Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with 10 of the week's biggest releases! So let's kick off today's column with Draven Katayama, as he takes a look at the new Marvel original graphic novel, X-Men: No More Humans...
X-Men: No More Humans OGN
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Salvador Larroca and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Draven Katayama
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
It's a great time to be an X-Men fan. With a new movie coming out this month, a strong bullpen like Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen, and Chris Bachalo creating great books every month, and Marvel having more exposure in the public eye than ever before, it's hard to imagine things being any better. Out of nowhere, Mike Carey and Salvador Larroca have dropped an original graphic novel in our laps that not only ties the whole current X-Men universe together, but does so in an entertaining, well-written package.
It's been a long time since Marvel released an X-Men original graphic novel. X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills was published in 1982! Hardcovers that aren't just collecting issues have been rare - the Season One line of books was a fun showing, and Dennis Hopeless and Jamie McKelvie's X-Men: Season One was an enjoyable read. Why Marvel waited this long to release a new X-Men original graphic novel is a mystery, but they've hit the bullseye with this book.
Clocking in at about five times the length of an average Marvel comic, X-Men: No More Humans' primary strength is its choice of cast. Everyone you want to be here is here, like a reunion of favorite faces from current titles: very much alive Scarlet Witch and Rogue from Uncanny Avengers; Gambit and Quicksilver from All-New X-Factor; Young Jean from All-New X-Men; Tempus from Uncanny X-Men; Nightcrawler from Amazing X-Men. This diversity allows Carey to pair characters we never see together, such as Tempus and Northstar, or Magneto and Storm, in entertaining scenes that combine their power sets. Seeing characters who are usually wary of each other unite as ad hoc teams in an in-continuity story is what makes this novel a worthy read.
The opening sequence is one of the best sneak-into-a-secure-building scenes in recent comics. Carey writes it straight out of a heist movie. Carey makes a surprise choice for the primary villain: Raze, who debuted in the Battle of the Atom event, and was most recently seen in All-New X-Men #26. The choice of Raze to be prominent in this novel, even asserting leadership over his mom (or is she?), Mystique, seems to hint that Raze has a long future ahead in X-Men titles as a recurring rogue.
Larroca's and Ponsor's art throughout the book is gorgeous. Though faces aren't drawn with the same high definition level of detail as Stuart Immonen's art, all of the costumes look authentic to their current designs by Immonen, Bachalo, John Cassaday, and Carmine Di Giandomenico. Ponsor's colors pop with a vividness that shows attention to detail: instead of a muddy green, Rogue's outfit is a solid, assertive shade. One of the best color moments is when Magneto manipulates electrons while floating in outer space (yes, really). Light purple waves crackle from around his wrists, contrasted by deep, velvety purple background hues in the next panel. Ponsor, I would buy a poster of your colors of Magneto in action.
Driving the action against Raze are three of our favorite protagonists: Cyclops, Wolverine, and Magneto. There are agitated moments between Cyclops and Wolverine that feel wonderfully familiar and fun to long-time X-Men fans. Wolverine's snark is as sharp as his "Snikt!", and there's surely a part of Logan that misses giving Slim a regular earful. Cyclops is the biggest surprise of this novel: a likable leader, something readers haven't seen of Scott in years! At one point, Storm even says to Beast in half-disbelief, "Just this once -- Scott is right."
Fans of the post-Claremont 90’s X-Men will be pleased to see traces of Cyclops and Storm trading verbal banter like they did as Blue Team vs. Gold Team rivals. Though united in purpose, Storm is not content to let Scott call all the shots. Carey’s story is most closely connected to the recent events of Bendis’ All-New X-Men - there are no plot points from Brian Wood’s X-Men mentioned, and Jubilee is absent - and less so with Bendis’ Uncanny X-Men, but the story is accessible even if you have not followed either Bendis title.
There are so many great performances from the supporting cast, and I love Carey's surprising picks. The usually ornery Kid Gladiator has an admirable moment as protector on the Jean Grey School front lawn. Rachel Grey, thanks to Storm having left with the away team, finally gets to be what I've been waiting for her to be for over a year: the full-fledged leader at JGS. Northstar, who has been sorely underutilized in Amazing X-Men, shows off some daring heroism. Christopher Muse, aka Triage, has been a relatively minor character in Uncanny X-Men, but his appearance here, including a great one-page conversation with Cyclops, is his best yet.
Fans new and old will appreciate how Carey writes characters' personalities, particularly Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, and Beast, true to their depictions in current titles, with added classic tones: Cyclops shows more level-headedness than his belligerent, Bendis-written self, and Beast shows more caution than his Battle of the Atom experimentation. While Cyclops, Wolverine/Storm, and Magneto will remain at odds for the foreseeable future in X-Men comics, this self-contained No More Humans event is one these characters will reminisce about for their unlikely unity in the face of crisis. Carey, Larroca, and Ponsor deserve applause for not only bringing fragmented characters together, but doing so with dialogue, tension, and attractive panels that keep us wondering what's next.
