Best Shots Comic Reviews: DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU #1, JUSTICE LEAGUE UNITED #1, More

Justice League United #1
Credit: DC Comics

Face front, 'Rama Readers! By now you may all be aware that our fearless leader David Pepose must occasionally jaunt into the deeper cosmos, on the hunt for richer and more remote worlds to sate his master's galactic hunger. Like today, for instance. So once again, you're stuck with my, George Marston as your guide through today's day-of reviews! Let's kick things off with Justin Partidge's thoughts on Shang-Chi's new solo title, Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu!

Credit: Marvel Comics

Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu #1
Written by Mike Benson
Art by Tan Eng Haut, Craig Yeung, and Jesus Aburtov
Letters by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10.

While Marvel Comics made its mark in the comic industry by suppling us with towering characters that were, for the most part, grounded in a reality that we all can relate to, one of their other major strengths has been their willingness to explore all sorts of different genres beyond the standard superhero fare. Whether it is the high concept soap opera that is the X-Men line or the madcap legal comedy that is the new She-Hulk title, Marvel has never been afraid to drop their heroes into these and many other examples of genres that move them out of the tights and fights stories that permeate the comic book landscape. One such genre that Marvel has resurrected during All-New Marvel NOW, last seen in the late ‘70's, is martial arts action, with new titles starring characters such as The Immortal Iron Fist and now, Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu, who was last scene gallivanting around the universe and beyond as a member of The Avengers. Now, Mike Benson and Tan Eng Huat have brought Shang-Chi down from the stars and plunged him into the middle of a vicious murder mystery for a story so steeped in the tone of 70's chopsocky movies that it might as well have a Shaw Brothers vanity card during the opening.

Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu #1 opens in London’s Chinatown as MI:6 agent Leiko Wu dies a hero’s death at the hands of a gang of colorfully grotesque ninjas, led by the aptly named Razor-Fist. Mike Benson, clearly a fan of the 1970‘s Steve Englehart and Alan Weiss run of the same name, front loads the opening issue with action sequences, much like the way the Englehart and Weiss run would open with what was essentially a second cover of an action piece behind the cover proper. Benson hits the audience hard with a vicious attack establishing the stakes early, yet never letting it feel overwhelmingly grim. He then dovetails this sequence into a genuinely thrilling chase, peppered throughout with densely poetic narration by our lead character. Shang-Chi has shined through a bit in the dense crowd that is Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and even deftly carried a recent issue of the Nick Spencer penned issue of the sister title Avengers World, yet Mike Benson has been the first writer in a long while to give Shang-Chi a chance to carry the full weight of a solo title, allowing a brand new audience to experience just how deep of a well this character is. Benson presents us the full range of emotion and thought that Shang-Chi, as a character, is able to explore all while he is leaping from snow mobiles onto a helicopter only to quickly subdue Crossbones with his bare hands. This is your new favorite comic book character.

Benson also isn’t a afraid to go beyond Shang-Chi’s deadly precision in the field, a major complaint of mine and many other fans about Hickman’s Avengers title. After the one-two punch of the opening pages, Benson quickly downshifts into the aftermath of Wu’s death and its effect on Shang’s current state. The tone quickly shifts from a John Woo film to an Akira Kurasawa noir. Benson does away with the great inner monologue from Shang-Chi and instead lets us mourn silently with him as he delivers a long given gift back to Wu’s parents and attends her funeral. This not only adds an extra emotional punch to the scenes themselves, but also shows that Benson is directly in tune with the character of Shang-Chi. There are many silent moments in the back half of this comic and every single one of them are used to great effect. Sudden bursts of action, quick silent panel cuts that show just how fast Shang and his enemies can be, and one hell of a entrance from another staple of Shang-Chi’s exploits, “Black” Jack Tarr. Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu #1 not only succeeds at being a thrilling comic book experience, it succeeds as a rock solid introduction to Shang-Chi, finally presenting him as the A-List character that he could be.

