Best Shots Extra: AvX: INFINITE, ACTION COMICS, More

 

Avengers vs. X-Men #1: Infinite

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Stuart Immonen and Marte Gracia

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Between his acclaimed (and now Eisner-nominated) run on Daredevil, his earnest discussions on comic book distribution and his pioneering work on digital comics, is Mark Waid going to be remembered as the savior of the comic book industry? It may be too soon to tell on that score, but one thing is for certain: he definitely starts Marvel's Infinite Comics experiment off on the right foot.

Following the return of Nova from his off-panel demise in the space opera The Thanos Imperative, Waid and artist Stuart Immonen create an ambitious experience that, for my money, I enjoyed a lot more than the main Avengers vs. X-Men storyline. Marvel's Infinite Comics layout focuses on transition just as much as page layout, similar to Reilly Brown's Power Play and Waid's recent zombie short Luther. And Immonen is a fantastic artist to start this new format with — inking himself, he's smooth and supple with his linework, reminding me a bit of a leaner Ed McGuinness. With an inherently kinetic character like Nova ("The Human Rocket!") speeding himself through space in an attempt to outrun the fiery, all-powerful Phoenix Force, Immonen really does wonders with his pacing — in particular, there's a sequence where Nova swerves away from a dangerous obstacle, and that control of the reading experience makes Nova's last-second maneuvers even more tense.

Of course, the Infinite experience does focus on the visuals — which is not a bad thing, considering how bloated some scripts (and egos) have gotten in today's writer-driven climate — and so it'd be easy to overlook the writing in favor of the slick action. Yet similar to his imagery-heavy run on Daredevil, Waid peppers this story with humanizing details, whether it's Nova's love of Sportscenter and the Cardinals or the color-coordinated signals his helmet gives when he's hurtling at light-speed. It's not the steak, it's the sizzle, but when it comes to unveiling something new like the Infinite line, that's a sign of smart restraint — Waid doesn't overshadow Immonen, but instead gives him just enough of a foundation that we care whether or not Nova can outrace this danger and safely make it back to Earth.

Granted, the premiere outing of Marvel's Infinite line isn't perfect, and that's to be expected as people play around with the form. By the end of this issue, when Nova is greeted by the first responders, the transitions are limited to the lettering, rather than the more effective introduction of full panel images. Furthermore, there are a couple of times where the "stacking" of panels — such as Nova painfully realizing there's a snag in his landing plans — that doesn't quite operate on the intuitive left-to-right progression. Ordinarily, these sort of film editing tricks wouldn't be so applicable to a static comics image, but when the main draw of the Infinite Comics setup is essentially forward motion, you don't want any characters suddenly hurtling "backward." Additionally, Waid's writing does get a little chaotic at the end, although that is to be expected given the dangerous climax Nova is left with.

Even with minor hiccups, at 99 cents, Avengers vs. X-Men #1: Infinite is a great entree for not just Nova as a character — although I foresee big changes in his future — but for digital comics as a whole. The disadvantage of essentially having a 24-hour comic shop in your pocket is that you can't have the same glance-at-your-own-pace reading experience that you would with a print product. Waid, Immonen and Marvel just happen to be smart enough — or maybe just crazy enough — to tackle this experience head-on, taking what was once a disadvantage and turning it into a new opportunity. Transitions aside, is this a gimmick? Perhaps, but there is a lot of room to grow and innovate. Is this a smoother, more organic method of reading on a portable device? Definitely. Is this a strong, fun read in its own right? Absolutely. With some gorgeous artwork, an action-driven plot with plenty of character and a new format to explore, the potential for this line is infinite. And after this first installment, reader enthusiasm for this product just might match it.

