Best Shots Extra: WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN, BATMAN ANNUAL

 

Wolverine and the X-Men #11

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Nick Bradshaw, Walden Wong, Norman Lee, and Justin Ponsor

Letters by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Wolverine and the X-Men #11 may be one of my favorite chapters of AvX yet. With its various set pieces showing that it takes place squarely during the events of AvX #4, this issue is a thrill ride from cover to cover. Not only does Jason Aaron's tightly wound script set a breakneck pace as Wolverine and Hope try to outrun the various X-Men and Avengers pursuing them, but Nick Bradshaw delivers what is unquestionably his best issue of Wolverine and the X-Men yet. Thanks to its outrageous pacing, compelling and visually engaging fight scenes, and more than a little insight into Wolverine's decision-making process regarding the Phoenix Force, this issue finally starts giving a little clearer picture into some of the motivations behind AvX.

Jason Aaron has really come into his own writing the X-Men. While he was already well-acquainted with Wolverine before launching this title, it has taken him a little while to get into the swing of writing the whole team, especially without relying on an occasionally juvenile sense of humor. While little of this issue could be called "heavy," the fact remains that getting a glimpse into Wolverine's psyche as he wrestles with his memories of Jean Grey — and his self-appointed duty to kill Hope should she lose control — makes for some very intense scenes, such as when Wolverine unsheathes his claws while Hope manifests the Phoenix Force to defeat the Shi'Ar Death Commandos, only to pull them back at the last second. It's this kind of interplay between the unlikely pair of the mutant savior and the man who would both die for her — and kill for her — that finally starts to add something to the AvX mixture beyond lots of fan-service fight scenes and great artwork.

Speaking of artwork, Nick Bradshaw absolutely kills this issue, relying on a terrific grasp of storytelling, and willingness to use bold, angular perspectives to render fight scene after fight scene in high-energy detail. Bradshaw, like Aaron, has taken some time to adjust to the nature of the stories he's telling, and his cartoonish faces occasionally clash with the action on deck, but nonetheless, he is the definite star of this issue. Ironically for someone who has such a clean, cartoony style, it's the monstrous characters, and most violent scenes that Bradshaw renders best. Red Hulk, the Death Commandos, and Iceman all stand out as particularly inspired, as does the nearly nauseating scene where Wolverine re-grows most of his skin as large portions of his metal skeleton are visible.

While many people seem to be clamoring for more in-depth motivation behind the events of AvX (and they're not wrong to ask for it), it's impossible to discount the level of talent involved in not only the core event, but in the various related series as well. What's more, it's not difficult for someone who is an avid reader of Wolverine and the X-Men, but for whatever reason isn't reading the main event to follow along, as most of the major plot points and integral scenes are repeated here, albeit with enough of a different perspective to keep the interest of those who are up to date on all things AvX. It's rare that a tie-in book to a major event feels as vital to the story as this one does without taking away from the core book, but Aaron and Bradshaw masterfully strike that balance, and deliver a generally great Wolverine comic, to boot.

 

Batman Annual #1

Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV

Art by Jason Fabok and Peter Steigerwald

Lettering by Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Putting a spotlight on Mr. Freeze, Batman Annual #1 unfortunately puts Scott Snyder's hot streak with the Dark Knight on ice. While there are a few smart bits to this story, lackluster art at a higher price point keeps this hefty book from being all that it could be.

Snyder is joined by James Tynion IV on this issue, which explores the relaunched Victor Fries's backstory further. Some might call it blasphemy to rework Paul Dini's masterful origin of the cold-hearted villain, forever doomed to toil for his cryogenically frozen wife, but when you've got two of DC's best books under your belt, perhaps Snyder is the only writer this side of Grant Morrison or Geoff Johns with enough street cred to take a swing. While the "Night of the Owls" tie-in is tenuous at best, where Snyder and Tynion best succeed is with showing just how screwed-up Victor is psychologically. Every villain is the hero of his own story, but this take on Mr. Freeze shows that he's also dangerously unhinged.

While there's a nice twist that plays up how crazy Fries truly is, unfortunately the buildup is just too long to make it worth the wait. With Batman himself only making an appearance near the end of the book, Batman Annual #1 is a victim of its expanded page count rather than a beneficiary — there are plenty of filler pages here, including a needless cameo by the Penguin to an entire page of Mr. Freeze driving a getaway car. Snyder and Tynion take a page out of the playbook as well, by tying Bruce Wayne directly to Victor Fries, but that development feels a little too convenient, which is a problem when it doesn't actually add anything to either character's backstory.

But I think that would have been different with a different artist. Artist Jason Fabok has shades of artists ranging from Barry Kitson to David Finch to even Steve McNiven in his linework, but it's basically antiseptic with how unblemished everything looks. Fabok's Batman, glowering over Fries like a living shadow, is really the only time where the artist really gets to dig deep and show us what he's made of. Beyond that, however, everything looks a little too static — even the fight choreography has little connection, with characters barely making contact. Fabok does stage his quieter scenes better, though, particularly the detached look on Victor's mother's face.

Without a dynamic artist like Greg Capullo or Rafael Albuquerque taking the reins, an annual's expanded page count can bore readers just as easily as it can enthrall them. But with a downgrade in the art and a focus on a villain rather than Batman or any of his fun supporting cast, this book is for Freeze purists only. Snyder's main book is still as untouchable as it gets, but this is too much money for not quite enough fun.

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