Comic Book Review Round-Up: One Shots #8

Want to see some of the week’s best books? Well, look no further: One Shots is our weekly comic book round-up, covering a little bit of everything. This week I’ll be covering books from Image Comics, Black Mask Studios, and Marvel Comics, so prepare your face for some rapid fire reviews!

SG4Spider-Gwen #4
Scripter: Jason Latour
Artist: Robbi Rodriguez
Colorist: Rico Renzi
Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

As her inaugural arc draws to a close, Gwen faces her recent troubles in Spider-Gwen #4. This issue brings Gwen face-to-face with May Parker in a much-needed sequence between these friends and neighbors. This intimate kitchen conversation is suitably tense as Gwen navigates the emotionally-charged encounter, but ultimately it provides some long-needed closure as they deal with the circumstances surrounding Peter’s death. The NYPD is still hot on Spider-Woman’s trail but Gwen’s personal life takes a positive turn, and soon she finds herself back where she belongs when she takes the stage with The Mary Janes.

Writer Latour delivers a quiet, compelling script this time around, shifting to more reflective, dialogue-driven scenes after an action-heavy #3. The sequence in May’s kitchen brings Gwen’s internal conflict to a satisfying conclusion as they both reconcile the fall-out of Peter’s death and the hunt for Spider-Woman. Artist Rodriguez and colorist Renzi continue to work together beautifully, even in these quieter sequences. Rodriguez’s wispy figure work and dramatically composed panels keeps the plot visually interesting, and Renzi’s emphatic color choices make every scene pop. The splash of the reunited Mary Janes performing together in the closing pages is the most memorable of the issue, providing one last neon punch to tie everything up.

Consistently good, consistently interesting, and consistently dedicated to smart visual storytelling, Spider-Gwen is an example of superhero books doing it right.

WCNGH2We Can Never Go Home #2
Scripter: Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon
Artist: Josh Hood
Colorist: Amanda Scurti
Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

Duncan and Madison have to leave town tonight, and Duncan has a plan. As Madison reels with the accidental murder of Duncan’s father, Duncan steps in quickly to talk her down and proposes a way to assure their escape. Madison goes along with it, especially when it leads to Duncan threats her jock ex-boyfriend, despite the painful realities of leaving her family and home behind. Unfortunately Duncan’s plan to rob a drug dealer ends up embroiling the two runaways in an even larger criminal plot as the bodies begin piling up behind them.

We Can Never Go Home #2 presents an intriguing story of two teenage outlaws getting in over their head. Artist Hood and colorist Scurti continue to work remarkably well together. Here they successfully design a compelling and visually distinctive narrative, wherein the empty country roads and perpetual purple nighttime scenery constructs a timeless, wistful world for the protagonists to inhabit. The light touches of pink on the characters’ cheeks remind the reader of their ages, despite the blood that keeps ending up on their faces and hands, contrasting their presumed innocence with the violence they’re capable of.

The problem for me is the characterizations. Duncan comes across as off-putting, a little too comfortable with the violence he enacts on others. Madison also requires remarkably little prompting to follow his lead, impressed by Duncan’s willingness to kill people for her. The lack of development leading to the initial murder doesn’t really contextualize their general sociopathy, and instead presents a vaguely wistful pair of teens who are eager to kill and steal. Their arc is interesting but its tone unfortunately muddled. I don’t yet know what to make of Duncan and Madison, and as it stands it’s hard to see what the writers’ intents are within the logic of the story.

We Can Never Go Home is an interesting series for sure, but I hope further issues will develop its protagonists and their world in order to make it a truly satisfying read.

Descender_03-1Descender #3
Scripter: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Dustin Nguyen
Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

Lemire and Nyugen’s dreamy sci-fi fairy tale continues in Descender #3. As his systems fail, Tim-21 awakes in the desert with an android named Eraz-433, who draws him inside the cavernous mouth of a Harvester’s massive skull. There he discovers the AI underworld, where all the androids went after they were destroyed in the fall-out of the Harvester attacks. Calling themselves the Harvested, the seemingly endless multitudes of dead androids beg Tim to stay with them, to free them, groping wildly at him as though swept by religious frenzy.

Just then Captain Telsa and Dr. Quon arrive to salvage Tim’s damaged body. Pieced back together, Tim awakes once more aboard the UGC ship to return to the real world. He tells Quon of his dream and Quon tells him androids can’t dream. As the issue closes, Tim and his new organic companions are left with troubling questions about what happens to artificial consciousness upon its destruction. Did the androids die? Where they ever really alive? Is Tim simply a companion android, or is he something new and inexplicable that straddles the divide between human and artificial life?

Lemire and Nguyen continue to weave an intriguing and poignant sci-fi epic. With its dreamlike imagery and exquisite painted artwork, the slow pacing makes the most of the somewhat non-conventional exposition. The focus on Tim’s memories, dreams, and apparent ability to transcend consciousness draws the reader into his world while leaving the larger story purposefully vague. This tension between the physical and the spiritual, Tim’s inner life and the opera of the dystopic future he inhabits is fresh and compelling, effectively seeding future questions while keeping the reader’s interest.

Though this series certainly makes strong references to western sci-fi traditions, its storytelling is more reminiscent of the philosophical, character-driven elements of eastern media. Lemire and Nguyen blend these two distinctive styles in remarkable ways, and have made a really endearing protagonist of Tim-21. Descender #3 proves to be another engaging issue in an already captivating series, and leaves the reader wanting to know more.

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