Best Shots Extra: AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #2, BATMAN #8, More


Avengers Vs. X-Men #2

Written by Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and Jonathan Hickman

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

Letters by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

I'll say this for Avengers Vs. X-Men: It's not wasting any time. This issue is basically all killer and no filler, as the tense scene that culminated in Cyclops serving Captain America a nice hot slab of optic blast at the end of last issue has quickly given way to a full-scale, knock-down-drag-out fight between the two titular super teams. And you know what? It's all here. It's smart that the creative brain-trust at the helm of this issue went straight to showing some of the match-ups that many people will want, such as Magneto vs. Iron Man, Hulk vs. Colossus, and, of course, Captain America vs. Cyclops. It's a nice way to whet the appetite for some of the more epic battles that are sure to come, and adds a sense of energy that many of Marvel's recent events have lacked in their early issues. There's very little not to love about AvX, and while it's not exactly high art, it's definitely the kind of widescreen super-hero action foretold by the event's premise.

With no less than five writers in the mix, it would be very easy for this story to go off the rails, or suffer from the kind of disjointed characterization that usually accompanies these type of creative collaborations, but not so much with Avengers Vs. X-Men. I think the team has done something smart, by (so far) allowing each writer involved to handle the tasks best suited to their creative modes. Just as Brian Michael Bendis helmed last issue, which was heavy on dialogue and set up, Jason Aaron takes point this time around, delivering blow after blow in the rapidly escalating conflict at breakneck speed. There are some truly clever turns, such as Magneto and Colossus's magnetic fastball special, and the resultant flurry of blows between Colossus and Red Hulk, and the small, but effective captions that accompany each miniature fight scene, such as "Organic diamond meets multi-billion dollar armor. The most expensive punch in history." when Iron Man tangles with Emma Frost. It's bits like this, and things like Black Panther and Storm finding themselves on opposite sides of the fight, or Dr. Strange squaring off against Magik in Limbo that really drive home that Marvel is doing its damndest to with this event, almost refusing to let opportunities slide by.

Among the high-octane combat, Jason Aaron also manages to squeeze in plenty of character tidbits, delving into the resentment that Cyclops has for the way the X-Men have been treated by the Marvel Universe at large, and his nigh-fanatic approach to harnessing the Phoenix. Admittedly, some of these things might not carry as much weight for those that haven't followed the X-Men for, well, ever, but seeing the way Cyclops reacts to the prospect of losing control of the Phoenix Force hints at some still unresolved and deep-seated issues surrounding his "dead" wife, Jean Grey. More and more, it's also interesting to see Jason Aaron illustrating a polar shift in the X-Men of Utopia, almost aligning them with the "winner take all, the rest stay dead" mentality of their enemy-turned ally Magneto. Captain America and his team don't fare much better, as Cyclops points out their arrogance in assuming an entitlement in dealing with the Phoenix, and probably rightly pointing out that, if Cap truly didn't want a fight, he wouldn't have shown up with more than 20 Avengers at his back.

I must say, I'm more than a little impressed with John Romita Jr.'s work on this issue, and its predecessor. I would be remiss in failing to point out that I am generally a fan of his work anyway, but a lot of his recently wrapped run on "Avengers" left me more than a little cold. Here, however, there's more detail and composition in his pages. It's not hard to imagine that a little more lead time, and the easement of not having to meet a monthly deadline probably helped with the composure and attention to the pages, but there's little room to deny that Scott Hanna's inks probably influence the quality of the work. Unlike Romita's usual inker Klaus Janson, Hanna's lines are tight as a drum, elevating and clarifying the personality and charm in Romita's characters while relying less on capturing the roughness of his pencils. Of course, Laura Martin once again proves why she is Marvel's go-to colorist for these big titles, by providing a depth and weight to the characters that only accentuates the harsh nature of their conflict.

It's a rare thing for a much-hyped event book to get so much right, and while there's still time for the balloon to deflate, this issue is a prime example of the kind of payoff that the anticipation inherent in the lead up to a book like this demands. There's plenty more room to get around to settling fan debates like, "Could Magneto throw Iron Man into the sun?" or, "Who is stronger, Colossus or Hulk?" but the fact that we're already getting some fist-on-face time between the two teams gives me a lot of hope those fan-service moments (which, honestly, I am very excited for) will find their way into the book in a more definitive way. At the same time, Jason Aaron and the rest of the creative collective at the helm of Avengers Vs. X-Men have injected more than enough life into their characters, and more than enough emotional paydirt on an individual level to show that, while AvX will certainly give you all of those big fights, and much-anticipated clashes, it's not relying on the novelty of the premise to sell the book.


Batman #8

Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV

Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, Rafael Albuquerque, Nathan Fairburn and FCO Plascencia

Lettering by Richard Starkings and Patrick Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

 "Get the hell out of my house."