 

Action Comics #8

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Rags Morales, Brad Walker, Rick Bryant, Bob McLeod, Brad Andersen and David Curiel

Lettering by Patrick Brousseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

When Grant Morrison stripped down the Man of Steel to his essential, primal elements in All-Star Superman, it was a revelation, a breath of fresh air for a character who many had felt had lost his way. Yet it's hard to redefine a character twice, and as Morrison concludes his first arc on Action Comics, one can't help but feel this is the toxic runoff, the dark mirror image of what many might call Morrison's greatest work. Eccentric rather than iconoclastic, abrasive rather than confident, Action Comics may think big, but it still parodies Morrison's stylistic chops more than it builds upon them.

Reading this issue, I couldn't help but think of Morrison's statements during Final Crisis, when he stripped out much of the "connective tissue" of the story in order to create a frenetic, channel-flipping snapshot of a DC universe in peril. Cutting between Superman's two-on-one battle with cyborg super-soldier Metallo and alien A.I. Brainiac, as well as checking in on Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Lex Luthor in a shrunken district of Metropolis, Morrison's script moves unsettlingly fast, bouncing off the walls like it's on Butterfingers and Mountain Dew. Unfortunately, that means there's really not much in the way of logical story setup, which means Morrison's conclusion sometimes comes off goofy rather than grand — things like a Kryptonian rocket becoming a literal speeding bullet or Superman haggling with Brainiac over his collection doesn't seem like enough to sketch out this brave new Superman, let alone justify him. The character work also needs work, whether it's Superman making fun of Metallo's manliness (why does our hero make me feel so bad for that poor cyborg?), Brainiac randomly shouting out "Internet!" or Lex Luthor channeling the Simpsons' Comic Book Guy by drolly saying "worst idea ever."

The art is also fairly schizophrenic. Granted, All-Star Superman was monstrously late, but Frank Quitely built simple yet satisfying character moments into his story, leaving a lot of room open for the reader to focus on our characters, even in the middle of a fight scene. Rags Morales and company feel a bit like the opposite — he skews a little more realistic than Quitely's lumpier style, but his pages are so packed with detail that it's hard to take it all in. Superman's punches scream with motion lines and debris, as Brad Andersen's colors explode with radioactive greens along pale brown backgrounds. The characters don't fare much better, with faces ranging from detailed to super-sketchy, and a color-changing suit being more distracting and self-indulgent than spectacular. It's a street fight packed into Kryptonian armor, and while the choreography can be in-your-face like a blast of Superman's heat vision, it's far from iconic. The end of the book takes an even more radical departure, taking a painted style that doesn't lend any Rockwellian triumph to Superman's inevitable welcoming as a hero.

One of my colleagues, when talking to me about this book, said "I didn't even know what was going on here." He's not wrong. Action Comics might have started off as a launch pad to reintroduce us to Clark Kent, but it wound up becoming a story about a guy punching out an alien, threatening to make him his slave, and then being celebrated as a hero for it. When you start feeling worse for the villains than the heroes who stop them, you have to wonder what went wrong. With its nastier Clark Kent and its dirtier Metropolis, think of Action Comics as the evil twin of Grant Morrison's better instincts. It's everything but the things that really matter.

AVENGERS VS. X-MEN Covers Revealed
AVENGERS VS. X-MEN Covers Revealed
 

Avengers vs. X-Men #1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by John Romita, Jr., Scott Hanna, and Laura Martin

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Click here for preview

Last night, I was waiting in line at my local shop as they hosted the early release party for Avengers vs. X-Men #1. As I stood there, a woman behind me chuckled as she looked around the crowded store. “Hear that?” she said. “That's the sound of Event Season officially kicking off.”

As much as I didn't want to admit it, she was correct. All around me, comic book fans were doing what they do best. Getting excited for, and yes, even complaining about another crossover event. And, to be perfectly frank, the months of build-up to Avengers vs. X-Men already had me feeling some serious fatigue before I cracked open the first issue. However, something about issue 1 feels different. This dooesn't feel like a tie-in to a couple of summer movies or a way to introduce new titles to the Marvel universe. Avengers vs. X-Men feels like an honest attempt at changing how we view and read our heroes, both thematically and literally with the introduction of Augmented Reality and Infinite Comics. Still, none of that matters if the story isn't any good. Well, before I ramble on any further, let me spoil a bit. This book is good, really darn good, and when you factor just what had to happen in this issue, that's no small accomplishment.

