Best Shots Comic Reviews: FOREVER EVIL #4, AVENGERS #24.NOW, More

Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Forever Evil #4
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by David Finch, Richard Friend and Sonia Oback
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It’s been a long and tough year for the Justice League books, quite literally dispatching the recently minted heroes in favor of a villainous status quo. Geoff Johns doesn’t deliver any Christmas miracles for the beleaguered team in this final Forever Evil for 2013, but he does pack every square inch of it with enough geekgasm inducing moments that it’s just like opening your presents all over again. More importantly, the story finally feels as though it is moving forward again after several months of tie-in selling stagnation.

Johns immediately addresses one of the lingering threads that was left hanging about following “Trinity War”, namely the boxes full of superhero preventative measures that Batman has been keeping in his cave. With the Dark Knight and Lex Luthor both making moves against the Crime Syndicate, it was only a matter of time before they crossed paths. However, being the middle chapter of an event crossover, Johns delays the confrontation and simply moves some of the players into place for a larger showdown in a later issue. Taken as a whole, the issue simply moves a whole lot of people into the same room, but the journey is the joy here, carefully pacing the moments for maximum impact.

What Johns delivers particularly well in this issue are actually at opposite ends of the spectrum: some lovely individual character moments, plus a collection of showstoppers that might actually have you scrambling for the next issue. Superwoman and Ultraman’s motivations change completely with the revelation of the former’s pregnancy, and the desperation which Power Ring exhibits upon being left alone is tangible. Perhaps the most poignant moment is between Luthor and his creation B-Zero (“Bizarro”), as the mastermind reveals that much of his motivation comes from his inability to save a family member when he was younger. This moment of vulnerability, coupled with Bizarro’s disarmingly heartbreaking reaction, confirms early hints that Luthor might in fact be the unlikely hero of this tale.

On the aforementioned flip-side, there are few sights more impressive than Batman embracing the power of a Sinestro Corp ring, only to have the Corps Leader himself turn up moments later. David Finch continues to show why he is the go-to person for event art, from (what Catwoman describes as) the “beyond ridiculous” details of the Batcave to the Lantern constructs of the final pages. The subtlety of expression is occasionally lost in the heavier inks around the distinctive face shading, but Power Ring’s freak-out over the Syndicate’s monitor screen almost pops out of the page. This is blockbuster art only barely holding itself back for the inevitable cataclysmic conclusion.

Forever Evil has had to contend with the major problem of being a superhero book completely devoid of superheroes, and this issue shows what kind of energy returns to the series when one of those heroes returns. Indeed, even the return of a familiar villain (and sometimes hero in the form of Sinestro) provides more gravitas than a whole syndicate of criminals from another dimension. The saga is now headed in the right direction, so fingers crossed that it can maintain this momentum until the series concludes in a few months' time.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers #24.NOW
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Esad Ribic, Salvador Larocca, Mike Deodato, Butch Guice, Dean White, Frank Martin, Paul Mounts and Laura Martin
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The Avengers continue to evolve with "Rogue Planet," a palate cleanser by Jonathan Hickman and a who's-who of artists after the sturm und drang that was the star-spanning Infinity. Tieing into Hickman's sister title New Avengers more than one might expect, this comic has some fun moments tied with some superior artwork, even if Hickman winds up falling back into the occasional bad habit.

From a high-concept perspective, this oversized, done-in-one comic has a killer hook - a rogue planet, akin to a god-sized bullet, is hurtling at Earth at unimaginable speeds. Our only hope? A mysterious Iron Man from the far-flung future of 3030, who teams up with our modern-day Tony Stark to save humanity... and to deliver a warning. It's nothing revolutionary here, but Hickman knows how to hit all our nerd-buttons with this well-worn trope, as you see nods to Stark Industries, Franklin Richards, and even what looks like a future descendent of current Avenger Shang Chi. Hickman also has the long game in mind here, as well, as he touches upon Tony and the rest of the Illuminati's plotting over in New Avengers, as the future Iron Man reveals this rogue planet may indeed play a larger role to come.

