Best Shots Comic Reviews: MULTIVERSITY - SOCIETY #1, AVENGERS #35 (Time Runs Out), More

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics

The Multiversity: The Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors of the Counter-World #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Walden Wong and Dave McCaig
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“Forgive me, but in this room of very dangerous things, that comic book is the most dangerous thing of all.”

The menagerie of meta-messages and maddening machinations of plot continue in the latest installment of Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity. With the stage set in the inaugural issue, Morrison gets to dig into some of the other worlds in the Multiverse. This time it’s the retro-cool Earth-20 featuring “The Society of Superheroes.” Led by a Doctor Fate that apes the Rocketeer’s get-up, the S.O.S. is essentially this Earth’s unlikely Justice League, and they’re pressed into battle by the threat of Vandal Savage and the forces of Earth-40. Morrison might have packed a bunch of new ideas in here, but they’re grounded by some familiar core concepts that really elevate the entertainment value of the issue. Chris Sprouse has been pencilling the periphery of the DC Universe the past couple of years, but he makes a star turn in this one.

Immortal Man acts as Grant Morrison’s narrator, and it’s an excellent fit. The world-weariness of an immortal is palpable on the page. This is a being who has seen the world change a thousand times over. It allows Morrison to write from a perspective that demands attention but isn’t omnipotent. Immortal Man is still doubting. It’s a blessing and a curse to be burdened with the weight of the human condition for eternity.

And while Immortal Man might not be immediately recognizable to readers, his counterpart, Vandal Savage, should be more familiar. With Savage, Morrison is able to introduce the idea that parallel points in the multiverse produce similar but equally opposite results. Immortal Man and Savage. Abin Sur and Sinestro. Doctor Fate and Doctor Faust. Blockbuster and the Mighty Atom. Lady Blackhawk and Lady Shiva. Powersets and ideologies at war with one another - comic book superheroes doing what they do best: making metaphors into something that can be settled with punching. Immortal Man serves as something of a catalyst for the idea that your actions have weight. The things you do matter. They can cause ripples that you are powerless to control. By the end of the issue, he recognizes that the world is so much bigger than they ever could have imagined and that it doesn’t end with them. The inclusion of Doctor Faust is apt, then. Moral integrity has been thrown to the wolves it seems and in the face of unlimited knowledge and strength, parallel worlds will be powerless to stop this looming threat.

Chris Sprouse is a great fit for the almost historical setting of this issue. In an alternate Earth, where WWII has yet to happen, we’re treated to a group of heroes that looks like they’re straight out of the old pulp mags. Doc Fate’s helmet plus flight suit combo is instantly recognizable, and even Abin Sur‘s devilish Green Lantern looks closer to Alan Scott than Hal Jordan. There’s a curious nod to Doctor Manhattan present in the Mighty Atom’s mask, and it’s hard to ignore. (After all, if Doctor Manhattan exists in all times at all places, could he exist in all worlds in the Multiverse in some way? Could he have seen this Mighty Atom and let it influence his own forehead insignia? Or maybe vice-versa?)

Sprouse’s character work reminds me of the Dodsons at their absolute best, but without the plastic sheen that some of their work has. Sprouse’s work feels much more natural. Dave McCaig’s colors are very subdued, lending themselves to the retro nature of the issue without drowning us in sepia or something equally heavy handed and inappropriate. Sprouse balances the pacing incredibly well. He’s able to give us dogfights and fistfights with equal energy and attention to detail. Despite the fact that Morrison has a lot of information to give us, the pages are never overwhelmed by text.

Multiversity has featured an approach similar to that of Morrison’s Seven Soldiers but instead of just focusing on one character at a time, we’re getting a new slice of the Multiverse. That could make it tough for some readers to keep up but Morrison includes enough callbacks to his previous work that parsing together the plot shouldn’t be all that hard. Plus, these issues have played very well as standalones even without the context of a larger whole. Sprouse was a great talent for DC to dust off here - I hope this signals the beginning of him getting more work, because this issue was a pleasure to read. I think there’s been a lot of trepidation and questions with regards to Multiversity. Would we get good, weird Morrison or just weird, weird Morrison? Would he call back to his DC work that was well-regarded or fairly derided? How would the New 52 affect his original intention? So far, Morrison has eased any sort of doubt. Spanning the far reaches of the DC Multiverse, Morrison is two-for-two in creating an impressive, expansive and entertaining event.

