BEST SHOTS COMIC REVIEWS: Advance Looks at GOTG #18 & INHUMAN #4, Plus Multiversity, More

Marvel Comics August 2014 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has an extra special treat for you, as we not only have two advanced reviews from Marvel, but the Best Shots team has a new writer on board - please give a warm welcome to Kat Venditti, as she takes on a trio of this week's biggest books! But let's kick off with some secrets and some revelations, as we take an advance look at the latest Original Sin tie-in with this week's issue of Guardians of the Galaxy...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Guardians of the Galaxy #18
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Ed McGuinness, Mark Farmer and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Given all the hype following the Guardians of the Galaxy film, the actual comic book series has been flighty and unfocused - and before you get too amped up, this week's issue from Brian Michael Bendis doesn't really buck that trend. But what it does do is start to wrap up some long-standing threads that have dangled since this series' debut: Namely, how is Star-Lord still alive following the events of The Thanos Imperative? And what does that mean for some other major Marvel cosmic characters? The answers here are still frustratingly incomplete, but thanks to Ed McGuinness giving this issue a big shot in the arm visually, it's still an engaging bit of sci-fi action.

For the past year, Brian Michael Bendis hasn't gotten too concerned about the return of space-faring ne'er-do-well Peter Quill, a.k.a. the legendary Star-Lord. So admittedly, it feels a little abrupt to find Quill suddenly tied to a chair and interrogated by Gamora, the most dangerous woman in the galaxy, asking about the fates of the other characters who were thought to have died with him. Make no mistake, even though this is a new volume of Guardians of the Galaxy, this issue really focuses as a flashback to Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's acclaimed run, as Quill describes he and Nova's final fight in the Cancerverse against Thanos. As a premise, it feels like we're finally answering questions that are long past their expiration date - Thanos has already long come back in Infinity, and we've had a new Nova since Avengers vs. X-Men, and injecting Drax into the mix feels like it's adding in complications that weren't even needed.

In other words, if you're reading this comic for the story, you're probably out of luck. Bendis doesn't fully answer all his questions, and in true Bendis style, this issue ends when we're really only halfway through the story.

This is where Ed McGuinness comes in. This is a showcase for McGuinness, 100 percent. His characters are bulky, strong, larger than life, and watching Nova blaze with energy as he runs towards Thanos is great to see. (Not to mention seeing Quill in his old Annihilation-era costume!) Admittedly, the energy of this issue is sapped a bit by some too-dark coloring by Justin Ponsor, but make no mistake, McGuinness draws some of the best superhero slugfests in the business. There's a real cartoony cleanliness to his lines, particularly the ways that his characters are so expressive as they beat the tar out of each other, and being paired up with inker Mark Farmer is a great matchup.

That said, it's hard to spoil a comic like this, because there's really not much to it. Bendis is only starting to tease the answers to Star-Lord's seeming resurrection, and even that feels like window dressing to the battle royale between Star-Lord, Nova, Drax and Thanos. It's a comic that looks great, but is also almost completely calorie-free in terms of its narrative. Thankfully, Ed McGuinness is a beast of an artist, and that's what saves Guardians of the Galaxy #18 - if it was a lesser artist working on this issue, this would have been a massive fizzle. As it stands, it's a fun diversion, even if it doesn't measure up to the hefty bar that their Hollywood counterparts have set.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Inhuman #4
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Ryan Stegman and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

A new artist takes the reins for Inhuman #4, as Ryan Stegman joins writer Charles Soule in this new world order for Medusa and her extended family of metahuman royalty. Even with a guest appearance by Thor and a worthy debut from Stegman - after all, following superstar artist Joe Madureira is no mean feat - this series still feels plodding, as our lead characters still feel flat, one-note and predictable even after four issues.

That's not to say that this comic doesn't start off strongly - Soule's new character, the Reader, is kind of a cool wild card, a blind man with a seeing eye dog and a cache of powers and technology. Much of this has to do with Stegman's depiction of the character - he's got a very cool post-apocalyptic-Western thing going on, and a nine-panel sequence of the Reader swooping in on Chinese military operation is one of the more striking sequences in the book. Stegman's style isn't quite as grand and sweeping as his predecessor's, but there's a bit more of a street-level, on-the-ground feel. This is the Inhumans brought down from the heavens, and now they have to live in this scratchy, dirty, cartoony world with the rest of us.

