Best Shots Extra: X-MEN, INVINCIBLE IRON MAN, More

Best Shots Extra

 

X-Men #13

Written by Christopher Yost

Art by Paco Medina, Dalibor Talajic, Juan Vlasco, Marte Gracia, and Wil Quintana

Letters by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

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The early adventures of the X-Men have been getting a lot of attention lately, in light of the relative success of the "First Class" film. Of course, there have been several "First Class" titles over the last few years, all focusing on some unknown adventures that took place during the tenure of the original five students. Christopher Yost and Paco Medina's X-Men title has now joined that resurgence with a story that blends a modern day adventure with one of those "unseen" moments in X-history. With a little help from flashback artist Dalibor Talajic, Yost and Medina have the X-Men facing an enemy threatening to wipeout all human life on Earth, in order to preserve the mutant race, which they see as the next evolutionary step for humanity.

X-Men #13 is the third part of the story, and it sees a bit more backstory given, both for the Evolutionaries, and for their relationship with the X-Men. More importantly, it delves into the Evolutionaries relationship with the X-Men's former nemesis, turned ally, Magneto, and his willingness to sacrifice all non-mutant life on Earth. Dalibor Talajic, who pencils and inks the flashback sequences, does an amazing job of capturing the perfect mood surrounding the brooding master of magnetism, and his slowly unraveling Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Only the colors hurt these scenes. They aren't bad- Wil Quintana matches Talajic's moody inks quite well — it's simply that they occasionally feel a little too shiny, where perhaps a more vintage approach would have better served to separate past and present. Paco Medina's work on the modern day scenes is also spot-on. It manages to be energetic even when its standing still, and while that occasionally leads to some ultra-posed shots, I wouldn't sacrifice that Kirby-style electricity just to have Surge standing a little more naturally while she and Cyclops argue. The only failing is the two-page spread, which is a bit disappointing, as it could have really sold the fight scene. Instead, it just seems a little plain, and despite Cyclops's declaration that she's "had enough," Storm looks puzzlingly placid.

Medina's high-octane art is aided by Juan Vlasco's strong inks. Often, this style of penciling can come across as muddy and over-rendered, but Vlasco's strong sense of blacks and lighting only reinforce what's on the page. Medina and Vlasco's art is the perfect accompaniment to Yost's script, which manages to be informative without being exposition-heavy. Yost manages to capitalize on every character present, and handles both the flashback and modern scenes with a strong appreciation for who each of the X-Men is, and how to accurately convey the characters.

"First to Last" is really just about everything you could want in an X-Men story. It's both fresh and classic, provides fans of any era of the team something to dig in to, showcases a variety of artistic talent, and includes some of the old "humans vs. mutants" struggle without coming off as preachy. It may not be a great place to start with the X-Men, but there's definitely something for everyone in this book.

 

Invincible Iron Man #505

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Salvador Larroca and Frank D’Armata

Letters by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Colin Bell

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Gravitas. Heft. Oomph. Call it what you will, but to date the wanton destruction of the Marvel Universe that’s been presented as The Worst Possible Thing That Could Happen throughout Fear Itself has been lacking a certain emotional resonance. With that in mind, it’s surprising to find Matt Fraction squirreling away that missing ingredient in what is, at its heart, a tie-in book.

This issue carries on where the last left off, with Tony Stark taking on the Worthied-up Grey Gargoyle (or Mokk: Breaker of Faith, Fear Itself fans!) in the remains of Paris, and more specifically the remains of Parisians. The fight ends with some consequence, not just for its location but also all involved, and I have faith that a magical reset undoing the destruction of the city is not forthcoming. Not because I have anything against the French, you understand, but just because it’s nice to see some ramifications in comic books once in a while, isn’t it? Perhaps I’m being naïve.

The events of this storyline are truly the most fear-inducing of this crossover so far. Orchestrating the fight amongst the broken remnants of people turned to stone, Fraction rams home the horror of the death that surrounds Tony Stark through the protagonist’s guilt-ridden narration, taking Iron Man to a new, and fairly low, level of morale. It’s promising to see the promise of the crossover coming to fruition and having an effect on its characters, and I hope that Fraction can carry this raw emotion back over to the main title of the event.

Salvador Larroca’s art is to his usual standard, making Grey Gargoyle an imposing and formidable appearing foe, no mean feat when many other books are featuring similar Worthy as their villains. He also competently illustrates the carnage throughout the issue, notably in a well-paced reappearance of a recent nemesis. However, scenes involving characters Bethany Cabe and Pepper Potts don’t run as smoothly, solely because facially Larroca portrays both characters nearly identically, to the point where Starktech suit is the only identifying differential between the two. Frank D’Armata’s colors keep things lively in what could’ve easily descended into a festival of grey given the circumstances, and his subtle shift of tone works well in separating a flashback from the main narrative of the issue.

