Best Shots Comic Reviews: BATMAN ETERNAL #11, ORIGINAL SIN #4, THOR: GOT #23

Batman Eternal #11
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings and salutations, 'Rama Readers! Our fearless leader, David Pepose, is off-world right now so I, Pierce Lydon, will be your host for today’s cacophony of comic book criticism. We'll get the party started with Justin Partridge’s examination of a very special issue of Batman Eternal.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman Eternal #11
Written by Tim Seeley
Story by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, John Layman, and Ray Fawkes
Art by Ian Bertram and Dave Stewart
Letters by Dezi Sienty
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10.

Batman, as a character, is perfectly suited for a weekly series. Often times his adventures and associates are spread out over so many books that it is hard to keep track of what everyone is up to at any given time. Batman Eternal has so far made good on it’s promise to expand Gotham City and it’s inhabitants, as well as the Bat Family. With issue 11 we get a solid story starring the often overlooked women of the Batman group. Batman Eternal #11 could almost be called a “very special Father’s Day issue” and that possibly could be the best thing going for it.

Batman Eternal #11 offers four separate plots running at the same time. Batgirl jets to Brazil in order to track down the man who may be responsible for her father’s arrest, while Stephanie Brown aims to understand her father, the former super-villain Cluemaster. On top of all of this Julia Pennyworth struggles to understand her father’s place in Bruce Wayne’s life and Selina Kyle carries out a request from her absentee father. Selina’s plot is merely a framing device for the other three plots, but in doing do, writer Tim Seeley smartly connects each woman by a strong narrative thread; their relationships with their fathers. This is really fertile story soil to till here, as each woman has substantial, yet different issues to work through. Barbara is waging a war to prove her father’s innocence, Julia doesn’t recognize the man standing in front of her, and Stephanie is struggling to understand her father and the choices that he made. It is a great source of human drama and Seeley handles it all fantastically, along with some choice action beats throughout Barbara’s arc in this issue. Batman Eternal #11 opts out of the easy path of just showing us Batgirl ripping through the Brazilian underworld and gives us a story that may carry a bit of extra weight for readers right after Father’s Day. One’s relationship with one’s father is a complex, nebulous thing so Tim Seeley and the rest of the Batman Eternal writing team filter these themes and feelings through a Batman comic, a series perfectly suited to explore parental issues. It is surprisingly human drama from a superhero comic, which is the best kind of superhero comic.

Handling the artwork for Batman Eternal #11 is Ian Bertram and colorist Dave Stewart who make this issue look like an odd mash up of the work of Frank Quietly and Chris Burnham, maybe the best combination one could make. Batman Eternal #11 looks like a lost issue of Batman Incorporated and reads like one too. Bertram’s character’s facial expressions are emotive and exaggerated. Sometimes they are even ugly and bulging looking. Critics have recently blasted DC for adopting something of a house style when it comes to their books by hiring artists are, to a casual observer, a great deal alike in their art styles and David Finch oft-cited as the baseline they are starting from. Batman Eternal #11's rough hewn and striking pencils do a great job refuting this stance. Nothing in DC’s output looks like Ian Bertram’s pencils, adding a blast of artistic inventiveness to the often times bland and similar looking DC titles. This cartoon-like artwork, made even more striking by the dazzling colors of Dave Stewart, moves the comic along at a brisk pace, giving a tight momentum to even the quietest scenes. Batman and his associates never seem hindered by visuals that look unreal or outlandish. Make no mistake, Batman Eternal #11 doesn’t achieve Lil’ Gotham levels of cuteness, but it does straddle the line between Batman Incorporated and a Justice League Unlimited episode. It is just the right amount of weird-looking to accent the action and never undercut the strong script.

