Best Shots Comic Reviews: MAGNETO #9, FUTURES END: JLU, More

Magneto #9 interior
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's Monday column! Let's kick off today's column with Magical Marlene Bonnelly, as she takes a look at this tie-in to Axis, Magneto...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Magneto #9
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Marlene Bonnelly
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Magneto isn’t one to give up. Even with escalating physical limitations, he continues on his one-man mission to right the wrongs against mutantkind, as motivated as ever. Unfortunately, despite the sermons he loves to give, conviction alone isn’t always enough to get the job done. That conviction, too, though reinforced by flashbacks of his days in Auschwitz, is oddly framed by his interactions with others and contradictory dialogue. This issue also diverges from the formula that’s made the title shine so much previously, with a subtle shift in focus away from detail and toward a bigger picture, making it one of the weakest in his series so far.

The most jarring part of this issue is the opening. Issue #8 left us with an exciting new premise and the hope that Magneto would be able to recover a fuller range of his abilities. After all, though he is violent and ruthless, readers do want to side with Magneto — it’s hard not to, considering the parallels he continues to draw between the suffering of mutants and his experiences surviving the Holocaust. The first page of this issue, however, does not tie into the story of the last. Rather, Magneto has been sidetracked, diverted to what was once his kingdom and now serves as the Red Skull’s stronghold and a mutant labor camp.

As Magneto watches the bodies continue to pile up on Genosha, we get another look into his past when he served in the Sonderkommando — a group forced by the Nazis to dispose of bodies under threat of death. Perhaps it’s the resulting sense of helplessness that spurs Magneto into reckless action against Red Skull later in the issue. Up until now his decisions have been fairly careful; he bides his time and waits until the most opportune moment to strike. He even tried to avoid conflict when confronting a laboratory producing mutant growth hormone earlier in the series. In contrast, he advocates immediate action here, even to two helpless prisoners he attempts to aid and who admit they have no useful powers. In Magneto’s mind, conviction trumps ability… though he’s quick to contradict that when he eventually finds himself cornered and one of those same prisoners catches his eye. His story changes, then, to what that prisoner had tried to warn him of—there is nothing they can do.

Though the break in the established storyline and the contradictions make for a few confusing pages, Bunn still does an admirable job of tying Magneto’s past through to his present and adding real depth to his motivations. Carrying over the symbolism of the nails from Auschwitz to Genosha is especially poignant and well rendered by Walta. In fact, Walta’s art is excellent throughout. The gritty, variable line weight, boxy silhouettes and rough details pair very well with Bellaire’s muted colors and washes. The book feels as dark as it reads, and even manages to make the S-Men look menacing and serious, though one would think their out-of-place colors and designs should have prevented that.

True, issue #9 still provides some of the same introspective monologue and character development we’ve come to expect, but somehow these elements take a backseat to a bigger story setup. This change is understandable, to a degree: Magneto will be one of the central titles in the new AXIS event, so we need to learn about Red Skull and what he’s doing with the late Xavier’s brain. The departure from the norm, however, can be disappointing to readers who anticipated more of a one-man war waged with espionage and determination than the familiarity of a battle with an old nemesis. That isn’t to say that the issue isn’t decent, or that the series has lost its potential; its scope has merely changed, with the implication being that there will be a move from one-off missions to a pivotal role in a bigger operation. As long as the character development remains consistent and we get a resolution for the storyline of previous issues, I see no reason why the next installments can’t be of greater quality now that the awkward introduction to a new chapter is over.

Futures End: Justice League United #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Jed Dougherty and Gabe Eltaeb
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

I’ve wanted to like Justice League United from the very start. Who knew that it would take an event tie-in to finally deliver on the promise of a newer, stranger Justice League? That’s precisely what Jeff Lemire’s Futures End: Justice League United #1 presents its readers. Things have been irreparably changed for the JLU five years into the future; the team has been disbanded after some unseen tragedy, Buddy Baker has once again set aside his costume in exchange for a normal life, and Equinox, the DCU’s newest Leaguer, is left alone to try to pick up the pieces as best she can. While the JLU title proper has struggled in its first five issues to find its tone amid explosive superhero action, Lemire nails this one-shot by allowing character and weirdness to shine through.

