Best Shots Reviews: DAREDEVIL #18, OMEGA MEN #4, HOUSE OF M #2, BAT-MITE #4

DC September 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Daredevil #18
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Chris Samnee and Matt Wilson
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

It’s all over.

Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil has come to an end, and we’ve been lucky enough to read it month in and month out for the last few years. Obviously, these kinds of pieces tend to eulogize more than review, so I’ll try to avoid that. Despite redefining Matt Murdock in the 21st century, Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and previous company don’t totally stick the landing. Moving Daredevil to San Francisco was always an odd choice and despite solid storytelling, the latter half of this run will likely never stand up to its somewhat seditious beginning. I mean, this was the book tasked with bringing Matt Murdock out of the shadows, in a way. That said, that’s not always been his best look. The finale is well-paced and effective in bringing this saga to a close, but the devices it uses to get there seem a bit forced. The creators walk a thin line between giving the readers what they want and wrapping up on their own terms. They’re so close here that you’ll almost forget some of the odd choices they took to get here.

While Daredevil in San Francisco wasn’t a concept that worked well for me, I always thought that Waid was able to transcend it. The cast of characters was strong. The intrigue and interplay between the Owl, the Shroud and Daredevil was almost always interesting, and the inclusion of Kingpin really brought the series home. Matt Murdock is constantly faced with tough decisions that affect the people he loves, and Waid has been able to tap into that time and time again. He never backed down from forcing Matt to deal with the consequences of his actions, and that’s what made the run so compelling. In this issue, we get to see that one last time as Matt’s scheme to fool the Kingpin goes south in a hurry. The result is a strong fight comic between two of Marvel’s greatest foes for the first half of the book that’s interspersed with a bit of clever character work. It’s the Kingpin at his most menacing versus Daredevil at his most desperate. What more could you want?

The second half lags behind, though. In trying to put a bow on everything, Waid really ups the sentimentality of the title. The book has always had heart, but it always treated it with an earnestness and honesty that made the title a beacon of hope against the fairly grimdark-leaning comics output from other companies. The finale loses that subtle balance and the second half of the book reads like the series finale of a show that ran out of time to explore so many of things they had set up. Everyone gets a happy ending, but not all of it feels earned. And the autobiography set-up from issues and issues ago seems to serve a single purpose, and that’s to allow Waid to schmaltz poetic at the end of the book. It’s anti-climactic in all the worst ways.

The best part of the book consistently throughout the run has been the artwork. We’ve watched Chris Samnee grow into a true superstar, and this run on Daredevil is career-defining. Samnee is a perfect companion to Waid’s writing. Both are economical and efficient, proving that you don’t have to do too much so long as you don’t do too little. Despite a script that isn’t entirely sound, Samnee never misses a beat. The fight sequence between Daredevil and Kingpin is raw and unhinged, but Samnee’s lines stay sharp and calculated. The choreography is as strong as it’s ever been, but the hits are hard and more brutal. (And a big shout-out to Joe Caramagna for bringing some really inspired lettering to the table.) When the book switches gears, Samnee’s work is the only thing making Waid’s hollow sentiments actually seem like they mean anything. There is no doubt in my mind that Chris Samnee is one of the greatest artists to ever illustrate the Man Without Fear.

Overall, Waid’s run will be missed and Daredevil fans will wait with baited breath for Charles Soule to return Matt Murdock to the mean streets of New York City. The finale doesn’t do ol’ Hornhead enough justice, but this run is definitely one of the greatest of all time. It’s a reminder that the superheroes that we love are almost infinitely adaptable with a strong enough creative team behind them, and that there’s no such thing as a bad character. Though the finale reads like the creative team was told their time was up, it still does a nice job of closing the book on this run. I don’t think we’ll see another like it for a long time, but the reverberations of books like this one as well as Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye will be felt on generations of aspiring creators to come.