But the Reader is only half of the book - and the rest of this series feels like it's still trying to find its way. Medusa in particular feels like she's been going through the same shallow character arc over and over and over again, and we're only four issues in - she's going to assume an aggressive posture, another character is going to question her on it, and Medusa is going to remind everyone that she is the rightful Queen of Attilan, and what she says, goes. While Thor has a lot of similarities as another royal demigod, his inclusion doesn't really add much to this mix, particularly after Captain America was guest starring in this series only a few issues ago.

People have mentioned Game of Thrones meets X-Men as an inspiration for this series, and it's not a wrong comparison - there just happens to be better comparisons out there. Having Thor in this issue actually felt like this series was showing its true colors a bit too much - Marvel may be (allegedly) trying to duplicate their success with X-Men in another franchise, but ultimately it feels like they're cutting in on the royal intrigue of Thor and his family of titles. Having Attilan drop into the all-too-human New York feels (as Thor himself notes) all too similar to Asgard hovering near Broxton, Okla., and Lineage's manipulations against the throne feel very, very similar to Loki's. It doesn't help that the less anachronistic characters like Inferno and Flint feel completely flat - they're lacking that very real fear and self-loathing that made mutantkind so compelling. They're in the heart of a conspiracy, but how are we supposed to care if they're so nonchalant?

Inhuman is a book with a lot of potential, if nothing else for the off-kilter powers and unforgettable visuals these characters possess. A queen with living hair? A super-strong behemoth with hooves? Even characters like Lineage and the Reader, while their powers are vast and ill-defined, have a cool visual style. However, even with Ryan Stegman on board, there needs to be more than just the art to hold us over. Soule needs to give us a reason to root for these characters, a reason to empathize with them, if we're going to join Medusa's army. This may be the way things are done in New Attilan, but now that the Inhumans are in the spotlight with their own series, they're going to need to launch a charm offensive with readers fast.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel #7
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Jacob Wyatt and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Kat Vendetti
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Ms. Marvel #7 concludes Kamala’s team-up with teacher and begrudging new BFF Wolverine, and what’s not to love about this duo? At first impression, they couldn’t seem like a more opposite pair, but G. Willow Wilson writes some spectacular master-and-student teaching moments, where Wolverine gives sagacious lessons that perfectly complement Kamala’s determination and allow her to showcase some pretty heroic moves, as if we didn’t love her enough already.

Following the last issue, Ms. Marvel #7 gives us Kamala and Wolverine where we last found them: in the sewer battling the Megagator sent by cockatiel-cloned the Inventor. It’s a premise that’s ridiculously successful. And more than that, it grounds the setting for this series. The Inventor is Kamala’s foe, Jersey City is hers to protect, and who could ask for a better hero? Kamala is so tangible and recognizable as someone we can see in ourselves. G. Willow Wilson effortlessly captures the voice of a teenager fighting her nemesis with one of her heroes without ever turning her into a caricature, and we get to live vicariously through Kamala with each installment. She is everything I wish I could be, post-Terrigen bomb.

Speaking of, we get a glimpse of where the series is leading in Ms. Marvel #7. Kamala is less in the forefront this time to pave the way for her expanded presence in the Marvel Universe. It’s good for establishing what role she plays on Earth-616, but where this series had been killing it so far is with Kamala herself, and her relationships with her friends and family. In this issue, Bruno, Sheikh Abdullah, et al are exchanged for interactions and connections with Kamala’s superpowered peers. It’s a positive in the sense that we’re likely to see more of Kamala elsewhere. The more Kamala, the better, I’d say. But what this issue is lacking is, well, Kamala. It’s only a minor gripe, as this difference will certainly allow Kamala the chance to learn more about the nature of her powers in the near future. Plus, we still get to hear a lot of her distinct voice and personality in G. Willow Wilson’s brilliantly written dialogue, so there isn’t too much to be missed.

The artistic team has yet to falter in this series. Jacob Wyatt’s cartoonish and animated style is a seamless and welcome match for this book in anticipation of Adrian Alphona’s return. One page in particular is a standout as Wyatt depicts Kamala and Wolverine traversing the meandering sewers with an abundance of eye-catching detail along the way. Together with Ian Herring’s colors, the dungeon-like stages of this episode are brought to life, complete with Kamala’s embiggening powers. And as always, Jamie McKelvie’s covers are icing on the cake. Kamala’s fangirl grin juxtaposed with Wolverine’s surly scowl is the selfie of my dreams and fully captures the youth and heroics of this series. There are few books out there that are near-perfect from cover to cover. Everyone contributing to Ms. Marvel is doing all the right things to keep me coming back for more.

