Best Shots Reviews: AVENGERS #44, MULTIVERSITY #2, ALL-NEW CAP #6, CONVERGENCE: JUSTICE SOCIETY #1

'The Multiversity #2' preview
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers #44
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Stefano Caselli, Kev Walker and Frank Martin
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It started with two men. One, a master of machines that played games within games in order to save the whole of reality. The other, an unbending paragon unwilling to accept the cost of saving everyone. And as the world burned around them, these two men finally imploded; the first of many battles to come. This is how the world ends for Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers, an expansive, tense and occasionally frustrating run headlined by two of Marvel’s most volatile personalities. On the eve of Secret Wars, Hickman’s run ends with the two men that started it, Iron Man and Captain America, finally delivering the scrap promised so long ago as the whole of reality crumbles around them. Avengers #44 isn’t the end for Jonathan Hickman’s tenure with Earth’s Mightiest, but it surely is an explosive overture for the war to come.

Avengers #44 is the culmination of the remaining spinning plates that Hickman has introduced throughout his Avengers and New Avengers run. Not only does he finally fire the universal Chekov’s Gun that is the rogue planet in order to repel the invading Shi’ar Empire, but Avengers #44 is all about the 616 universe finally coming to terms with its own inevitable death. From the very start Hickman has reminded the readers that everything has its time and everything dies and now, forty-four issues later, it is time to collect. While the 616 prepares for its swan song, Hickman also positions Namor and his new Cabal for an invasion in the Ultimate universe, setting the stage fully for the incoming Secret Wars. Hickman, always the writer thinking a dozen moves ahead of the reader, doesn’t allow Avengers #44 to feel like a finale, but more like a grand crescendo hailing the end of this current act. But while Reed Richards, T’Challa, and the Cabal prepare their worlds for war, the real fire at the center of Avengers #44 is the animosity that has risen to a fever pitch between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.

Avengers #44 ends and begins with Stark and Rogers, presenting them as equal and opposing forces. During the comic’s opening we are treated to a scene of the former friends sharing a meal as Stark attempts to convince Rogers of the validity of his and the Illuminati’s plan. Rogers, of course, isn’t having any of it, even when Stark reveals that he found Captain Universe’s daughter and has attempted to deliver to her a normal life. Rogers, ever the soldier, is only concerned with the endgame and how and if they can find a way out of this. “I know we can,” says Stark, only to be rebuked by the Universe herself for his lies. As the issue barrels toward its conclusion, Captain America isn’t concerned with the plan to survive the coming doom or who’s place is secured on the craft they built withstand said doom; his only concern is making Tony Stark answer for his lie. What follows is the very definition of knock-down drag-out as Steve takes Tony to task for building the Avengers Machine for the sole purpose of prolonging the inevitable. Hickman also adds another layer of pathos to the battle by inter-cutting the action with flashbacks to the heady days of Avengers #1 and the birth of the great machine when Marvel’s big two weren’t at each other’s throat. Hickman’s Avengers run has been famous for its large cast of colorful characters, but here at the end, Hickman reminds the readers just who forms the nucleus of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and how diametrically opposed they really are.

Sending Avengers off into Secret Wars is grand, bombastic style are frequent Avengers collaborators Stefano Caselli, Kev Walker and colorist Frank Martin. Caselli takes on the lion’s share of the issue, rendering the last gasps of the 616 and 1610 universes with smooth rounded lines, aided by the naturalist colors of Martin. New Avengers artist Kev Walker gets the honor of handling the epic finale showdown between Stark and Rogers, and it's a doozy. Walker tempers the frenetic action of Iron Man and Cap’s end-of-the-world showdown with the quiet optimism of the time before. Walker makes the audience feel every hit and explosion even as the panels downshift into the blue-hued flashbacks, all leading up to a truly apocalyptic final page.

There was once a grand idea and two men behind it all, aiming to keep the world safe. Now, all that remains are the ashes of that idea and the ashes of a world in ruins. Avengers #44 is a grand mic drop of a comic that offers little to no respite before the wars to come. Jonathan Hickman along with a solid art team wrap up the remaining loose ends introduced in both Avengers titles before unraveling them all, along with whole realities, in the upcoming event. Everything has its time and everything dies and Avengers #44 shows us exactly what that looks like; it looks like cities crumbling, whole fleets shattered in space, and two men, former friends, fighting in the wreckage of a broken machine.

