Best Shots Comic Reviews: FOREVER EVIL #5, TUROK #1, Four Marvel New #1s, More
Forever Evil #5 final pages: Crime Syndicate's Secret?
CREDIT: DC Comics
Ms. Marvel #1
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
"I want to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated." You and me both, kid.
Meet Kamala Khan. She's 16. She lives in New Jersey. She writes Avengers fan fiction every Friday night. She has an older brother, a nice group of friends, a "dysfunctional" family that not-so-secretly loves the heck out of each other. And her whole life is about to change. And believe me - you're going to want to come along for the ride.
Ms. Marvel #1 is a comic that breaks a lot of rules, particularly in an industry that is so dominated by white male creators and white male readers. It doesn't just have a female lead - it's got a female lead of color, the daughter of Pakistani immigrants. It doesn't just have a female writer - it has a female writer, G. Willow Wilson, whose Muslim faith informs but never overwhelms Kamala's coming-of-age struggles with religion and nationality. It's decompressed yet satisfying; it's heartfelt, sometimes even saccharine, but always endearing.
In a lot of ways, Ms. Marvel #1 feels like a remix of the great teenage superhero origin stories of old - but in particular, it feels the most like Brian Michael Bendis' first issue of Ultimate Spider-Man or John Rogers' early issues of Blue Beetle. Instead of immediately putting Kamala into tights and throwing her at supervillains, Wilson takes a more measured approach - and it's one that I think will make Kamala a far more important character to Marvel in the long run.
One of the challenges that the comic book industry has had in terms of diversifying its characters is either treating their characters as a stunt - I'm looking at you, Earth 2 Green Lantern - or ignoring their backgrounds almost completely - sorry, Ryan Choi and Miles Morales. Yet Wilson takes a different, altogether refreshing route - she tackles Kamala Khan's heritage head-on... and shows that it's not that different from any other household in America. Kamala's parents don't understand her need to get out of the house any more than they understand what Avengers "fan feek" is. Kamala feels out of place, uncomfortable in her own skin, her own culture - much like any other teenager her age. As we witness Kamala's all-too-relatable teenage angst, we suddenly get the point that Ms. Marvel was trying to prove all along. It's not diversity - it's inclusiveness. And this is just as much an invitation into Kamala's life as it is an invitation for Kamala to join yours.
It doesn't hurt that the quirky artwork is also a perfect fit for the tone of this series. Adrian Alphona has come a long way since his Runaways days, his artwork looking like Tim Sale by way of Frank Quitely or Kevin Maguire. Alphona is a real actor's artist, never wasting a moment to reveal some small detail of each of his characters. Just watching Kamala sulk as she asks to go out to a party is incredibly endearing, and it's great to see the different designs between her rakishly thin brother, her mustachioed father, or her cardiganed, no-nonsense mother. Combined with Ian Herring's lovely, painterly colors, this book is a real knockout - even if there was no dialogue, you'd be able to see Kamala's frustration as she stomps away from a party (as well as the sadness in her friend Bruno's body language as he pines for her). And let's just say that the Avengers' Urdu-singing introduction is probably the most memorable part of the whole book - especially when Kamala begins karate chopping in excitement.
That said, there are some things that slow this book down slightly. The biggest complaint I see readers having will be the fact that Kamala doesn't really start her superheroic journey just yet - like Ultimate Spider-Man before her, we only see her displaying her powers at the very end of the book, with a cliffhanger that might inadvertently confuse readers unfamiliar with her new shape-shifting abilities - particularly the ones who were vibing on the inclusiveness of the character. Additionally, the sequence involving Kamala's fan fiction feels like an awkward beat in an otherwise smooth comic, feeling more like a cotton-candy-laced video game than a prose Avengers/My Little Pony crossover.
