Best Shots Advance Reviews: MOON KNIGHT #1, MAGNETO #1, WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #1, More

Marvel previews for March 5, 2014
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #1
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

This is Moon Knight. And this is what he does.

Sometimes you don't need to know anything more than that. Simple premise, simple execution. Warren Ellis isn't looking to reinvent Marc Spector with the latest iteration of Moon Knight. On the contrary - he's looking to clean things up. Delivering only the bare essential information of the Lunar Avenger's backstory, Ellis - along with a star turn by artists Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire - produces a Moon Knight story that is atmospheric, weird and, most importantly, easy to dive into.

Credit: Marvel Comics

With this done-in-one reintroduction, Warren Ellis is surprisingly low-key, as Marc Spector makes his return to New York City after his short-lived relaunch in L.A. under Brian Michael Bendis. Gone is the ultraviolence of Charlie Huston, or Bendis's cutesy multiple personality gags, or even the traditional cape and cowl that has defined Moon Knight since the days of Bill Sienkiewicz. Instead, Ellis writes a tale of a man in a white suit prowling the streets and sewers for a serial killer.

And that white suit is important. Declan Shalvey may be turning in some of the best work of his career here, but it's colorist Jordie Bellaire who owns this book. Bellaire has been providing excellent color work over the years, but it's her visual signature on Moon Knight that will catapult her into the upper echelons of colorists with Dave McCaig, Laura Martin and Dean White. Working alongside Shalvey's Romita-esque lines, Moon Knight's white suit absolutely pops off the page, a menacing silhouette that defies the outside world's blue shadows, brown alleyways and blood-red abbatoirs. Shalvey and Bellaire use Moon Knight's three-piece suit as not just a fashion statement, but as a different way to illustrate a vigilante - Moon Knight doesn't soar, he struts; he doesn't brood, he just buttons up. It's a great way to express a character acting, even as his face is covered in a mask.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ellis not only embraces Moon Knight's unique visual aesthetic - he wears white so the bad guys can see him coming - but he also injects his own bit of weirdness into the mix. The identity of the sewer slasher is pure Ellis transhuman-techno-sadism, and the subtle wrinkles he gives Moon Knight and Detective Flint is one of the best beats in the book. ("If that man were identified by the name of a dangerous vigilante, then I'd have to follow a very specific set of standing orders and restrain him using whatever force was necessary," Flint tells his rookies. "So this is a thing we do. To police on the streets, that's Mr. Knight. Are we clear on that, son?") But it's clear that Ellis isn't just content to deal with street crime - he's looking to clean up the streets of Marc Spector's continuity, as well, as he begins to set up a new take on Moon Knight's history of multiple personalities and dissociative identity disorder.

Credit: Marvel Comics

This book, while solid, does have a few things holding it back. Shalvey's artwork, while expressive, does face a bit of stagnation when it comes to page layouts, as the artist overuses thin letterbox panels. Additionally, the final showdown between Moon Knight and the killer feels a little anticlimactic from both an artistic and narrative standpoint, with the solution being far less innovative than the rest of the story Ellis was building. There will be readers who feel that this is less than Ellis's most ambitious work, but I'd argue that it might be too soon to tell - when it comes to a character like Iron Man, there's much less detritus to clean up. But in the case of Moon Knight, a simple start may be the most effective means in terms of regaining the audience's trust.

Who is Moon Knight? At this point, it's a question that's best left unsaid. Let's meet the man before we dig inside his head, is what Ellis and company seem to say. And it's a smart move. With so many twists and turns in Marc Spector's history, it can be a little too easy to overthink things - and to alienate prospective new readers, to boot. Moon Knight #1 isn't a gamechanger, or even a brilliant new take on the Crescent Crusader, but it is an eminently fun, solid comic.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Magneto #1
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

