Make sure to click the link above for our first take on Sandman: Overture #1, but as happens occasionally with a release of this magnitude, we had more than one reviewer who wanted to take a stab at the issue. Don’t be surprised if there’s another during the Rapids column tomorrow. But first, here’s a review of one of three “event” comics that come out today. Check out the other two further in the column, too.
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Jerome Opena, Dustin Weaver and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
It's an Avengers Universe, baby, and we're all just living in it.
Following the abrupt routing of the Builder fleet, Earth's Mightiest Heroes are now the Galaxy's Most Popular Icons, as Jonathan Hickman switches gears and brings the focus back to the mad alien warlord Thanos. That said, the change-up in villains winds up hurting Infinity's momentum, even as Hickman's heroic moments are buoyed by a pair of stellar artists.
The best parts of Infinity are, unfortunately, also the most fleeting - Hickman shows us how inspired the rest of the galaxy is by the Avengers, but he's essentially doing it by telling rather than showing. Much of that has to do with how quickly Thor took out a Builder over in Infinity #4, but it feels like Hickman is writing about everything in an event except for the best parts of an event - namely, putting our favorite characters into new, high-stakes situations and seeing how they come out on top. Still, there is a great montage with the different Avengers liberating different planets, as we watch Captain Marvel tear through some Builders, Starbrand driving off some alien foes, and Hawkeye drawing bows with a squad of Zatoan warriors.
Yet part of the problem with Infinity is that Hickman also has to go back and clean up his previous plot points. After a few issues on the sidelines, Thanos takes a lot of page space this issue, as he finally meets his Terrigan-mutated son Thane. While Hickman plays up Thanos's menacing nature, Thane's backstory still doesn't feel particularly compelling - I'm sure he'll wind up playing a big part in the final battle to come (and likely wind up joining the Avengers, since they still have some team slots available), but currently it drags on the rest of the story. Meanwhile, the Illuminati also get some pages, but it's a subplot that currently doesn't have enough payoff to keep you invested.
The artwork, however, is extremely strong, and definitely at the level of a mighty Marvel crossover. Jerome Opeña proves his superstar status again and again, whether its showing how self-assured and noble Captain America looks as he leads a galaxy's worth of armies, or watching the Hulk crash-land on an errant Builder. Dustin Weaver can't help but pale in comparison a little bit, although his more cartoony linework is still very pleasing to the eye. Weaver occasionally has his missteps with his panel layouts - there's a page where Reed Richards has his head cut off by another panel - his work reminds me a lot of Jim Cheung. He deserves a lot of credit for keeping the energy up, considering Hickman's Thanos scenes are a bit dialogue-heavy, and his take on the Illuminati trying to liberate the Necropolis is a nice action beat.
Ultimately, Infinity #5 isn't a bad book, just an unfocused one - with so many villains and subplots going on, it's been a somewhat unsatisfying read waiting for all these plot points to come together. That said, even this fleeting spotlight on the Avengers themselves gives this book a slight shot in the arm, and with the final showdown with Thanos on the horizon, there's a chance that Infinity might conclude with a bang.
The Sandman: Overture #1
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by J. H. Williams III and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by Vertigo
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
There's no doubt that The Sandman: Overture is one of the most important issues to come out of DC/Vertigo this year. It's been 25 years since The Sandman debuted and changed the landscape of the comic book medium and ignited the careers of Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith, and Mike Drigenberg. This title has endured a decade and a half after it ended and constantly mentioned in the ranks of "greatest comic of all time." How fitting on the imprint's twentieth anniversary, Gaiman returns to world of Dream and the other Endless to once again take them on the next step in their journey.
