Best Shots Advance: ALL-NEW X-MEN, CHEW, A+X, THOR, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for tomorrow's reviews, today? Team Best Shots has you covered, with a quartet of comics for your reading pleasure! So let's start with Marvel's mutants and George Marston, as he takes a look at the sophomore issue of All-New X-Men...


All-New X-Men #2

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, and Marte Gracia

Letters by Cory Pettit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

When Brian Michael Bendis is on, he's on . It's true that All-New X-Men is in its infancy, and is therefore still moving towards the meatiest parts of the story, but there's a sense of emotional urgency to this issue that makes the idea of the five original X-Men traveling to the present to confront their future seem like a momentous occasion rather than a half-baked premise. There's still a sense that this cannot last — after all, how much havoc is Marvel willing to wreak with its timelines? – but it's that kind of weight that makes All-New X-Men #2 work.

This issue is rife with bold moments and grand gestures, the grandest of which come from the scenes of the elder Beast attempting to convince the original X-Men to step with him through the timestream. Seeing Hank McCoy the elder juxtaposed with the younger, more wide-eyed X-Men really drives home just how far this franchise has come in its almost 50 years. The conversation between Beast and the young X-Men reads almost like a conversation between Marvel Comics today and Marvel Comics in 1963, when the kind of developments that take place on a regular basis nowadays were unthinkable. It makes Beast's desperation, and exhaustion, palpable.

Further, the reactions of all involved, from Iceman and his younger counterpart having nearly identical freakouts, to Wolverine's obviously emotional reaction to a living, breathing Jean Grey, ring true and powerful. The young X-Men, while free of a lifetime or two each of harrowing experience are still the same people, the same five mutants driven to be heroes and to protect man and mutant alike, making their decision at the end of this issue even more explosive. Still, there are things that fall a little short. While most of the questions left from the first issue are answered, there are still nagging puzzles throughout the issue, such as why Beast felt that this was the best way to use time travel to rectify the current situation. The story does also occasionally veer into moments that are perhaps too predictable, though I would not say that they are unwarranted on unimportant to the plot.

This issue's art is also a step up; Stuart Immonen and his regular inker Wade Von Grawbadger seem to be getting more comfortable with the cast, with Immonen's lines feeling more confident this time around. There is still room to improve, even for a pro like Immonen, particularly in terms of the issue's storytelling, but his take on the characters is becoming more nuanced, with young Iceman and old Beast looking especially great. Perhaps the biggest improvement, however, is with Marte Gracia's colors. While the interior shots of the Jean Grey School still feel a little flat and, well, grey, Gracia's use of color to build a mood is much improved in this issue, and certain scenes, such as the initial confrontation between the two teams of X-Men, really work.

All-New X-Men's time travel gimmick isn't sustainable. It's not even the first time a group of young X-Men has met their future selves. What it is, though, is an emotionally charged take on the paradox of learning the future, and knowing you're doomed to live it out. While it's unlikely that there won't be some changes as a result of All-New X-Men, perhaps the strength of this book will not be the ways in which it alters the status quo, but the ways in which it holds it together, forcing the younger X-Men to confront their darkest selves. It's a dizzying prospect, but one Brian Bendis seems well-equipped to handle.


Chew #30

Written and Lettered by John Layman

Art by Rob Guillory and Taylor Wells

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Why does John Layman hurt the people we love?

Seriously, John Layman is a menace. He's like Robert Kirkman. He toys with his characters like a cruel deity, but even when he pokes and prods his fictional creations, he's really stabbing at his actual target: you.

It's hard to go into this issue without spoilers. There's family. There's wedding plans. There's a hint of the culinary superpowers that have defined this series (but to Layman's credit, they're mostly a cameo here, they don't steal the show). If you don't know the rules of Layman's world, it's not necessarily the best place to hop in, but in a lot of ways, this issue touches upon his eclectic cast of characters just briefly enough to make you understand what all the hubbub is about. And there's a twist in this book that seriously makes me upset just thinking about it — not because it's dumb or arbitrary, but because it's so out-of-the-blue and so well done.

You're a jerk, John Layman. And you're a jerk for helping him sell all this, Rob Guillory.

Because sell this Guillory does. There's one splash page that absolutely hits you in the gut, as one character absolutely shows us what they're made of. There are moments of real tenderness, thanks to the expressiveness he gives his characters, particularly in one childhood flashback sequence. There's even a cameo from another member of the comics community that will make insiders chuckle, just based on the ridiculous physical comedy Guillory gives his cartoonish, over-the-top cast of characters. This issue isn't even big on jokes, but Guillory manages to make most of the pages look pretty funny, just by virtue of his style. There's a sort of alchemy that happens when you put the right artist on the right book, and Guillory is living proof of that.

