Best Shots Comic Reviews: Perfect AVENGERS WORLD, Imperfect Other Books
CREDIT: Marvel Comics
Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has your back, with the latest and greatest of last week's new releases! So let's kick off today's column with Jocular Justin Partridge, III, as he takes a look at the new issue of Avengers World...
Avengers World #3
Written by Nick Spencer and Jonathan Hickman
Art by Stefano Casselli, Frank Martin, Antonio Fabela, and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Avengers comics seem to fit two schools of thought nowadays. You have the high-concept, plot-first approach to the Avengers in books like Hickman’s Avengers/New Avengers and Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers. On the other side of this coin, you have the character-first approach to the Avengers, like Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Avengers Assemble, Al Ewing’s Mighty Avengers, and now Nick Spencer’s new spin-off Avengers World, which delivered its best issue this last week while focusing on a single character with great success.
Avengers World #3 functions almost as a backdoor pilot to the upcoming Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu, while still giving us the over the top plots of an Avengers comic. This issue follows Shang-Chi as he prepares to take on the the Gorgon while the city of Madripoor sits atop a centuries old dragon flying through the air. Even though this completely insane things are happening in the background, the issue feels intensely personal and visceral. Nick Spencer gives us the full tilt Shang-Chi action that has been hinted at in the main Avengers title, but never really gave into. Spencer’s narration is pitch perfect, equal parts poetic and pulpy as Shang-Chi talks through the fight and his strategy. This battle makes up the majority of the comic, but Spencer keeps it moving at a pace so fast, you feel breathless by the time you get to the last page. Spencer applies the same tight storytelling that is on display in Bedlam to this script to great effect. Each volley of blows delivered by each character has a heavy weight behind it, which keeps you, as a reader, glued to the page just to see who gets the upper hand next.
Nick Spencer also takes a few cues from the cult classic Immortal Iron Fist series, by having Shang-Chi draw power from various inspirational figures from the past. Its a powerful device that also proves just how dynamic Shang-Chi can be as a lead character. There is a deep and rich well of character underneath the icy exterior of Shang-Chi and Nick Spencer seems to understand that. Now, he wants to give readers a taste of just what they have been missing in the pages of the main Avengers title and what they can expect once The Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu #1 hits stands.
Stefano Caselli continues to be the underrated star of the Avengers line art team. While names like Opena and McNiven receive the acclaim, Stefano Caselli quietly puts out consistently better and better work, each issue looking more impressive than the last. In Avengers World #3, Caselli displays his incredible fluidity when it comes to character poses and action beats. Each stance looks authentic and powerful, while each blow hits like a truck. Its a rare thing to see an artist convey that sense of grace as well as power, but Caselli sells it in spades, and the issue is all the better for it. Frank Martin and his coloring team of Antonio Fabela and Edgar Delgado also seem to be having a blast with the Madripoor setting, giving the issue a true Shaw Brothers color pallet. The darks are gritty and moody, while the battle between Shang-Chi and the Gorgon explodes with Technicolor splashes of reds, yellows, and blues. This art team absolutely nails the tone of what Spencer is trying to convey and it more than cashes the check that the wonderful Rags Morales wrote us by delivering a kinetic and stylish kung-fu epic in 22 pages.
Hickman’s Avengers roster may be one of the largest and most eclectic in recent memory, but even Hickman can’t give all of these characters proper time to shine. Now, it seems, thanks to Nick Spencer, he doesn’t have to. Hickman may have his wheels within wheels, but Spencer has the power of character on his side and sometimes that is all you need to give us a stellar comic. On paper this comic may not sound like much, but as soon as you see exactly what is on display here, it makes all the sense in the world. You have a compelling lead, a script that understands just why this character is so compelling, and an art team that brings it all together with powerful images. The Master of Kung-Fu has never hit harder.
Batman and Two Face #28
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Talk about the brave and the bold, this issue of Batman and Two-Face embodies both, as Peter Tomasi wraps up the Two-Face storyline with an impressively unexpected ending. Paired with Patrick Gleason’s usual stellar art, the two finish strong, despite stumbling along the way.