This is how you start a crossover event. Since the relaunch of Batman, he's come to terms with learning about a secret society that is hatching plans for complete domination. They have broken him mentally and left him physically drained. The Court of Owls. Leading up to this moment, Bruce Wayne went after them on their turf, but here, the Court comes a knockin' and Bruce and Alfred defend the manor and cave the best they can. Although they are outnumbered, they aren't unmatched.

Starting right off the first few pages, Greg Capullo's panel structure breathes some cinematic air onto the pages. The multitude of shots used to cover Gotham City is beautiful right next to the stern silhouette of Bruce standing alone in his parlor. An image I'm sure will be a classic, given time. Another good example of this is Bruce going into the cave and seeing that they are already in there. Scott Snyder handles Batman as we haven't seen him in a long while: at wit's end and nearly defeated. But quick on his feet and hands, ready to take down the foes invading his home with some pretty good results. Snyder upped his dialog here and we really see Alfred and Bruce working as a team, at times showing the famed butler's more comedic side. There is a distinct difference in how Snyder writes Batman and Bruce Wayne this time around. There are mild echoes of Dick Grayson as Batman as Bruce takes down some attackers. Almost quipping away as he breaks a man's arm. Of course, the back up having Snyder team up with his  collaborator, Rafael Albuquerque as well as newcomer James Tynion IV. It's weird to see Dave McCaig's colors layer his work, but Nathan Fairburn does great work here, still implementing a warmer pallet than FCO and it's interesting to see the two worlds collide like that. Along with all of that, you see that sort of stranglehold the Court has Gotham in.

Capullo and Glapion's art is brilliant here. Together, they do some great layouts and double-page spreads. This issue heavy on the action, and the art teams pulls no punches. Capullo's eye for detail is in top form here. The crooks and nannies of the cave and Bruce's furniture are highlighted, but doesn't come across as overbearing. Glapion's inks are consistent, and very sharp. There's a lot of energy going on in almost every page. The back-up, "The Call", features Albuquerque's usual style of broad strokes, and heavy inks, really go hand in hand with the heaviness of the situation at large. We're treated to his great handle of facial expressions and some more double-page spreads. The last one of these setting the groundwork for what's to come with the crossover for Night of the Owls. It's just old-fashioned cool with a modern polish.

Bruce fighting off the Court in just his night robe for the majority of the issue, shows you the fortitude this man possess. The Batcave is supposed to be his impenetrable fortress, but having the Court overwhelming Bruce, also displays their cunning and strength in numbers. With Snyder multitasking duties on books, you'd think he'd run thin eventually. Batman #8 proves that the best is yet to come.


Amazing Spider-Man #684

Written by Dan Slott

Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba and Edgar Delgado

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

He's fought Flint Marko on beaches, in caves, in quarries. But what happens when The Amazing Spider-Man has to fight the Sandman in the most dangerous place of all — the Sahara Desert?

Answer: You get the best issue of "Ends of the Earth" yet. While the previous two issues were mostly setup, this third installment shows what happens the Spider strikes back, as Dan Slott outdoes himself finding new continuity wrinkles to exploit.

You'd be forgiven thinking that this issue might seem formulaic at first — Slott has had a track record of having Spidey get trashed by a bad guy, then hole up in a lab and come up with a technological solution (and typically a new suit) to help him save the day. The first few times, this concept played up Peter Parker's braininess, but lately the approach started to veer into the territory of writer fiat. Not so here — in this nicely divided chapter, Slott really discovers a smart weakness for the Sandman, making Peter Parker's rematch with the villain truly satisfying. "You think I didn't see this coming?" Spidey shouts. "You're why I'm here! I'm gunning for you!"

Taking over for Stefano Caselli this issue, artist Humberto Ramos is in fine form here. Case in point, Spidey's new "anti-Sinister Six" suit — while Caselli had more of a cloth-like, Motocross-style feel to this suit, Ramos brings a harder, more armor-like edge to the page. He also does great things with Spidey's expressiveness, which is no mean feat for a fully-masked character — not only is his body language really fluid, but Ramos subtly plays with the shadows and reflections in the characters' eyes, showing seriousness, surprise and defiance even though the lenses never change shape. Furthermore, Ramos kicks up the sex appeal in this book with his portrayals of Black Widow and Silver Sable, which varies up the visuals of the book beyond Peter simply tinkering away in a lab for the umpteenth time.

That said, there are a couple of hiccups that don't hamper the book, but do keep it from perfection. Like I said before, Silver Sable and Black Widow great in this book... but right now, I'm not seeing an enormous reason to have them in the book yet (aside from providing Spidey a convenient exit and providing another character with a high-profile book, just as she's about to appear in a high-profile movie). The other thing that is slightly disappointing is that while Slott slightly hand-waves away Sandman's lack of imagination, you kind of wish you could see him cut loose a little bit more, as he hits Spider-Man with the force of the entire Sahara. That said, considering the fight is seven pages from intro to ending, you have to admit that Slott does provide a really streamlined sequence.