Brian Michael Bendis scripts the first installment of the story, which he conceived alongside fellow "Marvel Architects" Jason Aaron, Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction. As stories go, this first issue is your basic set-up the characters and setting. The Phoenix is a cosmic force that brings death and rebirth to whatever crosses it's path. To longtime Marvel fans, the Phoenix is the entity you bring in when it's time to really shakes things up and have heroes questioning their loyalty — loyalty that is already strained by the ever-thinning ranks of a splintered mutant race and the growing tension between the heroes that operate with some government sanction and those that do not. Mix in a teenaged mutant messiah that's acting as a magnet to this unrelenting cosmic force and you've got one heck of a powder keg brewing, both in concept and continuity.

Dealing with that continuity is something the issue's creative team handles rather well. You don't need to know what happened in Schism, Fear Itself, or any of the previous events that came before this book to understand what's about to go down between the Avengers and the X-Men. There might be some that complain this first issue is a little too decompressed, that nothing big happens to these characters. Indeed, I can already hear people complaining about “classic Bendis,” well, I will respectfully disagree with those naysayers. Bendis' style of storytelling is exactly the kind a debut issue such a massive event needs. This book makes the assumption that not everyone will know and understand the driving forces behind the choices made by Captain America, Cyclops, Wolverine, Hope, or any other member of this massive stage. We need to feel some form of emotional investment in these characters, and seeing Bendis take his time with each important player at this stage does so.

From a pure fan stance, it's nice to see the Avengers work as a more cohesive team, far more than I'm used to in years past. It's important to see how quickly characters like Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor can all but forget past transgressions and work as a team for the greater good of all humanity. Indeed, this characterization acts as the perfect counter-balance to the rather draconian leadership of Cyclops and his X-Men. This is a leader that, for right or wrong, no longer sees the world in shades of gray as his one-time mentor Professor X taught. There is only life for mutants, or their inevitable extinction. And, as we see in the rather brutal training between he and Hope, to say nothing of his conversation with Captain America, Cyclops has made his choice. A choice all those he wishes to protect must now live with. Fight or die.

Now how about that art? In recent months, I'll admit, John Romita, Jr. just hadn't been doing it for me lately. His previous work seemed to lack that spark of life that I loved so much in his Amazing Spider-Man days. Such is not the case this time. This is some of Romita's strongest work in years. His actions scenes have a tremendous sense of movement, without relying on manga-style speed lines to reflect motion. When Thor takes to the air shouting “Avengers Assemble,” you can feel the weight of Mjolnir pulling him through the skies. Interestingly, his moments of intense action work best when he's forced to work within three or four panels per page. The multiple splash pages seem to lack the appropriate gravitas, which is a shame, because when you see the Phoenix in it's full glory, you should be awed and not wondering how to make the Augmented Reality on your smart phone work.

Romita's strongest addition to Avengers vs. X-Men #1 is his character work, in particular Hope. Her physical movement and facial expressions wonderfully drive home her own conflicts. She is, potentially, the savior of the mutant race, and yet at her core she is still a young girl that recently lost her father in Cable. As such, Romita draws a young woman filled with fear, drive, worry, and power. In the final page of the book, with three simple panels, Romita conveys a strong sense of destiny with this little red-headed mutant. Finally, on the art, some serious credit must go out to Scott Hanna on inks and Laura Martin on colors. This book simply pops with life and energy. Indeed, I don't think I would have appreciated Romita's art as much as I did were it not for Hanna and Martin.

While there are still some elements that left me wanting, like our own government's rather dull response to the coming crisis, or splash pages that didn't fully blow me away, I am still glad to jump on this Marvel event. Unlike previous event books, the set-up by Bendis and Romita actually has me believing this is a conflict years in the making. No small accomplishment for a book that still manages to bring the newest reader up to speed. Bring on Round 2.

