Best Shots Extra: DETECTIVE COMICS, ALL-NEW X-MEN, More

 

Detective Comics #19

Written by John Layman and James Tynion IV

Art by Jason Fabok, Jeromy Cox, Andy Clarke, Blond, Henrik Jonsson, Sandu Florea, Juancho, Mikel Janin, Dave McCaig, Brad Anderson, Jason Masters and Brett Smith

Lettering by Jared Fletcher, Dave Sharpe, Taylor Esposito, Sal Cipriano and Carlos Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

With DC having relaunched its entire lineup in 2011, it would be easy to forget about the 900th edition of its namesake title, Detective Comics. But trust John Layman to celebrate this birthday with a bang — or namely, a bat — as he delivers a solid script with plenty of extra party favors.

In a lot of ways, I see Layman as akin to DC's version of Dan Slott — he knows all the different angles of a particular character, and then springboards off that. But whereas Slott has spun off stories about Spidey's Spider-Sense, about his role as an Avenger, about his scientific acumen, Layman takes the other route: because after all, Batman is also defined by his villains. So reintroducing Kirk Langstrom as Man-Bat into The New 52 by unleashing an airborne plague that turns people into cannibalistic bats? That's an image you won't soon forget, as Batman has to juggle the source of the contagion as well as the threat of serial killer Zsasz remaining in the loose.

That said, this isn't a perfect script from Layman. In a lot of ways, this story is really about Kirk Langstrom... even though he only shows up near the end of the issue. (Thanks to a cameo of another Bat-suit wearing hero who is in all of two panels before they are forgotten.) Much of this I imagine has to do with just pacing — Layman has been so good about making sure every chapter of his run has been self-contained enough to be truly satisfying — but at the same time, I feel that this story wound up truncated. To be honest, there's so much meat to this concept that I wish it had gone all 80 pages, just to give Batman some more agency!

But I will say that Layman works magnificently with his artist, Jason Fabok. Fabok doesn't go crazy with the panel layouts — well, except for one page where Batman throws a Man-Bat out of a window, which looks so brutal and so well-choreographed that it's by far the best image in the book — but Fabok's big strength is that he and Layman have a nice tempo together. Fabok's panel-to-panel storytelling, like introducing Kirk and Francine in one panel, and their Man-Bat serum in his hand in the next, is superb, very much with a filmmaker's eye for editing. It's clean but with just the right amount of dirty, and it's a very accessible style for those who might find Greg Capullo to somehow be too cartoony.

Layman also has a couple of nice backups featuring some of the other villains running amok during the madness of Zsasz and Man-Bat. My personal favorite is drawn by Andy Clarke, who plays up both the ferocity of the bats and the human ruggedness of Batman himself. Layman also is at his best here, giving us a nice twist at the end that gives this story — and the character of Kirk Langstrom — his heart. In a story introducing new villain Mr. Combustible, Henrik Jonsson proves to have a style that works nicely alongside Fabok's, but ultimately without much characterization to define this bad guy, Combustible doesn't live up to his name. The other two backups — a saccharine bit about a cop drawn by Jason Masters, and a Bane backup tying into the Talons by James Tynion IV and Mikel Janin — are both fairly lackluster, not adding much to any Bat-stories going around.

The other problem DC has to conquer with this book is the price — even at the top of their game, $7.99 is a lot to ask for for a 26-page main story. Ultimately, the backups are just optional, so it makes it harder to justify the overall purchase, especially when the ending of the main storyline is so abrupt. Still, there's a lot to like about Detective Comics, and with a creative team this consistent, it's nice to see a comic reach its golden years with such panache.

 

All-New X-Men #10

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Marte Gracia, and Rain Beredo

Letters by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Brian Bendis's All-New X-Men has, despite a few issues that feel a little like spinning wheels, been some of the best work of his time at Marvel, and one of the best X-Men titles in years. Unfortunately, All-New X-Men #10 is one of those issues that feels like a little too much dead weight. The greatest strength of this title so far has been Bendis's ability to balance the soap opera dramatics on which the X-Men thrive with the bombastic, thrill-a-minute action that gives them purpose. Issue #10 has a little too much of the former without enough of the latter to give it proper context.

