Best Shots Reviews: MIGHTY AVENGERS #8, GLC #29, More

Marvel previews for March 12, 2014
Credit: Marvel Studios

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the Monday column? Best Shots has your back, with a six-pack of reviews featuring last week's biggest books! So let's kick off today's column with Pontificatin' Pierce Lydon, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Mighty Avengers...

Credit: Marvel Studios

Mighty Avengers #8
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Valerio Schiti and Frank D’Armata
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Mighty Avengers is the most underrated Avengers title on the shelves. What it lacks in big-name characters and world-changing storylines, it makes up for with top-notch characterization and a lot of heart. Al Ewing is a relative newcomer to the superhero comics set but his knack for character development really shines through. Valerio Schiti is a great fit for a book that requires a balance of emotive expressions and strong action choreography.

The Avengers squad seems like something of an oddball team on the surface, but the characters are there to fill the roles we’re used to seeing, even if it’s a somewhat unexpected take. The differences between Luke Cage and Blue Marvel’s sensibilities creates a dramatic tension that screams Marvel Comics. These men want to be allies. They understand why it’s important for them to be allies, and ultimately Ewing resolves their argument from the last issue. This squad has a few younger members and as the elder statesmen, they recognize their responsibility to set a good example. The expansion of strong, thoughtful characters of color, with defined worldviews and perspectives, is a good thing, and Ewing has singlehandedly increased the viability of characters like White Tiger, Power Man and Blue Marvel in ways that were always possible but never explored.

Possibly the only thing working against Mighty Avengers is the lack of truly viable threat. W.E.S.P.E. exists only to serve a function to the plot, and while Blue Marvel’s Negative Zone family drama is enticing, it doesn’t come with the same kind of name value that a Thanos or a Red Skull or a Galactus might have. Ewing will have to convince us that the team is going up against something they truly can’t handle. It might just be a side effect of the immense power sets of this team but so far, that hasn’t been the case.

Valerio Schiti is a welcome departure from the static posturing of the opening arc of this book. Schiti pencils to fit each scene at hand. Conversations between White Tiger and the tiger god in her amulet take on a more sketchy, otherworldly quality. Meanwhile, Blue Marvel is very well defined, an almost classic take on a superhero whose old-school style and sensibility defines him. Schiti is very in tune with the needs of the characters and it makes the book flow really well. The final moments represent a step forward, a game changing development for the team that Schiti renders with the kind of weight that forces readers to pay attention.

Mighty Avengers didn’t inspire much confidence when it was announced, but almost a year later, it’s a book thats right in line with Marvel’s plan of telling quality stories with a broad range of characters. In a superhero landscape where minority characters are only trotted out to show that they’ll fail, it’s refreshing to see the existence of a book that doesn’t attempt to pander to anyone. Ewing and Schiti are doing an excellent job that’s, unfortunately, gone under the radar. Hopefully, the presence of a larger threat can up the profile of this book before it gets cancelled and is wrongfully used as evidence of why publishers won’t publish comics with more diverse lineups.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Lantern Corps #29
Written by Van Jensen
Art by Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Add one part cop show, another part space opera and another part old-fashioned soap, and what do you get? The emerald glow of the Green Lantern Corps, a book that rightfully intimidates but also rewards readers patient enough to jump in. Throughout all of the myriad alien races and rapidly shifting subplots is the thrill of pure space spectacle, as buckles are swashed, backs are stabbed, and the Green Lantern Corps inspires some tremendous art to go with all those ring-based fireworks.

This arc, in many ways, concludes one of the lengthier police chases in the DCU. Then again, when your quarry is a shapeshifting Durlan named Von Daggle, things might take awhile. Von Daggle's former colleagues in the Corps are trying to bring him back into the fold, but he seems none too pleased - even as his Durlan overlords are giving him a violent counteroffer for his services. It's a lot of various, colorful aliens in every sense of the word - most of them aren't the most resonant in the characterization department, but Van Jensen at least makes them archetypical, particularly the shifty Von Daggle and the indomitable warrior Bolphunga. Green Lantern John Stewart is the straight man amongst these more forceful personalities, but it's that calm exterior that hides some deeper potential, as Jensen wraps the chase up with almost too neat of a bow.

