Best Shots Comic Reviews: BATMAN ETERNAL #1, ALL-NEW X-MEN #25, More
CREDIT: Marvel Comics
Batman Eternal #1
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion, Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley
Art by Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
DC kicks off its first all-new weekly series with a solid start, giving readers a taste in what to expect. This all-star team of writers comes out in full force from the get-go, synthesizing all the elements of a successful Batman story: a wide cast of characters, action, suspense, with a touch of mystery to be solved by both us and Batman. It’s clear from the issue that this creative team is in it for the long haul, as the story picks up to what feels like full traction by the end of the issue. While there are a few shortcomings here and there, the overall quality of the storytelling marks a promising start to Batman Eternal.
This isn’t a story for a casual Batman reader. If you started reading with The New 52, the less mainstream characters like Professor Pyg or Jason Bard might not mean much, but to long-term fans of Batman, it feels like being plunged back into the universe all over again. This isn’t about establishing background or history—this creative team puts us right into the action and the middle of the story, progressing through in a way that gives them momentum for their subsequent issues. In a weekly series, that momentum is necessary and gives an immediacy to the story: we have to find out what happens next and we have to find out why what’s happening is happening.
The writing team releases just enough information to balance the line between withholding too much information and keeping us in suspense. We’re compelled to read through the issue a second time at a slower pace to try and make sense of everything, and it’s clear that their choices, as well as the artistic choices are extremely deliberate. The details are so minute, you have to go back and double check to make sure we have all the facts straight. It’s worth noting that, even though we know the trains are going to collide, as seen in the “Channel 52 Breaking News” last week, we’re still rooting for Batman and Gordon to stop it and we still think they have a chance, which makes the moment of impact that much more devastating.
Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson make an incredibly sleek issue. The line art is strong and fluid, making for visually stunning read. Fabok’s line art in particular stands out as superb — his use of diagonal lines in the fight scenes guide the readers seamlessly from panel to panel, and he manages to include an incredible amount of detail to really flesh out the environment. Anderson’s able to keep the dark tone of Gotham while still including bright colors to make different objects in overcrowded scenes stand out, especially in the two-page spread with the collision of the train. Though there’s so much going on, along with so much debris, we can still clearly see everything that’s going on.
While this is a great start, there were a few nit-picky issues that have to be addressed, simply because the issue was on point in all other respects. The dialogue in the beginning of the issue, where it described Gotham “shines" at night, felt overbearing in so far as the writers attempting to start interweaving a theme throughout the story. Because the dialogue sounded so clunky, it felt like the writers had to force it in there to keep with the rest of the issue. Realistic-sounding dialogue is one of the hardest aspects of any story, so it’s something we can overlook. However, at the climax of the issue, where the trains collide together, felt underutilized. As a reader with no experience in that sort of thing, it looked less intense than it ought to have been: I would have expected Gordon and Batman to be more roughed up and injured, or at least see more destruction in general. There’s no moment to pause for loss of life, except for an offhand comment by Major Forbes, which really undercuts the emotional blow that comes with a death toll in the hundreds.
By the end of the issue, there’s no question that you’ll be invested into the story. We’re given a glimpse at “The End…” and, paired with the preview we saw in Batman #28 and the “Batsgiving” teaser, we have a sense of what the future has for us. Because we have that sense, that things are going to turn south for these characters, that someone’s pulling the strings behind the scenes and setting up the proverbial chess board, we’re enthralled with trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. From beginning to end of this issue, you won’t want to stop turning the pages and, at the final page, you’ll be on the edge of your seat anticipating the next issue.
All-New X-Men #25
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Marquez, Justin Ponsor, Bruce Timm, Laura Martin, Arthur Adams, David Mack, Skottie Young, Jason Keith, Robbi Rodriguez, Lee Bermejo, Marte Garcia, Kent Williams, JG Jones, Ronnie Del Carmen, J. Scott Campbell, Nei Ruffino, Maris Wicks, Jason Shiga, Dan Hipp, Max Wittert, Jake Parker, Matthew Wilson, Jill Thompson, Paul Smith, Bob Wiacek and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Following the lackluster conclusion of “The Trial of Jean Grey,” Brian Michael Bendis’ X-books didn’t seem to have a clear direction. But with “Original Sin” taking over the entire publishing line, Bendis and company use this (minor) milestone issue to right the ship. David Marquez is joined by cavalcade of artists from legends like Bruce Timm, superstars like Skottie Young and webcomics wonders like Max Wittert to set the stage for the next few months (if not years) of X-men stories.