What Brian Bendis is doing with All-New X-Men is clear. He's reestablishing old dynamics using Wolverine and Cyclops in place of Professor X and Magneto, with Mystique serving as any of a number of wildcard factors to their relationship. So far, it's working smoothly, but it seems to fall apart a little to easily when they're actually put face to face. With Magneto and Xavier, there was a language that was established very early on that perfectly defined their relationship. Here, it seems that Wolverine and Cyclops are still finding their footing as adversaries. Neither one of them is particularly out of character, but at the same time, neither really behaves the way one would expect at this point.

While Mystique's troublemaking is kicked up another notch this issue, it's undercut too much by the drama between the X-Men and their younger selves to really take hold. The result is a barrage of exchanges so verbose that they oversell their point, and undercut the impact of Mystique's machinations at the same time. That's not to say that Mystique impersonating the X-Men should be the A story here, just that the impact that could have on Cyclops's foreseen future seems glazed over, when Mystique's function is clearly to force both sides of this conflict to begin acting on their philosophies. The issue's cliffhanger is also played with such melodrama as to be almost a little silly. The real crime of All-New X-Men #10 is that it feels inflated to sell a cliffhanger, when in reality there's probably only half an issue of actual content in its pages.

Stuart Immonen is back, starting with the previous issue, and while he has style points over David Marquez, he loses ground in readability. There's something off about some of his characters, particularly Wolverine, whose stylized face comes off as comical next to characters that Immonen renders in a more straightforward style. His Beast, on the other hand, is superb, probably because this is the first time Immonen has been able to play with his own new design. Marte Gracia and Rain Beredo's colors flow together easily, and work much better with Immonen's line work than in previous collaborations.

Despite a few issues that don't live up to the rest of the series, All-New X-Men is still one of the strongest, most gratifying reads coming out of Marvel NOW!. This is what the brand should be all about; a return to the core ideas of classic characters, portrayed with a new twist by reinvigorated creators. Don't let the sub-par All-New X-Men #10 fool you. There's plenty to love about this title even when it misses a step.

 

Mice Templar, Vol. 4, #1 (20)


Story by Michael Avon Oeming and Bryan J.L. Glass

Written by Bryan J.L. Glass


Art by Michael Avon Oeming and Victor Santos


Colors by Veronica Gandini (p1-7); Chandra Free (8-10); Serena Guerra (11-36)


Published by Image Comics


Review by Forrest C. Helvie


'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The last readers saw of the Mice Templar at the conclusion of the third volume, they were spearheading a rebellion and avoiding retribution from King Icarus. Readers continue to find the realm in a state of social and political upheaval as it rests precariously on a precipice that will either lead to salvation through Karic, the Chosen One and the mice who would join him in rebellion… or destruction at the hands of the Mad King Icarus and those mice unable to move beyond the baggage of their past failures. And while the previous story arc was a deliberate building of tension, this first issue of the last act makes it abundantly clear the end will be swift and conclusive.

The issue, like the series as a whole, provides readers with a story that is firmly in the vein of a modern day Arthurian legend. Like the medieval sources that inform the comic, this issue continues to call back to the notion of the sins of the father being visited upon the son — in this case, those of the past generation falling upon the backs of the younger generation of Templars and Maeven. There is a particularly poignant scene with Karic and Ankara as they run about the rebel encampment both before and after the arrival of her foster parents, Ronan and Lloch. While the battle depicted later in the story with the godbeasts is more visceral and dynamic, the scenes between the young Templar and Maeven will no doubt serve to be some of the more important periods for the entire volume—and arguably the series—in the way it highlights what the future may hold and what is presently holding it back.