The artwork by Bernard Chang might have something to do with that. Chang is the best DC artist you probably haven't heard of - his artwork is layered yet simple, straddling that fine line between cartoony and slightly realistic. It's very expressive, and paired with colorist Marcelo Maiolo, the pages occasionally explode into flashes of red and white. He reminds me of a more fluid Howard Porter, mixed with the lush Italian artists that Marvel always seems to hire, like Giuseppe Camuncoli or Carmine Di Giandomendico. That's not to say that Chang doesn't have a little bit of ground to make up - for example, some of his establishing shots are a little wonky, particularly the way he experiments with panel layouts on the first page. Still, images like Bolphunga leaping into the fray or Von Daggle sucker-punching someone have never looked greater than when Chang has been behind the drawing table.

That said, there are some flaws to this book, not the least of which is its difficulty for new readers to access. Just because these characters are aliens doesn't mean they have to be aliens - I want to see something deeper, to see the reasoning behind some of these characters' outlooks. In particular, characters like Fatality and Hunger Dog get little to no spotlight in this issue, making their inclusion seem that much more distracting. In addition, the plotting of this issue feels a little shaky, as it's a bit too convenient for sand worms to save the Lanterns, or for Von Daggle's power set to suddenly include drug-induced energy blasts.

To say this book isn't for everyone might be putting it lightly - there's a section of the readership who will likely read Green Lantern Corps #29 and think it's in a foreign language. But those who want to see John Stewart in action - as well as to see the cost of the Durlans infiltrating the Corps - will find a lot of intrigue to dig into. At the very least, this book has some of the better art in the DC stable today, and that alone makes Green Lantern Corps #29 a noteworthy sci-fi read.

Credit: Marvel Studios

All-New X-Men #24
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Brendan McGuirk
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

As a series, All-New X-Men reads like a macro attempt by Brian Bendis, Stuart Immonen and company to problem-solve the issue most frequently cited by casual and committed comics' fans alike - the lives and adventures of the X-Men are too damn complicated.

This is comics, which means the best way to make something less complicated is to make it even more convoluted. But, like, smartly convoluted.

Concept reinvigoration is a familiar corner of the superhero comic landscape, and All-New X-Men's approach to “back to basics” is the most innovative yet. By using the original five X-Men in their roster - the naïve ones Stan Lee and Jack Kirby debuted over 50 years ago, out of their time and into ours - the title has embraced aspects of each of the X-Men's many beloved eras and layered them like lasagna. Scenarios familiar to movie-watchers and lapsed readers are cleverly inverted, and the characters like Wolverine, Magneto and Kitty Pride, whose arcs have been among the most important to the stories told in comic books, are positioned in vital roles that not only teach the characters what it means to be an X-Men in-story, but that show readers the richness of the publishing history.

The teenage X-Men are as overwhelmed by the intricacies of their future/past adventures as new readers might have been when somebody tried to explain Xorn. Maybe they understand the premise, that the X-Men are champions of tolerance in a hate-and-fear-filled world, but each corner turned introduces some old rivalry, unresolved romance, unspoken understanding, or giant mega-death-robot that can only be defeated by ornate and as-yet-unlearned choreography.

So consider this a case of "go big or go home," as The Trial of Jean Grey is the All-New team's reintroduction to the cosmos. Space-pirates and planetary genocide and extra-terrestrial judgment are as much a part of X-heritage as refugees from the future bearing messages of impending doom, so the time has come for young Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel and Jean Grey's interstellar crash-course. Teaming up with the Guardians of the Galaxy (so hot right now), and the Starjammers, the X-Men are reliving adventures they have not yet had, which, again, sounds complicated, but is still simpler than trying to explain what happened the first time around.

While these X-Men have not yet racked up the tab, there are old debtors that only see bills in need of payment. Once upon a time, a possessed Jean Grey will use the Phoenix force to destroy a planet. The Shi'ar have taken it upon themselves to mete out cosmic justice, because X-Men are always being persecuted for crimes they will presumably soon commit. The intellectual gap between the teenage innocence of the earnest young X-team and the knowledge of how this has all played out before shared by supporting characters and readers alike makes antagonizing adults of us all, whose best attempts at sympathy manifest as condescension. And teenagers love condescension.

This storyline has moved along breezily, enjoying the chemistry of the unlikely ensemble. Old moments get to be new ones, like when Scott Summers meets the father he had thought was dead, which, since his father has already shared that moment the first time the two were reunited, means he gets to relive one of his life's greatest memories. As the event title indicates, Jean Grey is being forced to reconcile her relationship with the Phoenix force, a natural disaster she is somehow expected to take responsibility for.

