Best Shots Reviews: INHUMANITY #1 10/10, ACTION #26, More

Marvel previews for December 4, 2013
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Inhumanity #1
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Olivier Coipel, Leinil Yu, Dustin Weaver, Mark Morales Gerry Alanguilan, Laura Martin and Israel Silva
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

An ancient city, destroyed. A mighty empire, cast to the winds. But in the ashes of Infinity, a new species will rise in the Marvel universe.

Let's be frank - Inhumanity #1 is inhumanly good.

For years, the Inhumans have been a largely overlooked group in Marvel mythology, typically serving as supporting characters for the Fantastic Four's more sci-fi adventures. And with word of Marvel looking for an alternative to the X-Men following their deal with Fox, it's understandable to approach Inhumanity with a healthy dose of skepticism. Yet writer Matt Fraction takes so many of the old X-Men tropes and inverts them, giving this scattered, scarred people a sense of gravitas, a sense of purpose.

Fraction makes a lot of smart moves with this first issue, as well. Don't know who the Inhumans are? No sweat - this issue is largely exposition, tying together the Inhumans' history with the Kree empire all the way to their present-day conflict with Thanos in Infinity. Think of the X-Men mixed with a weird religious sect - whereas the X-Men were (relatively) normal people before they became mutant superheroes, there's an archaic flair to the Inhumans, who subject their children to the Terrigan Mists, essentially a Russian roulette of superpowers and physical mutation. Even without the traditional Marvel quirkiness, there's a surprising amount of resonance here, as the Inhuman known as Karnak sadly narrates the proceedings. Even with royal intrigue and millenia of history, you can feel the sadness in Karnak's voice.

The other great thing about Inhumanity is you can sense the potential for storytelling moving forward. Similar to the X-Men's Siege Perilous, the Inhumans have been split apart thanks to the Inhuman door known as Eldrac. Like Game of Thrones before it, you can already sense the tension and factions starting to build. The other great thing is that Fraction clearly has more aces up his sleeve - there's an entire subplot about the dispersal of the Terrigan Mists that has barely been scratched upon, as he wisely focuses on the Inhuman royal family this issue. Right now, this is the portrait of a shattered family, and the painful steps these characters take to try to move on. And believe me - not everyone can bear that inhuman weight.

The artwork on this book is phenomenal, as well. Olivier Coipel absolutely kills in the present-day scenes with Karnak, particularly a sequence where he single-handedly takes on a squad of Avengers. Yet Coipel's biggest success is with the emotional beats - he lends so much likability to Karnak, who you can see is loyal to a fault to his king and queen. Leinil Yu, meanwhile, brings a roughness to the prehistoric flashbacks featuring the Inhumans' first contact with the Kree. While his neanderthals look appropriately disheveled and beastly, he also shows some wonderful design chops, particularly the menacing armor of Randac, the Inhumans' first major leader. Dustin Weaver fits in with the Infinity flashbacks nicely, even though he doesn't quite get enough pages to really make a strong impression.

Are the Inhumans necessarily a replacement for the X-Men? Not quite. But that's not the real goal here - Marvel is aiming to diversify with Inhumanity, and this first issue knocks it out of the park. With lyrical dialogue, intense characters, and a mystery that threatens an entire burgeoning species, this is a perfect introduction to the refugees of Attilan.

Credit: DC Comics

Action Comics #26
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Aaron Kuder and June Chung
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

One of the biggest challenges DC Comics has wrestled with during the New 52 has been balancing Superman's characterization. Is Superman an impetuous demigod? A paragon of morality? A force of nature?

How about human?

That's the key to Greg Pak's take on Action Comics, and it makes for a much more satisfying read than Superman's other titles. Ironically, Pak seems to actually hearken back more to the pre-52 status quo - albeit with Superman being much less experienced - but that familiarity leads to a real likability for this oft-misunderstood character.

Considering Superman is invincible and super-strong, it's always been tough to really get inside his head and relate to him. But Pak has made some very smart choices to get the point across. First and foremost, with Lois Lane out of the picture, Pak slyly has included Lana Lang as a human touchstone for Clark Kent - how can you not feel a little happy when a superhero winds up having to rescue his high school prom date? How can you not relate when even this all-powerful superhero winds up trying to impress his one-time girlfriend? There's some actual human subtext going on underneath the prerequisite monster fighting, and that makes Superman a much more readable character than he's been for quite some time.

The other great thing that Pak does is that even though Ma and Pa Kent are officially dead in the New 52, he doesn't forget that Clark was raised as a good, old-fashioned Kansas farmboy. It would be too easy to have Superman just punch a random monster - even though that's exactly what he's been doing in his other titles - but with great power comes great opportunity to see things from a different angle. Pak cleverly uses a flashback from Clark's Smallville days to show that even black-haired, blue-eyed aliens can be dangerous, and that giant blue behemoths can have important secrets of their own.

Aaron Kuder's artwork is also very strong, although occasionally his faces wind up looking a little distended. Still, Kuder's linework is very clean, and his action composition is very strong, particularly a scene where a young Clark is thrown off a bicycle by the sheer force of his heat vision. Kuder's expressiveness is one of his best qualities, especially a final page that really hits you in the gut with its sheer tenderness.