While Mike Benson’s script hits all the essential notes that a great opening issue should, the lion’s share of the kinetic energy and vicious elegance of this issue is due to the pencils of Tan Eng Huat, the heavy inks of Craig Yueng, and the low-res and gorgeous colors of Jesus Aburtov. This issue is a truly beautiful example of an art team truly working in tandem. Tan Eng Huat consistently wowed and experimented in the pages of the recent incarnation of X-Men: Legacy, but here, he launches himself into the world of high octane action, delivering bone crunching fight scenes as well as quiet contemplation with equally honed skill. Haut is one of the Marvel art department’s hidden gems and this #1 is just another example of him being able to deliver exciting and mature work no matter what the book is. Craig Yueng and Jesus Aburtov hammer home the 70's film feel with long, ominous shading to the scenes in London coupled with muted metallic and flat colors. My comment above about the Shaw Brothers vanity card is largely due to the retro feeling art in Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu. While the Englehart/Weiss issues may have been chasing a film fad, Tan Eng Huat and his team chase down the genre and then promptly high kick it in the chest. This book looks just as great as it reads.

In 1974, kung-fu was all the rage and Marvel comics saw an opportunity for a new kind of action comic, taking a chance on a genre that had proven to be lucrative. Now, some forty years later, Mike Benson and his vastly talented art team have taken what others have built and crystallized it into an explosive opening chapter in the life of this compelling character. Shang-Chi may be a great many things; Avenger, master of martial arts, Agent of MI:6. Yet Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu #1 finally presents him with another title that his fans have been clamoring for for ages: Leading man.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League United #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Mike McKone and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

There's something to be said about the Justice League and its history of B/C-list line ups. For decades numerous assemblies that worked, and some that didn't, featured DC's not quite-Supermans and two-thirds of a Batman, but in the right hands you can either strike gold or granite. Here with Justice League United #1 I feel like it's a missed opportunity to really have some fun. There’s something here, but I think more digging is required in order to strike paydirt.

Jeff Lemire has proven himself a top DC commodity with this run on Animal Man and stint on Justice League Dark, as well as his sci-fi book Trillium over at Vertigo. The man has shown he can do serious cape and cowl as well as other genres as he gets the characters he's working on so well. The #0 issue was a smart introduction to the team's dynamic as well as what we're in for down the line, so what happened here? The team gets its first threat of aliens and an aborted weapon that can take form of a different substance (think water, rock, even hair) every time it's attacked, which makes hurting the thing not the easiest. It was a clever way for the team to attack as a whole and sort of reminded me of a Justice League Unlimited episode. It was cool to watch, but unlike that other JLU, there wasn't a lot to really take away from here.

At times it definitely feels like this book should have the subtitle of "The Adventures in the Isle of the Misfit Toys" seeing how it's mostly comprised of characters with canceled books (with a brand-new character in the mix....that we still know nothing about). While the notion of Green Arrow has basically been boiled down to making fun of Animal Man throughout the entire issue, Lemire makes up for that with the team not really having a leader and they look to each other for support and ideas. I like the idea of these characters in the mix, as well as Stargirl's new duds, but the chemistry off the battlefield seems truncated and not fully-developed. And don't get me started on the pure waste of Hawkman here. What could have been this team's powerhouse is just diminished and disappointing.

On the other hand, Mike McKone and Marcelo Maiolo give us one the most polished looking book that you'll find with the DC logo these days. McKone might as well be a modern day John Romita, Sr. with his slick linework and solid figure composition, giving the team members all different builds and distinctive silhouettes. The redesigned Adam Strange is neat looking, too. McKone looks like he's having some fun here with the battle scenes and displaying the team's powers, especially the handling of Martian Manhunter's telepathy. It's not exactly breaking new ground, but it's wonderfully illustrated and Maiolo's use muted colors to show either extreme violence or peril is a nice touch. Maiolo also adds the right amount of depth and style that give a classic Silver Age vibe, but with contemporary aesthetics.

Justice League United #1 had the potential to shed a little light in the DCU, but instead feels more like the same ole same ole. There is potential to be had for sure, but if, going in, you’re expecting something new and different, you'll be disappointed. It's beautiful looking, but fans of Lemire's usual wit and heart (which lured me in) will barely find it within these pages. Hopefully Team JLU will find its way sooner or later because I want to have fun with this team. Lemire can strike gold if he wants, but right now he's missing the ore completely.