We don't get a real origin story here, but more of heavy narrative on describing some of the characters to the reader, with the most elaborate one being Destiny. Death makes a small appearance, as does Dream's librarian Lucien and Merv Pumpkinhead. The not-so-subtle psychopathic nightmare Corinthian gets a sort of reintroduction here, but it never feels like they're there for just fan service and doesn't bog readers down, especially those with minimal knowledge of this universe. While it doesn't paint you the entire picture of who these characters are for new readers, there are hints sprinkled about that give them an idea of sorts of what they're about. The imagery of Merv gives you the impression of the janitor, and certain details through dialogue help you along the way if you felt overwhelmed about reading this before going back to the original series. There's a bigger story at play here, and Gaiman is just getting to the first chapter.
When the first series came out, Gaiman had only been in comics for a short while, debuting with Black Orchid. Since then he's become one of the highest-profile prose writers of this generation and while Sandman is considered his most well known body of work to comic fans, his style has evolved since releasing Dream out of his cell. Overture almost feels softer here. Where the original series had a more horror feel originally, this is definitely more of a hardcore fantasy concept. Even with the Corinthian pages, we don't see the literal nightmare act upon them like we have before. Whether or not we'll see more of the macabre side of the series is uncertain for now. Regardless, Sandman and this issue as well is a good impression of one might get when deciding to take up reading something with Gaiman's name attached to it.
Sandman has a heritage of visually striking and dynamic artists that left their imprint on the title and have made careers out of being some of the most unique voices in the comic medium. Here, J. H. Williams III joins that club giving some serious art for your eyes to devour. The book is almost primarily in double-page spreads and gives Williams a larger playground to make his magic with. Again, Williams using non-traditional page layouts telling this story, working within framing such as the Corinthian's teeth and pages from the Book of Destiny. Williams' panel construction is still unorthodox in the same way as his work in Batwoman, but not as consistent throughout the book. There are some traditional layouts along the way, but they're still in the minority by comparison.
The opening scene displays the many shapes and forms Dream takes throughout different realities and myths with this time as a sentient flower. Gaiman being as imaginative as ever, sets the stage here and that idea of shapeshifting comes full circle with the reveal at the end. Williams sells the idea here with giving Dream's plant form a distinctive look and recognizable of the Lord of Dream's silhouette.
Aiding Williams with the art is former Batwoman tag-team partner Dave Stewart who paints over Williams' work like a surreal tapestry, mixing textures to make it seem like each part of the book is a separate part to a completely different universe, but not in an inconsistent way. Showcasing how Dream can move within other worlds and realities by having him go through mystical upside down doors and ethereal gateways, as well as him being whirled around and bent like some sort cloak stuck in a tornado. Through Williams and Stewart's art, we're shown that Dream isn't just a magical character - he actually embodies magic.
The original Sandman series was important staple to both DC and Vertigo for most of its existence. Cameos by the Endless would happen from time to time in some of DC's mainstay books like Superman and Justice League of America. It was a fine example of comics has high art. Calling The Sandman: Overture anything short of beautiful and captivating might seem trite to some, but Gaiman had to swim through a seemingly fathomless ocean of expectations and stayed afloat wonderfully.
As a fan of the older series, I really like the vibe Gaiman and Williams are throwing out. The addition to original letterer Todd Klein is also a big win in my book. I think it's the coolest thing ever that there are new Sandman stories for a whole new generation that can serve as both a refresher's course for fans like me and sort of kiddie pool introduction for long-time comic readers who have been curious for years about the series and new readers who are looking for their niche in what they want out of their comics. Years ago this title broke the mold of what comics could do and tell visually, and with this sequel things are off to a great start. The last double-page spread is something I'd never thought imaginable, yet Gaiman has conceived a notion and added a new dimension to the Sandman character that has made this title a must-read for the year.
Battle of the Atom #2
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Esad Ribic, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Andrew Curries, Tom Palmer, Ive Svorcina, Andres Mossa and Guru eFX
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
In a lot of ways, Battle of the Atom has been a microcosm of the best and worst of what the X-Men have been about since their Claremont-era heyday. It's always been soap opera meets sci-fi spectacle deep-fried in good old-fashioned angst, even if the laser beams and superpowers have drowned out the melodramatics here. This event may be playing to our baser instincts as comic book readers, but there's still a flicker of self-awareness as Jason Aaron leads an overgrown cast of mutants (and artists) to a brutal last stand.