Futures End: Justice League United #1 starts off with Equinox patrolling the icy landscape of Canada and mixing it up with the amazingly named Polargeist, an ice themed villain who rides a cyborg polar bear. Lemire, a writer known for his willingness to throttle up the weird at a moment’s notice, gives Equinox some much deserved time in the spotlight in this one-shot, as she handedly shuts down Polargeist. She then receives an urgently cryptic psychic message from the Martian Manhunter which sends her seeking help from her fellow Leaguers, past and present.

Futures End has offered teasing glances at the make up of the Justice League five years into a quasi-dystopian future, but Lemire’s JLU one-shot throws us right into the middle of it, and it is a jarring sight. The fortress itself is a G.I. Joe-like superstructure complete with mounted sentry guns and an gnarly-looking energy fence surrounding the perimeter. We knew things had gotten bad before this, but did we know that things had progressed this far? Not until Equinox almost finds herself on the wrong end of one of those sentry guns. After gaining entry, she details her vision to the rest of the new League, made up of Cyborg, Vostox-X, the Flash, Dawnstar, and Stormguard - a newer, tougher Justice League for a hard future, including a gulag riot on the sands of Mars. The idea of a supervillain prison isn’t exactly a new one, but Lemire seems fully committed to detailing more than enigmatic hints toward just how bad things have gotten five years into the future like the Futures End title does each week. Lemire has a short page count to work with and, much like his earlier works, he makes the most of it. While the third act of Futures End: Justice League United ends up being a race toward a cliffhanger with our ragtag League butting heads with some escaped villains and two truly surprising big bads, the plot of the story functions well enough for a one-shot and even doubles as a fairly decent issue of the title of which it gets its name.

Filling the shoes of Mike McKone is a daunting thought, but artist Jed Dougherty acquits himself admirably handling the pencils of this one-shot, giving the issue a slick, cartoonish look that fits right into the visual aesthetic of Justice League United. Though McKone might employ cleaner lines in his work, Dougherty’s rounded lines and expressive character faces look fantastic and add a bit of realism to the proceedings. I am a sucker for an artist that renders their characters in a stylish, yet true to life way and Jed Dougherty does that when he can, especially in the face and body of Equinox. Dougherty also takes an old school approach to his panel layouts, allowing six panels to convey the story when some artists would jam three more into the page just to do it. He also plays a bit with point of view for the reader to do some fun things with perspective. As the League rockets toward Mars, the panels inside the ship are pointed upward as if the action is tilted upward, giving the scene an interesting perspective shift that breaks the monotony of the six panel grids. Colorist Gabe Eltaeb also slots himself into the issue nicely with a coolly robust color pallet that never overwhelms the book. Eltaeb colors every scene and character two shades darker than normal which adds a layer of drama to the costumes, while adding to the impending sense of doom that the cliffhanger delivers. People may think that brighter is better, but Gabe Eltaeb shows that that may not always be the case.

I wasn’t expecting much from Futures End: Justice League United. Honestly, I was expecting another tonally off gathering of some of my favorite characters with some of them side lined in favor of other fan favorite stars. Thankfully, Jeff Lemire, Jed Dougherty, and Gabe Eltaeb surprised me in the best possible way; by giving the readers and I a straight forward superhero tale that let the characters shine and the weirdness of comics permeate throughout. It may be too soon to call, but so far the Futures End one-shots have outshined the event itself by a fairly wide margin. After reading issues like Futures End: Justice League United it is easy to see why.

