Best Shots Reviews: KID ETERNITY, UNCANNY X-FORCE, More

Happy Monday, 'Rama readers! Get ready for the Best Shots throwdown, as your favorite team of reviewers takes on the latest comic book releases. So let's kick off with a different spin on the Children of the Atom, as we take a look at the latest from Jeff Lemire and Cully Hamner in the debut of Kid Eternity...

 

Kid Eternity #1

Written by Jeff Lemire

Art by Cully Hamner, Derec Donovan and Val Staples

Lettering by Pat Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Being dead never looked so good. With the quiet resurrection of their National Comics properties, DC Comics has produced a solid debut with Kid Eternity. Artists Cully Hamner and Derec Donovan add plenty of style to Jeff Lemire's accessible, pilot episode-style script, and the result shows a lot of potential.

Considering how many comics these days hit the stands with lackluster art, watching Hamner and Donovan flex their muscles is the real treat of this book. The linework is smooth, confident, strong, as we watch Christopher Freeman sleep, his brain weirdly visible to the readers' eyes. There are some fun visual tweaks that add a lot to this comic, particularly the thick glasses that suddenly turn '60s cool when Freeman activates his powers. Val Staples' colorwork is also pitch-perfect for this story, adding moodiness with his blues, purples and reds.

The strength of the visuals, the fact that we genuinely enjoy watching Freeman move through the city is what propels the story forward. Writer Jeff Lemire should get credit for the pacing of this first issue, which follows Freeman journeying into the underworld and solving a man's death all within the span of a single issue. It's accessible, it has a nice hint of self-deprecation for Freeman's expository narration, and I think that should be a prerequisite for what is essentially a police procedural with dead people.

That said... it's also a police procedural with dead people. The downsides for this comic are twofold: the mystery isn't really mysterious enough to add much to the cop show genre, and occasionally the plot moves into the realm of "too convenient." There's one scene, as Freeman and the ghost of a shooting victim begin to exchange some harsh words, where you realize Lemire had to get some personal stakes into Freeman's story — but it's a bit much to expect a random stranger, dead or not, would suddenly be cutting into our hero's daddy issues.

That all said, this story is solid enough, getting its point across and getting some really nice artwork in the process. It would have been nice for Kid Eternity to have been a little more ambitious, but setting up a stable foundation isn't always a bad decision. Here's hoping that as Lemire finds his feet, this comic will take its hero's human ties and use them to the fullest.

 

Uncanny X-Force #28

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Julian Totino Tedesco and Justin Ponsor

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Rick Remender has taken his characters to alternative universes and other worlds, so when readers see the X-Force crew in another futuristic situation, the originality is lost. This doesn’t make the comic a bad read. Given the comfort readers of Uncanny X-Force may have with alternative settings, reading this issue should be no chore, and Remender is usually an unpredictable writer. While Issue #28 has its flaws, it’s another example of a well-written story that pushes readers to experience the X-Universe in different ways.

Rick Remender’s story is tight. The comic is written as the action occurs, so readers will feel a continuous sense of urgency as the story barely slows down. The current arc is taking shape around Fantomex and Betsy Braddock, so fan favorites like Wolverine and Deadpool aren’t given much room to shine. In fact, this comic takes a heavy turn towards seriousness, practically shutting down the usual humor found in an Uncanny X-Force comic. I don’t say this as a negative, but it’s a noticeable difference from previous arcs, and a sign to readers that Remender has a specific plan for the future (though I would hesitate to call the “Dark Angel Saga” a light story). Uncanny X-Force is well paced, and even though the ending is a bit predictable, the emotional impact isn’t lost; this is partially due to the art.

Julian Tedesco is intent on moment-to-moment storytelling, and for the most part it works very well. Close-ups are well executed and superbly detailed. Panels are mood heavy and Tedesco uses atmosphere to create tension. He focuses on keeping readers in the moment, and for the most part this works very well, especially in the more emotional scenes. Yet there are a few incidents where the panels are so focused on showing the action as it occurs that when a character makes a sudden move, the imagery fails to catch up. These moments, however, are in frequent. But character faces, when shown from a distance, are a visual distraction. The majority of the panels are tight shots that work very well and when Tedesco decides to back out of the frame, the imagery loses its clarity and is noticeably different from the previous art.