The X-Men are back in the Shi'ar empire for the first time, and they're determined to out-do their flawed past counterparts. This issue shows just how pliable the X-characters can be, fitting in comfortably with old allies and new ones, so long as they pack their most important characteristic - resolve. The Guardians act as representatives of the modern Marvel Universe, both chronologically and in terms of cosmic scope. Again, readers are so used be granted peeks into the future of the X-universe, but anyone with a smartphone can attest that the future is today, so the idea that today is the once-promised future is one that we are reminded of with every new “Today is the day Marty McFly traveled to the future” hoax. In comics, at least, time truly can be a flat circle, where characters are able to grow even in temporal reverse.

All-New X-Men has gone to great pains and articulates these characters far better then they were in 1963. Who they are as people, shaped by the stories fans have read and reread over the decades, has been honed, so their struggles are more resonant. Recognizing and embracing the convolution as an asset respects the emotional investment poured in by both creators and fans in such a way that it honors the past stories without being paralyzed by them. The new-old-X-Men work amazingly as POV characters; the mechanics of their arrival honors the team's expansive and imaginative history as a strength, they are perfect ethical barometers for the characters that have, in their advancing age, evolved and conceded parts of their and Xavier's dreams, even when that means external introspection, and, as teenagers, their lives are exactly the sorts soap-opera stories that X-Men fans have come to love so much as palate-cleanser to the team's lofty social goals.

Paring down characters and concepts to what's “cool,” or “relatable,” is a storytelling strategy that can only truly promise diminishing returns. Eventually, tastes change, forcing the reset button to be pressed, eventually, time after time. This series swerved in the other direction; Bendis and Immonen are playing the Greatest Hits, but remastered and remixed. Even planets and galaxies away, the X-Men are outcasts in worlds that hate and fear them, relying on the compassion and wherewithal of friends, family and sympathizers for survival. It's the same old story, but it's never been newer.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

The Star Wars #6
Written by J.W. Rinzler
Art by Mike Mayhew and Rain Beredo
Lettering by Michael Heisler
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

I’ve really been enjoying Dark Horse’s The Star Wars, partly because it offers a new glimpse into George Lucas’ original ideas for what is easily one of the greatest sci-fi epics, and partly because it washes away the taste of the prequels. But the latest issue is a noticeable difference, and one that doesn’t have the usual smooth flow. The result is a comic that reads poorly, and which is an unusual misstep for such a solid series.

The Star Wars #6 is really two stories compacted into one issue. The first half of the comic -- a tense, exciting space battle -- deals with the characters’ attempt to escape an attacking cadre of imperial TIE fighters. The second half of the issue -- an uneven pacing disaster -- is the characters trying to survive after crash landing on the planet of Yavin.

The space battle is much like the one seen in A New Hope where Han escapes from the Death Star and he and Luke take out the TIE fighters following them. But the script has enough of a diversion from the movie that J.W. Rinzler is able to throw a few new moments our way while still capturing the thrill of the battle.

When the comic shifts the focus to Yavin, however, all of the tension unravels. Rinzler bounces around so much that the story shifts focus and characters mid page without any transitory guidance. Much of the second half of the issue is choppy this way, as if Rinzler were forced to combine two scripts into one, thereby sacrificing smoothness and coherence in storytelling.

This appears in other ways: a character sacrifices himself to save Leia, but he’s just as easily forgotten a few pages later; Annakin battles a Wookie chief, but in a series of blocky, stiff panels; characters are introduced mid action, but using dialogue as scene exposition rather than neatly transitioning from moment to moment.

Even Mike Mayhew’s art, which is usually as clean and polished as an Alex Ross illustration, appears rushed and dense in the latter part of the issue. The first half of the comic has the art readers have become accustomed to -- particularly in characters’ facial features -- but the second half is where many of the action sequences lack their usual fluidity. Characters are over inked and mushy looking, uneven in their faces, and some go from being on their backs in one panel to falling forward in the next. It’s this kind of herky-jerky movement that illuminates a lack of pacing.

The Star Wars #6 doesn’t read as cleanly as any of the previous books in the series, but I think we can forgive J.W. Rinzler this lapse. I don’t see this as a new direction for the series, or one readers should expect to see again. At least I hope it isn’t. But Rinzler’s stock is good, based on what he’s delivered so far, so I’m sure we’ll see a return to form next month.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Captain Marvel #1
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by David Lopez and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Carol Danvers is back on the stands this week with the premier issue of her latest self-titled series, Captain Marvel. New readers should note that this is not a reboot, merely a continuation of her previous story arc which tapered out of publication some months ago. This new volume promises to go "higher" than before - quite literally - as we see Carol cutting out a new path for herself in space. Seasoned Danvers-vet Kelly Sue DeConnick and new artist David Lopez are well-matched on this title, though off to a bit of a rocky start.