"All right, kid. As fate would have it, you're about to get the kind of total reboot most people only dream about." Even if it's a hallucination, watching Carol Danvers pass along the mantle of Ms. Marvel down feels like the right move. Indeed, the lack of superheroics only helps to reinforce the point: Kamala Khan isn't a superhero first. She isn't a Muslim first. She isn't just one part of her heritage, her religion, or her newfound alter ego, but a combination thereof. She's the girl next door, the person in your math class you'd want to hang out with afterschool. She doesn't drink? No big deal. She doesn't eat bacon? Eh, it could be worse. Kamala Khan is the superhero you wish you knew - and know, with Ms. Marvel, G. willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona have finally introduced her to the world. Do yourself a favor and meet Ms. Marvel early.
Forever Evil #5
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by David Finch, Richard Friend and Sonia Oback
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth's mightiest heroes found themselves defeated by a common threat. So who can save the day when the likes of Superman and the Justice League are MIA?
Enter Lex Luthor and his Injustice Gang - to fight the foes no superhero can withstand.
For the past few issues, Forever Evil has been about Geoff Johns getting his supervillain gang together - and now that the long set-up has been completed, it's time to put them in action. Well, action with a bit more set-up. To his credit, Johns gives each of his antiheroes their own moment in the sun, all while wrangling in two more big guns to Lex Luthor's cause. It's funny, in a way, because this is Johns writing all of his favorite characters in one book, except none of them are heroes - in addition to Luthor, you've got Johns mainstays like Captain Cold, Black Adam, and now Sinestro in the game. Sinestro winds up stealing most of the show in this issue, as he goes one-on-one with the cowardly villain Power Ring. Sinestro gets the best moments here, particularly when he dresses down Batman by telling him "what a wonderful Yellow Lantern you would make," but he also has moments that might make Johns' critics cringe, particularly when he dismembers a fallen foe to amp up the tension.
On the one hand, it's good to see the whole group in action, as Johns has Luthor bantering back and forth with Batman, or appealing to Deathstroke's sense of pragmatism to save the day. That said, because Johns also has to set-up Sinestro and Deathstroke, not to mention remind readers about the Crime Syndicate's big secret across the Multiverse, we barely get to see Luthor and Batman's team do anything other than throw a punch each. (Which is especially a waste, given the needless double-page splash of a Photoshop effect on the last page.) It feels like the equivalent of throwing action figures together, down to the splash of Luthor and Deathstroke's teams charging at one another. Each character gets about one line to define themselves - Captain Cold referencing the Rogues, Black Manta acting dour about the fleetingness of life, even Owlman and Ultraman riffing on whether Waynes tend to survive or tend to die - but otherwise, the characterization feels thin and the pacing feels slow.
The artwork, like the story itself, is hit and miss. David Finch grungily draws his villains with the appropriate amount of scowling and shadow, particularly the way the veins pop out of the scared, infected Power Ring as he flees from Sinestro's wrath. When Finch shows an angry character, he's at his best, such as when Black Adam's eyes crackle with electricity before he knocks Giganta out of a building, or the way the Injustice Gang looms over Batman as he tries to take control of an increasingly uncontrollable group. (Also, his excellent take on the flame-haired, skull-faced Deathstorm proves that Marvel lost a great Ghost Rider artist when Finch jumped to DC.) That said, you can't help but see Finch cutting some corners, particularly with the noticeable lack of backgrounds or the wonky composition for many of the fight sequences. In addition, some of his panels wind up coming off so small that Rob Leigh's lettering overwhelms the art - there's a panel of Grid contacting the rest of the Crime Syndicate, for example, that is crowded with text near the bottom of the page. It's a perfect storm of overwriting, small artwork, and an editorial team that won't massage the script.
Forever Evil may also be forever ambivalent. For every good thing this book does, there's another misstep or flaw that takes it right back to where it started. The premise is not one without potential - the idea that evil is relative, even in the traditionally black-and-white morality of the DC Universe, is one that can be mined for drama. In fact, that's something that Marvel has been doing for more than 50 years, ever since Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch left Magneto and became Avengers! But in order to really hit that mark, Johns needs to dig deeper, and to dig faster, as well - these are bad guys that I want to love, and I want to hate that I love them, too. But right now, it's hard to muster up much enthusiasm for DC's A-list bad guys.
