Best Shots Advance Reviews: ALL-NEW X-MEN #16, INFINITY #2, SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #17

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New X-Men #16
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger and Marte Garcia
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Forget time travel. Forget prophecies of destruction. Forget not one, not two, not three, but four teams of X-Men.

All-New X-Men #16 is about a pair of doomed lovers on the run from their teachers, their friends, and their own bleak future. It's the increasing fracturing of one of Marvel's premiere super-teams, but it's done in a way that's particularly heartbreaking and full of character. While critics may turn up their noses at the slower pacing of the exposition here, I'd still argue that there is a lot to like about the cross-generational aspects of "Battle of the Atom."

Admittedly, Brian Michael Bendis's story here has a lot of ground to cover, particularly since he has to introduce Cyclops' renegade Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine's Jean Grey School team, the time-lost original X-Men, and now the scarred, battle-worn X-Men of the future. From the first third of the book, you might be thinking "typical Brian Michael Bendis," full of rapid-fire dialogue and decompression. But once he injects the perfunctory action beats to this comic — namely, the future X-Men and Wolverine's team honoring the time-honored traditions of meeting, misunderstanding, and beating the snot out of each other — you realize that there is a simple, human motivation at the heart of this book.

Of course, I'm not going to give that away, but it all ties back to All-New X-Men. What happens when the original five X-Men — the bedrock core that Marvel's most dysfunctional super-team has always aspired to be — sees its own troubled future? And perhaps even more worryingly, what happens when we learn that these kids had problems, conflicting wants, and hormone-fueled snap judgments, too? That's the heart of this series, and that's what makes Bendis's overarching storyline both so humanizing and so suited to his naturalistic, off-the-cuff style as a writer. We've already seen it with Jean Grey's surprising hookup last issue — I think there's a lot of surprises coming from the original Children of the Atom.

The artwork from Stuart Immonen also looks great here. Considering how many group shots this book has, it's a testament to Immonen's talents that he can portray so many characters with so many different expressions. (And there's a couple of great visual gags to boot, particularly when we see the young and modern-day Icemen making the same slack-jawed expressions.) Immonen also doesn't get enough credit for the way he lays out Bendis's wordy scripts, where he's able to pack in great moments of tenderness, fear and malevolence — often without any extra push from Bendis's dialogue.

While the main draw of "Battle of the Atom" is the mystery of the future X-Men — and there are some interesting beats here, particularly Charles Xavier's grandson and the new Xorn — ultimately the real hook of All-New X-Men #16 comes from the characters we've already known and loved. Who knows what lies ahead when a headstrong past and an ominous future go head-to-head? Sparks fly, the heartstrings pull, and two issues into this crossover, All-New X-Men shows no signs of letting up.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Infinity #2
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Jerome Opena, Dustin Weaver and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

There's nothing inherently bad about Infinity, although if there's one tagline I'd use to describe it, it would be "the most depressing Marvel crossover ever." But no one ever said war came easy — between Jerome Opena's realistic artwork and the monumental body count of three interstellar battle fleets, it's clear that things have to get even darker before the dawn… and that if Jonathan Hickman has anything to say about it, we're still ages away from the light.

It's amazing how bleakly Hickman delivers his exposition here, and it says a lot to how high the stakes are for the Marvel Universe. Think of a more foreboding version of the Sinestro Corps or the Black Lanterns from DC, where all the key figures from the Avengers are picked off, one by one — one one page alone, the Jean Grey School is crushed, Namor and Atlantis bow to Proxima Midnight, and Dr. Strange is lost under the seductive words of the Ebony Maw.

And that's before we start talking about Thanos' tribute. It's all pretty bleak.

Yet in certain ways, the other thing that might cause some dissonance with readers of Infinity is the fact that while this is considered a Marvel crossover… Marvel's main stable of Earth-bound heroes actually are supporting characters at best. Indeed, half the Avengers are MIA, with only Captain America and Smasher even getting a hint of dialogue.

Instead, Hickman gives a lot of spotlight to the Inhumans, led by their silent king Black Bolt, as well as the 300-style battle speeches of the lord of the Shiar Empire, the purple, mohawked Gladiator. On the one hand, I understand the urge to push new characters to the spotlight — and if Hickman can make them deliver on the same wonder and action that have driven up all things Avengers, good on him — but I can also understand how some might see this as a bit of a bait-and-switch.

