Best Shots Reviews: ALL-NEW X-MEN #28, SUPERMAN WONDER WOMAN #9, BLOOD QUEEN #1
CREDIT: DC Comics
All-New X-Men #28
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and Marte Garcia
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
X-Men stories have always been about legacy. Whether this is implicitly stated or right there for everyone to see on-panel, the concept of legacy has always been a staple of the X-universe. Mutants are constantly fighting for their place in a world that hates and fears them, but even more so these mutants are fighting for mutantkind’s place in society further into the future. We all want to know if we will be remembered and accepted. Legacy, and time travel, has always been the throughline of All-New X-Men, but now with #28, Brian Michael Bendis and his team seem to be tackling this word head on and in the most Claremontian way possible, with a band of villains from the future aiming to end the younger version of Jean Grey all in the name of legacy. Welcome to the X-Men. I hope you survive the surreal experience.
Battle of the Atom, for the most part, was a bit of a misfire, but as soon as the future Brotherhood of Mutants, led by Xavier’s son and Raze, the offspring of Mystique and Wolverine, escaped into the wind during the events of the last issue, I was convinced that that wouldn’t be the last we see of them. Sure enough, in All-New X-Men #28 we see them back with a vengeance, carrying along with them a hefty dose of backstory into their motivations. It seems that Bendis is now finally getting to tell the story that he wanted to tell with these characters during Battle of the Atom yet was unable to due to the constraints of the event. Here, displayed in trademark Bendis flashbacks, we fully understand Xavier Jr.’s seething hatred of the X-Men as well as just how deep his evil runs. His team, save for Raze, are but mere puppets to be controlled in pursuit of his ultimate goal of destroying the X-Men and reclaiming his father’s legacy.
What’s even stranger still is that he’s not wrong, really. The X-Men of the prime timeline haven’t exactly conducted themselves in a manner that would secure them a great place in history. Xavier Jr. aims to correct that, by any means possible. This may be low hanging fruit, narrative wise, but I applaud Bendis for committing to resolving the fate of this new Brotherhood quickly instead of allowing it to simmer for a few arcs, which would have caused casual readers to most likely forget their existence. It is very heady stuff and a plot that would feel right at home in a Chris Claremont book (though there would probably be more space travel), but Bendis handles it all as well as you would expect from him. While the ensemble casts of Avengers and New Avengers sometimes got away with him, his work with the X-Men has felt the best kind of retro, while still being accessible enough for new X readers.
Along to lend his multi-million dollar blockbuster look to All-New X-Men is Stuart Immonen and his dynamic inker and colorist, Wade Von Grawbadger and Marte Garcia. #28 seems to be just a series of wide panel layouts that take up both pages, really hammering home the scope of the book, much like Immonen and his team’s previous issues. From the opening shot of Hank slaving over his calculations in the far future, Immonen and his team present the story in wide, cinema quality panels that lay the story across the page in dynamic panel layouts, packed with emotive characters and stylish flourishes. #28 also contains a huge, two page splash that serves as not only a big visual moment, but a very telling character beat for Xavier Jr. As he explains his hatred for the X-Men and everything they stand for to Hank, Immonen, Von Grawbadger, and Garcia visualize his hatred into a hellish splash page of his Brotherhood locked in battle with the X-Men of the future. Every character introduced in Battle of the Atom is featured here, engaged in a struggle with whoever is closest. It’s a very evocatively beautiful image just in terms of a splash page, but Immonen and his team never make it feel like an empty visual. Stuart Immonen is arguably one of Marvel’s most capable visual storytellers and All-New X-Men #28 is a very strong example toward that argument.
History has always been written by the victors and for much of All-New X-Men #28, it looks as if the X-Men aren’t going to be around to finish their own chapter. From the very start All-New X-Men has been about the X-Men struggling to prevent the extinction of their race as well as fighting for a better tomorrow for all of mutantkind. Now, another group of mutants, aims to take them out of the equation in order to finally do what they couldn’t; secure a place in the future for mutants around the world and uphold the name that the X-Men has drug through the mud. All-New X-Men #28 is a compelling de-construction of the core concept of the book and a much-needed shot into the arm of a series that has felt a bit tired for the last few months.