Loki: Agent of Asgard #1
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Lee Garbett and Nolan Woodward
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Given his large role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was inevitable that the God of Mischief would get his own comic. But kowtowing to the demands of a vocal fanbase is not always the best business practice. Luckily for Marvel, their gamble pays off. Al Ewing and Lee Garbett put together a story with a soft “Loki as super spy” concept at the center and while it’s not the best fit it works well enough. Falling in line with his film characterization and evolving out of Kieron Gillen’s work with him, there’s a lot to like about Ewing’s Loki in spite of its flaws.
Tom Hiddleston has defined this character in much the same way Robert Downey Jr. defined Tony Stark. After the first Iron Man film, there was a noticeable shift in Tony’s portrayal in the comics for better or worse. The same has happened with Loki. Ewing captures that voice right off the bat, using a combination of humor and snark that serves him very well. Consistently throughout the issue, Loki outwits the Avengers with a bit of magic and one-liner. It makes the book a breeze to read . But the plot feels somewhat forced and it’s unclear exactly how the concept present in the title will continue given the final reveal. Ewing’s Loki is familiar both in characterization and execution which is something of a double-edged sword. On one hand, readers are getting a Loki that they’ll like but he isn’t doing much we haven’t seen before.
Part of the reason that Ewing is able to sell so much humor in this book is because of Lee Garbett’s art. Maybe it was something he picked up while drawing Deadpool but regardless Garbett’s execution of visual gags is excellent. He draws a solid Avengers squad as well particularly the larger characters, Thor and Hulk. But Loki seems almost pushed to the side when the Avengers appear on-panel. For someone who is the star of the book, he doesn’t seem to get many of the best looks from Garbett and that’s a shame considering Loki’s really the reason anyone picked up this book in the first place. Garbett displays a competency with the script but little flair with Loki, something that can hopefully be improved upon in future issues.
Any character with Loki’s popularity is going to be given at least a few issues to prove themselves. Ewing’s going to get enough rope to hang himself and provided he can do something new with the character, this book could stick around. Lee Garbett is a fine fit for the God of Mischief but he’ll also need to step up his game to keep this one from getting stale. For now, Loki: Agent of Asgard is solid offering by creators who have a game plan. It just seems like their game plan isn’t all that inspired.
Green Arrow #28
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Green Arrow has been struggling to find its place since the inception of the New 52, and whether consciously or not, the characters' newfound TV stardom has slowly leaked into the pages of the comic. While its small-screen counterpart draws on modern and classic storylines and characters to form its rich televisual tapestry, a series of missteps that took the Emerald Archer away from his traditional roots have only served to confuse the issue more. Jeff Lemire's soft-reboot almost a year ago took the approach of almost ignoring the score of issue that had come before and carving out his own new piece of Green Arrow history. However, as we approach the climax of “The Outsiders War” arc, it might well be that Lemire might have tried to put too much onto his readers' plates.
The fateful island has always been core to almost every version of the Green Arrow mythos, from its very first versions in Jack Kirby and Ed Herron’s 1958 Adventure Comics origin story. That was itself a retcon, and it seems every very of the island story has added a little something more to the mythos, from Mike Grell’s The Wonder Year to the highly influential (at least for the TV writers) Green Arrow: Year One from Andy Diggle and Jock. Lemire’s contribution doesn’t break this tradition, having been retroactively inserting the notion that Ollie’s arrival and training on the island was no accident for several issues. With the newfound knowledge that Queen’s dad is still alive, a war between the various clans is brewing, with Green Arrow caught at the epicenter.
While Lemire’s additions to the canon have certainly kept readings on their toes for the last few arcs, this latest set of developments threatens to collapse under its own weight. After thumping us with exposition for several pages, the fight sequences between warring clans that follow are indicative of the chaos Lemire has wrought. A sudden tonal shift back to Seattle to visit the Team Arrow of Naomi and Fyff, with the incongruous addition of TV’s John Diggle, almost seems as though Lemire has simply remembered those elements he pushed to one side for convenience, and now has to justify them within the context of his wider arc. As Golgotha, the leader of the rogue Outsiders, posturing in a similar fashion to Frank Miller’s Xerxes, gathers together the seven clans, you may wonder exactly how many books you are reading.