Since the introduction of Marvel NOW!, the X-Men books have led the pack with the House of Ideas' big push for time-travel stories. As soon as the original five X-Men were plucked from the past and dropped into our troubled present, it's been nothing but angst and passing the temporally displaced hot potato - or in this case, the young versions of Jean Grey, Scott Summers, Bobby Drake, Warren Worthington III and Hank McCoy. Yet with great spectacle comes even greater smashability, because with Battle of the Atom, the original X-Men aren't the only time-travelers in town - this series has introduced not one, but two teams of X-Men from the future.
With that sort of premise in mind, you can't even level a review at any one writer. This is an event by committee - even with Jason Aaron pulling the trigger, and even with its overgrown, sloppy structure, Battle of the Atom is actually a very calculated way of plucking nostalgic X-fans' heartstrings. It's taking the tropes from Chris Claremont, from Days of Future Past all the way to the over-the-top craziness of the Shiar and the Dark Phoenix Saga, and just playing it to the hilt - we've got the heroic X-Men of the future taking on the twisted future Brotherhood, and they're all comprised of heroes we already know and love. This is essentially a critic-proof kind of book, one that self-selects its readership rather than cultivates new fans - you like mutants punching each other? You like future variants of your favorite characters? Love it or hate it, it's pure X-Men, and Jason Aaron's got you covered.
Of course, with the majority of this book being a fight sequence, it's hard for Aaron to get his own individual voice across. For a surprisingly long time, I thought this book was written by Brian Michael Bendis, as the book opens with a group shot of talking heads as S.H.I.E.L.D. accidentally launches a volley of missiles at our merry mutants. There are so many characters here that, for the most part, everyone gets just a flicker of screen time before getting shuffled off into the background - that said, Aaron also knows how to hit our respective nerd buttons, tapping into X-history with a well-placed reintroduction of the Sentinels, as well as echoes of the Dark Phoenix Saga as the adult Jean Grey squares off against both Cyclops and Wolverine. Add in some obligatory deaths, a tip of the hat to the original Uncanny X-Men #1 cover, and you have the equivalent of a comic book sugar rush - the nutritional content might be low, but it'll give people an empty rush.
But what about the art? There are so many artists in this book that you can almost feel Marvel editorial dragging this book across the finish line. Given the previous nine installments, Esad Ribic's painterly style winds up being a shock to the system - his work is gorgeous, particularly a horrifying splash page of the Sentinels looming over our heroes, but Aaron's cramped, dialogue-heavy script winds up painting him into a corner more often than not. Additionally, you can see moments where Ribic's work winds up looking sketchy and unfinished, such as a sequence where Charles Xavier II winds up psychically blindsiding Colossus. Meanwhile, Guiseppe Camuncoli, Andrew Currie and Tom Palmer wind up jumping into the book midway through, and while Aaron winds up pacing the finale with some great moments by Wolverine, Cyclops and the original X-Men, the art winds up looking extremely retro - a tough pill to swallow given Ribic's almost futuristic style.
The other guilty bit about Battle of the Atom #2 is that, yes, it does set the stage for future X-books. The four (four?!) epilogues are arguably meatier than the battle royale that takes place through the rest of the book. For my money, Brian Wood's epilogue with Kris Anka is the best bit of the entire issue, as Jubilee bonds with the adult version of her newly adopted son, Shogo. Considering how little we cared about these disposable mutants only a few pages ago, Wood really shows us the humanity behind these powers, leaving a lump in the throats of even the most jaded readers. Brian Michael Bendis, meanwhile, puts a new spin on the status quo of the All New X-Men as they make a big decision about their future - Bendis's idea, while a nice curveball, feels a little inorganic, particularly when Kitty Pryde winds up hugging an alleged mutant terrorist. Jason Aaron, meanwhile, evens out the bunch with two additional epilogues - one artfully drawn by Chris Bachalo, teasing at the return of Nightcrawler in Amazing X-Men, while the other reiterating the mission statement of Wolverine and the X-Men, a smart move considering how sidetracked that series has been with Battle of the Atom.
