No One’s Rose #1
Credit: Alberto Jimenez-Alburquerque (Vault Comics)

Credit: DC

Batman/Superman #8
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Nick Derington and Dave McCaig
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by DC
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

While the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel might share title credits, Batman/Superman #8 is an exercise in having the show stolen out from underneath them — with not just the lion’s share of the spotlight going to General Zod and Ra’s Al Ghul, but superstar artist Nick Derington also elevating writer Joshua Williamson’s Silver Age-infused action. While it’s perhaps not the strongest showing from either creator, Batman/Superman #8 has a meat-and-potatoes charm, even if its focus is occasionally off-kilter.

Of course, that might be a feature rather than a bug — from Williamson’s first page, the focus is on General Zod, who fights to keep the memory of the Bottle City of Kandor alive. However, it’s no mere history lesson he has in mind — instead, he’s broken into Ra’s Al Ghul’s Lazarus Pits, resurrecting a horde of miniaturized dead Kryptonians into a swarm of solar-charged, superpowered madness. It’s a fun high concept on paper, and it’s one that Williamson is able to use to give some real, human motivation to General Zod — why should he sit around and mope, when he could fix a problem that Superman himself had failed to stop?

But while that’s a strong premise to use as a launchpad, the problem is, Williamson has built himself a fun story pitting Zod against Ra’s, who took center stage last issue — but it makes it harder for Batman and Superman to justify their role on the sidelines. Even as a swarm of murderous Kandorians buzz around Ra’s South American hideout, Superman seems to play a surprisingly small role, even commenting himself how he hates to take orders from Ra’s — Batman fares a little bit better as someone grossly outgunned between two warring supervillains, but I’ll admit I don’t think Williamson uses him convincingly enough to defuse the two, especially after the Demon’s Head mucks up Zod’s plans in a fairly irreversible way. In a lot of ways, Batman and Superman are mostly reacting to their villains facing off — I almost wonder if this would have been a better story for just one character or the other to stumble upon, or perhaps a longer crossover between the two main characters’ secondary titles Detective Comics and Action Comics.

Yet what’s unassailable this issue is Derington’s artwork, as he takes the charm that elevated Batman: Universe and brings that same impeccable style to the bad guys. There’s so much character in the way that Derington portrays Zod and Ra’s — as older men, they’re more heavily rendered than the clean-lined Batman and Superman, but he imbues Zod especially as a forlorn man on a mission, someone who has vowed to bring back a remnant of his lost culture at any cost. Derington also does some fun stuff with the Kandorian swarm, often portraying them as a razor-sharp cloud, but occasionally zooming in on discrete squadrons of characters as they fight in unison. I will say, though, that I think colorist Dave McCaig leans just a touch too heavy on his yellow-tinged palettes this issue — I get the instinct, given the South American setting as well as the Lazarus Pit, but I think it flattens Derington’s visuals somewhat.

If you’re looking for a story that feels distinctly like Batman/Superman, you might be a little disappointed here, but if you’re looking for something impeccably drawn with a story that takes you off the traditional beaten path at DC, you could do a lot worse than this. For a two-part detour, Williamson and Derington have delivered a fun, villain-centric story, and while our title characters might feel a little superfluous, there’s enough solid beats here to stick the landing.

Credit: Nathan Gooden/Tim Daniel (Vault Comics)

No One’s Rose #1
Written by Emily Horn and Zac Thompson
Art by Alberto Jimenez-Albuquerque and Raúl Angulo
Lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Published by Vault Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The town I live in is a relatively small one. The kind where I don’t see too many people as I walk to work, but now there’s even less out and about, as per the lockdown that the United Kingdom is currently under. The most you’ll see in one area right now are people lining up outside the supermarket. At the moment, there’s still enough on the shelves – as long as you don’t want toilet paper, of course – but being outside of the house garners an eerie sensation, as if it’s not meant for us anymore. Inside, the sun shines most days and there’s a healthy amount of greenery if you look out the windows, but that doesn’t stop the dark thoughts lingering the back of my mind that this is the start of the end.

The opening pages of No One’s Rose contain no sign of green — it seems like the end times have long since come. A man hopelessly succumbs to a river of toxic sludge after one misplaced step in the wrong patch of mud. Writers Emily Horn and Zac Thompson offer narration that posits man’s relationship with nature as a symbiotic one — we help it survive so we can as well, no altruism attached. Artist Alberto Jimenez-Albuquerque and colorist Raúl Angulo present a desolate world of dilapidated buildings that could topple over at any moment, with gray and patchy land and crackling lightning. They choose to open the book like this in order to show how bad things could get, and use the following pages in order to introduce the people fighting for it to get better. It all raises the question: is there altruism attached to trying to secure the existence of a world for the next generation, even after we’re gone?

The Green Zone, a secure biodome in the middle of this desolation, is where the rest of this first issue unfolds. Horn and Thompson introduce their two, siblings Seren and Tenn — one is a maker of freshwater, the other an engineer of genetic systems, both contributing to keep the larger system running. And through them comes the rest of the worldbuilding; their relationships with others, the class hierarchy and slang like “fore’flors” and “can’op”. It’s elegant in how what’s shown reinforces the themes at play and suggesting an established lexicon in the Zone, a place that’s adapted to cope with the world around it (without completely throwing out the way things used to be). And as we are introduced to this new world, Angulo’s use of yellow and green in the first glimpse of the biosphere works in the same way as seeing an oasis in the middle of a desert does — it’s a glimmer of hope amidst the wasteland. Inside the biosphere opens up the opportunity for even more radiant, natural colouring that only intensifies that feeling.