Andrea Sorrentino’s art remains unflappable, continuing to show a willingness mix up styles and textures to bring a tactile quality to the imagery. His design of Ollie’s dad to resemble the classic "old school" Green Arrow (complete with Van Dyke beard) was a nice nod to fans. Sorrentino uses a noticeably different style for flashbacks, although a highlight of the issue remains a remembered fight, splashed out over two pages as the figures in the foreground clash against a series of background panels showing the progression of their fight. The red and white arrival of Kodiak similarly signals an artistic change-up, and unsurprisingly, it’s the Seattle and Golgotha sequences that fail to inspire.
Lemire has all the elements of a sharply original Green Arrow story working here, and it is entirely possible that they will wrap up in a future issue. For now, there are far too many moving parts for this to be enjoyable, detracting from the core of the character and altering the essence of a hero that has always been defined by his ability to make (and break) his own destiny.
Turok: The Dinosaur Hunter #1
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Mirko Colak and Lauren Affe
Letters by Marshall Dillon
Published by Dynamite Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
We all love the classics, right? Those special, formative stories that we encounter that shape our tastes and open our worlds up, all while staying fresh and relevant every time we read them. This is one of the main reasons that Dynamite’s re-launch of Gold Key Comics is so exciting to me. An entirely new generation (myself included) will now be introduced to a bevy of characters that we’ve always heard about or knew a bit about on the fringes, but never really got a chance to experience first-hand. Until now.
Greg Pak, building on the momentum of the stellar Action Comics, takes it slow introducing Turok and his dangerous world, focusing more on his personality and character than the endlessly cool subtitle behind his name. The dinosaurs don’t even show up until the final four pages of the comic, but, as a reader, you are already heavily invested into Turok as a character and his lone wolf lifestyle. Pak’s script, surprisingly more reliant on tone and emotion than action, establishes Turok as the outcast, constantly at odds with some of the other young braves and living apart from the tribe in the woods, grieving the loss of his parents in his gentle and solitary way.
Having only previously encountered Turok in his shoot-'em-up Nintendo 64 game, I now feel that I have a solid understanding of this character in just five short pages. With his declarations of “Alone is better,” his kindness to the animals that surround him, and the totems he erected for his parents; these small, yet powerful bits of characterization that tell you everything you need to know about the character, while not giving away the whole game. This speaks volumes about the strength of Pak as a storyteller. His ability to take some of the smallest bits of character work and use it to inform a reader of exactly what kind of person this character is and who he is just goes to show why he was the best choice to lead us into the new Gold Key. Greg Pak has always been a writer that focuses and cares heavily about his characters and the action of the comic is always filtered through this lens of character, which in turn gives the action genuine stakes and invests the audience.
With a huge relaunch like this, you have a lot of work to do in a very short time, but Pak handles this all like a true pro, never bogging the comic down in needless exposition or heavy handed action beats. Turok is a great #1 and even better introduction into the Gold Key Universe as a whole. The only real misstep of Turok is the muddled Mystery Box of Turok’s parent’s death. The flashbacks seeding this mystery come across a bit muddled and never really add anything of note to the story, which is wildly more interesting than these flashbacks, though it informs Turok’s wish for solitude and his feelings of ostracization. Pak is an old hat at seeding mysteries and B-plots throughout his comics, but here it’s a bit mishandled.
Mirko Colak and Lauren Affe deliver heaps of great work within the pages of Turok #1. Every panel has a rough hewn, yet handsome looking quality to Turok and the young braves that hound him. Colak and Affe also deliver a genuine and very rare sense of tranquility to the titular sanctuary that Turok has built himself. The settling of Turok has a real Savage Land quality to it, in that the setting is a character in itself and it’s a real joy to look at. Plus, anyone that draws dinosaurs and draws them well automatically gets a thumbs up from this guy. The more I look at this art the more I am reminded of a more realistic version of the work of Phil Hester. Colak and Affe give a stylish spin to the realism that they present in the artwork, with each brave accurately dressed, yet never sacrificing what pops in the panel.