The writing sacrifices the story to provide a final issue comprised of an over-the-top battle and unexpected ending. The courtroom scene took center stage as both stunning visuals and shocking revelations took place: the image of Batman charging the gunmen with the makeshift seal and Two-Face revealing he does, in fact, know Batman’s true identity. The action and tension were both high, making for a quick and enjoyable read through the scene, but by the end it all felt forced. To have Batman and Harvey monologue at each other dramatically while being fired on didn’t seem right in retrospect, and felt like it was just there to drop Harvey’s bombshell. That being said, Tomasi realized the potential of the conversation to let Harvey shine as a fully realized, three-dimensional character. To call Bruce out and parallel Bruce’s choice to become Batman with his own choice to become Two-Face was a great way for Tomasi to push that theme of the good and evil in a person, and how everyone’s teetering on that edge.
The entire issue, though, stifled Erin’s story to give Batman and Two-Face more room to do their thing. By the end of the arc, Erin hasn’t become enough of a character to stand on her own - she’s just not as interesting as the other characters. With Two-Face gone, Tomasi and Gleason seem to have hinted that perhaps Erin will take on the role: half her face is burned with acid and, in her final scene, half her face is bright and the other half is cast in shadow — and coincidentally matches with Harvey’s face as well. Because they weren’t completely clear about it, and because Erin was completely sidelined for the final issue, it seemed strange for her to have that particular focus at the end of the issue.
The attention to detail in the issue is a double-edged sword. When Tomasi and Gleason are on point, like above, they kill it. It’s clear that Tomasi and Gleason are making the tiny details stand out in the issue, as they choose specifically to showcase Penguin, Man-Bat, and Killer Croc, which hopefully means they’re hinting at stories down the line. From Erin’s scar to the fly in Harvey’s bedroom to the subtle difference in Glinda’s mouth in the final scene, the creative team is purposefully making choices that are supposed to mean something and deliver meaning to the readers; while the effort is appreciated, at times that meaning is lost in translation. Other times, they miss the ball completely, and those small details really throw the reader off in their progression through the issue. When Harvey’s gag thins out from the first to the second page and when Batman isn’t given enough transition between driving and barging into the courthouse, the art suffers and it shows.
Gray’s usage of colors to show Harvey’s inner struggle was nicely done, especially when using the reds and blues of police sirens, which is particularly poignant considering Harvey’s past relationship with the law. If Gleason’s a master of anything, though, it’s pacing. He knows just how to draw out the visuals to seemingly create pauses in the reading. A great example is Erin’s fall onto the cop car — the transition from her “thunk”ing and saying “I want my phone call” was great because that close up provided a tiny bit of humor that broke up the intense action. Harvey’s finale also stands out, especially while he’s preparing himself — Gleason draws it out just enough to be dramatic enough that the scene earns its horror without it being overly theatrical.
If nothing else, this arc can be remembered as the time Tomasi and Gleason chose to do something so drastic and bold, readers can’t help but remembering the story. By the end, though, they didn’t do enough to earn that ending — by the end of the story, Harvey could have gone either way, and the way Tomasi went seemed like a decision he wouldn’t have made. Maybe Tomasi flipped a coin to decide Two-Face’s fate — either way, it’ll be interesting to see if DC maintains this status quo with one of their most iconic villains. It’ll be even more interesting to see if DC decides to let the Boy Wonder return in The Hunt for Robin - let’s just say next month’s issue can’t come soon enough.
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 Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
DC Comics’ heroes used to have something that all other superheroes seemed to shun. It was a quality that was a carryover from a bygone age of comics, and it was embraced openly within the pages of the DCU. It wasn’t camp, which is what it would sometimes be mistaken for. It also wasn’t childlike simplicity, which was something that it was often wrongly mistaken for. DC Comics, and for the most part the Justice League titles, used to be whimsical. The League used to contain a rampant, unashamed sense of whimsy and wonder in regards to its characters and plots, never allowing them to wallow in the abject darkness that was overtaking comics at the time. But now, it seems that DC has turned its back on this sense of whimsy and fun, and in its place is a mishmash of troupes that can turn even the most fun of characters, the Metal Men, into bland carbon copies of their former selves.
