Best Shots Advance Reviews: INFINITY #6, More

Marvel previews for November 27, 2013
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Infinity #6
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Jim Cheung, Dustin Weaver, Mark Morales, Guillermo Ortego, Dave Meikis, and John Livesay
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

As an event, Infinity has lived and died by it's big moments, moments like Thor splattering a builder with his hammer, or Black Bolt's magnificent "NO!" when Thanos asked for his surrender. In that respect, Infinity #6 delivers. There are plenty of huge moments to close up this story, but at the same time, this final issue suffers from the major flaws of the series at large. Rather than feeling like the ending the Avengers and the various galactic empires have earned, Infinity #6 feels, like the rest of Infinity, like something far more transitory, a stop gap on the way to next big event that resolves little with its main players, relying instead on one deus ex machina after another to allow the characters at the story's heart to simply survive.

Infinity has suffered from something of a disjointed narrative, following both the Builder fleet and Thanos in separate storylines that, even with this conclusion, have yet to coalesce beyond Thanos's discovery of the Illuminati's doomsday device. This final issue sees the Builder threat all but vanquished at the hands of Captain Universe in a moment typical of Infinity's propensity to resolve major problems with a hand-waving solution in spite of the efforts of its main characters. With Thanos the only remaining threat, the Avengers are finally assembled on Earth to deal with the mad titan.

Once again, many of the characters added to the Avengers roster seemingly for this specific story are left by the wayside, with Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and Captain Marvel taking on Thanos. Only Hyperion of the new recruits is given any screen time in the main event, though his part is fairly significant. Even Eden, one of Infinity breakout stars is relatively absent. It's almost fitting then that the conflict is resolved through yet another plot device, rather than an actual triumph of the characters at hand. In fact, even on the Illuminati's side, only Maximus gets a major moment.

All of that said, this is only a major problem because once again, the POV characters are left a little bit high and dry. The story itself is not bad, and the twin implications of Thanos's defeat and Black Bolt and Maximus's victory are compelling to say the least. While the final panels leave a handful of teases as to the lingering consequences on the landscape of the Marvel Universe, it remains to be seen what may come of the Builder incursion in later tales, hopefully ones that make better use of characters like Starbrand and the Ex Nihili, designed specifically for this story and still criminally underused.

Fortunately, Infinity #6 is also one of the best crafted episodes in the story, with Jonathan Hickman's script offering some of its most concise and compelling beats of Infinity as a whole. Further, Jim Cheung and Dustin Weaver make a fine pairing. While Cheung's pages carry a little more oomph, probably owing to the scenes he's given, there's a nice continuity between the pair. One thing Infinity has had going for it is the weight of its artistic team, with Jim Cheung doing much of the heavy lifting, and this final issue is no exception.

In the end, Infinity #6 is a strong issue weighed down more by the failings of the series it concluded than any of its own flaws. Infinity at large isn't served by this ending, however, as it feels more like a single closed thread in a mass of tangled ones left dangling. Given the nature of Marvel's event cycle for the last few years, that is likely intentional, though it hardly makes for a satisfying story in its own right.

Credit: Image Comics

Rat Queens #3
Written by Kurtis Wiebe
Art by Roc Upchurch
?Published by Image Comics
?Review by Forrest C. Helvie
?'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

In Part Three of "Gold, Guts, and Grog," Wiebe and Upchurch slow things down a bit from the fast pace of the first two issues to give readers a chance to get to know the rowdy women behind the Rat Queens adventuring party. Although there are still some great one-liners that Wiebe delivers and funny situations that he creates, I really enjoyed getting to see some depth of character behind these fiery and colorful protagonists. It's clear this creative team is looking to not only keep their readers thrilled with humor and action; there's also some substance to these heroes that will no doubt lend to a much longer-term picture for this series.

Issue #3 sees the Rat Queens continuing the search to uncover the identity of the person responsible for attempting to assassinate them and the other mercenaries in town – and by the issue's end, the reveal comes to a somewhat humorous surprise. The story eschews the hack 'n slash adventure this time around and takes on more of a rogue's quest as it makes the occasional detour into the individual character's personal lives. We get a glimpse into Hannah's complicated relationship with the captain of the guard, which is somewhat ironic as it turns the stereotype of the bad boy with a "straight-edge" girl. Instead, it is the male character who is the well behaved person and the female is the troublemaker. It's a dynamic that works without feeling forced.

We also get to learn a little more about the team's resident "tank" – that is, the hot-headed, dwarven warrior Violet. She's a strong, skilled fighter who more than proves her aptitude with the blade; however, it becomes clear the road she's chosen is an uphill one. While it's common to encounter dwarven mercenaries in fantasy literature, they are invariably male, and it is this stereotype Violent continues to push against. She is portrayed as a confident character, but it is clear that Violet's choice to become a sell sword is a continued source of conflict for her once members of her clan show up.