That said, that's a bit of a double-edged sword. If Hickman has had any one problem with his run on Avengers, it's that the titular heroes have often been window dressing whatever threat of the month Hickman has been cooking up. Even with an amusing rooftop picnic sequence featuring Thor, Cannonball, Smasher, Captain Universe and more, Iron Man 3030 unequivocably steals the show this issue, which is a problem with nearly a year's worth of stories under Hickman's belt. Indeed, as Hickman pulls Wolverine and Spider-Man from the roster, it feels that maybe he's bitten off more than he could chew in terms of balancing all these characters - Tony Stark handwaves the idea of Hickman's original 24-member roster, but the end result feels the same: There's too many Avengers on baord here, and with Hickman spending so much time focusing elsewhere, most of these characters feel superfluous, or worse, interchangeable.

The artwork, however, is indisputably excellent. Esad Ribic starts us off with a stellar first impression, introducing the oppressive world of 3030 and the streamlined, powerful design of Iron Man 3030. While near the middle of the book Ribic starts to skimp on the details, his first scenes look superb. Salvador Larocca pinch-hits to fill in a few extra pages, working seamlessly with Mike Deodato in particular to keep ths book's visuals consistent. The only odd man out if Butch Guice, whose scratchy lines only distract for a page.

Ultimately, if you've been curious about Avengers but were turned off by all the hubbub of Infinity, Avengers #24.NOW is as good a time as any to try to get back on board. With some strong artwork and some ambitious plotting, there's a lot to like about this series, which seems to be subtly repositioning itself to make for a more stable read. If Hickman can scale back on some of the threats and focus more on what makes Earth's Mightest Heroes tick, this might be the beginning of an upswing for this title.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League #26
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Eber Ferreira, Rob Hunter, Andy Lanning, Rod Reis, Tomeu Morey and Tony Avina
Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

We’re at the midway hump point of the Forever Evil event, so Geoff Johns is no longer pushing his Justice League books uphill. All the players are in place and their motivations are slowly becoming clear, and the mystery around the whereabouts of the Justice League has been given at least a partial explanation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any downhill momentum just yet either, and while some minor revelations are made throughout the course of this issue, we now seem to be left in stasis until the New Year.

Johns was just asking for trouble in titling this issue “Forever Numb,” as the holding pattern that he is keeping readers in will leave many of them feeling just that. Framed within the all-seeing monnitors of The Grid, the evil counterpart of Cyborg that has been ostensibly purged of all humanity, Justice League #26 reads for all the world as though it was a Secret Files and Origins special for a group of alternate universe characters. In a series of vignettes, Johns continues to focus on the back-stories of the Crime Syndicate, checking off Power Ring, Johnny Quick, Atomica and Deathstorm in short order. Indeed, apart from some teasing revelations in the final pages, the issue mostly serves as filler.

The principal problem that Johns encounters, apart from his choice of an exposition-heavy narrative device, is that this is still Justice League sans the Justice League. Since the inception of the New 52, we have been asked to watch them form, deconstruct, fight amongst themselves and now disappear completely. As intriguing as some of these concepts are, especially the potential for story around the weak-willed Power Ring or the Bonnie and Clyde-esque Johhny Quick/Atomica relationship, they are still simply Elseworlds stories. While they fill out the fringes, the bigger questions around the future of the DCU hang heavy in the air, without any sign of immediate resolution. Even the identity of the mysterious stowaway from Earth 3 offers scant intrigue for a decent hook.

Ivan Reis is called upon for a variety of styles in this single-issue anthology, from the darker hues of the here and now to the twisted light at the heart of Power Ring’s origin. For the latter, he manages to inject a sense of pathos by combing an almost cartoonish take on what is ultimately some twisted body horror, especially as the ring envelops Jordan’s arm. Indeed, the team of colorists give each section its own theme, with the Johnny Quick/Atomica setting taking on a muted series of minimalist colors, almost as if it was ripped out of yesteryear. Similarly, in four panels, the origin of Deathstorm is at once traditionalist, and terrifying.

