Best Shots Reviews: AVENGERS: RAGE OF ULTRON Advance, BATMAN ETERNAL #51, PAST AWAYS #1 & More

DC Comics March 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with a six-pack of reviews including an advance look at Marvel's Avengers: Rage of Ultron! So let's kick off today's column with Spectacular Scott Cederlund, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Multiversity...

Credit: DC Comics

Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin, Keith Champagne, Jaime Mendoza, Gabe Eltaeb and David Baron
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1 is not a comic book. It's a meme wrapped inside a dream of superheroes and apocalypses that Morrison has been trying to make a reality since he began writing DC comic books. Since the 1990s, Grant Morrison has been on a quest to bring sentience to the DC Universe. If any line of comics could achieve independent thought, it would be the DC of Siegel and Shuster, of Schwartz and Weisinger, of Wolfman and Perez, and of Morrison and Johns. There have been so many DC Universes, and on this eve of Convergence and the post-Convergence world, Morrison's Multiversity shows the endless possibilities and the strict limits that are inherent to these stories of men and women who can fly and possess superhuman powers.

Ultra Comics, our hero in this issue, isn't a product of DC, but is an injection of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby aesthetic into this four-color world, a comic brought to life like a much better looking Frankenstein. It is like Superman is too small of a character to be our hero/savior to the threat of the Gentry, the infection corrupting DC's heroic comic book legacy. Ultra Comics is the distillation of the meme of superheroes. He's literally four colors swirled together to create the ultimate ubermensch, complete with blonde flowing hair and stunning teeth. Ultra looks like the perfect superhero but he's just another symptom of the infection of these comics in the world. He's Lee and Kirby's Him (later to become Jim Starlin's Adam Warlock) brought into a DC Comics event to be the next superhero messiah or a vessel to tell this story through.

The narrator of this comic (Ultra? Morrison? The Gentry? A sentient DC Multiverse?) speaks to "You!" the reader of this comic. From the very first pages, Ultra who has already lived through the events of this comic warns you, "We're in the oblivion machine! It's a trap! Don't turn the page!" It's a wonderful illusion that Morrison and Doug Mahnke play on their audience, making you feel like you are as much a part of this event as the pulp and ink that you're holding are. But as much as they're talking to you, they are also talking to all of the other characters in this series. This issue has played a key plot point since the first issue as it's bounced around other realities and appeared as the haunted macguffin that has driven this series. You become a co-conspirator of this issue just like the heroes and villains of past issues have been.

Doug Mahnke (and his posse of inkers) isn't a horror artist, but there is no better superhero cartoonist who is better at presenting the surreal horror that exists in these kind of stories. His artwork is so sharp and on point that even a generically produced hero like Ultra Comics looks the part of every comic book messiah struggling against a corrupt system. The design of the character of Ultra Comics is the perfect melding of DC and Marvel, from Superman's color scheme to the great tunic that extends beyond his shoulders (think Adam Warlock or even early Thor.) Morrison points out that he's every hero ("Superhero Behavioral Codes -- Golden Age to Modern Inclusive") and Mahnke draws him as much as a template as he is a character. As Ultra Comics slips into this increasingly surreal four-color world of infected Earths, Mahnke's art becomes darker and even the characters in it become more terrorized by the things that they are seeing. If Ultra Comics moral code contains elements of "Modern Inclusive," Mahnke's art contains the postmodern decay that the DC universe has spent the last couple of decades struggling against.

Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1 is not a comic book event story. It's a story about comic book events. That's why there's no Clark Kent Superman or Bruce Wayne Batman or Diana Prince Wonder Woman here. There's the concept of a Superman and of a Batman. They are ideals personified in the Barack Obama Superman that Morrison has been so enamored with for the past eight years. That's the infection of these comics in action as Morrison and Mahnke hammer away at the walls that separate fiction and reality. This comic book exists as a comic book in all of the other 51 DC universes and it exists here as a comic. Morrison has finally created his infection of realities and brought an artifact out of a flat comic book into a world of dimensions and experiences. But what does it all mean? What has the magician actually accomplished other than bending a publishing company into his will?

