Best Shots Reviews: DARKSEID WAR - GREEN LANTERN, ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS #1, More

DC Comics November 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

Justice League: The Darkseid War - Green Lantern #1
Written by Tom King
Art by Doc Shaner and Chris Sotomayor
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

"My name is Hal Jordan. My father cut the sky open."

It's funny how just the other day I was talking about Green Lantern being at a creative and narrative lull. Leave it to Tom King, Doc Shaner and Chris Sotomayor to prove me wrong. Justice League: The Darkseid War - Green Lantern #1 flips the typical tie-in script in a way that you probably wouldn't expect: It's not just a mindless one-shot that cashes in on someone else's story, but instead is a powerful, emotional story that stands on its own two feet. While King might have made headlines last week for the inhuman robot family in The Vision, Justice League: The Darkseid War - Green Lantern #1 is a touching, profoundly human story in the midst of a Parademon apocalypse.

With the New Gods being reborn in the wake of Darkseid's death, Hal Jordan has a bigger problem on his hands - namely, that Darkseid's army of Parademons have descended on the Green Lantern homeworld of Oa. After a gripping introduction showing the destruction of the Green Lantern Corps, King distills Hal down to his brash, steely-eyed essense, free of the continuity shackles imposed upon Robert Vendetti in the main Green Lantern book, as Hal singlehandedly takes on an planet of more than a million Parademons and possessed Lanterns. This is the kind of gutsiness that Geoff Johns helped reinstill in the character when he first took over Green Lantern, and it's so refreshing to see King following in his footsteps.

But while King brings the stakes to this interstellar conflict, that's actually window-dressing to what this story is really about - namely, a surprisingly insightful look on religion, gods and free will. It's a great hook, given the rebirth of the New Gods that has been going on in the rest of the Justice League books - and as you can see by the cover, Green Lantern as the new Lightray is a positively inspired choice - but King actually goes deeper into the strengths and weaknesses of divinity with a series of flashbacks, following young Hal grieving over the death of his father. King channels Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo's Flash #0, as a mysterious figure tells Hal exactly what he needs to hear - "This is your world to create, pal. You get to choose. God gets to watch." It's a potent line, and one that plays out wonderfully at the end of the book, as King actually subverts one of Hal's darkest moments and winds up making stand head and shoulders above the rest of his heroic teammates.

The art is also magnificent here. Doc Shaner adds so much drama to his storytelling - in particular, I adore his take on young Hal, and how much you can see his adult self in his eyes. While this story is ostensibly about Hal versus the Parademon Lantern Corps - and believe me, Shaner sells that, too, particularly with a splash page where Hal stands surrounded by a dozen of his former brothers-in-arms - the artist really sells the flashback scenes in the church, aided by Chris Sotomayor's haunting uses of oranges and greens. You can feel the pain in young Hal's eyes as he rages against God and the universe, and you can feel the catharsis when he gets exactly the advice he needs to hear. Of course, the scenes in space are also pretty excellent - Shaner packs a lot of action in his pages, and the moment where a smirking Hal turns the tables on the unstoppable horde is probably one of the single best Green Lantern panels I've seen in years. King throws us a deep, thoughtful script with Justice League: The Darkseid War - Green Lantern #1, and it's fantastic that the art team is just as consistent.

Given how the other Darkseid War tie-ins have been inconsistent at best, it's absolutely shocking how air-tight Justice League: The Darkseid War - Green Lantern #1 is. And in many ways, I think this is the signal of a new comic book superstar in the making - beyond the strong work he's done on Grayson with Tim Seeley, we're now seeing that Tom King has the skill with characterization and high concepts that could put him on the same level as a Scott Snyder or even a Geoff Johns. By tackling the craziness of the New Gods and the Justice League and turning the story of Green Lantern into a heartfelt and truly wonderful look at something deeper, this comic doesn't just upend our expectations of what a tie-in looks like, but ultimately challenges the rest of its Big Two counterparts to step up. And that's the kind of book that might just be the answer to all our prayers.

