Best Shots Comic Reviews: MAGNETO #2, RED SONJA #8, More

Credit: Dynamite

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday review fix? Best Shots has a handful of the latest and greatest for your reading enjoyment. So let's start off today's column with the Master of Magnetism himself, as we take a look at the sophomore issue of Magneto...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Magneto #2
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Gabriel Hernandez-Walta and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Not every book can be loud. And in certain cases, sometimes quiet is the best way to be. Like when you're a wanted man. A man on the road for revenge. A Master of Magnetism whose power is at its weakest.

If you're Magneto.

Over in one corner of the X-universe, you've got a spacefaring crossover with All-New X-Men and the Guardians of the Galaxy. In another corner, you've got the Children of the Atom fighting their way through Heaven and Hell to bring back Nightcrawler in Amazing X-Men. You've got Wolverine getting a healing factor-induced makeover, you've got the Jean Grey School entering its second year with Wolverine and the X-Men, you've got big names like Brian Wood and the Dodsons over on X-Men...

But Magneto doesn't need any of that. There's no stunts here. No big names. Just high-quality storytelling. Cullen Bunn and Gabriel Hernandez-Walta are killing it as Max Eisenhardt stalks his way through the countryside, looking to find the source behind a new epidemic of cyborg Omega Sentinels. But what's beneath this mission is something altogether darker and more twisted, as Magneto continues to ruminate on what made a child in Nazi Germany into one of the most feared representatives of mutantkind. This is not a tale of morality, but instead something even more unsettling. Magneto feels that his life is one of destiny, and he does not shy away from how bad a man that makes him.

Bunn's opened two issues now with almost a police procedural quality, as the authorities interview innocent bystanders as they recount the inhuman violence that Magneto has committed. It's a nice juxtaposition for when Bunn then drops us inside of this monster's head - he's not trying to justify his behavior, but instead wallows in it. There's a great bit in this issue where Magneto thinks about his childhood, and describes a situation that could have killed him and his family with an almost religious affectation. But just because he was spared by cosmic significance or dumb luck, there's not a lot of self-aggrandizement here beyond a sense of scale: Magneto himself knows who "the bad man" is. But the work still has to be done. Instead of having Magneto twist girders or fling cars over his head, Bunn creates a smaller-scale, more horrific sense of violence, as Magneto fires twisted nails at his assailants, driving one set through a man's hand and into his eye.

The artwork by Gabriel Hernandez-Walta is just outstanding. I said when I saw him during one of the Marvel Point One specials that Hernandez-Walta was going to be something special, and this is absolutely it. He reminds me a bit of Doug Mahnke mixed with John Romita Jr. and even a bit of modern-day, scraggly Frank Miller. His character designs, particularly the bald, unshaven Magneto, are easy to follow, and the way he lays out certain scenes, such as a Nazi execution in 1944, are masterfully constructed. (In that page in particular, the whole page seems to point down to the all-white background of a boy being shot in the back of the head.) His best panels are the ones with lots of details, such as when Magneto holds a cloud of rusty nails in the air. Colorist Jordie Bellaire is a little hamstrung with the lengthy flashbacks, but she still makes the big moments pop with judicious uses of red and white.

What I think is most impressive about Magneto is that it's not tied up into any larger narrative, but instead is confident enough to rely on the complexity of the character and the skills of its creative team. It's a quiet read, one that will only thrive based on word of mouth, but it doesn't reinvent the wheel or rely on any bad behavior that the comic book industry has fallen into to goose sales. It's just good storytelling. Even if it stays in the shadows.

Detective Comics #30 variant cover by Francis Manapul
Detective Comics #30 variant cover by Francis Manapul
Credit: DC Comics

Detective Comics #30
Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

When a new creative team takes over a book its vitally important that they establish their voice and point of view early on in order to not only bring in new readers that may have followed them onto the new title, but to appease the old readership of the title, assuring them that the book is in steady, capable hands. The dynamite team of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato having already taken The Flash as far as it could possibly go now turn their eye for striking visuals over to Batman and Detective Comics. While the book looks better than it has in recent memory, the script leaves much to be desired as Manapul and Buccellato deliver an unfocused set of scenes that never quite gel together, making this a visually lush, but scattered debut issue.

