Best Shots Comic Reviews: MARVEL KNIGHTS X-MEN #1, SUPERMAN/WONDER WOMAN #2, More
CREDIT: Marvel Comics
Marvel Knights: X-Men #1
Written by Brahm Revel
Art by Brahm Revel and Christiane Peter
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
When it was announced that Brahm Revel would be taking on the X-Men as part of a new line of Marvel Knights titles, I was ecstatic. Revel's Guerillas is one of my favorite OGNs of the last several years, and his economic, well-crafted storytelling, alternately touching and brutal POV, and strong voice are exactly the kind of qualities more mainstream comics need to exemplify. While Marvel Knights: X-Men may be a prime platform for Revel's style, there's still something missing to elevate this book to a great story, and not just a middle-of-the-road tale told with exceptional craft.
Brahm Revel's art is the real star of Marvel Knights: X-Men. Though it's not as polished as his work on Guerillas, Revel's gift for charming characters, and clear, engaging storytelling make up for the rough edges. In fact, if it were anyone else illustrating this book, it could easily be written off as another fringe X-book. MK: X-Men falls into the kind of strange, tertiary territory of X-books that aren't contributing to the narrative, a place often populated by well-meaning but overlooked books that do their best to make a philosophical point while avoiding the continuity hassle that is modern X-Men comics.
And that's the biggest issue with Marvel Knights: X-Men #1. It looks great, it reads well, and it's message is clear as day. But it sticks close enough to the current ongoing X-Men story - that of Wolverine and Cyclops's competing mutant philosophies - that it doesn't stand as well on its own. Revel wisely ditches drawn out exposition in favor of more characterization, but in doing so and still relying on the narrative tropes of the rival X-Men teams, he places his story in line with the current X-zeitgeist, and sacrifices room to push boundaries.
Honestly, Brahm Revel tackling Marvel's merry mutants is enough of a draw for Marvel Knights: X-Men on its own, and indeed Revel's jagged, moody art, classic small town mystery plot, and over-arching themes of accepting oneself do not disappoint. Still, it seems like even in this first issue, there is room for more of Revel's own voice to come through. While it is well constructed and finely crafted, Marvel Knights: X-Men #1 feels more like the first issue of a fill-in arc on Wolverine and the X-Men than the start of a standalone tale. Fortunately, there's still time for Revel to bring more of his voice into this title, and in the mean time, Revel's art and storytelling may make up the difference.
Superman/Wonder Woman #2
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Tony Daniel, Batt, Sandu Florea and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Meeting the in-laws are never easy - but what happens when these in-laws are members of the ill-tempered Greek pantheon? Thankfully, even Apollo's scorn isn't a dealbreaker - at least, not when you're a Man of Steel - as Charles Soule and Tony Daniel deliver a fun if uneven second issue of Superman/Wonder Woman.
I say uneven because after last issue's cliffhanger, Soule seems to back-pedal a bit. By the end of the first issue of Superman/Wonder Woman, DC's premiere power couple were getting punched out by no less of a threat than Doomsday, but Soule winds up wasting valuable page space arbitrarily pulling this behemoth out of the fight. In his defense, Soule does get some good characterization in, such as when Wonder Woman desperately tries to size up Doomsday, saying that everything has a weakness. Still, Doomsday's introduction and abrupt departure makes last issue feel a little less powerful retroactively, and it ultimately doesn't add much to the real draw of the story - namely, how Superman deals with Wonder Woman's extended family.
It's that second half of the book that deals with the real emotional meat, and perhaps not surprisingly, it's the best the series has been thus far. Soule is at his best when he's showing the tender moments between Clark and Diana, but this is the first time where that tenderness actually leads to some smart fisticuffs, as well. It's a fine line, as Superman balances respectfulness with a tone of warning, as he tells the god Apollo that if he disrespects Diana one more time, he'll clock him with all of his Kryptonian muscles. The conclusion is short but sweet, as Soule writes some of the most understatedly badass Superman moments since the New 52 began.
The artwork by Tony Daniel has its hits and misses. His splash page with Superman effortlessly blocking a blow from Hephaestus is an incredibly powerful moment, as Clark's cape whips in the wind, his face completely impassive. Seeing another god's attack completely backfire on Superman is another great moment that shows just how strong Clark really is. That said, sometimes Daniel's panel-to-panel storytelling suffers, particularly with the Wonder Woman-Doomsday fight at the beginning of the issue - for example, it takes a couple of reads to notice Doomsday being stolen away, and Diana's stunned pose looks particularly unnatural.