Credit: Image Comics

Shutter #2
Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Leila Del Duca and Owen Gieni
Lettering by Ed Brisson
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Last time we saw ex-explorer Kate Kristopher, she was passed out in the arms of a robot after being attacked by ghost ninjas at her father's grave. On her birthday. You know, the usual. In the latest installment of Shutter we see even more action and unlikely outlaws, including, but not limited to, Irish mobster lions. It's a riot.

As previously stated, our hero was last seen in the arms of a old-timey looking robot until some more baddies show up and really muck up the situation. There are also saucer police, flashbacks, a short gore-fest, cute shenanigans from Kate's cat, and wine. This book just has it all, in addition to one of my favorite sentences, "Cookies are happening!" The story gets a little cramped with all of this going on, but only marginally so. In fact, the sensory overload is - at times - to the advantage of the story, namely in the chaotic action sequences.

One of the great things about this book is how Keatinge's writing flows perfectly within the storyline. It doesn't maintain a feeling that a person wrote it - rather, it seems like it simply came into being of its own accord. The best kinds of stories feel this way, where you don't really stop to consider that someone actually sat down and created this world until you reach the end, at which point you are amazed. Keatinge also delivers on the dialogue, which delivers story progression and witty one-liners in equal measure - an important accomplishment for an action-centric issue like this one.

The writing may be the body of this story, but Del Duca's art is it's soul. Page after page of complex, beautifully rendered visuals make this book one of the best-looking out there. The characters are looking more developed from panel to panel, more expressive and fine-tuned, and the backgrounds are keeping pace. My only criticism is that the pages can get a little crowded with all the detail put into them, but then again it's not very noticeable in such a fast-paced issue. Owen Gieni's colors continue to hit their mark, working perfectly within the linework laid down by Del Duca. I continue to marvel at the coloring on the ghost ninjas.

Shutter is a story about a lot of things, but right now it seems to be focusing on struggle. The struggle to find the willpower to keep moving forward, to keep looking for the answers to your questions no matter what the world throws at you - a human condition we can all relate to. This creative team is doing things their way, and the product continues to be a beautiful and engaging comic that is absolutely worth the price of entry.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers #29
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, and Sunny Gho
Letters by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

It seems that for Jonathan Hickman's Avengers, there's no bigger challenge than the business of just simply being an Avenger. Hickman's massive team has spent so much time contemplating the politics and philosophy of being heroes - and comparatively little actually showing what that means - that the impact of the many threads finally being picked up in Avengers #29 is almost shocking. And it's not because of a foe no single hero could withstand, at least not in a traditional sense. Rather, it's Tony Stark and Steve Rogers butting heads yet again. There are numerous chickens coming home to roost in Avengers #29, yet despite some A+ characterization from Hickman, and suitably dramatic art from Leinil Yu, all it really amounts to is mommy and daddy fighting, yet again.

"I remember." These words, uttered by Captain America to Tony Stark, carry an almost indescribable weight, recalling the moment when the Illuminati effectively booted Cap from their ranks and set about to build a machine to break a world. Naturally, with Cap remembering getting fired as the moral center of the guys who secretly run Marvel's universe, there's more than a little tension between him and Stark - tension that Cap wants to break by taking it out on Tony's face. With some of his most trusted allies at his side, Cap confronts Tony with some pretty expected results, and some that are decidedly unexpected.

While Captain America and Tony Stark not seeing eye to eye may not be anything new, unlike their last big blow-out, which resulted in the landmark Civil War, this conflict has been a long time coming. Seeded in early issues of Avengers and New Avengers, the issues between Cap and Tony go much deeper than a moral disagreement this time. There are shades of DC's Identity Crisis in the mix, adding to the level of emotional betrayal at play. But really, this all still feels a little done. Maybe this time Cap will be the aggressor with Tony on the run, maybe there won't be such a split in their factions, but whatever details change, the fact remains that the hallmarks of the modern Avengers are sopa opera dramatics and interpersonal conflict. That's really a shame, considering how effectively the cinematic Avengers - which, like it or not, are the benchmark for this franchise - balanced the ragtag sensibilities of a group of heroes thrust together with the need for high octane action, and a common enemy.