Credit: Image Comics

Copperhead #1
Written by Jay Faerber
Art by Scott Godlewski and Ron Riley
Lettering by Thomas Mauer
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The Western-in-space is almost as worn-in and familiar as the Western, and it has a similar durability. The genre makes sense not just because we imagine space to be a frontier, but because the American West really was like another planet to non-native settlers. Copperhead hasn’t separated itself from the pack yet, but it could develop into something interesting. In this first issue, the story doesn’t put on airs and lives to fight another day.

As the story opens, Sheriff Clara Bronson and her young son are on a train in dusty badlands. In the first scenes of this faded retro future, the people wear 19th-century dress and it’s still a hazard to be an unaccompanied woman on a train. When Clara arrives in the mining town of Copperhead, the anachronisms shift a century forward in time. The police hover-car has the late 1970s feeling of the first Star Wars movies, and the police station interior has a console like something from the control room of a long-decommissioned nuclear power plant. Around town, artist Scott Godlewski creates dusty, textured scenes that feel barren and utilitarian. Here and there, the townspeople are drawn in a brighter, more playful style. Ron Riley’s colors make the electric green or candy pink of some of the non-human inhabitants pop cartoonishly against the browns and tans of the background. This contrast reminded me of taking my toys outside to play in the dirt when I was a little kid, and is probably the most unique thing about Copperhead #1.

You can tell how much fun writer Jay Faerber and his team are having with the classic Western archetypes. Godlewski draws Clara as tough, pinched, put-upon, and not unduly pretty. Copperhead is a man’s world, but most of the new sheriff’s problems are the same ones she’d have if she were a man — getting respect from the locals, gaining her disgruntled deputy’s trust, and learning the power structure of her new surroundings. The deputy is the book’s most likable character, a large, cheeky capybara-looking creature named Budroxifinicus, who Clara calls Boo. Making the sheriff’s deputy a large rodent doesn’t make these tropes any less dusty, so execution will be everything for this team going forward.

Soon after meeting Boo, Clara learns that he was passed up for the sheriff job. He says, “You people talk about how we’re supposed to be fully assimilated, but I can’t help noticing my people are never in charge.” The insertion into the dialogue felt a bit unnatural, and signaled that there will be themes explored that go beyond Clara’s individual struggles in a strange land. It takes agility to maintain a light tone while also navigating broader themes of race (species?) and social injustice. If Faerber can manage it gracefully, he’ll make Copperhead into a richer story. So far, all the human characters in Copperhead are white and everyone else is a weird-looking alien, a large animal in clothes, or an artificial human with limited rights. The gray-skinned artificial humans seem indentured to the rich mine owner. On one page, Riley goofs up their skin tone and makes it a very human brown instead of gray. It’s back to gray on the next page, but the gaffe felt like a reminder of how dicey it can be to write about race and power dynamics, and that making characters green, pink or gray doesn’t keep a story safe from potential pitfalls.

Lovers of Westerns will want to check out Copperhead and give it a few issues to develop. I think the story is operating competently within this beloved genre, and time will tell if it really lifts off and differentiates itself. Clara and Budroxifinicus both have the potential to develop into strong characters, and the fun visual details, hints of mystery, and plot-thickening twists will make readers curious to find out what happens next.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers #34.1
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Dale Keown, Norman Lee and Jason Keith
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

"What will your role be? What are you for?"

We've heard these questions asked before during Jonathan Hickman's run on Avengers, particularly surrounding the atomic superman known as Hyperion. Out of all the new members of the team, Hyperion has been the one who bears the most watching, as his nigh-unlimited power comes with some ominous precedents. Time and time again, Hyperion is a name that's been synonymous with power corrupted, whether it's in J. Michael Straczynski's Supreme Power or in Judd Winick's Exiles. He's a character with an inherently eerie streak to him... but that also doesn't make him prime fodder for one-shot material. The other problem is that even with a new writer and a new artist, it feels like we've already read this one-shot before.