Superman/Wonder Woman #9
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Tony Daniel, Matt Banning, Sandu Florea and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Superman is no more. Struggling with infection known as Doomsday taking over his body, the Man of Steel has been tarnished, as his resolve weakens ever further under a worldwide cloud of Kryptonite fallout. Who better to administer some TLC - or a mercy killing - than Superman's main squeeze Wonder Woman? While Superman/Wonder Woman continues to look great and bring striking characterization, this book occasionally gets a little too ambitious for its own good, as one too many guest stars make Wonder Woman feel like a guest in her own book.
To his credit, though, Charles Soule does great work with Superman, as his psyche as Clark Kent continues to fight against the homicidal behemoth Doomsday. With all the focus on superpowers and larger-than-life bad guys, it's nice to see that Soule looks at Clark as one part mild-mannered everyman and another part all-powerful force of nature... even if, at this moment in time, that latter part is corrupted to look like a monster. Diana, however, has to take a little bit more time to warm up - Soule has some missteps with some supporting characters that rob Wonder Woman of a lot of her energy, but he does pick up the pace near the end. There's a real tenderness to Diana as she tells Clark that they never had a second dance - a hope amid all the insanity of Doomsday.
While Diana's worry for Superman feels palpable, and is an effective means of exposition, she still gets short shrift because of all the supporting characters. Soule's first misstep is having Diana pass the responsibility of wrangling in Superman to Hessia, the doctor of Themiscrya, who gets to be the badass of the issue with some mystical Amazonian armor. By bringing in a third party with little emotional connection to either Clark or the reader, Soule kind of flat-tires the momentum, even if Diana then gets to save the day with a burst of strength. The last quarter of the book, meanwhile, abruptly shoehorns in Guy Gardner, Supergirl and the rest of the Red Lantern Corps - this bit not only feels arbitrary and unearned, but it robs Wonder Woman of some key pages where she could wrestle with the ethics of whether to let her boyfriend live or die.
The art, however, looks as strong as ever. Tony Daniel makes Doomsday monstrous, Hessia look positively lethal, and Wonder Woman looks both radiant and powerful. Daniel is very much channeling Jim Lee in this issue, and considering it's two of DC's best and brightest heroes, I don't think that's a bad thing. While later in the issue his panel layouts seem a little goofy with all their waviness, his character designs are crisp and clean and his fight choreography makes every punch rattle with power. Occasionally his Doomsday does get a little cartoonishly distended, but these missteps are rare.
While I do think this issue stumbles a little bit from its predecessors, "Doomed" still continues its hot streak with Superman/Wonder Woman #9. While the story has a lot of tension already inherent in its premise, Soule taps into a little bit of that human spark by showing things from someone other than Superman's perspective. While I think the excess of guest stars hurts this issue slightly, it's clear that the (super)power of love keeps this team-up book alive.
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Ron Whimberly and Rico Renzi
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
We have all forgotten something important. Every single one of us has that odd event or experience that plays around at the back of our mind, just out of reach except for a few sporadic memories. Imagine for a second that you finally did fully remember it. That the whole thing just snapped back into the forefront of your memory and you could remember all of it down to the exact detail. But what if that memory caused you to react in a way that you never expected? What if instead of experiencing fondness and glee, you lashed out at those around you with violence? This is idea that Charles Soule presents to us inShe-Hulk #5, injecting a mundanely pulpy idea into the fun legal drama. Shulkie and her team now seem to be dealing with a cursed case file that is just a mysterious as it is dangerous. She-Hulk has always been a fun, stylish character study, but now with She-Hulk #5 the title is starting to dip into it’s version of a John Grisham novel, ratcheting up the tension as well as the ambition of the series.
She-Hulk #5 smartly uses its entire ensemble to present the first true investigation into what the mysterious Blue File is. Jen set her legal team out into the world in order to track down certain particulars of the case that her and so many of her colleagues were supposedly involved in. She-Hulk takes it upon herself to interview Shocker, another defendant, while Angie and Hei-Hei trek out to North Dakota to locate the records of where the trial took place. Patsy Walker, however, sticks to New York to see what she can glean from Tigra, another hero named in the mysterious file.
