Best Shots Advance Reviews: BATMAN, THOR, SAGA, X-MEN LEGACY

 

Batman #14

Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV

Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, Jock, Dave Baron, and FCO Plascencia

Lettering by Richard Starkings, Jimmy Betancourt, and Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

This issue is heavy, and primarily shows two things: Scott Snyder's Joker is a force of chaos (if you didn't know already), and things are about to get so much worse.

This issue basically acts as a set up for things to come, but we see more of the famed Batman and Joker dynamic, as well as a hint of Joker's plans in action with the back up by Snyder and James Tynion IV. Snyder has been building up to this moment for the great Joker story of his career, and if this issue is any indication of what is to come, it could be his opus. The issue is non-stop chaos with the Joker having laid out his dominoes and now watching each one fall and crash into another setting up a chain of events that really tries Bruce as a person and hero.

We find out Alfred's fate and it's not pretty. Bruce almost goes into shutting down so he can operate solely as Batman to get the job done and his father figure back from the clutches of his arch-nemesis. Joker is the boogeyman of the DC universe and in the hands of Snyder, he's molded into a walking nightmare. The banter between Joker and Batman is something to behold and Joker seems to be the one that actually "gets" their relationship. There's a nice nod to Dark Knight Returns with Joker greeting Batman as "darling", but it also evokes Joker's Peter Pan analogue from the previous issue. The events of the issue make this a real page-turner and the pacing works great, even if a little verbose at times. The lettering on Joker is great, too, giving him a sort of cackle even when he talks normally.

What can be said about Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, and FCO that hasn't already been said? Here they're just as dynamite and visceral as ever, with great detail going into every panel. Near the end, things get a little too cluttered with Batman and Joker's face off, but nothing that warrants more than a half shrug and you move on to the next page. The close ups of Joker are disturbing as ever. You can see the madness in the eyes and his body language. How Capullo uses Joker's posturing tells the whole story in a few panels: he is a sick, sick puppy. Even if you're a rare example of nerdom and have no previous experience with the Joker and his madness, you get the idea loud and clear.

Team Batman is setting up a DC event here and the first steps always hit the hardest. With Batman #14 there's a sure sign that what lies ahead might be Bruce's hardest and most dangerous fight since he donned the cowl. Joker has never been this complicated, and possibly psychotic. Snyder definitely has something to prove with handling the first Joker story of the new DCU, but if this is where things start, this'll join the ranks of some of the great Bat stories ever written.

 

Thor: God of Thunder #1

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Esad Ribic and Dean White

Lettering by Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

There is potential and ambition fit for gods in this new iteration of Thor: God of Thunder, but the lightning has yet to strike in the first issue of this series. With some surprisingly subdued characterization and artwork that doesn't quite hit home, this opening issue reads a little too slow to really electrify new readers.

Considering how nutso Jason Aaron can be in terms of high concept — look at any of his books featuring Wolverine as an example — his take on Thor is remarkably grounded. Anyone expecting the sort of serrated "Immigrant Song"-rocking Asgardian death metal hijinks are going to be disappointed here. Aaron's Thor reads more like Superman with a temper, but whereas Superman has super-hearing to alert him of crimes, Thor's star-spanning heroism has a more fitting clarion call: a simple prayer. In that regard, Aaron cleverly makes Thor an ideological counterpoint to Kieron Gillen's Iron Man: Whereas Tony struggles with his faith and the unknown, Thor embraces it. He humanizes it. He makes unknowable gods heroic.

In certain ways, particularly in the present-day scenes, Aaron is almost writing a Batman story featuring an Asgardian protagonist — we're in Thor's head as he narrates, assessing the situation as he deduces his enemy's plans. The problem is that kind of on-the-nose description is part of Batman's character — he's a detective, details matter — but I'm not sure Thor benefits from that role. Thor's at his best when he's hot-blooded, when he's human, when he has moments of bemusement and comedy. (Why else has his love of coffee and Pop-Tarts from the movies become memes?)

Thor's fire does rise, albeit slowly, and when we see his tattered future self — Old King Thor — you can almost hear Anthony Hopkins' voice as Odin, as the grizzled Thor proves he is his father's son as he dives into battle. It's the finale of the book that at least proves Jason Aaron's high concept — namely trying to do both Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns in the same story, just with Thor — is a concept with some serious legs.

The art in this book did bewilder me, however. I barely recognized Esad Ribic here, and I can't say that's a good thing — whereas his take on, say, The Ultimates looked sleek and full of innovative design, his old-world view of Thor looked disappointingly on the nose. I can understand not wanting to make Thor's armor seem like a second skin, but comics also demand having the designs look good on the character, and Thor's overly large helmet, over-starched cape and bare, overly vein-y arms just stick out like a sore thumb. Ribic unfortunately obscures this in exactly the wrong way, as his composition all too often puts us behind Thor, rather than getting him at his best angle.