The real standout in this series, however, is Betty the Smidgen thief. This issue gives readers a chance to see her at work as a true rogue as she puts both her dexterous and dramatic skill sets to work. Wiebe really does a fine job of developing a character who is incredibly smart about her work and possesses a strange mix of both dry humor with a healthy dose of innocence. It is easy to look at her diminutive and see Betty as a comic device as she is a really funny character. Wiebe and Upchurch, however, challenge us to consider Betty as something more than that. Her experience of love lost in the form of an ex-girlfriend presents a quiet moment that shows there is a desire for something more than just booze, bedroom conquests, and brawls at the heart of this character.

I specifically mention Upchurch in the telling of these "quiet moments" because so much of the effectiveness of the scenes and dialogue would fall flat without his hand guiding the reader along panel by panel. He does a fantastic (and consistent!) job of conveying emotion through his characters' facial expressions and body language – a subtle but extremely effective means of showing the Rat Queens' state of mind versus relying on quick and easy exposition to handle the job. And this results in a far more satisfying. I also found the panel design and layouts really creative as they depicted Betty at work as she was feeling out the banker and casing the room. It was a nice break from the standard grid approach while still maintaining a very easy to read flow. I also continue to love the colors Upchurch applies to this comic. They are rich and provide a real sense of depth to each panel that I come to expect from fantasy comics. Finally, I love how this comic seems to be forcefully creating space for itself in a genre laced with stereotypical gender portrayals, and it is due in part to Upchurch's varied use of body types in his character designs that this theme of inclusivity is driven. It's just a damn good approach to visual storytelling in a time when comics are coming under scrutiny for an often limited perspective on the representation of female and non-male bodies.

My only critique would be that while there was time set aside for three of the four Rat Queens, Dee – the cleric of the group – did not get the same spotlight into her personality as the others even if she was equally present in the main plot. However, I can also recognize that there are only so many pages available to set aside for individual character development whilekeeping the plot moving forward simultaneously. Simply put: This is a great series that has a clear direction of where it's going, a strong sense of who its characters are, and the understanding that comics can be funny without having to set aside three-dimensional characters along the way.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Never Ending #1
Written by Adam P. Knave and DJ Kirkbride
Art by Robert Love and Heather Breckel
Lettering by Frank Cvetkovic
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 1 out of 10

The deconstruction of superheroes has been going on his the debut of Robert Mayer’s novel Superfolks in 1977 and the reason that it’s become a rather tired exercise over 30 years later is that most writers don’t have anything new to say. Adam P. Knave and DJ Kirkbride’s Never Ending is firmly in that category, offering up a story treads familiar ground and fails to offer up any sort of examination.

Never Ending tells the story of Charles Baxter, an everyman who gets his powers by chance when a meteor hits in 1950. In addition to the basic Superman power set, (strength, speed and flying), he’s also immortal and that’s the heart of this book’s premise: time is a hero’s greatest enemy. Knave and Kirkbride offer up empty analysis of the futility of superhero comics by showing Baxter through the years of his superhero career from 1950 to 2036. He’s always fighting the same villain, Archibald Crane, a scientist who was once an ally. Baxter laments how saving innocent civilians isn’t as instinctive as it was because they’ve been “doing this dance forever.”

The writers have gone on in interviews about how this is a dark book but it really isn’t. It’s sad recognizing that if you live forever, everyone you love will die but Alan Moore explained that to us in Watchmen with a few lines of dialogue from Doctor Manhattan. It’s sad being a superhero and not being able to save your family but Grant Morrison showed us that with his run on Animal Man. And both of those ideas weren’t new when they had done it either, having both been touched on in Superfolks. What’s the draw of a book like Never Ending then? Unfortunately, there is none. The plot is inconsequential. The characters are shallow. And the commentary is weak.

The art by Robert Love is similarly disappointing. His storytelling is clear but his art is boring. There are some instances of facial inconsistency which wouldn’t be a huge problem if it wasn’t the main character who was pulling a Darkman on us. (I’m well aware that the face would change over the course of 86 years, I’m talking about on a panel-to-panel basis, not an era-by-era one.) His backgrounds are only used to establish location before giving way to gradients. The opening double-page spread fails to inspire any sense of urgency or danger and the villain that appears looks like Onslaught caught Cable’s techno organic virus. The color work by Heather Breckel doesn’t help Love or the writers. A dark story, even a dark superhero story, tends to have a darker pallet overall but Breckel colors most of this one in bright blues and reds, making the art clash with the intended message.

Dark Horse has had a few noteworthy superhero outings lately but Never Ending isn’t one. Its core concept is weak because we’ve been down this road before. We’ve had our heroes face these problems before. Knave and Kirkbride don’t bring anything new or, at the very least interesting, to the table. They’re working in analogs without delivering on the nuance that might make us care about characters that we don’t already know. It’s fitting that Baxter’s superhero name is “Chuck,” because this book feels like just another disposable, forgettable entry in the superhero genre.

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