For better or for worse, Battle of the Atom is pure X-Men, through and through. Marvel's premier mutant team has become synonymous with byzantine storylines, overstuffed casts, a reliance on violence and melodrama - and yet it's also been one of Marvel's most enduring franchises. Rather than trying to overcome its natural weaknesses, Jason Aaron and company wind up leaning into the X-Men's idiosynracies. The Battle of the Atom may be a battle of the ages, but it probably won't last the test of time - that said, if you're living in the now and just want some high-octane mutant action, you can't go wrong with this finale.
Damian: Son of Batman #1
Written by Andy Kubert
Art by Andy Kubert and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Nick Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 1 out of 10
Andy Kubert has carved out a legendary career over the past few decades. A graduate of his father’s school for cartoon and graphic art, The Joe Kubert School, he made a name for himself with memorable contributions to the X-Men, Captain America and Batman. Generally, excellence is rewarded and after a star turn on their line-chaning event Flashpoint, DC saw fit to give Kubert his own Bat family title. But Damian: Son of Batman is not cut from the same cloth as the rest.
A fairly inexperienced writer, Kubert isn’t able to elevate this possibly alternate timeline tale to the heights set by previous writers with fan-favorite Robin, Damian Wayne. Grant Morrison and to some extent, Peter J. Tomasi, were tasked with establishing Damian’s voice and they did so by making him a whipsmart, pain in the ass with ambiguous morals. While Kubert may have the familiar tropes of a Batman comic down pat (dark setting, violence, grit teeth and copious amounts of exposition by way of caption boxes), he misses the mark on his characterization and throws of the entire book.
Now, considering that we don’t know where this story exists in time (or even which corner of the multiverse), it is very possible that we aren’t meeting the Batman and Damian that we are familiar with. But even still, Kubert’s dialogue reads like a bad update of the 60s TV show. Everything is unnatural and stilted. Nothing flows. Damian’s scene with Gordon illustrates this. In a confession box, Gordon calls Damian’s methods into question. Damian in some ways acts as a stand-in for the reader, calling into question Batman’s modus operandi: "Sentences were either served, or they escaped... right back to the streets committing their heinous acts! With my method... the scum can't return!” But we’ve seen this method of thinking before in Batman titles and young people don’t speak like this. Even worse, Damian doesn’t speak like this. His 10-year-old self would be rolling his eyes over how melodramatic he sounds here.
Kubert’s plotting echoes the unnatural nature of the dialogue and captioning. The plot moves forward because Kubert decides the next scene should happen and not because the next scene is a natural response to the one before it. Talia and Ra’s Al Ghul’s inclusion is perfunctory at best and Damian’s rampage only serves to show us that he’s taken a step back from the progress he made with Dick and Bruce in his previous adventures. Is it simply because he’s in a fragile emotional state or is it because he’s being written poorly? It could be either considering Kubert doesn’t show that he has a handle on Damian and Bruce’s relationship in the early goings of the book.
Kubert’s art isn’t up to par, either. Usually, a bad Andy Kubert page is still better than a good number of books on the shelves but he’s very inconsistent here. The splash pages are unspectacular. His sequential storytelling is pretty clear but his pencils and inks are simply lacking. Character renderings are weak and unbalanced. His expressions, which are usually strong, are so off kilter that it seems like he’s drawing different characters altogether. His art has carried subpar writing in the past but it’s not enough here. Still, it puts much of DC’s line to shame even in it’s less than fighting form but that says more about the state of DC’s stable of talent than anything else.
