Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Ready for some reviews? Best Shots has you covered, with the first column of the week! So let's start off with Marvel's Avengers/X-Men unit, as we take a look at the latest issue of Uncanny Avengers...Uncanny Avengers #7
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Daniel Acuña
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Spanning universes and centuries, Rick Remender has defied the notion of a sophomore slump with his second arc on Uncanny Avengers. Spinning off themes and concepts he developed during Uncanny X-Force, Remender balances blockbuster action with world-shaking stakes, giving Jonathan Hickman competition over who's putting out the flagship Avengers book.
From the assassination of a giant alien Celestial to the interpersonal tensions between the team, Remender weds an old-school storytelling sensibility to a very modern style of execution. Jumping from grandiose, almost Claremont-esque third-person captions to intimate first-person narration, readers basically get to have their cake and eat it, too. Remender has an eye for pacing, for dialogue (especially Rogue and the Scarlet Witch sniping at one another) and for peppering his pages with at least one good visual anchor a pop, making every moment serve the greater whole.
And there is a wide variety of moments for readers to choose from, as well — the brazen assault of the Apocalypse Twins, the Wasp putting the moves on mutant team leader Havok, an impromptu team-up between Captain America and Sunfire — resulting in a really refreshing new spin on Marvel's already long continuity. It all serves Uncanny Avengers' central theme — can Marvel's A-lists and outcasts put aside their differences and get along enough to save the world? That's the message that made Joss Whedon's Avengers movie sell so many dollars, and it's that message that keeps Uncanny Avengers tense, unpredictable and altogether entertaining. These characters do have plenty of things to bind them together, and it's a blast to discover the ties that Remender continues to unearth.
Artist Daniel Acuña also totally earns his keep here, putting a ton of drama and atmosphere into his inked and painted work. The colors are particularly astounding, giving the book a cinematic feel — you can almost feel the cold in the darkness of space, can almost feel the heat of explosions raining down over Brazil. The action setpieces, particularly the Apocalypse Twins' rampage in space, is exactly what this book needs, and even smaller moments like Thor zooming past Brazil's statue of Jesus has a real visual poetry to it. While some might find Acuña's design of Havok to be a little too spindly, I give him credit for experimenting with different body types, particularly when it's so easy to otherwise confuse the blond-haired, blue-eyed Alex with Steve Rogers. Regardless, Acuña gives each page some real punch, giving even the conversational scenes some nice energy.
In many ways, Uncanny Avengers is living up to its premise as a sort of one-stop shop for your Marvel superhero needs — you've got Avengers, you've got X-Men, you've got team tension, you've got nods to continuity, you've got huge action, sharp twists and fantastic artwork... and it's all in the span of 20 pages. Launching off last month's flashback interlude like a rocket, this is the superhero team book that leads the pack. With big ideas and bigger execution, Uncanny Avengers is also a big, big win.Flash #19
Written by Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul
Art by Marco Takara and Francis Manapul
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Occasionally writers remind readers that a superhero without powers is still a superhero. Flash #19 is that such book. After losing his powers, Barry Allen breaks into Iron Heights, a maximum security prison where Flash’s rogues usually end up, but his intent is to free one of his nemeses in order to clear his name. Unfortunately due to some artistic inconsistency, Flash #19 falls short of being a great book, even if it is a pretty darn good one.
Writers Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul prove to readers that Barry truly is a hero. Granted, Barry is a police officer so we expect nothing less, but we forget about his humanity, so Buccellato and Manapul remind us with this issue. Barry’s resourcefulness is on full display, and he proves that he has skills with or without the help of the speed force. Clearly, courage and character supersede tights and speed
But the comic does its best work at the end, where Barry and Vic have a discussion about other characters in the DCU, like Green Arrow and Batman — characters who have no superpowers yet who risk their lives for others. Barry’s comment, “I don’t know how they do it,” is a moment of humility that reminds readers of the role of heroes in our society. And when a story plants its message firmly, one can’t help but be moved.
What holds the book back from being better is the art. Marco Takara’s tight, angular style works for the majority of the book, but occasionally it loses its detail and consistency. Faces alters several times, and in a few panels background detail is eschewed completely. Takara draws some great action shots, but one splash page in particular is chaotic in its construction due to images crossing into other images, distracting points of view, and characters melded into set pieces without clear definition.
Close ups work better for Takara, but even these can be a bit too shaded, hindering clarity and sharpness.
Even Francis Manapul’s return in the final two pages lacks its usual detail. This may be in part to introduce the Reverse Flash, but the excess of movement lines makes the images look muddled and smudged. While Manapul’s first image is crisp and detailed, the rest of his work lacks its usual sharpness and the images look hastily thrown into the back of the book.