We've seen the Sinister Six step up to a whole new league of villainy, and it's been really refreshing to see Spider-Man — and by extension, Dan Slott and his Amazing Friends — rise to the challenge accordingly. Amazing Spider-Man #684 is no exception. This issue isn't about toys and gadgets, but about looking at a villain in a new way, about finding something new in what can seem like an endlessly churned superhero universe. We've seen the Webslinger take down two of the Sinister Six — if the following chapters are anything like this one, I'm excited to see what tricks The Amazing Spider-Man has up his sleeves.


Reset #1

Written by Peter Bagge

Art by Peter Bagge

Published by Dark Horse

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

is the latest creator-owned comic from award-winning cartoonist Peter Bagge. The four-part miniseries asks the question “If you could relive major events in your life, would you take a stab at making things better--and would your best attempts only make things worse? Or would you use your second chance to put your most twisted, perverted fantasies in motion?”

These are questions that washed-up actor and comedian Guy Krause asks himself after he signs up to be the main research subject for a virtual reality experiment. The experiment allows Guy to relive key moments of his life in a virtual reality environment, allowing him to correct past mistakes, face his fears, and examine the choices that lead to his life being the mess it is today. At any point of the experience Guy can hit the “reset” button, which will undo all of the choices he’s made, and take him back to his high school graduation - one of the most crushingly disappointing moments of his life, meant to discourage him from resetting the experiment.

Much of this first issue is spent introducing the reader to the protagonist, illustrating what a sorry state his life is in, and showing why he would want to chance his past - we meet him in a DUI class, he has no family or loved ones, his agent has dropped him, and he can’t even get a walk-on part as a washed-up celebrity on a talk show. We also get a look at the experiment, and an explanation of the concept by the team of scientist running the equipment. We don’t get to see a lot of the virtual reality world in the opener, because Guy is very hesitant to take part, and walks away twice. What we do see raises a lot of questions though - how do these people know so much about Guy’s life? How do they know how people will react to his choices? Why do they need Guy specifically to test their prototype? And what is the application for this software?

It’s a well-scripted first issue, highlighted by great dialogue and some expert character work. The protagonist is instantly engaging and sympathetic, and is a highly recognizable archetype for this day and age. Bagge uses the story as an opportunity to examine the fickle nature of fame, and the way in which society elevates celebrities, and allows them to get away with anything on the way up, only to reject and ignore them on the way back down. He also examines the fragile nature of the human psyche, and how our past decisions have shaped us into the people that we have become. A subtle stab is also made at the way that pharmaceutical and medical corporations use people to achieve their goals, without informing them about the side effects of their experimentation. The plot is paced well and multi-layered, and never takes itself too seriously, so we get some great tongue-in-cheek moments, and some outright hilarious lines. My only criticism would be that the issue comes to a somewhat abrupt stop, and doesn’t really take advantage of the episodic nature of comics. There is no real cliffhanger, which makes it feel a little more like the first chapter of a graphic novel than the first issue of a comic.

The issue is illustrated in Bagge’s inimitable cartooning style, which is recognizable his exaggerated sense of anatomy - especially his caricature facial expressions, and his trademark wavy limbs. His linework has a smooth and free-flowing feel to it, which is highly articulate and gives the final artwork a feeling of silliness and parody. Bagge’s inking is likewise expressive, and he adds a number of flourishes and unique finishes to the panels that enhance the distorted look of the linework - for example, his use of force-lines to highlight motion, waving lines coming from characters heads to illustrate anger, and dashed lines to indicate what a character is looking at. He’s also very keen on using silhouette to highlight particularly emotional scenes, particularly when a character is feeling dejected or angry. Something I found particularly impressive is the way in which he draws the VR/flashback scenes, by putting a curved edge square border around each panel, and tweaking his style slightly to make things look more angular and a little bit “retro” - this helps differentiate them from the real-world scenes, and gives the scenes a bit of a 1970s feel to them. The final artwork is rendered in grayscale, and while it looks perfectly good, after seeing the cover in full-color it feels like the internal artwork would have looked even better if colored, and would have allowed Bagge to play around a bit more with the difference between the real-world and the VR environment.

Reset #1 is a fantastic debut issue with a highly original and intriguing premise. Peter Bagge has a great understanding of human psychology, and uses the issue as an opportunity to examine some interesting aspects of society. The series has the potential for some very entertaining sub-stories, as Guy uses the opportunity to steer his life in the direction he’s always wanted it to go. 

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