Written by Charles Soule
Art by Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Some of the biggest comics news this week has been the exclusive signing of Charles Soule to Marvel. The terminally overworked writer has blown up in a big way over the past year, writing more than a half-dozen series between the Big Two and strategic smaller publishers. But now he's locked in with the House of Ideas - and what better time to show why than with a perfect comic? Exhibit A: She-Hulk #8. And while Jennifer Walters may not even be in preliminary arguments yet, but let's just say that Charles Soule makes a convincing case as Marvel's new A-list writer.
Part of why this book works so well is sheer concept. Yes, She-Hulk is a superhero, but no, she's not going to spend all her time punching things up - indeed, the most action this issue gets is her bursting out of her Polo shirt to try to get the paparazzi off her back. But you can get your melee elsewhere - what Soule has brewing is more exciting. Namely, Jennifer defending one of the greatest heroes of the Marvel Universe, Steve Rogers. Hit with a wrongful death suit that's punctuated only by a whispered deathbed confession and a silent splash page. What's great about Soule's writing is that all of his characters feel fully-fleshed and inviting - in particular, the now-elderly Cap completely steals the show, even being polite to paralegal Angie's capuchin, who he mistakenly thinks is from Brazil. "My mistake, ma'am. Still one heck of a monkey."
You can sense early on where the big twist in this issue is - heck, most readers would probably have guessed a few issues ago - but bringing in Matt Murdock as Jen's opposition is Soule cleverly bringing together three pillars of the Marvel Universe together in a way that is guaranteed to make sparks fly. It's a Marvel universe, and it's heartening to see these larger-than-life figures collide in these unexpected ways. Soule uses his legal expertise to generate some real veracity to this court case, throwing out California statues of limitations alongside comic booky theoretical precedents that include Cap being assassinated during Civil War. There are also some great gags in this issue, including the slick entertainment lawyer/Madrox duplicate "Matt Rocks," as well as Jen's nude legal prep at 3 in the morning. It's quirky, it's funny, it's pure character.
Of course, having Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente in the mix doesn't hurt. Vicente's colorwork is some of the most energetic and fun on the stands today, providing a zany, pop-art feel that makes this book feel superheroic even if no punches are thrown. Pulido, meanwhile, tells so much visually, providing a wealth of storytelling even outside of Soule's crackling dialogue. There's one beat where Cap sees Mann's Chinese Theater, and reminisces about his past - just seeing his eyes drop tells a thousand words. In general, there's a really wonderful cinematic quality to Pulido's ever-changing layouts, allowing the story to breathe without ever becoming monotonous.
It may be DC's loss now that Soule has been taken off the market, but comics like this prove that Marvel has made the right move. Soule has a sense of character, of pacing, of humor, and it all comes together so well in She-Hulk. Now that Soule's workload might go down to just four monthlies, I think this might be the beginning of the career of the next big Marvel writer.
Justice League #33
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke, Keith Champagne and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Is Lex Luthor Justice League material? And will he be able to stop the rampaging Power Ring - not to mention the out-of-control Doom Patrol? Geoff Johns delivers a great script that plays off the budding rivalry between Lex Luthor and Batman, and while some of his supporting characters still get short shrift, you can't deny that he brings the characterization between his three main leads.
One early critique that many people might have - and it's true, there's no denying it - is that this feels less like a Justice League issue as much as a crazy team-up from Batman and... or its spiritual successor, The Brave and the Bold. That said, if Johns is only going to focus on a handful of characters, he's picked the right ones - having Niles Caulder, one of the DCU's most reptilian of superheroes (if you can even call him that), in the mix provides a nice counterpoint to Lex. Lex is smarter, meaner, hungrier - but does that mean he's going to become more like Niles, or more like Bruce Wayne? Because of Luthor's not-so-sterling track record as a supervillain, there's a lot of unpredictability here - can we count on Lex to save the day, now that he's on the side of the angels? Or is the ol' Luthor luck going to follow him and his new colleagues?
But along with Lex comes a bright spot from the most unexpected of places. In a lot of ways, this issue reminds me of the final episode of Justice League Unlimited, in which Batman uses his empathy as his most desperate weapon. Considering Power Ring is lashing out because of the power of fear, it's nice to see Johns recognize Bruce's power as the League's built-in avatar of terror. It takes a little while to get there, but there's a really heartfelt moment here that rivals anything that Peter Tomasi is doing over in Batman and..., which is easily the most sentimental of the Bat-books. He also twists Lex's blackmail to an interesting place, framing his inclusion into the League as a strategic asset, rather than admit a disadvantage. A lot happens off the panels in this issue, and I think it's Johns laying down some potentially interesting threads that'll spring up later when we least expect it.