DC has made a big show lately about reintroducing certain pre-New 52 characters into its current continuity, so it was only a matter of time before Doc Magnus and his Metal Men graced the pages of one series or another. Unfortunately for us, it's amidst the increasingly dour Forever Evil storyline. Johns’ does a haphazard job of dove tailing the Metal Men into this crossover's greater narrative, but like much of Johns’ work lately, the story ends right when its starting to get interesting. Call it Perpetual First Act Syndrome. And while the story may carry the Forever Evil banner and make a promise of a vibrant and kinetic story based on the gorgeous cover by the team of Reis, Prado, and Reis, the script takes place firmly in flashbacks, and this is where the real problems with this issue start.
Cyborg’s appearance here is merely a framing device for the origins of the Metal Men, which, if you will forgive the pun, comes across as almost too clunky to function. Magnus is introduced as a troublesome genius that wants to avoid human contact because he finds humanity to be the cause of the majority of the Earth’s problems. So naturally he is recruited by the Department of Defense to create a team of robots to respond to emergency situations that are too dangerous for humans to enter. Its this sort of ridiculous logic that makes the comic feel so tonally odd. I realize that these are superhero comics and a certain level of belief suspension is required, but when a plot like this is presented with absolutely no sense of irony, its a bit hard to swallow without it tasting bitter. So after a successful experiment involving a literal Deus Ex Machina, the Metal Men are born.
And here is when the comic gets, well, a little sad. The weird, pervasive problem that Justice League in particular has been displaying is this desire to take its characters and plots to such deadly serious places that there doesn’t seem to be any room for some of their more out-there characters and storylines. Since there has been a vocal fan outcry for characters like the Metal Men, Johns and company have delivered, but with barely a trace of characterization. Here the Metal Men are basically placeholder versions of the characters we loved. Yes, Tin has a studder, Gold is vain, and Mercury is a bit unhinged, but that’s it. The characters are defined by cosmetic details, nothing more, much like this version of the Justice League themselves. They have lost that spark of whimsy that made them interesting in the first place. Plus, as soon as they are introduced, they are promptly sacrificed in battle against a giant robot. This isn’t earned or affecting in any way, it's just an means to an end - and the Metal Men deserve better than that.
The artwork in Justice League adheres to the house style that DC seems to be implementing, but Ivan Reis and his team go a few extra miles to make this issue a rare bright spot among the grim and grit. Ivan Reis provides some truly explosive layouts, but Rod Reis is the breakout talent of this issue. His colors add stark vibrancy to the all over the place script and his metallic finishes of The Metal Men are a colorful nod to their original penciler, Ross Andru. The comic at least makes the effort to look great even though the script fails on a fundamental level. Reis and his team have turned in consistently serviceable work on Justice League, but this issue lets them show a different, more pop art side to their art, which is a welcome respite from the regular capes and fights motif we have seen lately.
It took an appearance of some of my favorite characters to reignite my interest in the Justice League, but it took Geoff Johns a mere four pages to stomp out those embers. I sincerely hope that after Forever Evil wraps up that the Justice League titles will rediscover the whimsy and sense of wonder that made the League a blast to read in the first place, but if Johns’ take on the Justice League is the new status quo, we may be in for a very long wait. Justice League used to be the go-to book when you wanted fun, breezy yarns about larger-than-life heroes and impossible exploits, but in a bid to gain narrative legitimacy, it feels like DC has become increasingly embarrassed in the very things that made us fans in the first place.
Uncanny X-Men #17
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Al Vey and Jamie Mendoza
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
When Brian Michael Bendis was announced as the new writer of the X-Men line I was unsure of what exactly we would get. What we did get was something that we should have expected all along. We got two books that fit firmly upon opposite sides of The Claremont Scale. We got All New X-Men which gave us the cosmically minded teenage dramatics of the Early Claremont side of the scale and Uncanny X-Men which fit perfectly within the style-over-substance soap opera of the Late Period Claremont side of the scale. Uncanny X-Men #17 is a largely forgettable, yet visually stunning entry into Bendis’ X-Men canon and its exactly what we should expect from him.
