Best Shots Comic Reviews: BATMAN ETERNAL #9, CYCLOPS #2, More

DC Comics previews for June 4, 2014
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Batman: Eternal #9
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, John Layman, Ray Fawkes and Tim Seeley
Art by Guillem March and Tomeu Moray
Lettering by Steve Wants
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Want to get away from it all? The crime lords and police intrigue of Gotham getting you down? John Layman and company know just what you need - a change of scenery. But when it comes to Batman: Eternal, no trip is a holiday, as the Dark Knight teams up with the Batman of Japan for some frenetic fisticuffs on the mean streets of Hong Kong.

What's great about this particular issue is that, for the most part, Layman isn't beholden to greater story going on in Gotham - and that's as freeing for readers as it seems to be for the writer. The change of setting allows Batman to cut loose against some unfamiliar foes, as Layman opens this issue with an energetic fight scene featuring Batman and Batman Japan facing off against the mask-wearing ninjas known as the Ghost Dragons. While obviously Batman isn't going to meet his maker against these faceless foes (or their opportunistic boss who took over the Hong Kong syndicates after Carmine Falcone mysteriously left), sometimes it's just enough to see Batman operating unfettered in his natural element: combat.

With the main event being breezy and fun, thanks in part to the chemistry Layman brings between Batman and his Japanese counterpart, the subplots featuring the rest of Gotham's denizens flows a bit more smoothly. The tete-a-tete between Carmine Falcone and his pawn, the newly installed Commissioner Forbes, is quickly subsumed by Batman's Hong Kong action antics, and Catwoman cuts a mean streak throughout Gotham's underworld, as Falcone looks to collect on their long-standing rivalry since Batman: Year One. All in all, knowing that Batman is just in a new world for a little while gives everyone a little bit more energy - it's nice to change things up every once in a while.

Then again, it wouldn't be considered a vacation without gorgeous sights, and let me tell you - Guillem March's artwork is a gorgeous sight. I like to think of him as DC's answer to Tradd Moore - he's over-the-top and distended with his anatomies and expressions, but he keeps it a bit more restrained than Moore, responding to his graffiti-esque lines with a more feathered, painterly style of inks. His art feels like spiritual kin to something the Kuberts might draw, with his Batman in particular looking fierce and kinetic, especially on a splash page when he's mopping the floor with a bunch of ninjas. Colorist Tomeu Moray may lean a little too heavily on one color palette, but it does bring up the fiery, otherworldly, almost demonic nature of the Hong Kong underground.

With the all-consuming grind of a weekly story, it can take a lot not just out of the exhausted creative teams producing it, but for the overworked and overstimulated readers struggling to consume it all and make it all make sense. Sometimes a vacation is all you need to recharge your batteries and start fresh. Maybe Batman: Eternal #9 was the getaway this series needed all along.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Cyclops #2
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Russell Dauterman and Chris Sotomayor
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Marvel’s father-son road trip through space continues in Cyclops #2. Greg Rucka and Russell Dauterman are an unstoppable comic book team as they further explore the themes laid out in the debut issue. Cyclops is a supremely multifaceted character, despite being slapped with the “Boy Scout” label for much of his history. Even his recent mutant terrorist/freedom fighter turn has him at odds with a fanbase that still prefers sycophant killers like Wolverine and Deadpool. Corsair’s morally ambiguous ways represent an opportunity for Rucka and Dauterman to examine how much of the older Scott’s personality is a result of conditioning and how much is intrinsic to his nature. Teenagers are impressionable, but can you teach one to be cool?

Ruck start the book out with Scott ruminating on his most recent lessons at Xavier’s school. The Shakespeare quote might seem a little heavy-handed, but it fits the tone of the book. All of your feelings are so much bigger when you’re a teenager. Your notions are larger than life. Your thoughts aren't necessarily grounded in reality. Fortunately, when you’re a teenaged superhero, those feelings almost feel justified amidst everything that surrounds you. A big test on Monday is nothing compared to saving the planet from extinction at the hands of an invading alien race. It’s all about context. Using Hamlet as a framing device, Rucka allows us to understand why this road trip is so important to young Scott. He’s seen what he becomes. He’s learned all that he can about his life in the time that he finds himself in. But he knows that there’s more to life than what he’s been shown.