But Superman/Wonder Woman #2 does succeed in one big way - namely, it's a surprisingly nuanced take on a romantic pairing that initially made a lot of people skeptical. Yet two issues in, while I still don't see the Man of Steel and the Amazing Amazon living happily ever after, I can at least buy their budding relationship, and find myself excited to see where they go next. If Soule and Daniel can continue adding superheroic trappings to the always relatable pitfalls of dating, Superman/Wonder Woman will stand as one of DC's most surprising hits.
Manifest Destiny #1
Written by Chris Dingess
Art by Matthew Roberts and Owen Gieni
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Lewis and Clark forged a new frontier as they made their way out west - but what if their mission wasn't just to explore new territory? What if they were on the prowl for something much more sinister indeed?
Mixing American history with the supernatural - and just a hint of buddy comedy - Manifest Destiny #1 is a stunning introduction for Image's latest series, not to mention a showcase for a group of up-and-coming comics talents. Writer Chris Dingess and art team Matthew Roberts and Owen Gieni really do a great job of selling this book, as they put an exciting new twist on a largely overlooked slice of history.
What's great about Manifest Destiny is who Dingess introduces Lewis and Clark, showing us their differences rather than outright telling us. Lewis is the scientist, our narrator, a bit of a cerebral type, whereas Clark is the guy who's willing to get his hands dirty, "retrieving" a heron from flight using nothing but his trusty musket. There's a real tongue-in-cheek sense of humor to their dynamic, and Dingess uses this to make us root for our heroes before things get really weird.
And weird they get - not only is the characterization for this book strong, but the plotting is great, as well. Lewis and Clark face threats from both within and without, and Dingess plants these seeds cleverly. Introducing a gang of ne'er-do-well mercenaries alongside mysterious bull creatures, there's a lot of tension in this book, and we don't even know what Lewis and Clark's end goals are yet.
The artwork in this book is also superb. Matthew Roberts reminds me of a mix between Tony Moore and Jerome Opena - two A-listers that are not bad to emulate by any means. Roberts' expressiveness for Lewis - and Clark's deadpan features as he shoots the heron - lend a real likeability to the characters, and his designs for one of the mercenaries shows how scrappy and malevolent he is. (And his take on the first monster Lewis and Clark face is particularly hulking and mysterious.) Owen Gieni, meanwhile, reminds me a lot of Marvel's Justin Ponsor, particularly his use of greens, lending this comic an eerie, almost otherworldly feel.
Salvation lies west, and Manifest Destiny is proof - taking a smart spin on otherwise barren narrative territory, Chriss Dingess, Matthew Roberts and Owen Gieni have produced an opening issue that will pique your interest and get you invested in our heroes. This is the kind of trailblazing you won't want to miss.
Cataclysm: Ultimate Spider-Man #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Dave Marquez, Justin Ponsor and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Cory Petit
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
The Ultimate Universe might be coming to an end, but you would never know it by reading this comic.
I’ve been in and out with the main Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men books for a bit, but Miles Morales is still a character that is very much on my radar (and pull list), so its disappointing to me that while this feels like a normal issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, it has the unfortunate stamp of #1 along with a new series heading before the title. Yes, yes, I completely understand the need for unity between the Ultimate titles in the face of such a large scale event, but the #1 here is completely needless, even though this issue serves its purpose as a decent entry point for new readers.
This issue picks up pretty much directly after Ultimate Spider-Man #28, which found Miles and his Amazing Friends taking the fight to Roxxon and coming out victorious. Cataclysm #1 opens with Jessica Drew explaining her actions and motivations to Director Chang and the rest of the Ultimates, which gives us a few truly hilarious moments from the team, including Thor blanking on a famous quotation and Cap giving Jessica his personal stamp of approval. From then on, Bendis checks us in on the rest of the main cast, giving us the calm before the Galactus. Its these scenes that never really elevate this title to the point where a brand new #1 is required. The issue, while entertaining and filled with great moments from the cast, never really feels much more than a standard issue of Ultimate Spider-Man. The cover and large print event heading writes us a check that this comic couldn’t possibly hope to cash and that’s what makes it a bit of a let down. Bendis is still turning in cracking scripts, as he has from the very start of every volume of Ultimate Spider-Man. His Miles is now a more confident hero, but still can’t manage to stay awake through an entire lecture, his Cloak and Dagger are still compelling to read as they try to find their place in this world as outcasts, and he even manages us to give us a truly heartfelt moment between Miles and the formerly antagonistic NYPD. Its all fun to read, but it just feels like marking time until the big guy shows up.