Remender enjoys playing with time and space in Uncanny X-Force, and Issue #28 is another example of this. The current arc isn’t as epic as his “Dark Angel Saga,” but readers can see “Days of Preemptive Future” taking shape. Because Remender is so comfortable taking X-Force into different timelines and alternate universes, the impact isn’t as impressive as some of his other work. But Remender’s characterization, and his penchant for exciting climaxes, makes Uncanny X-Force an interesting comic, even if its motif feels repetitive.

 

Godzilla #2

Written by Duane Swierczynski

Art by Simon Gane and Rhonda Pattison

Lettering by Chris Mowry

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Revenge might be a dish best served cold, but four people marked by tragic encounters with the mutated monsters are out to turn up the heat. Boxer and his team do the monster smash as they take on various creatures, but the biggest baddie of all still waits in the wings as Godzilla continues its reign of great writing and art.

I was a little nervous at the idea of a super-gun when Duane Swierczynski introduced it, but as this issue makes clear, taking down the higher-end monsters such as Rodan won’t be nearly so easy as getting Anguirus — if you can call nearly dying and destroying most of Edinburgh easy. There’s a lot of drama built into the question of whether or not the weapon will work, and I thought the way in which Plangman, the developer, has to fix gun in order to stay alive was extremely innovative, taking the standard risks involved in such a situation adding a second layer.

After setting up the idea that Boxer and company can defeat these creatures, Swierczynski moves into a bit of a montage, showing how the team adapts over time to the different monsters. This leads to some very personal moments, as two of the creatures are those that harmed members of the team. I really like how there’s a clear indication that stopping the monsters does not really ease the pain.

Part of that is no doubt due to the fact that they are not killing the monsters, merely immobilizing them, if I am understanding things correctly. Despite similarities to Marvel’s Punisher, Boxer is not handing out terminal justice — at least not yet. I wonder if this will change when they finally get a shot at Godzilla. It would not surprise me, given Boxer’s “do as I say, not as I do” attitude and could lead to conflict within a team that has been surprisingly stable. (Of course, the other reason is that the Toho monsters need to live on in future comics and movies, so it’s impossible to kill them once and for all.)

While there are still a lot of narrative boxes, this time around Swierczynski uses one of the characters as his mouthpiece, which I think makes more sense. We can see inside the perspective of someone who is not Boxer, and the pain of watching others get their revenge while he cannot (at least not yet) is clear, if not sad in so many words. I wonder if that will continue, or if we will move back to omniscient narration for issue four.

As in past issues, Simon Gane gives each city their distinctive look while continuing to find ways to leave the reader marveling at the level of destruction. His monsters are as grand in scale and I love the ways in which Gane positions the monsters within the comic. He is designing the panels to evoke the best of the Toho movies, with an unlimited budget.

Rodan's moves through Brazil look like they’re right out of a missing story, with the creature’s height as tall as most buildings. When the flying monster takes to the air, leaving ruins and a frustrated team behind, Gane shows us just how hard it will be to finish the job. His best work on this issue, I think, is the two-page spread that features Battra getting caught in the mother of all electrified bug zappers.

Godzilla is more than just about monsters, however, and Gane is no less skilled in working on the human element of the drama. Gane’s style gives them a very earthy, rough look, with faces that are set in either grim determination or despair at the situation. We see that the “Monster Kill Crew” are never going to get the closure they need, just by looking at them. The reporters are suitably stuffy in their posture, which makes the subtle eye change when Boxer is being interviewed so distinctive. Gane is a perfect artist for this book.

It’s not easy to make a book like Godzilla work, as the writing and art team have to balance keeping the action moving with having a real story and not overdoing it too early. So far, the team on Godzilla walks that line perfectly, making this a great book for Toho fans and action fans alike.

 

X-Treme X-Men #1

Written by Greg Pak

Art by Stephen Segovia, Dennis Crisostomo and Jessica Kholinne

Lettering by Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

The idea of a dimension-hopping team of X-Men has long been a popular one, going all the way back to Judd Winick's Exiles and beyond. With Greg Pak and Stephen Segovia's latest crack at the concept — X-Treme X-Men — that pull is still strong, but I feel it only preaches to the converted.