Al Ewing is a very good plotter, and to that end, he constructs this issue with a decent beginning, middle and end. Hyperion is on the prowl to find a missing child kidnapped by the supervillain known as the Mauler. Yet Ewing is held back by two things: the low page count, the bland characterization already established for Hyperion by Hickman. Just by virtue of the main story going on, this iteration of Avengers isn't the kind of comic where you can successfully get away with single-character slice-of-life comics - half the team is barely seen on the page for any period of time, and so a whole issue devoted to Hyperion doesn't just feel boring, it feels unearned.

But beyond that, even though Ewing only does recaps for three pages, it feels word for word exactly the same as what Hickman did the last time he wrote a Hyperion single issue. We're more than 30 issues into this series - it's long past time to start giving some answers, not just falling back on the same old creep factor from before. Yes, we get that he's not typically aware of human niceties as we know them. And we get that he's holding back some homicidal fantasties. The problem is, we've seen that already. Hyperion, as a character, has had a lot of monologues but not a whole lot of emotion - he's not particularly human as we know it, and it's no surprise that he's not as likable as Cap or Iron Man or any of the other A-listers, either.

The artwork by Dale Keown feels like a cross between Barry Kitson and David Finch, which I think is a decent mix for an interlude like this. He does decent work for the character expressions, and for the first half of the book, he does a good job at making Hyperion seem particularly imposing. That said, there's a big sequence at the end where the Mauler is raging at his superpowered pursuer, and because the character is wearing a mask, it feels like all that rage and madness and sheer self-delusion doesn't quite make it through.

Considering all the cast members in Avengers, it feels like a real misstep to have another issue focusing solely on Hyperion, particularly when Smasher, Cannonball, Sunspot, Captain Universe, or any of the other numerous characters in the series barely get any screen time - and that's not even including the A-listers beyond Cap and Tony that get zero love in this book. (Sorry, but putting them in Avengers World doesn't count, especially not when they have to move over so Euroforce can get a new origin story.) The thing about Avengers #34.1 isn't just that the premise feels limp or the ending feels a little anticlimactic - it's that Hyperion seems to threadbare of a character that we're reduced to just repeating catchphrases over and over again.

Superboy: Futures End #1
Written by Frank J. Barbiere
Art by Ben Caldwell and Mike Atiyeh
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

You thought Superboy was down and out? Not quite - acting as sort of a soft launch for Superboy and Gen13, Superboy: Futures End #1 brings Superboy together with an eclectic supporting cast to fight off interdimensional doppelgangers of himself. While that high concept might be a mouthful - and admittedly it doesn't pack a huge emotional punch - it does provide a nice showcase for new series artist Ben Caldwell to strut his stuff.

The concept for this issue is pretty simple - watch Kon-El smash stuff, with Gen13 in tow! The Guardian, Ravager and Freefall provide some likability to the main character, as Frank J. Barbiere relies solely on teenage bickering as characterization. It's not bad - not great, either, but not bad - and to his credit, it's a decent opening statement to have Superboy fight against what are ostensibly versions of Cyborg, the Eradicator and Superboy-Prime in his first issue.

But because Barbiere doesn't really do much with the Five Years Later conceit - indeed, this could easily be happening in the present, especially with the screwy continuity that this series has been going through - the real standout bit of this issue is the art. Ben Caldwell's style is cartoony but also sharp, reminding me at times of a much cleaner Paul Pope. Sometimes his characters get a bit distended, and sometimes his action choreography can look a little weird (I'm looking at you, Ravager, who does a weird upside-down praying motion before landing with her back turned to us), but the change in style is refreshing.

Ultimately, it's hard to say too much about Superboy: Futures End, because it rests so much on style rather than substance. This isn't going to be the main Gen13 team moving forward, so the link between this new run and the previous run feels somewhat tenuous, and some of the ideas aren't quite fully fleshed out enough to make them really settle in. But a new artist is always a good thing, particularly for under-served books like Superboy - and in that regard, Kon-El's future looks surprisingly bright.

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