“Very Special Episodes” are a time honored tradition around the holidays and Batman Eternal #11 may be the most unlikely one that we’ll receive. Batman titles have always carried a deep underlying theme of family underneath all the derring-do. Batman Eternal #11 embraces this and succeeds for it. Everyday people have complicated relationships with their fathers imagine throwing double lives and super-villainy on top of that. When DC Comics gets a book right, it is hard to touch them, and from the looks of Batman Eternal #11 it looks like DC might finally be on the road to becoming untouchable again.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Original Sin #4
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Mike Deodato and Frank Martin
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

We’re halfway through Original Sin and we’ve ostensibly gotten nowhere. While the heroes are dealing with the revelation of their deepest secrets in their other titles, the main title has devolved into a lot of tedious in-fighting. Jason Aaron’s work has been in steady decline since issue one because the pacing and story logic have essentially disappeared. Mike Deodato and Frank Martin’s work has maintained the most consistency but where the chunky black inking added an air of mystery early on, it only serves to obscure this story more.

It was wrong to think that the opening issue of this event would be indicative of the rest of the series. Expertly executed character moments have been completely replaced by cynicism and paranoia that’s fueled by the events of the issue three. Many readers cite “event fatigue” as their reasoning for not supporting some of Marvel’s blockbuster summer events and I’m starting to see where they’re coming from. Since Civil War, we’ve gotten more and more events that feature Marvel heroes fighting each other rather than the biggest villains in the Marvel Universe. It only continues here as suddenly everyone is a suspect in Uatu’s death. I still like the cast as a whole and I like the groups that Aaron puts them in but they’ve gotten to the point where their interactions aren’t providing any real clues to the story or saying anything about the characters themselves. Winter Soldier spends most of the issue as public enemy #1 but all of the fighting that happens could have been explained with a few lines of dialogue or if the final page reveal had happened a few pages earlier. I recognize that storytelling decisions are made for the sake of dramatic tension but when information is finally revealed it robs the rest of the issue of any tension anyway. We’re halfway through this event and Aaron has relied on the babbling of unreliable characters to keep up an air of mystery and I’m just not sold on it anymore.

There’s a lot to like on the art side, though. With Mike Deodato Jr., you always know what you’re getting: a heavily inked, fairly cinematic style with a focus on character rendering and a penchant for shadows. This issue is no different and even as the plot spins its wheels and moves away from the noirish detective tone of the beginning, his work still feels like a fitt. He dials back some of the inking to provide palpable moments of tension between Strange and Punisher. The scope of their locale is expertly captured as well as their dispatching of Wolverine and Hulk. Frank Martin also ups the ante by providing some bold color choices to accompany Gamora’s entrance and the ensuing fight scene. It helps separate the action from all the other heroes’ side conversations.

So far in Original Sin, we’ve learned that the Watcher is dead, been reintroduced to a Z-list villain in The Orb and had a plot point in issue three become nothing more than a red herring. As the book approaches its second half, the plot is leaving a lot to be desired. This event is built on fear, secrets and paranoia but that’s nothing new. Fear Itself had similar themes and left most readers wanting because of it’s inconsistent execution and disappointing conclusion. If Marvel insists on going back to the well by featuring these themes, they owe it to their readers to serve up something that ruminates more on these ideas rather than just sending their characters on a wild goose chase that ultimately teaches them and the reader nothing.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Thor: God of Thunder #23
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina
Letters by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

You never forget your first experience with a great metal album. The thundering guitars and the machine gun beat of drums barreling through an epic, vivid set of lyrics all culminating into a viscerally entertaining experience. Jason Aaron writes Thor: God of Thunder like Mastodon makes records; heavier than lead with a sudden jolt of emotion hidden within the guitar solos. With this last issue of the current arc, The Last Days of Midgard, Aaron, Esad Ribic, and Ive Svorcina pull out every stop in sight to deliver a blockbuster finale that never forgets that Thor is, underneath all the troll punching, just a big 'ol softie, both in the present and the future.