A look to the credits for this book will show an atypically large creative team for a comic book, and I am often quick to notice the shifts in art when they change hands—be it the pencils, inks, or colors. All the same, I found myself so caught up in the pace of the narrative that it was really only after a second reading did I notice the transition points from when Gandini would hand off coloring to Free, and Free to Guerra; and given the shared nature of the penciling and inking responsibilities between Oeming and Santos over the past volumes of the series, the shift was about as seamless as it gets. This is the hallmark of a veteran team of collaborators and the readers are the real winners in the end.  While I doubt that I will ever tire of either Oeming or Santos’ art on this title, I am continually impressed by the misty and often ethereal coloring this team brings to each page, and given the worlds of day and night, and the realms spirit and nature in which the characters reside, it truly helps create an immersive reading experience.

I feel that I would be remiss without mentioning one criticism and it is really only a minor thing that brought me out of the story but for only a moment. Glass mentions that over one million Mice Templar engaged one another in the Templar Civil War, yet less than one thousand survived the battle. To think of a civilization with over a million of these revered knights at its service is hard to reconcile with the scope of the civilization we’ve seen prior to this point. But like the medieval legends which influence this series, the numbers of the legendary battles of our history were also likely inflated to emphasize the epic victory… or tragedy that took place. In this light, one might even consider it one more example of the subtle influences that can be traced out in the issue rather than a weakness. And if readers do find a problem with this exaggeration, it is the only real flaw with this opening salvo from the final act of The Mice Templar, and it is not one that readers will remember over the span of the generous 38 pages of this issue.

Glass and Oeming burst out of the gate with an issue that is everything fans of the Mice Templar have grown to love about the series: action, heroism, intrigue, and substance. But what makes this first issue especially remarkable is the way in which it still manages to provide a jumping on point for newer readers who have yet to experience the rich and engrossing history this creative team has been slowing building over the years. So for long-time fans or new readers, this issue is going to deliver.

 

Age of Ultron #4

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary and Paul Mounts

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Marvel has all the ingredients it needs to make Age of Ultron a success. They have A-list names like Brian Michael Bendis and Bryan Hitch. They have the most cohesive superhero universe in comics. (Sorry, DC. Comes with the territory of a continuity relaunch.) They have a premise that has inherently high stakes, a world where a merciless killer robot has gunned down the planet.

So why doesn't this story go anywhere?

Four issues into Age of Ultron, and I feel like we could have shaved off one, if not two full issues. In certain ways, I can understand how a project like this might be up Brian Michael Bendis's alley, with the idea that he might be able to check in with Earth's Mightiest Heroes one-by-one after the end of the world. But the problem is, the road trip of plot points doesn't feel peppered with important moments, but instead characters promising you that an important moment will soon come... next issue. I mean, we spend two pages on an explosion, and another three getting the cast from Point A to Point B, it's just packing on the narrative fat. How many times can a scene end with someone saying they have a plan? Sometimes showing people doing something is more important than telling, you know?

I guess part of that antipathy also comes with the over-the-top nature of the few memorable moments in this book. Bendis tries to goose the impact of this book with some deaths (some graphic, but most are distressingly off-panel), but there are a few problems. First off, because none of the characters are particularly built up, watching their sudden end is surprising, in a Walking Dead sort of way, but we ultimately don't care too much beyond that moment. Bendis is also hurt by one of superhero comics' biggest tropes: death is impermanent, drastic change is impermanent, so with Bendis pushing the envelope as much as he is — and alongside the bright resurgence of the Marvel Universe in the dozens of Marvel NOW! titles — your suspension of disbelief goes out the window.

These problems also hamper the impact of Bryan Hitch, who is the saving grace of this book. Whether or not Age of Ultron acts like an event comic is immaterial, because Hitch makes damn sure it at least looks like one. His settings are frighteningly realistic, and Paul Mounts nicely differentiates the ruined cityscapes of New York and Chicago just with his choice of color palettes. His fight choreography also looks extremely clean, even if it also doesn't come across quite as desperate as the scene might call for. (That said, he does portray some sudden deaths with a surprising goriness that I think may make you catch your breath.) Occasionally his composition stumbles a bit — although that said, it's hard to draw a bunch of heroes daisy-chaining their way out of New York on nothing but wind without it looking goofy — but more often than not, Hitch makes his shots look good.