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New All-Different Avengers #1
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Adam Kubert, Sonia Oback, Mahmud Asrar and Dave McCaig
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

“And there came a day, a day unlike any other...”

Surely you know the rest by now, but as the opening credit page of All-New All-Different Avengers #1 states, that day was a very long time ago. After the galaxy-spanning exploits of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers Machine, it is time for Mark Waid and Adam Kubert’s turn with Earth’s Mightiest with a scaled-down team and an all-new #1. All-New All-Different Avengers #1 unfortunately adheres to the team-building trope of not bringing together the team just yet, but despite that narrative misstep the streamlined membership and street-level story telling suits All-New All-Different Avengers #1. While it is frustrating to not get the full team assembled right off the bat, All-New All-Different Avengers #1 is a fun introduction to an Avengers team tailor-made for today’s comic audience.

Following a quick action beat featuring Sam Wilson saving a car from falling off the Queensboro Bridge, Waid spends much of the book clueing the audience into the splintered state of the Avengers team, as well as Tony and Sam’s strained relationship with Steve Rogers. Waid even brings low one of Marvel’s most powerful players, Tony Stark, explaining that his company is in free-fall after astronomical rebuilding costs and his sojourn into deep space. While watching Sam and Tony wrestle with the PR implications of a local Girl Scout troop might be jarringly down-to-earth, All-New All-Different Avengers #1 is starting this new team over from square one, and after the sprawling Hickman era, that is the best possible thing for the title.

Yet the Avengers can only be as strong as their villains, and this is where All-New All-Different Avengers #1 gets a bit frustrating. Reintroducing the Chitauri warlord Warbringer, last seen being hurled into the sun in Nova, Waid has to make up for pages of ponderous villain scheming by having the villain tear through Iron Man, Cap, and a stealthy Miles Morales in the span of a single page, hoping this pile of KO'd heroes will be enough to have us salivating for the next issue. While it's great that Waid leans so heavily on the character development, he does so at the cost of actually bringing together the team advertised on the cover. It's disappointing to wait months to see the Avengers actually assemble - I had the exact same problem with Hickman’s first issue, but even that #1 started with a full team before ending with a splash page of the Avengers Machine united and ready for action. While I'm hopeful that the team itself will sync together well once they're together, waiting hinders the debut of All-New All-Different Avengers #1 in a big way.

Keeping with the title's "down to earth" approach to its heroes is a backup story starring two of the team's teen heroes, Nova and Ms. Marvel, that gives the audience just a bit more context into the issue's tense cold open. After tracking a huge monster of the Microverse to New Jersey, Nova's "zap-first-ask-questions-later" approach clashes wildly with Ms. Marvel's civilian minded approach to heroics. Waid does a fantastic job contrasting the two teen heroes and showing exactly why they would butt heads in the first place. Kamala is always aware of her surroundings and often looks for the ideal way to quell the threat and stem collateral damage. Sam, on the other hand, is a wrecking ball, all energy and power as he tries to find the quickest way to defeat his enemies, even at the cost of the property around him. It is a quick and well-written backup story that furthers All-New All-Different Avengers' character-centric approach to the title, while also adding some much-needed tension into the fledgling team.

Making the most of this action-heavy first issue are artists Adam Kubert and colorist Sonia Oback, both who are more than well-suited to the title’s scaled-down, street-level setting. Kubert lays out much of his sequences in six-panel grids, spreading them Bendis-style across both pages in order to make the action breathe, such as Miles being tossed from the Avengers Tower window and racing to save an innocent bystander. Oback’s colors also hammer home the title’s new street level tone, opting for more natural colors instead of a highly stylized look, making this book seem familiar, but not flat. Artist Mahmud Asrar and colorist Dave McCaig also contribute to the debut’s high-flying energy with an action heavy backup detailing Ms. Marvel and Nova’s disastrous first team-up. Asrar's work looks especially kinetic in this backup story, as Nova zooms about and Ms. Marvel struggles to keep an attacking Microverse monster at bay. McCaig’s vibrant colors add to the heightened super-team drama between the two heroes, and send audiences out on a high note after the main story’s dire cliffhanger.

