Best Shots Extra: AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #11, COMEDIAN #3, More

 

Avengers Vs. X-Men #11

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, and Laura Martin

Letters by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by DC Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Click here for preview

Talk about power. In Avengers Vs. X-Men #11, it's palpable — flowing off the page, gripping, and confrontational. Cosmic and emotional. Brian Bendis and Olivier Coipel deliver serious goods this issue, relying on a series of quick, visceral encounters to set the stage for the ultimate showdown between the Phoenix — make that the Phoenix — and the assembled X-Men and Avengers.

The issue doesn't start particularly strong. It's a little late in the game for Captain America to be intruding on the Hulk's supposed privacy to recruit more fighters for his team — and isn't Hulk an active Avenger over in a book Bendis himself also writes? — but the book quickly moves past a less than engaging opening scene to several key moments, as the non-Phoenix powered X-Men, led by Rogue, find themselves invited to join the Avengers in battle by none other than Professor X. There's clearly a little bit of foreshadowing here, as Havok is shown warmly shaking Captain America's hand, and Rogue finds herself among Avengers, and while it seems to be placed there intentionally, there are no ham-fisted moments forcing these characters on each other. It is a little jarring to see characters like Storm, for whom the fight between the Avengers and X-Men has become intensely personal fighting alongside their recent enemies, but at this point, the stakes are a little bigger than either team. The first half of the book culminates in a scene building the already mounting tension between the Phoenix-infused Emma Frost and Cyclops.

At this point, the book kicks into high gear, with Bendis pulling some pretty sneaky stuff out of his bag of writer's tricks to build some intense moments between Professor X and Scott Summers. Starting from the moment that Xavier reveals to Scott that their entire fight is taking place , it's a non-stop, blow-for-blow emotional rollercoaster between the aging mentor and his former prized pupil. Olivier Coipel's art wavers a little in this issue — there are a few layouts that span two pages that are tough to read — but the double-page spread of Professor X calmly taking over Scott's mind as the battle rages around him is breathtaking, and may honestly be the best moment of this entire series. Stakes are high as Xavier beseeches Scott to give up, finally losing his patience, and admonishing him as "boy." The trinity of Magneto, Scott, and Xavier finally hits some much-needed paydirt as Cyclops accuses the two elder mutant statesmen of jealousy at his accomplishments, and Magneto leaps to Xavier's defense. It's moments like these that the premise of Scott running the X-Men with Magneto in his employ has been waiting for, and the culmination of that relationship is not quite what anyone might have expected, and with Scott finally seizing the full power of the Phoenix, let's just say that things don't go well for Professor Xavier.

While this issue definitely delivers on some promises from the last few years, the main thing it suffers from is a lack of consistency. Brian Bendis has a tendency to write scenes, like Captain America recruiting the Hulk, that seem important, but don't really add to the story. I would have loved two more pages of the knockdown, drag-out fight between the X-Men and the Avengers, or even just more of Professor X, Magneto, and Cyclops, but instead there's a scene that seems to lead up to nothing, save making sure that all the characters whose lives will be affected by the Phoenix are present when whatever's gonna happen finally happens. It's symptomatic of the books larger problems, which mostly stem from trying to fill 12 issues with cool moments rather than important ones, and losing sight of the core relationships that are driving the series.

Still, the book reads well, and when it's doing what it does right, it does it spot on. There's a lot to love about Avengers Vs. X-Men #11, even if some of the window dressing doesn't exactly spruce anything up. With Marvel NOW! on the horizon, and the end of the event just weeks away, it's a natural time to start setting the stage for the inevitable outcome of AvX, but it seems that better choices could be made when it comes to serving the headline rather than the story.

 

Before Watchmen: Comedian #3

Written by Brian Azzarello

Art by J.G. Jones, Alex Sinclair and Tony Avina

Lettering by Clem Robins

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Eddie Blake is a bad man. And maybe DC is making a bad move by printing this book.

But I'll say it — no, I'll admit it. Before Watchmen: Comedian #3 is also pretty good.

Good, in the thought-provoking way. Good, in the ethics of storytelling sort of way. Is this the kind of comic that be published? Is there some sort of line of good taste that's drawn into the sand? Should be that arbiter, with its seedy tones and contentious revisiting?

I guess all the Comedian needed to do was come home to stir us up. I guess that that's more reaction than most comics will bring these days.

