Best Shots Reviews: AVENGERS #1, GREEN LANTERNS #10, CHAMPIONS #2

DC Comics November 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers #1
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Mike del Mundo and Marco D’alfonso
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Despite having a new title, a new artist and a new #1 on its cover, Avengers #1 is, in many ways, a straight continuation of Mark Waid’s previous work in All-New, All-Different Avengers with only some minor adjustments. With literally half of Waid’s previous team having left to go found the Champions, Waid and artist Mike del Mundo spend much of this issue shoring up the Avengers’ ranks, while picking up plot threads from the last run’s Kang-centric storyline.

While much of Waid’s plot points stem from his previous run on the book, readers will have little problem getting up to speed — namely, after being turned into a puppet by the time traveler Kang, the Vision traveled back in time and kidnapped Kang as an infant, absconding with him for parts unknown. Unfortunately, hell hath no fury like a time lord scorned, and the Avengers wind up getting caught in the crossfire for their synthezoid friend’s actions. The premise is a decent one, and one that allows for the Avengers to get a little bit of action into the mix, but the timing feels wrong, particularly after the “future crime” angle of Civil War II.

But while Waid is still finding the right balance with his new cast members, he still has a strong sense of characterization that keeps this comic afloat. With Iron Man MIA, Peter Parker has taken up the mantle of the Avengers’ financial benefactor, and it’s very funny to see how he has zero of the chill that made Tony Stark such a dashing figure. (In particular, the way that the Wasp just naturally hates Peter is a great touch, as Waid keenly notes that spiders and wasps are natural enemies.) Yet one new recruit, Hercules, still feels a shade underdeveloped, making little impact beyond a perfunctory action opener.

What will be most interesting about Avengers, however, is whether it will make or break the upward trajectory of artist Mike del Mundo. Already an iconic cover artist in his own right, del Mundo dazzled with Marvel’s Otherworld series last year, but having him draw a flagship Marvel book is a heck of a promotion. And unlike mass-market artists like Humberto Ramos, Jim Cheung or Steve McNiven, del Mundo is not your typical superhero comics artist — his characters are dark and twisted, with a color scheme similar to that of Frazer Irving. It’s an acquired taste to be sure, but del Mundo works at his best when he’s exploring the weirdness of Waid’s story — beats like Kang and Scarlet Centurion splitting from one another, the spindly Spider-Man swinging into action, or the Vision shrugging off a shattered skull are among the book’s best visual moments. That all said, however, the darkness of del Mundo’s color palette can be a little daunting, and without hot colors to contrast them with, can occasionally dampen this debut’s energy.

While Waid’s other big team book, Champions, is on the fast track to superhero success, Avengers doesn’t feel as sure of a bet. Though on a purely narrative level there’s little difference between this book and All-New, All-Different Avengers, the change in art might make this book as easy of a jumping-off point as it is for readers to get on board. Yet All-New, All-Different Avengers had some moments of real brilliance in its short run, with Waid coming up with new and interesting team-ups for a diverse group of Marvel heroes — and with a challenging new artist and a story that could span all of time, I have faith that Avengers could be gearing up for a bold new era.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Lanterns #10
Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Eduardo Pansica, Julio Ferreira and Blond
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

A new original threat and strong characterizations keeps the tenth issue of Green Lanterns in the air. Sam Humphries continues the title’s streak of presenting Baz and Jessica as fully fleshed-out characters, but it is the introduction of Volthoom and the new wielder of the Phantom Ring, Frank Laminski, that gives the title its own worthy threat beyond the established Green Lantern villain roster. New series artist Eduardo Pansica, along with inker Julio Ferreira and colorist Blond, adapts well to the otherworldly visuals of the title as well as the grounded emotion that Humphries employs throughout the script. After an epic opening arc, Green Lanterns #10 aims to put the new Green Lanterns in untested space against a bold new threat.

With the major introduction to Frank and Volthoom out of the way thanks to the previous issue, Humphries wastes little time getting to the meat of his story this week. With the Phantom Ring in his sights, Frank sets a woman’s house on fire with her daughter napping upstairs in order to distract Baz and Jessica, clearing his path to the new powerful weapon. Though the previous issue was all about Frank’s origins and drive toward evil, #10 explictly shows how far he is willing to go to gain power, instantly establishing the stakes for this new arc. Humphries also gets to play with his creepy charm and positivity in this issue, highlighting his crocodile grin in the scene where he asks to “borrow” the woman’s house before setting the flame and his intense glee when he finally gets his hands on the Phantom Ring. Couple Frank’s smiling lunacy with the enigmatic Volthoom, and you have a compelling pair of foes for this new arc.

But while the new villains of Green Lanterns impress, the stars of the title continue to develop and grow with each issue. Now that Baz and Jessica are finally on a more solid ground as partners, Humphries throws another wrench into their pairing with the introduction of the Phantom Ring. Though Baz experiences its power first-hand in a gorgeously trippy single-page splash sequence from Eduardo Pansica, Julio Ferreira and Blond, the very idea of the new ring is an interesting new kink in their working relationship. Without overdoing it, Humphries allows both characters to ponder wielding the new ring and how their heroic career could benefit from using the entire spectrum. This new narrative thread along with Baz’s easing bullishness and Jessica Cruz’s deep-rooted charm keeps Green Lanterns on steady ground plot-wise and character-wise.

