Best Shots Reviews: EXTRAORDINARY X-MEN #1, DARKSEID WAR - SUPERMAN #1, UNCANNY X-MEN #600, More

"Uncanny X-Men #600" variant cover by Oliver Coipel
Credit: Olivier Coipel
Credit: Marvel Comics

The Vision #1
Written by Tom King
Art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

He's fought Kang, Ultron and the Super-Adaptoid. He's married a mutant sorceress and traveled to alien worlds. He's a synthezoid, fueled by the rays of the sun and powered by an Avenger's brainwaves.

But even with all that going for him, never has The Vision been more interesting than when Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta moved him to the suburbs.

Removing the lead character almost entirely from his superheroic adventures and instead forcing him to navigate the strangeness of human domesticity, The Vision #1 is as pitch-perfect a first issue as I've ever read, and might be the strongest debut from Marvel since the days of Hawkeye or Superior Foes of Spider-Man. A melancholy but absurdist take on suburbia and the stiltedness of the American middle class, this issue doesn't just mark an upgrade for the Android Avenger, but for King and Walta as well.

The biggest hurdle for this book is also its greatest strength - namely, that The Vision isn't a superhero comic book. Instead, it reads like a great television pilot, down to the strangely aloof narrative captions that read like an ominous version of Pushing Daisies. This is a science fiction story, and not just that, but an excellent one, as the Vision - along with a wife and children that he has built for himself - have moved to the quiet streets of Alexandria, Virginia. Not only does this Beltway locale give a sense of place, but it allows King to really zero in on what has always been the Vision's overarching quest: the search for his own humanity.

While previous writers have added a sense of nobility to the Vision's struggles - "Even an android can cry!" - King instead shows how unsettling the Vision's approximation of humanity can be, as we watch him and his family settle into their new lives. To say the Vision is a flawed character is underselling it - in many ways, he's repeating the worst sins of his creators, as he's created a wife and children who have even less of a sense of cultural norms than he does. Watching the Vision mansplain to his synthezoid wife, Virginia, about the semantic differences between "nice" and "kind" is a special kind of cruel, particularly as King tells us that Virginia spends many an afternoon weeping to her pre-loaded memories, while a scene with the Vision having second thoughts about his wife in the middle of the night - "There is a glitch... a glitch in myself. This is my wife. I love her. I must love her." - is basically the epitome of a male mid-life crisis. Ultimately, the greatest strength of The Vision is King showing us the illusion of the white picket fence, using this family of robots as stand-ins for all of us who still struggle to find meaning and direction in our lives beyond that of a bland middle-class facade.

Of course, while there's little in the way of capes and tights in this comic book, King also adds in plenty of hooks and mysteries to keep readers interested. For example, King's mastery of the Vision's world - from his knick-knacks from Wakanda and Zenn-La to his explanation of why twins Viv and Vin must go to high school to perfect their immature brain waves - adds both a veracity and a strangeness to this book. He also knows how to hook us with a tease - not only do we not know who Virginia's brain waves were copied from, but an early premonition of death and destruction stemming from the Visions will keep readers on their toes. Combine that with one hell of a swerve near the end of the issue, and you'll find that this is a masterful debut story.

Additionally, the art team for this book is absolutely perfect. Gabriel Hernandez Walta is an inspired choice for this book, with his scratchy linework showing a hint of dysfunction and danger behind these pristine homesteads. He also does a great job at showing just how eerie the Visions look, with their blank eyes and identical cheekbones making it very clear that this is not your typical All-American family. But as the story progresses, Walta does a fantastic job at displaying emotion, whether its Vin's stunned look when a classmate asks him if he's normal, or the worry on the Vision's brow when he discovers his new job in Washington, D.C. isn't exactly salaried. (And don't even get me started with the last four pages. Without giving too much away, it's positively visceral.) Colorist Jordie Bellaire does a great job in picking up Walta's vibe, with her painterly colors often having a shadowy undercurrent, reminding us that no matter how charming their location, things are not well in the Vision household.

But that makes things great for us readers. The Vision #1 is far from a typical superhero story - instead, it's an eerie sci-fi tale, but one that absolutely marks the next great comic from a team of already talented sequential storytellers. If you buy only one comic book this week, you absolutely need to make sure it's this one. King, Walta and Bellaire have put a wrecking ball through the veneer of the American Dream, and shown that, in many ways, these robots are just as confused, directionless and adrift as the rest of us. And maybe that's fitting - after all, that's what it means to be human.

Midnighter #6
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by ACO, Hugo Petrus and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The hardest hits are the ones you never see coming.