Kubert ends this book with a twist, one that keeps this from going into full-on revenge story territory and that’s probably a blessing. If this story exists to help us understand how we get to the Damian who appears in Batman #666 and Batman #700 then hopefully it will get better. The Damian in those stories was likable and actually, the young Damian was likable after a while. #666 and #700 helped serve an in media res approach to Damian’s growth. As unbearable as he might have been as a kid at points, you always knew he’d turn out okay. That’s what makes this miniseries baffling. The ultraviolence comes out of nowhere, in stark contrast to the character’s growth under other writers.
The lack of care taken to justify the characters’ actions in this book make it seem like a nothing more than a cash grab that combines a popular character with a popular creator and hopes for the best. Ultimately, it does a disservice to previous work on the character and Kubert’s legacy as a creator. Damian: Son of Batman is simply an exercise in weeping and moaning and gritting of teeth. Unfortunately, the weeping and moaning will be coming mostly from a reader who can’t believe they spent four dollars on this one.
Green Lantern Annual #2
Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Sean Chen, Jon Sibal, Walden Wong, Andrew Dalhouse and Wil Quintana
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
While the Justice League-centric “Forever Evil” crossover is grabbing all of the limelight, the Green Lantern titles have been quietly and effectively carving out their own universe changing multi-title crossover. Only five months after Geoff Johns brought his historic run with the character to a close in his inimitable fashion, his successor Robert Venditti has wasted little time in putting his stamp on the book with “Lights Out”. Indeed, much like Johns, Venditti pays scant attention to what is going on in the rest of the DCU, for his events impact the very fabric of the universe.
Green Lantern Annual #2 marks the fifth and final chapter of “Lights Out”, although its roots can be traced back to Venditti’s first outing on the title. Relic, a literal leftover from the universe before this one, has proven to be one of the more interesting villains of the New 52. Seeking to put a stop to the various lantern corps before they drain their universe of the light spectrum, his actions come from a noble place, even if they do ultimately mean the end for our heroes. Venditti plays with this, at first aligning White Lantern Kyle Rayner with the would-be villain. Similarly, Guy Gardner’s changing allegiances, and Carol’s shifted heart, may ultimately dissipate more of the emotional spectrum than Relic ever could.
While it could be argued that the saga spends its final act far too quickly, undoing a heroic sacrifice almost immediately, Venditti wisely puts this to bed before it ever begins to feel like a drag. Uniting the Red, Green and Indigo tribes, this issue is filled with the kind of heroic last stand moments that recall the best of DC. Relic may be another quasi-villain driven by obsession, but Venditti has skilfully woven lingering plot threads and sub-dermal angst into the larger tapestry. As Carol Ferris admits her feelings, hotheaded Hal can’t help but react, even as “the fate of every Green Lantern hangs in the balance”. It’s moments like these that have consistently made the Lantern universe one of the most complex and rewarding.
Sean Chen takes over from series regular Billy Tan for this plus-sized annual, but from the opening shot of the birth of a universe, the Nova artist has this one well in hand. Not simply content to let colorists Dalhouse and Quintana distinguish the characters for him, his line art is a balanced example of the emotional spectrum they represent: Hal’s strong but furrowed will, the fragile strength of Carol’s love or Guy literally spitting the blood of his rage. Chen lets it all loose on a centrepiece call to arms, recalling Doug Mahnke’s much larger free-for-all in Green Lantern #20. By contrast, the final smack-down between Hal, Jon Stewart, Guy, Kyle and Relic is close-quartered and brutal, with a cheer-worthy final push that’s a literal dazzler.
“Lights Out” is a textbook example of what an event should be: a mostly self-contained quest that not only ends on its own terms, but hints at the future. When Johns left the title, he laid out a road map for the ultimate fate of the characters he had crafted over the course of a decade. With “Lights Out,” Venditti has ensured that his own name will become an important part of that history, indicating some major changes on the horizon for all the main players.