As for the visuals, this art team makes Green Lantern #10 look more like a 2000AD comic than a story starring heroic space cops. Starting with a multi-panel multicolored freakout detailing Baz’s brush with the Phantom Ring, Eduardo Pansica, Julio Ferreira, and Blond give this issue a sketchy, heavily inked look that highlights the weird creatures, constructs, and slightly exaggerated emotions of this story. Thanks to Ferreira’s inks, Pansica’s pencils are highly defined and clear, even when things start to get a bit hectic like in the scene where Baz and Jessica face a burning building. Blond’s rich colors add a layer of vibrancy onto the sharp pencils, highlighting the more otherworldly aspects of the story like the ring constructs which seem to glow on the page and the dusky shadows that make up Volthoom’s body. By balancing both the grounded and science fiction elements in a way that highlights what makes them pop visually Green Lanterns #10 starts this new arc off on an artistic high point.

Though Green Lanterns made great use of the Red Lanterns in its opening arc, the inclusion of the Phantom Ring puts the title and its cast into uncharted, narratively rich waters. Sam Humphries and a game art team start this new arc with big stakes and honed artwork without sacrificing what made the title interesting in the first place. With its solid character work and fast-paced introduction to the new baddies, Green Lanterns #10 is a solidly entertaining start to the title’s latest story arc.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Champions #2
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos’ sophomore issue of Champions is a much more laid-back affair than their debut story, but it’s also a far more engaging and character-driven installment. Taking the chattiness of Brian Michael Bendis’s Avengers and somehow perfecting the formula, Champions #2 is a great way to get introduced to the next generation of Marvel heroes.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before — the Avengers quip away over their breakfast table, largely just taking up time until the next superhero showdown arrives. That was a staple of Bendis’s run on Avengers, but instead of the rapid-fire, Mamet-esque dialogue, Waid brings a deliberateness to the Champions’ team-building camping trip that fleshes out their dynamic wonderfully. Kamala Khan, arguably the standard-bearer for Marvel’s modern-day efforts, acts as the precocious team leader, Spider-Man and Nova are her everyman lieutenants and comedic relief, the Hulk is the team troublemaker, while Viv Vision is the intimidating mystery of the group. Waid settles nicely into the group’s banter, but takes great care to ensure every character has their own unique voice and personality — in particular, Nova and the Hulk’s back-and-forth generates some of the best sparks in the issue, while Ms. Marvel deftly avoiding genre cliche is a great beat, and Viv being an unexpected love interest is a particularly cool twist.

What keeps this largely action-free comic so engaging is that Waid recognizes he can’t just talk his way out of this script — he still has to have his characters doing something interesting as well. As Kamala has the team introduce themselves and their powers, it’s not only a good in-story mechanism to get readers up to speed, but it also allows artist Humberto Ramos to do something other than just have talking heads. Kamala gets to grow and shrink to demonstrate her power set, while Viv phases through a tree as she discusses her internal wifi system. (The password is “evenanandro1dcancry,” by the way, mixing comics continuity with teen angst perfectly.) Even the brief bursts of action — like the Hulk leaping so high he literally is gone for a scene and a half, or Cyclops showing Amadeus that he’s more than a match for even a gamma-powered titan — are engaging and character-driven enough to make the comic work.

And I think that’s something that resonates with Ramos, who has already had a long and illustrious team-up career with Waid on their Impulse series. Ramos’ enthusiasm shows here, and without a frenetic action sequence to cramp up his pages, his layouts are the most clean and clear I’ve seen them in quite some time. While there are the occasional panels rendered a little choppily by inker Victor Olazaba (or, in the case of the Hulk, rendered a little too heavily), there’s so much character in these pages, even when it’s just four teen superheroes huddled around a campfire. (And the less I say about the final page cliffhanger, the better — suffice to say it’s one of the best single images from Ramos in years.) Ramos also seems to zero in on the unique physical characteristics that makes each character so interesting — Spider-Man with his ultra-expressive mask, Cyclops’ thin and lanky physique, or the way that Viv’s eyes suddenly narrow to ominous green dots when she feels snubbed — these beats keep this story visually interesting in a way that makes over-the-top action suddenly feel so unnecessary.

And maybe that’s because Waid is dealing with a story that’s all about character. The Champions aren’t a team with a mission — instead, they’re an age cohort, a meeting of the next great minds from the Marvel Universe. You don’t need to have car chases when you’ve got Hulk-related drama. You don’t need to have a bad guy trying to take over the world when you’ve got young superheroes in love. Sometimes you just need to stop and smell the roses in the comics business, and when you’ve got company as great as the Champions — not to mention the creative team behind them — this kind of getaway is exactly what readers needed.

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