Since the New 52, it feels a lot like DC Comics has focused more on the "super" and less on the "man." Greg Pak has taken a welcome departure from that trend, giving us a Superman that's been more readable than much of his other post-reboot appearances. Not all monsters are actually monsters, and not all superheroes are cold, unfeeling juggernauts. There's room for nuance and character behind the capes and tights, and I'm glad on that score that Action Comics delivers.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing X-Men #2
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines and Marte Garcia
Lettering by VC’s Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.” The Buddha said that. And it’s something that sounds central to Jason Aaron’s Amazing X-Men . But while battling through Heaven and Hell may line up with Kurt Wagner’s more pious leanings, Amazing X-Men #2 feels a little forced. Ed McGuinness really shows up for this one but the plot feels like exactly what it is: the second issue of a five-issue arc plodding towards its resolution.

The art on this book is excellent. This is some of the best work Ed McGuinness has done in years. Something that’s always bugged me about McGuinness is that his figures tend to take on an almost action figure-like quality; big arms, big chests, big legs. But his characters here are sleek and efficiently rendered. There are so many battles that there isn’t room for bulk and his use of space in his fight choreography makes this issue fun all by itself. Varied angles create scenes that contain a lot of information but never seem overwhelming or unclear.

Jason Aaron’s writing didn’t particularly work for me, though. The split between Wolverine’s battle up above and Storm, Iceman and Starfire’s in Hell make it clear where Aaron’s strengths lie. He’s always written a mean Wolverine but his Storm and Iceman are not very strong here. The opening “are we in hell?” joke runs a little too long to be funny. But those scenes are saved by the battles that ensue. High concept-wise I like this idea. The X-Men go to the afterlife to save Nightcrawler and they end up fighting demon pirates. But this issue is completely lacking on the Nightcrawler front. Plus there are no real stakes here. No one is going to die in this book. Nightcrawler is almost a lock to come back and this is issue two of five. Our heroes are still gathering the information that will lead to Kurt’s return which is where the story logically needs to go but it’s not particularly interesting.

Amazing X-Men #2 is by no means a bad comic. It's really fun, with lots of action. But the lack of real stakes and worthwhile characterization - not to mention the absence of the main attraction - make this issue something less than the debut. This issue will read so much better in trade when you can immediately get to the next issue. If the point in slowing this story down was to get five issues of McGuinness’ art, then I’m all for it. Ultimately it succeeds in making me want to read Issue #3 and one some level, that might be all that matters.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Superior Spider-Man #23
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

We’re coming up on a year of Superior Spider-Man and while many decried the Doc Ock as Spidey premise, Slott and company have breathed new life into the Parker-verse. However, the machinations of an ever looming plot are only threatening the quality of the book. For Superior Spider-Man, which was been one of the most consistent books on the MArvel roster, issue #23 falls off a cliff in terms of characterization to serve something larger. The results are upsetting.

By having Ock inside Peter’s body, Slott has been able to reexamine all of the aspects of Peter’s life as well as the maxim “With great power, comes great responsibility” through an all-new lens. Watching Ock stumble through Peter’s relationships and form new ones while building his Spider Army and (arguably) improving other facets of Peter’s life has been fun, mostly because we know how Peter would react and Ock is almost the opposite. In Issue #23, we see the wrap-up of his battle with Venom, check in with the Goblins, have Ock balance his relationship with Anna and work, plus Spidey 2099 is still hanging around and MJ’s club is still around. This time, it’s just too much for one issue. We still don’t know what Peter’s plan for the symbiote is and the reasoning behind having Flash stay at his apartment is bizarre.

This issue amounts to a lot of unlikable characters doing unlikable things and many normally, very likable characters (Aunt May, in particular) acting out of character for the sake of a scene. This book is moving quickly but it’s leaving behind the most important part, the characters. It’s odd. That’s been a hallmark of Slott’s (and Gage’s) writing but in this issue, it’s effectively absent. Aunt May and Jay meet PEter’s girlfriend Anna for the first time and the results are catastrophic. The Aunt May that we’ve seen before would’ve handled the situation with more grace but instead Slott and Gage make it really awkward seemingly for a laugh. But the writers do deliver on fleshing out a Flash Thompson/symbiote relationship that might be unfamiliar to those who haven’t read his latest ongoing.

Humberto Ramos has really grown on me over time and he continues win me over. Spider-Man’s spindly limbs and Venom’s uncontained symbiote body lend themselves to Ramos’ pencils. He brings an energy and kineticism to the page that doesn’t come across as fluidly from other recent Spider-Man artists. Many readers may be put off by his rather cartoonish expressions but Ramos can evoke big emotions from those when he needs to. His design for the final reveal is uninspired, though. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that many readers will feel like they’ve seen this one before although we have yet to see if that reveal constitutes a regular form.

Superior Spider-Man is a book that’s been merely good at its worst and one of the best books on the shelves at its best. But this issue is a new low. It does remind us of some major players that will undoubtedly rear their heads soon but for now, it seems like we’re spinning our wheels just getting to the next big reveal. Characters are doing things because the writers wants them to do things and not because that’s how the scenes would play out naturally. It’s a rare misstep for an otherwise, solid run for Slott and company. Thankfully, we don’t have to wait long to see if the quality of this book can catch up to the pace.

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