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Lenil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Sunny Gho, and David Curiel
Letters by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Jonathan Hickman is very much a long term thinker. That’s one of the reasons that I gravitate and obsess over his work. From the seeds planted during his FF and Fantastic Four run that are now flourishing in the pages to Infinity to the essential feeling of his Avengers and New Avengers tie in now, Hickman makes a plan and never deviates from it and we all benefit from it. I would kill to see the giant, insane graph that maps out this sprawling, universe spanning epic.
Avengers #22 is a largely quiet issue, focused on some of the newer members of the Avengers World unit Sunspot, Cannonball, Smasher, and, one of my personal favorite comic book characters, Manifold. The Avengers, along with the shattered Galactic Council, have turned the tide of the battle and are now en route to the Earth in hopes of using their new found momentum to break the blockade and reclaim the planet. In the mostly action free issue, aside from an amazing half page shot of Sam Wilson that just shows how amazing Lenil Yu and his team of immensely talented colorists can make even the simplest of scenes, Hickman takes the time to slow down the breakneck speed of the larger Infinity plot to focus on the mental states of some of the greener Avengers. Sam and Izzy have retreated into each other's arms to beat back the rising feeling of despair that has plagued their first major mission as Avengers, while Roberto retreats into full Peter Parker mode, cracking jokes in the face of death. Both of them have had very little page time since their introduction in the second issue and most of the time, Hickman just stuck them into the jokester role or used them as foil against some of the other, more experienced Avengers, but in #22, we finally get a genuine emotional weight from them that doesn’t feel trite.
This is a great bit of plotting for two reasons; One, the issue really feels like a Paths of Glory like episode in that everyone is steeling themselves before the major push over the hill to try and reclaim lost ground and two, it finally feels like Hickman is getting a firm hold on how to write these younger characters. This issue also sets itself apart from the rest of this current tie-in arc in that it takes the time to set the stakes and the feeling of fatigue that the heroes are feeling at this point. The Avengers have spent a great deal of time losing in this event and it’s refreshing to see Hickman take the time to show a recuperation and sense of strategy from the heroes, instead of a quick Act 3 turnaround toward the win. There is a real sense of urgency and time biding from Hickman’s script that is rarely felt within events, which is just another thing that sets Infinity apart from other recent events; Hickman and his teams have blown apart regular plotting conventions of events and given us a slow burn with moments of explosive development.
The real emotional hook though comes later in a beautiful scene between Captain Marvel, Captain America, Thor, and Eden Fesi. Eden is worn down by the weight of being a hero and asks the good captains how they manage to shoulder all the weight of being one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Carol gives an answer about the black-and-white nature of battle; take down your enemy before they do the same to you. Steve agrees, saying, “There is no hero’s journey. There is just life and how you choose to live it.” This could possibly be a sly commentary on the unconventional nature of Infinity as a whole. Instead of it being an event about a single hero or small band effecting the larger world (or realities) around them, this has been an event of large armies clashing beyond the stars. Yes, the Avengers are at the center of it all, but they have been part of a larger entity fighting for survival. There is no singular hero’s journey, but there is a movement toward victory as a band of bound in blood warriors. This is what gives Infinity it’s scope and Avengers #22 it’s quiet power. Hickman may be working in the macro, but he isn’t above taking the time to explore the micro to engaging results. As they leave, Thor steps up to his brother in arms and completely disagrees. He states that they were chosen to protect the Earth, that they were born for this precise moment of glory. “Will you join me in teaching the oldest lesson of them all?” Thor asks his teammate, as we see a single page splash of the council ships speeding toward their fates. Of course Eden will answer the call.