Soule smartly took his time building this ensemble during #1-4, now he uses them each with great effect. Soule, a lawyer himself, builds a solid base for the mystery of the Blue File and accurately depicts a lawyer’s investigation into it. Soule writes Jen and her team as every bit the capable legal team with Jen as the stalwart leader. As the recap page of the comic expounds, Jennifer Walters is good at her job and Soule doesn’t seem in any hurry to let us forget it. While the source of the mystery might look quite normal, Soule doesn’t waste much time delivering the sizzle right after the steak. As the team starts to reveal details of the case and names found in the file, the people around them start to lash out with unpredictable displays of violence. This also leads to one doozy of a last page cliffhanger, which I won’t cheapen by spoiling here. Basically, Soule, using the base built by #1-4, is finally getting to write the book toward its fully potential and it is a whole heck of a lot weirder, and better, than it was before.
While fans have largely praised the Kirby-esque pencils of Javier Pulido, I predict that the pencils of fill in artist Ron Whimberly may divide them more. That said, Whimberly and his colorist Rico Renzi continues the title’s visual hot streak, making #5 another visually interesting and kinetic issue. Whimberly’s art almost has a Paul Pope, anime like look to its renderings. Some characters look longer than they usually do and action poses are a bit more exaggerated than the blocky elegance of Pulido’s work. Whimberly also uses #5 to play with certain points of view for the readers, lending a sense of great depth to panels. Take the first page for example. As Jen and Hermann greet each other at the door, Whimberly keeps their heads and torsos in focus on the top of the page while toward the bottom and toward the back, everything seems to look very far away, making Hermann’s apartment hallways look like an endless walk. Whimberly seems to look at every panel through a funhouse mirror.
Adding to this otherworldly perception is the rich colors of Rico Renzi, who uses a distinctly darker color pallet than the art team on #1-4. Renzi colors Jen a deeper green than what we are used to seeing before which makes her stand out as an evocative figure in every panel that she’s featured in. Jen was already striking but here with Whimberly and Renzi rendering her, she stands out just a bit more as a compelling figure. She seems more real here because Whimberly isn’t afraid to make her look as real as possible. This isn’t to say that Pulido drew her like a cheesecake model. It’s just that while Pulido thoughtfully posed her in panels, Whimberly seems content to just let her react as normally as possible through the panels. Whimberly and Renzi’s work has a more natural, yet still stylish look, making She-Hulk #5 another distinctly beautiful visual statement.
We all have secrets, but for the most part, none of our secrets are aiming to murder us. She-Hulk #5 is a great book in a lot of ways. It’s a very well-written and beautifully drawn book, but even more then these reasons, it is a book that seems committed to raising the quality of its storytelling every month. Charles Soule every month delivers an engaging story that raises the scale of She-Hulk’s life little by little, expertly blending the mundane activities of a lawyer with superhero derring-do. Marvel has really tapped into something with their solo title line and She-Hulk is a shining example of what a solo title is capable of. It has a compelling lead, a fun, interesting ensemble cast built around the lead, and it isn’t happy with just telling small stories. This is Jen Walters' world. We just get to happily live in it.
Infinity Man and the Forever People #1
Written by Keith Giffen and Dan DiDio
Art by Keith Giffen, Scott Koblish and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen’s mutual admiration of Jack Kirby’s work is well-known at this point. The launch of the New 52 saw the return of O.M.A.C. as an ongoing but it was short-lived, not finding a foothold with fans that flocked to relaunched version of marquee heroes instead. Giffen and DiDio return to Kirby’s Fourth World well with a book featuring Darkseid’s lesser-known brother, Infinity Man. And while this book might be an honest homage to Kirby’s work, it might stick too close to the source material to really soar.
When Kirby launched the original Forever People title, times were very different. The book was part of his “Fourth World” epic that he launched in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen upon arriving at DC. This was billed as “An Epic for Our Times!” by DC and included the likes of the New Gods and Mister Miracle. Nevermind the fact that Jack Kirby was a god amongst mere human comic book creators. Still, the original Forever People title only lasted 11 issues. It’s important to remember context when we dredge up the past.
