Best Shots Reviews: VISION #8, EMPRESS #3 Impress, POE DAMERON #3 Not So Much

Marvel June 2016 cover
Credit: Marvel Comics

The Best Shots crew is back to kick off a week of big releases with a look at the latest Star Wars tie-in, along with the next chapter in Civil War II. But first, we'll kick things off with a look at the near-perfect Vision #10 from Joey Edsall.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Vision #8
Written by Tom King
Art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel
Review by Joey Edsall
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Juxtaposition has been at the heart of Tom King's Vision since the beginning. There's the tonal, Lynchian juxtaposition of the mundane suburban life with emotionally heightened violence, but there has also been the juxtaposition of the Visions appearing human but being irrevocably and undeniably all too inhuman. Pair this with the consistent narration juxtaposed over the panels and dialogue and you are left with an always strange and always brilliant comic that has managed to consistently push superhero storytelling in ways that are unlike anything else.

There hasn't been much news of Victor Mancha, Vision's less conspicuous brother, since the tragically underrated Avengers A.I. Vision #8 opens with Vision greeting his brother, who we learn has earned an internship on Capital Hill and will be staying with the synthezoid family just south of the Potomac. The action and dialogue of the rest of the issue involve Victor interacting in various ways with Vin, Viv, and Virginia, each of which serves to further the evolution of those characters. Vision's family were a cookie-cutter of the American Dream upon introduction, but over the course of the first six issues of the series, their innocence has been perverted to such an extent that they are more compelling than comic book peers with 20 years of backstory. Victor's time with Vin involves a memorable, possibly double-entendre-laden conversation about classic literature. Ultimately they are talking about coming of age and growing up. Vin and Victor have similar conceptions and interests, but with Victor's age he is able to impart wisdom on his nephew. With Viv, Victor visits the grave of C.K., her friend who was shot in a tragic turn of events in the first arc. She doesn't feel any better for seeing the grave, or for using her phasing powers to see the body itself. Victor is a shoulder for her to lean on, and their moment of bonding is touching, if brief.

Identity has been at the front of this series for a long time, and is a central issue to the titular character since his inception. Vision was created by Ultron to kill and destroy. Vision rejects that destiny and that identity, and is therefore required to forge his own way and forge his own self. As a character, Virginia takes this notion and runs with it. Having decided upon an identity, she spends all of her time trying to mold the strange and unnatural family she has into a vision of normalcy. This doesn't work with regular humans, so it winds up being a disaster for synthezoids. She has glitches where she repeats words and phrases. While playing piano with Victor, she makes a distinction between "playing" and "being,” with the latter being indicative of the mechanized precision with which she plays. It's fascinating and has incredible depth. King manages to weave in huge conversations with small interactions, and subtle use of ominous narration.

Towards the end of the comic, the narration breaks from its usual detached, omniscient perspective to address Vin directly. In any other book, this would be completely fine. Chris Claremont spent seventeen years directly badgering his X-Men. The problem is that this is such a break from the remarkably focused artistry with which the narration has been used in the series. It's enough of a dissonance with the normal flow of Vision storytelling that it is noticeable, but not enough to really hold it up as a flaw.

On the art front, Gabriel Hernandez Walta further establishes the aesthetic of Vision and refines it. The art is generally realistic, but with just enough strangeness at each edge to give it an eerie quality. Most shots of the Visions' house illustrate this best. Everything has clearly defined lines, but subtle bends make the overall affect chilling. Jordie Bellaire's coloring solidifies this. Bright colors are frequent, but there is a persistent brooding atmosphere accentuated by the drained winter suburbia.

Vision is the best that Marvel currently has to offer. Each book manages to catch me off guard, surprise me, and shock me in ways that are completely unique to the series. After the brief detour of Vision #7, it is clear that Vision #8 kicks off this new arc with aplomb. This is a comic that has consistently used every panel to further mood, story, and character. Vision #8 overflows with meaning. It rewards multiple readings and close dissection. While I'm a little concerned about opening this very idiosyncratic world to the rest of 616, right now King and Walta are in sync and doing consistent and stellar work.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Empress #3
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and Ive Svorcina
Lettering by Peter Doherty
Published by Marvel/ICON
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It’s amazing that it took three issues of Mark Millar’s Empress to realize that we know virtually nothing about these characters. The lightbulb moment comes during a brief scene of backstory, one of the few nods to exposition that Millar has allowed himself in the telling of this tale. Like Image stablemate Saga, there’s a bigger world at play, but as with his previous action-oriented pieces, Millar is principally interested in the moment-to-moment action.