Jason Aaron returns to the narrative device of running concurrent storylines starring two different Thors during various points of his life for The Last Days of Midgard, thus giving #23 two separate satisfying finales that never feel dependent on each other. Aaron has essentially been writing multiple Thor solo titles since the opening issue, which is what makes this Thor run stand out above the rest. I’ve often joked that Jason Aaron was a man born specifically to write Thor and with each issue, he strengthens my argument. Thor: God of Thunder #23, along with this entire plot, both re-grounds Thor back to Midgard after his jaunt through the Nine Realms during the last arc and once again displays the dazzling heights that a Thor story can soar to. Thor: God of Thunder is every bit a rock opera starring Thor. Issue 23 is also a comic that features almost wall to wall action and it never feels excessive, instead it just rockets the comic forward, making the entire issue read in a rush of excitement. Jason Aaron has always been a writer who excels at action scenes and #23 is a feast. Aaron brings both the present and future battles to galaxy rumbling conclusions that feel genuinely weighty. Thor’s adventures have a way of changing the face of Earth itself and Thor: God of Thunder #23 may cost Thor the heaviest price of all.

While Aaron stocks #23 with action throughout, it is his character work that makes this finale a truly outstanding comic. Aaron seems to understand the man beneath the god, both in the present and as the future King of Asgard. He writes him as haughty, bull-headed, confident, and kind. Jason Aaron could very well be writing a Thor run for the ages, much like J. Michael Straczynski and Walt Simonson before him. Surrounding Thor are other characters that are more than a match for Thor’s skill and starring power. Aaron writes Roz Solomon and the Sisters of Thunder as stars of their own comic that just happens to have Thor running around in the background. I’m sure I’m not the first person who would slavishly devote my pull list to a Sisters of Thunder ongoing title. These characters aren’t spectators in Aaron’s script, they are fellow warriors and deadly capable ones at that. Thor: God of Thunder #23 also features two beautiful moments involving Thor, an emerging trend in Jason Aaron’s work with the character. In the spirit of full disclosure, and because we are all friends here, I will admit that the last page of this comic made me cry and that is NOT the first time Jason Aaron has brought a tear to my eye with an issue of God of Thunder. This title is amazing because it is being handled by a writer that isn’t afraid to tell emotional stories or stop for these character beats amid the battles and set pieces. Thor: God of Thunder #23 is a top to bottom great finale and yet another amazing comic from Jason Aaron.

Also contributing to the greatness of this issue are the always amazing art team of Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina, a pair of artists who are also so good at drawing the God of Thunder that they seem fated to do so. Ribic makes us feel every blow in #23 as Thor the Avenger leaps into battle with the Minotaur and his troll minions. He also stages King Thor and Old Galactus’ final confrontation exactly as colossal as you would expect from a battle between the two. Though I enjoy Ribic’s art for the obviously epic reasons, #23 finally illustrated exactly why I love Esad Ribic on Thor: God of Thunder: his sound effects. Nobody draws sound effects like Esad Ribic. They look like the still frame sound effects from Batman '66 but taken deadly serious. They are a comfortable and effective staple of comic book storytelling in the hands of a vast talent. Ive Svorcina also out does himself on this issue, particularly with his use of negative black spaces in the King Thor scenes. Svorcina delivers a feeling of dread to these panels with tendrils of black creeping through the dusty colored panel. When Ribic and Svorcina are doing an issue of Thor: God of Thunder you would be hard pressed to find a better looking book on the shelf.

If Thor: God of Thunder had been published during the late 70's, people would have painting panels from it on the sides of their van. THAT is how metal Thor: God of Thunder #23 is. Aaron, Ribic, and Svorcina are firing on all cylinders with this finale issue. This creative team has really yet to hit a low point with their work together on this title. As a fan of the series, I get excited when I see their names on the solicitations. Many metal songs have been written about Thor and Asgard, but if you want a perfect metal experience packaged as a stellar comic book, look toward Thor: God of Thunder #23. So raises your fists high and bang your head as hard as you can, the Thunderer wants to see you thrash.

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