Falcon as Captain America on the cover of Avengers #35
Falcon as Captain America on the cover of Avengers #35
Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers #35
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Jim Cheung, Paco Medina, Nick Bradshaw, Dustin Weaver, Mark Morales, Guillermo Ortego, Juan Vlasco, Frank Martin and David Curiel
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Jonathan Hickman assembles with a world-class team of artists for Avengers #35, as he leaps ahead eight months for an all-new, all-scary Marvel Universe. While this issue is more of a teaser than anything else, Hickman's ideas seem sound, and his juggling of his large cast works well with the rotating crew of artists.

With Axis coming and Hickman assuring us that his long story on New Avengers will bear fruit, it's clear that we're headed for a darker version of Marvel's premier superheroes, taking the Superior Spider-Man formula and replicating it on a massive scale. With that in mind, it's interesting to see the kinds of scales that Hickman is playing with as he examines Earth's Mightiest Heroes - Ex Nihilo and Abyss herald a great destruction from the stars, while Cannonball and Smasher have made some big steps towards being the most successful superhero couple since Reed Richards and Sue Storm (although if you read this issue, errrr, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself). And S.H.I.E.L.D.'s more ruthless measures concerning its... "Tony" problem... well, it's the sort of big ideas that play to Hickman's strengths.

But I've had some trust issues when it comes to Hickman lately, because for all his big ideas (see: Infinity, S.H.I.E.L.D., etc.), he oftentimes has issues with executing the follow-through. And to his credit, that's not the case with Avengers #35 - in particular, a chase sequence featuring Amadeus Cho really makes this issue feel gripping, while you really can feel the palpable friendship and love between Cannonball and Smasher, even when Sunspot and Manifold nearly cause an interstellar incident trying to pay them a visit. The one weak spot in the bunch is Hickman's bromance between Thor and Hyperion, mainly because the two characters are still so stoic that it's hard to connect.

What also helps this book is that it's a collection of stellar artists each pitching in to create one excellent collaborative whole. Having the expressive Nick Bradshaw working on Cannonball and Sunspot is an inspired choice (particularly when we watch the sleep-deprived Cannonball literally bounce off the walls trying to shut off his alarm system), and Jim Cheung absolutely steals the show when he draws an Avengers team trying to capture a rogue Illuminati member. (As an aside, Hickman deserves a special shout-out for the inspired choice to lead S.H.I.E.L.D.'s bag-and-tag team.) Paco Medina, meanwhile, adds a nice animated bounce to Thor and Hyperion. The weak link of the bunch is probably Dustin Weaver - that said, it's not even so much a style issue as much as a content issue, as he's responsible for drawing all of the sequences done in the vacuum of space, leaving things a little less than energetic in the backgrounds.

Time is running out for the Avengers, but it's nice to see that even in the bleak times ahead, Hickman and company can still find ways to stoke our enthusiasm. For the first time in a long time, this series feels like we're getting some real bang for our buck, and considering this is mostly just a tease for a post-Axis future, that's a real victory. With tremendous stakes and a murderer's row of artistic talent, Avengers is back in rare form.

Batman and Robin: Futures End #1
Written by Ray Fawkes
Art by Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs and John Kalisz
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

In Batman and Robin: Futures End #1, writer Ray Fawkes shows us both the inevitable tragedy that Batman continually puts himself into and the inevitable hope that Robin will represent, no matter who fills the mantle. While it’s certainly disheartening to see Bruce making the same mistakes repeatedly, the fact that we got to see Zero Year's Duke as Robin — and have him be an effective and determined Robin at that — more than overshadows Batman’s shortcomings.

