Best Shots Extra: JUSTICE LEAGUE, ULTIMATES (President Cap)

 

Justice League #0

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Brad Anderson and Hi-Fi

Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The boy has potential.

While the actual league of heroes is absent this issue, Geoff Johns work a little bit of magic with Gary Frank in their reintroduction of Captain Marvel. Billy Batson may still be a brat, but I can see now that Johns, in his own big, broad way, is using Batson's rough edges to try and make him into a more three-dimensional character.

Like his reworking of Green Lantern years ago — pivoting the hero's theme from fearlessness to overcoming fear — Johns is actually taking an unattainable ideal and making it into something we can actually strive for. Instead of Captain Marvel being "pure of heart," Johns attacks the concept head-on and reminds us that it's impossible to be perfectly heroic. What is possible is the potential to be good, to overcome one's own pain and baser instincts to do something right.

Of course, Billy is still kind of a punk, and he might still grate on us moving forward, but there's at least a spark of potential now — and a theme with some serious legs. Artist Gary Frank is the other reason why this book might make you feel a little uneasy — his environments look stellar, with a weird free-association vibe coming from his Rock of Eternity, but his Captain Marvel does look a little creepy with his hulking muscles and gaping grin. I can understand the impulse to make him look less than the standard laid-back heroic, but with all that power behind him, maybe you need that to keep your readers resonating with their protagonist.

Combined with a nice teaser by Johns and Ethan Van Sciver reintroducing the Question — as well as teasing the upcoming "Trinity War," which will pit the strongest and the darkest hearts of the DCU against each other — and you have an effective entree point for new readers looking to get into DC's latest event. If Johns and company can take new spins on the tried-and-true DC icons, we're in for a real treat.

 

Ultimate Comics The Ultimates #15

Written by Sam Humphries

Art by Phillip Tan, Terry Pallot, Ifansyah Noor, Andres Mossa and Jesus Aburtov

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

There's escapism... and then there's pure fantasy.

You can probably imagine which of the two categories President Captain America falls into.

If you've been reading any number of publications, from your friendly neighborhood Newsarama all the way up to the Washington Post, you probably have heard the news that in Marvel's Ultimate Universe, Captain America is getting himself a promotion to commander-in-chief.

If that idea tickles your fancy on a conceptual level, maybe Ultimate Comics The Ultimates #15 will stand out to you. To me, however, I feel like this comic could have used another pass. Failing to take a stand on the actual political or electoral state of our country, this comic tries to earn its big dramatic moment but fails to win hearts and minds with its empty action sequences.

Capped by a lengthy afterword from editor Mark Paniccia, it's amazing to see how far afield the Ultimates have gone. Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar originally established a world that felt revitalized because it was the world right outside our window, a world that treated these wonders and horrors as something new. In the mainstream Marvel Universe, a rampage by the Hulk is an ordinary Tuesday, but for the Ultimates, it's a national tragedy.

So maybe the overall "Divided We Fall" storyline — with its fractured United States split literally into feudal nation-states — suffers from a lack of scale and imagination. If the world we knew really suffered a blow so traumatizing that it would split up the country, the U.S. would look positively post-apocalyptic, with a national hysteria that would be almost too great to imagine. Yet writer Sam Humphries' take seems almost too tame, too small, as Captain America struggles to decide whether or not he will venture into now-foreign territory to rescue civilians from a horde of killer drone robots. This world still has working infrastructure, food, electricity, 24-hour news stations — there's suspension of disbelief, and then there's this, and it's hard to take the stakes at their value when things, to be honest, don't look as bad as they should.

This also extends to the artwork. Artist Phillip Tan is at his best with the action sequences, which lovingly linger on Captain America like a demigod of the battlefield, leaping and dodging and defending civilians like nobody's business. While occasionally Cap seems to tower over the people he saves, Tan does a good job channeling a larger-than-life persona that feels at home with the Avengers movie, to be honest.

That said, it's the rest of the world that Tan still has issues with. Many of his other characters, including the Black Widow and Hawkeye, feel sketchy in their features, and Tan's establishing shots of both characters and locations are always distance shots, which really minimize their impact. But the big problem here is, again, the lack of scale or imagination — this world looks too neat, too safe to be in the throes of a civil war. The infrastructure looks too clean, the skies (colored in by a trio of colorists) look too bright.

When the stage fits the story poorly, you stop believing the story. When you then add in logical leaps like a bus being the sole means of controlling a drone army or Captain America winning a national write-in presidential vote based just on battle footage, and you wonder what happened to the ultra-realistic world of the Ultimates. Because instead of the potential for some really incisive commentary on our jaded, connected, dysfunctional world, what we have in its place is a naked piece of fan service. 

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