We love the classics and are always a bit hesitant when those classics are revamped and repackaged with a shiny new cover and presented to us all over again. As someone who’s only exposure to this character is by controlling him in a 64-bit video game, this comic serves as a great introduction to Turok’s personality and the world that he inhabits. Gone is the running and gunning tough guy that I played in the video game and in his place is a sensitive, relatable outcast in a dangerous world - he is every bit of a classic hero. Pak uses simple storytelling techniques to tell a compelling story, and coupled with the slick art of Colak and Affe, we are presented with a great introduction to Turok and this line of classic books.
The Punisher #1
Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Mitch Gerads
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Marvel Comics has a wealth of heroes - shining examples of righteousness that inspire and set prime examples of what it means to be good. But something that Marvel has considerably less of is anti-heroes. The ones who bend the rules, sometimes breaking them in their pursuit of justice. Heroes with warped perceptions of reality and what they think is acceptable within the world that they inhabit. The most famous of this rare breed of antiheroes is the Punisher, who we last saw under the deft hand of Greg Rucka. Now, during All-New Marvel NOW!, we find our favorite dispenser of leaden justice under a new writer and in a new city, and it is the best possible thing for Frank Castle and his fans.
Nathan Edmondson isn’t concerned at all with what came before his run on the Punisher. Edmondson takes everything that we know about Frank and his one-man war against crime and distills it into a very Point-A-to-Point-B story, presenting this issue as almost a first appearance for Frank. Gone is Microchip and other familiar characters to Frank’s world (though I am holding out hope for a Cole-Alves cameo at some point), and it their place is Frank himself in all his wry, lone gunslinger glory. One thing that instantly struck me with Edmondson’s take on the Punisher is that he sheds always the cold exterior that we’ve seen before and replaces it with a very dryly-funny tactician. In this #1 he’s more Lee Van Cleef than Charles Bronson, and it's a welcome change of pace from the stoic, hardened man we’ve seen time after time. Edmondson seems to be taking a page from the Garth Ennis and Jason Aaron playbook of Punisher writing in that there is no reason that reading the Punisher can’t be fun as well as tell deadly serious stories. You don’t have to look any further than the book’s second scene, where Frank tells a drug runner that he swam too far just to spare his life. I am all about gallows humor and it’s a welcome sight to see again in the pages of the Punisher.
Mitch Gerads is handling the pencils, and at first glance I could have sworn that I was looking at an entire book made up of Dave Johnson 100 Bullets covers. Gerads' smooth realistic style gives the book a distinctly different look and vibe from the last series that we all loved, instantly setting it apart, just like the script. From page one, the book feels like a '70s action movie and Gerad’s pencils make it look even more so. The colors in the swamp scenes give off a steamy, lush-looking hue to the action happening, while the scenes in L.A. look sunbaked and bleached out. Gerads really does some spectacular stuff when it comes to the coloring of the book and it makes all the difference.
Fans of the Punisher and newcomers to Frank’s war alike will be pleased with this new #1. The Punisher has always been a character that never really clicked for me like it had other people, aside from rare runs that went for laughs and satire instead of gloom and pathos. I always wanted a clear entry point into Frank Castle that struck both of those chords in a new and interesting way but it seems that I got exactly what I asked for in the form of Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads’ Punisher #1, which is sure to make anyone take notice of Marvel’s premier antihero.
Batman: Joker’s Daughter #1
Written by Marguerite Bennett
Art by Meghan Hetrick and Michelle Madsen
Lettering by Saida Temofonte
Published by DC Comics
Review by Marlene Bonnelly
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
Joker is out of the picture for the moment, but his legacy continues to cause problems for Batman. In this one-shot, we learn about the unnamed teenager who has deemed herself his “daughter” after finding the remains of his face. The problem is, I’m not sure how significant this character is supposed to be. Bennett builds her up like she will be important, like she just might be a new, serious threat to Gotham… but she’s also a child who admits she’s just desperate for the wrong kind of attention and battles with the idea of actually killing someone. I wasn’t left with the impression that she was a particularly powerful or influential figure, so the motive of this book and the character's purpose are unclear.
