Best Shots Reviews: VISION #11, TRINITY #1, KINGSWAY WEST #2, More

"Kingsway West #2" cover by Mirko Colak
Credit: Mirko Colak
Credit: Marvel Comics

The Vision #11
Written by Tom King
Art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

For a comic book based around the premise of soulless robots trying to live as something like a normal, suburban family, Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and Jordie Bellaire’s The Vision #11 is about something as normal as rage. It’s the rage of a father over the death of his son, the rage of a mother at all of the wrong choices that she made, and the rage of a daughter thinking her parents would never lie to her. The penultimate issue of this creative team’s run takes these characters, who you would think live in a binary world where everything is a 0 or a 1, and makes them the most human and troubled characters in the Marvel universe.

The physical and emotional brutality of Walta’s artwork drives this issue. Whether it’s the Vision viciously battling the Avengers to get to his son’s murderer or Virginia confessing to her daughter her sins from the past 10 issues, Walta’s imagery captures the shared pain that this husband and wife feel. As both characters lash out and turn their pain into anger, Walta’s drawings convey everything these characters are going through and experiencing. There’s no thought or intent behind their violence other than for them to find some kind of catharsis through violence. Walta captures that the violence that erupts from their fists isn’t a result of malice or righteousness as much as it is from the pain and anger that they feel.

It’s a violence that does not hold anything back. Their son is dead because they trusted someone that they thought was a brother. But their son is dead also because of actions they have taken that they’ve tried to cover up and hide. King and Walta are not offering these characters complete absolution as they unleash their fury against heroes and innocents in this issue. Honestly, watching the Vision punch out heroes like Iron Man and Spider-Man is nothing new, but it’s the ease and determination that he has in this that’s frightening. Worse than that, it’s Virginia’s unleashed rage after she confesses to her daughter Vivian that’s so visceral, ugly, and scary. For both good and bad, King and Walta’s Virginia has been the heart and soul of this series, and in this issue she quite literally rips the heart out of it multiple times.

If Virginia is the heart and soul of The Vision #11, the Vision himself is the determined face of it. Building off of the character’s long history, King and Walta have been telling the story of a man trying to keep a family together and failing. This issue then is about the face of a hero turned desperate. Jordie Bellaire’s coloring perfectly captures a moment of Vision with sparks flying all around him after he blasts Iron Man into a building, as if he’s grinding his teeth that powerfully to shoot off excess energy. It’s one among many contributions that she has in this issue, and it’s one that’s easy to miss, but it perfectly compliments Walta’s drawing of a man who has been denied what he thinks is his justice and his right.

The fury in this issue gives ways to moments of the Vision remembering his humanity thanks to his brother Simon Williams and wives (both past and present). King and Walta remember that this story is ultimately a suburban bedroom drama of husbands and wives trying to protect their children and each other from the world. This drama unfolds in The Vision #11 with superpowers and punching people through walls, but King and Walta always bring it back to the characters and their own personal troubles. This issue is the brashest in a series about the bad choices that are made by good men and women in the middle of the night in their nice suburban neighborhoods.

Credit: DC Comics

Trinity #1
Written and Illustrated by Francis Manapul
Lettered by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Trinity commands your attention. It does this with dynamic two-page spreads built around the logos of the three most important characters in the DC stable. Seeing the first one - Wonder Woman’s, caused to me to gasp with how it wasn’t just a spread or splash panel for the sake of doing so, but with how it propelled the story forward thanks to Manapul’s panel layouts which flow naturally within the confines of the logo. These pages, influenced by the widescreen approach of The Authority by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, inform you what the book is about immediately. In essence, the series is centred around what Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman represent.

Despite how big these pages feel, the book as a whole is relatively quiet. It centres around Batman and Wonder Woman coming to the farm in Metropolis where post-Crisis Superman, Lois, and their son, Jonathan now reside. From the get go this presents an interesting dynamic to the classic trio. Bruce and Diana had known "New 52" Superman for the better part of a decade before his demise earlier this year and now they have to deal with moving past that and inviting someone into their inner circle with the face and abilities of the man they knew. This idea is brought up by Bruce during the issue and it looks like it’ll be a driving force behind the book moving forward as this new Trinity’s relationship develops.

There’s also a recurrent theme of family shown through the Kents which links to this dynamic through Lois’ narration of the issue which talks of friendship turning people into a family. During the "New 52" era, we went from a trio whose first interactions were shown in Justice League’s first arc to a trio who had already become close five years later. This benefits Trinity because it doesn’t necessarily feel like a retread despite having had an established Trinity before "Rebirth" started. Coupled with the issue’s ending, this looks to be another series that will deal with the ideas behind the "Rebirth" initiative by bringing the old into the new – Post-Crisis Superman into a Trinity of which the majority of its members are from the "New 52."