Having read Pak's run on Astonishing X-Men, which established these alternate-universe versions of Wolverine, Emma Frost and Nightcrawler, I was able to follow the broad strokes of the plot — but that accessibility is pretty much the big hurdle for new readers. The inciting incident for this team, linked to the combined psychic powers of a multiverse of Charles Xaviers, is some advanced-level comic reading, and it comes so early that it slightly hampers the reader's ability to connect with the X-Men on their own merits.

And that's a shame, because Pak does make his characters particularly engaging. His alternate-universe version of Wolverine — a Canadian viceroy laced with a mythic metal rendering him impervious to telepathy — is a nice spin on the usually rough-and-tumble Logan. Pak spends a lot of time focusing on Dazzler, which has mixed results — the effort eventually comes to diminishing returns, with Dazzler's self-referential remarks coming off as a little annoying.

The art, however, is surprising. I'm used to Stephen Segovia coming off as dark and drenched in ink, and X-Treme X-Men is anything but. This book is very open and the cleanest I've ever seen Segovia, I'm sure at least in part to inker Dennis Cristomo. Segovia occasionally has some wonkiness with his composition — for example, one punchline involving a Dazzler impersonator is basically lost because of a storytelling hiccup. Still, watching Wolverine slice into a telepathic squid is incredibly ferocious, and is a real highlight of the book.

The rule that every comic should have is, "every comic is someone's first" — and if it's a #1 issue, then it really needs to be followed. X-Treme X-Men establishes its goals, but it doesn't really establish its theme, and it does require some homework to really appreciate it, to boot. There's something to these all-new, all-dimensional X-Men, but this approach may be a little too X-Treme for new readers.

 

Hit-Girl #2

Written by Mark Millar

Art by John Romita Jr., Tom Palmer and Dean White

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Icon

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The superhero origin story is a staple of every superhero comic. Origin stories garner a lot of attention because fans want to know how their heroes learned the skills that made them so successful. Mark Millar explores this idea in his series Hit-Girl which makes Dave Lizewski second banana to everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed child, Mindy Macready (aka Hit-Girl). The usual Millar explosiveness has yet to appear, but his character driven story is full of great moments and awesome art, and is easily a comic worth the monthly cover price.

Whereas the previous issue showed a vulnerable Mindy Macready, this issue is more about the definition of a hero rather than an attempt to understand the hero’s persona. Millar spends the majority of the comic showing how a hero trains to be a hero. Most origin comics show a hero testing himself in preparation of his big debut. Think Batman: Year One and Bruce Wayne running around in a ski mask trying to hone his techniques as Batman.

Similarly, Hit-Girl has Mindy Macready teaching Dave Lizewski how to do things like subdue gangs of thieves and throw himself through a window — complete with a catchphrase. Much like Watchmen, there’s an awareness of the superhero genre, but much more light-hearted as Millar tries to explain why someone would prowl the streets in spandex. The story is tight and engaging, shifting focus seamlessly. The final pages involving Red Mist feel like an addendum meant to remind readers that there is a greater conflict at play, but the moments with Dave and Mindy are the bread and butter of the issue because of the playful banter, and the opportunities for the individuality of the characters to shine.

For an action heavy comic, John Romita Jr.’s art is focused and clean. The finishes add a level of clarity to the imagery, and while Romita isn’t required to contribute the usual craziness to the panels, the subdued coherence makes the comic visually appealing. The standard Millar violence still exists, and Romita complies with aplomb, but for a comic that is known for its zaniness, Hit-Girl is restrained.

In two issues, Millar has shown that he can take a secondary character and make her as appealing as the lead hero. Hit-Girl has all the action found in a Kick-Ass comic, but with more heart. Mindy Macready is a character for whom readers root, and as Dave learns the painful truths of being a side-kick, readers experience the role of the assistant up-close. All hell has yet to break loose, but given the narrow focus of the series, readers are in for a more engrossing take on the realistic superhero story.

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