Best Shots Comic Reviews: YOUNG AVENGERS #15, BATMAN / SUPERMAN #7, More

Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with a look at the week's biggest releases! And what's more, our team has grown, as we welcome Marlene Bonnelly of I Like Comics Too to our squad! So let's kick off today's column with Persuasive Pierce Lydon, as he takes a look at the final issue of Young Avengers...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Young Avengers #15
Written by Kieron Gillen,
Art by Jamie McKelvie, Becky Cloonan, Ming Doyle, Joe Quinones Jordie Bellaire, Matthew Wilson and Maris Wicks
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Entertainment
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Young Avengers #15 closes the door on what’s been an extremely fun, heartfelt run by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. The book features a cast of mainly cult Classic characters, allowing the creative team to redefine them and their relationships in new and interesting ways. In some ways, the run has played out like the tracklist of a great mixtape, balancing deep cuts for some obscure sense of cool with the familiarity of the greatest pop songs of all-time. Young Avengers has all the bombast of a Big Two superhero comic book but it’s filtered through a very specific worldview. The final issue wraps up the two part New Year’s story with aplomb and caps this run wonderfully.

Gillen checks in with Loki, Prodigy and Marvel Boy, who are all still dealing with the fallout from their big adventure. For all the crazy multidimensional hijinks that have abounded in this book, there’s always been a very real and relatable core concept: “Saving the world from yourself is the first, most necessary step.” Throughout the series the definition of “the world” has changed for each of these characters. For Loki, it’s literal. For Marvel Boy, it’s Kate. For Prodigy, the world is how he is perceived on the team.

A scene between Broo and Noh-Varr in the DJ booth matches up well with the very first scene in this series and really tells us everything we need to know. Here, Noh-Varr laments how his failed relationship with Kate turned out. He watches her out on the dance floor, similarly to how she admired him dancing in his room in Issue #1. But the context is slightly different. Noh-Varr is speaking his self-evaluation out loud. He’s longing for some interaction. He’s alone in a crowded room, to overuse a phrase. While Kate’s inner monologue was also a self-evaluation, it was decidedly less somber. In just two scenes, 15 issues apart, you can surmise their entire relationship because it’s similar to any relationship that you've ever had.

And there’s the hook of this series. You might aspire to be Captain America or Daredevil or Thor, but you’d want to be friends with the Young Avengers. These are heroes with decidedly teenage/early adulthood problems being tackled in ways we haven’t seen in a long time. All our other teenage heroes have grown up. Peter Parker and Dick Grayson are actual adults now. And the back issues don’t do the iPhone/Tumblr/Facebook generation any justice. The problems have stayed mostly the same but their delivery and the way they’re dealt with is entirely different. That’s why we need Young Avengers and books like it.

To not talk about the art would be a sin. Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton’s work was truly the lifeblood of this run. In this issue however, we get a few different looks from Ming Doyle, Becky Cloonan and Joe Quinones. Each of them render the kids in their own style, with each artist drawing scenes seemingly written just for them. I love the art jam approach taken over the last few issues. Coupled with the party atmosphere, it’s a reminder that comics are supposed to be fun. (In fact, those are almost Noh-Varr’s exact words in the beginning of this issue.) Jamie McKelvie takes it home, bringing the team all together for one last time. McKElvie’s excellent costume designs and expression work have really defined this series and his final pages are a fitting end.

The Ronettes “Be My Baby” is the perfect soundtrack for this one, a love song about first meetings and eternal memories. It bookends the series as a whole. But I’d say the YA always reminded me of My Chemical Romance’s “I’m Not Okay.” At the start of the video, guitarist Ray Toro says to singer Gerard Way: "You like D&D, Audrey Hepburn, Fangoria, Harry Houdini, and croquet. You can't swim, you can't dance, and you don't know karate. Face it, you're never gonna make it!" Gerard responds: "I don't wanna make it. I just wanna..." And the music kicks in. Three minutes and 24 seconds of angst and over-the-top emotions flood the speakers. The chorus cuts right to the heart. Is is melodramatic? Sure. Is it a bit frivolous? Yes. But it was fun and it feels good, and sometimes that’s all that matters.