The dialogue is definitely creepy enough, though. From the get-go we’re introduced to someone we think should be mentally deranged. This girl has elevated the Joker to the status of a god and whole-heartedly believes she’s been chosen to carry on his work. As we read on, we discover that though desperate to connect with him, she can’t reach his extremes. She can, however, give Batman a bloody lip, escape handcuffs, take down an armed police officer and sneak into a maximum security prison… which I expect to mean she’s had some kind of training, because no decidedly average young woman with an angst-ridden desire for infamy — as we’re meant to view her — can pull off those feats.
Bennett’s writing is appropriately somber, though I wish she had put more of Batman into this issue. His interactions with “Joker’s daughter” were the best part, because anger shone through his cryptic words. Bennett also did a great job with side characters that were meaningful despite their limited presence. Still, the “daughter” herself doesn’t strike me as all that imposing. She’s a very Harley Quinn-like character, given her obsession, but we’re actually told that she’s not so much insane as she is just an incredibly serious fangirl with a homemade Sailor Moon staff and the deeply-seeded desire to be a special snowflake. That’s not exactly supervillain material. That doesn't exactly affect any other main characters, at least not in any way that we can see. What's the point?
I enjoyed Hetrick’s art, particularly in the gorier scenes, but I wasn’t blown away. The “daughter’s” design left a lot to be desired — a cropped T-shirt, miniskirt and ripped leggings aren’t very memorable, though her stomach tattoo is a nice touch. The script also didn’t quite translate in her art at times. For example, the one image of the Joker we do get is lackluster. A panel that is supposed to represent how intimidating and menacing he is falls flat when he’s pictured next to a flaming horse. I also find in troubling when I admire the backgrounds (which were highly detailed and amazingly done) above everything else, to the point where I was distracted from the actual scenes unfolding on the page. It was Madsen’s work as a colorist that impressed me the most; subtle things, like making the girl’s scleras different colors, go a long way.
If this book intended to get readers interested in this girl, then it partially succeeded. The character is strange and different, but I’m left wondering why I should care about her, because her existence doesn't actually change anything significant in the universe. She seems like the type that Batman could easily scoop up again and stick in Arkham. We have a lot left to see in terms of her development, but if the Joker does get involved - and I'm hoping he does - then that development will be a lot more interesting.
Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Stegman, Mark Morales and David Curiel
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Marlene Bonnelly
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Wear gloves when handling this book, because it’s super-edgy. There are guns! And alcohol! Makeouts and ninjas! Logan is mortal, but that doesn’t mean he’s given up making himself look as gritty as possible. His relaunch is interesting and shows promise for future issues, but this first installment lacks a real hook. Wolverine #1 doesn’t give us enough to justify the drastic shift in Logan’s behavior, either, which means it’s entertaining but not quite fulfilling.
Just as the “Rogue Logan” subtitle suggests, Wolverine has switched sides after his painful run-in with Sabretooth. He is now working for a mafia-like gang of villains lead by “the Offer.” Whatever the Offer has bargained with Logan must be good, because it has him working alongside a team that would normally be far beneath him. He’s putting all his effort into this new venture, too; this isn’t some strange, double-agent act, as evidenced by the severity of the final scene.
Cornell is really trying to paint a different picture of a popular character and I respect that, but the rebranding is extreme. I get that Logan is struggling with his sense of self, but why does that equate to a one-eighty? This is a man who, not that long ago, headed a school full of children. Though he was a reluctant teacher, it was obvious he cared about his students and fought hard to protect them whenever he could. Considering everything Logan has been through in his ridiculously long life and how many times he’s bounced back, I find it hard to believe that he still feels the need to take such dark measures after one bad fight. Picking up a gun in the absence of his claws makes sense, but the motivation behind using that gun on apparent innocents doesn’t, especially when he has the obvious support of friends and former teammates who want to help him cope with his newfound mortality… and especially when, according to this issue, Logan himself dreams of the normalcy that comes with a limited lifespan. It's possible that we just didn't get enough introspection.