Case in point: the latest issue of Midnighter, a comic with more twists and turns than many of its peers has in an entire arc. But perhaps what's most impressive about this book is that for a character who is as seemingly unbeatable as the Midnighter - with his kung-fu moves and the infallible fight computer in his head - Steve Orlando and ACO manage to find a way to take this character as off-guard as his readers.

There's a lot to like about this issue, as Orlando packs in a ton of action and plot developments in the span of 20 pages. From the very first page, Orlando and ACO's enthusiasm is palpable, as we watch the Midnighter flip and dive through a kitchen that's exploding in gunfire - ACO throws in a dozen inset panels just for good measure, showing the chaos and destruction happening all around our hero. It's all part of an effective action opener, as the Midnighter uses kitchenware to brutally murder his self-cloning recurring villain, Multiplex: "You'll never kill us all!" one of the clones screams. "I know," Midnighter replies with a smirk and a bloody meat tenderizer. "That's why you're my favorite."

Yet while Orlando takes a sardonic spin on the Midnighter's mass mayhem, he's also adding as many layers to the narrative as ACO does to the visuals. While the previous issues of this series has shown the Midnighter as an tenacious, indefatigable vigilante, Orlando is now throwing his hero some curveballs that he can't effortlessly beat into submission. One of the book's big twists is one that might resonate with the LGBTQ community as an all-too-real nightmare is when Midnighter's boyfriend Matt discovers that his father is targeted, thanks to his son's connection to the mass-murdering superhero. Combine this with the Midnighter's fight computer suddenly going blank, and you have a character whose back is against the wall. But as the Midnighter says just before he wrecks a busload of bad guys, "That's where I do some of my best work."

It's also great to see ACO back in the saddle this issue, as he draws some of the most visceral and potent fight sequences in the DC Universe. Evoking masters like Frank Quitely and David Aja, ACO's use of insert panels adds so much texture to each scene he's drawing, allowing him to pack in an entire page's worth of detail in a third of the space. His pages seem to explode with energy, whether its a strobe effect of the Midnighter leaping through a bus filled with gunmen or watching the ground literally crumble under his feet before he makes a death-defying leap. Romulo Fajardo, Jr.'s colors are just icing on the cake, particularly his use of psychedelic spiral effects to show that things aren't right underneath the surface - and even the all-seeing, all-punching Midnighter can't always see what's right in front of him.

And that brings me to the knockout punch of this issue - the cliffhanger. I won't spoil it for you, other than to say that Orlando has great taste in longtime DC Comics characters. But what's more impressive to me is not just who drops in for the final page of this issue, but how long Orlando has been putting it together. It's a great bait-and-switch, and one that actually provides a fitting archnemesis for the Midnighter, after several issues of him tearing through cannon fodder and sci-fi experiments like it was nobody's business. But needless to say, even for a jaded comics fan like me, Orlando is really taking readers by surprise with this issue, making a fantastic comic up its game even further. Midnighter #6 isn't just the best book DC has put out this week - it's one of the best books of the week, period.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Extraordinary X-Men #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Jeff Lemire’s time at Marvel has been inconsistent at best. After critically acclaimed runs at DC, Image and Vertigo, Lemire hasn't ever really found his footing in the Marvel Universe, but that looks to change with Extraordinary X-Men. Armed with a new status quo and artist Humberto Ramos, Lemire is poised to make an impact in this post-Secret Wars world. But the Terrigen Mists might prove too powerful. As a wave of Inhumanity washes over everything, it’s hard to parse out just where this merry band of mutants belongs. That’s always been a key the X-Men’s narrative DNA, but since they’ve been in state of imminent extinction since M-Day, this new status quo doesn’t really feel any different.

Lemire’s biggest task is getting the team back together, but this isn’t likely to be a team that’s as instantly recognizable as they were before. Characters have to fall into roles that might be ill-fitting, and Lemire is forced to work with Brian Michael Bendis’ whims of characterization in order to try to make the X-Men’s world somewhat cohesive. And, for a debut, this one isn’t bad. The mutants have become disjointed in the eight months between the end of Secret Wars and the present, and it shows. Lemire is good at catching us up and checking in with the characters that he’s going to rely on. Storm takes on a familiar role as de facto leader of the X-Men, but I don’t think that Lemire does enough to solidify her in that role. We almost instantly see her leadership qualities undermined by visions of doubt, and that casts the whole issue in a different light. But there are some good character moments elsewhere, and Lemire really embraces each character’s individual personalities. His best work comes with Colossus and Nightcrawler, imbuing both scenes with a bit of warm nostalgia that will thaw even the most cynical fan’s heart.

