Best Shots Reviews: JUSTICE LEAGUE #48, KARNAK #4, SUPERMAN: COMING OF THE SUPERMEN #1

"Karnak #2" variant by Kevin Nowlan
Credit: Kevin Nowlan (Marvel Comics)
Credit: DC Comics

Justice League #48
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: 10 out of 10

If you thought the opening skirmishes of the "Darkseid War" were rough, wait until you see the Justice League take on the one-time Anti-Monitor. Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok deliver what might be described as the platonic ideal of what a DC team book should be with Justice League #48, a larger-than-life team-up between the Justice League and their evil counterparts, the Crime Syndicate, with the fate of the entire universe at stake.

Now, I don't say any of this lightly - but I'd be lying if I didn't say that Johns is firing on all cylinders with this issue, which might be the best I've seen from him in years. The stakes are higher than ever, as former Anti-Monitor Mobius descends on Gotham City with the signature white energy and shadow demons from Crisis on Infinite Earths. It's an effective shorthand to show just how dire things are for the League, and it's that theme of desperation that Johns returns to again and again, with Wonder Woman serving as our human anchor to her newly empowered teammates. As the Goddess of War herself, Diana knows that war sometimes demands hard choices, and it's great that Johns doesn't show her shying away from them - having Diana tersely negotiating with Owlman about the fate of characters like Cyborg and Power Ring only makes the League's alliance with the Crime Syndicate feel that much more uneasy... and thus, that much more believable.

But once the fireworks start, that's when you realize you're reading something special. All too often in event books, creators are so hamstrung with explaining minutae or tying together disparate characters that they never stop to celebrate having all these amazing superheroes in the same room together. But not Johns and Fabok - indeed, this is the best juggling of characters I've seen them do yet, as almost every member of the League and the Syndicate get their chance to shine. There are so many fun moments here, whether it's Shazam using the fiery power of Martian gods to ward off shadow demons, showcasing the differences between Wonder Woman and Superwoman's lassos, or a spectacular double-page spread of Hal Jordan showing why membership in the Green Lantern Corps has its privileges, Johns and Fabok know how to show off just how cool a Justice League book should be.

And speaking of Fabok - whatever DC's paying him, they should be paying him more. He takes a script that could easily be considered overstuffed and knocks it out of the park, effortlessly juggling five-, six-, nine-panel pages and never making them feel cramped or hard to follow. You also have to give Fabok credit with the sheer number of cast members he's got to do justice with - there's something close to two dozen different characters in this 20-page book, and Favok nails their individual designs hard, never making their varying uniforms look goofy or clashing. It doesn't hurt that Johns also gives Fabok plenty of splash pages to make a strong impression - it's this tempo of having multiple panels before giving way to a gigantic two-page image that really makes the "Darkseid War" feel like an end-of-the-world affair. Kudos also goes to colorist Brad Anderson and letterer Rob Leigh - while Anderson gives this book a ton of energy with their colorful costumes popping against white backgrounds, Leigh's lettering keeps readers on the straight-and-narrow, no easy feat given the frenetic action happening on every page.

The Darkseid War, and Justice League #48 in particular, is the best-case scenario for all things DC, and hopefully a great sign of things to come under Johns' stewardship of the "Rebirth" era. This issue has high stakes, awesome action, a great balance of characters, spectacular art and all-round perfect execution - this is the kind of comic that excites people, the kind of comic you hope to find when you go to your comic shop every Wednesday. This is Johns and Fabok and ultimately DC at some of its best. They say war is hell, but whoever said that has never read Justice League.

Credit: David Aja (Marvel Comics)

Karnak #2
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Gerardo Zaffino, Antonio Fusco and Dan Brown
Lettering by Clayton Cowles and Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

There is a flaw in all things, and Warren Ellis’ latest effort for Marvel is no exception. Karnak is a character with almost limitless possibilities because of his powerset and one that is no doubt suited for Warren Ellis’ unique brand of storytelling. But something is amiss here. There’s a lot of style and very little substance, a somewhat out-of-character descriptor for an Ellis book. The writer is usually able to cut to the heart of a character and deliver a defining tale even in the space of just one issue (as we saw with his stellar Secret Avengers run). But this collaboration with Gerardo Zaffino leaves a bit to be desired, as neither the writing or the art is tight enough to make this take on the character the defining one that it’s supposed to be.

Allying Karnak with S.H.I.E.L.D. from the outset allows the character to take on a sort of Inhuman James Bond role that would seem to work in concept. But taking the Inhuman who is already an outsider as far as Inhumans are concerned and divorcing him from the Royal Family doesn’t allow for him to be grounded. With this in mind, invoking his heritage as a means of defining the character seems like a misstep, because it’s not something the character himself entirely considers important. This is a character who, despite his lack of Terrigen Mist-enabled powers, basically just said no to Death and Death accepted it. As Karnak says himself, “I didn’t need Terrigan to become great.” The plot so far is that Karnak has been tapped for a mission to find an Inhuman boy and while that does allow us to see a powerful display of his abilities, it’s doesn’t let us dig into the character in a meaningful way. Ellis’ lack of characterization and significant plotting makes this one feel like it’s going through the motions, especially since we saw Karnak dismantle a bunch of enemies in the first issue, too.