My critiques about structure aside, All-New All-Different Avengers #1 is a youthful breath of fresh air for the Avengers line. Mark Waid, Adam Kubert and Sonia Oback along with back-up artists Mahmud Asrar, and Dave McCaig deliver a fast-paced, character-focused debut that is well-aware of the universe that it inhabits, instead of standing apart from it. Though we don’t see the full might of this new squad just yet, All-New All-Different Avengers #1 shows that the creative team has a firm handle on the characters separately before they start them playing off each other and fighting the battles that they can’t face alone.

Superman: American Alien #1
Written by Max Landis
Art by Nick Dragotta and Alex Guimaraes
Lettering by John Workman
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

You’ve likely seen Max Landis’ name before. He’s the man behind films Chronicle, American Ultra and the upcoming Victor Frankenstein. He’s bemoaned the current state of Hollywood in the press. He’s written 75 screenplays and he’s only 30 years old. He’s called American Alien his answer to Grant Morrison’s seminal All-Star Superman and while that a great comparison when you’re trying to hype people up, Landis is really overreaching. Landis opts to dig into Clark Kent’s childhood and that should be an area ripe for a good story, but Landis can’t do anything impactful. That’s not to say it’s a bad script, but it’s lacking on every front. To make matters worse, Nick Dragotta turns in the worst work I’ve seen from him in recent memory, causing American Alien to falter in the two biggest ways possible.

Since Landis brought up All-Star Superman, I think it’s important to remember why that book was so good. Morrison was able to distill the entirety of the Superman mythos into a 12-issue series that was reverent of the past while still pushing the character forward. It stands as one of the greatest Superman stories of all time because of spot-on characterization and Morrison’s ability to invoke great pathos with one of the longest standing icons in comic book history. By comparison, Landis’ story about Clark learning how to fly is cutesy fluff that might be better suited if it were repurposed as backups in another title.

It might be interesting to some to see Clark get a handle on his powers and come to terms with the fact that he is an alien, but Landis doesn’t give us a good hook. Clark’s first flight is supposed to be the inciting incident here, but there’s no way for Landis to surprise us. We know he’ll learn to fly, and Landis is only able to give us a poorly conceived conflict at a drive-in movie to inject some kind of stakes into the book. Considering that Pa Kent has already given Clark a number of iconic heart-to-hearts, it’s frustrating to see Landis reduce the potential for that kind of moment down to “Don’t be a jerk.”

Nick Dragotta doesn't help matters. The script is entirely inoffensive, and Dragotta’s art seems to mirror that by employing an almost Archie-style approach to it’s characters. Not only do the characters not really look like the ones we’ve been reading for years, but his decision to stylize them with large eyes and more cartoony features works against the book. When Clark has his outburst, it’s that much harder to take him seriously. And Dragotta can’t keep his renderings consistent, particularly when Pa Kent tries to help young Clark tap into his flying abilities either by carrying him or speeding through their crops with his truck. The characters look almost unrecognizable compared to other places in the book. Admittedly, Landis doesn’t give Dragotta much to do with this script, either. There are only a couple of locales present here, and when one of the locations is a farm - already well-trod ground for Superman stories - there are not too many interesting visuals to be pulled from. On a surface level, the art is fine, but considering how “important” this book was made out to be, it’s odd that the editors decided to go this route.

American Alien has lofty goals, but there isn’t an inkling of execution here. I don’t think Landis’ approach works here, especially when you compare it to similar stories like Mark Waid and Leinil Yu’s Superman: Birthright and Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul’s Superboy: The Boy of Steel. American Alien has no hook or framing device to give readers a reason to jump onboard with this title. Nick Dragotta is an incredible artist, but he doesn’t show up here for whatever reason. It might have been the subject matter, but we’re used to seeing much better work from him. American Alien is a disappointment in every sense of the word, and Landis would be wise not to dial up expectation for his next project the way he has with this one.

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New Wolverine #1
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by David Lopez, David Navarrot and Nathan Fairbairn
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Wolverine was the best there was at what he did. And now, Laura Kinney has to follow in his footsteps.