The New 52: Futures End #1
Written by Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens and Keith Geffin Art by Patrick Zircher, Keith Geffin and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 1 out of 10
“Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.”.
That, of course, is a famous storytelling axiom by Joss Whedon - one that has served him and several dozen other writers quite well over the years. There are no jokes to be found in the pages of The New 52: Futures End #1. Sure, there is a bit of banter and some attempts at adding levity to the book itself, but nothing about this comic could be considered a joke, unless you count the near-farcical level of violence, tone-deaf dialogue, and death spread out in its pages. The entire point of the quote above is to highlight the need of content and context within a dark story; yes, a story can be tough to swallow or painful to endure for the characters involved, but it doesn’t have to skew into the realm of narrative torture for the characters, thus making it painful for the readers. You can tell a hard-hitting story with genuine stakes and tribulations for your characters without engaging in flights of masochism in order to fool readers into thinking that you are telling a “mature” story. The New 52: Futures End #1 is dark, grim, and also tough, but for all the wrong reasons.
Futures End #1 picks up directly after the Issue #0 teaser released during this year’s Free Comic Book Day, planting Terry McGinnis five years into the future - a future where the murderous Brother Eye satellite will soon begin cutting its bloody technological swath across The New 52. This first issue continues the grim, end-of-days tone that was presented in the preview, upping the hero body count up to seven, where as Issue #0 only dispatched five main roster DC heroes. This, of course, isn’t even counting the countless, and largely unmentioned, civilian casualties, but more on that in a bit. Because time travel is so intertwined into the plot, the writing team stacks the bodies of DC heroes high for the sake of world building, and in order to beat us over the head with how quickly bad things can get. Considering Terry's journey spans a full 35 years, the scale and stakes of this story may be even more massive than you might expect.
If The New 52: Futures End #1 does anything well, it is covering a lot of narrative ground extremely fast. If only it covered that ground without first fertilizing that ground with the blood of former WildStorm characters and a suburban family at the hands of one of these ex-WildStorm fan favorites. I don’t mind that the writing team, all capable and talented solo writers, presents us a world where the product of the collaboration between two of the greatest minds in the DC universe turns against its creators and then brutally and systematically takes over the world using the cannibalized bodies of heroes. I don’t mind that every character seems to talk in the stilted, thudding Frank Miller-esque darkly wry dialogue that has long since had its day in modern superhero comics. I even don’t mind that yet Firestorm yet again fails at being a dynamic leading character, instead reverting back to the same old bickering jerk/earnest hero dynamic we've seen numerous times before.
What I do mind, though, with every fiber of my being, is when Grifter murders a suburban family - secretly a covert cell of shapeshifting aliens - in cold blood, then declares joyously that he has the “best job ever.” It's not this scene in particular - although I do find it quite distasteful - but what it represents. At least the murder and mayhem contained within FCBD’s #0, an issue I saw many fans and children reading on the day, was contained to the DC canon of characters, and the civilians were left either nameless or unmentioned. In order to see this gruesome display you would have to buy the issue, but that reveals a more disturbing thought. This is what the writing team of Futures End - who are once again immensely talented writers of many thoughtful and exciting comics on their own - thinks event comics should be. Has DC become the Brother Eye of comics, just coldly assimilating exciting comic talent and spewing out grisly and troublesome products such as this? This all may sound rather alarmist to some, and I would be the first to admit that even while writing this I feel like some kind of curbside whackjob, spouting loudly on about how "it used to be." But superheroes can and do mean something to fans. And yes, they are crying out for thematically mature stories - but this isn't one of them. Bathed in blood, this comic is juvenile to the point of parody. It's the darkest story you could possibly come up with while talking to your friends around a pile of WildStorm and Justice League comics, though odds are your story would at least have a shred of hope underneath it all.
Adding another painful layer of disappointment onto this is the seemingly phoned in pencils of Patrick Zircher, an artist who is normally one of the more dynamic and impressive artists working at DC right now. Every character’s expression seems to switch back and forth between detached, shouting, or concerned about what is unfolding around them. Zircher’s normally naturalistic style is zapped completely of emotion. This comic looks more like a coloring book than a visual story. The explosions are deftly rendered, the Brother Eye constructs are unsettling, and Zircher still draws a practical looking yet stylish superhero costume (I especially loved his takes on The Midnighter and Firestorm), but apart from that, everything looks dull and uninspired. There is no spark behind the eyes of the heroes. It seems that Patrick Zircher is already drawing them defeated as the script hammers them down and chips away at their ranks. Look upon their works, ye comic fans, and despair.