The latest issue is an exemplar of this kind of storytelling, literally hitting the ground running and rarely pausing for the duration. From personal body guard Dane leaping into the jaws of danger to rescue the youngest child, this outing is principally concerned with leaping from place to place using “Ship,” an ancient transport that can take them anywhere so long as it is able to see. Ultimately heading to see the titular Empresses’ sister, each place is worse than the last – until they get to a place where they can’t run any further. Which seems to set up a basic formula for the series.

On the surface of it, there isn’t a lot of substance to what is effectively one long issue of running. There’s a singular set of pages where the ragtag group pause for breath and actually discuss motivation and their responses to it. After all, up until now there seems to have been very little attention paid to the effect that this sudden escape from their maniacal patriarch is having on the children. Yet what Millar and artist Stuart Immonen are doing in a very rapid-fire way is world-building, setting up the notion that this series could take place in any new environment at the drop of a hat. The downside is that the issue also smacks of repetition in doing so.

Star Wars artist Stuart Immonen slips easily into this sci-fi environment, conveying a fluidity of movement to Dane’s movements via judicious use of speedlines. (Dane, incidentally, looks like a younger, green-haired version of George Lucas, but that’s probably just coincidence). Immonen gets to cut loose on a number of giant creatures this month, from giant snow beasts to the aquatic kind. Frequent collaborator and inker Wade Von Grawbadger and colorist Ive Svorcina are critical in giving his pencil weight and texture, most notably in a crashed ship towards the end of the issue, look for all the world like a ravaged cousin to the Space Jockey’s ship from the original Alien.

The cliffhanger to the issue is not dissimilar to a gimmick that was used at the start of this very issue, one that shows the limitations of their chosen form of transport. Yet it may also show the limits to the format of this book so far as well. While one of the strengths is definitely that it recognizes itself as a high-concept action piece, that dedication to a lack of exposition may ultimately hamper enjoyment down the line.

Batman '66 Meets Steed & Mrs. Peel #1
Batman '66 Meets Steed & Mrs. Peel #1
Credit: DC Comics

Batman '66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel, Chapter 1
Written by Ian Edginton
Art by Matthew Dow Smith and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Wes Abbott
Published by DC Comics and BOOM! Studios
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Two Goliaths of sixties television collide on the printed page in Batman '66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel, Chapter 1, a digital-first mini-issue that faithfully mashes together Adam West's wacky Batman with the impeccably dressed secret agents from cult UK spy show The Avengers. Ian Edginton writes with his tongue firmly in cheek here, imitating Adam West's convoluted exclamations and Diana Rigg and Patrick McNee's snappy witticisms with equal fervor, whilst Matthew Dow Smith and Jordie Bellaire deliver pop-art influenced artwork that whisks us right back to the summer of love.

When Bruce Wayne accompanies British electronics CEO Michaela Gough to the rare gemstone exhibition, Catwoman and her cronies arrives to steal the lot. But before Batman and Robin can intervene, Catwoman is swiftly taken out by an enigmatic and stylish pair of British spies. Ian Edginton tells a tight little story in just ten pages, maintaining a breezy pace that pokes fun at a slightly inept Batman & Robin who turn up late to an attempted Catwoman burglary – only to find that Peel and Steed have already dispatched of the culprit with a few well-placed blows. Edginton's dialogue carries most of the entertainment value, unafraid to carry over the Avengers' strange mix of British stereotypes (John Steed is always dressed in a Saville Row suit, a bowler hat and he carries his umbrella at all time) and risque espionage (Emma Peel is so named because the original writers of The Avengers wanted to create a character who defined the term “man appeal” — a different time, indeed). His Batman & Robin carry the lovable awkwardness of Adam West and Burt Ward, high on exclamation marks and alliteration. For instance, when Catwoman arrives on scene, Bruce exclaims “She's a felonious feline with a penchant for pretty things!” It's all utterly ridiculous, and a whole lot of fun.