Multiversity #1  with Cover Text
Multiversity #1 with Cover Text
Credit: DC Comics

The Multiversity #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Nei Ruffino
Lettering by Todd Klein Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Multiversity is finally here, and it marks Grant Morrison‘s return to the DC Universe since the end of his Action Comics run. We’ve been hearing about this title for years at this point, but considering that it’s been floating around since the pre-New 52 era, there had been some skepticism. Could Morrison finally give us a workable understanding of continuity that also counts in the New 52? Or is this going to be another weirdo narrative from Morrison that ultimately leaves us disappointed? Morrison’s been known to dig deep into the annals of comic book history in his Big Two works, and Multiversity is no different. But it doesn’t really require a reader to brush up on past works in order to enjoy it, and that’s one of its greatest strengths. Morrison gives us something big and potentially overwhelmingly confusing in some of its minutiae, but the big-concept stuff shouldn’t be hard for even the most casual fan to keep up with.

In much the same way that the Batman and Green Lantern titles sort of ignored the onset of the New 52, Grant Morrison decides to pick up this story seemingly right where he left off with Final Crisis. The meta-narrative kicks off almost immediately with Nix Uotan reading an issue of Multiversity that doesn’t come out for for a few months in our world but by including it here, Morrison is drawing a direct line of comparison between Nix’s experience and our own. It’s here that Morrison makes his first connection to the history of the DC universe: the first appearance of the Multiverse in Flash #123 from 1961 where we see Barry Allen reading a comic book starring none other than Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick. Suddenly, the captions directed straight at the reader take on new significance. Who is trying to talk to us? What are they trying to say? Morrison has always maintained that comic books have a sort of mystical element to them. After all, superhero insignia are not that different from certain forms of religious or occult symbolism. Taking on the guise of an animal (Batman, Spider-Man etc.) has totemic significance. The empowerment of these symbols should not come as a surprise. Morrison is trying to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, not to try to scare you but to make you question the possibilities. Who is reading the comic books about our world?

Morrison moves pretty quickly in this one introducing new characters about as fast as he introduces the concepts. The President Superman that we saw in Action Comics #9 makes his triumphant return and he’s quickly joined by Captain Carrot, Dyno-Cop (an obvious analog of Savage Dragon) and various other slightly askew versions of popular DC characters. For as big and weird as some of this concept might be, Morrison falls back on an old standard. Superman asks why the House of Heroes has been assembled and Harbinger answers, “Because multi-trillions of lives are at stake! Because the threat is absolute! Because the hour has come to summon the greatest heroes of fifty-two worlds!” It’s almost impossible to be more straightforward than that.

Ivan Reis steps in on art duties, and he makes this one pretty easy on the eyes. The “greatest heroes of fifty-two worlds” are definitely not the ones that we’re used to seeing. Still, Reis renders them with power and grace. It’s so important that they are presented this way because it reminds readers that, while these characters may not look entirely familiar, they are still to be considered the same way you would your more traditional Justice Leaguers. And that’s what helps keep Morrison’s script moving. a lesser artist definitely wouldn’t be able to sell readers on a character like Captain Carrot, but instead this creative team has him poised to become a breakout star (similar maybe to one space-faring Raccoon). One cause for concern though is that characters outside of our protagonists are not treated with the same level of care. The Retaliators and Lord Havok (analogues of a few Marvel Comics characters) seems almost like stock comic book character throwaways with little to really tie them to their Marvel-616 counterparts. Similarly, the designs for the Gentry are without any significant, defining features which, if they are to be taken seriously as a force against our heroes, is probably something that should be considered.

There are a few slight missteps in this one but nothing that should really take reader out of it. Instead, it’s Grant Morrison doing some of what he does best: repackaging and redefining a basic take on caped crusaders by turning expectations on their head and amplifying the stakes. Sure, most superheroes have to save the world on an issue by issue and arc by arc basis. But what’s bigger than saving the world? Well, Morrison thinks it’s saving every world and fighting off a foe that threatens the very fabric of existence. If you can get behind that concept and you want to see a patchwork group of heroes pull together to save the day complete with all the twists and turns of a Morrison story, then Multiversity is for you.

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New X-Factor #12
Written by Peter David
Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Kat Vendetti
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

“And what makes us a team?” Danger asks the right question in this issue, to which we finally get an answer as the team prepares for the Serval Industries press conference. This chapter of All-New X-Factor is a move in the right direction regarding group dynamic, trading outside threats for a more introspective look at the team, an aspect which had yet to be firmly approached in the first 11 issues.

