Best Shots Reviews: ALL-NEW X-MEN, GREEN LANTERN, Much More

All-New X-Men #15
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New X-Men #15
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David LaFuente and Jim Campbell
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

If you read one comic this week, make it All-New X-Men #15. Even though this issue is an interlude from the team's ongoing struggles against the mutant shapeshifter Mystique, Brian Michael Bendis actually produces a quirky, refreshing day in the life with Marvel's most misunderstood team.

Given his status as one of Marvel's leading writers, it's easy to forget that Brian Michael Bendis's greatest strength isn't so much setting the tone for the rest of Marvel's books, but his humanity and sense of humor. From the very beginning of this issue, however, you've got a much lighter, more irreverent tone going on - Rachel Grey's meeting with her time-traveling future-mother Jean is one of the more sublime moments of the book, as the two bump into each other, psi-scan each other in shock, and then just walk away, each of them already having had their fill of weirdness for the day. There are a lot of other great bits here, as well, such as the young Cyclops and Iceman taking a day off in the city, or Wolverine grumping out over students stealing his cars and wrecking his bikes.

Yet this comic isn't all laughs, and that really helps make this issue a satisfying one. Looking at the cover, you know that love is in the air, and while pairing Jean Grey and the Beast is somewhat of an odd pairing, Bendis sells it with his execution - there's been this ongoing theme of Jean wrestling with her telepathy, and that winds up cutting to the quick for this shotgun romance. Meanwhile, the action is paced perfectly with Cyclops and Iceman in their trip into the city, with just two pages packing more than enough punch for superhero fight junkies.

The other great thing about this book? David LaFuente is on the art. His cartoony, expressive style is the perfect fit for this energetic interlude, and he really sells the emotions on every page of this book. Watching Jean and Henry stare into each others' eyes as they figure out where to go in their relationship is absolutely tender, and the look on Cyclops and Iceman's faces when they realize they've been busted by Wolverine is downright hilarious. LaFuente's character designs are also superb, particularly the snub-nosed Henry (who still has the same jawline and eyebrows as his mutated future self), or the sheer glee Iceman and Cyclops have gearing up for an adventure. Bendis has always been blessed with great artists, but with talent like LaFuente on board, All-New X-Men has been a highlight even for him.

It's rare in the current gloomy comics environment for a book to be as uplifting and cheerful as All-New X-Men, but it's issues like this that reminds us why we like this team so much in the first place. Superheroics isn't all about capes, tights and punching, but ultimately the team dynamics - and even the weird quirky family stuff - underneath. The X-Men have always excelled at these sorts of soap opera stories, and the self-referential vibe of this time-travel story makes Bendis's twists and turns all that much more intriguing. This is definitely the best book I've read all week.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Lantern #23
Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Billy Tan, Rob Hunter, Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Three issues into his run, writer Robert Venditti seems to have settled into Green Lantern nicely. Almost a decade’s worth of Geoff Johns is a tough act to follow by anyone’s standards, especially given that there is nary a corner of the Green Lantern universe that Johns’s light has not touched. Literally giving the whole team a fresh paint of emerald paint, populating it with new faces and graduating Hal Jordan to team leader, Venditti is now free to carve out his own niche in his corner of the DCU.

Venditti wasted no time in throwing readers in at the deep end in his earlier issues, wading knee-deep into a skirmish between the Green Lantern Corps' skeleton crew and Larfleeze’s orange minions. In the aftermath, a Lantern is dead and a prisoner has escaped thanks to a Star Sapphire ring. As a result, this issue affords Venditti the opportunity to do a mental health check on Jordan, whose head is feeling particularly weighty thanks to the new crown he’s sporting. With the rings faltering, Jordan is arguably in one of the most vulnerable places, both emotionally and physically, that he has been in for some time.