Much like Superwoman, Trinity benefits from having a writer/artist on the book as it ensures the artistic vision is translated from script to page as intended. That feeling is only amplified by the fact that Manapul has also coloured this issue. The subdued palette of the issue assists Manapaul in establishing the farm as a place that’s away from the hubbub of the Metropolis where the Daily Planet building can be seen from any place as long as you look up.

This is clear from the first page of the book where Jonathan tends to the fields as the sun is setting. The golden rays stretch across rolling hills as far as the eye can see, but Jonathan is framed in front of the sun and our attention is focused like a laser sight onto him. Later on in the book there’s a set of two panels on the same tier showcasing what on opposite sides of a door which gives the book this cinematic feel as it employs what is essentially a split screen. This is before all of the characters are in the same room and you see how expertly Manapul crafts a location and blocks the characters. His framing choices lets us catch glances of characters which aren’t speaking in the panel and it never feels boring despite it being a sit down conversation with minimal action in terms of characters moving about or gesturing.

If the book has one setback, it’s that the issue is light on plot. While it isn’t purely Bruce and Diana visiting the farm for a meal, it doesn’t have enough time to get into the meat of the story. This is rectified to an extent by the fact that from this initial glance, Manapul appears to have the characterisation of the trio, Lois, and Jonathan down. Lois is no push over, Clark cares for someone in danger in an instant, Bruce is direct, and Diana steers the conversation away from conflict. There are some genuinely funny moments that work because Jonathan acts and sounds like a kid with superpowers he doesn’t fully understand. Moving forward, the plot will hopefully move at a faster pace, but if this book wants to be subdued character beats with intermittent, but expressive action, then as long as it continues to be of this standard, then that’s perfectly acceptable. Especially if it delivers interactions on the level of this issue’s conversation between Diana and Lois.

While the book is light on plot progression, there’s something to be said for how the wonderfully illustrated pages grab your attention and hold it until the end. In that way it’s a lot like Manapul’s The Flash run from a few years ago. It remains to be seen whether his plotting has become more intricate, but it’s clear from this issue alone that his visual storytelling has only gotten better. With that in mind, this series looks like it will be a joy to read and should the narrative remain simple moving forward, this is sure to be a book that’s enhanced by the art.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Extraordinary X-Men Annual #1
Written by Ollie Masters and Brandon Montclare
Art by Carlo Barberi, Rosi Kampe, Walden Wong, Israel Silva, Rachelle Rosenberg and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The best modern X-books walk a fine line of being lighthearted with more serious implications and interesting discourse. In that regard, Extraordinary X-Men Annual #1 succeeds. As with the X-Men tangents of Civil War II, this issue is rich with deep characterization, but getting past the graveyard of the plot choices requires some mutant-powered whistling. While there is a lot to like here, its flaws ultimately render it inessential and give the reader the impression that the story was pushed from point A to point B without much attention given the specifics of the story. The two stories found in this book share the same strengths and weaknesses, both in terms of Ollie Masters and Brandon Montclare's respective stories and the art.

The first story in the annual chronicles the attempted prison break of Ruckus and Ramrod from a British prison. The Terrigen Mists are making their way toward the prison and the British government hasn't officially acknowledged that the mists are toxic to mutantkind. While it is difficult to imagine what political benefit there is in denying this - even by X-book standards of institutionalized genocide this seems like an odd choice - the way that the story integrates the political implications of the mists is really interesting. "Prison Break" does a fantastic job of examining the unexpected ways that the mists are affecting the Marvel Universe. When Nightcrawler and Logan 'BAMF!' into the prison, they are greeted by a riot. The heroes find out that this is because one of the guards let slip to the prisoners that a Terrigen Cloud was approaching.

While the reader never learns why the inmates are reacting like this, if you remember the reactions of other Marvel characters in other titles, it makes perfect sense. Non-mutants fear the mists almost as much as mutants, and add to that the socially disconnected community of a prison, and you have a lot of people freaking out over something that is genuinely unknown. This issue never makes any acknowledgment of what would happen should one of the inmates find themselves in a Terrigen cocoon, but it is impossible to leave that scene of the riot without thinking of it.

It is the sequences within the prison that are riddled with the most missteps and plot contrivances. For example, Logan is able to smell out Ramrod and Ruckus, even though this Logan is not from this timeline and wouldn't know Ramrod and Ruckus' scents. You can almost justify this and reason that maybe Logan can smell mutantness, but this issue forces you to make several of these leaps in logic to justify what honestly just seems like lazy plotting. When confronted with a riot squad, why does Logan unsheath his claws? He doesn't cut anything up. He essentially just knocks the guards out of the way as much as he would with his claws un-snikted. He does it so we can have the panel of Jean telepathically shouting "Don't do it!" When Logan, Nightcrawler, Ramrod, and Ruckus are trapped in the prison after its power nullifiers come back on, they are able to communicate to Jean by thinking the same thing as hard as they possibly can. These are clearly described as power nullifiers, not power suppressors early in the story. In fact, it is the primary reason why the team can't initially break into the prison.