For a while, this iteration of X-Factor never really felt like a cohesive team for me. Peter David’s long history with the series and the roster of characters are what drew me in, and while each member of the team have been interesting on their own, there had yet to be anything to make them seem connected to each other. That’s not to say they should have been playing nicely together all along, but even their differences had rendered them disjointed and dissonant rather than a unified, albeit ragtag team. All-New X-Factor #12 rectifies that.

This issue’s steady pace allows room for plenty of character interaction and introspection, and some much needed confrontation. This book had been missing Quicksilver’s surreptitious meetings with Havok and the implications behind them, and Peter David starts this issue strongly with the two seated at their signature bar reminding us why Quicksilver is on the team. There is some strong character work here as Pietro’s motives are not only reiterated but expanded — a trend we see throughout this issue with each member of X-Factor. Even Warlock and Danger have their own distinctive personalities that mesh well together in a sweetly rendered scene. But some of this issue’s best moments come from conflicts within the team, rather than external attacks. Confrontations don’t come as a result of Memento Mori’s short-lived siege in the previous issues, but rather from how individual characters handled, or even incited, the events. That’s where this issue succeeds, and perhaps where the series as a whole works best: not in the enemies X-Factor faces, but in the way they function as a team.

Lee Loughridge’s colors consistently transform throughout this issue to appropriately capture the mood with each scene change, from his muted browns as Gambit confronts Snow, to his vibrant yellows that match this book’s futuristic and corporate tone. Carmine Di Giandomenico’s art continues to be expressive and dynamic, which is particularly an asset to this chapter’s reflective and responsive theme. While the plot flows seamlessly through each character’s interactions and confrontations, Di Giandomenico effectively captures the emotional beats, from Snow’s dubiety, to Doug’s remorse, and especially to the varying moods of Quicksilver, who turned out to be the star of this chapter. Who we don’t see enough of in this issue is Polaris, the named leader of X-Factor. This series begins with Havok’s concerns for her instability, yet there has been little to drive home any of the readers’ concerns. This issue does a lot to develop the rest of the team; unfortunately, Polaris misses out.

The press conference itself serves to reestablish each member on the roster and remind us what we’ve been investing ourselves in and helps to make this a nice jumping-on point for new readers without letting the pacing or dialogue suffer throughout the majority of this issue. However, the pacing does start to fall apart near the end of this comic, and the dialogue becomes exposition-heavy and feels like too many ideas were being written into too few pages. Had there been more room to flesh out the ending, this issue could’ve landed at an emotionally driven conclusion, but it misses the mark. This ultimately doesn’t detract too much from this chapter—it just didn’t quite stick its landing. Still, this issue does a lot to mend the dissonance among this X-Factor team, and Peter David nails it with character development, though Lorna is a bit neglected. X-Factor’s group dynamic is coming together, and it leaves me with optimism for the future of this book. If you had been experiencing any doubts about this series before, All-New X-Factor #12 should fix that.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Daredevil #7
Written by Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez
Art by Javier Rodriguez and Alvaro Lopez
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Events in the vein of Original Sin often result in quick changes of direction and incongruous tie-ins with a smattering of high-profile titles. Yet under writer Mark Waid’s award-winning run on Daredevil, little has managed to curb the momentum of one of the longest character-driven arcs in the title’s history. Drawing on seeds first planted back in Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s 1986 Daredevil: Born Again, Waid explores Matt Murdoch’s past, but not at the expense of forward momentum on the title.

Over the course of the last year, Waid has taken Matt Murdoch from the brink of insanity to the streets of San Francisco so effortlessly that it seems as though the Man Without Fear was always meant to be by the bay. So it is no surprise that his trip deep into the heart of Wakanda feels equally organic, even if it is about as far removed from Murdoch’s native urban jungle as imaginable. Following his estranged mother, the nun Sister Maggie who is there after being accused of crimes against the foreign nation, the sight of Daredevil parachuting into the jungle might be comical if it wasn’t so effectively realized.

While he is in costume for much of this issue, his powers are ostensibly rendered null and void by the enveloping jungle and the advanced Wakandan technology. So Waid, like his main character, uses this completely to his advantage. With his fish about as far out of water as he could possibly be, Waid draws on the real strength of the last three years worth of Daredevil comics and reminds us that Matt Murdoch is also a damned fine attorney as well. It is using his mad lawyering skills that ultimately brings about the major victory, a further reminder (if we needed one) that it is the human and not superhuman aspects of Murdoch’s character that make this book most appealing.

