Best Shots Comic Reviews: METAL MEN Debut in JL #28, AMAZING X-MEN #4 Amazes, More
CREDIT: DC Comics
Justice League #28
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Scott Hanna and Rod Reis
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The title of this month’s Justice League, “Forever Worthy”, is somewhat apt, as this run has been a lot more fun than all expectations would have indicated. While the “Forever Evil” arc has undoubtedly taken its sweet time getting to wherever it is supposed to go, now entering its sixth month (or twice that long if taken together with the “Trinity War” storyline), it’s also got an amazing continuing ability to find new corners of the New 52 to open up for the first time. As hinted last issue, the Metal Men finally see the shiny light of day this month, with a satisfying reintroduction (of sorts) to the DC status quo.
Geoff Johns once again focuses on the freshly rebooted Cyborg in his quest to find help for the surviving heroes. Keeping with the current format of the “Forever Evil” format, the issue forms an extended backstory of Dr. Magnus’ “failed” attempts to bring his Metal Men to life. After Frankensteining a series of elements to life, Magnus finds that their personality traits have superseded their programming, including the overwhelming need to help people out. This structure immediately creates a sense of mystery that hangs over the entire issue, as it is clear from the start that the Metal Men are no longer with Magnus.
Given the indeterminate fate of the Metal Men, on the surface this seems like another issue that is simply treading water under the “Forever Evil” banner. However, there is also the notion that they are now the next totem in the quest that Cyborg, the knight in shining nanotechnology, is at the center of. The issue allows Johns to pull out some much needed humour in a wider arc that has often been lacking lighter moments of late. In the short time we spend with them, Johns gives each of the Metal Men (and woman) a distinct personality, and the makings of a complete team for future issues. Ironically, it took a series of malleable metals to give this story a human touch.
The art team does a wonderful job of recreating the Metal Men for a new era, crafting them with far more individuality and expression than previous versions. Gone are the close approximations of a facial expressions, replaced with grinning or scowling counterparts in 2014. Platinum’s hair seems like a living entity rather than a fixed bob, for example. While their time in the action sun is all too brief, facing down a toxic version of themselves in Magnus’s labs, the sequences are fluid and engaging. It’s a tantalizing taste of what come to pass if the team forms a permanent part of the New 52.
While the issue only mildly progresses the overall “Forever Evil” arc, Johns seems to enjoy bringing these long-absent characters back to life (albeit briefly) and the reading experience is all the more pleasurable for it. With the goal posts now finally in sight for the end of this event, there comes the corresponding sense that the landscape is going to have a very different population on the other side.
Amazing X-Men #4
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
He's a fuzzy blue elf. A teleporting acrobat. A swashbuckling swordsman with the instincts of a pirate. But the thing that Jason Aaron really, truly seems to get about Nightcrawler is that he's also the heart and soul of the Amazing X-Men. Aided by Ed McGuinness' bouncy, warm artwork, Aaron plays to the readers' sense of affection, reminding us why we missed Kurt Wagner so much in the first place.
What's been so great about Amazing X-Men is the fact that Jason Aaron has figured out a way to bring Nightcrawler back that truly incorporates all the best parts - and the strangest - about the character. What could be more fitting than to have the religious, Errol Flynn-loving son-of-a-demon fight for humanity from the afterlife itself? And who would be more appropriate to aid Nightcrawler in his crusade than the mutants he grew up with? Despite the somewhat goofy "pirates in Heaven" high concept, Aaron's storyline couldn't have more soul. Almost all of the X-Men get a great moment in this issue, whether its Firestar literally making Hell burn, or Nightcrawler and the Beast playing "obstacle chess" (with Kurt betting that the atheist Hank would go to church with him), or the tear-inducing reunion between Wolverine and his furry blue best friend. After violently separating his team in the second and third issues of this book, Aaron is finally bringing the band back together, and in so doing reminds us of the relationships and core characterization that made the X-Men such a compelling read in the Claremont era.
But the real message that Aaron imparts here is that the X-Men wouldn't be the X-Men without Kurt Wagner. Just the way that Nightcrawler speaks makes him instantly endearing. It's not just that he's humorous - he's optimistic. Even when his friends are attacking him, he always has something nice to say: "Kurt, there's a sword in his back! He's been driven out of his mind!" Storm shouts, as the Beast leaps at Nightcrawler. "Nonsense. When one has as much mind as Dr. Henry McCoy, there's little chance you could ever run out," he replies. The flashbacks that Aaron writes only adds to that, including a personal chat with Wolverine where he refuses - like he always did - to let this blood-stained warrior live his life alone. Gone are all the personal squabbles and schisms - this is the X-Men at their best. They're not just saving the world - they're saving each other, as well.