 

Fatale #4

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Sean Phillips and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Sean Phillips

Published by Image Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are holding back on us. And in this case, that's a good thing. The last issue ended on a suspenseful cliffhanger with Hank's wife answering the door and being greeted by a couple of men who we only know by how little we really don’t know about them. These men, dressed in black (including standard hat) and round, dark sunglasses, have been showing up in Fatale since the beginning of the series but in issue #4 we finally get an inkling of why they're so ominous. The only catch is that Brubaker and Phillips never tell us what happened to that innocent wife other than that she was killed. During the police investigation where Hank is pulled in as the prime suspect, no one can actually describe what happened; the details are apparently so grisly that even the cops aren't able to talk about the details.  At least, not to us, the audience. Fatale #4, like the rest of the series so far, is about everything that's being left unsaid by the characters and what hasn't been shown yet. There's some very serious supernatural voodoo going on just behind everything we're been told or allowed to see.

In many ways, Fatale #4 feels like a well-done period piece about a man falsely accused of killing his wife. He's got his secrets like he was protecting another woman who he's recently become infatuated with but he can't reveal them to the crooked cops leading the investigation who just so happens to be the man he's protecting the woman from. It's fuzzy trying to get a grip on Josephine; just what is her game? Running from Walt, the cop who was once her hero and protector, she pulls Hank down into her plots, with little regard for his wife or the family they were just starting. In this issue, you get to see just how similar Hank, the reporter, and Walt, the dirty cop, are. While Hank now appears to be Josephine's hero, we see how that was once Walt. Brubaker is building them to be mirror reflections of one another, just years apart.

Fatale #4 shows us how the monsters are in the backgrounds and just out of our eyesight. They're there but just where you're not looking. Brubaker and Phillips are keeping the reality of Fatale hidden from us and that just makes it that much more alluring. On one hand, there's everything that we can see as process as part of the real world. Police procedurals are real so we can understand that and those parts of this issue feel perfectly natural. The guilt, loss and longing that Hank feels both for his late wife and for Josephine are real emotions that we can relate to. There's a very surface level of this series that makes perfect sense. But then there's what we're not being shown; the killings, the past, the secrets and the truth.  In Brubaker and Phillips’ Criminal stories, we often know so much more than the main characters but here we know as much as Hank, if not even a bit less. Brubaker gives us just enough clues about what's going on to make us want to stick around and see if we can figure out what Josephine's story is before Hank does.

Sean Phillips artwork feels darker in this series and that's not just because of Dave Stewart's muted coloring. There's something sinister going on here. Phillips art is a co-conspirator with Brubaker’s story to keep us in the dark as much as possible. Phillips is playing with what we see and don’t see as that becomes part of the story. Josephine’s secret is that she sees the hidden layers of reality, recognizing what other people cannot see or choose to ignore. As with Brubaker’s writing, Phillips artwork feels like a great fit for a period piece, a hard boiled noir story about a man pulled into events that he cannot even begin to fathom. That’s a lot like the audience reading this story; Phillips shows us the stuff that makes sense but then there’s a little bit of blood here or a barely seen Cthulu-like creature there. Phillips shows us just enough to let us know that the world of Fatale is not quite as familiar as it looks.

Both Brubaker and Phillips are working to make Fatale #4 about what’s not being told or shown. Over four issues now, there’s a larger story that’s beginning to take shape. Things said in the first issue make a bit more sense by the fourth as we see more little secret parts of their story and begin to add them together. The more we see of Hank, Josephine and Walt, the more we understand that this is not the first time that Josephine has looked for protection from a young man and that this isn’t the first time it’s turned out bad. Brubaker and Phillips are holding back as much of the true story as long as they can. Fatale #4 just shows how good of teases they are as the issue is captivating because of what we don’t know just as much, if not more, than because of what we do know.

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