Of course, artist Javier Rodriguez still gets a chance to deliver one of the most effective fight sequences of recent memory. In a double-page spread, a series of gradually expanding tight panels showcases a stylish and close-quartered fight sequence between Daredevil and Shuri the Black Panther. It is brought to a effective conclusion by Murdoch adopting his ‘lawyer pose‘, not only hammering home the above points but throwing a sly bit of humor into an otherwise serious action sequence. Yet Rodriguez really plays with his layouts in this issue, whether it is adapting the radar sense to a jungle environment, or the even tighter paneling of Sister Maggie’s final revelation to Matt. Told entirely in close-ups, and aided by the almost noirish light and shadows of Alvaro Lopez’s inks, Rodriguez controls the pace of what turns out to be a heartbreaker of a sequence.

Waid’s double-bluff in this issue gives resolution to the deceptive retcon of the previous issue, a trick he has pulled on more than one occasion in the past. Here it is even more effective, as Waid plays with our expectations to create something that adds something to the Daredevil canon, without sidelining the important message about postpartum depression. If it sometimes comes off as heavy-handed or wraps up to conveniently, it never feels like it diminishes the ultimate message of the arc. In the words of Matt Murdoch himself, “We should all fail so tragically.”

Credit: Marvel Comics

Original Sins #5
Written by Al Ewing, Ryan North and Chip Zdarsky
Art by Butch Guice, Ramon Villalobos, Chip Zdarsky, Scott Hanna, Matthew Wilson and Jordan Gibson
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Kat Vendetti
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

This week saw the conclusion to the anthology series, and while it had some entertaining stories, Original Sins didn’t always deliver in terms of big secrets imparted by the Watcher’s eye. Issue #5 had some good segments, but the dialogue-heavy Young Avengers sequence bogged down this issue and this series, and Original Sins ultimately did little to embellish the main event.

The core Young Avengers story sees its resolution in this closing chapter, and it’s an underwhelming one. While the cover of this comic shows promise of a thrilling showdown, the stakes never even come close to it. Original Sins #5 essentially consists of Prodigy explaining how the Young Avengers had won against the Hood, while Noh-Varr and Hulkling stand by and listen. The majority of the panels in this segment are visually static, as the heavy exposition allows for nearly no action for Ramon Villalobos to depict. Ryan North does most of the talking here without giving Villalobos a chance to tell the story as well.

What started out as a refreshing and humorous interlude to Original Sin, North’s story quickly became tiresome as his wordy script stretched this story out longer than it needed to be. This segment suffered from too much dialogue that was soon reduced to one-liners and banter that did little to further the plot. While his script did garner a few laughs from me, it became a joke that lasted too long, as this story did. With a more developed plot in favor of the comedy, this segment could’ve worked as Original Sins’ central story. Unfortunately, there was never much happening with these sins alluded to in the event.

Original Sins #5 does have its moments with additional stories provided by Al Ewing and Chip Zdarsky. Ewing writes a story spinning directly out of a scene from Original Sin #6 that involves a pretty big reveal. While there might be mixed feelings on the nature of the revelation, it’s one of the stronger segments in Original Sins #5 and certainly strikes an emotional chord, even if the permanence of this reveal is doubtful. Ewing writes some powerful dialogue complemented by expressive art by Butch Guice that expands on the Nick Fury we’ve been learning about in the main event. It’s a fitting inclusion in the closing chapter of Original Sins and makes up for the lack of intrigue we’d been getting thus far in this tie-in. And this issue ends on a playful note with a two-page story by Chip Zdarsky in which various characters admit some hysterical secrets, though Zdarsky is quick to mention that they’re all non-continuity. As one of the funniest creators making comics right now, his contribution is an asset to Original Sins #5 and a memorable ending.

Despite the weak central story, Original Sins did provide some enjoyable segments. But as the main component of this tie-in, Ryan North’s Young Avengers story should’ve been stronger, and Original Sins suffers for that. The accessibility of an anthology series does make this a fun read as a whole, but Original Sins ultimately does not add much insight to the main event, or even fill in many gaps. With a name like “Original Sins,” you’d think we’d be in for some juicier secrets; the concluding chapter of this story doesn’t deliver on that hope, but it does deliver some worthwhile additional stories, and for that, not all is lost.

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