Multiversity: The Just #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Ben Oliver and Dan Brown
Lettering by Clem Robins
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
One the the greatest strengths of Multiversity is its ability to introduce multiple concepts that come from opposite ends of the superhero spectrum and tie them together with one central idea. Grant Morrison continues to remind us that fiction is a powerful thing and that comic books specifically are a powerful weapon. On Earth-16, crime is finished and the progeny of the world’s greatest heroes (and villains) are nothing more than celebrities, “doomed” to merely exist in a world that doesn’t need them. Ben Oliver is the artist for this chapter, and his realistic style fits the TMZ-tinged parallel future. But with all these mysteries mounting, is the creative team really moving toward some sort of substantial coup de grace to way we think about and relate to comic books as a medium and an art form?
Morrison is not shy about his favorite parts of comic books. The endless space for imagination, the power of a printed sigil, the in-your-face, fourth-wall-breaking nature of covers like Ultra Comics and its spiritual predecessor, The Flash #163; all of it informs Multiversity. Morrison places his tongue firmly in cheek in this issue having actual comic book characters talk about the validity of comics as art and a form of entertainment. Damian Wayne says that “real life” is more interesting than any comic book and we’re meant to chuckle along because, yeah, it would be to a guy who’s best friend is the son of Superman. But just before that, we see the effects of a comic book on this universe. Morrison immediately brings back the idea of the “cursed” comic book, and in this case, it has very real consequences. Megamorpho is dead, and it’s all because of that comic book. Suddenly, we have a “super-mystery on our hands!”
What I like most about Earth-16 is the heroes’ (both new and old) desperation for something to do. It almost seems that in the constant battle against good and evil, they never really had to process the death of loved ones or really take inventory of their lives. It was always on to the next battle or problem. With nothing else happening except parties and the occasional historic battle recreation, there’s something hollow about their existence. They’re forever stunted, mentally and emotionally. Hell, they all still wear their uniforms! Morrison’s been great at showing us the possibilities inherent in any one superhero universe. These characters have always had the potential to play these roles in a story like this. There just hasn’t necessarily been one like this before. That’s why when it all comes crashing down, it’s just as much fun to read as when he’s building it up.
Ben Oliver is the right artist for this book. The meta-narrative takes a sort of critical eye to the idea of comic book so it makes sense that the art style for this book would be more grounded in realism. It makes the events that play out seem more like television or a documentary film. It’s almost like we’re watching one big episode of “Superhero Big Brother” and waiting for the fallout. Will Batman and Superman stay friends if Batman keeps dating Alexis Luthor? Will Atom get invited to Sasha’s party? Is Green Arrow really going bald!? It’s frivolous, but these are the kinds of questions that are driving these characters. Oliver is able to make us care with strong character renderings and excellent expression work but he’s really able to nail the big action scenes, too. The painted nature of his color work is going to draw some comparisons to Alex Ross, but I don’t think it quite has the scope or overly serious tone that Ross’ work tends to carry. It’s not that Oliver's work is light. It’s just lighter than what we’ve seen before.
Multiversity: The Just might end on an obvious note, but I think it’s the one that anyone reading would want to see. The characters are starting to wrap their heads around the idea of these comics leaking through from other worlds. The writing is on the wall, er... it’s literally in those books, and the heroes that are able to put it together quickly will be the ones who will be saved or able to save others. Morrison simultaneously puts the “lowest common denominator” superhero plot and the “heady deconstruction” of the superhero on the same pedestal in this issue, taking shots at both while still making it clear that he reveres both idea and that they have place in the same narrative. I think that Sister miracle’s tweets at the end just about sum it all up. “The mayhem begins. #party to end all parties. Parallel world! Isn’t it nuts?” Indeed, it is.
Amazing Spider-Man #8
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, Antonio Fabela, Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Amazing Spider-Man continues its one-two punch, as Dan Slott and Christos Gage give us a team-up with Ms. Marvel as well as a devastating follow-up with May "Mayday" Parker - the MC2 Spider-Girl! In many ways, this issue actually feels like a reversal of the previous one, as Kamala Khan and a special guest star steal the show, while Mayday's harrowing introduction to Spider-Verse feels a bit more one-note.