DiDio and Giffen are competent storytellers in their own right but they are no Jack Kirby. The comic book climate in the ‘70s didn’t allow for Kirby to finish his Forever People story, so what place does it have now? Granted, both creators take a ton of cues from the King himself. The dialogue and narration has the right mix of stilted and grandiose. It’s unnatural because it’s so much bigger than us. The New Gods, New Genesis, et al. are concerned with much bigger problems that mere humans couldn’t even hope to understand. And so, Giffen and DiDio nail Kirby’s flair for the (melo)dramatic. but in doing so, they don’t provide much of a hook for the series. This book fails to make a connection in much the same way that the Legion of Superheroes fails to connect with readers who haven’t interacted with that title’s “golden age.” It’s one thing to simply bring back legendary creations. It’s entirely another to create a good story with them. All the pieces are here - Big Bear, Infinity Man, Srafin, Vykin and a Mother box - but we’re given little reason to care.
Giffen’s artwork (with inks by Scott Koblish) is very beholden to Kirby’s style, and that’s what holds it back. Jack Kirby was the King because his work was different and it defined a generation of comics. While it’s nice to see Giffen honor Kirby this way, we’re getting more expressive and impressive art on much smaller-scale titles in the DCU. It’s not that Giffen and Koblish aren’t able to draw in Kirby’s style, they absolutely are talented enough to hit all of his hallmarks. But it makes the book look dated because they don’t go all in (the way that, say, Tom Scioli might) or bring something new to the table. I think it was worked for because a line-wide style hadn’t yet been established for the New 52. It allowed there to be different pockets of creativity. But as events and crossovers have strengthened the bond between the current lineup of DC titles (for better or worse), it’s harder for a new book that doesn’t fit in stylistically to really mesh.
It’s great to see more of the “Fourth World” getting some play. But you’d be better served to read the originals. DiDio and Giffen clearly have a heart for the material, but they aren’t doing anything exciting here or laying enough of a groundwork for new readers to really latch onto these characters. It’s not enough to put characters in front of a reader and ride on historical significance alone. There’s an opportunity for a great story somewhere in this book because of the pedigree of the characters and their original creator but DiDio and Giffen have yet to tap into it.
Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Kris Anka and David Curiel
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
With the loss of his healing factor, Wolverine has seen better days - both as a superhero and as a superhero comic. But as Logan's time draws short in "Three Months to Die," Cornell claws his way back from some seriously flawed storytelling, as an upgrade in art and some high-potential guest stars make this comic incrementally better than before - even if it's inch by inch.
Part of what makes this issue a bit better is that Cornell has finally cast aside all the cumbersome plot threads of Wolverine's ill-fated undercover operation to finally nab Sabretooth. While I still don't believe that Wolverine really cares about no-names like Pinch or Lost Boy, Cornell is finally able to extricate Logan from these fun-leeches. Instead, Cornell gives this series a needed goosing by bringing in Shang-Chi and Iron Fist as guest stars, established characters who share a common thread with Wolverine - namely, their abilities as martial artists and living weapons. Cornell starts off their appearances with some guilty-pleasure action, and then uses them to shed some light on what's really bothering Logan - his newfound fear of death.
Unfortunately, we don't get to see that much of that enlightenment (and admittedly, some of the philosophical discussions in this book, like a statue of Wolverine on top of the skulls of everyone he's ever loved or killed, do come off a bit goofy). The problem is, Cornell already set up the people that Wolverine infiltrated and lied to - now he can't just ignore them or pretend they never existed. Because we don't care about Pinch, it's hard to muster up any emotion when Sabretooth menaces her daughter, and the duplicity of the power broker known as the Offer doesn't give any impact, partially because he's just been a plot device rather than a three-dimensional character. (Honestly, every issue I see him in I can't help but wonder if he's Mystique. Call me jaded.)
The artwork by Kris Anka is also a tremendous step up. Anka reminds me a bit of Mahmud Asrar over in Wolverine and the X-Men, where he doesn't quite have an oppressive realistic style, but also doesn't kill the tension dead by overly cartoony or distended art. Considering how rough the last arc was in terms of the visuals, you can't help but perk up at the increase in art quality, with the initial bursts of action making a great impression despite the admittedly talky nature of the rest of the script.