Goodbye, Young Avengers. If we had the chance, we’d never let you go.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman/Superman #7
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Even comic books have a level of silliness that shouldn’t be crossed.

Greg Pak’s Batman/Superman explores a superhero knockdown, dragout fight, but with the heroes as nothing more than puppets of a virtual reality fighting system developed by the Toymaster. Everyday people control Batman while Superman is left with the moral conundrum of stopping Batman at the expense of killing him, or letting Batman beat him senseless in order to keep Bruce alive.

If this is meant to have a serious emotional impact, it fails to do so. Pak wants to create a level of humanity for his tale, namely through a woman whose bad day gets worse before our eyes, but I really couldn’t care less. Nothing in the comic is engaging enough to keep the reader attuned to the story. The woman eventually decides to take her frustrations out on Superman by joining into Toymaster’s virtual reality scheme. This moment is important because of its role in the climax of the story, but it really feels like a throwaway point as its mawkish note is a big pill to swallow.

The characterization is also so over the top that the comic is like an imitation of the characters rather than a good representation of them. Clark’s exaggerated altruism is saccharine to the point of silliness, and when he and even Bruce’s brooding nature feels forced. These are caricatures of heroes rather than solid representations.

The art fares no better. Brett Booth’s pencils are solid, but not unique. They get the job done, but given the epic scope of the finale, they’re not very dynamic. Faces are inconsistent, and the excessive shading, meant to create a sleek style, is distracting for how metallic it makes everything look. The finishes are polished, to say the least, but they lack something that makes them alluring.

Meant to be a solid conclusion, Batman/Superman #5 fails to deliver. Its bland emotional core is too heavy handed to have a lasting impact, and for a comic starring two of DC’s heaviest hitters, the story fails to capitalize on the trademark. Instead, we’re given a comic starring Batman and Superman, but one that isn’t worthy of their presence.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Deadpool: The Gauntlet #1
Written by Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan
Art by Reilly Brown and Jim Charalampidis
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Marlene Bonnelly
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

How many comics do you know with a theme song?

Deadpool: The Gauntlet #1 is innovative in a few ways other than sporting its own tune. First and foremost, it’s backwards in terms of publishing. The issue is only available for purchase digitally, with print copies planned as promotional items next week. The format of the issue will be interesting to see in the physical space, considering how Brown has laid out pages—or the lack thereof. Instead of a normal page cut into a storyboard, we experience the book panel by panel through a forced “guided view” already popular in the comiXology application. Sometimes the difference between panels is subtle: the background remains the same, but an element in the foreground (a character, a helicopter) moves. Sometimes we're presented with a close-up that zooms out to an entire scene. Sometimes the scene jumps to an entirely different viewpoint, not unlike in a standard comic. This is a technique Brown utilized in his creator-owned series Power Play, and I’m overjoyed to see that it’s carried over into the mainstream market. Reading in such a way creates the sensation that we’re not quite reading a comic but not quite watching a movie. Coupled with a catchy score by editor Jordan D. White in the background, you’ve got yourself the ultimate Deadpool experience.

The creative team behind this particular series has plenty of experience with our favorite, mindless mercenary. Writers Posehn and Duggan, who took over the Deadpool title two years ago for the Marvel NOW! relaunch, enjoy injecting a healthy dose of humor into as many scenes as possible. The antics are so numerous, in fact, that they feel a little forced and campy at times, with some jokes likely sailing right over readers’ heads. There is a somber undercurrent, however, as Deadpool’s uncharacteristically serious self-reflection peppers the issue. It seems Mr. Wilson might be indulging in his usual fare of dangerous action stunts and stabbing in an effort to escape troubles he encountered elsewhere in the world... troubles that have him on edge. Count on Deadpool to distract himself by getting shot in the chest in London.

Brown’s art lends itself really well to the movie-like format, with clean lines that make transitions seamless. He also draws one of my favorite Deadpools: angular, expressive and dynamic. Even when Wade is doing nothing but smiling—such as his one de-masking scene in this issue—he comes across as full of life and humor. Brown’s talent shines especially brightly in the credits, which are styled after a classic 007 opening, complete with foxy ladies, spotlights and a touch of signature violence. It’s during this sequence that we are introduced to the theme song, from Deadpool to Deadpool about Deadpool (and featuring some of his favorite Mexican foodstuffs). I’m not sure if it was because of all the extra clicking involved in reading with this “guided view,” but I fully expected the finale to come shortly afterward. As it turned out, the real story hadn’t even begun yet!

