Best Shots Comic Reviews: UNCANNY AVENGERS #15, HARLEY QUINN #1

Harley Quinn #1
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Uncanny Avengers #15
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Steve McNiven, John Dell, Dexter Vines, Jay Leisten and Laura Martin
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

This is where they fall down.

They've fought the Red Skull. They've fought the Four Horsemen. But even the Uncanny Avengers must fall beneath the boot of the Apocalypse Twins.

If you thought last issue was grim, well, Rick Remender and company have a second helping ready for you. This book is as brutal as it is beautiful, a clash of the super-powered titans if you ever saw one. While it's not quite as horrifying as the last installment - indeed, you might still be numb after Issue #14 - Uncanny Avengers #15 sets the stage for the end of the world as we know it.

Now, fair warning - if you haven't been following this book, it might be a bit hard to catch up with some of Remender's plot points, ranging from the small stuff (like Captain America temporarily losing his hearing last issue) to the bigger stuff (like the gruesome deaths of several cast members), not to mention some of the character dynamics Remender's been building the past few arcs (like Havok's relationships with Captain America and the Wasp, or Thor's involvement with the Apocalypse Twins' rise to power). And those bits are important - ultimately, the theme of this arc of Uncanny Avengers is about the past never staying buried, that the past will always come back not just to haunt us, but to outright stab us in the back.

In this case, it's the Four Horsemen that are doing the stabbing. Remender particularly focuses on the resurrected Sentry, a one-time schizophrenic with the power of a million exploding suns - this character comes off as particularly dangerous and malevolent as he recites poetry to a fleeing Wasp, who battles back nerves even though she's saved the world a thousand times over. Remender knows how to pace a fight sequence, and what's so refreshing is the different character combinations he uses, as the once-divided Unity Squad finally crosses paths again.

The artwork by Steve McNiven and his band of inkers lends a weightier, larger-than-life feeling to this battle to the death. In particular, McNiven's torn and tattered Wolverine looks even more beat-up than usual, as he wildly slashes as the Grim Reaper and his own resurrected son Daken. McNiven's layouts also feel fairly open, as he embraces widescreen panels and over-the-top fisticuffs. (And McNiven's take on the immortal, regenerating Sentry is particularly eerie.) Colorist Laura Martin also hits the sweet spot here, her cool violets and blues suddenly exploding into oranges and yellows near the end of the book.

But like I said - bloodlust can only take you so far, and if anything, Remender shows his hand a little more than he needs to, almost as if he's reassuring us that things will be fixed at the end of the day. Well, at the very least, some things. And that's what's exciting about Uncanny Avengers - this is a book that dives deep into Marvel lore and brings back something exciting, throwing together mismatched characters, histories and ideas and seeing what kinds of sparks fly. With the Rapture at their heels, the Uncanny Avengers may be down, but this reader sure as heck is not out.

Credit: DC Comics

Harley Quinn #1
Written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Chad Hardin and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Harley Quinn may be one of the bad guys. But at the end of the day, her solo adventures are in a weird shade of gray. Not morally speaking - although maybe that might be the case as well - but in terms of quality. This book isn't bad... but neither is it good. It's an opening issue with some good intentions, but besides a few derivative beats, doesn't do much to really stick with readers.

Husband-wife writer team Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti do their best to start off the issue with a bang, as one-time Gotham girl Harley makes her way to Big Apple, where a former patient has left her an apartment building in Coney Island. In a lot of ways, you can see that Conner and Palmiotti are trying to channel that kind of madcap energy of Deadpool, where Harley talks to herself and cracks one-liners while bringing down the hammer - literally - on a would-be assassin. In this case, Harley doesn't have Deadpool's trademark voices in her head, instead talking to a taxidermied beaver strapped to her motorcycle. It's not a particularly funny gag, nor is Harley outright decapitating someone with a hammer, but tone has always been a problem when it comes to writing her adventures.

But while Conner and Palmiotti start with their foot on the pedal, things slow down once they bring in the exposition. Similar to Chuck Dixon's Nightwing run, Conner and Palmiotti promise to flesh out Harley's supporting cast with a band of loveable but down-on-their-luck tenants in Harley's building, as she learns she has to actually make rent if she wants to survive. Surprisingly, the economy still works for ex-psychiatrists-turned-homicidal-henchgirls, as Harley tries out not one, but two different gigs. It's weird that no one really recognizes this costumed criminal in public (not to mention her entire body having white makeup on, even in a bikini), but it is what it is.

Artist Chad Hardin and colorist Alex Sinclair come out a little bit better than the writers, coming through despite some underwhelming material. Hardin reminds me a bit of a cleaner Angel Medina, in the fact that his characters have just a little bit of a swirl to them (especially when we see Harley dragging everything she owns on her motorcycle). Hardin pulls off the only chuckle-worthy gag in the book, as Harley makes a sudden but inseparable bond with an abused dachshund, as both of them try to one-up each other in the sad-but-cute department. That said, Hardin has his missteps, too, particularly with the bland designs of Harley's neighbors, such as the mesh shirt and leather jacket-wearing Big Tony. Colorist Alex Sinclair at least lends a nice weight to the book, keeping the art from looking flat.

But flat might be the best word for me to describe Harley Quinn. Not bad enough to offend, not good enough to soar, the Joker's number-one girl feels more like a missed opportunity. What makes this character worth reading? Is she Looney Tunes with a side of live ammo? Is she a bad girl trying to make good? Is she a sidekick busting loose from her homicidal boss and trying to make it on her own? Conner and Palmiotti never zero in on any one direction with Harley Quinn #1, robbing this first issue of any laughs, scowls or cheers.

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