And to add to this optimistic tone, Ed McGuinness simply sings as the book's artist. His artwork is clean, cartoony and full of energy and emotion. His opening image introducing Nightcrawler is almost pin-up-worthy, it nails the character so well, as a snarling Hank is held at bay by a relaxed, grinning elf, almost as if the rampaging Beast was an overexcited puppy rather than hundreds of pounds of blue fur and muscle. McGuinness doesn't do too much with settings in this issue, but when his characters look as gorgeous as they do, it's easy to ignore - in particular, watching Kurt and Henry bounce and spar across a pirate ship is a fluid, fun treat, and seeing Firestar finally step up (or is it fly up?) and start microwaving everything in sight. McGuinness is also particularly expressive, whether it's little moments like Nightcrawler's look of concern for Wolverine, or Logan's agonizing trudge throught the snows of Hell. Dexter Vines' inking is lush, adding a nice weight to McGuinness' lines, while Marte Gracia's colors also really add a lot of energy, particularly his uses of purple, red and ice blue to set the scenes.
Who would have thought that mutants in Heaven could wind up being one of the more heartfelt stories in recent X-Men lore? Yet Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness take a nutty concept and score a home run, all by distilling Nightcrawler to his core - and extremely varied - essence. In so doing, Aaron has performed a little bit of continuity magic, blowing up all those small character details of the Claremont (and even Chuck Austen) years, all while refitting them back into something that's surprisingly, cohesively relatable. Mutant politics are well and good, but the strength of the X-Men franchise has been showing that no matter what your mutation, you're still human underneath - and it's that return to form that makes Nightcrawler and the Amazing X-Men live up to their names.
New Warriors #1
Written by Chris Yost
Art by Marcus To and David Curiel
Lettering by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
The dream of the ‘90s is alive at Marvel. The New Warriors are back and with Chris Yost and Marcus To in tow, but there might not be room for an oddball cast of heroes that don’t fit neatly under the Avengers banner. Yost sets out the challenges before this team but it’s a tough sell. The team is spread out, though they’ll face the same threat. In trying to give each of them a moment to shine, Yost might be spreading himself thin.
Yost frames the first issue by showing our young heroes doing the things that young heroes do: catching bad guys and quipping heartily. But our main players are Speedball and Vance Astrovik. After their encounter with the Salem Seven, Vance explains his hesitation in starting up the New Warriors and essentially sums up the problem with this book: “In a world with the Avengers, I’m not sure there’s a place for us.” And he’s right. Outside of Nova, none of these characters features heavily into any other book. Scarlet Spider had a good run but he had to remove himself completely from the world Amazing/Superior Spider-Man to do so. Yost’s characterization is mostly on point with all of them (except Speedball, but we’ll get to that) but his plotting is dull and the inciting threat doesn’t seem like a job for a team of random B and C list heroes..
Astrovik explains his concerns with starting the team again because they’ll always be known as the ones who blew up Stamford in Civil War #1. Considering the always relative timeline of MArvel comics, we don’t actually know how far in the past that was but it’s safe to say that it was less than the 8 years it’s been for readers. But why is Yost dredging it up? His Speedball acts exactly like his pre-Civil War iteration. He doesn’t seem like a character who ever went through the transformation of becoming Penance which was a very dark turn and I’d imagine not something easily forgettable. Of course, Yost is holding the cards but he doesn’t show enough of his hand to hook readers. There are a lot of questions about this book but they aren’t the most interesting ones. It’s the same problem that Sean McKeever had with his run of Young Allies and that only lasted six issues.
Maybe the only reason Yost will get a longer leash is because MArcus To is doing some of the best artwork of his life. To is nigh unstoppable here and color artist David Curiel is no slouch either. To delivers solid takes on the entire cast. He offers up a lot of varied looks in his work for each scene, making sure to highlight each hero’s powerset almost to the point where you could guess their powers without the information boxes. Curiel defines a very different quality in To’s work that we’re not used to seeing in recent years. Curiel opens up his palette and displays a lot of range. Freed of the grim darkness of Gotham, To’s linework is exciting and not bogged down by heavy blacks and blues. He’s definitely doing the best work of his career here, proving that he may be in line for a Stuart Immonen kind of trajectory at the House of Ideas.
