Best Shots Comic Reviews: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #9 (Spider-Verse), GRAYSON #4, More

Spider-Ham in Spider-Verse is AMAZING
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #9
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Olivier Coipel, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, Justin Ponsor and Antonio Fabela
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos and Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

And lo, there came a day; a day unlike any other, where the Spider-Men and Women from across the multiverse faced a threat that none of them could face on their own. Thus the Spider-Verse was born!

After months of build up and character introductions, Amazing Spider-Man #9 kicks off the hugely anticipated event in grand style. Writer Dan Slott, who has been handling the adventures of the web-slinger for some years now, goes for the gusto with Amazing Spider-Man #9, enlisting the talents of Olivier Coipel and Justin Ponsor just to hammer home the blockbuster feel of this massive crossover undertaking. Amazing Spider-Man #9 at its core is a quintessential Spidey story complete with appropriate pathos and wit, but unlike the recent events in the Spider-Man line, the opening salvo of Spider-Verse not only sells the stakes of the conflict and makes great use of its huge cast, but it also builds up the antagonists as formidable foes for our gaggle of Spider-People, instead of just inserting them into the narrative like evil straw men. Amazing Spider-Man #9 puts character first, and that’s just one of the many things this comic gets right.

First off, before we get into the specifics of the plot and script, Amazing Spider-Man #9 looks straight-up gorgeous. Though it saddens me that Olivier Coipel doesn’t do monthly comics as regularly as he used to, his absence from the scene makes issues like this all the more special. Partnered with coloring wizard Justin Ponsor, Coipel covers each page with sumptuous details and dynamic panel layouts that rocket the issue forward with a breathless momentum. As I was reading this issue, I was shocked to find myself already at the end when it felt like I had just started. Few artists have been able to capture the free flowing motion that is Spider-Man in the field; Coipel not only nails our Spidey but a myriad of other Spider-Men and Women in equal measure, giving each new version of Spidey introduced in this comic’s center piece a specific stance and range of motion that is unique to their personality. The devil is in the details but thankfully Coipel has all that well in hand.

While Coipel and Ponsor nail the action and kinetic energy of the comic’s set pieces, they also translate another feeling quite well onto the page that other artists have stumbled at conveying; sexual tension. After a deliciously grim cold open from Slott, Amazing Spider-Man #9 transports us to the bedroom of the one true Parker as he is awakened by Silk - and that’s when things get a bit steamy and a lot awkward. Coipel has never been an artist to shy away from rendering superheroes as the attractive people we all expect them to be, but here, in the way he positions Peter and Cindy’s body language and blocks them throughout the scene just oozes sexual tension. Coipel also never lets one character hold the dominant position for too long; when the scene starts, Silk holds all the cards, while Peter is vainly trying to cover his nakedness with his blankets, but by the time the scene ends, both characters have traded off being the focus of one another several times culminating in a near kiss. Though I’m still not one hundred percent sold on the idea of Peter and Cindy’s overpowering pheromones, it is nice to see an artist smartly block the scene in an interesting way instead of just going full cheesecake with Silk. Coipel even objectifies the hell out of Peter Parker more than a few times during this scene, further endearing Coipel’s work to me. It's about time Peter showed a bit of skin.

But Amazing Spider-Man #9 isn’t just all flash and no substance. The script contained within Coipel and Ponsor’s fantastic work is also a quippy and thrilling bit of storytelling from Dan Slott, whose work on the character has been building to this very arc. Issue #9 details the inciting incident that ropes the Peter Parker of our Earth into the larger fray of Spider-Verse, as well as gives us the first real in-depth look at our villains, the Inheritors. While most of the major protagonists of Amazing Spider-Man #9 had been introduced and threaded into the narrative before now, the Inheritors had not, and that’s where the real meat of this issue lies. Though the scenes with all the Spideys interacting and bantering is fun as all get out, and handled with the sort of cheek that we have come to expect from Slott (who, for my money, turns in some of the funniest bits of his career here in this issue), everything set in the world of the Inheritors is piled high with insane comic book ideas and over-the-top villain characterizations. Marvel has been hurting for a bit when it comes to original villains, but I think Dan Slott has tapped into something truly compelling with the Inheritors and I hope we see them again, even after their eventual defeat further down the line.