Although Heretic is blazoned on the cover, his presence is merely reduced to a plot device to enable Batman and Robin to grow together as a team. This is a particular frustration, as Fawkes definitely knows the kind of potential the character has — Heretic represents one of Batman’s greatest failures, and Batman can’t know if it’s the same Heretic, a different one, or even Damian back from the dead. Although Alfred notes this throughout the narrative, Fawkes doesn’t deliver as much of an emotional punch as needed and Heretic suffers from that. We all know that Batman’s story strength is really only as strong as his villains’. In this case, Alfred and Duke are strong enough as secondary and support characters to prop up Batman, Heretic and the entire story as a whole.

As always, Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs are such a complementary team. They’ve worked together for so long — at least it seems so long — that it appears they have a fantastic synergy in what they’re able to accomplish as a penciller-inker team. The only bearable parts of the overextended and drawn-out fight scenes is the fact that Nguyen and Fridolfs drew them. In the end, the pages devoted to the one-on-one fight between Batman and Heretic grow dull and uninspired because it becomes clear — and adamantly remains clear — that Batman can’t win this on his own; Fawkes beats that over the head of the reader in how the fight played out visually on the page. Duke is much more interesting as a character, and the fight only redeemed itself once he entered into the fray.

Despite the fact that we’ve seen Bruce again and again fall into the same patterns of isolation and pushing those close to him away, Fawkes still manages to make an emotional impact after the climactic battle. Nguyen makes Batman appear so vulnerable and emotional that when he and Robin have their page at emotional reconciliation, we still feel something. It still tugs at our heartstrings the way it tugged at Duke’s heartstrings. It’s clear that Duke has a lot of respect for Bruce and Fawkes and the art team are able to convey that in such sparing actions — both in the dialogue and visually — that we wish the rest of the issue could have been so impactful.

Don’t get me wrong. The fight scenes are enjoyable, even if they get monotonous. Seeing Duke’s fighting style in his two short sequences make up the lackluster middle Batman’s fight suffer from. Regardless of the emphasis on the actual, physical fight, we could still glimpse at Bruce’s paternal pain at having to fight Heretic again, and that was a major success on Fawkes’ part. Another big standout from the issue that should be addressed is Duke’s costume — it looked fantastic. From his hairstyle to his unique-looking mask, his entire Robin uniform paid homage to the ones that came before but still managed to stand out. It’s minimalistic and utilitarian fusion in look made it work with Duke’s direct personality.

By the end of the issue, you should feel like it was an issue worth reading. Ray Fawkes is able to distill the relationship between Batman and Robin into this one-shot glimpse into the future. Although we’re not privy to how Duke became Robin besides a cursory mention and although we don’t know the exact details of their relationship as partners, we get all the information we need to so that, by the end, we’re rooting for Duke and for them to work out as a team. That’s what marks a successful Batman and Robin story: at the end of the issue, it was about the bond between Bruce and Duke, and we really can’t ask for more than that.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Superior Spider-Man #33
Written by Christos Gage and Dan Slott
Art by Guiseppe Camuncoli, John Dell and Antonio Fabela
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Otto Octavius continues to grow his army of Spider-Men, as Superior Spider-Man leans heavy on the action this week. Collecting eight Peter Parkers from across the universe - and I have no doubt the number of Spider-people will grow as this Spider-Verse event continues - this feels like a fantastic fantasy league that you never knew you wanted until now.

With so many comics plodding along with overexplanation or overly complex high concepts, it's a bit refreshing to see Christos Gage just let 'er rip - it's Spider-Men versus energy vampires, as the executioner known as Karn winds up bringing some unexpected backup. Gage plots his fight well, with some great reveals (Cyborg Spider-Man has a great intro) and some slick pacing. Almost every character gets their moment to shine here, with Spider-Man Noir throwing a smoke grenade or Spider-Monkey saving the day with a well-placed flick of the tail.

Otto Octavius, however, steals the spotlight as per usual, as he's still balancing on a precarious perch. He has to stop Karn and his homicidal twin siblings, or else risk them tracking him down in Peter Parker's body (and harming his girlfriend, Anna Maria Marconi)... but at the same time, he's also alone, even in a world of parallel copies of himself. It's one Octavius amid a flock of Parkers, and it's a nice touch that it doesn't sit well with him. But like Dan Slott did before him, this is a great opportunity to show what makes Peter Peter, and what makes Otto Otto - it's all about the contrast, and Gage gives himself some nice setup here.