So it is with this issue that Venditti starts to give us an idea of what his Green Lantern is all about. Filled with mystery and intrigue around the identity of the escaped Prixiam, it’s a much more personal take on Hal Jordan’s journey, which has ranged from large to epic over the last few years. It’s perversely pleasing to see him suddenly riddled with self-doubt about his role and the new crop of green (in every sense of the word) recruits. It’s this very doubt that proves to be troublesome in his first encounter with Prixiam. Yet Venditti is not adverse to peppering his space saga with humor, including Kilowog’s repeated frustration in trying to fit his ample frame onto a “thimble” of a chair.

Artist Billy Tan comfortably owns the Green Lantern universe, as though he had always been a part of its fabric. He perhaps doesn’t have too much of a challenge in the first act, mostly depicting humanoids in green uniforms chatting about their anxieties. However, the moment we cut to the barren wasteland Prixiam calls a home, he settles into a more familiar action mode, casually throwing out impressive sequences as readily as the very cool image of Jordan deflecting laser blasts. As Prixiam makes Jordan witness his heart’s desire, a double-page montage is jaw-droppingly good.

The Green Lantern legacy was strong enough to survive the editorial changes resulting in the New 52 without missing a beat, and this issue suggests that it will continue to do so for some time to come. Venditti finds the right balance between Jordan as a man and a space cowboy, and this is just where we want to be as we head into the “Lights Out” crossover event this year.

Credit: DC Comics

Trillium #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Jeff Lemire and Jose Villarrubia
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by Vertigo
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

In an interesting debut from Vertigo alum Jeff Lemire, his newest work Trillium tells the story of two very different people affected by the same strange alien world. Or is it alien at all? Lemire sets up a great foundation for what could be the sleeper hit of the year.

We start things off in the far distant future with a military botanist, Nika, and within a few pages we get to know her rather well as well as her computer aid program, Nessie. She's on this mysterious planet researching plants, but the natives are being less than enthusiastic about their presence there. Eventually, Nika breaks protocol and approaches the natives and wanders through an ancient temple and comes face-to-face with...a male human from the twentieth century. Flashback to 1921, explorer and archaeologist William dares to get a group to find an temple, but takes a wrong turn and his party is killed by Incan natives, and as he's running for his life he runs into...a female scientist from the thirty-eighth century.

The brilliance here is that Lemire has established so much of both Nika's and William's worlds, in a short time span, he's channeling a classic style that's almost the very essence of comic book narratives. Both stories mirror each other perfectly right down to the panel layouts. Even in print form, the book acts as a flip-book and the reader can choose which adventure to read first. The stories are intertwined so it doesn't matter which you choose, though Nika first was a little bit more effective.

Lemire's trademark artstyle is full-on here with distorted proportions and anatomy, but the colors here are completely different for each world or timeline. With the futuristic world, Lemire watercolor's everything and gives it almost wild and dirty palette rich in earth tones and muddy reds. The color scheme drives home the alien atmosphere with scenes of Nika taking her ride out to the wall of the alien natives. While on William's timeline, everything is digitally colored and a bit more polished by Jose Villarrubia. Nothing is overdone and almost done primarily in flat tones, but sticking more within the linework; it's more refined and what we're more used to.

Trillium is hard sci-fi at its finest. While Lemire has dabbled with sci-fi elements before with Sweet Tooth, but this is on a whole new level. The run is only intended to be ten issues, but with what Lemire has laid out so far, I could only hope for a bit more.

Credit: Marvel

Iron Man #14
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten, and Guru EFX
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Kieron Gillen's Iron Man has been all over the place throughout "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark." So, it's nice to see that with Iron Man #14, some of the plot threads are finally coming together, with Tony's fate escalating quickly to not entirely unpredictable but much needed higher stakes. "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark" threatened to rework Tony in a way that could have left him bereft of some of his charms, but instead, with its real conflict finally in the foreground, it's bolstered much of what makes him an important figure in the Marvel Universe. It's not s perfect direction for the Iron Avenger, but it's far more compelling than rehashing how destructive Tony's tech can be in the wrong hands for the umpteenth time.

Iron Man #14 sees Tony and Recorder 451 engaging in a battle of lateral thinking, with Tony realizing how to remove some of 451's advantages over him, and 451 forcing Tony to take action, whether he wants to or not. There's some weighty material here, though the action simply breezes past some of the heaviest moments. It's a little jarring, but it certainly builds a sense of urgency and imperative around 451's plans, and raises the stakes as high as they've ever been for Tony Stark, both personally, and globally.

