Best Shots Extra Threeview: AVENGERS: PRIME #2, MAGNUS #1...

Best Shots Extra Three-view

Avengers Prime #2

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Alan Davis, Mark Farmer and Javier Rodriguez

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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Who says lightning can't strike twice?

If anything, this sophomore issue of Avengers Prime takes the strengths of Brian Michael Bendis' last issue and expands upon them, with some improved character moments being realized beautifully by Alan Davis' powerful artwork.

First off, the highlight of the book: Bendis' Iron Man. While in the last issue I thought the character came off as a bit unsympathetic, Tony Stark is definitely the comedic foil of this rebuilt Marvel trinity, as he tries to explain himself to a pack of heavies that don't seem to care about Stark Resilient's stock prices look like right now. Of course, Tony's not the only one here, as Bendis really gives some weight to Thor and Captain America -- and perhaps even gives some lead-in for Matt Fraction's upcoming Thor arc.

I think a lot of what gives this book some real power is the artwork of Alan Davis. While a lot of people will look to his fight scenes as a highlight -- and I think Thor charging at you with a pack of demons latched to his back is pretty rad, even if the inkwork there by Mark Farmer feels a little incomplete -- where Davis' true power is the expressiveness of his characters. What he does is he really gets the characters to "act" -- and a little bit of that goes a long way in helping make sure that Bendis doesn't get overwrought with the dialogue. Characterization is a two-way street, and I'm hoping that artists like Davis can do some heavy lifting and let Bendis keep stretching himself as a plotter and storyteller, as opposed to just being the king of Mamet-esque dialogue.

Now that said, this book isn't perfect. While colorist Javier Rodriguez reminds me a bit of Laura Martin with his choice of color palettes -- for example, there's a scene of crackling magic that's awash in purples -- but he doesn't lend it the same pop. Unfortunately, that means that this book's visual energy gets sapped a bit, as everything looks a bit darker than one might expect. And as much as Bendis is trimming a lot of fat off these scripts, there's still a little bit of repetition here with the mythology of Asgard and Midgard that slows the story a bit.

Still, even I can admit that these are pretty middling concerns in the grand scheme. Maybe this is the sort of book that Bendis should do more often -- between books like this and Ultimate Spider-Man, he seems to thrive on smaller ensembles rather than sprawling teams... and it doesn't hurt when you have real storytelling craftsmen like Alan Davis or David Lafuente in your corner. While it's not the cathartic reunion everyone's been hoping for, there's some great character moments that make Avengers Prime #2 a high-quality read.

Magnus, Robot Fighter #1

Written by Jim Shooter

Art by Bill Reinhold and Wes Dzioban

Lettering By Nate Piekos

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

You’ve got to respect a comic whose three word title not only describes its main character but also the bulk of its plot and even its entire philosophy. “Magnus, Robot Fighter”: That title really does say it all. This book is, indeed, about a guy named Magnus, a guy who not only fights the hell out of robots, but fights them while wearing a mini-skirt that would make Katy Perry blush. Love it or hate it, when it comes to Magnus, Robot Fighter, no one will ever accuse writer/editor Jim Shooter of false advertising.

Magnus, Robot Fighter #1 is so unabashedly and unashamedly what it is, the words “good” and “bad” lose all meaning. Love it or recoil in horror from it, Magnus, Robot Fighter has the strange frisson and undeniable charm of an intriguingly cheesy B-movie. Even when you’re cringing in vicarious embarrassment at what’s on the page you’re always drawn back to it by the go for broke action and sheer chutzpah on display. Like a great cult film, Magnus #1 is a lot of things, but it’s never lukewarm.

Where writer Jim shooter’s revival of Dr. Solar left this reviewer asking the question why? Magnus’ raison d’être is as blatant as its intentionally clunky, exposition-filled dialogue. Magnus, Robot Fighter is a throwback to a sort of comic story no one tells today, a throwback refreshingly devoid of overt irony or satirical apologetics. Magnus, Robot Fighter 2010, in all its straight-faced, square jawed, cheesecake glory, reads like a silver age relic randomly pulled from the quarter bin of some forsaken comic shop. This is retro storytelling, but it’s damn-the-torpedoes, to-hell-with-irony retro storytelling. The giddily good, the blatantly bad, and the indisputably out there are all on display between Magnus’ #1’s covers, and there are no self-aware shenanigans to sugarcoat the kitsch with hip self-effacement.

The world Magnus inhabits is one suspended midway between the urban dystopia of Blade Runner and the fins and jumpsuits wonderland of Buck Rogers. It’s a world where kidnap-ready babes spend their nights lounging in lacy underthings waiting to get abducted by killer robots, and spend their days strutting around in aircraft grade aluminum bustiers. In the world of Magnus a cyborg villain with a cornball handle like “Big Guns” is not only plausible but inevitable. What hero could be more fitting in this reality than Magnus, a pants-less, robot-reared ubermensch who disdains any number of futuristic weapons in his war on metal in favor of good ‘ol fashioned robot-punching.

Anachronistic narrative styles aside, the framework Shooter builds in this debut is open to a lot of tantalizing, pulpy possibilities. Little tidbits of future plot points are thrown out in casual little stingers. A mention of other planets and yet to be seen alien races give the series the potential to go intergalactic, and an offhand remark about subterranean societies whets the appetite for troglodyte clobbering hi-jinks in the future. Overall there’s a real effort to establish the parameters and atmosphere of the setting, even if the setting is completely retrograde in its sensibilities. All of it speaks to an enthusiasm for the material absent in Shooter’s Doctor Solar book.