There's only so much you can say about Chew #30 without giving important bits away. As far as half-points go, this one is a doozy, and it's ultimately flawless in terms of execution or scope. Like before it, Chew is like a snake, lying in wait, because you didn't see this coming until it was all too late.

In short: I hate you, John Layman. I hate you with all of my reviewer's heart — because you're making me seriously love Chew.


A+X #2

Written by Chris Bachalo and Peter David

Art by Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend and Mike Del Mundo

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

A+X #2 shows that comics really can crack the code for successful anthologies. With bold art, fun character team-ups and two stories with their tongues pressed firmly in cheek, this sophomore effort proves to be a winning combination.

The opening story, featuring a team-up between sultry super spy Black Widow and the soul-sapping Southern belle Rogue, is not only breezy and beautiful, but it shows that Chris Bachalo has chops that extend beyond the drawing table. Even with a story count of merely 10 pages, it never feels compressed or lackluster, as the Widow and Rogue go head-to-head with a rampaging Sentinel. Bachalo's characterization feels totally natural, even as he pushes the envelope for sexiness about as far as I've seen in superhero comics lately — and that's just in one panel. Bachalo reminds me a lot of Kathryn Immonen, with a humorous tone that always puts his characters in an endearing light.

The art also looks great. Bachalo's Sentinel looks creepy, hulking and powerful, while the Black Widow always looks coiled, ready to spring into action. Rogue, meanwhile, has the physique of a lady but holds herself like a brawler, her body language showing off a slight sheepishness underneath all her swagger. Bachalo's colors look great, too, with a sharp violet cutting through his pages and imbuing them with energy. That said, occasionally his panel-to-panel flow can get choppy with the storytelling, requiring a couple of reads to catch certain important story beats.

Yet I had to expect greatness from Bachalo. What I didn't expect was for the second story to go toe-to-toe with the opening act. Peter David and Mike Del Mundo pair Kitty Pryde and Iron Man together, and the result is magic. Two snarky characters written by a smart aleck writer, facing a vicious threat that smartly ties in Marvel continuity from recent books and olden times? Yowza. David's story is packed with intelligence, and really illustrates the point of this series: We're getting two characters in a room that we often don't see together, and see what kind of sparks fly. This combination is a good one.

But the real winner of this comic? Mike Del Mundo, who swings for the fences and absolutely knocks it out of the park here. You might not have heard of him prior to this comic, but I have the feeling that's all going to change soon. A one-man band in terms of pencils, inks and color, Del Mundo (known best at Marvel for his cover work, including the current run of ) has those sorts of evocative colors and exaggerated character designs of someone like Frazer Irving — a tactical advantage for a publisher like Marvel, to be sure. Del Mundo's characters are tremendously expressive, and the action beats (like Kitty phasing through a ton of machinery) has lots of flourish.

While I was lukewarm at best to the opening issue of A+X, I have to say this second issue really shows me that Marvel has what it takes to make this comic not just sell, but excel. This is exactly the showcase for established and rising talent that we've been waiting for — A+X #2 is an equation that should be a no-brainer for fans of the Marvel Universe.


Thor: God of Thunder #2

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina

Lettering by Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic's Thor: God of Thunder, while predicated on an interesting premise, has a long way to go to feel like more than a brief stop in Thor's journey. Issue #2 presented a fairly unique gimmick, sending a terrifyingly powerful and mysterious force known as the "God Butcher" careening on a path of destruction that wound its way through three eras of Thor's life, but failed to capitalize on the opportunities presented by that idea. Issue #2 isn't much of an improvement, all but excising one of those three eras from its storytelling, and dedicating a minimum of pages to the contemporary Thor in favor of elucidating the young God of Thunder's first face-to-face encounter with the God Butcher. It's not bad, per se, it just isn't good.

One of the first issue's biggest successes was cultivating a feeling of dread surrounding the God Butcher. Unseen in the first issue, the God Butcher is portrayed almost as a force of nature, unstoppable and inexorable in its quest to destroy the divine beings of all worlds. Here, once he's revealed, that feeling goes immediately out the window. It may be that Esad Ribic's design for the God Butcher, while well rendered, just isn't threatening or particularly interesting, or it may be that Aaron's script does little to differentiate the character from any number of other threats and monsters.

Most likely, it's a combination of the two. It's interesting to see what is essentially the deconstruction of a villain's entire lifespan; while most villains come and go from arc to arc, appearing in their own major stories several times throughout a title's history, the God Butcher aims to cram an entire history into one arc. The problem is, as a character, he doesn't feel like the kind of threat that would be compelling enough to return over and over, selling that premise short before it even has a chance to take hold.