As if the things couldn’t get any more over-the-top, mythical creatures were thrown into the mix. Marvel has been tossing vampires into its content quite a bit lately; Jubilee is currently sporting a pair of fangs, and Dracula’s army popped up during the Fear Itself event. I still feel like it’s an attempt to build off the vampire-mania in current media, a trend that doesn’t necessarily have a place in the Marvel universe, but I’m not alone in my apathy. Deadpool isn’t particularly impressed, either, and I found it strangely satisfying to observe his approach with Dracula’s messenger. The vampires are palatable because the creators themselves don’t take them seriously, referencing their sad, sparkling counterparts and painting in a symbol worthy of a chuckle just above the lair’s doorway. I admit that I would feel more invested if vampires weren’t involved, but the issue ends with an interesting proposition that does make me want to read more. Deadpool-plus-creatures-of-the-night sounds fairly ridiculous in theory, but then… everything about Deadpool is ridiculous. It has to be.

Overall, The Gauntlet was undoubtedly creative and enjoyable. It’s funny, vibrant, action-packed, with pacing that slows and quickens in a fashion that isn’t jarring. It has enough humor to entertain general audiences, and just barely enough mystery to draw in readers more interested in character development.

Marvel is clearly taking advantage of its growing digital market, tailoring series like The Gauntlet specifically for mobile devices in its new Infinite line. These efforts open up a world of possibilities. Will clever transitions become simple animations and further blur the line between mediums? Will we have official soundtracks playing as we read our comics? I don’t know, but if any of it happens alongside Deadpool’s antics, I’m excited.

Credit: DC Comics

Earth 2 #19
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Nicola Scott, Robson Rocha, Trevor Scott, Oclair Albert and Pete Pantazis
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Ever wanted to see Superman impale the White House with the Washington Monument? Now’s your chance!

Tom Taylor seems to have two things in mind with Issue #19 of Earth 2. First, he wants everyone to see that Superman is a force to be reckoned with, and that the Batman of Earth 2 is going to find a way to stop him - but not before Superman wreaks his havoc and destroys as much of the planet as he can.

Taylor spends the majority of the issue focusing on the heroes. He throws in some friendly reminders of Superman’s evil, but mostly he builds the supporting cast by creating connections between his characters as they develop into a team of their own. There are a few quirky interaction between Thomas Wayne and Lois Lane, particularly in his inability to reconcile her existence as an android. Taylor also introduces the mode of humanity’s salvation, but he fails to give away too much so while we know Superman can be defeated, we’re not completely sure who his adversary is just yet.

Nicola Scott has been the one constant on Earth 2 every month, and if anything, her work here is less epic in scope. Taylor’s putting his pieces in place for the finale, but Scott’s the one whose methodical storytelling brings the story to life. There’s a sharpness to her work that pays off in the action heavy moments, and a systematic pacing that keeps the story intriguing, even with the heavy amount of exposition Taylor puts in the issue.

I like the duality between Superman and Batman, particularly in how inverse the characters are from their Earth one counterparts (Superman more than Batman, obviously). The set up is strong and the story Taylor’s building will make for an epic climax, especially if the battle Taylor hints at is going to occur.

Earth 2 is getting better with every issue, and James Robinson’s groundwork has paved the way for a solid third arc which Tom Taylor has made fun and exciting. And with Nicola Scott’s visuals, the comic has become a treat to read each month.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Iron Man #20
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Joe Bennett, Scott Hanna and Guru eFX
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out 10

They say a hero is only as potent as his villains - and in the case of Iron Man, it's looking like Tony Stark is getting an upgrade. If one Mandarin with 10 rings was dangerous, what happens when the rings form a veritable army? In the hands of Kieron Gillen, the result is a smart and sassy new bad guy to take on the Armored Avenger, leading to a strikingly satisfying read.