On the other hand, Gillen's use of 451 as a cosmic manipulator is growing a little stale. 451 is the kind of almost omnipotent character that needs to constantly defy expectations in order to stay interesting. The more he hews one way or the other between hero and villain, protagonist and antagonist, the less effective he is, and the more his role in Tony's life feels like a simple deus ex machina than a new layer of paint on a classic character. Here, he's a little too much of an arch-villain, despite what he still claims are altruistic motives, taking action that is too easy to write off as irredeemable. It is the philosophical questions about Tony and 451 that have made this story readable despite some rather frail framework, so here's hoping that the escalation in the terms of Tony's relationship to 451 doesn't see the conflict 451 has brought to Tony's life reduced to a binary question of evil vs. good or right vs. wrong.

This issue also sees the return of Greg Land to the fold. And, while he's certainly improved from the cut and paste style that made him infamous, he simply doesn't have the personality in his work that Dale Eaglesham brought to the pages. Eaglesham's work was almost as polished as Land's, but Land's layouts and character work seems far flatter by comparison, removing some of the depth and alien expressionism in 451's mannerisms. On the other hand, Land does have his high points. His take on Death's Head is massive and imposing, and his splash pages of Tony and the giant construct in which the action is taking place are striking. Land works best with tech and monsters - the kind of things that lack photo reference - so Iron Man seems like a good fit for him, but too often he fails to stretch himself, leaving the action set on top of almost inappropriately flat backgrounds and set pieces. This is big, dynamic cosmic action that winds up feeling a little claustrophobic despite the technological sheen that Land, inker Jay Leisten, and Guru EFX are capable of as a team.

With the ending of "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark" on the horizon, Kieron Gillen needs to stick the landing. By raising the stakes, he's set an obvious course of action for Tony Stark, but what of Recorder 451? If their relationship is reduced to a simple hero/villain paradigm, Gillen is in danger of losing the more innovative elements of the story he's crafting. There's still room for the story to end with a twist - it certainly began with one - but the fewer dimensions to 451's mission, his relationship to Tony, and his role in the grand scheme of things, the more the story stands to lose. If Gillen brings everything together, Tony stands to gain a lot of depth, and a whole new panoply of story possibilities outside of the constantly repeated tropes he's suffered in recent years. On the other hand, if everything winds up back at square one, Tony has gained nothing, and by extension, the readers are also left bereft.

Credit: DHC

Breath of Bones: A Golem’s Tale #3
Written by Steve Niles
Art by Dave Wachter
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Breath of Bones: A Golem’s Tale explores the power of the human spirit in the face of great adversity and loss through the lens of a young Jewish boy in his attempt to stand up against the Nazi forces encroaching upon his village. What makes this mini-series stand out– and this issue in particular – is the way in which the words and pictures come together to create moving and complex story that will stay with readers long after they put this issue down.

Part of the story’s depth comes from the ways in which the myths and mystical writings of the golem from Jewish tradition inform this narrative. It is clear that Steve Niles draws upon the legend of the “Golem of Prague,” as the story arc for this mini-series seems to run parallel to its seventeenth predecessor in a number of ways. According to the legend, a rabbi constructed the golem as the last line of defense between his people and the invading German forces looking to expel or even exterminate the Jews (depending on the source used). In the original legend, it is the king of Germany and the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph who moves against the Jewish people. In Niles’ story, we see Nazi Germans again attacking one of many Jewish communities across Europe. Similarly, readers see a Jewish community leader opting not to run but to stand and defend his home with the aid of the mystical golem just as the rabbi did in the legend. In this story, Noah discovers that the fight before him is one that he must pick up and continue as his father and grandfather before him – a torch passed from one generation to the next. In this way, Niles avoids merely copying the legend and dressing it in “clothes” that are more contemporary. Instead, he provides readers with a fresh perspective on this legendary tale of the Jewish golem as a metaphor for the undying spirit of the Jewish people whom it protected.