Fortunately, Leinil Yu is taking another swing at this title, and delivering art that is the most redeeming element of Avengers #29. With so much of this issue essentially a repackaged flashback from New Avengers, Yu does a remarkable job of injecting energy into those recap scenes, and matching them with a level of moody, almost disturbed darkness that sells the distress and downright unfailing anger in Captain America as he confronts Tony about this most personal of violations. Inker Gerry Alanguilan keeps the pages downright swimming in black, setting a doomy mood that colorist Sunny Gho complements perfectly, maintaining a palette of blues and greens that bursts into brighter, more electric colors when necessary.

With a solid lead-in, and pitch perfect art, it may be hard to see exactly what the problem is with Avengers #29. When you boil it down, the issue is that this is the culmination of dozens of comics over the last two years that spent more time breaking the Avengers into groups to talk about how hard it is to be a hero than in actually having them do anything heroic. Hickman's writing of the characters is improving, and we're finally scratching the surface of the machine built around his massive line-up, but there's no deeper metaphor, there's nothing being said that hasn't been said in this very title, with these very characters already. If this is what it looks like when Hickman's Avengers finally go off the chain, as Tom Brevoort seems to be implying, it's going to take a lot more than window dressing and some well-planned but ultimately rehashed plotlines to knock this one out of the park. The particulars of Avengers #29 may be in order, but the subtext is still on hold.

Credit: Marvel Comics

The United States of Murder INC. #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Michael Avon Oeming and Taki Soma
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Icon Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10.

What do you do after you have, for the most part, done everything in comics? Brian Michael Bendis may have now written every possible genre that you possibly can in comics at this point. He has dominated the superhero genre while occasionally raising the ire of many a fanboy; he has jumped feet first into all-ages stories as well as delivering earth shattering, reality altering event books. But it is with his creator owned comics, more specifically crime stories that Brian Michael Bendis has excelled at every time he sits down at the keyboard. Time and time again with titles like Torso, Alias: Jessica Jones, and Jinx, Bendis has shown a genuine affection and respect toward the genre and now, with his new crime opus with Powers co-creator and artist Michael Avon Oeming, Brian Michael Bendis might have finally delivered his Goodfellas.

The United States of Murder INC. presents us with a world in which the mafia heyday of the 1960‘s never ended and the various mafioso familes and syndicates have banded together to form a huge, nebulous network of criminals and killers, wresting control of the entire East Coast of the United States away from the U.S. Government. Bendis lets us inhabit this world through the eyes of newly made man Valentine as he swears a blood oath to the family and it sent on his first assignment; a routine delivery/shakedown that turns out to be anything but. The Scorsese comparisons are nigh unavoidable as you sift through this mammoth 40 page opening issue, but this never feels like a straight up ripoff. You can feel the research into the genre and filtering of certain elements of mafia films through the lens of comics. Bendis really cuts loose in United States of Murder INC. and it’s some of his most exciting and engaging work in years. Capes and flights into space are all well and good for a time, but the vastness of this gritty, crime filled world is worth about a dozen fight scenes starring men and women wearing colorful tights. This world feels just strange enough to be fiction, yet not too out there as to be science fiction or over the top lifestyle fantasy. It’s Neo Noir at its absolute finest and Bendis is more than in his element.

Bendis also sidesteps the usual problems that come with creating a world so far removed from our own; opting instead to let us, as the audience, experience this world through the eyes of the cast instead of just info-dumping the specifics in a clunky opening text chunk or through a hamfisted news broadcast. We experience things just as Valentine experiences them and the comic is so much stronger for it. We see just how strange and arcane the rites of the mafia have become from the inside, we see the East Coast’s economic effect on the rest of the country through a few razor sharp bits of banter from Valentine’s henchman best friend, Dino as well as a taste of the social impact just the symbol of Valentine’s organization has from this comic’s Modesty Blaise, the incredibly named Jagger Rose. This is a fully fleshed out, lived in world and Bendis and his team allow us to immerse ourselves just as the characters are experiencing it themselves. This is everything a first issue should be on top of a story rife with tension and truly shocking twists.