People have taken to holding up Kamala Khan as the new Peter Parker for months, but in Amazing Spider-Man #8, Slott and Gage actually make mention of this in-universe - and the comparison couldn't be more apt. It's incredibly endearing to watch Peter patiently take this new hero under his wing. (And the title, "Ms. Adventures in Babysitting," couldn't be any more spot-on.) Could you imagine Otto Octavius trying to jar a teen superhero out of shock by inviting her to chuck him as part of his "slingshot" maneuver? Like Kamala says, "This is the best day ever!"
What's great about this first story is that Slott and Gage effectively balance their two superheroic leads, giving Kamala something to do, but also letting Spider-Man actually get some solid hits in. And without giving too much away, Slott and Gage bring back an obscure character from the recent Learning to Crawl miniseries that effectively redeems a heretofore bland creation. Combine that with a super-effective couple of pages that gives Silk a new costume, and you've got a winner.
The other great thing about the first story is the artwork. It's bright and peppy thanks to Antonio Fabela's colors, and it suits the relatively cheery story to a tee. Giuseppe Camuncoli's characters are incredibly expressive - especially the wide-eyed Ms. Marvel - and his fight choreography is spot-on. (Check out Spidey's thunderous "slingshot" kick if you don't believe me, or a spectacular panel of Spidey dodging Kree eyebeams.) Teaming up with Cam Smith, I'm actually very impressed with how smooth Spider-Man looks - in a lot of ways, Camuncoli's take on the character is reminding me of a stockier version of Joe Madureira. All in all, not a bad artist to emulate.
The second story, featuring the MC2 Spider-Girl, is almost more depressing than you'd expect. Maybe it's because of the long history of the character, and the relatively brighter tone of her adventures - or maybe it was the fact that you thought Mayday made it out with a happy ending. But Slott writes up a devastating second story that gives the older Peter Parker one last chance at heroism. If there's one thing I didn't like about this backup, however, is that it gave Peter a spotlight at the expense of May - with two pages of epilogue featuring the rest of the Spider-Verse crew, six pages just doesn't feel like enough. On the plus side, however, Humberto Ramos really nails Mayday (and especially her baby brother Ben), who alternates from terror to grief to bloody rage just through one torn lens.
With Ms. Marvel, Spider-Girl, and even a no-name villain from Spidey's past, it's easy to enjoy Amazing Spider-Man #8. No worlds are saved, few characters undergo massive change, but it's a rollicking adventure filled with good cheer and a decent sense of humor. Sometimes that's enough. While this issue isn't likely to reinvent the wheel, Amazing Spider-Man remains an eminently solid read.
Arkham Manor #1
Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Shawn Crystal and Dave McCraig
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Arkham Manor is the latest addition to the almost-dozen Batman family books that are currently being published in the New 52, not to mention the weekly Batman Eternal and the growing number of digital-first titles. The immediate point of difference, of course, is that this one comes to us from the popular (mostly) Marvel scribe Gerry Duggan, predominantly known for his plethora of Deadpool issues and unique brand of humor. The latter is not something one often sees in a Batman book, so the presence of Duggan provides a glimmer of hope that this book may forge new territory in the Batman universe.
As the issue opens, tragedy has befallen the historic Arkham Asylum, and Bruce Wayne has allowed Gotham’s powers-that-be to house the inmates in his ancestral home, which is promptly renamed to Arkham Manor (which is handy, because it’s also the title of this very book). In some of the more poignant moments of this debut issue, Wayne realizes just how much of his formative years were wrapped up in the building, and indeed, how many of his companion Alfred Pennyworth’s were as well. It’s this sense of place that Arkham Manor draws upon, and it will be curious to see how much of the ongoing series restricts itself to the interiors of a house full of secrets.
Yet Arkham Manor doesn’t immediately distinguish itself from the rest of the Bat-pack, and the steady Batman-driven narration and investigative thrust could have originated from any Batman or Detective Comics issue. Duggan’s sense of humor only shines through on a few occasions, and it is disarming and pleasingly welcome when it does. In an almost throwaway gag, Batman comically beats down on some would-be street ruffians, making them apologize to their intended victim. It’s a scene where the cowl could just as easily be removed to reveal Deadpool in disguise, and we’d all accept it as incontrovertible fact. Yet these moments are singular and sparse, never overcoming the gloom of another reliable detective yarn.
Artistically, Shawn Crystal brings that distinction to the panels, and from the beginning works with colorist Dave McCraig to create an enveloping environment. The minimalist color spectrum ranges from autumnal oranges and greens to a more clinical blue/grey slate found in the deeper corners of the night. Crystal’s art, complete with speed lines and fluid, rough-hewn figures, has a touch of Sean Murphy’s recent Batman work, and is easily one of the highlights of the issue. His Batman design has a chin that anticipates Ben Affleck, and a final page reveal casts the Dark Knight in the most imposing of lights.