It’s mythic moments like this that have made Hickman’s Avengers run one of my favorite takes on the team to date. He’s restored the team to the heady, larger than life days of old, with help from some of the best artists working in the industry to date and Lenil Francis Yu was the perfect artist to accompany Hickman on this epic trip into the space opera genre. His detailed and expressive work has worked equally well for the human members of the Avengers as well as the grotesque and elegant members of the Galactic Council. Yu may have also drawn my favorite incarnations of Ronan The Accuser and Gladiator ever. Yu, along with his colorist Gerry Alanguilan, since the opening salvo of this tie-in arc have turned in consistently impressive work that sets these issues apart from the rest of the art teams on Infinity, but never have they felt out of place or lacking in anyway. Yu draws monsters and aliens better than anyone in the business today, making him the perfect artist to tackle some of the weirder races displayed in Hickman’s foray into space opera. His splash pages never feel muddled, largely due to the amazing inks of Gho and Curiel, who add a heavy definition to Yu’s rough hewn pencils. Alanguilan’s colors also add a vibrancy to even the grimmest of scenes. It’s almost a shame that we will lose this amazing team after the conclusion of Infinity since they have turned in some of the more beautiful and clear issues of the series since Jerome Opena’s opening three issues.
Yu alone would be worth the price of the issue, but the only thing keeping this book from getting a perfect score is the density of Hickman’s script, which has been an issue since the beginning. While the opening of his run may have been better suited for new readers, these tie in issues very much feel heavily tied into the major event and may be frustrating for people just trying to dip their feet into the larger world of Avengers comics. Minor complaints aside, Hickman’s nuanced script, along with Yu’s highly detailed and vivid artwork make this yet another highly re-readable entry into the sprawling Infinity saga. This calm before the storm that takes the time to focus on different characters than the usual cape comic stars is exactly what sets Jonathan Hickman’s work apart from other major writers who tackle large scale events. You buy the comic for the grand scope and the rich plotting, but you keepbuying it for the quiet character work in between the battles.
Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S. #1
Written by Sterling Gates
Art by Philip Tan, Neil Edwards, Javier Pina, Jason Paz, Jay Leisten, Nathan Eyring and Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
By this stage, most DC readers will know the drill: the Justice League is dead, the villains have taken over the henhouse, dogs and cats are living together and nobody can stop the madness. Yet despite the high profile of the event, many of the tie-in comics have avoided the elephant in the room and spent very little time exploring what the rest of the world is doing while the villains are having their fun. Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S. #1 tackles it head-on, or at least a small corner of it.
Part origin story and part continuation, Steve Trevor serves as the protagonist amidst an A.R.G.U.S. in shambles. Waking up in a hospital, writer Sterling Gates teases us with the fate of the Justice League in the wake of the Trinity War, before informing us that Trevor was conveniently sent away by Zatanna before the good stuff happened. It’s soon irrelevant, with A.R.G.U.S. security breached and units disappearing all over the world. Reflecting on his first encounters with Wonder Woman, Trevor plunges gun-first into a mission to save the US President.
Although Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S. #1 comes dangerously close to being hamstrung with the ‘drama by way of touchscreen’ approach that has crippled previous A.R.G.U.S. outings and television crime dramas alike, action man Trevor and a series of flashbacks gives this sufficient momentum. Some of the Wonder Woman scenes are seeped in an overwhelming sense of déjà vu, although they do add some legitimacy to Trevor’s motivations. His careless assault on the lion’s den seems ill-advised, and possibly nothing more than an excuse for a character reveal on the final page, and this almost undermines the good will earned prior to this.
Despite the presence of three different pencillers, and as many inkers, there is a mostly consistent flow to the art. When there is an abrupt shift, such as the one from the sinister prologue to the dreamlike glow around Steve’s memories of Wonder Woman, it helps contextualise the story fragments, even if the hand-holding “Five Years Ago” tags weren’t ever present. There’s the odd anomaly, including some comparatively thickish inks on a confrontation between Trevor and Deathstroke and Copperhead, but the mostly engaging story overcomes this.
While this may have been better off as a Steve Trevor one-shot, with little evidence so far that there’s enough material here to sustain an entire mini-series, it is one of the first main “Forever Evil” tie-ins to give some glimmer of hope that there’s a plan to get out of this thing.