Credit: DC Comics

Omega Men #4
Written by Tom King
Art by Toby Cypress and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Usually fill-in artists are considered the kiss of death in monthly comic books, particularly with a series as new as Omega Men. But when you have a story this intriguing - and a guest artist as bold as Toby Cypress - you wind up with something different altogether. Instead of crashing and burning, Omega Men #4 is a refreshing change of pace, one that continues this unorthodox but engrossing space opera.

Focusing on one-time Green Lantern and current Omega Men P.O.W. Kyle Rayner, you immediately notice the wild change in art styles. Cypress has a wild, distended style that reminds me a lot of Jim Mahfood or Kyle Baker, as he opens the book with a bloody execution. While Omega Men has traditionally been definied by a nine-panel grid, Cypress takes it one step further, using off-kilter panel layouts that use the white gutters of the page to provide some nice pop.

What might divide readers, however, is what I think is Cypress' greatest strength. His cartooning is not for everyone, but I think panels like Kyle giving a wry smile in his cell, or the subtle menace in Kalista's eyes as she manipulates him. Sometimes Cypress' style makes for some odd perspectives, like a weird, hyper-leggy panel where Kalista stands over the hapless aliens she would slaughter on a daily basis, but other beats look sublime, as the sadness that just emanates off a background-less panel where Kyle holds the body of his one-time girlfriend, Alex DeWitt.

Meanwhile, writer Tom King does a great job bringing readers back to speed on who Kyle is and how he went from the all-powerful White Lantern to a surly captive. But most importantly, by recapping Kyle's story in such a heartfelt way, he reminds us of why we care about him in the first place. Considering a Green Lantern ring is only for people without fear, Kyle stands out as a sole exception: "It wasn't earned. It was just chance," Kyle says. "Nothing more than a flip of a coin." As Kyle thinks about what his life might have been like had he not accepted that ring, and the crushing responsibility he feels utterly ill-equipped to handle, you realize that King is setting Kyle up to really step up and become the hero we've all known this doubtful everyman could be.

Like I said earlier, however, Omega Men #4 might not be for everyone - Cypress' art is certainly not in the superhero norm, and while I really appreciate the change of pace, others might find his work to be too loose for their tastes. Additionally, some may find the retelling of Kalista's story in the book's second half to be a little redundant, considering how well King defined her in the last issue. But I would argue that these are quibbles, considering how striking and altogether unique a book like Omega Men #4 is. I definitely recommend giving this one a read.

Credit: Marvel Comics

House of M #2
Written by Dennis Hopeless and Cullen Bunn
Art by Marco Failla and Matt Wilson
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The House of Magnus is now a house of cards. Beset by not only human resistance fighters but by an alliance between Quicksilver and the Sub-Mariner, Magneto’s hold on his kingdom is now more tenuous than ever. Add a very angry and very hungry Fin Fang Foom and the many offspring of Magneto into the mix and you have a very busy second issue of House of M. Writers Dennis Hopeless and Cullen Bunn get a bit lost in this second installment, allowing the unwieldy cast to get in the way of the straight forward tale of attempted regicide. Thankfully, artist Marco Failla and colorist Matt Wilson keep it all looking great as the human resistance gets closer than ever to toppling the king. House of M #2 may be in need of a clearer narrative direction, but at least it offers up some slick pages behind the great-looking Kris Anka cover.

King Magnus has a lot on his plate. Not only is he dealing with the constant threat of human resistance, but he is also trying to keep a short leash on his heirs, which isn’t going at all to plan. Writers Hopeless and Bunn have a good thing going with the story of Hawkeye, Misty Knight, and Black Cat attempting to smash the monarchy, but the jumbled nature of the rest of the character’s arcs muddle what’s really good about House of M #2. Case in point, this issue features a pointless action sequence featuring Wiccan and Speed facing down some S.H.I.E.L.D. agents only to be accosted by Magneto’s royal guard and then rescued by Princess Wanda. While it is nice to see Wiccan and Speed mixing it up outside of Runaways, I’m still hard-pressed to find what exactly their inclusion adds to this second installment. However, the machinations between Quicksilver and Namor pick things up slightly, especially since they provide an Avengers vs. X-Men-inspired cliffhanger going into the third issue and the assault on Magento’s palace by our human heroes provides this issue a rousing second half. It is just unfortunate that most every other character than Hopeless and Bunn include in this second issue feels tacked on.