Where DC teased the introduction of the Reverse Flash into the new 52, he has minimal impact on the story and his appearance is more of a lead into the next issue. What we get, however, is a well constructed story about true heroism, and how not everyone has the ability — with or without powers — to fill those shoes. The art occasionally derails the tale, but due to the strength of the character, Flash #19 rebounds nicely, even if not completely sticking the landing.
Jupiter’s Legacy #1
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Frank Quitely, Peter Doherty
Lettered by Peter Doherty
Published by Image Comics
Review by Edward Kaye
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
The year is 1932, and a group of friends are called to a mysterious island (eerily similar to the one featured in Lost), where magnificent powers are bestowed upon them. So begins the Golden Age of superheroes, when these paragons of virtue use their powers for the good of the country and the betterment of humanity.
Fast-forward to 2013, and their children (shouldn't it really be grandchildren?) are mostly overprivileged brats with an inflated sense of self-worth, more concerned with their public image than saving the world.
That’s the premise of this “superhero epic that all future comics will be measured by.” While it’s certainly a decent premise, it’s really not quite as original as Millar’s hype machine would have you believe, and feels part Kingdom Come and part superhero deconstruction in the vein Irredeemable or a lot of Warren Ellis' recent work at Avatar.
That’s not to say that it’s a bad story though, as Millar puts together an interesting cast of characters, particularly the Golden Age ones like Walter, who crafts an idyllic reality construct for villains to relax in while his colleagues are destroying the villain's physical form. Millar tells a well-paced story with strong dialogue that features just the right amount of narration and exposition needed to move the plot forward, without giving the reader information overload. The story ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, but it’s not one that will necessarily drive readers to come back for the second issue. It involves the fate of a character that is only featured in the last few pages, and so readers aren’t really invested in the character by the issue’s close.
Alongside the legacy superhero storyline, Millar also seems to be making a bit of a heavy-handed commentary on the current political landscape, drawing parallels between the state of today’s economy and that see prior to the Wall Street crash of 1929. It’s a bit unsubtle and makes the plot a little unfocused. It also seems a bit confused, because the older superheroes talk about how they have never directly intervene in political matters, and yet the comic also states that they helped America through the great depression, the Second World War, and more. Perhaps Millar is implying that the advent of superheroes set a good example for humanity to follow. However, I find it very unlikely that the appearance of a few guys flying around in tights would did a country out of an economic crisis.
Frank Quitely’s trademark style is instantly recognizable. It is often imitated, but never duplicated. his style is hard to describe, but it looks a bit like his characters are all stuffed like teddy bears—they’re all puffy and wrinkly. It’s an odd style, but is highly expressive and emotive, which works to the advantage of character-building scenes, while also being highly dynamic and energetic during action scenes. On this comic, though, he does vary his style a little bit, using his normal highly-detailed style for the modern scenes, and employing a slightly more traditional style for the 1930s scenes. The difference in technique is subtle, but works to stunning effect. There’s less filling of black and more shading, and the characters have that chiseled jaw and barrel-chested look of Golden Age/pulp action heroes.
Quitely’s gorgeous linework and inking is finished off by a wonderful color job from Peter Doherty, who uses lots of bright and vibrant colors for the modern scenes, and a slightly more muted palette for the 1930s parts, completing the Golden Age/pulp feeling of those scenes.
Jupiter’s Legacy is a very solid superhero story that features some top-notch artwork. If you’ve bought into the hype though, or believe any of the issue solicitations, you will be sorely disappointed. Readers who rarely venture outside of the DC/Marvel realm (and have never read Kingdom Come) may find a lot to love here, but more seasoned indie veterans will likely be left disappointed.Guardians of the Galaxy #2
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Steve MicNiven, Sara Pichelli, John Dell, Mark Morales, and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
While I found Bendis’ initial work on Guardians of the Galaxy to be lackluster and erratic, I found Issue #2 to be much more in line with what we’ve come to expect of Bendis (including the excessive dialogue). Where writing a team book can be very difficult, Bendis shines while smoothly bouncing from character to character all while building his mythos, crafting great action sequences, and solidifying his cast of characters as true heroes in Marvel’s extensive universe.
Previous issues of Guardians of the Galaxy failed to give a sense of ability or understanding to the characters, but much like the climactic battle of Joss Whedon’s Avengers, Bendis highlights each character’s strengths, giving readers a better grasp of ability and personality. No one person takes the spotlight so each member is highlighted in his/her own way. By the end of the issue, readers will have a much clearer appreciation of the team members.