As Morrison finishes up the victory lap that is Multiversity, his grand comic ultimately remains about good guys fighting bad guys. It's all manufactured and produced from the same place. Ultra Comics and the Gentry are each their own constructions in the comic and they're the constructions of the very real Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke. The creators push and pull you down the paths that they want you to go and we follow, looking for meaning in every panel and line of dialogue. Even as in the end, Ultra Comics returns to the beginning, so to does Morrison in his career as Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1 echoes his Animal Man and Flex Mentallo stories. If there is any infestation going on with these comics, we should be investigating how these ideas have lodged in Morrison's mind and how he can't escape them.

Credit: Marvel Comics

New Avengers #32
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Mike Deodato Jr. and Frank Martin
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

To call New Avengers as a whole bleak would be a bit reductive, but this month’s issue surely earns the moniker. Last seen flinging themselves into the void of space, Jonathan Hickman’s Multiversal Avengers squad make their last stand as the ticker on the front cover portents that we have just two months before time runs out. New Avengers #32 finds Hickman meticulously clearing the board for the finale to come, aided by some truly evocative pages from Mike Deodato Jr. and Frank Martin. New Avengers #32 grimly reminds us that in the Marvel Universe even gods may die, but not without a final stand in the face of total entropy. Everything has its time and everything dies, but not without a final rumble of thunder.

Of all the Avengers squads in Jonathan Hickman’s run, the Multiversal Avengers have surely gotten the shortest shrift. Last seen months ago leaping into the void to locate the source of multiversal death, New Avengers #32 finally gives us a check in on their progress, and it has not been going great. The team, made up of the New Universal characters and led by Hyperion and Odinson, has been constantly met with nothing but dead Mapmaker robots and no new information. That is, until they finally do meet the force behind the collapse and are systematically dismantled by them. Jonathan Hickman has been spinning a lot of plates during New Avengers, so the wholesale slaughter of the Multiversal Avengers doesn’t feel like as big of a shock as it should, but it is refreshing to see him clear out the cast in a big way going into the finale. Hickman realizes that this is just one of many narrative bows that he has to tie up before time actually does run out, so his characters go out in a big enough way to honor heavy hitters like Hyperion and Odinson.

And go out they do. New Avengers #32, despite the ominous cover, isn’t just a book about Hickman taking characters out; it has aspirations that aim just a bit higher than that. Each of the Multiversal Avengers get big hero moments before their grisly ends, and while Secret Wars may put their future in doubt, each characters goes into that good night looking like a true hero. Nightmask regresses himself beyond return to get the team to where they need to be. Abyss and the Ex Nihili sacrifices themselves to transform the attacking robots into something gorgeous, teeing Starbrand up for a great zinger. This leaves the remainder of the team to go out in a blaze of glory befitting of their power levels. Hickman mines a lot of emotion out of these final moments, buoyed by the unexpected kinship between Thor and Hyperion. New Avengers has never been bleaker than it is during this quick installment, but at least Hickman doesn’t leave us all feeling cold as we see them all fall.

Much of that warmth comes from Mike Deodato Jr. and Frank Martin, both of whom take this script of gods standing in the face of death and turn it into a colorist’s showcase. Deodato has always been an asset to New Avengers and his work is solid here as well, but it is Frank Martin who steals this issue. Frank Martin’s deep space has never looked more alive than is does in New Avengers #32. Each panel contains varying degrees of dark purples, inky blue-blacks and bursts of orange heat emanating from the heroes as they leap into action. Martin even manages to throw in some really interesting lighting effects with the entrance of the killer robots that eventually fell our team. New Avengers may not be everyone’s favorite Avengers title going right now, but there is no denying how great of a team Deodato and Martin make.

And so it went, that gods who traveled to spaces unseen by human eyes were trampled in the unbending march of time. And what's even more tragic is that the story continued on without them. New Avengers #32 isn’t the best issue of the series so far, but it is still a required one. Jonathan Hickman, Mike Deodato Jr. and Frank Martin have delivered an issue that coldly went about the dark deeds that were needed in order to get us in the headspace required for the upcoming finale. If New Avengers #32 is any indication, than things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better and all we can do is read the stories, hoping for some version of a happy ending. Whether we get one or not, that still remains to be seen.