Since its relaunch, Kieron Gillen's Iron Man has been a fight comic in its core, a spin on the old mix-and-match weaponry of video game RPGs. Yet whether it was modified Extremis enhanciles or enemies from the void of space, there's been no soul in this machine - at least, not until now.

Taking a page out of Geoff Johns' Sinestro Corps playbook, Gillen has split up the 10 rings of the Mandarin to 10 different hosts - and the first host, Abigail "Red Peril" Burns, is a great antagonist to start with. In an interesting inversion of the usual superhero trope, Gillen actually focuses on the villain finding her feet instead of the hero, as "Red Peril" wields the power of a star on one finger. There's some smart twists involved, but the best is the "time dilation" effect of the Mandarin's rings, which provides a counterpoint to Tony Stark's omnipresent armor A.I. systems.

With a villain that's actually worth reading, suddenly Tony Stark becomes a lot more readable, too. When facing an unpredictable adversary with untested alien tech on her hand, suddenly Iron Man's use of remote-controlled drone suits feels like a fair fight - there's a great moment by artist Joe Bennett introducing Tony's aerial squadron, evoking the power of Stark-tech like in Iron Man 3. In general, Bennett's storytelling is particularly clean, with his linework aided nicely by the smooth inks of Scott Hanna. While occasionally Bennett's panels skew a little too much towards letterbox panels, he plays up the action nicely.

While admittedly the idea isn't the most original in the world after Geoff Johns' immensely successful, ring-centric Green Lantern run, Kieron Gillen's de-facto Mandarin Corps is a smart spin on one of Iron Man's most enduring foes. Now that Tony Stark is facing a villain that has some real personality - and armaments - to match, Kieron Gillen's run on Iron Man has gotten a long-overdue shot in the arm.

Credit: DC Comics

Swamp Thing #27
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Jesus Saiz and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

It ain't easy bein' green. But when it comes to Swamp Thing, watching Alec Holland regain his place as the Avatar of the Green feels more lackluster than blockbuster, as Charles Soule compresses just a little too much mythology to make this issue the knock-down, drag-out conclusion it deserves to be.

Part of the problem is that it takes a long time for Swamp Thing to finally take on the Seeder at all. Charles Soule is put in the unenviable position of having to explain the existence of the Green, the Parliament of Trees, and the other denizens of this chlorophyllic afterlife. Indeed, it takes half the book just for Swamp Thing to make it out of this prison, and because the setting is so esoteric, it's all telling, not showing - Soule has to bring Swamp Thing to meet the Wolf (a weird name for a creature made out of shrubs), and then to meet Lady Weeds, and then to meet the Parliament of Trees, and then to meet Seeder...

It's a lot to take in.

Once Soule finally sets up all the pieces, suddenly the second half of the script feels like it's on fast-forward. Swampy's final fight with Seeder feels way too fast, as this villain winds up getting cold-cocked for a second time. Soule also winds up getting shanghaied to the past tropes of Swamp Thing making vague deals with his benefactors, the Parliament of Trees, and while the sense of scale of a planet covered with vegetation looks cool on the page, it also doesn't make a lot of sense. Swamp Thing can shout out platitudes like "I decide what I am" and "I no longer care for balance. I care for victory," but when there's no characterization underneath all that leafiness, well, it feels about as empty as a bucket of lettuce.

The artwork by Jesus Saiz, however, is very easy on the eyes. His take on Swamp Thing is fairly no-nonsense, eschewing the crazier panel layouts of Yanick Paquette and Marco Rudy before him. That's fine - actual designs of Swamp Thing hit where it counts, particularly the way that Swampy shape-shifts, turning into trees and leaves. The way he's built up Swamp Thing also looks particularly striking, especially when you see sequences featuring other well-designed avatars of the Green (including a bearded swordsman complete with a bark kilt). Colorist Matthew Wilson also deserves some credit for making sure that a book filled with plant-based protagonists and antagonists doesn't look completely flat.