The New Warriors title alone will cash in on a lot of nostalgia but not much else. Marcus To fans will be pleased but readers hoping for a team book with heart will be sorely disappointed. It’s hard to have a team book without a team in place and Yost’s disjointed approach just isn’t gelling. Coming off a relative hit with Scarlet Spider, I’m this book will get a real chance to sink or swim but right now it looks like it’s taking water.
Wonder Woman #28
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chang, Goran Sudzuka and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Ever wonder how hard it would be to get on Olympus if the Greek gods were real? Apparently, it’s not terribly difficult, as Wonder Woman #28 shows Cassandra and her forces easily capture a god who willingly brings them to their goal. Brian Azzarello sacrifices the tension and mettle of the story to highlight the Greek gods’ arrogant qualities, which appears will be their undoing.
These past few issues have shown a different Wonder Woman, one that’s strong to her core and warm-hearted to the end as opposed to the “charge first and ask questions later” version we’ve seen before. Having gods judge her for that, especially Hermes, who’s done so much wrong towards her, Azzarello showcases Diana’s relentless hope for the future. It’s these moments in Azzarello’s run that showcases his ability to effectively utilize these moments of downtime to allow characters to show what they’re really made of. For Diana to quip back saying “To stop believing in people? I hope not” when reprimanded that she’ll never learn gives readers a glimpse into her greatest virtue and her potential for disaster. After all, it was her initial trust in Hermes that got Zeke stolen issues ago; Azzarello has done a great job balancing these sides of Wonder Woman throughout the narrative, and hopefully he’ll explore that more in the coming issues.
Besides Diana, however, most of the characters don’t get a moment to shine in the story. Hera is sidelined towards the beginning of the issue, and the Firstborn and Apollo play out the expected and predictable scenario on Olympus. It was clear from last issue that the Firstborn would overcome Apollo and break free. The Firstborn, especially in this issue, feels more like a plot device than anything else. He says that his hatred “burns hotter than a thousand suns,” rendering Apollo’s attacks useless. While this line of dialogue may sound sort of imposing, it doesn’t really let the reader know what’s going on, which makes the glorified “fight” between him and Apollo rather boring, because we all know what’s going to happen next.
Because nothing really happened on either end of the story, as Dionysus doesn’t give Cassandra much of an obstacle to overcome in getting to Olympus and the Firstborn is largely immune to Apollo’s powers, the issue doesn’t hold much tension or reason to stay engaged with the story. Azzarello and Chang take a moment from the fighting to create a connection between Cassandra’s minotaur and Diana, referencing back to how she let the minotaur live from Wonder Woman #0.
Chang composes the panels to have the minotaur and Diana look directly at each other, effectively conveying this information to the reader. Exactly how it’ll pertain the plot later on down the line, though, remains to be seen. Although, this is done in the middle of the fighting, which removes the reader from the action. Even though Diana, Apollo, and Artemis are up against what appears to be a large number of Cassandra’s acolytes—armed with machine guns, no less—Diana is still able to stare into the eyes of the minotaur and go after the plane without interference. This was a wasted opportunity for all involved to showcase the Gods’ formidable fighting skills and still have Diana get aboard the plane.
Goran Sudzuka did the layout for several pages, and follows the same style that Chang has been using for his issues. For the most part, the artwork remains strong throughout the issue, particularly with Artemis and Apollo, especially with their coloring. Matthew Wilson does a great job in making them visually dynamic and pairs well with Chang’s style. It’s clear through the visuals that Apollo’s power is explosive and drains him significantly, as he slowly transitions from bright white to dark orange throughout the issue. It’s the little things that sometimes matter the most, and in the case of the visuals, it’s Wilson’s superb coloring that pushes Chang’s artwork to the next level.
While the story may not have been up to par with what we’ve come to expect with Azzarello, Chang and Wilson push the art far enough to still make the issue an enjoyable read. Hopefully Casasndra and the Firstborn will gain some much needed three-dimensionality in the coming issues to give Wonder Woman and the arc the finale it deserves.
The White Suits #1
Written by Frank Barbiere
Art by Toby Cypress
Lettering by Frank Barbiere
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a team of assassins leaves one of their members for dead after a falling out — flash forward to later, and the man left behind is suddenly thrust back into an explosive conflict with his former teammates. Yes, The White Suits follows this basic plotline, with the amnesiac protagonist a former White Suit being brought back into the conflict as the assassin team faces off against the leaders of organized crime. Dark Horse Comics makes a bold move with The White Suits as Frank Barbiere and Toby Cypress craft this unique crime story that looks and feels like nothing else on the market.