The story of a brooding, bloodthirsty Wolverine is a familiar one, but this creative team does get credit for keeping it fresh. Setting Logan in a group of new characters is a good change of pace, although those characters are actually pretty forgettable. The mid-mission kiss with one of his teammates serves to remove him further from his hero persona, anchoring him firmly among the evildoers. He even gets a new costume, with a very praiseworthy design courtesy of artist Kristafer Anka. He developed the idea of an armored suit, with striations referencing a samurai background and an orange and black color scheme inspired by Steve Gordon’s designs from the X-Men: Evolution cartoon.
Stegman’s interior art is also a feast for the eyes. I was happy to see Logan in all his classically short, squat, crazy-haired glory. The close-ups were a delight, reminding us over and over again of Sabretooth’s lasting impression on his face in excruciating detail. Morales did a perfect job inking, as well, with line weight that balanced Stegman’s pencils beautifully. Coupled with Curiel’s colors, which utilized beautifully subtle gradients and just the right glow around Morales’ inks, we have an honestly good-looking book.
Overall, the new Wolverine has potential. I want to understand the mystery surrounding the Offer and wrap my head around why Logan has decided on this path, I want to read his conversation with Superior Spider-Man in the second issue… but Logan himself seems out of character compared to the version of him that we’d watched develop very recently. Issue #1 was fun to look at it with its copious action and shock value, but I haven't yet bought into the concept of a truly villainous Wolverine.
The Adventures of Apocalypse Al #1
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art by Sid Kotian and Bill Farmer
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Image Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: an attractive woman with a mysterious and mystical backstory is up against the forces of evil armed only with man-made weapons and a sense of humor that relies on dry wit only the main character seems to enjoy. Like the above, The Adventures of Apocalypse Al feels like something we’ve read before and offers nothing unique in what should be an exciting story about a young woman against insurmountable odds.
J. Michael Straczynski makes a weak start, as he puts into the middle of a story, but not the main one Al will soon follow. It’s clear from the get-go that Al knows exactly what’s going on—between summoning demons, talking to the undead, and looking for the Book of Keys, she always knows exactly what to do next. However, Straczynski spares no time to allow the reader to get to know Al as a person. He takes steps to through the internal monologue, letting the reader know, at the very least, she’s accustomed to stopping the end of the world, but beyond that we really don’t learn too much about her. Because the reader has no opportunity to get to know Al, they don’t become invested in the story. Immediately, it’s revealed that the story is, in fact, not about Al, but about the events happening throughout the plot.
The plot, though, is confusing. We’re dropped into the story without any context, either, which leaves the reader confused from start to finish as to exactly what’s going on. What are the rules of the world? How does magic work, what is the significance of Al being a woman coming from a line of male protectors, how do zombies stay together if they appear to decay? These among other questions, leave the reader in confusion, as Straczynski leaves the reader in the dark, which makes the reading frustrating.
Al is given no uniqueness or individuality, so nothing speaks to the reader for him or her to identify with her. Instead of taking the opportunity to be innovative and make Al completely original, Straczynski seems to have mashed together Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Black Widow and added a dash of wit and humor that pales in compassion to the originals’. He relies on our preconceptions about similar characters to fill in the blanks about how we would expect Al to act, which removes the reader from the story and prevents them from being fully immersed and engaged in the story. Answering basic questions like why does Al do what she does, how did she become involved in this life, and who influenced her the most growing up, would all begin to let the reader know Al as a person before the preventer of the apocalypse.
The artwork makes for a jarring reading experience as well, further removing the reader from the reading experience. A white background is used throughout most of the issue, and, as Sid Kotian experiments with panel layout by overlapping panels, the reader isn’t given a clear path down the pages. Jumping from panel to panel feels staccato and rushed. It doesn’t help that the majority of panels are head and body shots; Kotian doesn’t pay much attention to the background and environment during the scenes after the establishing shot, which makes the visuals feel like a back and forth between Al and whoever else she’s interacting with at any given time.
The choices in general concerning the art leave little to be desired. The inking makes the final images seem rough, and—although this does, to a degree, fit into the style of the narrative—makes the character designs seem grainy as they have more detail, like in the case of Mike Rose and zoomed out shots of Al. Kotian also loses points for his sometimes gratuitous portrayal of Al; specifically, the panel where she’s pulling on her robe that gives the viewer a look at her entire scantily clad body. Besides having nothing to add to the story, the visual was out of place within the context of the rest of the visuals.
