Best Shots Reviews: JUSTICE LEAGUE #47, CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHITE #5

Marvel December 2015 cover
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Justice League #47
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

With the big shock of the Justice League taking on their roles as the new New Gods finally subsiding, Geoff Johns is winding up for a big crescendo for the end of the "Darkseid War" in Justice League #47. In many ways, this series has improved dramatically since the conclusion of DC's Forever Evil event, and Johns' return to that material is slowly but surely starting to redeem that less-than-iconic storyline.

The secret ingredient to this book is character. Johns has the best characters in the DC Universe in this book, and he's not afraid to use them - we've got Hal Jordan and the Mobius Chair-possessed Batman in a meeting of the minds, we've got Wonder Woman restraining her love interest Superman, all while Cyborg and Power Ring are joined by Mister Miracle and his showstopping powerhouse of a spouse, Big Barda.

Johns not only gets to show off his knowledge of continuity - Steve Trevor's history as the first man on Paradise Island suddenly comes into play, while Batman's trip to Ace Chemicals shows something deeper in store for him and a certain Clown Prince of Crime - but his character moments are superb. Having Wonder Woman gently but firmly tie up her love interest speaks to her bondage-infused heritage perfectly, and Superman struggling with his very identity under the Lasso of Truth might be the smartest moment this series has had in years.

It's also great to see artist Jason Fabok back in the saddle with this issue, as his weighty characters and gritty shadows are a better fit for this Wagnerian story than Francis Manapul's whispier, more artsy lines. Just like Johns has a knack for dramatic pacing, Fabok is always able to go for the most dramatic shot possible - a page featuring Grail calling to her mother is probably the most beautiful sequence in the book, and that's considering there's almost zero context given. But Fabok's choice of imagery - and colorist Brad Anderson's arresting use of reds and blacks - makes this book feel like a blockbuster.

That said, some readers may notice a little bit of a slowdown with this issue, which is to be expected - Johns has already launched his opening salvo with the new New Gods, and now he's laying down exposition to get us to the big final battle against the Anti-Monitor. As a result, there's a little bit of place-setting going on here, as Johns swiftly reestablishes the characters of the Injustice League, sidelining characters such as Power Ring and Cyborg swiftly. Yet I believe this is all part of the slow and steady remixing of DC's Mightiest Heroes - I have the feeling that when the dust clears, we might have some very different views on good and evil in the DC Universe, something that the original Forever Evil strove so hard to achieve.

Assembling DC Comics' best and brightest is a daunting task, but if there's any creator who has proven himself time and time again that he is worthy of the task, it's Geoff Johns. Justice League continues to have the perfect mix of heady mythology, pitch-perfect character moments, and big twists and turns. While this issue might push the brakes a bit, just think of it as a necessary evil - that is, until the real bad guys show up.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain America: White #5
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Tim Sale and Dave Stewart
Letters by Richard Starkings
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

By now, we all know the tragic tale of Bucky Barnes. A faithful partner to Captain America to the end, Bucky’s story endured for years until Ed Brubaker did the impossible and brought him back from the dead in arguably one of the greatest Captain America stories ever told. While Bucky’s death has hung heavy over Captain America: White, the final issue feels and reads just like a traditional Captain America adventure. Paris is in peril and the Red Skull has kidnaped Bucky and it is up to Cap to save the day, while Nick Fury and the rest of the Howling Commandos face down Baron Von Strucker at the Louvre. While Jeph Loeb’s poetic script coupled with Tim Sale and Dave Stewart’s moody vintage pop art inspired panels strike an emotional chord, you can’t help feel as if this is just another story of Bucky and Cap’s wartime heroism. Captain America: White #5 is well-paced and beautifully drawn, but ultimately empty.

Bucky Barnes’ death during World War II was once one of comic’s longest standing plot points, so imagine my surprise as a reader when it turns out the finale of White wasn’t about that fateful day. Jeph Loeb, since the opening issue of this mini-series, has made no bones about the effect that event has had on Cap, even after his re-emergence into the modern world, however, this final issue makes little mention of this momentous event aside from the final pages which finds our hero facing down his and Bucky’s memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Instead, we are treated to a rousing adventure high above the streets of Paris as the Red Skull attempts to blow up the Eiffel Tower and finally put an end to Captain America and his young sidekick. While Loeb’s beautiful narration keeps the reader engaged and Tim Sale and Dave Stewart’s artwork thrills, it still feels odd to be reading just another adventure when most of Captain America: White’s page count has been dedicated to Cap coming to terms with Bucky’s death. I am all for reading about Cap punching the Red Skull in the face, but it still feels like a missed opportunity, especially since the majority of this mini-series has been predicated on the idea that Cap is still struggling with loss.

This isn’t to say that Captain America: White is a bad series; quite the opposite, in fact. This fifth and final issue is gorgeous to behold thanks to Sale and colorist Dave Stewart, who have delivered solid pages from the start and don’t slow up even once during this final issue. Instead, they both go for the gusto here, kicking the issue off with a single page splash of Cap and his motorcycle framed by the bright spotlights of the Tower that just screams to be made into a poster print. Sale’s cinematic style dominates Captain America: White with wide panels and well placed splash pages aided by Dave Stewart’s flat but striking color palette, surely inspired by recruitment posters of old. However, one can’t help but pine for what a Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, and Dave Stewart version of the death of Bucky Barnes would have looked and read like.

And so ends another installment of the Loeb and Sale Color trilogy, but instead of ending with a bang, it ends with a whimper; a beautifully rendered and well written whimper. Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, and Dave Stewart deliver a gorgeous finale, but ultimately, it feels like a more pedestrian ending than this mini-series deserves. The underwhelming ending coupled with the fact that the series manages to be about yet not about Bucky’s death makes it an un-deserving finale for such a deserving creative team. Captain America: White #5 may age better, or even find new energy as a collected volume, but as of now, we just have another beautiful but inconsequential Cap story.

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