Just when you thought this book was ready to give up the ghost, Paul Cornell and Kris Anka prove that Wolverine's not dead just yet. That's not to say that this book is perfect by any means - it's definitely got more than its fair share of flaws - but it is highly improved, and the guest stars and artwork show that there's plenty more potential where that came from. I don't know if Cornell can fully correct some of the bad decisions made in the previous seven issues of this series, but more issues like this could make for a smoother conclusion to Wolverine's uneven story.
Blood Queen #1
Written by Troy Brownfield
Art by Fritz Casas, Mark Roberts, and Kirsty Swan
Lettering by Marshall Dillon
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Rob McMonigal
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
A kingdom is at risk from blood magic, but the cure might actually be part of the disease, as this fictionalized account of the life of Elizabeth Bathory gets off to a mysterious but troubled start in Dynamite's Blood Queen #1.
Wasting no time in making it clear this is a horror story, writer Troy Brownfield, co-creator of the band-themed webcomic Sparkshooter, opens by sacrificing a person in one of the most painful ways possible, namely by bleeding them out. It’s a great moment, but unfortunately, artist Fritz Casas isn’t able to give the visuals the necessary visceral impact, hiding the victim’s pained expression in shadow and smoke, as though the Comics Code Authority was still watching over his shoulder.
The lack of visual impact to match Brownfield’s dramatic and dynamic moments carries into the rest of the issue, when a bewitched baby merely looks really, really tired or a knight in the middle of a battle appears almost disinterred or annoyed instead of locked in a life and death struggle. In key character moments Casas does too little to create interaction. After flirting with that same knight, Elizabeth gives no indication of taking advantage of their proximity on a horse, like reaching her hands a bit too far forward, or perhaps even towards his crotch. (This is not due to a lack of other scenes having implied sexuality, either.) When declaring Elizabeth’s beauty, the knight has a completely blank expression on his face. The lack of expression extends to John Hunter, an advisor to the King, as he asks permission to dance with Elizabeth. The only movement comes from jarring viewing angles that show understanding of varied panel construction but not the ability to carry it out for the proper effect.
While the coloring of Mark Roberts and Kirsty Swan try hard to breathe life into the proceedings, it’s just not enough to save the artwork. Their palate choices show a better understanding of the nature of Brownfield’s story, such as drenching the blood sacrifice-related scenes in crimson red or making a magical blast bright yellow-orange. It’s clear they’re working off pencils only, and there’s just not enough in the original linework for them to support in the coloring process. They have to do double-duty to make the scenes interesting, and when the shading of the sky is more noticeable than the figures beneath it, that’s a problem.
None of this is Brownfield’s fault, but it does limit the impact of his plotting. No secret to creating a mystery for the reader to solve, which he did so well on Zenoscope’s Grimm Fairy Tales Myths and Legends, his ability to make a story compelling and yet withhold plenty of information serves him well here, too. Taking advantage of the duplicity inherent in court intrigue, Brownfield gives hints that several of the major players have their own agenda, not the least of which is Elizabeth herself. Is she the titular Blood Queen? Probably, but it’s too early to tell yet, and I wouldn’t put it past Brownfield at all to have named the character that way on purpose to allow him to throw a reader a curve several issues into the run.
The downside of the emphasis on intrigue is that, combined with the historical setting, it does feel like Brownfield trips on his own dialogue at certain points. It’s not easy to get the cadence right, which is why sometimes it’s better off to just forgo it entirely and allow the characters to speak with a modern voice and deal with the pedants who get annoyed by it. Mixing a feminist theme with the patter of a Robin Hood legend leads to sentences such as “This is why men make a mess of things. It matters not the age or appearance.” The former sounds modern, then gets undercut by going back to awkward phrasing for the second half. That happens just often enough to be noticeable, which can throw a reader out of the story and away from the fact that dark magic is invading the land.
Blood Queen #1 should definitely appeal to those who have read Brownfield’s other print comics or who are looking for a comic that echoes elements of Game of Thrones without trying to be a carbon copy. It will require overlooking the mediocre artwork, but those who do so should be entertained and intrigued enough to stick around to see what happens next.