Invincible Iron Man #505 puts the cast of the book at a particularly low-ebb, and whilst one might assume that this will lead in to an inevitable rally-round and adversity-conquering victory in the pages of the next issue and Fear Itself #4 you have to wonder if things can actually get much worse for the heroes of the Marvel Universe. On the back of the issue, here’s hoping.

 

Rocketeer Adventures #2

Written by Mark Waid, Darwyn Cooke and Lowell Francis

Art by Chris Weston, Darwyn Cooke, Geof Darrow, Gene Ha and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Chris Mowry and Darwyn Cooke

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Deniz Cordell

This is unbridled four-color joy. Rocketeer Adventures is a wonderful tribute to the late Dave Stevens, and each story so firmly captures a sense of time and place, that it’s a crystallization of all of the wonderful things that nostalgia can do — without the needless baggage it sometimes carries. I will risk sounding as hyperbolic as some of the dialogue contained in the comic, but this sort of magazine is something I’d like to see more of when it comes to our newsprint friends.

Each of the three stories takes their own unique tactics towards the characters, and each of them pays off wonderfully. There’s not a weak story in the bunch, and they all relish the sorts of things that Stevens did in his original Rocketeer stories. There’s the fast-paced, high-flying adventure, there’s the good-girl art, there are the sly references to other characters of the dear departed past, and there is that wonderful, streamlined deco aesthetic.

The three writers — Mark Waid, Darwyn Cooke & Lowell Francis — no slouches, any of them — bring the reader tales with a short-story precision, and an abundance of period detail and sharp wit. The variety on display is terrific, and there’s nary a false step made. Considering how tiresome action sequences have become in any medium – the fact that the fights and chases are fresh and compelling is a testament to all involved.

Waid’s story opens the book, and captures that sweeping sense of optimism through his setting of the Golden Gate International Expo — and Chris Weston’s detailed, energetic art brings a comic book realism to the action. The story details Cliff Secord’s attempt to make his first public appearance as the Rocketeer — and Waid, naturally, throws a curveball into the works. A lot of humor is mined as Cliff’s distaste of comic books is made well known — and the banter between Secord and his mechanic Peevy zips along as though Howard Hawks were directing. It’s surprising then, that the twist in the story (the identity of an unknown shooter) has a tragic weight — as Waid draws attention to the exploitation of writers and artists of all variety. It works well by not wallowing in its moral standpoint, but by maintaining focus on character, and by the story’s end, Waid gets a final laugh from Cliff’s frustration. There’s a wonderful “emergency landing” sequence involving the Rocketeer and a model dressed as a superhero, which is choreographed expertly by Weston.

Closing the book is Francis’ story, in which the caption boxes and brilliant art by Gene Ha work on parallel levels. Francis’ central hook is a clever one: while the Rocketeer and a sinister looking be-jet-packed figure fight over the skies, we are privy to a radio broadcast of a nearby boxing match. The two elements complement each other perfectly, and the fever pitch of the boxing announcer amplifies the excitement, and provides an appropriately thirties feeling to it. Try reading some of the caption boxes aloud doing your best Walter Winchell impression, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Ha’s work is crisp, clean and dynamic — as one would expect – and the fight has an elegance and panache that’s irresistible. Francis creates a coda which brings back the mysterious creator of the rocket pack and his two associates (though it will forever remain oblique in the comics, we know them to be Doc Savage, “Ham” Brooks and “Monk” Mayfair – for who else could they be?), and the detail that goes into their depictions, and the subtle hints towards their identities are done very well. Ultimately, the story ends on an inspiring note and an understated bit of heroism, as “Monk” notes: “Jeez, kid, you gotta get to a hospital,” only to have Cliff respond: “No can do. I’ve got a girl who’s worried stiff.” It’s that sort of distilled heroism that lifts the whole magazine up into the stratosphere.

Picking a highlight of the three stories was a nigh impossible task, but Darwyn Cooke’s entry just edges out the other two. His art remains as much a joy to behold as ever, and he chooses to use his story as a riff on the Republic/Columbia movie serial aesthetic. Having grown up watching things like Spy Smasher, the Dick Tracy and Batman serials and so forth, it’s a great pleasure to see Cooke work in the format, and excel so mightily. He keeps the pace breakneck, the twists and turns coming at the characters, and uses Cliff’s girlfriend, Betty, to wonderful effect, as we see her as a figure also capable of great heroism. Cooke’s dialogue is funny and fast, and there’s a genuine affection, warmth and playfulness between Cliff and Betty that goes a long way towards defining their relationship. The final four panels are a wonderful “black-out” to end Cooke’s story on — a terrific cliffhanger that may never be resolved, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Cooke (or any of the other writers and artists here) do more work with the Rocketeer and his streamlined, colorful world.