Writer Brian Azzarello does something interesting with the brutal government operative known as the Comedian, something he only took tentative steps at in the previous two issues: he humanizes him. Briefly, anyway. As Eddie returns from Vietnam — a questionably abrupt transition from the last issue, to be sure, but one that ultimately leads to a better setting — it's interesting to see this embodiment of war and human cruelty and madness get so suddenly confronted with the idea of peace, of family, of love. It's a nice nod to the future breakdown he would suffer under Alan Moore's pen, and that fleeting moment of uneasy happiness gives way to something ugly.

Way ugly.

Bringing the Comedian into the 1965 Watts riots, Azzarello takes this series well into a realm that is either recklessly stupid or breathtakingly confident. Eddie Blake is not a guy you root for, not a guy you resonate with or condone. (Except for maybe buying his book.) So is seeing Eddie hijack a race riot and twist it by exploiting people's base desires — all while wearing yellow makeup and a smile — crossing a line? Azzarello's story makes you want to take a shower after you read it, particularly as Eddie still walks off into the moonlight, gorgeous babe on one arm and zero accountability on his shoulders.

Brrrrrr.

The artwork, by J.G. Jones, is also this series' best yet. Instead of trying to go the kinetic route of , Jones goes for more shocking static images, like the blood-splatter-like explosion of a tomato against a protester's head, or the gaze of I-don't-even-care madness on Eddie's face as he gives rioters his own sense of law and order. Jones' inking also looks much smoother than in previous issues, and even little details like a police dog squatting to take care of its business gives a harsh, nearly revolting realism to this already bleak world.

Of course, with DC's spotty history with diversity lately — goodbye Asian-American Atom Ryan Choi, hello suspected terrorist Green Lantern Simon Baz — this is the kind of comic that will also lead plenty of people to be upset, to say that DC is being unthinking at best and cavalier at worst. It's not a clean comic, it's a dirty one. It's audacious that DC even printed it, and it'll definitely leave you thinking about it long after you finish it.

And I guess that means the Comedian really did win, after all.

 

Wolverine and the X-Men #16

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza and Al Vey

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Click here for preview

Hellfire starts young.

Focusing solely on the story of pint-size techno-terrorist Kade Kilgore, Wolverine and the X-Men #16 is a well-constructed breather from all the space opera and Avengers drama this title has been experiencing lately — but it is still just a breather. While some readers won't be able to abide by the self-indulgence of spending an entire issue without the book's signature protagonists, there are still some bright spots here.

As far as his superhero work goes, Jason Aaron has long cited Grant Morrison as one of his influences — but what's so interesting about this issue is that it feels less like Aaron is channeling Morrison's run, and more like his run on . That's right, remember the career-killer trajectory of Morrison's Prometheus? That's a very similar tone to what Aaron is taking here, with a very Oedipal drive pushing Kade to his terrible ways — but when your billionaire father kills your mother, what else do you do besides ready yourself for a brutal power play?

It's that surprisingly human heart — the enthusiastic learning curve that all kids bring to their passions — that makes some of the other issues a little less problematic. For example, the story starts off a bit slow, with all the new strains of mutant-hunting Sentinels seeming a little remote and self-indulgent. Furthermore, Aaron strains our suspension of disbelief just a bit with Kade's overreliance on money — watch any action movie where a rich guy is threatened, and it doesn't matter if he offers $500 or $1 million, if he's in deep with the wrong crowd he is S.O.L. Dealing with seedy customer after seedy customer, Kilgore, in many ways, is writing checks that I don't think even the X-Men's hyperreality could cash.

The art, however, tips the scales in this book's favor. Chris Bachalo's cartoony style is a great fit for this story about these tween crime barons, with the cleanness of Kade's face masking the horrible deeds he's done to make his bones. Bachalo's composition is also interesting, particularly with an off-kilter flashback of Kade's father killing his mother, her body mostly off-panel in a gristly kind of found footage. While Bachalo's designs of some hulking prison inmates are some of the highlights of the book, sometimes he and his cadre of inkers don't quite nail the details, with Kade's father in particular changing faces from page to page.

While the X-Men are absent and sometimes the writer fiat is strong in this comic, it's still a decent issue from Aaron and Bachalo that will help pave the way for some even stronger issues down the road. Kade Kilgore and the new Hellfire Club came off as more like a joke than an iconic threat during Aaron's run on , but the semi-sacrifice of this issue's momentum for a character piece has given these villains some teeth. The lesser of two evils got just a little bit scarier. 

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