Best Shots Reviews: ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS #5, JAMES BOND #4

"James Bond #4" cover by Dom Reardon
Credit: Dom Reardon (Dynamite Entertainment)
Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New All-Different Avengers #5
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Mahmud Asrar and Dave McCaig
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

"The Vision is a jerk!"

After reading All-New All-Different Avengers #5, I couldn't help but transpose the image of Kamala Khan onto that classic splash page from Uncanny X-Men, where Kitty Pryde lashes out against the unfairness lobbed her way by Professor Charles Xavier. But whereas Professor X was simply patronizing his young student, Mark Waid and Mahmud Asrar have something far more sinister in mind for Earth's Mightiest Heroes, whose dynamic has become more and more interesting with each passing issue.

In many ways, Waid seems to be channeling the spirit of Cap's Kooky Quartet with this new iteration of the Avengers, deviating massively from Jonathan Hickman's pantheon of iconic Marvel characters - and in so doing, this feels less like a standard superhero yarn and more of a cohesive ensemble piece. It also helps that Waid is taking great pains to make things unpredictable - Captain America and Thor have kissed, Nova and Ms. Marvel are navigating their own awkward teenage dynamic, characters are trading blows and getting thrown off the team, and the Vision has become a Machiavellian manipulator. And that's even before the supervillains show up! But as develops these dynamics, Waid not only gives some needed street cred to a group of largely new and untested heroes, not to mention giving the book the kind of depth that often eludes these sprawling super-teams. Indeed, Waid recognizes that the superheroics don't matter nearly as much as making sure readers care about the superheroes performing them.

The other great thing about All-New All-Different Avengers is that because the characters take such precedence over the actual bad guys involved, the high points feel so much higher, and the threats wind up feeling so much more insidious. You'll thrill watching Ms. Marvel hitch a ride from the webslinging Miles Morales, and you'll cheer when you watch the impetuous Nova try to give the Vision a piece of his mind. (Honestly, that might be Waid's crowning achievement here, rehabilitating Sam Alexander from one-dimensional superteen to an impetuous but well-meaning hero in the making.) But no Avenger is more interesting right now than the Vision, who shares the same sort of cold toolishness that he does in Tom King's masterful solo series. There's clearly a deeper plot going on, as the synthezoid manipulates, blackmails and outright lies to his teammates, and Waid doesn't wait to spring the Vision's trap as the story goes on. Cloned supervillains from the future are scary, sure, but a teammate's seemingly unsolicited betrayal? That's the really dangerous stuff.

Artwise, Mahmud Asrar keeps improving and impressing with every issue. If there's any one page that might sum up the feeling you get reading All-New, All-Different Avengers, it might be watching Ms. Marvel swinging on a web with Miles Morales, as she gleefully shouts, "I love my life!" Asrar channels a lot of the same energy and expressiveness that Stuart Immonen brought previous Avengers runs, but there is a ton of depth to his work that I think people often overlook. For example, watching Captain America and Thor flirt - there is some serious heat between the two, and it's conveyed just by a coy smile on the Goddess of Thunder's face. Asrar also packs his panels well - when six out of the seven Avengers are all in one panel and nothing feels cramped, that's a huge victory in and of itself. Dave McCaig's colors also lend a nice energy to the mix - again, with all the clashing colors and designs of the Avengers, this book could look garish, but instead, it looks positively sunny.

In terms of structure, All-New All-Different Avengers feels so different from the traditional "Big Two" storytelling, instead taking just as much out of a 22-minute comedy as much as a beat-'em-up superhero yarn. Because the way that 22-minute comedies typically work is that they're based on families - you care not just about each member of the family, with their own individual quirks and foibles, but you care about how they interact with each other, as well. (Will Nova and Ms. Marvel become the next Ross and Rachel? Demand it, True Believers!) Ultimately, Mark Waid and Mahmud Asrar understand the thing that should be intrinsic in superhero team books - people rarely show up for the villains, but instead show up to see how a superhero will overcome them. But in the case of All-New All-Different Avengers, they might have to overcome each other first.