It's been a long time coming since the Death of Wolverine, but finally a true heir to Logan's legacy has arrived, with the debut of All-New Wolverine #1. Having the cloned killer X-23 has been a solid if unsurprising choice, but writer Tom Taylor and artist David Lopez do some nice work here with this belated passing of the torch.

With Laura diving into action to stop an unknown sniper on the streets of Paris, Tom Taylor's story at first feels perfunctory or run-of-the-mill. We've seen mindless superhero action before, but soon enough, Taylor zeroes in on what makes Laura the perfect successor as the new Wolverine - namely, that she's just as broken as Logan ever was, shrugging off bullets and bazooka rounds no matter how much damage they inflict. But when one stray round sends Laura into a near-death flashback, Taylor gives the fans what they want, with a sort of retroactive passing of the baton by Logan himself. In many ways, Taylor's characterization of Laura reminds me of Cassandra Cain back in Batgirl, in the fact that the two characters are defined by guilt and their need to prove themselves to their mentors. It's a great moment when Laura and Logan both pop their claws at the same time, as he tells her: "You're the best there is at what you do. But that doesn't mean you have to do it."

By effectively setting up Laura as Logan's true heir, the rest of Taylor's action goes down much more smoothly - and it doesn't hurt that Taylor also picks up from a surprising thread from Brian Michael Bendis' run on All-New X-Men. By having Angel as a romantic interest and a supporting character, Laura gets to learn how to be a normal person organically, and Angel ironically acts as our down-to-earth tether to Laura's over-the-top fisticuffs. Taylor also really sells us on Laura and Warren as a couple - it's cute to see Angel worry about Laura diving on a runaway drone, or the awkward way he pats her on the head when Laura's healing factor prohibits her from getting a hug. ("A little awkward?" Warren says. "A little awkward," Laura agrees. "I didn't say stop.")

Artist David Lopez, meanwhile, does some great work with this opening issue. A splash page of Laura in her new yellow-and-blue outfit is the perfect way to sell us on this All-New Wolverine, and he keeps going with larger-than-life action sequences that evoke the best of Alan Davis. Lopez reminds me a lot of Mark Bagley in his prime, with some great panel-to-panel storytelling as well as a real emphasis on motion and speed - watching Laura dive out of the way of a bullet, for example, is great, and you can feel the pain when she breaks the sniper's arm. While the sniper herself doesn't have the most memorable of designs, she's not really the main draw here - Taylor presents her as just the first thread to a greater mystery, one that evokes the sort of clandestine conspiracies that Logan used to face.

While this is a strong start for Laura's career as the All-New Wolverine, there is still some room for improvement - while Taylor does the exact right thing in bringing Logan into this first issue, it might have been useful (especially for new readers) to play a little more with Laura's past as the lab experiment X-23. Right now, Laura comes off as just a shade too normal - and remember, even Logan came off as a super-intense dude during his first appearances, and he didn't have it half as bad as Laura did. Additionally, there is a little bit of narrative fat that could have been cut here, particularly with the lengthy lead-up to Laura fighting the sniper, as well as two extraneous pages at the end of the book that came after an already decent spot for a cliffhanger. And finally - and this isn't Taylor's fault - but it's a shame that the moment we finally have someone taking over Logan's identity, it happens a week after an older version of Logan shows up in the flagship X-Men title. It's a case of corporate synergy taking its toll.

But regardless of these quibbles, Taylor and Lopez are off to a fine start with the first issue of All-New Wolverine #1. This is a surprisingly endearing first issue, given all the rage and gore and violence that happened to follow the original Wolverine wherever he would go, even as Taylor picks up on a lot of the same themes that defined Logan's storied career. In many ways, with a foundation this solid, the world is Taylor's oyster - he could send Laura down the same byzantine paths through Weapon X like her predecessor, or subvert those tropes and let her grow into her own legacy as a hero. Either way, Laura Kinney's promotion as the All-New Wolverine is looking like a shrewd decision.

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