Credit: DC Comics

Arkham Manor #6
Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Shawn Crystal and Dave McCaig
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Batman Eternal brought a ton of changes to the status quo for Gotham’s Dark Knight and maybe none with as much potential as Arkham Manor. Superhero comics have a history of breaking characters down in order to build them back up for readers in ways that reinforce the central concepts inherent to them since their creation. Forcing Bruce to lose Wayne Manor was a move that perfectly hewed to this concept. As the events of Batman Eternal forced Bruce to be Batman more and more, he lost a strong part of his identity/ humanity in the process. Gerry Duggan and Shawn Crystal explored these themes further in Arkham Manor as Bruce assumes the identity of Jack Shaw as means to catch a killer terrorizing the inmates. But by #6, with the main storyline essentially wrapped up, we’re given a half-hearted epilogue that puts a haphazardly tied bow on the title.

I lamented Arkham Manor’s lack of identity when I reviewed #2, and with the series ending here, that problem seems even more bizarre. Over the course of six issues, Duggan has excelled at giving us a few humorous moments between the inmates and getting us from point A to point B in terms of the plot, but we haven’t gotten anything more. Other Batman Eternal spin-off series have allowed us to look at the Gotham mythos through a slightly different lens. Duggan’s conclusion reads like something that has been cut unceremoniously short. There are plenty of clues to that end. The mystery of Dr. Arkham’s lies to Bullock still hasn’t been solved, but the character wasn’t fleshed out enough to really give readers pause. Seth Wickham’s name makes it seem as though he was meant to be a catalyst for something larger - a wick is, afterall, a good way to set something on fire - but he’s dispatched quickly and isn’t a character that anyone will be clamoring for. Duggan’s script seems to be solely in service of its second to last scene and I’m not sure that we needed a 20-page comic to deliver that information.

With the events of Arkham Manor basically crawling to a halt, Shawn Crystal does his best with essentially nothing. One quick action sequence reminds us what Crystal can do when he’s given something dynamic to work with but the rest of the issue is full of nothing more than conversations. It’s here that Crystal’s crosshatched shadows and extra linework looks out of place. Instead of adding to the tone and dynamism of the book, they make his character renderings look too busy. His expression work is still generally very strong - I’m very partial to his work with Mister Freeze - but some of his the characters look old when they probably shouldn’t.

I’m left wondering if Arkham Manor ever really had a chance. Duggan clearly had some farther-reaching ideas that we didn’t get to see play out. But was the concept ever really strong to begin with? I think the world of story made for a ton of potential to see some interesting relationship dynamics amongst a bunch of characters that we know but maybe that hewed too close Arkham Asylum for DC’s tastes. that said, the execution was still similar to that seminal work, in that Bruce shows up to Arkham and has to get to the bottom of everything. Despite a real lack of a hook, Shawn Crystal’s art helped buoy the series and hopefully, this isn’t the last we see of him. There is room for a lot of different kinds of books within the Batman/Gotham City dynamic, but Arkham Manor is further proof that you need an airtight concept to really succeed.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad #1
Written by Dennis Hopless
Art by Tigh Walker and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The creative team behind Big Thunder Mountain Railroad #1 deserves at least some credit for trying to adapt a ride into a comic. It’s not an easy task, clearly, and they definitely try to put their own spin on what amounts to taking an attraction and making it a viable story.

This isn’t a unique concept, per se, as Disney has tried this before with the very successful Pirates of the Caribbean series, the not so successful Haunted Mansion, and most recently with the upcoming Tomorrowland. But Big Thunder Mountain Railroad #1 relies heavily on old, tired tropes rather than trying something unique, so what we’re given is a story that utilizes cliches and stereotypes resulting in an average and ultimately forgettable story.

The comic focuses mostly on Abigail Bullion, the daughter of a protective and aloof gold magnate, but Abigail yearns for excitement over properness. There’s a handsome, Brad Pitt-esque miner named Chandler who strikes her fancy, and a dogged foreman named Willikers who’s pushing the owner, a driven yet empathic owner named Mr. Bullion, to dig deeper into the mine, safety be damned, to find more... bullion.

The comic has sparks of originality when Abigail enters the mine and encounters an electronic anomaly, but the formulaic characterization is where the comic falls short. From Abigail’s first moments - where she openly discusses her oppressive predicament with her horse - to the closing page where a masked stranger (who looks oddly like the handsome miner) appears, the story never moves much out of a comfortable, familiar path. The titular railroad barely makes an appearance, though its role has yet to fully be employed, but we can pretty much guess at where the story’s headed.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of the Old West, and the bright spot at least is Tigh Walker and Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s art. They capture the rugged, dusty feel of a mining town, and you can almost hear the chug of a lurching train, the rattle of wobbly wagon wheels, and the jangle of a saloon piano. Walker’s illustrations are cartoonish in the best sense. They capture the Disney tone of soft features for the heroes and rough edges for the villains (or less than reputable characters).