Unfortunately for him, that also holds true about his father. Corsair is keeping secrets, and Scott is only just starting to understand the kind of reputation that his father has around the galaxy. Scott’s dedication to his father is tested for the first time and he answers the call unflinchingly. But how many times is he going to let Corsair off the hook with a quip and a smile?

I didn’t think that Dauterman could get better than the last issue, but his latest step up makes his last effort look pedestrian by comparison. Everything that worked so well before is back in spades. By taking the adventure to a new world, Dauterman gets the opportunity to design a bevy of different aliens from across the galaxy, including a few that will be familiar to almost any Marvel zombie. I think that what really stands out in Dauterman’s work is his adept understanding of body language. Young Scott has an almost nervous way about him until he needs to be strong and resilient. Corsair’s flippant attitude shines through even when he’s trying to cover up the very real problems that he has. Many artists can rely on a few stock poses to get their point across but Dauterman is taking very real reactions into account and infusing his characters with personality beyond the words they speak. That speaks volumes about his talent, and it’s an excellent sign as the action builds throughout this series moving forward.

For anyone turned off by young Scott's pangs of angst in Issue #1, I offer up this issue as proof that Cyclops isn’t navel-gazing, woe-is-me-isms. Scott and his father’s relationship is still in its early stages, but it will be tested - and Scott will have to decide the kind of person that he wants to become. He’s seen what following Xavier’s path gets him, but he’s also starting to understand who his father really is. These ideas are at odds with each other, and I don’t think that Scott is discerning enough just yet to recognize the best parts of either ideology to let those inform his actions. There’s even still a chance that he decides against both and forges a new path for himself. Cyclops is doing what any great superhero comic should: make its readers reflect on themselves and their own humanity while still being incredibly entertaining.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Original Sin #3
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Mike Deodato and Frank Martin
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Commics
Review by Brendan McGuirk
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The original sin of most line-wide, crossover event books is that they go too broad, caught up in the minutia and machinations of the assembled players united on the series' gameboard instead of the core concept. The attempt to serve all masters can leave the comics' core responsibilities, telling stories worth telling to engaged audiences, neglected.

In truth, that was what I expected of Original Sin. Pitched as a murder whodunnit whose victim was Uatu the Watcher, who was a Marvel mainstay to be sure, but a character actor whose role has always been a supporting one, serving as a leading indicator of a story's consequential “bigness,” seemed like a cosmic contrivance. Maybe Mark Waid, Jim Cheung and Paco Medina's #0 issue was a start, but few of even the loyalest of Marvel readers had ever had cause to identify with The Watcher, or empathize with him. So, besides getting a bunch of “name” characters to stand around a murder scene, what would possibly be interesting about this character's death? It reeked of forced opportunism.

As Original Sin's gameboard has gotten bigger and filled out, though, some interesting patterns have begun to take shape. Maybe Marvel readers had no consequential relationship with Uatu himself, but they do understand and appreciate his role as it pertains to the broader scope of the Marvel Universe. By showing up to indicate that any given grand Marvel engagement “mattered,” that this conflict was one that counted, he came to represent of a sort of Marvel Superhero Exceptionalism. The Marvel Universe was big, as big as you could imagine, but Marvel's Earth was undoubtedly the center of it, and Marvel's Earth heroes were why. And the presence of Uatu the Watcher was proof. The eye of the universe was on us. Well, “us.”

I maintain that the answer to who killed The Watcher remains Original Sin's least compelling component. What has me hooked are the ways the characters have been aligned, and what that might mean for what this story proves to truly be “about.” The A-list Avengers, the movie stars, are present, but only as set dressing. This time, it's their presence that's lending authority to a story, not some robe-wearing bald dude what lives on the Moon. The street level heroes, who we could probably get away with calling Marvel Knights without causing much confusion, are also onstage, advancing the plot like a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running back. And since the story is a mystery, it only follows that top-secret secret-man Nick Fury factors in prominently, nipping at the corners of the not-quite-ready-to-emerge truth.