Credit: DC Comics

The Multiversity #2
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Eber Ferreira, Jaime Mendoza, Dan Brown, Jason Wright and Blond
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Grant Morrison has always put forward a lot of expansive, inventive ideas in his work, but he’s had trouble sticking the landing. The Multiversity is no exception; the roller coaster ride through alternate realities abruptly goes off the rails as it comes to a close. Morrison falls back on familiar tropes and plot points that have remained consistent throughout DC’s history, but it's unclear just what we’re supposed to get from that. Is it an indictment of the corporate comics model of the illusion of change? Is there a larger charge against society’s passive embrace of gentrification? It’s hard to tell. Thankfully, Ivan Reis is along for the ride, giving the whole book a professional edge that has it looking better than DC’s other multiversal event title.

One thing is certain: this book is filled to the brim with action. We check back in with the House of Heroes, witness the vampire superheroes of Earth-13’s Dr. Sivana face off with the Superdemon Etrigan and see the fate of Nix Uotan. This is a dense issue even with the added pages. But the opening Earth-13 plot feels like a one-shot that wasn’t fully formed and was tacked on to the start of this finale. The House of Heroes battle with the Gentry and Nix Uotan is, panel for panel, a great superhero fight but does little to illuminate the Morrison’s overarching themes. If we’re going back to the gentrification metaphor that that Morrison introduced at the start of the series, then it gets clumsily resolved in this issue. But the resolution has little emotional or mental impact. The other one-shots were, even at their worst, fully-formed worlds meant to be a clear commentary on an era or approach found in comics history. Morrison’s final issue of The Multiversity has none of that nuance, and instead acts as a race to a finish line that doesn’t satisfy despite some decent characterization.

Ivan Reis has a smorgasbord of big moments in this issue. It’s all about scale and as the threat looms larger than it ever has he delivers some of the most bombastic pages found in comics today. From Red Racer’s multiversal speedster assault to the Thunderer’s attack on the Gentry and Harbinger’s opening the gates of the Multiverse to a host of other heroes, this one is a real treat for readers. And Reis’ renderings of our heroes goes a long way to helping those big moments really sell. The power and rage is palpable on the page so while the narrative itself might leave readers scratching their head, those in the market for some big budget summer blockbuster type action will at least have a good time.

The Multiversity was a huge undertaking, and one that Morrison himself has stated that he wanted DC to use as a platform for more stories. That’s where this story succeeds. I could read an ongoing or a miniseries of almost any one of the one-shots, and Captain Carrot is something of a breakout character, maybe the kind that DC needs to diversify its publishing line. Morrison may have left readers wanting by the end of this story but maybe that was the plan all along. All the forethought and planning was to serve the greatest good that comics publishers can ever get: the almighty dollar. Maybe Morrison was reminding us of those famous lines from Macbeth, that at the end of the day comics are tales “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New Captain America #6
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

With Baron Zemo racing to launch sterilization weapons across the planet, All-New Captain America #6 takes some surprising, even introspective turns, even if Rick Remender isn't allowed to fully commit to them thanks to the tenets of corporate-owned superheroes. Regardless of the occasional cheat, this conclusion to Sam Wilson's first arc as the new Captain America is a strong if somewhat uneven one.

The interesting dichotomy for this issue is that while there are some big, global catastrophes about to unfold, the real crux of this issue is something very personal and small-scale - namely, the conflict between Sam Wilson's new responsibilities as Captain America and his desire to live a normal life, have a normal family. It's very rare in media these days for a male protagonist to be so preoccupied with the idea of having children and settling down - at least in a positive sense - but it really provides a sense of heart to Sam beyond the good-natured quippery of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While the shift in focus is a little random - after all, Remender has jumped from Sam's parents, public reaction to his new heroic identity, his drive to keep up with Steve Rogers - but it ultimately fits the storyline as a whole.

With that in mind, Remender bounces back and forth between the various members of his cast, as we watch Sam try to track down the vampire suicide bomber Baron Blood, while Ian Rogers has to take down both Baron Zemo and Batroc the Leaper. While Ian arguably has the tougher battle - and he's fighting more A-list villains - Sam's feels a bit more personal, as he seems to really be settling into his groove in the stars and stripes. The pacing is great, and it keeps the action hurtling forward nicely, as Remender gives us a lot of twists and turns to keep our interest up. But what I think I like the most is how Sam views himself, as the latest Captain America - I think he recognizes the all-consuming responsibility, and appreciates how terrifying it is. "Steve was always out there. Holding it all together for the rest of us," Sam thinks. "And selfishly -- I hoped he always would be."

The artwork by Stuart Immonen, meanwhile, is the best we've seen since the first issue. While sometimes his layouts have been a little cramped in the past, but here he really delivers some expansive pages that play up the aerial agility of our hero. There's a great sequence in particular where Sam tackles Baron Blood, as they crash through the ceiling of an office building, and the hyperkinetic fight choreography between Ian and Batroc looks superb. (In fact, that's the only real misstep he makes in the entire book, is when Batroc seems to inexplicably leap out of Zemo's ship, thanks to a couple of panels that are too small.) Marte Gracia's colorwork also looks great, particularly the beautiful blues he gives Sam and Baron Blood as they duke it out in the stratosphere.