With that said, there's not much meeting going on in this first chapter, with the focus tightly bound to Bruce Wayne and Catwoman. John Steed and Emma Peel finally make an appearance six pages in to this 10-page chapter, which is enough to whet the appetite, but not enough to truly satisfy, especially if you're a fan of the Avengers (who have been unsurprisingly absent from mass media since the truly atrocious 1998 Uma Thurman movie). Still, the stage is set, and we've got 11 more chapters to see the dynamic duo banter with Steed and Mrs Peel.

With so many likenesses to juggle, penciller Michael Dow Smith had a difficult task ahead of him, but he does the ‘60s icons justice. His linework is all awkward angles and sparsely detailed faces, resembling their silver screen counterparts without attempting an uncanny likeness. Atop Dow Smith's pencils, the dependable and omnipresent Jordie Bellaire is on hand here with a bright and clean color palette. It's a distinctly pop art approach that just screams the swinging sixties.

Overall, Batman '66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel, Chapter 1 is a solid start to a thematically appropriate team-up. Ian Edginton delivers an entertaining script that captures the silly kitsch of Batman '66 and The Avengers as well as being a complete Catwoman escapade in and of itself, illustrated adeptly by Matthew Dow Smith. For die-hard fans of the decidedly non-Marvel Avengers, we've not hit the good stuff just yet, but this is still a solid taster of the adventure to come.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #1
Written by Christos Gage
Art by Travel Foreman and Rain Beredo
Letters by Joe Caramanga
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Though Peter Parker was the heart of the original Civil War, his role was a passive one, functioning more as a recognizable narrative hinge on which the story’s themes depended. Now Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #1 casts Peter in a much more active role in the event, acting as a mentor to Ulysses instead of bouncing from team to team in order to garner fan support. Written by go-to Spider-Man tie-in writer Christos Gage and rendered in Animal Man artist Travel Foreman’s trademark lithe style, Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #1 is an intimate look at Marvel’s brewing conflict.

While this book opens with some classic Spider-Man action beats as Spidey takes on a group of upgraded Vulturions, be warned that this action is the book’s only real set piece. That said, it’s a fun introduction to an imminently likable character — Gage’s Peter is witty, even-headed, capable, and, above all, more than willing to fill the role of mentor to the newly precognitive Ulysses. As someone who understands the overwhelming nature of sudden superpowers and the importance of the responsibilities that they carry, Peter is a natural choice to be Ulysses’ custodian into the world of superheroes and one that, at least for now, doesn’t carry any defined allegiance in the struggle or dependence on the main story.

It is that lack of agenda and narrative load-bearing that makes Gage’s script feel like a natural tie-in story, instead of a clunky and contrived interruption — it makes sense that Peter would be the one to impart the wisdom of using your powers to do the most good as possible. Gage illustrates this idea by Peter’s practical, if self-serving decision to put Ulysses to work assessing Parker Industries projects and their likelihood for success. Though I am not sure that’s how Ulysses’ powers work based on what’s been established in Civil War II proper thus far, it is an interestingly pragmatic example of just how much Peter has changed since the original Civil War and keeps the story tightly contained to Peter’s world, continuing to keep it unmuddled by the main event.

Another inspired choice is Gage’s entertaining use of Peter’s relationship with new Inhuman ambassador Johnny Storm, particularly with a hilarious bit of Peter finding Johnny sleeping naked in his bed. “I’m hot natured and this used to be my house!” screams Johnny. The humor of this tie-in comes easily with Gage and doesn’t read as inserted just for the sake of having comedy beats. Furthering contained nature of the story with a cliffhanger that threatens Peter and his staff directly, Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #1 feels like a Spider-Man story that is flavored by the event instead of dominated by it. Though skippable in terms of its connection to the main story, Christos Gage delivers a character driven tie-in that gives readers a unexpectedly nuanced look at Civil War II.