Some of the most emotional and uplifting storytelling I have ever encountered has been from what people would consider “dark” stories. We, as fans and consumers of culture, have praised and awarded stories about some of the most horrific and bloody periods in our history. Storytellers have time and time again told these stories in thoughtful, economic ways in order to be able to reach us in the most effective way possible while also never compromising the content or appealing to our baser natures. The New 52: Futures End #1 doesn’t even attempt to be anything but exploitative. It goes out of its way to appeal to every baser nature we have a comic fans. It is everything we say we don’t want in comics, yet buy and consume in record numbers. The New Frontier is long behind us. All is now Eye. Eye is Order. Eye is All. But it doesn’t have to be.
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Russell Dauterman and Chris Sotomayor
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Yo ho, yo ho, a space pirate's life for me - well, perhaps that's not accurate. Don't get me wrong - Greg Rucka and Russell Dauterman's Cyclops is set in a space, a tough pill to swallow for plenty of readers (myself included). But really, that's not what this comic is about. Ignore the starry setting and pay attention to the beating heart - this is no space comic. This is the reunion between father and son.
You almost get the sense that Rucka is trying to make this comic as easy a transition for you as it is for Cyclops. Scott Summers is in a sensitive place, as evidenced by this book's first page - he's been displaced out of time. He's gotten his romantic life even more knotted up than usual. And he's essentially been told that his future is already set in stone - and he turns out to be the bad guy. All that, and the poor kid has been told that his long-lost father is alive - but that his mother is still dead. There's a real human core to this comic, as this son doesn't know how to relate to his absent father, and the father doesn't know how to do right by his newly reclaimed son. Just the way that Rucka writes Hepzibah as an ultra-encouraging, ultra-accomodating stepmother figure is a good way to describe the rest of this comic - we've got every reason not to like this book. But Rucka is going to do everything in his power to try to make us comfortable with this unexpected new direction.
What's perhaps even more surprising is that plotwise, this comic doesn't actually go too far. We get to see a great opening sequence between Scott and Hepzibah as they navigate space, and eventually get to see a raid on a Badoon ship, but beyond that, this comic is mostly character work. Little moments like Cyclops petting space dog Cr'reee or Raza unexpectedly getting himself grounded make the Starjammers a loveable crew of space scallywags, and you can't help but smile along with Corsair as he tells Scott to "think like a pirate." In a lot of ways, this is less of space swashbuckling and more of a road trip - it's not about the side trips or the detours that make it interesting or memorable or important, but the way you bond with the people next to you.
And let's be clear about something - this is the comic that's going to make Russell Dauterman a superstar. Just like Aaron Kuder and Eric Burnham before him, Dauterman is one of those guys who started out in a lower-tier DC book - in this case, a short stint on Nightwing, not to mention BOOM!'s Superbia - and was toiling away as a hidden gem. No longer. The styles he evokes from page to page - even panel to panel - are pretty spectacular, sometimes using a Quitely-esque curve to his characters or the sharp edge of a Bradshaw smile. And what's great about Dauterman in particular is his use of forward motion, mined beautifully by Rucka as he writes a scene of Cyclops oh-so-tentatively taking his first steps - or optic blasts - into space. Dauterman's characters twist and turn fluidly, with the smooth, acrobatic Hepzibah posing a striking contrast to the haphazard, heavy Cyclops. Colorist Chris Sotomayor, meanwhile, executes some of his best work yet, clearly giving colorists like Laura Martin and Jordie Bellaire some competition as to who might be Marvel's top dog. Sotomayor single-handedly makes this book's risky first double-page spread, as Scott - and the readers - are blown away by a glorious purple rift in space.
I was a skeptical as anyone about the premise of this comic, which I felt was just a little too weird or crazy to work. Shows what I know - Rucka and Dauterman defy expectations as easily as they do gravity with this charming, heartfelt comic. With wonderful art and a truly endearing cast, Cyclops #1 is far and away the week's best superhero comic.
Detective Comics #31
Written and Illustrated by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
It's strange, Detective Comics is the book that arguably launched one of the greatest characters in popular culture. Easily the biggest draw for DC Comics these days. Yet almost three years have passed in the New 52 and the flagship title never really found its footing, Often overshadowed by Batman proper, a title that, ironically, would never exist were it not for Detective Comics. This is all a very long-winded way of saying that with Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato taking over with Issue #30, Detective Comics has felt special again. It's felt like a comic that is slowly starting to earn back its legacy, and Issue #31 does not slow down this momentum.
Things become more complicated for both Batman and Bruce Wayne as the Icarus drug weaves its way into the often separate lives of these characters. Detective Bullock, a man that already has a nasty eye towards the filthy rich and vigilantes has a personal drive against this drug. A drug that cost him his partner in his early career. It's a simple plot thread, but it allows for a very humanizing effect on a character that usually plays second fiddle to the ever trusting Gordon. While there is only one overlying plot in this mystery, there are three separate angles Manapul and Buccellato uses to drive the story along. It's impressive that Buccellato is able to draft a story that weaves Bullocks purely emotional drive, with Bruce Waynes guilt, and singular obsession of Batman. The reader can almost sense the inevitable and likely dangerous head the story will for force on these characters.