Of course, none of this would ever come across without the perfectly lockstep art of Bill Reinhold to bring everything to life. In Reinhold, Shooter has found the perfect match of artistic style for his junk-SF aesthetic. Reinhold’s eye for composition and his design sensibilities convey just the right sort shameless, juvenile enthusiasm needed to put across Magnus, Robot Fighter’s daft futurism. His depiction of the pants-free, automaton-decapitating Magnus also calls to mind the three panel comic strip cliffhangers old. One could easily see this iteration of Magnus, Robot Fighter squeezed between Dick Tracy and The Phantom on a Sunday newspaper page.

The art is kitschy and derivative, but it is never disinterested. Backgrounds are enthusiastically rendered, and panels are often sprinkled with whimsical details to give it all depth. It’s not groundbreaking art, actually it’s the exact opposite of groundbreaking art, but it looks like the artists were honestly having a blast while creating it. Did I mention that Reinhold also draws really cool robots? From the sinister neon-beetle thug bots to intentionally ineffectual looking civil servant droids, Reinhold’s ability to render awesome and distinctive automatons is only matched by his ability to gleefully render Magnus smashing them into microchips.

Static value judgments disintegrate in the context of Magnus, Robot Fighter. If Magnus, Robot Fighter were a movie it would be Roadhouse, the kind of movie you know is wrong, but you still can’t help but watch when it shows up on TNT at 2 a.m. Sometimes you’ve just got to watch Patrick Swayze kick hillbillies in the face, and sometimes you just can’t help but be drawn in by a comic that offers nothing more than a guy in a mini-skirt who rips the heads off robots. It’s hard to imagine Magnus, Robot Fighter becoming a mainstream success. In fact, many modern comic readers will recoil in horror reading this book, as it’s a reminder of many of the things sequential storytelling has supposedly left behind. Nevertheless, there is a shameless enthusiasm here, a clanking, bold gusto radiating out from the gaps between the tin-eared dialogue and timeworn tropes. The right kind of fan will see Magnus, Robot Fighter as honest, campy fun, and Shooter and company seem to be having too much fun to worry about what any other kind of fan might think.

Hellboy: The Storm #2

Written by Mike Mignola

Art by Duncan Fegredo and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Clem Robins

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo’s previous Hellboy series: The Wild Hunt, was basically an exercise in preparation. Wild Hunt’s purpose was to put Hellboy and his adversaries, lead by the mysterious Queen of Blood, into perfect position for an epic, apocalyptic clash, a war presumably to be played out in The Wild Hunt’s follow up series The Storm. Wild Hunt was an elegant setup, one that didn’t feel like stage-setting because so much was simultaneously being revealed and explored.

With the players seemingly perfectly poised at the end of Wild Hunt, it was fairly dismaying to learn that the brief 3-issue Storm mini-series would be another allotment of rising action. Even worse, issue one’s plot was little more than a “last time on Hellboy…” catch-up exercise. With Issue #2, however, the hellions at Dark Horse demonstrate why this 3-issue warm-up act is essential to raising the drama for the yet-to-come Hellboy vs. Queen main event.

Issue two intertwines a chunk of exposition regarding the origin of the Queen of Blood with a rather anti-climactic fight sequence between Hellboy and the Queen’s champion. A good brawl can liven up even the most artful exposition, but it seems like the writers threw the Hellboy vs. Champion plot point together just to have some fisticuffs in these first two issues. The fight is, of course, beautifully rendered by Duncan Fegredo, whose pencils switch between medieval art iconography and post-Kirby superheroics with all the deftness of Mignola himself, but the brawl is still ultimately forgettable, as are the issue’s further efforts to sell the audience on just how Eeeeevil the Queen of Blood is.

Also, the fight re-iterates Hellboy’s increasingly ludicrous level of invulnerability, an element that really plays havoc with narrative tension. This issue marks the second time in as many stories where Hellboy is completely impaled on a wicked medieval weapon only to shrug it off as flesh wound in subsequent panels. Mignola needs to put some sort of parameter on just what can and can’t kill Hellboy, otherwise all the punching and ducking and weapon swinging becomes moot. A completely indestructible hero isn’t very exciting. A million jaded Superman fans can attest to that.

However, once the battle with the champion peters out and we get a few moments with the emotionally beleaguered Hellboy, the narrative meat of this 3-issue interlude begins to become evident. Earth shattering events in BPRD are referenced and the embattled demon, as well as the reader, begins to see that the upcoming war between the horn-headed, newly christened scion of King Arthur and the Queen of Blood may be more than just another supernatural tussle. The coming of The Queen quite possibly marks the advent of the apocalyptic destiny Hellboy has dreaded his entire life. This could be it folks, the endgame of the Ogdru-jahad and the reckoning of Anung un Rama and his right hand of doom, the final curtain, the end of man, Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

This story may also constitute Big Red’s first steps on the road back to the BPRD, and a drawing together of events in both titles. It’s obvious Mignola and company don’t want to risk rushing such a broad, paradigm-changing series of events. The Storm is not an instance of foot dragging, it’s fine tuning and contextualizing: not as immediately gratifying as the full blown leap into the fray readers may have expected after Wild Hunt, but hopefully something more rewarding in the long term.

The Storm is not the rousing third-act battle many of us were looking forward to at the end of The Wild Hunt, but the flavor and drama Mignola is adding to the mythos in The Storm could give the subsequent story an added epic sweep worth waiting for. Sure, The Storm is another instance of stage-setting in a long developing story, but if Hellboy, as series, has proved anything, it is the value of carefully sowing narrative seeds for future harvest. Hellboy has come a long way since Seed of Destruction. Attentiveness to character and atmosphere like that on display in Hellboy: The Storm is the reason why.

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