Best Shots Extra: AGE OF ULTRON #3, BATMAN INC, More


Uncanny Avengers #5

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, Laura Martin and Larry Molinar

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Sophomore slump? Not on Rick Remender's watch. Armed with some killer artwork from Olivier Coipel, Uncanny Avengers starts its second arc off perfectly, weaving together compelling characterization, dysfunctional team dynamics and liberal amounts of the mighty Marvel mythos all in one spectacular issue.

What I think I like most about Uncanny Avengers is underneath it's modern-day stylistic veneer, it's actually got a very old-school sensibility to it. The pacing in particular flies in the face of today's decompressed norm, with Remender setting up not one, but two sets of foes for the Avengers to fight, all of whom are tied into the respective histories of the Avengers and the X-Men. But the bad guys are really just the icing on the cake — with Remender adding Wonder Man, the Wasp and Sunfire to the mix, the inherent quirkiness of the X-Men is slowly but surely loosening up the usually uptight Avengers scene. It's the team version of the Odd Couple, like when the Wasp bristles over Rogue replacing a classic Avengers painting with a painting of the late Professor X or Wonder Man refusing to fight due to some newly adopted pacifist beliefs.

But for my money, the two best beats in the book are team leader Havok and new recruit Sunfire. One of the problems I had with the first arc of this book was that Alex Summers felt like a bit of a cipher, that he wasn't nearly as dynamic as established vets like Captain America, Thor or Wolverine. But now I'm seeing that might have been Rick Remender's plan all along — he anticipates our antipathy for Alex (and voices it through the Scarlet Witch, his most compelling character thus far), and then shows us why there's more to Havok than just that onion-ring suit. There was a bit of a paternalistic streak to just the idea of this "mutant-friendly" Unity squad, but the fact that Remender has Alex start stepping up as a leader — at least in words — means heroic deeds are just around the corner. Sunfire, meanwhile, gets a short but potent introduction — he's the A-bomb with a short fuse, the powerhouse who's also damaged goods. With Wolverine acting as elder mutant spokesman, Remender recaps Shiro's convoluted history with such smoothness that it's astonishing no one did it sooner.

What also makes this book a success is the A-list art on board. A book like Uncanny Avengers deserves an artist like Olivier Coipel — his characters, first and foremost, are absolutely gorgeous, and in particular Coipel gives Alex Summers that sort of tussled boyish charm that really does cement him as an up-and-coming voice in the mutant community. Not only does Coipel make the talkier scenes dynamic and emotional — Rogue ending a pep talk with Alex with a peck on the cheek is just too great — but he also constructs some great action beats. From Wonder Man and the Wasp looming over the reader as they fly to Avengers Mansion or Captain America bouncing all over the page as he works out, this is some of the sharpest, most engaging superhero artwork out there today.

If Marvel was able to deliver this kind of quality for Uncanny Avengers every month, I'd never have to pick up another team book again. This issue was just that good. It's a little bit soap opera, a little bit widescreen, a little bit mutant, a little bit Avenger, a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n roll. New blood isn't always a good thing, but in the case of this book, new teammates and a new artist have brought Uncanny Avengers back with a vengeance.


Batman Incorporated #9

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Chris Burnham, Jason Masters, Nathan Fairbairn and Hi-Fi

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Well... now what?

Last month, Grant Morrison set off his latest bombshell from within the Batman universe, as he killed off Bruce Wayne's son and sidekick, Damian Wayne. Yet the gesture has felt hollow, even with the "Requiem" tie-ins (Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's masterful Batman and Robin notwithstanding) — it's felt abrupt, felt unearned, felt like a death simply to goose sales.

And one issue later, the question of "now what" still remains.

Morrison buries his creation here, yet this comic still feels all-business, down to the clipped, one-page eulogy that Bruce gives. Indeed, the purpose of the speech feels less like Morrison giving an actual send-off to his character — which, come on, that's what we wanted to see here, people — and instead feels like a brief break till the next action beat. "He will be avenged." I figured as much, so why doesn't this feel particularly horrifying or scarring, like the great scene of Squire mourning the Knight's death? A scream in a cave doesn't really sell the death of your child to me.