But just as it is impossible to truly separate the players from the events, so too is it impossible to take the writing from the visuals. There is a reason this comic lists the writer and artist as singular storytellers. Manapul is creating a theme of noir and obsession with his heavy lines and shadowing just as much as the duo's dialogue. The emotional weight carried by Manapul's art is all the more impressive when you consider just how exposition heavy Detective Comics #31 reads. There is a lot of mystery and story to uncover in this book and Manapul drafts it all with beauty. Watching a crime scene come to life as Batman digs deeper for clues within his own backyard is the kind of thing this title has been missing for a very long time.
In addition to the great linework, there are some very smart choices in panel design. Traditional layout moves the story along, while Manapul shifts and breaks the line when the moment demands. However, it's rarely to push a moment of action. Instead he works with Buccellato and reinforces a dramatic moment between characters. The moments of classic superhero action almost take second stage to the people. In most books, this would hold it back. But in a title that should be a bit more cerebral than its companions, it's refreshing. There are a few bumps here and there in the issue. Both Bruce Wayne and to an extent, Alfred, act a little too out of bounds when Bullock presses his case. Indeed, were they to continue the tone, it wouldn't be out of character for the good Sergeant to just call out Bruce as Batman. Still, this is a minor hiccup in a title that has finally made its way back into my must-read pile. Here's hoping the glory days of Detective Comics are here to stay.
Black Dynamite #2
Written by Brian Ash and Yassir Lester
Art by Marcelo Ferreira, Sal Buscema and JM Ringuet
Lettering by Chris Mowry
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Brendan McGuirk
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
You know why they call it “pulp,” right?
It's not a juice-preference thing. And it wasn't initially any sort of shorthand for the variety of dame, demon or distant land-based fiction we have come to associate it with today. It was the cheap paper that last century's lowbrow adventure stories were printed on, and its best quality was that, after its tales had been read and done away with, its materials could be broken down and recycled, or “pulped,” to remake paper that would be used to print even more escapist fare. It was disposable, and it has come to represent disposable culture.
Some art aims for timelessness, but if the age of the nostalgic Buzzfeed article has taught us anything, it's that disposable culture is something we hold in pretty high regard, and something we hold onto for quite a while. What timelessness strives for universality, it cost itself with regards to specificity. Trash culture then serve as our greatest time capsules, free of the self-consciousness that can plague haughty ambition. Watching television commercials from 1994 tells you way more about the era than watching that year's Best Picture nominees can because, basically, it's more honest.
Black Dynamite is a testament to the best kind of trash culture. The blaxpoitation phenomenon of the 1970's couldn't have seemed “important” to the high-minded thinkers of its day, but its trappings captured an energy that has carried resonance all the way through today. The blaxpoitation pastiche of Black Dynamite has graced audiences with his presence through a live-action film, a gorgeously animated cartoon, and now an IDW comic series, becoming a full-fledged franchise. If you're unfamiliar, Black Dynamite himself is a fair-minded '70s kung-fu pimp who's not afraid to solve the ills of his community and era purely through the power of his phenomenal blackness. This generally means he's cocksure, ultra-competent, sexually indomitable, wary of all institutions, righteously furious and, above all, cool. His nemesis is The Man, an adversary of mythological scale and influence, driven only by a pathological desire to oppress with malicious intent. In the world of Black Dynamite, The Man, who is less of a single individual than a singular entity, is the greatest villain of them all, and holds down not only people of color, but any and all the under-served. The Man wears many faces, and Black Dynamite lives to slap the silly grin off of all of them.
The IDW series follows Black Dynamite as he embarks on a hero's journey, in exile from The Community he has sworn to protect because, when the heat got too heated, exiling was the only way he knew he could protect it. Now captured by The Man, this time wearing a face very closely resembling that of Lex Luthor, B.D. is offered the chance to sell out his people and his beliefs and join The Man's nefarious Illuminati plot for world domination. It's a fight just the right size for our hero.
If Black Dynamite took itself too seriously, it would collapse under its own weight. Every aspect of the character and the story is a wink at a broader culture that so freely deals in the currency of black cool in a white [man's] world, but the wink is so broad and cartoonish that it sidesteps any kind of divisive alienation. If drawing all of his power from his impossible blackness was strictly meant to glorify his race, it would make him a hero for only his “own” people, but he's only one part of a hyper-realized world populated by evil white men and seductresses of every race, which makes the heart of the story racial identity in America on all sides. While it's a send-up and honoring of a '70s character type, this is very much a story of its day. Dynamite is being held in no less of a temple of The Man's hubris than Guantanamo Bay. His captor beckons him to join the shadowy Illuminati, who dark corners of Youtube and comments sections will tell you are the real power behind the success of your favorite rappers. These throwaway jokes act as a snapshot of what we as a culture are prepared to talk and laugh about in 2014, which was different in 2004, 1994, 1984, 1974, and will be in 2024.