The other thing about this book is that it reinforces something we all probably knew - people love Spider-Man. They love looking at him. It's the reason why all those strobe effects of the character lasted so long - you get to see twice as much Spidey doing acrobatic, superheroic things. And in that regard, Spider-Verse really hits readers' sweet spots. Guiseppe Camuncoli gets to draw as many Spideys as you want, adopting different costumes, anatomies and styles. A double-page splash seeing Spider-Men flying in with all these different poses is about as thrilling as it comes, and small bits like the Spider-Men scrambling after Otto is tackled is a great bit of detail work with only a half-page to work with. Camuncoli really sells his splash pages, in particular, but also the different ways Peter Parker can get stabbed, whipped or manhandled.

The one downside to this book is that the last quarter feels a bit jarring, after 15 pages of straight action. When faced against a family of unstoppable foes, will this gang of spiders finally put aside their no-kill rule? It feels a bit ponderous to get there, however, as Gage has to belatedly set up some rules for why Otto sticks around, and why expanding his army might not be the best idea. Still, there's some decent character work to be had, particularly a moment where Otto reveals how much he misses his girl back home. The other downside is the backup story illustrated by M.A. Sepulveda, which gives us a decent origin for Karn, but not one that feels particularly compelling or stylish enough to merit the extra bump in cost.

It's a simple concept, but simplicity sometimes is the formula to success - put a bunch of Spider-Men in a room together, and watch them beat the holy heck out of a bad guy. Or as the ol' Parker luck might have it, have their collective web-slinging cans handed to them. That's fine - Spider-Man's unique abilities and fighting style makes him an intrinsically compelling character when it comes to action, and Gage and Camuncoli don't let up with this issue. Clearly more Spider-Men can equal more fun.

Justice League: Futures End #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Jed Dougherty, Gabe Eltaeb
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

There is a certain sense of synchronicity to Justice League: Futures End issue. When the New 52 rebooted the flagship team of the DCU, Geoff Johns took us five years into the past, to a time when misdeed and mistrust had yet to see the League form. Now, three annual crossover events later, this line-wide flash-forward sees a similarly disjointed League faces off against a dystopian landscape that yet-to-be-revealed traumas have wrought. In many ways, it’s like starting all over again from the end of the story.

Continuing the “HomeWorld” story that began in Justice League United: Futures End, the majority of this issue is a big brawl between the inhabitants of the penal colony on Mars, and what is left of the Justice League. Some villains, such as Vertigo, are barely glimpsed, while others (namely Grodd) serve a mostly to serve up exposition between punches. It’s a necessity in the compressed formats of these “Futures End” issues, and somewhat unneeded after the first half of the story in the previous issue.

Yet there is a lot to like about this twisted vision of the future, Lemire drawing on Alan Moore’s take on the Charlton character and elevating Captain Atom to Dr. Manhattan proportions of quantum megalomania. Grodd and Equinox’s squabbles were also something that we could have happily seen more of. Yet as great as some of the characterizations feel, by its very nature Justice League: Futures End can’t help but form a massive “B story.” The stakes are just high enough to make for an interesting punch-up, but not so much that there ever feels as though the consequences will be lasting.

To remain consistent with the Justice League United issue, the art team of Jed Dougherty and Gabe Eltaeb return for this issue. With his slightly elongated faces and limbs, Doughtery still delivers what amounts to be a classical inspired superhero story. Engorged to a giant size, Captain Atom needed more scope than a standard comic page could provide him with, although some of the moments between Equinox and Captain Atom are quite elegant in their simplicity.

The beauty of some of these “Futures End” titles is that they can wrap up character arcs well before their time, but its a mixed blessing. Both Captain Atom and the Martian Manhunter gain a sense of closure by the end of this issue, with the former’s reminder of his humanity being particularly poignant. Yet as Martian Manhunter walks off like Shane into Mars’ sunset, declaring that (like Poochie) his planet needs him, readers will be left wondering if this little foray was all much ado about nothing.

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