Displaying his knack for action scenes early on, Travel Foreman, along with colorist Rain Beredo, proves more than well suited for a Spider-Man title with engaging scene blocking and character design, beyond the opening dust-up. Rendering Spidey as a rail-thin, yet powerful looking figure and contrasting Peter’s confident poses with Ulysses’ slightly hunched but normal physique, Foreman’s style fits in well with Peter’s fast-moving world, while still allowing him ample opportunity to display his talent for uncomplicated personal interactions, like the scenes of the two men talking on a rooftop or Spider-Man introducing the Inhuman to the Parker Industries’ staff. Aided by Beredo’s color choices which lay a bright layer of metallic sheen across the pages, Travel Foreman’s work in this tie-in makes a strong case for him handling an ongoing Spider title or maybe even an Inhumans book, based on his quick but striking take on Queen Medusa, Triton and Lockjaw.

Unconcerned with furthering the larger event story, Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #1 is the right kind of use of the tie-in format. While not exactly essential, it still functions as a breezy well developed story that fleshes out characters instead of keeping them in status until the next installment of the main story. Christos Gage, Travel Foreman and Rain Beredo deliver a funny and firmly in character look at some of the event’s major players giving them their own arc beyond the battlefield. He may not be the same kid he was the first time around, but this tie-in shows that Peter Parker has the capacity for growth in the face of an ever-changing Marvel Universe.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Poe Dameron #3
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Phil Noto
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

“Something’s headed your way… it’s… it’s a little hard to describe.”

Star Wars dreamboat Poe Dameron ends his first comic arc this week, but even the charm of Oscar Isaac can’t lift this book off the ground. Charles Soule and Phil Noto are talented creators in their own right, but boilerplate action cut with a liberal dose of deus ex machina makes for an anticlimactic sort of read.

Part of the problem with the Poe Dameron series is that unlike his work in Lando, Charles Soule doesn’t have a clear direction for this book whatsoever. In some ways, that makes sense — after all, Poe was the least developed character in The Force Awakens — but the kind of diminishing dramatic returns from Jason Aaron’s flagship Star Wars title is apparent here. Poe is trapped in a cave with Imperial troopers threatening a cosmic space egg, with some token X-Wing action going on above the surface… it wasn’t particularly compelling stuff when Soule introduced it, but here the execution really falls flat, as the egg hatches to reveal a powerful alien creature who decides to wreak havoc.

That is, until another alien creature sucker-punches him and tries to stop him.

On paper, I can understand where Soule might be coming from here — if you’re going to have the entire universe of Star Wars to play within, why not include tropes like a gigantic, Godzilla-esque beast to cause mayhem and chaos for Dameron to exploit? But not only does Phil Noto’s designs come off as underdeveloped and unmenacing, but these winged, almost helmeted creatures wind up looking like rejected superhero designs as they punch, grapple and ultimately heat-vision each other to death. But perhaps even worse is the fact that these titans basically sideline Poe Dameron in his own book — while there’s a couple of chuckle-worthy lines here, Soule doesn’t really have his character do anything here, other than conveniently come out on top when these alien creatures bury some Stormtroopers in rubble.

Additionally, like I’ve said in previous issues, Phil Noto is great at presenting strong likenesses of characters — you can see the Oscar Isaac charisma as Dameron raises an eyebrow at his Imperial pursuer Agent Telex — but his action sequences come off as totally static, with every image feeling like it’s frozen in place rather than hurtling at us. This is a problem that comics can have in general compared to a moving medium like film, but there are some artists whose styles naturally feel more kinetic and fast-paced — but that’s not the kind of artist that Noto is, and Soule’s script doesn’t play to his strengths. Having an extended X-Wing battle cutting across multiple scenes not only distracts further from an already scattered story, but because Noto doesn’t make it look particularly visceral, there’s no tension. We know Poe Dameron is going to survive, and we don’t really care about his comrades (who also survive anyway), making this whole story feel like a lame duck.

Comics are ultimately a business about figuring out a creator’s strengths, and then leveraging them to them to the best of your abilities. When it comes to critical acclaim, I can understand the appeal of putting Charles Soule and Phil Noto together on a book — but this isn’t the book for them. Phil Noto’s typically beautiful art winds up coming across as a misfire here, but that ultimately wouldn’t matter given the fact that the story here is a derivative, out-of-left-field swerve that feels in need of a total rewrite. “You haven’t won. You’ve simply lost in a somewhat creative fashion,” Terex tells Dameron. But after reading this issue, I’d say he’s only about half right.

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