Detective Comics #30 introduces the main framework of story that Manapul and Buccellato plan on exploring in this first arc, and therein lies the problem. Manapul and Buccellato, while talented writers, have a great deal of storytelling pipe to lay in a very short time, so this comic never really feels like anything more than just exposition, coupled with more of the truly outstanding visuals that we have come to expect from the team. A man cannot live on pretty pencils alone. Manapul and Buccellato introduce no less than four separate plot lines in four separate vignette like scenes. While I am aware that this is just a first issue and they may dovetail into a larger story later on down the line, reading the comic they all feel removed from each other in a noticeable way. We have two rival gangs fighting over control of Gotham’s East End, a new drug called Icarus flooding the streets, a mother-daughter team allying themselves with Bruce Wayne to bring about positive change to Gotham, and, to top it off, a ruthless new villain on the scene by the name of The Squid. If that seemed like a lot to take in just reading it in a review, imagine trying to take it all in with clunky and detached exposition. If the scenes flowed a bit better or perhaps had more connective tissue besides having either Batman/Bruce Wayne in them, this first issue would have knocked it out of the park, but instead, it felt like we got a mini-anthology instead of a pilot episode.

This issue also dips into some troubling territory in regards to the new female characters that it introduces only to sacrifice one at the end of the story as Bruce’s Call to Adventure. Elena Aguila is introduced as an intelligent, thoughtful woman with grand plans to transform Gotham’s East End into a prosperous and safe section for citizens. She is a fully fleshed out and caring character...who then is promptly sacrificed to serve the story. Plenty of stories have used this troupe before this as it is a staple of the noir genre, which seems to be Manapul and Buccellato’s main inspiration just judging from this first issue. Noir stories have often used the Fallen Woman or Sacrificed Love Interest to propel their stories forward, but that doesn’t make it any less troublesome. Women are much more than plot devices to be killed or maimed at will just to give the story some kind of pop or momentum. Manapul and Buccellato are far too talented to resort to using this cheap cloying device to get a reader to come back for more. Time will tell if Elena’s death meant something more than narrative propulsion.

Script problems aside, Detective Comics has never looked better. Francis Manapul’s eye for vibrant colors and fluidity of action and scene progression is on full display here, constrasting the usual drab nature of Gotham against bright spots of background detail. The opening scenes, taking place at the Gotham docks at sunset and Gotham’s Chinatown-esque East End, offer up Manapul’s lush color pallet right off the bat and it just goes further from there. Manapul, seemingly following Greg Capullo’s example over on Batman, fills the panels with radiant yellows, pinks, and deep burning oranges, working against the gritty grain that has defined Detective Comics in the past, at the very least, giving it an visual edge over other Bat Family books. Manapul also lets the action flow effortlessly across the page, easily guiding the reader’s eye from beat to beat with grace. The opening chase scene of Batman stalking a biker gang is a fantastic example of visual storytelling, never feeling muddled or ambiguous. Francis Manapul quickly re-established that he is the same artist that wowed readers and critics alike on The Flash just in a way bigger sandbox with a character that is woefully in need of more color in his title.

A new creative team is always a jarring experience. More often than not, the first issue from them is always the weakest as it takes time for the team to not only find a creative flow but also establish just what kind of story they want to tell. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato are talented creative voices and while Detective Comics #30 stumbles more than it flies, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next two or three issues right the ship and become some of their best work at DC. Manapul and Buccellato are certainly capable of delivering focused and singular work. It just isn’t Detective Comics #30.

Credit: Dynamite

Red Sonja #8
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Walter Geovani and Adriano Lucas
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Erika D. Peterman
’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Though Gail Simone’s rebooted Red Sonja is only eight issues old, she already feels like a fully realized, flesh-and-blood heroine with a unique personality and point of view. That isn’t surprising, as Simone has always had a way with creating vivid characters.

Sonja’s voice comes through loud and clear in Red Sonja #8, a satisfying story that builds upon issue #7 but also works as a self-contained narrative. In exchange for the freedom of a thousand slaves, Sonja is collecting six great artists to bring to a dying emperor’s party. The first is Gribaldi, a gifted cook whose obsession with fancy recipes grates Sonja’s nerves, especially since she has some appetites of her own that he seems reluctant to satisfy. It’s a recurring joke that results in Sonja’s funny, frank declaration of her own appeal — one that’s difficult to refute.

Simone weaves humorous moments like these into the larger story of an encounter with the villain Kalayah, a cruel “beast lord” who gleefully orchestrates horribly violent, well-attended animal fights that make Sonja's blood boil. The story evolves in unexpected ways and has elements of surprise right up until the end.