Bendis also shifts away from the intense action to develop a backstory for the invasion. While I found these moments to be a bit tedious (due to the copious amount of dialogue), Bendis raises some interesting points about Earth’s presence in the universe, and he reminds readers of our planet being the focal point of all the action in the galaxy. He doesn’t posit a reason for this, but he definitely laying the ground work the ethos of our humanity, and its larger role in the context of Guardians.
The comic also has to thank the sharp and detailed work of its artists, Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli. McNiven takes control of the action sequences, using fine inks which work better in close up shots rather than distance ones. A lot of the action is compressed meaning that McNiven is confined to smaller panels which occasionally hinder his abilities. But when he draws characters up close, they’re rendered with impeccable detail. Some of his other work, however, loses its sharpness, but this is only really noticeable in contrast to Pichelli’s work.
Because while McNiven has the action, Pichelli gets the plot. Her work appears in the sequences involving Peter Quill’s father, J-Son, and a troupe of intergalactic leaders who each express fear of Earth’s growing power and its role in the universe. Pichelli gets more page space, giving her art a smoother texture and finish than McNiven’s, but both artists benefit from Justin Ponsor’s vivid and vibrant colors.
For a comic packed with a plethora of characters, Guardians of the Galaxy goes far in establishing its heroes, developing their originality, and highlighting each person’s role in the story. The transitions in the action sequences are fluid and seamless, and the climax offers a reason to come back next month to see the fate of the team. Count me impressed and on board with Guardians of the Galaxy, a comic that provides readers with a new doorway into the Marvel Universe, and a picture of a world full of intrigue and excitement.
All Star Western #19
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Moritat and Andre Symanowicz
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10
Because you asked for it! Wait, did we ask for it? Well, regardless, somebody wanted a team-up between Western antihero Jonah Hex and time-traveling Justice Leaguer Booster Gold, and by God, DC has delivered on that premise. But unfortunately, even with the eye-grabbing nature of this "WTF" cover, All Star Western #19 is a prime example that just because you can publish a story, it doesn't always mean you should.
The shark-jumping begins with no foreplay or fanfare, with Booster Gold pointing a pistol at Hex's head in an awkward letterbox panel. It's weird, because I usually like Moritat's work, but the small panels don't really work in this issue — or I should say, they don't really work with this script. Palmiotti and Gray spend so much time establishing what we already could guess — Hex and Booster don't get along, they each have differing tolerances for murder, and Booster's story of coming from the future is too implausible for a gunslinger like Hex to believe — so filling up page after page with dialogue feels criminal. Instead of letting Moritat use smaller panels to evoke a sort of spaghetti-western style of building tension, it's just painful exposition, with little actual characterization or genuine interplay between the two leads to make it interesting. Hell, the town barely makes a peep out of Booster staying in superhero costume for weeks at a time!
With the promise of the actual "WTF" premise left quickly in the dust, the main story also feels quarter-baked. A murderous gang of carny bank robbers doesn't really stand out as villains of the year, with their paper-thin characterization making them all but interchangeable if not for Moritat's scratchy, sometimes Chaykin-esque designs. Meanwhile, Booster explaining how he became sheriff isn't particularly funny, isn't particularly dramatic, and doesn't even have a particular message to it — it's the equivalent of someone taking 30 minutes to describe how they drove to the grocery store. We get it. You went back in time. Got into a fight. You're the new sheriff. The important questions, however — like, why would Booster want to be a sheriff? And why would this town take this gaudily-dressed weirdo? — don't get any play. It's a real shame, as that joke could have given this story more personality than its current cliched status.
The one time this book does pick up happens to be in the backup story, as Palmiotti and Gray more or less drop the pretense of an actual story and script a fight sequence drawn by Staz Johnson. The idea of the Master Gunfighter — essentially a killer of the supernatural armed with a six-gun — has some decent potential, and Johnson's artwork looks superb. Reminiscent of a mix of Igor Kordey and Klaus Janson, Johnson's choreography looks pretty good, especially a splash page with little insets of the Gunfighter learning his trade. It's a short that floats mainly on its premise, but compared to what came before, it's practically award-winning.
Out of all of DC's "WTF" concepts, All Star Western feels the most crass, and that's already coming after the forced injection of superhero antics this book has already received since its relaunch, in the hopes of making it "profitable." Yet like a bad kidney, this book rejects this foreign premise almost immediately, limping along until the story mercifully ends. "WTF," indeed — only diehard fans of Booster need to mine for this fool's Gold.