Beaulieu provides great colorization as well, and the comic is at least fun to look at. The eerie glow of the mine, in particular, is where Beaulieu really makes his mark. The dank, cavernous interiors are spookier due to his touch and if there’s anything more I’d want to see from this comic, it’s what’s hiding in the recesses of Big Thunder Mountain’s prosperous veins.

I hope Marvel goes against the grain in the future and provides more original and intriguing stories using Disney properties. The pieces are there, waiting to be utilized. They just need someone to take a chance.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman Eternal #51
Script by James Tynion IV
Art by Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez and June Chung
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Last week’s issue of Batman Eternal left a lot of people scratching their heads. The big mastermind turned out to be the tertiary Cluemaster, a villain known as being more of a knock-off Riddler than a viable intellectual rival for Batman. This week’s issue is the explanation, a standard “villain reveals how he organized his villainous scheme” story. Of course, hubris is the downfall of every superhero rogue, and Cluemaster is not immune. But the final page does offer a nice reveal that definitely changes the story and which hearkens back to Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV’s entire work with Batman.

The moments with Batman aside, Tynion reminds readers that Batman’s story is only one part of a much larger tale. His focus is really to show how much the characters have changed over the last fifty issues, most notably with Selina Kyle and Jason Bard. James Gordon has some of the best dialogue of the entire comic, and his rousing speech - given to Bard while Gotham burns in the background - is enough to get me fired up for the final issue. I couldn’t help but get chills when Gordon tells Bard “Step up and do your damn job.” Bard has a long way to go to prove he’s a hero, after the mess he crafted for Gotham and the way he continuously blasted Jim Gordon, but in this moment you can almost forgive his earlier persona.

The same can be said for Selina Kyle. Her rise to power is punctuated in one whip crack where she drags one of her “associates” across a table and asks him “Who do you work for?” It’s a powerful scene that reminds readers Selina is no longer the sexy, flirtatious foil to Batman, but now a kingpin who has complete control over Gotham’s underworld.

But back to Cluemaster. While he spends the majority of the comic running down his step by step process, you can’t help but be drawn in. Tynion’s dialogue is solid and engaging. I wanted to read how Arthur Brown fooled the world’s greatest detective and his explanation is stellar. He lords the moment as he tells Bruce “You’re human, and when you make mistakes, you make them bigger than any of us.” Of course, he ends up making one of the cardinal villain mistakes - talking too long - but even Bruce’s attempt at fighting back is quickly quashed. Of course, the final page saves Batman from meeting his maker, but it doesn’t look like our hero is out of trouble just yet.

Artisically, Alvaro Martinez gives us a brutalized Bruce Wayne with imagery that is so visceral, you can’t help but cringe looking at his haggard, bloody face. Bruce has never looked more defeated than he does here with his hollowed eyes, dirty scruff, and slashed skin. The utter hatred with which he stares at Cluemaster is palpable, and you can hear the grit in his dialogue (which Cluemaster even comments on, saying “You can stop with that ridiculous voice”).

And Martinez clearly has fun drawing a gloating Arthur Brown. Arthur clearly enjoys his victory, and you can see it in his victorious pose. This is why his dialogue, which is plentiful in this issue, works so well because he’s earned the right to have this moment, so he should enjoy it while he has the chance.

June Chung’s colors remind us that every moment is occurring while Gotham burns to the ground, and the ever present tint of fire helps to sell the idea that Batman has met his match. The only part of the character that still looks lively is his eyes, and props to Chung for the vibrant blue irises he gives Bruce Wayne, reminding readers that Batman may look defeated, but he still has his unyielding determination.

The comic is the culmination of what Snyder, Tynion, and consulting writers Ray Fawkes, Kyle Higgins and Tim Seeley have been building towards. It’s a brilliant walk through a master plan that caught a lot of people - Batman included – off-guard. We’re reminded of what makes a hero a hero, and while the comic is mostly a breakdown of how we got here, it still offers a few final surprises.