What caught my attention, though, and what has be reassessing my initial judgment of the series, is the participation of Marvel's mind-bending, trippy cosmic characters, and specifically how this series seems to be integrating all Marvel's familiar and grounded characters with their weirdly existential ones. Mixing in equal parts Captain America, Moon Knight, Dr. Srange, Oubliette the Exterminatrix, The Mindless Ones and a dude named The Orb who has an eyeball for a head is how Jason Aaron, Mike Deodato and Frank Martin concocting something with the potential to be an as-yet untasted flavor of Marvel Universe story. Using these specific ingredients seems to suggest that the story they're telling is about the Marvel Universe itself, conceptually, which is a much richer fertilizer than “Hey wouldn't it be cool if...?”

(Respect and shouts-outs to What If?, of course, and RIP its cueball-headed host).

Of course, this story has taken great pains to ground itself as a crime story, albeit on a fantastical scale, and selling its gravitas is the responsibility of artist Mike Deodato and colorist Frank Martin. Deodato has evolved his moodiness as a storyteller considerably over the years, his work on Thunderbolts, then Dark Avengers seeming to mark a distinct shift in his visual tone. His layouts exhibit ambition, and can be ornate without distracting. There's a tension to the rhythm of his pacing that lulls just well enough to really hammer home the reveals. Few artists could balance the grounded characters as well as the cosmic ones in a way that maintained the story's mood as effectively as Deodato does here.

Frank Martin also voices a loud say in the book's mood and tone, and his colors really reinforce its pulsating paranoia. He's clearly comfortable in the crime noir of the story, but coyly commands the cosmic stuff, too, with bright neons fighting to bleed through until they finally peek through the corners. For the most part, it's all dark, which is what the story demands, and which forces the reader to look to the page deeper to decipher, but at times the muddiness distracts, like a darkly lit 3D movie. Most importantly for color and line artist alike, though, is that there's a definite coherence to it all. Given the nature of the story, this is both their toughest and most vital duty.

The Orb has let loose Uatu's eye and all Marvel's secrets have come to the fore. Through piecework, random characters begin to assemble evidence and a case. More familiar characters die, and plots thicken. And the story's broader shape seems to only get looser and weirder. And for me, the stakes of this story only raise the weirder it gets. I'm less curious about what happens than what it all might mean. I'm hopeful that this story isn't about Marvel characters, but about Marvel Comics. But for now, though, it's still a mystery.

Not every movie has designs to be a box-office shattering blockbuster. Blockbusters are forced to make concessions in order to play to the cheap seats. This is why, sometimes, the most satisfying stories are the ones that accept their cult status at the outset, and go on to celebrate it. Celebrating the weirdness of their own specificity allows audiences to participate in it while also embracing their own. Sometimes, not being for everyone is the point.

Credit: DC Comics

Action Comics #32
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Scott Kolins and Wil Quintana
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

He might have killed Superman once upon a time, but I'll just say it now - Doomsday is the gift that keeps on giving. How do you find tension in the adventures of an infallible, invincible, impenetrable demigod? You have him fight not just his friends, but for his very soul. Greg Pak not only pulls out all the stops with Superman's supporting characters, but gives the Man of Steel a struggle worth his mettle, in this week's superb issue of Action Comics.

One of the great things about "Doomed" is that it ultimately follows through on a lot of threads that have been laced throughout the DC Universe since its relaunch in 2011. The first is that metahumans can't be trusted - we saw it in the very first issue of Justice League, and Grant Morrison only further proved Superman's recklessness in Action Comics. In addition, the very idea of idealized heroism as a whole has been overturned since Forever Evil, with the villainous Lex Luthor saving the day (and winning over more than a few readers as a flawed antihero). So Superman infected with spores to make him the next Doomsday? It's a great setup, one that really speaks to the nature of DC today, warts and all.