Fortunately, the story course corrects and leaves readers with a really fun and non-linear twist. The twist is teased out with clocks drawn in-panel as the plan unfolds, and the payoff at the end with Storm appearing to be innocent is genuinely great. The closing beat of guards noticing missing bricks from their wall just a few panels after the team discovers that they accidently brought two bricks from the collapsed wall with them is also really nicely done. It seems inconsequential when you first notice it, but ominous in Carlo Barberi's closing panel, which is the best panel of his in the issue and the second best panel in the book overall.

The second story is shorter, smaller, and above all, sweeter, focusing exclusively on Forge and Moon Girl. The two are a natural pairing as friends and really interact more in a peer-to-peer fashion than a mentor-mentee relationship. This accomplishes two things in-story. First, it supports the canonicity of Moon Girl being the smartest person in the Marvel Universe, and second, it allows both characters to behave more naturally and likably. They are two kindhearted experts that are talking as friends.

That said, when a Terrigen cloud rolls in unexpectedly, it also yields the one narrative gripe I have with this story. Terrigen clouds are pretty inconsistently characterized. They are unexpected when the plot calls for it, and they are foreseeable when the plot wants to establish a time limit. Both iterations are in this annual. Moon Girl desperately ushers her and Forge to safety, further solidifying their friendship. It's a delightful story with just enough stakes to establish a meaningful relationship, but not so much that it drains the charm from the comic.

Both stories have strong art for different reasons. In the first story, Barberi gives us a real sense of chaos in the prison. It makes the situation appropriately tense, and while it does lose a little bit of steam by the time that the riot squad scene takes place, it adds a sense of urgency to the issue. The second story has noticeably beautiful color work, and the art, in general, is strongest when Rosi Kampe is conveying the solid landscape in juxtaposition with the amorphous Terrigen cloud and rocket exhaust, which results in the aesthetic highlight of the entire comic. One nitpick with the art in both stories: When did Forge become Corsair's doppelganger? Over the years, Forge has gradually lost his Cheyenne physical characteristics, and in both stories looks strikingly similar to Russell Dauterman's incarnation of Corsair.

The first story seems as though it will have consequences on the upcoming X-Men arc, and the way it teases it out is exciting. It would have benefitted from more thought into why the plot moved from one panel to the next, instead of just doing what had to be done to get everyone where they needed to be. While the second story will likely have no follow-up, it is absolutely dripping with charm and refuses to waste any space, narratively and artistically. Extraordinary X-Men Annual #1 is designed to be a jumping-on point for a new arc, but it's really only going to appeal to X-Men faithful.

Credit: DC Comics

Cyborg #1
Written by John Semper Jr.
Art by Paul Pelletier, Tony Kordos, Scott Hanna and Guy Major
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Heroes are at their most engaging when they are made human. Readers love them for their powers, their stories, their feats, but what really makes a superhero work is their humanity. And in Cyborg #1 writer John Semper, Jr. and artist Paul Pelletier are able to tap into the humanity of Victor Stone. Joined by inkers Tony Kordos and Scott Hanna and color artist Guy Major, Semper and Pelletier take the time to bring readers into Victor Stone’s mind after the events of Cyborg: Rebirth #1.

After a brief opener setting up the villains for the arc, Cyborg #1 really gets going as two criminals make their way through the streets of Detroit. Unfortunately for them, their recklessness has attracted the attention of Cyborg. Paul Pelletier’s artwork here is exciting and dynamic, showing off Vic’s impressive technological arsenal with great efficiency. The scene is fast paced, and inkers Kordos and Hanna do a great job here, utilizing a combination of thin bold inks to keep the action clear as it moves. Semper injects a bit of humor as Vic reveals to the criminals just how much he knows about them. It’s a fun sequence that drives home Cyborg as a superhero. All too often, heroes are forced into fighting foes that they created or who were born of the same circumstances as the hero, and this sequence helps avoid that pitfall.

The back half of Cyborg #1 is given over to a sequence in which Sarah Charles takes Vic out of the lab to cheer him up. John Semper gives Sarah Charles a biting humor, and she digs into Vic as he walks with her. Vic never quite opens himself up to Sarah, holding in his concerns about his father’s fears. Their late night stroll eventually takes them into a jazz club where a Vietnam vet named Blue has a 1-on-1 with Vic about his troubles.