Uncanny X-Men #17 finds our New Xavier School class of 2014 on an impromptu field training mission in a place that looks very similar to The Savage Land. Its here that Bendis proceeds to do his best Claremont impression once again and engages the team in almost non-stop bickering and bantering. This isn’t a terrible thing, but only when it used in moderation. It seems that since the completion of the first two arcs, which were really stellar classic X-Men yarns, this is what he’s most concerned about in the pages of Uncanny, even though he has seeded much more interesting story potential. This has been less a book about the mutant revolution and more a book about a bunch strangers trying to acclimate to a strange situation, all while trying to get along with other. It’s The Real World: X-Men and that isn’t the book we were promised in those first two arcs. It also seems a bit strange that Cyclops would send these new recruits on a dangerous training mission while Young Jean was scooped up by unknown aliens and whisked away into space. I understand that this is a separate book, but it still strikes me as weird that there isn’t even a passing mention at what happened. Its that kind of connectivity that made Bendis’ Avengers and New Avengers run feel like a complete experience and it feels like a missed opportunity here in the X-Men line.
And as sad as it is, that's the phrase I keep coming back to in regards to these post Battle of the Atom issues of Uncanny X-Men: Missed Opportunity. Since the completion of the anniversary event it seems like Uncanny X-Men has fallen into a rut of all filler and no killer. Sure, there have been nice bits of character work in regards to the new students, but nothing that really shows us who these people are and why they are compelling. I don't really care about these characters just yet and that disappoints me. At the end of this issue one of the students gets expelled from the academy for endangering his classmates. I couldn't tell you what this character's name is nor could I explain his power if I was asked. These characters are just bodies right now; constantly bickering extras that clutter up the frame and keep us from seeing the characters that we actually care to follow.
Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend, along with Al Vey and Jamie Mendoza handedly steal this issue and run away screaming with it. While the script seems to be only concerned with banter and the seeding of an awkward Mystery Box involving one of Eva’s time bubbles, Bachalo and his team are concerned only with delivering slam bang visuals that borderline on Heavy Metal like weirdness. Bachalo easily balances the dangerous nature of the environment with the wide range of emotions displayed by the characters. He also revels in the creature design that he’s excelled at his entire career. He also gives us a great example of something else that he is particularly great at: hilarious visual jokes. Bachalo shows us what appears to be a weird race of peaceful humanoid like creatures only to turn them into vicious looking nightmare fuel, all teeth and craggy skin. Bachalo also lets his colors do a great deal of heavy lifting when it comes to storytelling. The environment has an hazy, other worldly color that tells the reader almost everything you need to know about the setting upon first glance. Deep golds and and murky earth tones give off a humidity from the page and really sell just how alien the environment is.
Bendis seems to be hearkening back to the heady days of the Blue Team/Gold Team X-Men but he hasn’t quite found his feet again in the pages of Uncanny after Battle of The Atom. The first two arcs showed the very vast story potential of this X-Men team, but after adding the All New squad into the fray, he has stumbled balancing the large cast of mutants he’s given himself. The new mutants are very welcome fresh blood in the mutant community, but until Bendis gets them to stop bickering, they might just continue to be background noise.
Harley Quinn #3
Written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Chad Hardin and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Harley Quinn #3 is a silly book. It’s the kind of comic that doesn’t take itself seriously, and therefore much of the story focuses on bad puns, flat jokes, and a weak plot regarding Valentine’s Day and the former girlfriend of one of the world’s greatest psychopaths. Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti make no attempt to move Harley’s story forward - which of late has involved her being hunted by random assassins - but instead see what happens when Harley is put in a pretty outlandish situation. Much of the comic, therefore, is Harley reacting to concocted stressors.
Conner and Palmiotti craft a plot regarding the concept of Harley and Valentine’s Day, and they prove that wherever Harley goes, trouble is sure to follow. Yet the conflict is so forced - a bus-load of murders, serial killers and arsonists crashes and the inhabitants chase after the heroine - that even when being pulled into Harley’s crazy world, the wackiness of the situation is too big a pill to swallow.