But in this issue, Pak also does great work with juggling an increasingly large supporting cast. Steel steals the show this issue, as Doomsday forced him to get a slight power upgrade - namely, casting himself in liquid metal to protect himself from the corrosive effect of the creature's spores. But seeing John try to talk down Superman - and eventually get his tin plate handed to him - is great drama before some serious action. (Perhaps not a surprise, coming from the guy who wrote World War Hulk.) But Pak also effectively uses a ton of other characters in the Superman lore, including Wonder Woman and Lana Lang sharing a great moment about how much they trust Clark Kent, Lex Luthor gets the right amount of toolishness in to push our hero further beyond the brink, and Superman himself gets a particularly heroic moment when squaring off against Metal-Zero.

Scott Kolins and Wil Quintana acquit themselves very well with the artwork here, portraying not just the horror in Superman's eyes as he struggles to contain his destructive capabilities (not to mention the pain on Steel's face when he fails), but also at portraying the sheer speed and strength of this character when he cuts loose. Kolins really brings the focus on the characters themselves, rather than falling towards the tricks of traditional "widescreen" storytelling and focusing on the destruction, and I think that helps endear us to Superman and company far more than things just blowing up. Wil Quintana's color work is particularly energetic, especially his use of white when Superman and Steel meet in the desert.

Superman may be "Doomed," but Action Comics hasn't seen this much life in it, well, since arguably its flawed, sporadic relaunch. Greg Pak and company have given Superman some real stakes, and because our hero is for once in a position where he can't just save the day by himself, his plucky supporting cast is forced to step up to the plate and help out. Even Superman skeptics should be giving this series another look, because Action Comics is back and better than ever.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #4
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Marc Spector: clean freak, kicker of heads, and now officially Marvel’s coolest masked vigilante.

Cool is a very precarious thing when it comes to comic book heroes. Sometimes a character comes along that strikes a perfect balance between witty, enigmatic, and just flat out fun to watch like a Fantomex or Kamala Kahn. Other times you are stuck with huge misfires that just seem like they are trying way too hard. I’m looking right at you, Gambit. Marc Spector, however, is eight shades of cool. He has a fancy car. He kicks in doors at a drop of a hat. He is also completely insane and therefore capable of entering the consciousness of a dead man in order to fight his violent dreams. Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellarie aim to open your minds as well as the scope of Marc Spector’s reality in order to deliver one of the coolest single issue adventures in recent memory.

Moon Knight #4 finds our favorite lunar Avenger taking the case of a sleep researcher whose patents are slowly being driven insane by a shared dream experience. Marc Spector is the man for the job as “dreamers are just those that travel by night.” That is his specialty. Warren Ellis once again starts this issue as if this is just another day for Spector and his investigations. Spector meets the doctor outside of a hilariously Nordic-themed fast food joint and patiently listens to the man’s story as they cruise along in his self-driving limo.

Ellis has always been a writer that gleefully treats insane exploits as if they were regular everyday jobs. Look no further than his high=concept Global Frequency which Moon Knight’s tone and story borrows more than a few cues from. This is just what Marc Spector does - to us, it’s dangerous and completely bananas; to Moon Knight, this is a Tuesday. You can’t help but be completely entranced by a character like that, and Ellis uses that to his advantage throughout. Spector is haughty, quick to righteous violence, and sees the world in a way that most people would cower away from. He’s also a character that feels completely at home in the center of a Ditko-esque adventure into the mind of a dreaming man. Many writers have attempted to launch a series starring Moon Knight before now but it seems that Warren Ellis is the first writer to truly unlock the hidden potential of a Moon Knight ongoing title. Ellis has made Marc Spector a star and we have a front row seat every issue.

While Warren Ellis provides the insane procedural on the scripting front, he seems more than happy to allow Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellarie to make like Dolph Ziggler and steal the whole show and steal it they do. While the script is solid on a lot of levels, the artwork on Moon Knight #4 punctuates an already impressive streak of issues with #1-3. This was already a great looking book but #4 is a downright beautiful one. Shalvey and Bellarie give us the sketchy noir look that we’ve become used to in the first half of the issue, with Marc and the researcher discussing his case and Marc’s investigation. But it is with the back half of the issue which finds Moon Knight envoking Khonshu and entering a dream state that Shalvey and Bellarie truly impress. Shalvey gives these panels an intensely vibrant feel as mushrooms sprout from the floors around Moon Knight and he falls into unreality, tearing his suit off, revealing his field armor and cape underneath.