Comics fans know we're lucky. We know that, due to the quick turn-around in their creation, comics are more “of their day” than almost any other commercial art form. We can contrast Silver Age dialogue techniques to Dark Age to Modern, intuiting the nuance and intent. This gives us a sense of history and progress. There's probably nothing historical or progressive about the quippy, colorful, fast-paced story that Ash, Lester, Ferreira, Buscema and Ringuet tell us in Black Dynamite #2, but there's power to it. And it's not “black power,” although Black Dynamite certainly has that. The power comes from the unifying power of a shared rooting interest. If he were fighting the fight in today's world, Black Dynamite would be the one we send into Donald Sterling's office, and wouldn't leave until he'd pried ownership the Clippers from the slumlord's cartoonishly bigoted hands. He's amazingly easy to root for, because, from the perspective of the day, the fault lines are crystal clear.
Stories like Black Dynamite are eventually cast aside, relics of the world that births them. They may be disposable, but they're indispensable.
Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #2
Written by Kaare Kyle Andrews
Art by Kaare Kyle Andrews
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
If you gathered a cadre of writers into one room together, odds are they wouldn’t agree on much of anything. But one thing that most, if not all, would agree on is that the old adage “Character is king” is one thousand percent true. If you have a compelling lead character that you understand completely, your work is more than halfway done. It's one of the secrets behind the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - a finely honed understanding of character to a point where they could be dropped into any film genre or adaptation and they would still shine through. This is the main strength of Kaare Andrews’ latest take on Iron Fist: The Living Weapon. Andrews seems to fully understand every aspect of why Danny Rand is a charismatic and interesting lead character so he does what any great writer would do with a character as rich as Danny: burn them to the ground in order to show the audience how he will rise from the ashes.
Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #2 quickly picks of the thread dropped in the first issue with Danny and his hysterical new friend trying to piece together the reasoning behind the robot ninja attack and caring for an injured child that has traveled all the way from the mystical city of K’un-Lun. While Andrews presents a standard superhero murder mystery, he quickly upshifts into high pulp adventure by cutting to K’un-Lun in the midst of a ancient funeral rite for the dragon Shou-Lao. The rite is quickly broken up by a massive attack instigated by internal treachery. Its breakneck plotting and fast-paced storytelling like this that has given Andrews’ take on Iron Fist the slight advantage over recent Iron Fist titles and team inclusions. Andrews is completely committing to the mythic and pulpy nature of Danny’s backstory and setting and in doing so, giving us an assortment of examples of why this book and this character is worth your time and support.
He starts by giving us a taste of Danny’s droll wit and exploits as a superhero, then dips from a deep well of backstory as well as an alternate setting for the character, while finally giving us a hefty does of court intrigue and bone crunching action with two spectacular set pieces. If you are keeping score at home that is four different genres that Iron Fist: The Living Weapon presents in the same book (superhero stories, pulps, cultural drama/thrillers, and action comics) and never once does it feel like anything else but one cohesive story experience. Kaare Andrews may have made his name as an artist, but here, he establishes his voice very strongly, very early on.
Andrews also leans into how visceral a story starring Iron Fist could be, both in the script and artwork. Danny Rand has one of more horrible and darker origin stories of any Marvel Comics character and Andrews, after hinting at it in the debut issue, relays the information to uninformed audience members in a fresh and compellingly intimate way. Andrews renders the scenes of Danny’s parents death and his subsequent flight into K’un-Lun in a dream-like state, allowing his already fluid pencils to become almost as hazy as Danny remembers it. These scenes ratchet up the tension as the action rises in present-day K’un-Lun and even though you, as a reader, know the outcome of Danny and his family, you can’t help but feel your heart race as the wolves decent upon Danny’s mother and he flees for his life. Andrews uses these scenes to inform the reader of Danny’s state of mind, allowing the audience to understand why he’s so aloof and almost cold sometimes.
Danny Rand is a finely honed weapon, so Andrews writes and draws him as such. Danny’s attacks are precise yet flowing so Andrews draws his limbs as straight yet freely moving always. While David Aja is the standard to most people in terms of artists to handle Danny Rand, Kaare Andrews adds a level of lethality to Iron Fist that has always been hinted at but never fully shown until now. All of his characters look and feel like they can dish out major damage, and indeed they do. You feel every punch and chop radiating from the panels as Danny fights his way across legions of undead ninjas. It is a complete 180-degree turn from the seminal Fraction/Aja run, but it hits hard both in emotional content and action beats and the title is all the better for it.
