Best Shots Reviews: HOUSE OF M #1 (Advance), A-FORCE #3, BATMAN #43, More

"House of M #1" preview
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

House of M #1
Written by Dennis Hopeless
Art by Marco Failla and Matt Wilson
Lettering by Joe Carmagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Writer Dennis Hopeles and artist Marco Failla step up the plate next week with the latest Secret Wars cover of Marvel's greatest hits, House of M. Unfortunately, as far as this first issue is concerned, this is a House built on a shaky foundation, as neither Magneto's court intrigue nor the human rebellion going on underneath his nose seems to have much of a hook.

Back when the original House of M came out, it was obvious what made it so interesting - not only was it the first of the modern Marvel crossovers led by Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel, but it also planted the seeds for books like Civil War and Avengers vs. X-Men. There was a wide, diverse cast filled with Marvel's best and brightest, and whether it was Wolverine regaining all of his memories, Hawkeye coming back from the dead, or the Scarlet Witch wiping out almost the entire mutant race, there were some big stakes involved.

Unfortunately, from the moment Magneto wakes up from his sleep and eats his morning croissant, there's none of that urgency here. Hopeless adheres closely enough to the original House of M that he gives no exposition for what's different about this place or how it even got this way - it's Magneto's world, and we're just living in it. But there's little in the way of any bite here, whether its political intrigue between Magneto's three children, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Polaris, or the floundering underground led by Luke Cage. At best, it just feels like a retread from the original series - but the first series at least had a set direction, which was undoing the Scarlet Witch's rewriting of reality.

But if this is reality, as far as Battleworld is concerned, what's the goal of this story? Is it simply the fall of Magneto, a character we barely see enough of to really register? Is it a family drama, with three children who barely have any characterization? Is it an inversion of the man-versus-mutant supremacist paradigm we've seen in X-Men books time and time again? I'd be happy with any of these premises, or really any solid direction, but Hopeless hasn't really committed to anything here, leaving this story feeling lukewarm and shallow.

Yet this comic book isn't without some redeeming qualities, the best of which is artist Marco Failla. At times reminding me of Scott McDaniel, Failla's got an angular style that shows some strong potential, particularly during the frenetic fight sequence near the middle of the book, where Hawkeye and Nightcrawler get into an in-your-face teleporting battle. But Failla still has some room to grow, particularly with his sense of composition - oftentimes he gets a little distant with his characters, which makes the storytelling feel less immersive. Colorist Matt Wilson gives Failla's artwork a nice sense of shading and weight, even if occasionally his background work feels inconsistently flat or overrendered.

House of M has the potential to be a great story, but not as it currently stands. It's missing a critical sense of direction, a goal to drive the story forward and make the audience care. Unfortunately, with so many other potentially universe-ending crises going on in the rest of Secret Wars - crises that have had several months' head-start ahead of this book - and this House might not stand for long.

Pellet Reviews!

Credit: Marvel Comics

A-Force #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating 8 out of 10): A-Force gets stronger with each passing issue, and the dramatic turns at the end of A-Force #3 make it the best issue yet. Writers Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson manage to give the relationships between teammates a depth that can sometimes get lost in team titles. Artist Jorge Molina perfectly captures the subtle looks and facial expressions needed to bring their dialogue to life. A sly wink from Medusa speaks volumes, not to mention his skill capturing the emotions of Singularity, who has no true dialogue of her own. An almost wordless scene between Singularity and Nico Minoru becomes one of the more touching moments of the book, thanks to Molina, his fellow inker Craig Yeung and colorist Laura Martin. Bennett and Wilson clearly have big plans for She-Hulk and the A-Force team, and A-Force #3 marks the first time the title feels like it might be a must-read for understanding the final fate of Battleworld at the end of Secret Wars.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #43 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have become adept at working their way out of situations that would probably have stopped other creators dead in their tracks. Batman’s dead? Jim Gordon can be Batman. Problem solved. Bruce Wayne is back? Well, it turns out that the man prepared for everything was exceptionally prepared to die. Some readers might not be onboard with Snyder’s story logic but you can’t deny that it sets up a new and interesting power dynamic in the Bat Verse. Greg Capullo’s art looks about as good as it ever has and his design for the new villain, Mr. Bloom, injects the script with a bit of a horror angle by way of the Slender Man. “Superheavy” has felt like it was holding back until now, but if you dropped off the title because of Robo-Bunny Batman, now would be a good time to catch up and pretend you never left.

Credit: Image Comics

Starve #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Despite its dark artwork and the innumerable comparisons to Transmetropolitan, this issue of Starve actually wears its heart on its sleeve. Brian Wood gives wastrel chef supreme Gavin Cruikshank some depth beyond his drug habit and his feud with his ex-wife - namely, Gavin's relationship with his daughter, Angie, as she cuts deep into his dysfunction. Of course, there's still plenty of edge to this book, as Gavin and Angie wind up killing and cooking a live pig, with as Danijel Zezelj gives this book a craggy, angular look that makes cooking seem as tense as jungle warfare. After the bleak tone of the first two issues, this is a great palate cleanser, and one that shows there's more to Gavin Cruikshank than meets the eye.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Secret Wars #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Robert Reed; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): How the reader receives Secret Wars #5 will be largely impacted by whether they started with writer Jonathan Hickman’s run on New Avengers or with Secret Wars itself. The issue focuses on a lengthy conversation between Doom and Molecule Man, with most of the information repeating what was shown towards the end of New Avengers. When Secret Wars #5 pops, it’s due to the presence of Valeria. Hickman has always given her a rampant curiosity, which leads to an amusing conversation with her father, Doom. Esad Ribic’s penchant for awe-inspiring images gives the retelling of Doom’s clash with the Beyonders the grandiose atmosphere such an encounter deserves. Ultimately, Secret Wars #5 is not a bad comic book, but one that feels redundant in an event where it shouldn’t.