On the art front, however, House of M #2's team delivers in earnest, giving this issue a kinetic and stylish look despite its muddled scripting. Drenched in the rich colors of Matt Wilson, Marco Failla’s pencils nail the regal look and costumes of the House of Magnus members as well as the scrappy hideouts of the human resistance. Failla’s eye for action beat construction also does this issue a great service as each beat is clearly defined and easy for the reader’s eye to take in a whole. If I was to have one complaint with Failla’s pencils its that his faces also start to look a bit similar as the issue goes on. The same furrowed brow of Magneto repeats itself not a few panels later in the concerned mug of Hawkeye. A small complaint, I know, but still one that proved distracting as I read through this second issue. Nitpicks aside, Failla and Wilson make a great team for this tie-in, and the visuals of this issue make me curious to see just what exactly they have in store for us next month.

X-books sometimes suffer from a overabundance of riches when it comes to their character sets and House of M #2 is a prime example of that. While not as egregious as some of its counterparts, House of M #2 still allows its main selling point, a humans vs. mutants tale of overthrowing oppression, to get bogged down in frivolous character action and distractions. Dennis Hopless and Cullen Bunn are talented writers and surely they can bring this Secret Wars tie-in for a smooth landing, but this month, their title is as shaky as Magento’s hold on this kingdom. Thankfully the art team delivers more than a few fantastic pages to keep House of M #2 from being a complete wash and sometimes that is the best possible outcome.

Credit: DC Comics

Bat-Mite #4
Written by Dan Jurgens
Art by Corin Howell and Mike Atiyeh
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

There is something comforting about a comic where there are virtually no consequences to the action, and the all-ages nature of Bat-Mite means that there isn’t necessarily a reset button pushed between every issue, but reading them all in order probably isn’t essential either. Writer Dan Jurgens has distilled the formula of a cartoon into the 20-odd pages of each issue of this series, although the corresponding problem is that formulas tend to err on the side of repetition.

Jurgens has the advantage of being able to pull in any hero he likes here, and the inclusion of Booster Gold is quite clever. Booster is a character that can often come across as a jokey reference, intentionally or not, and pairing him with the chaotic imagination bending powers of Bat-Mite is a wonderfully inventive combination that could still spin old-school continuity devotees into a spin. What better villain that Gridlock, a character who wants everything to be exactly as it was when they were ten years old.

Compared with the innuendos and adult references of the last issue, this outing is positively restrained in its straightforwardness. Jurgens is almost speaking directly to the audience with Gridlock, on behalf of all DC creators who have contended with the mixed reactions of fans to the many character refreshes of the publisher over the last few years. Transformed by Bat-Mite into an edgier Black Gold, Jurgens has an each-way bet with some commentary on the arbitrary reinventions of characters on a whim. It’s no spoiler to suggest that everything returns to a kind of status quo, for both Bat-Mite and Booster, but that also means that much of the action is some ado about nothing.

Corin Howell keeps his art style loose and cartoony, rubber banding characters in and out of model at a rapid pace. He gets to have some fun with the “reinvention” of Booster Gold, cast in black latex and spikes that apes the Azrael/Batman designs from the Knightfall saga of the 1990s. There’s a light touch on detail, in keeping with the style, with color artist Atiyeh mostly responsible for filling in the backgrounds with single shaded colors.

A lack of consequences also comes with a slight sense of disposability as well, and there is a very fine line being walked here. All-ages doesn’t always mean for all tastes, and while previous issues in the series have been quite strong, this one doesn’t hit the same heights. What Bat-Mite does retain in every outing is a sense of innocent charm from a bygone era of comics, although it’s the kind of format that works best in bite-sized chunks.

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