The other half of the equation behind this mini-series’ success lies squarely at the feet of Dave Wachter. Admittedly, I was unfamiliar with his work going into this series. Suffice to say, I was blown away. Not only is he able to consistently compose each panel to effectively convey the basic plot points of the story, Wachter also manages to deliver the emotional impact of each moment to his readers through his haunting and evocative art. There is one wide-angle panel in this issue where Wachter depicts the golem facing down a battery of German tanks that truly captures the spirit of grim determination to survive that encapsulates the Jewish people of the period. The golem leans into the fiery explosions driving onward in spite of the seemingly insurmountable odds. It will not be shaken from is course and we not only see it, but we feel it.

Moreover, the monster’s lack of physical detailing is another important characteristic Wachter makes use of in this issue. An overly stylized monster could easily draw focus away from what the creature represents and instead, relegate those panels in which it appears to simply be some cool monster-on-military action sequences. While there is nothing wrong with that sort of entertainment, it’s not the type of narrative Niles wrote nor is it the sort of story Wachter is telling. But don’t mistake a more simplified approach as being simplistic. Wachter’s ability to capture the emotion of his characters is on par with some of the best creators out there today. Later on in the comic, he subtly shows the ways war can wear on a soul. Wachter juxtaposes a mirror image of Noah when he was young against a more recent picture of the boy as a young soldier facing down death once again, but this time alone in a trench with the enemy forces bearing down on him.

I also have to make a brief note about the choice to tell this story in gray tone over color. There are a number of great colorists who work regularly at Dark Horse (and beyond!) whom I am certain would have been more than happy to work on this project. And while I love so much of what a good colorist can bring to a comic, this mini-series truly benefits from a black and white treatment. Wachter manages to bring forth light from each page amidst a dreary and darkened backdrop of war-torn Europe that might have somehow been lessened with the use of a full color palette. And given the weight of that theme throughout this mini-series, it’s clearly the right decision.

If I have any complaint, it is that <>Breath of Bones: A Golem’s Tale ended at three issues. It’s a masterfully crafted tour de force that does a brilliant job of showcasing both the emotional and intellectual strength of the comics medium where both word and visual collide to create a truly compelling story unlike any other.

Helheim #6
Helheim #6
Credit: Oni Press

Helheim #6
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Joëlle Jones and Nick Filardi
Lettering by Ed Brisson,br> Published by Oni Press
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Confession time. About halfway through Issue #2 of Helheim, I had a pretty good idea how the series would end. That's not to say I'm some gifted reader that looks for the twist in everything I read or watch. In fact, I am fairly certain both Cullen Bunn and Joëlle Jones knew their readers would see the writing on the wall. The big surprise ending was never the intention of Helheim. This is a horror morality tale in the most classic of fashion. The how we get to the ending is far more important than the what. Rikard has faced the beasts for which his horrible fate was crafted. Now, only his creator remains. The one he once swore his undying love and devotion towards. She commands no armies. She holds no fort. As Rikard, his young companion, his conflicted father and their men travel ahead; it's a battle that will only have one outcome. It's what comes before that matters.

As Issue #6 progresses, Cullen Bunn does a good job of not only wrapping up the overall arc with some emotional resonance, he also asks questions most readers have wondered. For all his bravado and outward showing of strength, is Rikard's father truly up to the task the fates have placed on him? Bunn writes an interesting duality between the warrior that knows his role and seeks justice, and the father that has not yet truly grieved for his loss. A loss that goes so much deeper than that of physically losing his son in combat. I do wish Bunn had but a few more pages to emotionally connect with the reader in the final moments of the comic. The transition is honest, but a little too curt for any lasting impact. It's still a powerful moment between Rikard, his father, and the survivors, but missing a real nuance the scene deserves.