There's a temptation, when dealing with a character like Magneto, to shy away from his past as a pretty terrible villain in favor of highlighting his slow march to redemption. But Magneto - or Erik, Magnus, Max, any of his aliases - isn't that simple. It's his complexity that has made him one of Marvel's most compelling and tragic characters, and, in this debut issue, Cullen Bunn rightly embraces Magneto's dichotomy as a man who has suffered for his identity, and dreams of a better world for his people, and a terrorist willing to embrace a way of life he deeply despises to see his vision through. With artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta providing an edgy, small screen visual take on Magneto's personal quest, Bunn lifts the heavy burden of reconciling the Magneto that is almost something of a tragic martyr with the character's self-awareness and acceptance of his own misdeeds.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Right from the start, Magneto #1 is very thematically driven. Bunn touches on a number of motifs in his script which are then relied on as connective tissue for the rest of the story, surfacing time and again in Magneto's inner-monologue, and through the voices of the other characters. Magneto grapples with ideas of identity and autonomy, and when a person is truly following their own beliefs, or simply acting as a tool for larger stakes. In many ways, this is the kind of story that is often told with Wolverine, about a man on a personal quest, undertaking a task for which he is unwilling to let anyone else shoulder the burden, and grappling with his own demons. At the same time, using Magneto, a man who once commanded a legion of zealous followers, and who has seen his power and influence wane considerably, and pulling him back into a much smaller scale story makes this book all the more palpable.

Gabriel Hernandez Walta is a big part of the reason this book works so well. His nuanced take on an almost thuggish, lean and mean Magneto reflects Bunn's themes perfectly. There's a savagery to Walta's line work, punctuated by Jordie Bellaire's worn and foreboding pallet, that never lets the reader forget that, deep down, Magneto is a bad man. Walta also works in numerous visual cues, tied in with Bunn's script, that highlight the book's themes. Magneto driving across the country in a dilapidated pickup truck, the way he almost smirks when confronting his first target, and the stark black and white of his costume all punctuate the idea of Magneto as a shell for a much deeper man inside.

As first issues go, Bunn and Walta's Magneto is a knock out. Magneto has been depicted in many ways, often suiting whatever storyline he's a part of, and this issue starts the journey of reconciling the many facets of his personality. Magneto says at one point, "Unless I'm wearing the helmet, I'm rarely recognized," and in a way, that seems to be the issue at stake with Bunn's characterization. An emphasis is placed on depicting a Magneto who is aware of what he means as a symbol, who has purposefully worn many masks to accomplish his ends, and who, deep down, knows who he really is, and is coming to grips with that. It's a lot to say in a single issue, but Bunn and Walta have set the stage for a defining character piece with the Master of Magnetism.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Wolverine and the X-Men #1
Written by Jason Latour
Art by Mahmud Asrar and Israel Silva
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Can you change the future? Can you make up for the past? These are questions that are central to Jason Latour and Mahmud Asrar’s All-New Marvel Now! relaunch of Wolverine and the X-Men. The X-Men family is still reeling from the events of Avengers vs. X-Men and Battle of the Atom. Latour and Asrar continue Jason Aaron and company’s focus on Wolverine’s Jean Grey School but with many of the school’s instructors on leave, it’s become a very different place. Latour serves up plenty of the X-Men’s trademark angst and dysfunction here but the bigger picture narrative is still obscured.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Quentin Quire’s stock is still rising with Marvel’s writers. Perfectly straddling the line between hero and villain is essential to his character but until now chaos has mostly served for his own entertainment. Latour lets us get into his head a little bit. He’s been saddled with new responsibility and that doesn’t sit well with him. Latour poses an interesting question through Quire: Would the X-Men take him as seriously if he wasn’t shown to wield the Phoenix in the future? Latour sets the stage for the themes he’ll explore in this arc. What is fate? What is destiny? Can we change our future or our pasts? Are we in control? Do we have free will or do we bow to the will of some greater higher power?

That last one in particular is interesting in the Marvel universe. We’ve seen many characters through the years who can play with reality, perceptions of reality and the fabric of space and time itself. The Phoenix has been shown to be one such force. Quire is uncomfortable with his place because he knows that any number of things can happen before he reaches the future he saw. He could have his mind erased and rewired. He could have died and come back already. but at least in the present, Latour shows us that Quire isn’t up to this task and he sets in motion what could be a coming-of-age story for the “rebel-without-applause.”

Credit: Marvel Comics

Meanwhile, Wolverine is continually forced to face his past and the consequences of his actions. With his powers fading, Logan needs help, and he’s being stonewalled by those he asks for it. On some level, Latour offers Wolverine’s present as a possible future for Quire. Good intentions can only get you so far if you don’t have the track record to back them up. It’ll be interesting to see these two characters’ stories run parallel to each other.

