Best Shots Comic Reviews: NEW AVENGERS #24, THE FLASH: FUTURES END, More

Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

New Avengers #24
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Valerio Schiti, Frank Martin and David Curiel
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The Marvel Universe is feeling awfully Crisis-y lately, isn’t it?

Both of the publishing line’s big franchises, The Avengers and the X-Men, are doing a lot more than just time-travelling these days. They’ve been travelling throughout the multiverse in ways that we aren’t used to seeing in the Marvel U. Jonathan Hickman’s penchant for large-scale stories is on display in New Avengers but the execution in this issue doesn’t work for me. Valerio Schiti, Frank Martin and David Curiel turn in a set of pages that provide clear visual storytelling, but not all that much bang for the buck.

We fast forward eight months at the start of the issue to a conversation between Namor, Doom and Kristoff. Since the events of Avengers Vs. X-Men, Namor has had a bit of a change in demeanor. The haughty, elitist Namor we’re used to doesn’t exist in Hickman’s New Avengers - instead he’s overwhelmed, apologetic and even empathetic. He’s lost control of his multiversal death squad, and Doom is the only one that can help. But because of the time jump, the conversation serves only to frame a recap of the events that we’ve skipped over; a sound strategy considering that those events probably wouldn’t have played as well in eight individual issues. It doesn’t really feel like we’ve missed anything. While Hickman writes a solid Doom, it’s clear how this conversation will end. It’s so clear that you almost wonder why it’s happening in the first place. Of course, the reveal adds another layer to this puzzle but it’s hard to see the bigger picture when you’ve yet to see all the parts. For some that might be an enthralling aspect of Hickman’s approach, but for more casual fans, it may not work as well.

Schiti, Martin and Curiel are able to help the script with their artwork but they can only do so much. The script is so reliant on Hickman’s dialogue that almost every other panel needs to be a reaction shot. Thankfully, Schiti really nails the expressions but it drags out the script in spots. The most effective usage probably comes during the scene between Charles Xavier and Thanos. The Mad Titan’s smugness is palpable. But with so many close crops, we don’t get a lot of actual backgrounds. Instead, it’s just character’s faces against whatever color is most prominent in a certain scene. I don’t think it’s really their fault because the script relies on so many facial expressions that it’s hard to really pull the “camera” back but it would be nice if we could’ve gotten some varied panel design especially considering the extra-sized issue.

If the Illuminati existed as a riff on heroes living long enough to see themselves become the villain, the Cabal must almost be the other way around. The only problem is that while this group of supervillains is saving the universe, they’re also doing a lot of very bad things. Those expecting an exciting face-off between Namor and Doom will be sorely disappointed. The art team is one of great talent but they don’t really get to let loose here (the only exception being an incredible final page splash). Hickman’s reputation as a master planner means that we’ll probably look back on this issue a couple of months from now and realize all the clues that he had left for us. But as it stands, this is just another issue that moves the plot forward and introduces a new layer to the story.

The Flash: Futures End #1
Written by Robert Venditti and Van Jensen
Art by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Out of all the Futures End tie-ins (and believe me, I've been reading them all), The Flash: Futures End seems to tie in most to the writers' ongoing storyline, as the future version of Barry Allen finally fulfills the mission he hurtled back in time to accomplish: rescuing Iris and Wally West. The only problem with this issue is that with multiple Barrys running around, the tension in this comic feels nonexistent, as our hero winds up stepping on his own toes.

Part of the drawback is that if it wasn't for the "Five Years Later..." tag on the first page, this comic could easily be in the regular Flash continuity. Because Venditti and Jensen have been playing around with time travel so much since they took over the book, they don't get to really utilize the sorts of radical changes five years could make on a book. (To be honest, they've already done that months ago, with a blue-suited Barry who isn't afraid to kill.) Perhaps most surprising is that while the new Kid Flash is on the cover of the comic, he only appears in costume in one panel - granted, Wally does experience some interesting developments along the way, but it feels like a bit of a cheat.

But beyond that, the real issue with this book is the fact that Venditti and Jensen never really settle on who the protagonist of this book is - sure, we open up with the modern-day, red-suited Flash, but it's the blue Flash that really has stakes here. But since we see him stomping hard on Daniel West, the Reverse Flash, it's never really in doubt what's going to happen - Daniel is going to fare the same way that every other crook has fared the past few issues, and even though he screams about whether or not he can save Iris and Wally, their fates are never really in question. But at the end of the day, the red-suited Flash has to come back, and the fight he has with his blue-suited counterpart is about as abrupt as his solution.