If character is indeed king, then Danny Rand and his rich wealth of side characters and backstory are the crown and the entire kingdom. Kaare Kyle Andrews proved himself a wildly talented writer/artist combo on books such as Spider-Man: Reign, but it is his work on Iron Fist: The Living Weapon that will establish him as an industry titan in the coming future. It is one thing to deliver a hard-hitting action story that is visually exciting as well as inventive within the medium, but it is quite another to couple this visual storytelling with a genuine understanding of a lead character plus the will to tell a compelling and rich story that never overwhelms its audience with lore or grittiness. Character matters and, fortunately for the Danny Rand Fan Club, Marvel and their creatives seem to really get that.
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Karl Kerschl, Scott Hepburn and Gabe Eltaeb
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Ray Palmer is back, and it’s great to see our true-and-blue version of the heroic Atom at play. While the story may be predicated on a set-up not entirely earned, writer Jeff Lemire still manages to tell an engaging story that not only lets Ray Palmer shine, but also sets up future stories for further conflict and exploration. This entire issue still feels like a good read, despite several flaws.
Superman brings the Atom in from S.H.A.D.E. to save the day after a microscopic extraterrestrial space colony manages to lodge itself in Batman’s brain while repairing the Chinese Space Station. Although this adds an immediacy to the story, one which allows the reader to get really invested in Superman and the Atom’s success, Lemire never earns the set-up of this team-up. It might have been overkill to explicitly explain why Superman and Batman were teaming up to repair something as random as the Chinese Space Station, it’s that random quality that makes us question the story from the get-go, wondering about specific details that are never provided. It’s not that those details would push the story forward — nor would they be needed if we could suspend our disbelief without an issue — but it feels like Lemire didn’t put the proper thought in reader while crafting this story.
Beyond that, anyone with basic biology knowledge (like myself) might be wondering why the city nor our microscopic heroes (as Superman and the Atom shrink themselves and enter Batman’s bloodstream) wouldn’t be attacked by Batman’s immune system, something which is absent and never touched upon. Readers with an intimate knowledge of biology might have an explanation, but to this reader — and I’m guessing a few others — the fact that it’s unexplained also adds to our inability to fully suspend our disbelief. That, and although Batman’s been in a mini-coma of sorts, once the pressure is relieved, he immediately knows he’s in the Fortress and is able to go toe-to-toe with an intergalactic being with enhanced strength seemingly no problem. Those little details add up to make the story seem inconsistent at times.
Other than that, the story flows organically and logically, leaving only the beginning and most specific details left to question. Artists Karl Kerschl and Scott Hepburn visually interpret Ray Palmer’s shrinking ability beautifully, making its design almost leap off the page. This is no small thanks to Gabe Eltaeb’s coloring as well, as it’s that dynamic, complementary use of blues and whites that make it all seem real. While actual character designs, particularly in facial features may seem a bit unrealistic at times — case and point in Superman’s awkward-looking chin — the panel composition and breakdowns are really the strong suit of these artists. They avoid traditional block paneling many times, overlaying across the expanse backgrounds and leading from one panel into another to make a visually engaging read.
The overall satisfied sentiment readers will take away from this book come from the fact that it’s fun. Although Batman’s in life-or-death peril, these characters all fun to be around in this issue. The Atom, Superman, and Batman all get their fair share of quips and witty repartee. Although it might feel out of place at times, like when Superman casually tells the Atom to duck as he blitzes an enemy into a tree, it feels incredibly satisfying at others, like when Batman essentially complains he’s better off in Gotham, where he only has to deal with psychotic killers and not intergalactic, microscopic space colonies. It’s at those times when you won’t help but smile because, at their core, Lemire’s portrayal of these characters is mostly on point (sans the sword-wielding Atom).
Anyone who has no trouble whatsoever in suspending their disbelief will most likely find this issue particularly satisfying; anyone otherwise will have to look past some details to fully immerse themselves in the story. Either way, readers will ultimately be rewarded by the character-driven story Lemire lets unfold, which pairs well with the great visuals provided by the art team. It’s unfortunate that this story won’t be directly followed by Lemire, as Greg Pak and the usual creative team pick the book back up again in June, but this marks a nice departure from the darker, heavier tones set forth by previous Batman/Superman issues.
Amazing Spider-Man #1.1
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Ramon Perez and Ian Herring
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos and Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Draven Katayama
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Kicking off a five-issue miniseries of Peter Parker's early days, we start here in the days immediately after Uncle Ben's death. As if Peter hasn't already experienced more than his fair share of grief, now the one person whom Peter depended on most for guidance is gone. Fifteen-year-old Peter sullenly narrates, "With you gone, I'm the man of the house." This issue is about Peter trying to take on grown-up responsibility yet retain some normalcy of being a teen, and his feelings of inadequacy to do either.