But there are a potential pitfall to Latour’s direction and execution. In setting the stage, Latour is mining somewhat familiar territory by using the Phoenix as a catalyst. The Phoenix has left an indelible mark on the X-Men as whole. There’s no questioning its power and influenc,e but if Latour doesn’t have anything new to say, this could get stale. We’ve seen other characters mature as possible Phoenix vessels that the X-Men wanted badly to be on their side. If Latour is going down the “heavy is the head that wear the crown” route by showing us Quire struggling with his new position and possible future while Wolverine deals with the struggles of actually being in charge, well that’s no different than past dichotmies presented in the X-Men going back to the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby era. And that could get old fast.

Mahmud Asrar’s style is tailor-made for the X-Men. It’s a definite departure from Chris Bachalo and Nick Bradshaw’s madcap illustrations, but it provides clear visual storytelling while balancing a large cast, multiple locales, big action and smaller melodrama. He isn’t always consistent with his character renderings though. Scene to scene, certains character just look a little off. An odd facial expression or awkward body composition can be somewhat distracting. Asrar’s strongest work comes with the non-human characters. Rockslide, in particular, looks formidable and expressive every time he’s on a page. Meanwhile, other human characters lose some detail in their faces because of heavy inks.

This relaunch sets a new status quo for the Jean Grey School. Latour gets a lot of introductory work out of the way here while still providing a fairly entertaining issue. Hopefully, he doesn’t place so much emphasis on Quentin Quire and Wolverine that we lose sight of the other students because from what we’ve seen they are ripe for new, interesting stories. Asrar is a good fit for the X-Men and as he draws this cast more and more, he’ll surely improves the small inconsistencies. Both Latour and Asrar are working from a great base here. We’ll see if providing even more Phoenix-related mythology to the X-Universe is for the best, though.

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Credit: DC Comics

Lois Lane #1
Written by Marguerite Bennett
Art by Emanuela Lupacchino, Meghan Hetrick, Ig Guara, Diogenes Neves, Guillermo Ortego, Hetrick, Ruy Jose, Marc Deering and Hi-Fi
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Review by Marlene Bonnelly
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Clearly, Lois Lane doesn’t always need Superman to save her. In this one-shot, we follow our favorite, outspoken journalist on the frightening adventure to save her sister’s friend from certain doom. Lois really shone in this issue; she was written as confident, capable, intelligent and downright superheroic. The dialogue and art also fit together nicely, making this one of the most enjoyable DC one-shots I’ve read recently.

Though Lois has always been defined as fairly strong and fearless (see Flashpoint, for example), there’s always an undercurrent of vulnerability in a character that’s best known as Superman’s damsel in distress. In this book, however, she truly is ready and willing to handle her own business, with Superman playing a very minor role as her “back up plan” who works primarily “offscreen.” In a move that would make Batman jealous, she combs the city streets for clues that might lead her to her target, hitting up a number of unsavory characters and connections to trace the path of a new, mutative drug that may have claimed her sister’s roommate. The drug, which induces animalistic properties in its host, feels like a nod to the “splicing” of the Batman Beyond cartoon and serves as a good center for the rest of the plot to work around.

I actually enjoyed the story, though it’s one we’ve heard many times before and may, understandably, bore some readers. It's not exactly an innovative premise, which would have worked wonders given Lois' rare moment in the spotlight. The plot also seemed to build up tension for something that was ultimately unsatisfying, since Lois' sister and her roommate never really developed enough in this one issue to matter (beyond acting as Lois' own damsels in distress). The very end left a number of loose ends, as well, which is frustrating as a reader when you know there won't be a sequel. Where do I go to find out about the mysterious Agent? What's going to happen to all the mutants, if they were getting help before Lois went Rambo on their captors? I just shrugged the mess off and focused on Lois' character over the actual resolution, but others might not be able to do so that easily.

I was, however, very pleased with the glimpses into Lois’ history. It can be very challenging to expose a character’s past without distracting a reader from the meat of the story or falling into a trap of clichés. Bennett managed the task well, giving us ample background while—and this is important—tying that background to the current situation. Lois’ family life served as motivation for her actions, not only because of some tragic loss (as is so very common in this genre), but also because of her relationship with a very-much-living sister. That connection lends as much believability to the situation as possible, considering that situation is a woman fighting to free human-animal monsters from a boat.

The art in this issue was impressive, too. Though a staggering number of artists apparently worked on it, there aren’t any notable breaks in style or jarring changes that would disrupt the book’s flow. Faces were emotive and tied well with the writing, and action panels conveyed movement without coming across as too “busy.” While there certainly is action, I don’t think this is meant to be sold as purely that type of book, so the monster-fighting battles were kept to a surprising minimum. The colors were perhaps my favorite part, with Hi-Fi highlighting the mutants in a funky array of rainbow hues. The bright pops of color in the backgrounds of more motion-heavy scenes were also brilliant touches.