Walter Geovani’s illustration work continues to shine. There’s a high level of detail and each character has a distinctive look. His Sonja is consistent from panel to panel, and he gives her a fierce dignity. (Simone promised that we’d see Sonja in a variety of outfits, and our heroine trades her metal bikini for something more practical here. She rocks it.) The close-ups of her face are particularly arresting. Adriano Lucas’ subdued color choices — gray, burnt orange and brown tones — set the right mood. He uses bright colors sparingly to show fire and bring attention to Sonja’s flame-red hair, and it leaps off the page.

If you haven’t yet checked out this comic, issue #8 is a good entry point that sets things up nicely for the next chapter of Sonja’s quest. For those of us already on board, it includes plenty of the elements that have made this comic a pleasure to read from the first issue on: memorable supporting characters, opportunities for Sonja to show off her skill and courage, and genuine heart.

Credit: DC Comics

Trillium #8
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Jeff Lemire and Jose Villarrubia
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangul
Published by Vertigo Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Jeff Lemire has been a writer in a transitional phase as of late. With the ending of his acclaimed run on Animal Man and the announcement of his new Justice League title, Lemire seems poised to enter a new stage of his career. This is part of what makes a deeply personal work like Trillium so important and meaningful. Jeff Lemire made his name writing and illistrating the cult hit Sweet Tooth for the Vertigo imprint, proving that he’s a writer with a clear vision and the chops to write a story that is equal parts thrilling comic book storytelling and emotional investing to a reader. Now with the conclusion of Trillium, Lemire proves that he’s the same writer, just with a bigger sandbox to play in.

Trillium #8 throws us right back into the drama that is William and Nika’s lives. The Caul infected ship from the previous issue is quickly breaching the atmosphere of the planet and is aimed directly for the compound and now completed Ark, which holds the last remains of the human race in cryosleep. Lemire wastes not one panel establishing the stakes, giving the audience that has followed this story from the start a jolt of adrenaline right from page one and then working backward from there. Trillium has always been a quietly innovative book with its inversion of panel layouts and at times, frustrating committal to parallel storylines taking place across timelines, but here, aside from a few artistic choices in the back half of the comic, all of that falls to the wayside. That was just the means to get us to this moment; a moment where William and Nika take center stage of the narrative. Obviously, William and Nika have always been the protagonists and this isn’t to imply that the series as a whole has been all flash and no substance. This is merely implying that these out of the ordinary ways to present the story were merely a device that was deployed in service of the ending; a twisting, winding path to get us to this eighth issue. This finale is powerful in its simplicity and a mostly rewarding end for the series because of it.

Despite the satisfying end to the series as a whole, there are a few missed opportunities in the pages of Trillium #8. The first that comes to mind is the world-building that Lemire exhibited throughout the series. Though Lemire took the time and effort to establish the world that Nika inhabited before being transported into the height of an alternate British Empire, we never really received any tangible follow through in regards to it. The aliens that farmed the Trillium were discarded as soon as they served their narrative purpose, never to be revisited. The Caul was never really shown or expounded upon, which one could argue that that adds to their mystique. The other major stumbling point I see being taken away from this finale is the purposefully ambiguous ending. After being burned by lackluster finales, most fans are leery when stories take this route toward completion, and while Trillium isn’t exactly the head scratcher of an ending as say The Prisoner, I’m still sure that fans will feel a bit let down by it, despite the strong character work at play in this issue.

I can’t imagine anyone else providing art for this series other than Jeff Lemire and the wonderful Jose Villarrubia. While the inventive panel layouts and layering gave the comic a signature feel, Lemire and Villarrubia gave the artwork a singular look that just radiated the feeling of a personal work. Trillium had all the hallmarks of a auteur’s singular vision without ever feeling pompous. This was a story that Jeff Lemire needed to tell his way and, bless him, he got to. Just by looking at the second of the issue’s two splash pages, where William and Nika finally take there place by each others side in the whole of the universe, you can feel the catharsis and loving care that went into a story like this. Every panel has a bit of Lemire in it and that makes for not only good storytelling, but a rare execution of an artist’s vision from start to finish.

Jeff Lemire is moving on to bigger things, but Trillium proves definitively that he will always be the same writer to burst onto the scene in the pages of Vertigo comics. Books like Trillium will always mean a great deal to me as a comic book fan as they show us as an audience the very best of a writer and artist and then allow you to see just how much they love the medium and what they are capable of accomplishing within it. Vertigo Comics is the place that people go to make a statement about their work, and Jeff Lemire, with Trillium, has made a statement that will echo throughout his entire career.

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