David Marquez, along with Justin Ponsor and Paul Mounts have yet to miss a beat as the regular Ultimate Spidey art team. Every panel glistens with a sleek polish that makes even the most simple panel stand out. The way Marquez displays Cloak’s powers may be my favorite incarnation of the character since Emma Rios and Nick Spencer’s Spider-Island mini-series. Plus, Marquez may be one of the most expressive artists working today. Every character’s faces and emotions are clearly displayed in an exuberant way that makes his name on a cover a guaranteed selling point. Its just a shame that he didn’t really have much to do in this issue, aside from a bunch of talking heads and a stellar Cloak and Dagger sequence. His final two page splash of the coming cosmic horror was truly a sight to behold, but it came too late to really justify anyone spending four dollars on this, unless they were the truest kind of completist. Its really nice though to see an artist be this consistently great for this long on a title.
With all the praise that I’ve been heaping onto the issue, you would think it would have gotten a better rating, right? The thing that just keeps stopping me though is that arbitrary #1. Nothing in this comic makes it anything other than a regular issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, save for the last page reveal of an incoming Galactus. I don’t understand why this couldn’t have retained the series’ original numbering and just carried the Cataclysm title much like a tie-in, which this essentially is. This book makes it feel like Marvel is subscribing to the lessons that the 90‘s comic market taught them, which is that #1‘s sell units and they don’t have a problem telling us, as readers, little white lies on the cover to get us to buy books. This issue just feels like a epilogue to the regular series instead of the beginning of the end, like we were promised. It seems a bit like a feint on the part of Marvel to get people invested in the collapse of this universe, but it really just feels like marking time until the actual crumbling starts. Maybe that will be more interesting and actually deserve the title Cataclysm.
Old City Blues, Vol. 2
Written and Illustrated by Giannis Milonogiannis
Published by Archaia Entertainment
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Thomas Jefferson once said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” With his second volume of Old City Blues, Giannis Milonogiannis dreams of the future with a firm understanding of the history of the past. By mining the works that he grew up with, Milonogiannis has created a love letter to '80s anime and manga, Katsuhiro Otomo, Moebius, Blade Runner, Frank Miller and everything in between.
Volume 2 collects the two latest Old City Blues stories, “Private Enemy” and “Prosthetic Corpus.” We enter the world of New Athens in 2048, a city once steeped in history now constantly changing because of technology. Detective Solano is at the heart of these tales, traversing a city run amok with cyborgs and psychics. Like any good noir story, Milonogiannis plays the city and Solano against each other, forcing the detective, a born and bred New Athenian, to deal with his changing environment head-on. It’s Milonogiannis’ art that really takes drives that home. His lines are clearly influenced by anime and manga but there is a detail and tone to some of his work that recalls more Western comics. IT’s an interesting marriage of the two that isn’t seen often enough.
But Old City Blues might tiresome for well-rounded readers who have experience with Milonogiannis’ influences. He wears them on his sleeve at all times and the story lacks the depth of some of the works he’s drawing from. Milonogiannis is working in a familiar language in both his writing style and his art. Solano and Thermidor have a dynamic between them that feels eerily like Dredd and Anderson. Solano himself looks like a character from Akira by way of Herge. It’s clear that many different styles have made an impact on Milonogiannis and he does a an excellent job of blending and balancing them but sometimes Old City Blues definitely feels like deja vu.
Ultimately, Old City Blues is a very personal work. It tells the story of how Ginannis Milonogiannis grew into the artist that he is. It’s the comic book equivalent to doing your favorite basketball player’s moves on the court at the park near your house. Old City Blues might seem a little light on substance but it’s so heavy on style that it makes up for it. This book will remind readers familiar with Milonogiannis’ references why they loved those things in the first place and hopefully have new readers scrambling to find out more.