I get what Conner and Palmiotti are trying to do. Harley needs the chaos in order for her character to work, so giving her a chaotic environment opens the door for her to do some “Harley” things like shoot criminals with a nail gun, create a propane bomb, and fend off convicts with a weed-whacker. But the story is so artificially created that by the end of the issue, you just want the madness to end. That being said, Harley’s rampage in the tool store was fun to witness, but I wish Conner and Palmiotti could come to this kind of scenario without shoving the situation down readers’ throats.
Where the book makes its mark is in the art. Save for a few visual inconsistencies, namely around the convicts, Chad Hardin and Alex Sinclair bring a pretty flimsy premise to life through a series of fluid, polished panels. Whether its a digital wash on the finished product, or a new style by Alex Sinclair, the colorization in the comic - from the light and shadow to the characters - everything looks sharp.
I also like the mugging Hardin gives the characters, particularly Harley and the convicts, as many of the faces elicit the genuine laughs that the writers were going for. There’s an airiness to the style, and one that helps make the violence less striking, especially during the climax.
Harley Quinn #3 relies too heavily on stale, overused comedic tropes (like cop/donut jokes, for example), and save for the art, falls flat on its face. Harley is a great character, but does she really need her own series? I’m reminded of Venom when I read Harley Quinn. Marvel already tried the antihero route, and the result was a stagnation of an exciting and original character. Sadly, I see Joker’s girlfriend as destined for a similar ending unless Conner and Palmiotti can get away from creating the situations for Harley’s character to shine and instead let her stumble into the madness without their help.
Iron Man Annual #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, Chris Sotomayor, Augustin Padilla, Scott Hanna, Val Staples, Marcos Marz and Esther Sanz
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
If you haven't been getting enough of your Tony Stark fix with Kieron Gillen's monthly Iron Man series? Completists will rejoice with Iron Man Annual #1, which ties into Marvel's online Fatal Frontier series. While it's a curious gambit to release this print comic for fans who likely won't have the foggiest idea of what's going on, there's still enough character work to give this annual a spark of hope.
Split into three stories following Gillen's three main characters - Tony Stark, his newly discovered brother Arno, and Tony's assistant Pepper Potts - this annual is more of an artistic statement than anything that pushes the mainstream Iron Man narrative forward. The first story is by far the best of the bunch, as a poisoned Tony Stark has to reason with an irate A.I. left stranded on the moon. While Gillen has to work overtime to introduce the exposition from the digital series, there's a bleak beauty to his summation of Tony Stark's life - that, in many ways, it took a near-death experience not to preserve his heart, but to make it beat for the first time. Underneath all that swagger and intellect, Tony Stark is a character about hope, about building new structures to not just improve but to sustain the future.
While in certain ways it feels like Gillen is retreading old ground (see: 451, Danger) with his disgruntled Soviet probe Udarnik, the trippy dream sequences are memorable enough to make the story worth reading. Much of that, of course, is due to artist Alvaro Martinez, who really stirs up the drama - even between two armored beings with little room for expressiveness. Seeing Tony's face on the shattering moon, or seeing an amputated Stark on a surgery table are some really evocative images, and, given the futurist themes behind Iron Man, is something we should be seeing more of.
Following Gillen's main story featuring Tony, we also are treated to two more sedate tales featuring Arno Stark and Pepper Potts. Augustin Padilla's artwork on the Arno story reminds me at times of Kev Walker and Carlos Pacheco, but given Gillen's talky script, he isn't given too terribly much to do. (Although there's a fun moment where the quadrapalegic Arno stares down a group of outer-space tough guys which is great to watch.) But Gillen's story, while somewhat energetic because of Arno's presence, feels like a possible plot point more than an independent story - it's a business deal, an alliance, a reminder of information from Iron Man tales gone by. Indeed, even Gillen's ending, where Arno says "nothing life-changing" happened, is pretty accurate for readers.
The final story, featuring Pepper Potts, is a cute bit marred by some strange artwork. Pepper Potts' courtship with PR guru Marc Kumar is sweet enough, particularly as Gillen introduces Marc's reasoning for joining such a heartless business. (It goes back to Gillen's fascination with words and perception, as seen back in Phonogram, Uncanny X-Men, even Young Avengers.) While Gillen explains Pepper's whirlwind romance with a nice degree of banter and smarts, the artwork by Marcos Marz alternates between decent and outright gross. It's hard to take a gorgeous candlelit dinner seriously, for example, when Pepper Potts is suddenly missing a tooth, or the over-the-top vomit that comes out of an inebriated party guest late at night. The thin linework reminds me a bit of Mark Pajarillo, but the expressions kill the mood dead.