That all said, the one downside to this issue is that Remender has taken a few risks here and there across this arc... and is allowed to commit to exactly none of them. Perhaps the most shocking part of this entire issue is when Sam is thought to have paid a tremendous personal cost as he tries to stop Baron Blood... but that potentially huge status quo change is reversed in just a couple of pages thanks to a cheat by Misty Knight. Ian Rogers, meanwhile, takes some measures that I doubt his adoptive father would approve of, and while Remender writes a great scene showcasing their differences in philosophy, the same thing happens - it doesn't stick. (Even Redwing survives his cliffhanger from last issue, but that all said, I think the idea of a telepathic vampire bird sidekick to be the kind of insanity that can only exist in comics.)

Regardless of the bumps in the road, however, Remender and Immonen have put together a breezy, action-packed conclusion to Sam Wilson's first arc as the All-New Captain America. While it's a shame that Remender couldn't really commit to any of the character development he teased in this issue - I guess Secret Wars will be enough to juggle, beyond questions of whether or not Sam Wilson is sterile - but this is an enjoyable enough read. I think the mighty shield is in good hands with Remender at the wheel.

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence: Justice Society Of America #1
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Tom Derenick and Monica Kubina
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It's time for DC's first super-team to face Convergence, but these old-timers still have some fight left in them. Convergence: Justice Society #1 isn't exactly the blockbuster issue that the 'Justice' in the title might suggest, but its quiet drama is every bit as compelling.

Pre-Crisis On Infinite Earths Metropolis is trapped under one of Telos' domes, and the Justice Society haven't taken well to its power-sapping effects. Powerless and in danger of succumbing to old father time, the JSA have retired. Kent Nelson, otherwise known as Doctor Fate, has been in a mysterious coma since the dome appeared. The ex-Flash Jay Garrick regularly visits him at the hospital, desperately wishing for his friend back so they can rage against retirement together. When the dome lifts, the Qward universe invades and Kent awakes, it's time for the Justice Society to power up once more...

Dan Abnett's Justice Society is about the reluctance to admit when time has passed you by. The team struggles with the idea of leaving the safety of the city to the young Infinity Inc, and yet barely hesitates at de-aging and powering up at the cost of shortened lives. The draw of the spotlight is too great, it seems, at any cost. Abnett writes a contemplative script here, painting a portrait of a man who resents his failing body and faltering memory. Such weighty subject matter makes Convergence: Justice Society of America #1 a purposefully slow-paced issue. Still, it's a breath of fresh air to see a group of elderly people under the spotlight for once, and Abnett's solid characterization offers a new perspective on life under the dome.

Abnett's Metropolis is a far cry from the eternally rioting Gotham City, as adeptly illustrated by a radio transmission heard at the hospital; which speaks of fresh produce meets and shared water filtering. With Convergence's dome set-up, it's so easy to go to the “Society Breaks Down!” well, but Abnett has carefully maneuvered his way around it to show the caring side of the DC Universe.

Artistically, Tom Derenick renders the ravages of time well. His characters' wizened faces are realistically wrinkled and furrowed, while something as innocuous as a tall staircase seems daunting when drawn from the perspective of an elderly man. In one such panel, Derenick highlights Garrick's frailty by forcing us to see through his eyes as he looks up at a seemingly endless staircase.

At the issue's center, Derenick heralds the voice of Telos with an double-splash page. As the shimmering hexagonal plates of the dome disappear, stark alien mountains come into the view of Metropolis' terrified citizens. Compositionally, it's an effective centerpiece for the issue, although some unintentionally goofy expressions ruin the overall mood. The first panel of the freshly awakened Kent Nelson is another evocative image. Draped in hospital bed-sheets, the sullen-eyed Kent cuts an intimidating yet diminutive figure as his team-mates stare at him in surprise. Derenick draws Kent as a Spock-like man, with pointed ears and an authoritative stare. When the JSA finally powers up, it's all steely chins and sparkly eyes, demonstrating that Derenick can convincingly render both the fragile and the powerful.

Elsewhere, light blue dominates colorist Monica Kubina's palette. From the sky to the dome to Qwardian robot, Kubina's shades Derenick's Metropolis in an appropriately hopeful color that adds to the vein of classical heroism that runs through the heart of the JSA.

Yes, Convergence: Justice Society of America #1 is a slow-paced affair, but that doesn't detract from its appeal. Entirely free from super-heroics and almost entirely a rumination about what it means to be powerless, Convergence: Justice Society of America #1 is a thoughtful and carefully worded book that sets the stage for what should be a cathartic finale.

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