Humberto Ramos is at his best when he can deliver his trademark screwball style within the bounds of much larger drama. Lemire dives him some great opportunities to show off his action shots, but expects him to deliver in the more tense scenes as well. Ramos, along with inker Victor Olazaba, is definitely up to the task. The calm resolve of Storm as she gathers her troops, the ebullient swashbuckling of Nightcrawler fighting a group of supervillains, the frightening heroics of Magik as she stops a mob from executing a mutant child - they’re all here in spades. Ramos has truly elevated his craft since the his early outings on Amazing Spider-Man, and might actually be doing some of the best work of his career here. Edgar Delgado completes this artistic trifecta with chameleon-like coloring that shifts to suit each scene. It’s not flashy. It’s not particularly stylized. but he’s able to subtly shift the tone of each scene seamlessly through his use of colors.

The biggest knock against Lemire’s work here is that it might hew too closely to what we’ve seen before from the X-Men. We’re used to extinction plots. We’re used to Jean Grey being called upon as a last hope. Hell, we’ve even seen a few different versions of that cliffhanger before. Lemire is definitely going to win some people over by staying in this lane, but familiarity can breed contempt. And the Terrigen Mists are clearly a pretty big concern for the X-Men, but one can’t help but wonder if the sterility angle is really necessary considering plenty of non-mutants have birthed mutant children, so already the story logic is a headache. Ramos’ strong work is coup for a book without much in the way of identity but they’ll be in an even better position to usher in a new era of X-Men if Lemire can get a handle on the central conflict of this title.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League: The Darkseid War - Superman #1
Written by Francis Manapul
Art by Bong Dazo and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

What do you do when you fly to Apokolips, get super-charged by dark solar energy, and then beat the stuffing out of an alien while out in space?

If you're Superman, the answer is you get yourself some pie. And Heaven help anyone who stands in your way.

That probably sounds glib, but unfortunately, that's essentially the gist of Justice League: The Darkseid War - Superman #1, a comic that trips on its thin plot and its unintentionally hilarious dialogue rather than really showing the perils of becoming the DC Universe's new God of Strength.

While Francis Manapul is a superstar artist in his own right, his solo writing feels pretty stilted. Possessed by Apokolyptian energies, Superman is a surly powerhouse who doesn't care one iota about throwing a bad guy through the windows of the Daily Planet - all he wants is to go back to his favorite diner and have some apple pie. (To his credit, Manapul backtracks later by saying the diner is Clark trying to remind himself that he's human, but you're never going to forget the image of Superman pounding on the counter demanding a waitress bring him some pie.)

Manapul tries to inject some tension into the mix by having some form of shadow energy threaten to swallow Metropolis, but he's tripped up by the fact that it's largely unclear if this energy is Superman's or the alien he stopped at the beginning of the book. To compound this problem, Manapul delivers some very cheesy dialogue, as Jimmy Olsen tries to reason with the Man of Steel, who has spent much of this issue staring down diner patrons. "You hear more than our cries for help. You also hear our joyous laughter. You hear our adoration for you. In our beating hearts you hear our love," Jimmy says, just before he's swallowed up by dark energy. This is as clunky and on-the-nose as its gets. Tying it up with a too-quick resolution (and an unintentionally funny bit where Superman cries out to a pigeon not to leave him), this story doesn't capitalize very well on the momentum Geoff Johns built up in the main Justice League title.

Bong Dazo is a decent, if inconsistent, artist on this title. Occasionally he reminds me of Freddie Williams II, while other times he looks like a looser version of Leonard Kirk (and in one scratchily inked panel, reminds me a bit of Scott McDaniel). It doesn't hurt that he's working with a decent visual hook, as the negative black-and-white Superman is definitely an eye-catching visual - however, he (understandably) doesn't seem to fully commit to the scenes where Superman is fuming at a diner, causing panels like him shouting "I said give me my pie!" to look positively meme-worthy. While the faces of many of Metropolis' civilians look uneven and weird - particularly how many people seemingly leading with their wide-open mouths - he also has a great moment where Superman's blue eyes cut through the black-and-white haze, showing a heroic sensitivity underneath all that bad Apokolyptian mojo.