Speaking of “colorful,” a tremendous amount of kudos is certainly due to colorist Dave Stewart, who does bravura work on all three stories (as well as a very fine Geof Darrow pin-up) – bringing a distinct life and varied palette to each one. All told, I got a kick out of this — its anthology format is a definite plus, as it allows some of the best talent in the industry to come in, tell their story in a couple of pages, and bring their own unique sensibilities to the world at hand. Those who enjoy wit and intelligence in their adventure stories would be well served to pick this up.

 

Kirby Genesis #1

Written by Kurt Busiek

Art by Jack Herbert, Alex Ross and Vincius Andrade

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Deniz Cordell

“Show us.”

In two words, writer Kurt Busiek says everything that needs saying. It’s a startling moment of simple profundity, and with it, Kirby Genesis becomes something about the inherent, insatiable curiosity that lurks in the human (and superhuman) spirit.

If the “Zero Issue” was about taking a fast galactic sojourn, exploring the more cosmic concepts underlying the series, the bulk of this issue is earthbound, and devoted towards meeting our human protagonist — a college student named Kirby. The naming decision didn’t quite sit well with me at first — it seemed far too on-the-nose, too much of a wink at the audience, but the character himself is so well-developed, and fully-fleshed out in terms of his multitudinous neuroses, inner longings and thought processes, that the name ultimately fits the character like a well-worn glove. In addition to the strength of the writing, artist Jack Herbert also does a fine job rendering Kirby’s dorm room, complete with posters for “2001: A Space Odyssey” (which will operate for Kirbyphiles on two levels) “The Black Hole” and a portrait of “The Phantom,” giving us a lot of information about the character in a few well-placed details.

Busiek brings an easy humor to the opening of his book, and there are vestiges of some of Woody Allen’s techniques as Kirby directly addresses the readers — looking at us head-on, and discussing the object of his unrequited love — the effervescent Bobbi Cortez. Kirby’s recollections of his youth with Bobbi form one of the most entertaining pages in the book, as Herbert cuts loose with a totally different art style — starting off with a childlike cartoonishness, and moving towards something more akin to a lighter Kirby romance comic. It’s the unexpectedness of it that makes it delightful, and the book is filled with little flourishes of visual and verbal wit throughout.

The pacing here still lacks Kirby’s usual breathless vivace tempo. Busiek instead uses a more deliberate build-up to reveal a series of escalating incidents and developments. A news broadcast is used to good effect as well, in the time honored fashion of providing exposition in easily digestible moments – hinting at all manner of story threads. Among them is a cameo appearance by (the much beloved by me) Silver Star — whose function in the story is still a mystery — but, if one of the panels in Issue #0 is any indication, his arch-nemesis, Darius Drumm will be playing a role in the series, as well. If the newscast segment is any indication, concepts, characters and stories will be flying about at a dizzying speed, once the pieces are fully and firmly set in place.

Then — before all of that — there is the initial cosmic incident — the moment when all of man’s hopes, desires, dreams, fears, and ambitions stare back at mankind, squarely in the eye. It is a moment that could only be captured in a comic book — and it works wonderfully. It also establishes a compelling mystery to hang the series on, and the specifics of the resolution are much on my mind. The moment has that same sort of pop/space-age spiritualism that Kirby so excelled at mining.

Jack Herbert’s art still has the same Bolland-esque qualities as in Issue 0, and his characters are distinct and incredibly expressive. He brings a real power and pulchritude to the Galaxy Green Squad, and his depiction of a subterranean chamber is redolent with those wild Aztec lines and energy paths that Kirby used in his costumes and scenery. The integration of Herbert’s art with Alex Ross’ painted work continues the juxtaposition between the earthly and the mystic/cosmic, and is quite effective in its sparing use. The storytelling is clear, and there are some novel panel layouts that direct the eye in a clever fashion.

The conclusion of the comic contains a few surprises — including a sudden metamorphosis (addressing another theme of Kirby’s — the transformation/ascension). Busiek wisely leaves addressing the effects and ramifications of this for the next few issues, and ends the issue on a note that gives partial answers, but leaves more questions, as we are finally given an indication as to how Captain Victory fits into the fabric of the story.

So, yes, there’s plenty of awe on display, plenty of moments with great portent, and plenty of grandeur being set up — but at its core, at this point — Kirby Genesis is an intimate, simple story about the inchoate longings of youth — and it is that careful, and unexpected decision that makes the book crackle with its own inborn energy. 

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