I mentioned Steve Ditko above, and it’s here that the comparison is hammered home. Moon Knight falls into an issue of Ditko’s Doctor Strange as seen through the eyes of Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellarie. The panels themselves are lined with jagged, fractured panel boxes and upon closer looks of certain layouts, the images seem to line up to look like skulls and other ominous things. Shalvey also gets an extra pat on the back for using Moon Knight’s cape in a visually interesting way every issue it’s featured. Here Spector guides the reader’s eye in an evocative way as he floats down the surface of the dream scape, his cape cutting through the panels like a fine knife. Jordie Bellarie completely cuts loose as well with these scenes, coloring Spector’s costume as a stark white and deep black amid the gangrenous greens and purples of the dream around him. Bellarie colors the man’s sick and dying mind as if it is gasping for its last breath amid the decay. If you aren’t excited every time you see Jordie Bellarie’s name on a book, you clearly haven’t seen enough of her work.

Moon Knight #4 is cool. Honestly, it’s cooler than cool. It’s ice cold. After three issues that always felt fun, looked great, yet ultimately felt unsubstantial, Moon Knight #4 rockets the title to the top in regards to Marvel’s current character driven output. That isn’t to say that the previous issues were horrible by any means - quite the opposite. This is just Marc’s first case that felt as big as it should be. Moon Knight #4 feels like the first issue that fully commits to its own premise. #1-3 were good but a bit forgettable. Moon Knight #4 is a big, bold statement of a case. Ellis, Shalvey and Bellarie have tapped into something wonderfully weird and compelling with Moon Knight, delivering an incredible and retro-feeling issue into what could be one of the character’s defining runs. Moon Knight #4 reads like something we’ve never read before but feels like books we have loved for ages. If comics could be considered gateway media, this may be the issue that people choose to hand to the uninitiated as an pure example as to what to expect. Just don’t bring food into Spector’s car.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #2
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Marquez and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The words “Clone Saga” have a tendency to send waves of frustration through even the most diehard of Spider-Man fans. Since its completion in 1996, fans have often derided the sprawling story for being too complicated even for the dense world of comic book storytelling, while most writers have mostly regarded it with playful indifference, either poking fun at its insanity or ignoring it completely. In the first volume of Ultimate Spider-Man Brian Michael Bendis took a swing at adapting the infamous storyline for the Ultimate line with largely successful results. Now it seems that it’s Miles Morales’ turn through the genetic looking glass as he faces down a Peter Parker who seems very much alive and eager to resume his life as Spidey, not to mention a set of Spider-Man lookalikes who have been terrorizing local ship yards. While Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #2 holds its cards very much to its chest, this second issue still aims to bring readers, both old and new, into Miles' world with what seems like a new take on an extremely divisive story.

Issue #2 finds Miles staring into the face of his name-sake once again but with much, much different results from the last time Miles and Peter came face to face. While Spider-Men was a high energy jaunt starring two guys who genuinely want to help people and each other, Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #2 plays this encounter almost as a stand off between the two heroes. Bendis, as per usual, nails the voice of both characters with Peter trying to soothe Miles with a cold, short indifference while Miles just can’t help himself and has a bit of cow seeing the man he and the world just finished grieving standing before him demanding his web-shooters back.

Bendis smartly makes the Miles-Peter encounter the meat of the issue, while other characters (Norman Osborn and the criminal Spider-Men) operate in the periphery and while the scene itself doesn’t really offer much new information or action, its still a pretty compelling way to throw an audience into Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man. This isn’t the first time that Bendis has clashed the new with the old, but this seems like the perfect way to shake up Miles’ world coming off of his first big world-altering superhero incursion. Miles’ life is already incredibly complicated but now all bets are off. Readers could argue that this second issue is just another example of Bendis setting the table for what is to come later on in the series and while I can see the point, it’s also a bit early to call him out for being withholding. Bendis has always been a writer that aims for the long game when it comes to his stories and Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #2 seems to be another example of just that. While #2 isn’t the most expository or action-packed issue, it still does its job in regards to character and story function as an opening issue.