Artist Doug Mahnke continues to impress with his streamlined, iconic characters, and looks like he will provide a nice visual bridge to incoming Justice League artist Jason Fabok. Admittedly, Andrew Dalhouse's background colors kind of sap the pages with a sickly green - it makes sense, given Power Ring's abilities, but visually it's a slight misstep. But Mahnke really plays up Lex's sheer nastiness, especially when he taunts Batman with his secret identity, as well as his enraged sneer when Caulder gives him the briefest of obstacles. Of course, Mahnke nails his Batman moments, as even Johns doesn't need to gild the lily with too much dialogue. Watching Batman reach out to someone as a victim, not as a supervillain, might be the most subversive take on the character in a long time.
Yes, some of the problems inherent in Justice League still remain - the world's greatest heroes still feel like window dressing in their own team book, likely because their own solo titles still feel like they're in flux. The main draw of Justice League - watching DC's best and brightest interact - isn't really here yet. But as a rotating entree of different characters, Johns definitely has a handle on what makes them tick.
Original Sin #8
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Mike Deodato and Frank Martin
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10
“There will always be someone watching.”
For story about the death of the Watcher, that quote has some serious implications. Namely, that nothing has changed. Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato wrap up Original Sin with a whimper, a reminder of the worst side of superhero storytelling. The book started out with great promise but it as it dragged out a series of red herrings over the course of eight issues, it became tedious and tiresome. An ouroboros. A serpent eating itself. Comics never change, but they’ll trick you into thinking that they have.
Maybe it’s my fault for being optimistic. After all, there hasn’t been an effective event since Civil War (and arguably Secret Invasion), and there hasn’t been an enthralling line-wide sea change since Dark Reign. Fear Itself was overblown and lacked Matt Fraction’s usual panache. Age of Ultron, Avengers vs. X-Men and Infinity were all examples of big ideas followed up by substandard execution that only served to launch a series of new titles (to varying degrees of success). What will Original Sin’s legacy be? It sets up a new status quo for a few characters. But there is so much narrative dissonance with everything else going on in the Marvel Universe that there is no weight to Aaron’s narrative. We’ve seen these heroes now (since this story must take place in the past considering Cap’s status, etc.) and they seem to have gotten over these events. So what’s the draw here?
I suppose it should be the creators and their ability to craft a great story no matter what. But Aaron’s execution is subpar at best. The Watcher barely speaks. So having Nick Fury yell at him for four pages isn’t exactly the most exciting way to spend the last issue of a big event book. These scenes are broken up by a big battle, so we end up getting really choppy pacing that doesn’t serve the larger story or its characters well. This book has come together slowly to play up the more mysterious elements of the narrative, but all it’s done is make it boring. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who killed the Watcher - and if it ends up mattering, we won’t see it in this book! I praised Aaron early on for using a diverse cast and some interesting pairings of characters, but by the end we have a mish-mosh of heroes with ill-defined roles punching their way to the finish.
Midas proves to be the biggest eyesore in this title. Frank Martin’s colors really play up the blue energy crackling through his skin, but it doesn’t play well against Mike Deodato’s moody art. When those bright blues really start to overtake the page, the action becomes almost incomprehensible. Deodato relies on wide panels to tell a lot of this story. It might be an effort to give this chapter a more cinematic, feel but it mostly makes the pages feel the same. Even Deodato’s usually strong anatomy work takes a hit in quality throughout the issue, including a particularly questionable Black Panther on one page. Deodato’s is not a bad artist by any stretch, and his style was a clear fit for the early tone of this book. But he doesn’t deliver here.
Events need to be “go big or go home” affairs. Readers are plunking down extra cash on top of their normal pull lists and they want to be treated so something special. With Marvel’s (and to a lesser extent DC’s) insistence on inundating the market with event books, we’ve been left with a significant dip in their quality, effectiveness and lasting consequences. You can’t give a story stakes when your next event has already been announced. You can’t give characters meaningful roles when we already know their status quo in their own title. Aaron and Deodato might have had no shot at creating something coherent and entertaining. The realities of the current comic book marketplace were stacked against them from the start. Maybe publishers need to rethink how they do event comics. But it’s an ouroboros. So let’s just hope that AXIS avoids the pitfalls of Original Sin.