Unlike the previous week's landmark Amazing Spider-Man #1, Dan Slott writes a straightforward, coherent story that doesn't divert into subplots or delve too deeply into supporting characters. There's a too brief scene with Liz Allan, who is charming and cutesy like Betty in Archie comics. This is quickly followed by a likewise brief scene with beefcake bully Flash Thompson. I was hoping for more interaction between Peter and Liz and Flash. It is unclear whether Liz wants to use Peter to toy with Flash’s jealousy, or is genuinely curious about this geeky, secretive classmate who crushes on her. Peter has clearly taken beatings from Flash before, but only now is he beginning to think he can fight back and win.
Peter’s origin story has been told many times by different writers, but what makes this issue different is the emphasis on Peter’s unheroic traits. Slott writes Peter as simmering with passive-aggressive rage against Flash. While other writers have written Peter’s pursuit of stardom as a boyish, wide-eyed awe of the limelight, Slott gives Peter a desperation that shows when the chips are down and money is tight, Peter would resort to violence if necessary. There is a scene where Peter slams his agent against a wall and grabs him by the throat. Even long-time readers will be surprised by this gritty, unstable Peter.
A kid wanting to emulate a superhero is a common theme in comics, but Slott's introduction of Clayton Cole doesn't feel recycled. Clayton is almost a sympathetic character due to his overbearing parents and his childlike awe of Spider-Man. I was surprised that Slott chose to introduce a new character in Amazing Spider-Man #1 (Clayton appears in a backup story), when the Spider-Man canon is chock-full of ancillary characters. My guess is that Clayton will develop into a villain, as he seems to have the same envious, mischievous genius streak as Syndrome from The Incredibles. For now, becoming a superhero is the only exciting personal challenge in Clayton’s otherwise effortless life. School work is laughably easy to him, and his online gaming friends are too busy to share his interests. The fantasy of being a superhero is the one pursuit that presents unconquered novelty.
Ramon Perez draws a classic, old-school look for this issue that fits the setting. Perez and colorist Ian Herring's flat, almost tri-color look would fit right in to the Sunday comics page when you were a kid, or a spinner rack at a 60's corner store. The one distracting oddity of Perez's art is characters repeatedly have eyeglasses that are mirrored white, leaving them looking like Where's Waldo? characters without pupils. Perez chooses a simple boxy five- or six-panel page layout for most of the issue, which reinforces the classic feel. Perez’s art excels in the scenes of Peter performing airborne feats, dodging buzzsaws and swinging just inches above the heads of a live studio audience. Scenes where Peter is perched on the ledge outside his agent’s office window show Perez’s skill at capturing his arachnid-like body posture.
Another twist to how we usually see Peter is his naive dependence on a shady character. Maxie Schiffman is a smarmy, self-serving agent. He obviously does not have Peter's best interests in mind, but Peter follows him like a lost puppy at the end of this issue. Slott is skillful at writing a young Peter who is a stark contrast to the adult, independent hero who runs solo without the Avengers.
When we think of Spider-Man's early days, we usually forget that one of Peter's motivating stressors was lack of finances. On top of Peter's normal teen insecurities - not fitting in at school; not being liked by girls; he's suddenly thinking about paying the bills and caring for Aunt May. Slott writes these struggles well in this issue, and deserves credit for emphasizing these sometimes forgotten parts of Peter's story.
This issue is the rare example of a supplementary title surpassing its parent title in both fun and writing quality. It would be easy to skip a non-main miniseries, especially an origin story, but Slott seems determined to write this miniseries as one readers will not find frivolous. New and familiar readers will be pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable this issue is. In one scene, a school counselor calls Peter "just a fifteen-year-old boy." Slott shows us all the reasons Peter is anything but.
Batman Eternal #5
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley
Art by Andy Clarke and Blond
Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
It’s a shame that Vicki Vale didn’t get the story she deserved. Although she’s the highlight and star of the issue, writer James Tynion doesn’t manage to make the entirety of the issue as enjoyable and impactful as Vale’s appearance, leaving us wanting — to borrow some of Vale’s terms — less of the fluff and more of the story. Tynion shifts focus of the story from the characters to illuminate the cause of the children’s sickness, which we learn isn’t Professor Pyg’s doing; however, in fleshing out this backstory, Tynion focuses more on the idea of the story, leaving characters’ motivations almost esoteric to the reader.
Although it’s nice to see Tim Drake back in Gotham, his spiteful and vitriolic attitudes do little to draw us into the story. In many ways, his actions and dialogue towards Batman — bringing up Damian’s and Dick’s death (or in Dick’s case apparent death) — only serve to have us distance ourselves from him. We can’t help but do that because Tynion doesn’t give Red Robin a reason to be spiteful, and with Tim’s motivations unexplored the reader fundamentally can’t understand or empathize with him right now. It’s one thing if his frustration is getting to him, causing his biting attitude, but we need to know that to not think he’s just being terrible. It doesn’t help that artist Andy Clarke’s breakdowns of the dialogues act more like a tennis match than a flowing series of panels; Clarke zooms in to give us headshot after headshot, and when characters are exchanging repartee back and forth, this makes it seem harsher than perhaps Tynion intended.