Ultimate Spider-Man has always had a fantastic stable of artists at its disposal, but David Marquez and colorst Justin Ponsor have always made the most of even largely quiet issues, much like Sara Pichelli toward the beginning of Miles’ story. Marquez’s facial expressions are always a high point of his work, and this second issue give him plenty of opportunities to fully display this knack for rendering emotion. Miles runs the gamut from confused to indignant to intensely nervous through the course of this issue, and Marquez lets each emotional shift feel real and natural. David Marquez draws Miles and the rest of the principal cast as real as humanly possible, and in Issue #2 it really shows. While this issue may be missing wall-to-wall action, Marquez makes sure that the interpersonal exchanges between all the characters contain as much emotional fireworks. The scene between Miles and Peter feel heavy with tension and confusion as Miles struggles to understand just what is going on. Marquez makes us feel that confusion as it spreads across Miles’ face and body language. It is a remarkable thing when an art team almost convinces you that these are living breathing people and Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #2 comes very close to achieving this feat.

The Ultimate Universe, at its very core, as always been about subverting our expectations and giving us brand new versions of the characters and stories that we loved in the 616 universe. Ultimate Spider-Man flirted with the notion of doing a full out adaptation of the Clone Saga in its early volumes and now it seems that Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man is going to do more than just flirt with this story. Miles Morales are been baptized by fire recently and came out the other side a full fledged superhero. It’s only natural that now he has to deal with proper superhero hijinks, just like Peter Parker did before him. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that he doesn’t end up wearing a weird off-the-shoulder sweater with the spider on it before this is all over.

Credit: Ted Naifeh

Princess Ugg #1
Written by Ted Naifeh
Art by Ted Naifeh and Warren Wucinich
Lettering by Warren Wucinich
Published by Oni Press
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

As a genre, the “princess in a strange land” has had a very long and slow path to evolve. One could rightly argue that Disneys iron grip on all thing princess kept the trope fairly solidly locked - locked in a pattern that, regardless of their trials and tribulations, ends with them finding a Prince Charming and living happily ever after. Sure, there have been one or two breaks from the norm, but even then, that break is made the end all be all of the character. While it can be fun, that massive shift too often comes at the price of real emotional depth and originality. Looking at the cover of Princess Ugg #1 it would be very easy to assume that's exactly what creator Ted Naifeh is going for. A book that will probably be well-crafted, but not a real break from the genre. It doesn't take long after the first couple of pages to learn that that assumption couldn't be further from the truth.

Almost immediately, as the young Princess Ülga stands before her powerful and imposing mother, we learn this is not a standard fairy tale. Too often the princess must face the horrors of the world because a parental figure forces the issue, by words or actions. Such is not the case in Princess Ugg #1. Instead, we see a mother that only wishes for her daughter to be strong, proud, and wise. But, to do so as she sees fit. And while Naifeh writes this mother as someone that spurs her daughter along, it is never with a forceful hand. The choice made by Ülga in this opening issue are hers and hers alone. Indeed, a rather poignant moment in the book between Ülga and Odin reveals a certain level of painful understanding as Ülga leaves her people. She does so not out of shame or fear, but instead from a genuine curiosity that is only found in the young and fierce. It's a great emotional scene in a book that finds most of its pleasure in great one-liners and fantastic action.

Boy, is there ever action. This is some of Naifeh's best work to date. The nature of the comic all but demands linework packed with constant movement. On that, Princess Ugg delivers wonderfully. There is a cinematic quality to Naifeh's art, with each character perfectly placed within the action. No one just stands around in this book, or at least we don't see them in that moment. It's a smart artistic call that compels the reader to keep their eye moving with the panels. While many comics use dialog to drive the story, Princess Ugg fully embraces visual storytelling. And so, it is character composition that directs the readers eye to what's coming next. Still, for all the great movement Naifeh brings to the comic, the level of detail found within the setting and background is stunning. Be it the harsh snow-covered mountains or the idyllic lowlands setting, this looks and feels like a real place. No character, no matter how small, if given the short end of the pencil.