Barbiere shows his strength as a writer by making three clear, strong, and distinct groups of people, that all want something different and will prove to spiral them into exciting conflict. The White Suits #1 opens with the protagonist clearly defining his internal struggle, which draws the readers into the narrative on a human level. There’s always a risk in withholding information from the reader, but Barbiere finds the right balance to reveal just enough information to hook the reader without frustrating them.
The art by Cypress is really a double-edged sword for the issue. On the one hand, the actual character designs are sometimes distracting, with strange choices in the proportions of the body and face. At times, these visuals can be distracting, especially when a character’s face looks too cartoonish in comparison to the high-level quality of the writing. On the other hand, the art, in many ways, is brilliant, with many, many layers to it.
Cypress is a master of composition, relaying an unimaginable amount of information with his visuals. The one page spread between the memory and opening bar scene specifically stands out, as it gives away snippets of information pertaining to the plot: the communist flag, Russian-style buildings, the American flag, and military men. This provides the reader some context to the history of these characters and drives them to discover how it relates to the overall plot, engaging them further into the world and story. His pacing in the composition also stood out, managing to balance between the fast and intense quality the action scenes with the White Suits and the slow, drawn out, and tense scenes with the criminals. To be able to change the feel of the story at the drop of a hat is evidence to his skills.
His use of color was automatically something to look at due to its sparse use. This was another way Cypress took the opportunity to convey information otherwise left out by the exposition. There were only two instances in the entire issue with full color, and that was with the mysterious criminal leader and the very last page. The use of color advances the overall quality of the issue because of its complexity, substance, and effect on the writing.
The art, for example, advances the criminal leader from a one-dimensional to a multi-faceted character. Initially, he falls into several tropes that make him seem like any other imposing leader, which made him seem like more of a plot point than an actual character. However, because he’s the only one with colored clothing, he immediately stands out. The art and writing work together, then, to prove that he is a force to be reckoned with: having him kill another leader without immediate consequence asserts his power and the fact that he receives one of only two full color pages shows the reader that the event was significant. Once the entire scene is done, the reader now understands this character will be a key contender in the story and becomes interesting enough for readers to want to understand what makes him tick.
The writing of the White Suits themselves is the weakest part of the issue. As it stands, they feel removed from the storyline and remain only as plot points, just because the reader simply doesn’t know enough about them. Barbiere relies too heavily on the Murder Inc. trope to fill in the blanks, which makes the white suits feel underutilized and like any other assignation team. While reading, it honestly felt like they could have been the cousins of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad from Kill Bill, which is also another example of the aforementioned trope. Although there are seeds planted in the narrative to give the suits room to grow as characters, there simply wasn’t enough to push them past one-dimensionality.
There’s so much to say about White Suits simply because there’s so much embedded in the narrative. One read through simply isn’t enough to appreciate the intricacies within the narrative—two or three are recommended. While such thought from the creative team is appreciative, it brings into question whether or not readers will want to read through something three or four times to get the issue’s full effect. The answer: please take the time to go through it multiple times — it’ll be worth it.
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Artyom Trakhanov
Lettering by Thomas Mauer
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
There’s a lot of potential in a book like Undertow that really overcomes a couple of its shortcomings. In an era, when most new Image books are coming from very, very established creators, it’s nice to see some new voices on the scene. Steve Orlando and Artyom Trakhanov tell the story of an Atlantean soldier taken in by a band of undersea pirates on a quest for the next step in evolution: the ability to live underwater and on land. There’s so much you’ll want to love in this one.
Orlando has a great concept working here with a lot of moving parts and a lot of room for expansion. We have essentially a reversed exploration story from the one we’re used to which sets up new challenges for the characters that we may not have seen before. The power dynamic and culture difference between Redum Anshargal’s crew and Ukinnu’s Atlanteans could be very interesting. Orlando definitely scratches the surface and introduces us to these ideas. We have yet to see if Ukinnu’s feelings toward Atlantis are justified or if he’s suffering some sort of Stockholm Syndrome but that will come in time. Orlando is working in some big metaphors as well. Redum’s ship is called the Deliverer. He’s leading his people to freedom. There are definitely some biblical notions in this story. Is Redum Jesus or is he Moses? Will he save his people for eternity or will he lead them to the promised land only to never see it himself? Redum could be a stand-in for the devil, tempting Ukinnu down the wrong path away from Atlantis. Orlando has a ton of options but its unclear which he’ll choose moving forward.