Clarke’s and colorist Blond’s artwork in general for this issue was less than inspiring, particularly with Clarke’s inking. Overexaggerated facial features from too much inking — as in characters’ eyes — made them appear buggish and cartoonish. To a degree, we can attribute this to Clarke’s overall style, but there were times when these features looked fine. Clarke’s successes in rendering appearances were so sporadic though, the more outlandish designs took precedent. On Blond’s end, the nanobot swarm looks incredibly strange - it's weird how the swarm makes such a tangible shape, how it’s so big, how there are spots with a higher concentration, yet a clear form and structure emanating from this swarm. By and large, this isn’t the end all be all of the issue, nor does the issue hinge on the success of the nanobot’s portrayal, but since it was an integral part of Tynion’s story, the weirdness of this sequence stood out.
Part of this is because Tynion leaves us in complete and utter mystery as to why what’s going on is going on. While this adds an air of mystery to the story, it’s frustrating because we’re more clueless than our protagonist—at least he seems to have more of a grasp on how these nanobots work, what they’re capable of, and has something going on in his brain wondering who they could have come from and what’s going to happen next. We get none of that because we just don’t have enough information. The end of the issue shows Sergei and his pet monkey Maxwell in the shadows—a fact that only the closest readers will pick up on (I myself had to go back to Batman #22 to find the corresponding backstory). Sergei’s dialogue is also incredibly vague on its meaning: since Batman pretty much knows what’s what in Gotham, it’s hard to believe he didn’t know children were being infected with nanobots in the project, leading us to wonder if the nanobots were, in fact, Batman’s doing. This confusion, instead of propelling us further into the story by creating the urge to have us read on to find out, only serves to make us frustrated.
Although these qualities serve to bog the narrative down, Vicki Vale manages to trudge through it all and, not only shine, but thrive in this issue. Her attitude towards the “high school interns” reflects sentiment in the industry and although she’s being a bit harsh, her words have an air of sincerity and clarity that’s lost in the rest of the narrative. Beyond anything else, we can get behind her as a character because she loudly speaks her mind, which is a quality we all should aspire to emulate. Though her tactics in getting the story on Falcone were more than a bit haphazard (and almost naively dangerous), we were still able to root for her as a character to get and break that story the villains have so incessantly covered up. Let’s hope Vicki and the rest of the cast can trudge through the rest of this set-up and give readers the story they’re itching for, but only time will tell.
Moon Knight #3
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Fighting evil by moonlight. Winning love by daylight. He is the one named - oops, wrong moon-themed character there. Moon Knight is on the characters in Marvel's pantheon that has had several relaunches, reboots, all the while proving that there's no real bad characters, just bad ideas about characters and who they are. The series so far as felt like a Warren Ellis mind dump that was some great ideas, but the execution of those ideas just seem short-sighted. Moon Knight #3 is a great idea and fulfills Ellis' notion that Moonie here fills the void of the Marvel landscape with the "weird crimes," but it was over before I knew it and still had a bit of a void left.
So here's the thing: this book has been Declan Shalvey's time to shine. One of the original members of the Comic Twart group, Shalvey finds his groove with this sketchy compositions and cinematic approach in the way Moon Knight confronts Khonshu to him gliding through the air like a raven in dove's clothing. Shalvey also gives Moon Knight a distinctive silhouette, sort of rubbing away the comparisons some rookies might make with DC's own Caped Crusader. Also, the visuals of ol' Moonie suckerpunching ghosts is something you take with you long after you finish the issue. Props to Jordie Bellaire for painting the issue, and the book so far, with a supernatural noir palette giving it just the right vibe.
So what is keeping this from being the series you tell your friends about? It's just the slow pacing. Now, if Ellis' intention is for every issue to be a one-and-done, a sort of "One Night with Moon Knight" approach, that's fine, but I'm at the point where we're three issues in and this new Marc Spector is still a stranger to me. This issue is pretty scares with dialogue, which gives Shalvey a chance to let his talent soar, but real interaction and I just wanted more meat here because I know what Ellis is capable of. The conversation between Khonshu and Spector was cool to see, with Spector seemingly at peace with all that's happened in the last few years.
Where Ellis also succeeded is exploring Spector and Khonshu's relationship as a whole. I feel like he finally gets their dynamic. It's sort of Pai Mei and Beatrix Kiddo and not just two lunatics (pun intended) talking to one another, or an absentee father talking to his least favorite son. I'd like to see more of their interactions and Spector drawing from the past and getting downright mystical on baddies later on.
Moon Knight #3 continues to have me hooked but it still leaves me wanting more, but in the wrong way. I feel like Ellis is trying to establish who Moon Knight/Marc Spector in the Marvel universe, but the story doesn't feel having been progressing at all. Shalvey and Bellaire's art is worth the price of admission alone, but don't be surprised if you find the show a little too short and without a post-credit stinger.