But the artwork, led by Jerome Opena and backed by Dustin Weaver, helps paint a picture of horror and darkness that is difficult to ignore. In particular, I love the use of shadow that Opena uses, reminding me a bit of Mike Deodato and Daniel Acuna. His battle sequences in particular are just jaw-dropping, and if you're looking for an Avengers fix, that's where you'll get them.

Even though most readers will just focus on Hickman's dialogue, when you see Smasher putting her fist through a Builder's robotic skull, or the melee between the Black Panther and Thanos' hordes — or most heartbreaking of all, when Thor takes an alien woman's infant on a last-ditch attempt for escape — you can't help but be impressed. Weaver, meanwhile, pales in comparison a bit with his Inhumans sequence, even though his scratchier line does produce a nice layout when we see just how far the enemy will go.

There's a lot of spectacle in Infinity, but what this book is sadly lacking is focus — Hickman jumps from faction to faction without really giving us a whole lot of room to really gravitate to any particular characters. In that way, Infinity reads a lot like a Roland Emmerich disaster flick, where the destruction is ultimately the main feature rather than any one character or development. For Marvel's long-term strategies, that's not necessarily a terrible idea, as Guardians of the Galaxy and Inhumans show that Marvel's next frontier lies in the stars. But for a standalone reading experience, Infinity feels like it is trying to pack in everything it can into one book… except for one definitive narrative throughline.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Superior Spider-Man #17
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Ryan Stegman, Livesay and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Move over, Otto Octavius — there's a new webslinger in town. And his name is Miguel O'Hara.

That name might make longtime comic fans perk up, as the star of Spider-Man 2099 makes his way back to the present day to square off against the Superior Spider-Man. From the high concept alone, there's plenty of reasons for Spider-fans to check this issue out, as Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman provide a nice entree to the wallcrawler of tomorrow, all while adding some new wrinkles to Otto Octavius's day-to-day life.

Of course, adding in a character like Miguel is somewhat of a double-edged sword for Dan Slott — on the one hand, he gets to recharge his creative batteries by giving us another new protagonist, with his own unique energy and style of doing things. Unlike the happy-go-lucky Peter Parker or the hair-trigger Otto Octavius, Miguel is more of a cynic, a product of having grown up under the shadow of the totalitarian Alchemax Corporation and the schemes of his father, Tyler Stone. And it's to Slott's credit that he introduces him and gets him into this status quo quickly — which is a good thing too, because Miguel isn't the only character that needs introducing here.

Now, I mentioned earlier that Miguel's presence was a double-edged sword, and here's the downside: it's been awhile since Otto Octavius has been a character we could get behind. Blame part of that to the Superior Spider-Saturation that's been going on in books ranging from Scarlet Spider to Avengers to Nova, and part of it to the fact that, well… Otto's been a bit one-note lately, particularly without comparisons to Peter Parker to play up the dramatic irony. Unfortunately, having Miguel on board so far hasn't really showed us there's more to Otto than being a jerk. And considering Slott has to also remind us about Horizon Labs' issues, as well as the burgeoning Goblin threat underground… well, I'm starting to actually get a little tired of the Superior Spider-Man as a character.

In terms of the art, when Ryan Stegman connects, he definitely hits a home run — his big splashes for Spider-Man 2099 are the highlights of the book, as he gives Miguel a different sort of visual vocabulary than his present-day predecessor. His expressions also work well, particularly the smug look on Tiberius Stone's face when he takes his revenge on those that have wronged him. That said, occasionally Slott's script bites off more than Stegman can chew, particularly with a panel that he's supposed to be shot at by British redcoats (who we can barely see on-panel), and Livesay's inks make Stegman's artwork look a bit too brittle.

Even with this busy plot, Superior Spider-Man #17 will provide tons of fun for most readers, particularly the ones who have a 2099-sized nostalgia button for Marvel to push. There's definitely a lot of potential for these two wallcrawlers in terms of comparing and contrasting, and if Slott can use this opportunity to further define both his protagonists, this is going to be one of the best Spider-Man arcs in months. Here's hoping that substance will win out over style.

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