I made mention of the Martin Scorsese tone that the comic presents, but nowhere is that more obvious than in Michael Avon Oeming and Taki Soma’s artwork, which blends the deep and wide shots of Martin Scorsese with the shockingly bright, distinct colors of French New Wave films. Think the cold calculated style of Le Samourai mixed with the garish neon of Casino. Its no secret that Scorsese was a huge fan and was influence greatly by French New Wave and here we get all of these techniques and styles beamed through the lens of the medium of comics. Oeming renders scenes in long, wide panels yet keeps the characters or groups completely in the forefront, sometimes loading the panel down with the groups or central characters. There is a scene early on right after Valentine’s initiation where he is greeted with a large party in his honor and its a shot right out of The Wolf of Wall Street with a large group of family members and well wishers fill the panel from wall to wall, while Valentine, his mother, and the patriarch of his new “family” are in focus in the foreground. This is just one of many examples of Oeming’s incredible shot composition. Also, of note, the tracking shots that he employs that take up both pages in order to nail the scope. His characters are almost way more defined and articulate that we are used to seeing them. In a recent interview with Newsarama (which you can find in the back matter of the digital version of the comic, as well as the full script and concept art for the issue), Oeming described his work on United States of Murder INC. as less “Toth-like” than anything else he’s done recently, referring to the wide brush style of Alex Toth. I couldn’t have put it better, as his lines and characters look lean and angular with sharp chins and toned body outlines. Adding a heaping pile of subtext onto the pencils are the vibrant digital colors of Taki Soma, who colors every scene and sequence with heavy meanings into the scenes themselves; employing color as almost a plot device. Valentine’s initiation is colored with mysterious purples with splashes of sacrificial reds, while the party after is colored with inviting greens and yellows. The colors inform every bit of the action happening on the page making the book look and read insanely well, with plenty of hidden treasures and meanings for repeat readings.

While they may be sporadic, Brian Michael Bendis’ creator owned winning streak, and the entire Icon line as a whole, continues in grand, stylish fashion with the release of The United States of Murder INC. #1. Bendis and his team also continue to produce top notch product as the result of their creative partnership. Bendis sometimes is only as good as the artists working with him and by that yardstick, he and Michael Avon Oeming along with Taki Soma have become one of those sure fire creative teams that will always deliver to the reader both a satisfying narrative experience and stunning visual storytelling. There is a reason that critics and audiences alike respond to stories like Casino and White Heat and now comics has yet another series that can stand toe to toe with some of these great mafia movies of recent memory.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman Doomed #1
Written by Scott Lobdell, Greg Pak and Charles Soule
Art by Ken Lashley and Sunny Gho
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

“The Death of Superman” sent shockwaves through the comic book world upon publication in 1992 and the effects of that storyline could be felt for years to come. Scott Lobdell has said in interviews with this very site that Superman Doomed is intended to be like “Death of Superman” only in it’s lasting effect. But with DC’s Superman books really failing to up the character’s stock (despite good work from Doomed contributors, Greg Pak and Charles Soule on Action Comics and Superman/Wonder Woman respectively), Clark’s latest throwdown with Doomsday lacks some punch.

Superman hasn’t been given a superstar treatment since Grant Morrison left Action Comics and even that iteration wasn’t without its inconsistencies. Morrison used Nietzsche's philosophy of the Übermensch as a starting point and in the process lost a lot of Clark’s humanity in favor of metaphor and alternate reality tales. It didn’t give Superman the strong foundation that other creators were able to build (like Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo on Batman) and has led to inconsistent characterization ever since. In Doomed, we’re starting to see a few different threads come together. This is bigger than just a knockdown, drag-out fight with Doomsday. Clark is dealing with Kandor and Smallville, Lois’ impending transformation and his relationship with Wonder Woman in addition to the collateral damage that Doomsday is causing. That’s a lot to juggle and readers who haven’t kept up with the lead-in to Doomed will be a little bit lost. The writers do get credit for creating something of an all-encompassing threat. But Clark’s failure to question Lex Luthor’s solution is baffling and on some level, their reinvention of Doomsday makes him and his motivations a lot closer to Parasite, a character that Lobdell recently featured over in Superman to varying degrees of success. Rather than doing any character work with Doomsday here, the writers opt to make him of the monster of the week. It’s a missed opportunity to expand on the Doomsday mythos with more than just an increased power set though considering the ending, maybe that was never something that needed to be taken into consideration.