Of course, if you're going to have a comic with an inexplicable fight scene, it might as well be with Brett Booth art. Granted, sometimes the colorwork by Andrew Dalhouse can be a little bit overwhelming, particularly as blue, yellow and purple energies flare across the page. That said, he makes all his characters look dynamic, particularly when we watch Future Barry skid backwards, digging his fingers into the dirt to slow himself down. Occasionally Booth's expressions look weird - particularly when Wally gets the surprise of his life, where it looks like he's spitting a bit - but overall it's dynamic and enthusiastic.

The strong artwork and the character developments make this book slightly better than a mixed bag, although the flaws are still apparent reading The Flash: Futures End. Given the arc this series has been taking for the past few issues, it still feels like a bit of a missed opportunity not to really incorporate the "Five Years Later" mandate of Futures End. That said, the end result does mean there are more opportunities for Venditti, Jensen and Booth to take - just don't expect to see them here.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Edge of Spider-Verse #3
Written and Illustrated by Dustin Weaver
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

What do you get when you have a Spider-Man without all that talk of power and responsibility? Dustin Weaver has the answer for you in Edge of Spider-Verse #3, a beautifully drawn introduction to sci-fi webspinner Dr. Aaron Aikman. While this book looks great, however, the story itself feels a bit anemic, as aside from the aesthetics we never really get a sense of why this new hero should be compelling.

Weaver has made a name for himself in the past as a superstar Marvel artist, and he definitely lives up to his potential on that end here. One of his double-page splashes featuring Spider-Man leaping over buildings is reminiscent of John Romita, Jr. - and you could do way worse than emulating him. Weaver's character designs provide an interesting spin on the tried-and-true mythos, particularly with a quick cross-section of Aaron's suit, featuring his "silk-spinner," "neuro-pulse stinger" and "catapult propulsion boots." Occasionally, however, Weaver will bite off more than he can chew, packing in a little too much per page - it's nice, for example, to have Marvel trading cards as a cheeky introduction to Spidey's foes, but it's just more crowding on an already crowded page.

Yet with great pencils should come great responsibility. The problem with Dr. Aikman is that as a character he feels flat - he's not that different in terms of concept (extra tech and a more angular costume aside), and even more importantly, his motivations feel completely nonexistent. Sure, Weaver gives us a tease of a backstory, saying that the villain known as Redeye spurred Aaron into action, but there's no reason for him to have experimented on himself, no reason for him to put on a costume and fight crime. Even making Aikman as more of a pure scientist than the flighty Peter doesn't quite have enough narrative push - sure, he can be a bit arrogant, and he doesn't have the angst that Peter Parker has, but there has to be something more to him than this.

Ironically, Weaver's thought process towards Aikman's world is actually much more solid than the character himself. In particular, Weaver's villains are interesting, particularly Naamurah, a techno-organic kidnapper that has connections to both Aikman and Morlun, the overarching baddie for Spider-Verse. The characters are well-designed, looking like a cross between a wasp and a chainsaw, and that sort of mindless ferocity works surprisingly well against the no-nonsense, analytical nature of Aikman. Redeye also seems like a fun, Marvel-esque villain, even though his origin is limited to the back of a fictional trading card.

While Dustin Weaver may have a few rough edges to smooth out in terms of his writing chops, it's obvious that his talent as an artist has opened the door for another chance. Edge of Spider-Verse continues to impress thanks to its murderer's row of stellar artists and intriguing concepts - it just so happens that this issue is more of the former and less of the latter. It's all good - it's just another sign that Spider-Man as a concept is fertile ground for different interpretations. If the worst I can say is that this issue doesn't tap all of its potential, that speaks volumes to Weaver's burgeoning talent not just as an artist, but as a writer in his own right.

Harley Quinn: Futures End #1
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner
Art by Chad Hardin and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

If DC is always going to throw an annual party filled with weighty one-shots, we should be grateful that we now have Harley Quinn around to mock the entire process. Taking the “five years later” directive to mean “business as usual with coconuts,” the superstar writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner break so many fourth walls in this meta madness, it is amazing that the building still has any structural integrity. Bless their socks, cotton and otherwise, for making the madness real.

It’s five years later, and for reasons that are never explained, Harley is being loaded into a plane’s cargo hold in a crate with an oxygen tank on the back of a truck driven by a goat-headed man. Of course she is. No sooner than she can say “HOLEE BOUNCING BARFINESS!” than the flight is caught in a terrible storm, and Ms. Quinzel is left stranded on a desert island in nothing but her finest bikini wear. Enter the Castaway volleyball gags, stage left. Harley isn’t alone on the island, and between the islanders that worship her and their very familiar god-king, her day is going to get awesome before it gets better.

