue, allusions to a secret mission for Patsy, and the details of the wrongful death suit still undisclosed. She-Hulk has been worth watching from the beginning, but this eighth issue gives me hope that the series is starting to live up to its potential.

 

She-Hulk #7: Quit Dragging My Heart Around

This first appeared last week on my tumblr, The Naive Review:  She-Hulk #7: Quit Dragging My Heart Around

 

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After reading She-Hulk #7, I’m just sitting here having all these feelings. Javier Pulido is back. Am I just supposed to pretend that that whole Ron Wimberly thing never happened? Am I just supposed to be able to snap back to looking at She-Hulk the way I did before?

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Top: Javier Pulido, Bottom: Ron Wimberly

I loved She-Hulk from the beginning, for the silliness and the intensity of the bright Magic Marker colors. I liked how everything was smooth and pulled taut, and imbued with secret meanings. It was all like a code, like the real message was in royal blue against fire engine red, or in a circle placed next to a square. I liked how it was shallow nonsense a lot of the time but had some nice little day-to-day lawyering stuff, and some nods to the importance of friendship, and of course—flashy superhero cameos!

So that’s how it started with Soule/Pulido/Vincente.

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Then with She-Hulk #5, Ron Wimberly and Rico Renzi just blew the top off the whole thing. They kept the color scheme and just crammed this book full of so much energy it couldn’t be contained inside shapes and lines anymore. Crazy angles, jagged lines, everything popping and crackling, and the panels coming unmoored from each other and starting to drift apart, not lined up like little soldiers the way Pulido had them. And Wimberly gave Jennifer Walters more depth and personhood than she before. It made me expect more from the whole story, especially since Charles Soule seemed like he was really getting going with a meaty storyline!!

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I kvelled about Wimberly.

I borrowed a copy of Prince of Cats and pored over it.

I eagerly awaited his second guest-artist issue, #6.

Then She-Hulk #6 came and it felt like everyone half-assed it — or maybe they tried as hard as they could but circumstances were against them. I don’t want to diss their creative efforts. There were still great moments in both dialogue and picture. But Renzi the colorist was gone, Soule was off his writing game, and Wimberly seemed to wrap himself protectively around an awesome central fight scene like some kind of sea creature preserving its vital organs by letting its extremities get eaten by predators.

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(this is how She-Hulk has made me feel)

My love for Wimberly did not waver despite the disappointment. I eagerly await whatever else of his I can get my hands on in the future.

But She-Hulk is different for me now. It’s like Wimberly hulked her up and tattered her clothing to ribbons and now Javier Pulido and Charles Soule have to wear those shreds. And you know they don’t do messy. Javier Pulido’s Jennifer Walters doesn’t get much hulkier than a beach volleyball player, and her kickaround clothes are all synthetic, stretchy loungewear. She can’t be going around in tatters. With her stretch marks showing. With her embarrassing underpants and weak storyline showing.

So I flip through the glossy, bright issue that is She-Hulk #7 and I think “Hellcat sure is funny.” And “Oh hey, Hank Pym!” and “This is not as thrilling as Honey I Shrunk the Kids, but it’s still cool that they’re tiny” and then also thoughts crop up like “Orange! Pink! Green! Such bright green! Oh my god! The bluest blue! YELLOOOOWWWW…!!!”

And I pretend it’s enough. 

But it’s not enough.

For one thing, where the HELL is Angie Huang????