The pacing also feels way off here, partially because Leviathan gives Batman enough of a breather to go home and bury his kid? Jumping back and forth in time means that the tension in the action scenes is killed because you ultimately know Batman is going to be fine. But the other problem is now that Damian is dead, this isn't really a Leviathan story anymore, so Morrison has to keep upping the ante by forcing Batman Inc. underground when that's not the story anyone actually cares about anymore.

The art does have some great points, however. Chris Burnham really adds some passion and wildness to this surprisingly sterile script, particularly a nice scene where Nightwing goes for blood in the wake of Damian's death. A silent page and a half where Bruce stoically gets ready to go out again is the best part of the book, as Burnham makes you feel every cut, black eye and emotional hurt. Jason Masters also does an admirable job stepping in for a few pages with the Squire, as his style feels like just a slightly cleaner version of Burnham's.

The scale of this comic is particularly ambitious, and Morrison's juggling of so many characters and so many subplots is admirable in and of itself — yet there's a lesson to be learned here. When Damian was first introduced, Morrison thought he'd kill him in one arc... until he saw the character really taking on a life of his own. In death as he was in life, I guess, since the death of Robin has largely superseded any convoluted doomsday plots Talia al Ghul might come up with. Batman Incorporated isn't a story about high concept anymore, it's a story about emotions and family and heart — and that might be a Leviathan too big for even Grant Morrison to tackle.


East Of West #1

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Image Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Jonathan Hickman may have ascended to the upper echelons at Marvel, but his best work remains his creator-owned science fiction projects at Image. The freedom to explore his evident fascination with the intersections of technology and history brings something else out of him, whether that be the pointed political commentary of The Nightly News or the grim humor and Cold War surreality of The Manhattan Projects. Hickman's latest effort in this arena, East Of West, has a more mythic resonance to it, marrying Old West and Biblical iconography to a dystopian future milieu. In this instance, however, I'm not certain that the whole quite equals the sum of its parts.

The parts, however, are excellent. Hickman excels at building worlds that function exactly as he wants them to. His transformed mid-21st century America is not that of our reality, split into multiple nations 150 years before, then shaped by the words of a prophetic manuscript into a place that still feels like a frontier, but with the technology of tomorrow. Into this parallel future stride the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, whose recent past has created a divide among them both physical and philosophical. Death serves as our main protagonist, and his quest for vengeance against the Horsemen's enemies, as well as his inevitable confrontation with his erstwhile companions, seems to be the book's main narrative drive. There's plenty of clever dialogue, another Hickman strength, and well-staged moments of horror and violence as Death and the Horsemen wreak havoc on the Seven Nations.

I'm just not sure I care. I know it's only the first issue and, as with almost any high-profile creator-owned series today, this is being written for the trade. But as an individual episode - the pilot, if you will - Hickman doesn't quite give us enough to chew on. Any serialized narrative lives and dies on the strength of its characters, and while Hickman does a lot of world-building legwork, the opacity of the Horsemen's motivations beyond a generic desire for revenge prevented more than cursory investment on my part. What appears to be a key, cathartic moment of violence towards issue's end has little impact, because the drive behind it is so unspecific.

It's as if Hickman spends almost 40 pages to tell us, "They're the Four Horsemen. Someone crossed them, and now they're killing people." Well, of course they are. They're the Four Horsemen. I need something more than that, some insight, some window into the actors in this drama before I can build the kind of connection that's going to keep me coming back month in and month out. The most intriguing mythology and best design in the world isn't going to change that.

The design, by the way, is pretty superb. Hickman reunites with his Fantastic Four collaborator Nick Dragotta, and he and colorist Frank Martin really go above and beyond here. Their merging of futuristic tech with the visual aesthetic of the Old West is seamless and striking, and the action move fluidly from panel to panel. The slight exaggeration of the lines and proportions of characters' faces and bodies helps sell the otherworldly nature of the enterprise. Martin's palette of browns, ambers, and blues strikes an appropriately earthy and somber note.

I don't want to sound as if I'm totally down on East Of West. It does have a lot going for it; Hickman and his collaborators have put together a great framework for a dark tale of revenge and terror in an elaborate and well-conceived setting. As individual scenes, the moments in this debut issue work like gangbusters. Even when your cast are anthropomorphized incarnations of man's greatest fears, however, there needs to be some nuance and accessibility for us to care about their stories. Without that, East Of West is going to remain a lot of meticulously executed and stylish noise.

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