After a long summer peppered with all sorts of mega-events and crossovers, Amazing Spider-Man #9 blasted away all the fatigue I had felt when it came to comic blockbusters. All it took was a big, insane story that was well-told and well-rendered on the page. Who would have thought, huh? Bits aside, Dan Slott, Olivier Coipel and Justin Ponsor (as well as the art team who handled this issue’s fantastic backup story) make the most out of this opening issue, translating the character work that made the lead in one-shots so compelling for a wider audience and never letting themselves get caught up in the usual trappings of event comic storytelling. Even though it has been touted as this huge, universe shaking event, Amazing Spider-Man #9 just feels like a slightly bigger chapter in Spider-Man’s life instead of an overwrought and undercooked blockbuster, and that’s exactly how it should stay.

Credit: DC Comics

Grayson #4
Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Mikel Janin and Jeromy Cox
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

If there is one big takeaway from Grayson #4, it is that Tim Seeley is perfectly comfortable playing up Dick Grayson's sex appeal. While that may seem a little weird, it makes for the most fun aspect of his tumultuous run on Grayson so far. This issue sees a break from the ongoing quest to assemble the pieces of the Paragon project, making room for some deeper characterization for Dick, Matron, and Spyral as a whole. Grayson still hasn't reached essential reading status, but its themes and characters are starting to develop. If the story can catch up with these components, Grayson could be the kind of breakout book DC has been looking for.

In Grayson, there are mysteries, and there are questions. The mysteries, like Mr. Minos's identity, and Dick's true motive for joining Spyral have been built well enough. Dick's continued interactions with "Mr. Malone" remain a highpoint of the series, showing a relationship between Dick and Bruce that has fallen by the wayside with the New 52. But too often, these mysteries only underscore the questions that still remain about Spyral, like the all too oblique motivations of its key players, and its exact role in superhero espionage. Spyral feels like a mystery unto itself, and not in the way it seems Seeley intends.

Seeley's script may be at fault for some of that. There is a rat-a-tat style to his dialogue that feels a little too clever for its own good, underselling the story at times, while spewing too much exposition at others. Seeley never seems to find the balance between the young students of St. Hadrian's Finishing School's accents and their enthusiasm, making their exuberance a little exhausting at times. Still, Grayson #4 has some of Dick's best beats by far, owing, in large part, to the glee with which Mikel Janin renders him. It's that glee - along with Dick's obvious sex appeal - that make for the best bits in this book, as Dick bounds through the St. Hadrian's campus on a merry chase. Dick also finds himself at the mercy of the enigmatic Mr. Minos in a sequence that seems perfectly tailored for the Tumblr set, showing that, despite not being able to find a true balance between his svelte lead's acrobatic appeal and his Prisoner like spy sensibilities, Seely has a few tricks up his sleeve.

Speaking of Mikel Janin, Grayson #4 may have the best art of the series yet. Janin is finally starting to master portraying Dick's acrobatics without the stiffness that his hyper-realist style often imparts. Janin has begun experimenting more with heavier lines and deeper blacks, adding to the dynamic feel of scenes like Dick and Helena jumping from an airplane, or Dick and his pursuers covering the entire grounds of St Hadrian's in a single page. Colorist Jeromy Cox provides a palette that is energetic and bright without compromising the subject matter of spies hunting for bizarre cyber organs, finding the balance the script so often lacks. Still, there are missteps, such as a scene of Midnighter - whose very presence in this series feels like a burden - holding an interrogation subject in such a way that his arm looks larger than his victim's body, or the way Cox uses blue holds to highlight Grayson at certain times.

Still, by and large, Grayson remains one of DC's better offerings, if not one that feels like a must-read. Seeley's savvy use of Dick as eye candy pits him as a kind of boy next door/everyman type among vicious career spies whose sensibilities are as mysterious to him as they are to readers. Despite its strong lead, however, Grayson is still plagued with issues that drag down its overall readability. Not nearly enough tension has mounted in the preceding issues to feel like Grayson #4's trip back to St. Hadrian's is essential, and yet Seeley seems to have more fun, and find more compelling conflict on the grounds of his school than he does in any of Grayson's more exotic locales. If Seeley can harness his mastery of theme, and his keen eye for the zeitgeist of modern comics to build a more compelling narrative, Grayson could rise to the top of the stack.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Written by Rick Remender
Art by Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

To paraphrase Kitty Pryde: "(Everybody but) Professor Xavier is a jerk!"