Mice Templar v4 #8
Written by Bryan J.L. Glass
Art by Victor Santos, Serena Guerra
Lettering by James H. Glass
Published by Image Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Issue #8 of Mice Templar brings the first half of the series' final volume to a close, and it does so in both expected and unexpected ways. I initially anticipated this issue would leave readers in a lurch through some sort of grandiose cliffhanger with questions left hanging in the air about the fate of key characters. Since the creative team will be taking a brief break from the series to work ahead on the title, this would have made the wait for resolution somewhat unsatisfying. Instead, Glass selects a few of the threads from his tapestry and provides resolution for readers - sometimes in a violent and bloody form as seen throughout the bulk of this issue while the tone shifts to one that is more somber and subdued as seen in the final panels of the issue. Admittedly, I felt a greater sense of satisfaction at having been wrong but gotten more answers than being right but left with questions unanswered. On the whole, I think readers who have been following the series will find little to be disappointed with in Issue #8.
Artistically, the book continues to maintain the same high quality that drew my interest from the moment I first began reading the series in 2009 – first with Michael Oeming and then Victor Santos at the helm. Over the years, Santos has really pushed the envelope with the style applied to Glass' scripts as both writer and artist compress as much action, at times, on the page to the point where it seems ready to burst. One such example of this can be seen in the eleven-panel page depicting Icarus' ascension and direct challenge to the owls of Wotan. Eschewing the traditional grid approach, this particular page adopts a circular, left-to-right layout that, once again, recalls the "wheel of fortune" motif I mentioned in my review of Issue #7. Although Alexis mistakenly cheers her lord's rise to power, the form the story takes cues readers into twhat is truly Icarus' descent into madness. It's not just the story that is smart and intentional but also the art where the form of the story is equally used to drive home a greater understanding of the events unfolding before the reader.
I also want to point out a particularly beautiful and touching three-panel scene with Micah's decision to take up arms against the heretics residing in the great tree. Guerra's control over light and darkness truly underscore the emotional tension of this moment as Micah – peaceful elder – makes the decision to provide an even greater cleansing of the order than Icarus and his fiery engines of war could ever hope to accomplish. We see him covered in shadows that creep into the crevices of his fur while the bright, shining spear point stands in contrast before him. His hands begin to reach out to grasp both the spear and the heavy burden of what will follow only to drop down slightly in uncertainty in the second panel. By the third panel, however, Micah is covered in less shadow and more resolve as his fist indicates a decision is made to step into the light, and embark upon his final mission as the true emissary of Wotan. And much of the emotional poignancy might have been lost in this quiet moment had it not been for the skilled hands of Santos and Guerra.
Glass has not been shy about making a number of literary and mythological allusions in his writing, and this issue is no exception. Undoubtedly, there is a strong influence on Icarus from Shakespeare's tragedy, King Lear. Like Lear, Icarus the ruler allows his ego to tear the kingdom apart as he overlooks the one, quiet voice of reason seeking to guide him through the maelstrom of his broken mind. Like Lear, he fails to heed that voice, gives in to his ego, and as we see in this story, absolute madness ensues. Although Glass acknowledges the myth and literature of the past, he does not ape it, and it makes for a fresh take on this familiar trope of the tragic king.
While the madness of Icarus reaches its apex in this issue, the folly of the Readers of the Wheat comes to a close with Micah's return. As this series draws to a close in the coming issues, Glass paves the way for the younger generation to step forward into the spotlight as the elder mice fade to black. However, this "fading" will hardly be a quiet and peaceful process as Icarus' actions cause not only the wheat fields but the great tree go up in flames. Whatever new chapter follows, it will be built upon the ashes of the charred ground of the old order as we see Cassisus and Karic look upon the destruction of the great tree and the burnt fields. The only question that remains is where Icarus will go from here following this direct assault on Wotan?
Mice Templar #8 wraps up the first half of the fourth and final volume of the series leaving readers waiting until early spring before the beginning of the end. So for those readers who've been tempted to begin the series but haven't found a good time to jump into this densely packed narrative, now's the perfect time to catch up on your back issues before Karic, Leito, and the rest of the Mice Templar depart on their final journey.