Ultimately, only completists should be checking out Justice League: The Darkseid War - Superman #1, which feels like a clunky tie-in to an otherwise outstanding arc. Manapul may be going for a more human angle for the Man of Steel, but his execution doesn't stick the landing, resulting in a book that might be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Uncanny X-Men #600
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli, Mahmud Asrar, Stuart Immonen, Kris Anka, Chris Bachalo, David Marquez, Frazer Irving, Wade Von Grawbadger, Tim Townsend, Mark Irwin, Marte Gracia and Jason Keith
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but after more than a few delays, Uncanny X-Men #600 wasn’t worth the wait. Brian Michael Bendis’ tenure with the X-Men was marked by big moments and a return to the kind of concurrent storytelling that made his Avengers/New Avengers run feel like a complete experience. Unfortunately, his final issue, another one of his patented jam issues featuring many returning All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men artists from his run feels more like him putting his toys away than a grand finale. Many of the dangling narrative threads are neatly packed away, but in a way that makes them still feel incomplete or simply reset for the incoming crop of X-writers. While it is great to see a gaggle of great artists returning to the Children of the Atom once more, Uncanny X-Men #600's script leaves much to be desired.

Framed around a sort of intervention for the Hank McCoy of the present, Uncanny X-Men #600 unfolds itself as a series of vignettes all tying up the loose ends left by All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men. Unfortunately for us, Bendis’ idea of a finale just seems to be barely-written scenes of characters reconciling or deciding to move on without anything of real consequence happening. The biggest hanging thread of all, that of Iceman’s sexuality, is the most glaring example of Bendis’ quick resolution as both incarnations basically just agree that Angel is hot while Jean awkwardly looks on before they are whisked away to try to talk some sense into Beast. It feels very odd and rushed, and Jean’s inclusion in yet another scene of Bobby struggling with his sexuality just makes it all the odder.

If this feels familiar, it should, because its almost the exact mirror image of the same scene in All-New X-Men, which raised the ire of plenty of readers from both LGBTQ and conservative camps alike. As a reader who has been fully invested in how exactly this was going to be resolved, I can't help but feel totally let down by Bendis basically repeating himself. Jean's once again inclusion in the scene also makes it feel intensely awkward, as if she is acting like some sort of gatekeeper for the Bobby's' sexuality. I'm sure the argument could be made that Jean is just concerned for her friend, but #600 doesn't offer much support for the theory, and basically just makes her feel like a weird prop in the stage production of Bobby's life. Present Bobby does give a touching speech about how if he committed just 10% of what he gives to the X-Men to being happy, he could be a complete person, but that touching moment is almost instantly undercut but Bendis' attempt at humor. Both Bobbys deserve better, and so does Uncanny X-Men #600.

The rest of the characters don’t fare much better. Colossus and Magik have reconciled after months of them being at odds, the original X-Men just up and decide to take a break from being a team (at least until Dennis Hopeless and Mark Bagley's new book!), Original Jean and original Hank finally decide to be a couple after a series full of will they/won’t they, and Scott Summers gathers all the X-Men on the step of the U.S. Capitol for a scene that comes just short of them all singing “We Are The World.” The only characters that even get the smallest hint of some sort of glimpse that their future are Hank McCoy and Tempus, as she drops a cryptic warning about possibly yet another trial in his future and he flees from the school and possibly from himself. It’s a tantalizing hint at Hank’s future in the X-books, made even more eerie by Frazer Irving’s haunting artwork, but its disheartening that the rest of the cast of Uncanny X-Men #600 didn’t get the same treatment.

While the script never feels as complete as it should, the artwork, however, looks tremendous throughout. Rendered by each artist that at one point handled All-New and Uncanny, each scene looks fantastic even though they might not read that way. Anchored by Sara Pichelli’s gathering of mutants, each artist brings their own distinct style and voice to the scenes they pencil. Kris Anka is first up, rendering the reconciliation of Colossus and Magik with warmth and adorable facial expressions. Mahmud Asrar is next handling the final coming out of the Icemen, playing up present Bobby’s isolation with blank colored panels framing him, while the actual room that they are in is in full view behind past Bobby. Asrar’s handle of visual storytelling does the scene a lot more good than Bendis’ clunky scripting and saves it from being a total washout of a scene. David Marquez preps us for the finale with a jaunt into nature with the All-New X-Men and makes Jean and Hank’s eventual coupling feel romantic as they kiss in mid-air. Chris Bachalo gives us yet another huge cast shot as well as some neat panel layouts before we are reveling in the darkness with Frazer Irving, sending Uncanny X-Men #600 out with some visual flair where the script floundered. Bendis jam issues are always fun and Uncanny X-Men #600 continues that tradition by reuniting the best and brightest artists that his X run had to offer.

Uncanny X-Men #600 was not worth the wait. Though the two series that proceeded it where filled with great characterizations and a throwback style to the soap opera days of the X-Men, their finale leaves much to be desired. While it is fun to see artists return to the series and knock it out of the park, you can’t help but wonder what kind of book this would have been if the script had lived up to their talents. Surely to be a must for completists and collectors, Uncanny X-Men #600 doesn’t offer much aside from some great pages and the feeling of a writer running out of steam.

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