Ultimately, Kieron Gillen front-loads this annual well enough to take it off the ground, even though a print annual is a curious place to be addressing the aftermath of a digital series that few people have read. Perhaps Gillen has some future plot developments in this book that we aren't aware of - that said, this book doesn't really add too much to the fun Mandarin story going on in the monthly book, but instead is a more sedate check-in with Tony Stark and company. Completists and Gillen fans will dig it - otherwise, not the end of the world if you skip this.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #28
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Stephen Segovia and Nei Ruffino
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Red Hood and the Outlaws is really a way for James Tynion IV to wrap up his loose threads before departing the book. The comic is known for being a book of action, and therefore Tynion sets his finale against the backdrop of a showdown between Jason, Roy, Kori and a criminal named Midas. But none of it really adds up to anything impressive and Tynion walks away from the comic having cleaned the slate rather than leaving a great final mark on the series.
Tyinon’s plotting is my biggest issue with the comic. Where most comics that use a flash forward do so at the beginning, Tynion inserts one three pages in. The moment makes sense given the transitory point at which it occurs, but it sets up a situation that never fully appears, and it serves more as a comedic point than a suspense builder. And much of the destruction and action that Tynion hints at occurs off panel. We get a few quick glimpses of the team fighting a group of robotic looking enemies known as the Army of the Golden hand, but none of it hints at the level of chaos the heroes seem to have encountered at the end of the battle.
Furthermore, the enemy - Midas - isn’t given more than a handful of panels in which to do his bad guy thing, and maybe this is because Midas is meant more as a set up for future events, but his introduction is pretty paltry given how easily his army is dispatched by a group of friends on vacation.
Where Tynion does his best work is around the character relationships. Jason’s failing relationship with Isabel is the centerpiece of the comic and their breakup is surprisingly heartfelt and emotional. Tynion elucidates the deluded world of the superhero, one where he/she believes that once the bad guy is dispatched with, things can go back to normal. But when Isabel says, “If the fight ever ends (and don’t pretend that’s anytime soon), come find me” we know that she and Jason will never be together because for superheroes, the fight never ends.
For as much as Tynion packs into the comic, Segovia and Ruffino do their best to cover it. Obviously, there are missteps (like the battle), and Segovia has a tendency to over shadow faces, making them oddly shaped. There are also pages of dense imagery making much of the art looks muddled and overly inked. But occasionally, the art team has room to work as when they do, they craft some impressive imagery. Midas’ introduction and Kori’s transformation to Starfire are two moments that really stand out.
James Tyinon IV leaves Red Hood and the Outlaws neatly packaged for Will Pfeifer, even if the end result is a bit rushed. The strength of the comic is in the teamwork of its characters, and Tynion clearly understands this. But he’s trying to do a lot of house cleaning and therefore his final entry isn’t as solid as it could be, especially given his work on other titles.
The Joyners in 3D
Written by R.J. Ryan
Art by David Marquez and Tara Rhymes
Lettering by Jon Adams
Published by Archaia
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Set during the mid-21st century in California, The Joyners in 3D tells the story of George Joyner – a brilliant scientist and failed family man. Although there are sci-fi elements to this story, the focus is clearly on the dynamics between George, his family members, co-workers, and other…interested parties. However, The Joyners in 3D aims to provide readers with more than just a compelling family drama. Archaia made a name for itself through publishing graphic novels whose look and design jumped off the shelves in bookstores across the country. In this latest offering, they seek to transform readers' traditional two-dimensional reading experience into one that not only jumps off shelves but also truly leaps off the page.
The protagonist, George Joyner, stands on the verge of a scientific breakthrough, which is underscored in a brilliantly composed page depicting mankind's creation of the first weapon, the Wright Brothers' first flight, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak's creation of the Apple computer, followed by George Joyner's celebrations with his boss over the creation of the flying "Q" vest – a prototype that will allow individuals to fly on their own. The story then goes about slowly unpacking the costs of such genius as shown in the cold and broken marriage between George and Sonya, and the distant and strained relationships between George and his two children: Rochester and Michelle.