Like the rest of the series, Harley Quinn: Futures End is a Saturday morning cartoon slowed down to still frames, and then blended in together with all the other shows on the roster. Completely and delightfully incongruous with every other title this month, the rapid-fire set of gags come so hard and fast that if one fails (and it doesn’t), Palmiotti and Conner have already moved onto the next one. It’s a comic that engages directly with the medium, as Harley consciously decides to use “thought bubbles” so she isn’t broadcasting her words for all to see. Perhaps it’s all the time he spent writing and drawing about various islands, but it’s got a similar tone to the irreverent work of Steve Purcell in the late 1980s and early 1990s, layering streams of thought on top of series of non sequiturs and inspired imagery.

Speaking of which, if you thought that the multi-artist Harley Quinn Invades Comic-Con International: San Diego was a meta masterpiece, solo artist Chad Hardin manages to push the envelope, drawing on visual cues from cinema, comics and just about anything else that happened to float across the creative team’s brain pans during the production process. If the Disney-style wedding dress sequence, complete with helpful animal critters, doesn’t tickle your funny bone, then the sight of the Justice League wearing crudely fashioned garb made out of coconuts should downright give it hypergargalesthesia. Alex Sinclair’s bright and vivid colors are turned up all the way to 12, giving the book a continuous look with the Conner/Paul Mounts team that made Power Girl such a joy.

For every reader expecting the Futures End continuity to get wiped away with a quirky twist of fate (or time travel, as is fashionable these days), Harley Quinn: Futures End treats canon with about as much reverence as it deserves. Where else are you going to find a talking dead beaver speaking to the hero from inside the stomach of a crocodile? Equal parts bloody and bloody funny, it’s the antidote to event fatigue.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Guardians of the Galaxy #19
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Ed McGuinness, Mark Farmer, Mark Morales, John Livesay and Jason Keith
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

It seems Peter Quill has truly stepped in it now. After attempting to rid the universe of Thanos once and for all, he now finds himself trapped in the collapsing Cancerverse, alongside his best friends Richard Rider and Drax as they struggle for one last hurrah in the name of good. Of course, this is Quill we are talking about, so naturally things go very south, very quickly. Brian Michael Bendis smartly uses the Original Sin arc to finally shed light on Guardians' two biggest hanging threads from the last series: the fate of Nova Richard Rider, and how Quill escaped from the Cancerverse. While it is exciting to finally get to see exactly what happened, Guardians of the Galaxy #19 never feels like anything other than a second act in a much larger story, despite some great character moments throughout.

Guardians of the Galaxy #19 still has Quill recounting the story of his escape to Gamora after she has become fed up with his lies and has kidnapped him to a remote location in order to pull the truth from him if need be. Issue #19, much like the previous issue, jumps back and forth between these intimate scenes and the bombastic flashbacks. This framing device is one of the best things about the issue, mainly because Bendis seems to finally have a grasp on Gamora. (Seriously, kidnapping Quill and tying him up in order to hear the full story seems like such a Gamora way to handle this problem.) The relationship between Quill and Gamora also seems to finally be on a much more solid ground than the previous issues, which were filled with artifical sexual tension and banter. Now, they are both on a somewhat even playing field, with Quill slightly below Gamora because of his continued deceptions. There is a monent in one of these scenes where Gamora, thinking Quill is lying about a certain twist in his story, starts to storm out but Quill rebukes her saying that “she wanted to open this door when I was more than willing to leave it closed for you.” It is a small triumph for Quill and a reality check for Gamora, who is essentially getting exactly what she wants, even though she refuses to hear it. If anything, this arc has given us some wonderful character development between Gamora and Quill. Too bad it has taken 19 issues to get to it.

The flashbacks, however, are the real meat of the issue, and while they are more exposition heavy this time around, they still come across a bit stretched thin because of the three issue structure of this Original Sin tie-in. This is a story that could have been easily told in two issues, but since Bendis never tells a story in just two issues, we have to wait for him to spin his wheels and end on a cliffhanger right when things were getting truly interesting. If this sounds like a needless dig, I assure you it isn’t. I’ve really enjoyed his Guardians of the Galaxy thus far, and this story has been a rollicking yarn so far that is nicely filling in some story gaps that had gone unattended for far too long. It just seems like this arc in particular has been stuck in a narrative rut in terms of reveals and cliffhangers. Take, for example, the cliffhanger of the last issue, Quill struggling to use the Cosmic Cube and being chided by Thanos to give it to him; this thread is largely abandoned in Issue #19 in order to focus on the reveal that no one can die in the Cancerverse, a huge revelation that could have been way more effective in the previous issue and would have spared us five pages of characters shouting at each other this time around. While the action of the comic is still entertaining and fun, the structure feels way too off for a monthly comic.