The biggest problem this issue has is that it has yet to make a case for being the new take on Thor. It may only be two issues in, but nowadays, there's little patience for titles that meander early on. Marvel NOW!, as a concept, seems geared toward offering new "definitive" takes on these characters, or at least reaffirming why they've lasted for fifty plus years, but Thor: God of Thunder feels more like a mini-series or a one off arc than an actual direction for a character that has everything to gain from this relaunch, thanks to successful appearances in his own film, and the blockbuster Avengers film.

Thor is a character that fans want to know, and to like, but there's not a lot here to make the case that Thor's comics are worth navigating the heady waters of continuity and comic stores for those for whom that would be unfamiliar territory. The aforementioned deconstruction of a villain's life cycle is a great hook to start easing new readers in to the concept of ongoing serial storytelling, but the villain and, moreover, the hero, have to be characters worth caring about. And while Aaron's Thor isn't as much of a cipher as his God Butcher, his younger self at least is more arrogant and a little obnoxious than anything.

There are technical missteps as well. While Aaron and Ribic are both talented creators, neither one seems like a particularly great fit for this title. Ribic's art is gorgeous, and colorist Ive Svorcina hits all the right buttons, but his storytelling leaves more than a little to be desired. This issue's central fight scene should be wide, and epic, crisscrossing the sky, raining over the vikings below, but instead it's claustrophobic and intimate, underselling the strength of Thor, and the threat of the God Butcher simultaneously.

It's hard not to feel like Aaron's well-crafted captions during the fight, detailing an encounter Thor had with a murderous Asgardian as a child, should have been illustrated, even as interjecting panels to break up the fight scene which feels draggy and weightless. Perhaps using Ribic's talent for acting, expression, and emotion to draw parallels between what Thor saw in that murderous Asgardian's eyes and what he now sees in the God Butcher would have added some kind of deeper investment in unraveling the further mysteries of the God Butcher, and that's clearly the intent, but it just doesn't hit home. The approach isn't artful enough to live up to the concept.

In theory, this book should be better. Aaron and Ribic are high-level talents who are working from a compelling premise, but that premise is falling apart in the execution thanks to a rapidly declining focus on the themes inherent in the story, and a tendency to draw too fine a point on all the wrong elements, forsaking what could be some of the most original storytelling conceits in so far in the Marvel NOW! relaunch.

There's just too much at stake for this title, and too little at stake for its characters to be making as many mistakes as Thor: God of Thunder continues to make. Aaron and Ribic are still loaded with potential, but they better start using it sooner instead of later, or Thor: God of Thunder could end up as dead in the water as the god Thor found floating in Issue #1.


Masks #1

Written by Chris Roberson

Art by Alex Ross

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

No comic fan is safe from crossovers these days. Crossovers move units and change status quos but more importantly, they can define an era for a fan. While the pulp heroes of the Dynamite universe are loaded with history, they don’t all wield the kind of household name appeal that Spider-Man or Batman do. Chris Roberson recognizes that Masks functions not only as big event for fans of each individual character but as a primer for new ones and aided by Alex Ross’ stunning artwork, he strikes an effective enough balance.

Let’s first talk about the obvious star of this book: Alex Ross. His all painted interiors are a breath of fresh air in an age of computer coloring and digital effects. The pages have detailed backgrounds and expressive characters with distinct features. There’s no confusing Lamont Cranston for Britt Reid here and the clarity in Ross’ work is definitely something that allows Roberson a little bit of freedom to not have to “tell” as much in the dialogue. There is a tradeoff though and Ross’ panel layouts aren’t the most exciting. But clarity of storytelling trumps dynamics sometimes.

As this is the first issue, it has a bit of a “getting the gang together” feel to it. The Shadow, The Spider, Zorro, The Green Hornet and Kato don’t all operate in the same area so something must bring them together. That’s Roberson’s first hurdle and while he definitely stumbles over it a bit, that’s the worst of his transgressions in this issue and that’s not bad. It is a slow issue though. So far from what we can tell, our big bad is an evil political party bent on taking over the country with an armored police force. It does make for a decent fight scene or two but it’s clear that the plot suffers at the hands of being new reader friendly. Some of the dialogue is bit overwrought in order to make things clear to the uninitiated but that is to be expected on some level. The character work is decent though despite the dialogue and Roberson quickly establishes The Shadow, Green Hornet and Kato.

With seven more issues to go, it’ll be interesting to see what Roberson and company are able to do. The length of the mini could allow Roberson to more deeply examine each individual character and the ways in which they relate to and differ from each other. For now, Masks is a pretty typical comic book with outstanding artwork that might be fun for new fans looking for something different.

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