Credit: Marvel Comics

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #8 (Published by Marvel; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Squirrel Girl’s battle against the Norse god Ratatoskr reaches its thrilling conclusion in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #8, ending its first run of 2015 on a high note. North is an excellent comedic writer - who else could really pull off “Meowdin, the Allpawther”? But his puns are elevated from fun to fantastic by artist Erica Henderson, Rico Renzi’s bold color work and Clayton Cowles’ clean lettering. Ratatoskr’s demise features panels that would make stunning prints (should the death of squirrel gods be your "aesthetic"), and be sure to keep an eye out for some discreet dialogue Cowles’ fits in where you wouldn’t expect. At worst, this issue is too neat, as literal deus ex machina Loki brings things to an abrupt end. But North, Henderson, Renzi, and Cowles have crafted an unbelievably funny book that rivals Deadpool for surreal plots and fourth-wall breaking gags. This month’s "final" issue is still their best yet, and sets a high bar for their October return.

Credit: DC Comics

Earth 2: Society #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Earth 2: Society is everything that a modern comic book isn’t supposed to be: its convoluted, hard to recognize any established characters and disconnected in its storytelling. However, that’s what makes Earth 2: Society so interesting! Its complexity isn’t in its themes, but in its very existence, and the story doesn’t slow down long enough for you to catch up. Born from Earth 2, Daniel H. Wilson’s Earth 2: Society would normally be docked points for being such a hodgepodge of characters and references, but it keeps the reader on their toes. It also doesn't hurt that artists Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez keep the eye busy with some truly impressive artwork that’s both dynamic without sacrificing style. Earth 2: Society #3 is certainly not for everyone, but is very unique in its own existence.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ghost Racers #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Juan Pablo Villanueva’s flamboyantly haired Arcade is hell-bent on eliminating Robbie Reyes, and he’s dispatched his entire roster of Ghost Racers to do it! Villanueva’s manga-influenced civilian characters still hurt the gravel-churning, hellfire-throwing, explosion-filled tone of writer Felipe Smith’s Battleworld take on Ghost Rider, but the Riders themselves bring more than enough heavy metal thunder. Script-wise, Smith has plotted a blockbuster-style chase here, saturated with Ghost Riders old and new (oh, how I’ve missed Vengeance: the big purple spike walrus). Colorist Tamra Bonvillain’s streaks of bright orange below a purple skyline makes for a purposefully energetic palette atop Smith’s intricately designed motorcycles. Finally, a solid but predictable cliff-hanger caps off Ghost Racers #3; a big and brash comic book that’s low on subtlety and high on unadulterated chaos.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Lando #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): There are two rules to remember if you want to have a good time. One: Never run out of Colt 45. Two: Pick up a copy of this understated Star Wars mini-series. The relatively low-key outing turns fan-favorite Lando into a fugitive from the Emperor himself. Like Jason Aaron, Charles Soule just gets the voices of the franchise, with every bit of dialogue dripping with the lingering sleaze Billy Dee Williams delivered so wonderfully in the original film trilogy. An innovative action scene involving Star Destroyers gives us a different side of Alex Maleev, although his detailed figures and familiar use of shadow bring these characters (back) to life. Color artist Paul Mounts, known for his bright color work with Amanda Conner, here gives a subdued palette of burnt oranges contrasted with cold blues, and it’s cinematic. Thematically, the book deals with the consequences of failing the Emperor, and as such, goes to some welcomingly dark places.

Credit: DC Comics

Action Comics #43 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): I loved the last issue of Action Comics but this one sees Greg Pak, Aaron Kuder and DC pull a resounding #NOTALLCOPS, undermining the statement that they started making. The backpedaling in the narrative portrays the bad cops and politicians as literal monsters and sees Clark telling the protesters not to stand up for themselves. It seems a little bit like Greg Pak got cold feet and it robs Clark of the ability to stand up to the system of oppression that he should be facing in favor of justification for his actions. Kuder’s art is worth the price of admission but his shadow monsters are a bit too Venom-y for my taste, lacking a truly unique visual signifier. This is a marked drop in quality from this team’s last outing.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Howard the Duck #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Even in the midst of the Secret Wars event, or perhaps especially during it, Chip Zdarksy and Joe Quinones’s ability to mock anything and everything in the Marvel Universe is masterful. With Talos the Untamed now in possession of the Abundant Glove (making him moderately dangerous), Howard’s discovery of Tara’s true identity will turn the tables. The creative team doesn’t simply cram all corners of this book with fun, but completely use the comic book medium and its conventions to further make fun of itself, including editor’s notes to books that don’t come out until 2018. Quinones excels himself in a single-page splash that shows Howard controlling the power of the glove allows the artist to get cosmic, but there are undignified cameos from many major Marvel player here. The only downside now is the wait until the other side of Marvel’s event for the series to return, which promises hats, and more hats to come.

Credit: JMC Aggregate

Retro Slam Jam #1 (Published by JMC Aggregate; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Retro Slam Jam is a hilarious send-up of old '80s and '90s WWF and WCW main events. The characters are kooky and over-the-top. The dialogue is ripped straight from the canvas. Blake Sims essentially delivers a Fred Hembeck-style riff that is funny because of its reverence for its source. Presented in black-and-white and shades of gray, Sims manages to make a compelling fight book that feels like you’re watching an old wrestling tape from 20 years ago and that turns out to be a lot of fun.Retro Slam Jam is a great addition to a growing roster of talented creators coming out of JMC Aggregate, and I can’t wait for the next installment.

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