Overall, I think this issue will turn many into Lois’ fans. In a world full of aliens with laser eyes and detectives with an arsenal of gadgetry at their disposal, Lane is a reporter on a mission armed only with her wit, determination, a camera and a swift roundhouse kick. In a way, especially in this issue, she represents the everyman, and I think that’s what makes her exploits so fun to read. Part of me is actually pretty disappointed that this particular story won’t carry on into a second issue.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Fantastic Four #1
Written by James Robinson
Art by Leonard Kirk, Karl Kesel and Jesus Aburtov
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

This is not Fantastic Four #17. Before I had read the issue, I saw this statement permeating the Internet. I’m here to say outright that this is not just another issue in a volume that has since ended. Fantastic Four #1 is a prime example of Marvel’s new “Season Model.” What this entails is treating runs of comics more like seasons of television in terms of production and content. Arcs are now designed with endgames either in sight or planned out in advance and creators aren’t expected to turn in years and years worth of story during their time scripting the book. They are encouraged to tell the story they want to tell in a finite number of issues and then move onto the next. Its a model that seems to be working out quite well for Marvel coming out of Marvel NOW and carrying over into All-New Marvel NOW and Fantastic Four #1 is a fun, yet uneven season premier episode in the new season that is Marvel’s First Family.

After extra-dimensional adventures throughout the cosmos, the Fantastic Four are back on Earth and ready to rejoin the superhero community, but it seems through a series of teased unfortunate events that the FF has disbanded in a fashion and have fallen on hard times. This is the new status quo that James Robinson is working toward. Placing the FF back on Earth is a smart move on Robinson’s part, instantly setting itself apart from the previous volume’s plots. Robinson also makes the choice to go a bit more intimate and personal with this new season of the FF, also setting it apart from the sprawling plots of the Hickman Era, a run of stories that has come to define the FF and rightfully so. Robinson casts the team more as superheroes instead of adventurers and diplomats and its a welcome change of pace from what we’ve seen lately in the pages of Fantastic Four. But it is here that the issue loses a bit of its focus.

After the grim opening, we are treated to a classic Fantastic Four action beat, followed by the setting of the board for things to come. But after the slam-bang fun of the issue’s set piece, the rest of the issue feels like nothing but exposition. We, as an audience, already know that everything falls apart at some point so these scenes just feel like ticking boxes when they should feel more like natural character moments. Sue’s opening letter, while striking, almost undercuts the back half the issue, making it feel top heavy. Robinson does what he can to make these moments feel fun or stirring, in the case of Ben and Alicia Masters reuniting, but he may have overestimated the groundwork that he had to lay after using the flash forward opening.

Leonard Kirk, after wowing readers in the largely overlooked Ultimate: Hunger this last year, really shines in Fantastic Four #1. Partnered with Jesus Aburtov and and Karl Kesel, Kirk and his team take the vibrancy of Mark Bagley’s work and crank it up to almost Pixar levels of vibrancy and emotion. Kirk lets all of the characters wear their hearts on their sleeve in panel, adding a deep emotive quality to the characters that is right at home within the pages of FF. Jesus Aburtov’s colors makes not only the FF’s new costumes pop in ways they didn’t in promotional materials, but gives each page a crackling cartoon energy that just flat works for the look of the Fantastic Four and their larger-than-life adventures. Though its through the art that the script is done another disservice. James Robinson clearly has a plan to put the FF through the ringer, but this tone is betrayed when looking at Leonard Kirk’s bright, peppy artwork. The book looks tremendous, yet the script seems to have another book in mind entirely. It doesn’t render it inert per se, but it only adds to the uneven feeling that is persistent throughout the issue.

A brand new day is dawning for the Fantastic Four and though James Robinson and his team stumble a bit during this first issue, they clearly have something to say and big plans for The Fall of the Fantastic Four. Fantastic Four #1 is the latest in a long line of “pilots” designed to not only introduce new readers into established characters quickly, but a way to establish a new way of telling serialized stories within comics. Though, the practice may not be widely accepted just yet within the ranks of die hard comic fans, this new way of presenting story arcs has connected with a new crop of readers and brought countless new fans into the fold. Marvel is looking to be ahead of the curve, and who better than the First Family to be on the bleeding edge?

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