Decent looks and a minor status quo adjustment aside, Swamp Thing #27 isn't a book that feels particularly striking - a shame considering this was the end of an arc with some potential. Right now, Swamp Thing feels almost like it's about everything but Swamp Thing - we have the Parliament, we have pretenders to the throne, but we never really dig deep into Alec Holland as a person, or even what the potential of his powers truly are. What makes Swamp Thing a character of interest? Without that answer, this series will continue to be moldy at best.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Inhumanity: Awakening #2
Written by Matt Kindt
Art by Paul Davidson and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published my Marvel Comics
Review by Marlene Bonnelly
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Inhumanity: Awakening #2 is the second and final issue in a miniseries featuring the youths of the Marvel universe. I was pretty excited at the outset, especially considering how enjoyable it was to see members of both the Jean Grey School and Avengers Academy combat alien forces during Infinity: The Hunt. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the comic I was hoping for. While I understand that Kindt was trying to weave a touching tale of self-acceptance, the plot feels rushed, the layout cramped and the art leaves much to be desired. It’s very possible that two issues just weren’t enough for the creators to convey the story they wanted.

In a total of forty pages, Kindt attempts to introduce new characters and develop them, tell the life stories of two of the heroes and wrap everything up with references to social media and copious teen angst presumably aimed for younger readers. Fiona, an adolescent girl who comes to the team’s attention when she stops posting online, is supposed to be relatable and genuine. Affected by exposure to Black Bolt’s Terrigen bomb, she sprouts feathers and wings—and while her design is interesting, she is never fleshed out enough to garner real empathy. With the story moving so quickly, the most I understood about her is that she had a brother and that she really liked to post pictures of herself online. I felt strangely blasé about her plight and, because I couldn’t care, the second issue was painfully tedious. Kindt put too much effort in forcing a connection with readers that wasn’t there: giving us a sad sob story about Striker and his fame, about Finesse and her absent father, about everything except the main character around whom the entire plot revolves. The heroes’ reactions were also puzzling. If I were a superhero trying to save someone from the temptation of suicide, why would my first piece of advice be to give Internet fame precedence over a caring family? That's not helpful or productive guidance; in fact, it's the exact opposite of everything I understood the Jean Grey School and Avengers Academy to stand for. This characterization presented a disparity compared to the kids' naive but selfless actions in previous books, and automatically turned me off from wanting to continue reading.

This issue’s layout echoes the theme of too much irrelevant information at once. I was actually annoyed by the persistent, Twitter-like stream across the top of each page. Its presence would imply importance, but it’s not the least bit vital. More than anything, it’s distracting, and I would find myself breaking the flow of panels just to read those little blue bubbles, which had absolutely nothing to do with what was happening in “real-time” within the book. Social media’s role was important at the start of issue one, but afterward it becomes a nuisance that takes up valuable real estate in a comic that desperately needs more room. The space saved by nixing the stream would equal a few extra panels and a world of character development.

Development and layout aside, my biggest complaint about this issue was Davidson’s inconsistent interior art. For a while, I actually thought there were two different artists working on pencils. Even between the first and second issues, the quality changes. There are panels with good shapes and decent facial expressions, and even a single section in grayscale meant to mimic a night-vision camera that I thought was a very smart touch. In the same book, there are also panels where characters have freakishly exaggerated eyes, strange anatomy and “cartoony” features that don’t fit with the style of the previous page. In the first issue, the problem was an abundance of the same, surprised face and bulging eyes, especially in the case of Fiona. In this issue, it’s awkward constipated expressions and one panel where Quentin Quire does his best impression of a villainous clown from a rival publishing company. I would pause my reading to study these anomalies, flip back, and play a game of trying to match each page to one of the “two” artists based on the odd scenes. Imagine my surprise when I discovered there was just one artist! I attribute the mess to a lack of time, because it’s clear Davidson can produce beautiful work: Striker’s flashback in the first issue was beautifully rendered, for instance… but the battle that closes the second issue highlights poor foreshortening and stiff poses that don’t convey real movement. Those that pick up the series based solely on Jorge Molina gorgeous cover art are in for a disappointment.

I was hoping for the best, but Inhumanity: Awakening just didn't live up to the potential of its engaging teenage cast. The second issue’s poor structure and art made it difficult to read, and the plot managed to be both rushed and very boring. If you're looking for a fun series about teenage heroes, you'd be better off reading about this team in Marvel's far more satisfying Wolverine and the X-Men.

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