The emphasis on this sequence provides a nice contrast in style from the Rebirth one-shot. While there, the quieter scenes were mixed into the action, John Semper does not interrupt this sequence, creating a completely different tone for the issue. The interaction between Vic and Sarah comes across as natural, and Semper utilizes their time together to emphasize not just their bond, but the city of Detroit. The highlight of the sequence comes as Cyborg listens to veteran Blue play the saxophone. The sequence is completely visual, and artist Paul Pelletier makes great use of close-ups to highlight Victor’s emotions in the scene. And while readers obviously can’t hear the music, the cuts back-and-forth between Victor and Blue convey the impact the music is meant to have, as one human being plays to another. Guy Major uses warm colors throughout this particular scene, the warm oranges contrasting nicely with the colder blues and greens of the rest of the issue.

Readers who missed out on the Rebirth issue may be miffed by the lack of action here, but Cyborg #1 is largely about the anxiety Victor feels surrounding his own identity. His father’s fears that Victor may be a machine simply replicating a man has shaken him, and his journey to rediscover his own soul makes for a touching read. That human journey is what makes Cyborg #1 such an engaging read. Between John Semper’s dialogue and the art by Paul Pelletier, the layered nature of the characters gives the issue some depth that the previous chapter lacked. And with a stellar opening sequence and a strong teaser at the end, Cyborg #1 promises readers that like more action in their superhero books won’t be dissatisfied for long.

Credit: Mirko Colak

Kingsway West #2
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Mirko Colak and Wil Quintana
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Greg Pak and company keep the momentum rolling with Kingsway West #2. As Kingsway and his partner in circumstance Ah Toy venture deeper into the wilds, the former gunslinger is forced to confront his violent past in order to survive in the present. While the first issue was all about establishing Kingsway and his weird world, writer Greg Pak uses this second issue to deepen the reader’s understanding of Kingsway’s relationship to Sonia as well as display more of his talent for violence. Though Kingsway Law is trying to move away from being the monster he was in the past, Kingsway West #2 shows that that monster may be what keeps him and Toy alive.

Opening with a set of effective flashbacks to Kingsway and his wife Sonia’s farm before the events of the series, Pak uses an emotional frame for the raw action of this second issue. Both Kingsway and his wife have carry heavy scars from the Red War and both are eager to leave that life behind. But as our hero quickly learns, sometimes the past won’t let us alone that easily. It’s that thesis that becomes the entire crux of Kingsway West #2.

After the flashbacks, we are returned to the present and the violence and gunplay that comes with it. Though our leads don’t get very far plotwise in this second issue, Pak greatly expands Kingsway’s characterization as he is dragged unwillingly back into old habits in order to find his missing wife. By framing the violence in the present with the emotional flashbacks of his domestic life, Pak offers the interesting idea of self in that if Kingsway returns to his old ways in order to do good, is he still the man Sonia fell in love with? Does his means justify his ends? It is heady stuff for a comic that also deals with raw magic, but Greg Pak seeds it into the narrative easily, making Kingsway an even more intriguing protagonist in the process.

Also helping along in that duality is artist Mirko Colak and colorist Wil Quintana, both of whom shift between the emotional flashbacks and the dusty and bloody action sequences with ease. In the issue’s opening, Colak’s pencils take on a softer tone, both with the characters and the backgrounds. Kingsway during these scenes is shown with a much more relaxed stance and look about him and Sonia is rendered like an ideal, all flowing hair and loving eyes as she playfully chastises Law for his impatience at their budding farm. Quintana also takes a softer approach to these scenes, layering a golden glow over the scenes, hammering home the idealized look of Kingsway’s memory.

Once the action switches back to the present, however, both Colak and Quintana’s work takes back on the harder edge that made the first issue so effective. Colak’s eye for action blocking is still sharp as ever when Law shifts into gunslinger mode to keep him and Toy alive as they are beset upon by forces looking to capture and control the red gold. Colak draws Kingsway almost as a force of nature during these scenes, either leaving him off panel entirely as he deals death from his six-shooters or casts him in heavy shadow, leaping into the fray while raining down bullets. Wil Quintana helps frame Law’s propensity for violence in a way that pops from the page, darkening the heavy shadow work of Colak and coloring the blood and costumes with rich, slightly exaggerated colors that add to the vibrancy of the world of Kingway West and keep its streak of eye catching visuals alive.

With real emotions and more bloody fun action, Kingsway West #2 builds well on the fantastic groundwork left by its first issue. Greg Pak, while clearly having a blast with the fantasy western setting, still manages to make these characters feel real with genuine pathos wired through all the gunplay and adventuring. Right along with him are the art team of Mirko Colak and Wil Quintana, both of whom shift well between quiet moments and loud set pieces, giving equal attention to both. Though there are still many miles to go for Kingsway Law and Ah Toy, Kingway West #2 stays committed to its action-packed and emotional journey.

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