Credit: Dom Reardon (Dynamite Entertainment)

James Bond #4
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Jason Masters and Guy Major
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

It's often difficult to create a sense of true tension in the serialized nature of monthly comic books, but this month’s installment of Dynamite’s James Bond kept me on the edge of my seat from cover to cover. Picking up directly after last month’s bloodbath at the Berlin MI6 office, Warren Ellis, Jason Masters and Guy Major turn this forth issue into a masterclass in serialized plotting and action sequence blocking, all while keeping the reader hanging by a thread thanks to two intensely polite scenes between our man Bond, the book’s antagonists, the unfeeling Masters and the brains behind it all, Slaven Kurjak. James Bond up until now has been a good series, but this #4 shows that the creative team isn’t interested in just good anymore, they have their sights dead-set on greatness.

While Warren Ellis brings some name recognition to the series, as well as some killer classic Bond scripting, James Bond #4 wouldn’t work without artist Jason Masters and colorist Guy Major, a team that is quickly becoming one of my new favorite art teams working today. I have spoken in previous reviews about Masters’ action sequence plotting and how his style reminds me of a nightmarish version of the work of Jamie McKelvie, but with James Bond #4 Jason Masters handily outdoes himself; a feat I wasn’t sure was possible. After making contact with Bond, mere moments after slaughtering his Berlin associates, Masters convinces him to accompany him back to the lab where all the troubles started in this arc. This is where Masters and Major run away with the book.

What follows is one of the most brutally effective fight scenes I have seen in recent memory. Presented with little dialogue, Bond and Masters finally face off and as a reader who has been waiting for this since the debut issue, it doesn’t come anywhere near disappointing. Clocking in a whopping seven pages, Masters and Bond engage in a beautifully deadly scrap that doesn’t shy away from just how harrowing it can be to fight for your life. To try and fully detail it here would be a woeful under selling of just how great this fight scene is as I couldn’t hope to do it justice in mere words, but, it goes without saying that Masters and Major absolutely nail the ferocity and impact of every blow, slash, and grapple. Masters even does us one better by adding a visual flair to the violence.

When either Masters or Bond hit a particularly big move, like Bond attempting to disarm Masters by breaking his thumb or Masters delivering a devastating elbow to Bond’s temple, he drops away the background and allows Guy Major to fill it with a primary color like a cool blue or a striking blood red. This is a small addition to the violent proceedings, but an effective one as it forces the reader to concentrate on the characters and action in the foreground, which highlights Masters’ character work, the poses, and Major’s realistic colors. Warren Ellis may have been the reason you started reading James Bond but Jason Masters and Guy Major are going to make damn sure they are the reason you keep reading.

The visuals of James Bond #4 cannot be denied, but neither can Warren Ellis’ script which is where the delicious tension of this fourth installment begins and ends. One of the main reasons that this fourth issue works as well as it does is that Ellis smartly allows us, the audience, know more than Bond from the jump, which is what injects a white-knuckle dread to the issue’s first scene. As Masters puts on a friendly facade for Bond as he attempts to coax him into his trap, we know exactly what happened mere moments before the meeting and we know that Bond is heading into a trap. Though, Bond is no fool and is quickly made aware of his plight thanks to a well-timed and encoded call from M and Tanner back in London, Ellis keeps raising the stakes around Bond, making him aware of the trap before it is sprung as well as bringing him to speed on the deadly drug at the center of Vargr’s plot.

Tension is the order of the day for James Bond #4 but Ellis also gives us more of the dryly quippy Bond that we know and love. Even when he is surrounded by dead bodies or facing death at the hands of Kurjak, Bond still has a razor sharp witticism at the ready, allowing Ellis to disarm the abundant tension with a mere flourish of his keyboard. Though a few writers have tried to capture Bond’s wry personality in prose, Warren Ellis shows that he has a firm handle on him in the world of monthly comic books.

Though it took four issues to get there, James Bond has finally achieved must-read status. The issues that proceeded this month’s were good, but even the best of the first three pales in comparison to this latest one. Warren Ellis, Jason Masters and Guy Major have all hit there stride in a big way with #4 as each element of their work just flat out works. If you are looking for a tension-filled spy drama, James Bond is the book for you. If you want bone crunching action, James Bond has that for you as well. But above all, if you are looking for a stellar single issue of comic books that hits notes other comics just dream of, then James Bond #4 is the book you both want and need.

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