As has been the case since the first issue, the shining star of Helheim has been the visuals. Between the gorgeous pencils of Joëlle Jones and Nick Filardi's colors, this might go down as the best looking book of 2013. Just as the series opened, Jones drafts a landscape that is both beautiful and without mercy. Yet, unlike the purity of the first issue, the landscapes within issue #6 are tainted. Tainted by not just mortal conflict, but an affront upon the gods and land itself. A blurring of the lines as trees wilt into the ground. A sun that is no longer bright enough to illuminate a cloudless day. With colors that now reflect a land that's been forever altered by the undying conflict of two vile creatures. It's very strong stuff and that's within the first three pages.

While Jones utterly embraced the insane undead Viking versus demons violence that gleefully burst from this story, it's her character work that always shined the brightest. That's brought to life fully in Helheim #6 with her slow visual evolution of Rikard's young companion. Always viewed as an innocent guide in Rikard's quest for vengeance, this young girl always had an aura of the unknown. There was always something special, something hidden behind those large sunken eyes. Her image and power comes to fruition as Jones fully reveals the drive that's been in this lone surviving girl since her introduction. Although the reader isn't all that surprised at the reveal, Jones' pencils and Filardi's balanced color work gives the scene a real impact and is darkly satisfying.

I've been a champion of Helheim since I first saw samples well over six months ago and the series did not disappoint. If you simply want crazy violence as your blare Nordic metal through your speakers, Helheim will work for you. But, in all that insane dark ages combat and bravado sits an emotional tale that spins a classic myth and works it's way into your head. HelheimHelheim really is an example of what a comic can do. As the book teased, I do indeed hope we see more.

Artifacts #30
Artifacts #30
Credit: Top Cow

Artifacts #30
Written by Ron Marz
Art by Jung-Geun Yoon
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Top Cow
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

If you're a fan of Coke, you're more than likely recognize and differentiate the taste between Coke and Diet Coke. If you're a soda enthusiast in general, you might be able to tell 7Up, Sprite, and Sierra Mist apart. However, that's just dealing with namebrands. there's a plethora of knock-offs in the market with similar, and almost ridiculous names, but you know what they're supposed to be. That's how the latest issue of Artifacts kind of feels like.

The issue takes a break from the arc and sort of gives you a quiet moment between Finch and new character, Rafael, a gay teen who finds himself observing the ongoings between Finch and servants of the Darkness. Along the way, the two talk about religion and what it means to be gay in this day and age on top of a church. It's an interesting parallel that Finch describes her secret identity to the people who know she's a lesbian. Soon, Rafael is recruited so to speak and we'll probably see a lot more of him later on. Again, the issue ends with more teases and hints of a great war coming. That's all well and good, but it just seems like we've been here before.

The main issue I have with Artifacts is that when it's on, it's on all the way. And while I understand this is a sort of "breather" of an issue that almost lightens the mood, it just feels incomplete and almost stoic. The inclusion of a new character is always refreshing to a book, especially one that readers connect with instantly, and Rafael's story is (sadly) becoming more and more relatable these days. It's just some of his dialog came across as forced and wooden. Tom Judge's brief appearance at the end keeps in line of the Tom we know and love (cussing in a church in typical fashion), but there's something about Finch that felt a bit off. Giving a stranger a brief rundown on the history of the universe reforming feels a bit heavy to me. Writer Ron Marz mixes that moment with Finch slaying all kinds of Darkspawn in between her pep talk and it adds a slice of humor and awesome, it's quickly dispersed.

Newcomer Jung-Geun Yoon takes the artistic reigns and he's definitely the off-brand to Stjepan Sejic here. Not to say he's bad, but definitely not as polished or manages the same level of facial expressions we've come to expect. Not to say Yoon is downright terrible, but it's easy to compare him to Sejic as the two are primarily digital artists and have a similar style, with Sejic just being superior in this case. The small fights between Finch and the creatures have some tight action, though lacking Sejic's dynamic sense of action and danger. Yoon's flow of the story is basic and comprehensive, but nothing that has a wow factor. Definitely shows potential though.

Artifacts #30 is almost an issue you can dive into if you haven't been following along, but it doesn't give you an idea really of who these characters are aside from Finch and a glimmer of Tom. Marz has certainly been better at this series than here and if you hold out, you'll certainly see what this series is capable. Sadly, you won't in this one.

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