I was wholly impressed with Gerardo Zaffino’s work in the debut issue of Karnak, but his work here doesn’t have the same sharp edges. Frankly, his work here looks sloppy, lacking clarity and charm. Panels are bogged down by too many lines clumped together to create shadows that obscure rather than enchance the panel-to-panel storytelling. Some of the fight scenes are well-choreographed, but Zaffino falls apart when he has to slow down. There are a couple of panels where the action isn’t clear at all; just a mess of lines and color that fails to convey much of anything. Antonio Fusco rides out the last few pages, and finally they start to feel a lot less claustrophobic. One has to wonder if the big delay between issues has anything to do with the creative team, and the inclusion of such a different style of artist to finish up the issue certainly points to that.

Karnak is fine as it currently stands, but I fear that if it keeps going on like this much longer, it’ll be just another in a long line of inconsistent attempts to make the royal Inhuman Family more relevant and interesting. There should be a place in the Marvel Universe for a character like Karnak. He’s almost completely unique. But keeping him so far outside of the action doesn’t benefit him. It’s hard to understand a character’s place in a world that they never interact with. I’m not saying that Karnak needs to be teaming up with the Avengers every other issue, but it would be nice for Ellis to define him within the world that we know he inhabits rather outside of it.

Credit: Neal Adams (DC Comics)

Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #1
Written by Neal Adams and Tony Bedard
Art by Neal Adams and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Saida Temofonte
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

While DC’s Dark Knight is back under the grim hands of a legendary creator, Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #1, written and drawn by yet another DC legend, stands as bombastic counter-programming to Dark Knight III’s grit. Written and drawn by the iconic Neal Adams, with a co-scripting credit given to Tony Bedard, this debut issue finds three new mysterious Supermen mixing it up with Kalibak and his Parademon army as they attempt to steal something from under LexCorp. As the three new heroes make landfall in Metropolis, the real Superman finds himself caring for an orphan boy at the behest of a time-traveling creature who seems to know more than he is letting on about Apokolips’ latest invasion. While stiffly written in certain scenes, The Coming of the Supermen #1 is a big, bright and weird debut from one of the industries’ titans that is sure to please those who long for the more idealistic and zany days of DC Comics.

Just to get it out of the way here at the top, The Coming of the Supermen #1 is gorgeous to behold. Though not as tightly packed panel-wise as 2007's truly bug-nuts Batman: Odyssey, this debut issue gives readers all the classic Neal Adams visuals, just packaged in a more traditional set of panels. Adams’ wild line work is absolutely perfect for the snarling Kalibak as he seems to leap from his opening credit splash page, screaming “Victory for Darkseid!” directly at the reader in bold word balloons. While you don’t need me to tell you just how accomplished Adams is as an artist, The Coming of the Supermen finds him using his recognizable style to deliver clearly Kirby-inspired action.

If you’ve paid attention to our main page in the last few days, you will have read an interview with Adams stating that this debut functions as a sort of New Gods revival, and Adams is really leaning into that with his pencils. Each punch is delivered with titanic force as the Supermen tussle with Kalibak and his roaring army. Adams’ character work and poses are also slightly exaggerated to the point of stylized posturing, much like Kirby’s blocky heroes and villains. Aided by the slightly over-defined colors of Alex Sinclair, The Coming of the Supermen #1 is a throwback in the best sense of the word as it allows Adams to indulge himself, and readers, in his version of Kirby’s innovative style, filtered through the lens of Neal Adams’ sketchy art style.

While Adams and Alex Sinclair’s artwork wows from cover to cover, it is Adams and Tony Bedard’s script that causes this debut to stumble. Even though three new mysterious Supermen is a big hook on its own, Adams and Bedard take it a few steps further than it needed to go by saddling Superman with an orphaned child and bringing him into contact with a time-traveling devil creature who reveals that Darkseid’s bloodline is more entwined in Earth’s history than we could have realized. In all honesty, it's very weird, but the kind of DC Comics weird that feels more fun than alienating. The real stumbling block for this debut is Adams and Bedard’s execution of these ideas, which is marred by a running commentary from Lois Lane. As the story unfolds itself, Lois Lane is acting as narrator from behind a live news desk and all throughout, it comes across as very grating. Adams and Bedard are already doing a decent enough job of laying out the stakes and action so Lois’ running commentary is the very definition of superfluous, especially since all of her dialogue reads as stilted recapping of action that we are already seeing. While the script itself comes across a bit wooden at times, The Coming of the Supermen #1 is still an entertainingly crazy slice of classic DC weirdness starring a character that could really use some whimsy as he struggles to regain his powers in his main solo title.

Neal Adams on anything is worth your attention, but Neal Adams on a super crazy multi-Superman story is doubly worth it, despite its stilted execution. Even with its scripting missteps, Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #1 is a prime example of a passion project that doesn’t feel self-indulgent. Neal Adams, Tony Bedard and Alex Sinclair all come together to deliver a gorgeous slice of classic DC strangeness, and feels just as vital now as it would if it was published at the height of Adams’ powers. While DC’s main legacy title is reveling in the darkness and grit of Batman’s darkest era right now, The Coming of the Supermen shows just what you can accomplish just by turning toward the light.

Similar content
Twitter activity