And in that vein, No One’s Rose takes plenty of visual cues from whatever nature its creators can find. Take, for example, the way they transition between characters by following a leaf floating on the wind. Meanwhile, when lightning strikes the ground in the prologue, letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou threads his “Thoom” and “Kaarak” sound effects through the jagged zig-zags, and so the sounds strike at the same time as they hit, emanating out of the crackles. Or in another scene, Jimenez-Albuquerque depicts two lovers in an embrace, one with a hand leaning on a tree, connected between man and nature. In a way, the architecture of this world, futuristic while still having a clear sense of the current, evokes Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva’s work on House of X and Powers of X last year, as a composite of their natural Krakoan and sci-fi aesthetics. Evolution has occurred, even in the face of devastation.

No One’s Rose has been billed as part of the solarpunk subgenre, a type of positive speculative fiction, unlike so many that anticipate the worst. Of course, this doesn’t make the Green Zone a utopia — once inside, class tension rises to the surface as one of the book’s primary concerns over the course of the issue. The established system still divides the populace while simultaneously asking them to come together to secure survival. And through that premise, Horn and Thompson have crafted a debut issue which is not just interested in presenting an intriguing world, but one they are already beginning to examine. After all, it’s not enough to just make a system — it needs to be secured and sustainable for those that follow.

One beat in the narrative sees Seren remark that he saw some black mold on the roots of the central tree, Brankstokker, recently. His observation reminded me of my own lingering thoughts. The rest of No One’s Rose, however, is in direct opposition to this kind of pessimism without settling for niceties and platitudes. Its optimism for the future is hard-fought and well-earned as a result. It does not only suggest that we can survive this modern moment, but also shows that the journey its characters face is not enough. We need to make sure we work to build a world afterwards that doesn’t have to go through this again, and then work on building a world that can survive anything.

Credit: Greg Smallwood (New Wave Comics)

The Black Ghost TPB
Written by Alex Segura and Monica Gallagher
Art by George Kambadais, Ellie Wright Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by ComiXology
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

If for some reason you’ve recently developed a particularly strong taste for tales of underdogs taking on white-collar profiteers, The Black Ghost TPB is here to deliver for you. When a developer swoops into long-forgotten Creighton to “revitalize” the city, a masked vigilante turns up in hot pursuit. Reporter Lara Dominguez makes the notorious Black Ghost her top priority… and shortly after, finds herself forced to don his cape and mask to defend the working-class men and women Creighton’s new big money boom threatens to leave behind.

Co-written by Alex Segura and Monica Gallagher, The Black Ghost delivers a solid modern take on classic noir tales like The Shadow and Dick Tracy, and only gets stronger with later issues in the series. The series leans heavily on traditional noir tropes (a troubled anti-hero, heavy monologuing, shadow-heavy art) in a way that doesn’t quite work in its opening issue — at first, Segura and Gallagher introduce an abundance of plotlines but a world that falls flat outside of Lara — but by the end of the trade paperback, they have created a much more vibrant Creighton, populated by a cast of characters that will leave you curious for more. They do an excellent job tying up the myriad threads they introduced early in the series, tightening up the world of The Black Ghost in a way that still offers a number of compelling tales to explore in potential future volumes.

Meanwhile, artist George Kambadais and colorist Ellie Wright knock their work in The Black Ghost out of the park from the get-go. Kambadais has a distinctive, timeless style, and his heavy lines are perfectly suited to Segura and Gallagher’s punchy script. His work is clean and straightforward; pages aren’t necessarily simple, but keep your attention focused on the expressive faces he draws while leaving plenty of room for Taylor Esposito’s excellent lettering of some of the more dialogue and monologue heavy scenes (a particularly vital skill, in such a narration-heavy genre). The use of panel layouts are clever as well, from a wobbly sequence during a night out at a bar and Lara springing from off-panel to land a punch.

Ellie Wright does truly stellar work on colors, working within the shadowy confine of the genre to find exactly the right time to deliver a vibrant pop. The consistent use of yield-sign yellow, both in the color work and the sound effects, delivers an eye-popping contrast to the heavy and often severe black inks. Wright and Kambadais deliver a world that’s moody and atmospheric without ever getting muddy or visually dull to look at, never falling into the trap that noir as a genre requires a limited color palette that can often wind up murky and bland on the page. The bright solid backgrounds are an excellent choice as well, framing Kambadais’ expressive characters perfectly throughout the book.

The Black Ghost is a great read; it’s an engaging mystery with enough action to keep you pumped up throughout, leaning heavily into the tropes of the genre without ever tipping too far into some of noir’s more maudlin or grim elements. In spite of everything, Lara manages to find herself on somewhat sure footing with hopefulness in her heart at the end of this introductory adventure — it’s this sense of optimism and camaraderie in the face of what might otherwise feel like unstoppable that really makes The Black Ghost feel special. You want to see Lara succeed, and it’s exciting to reach a point with her where she truly feels like she does as well. Who couldn’t use a little of that feeling right now?

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