Ken Lashley continues working in his Jim Lee-esque wheelhouse. His character renderings are strong. And most of his action scenes are very effective but on occasion the characters become somewhat overwhelmed by the background. Things near Doomsday have a penchant for bursting into flames when they’re near him which makes some of the panels and pages feel very busy. Lashley also has a tendency to arrange pages in such a way that a character’s body will be coming in from the left and they’ll be cut off at the waist. That approach would be fine but not when he loses a handle on anatomy because of the awkward angle and placement. Lashley’s finest moments come toward the end of the book as Superman resolves to end the threat of Doomsday. Specifically the double-page spread in that battle is a great example of clear and concise storytelling that uses a non-traditional approach.

Lobdell promised that this wouldn’t be a “cover band version of ‘Death of Superman’” and he’s absolutely right. There’s no way that Doomed will play out like that at all. But as far as being a Superman story for the ages, this one has a ways to go. There are a lot of balls in the air plot-wise and if they’re resolved in the other titles that cross over with Doomed then the main narrative will suffer. This is definitely the most ambitious Superman story that has been done in the New 52 and hopefully, it will clear away some of the detritus that has built up across the Superman titles and really allow future iterations to fly. But for now, this issue stands as a red herring that does little to make us care about the arc as a whole.

Credit: Archie

Afterlife with Archie #5
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art by Francesco Francavilla
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating 5 out of 10

What started out as a gimmick for Archie Comics, Afterlife with Archie quickly found itself as a bonafide hit as it appealed to both reader and critic. Under the deft plotting of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Francavilla, it became that rare title that appealed to those wanting all-ages fair that didn't talk down to the reader. While also appealing to the horror fan that had grown a little tired of the pacing and tone of The Walking Dead. With issue #5, we wrap up the current arc as Archie and the surviving Riverdale gang do their best to make it out of town. Or, at least from Veronica's family estate. What should be a simple but tension filled finale is, frustratingly, everything but.

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa took a big risk with this title. It's one thing for Archie to deal with more adult issues. But to go full horror and dread, with beloved characters dropping like flies and betraying each other is something entirely new. Since it's inception, Afterlife with Archie made fantastic use of Riverdale's ever-growing and diverse cast. Still, the very thing that gave the title its strength in the beginning is now hampering the overall arc. Aguirre-Sacasa tries a little too hard to introduce elements that are clearly going to play out in a follow-up story. And while there is nothing wrong with dropping some hints now and then. It's a hindrance when the bulk of the events in this issue are clearly meant for resolution in the next series. By choosing to focus on new threads, most of the tension from an issue dedicated to escaping the ever closing zombies goes to the wayside. It's a shame, because there are plenty of opportunities for the classic Archie personalities to come face to face with undead horror. And while there a one or two of those moments, they simply do not make up for all the missed ones.

Yet for all the story missteps, Afterlife with Archie #5 is still a real treat to read. With all of that love going to Francesco Francavilla. He is truly a master of mixing the macabre with emotional resonance. There are very few undead in this issue. Yet for the lack of monsters, Francavilla still leans heavy on deep shadows and tones to generate a feeling of dread and emptiness. As is the case in many zombie stories, it is rarely the shambling dead we need fear. Every character in this issue is hiding something; a truth that threatens to come out from under Francavilla's dense line work. There is a wonderful intensity when the artist brings the reader up close, staring directly into the eyes of certain characters. It becomes all too evident that we really don't know who is the hero and who is not to be trusted. And yet he never once forgets that these are the kids from Riverdale. For all the darkness that permeates this issue, there is still a visual suggestion of the Americana from which the characters draw. It's really wonderful to see how he can draw an Archie that, in one moment is a small and frightened child, with Betty as an almost matronly figure above him. Only to then reveal an Archie that is willing to sacrifice all to save his friends.

Jack Morelli on letters even has more than a few chances to help drive the emotional rises and falls in this issue. His design and layout crafts some pretty heavy dialog into something that feels very real. It's a subtle addition to the comic, but goes a long way in elevating the work. For all of my concerns with the bogged down story, there are still a few things Aguirre-Sacasa gets right. He never forgets the roots of these characters. For even in the midst of all the horror, classic Archie love triangles and social concerns find their way into the story. It's a nice reminder of where these characters come from. Sadly, this is still the weakest entry within the Afterlife with Archie series. Still, it's an ending no fan should miss, if only for the stunning art and the many promises of what is to come.

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