Beast is visited by a familiar silhouette in the main narrative, one who calls his actions into question. At this point, it’s become clear to everyone that bringing the original X-Men to the future was a bad idea that still has unknowable consequences. What Bendis does here is walk us through all the possibilities. The word “infinite” in all its forms is very important to the Marvel Universe. Hank knows that for every possible bad outcome he’s shown as a result of his actions, he’s also set into motion something good. He rationalizes his decision and Bendis turns in a rare, exciting turn of decompression. Beast never gets out of bed for the entirety of the issue but you can feel a tide change. He’s set in motion something much larger than himself, something much larger than the X-Men and there might not be anything anyone can do to stop it. It’s these kinds of stakes that were missing in “The Trial of Jean Grey” and one’s that I’m glad we’re getting back to.
David Marquez is a big part of why Bendis’ script sings. In the hands of a lesser artist, the inner turmoil that is evident on Beast’s face would be lost. And Justin Ponsor deserves a mention for coloring a scene that takes place entirely in the dark without losing the details and pathos of the moment. Interspersed with Beast’s struggle, Marquez is joined by a bunch of other artists deliver one or two pages each showing some of the possible outcomes from Beast’s decisions. While many of these pages seem like little more than pinups with text overlayed, careful inspection will reveal details about these futures that aren’t conveyed through the narration. The placement of the short form comics by Maris Wicks, Max Wittert et al is dubious at best (at least in the digital version) as it completely interrupts the main narrative. But it’s nice to get a little Strange Tales-esque take on the X-Men.
While some might write this off as an anthology comic that’s simply marching toward to inevitability of a big event, I see it as crash course in X-Men mythology for the uninitiated. Sure, it might not be familiar and it might not even be showing things that are going to happen. But the beauty of comics is that on any given page you might be seeing something incredible. The narration is big and sweeping, enveloping readers in a grand scheme that may never come to be. For readers new and old, there is something intrinsically exciting about that. Comics are about infinite possibilities and while the modern media machine seems to have stripped them of that quality, All-New X-Men #25 reminds us that it still exists.
Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Leila Del Duca and Owen Gieni
Lettering by Ed Brisson
Published by Image Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
With any new series, it's tricky finding the balance between story and world building. Many times the needs of the character outweigh the needs of the world. While that can make for an entertaining read, it's far too often at the cost of a setting we really don't understand, or worse still, don't know why our characters care about it. Such is not the case with Shutter #1 by writer Joe Keatinge and artist Leila Del Duca. Sure, one element still gives way to another, but it is our main protagonist Kate Kristopher that takes a slight backseat to the fantastic setting designed by the storytellers. On the surface, Shutter #1 is the story of a family of reality and dimension hopping adventures, with only young Kate Kristopher as the sole heir, who no longer wishes to continue the legacy. We get early hints that she's also an accomplished writer who feels she long ago hit her peak. But like all great adventures, Kate has yet to experience her full destiny.
At first glance, Shutter is easy to dismiss as yet another pulp style adventure story that just happens to pull from all genres. But when you dig a little deeper into Keatinge's early ideas, you can easily see some of the deeper messages. True, Kate gives an appearance of a rather spoiled, or at least disinterested, rich girl that thinks life has no meaning. Read closer and you see hints of what created this jaded young woman. An ancestry she doesn't believe is possible to live up to, and a career of her own that she feels is over before she even hit 30. Fantastic setting aside, these are issues that people of all ages struggle. It's interesting that in a simple throw away line about her current job as a realty photographer we learn so much about this young woman. She feels she is done building her own life and future. Instead, she takes static images of a time and place, so that others may build upon their own. In that moment, Keatinge lets the story take a step back in favor of the reader learning more about Kate and the world she resides.
And it is quite the world indeed. Leila Del Duca is unquestioningly the star of this comic. The book opens with a rather daring double page spread. But unlike most opens, Shutter #1 isn't packed with huge explosions or massive fight scenes. Instead, it's a young girl running on the vast emptiness of the moon. You can feel the weightlessness of young Kate as she bounds on the surface in her suit. Heavy pencils lines kick up around her feet as the small rocks fly into the air as this young girl disturbs their millennial stillness. The wonderful vastness is almost immediately countered by tight and dense interaction between Kate and her father. In those moments, Del Duca draws expressions that are instantly recognizable. Even without Keatinge's dialog, the reader can imagine the words of joy and pride beaming from her father, while little Kate wants nothing more than to not be bored.