But Hitch isn't going to be on this book forever, and ultimately Age of Ultron has to be judged not just on how good the story looks, but ultimately also on where these characters go in their quest to save the world. Right now, the Avengers' biggest threat isn't a killer android from the future, but being decompressed within an inch of their lives with little to no characterization to show for it. With stakes raised so abruptly that you can sense the reset button looming, Age of Ultron winds up feeling like an event about nothing. It's the Marvel equivalent of cotton candy — this may look good, but it is far from filling.

 

Polarity #1

Written by Max Bemis

Art by Jorge Coelho and Felipe Sobreiro

Letters by Steve Wands

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It’s impossible to talk about Polarity without talking about writer Max Bemis’ musical career as the frontman for aggro-emo popsters, Say Anything. Their first record, 2004’s ...Is A Real Boy, was the soundtrack to many a teenage angst-ridden high school experience and on some level, this book provides some insight into Bemis’ state of mind while writing that album. Aided by Jorge Coelho’s line art and Felipe Sobreiro’s colors, Bemis takes us down a rabbit hole of mental instability and how that can affect and inform an entire worldview.

From the outset, the protagonist Tim is an incredibly unlikable character. He is recovering from bipolar disorder and his opening monologue is filled with the kind of navel-gazing, “woe is me” rhetoric that gets pretty exhausting coming from a character who for all other intents and purposes has it all. His art has been recognized in all the right circles. He’s dating a pretty girl. But he can’t enjoy it. Bemis uses Tim as something of an analog for himself allowing him to inject the script with some of the quick wit and cleverness Say Anything is known for. The art gallery scene is practically a comic book version of Bemis’ punky screed against “prototypical nonconformists” “Admit It!” and that’s when the book is really working. Otherwise, Tim’s interactions with his girlfriend, another girl he likes and his best friend just come off as pathetic. Tim is no Lloyd Dobler. He’s no Holden Caufield. You mostly just want to punch this guy in the face.

Of course, the book takes a shift right around the middle and it’s for the better. Tim makes a change that provides the real hook for this book:. “What if what everyone thought was you going crazy was actually you reaching some sort of untapped potential?” Bemis credits Brian Michael Bnedis, Grant Morrison, Brian Wood and Warren Ellis’ work with inspiring him and the bits of talky drama and big sci-fi ideas start to meld in a way that totally makes sense. Bemis doesn't have the grasp of flowing dialogue that those writers do but he’s able to get his point across fairly clearly and concisely. He also has some fun with certain concepts (like the dissection of hipsters) that are a great change of pace and allow his voice to come through. The book ends with a big question mark, a perfect “what will happen next” that is sure to dig it’s hooks into most readers.

Jorge Coelho and Felipe Sobreiro provide stunning artwork. Coelho’s line work is really electric and his character designs stand out. Having to draw the deluge of scenesters that appear in the early pages is no small task but he nails a perfect cross section of what you might find walking down Bedford Avenue at any given moment. Coelho’s work reminds me of a cross between Tradd Moore and Rob Guillory, excellent cartooning that doesn’t falter with the more standard scenes but really shines when the action gets going. Sobreiro’s color is a perfect complement, setting each scene apart from one another and flowing with the tone of the book.

Polarity looks to be a breakout hit for Boom! and not just because of the background of its writer. While Bemis brings a very dedicated fanbase, he’s at least created something here that doesn’t require any previous knowledge of his work to get into. Coupled with excellent artwork of Coelho and Sobreiro, this issues sets to the stage for what is sure to be an entertaining miniseries that fans of Infinite Vacation and Luther Strode would definitely be into.

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