Trakhanov handles all of the art duties in this one and his colors are incredible but his linework leaves something to be desired. When dealing with an locale completely unfamiliar to the reader, it’s important to establish certain details in regards to where the characters are in the world around them. Trakhanov has no problems in the wide-open battle scenes or when exploring the land above, but when Ukinnu and Redum traverse through The Deliverer. Certain panels come at skewed angles, obscuring the details in the background. And while his character designs aren't bad, it does take a little while for the character recognition to sink in. The colors are really the star. They set the land and sea worlds apart wonderfully and Trakhanov takes a different approach to each. He sort of washes the underwater scenes in a certain palette while doing more specific color work for the land ones.
I don’t usually talk about lettering because if the lettering is good, you don’t need to talk about it. And Thomas Mauer isn’t a bad letterer. He does make one design choice that makes the book a bit hard to read though. In some of the underwater sequences, he opts for white lettering directly over the art that doesn’t pop enough to be very readable. Even the weight of the fonts isn’t consistent. It’s small but it was distracting on a first read through. He does include a nice design element to help familiarize readers with the world though. He includes asterisks to translate some of the written language on the ship. Again, it’s a small detail but helps make the book a bit more immersive.
As far as first issues go, this has to be considered a win. It’s good enough t to hook readers because it poses many opportunities for Orlando and Trakhanov to explore different themes and potential plotlines. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes moving forward. Trakhanov’s art is definitely a little off the beaten path but only in the best ways. IT has an off-kilter weirdness to it that reminds me of a messier Eduardo Risso. Once he gets a better handle on communicating location a bit more effectively, the art will truly sing. Undertow is still finding its sea legs but this is a good debut from a brand-new creative team.
A Voice in the Dark #4
Written by Larime Taylor
Art by Larime Taylor, Sylv Taylor
Lettering by Larime Taylor
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
While it may not have had the same level of hyperbole thrown at it as some of its Image Comics stablemates, Larime Taylor’s A Voice in the Dark has been steadily earning supporters around the globe since its initial inception as the Kickstarter-funded Dark Zoey. By this fourth issue, Taylor’s debut title has slowly expanded the weird world of Cutter’s Circle, the serial murder capital of the US of A, bringing our murder-inclined protagonist closer in touch with the increasingly blood-soaked world that she inhabits. All with a healthy dose of dark comedy, of course.
It’s been at least 83 days since the recovering murderer Zoey has killed someone, but she isn’t alone in Cutter’s Circle. A second rich white girl has fallen victim to one of the town’s more active slayers, and Zoey’s policeman uncle Zeke is on the case. Amidst this, Zoey’s far more pressing concern is getting through a sorority shindig without her urge to get her strangle on rising.
It’s with a very wickedly black tongue-in-cheek that Taylor approaches this series, which sits somewhere between the Buffyverse and TV’sDexter on the most surface of levels. Indeed, the better comparison would be the cult brilliance of Heathers, where the artificiality of the non-killing lives are just as disturbingly sinister as those that end in puddles of blood. Taylor uses the classroom motif to have his weightier discussions of the morality of sanctioned killing, but juxtaposes this with zoological jungle of college parties. In fact, after an incredibly balanced discussion on the applicability of the death penalty as an absolute, the college kegger makes a reasonable argument for random acts of mercy culling.
One of the major strengths of Taylor’s A Voice in the Dark comes in its portrayal of women, and this is not simply in their well-defined personalities and relatable character traits, but in the art as well. Taylor uses the greyscale art to his advantage, depicting the women with as much frankness and stark reality visually as he does in the often witty dialogue. Basing his characters on photographic models, there’s a consistency to each of his clearly distinguishable leads that allows him to insert numerous visual gags throughout the piece. A number of these involve Zoey’s fantasy killings, which in this issue is the electrocution of a classmate, but at other times it is in keeping the head of a male basketball player out of frame at all times, completely and deliberately sidelining his relevance to the lives of the women. Even Taylor, a self-described “mouth artist”, himself makes a small self-deprecating cameo in the party montage as a knowing wink to his audience.
If you haven’t given A Voice in the Dark a chance yet, now is a perfect time to jump on. With fresh blood on the campus lawn, Taylor provides an easy access point to his growing world of the delightfully grim town of Cutter’s Circle. It’s a world that beckons us to get comfortable, because the surprises it holds are only just beginning to bob above the surface.