Warren Wucinich pulls double duty as colorist and letterer. On colors, his palette choices are a great fit with Naifeh's pencils. The shading and colors have a watercolor style to them that make the entire book take on an ethereal tone that plays well to the story. I also like that Wucinich avoided any heavy and dominant primary colors. There is an organic quality to every person and location within the comic. This color choice provides a subtle hint to the reader that this is indeed a very old land. And even characters as young as Princess Ülga reflect a setting that has seen the passing of many generations. This slightly muted style also allows for subtle, but no less effective, contradiction between Ülga and the pampered people of the lowlands. One doesn't even need to read her dialog or watch her actions to understand she is a true stranger to these lands. Although I do wish Wucinich had a little tighter hold on lettering. The dialogue already takes a little time to get used to. As such, Wucinich's lettering design is a slight distraction.

That minor quibble aside, this is a book that so very clearly stands up to the hype. Ted Naifeh is off to a wonderful start with this title. Within a few pages we learn so much about Ülga. Yet behind those eyes we see there is still so much more to experience with this wee berserker. While it's hard to tell if Princess Ugg #1 will truly subvert the “princess in a strange land” trope, it's clear that the adventure will be a joy for both character and reader. Hail and well met, indeed.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing X-Men #8
Written by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost
Art by Ed McGuinness, Mark Farmer, and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

After a somewhat rocky but well received opening arc that saw the return of fan-favorite character Nightcrawler, Amazing X-Men is in for round two. Firing off the opening volley of a new story, with new writers, Amazing X-Men #8 doesn't exactly bode well for the book's new direction. With X-veterans Craig Kyle and Chris Yost at the helm, and artist Ed McGuinness sticking around, the recipe seems right, but with poor pacing, a lack of characterization, and jumpy, visually uninteresting storytelling, this new chapter of Amazing X-Men is off to a poor start.

Right off the bat, Ed McGuinness's art is noticeably less clean and engaging than in previous issues. It seems that McGuinness's usual inker, Dexter Vines, is a fairly large component of what makes his art really work. Inker Mark Farmer brings too much of the type of finish he puts on his usual collaborator Mark Bagley's work, leaving McGuinness's line art looking scratchy and thin instead of fluid and lush, as it appears under Vines's pen. It's simply a matter of two styles that clash, rather than complement. It's such a poor pairing that even Rachelle Rosenberg's usually exemplary colors look splashy and unfinished without Vines's attention to detail and sense of black and white to balance them out.

McGuinness's storytelling isn't his best here, either, though it's likely that a large part of the blame for that falls on the shoulders of Kyle and Yost, who jump from beat to beat and character to character at the expense of any sense of rhythm, and without a chance for any of the players to develop a true voice. Moments like the return of Colossus, eager to see his old friend returned from the dead, are hamstrung by handwaiving Colossus's complicated status quo. Further, with Wolverine as the book's POV character - a natural choice given the book's admittedly clever threat - the opportunity for real emotion and engagement in Nightcrawler and Colossus's reunion feels passed up for yet another 22 pages about the most ubiquitous character in the X-line.

All the same, the issue's final act does come together far better than the previous pages, with Wolverine tracing an old friend's steps to track down the truth of a mystery threat. As Logan teams up with one of his erstwhile Alpha Flight companions, McGuinness employs the most successful of his visual tricks, overlaying Wolverine and his quarry as they follow the same path. Still, even the intrigue of these final moments isn't enough to overcome everything leading up to them. There's simply too much going on, too many threads, and not enough of an actual hook.

Amazing X-Men has a real opportunity to offer a glimpse at the numerous popular X-characters that don't quite fit with the franchise's main storyline right now. Unfortunately, this issue breezes straight past moments that should have been worth the price of admission alone - like Kurt and Piotr's reunion - in favor of more screentime for the only X-Man that matters, Wolverine. Compounded with art that would be sub-par from anyone, let alone a powerhouse like Ed McGuinness, and a script that jumps too many times without sticking a landing, and Amazing X-Men #8 totals out to a disappointing issue from a title and creators that have traditionally been much more successful.

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