To be honest, this book isn't a bad one, but it is disappointing. Because this comic is so plot-centric, the hero doesn't do much to endear himself and the villain is still off-panel and unable to really conjure up a sense of dread or tension. The time-spanning nature of Jason Aaron's story gives us a sense of scale and grandeur, but the too-dark coloring by Dean White and off-balance art by Esad Ribic doesn't hammer the point home. Now that the pieces are in play, let's hope that Jason Aaron and company's sophomore efforts are stronger, or this is Asgardian is going to be lost among the Marvel NOW! pantheon.

 

Saga #7

Written by Brian K. Vaughan

Art by Fiona Staples

Lettering by Fonografiks

Published by Image Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

After a month-and-a-half break, the creative duo of Saga brings it back and not a moment too soon as I was suffering from heavy withdrawals. If you've been missing out, there's no worry as you're brought up to speed in the first couple of pages with the backstory of the war between Alana and Marko's races. When we left off, we had just been introduced to Marko's parents and needless to say the union between the main characters is more than frowned upon. Despite the alien worlds, the relationships and correlation among the characters is incredibly human. It's only seven issues into the series, and if feels as if I've known these people for years. That is Vaughan's magic at work.

Though this issue concentrates on establishing Marko's parents' relationship (if you can call it that) with Alana, it also touches on the subplots of The Will in mourning from The Stalk's death and Prince Robot still trying to capture our heroes. It also adds dramatic tension to the story with Marko's father, Barr, who has a secret revealed at the end of the issue, making if very difficult to have to wait until next month. While the pissed-off mother-in-law is a slight trope, Klara definitely has her reasons to be angry at her son for marrying someone who is involved with a bloodfued with her race. Barr comes across as more level-headed, but with his secret revealed to Alana, it's understandable why he would want to make peace.

Once again, Fiona Staples delivers compelling art that could tell the story all by itself. Staples puts emotion into her art and that's obvious here. The use of facial expressions are spot-on and riveting. How she captures all the emotions of the initial encounter between Alana, Barr, and Klara should be commended. She breathes life into these otherwise 2-dimensional characters, and makes them seem so animated and real. Her flair for alien design is in full front and it's plain out ballsy at one point.

Saga is a rare kind of book these days with rich, imaginative worlds and solid character development. The pacing hasn't let up and yet there is still so much left to explore in this universe. Here's hoping there isn't another delay in the near future. My sanity almost depends on it.

 

X-Men Legacy #1

Written by Simon Spurrier

Art by Tan Eng Huat, Craig Yeung, and Jose Villarubia

Letters by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Simon Spurrier and Tan Eng Huat's X-Men Legacy #1 suffers from an abundance of great ideas, but a lack of credible execution. Focusing on Legion, the now orphaned son of Charles Xavier and his quest to find inner peace in a monastery for unstable telepaths, X-Men Legacy aims at high-concept, but lands at low-interest thanks to a script that rarely knows how to hold back, and a story with no familiar anchor.

Right from the get-go, Spurrier's ideas are big, opening on a prison for psychic criminals in a scene which, despite its focus on strange sci-fi buzzwords and telepathic monsters over content, winds up leading to one of the book's more clever twists. This is a great set up, but there's so much language devoted to instilling a sense of weirdness and insular concepts that the ideas quickly become inscrutable, leaving nothing to really draw the reader in to Legion's inner world of monsters and psychic specters.

When the script isn't moving faster than the concepts, it's slowing to a molasses pace, awkwardly interjecting expository dialogue that still wouldn't work even if it weren't bogged down by Spurrier's interpretation of Legion's Scottish affectations. The script eludes when it should enthrall, and dozes when it should draw the reader in. There are bits of promise, such as Legion learning to use his powers to psychically heal other telepaths, but the characters feel too inauthentic, and the setting too incidental to drive those bits home. The focus is too much on getting information about Legion onto the page, and not enough on making the reader want or need that information.

Tan Eng Huat does a fine job with Spurrier's story, and his collection of psychic oddities are visually engaging, but there's nothing in the art to enhance or clarify the script. The pages are oddly straightforward for such an out there concept, employing nothing to bring the reader in where the script practically pushes them away. It's good, but it's not necessarily a good fit.

It's hard to say where this book will go moving forward. With many its off beat ideas already established and quite probably dismissed by the end of this issue, there's a lot of room for an almost immediate change in direction. The problem is whether Spurrier will be able to balance out his weirdness with his storytelling. In a world of psychic phenomena and telepathic monsters, there is always room for Spurrier's brand of British eccentricity, but it requires a much defter hand with the details than he's shown in X-Men Legacy #1

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