Beyond her fantastic pencils, Leila Del Duca makes a lot of very smart choices in her panel design and layout. Taking a cue from the story itself, Del Duca often makes the background setting the focus. While it might seem strange to take Kate away from the main elements on the page, nothing could be further from the truth. This visual design helps the reader make a strong connection to the wonder and splendor that is Kate's everyday setting. The simple action of placing Kate away from positions of power on the panel provides a small sense of the isolation she feels. In a way, we are moving right along with Kate. Owen Gieni on colors really brings out the rich tapestry Del Duca placed on the page. The world of Kate Kristopher feels very real, now matter how fantastic and insane events become. And trust me, things do indeed get all kinds of weird. But Gieni's work goes beyond making the page bright and vibrant. There is a subtly and naturalness to people and places that are directly connected to Kate. Which again only works to highlight the real disconnect the character feels when we’re first introduced. A special mention to Ed Brisson on lettering as well. Going beyond proper design, Brisson has some fun with font size and balloon weight. It's a subtle little trick that really brings out the voice of the characters. Simply stated, this book is a visual surprise and one I hope the team can maintain.
Strange to heap such praise on a book that, for all intents of purposes, didn't really get moving until the last couple of pages. It's a credit to Keatinge, Del Duca, Gieni, and Brisson as storytellers that I am already this vested in both the character and setting. With Shutter #1, Image Comics has yet another hit on their hands.
Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #1
Written and Illustrated by Kaare Kyle Andrews
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 7 out 10
Kaare Kyle Andrews states in the letter at back of the book that he doesn't want to be a cog in the machine, but rather become the machine. As in take the reins in the process of making a comic from the art to the script and the coloring. Andrews went on stating that Steranko was his main influence in going in this direction and said that Danny Rand might feel "off" at first. Well, he's certainly right in that aspect.
Having just the basic Iron Fist 101 knowledge (hands that burn with mystical fire, knows kung-fu, defeated a dragon, giant tattoo), I was curious to see what direction he'd be taken in the All-New Marvel, and it comes across as really melodramatic. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing as it's different than what's come before, so there's unlimited potential for it to be better, but this plays out more like a scene from "The Expendables" than a martial arts movie. Everything is pretty much cranked up to 11 here, and Andrews' color scheme throughout the book matches Rand's fiery hands with bold yellows and gold with blood reds, it leaves a visual impression and is the saving grace of the book.
Andrews certainly has a flair for the dramatics as there is some great action shots like Danny taking down an Apache with a single punch. He's not holding back his cinematic touch with these pages, and it's obvious Andrews is having a ton of fun along the way. But that's pretty much where it stops. A new reader will be grabbed by the strong visuals and sharp colors for sure, but trying to get inside Danny Rand's head is a different matter. Where as the action is strongly paced, Rand's inner dialogue seems lacking by comparison. There's a flashback sequence where he notices his father going insane and he fears he's become the same man today, but we don't know his connection to the city of K'un-Lun, especially if you're a new reader like myself coming on board.
Now I'm sure the devil is in the details and more will be revealed later on, but as the first step into this new direction, yeah, it's ballsy, but something I'm really not sure about just yet. Andrews' certainly has a grasp for the tight, action-packed scenarios and gives something for the reader to latch on to, but without a stronger narrative, I think they might start to slip.
Superman/Wonder Woman #7
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Paulo Siquiera, Eddy Barrows, Barry Kitson, Eber Ferreira and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
Every relationship has bumps in the road. But is this just a stumble for Superman/Wonder Woman, or is the honeymoon finally over for the World's Finest power couple?
After last issue's game-changing cliffhanger, perhaps it's to be expected that the afterglow isn't as much as to be expected. And in the case of Superman and Wonder Woman, the earth really did shake - the two set off a nuclear explosion to stop Kryptonian fugitives Zod and Faora from unleashing an army onto the world. (Oh, and Clark dropped another bomb of his own - the L-word.) But after that amazing ending to the last issue, Charles Soule isn't able to stick the landing. The fallout - both physical and emotional - feels rushed, as though he were forced to shove an entire trilogy of issues into one 22-page read. The high-stakes drama of whether or not Clark or Diana can survive such a blast is immediately deflated, as Soule isn't able to make us truly fear for either character. Even Clark, who is almost zombified by the lack of sunlight, basically just becomes photo-sensitive for awhile. This is easily the most devastated physically either of these heroes has ever been, but there's not enough follow-through.