Weekly comics are usually a gamble because not every writer can keep the story interesting or on track, and not every artist can keep up with the demands of the schedule. Batman Eternal is a discourse in how to do it correctly. This is one more piece of the greater puzzle, but easily one of the best in the series’ entire run, and with one issue left, Batman Eternal looks like it still has a few tricks left up its sleeve.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Past Aways #1
Written by Matt Kindt
Art by Scott Kolins and Bill Crabtree
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

"Trapped in prehistory--a.k.a. our present!"

It's a bold proclamation on the solicitations of Dark Horse's Past Aways, the industry's latest spin on the tried-and-true trope of a comic book super-science team. Unfortunately, that excellent high concept doesn't ever come across in the actual comic. Besides a quick recap on the credits page, Matt Kindt and Scott Kolins' new super-team winds up in a low-stakes adventure that's high on archetypes and low on context. While the idea of scientists from the future sounds like an intriguing one, the end execution feels less than forward-thinking.

From the very cover of the book, it's clear that the characters of Past Aways are characters we've seen before. We've got the slacker scientist leader, the superstrong female powerhouse, the empathic tech wizard, the emotionally fragile teammate with issues, and the indestructible jerk. The problem is, you've probably seen these archetypes in books and TV shows ad nauseum, and the thing that unites all of them - the fact that they've been flung into a past that seems hopelessly primitive - is barely touched upon this issue. It's hard to root for characters that feel this one-dimensional and this rehashed, so gags like Art getting a news alert on the toilet or a mini-dinosaur squirting flesh-eating acid out of its butt - doesn't quite score a chuckle. Indeed, when it comes to the latter, it ends up making the entire first issue feel like a dud, because how tense can things really get if it barely takes two members of the team to get the job done?

In many ways, even though this is a #1, it feels like Matt Kindt expects for us to know who the Past Aways already are - and without giving us the benefit of name captions. Part of this happens to come from some occasionally odd choices by artist Scott Kolins, like two characters fighting each other while wearing the exact same costume, making it impossible to tell who's who, or why one is always able to cheat death through sheer force of probability - but ultimately, beyond the expository captions on the cover of the book, we don't know anything about almost any of these characters. Right now, the most interesting one of the bunch is the super-strong, religiously toned Marge, but even then, her introductory bar fight is a cliche we've been seeing long before the days of Hugh Jackman in the first X-Men movie. After awhile, you can't help but wonder - why not start the story from the beginning? Give us a chance to set up the characters, and to set up their status quo? From their costumes down to their stock archetypes, Past Aways feels like it wants to be a adventury superhero book more than a book about science, but without any of the hook a Fantastic Four or an Imaginauts would give you.

Since the story itself feels a bit warmed-over, it feels discordant to see an artist as strong as Scott Kolins on this book. For the most part, he sells the comedic aspects of the script as best he can, particularly when the tiny dinosaur begins rearing its ugly, err, rear to cause some terror in Athens. (There's also a very darkly comic bit where Ursula, the team's Sensitive Person, is setting up an extremely elaborate machine in her desperate hopes to try to kill herself.) That said, there's also some surprising missteps here - for example, there's an extended sequence featuring slacker scientist Art and indestructible frenemy Phil where the two wrestle and spring into action for six pages, all while wearing full face masks that prevent readers from knowing who is who. It's solidly constructed, but it's also completely unclear to the readers what is going on here.

Since the days of the Fantastic Four, the idea of a team of quirky science-themed adventurers has been something that's resonated in comic books, whether you're talking about Iron Man or Think Tank or Imaginauts or Challengers of the Unknown or Nowhere Men. The list goes on and on, but what sets each of these books apart is that they each have taken a different angle or tone and ran with it, resulting in rich reads that can go as far as their heroes' imagination can take them. Past Aways, however, reads like recycled superhero stories, and what's worse, it doesn't have to be that way. Beyond Kolins' artwork, this book has a good hook to work with - it's got a great time travel high concept - which is why it's so disappointing that it refuses to use it.

Advance Review!

Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers: Rage of Ultron
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Jerome Opena, Pepe Larraz, Mark Morales, Dean White, Rachelle Rosenberg and Dono Sanchez Almara
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

With Avengers: Age of Ultron looking to be the biggest comic book movie of 2015, it's a no-brainer that Marvel is already preparing to ride the wave with a bevy of android-themed offerings. Yet few books seem to be as flush with potential as Rick Remender, Jerome Opena and Pepe Larraz's original graphic novel Avengers: Rage of Ultron. Feeling more like two (lengthy) single issues rather than a meatier trade paperback, Rage of Ultron looks great, but still suffers a bit from a fractured storyline.

Much of this has to do with two very conflicting ideas of what the Avengers are these days: Are they the iconic archetypes of the Joss Whedon movies, or are they the more eclectic lineups of an always-churning comic book industry? Rick Remender tries to have his cake and eat it, too, as the first part of the book features Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Hawkeye, while the latter portions feature Spider-Man, the new Thor and the cast of Uncanny Avengers. Unfortunately, it's no contest who wins here - Remender's opening salvo is spectacular, as he drops us right in the heart of an Ultron invasion. When you see Steve Rogers hurtling his shield underneath a bouncing, boisterous Beast, it feels like Remender and Opena are totally in the zone - the fight choreography is on-point, the various personalities feel strong, and it feels like we get to see two of Marvel's A-plus creators tackling Marvel's A-plus characters.

Unfortunately, that's only the first part of the graphic novel. And that's where things go a little bit off the rails.

Once the movie Avengers are introduced, you want to have a consistent cast, and as the book jumps to the present day, you see that consistency go out the window. Because many of the Uncanny Avengers are still fairly new to readers - in particular, Sabretooth and the Vision's new status quos haven't been particularly explored even in the main book, and they seem to clash tonally with characters like Starfox, who feels like the odd man out through the whole book. It's hardly a fair comparison, but this group just doesn't pack the punch that known quantities like the movie Avengers have. The main ties from the past to the present are Hank Pym and the Vision, whose conflict lies with whether or not artificial intelligence should be afforded the kind of mercy that living, breathing supervillains receive. (That dynamic is admittedly a bit jarring, especially since in Avengers A.I., Hank was such an advocate for machine life.)

In many ways, once you really dig into Rage of Ultron, it feels sort of like the cart is being put before the horse - or in this case, the android before the Avengers. While the balance with some of the heroes feels off, Remender absolutely nails Ultron's motivations as a villain - he's a critic of humanity, unable to see anything positive, and much of that is because he feels so betrayed as Hank Pym's "son." It's Shakespearean, in a way, and it's Pym's dynamic with Ultron - his own coldness, his shame, his guilt for mistreating his creation - that's probably the highlight of the book. But what's shocking is Remender's finale, which alters Pym in a pretty tremendous way, considering this is an OGN separate from any concurrent Avengers series currently on the market. Similar to The Death of Captain Marvel, this is one Marvel graphic novel that is not going to be putting the toys back in the box they way they found them.

Artwise, Jerome Opena and Pepe Larraz trade off well, with their transitions being largely seamless. Opena's linework inevitably comes off a bit grittier than Larraz's, and his fight choreography - particularly one sequence where the Beast bounces over a shield-slinging Cap - looks absolutely gorgeous. Occasionally, however, there are a few bits that could use a bit more clarity - a few of the establishing panels, like a gang of androids liberating a Stark Sentinel, make it a little difficult to tell how many people are going to be in a particular sequence. Larraz, meanwhile, seems to really attack some of the Ultron-infested characters with gusto, in particular, a zombified Spider-Man as he tackles Sabretooth to the ground. Going back to the idea of the movie sensibilities versus the comics aesthetic, the colors by Dean White, Rachelle Rosenberg and Dono Sanchez Almara may feel a little sickly and otherworldly compared to the bright skies of the Avengers movie, but I think that actually plays up to how diseased Ultron is in both body and spirit.

While this comic attempts to follow up on one of Disney's most bankable movies of the year, you can't help but wonder why Rage of Ultron can't commit to the same cast of characters that have struck so much gold in the cineplexes. The benefit of original graphic novels like this is that you don't have to be beholden to continuity - you can pick and choose characters and eras at your leisure - but in its efforts to include multiple eras of Avengers, Rage of Ultron loses something in terms of its focus. Still, if you can get over the abrupt shift in focus, this is a decent graphic novel with some gorgeous art and some very striking characterization for Marvel's premier bad robot.

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