Between the lackluster art and the trope-heavy, overly dramatic story, the story is left feeling hackneyed and cliché. Straczynski relies too much on tropes to describe these characters and situations for him, reducing characters like Al and the “Ultimate Darkness” — who should be interesting, three-dimensional characters — to mere plot devices to push the story forward. For some reason, however, even after all those flaws, the issue remains moderately enjoyable and earns a look at the second issue.
Earth 2 #20
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Barry Kitson, Robson Rocha, Oclair Albert and Pete Pantazis
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Despite some fumbling during last week's annual, Tom Taylor manages to pick right back up again in Earth 2 #20 as we get a small reprieve from the high tension we’ve seen since Taylor’s introduction to the series. After escaping the parademons, the heroes get a chance to take a breather, allowing them reveal new information about themselves and the word we’re still getting to know.
Aquawoman had a regrettably short time in the spotlight, leaving only after an awesome display of power. Taylor hasn’t revealed too much information on her origins, but her personality seems strong and refined, fitting the personality we’d expect from a battle-hardened queen. Barry Kitson drew a two-page spread to showcase her powers; between her powerful stance and the dynamic visuals from the swirling water, the page stood out as one of the best visuals of the book. Still, it would have been nice for Taylor to have chosen a different communication method between Batman and Aquawoman than a shell, which ultimately feels cliché.
Taylor makes the smart decision to shift from Batman in this issue and focus more on Lois and this new Kryptonian Val. Lois goes beyond taking the forefront of the issue and steals its thunder completely. Taylor’s rendition of her character is both reminiscent of the caring, abrasive Lois we saw in DCAU and prior to the reboot. Her subtle characteristics, like patiently talking with Val, laughing at the thought that the Superman out there is her Superman, and relating the core values the Superman upheld just by affirming Val’s feelings. In the short five pages she talks to him, Lois breaks through to someone who’s been on the inside all his life, and the fact that Taylor does that organically makes it even better. For the fans who are looking for “strong” female characters, Lois is a great example at how to balance a whole range of qualities to create that “strong” character we like to see.
The world of Earth 2 appears to be expanding to an even more diverse cast. Between Lois as Red Tornado, Aquawoman, Val, Khaleed, Hawkgirl, and now Connor Hawke, Taylor is taking advantage of different skillsets and characters we think we already know to give us a whole new perspective on the DC Universe. Earth 2 has such a different feel from the current Earth 1, but still has that overall DC Comics feel that brings excitement from the interaction of these characters. He doesn’t shy away from adding more variables to the story, revealing that Val has agoraphobia, which gives him a clear route for character development. Besides the fact that agoraphobia hasn’t been explored much in comics, this particular handicap severely sets Val back, simply because his powers come from the outside. It will be interesting to see how Taylor plays with this in the coming issues.
The main weakness of the issue stems from the middle of the issue where Robson Rocha and Oclair Albert take over the art. The segment with Superman, although poignant in so far as that he’s destroying the symbols of the world and essentially obliterating hope, it stands so far removed from the main portion of the narrative that it feels more like filler than actual story. More so, the idea of killing hope has been done again and again, especially where it concerns Darkseid; considering the strife and turmoil the world already went through with Darkseid’s first invasion, the destruction of the houses of worship seemed gratuitous, just because the people’s spirits seemed broken already.
Beyond that, the artwork feels too different from the main story, especially with the inking. Whereas the beginning and end of the comic have a rather sleek feel to it, the middle segment’s inking seems almost too detailed, ultimately making it feel grainy. Between the explosions and Superman’s heat vision, the art conveys the disarray of the destruction well, so it might just be because it’s the digital copy. Regardless, the dissonance between the two art teams is large enough for the reader to feel out of place until the narrative returns to the Batcave.
After the annual fell flat, it seemed that Earth 2 would be on steady decline, but Taylor has proven that the misstep wasn’t a pattern and that the series has gotten back to its usual quality. By taking this issue to give everyone a breather, Taylor allowed these characters to breathe and set themselves up for interesting stories in the near future. Let’s see what he can do with it.