The issue goes something like this: Danvers has left Earth and gone off Avenging on missions unknown. We find her in an alien marketplace on a strange planet with no clear motive. Things happen. Flashback explaining small parts of opening sequence. End of issue. I'm sure that fans of the series will have little problem following the events of this book, but the story given here is hardly accessible to new readers, and that is where the book falls down. This could just be first-issue politicking, but there are a lot of elements that are left at loose ends - not enough is explained to make this a cohesive narrative. Don't get me wrong, the issue still makes for a decent read and the visuals are solid, but the story needs more information before it becomes successful.

Kelly Sue DeConnick crafts a script that is true to her original vision of the heroine. Carol Danvers is clever, witty, and headstrong; complicated in ways that are relatable to a readership. She cracks jokes and makes Star Wars references, ponders Gordian aphrodisiacs, and easily acknowledges her dirty mind. She is a highly likable character. Her supporting cast is also agreeable, though too varied to get a firm grasp on their role within the story. The script is good overall, suffering only because too many elements were put into play too soon, which made the issue seem off-balance and unevenly paced.

Newcomer to the title - artist David Lopez - gives us a good introduction to both the series and his significant talents. His rendering of Danvers is striking, and it's more than just the new hair. Her easy grace while doing any number of activities is laudable, as is the care he takes with the supporting cast and backgrounds. Captain Marvel has hardly looked more strong or capable than she does here. Like the writing, though, the visuals fell a little murky towards the end of the book. Lopez and colorist Lee Loughridge started out strong with a bright and beautiful set-up, which led to a simpler, slightly muddy look towards the end of the book. Beautiful shot of the New York skyline, though.

Captain Marvel #1 might not be the greatest introduction to this new volume in the life of Carol, but it certainly gives us a lot to look forward to. DeConnick and Lopez are on the right track, they just need a little more time to flesh out the various aspects of the book that need to be addressed. A solid read for Danvers devotees, but those new to the title might be better off reading the initial run on the series before diving into this iteration.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League 30000 #4
Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Howard Porter and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

The final page of last month’s Justice League 3000 promised a “terrible truth,” and writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis definitely deliver an origin story for their futuristic versions of the Justice League. But regardless of this explanation, and the issues of morality and iniquity that are raised (and not fully addressed), Justice League 3000 does not take itself seriously enough for readers to invest themselves in what could be a very poignant statement on scientific hubris, playing God, and the ethical conundrum of the greater good.

Despite the density of its subject matter, Justice League 3000 #4 seems more concerned with humor that falls flat on its face. Many of the comedic lines elicit little more than an eye roll, as each feels like it precedes a rimshot and a clip of canned laughter. Superman in particular, is a victim of this silliness. At this point, readers have experienced his vanity and narcissism, but Giffen and DeMatteis reduce him to a punchline, little more than the stereotype of a muscle-headed jock who’s taken too many shots to the head.

Giffen and DeMatteis also fail to capitalize on their concept. We get a dark history for the Justice League characters, and we learn that they are not clones but instead the results of an experiment that crosses many moral lines. Yet the people responsible for these questionable ethics, people who are at one point very bothered by their decisions, have no qualms with repeating the experiments not once, but twice before the issue ends. Character motivations are pushed aside for convenience of storytelling, and where people like Teri show remorse for their actions, she later has no problem repeating the process.

The only character with any relatable qualities is Green Lantern, and at least he has some great scenes in the issue. Even though he falls victim to the stale humor, we at least get to see what his abilities are (as every other character seems to be lacking them). Plus, he’s a great foil to Locus, an alien Harley Quinn with the power to bend reality, and for the most part, he counterbalances her silliness (save for a groan inducing Three Stooges impersonation).

Hal’s scenes are also where Howard Porter does his best work. Porter has a tendency to add errant pencil lines on characters’ faces in close ups which results in a muddled design. There’s also a tendency to over ink in distance shots which means that faces are blurry and uneven. But everything about Hal’s fight with Locus is sharp and polished. Porter draws a few neat constructs, and the detail on the final pages is impressive, particularly when coupled with Hi-Fi’s colors.

We might care more about the characters’ origins if we cared more about the characters. So far, Giffen and DeMatteis have not made the Justice League a likable bunch of people, so why should we feel for their situation? It’s uneven plotting and characterization that really sink the issue. I like the concept; I think it’s more clever than “clones from the past,” but if we’re stay on with the series we need a focal point around which to attach, and so for, this has failed to materialize.

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