At its core, Forever Evil is a solid concept, as evidenced by the strength of this week’s main Forever Evil book, but tie-in issues such as this show the inherent weakness in stretching a good idea too thin. Sucking any of the life and momentum out of the threads Johns was playing with in “Trinity War” and the related arcs, Justice League, and by extension those books that relate to it, is now sitting very still and waiting for something to happen.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Origin II #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Adam Kubert and Frank Martin
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

We can all agree that Wolverine is easily one of the most overexposed characters in comics, right? I mean, he’s stars in several solo books, plus he’s a member of seemingly every super team in Marvel’s line right now. Knowing this fact, its hard to tell compelling stories starring Logan that don’t feel like just a warmed over version of what we’ve read before. This is why I was hesitant to pick up Kieron Gillen’s sequel to arguably one of the greatest Wolverine stories ever told. I wasn’t sure if we would get the same level of storytelling that we got the first time around, but I am pleased to say that as soon as I read the first four pages of Origin II #1, I was proved pleasantly wrong.

Origin II picks up where the first installment left off with Logan living in the Canadian woods, hiding away from civilization. In his pursuit for solitude he has taken up with a pack of wolves who provide him the only contact he requires. Logan’s peace, of course, is shattered as it always is by a strange bear carrying an even stranger label adorned with the name Essex. Origin II is very much out of Kieron Gillen’s Marvel wheelhouse, but would feel right at home among his non-cape comics output. His narration is lyrical and sparse, with large chunks of the story going without it at all. The Gillen that we get here is vastly different from the Gillen we get during, say, Young Avengers. Here he gives the reader just enough information to follow the story, but lets the panels handle the majority of the storytelling. This first issue is very much the establishing and then shattering of Logan’s status quo so it is largely action free, barring the final explosion of violence that we get in the last few pages, but the pages before it offer a beautifully simple first issue. #1 is just enough of a hook to keep readers coming back for the remainder of the series, but it also is a gorgeous stand alone issue one it own, which is the mark of a great first issue. Kieron Gillen gives us something wholly unexpected with Origin II. This may be the closest we will ever get to a Kurasawa-esque tale in comic form. He smartly shows instead of tells, like all great samurai films and the end result is a rare gem of a Wolverine story.

Like I said before, Gillen lets the panels to the heavy lifting when it comes to this story, and he couldn’t have picked better partners than Adam Kubert and Frank Martin. Kubert and Martin render Logan’s snowy new home with long cinematic panels that use the space as effortlessly as possible. Kubert has always been a stellar artist, and he hasn’t lost any of his skill since providing the art for the first installment of Origin with Richard Isanove, but here, Kubert balances intimacy and scale from page to page. All of the panels with Logan and his new wolf family are close-ups, accentuating the the closeness of Logan’s pack and its family dynamic, while the panels with Logan tracking the strange white bear or him in battle are rendered in long, almost panoramic views with small windows of punctuated action shots. Its an interesting way to render a story like this, more cinematic than stylized, like most X-Men and Wolverine-related stories, which is easily the main strength of Origin II.

Kieron Gillen was the last person I thought would tackle a story like this, but now, after reading Origin II #1, its hard to image anyone else delivering this emotional, and effecting of a first issue. Gillen and Kubert take the expectations and preconceived notions that readers have regarding a story like this and deliver not only a pitch perfect Wolverine, but a master class in comic book storytelling. Though less sophisticated readers may cry foul that its not as violent as a “true” Wolverine story should be, they would be remiss skipping Origin II #1. Gillen isn’t interesting in giving into what’s easy when it comes to writing Wolverine, instead he throws himself into the story with aplomb, delivering a stellar first issue and what looks to be a worthy sequel.

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