Fan favorite artist Ed McGuinness is still swinging for the fences with Issue #19, but while the previous issue kept him barreling forward with action scenes, this exposition-heavy script reveals a few of his shortcomings as an artist. These bits never really derail the issue completely, they still prove to be distracting in all the wrong ways. For instance, his facial expressions which seems to repeat more than a few times across multiple characters particularly in Quill and Drax, who both display the same dumbfounded look in both the flashbacks and the scenes in present day. He also gives the anti-Captain America of the Cancerverse Revengers two different-looking shields in two different scenes (the classic look in his introduction splash and the normal rounded one when he attacks Rider from off-panel). Aside from these weird missteps, McGuinness, his army of inkers, and colorist Jason Keith still turn in a fairly good-looking, kinetic issue, despite a few weird oversights.

We should be used to thing going wrong for Peter Quill by now. He most certainly is. Guardians of the Galaxy #19 is a pure example of Peter’s best intentions crumbling around him, but, oddly enough, I don’t care as much as I should. Bendis and his rotating art teams have been turning in fantastic stories starring the Guardians since the very start, so it is a shame that a story as big as this one, in terms of canon, falls so flat. I’ve been anxiously awaiting the reveal of what happened to Richard Rider and how Drax and Quill escaped from their certain deaths, but, you and I will have to wait yet another month to actually find everything out. Comics, kid, they will break your heart - or at the very least, disappoint you on a structural level.

Credit: Image Comics

Wayward #2
Written by Jim Zub
Art by Steve Cummings, John Rauch and Jim Zub
Lettering by Marshall Dillon
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

The first issue of Wayward threw readers waist-deep into a carefully constructed Japan, filled with spirits and magical possibilities. With a literal army of cats, Jim Zub and Steve Cummings wore their manga influences on their sleeves, setting up the key components to tell a magical realism story set within a very accurate depiction of modern Tokyo. So it is curious that the sophomore issue struggles to find a balance between the two elements, and introduces some teen drama that clumsily deals with anxiety and depression.

Following a night of adventures with the mystical and mysterious Ayane, young expat Rori Lane is surprised to find that her recently estranged Japanese mother is less than furious with her staying out all night. In a typical manga setup, Rori struggles to settle into school as the outsider, before spotting the (unsurprisingly handsome) classmate who piques her curiosity. Using her recently discovered internal sat nav, she follows the young fellow and discovers that he has spiritual curse of his own. The principle premise is a solid one, and it is disappointing that everything else just feels so familiar.

There is something jarringly sterile about some of the approaches to narrative in this book, and just as she did in the first issue, Rori’s mother retains an almost unnatural serenity. However, we also get the first hints that something might be wrong with her, driven to distraction as she is, because if there isn’t then it’s one of the more unusual portrayals of a familial unit. Zub sometimes over-explains events in each panel, and while this might be indicative that this is indeed aimed at a younger audience, it may also add another layer of distance to the book for older readers. Yet it’s also dealing with some fairly weighty themes here, including the revelation that Rori has a history of self-harm, so it’s placing itself firmly in the young adult section of the library. To Zub’s credit, he never gets terribly “afterschool special” when dealing with his lead cutting herself in a school bathroom, but it is also simply introduced mid-story in such a way that almost makes the depiction dismissive. At worse, its non-contextual treatment may be misinterpreted by those same younger readers that dealing with anxiety alone and in pain is a viable option.

The art remains beautiful, with Cummings continuing to display an intimate knowledge of Japanese suburbia. His level of detail on household fittings, temple stairs,street scenes or even rooftop fixtures is impressive, and the character designs have energy to them. It’s not just the electric light shows of magic that wow either, as his choice of angles (such as a cat calmy observing a scene from above) makes for a visually interesting set of panels. John Rauch and Zub’s colors are filled with whimsy, and in keeping with the clear Eastern influences on the book.

When Wayward does get moving, it cracks along at a pace. The new characters add new layers to the potential for this story, although it seems to have already sidelined the main bit of intrigue from the first issue, instead replacing it with an awkward bit of teen angst. It can be hoped that Zub addresses the notion of self-harm in more depth in coming issues, as it makes for a disturbing development as a segue between scenes.

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