Within this story, there is also an interesting tension shown between the technical world and the natural world and the costs of this struggle playing out within the confines of George's home from having robotic surrogate parents to the machinery allowing his father-in-law to maintain a normal life at the expense of his own health. George's familial relations aren't the only things sacrificed at the altar of progress, however, as George demonstrates his willingness to do whatever it takes to protect his life's work. By the novel's end, Ryan and Marquez pose the hard question to their readers of just how much would one pay for success, and the picture they leave with readers is a harsh one.
Because the 3D aspect of this book is what will no doubt set it apart from many of the other comics released this week, it's a natural starting point. Most critics will cry "Gimmick!" when they see The Joyners in 3D packaged with two sets of blue-and-red reading glasses and advertised as a 3D book. However, readers will quickly discover a notable lack of "money shots" that take advantage of the 3D aspects of this story. There are few instances of objects "flying" off the panel towards the reader as one might see in many 3D summer blockbusters emphasizing the fact that this story remains a through-and-through drama. Interestingly, I found the 3D elements did little more than to accentuate the events unfolding in certain pages and impart a sort of "otherworldly" feel to the reading experience. Overall, the 3D adds something different to the reading, but thankfully, it is not dependent upon this approach to tell the story and keep the reader's attention.
Amidst the buzz surrounding the anaglyph 3D techniques Marquez and Rhymes employ, readers should take note of the exceptional quality of Marquez's abilities as a visual storyteller. He employs clean lines and smartly avoids excessive use of coloring or linking on his pages that would overly complicate the artwork (especially when taking into account the 3D elements already in use). Instead, he opts for a design aesthetic that feels like a mix between anime and the more simple cartoon style David Mazzuchelli used in Asterios Polyp. I also enjoyed the varied perspectives readers get within each panel. Although the pages are generally composed of square or rectangular panels of varying sizes making it fairly traditional in its layout, the camera angle is continually changing through the story, which effectively kept my attention throughout the story.
Something else I found unique about The Joyners in 3D is that there really aren't any captions in the book. Ryan eschews any sort of interior monologue from his characters, and instead, focuses strictly on using dialogue and relying on Marquez's art to show character interactions and experiences. It's a subtle difference from many comics out today that few will likely notice right away; however, it results in reading experience that feels less bogged-down. Additionally, Ryan generally follows the industry "rule" about avoiding overly text-laden speech bubbles, so taking this into account with the lack of captions, many people will find this style of writing lends itself to a more streamlined and fluid reading. It's also a smart choice as it creates a sense of distance between the reader and the Joyners – people who demonstrate a significant amount of distance between one another.
There are two criticisms I have about this book that are worth pointing out. The first is one that both Ryan and Marquez predicted when they recommended readers take "snack breaks in between chapters" to avoid any sort of eyestrain from reading the anaglyph 3D. I initially read this graphic novel in digital without the benefit of the eyeglasses, and while not impossible, my eyes did find it tiring to read after a while. Fortunately, the lettering was still in 2D making it fairly easy to follow along. The print copy of the book, however, must be read with the glasses as the lettering is done in 3D making it unreadable without them. Whether reading in electronic or print, be sure to have the 3D glasses on hand and take the recommended breaks.
The second criticism is one I think a number of readers will raise, and that has to do with the price of $29.99. Given that The Joyners in 3D is less than 150 pages, this is a bit of a steep price tag, and it's strength is more in the quiet drama that plays out over the course of the book and not the explosive action of which many readers may be more accustomed. Out of fairness, however, it's also worth pointing out this is still cheaper than the average price-per-page of the typical "Big Two" monthly.
Overall, The Joyners in 3D is another fine entry in the Archaia catalog, which readers in search of "something different" will find within the pages of this hardcover original graphic novel. If you ever wondered what The Jetsons might look like if either AMC or HBO turned this futuristic family into one of their television shows, Ryan and Marquez have the answer for you in this book.