The artwork, meanwhile, has its ups and downs. Paolo Siquiera starts off with some weird perspective and anatomy with a splash page of Superman and Wonder Woman, but his expressive take on Diana injects a lot of necessary emotion to the opening shots of Superman and Wonder Woman in their radioactive crater. (Although his lipless, noseless zombie-looking Superman looks more than a little ridiculous, even if it's meant to be modeled on The Dark Knight Returns' version of the character.) Eddy Barrows is difficult to recognize with his pages of Doomsday, which are laid out well but are drowned by oppressive inks and colors. Barry Kitson rounds out the trio with a very human scene of our title characters enjoying a night on the town - his Superman looks a little weird in costume, almost self-consciously so, but his ultra-clean characters do make our power couple look gorgeous as ever.
That's not to say there aren't some redeemable moments here. Soule still makes the dynamic between Superman and Wonder Woman sing, and the fact that they're still reeling emotionally from the A-bomb (and the L-bomb) is a great, necessary moment between the two of them. (And of course Superman would be the one to commit too early. Poor guy is going to be crushed if/when Diana ends things.) It's also nice to see the two of them have some interests outside of crimefighting, something that has long been a problem with most of the DC pantheon. (Although I would have loved a little bit more interplay about what dancing means to Diana.) But the problem with this issue really is spending eight pages on the Doomsday subplot, which easily could have been condensed to three, at maximum. There was so much more narrative meat for Soule to dig into, and Doomsday wound up feeling more like filler.
It could be worse. Relationships have lived on that principle - but they've also died on it, and rightfully so. No couple should ever expect to be perfect, and no one should ever expect for them to be. Sometimes the fireworks don't go off. Sometimes the momentum cuts out. The important thing is to recognize it, and to compensate moving forward. Will Superman/Wonder Woman find a way to regain the emotional intensity of a month ago, or will this just be a winter fling? Only time will tell, but I'd like to have faith that this super-power couple will find a way to bring their spark back.
Flash Gordon #1
Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Evan Shaner and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Growing up with a strong understanding of pulp heroes like Flash Gordon, it always mystified me why people couldn't seem to grasp on to the concept. There've been missteps along the way to what we finally have in this new ongoing brought to you by Jeff Parker Evan Shaner, and while this isn't King's Watch, it's not trying to be. Parker still brings his sense of action, but combined with Shaner's Toth-like linework in his sequentials, it's a fun read, but still has a few bumps to smooth out.
Parker gives us some sharp dialog and a great introduction at the start of the book with the retirement of the space program. Almost fitting to the theme of having pulp characters being out of style and retired but making a comeback as of late (see also Dynamite's great Shadow: Year One) and then suddenly flung in the world of Mongo. Parker has a refreshing take here and does a quick crash course reintroduction to our collective consciousness by simplifying and breaking down who Flash is and what he's all about: being an adrenaline junkie. Sure, the concept is modernized by making him an extreme sports athelete instead of polo as originally conceived, but it works to the story's advantage, especially as he's piloting through wormhole after wormhole or acrobating through the jungle.
Parker brought Evan Shaner on board here and I couldn't think of a better fit at the top of my head. Shaner who recently is climbing through the ranks of the comic industry is hardly a newcomer but certainly making his presence felt as of late just finishing a Superman story and a Deadpool Annual in the past few months. Here his sensibilities is sort of a no-brainer with the sophisticated simplicity of his linework Shaner utilizes thick brushwork for environmental scenes but gives enough detail with more up close shots, it almost comes out at you through the pages. Adding on coloring superstar Jordie Bellaire in the mix and the to create a rich world fitting of the name Flash and his heritage. The way Bellaire handles Shaner's art and fills it with a soft and subtle palette that gives the book a throwback feel without knocking you over the head is delightful and fitting.
With this being Shaner's first ongoing on his resume, I wish he was going to be on the book for the long haul but is currently scheduled for just the first four issues. Jeff Parker has a knack for bringing along some great underutilized talent to his books and everything seems pretty much in sync here for the most part. Where the book lacks is sort of where it acts as a crash course and gives the reader a lot of familiar faces to fans of Flash, but audiences who aren't as familiar might find themselves a tad confused with all the relationships within. Parker does throw some weight behind Dale Arden's character, as well as Flash's, but everybody else seems sort of left behind. It's nit-picky, but it holds it back from being perfection.