Like Gotham Academy, the aim of Arkham Manor is one of pointing a microscope at a specific building in Gotham City, and potentially exploring all the hidden elements within. Unlike that book, this new title has yet to determine how it will be differing itself from any other Batman title, as this first arc has a very familiar “Bruce Wayne undercover” vibe to it. Yet if Duggan can pull the book away from Batman and focus on the manor as a character instead, there is the potentially here for this to be an intriguing new entry to the Bat-verse.
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Matt Milla, Laura Martin and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
It's like Biggie said: "More characters, more problems."
Or was it, "More artists, more problems"? Either way, Marvel's latest event book is feeling more crunched than ever, and while there are a handful of brighter spots to AXIS, this comic still has plenty of room for improvement. With Magneto and his cadre of criminals joining the fight against the Red Onslaught, the end of this saga's first act is frenetic, confusing and strangely anticlimactic.
In the previous issues, we've mentioned that Rick Remender has too many characters with not enough pages to accommodate them all, and that problem continues with AXIS #3. With 10 supervillains joining the fight, Remender has to give them enough moments to justify their attendance, yet also wrap up the growing tensions between the Avengers and the X-Men (yes, again). If it sounds like an insurmountable challenge, well, it is - the first half of the book just jumps from villain to villain, including a two-page sequence of heavy hitters Magneto, Doctor Doom and Loki conducting a particularly bland takedown of a Sentinel. The result is a choppy read, with some characters, like the Hobgoblin or Jack O' Lantern, barely appearing in the book at all.
To his credit, however, Remender does manage to squeeze in a few more strong character moments, and that makes a world of difference compared to the previous two issues. While it might be jarring to jump to these particular characters, it might not surprise you that Deadpool and Genesis - two characters Remender redefined in his landmark Uncanny X-Force - steal the show this week. Wade's surprisingly endearing as he cozies up to Tony Stark, hoping to get a job with the Avengers (and singing the Monkees while he does it), and Genesis' gentle encouragement of telepath Quentin Quire is a surprisingly sweet moment amid all the violence. Some of his villains also earn their spotlight, particularly the Enchantress setting up a seduction spell, and Carnage getting an injection of redneck as he says bowing to the Red Skull "just ain't country."
Yet I think I would probably just chalk up this issue's weaknesses to just a little bit of poor setup on Remender's part if there wasn't the artwork holding it back even further. Leinil Francis Yu struggles under the sheer number of panels on each page, and it makes his layouts - and thus, our reading experience - suffer greatly. Yu leans far too much on letterbox panels, which almost always are filled up with dialogue and too-small characters. With ostensibly a new super-team joining the book, Yu also doesn't really establish them effectively, making you forget that villains like Jack O' Lantern, Enchantress and Mystique are even in the book. Additionally, inker Gerry Alanguilan goes too heavy on the shading, with overrendered characters like the Red Skull, the Sentinels and Carnage being drowned out. When Yu has room to breathe, however, he looks great - a panel of Deadpool stabbing Sabretooth is a great heroic moment, and his take on the Enchantress is appropriately sultry.
Since Remender tipped readers off to the conclusion of this fight last issue, it's a shame to see that the Scarlet Witch's inversion spell results in... well, nothing, yet. The last six pages of this book are all denouement, but we're going to have to wait until AXIS #4 to see heroes become villains and villains become heroes. Instead, we're given a dialogue-heavy tweak to the status quo that feels almost like an afterthought - who takes custody of the Red Skull if Charles Xavier might still be in there? It evokes Avengers vs. X-Men, but there's nothing visual about it - once you have 18 balloons on a page, it winds up getting overwhelming.
Now that the initial struggle against Red Onslaught is over, I want to hold out hope for the future of AXIS. Remender's done the necessary evil of introducing 30 characters for this storyline, and now that they don't have to be in such close quarters, I'm hoping the second arc will focus more on the shift in characterization rather than the lackluster superpowered fireworks. Despite how this review might read, I am a Rick Remender fan, and I know he's capable of strong pacing, striking fight choreography, and even better characterization. Here's hoping this comic can switch axes, moving from impenetrable blockbuster to a smart new spin on the heroism in the Marvel Universe.