That's the status quo in AXIS #4, an uneven but greatly improved new chapter for Rick Remender's allegiance-swapping series. After the Scarlet Witch and Doctor Doom teamed up to switch the Red Onslaught's heroic and villainous sides, it seems like the rest of the heroes of the Marvel Universe have been caught up in the frenzy. The result is an ominous - if occasionally one-dimensional - new spin that could lead to some interesting fireworks.

They say there's no honor among thieves, and that goes double for the brain-swapped heroes of the Marvel Universe. It's reminiscent of Avengers vs. X-Men, as both teams are growing in rage and suspicion towards one another. In that regard, Remender's plotting is really on-point, as our one-time heroes are all doing things that are wildly out of character - and wildly detrimental to the world around them. The Falcon decks Nick Fury, the X-Men speak of war alongside Apocalypse, alcoholic Tony Stark takes his first drink in decades, and the fact that the Avengers are openly speaking about murdering the Red Skull speaks to how far gone their sense of right and wrong have become.

There are a few characters you can tell that Remender enjoys here - in particular, Carnage and the Falcon steal the show this issue, as the former decides to try his hand at heroism by giving a few friendly pointers to some supervillain hostage-takers. ("Use the mom, kids're too small--cops'd snipe ya for sure!" Thanks, Carnage. That's useful.) The Falcon, who Remender has written well already in Captain America, comes off in AXIS as almost eerily cold, especially when he goes head-to-head (or fist-to-jaw) with Nick Fury over custody of the Red Skull.

The art in this comic has also improved dramatically from last issue. Leinil Francis Yu doesn't have to pack in a dozen characters per panel anymore, giving him so much more room to breathe. While his actual rendition of Carnage isn't quite as amorphous or razor-sharp as others have been, the actual composition and fight choreography is some of the best Spider-work I've seen him do in years, and the eerie way he plays up the Falcon's emotionless goggles is one of the highlights of the book. He and Gerry Alanguilan seem to be more tighter and more controlled with the final product, with the pages looking so much more clean. Occasionally, the colorwork does seem to get away from them, however, as Edgar Delgado uses a slightly too-bright color palette for this morally murky tale.

There are a few other downsides to AXIS, too - the first being the uneven pacing of this issue, a problem that has plagued this overstuffed book since the beginning. While Remender thankfully packs in fewer characters here than he did the previous three issues, there's still a sense of jumpiness here, as we bounce from scene to scene with an almost random frequency. For example, we see the first seeds of Superior Iron Man alongside the birth of the Hulk's Hulk, the hilariously named Kluh, in addition to check-ins with Spider-Man and Carnage, as well as the increasingly frustrated X-Men... the scenes each stand on their own far better than before, but they still feel choppy as a combined whole.

The other, bigger problem is inherent in the premise. Like I said before, this is very reminiscent of Avengers vs. X-Men, which in turn was trying to recapture the excitement of Civil War. Yet part of the reason why AvX failed is because one side was clearly going to lose - the side with the brainwashed demigods. AXIS follows that vein, and it's harder to feel the tension because our heroes are so clearly not themselves, dropping cringeworthy lines like the Falcon saying, "I've been liberated of the terrible lifelong affliction of putting others' needs ahead of my own." Hero versus hero battles are at their best when the conflict is rooted in character - albeit by misunderstanding or genuine disagreement - and so the shifting of their morality "axis" saps the story of some crucial energy.

After a rough three issues, AXIS is definitely taking a needed upturn in quality with this fourth issue - that said, it still has a long way to go. There's something about this premise that still feels wonky, which is not a good thing this far into the story. What it'll take for AXIS to succeed is right in that scene with Carnage - showing these heroes and villains actually taking some bold actions to define themselves into their new roles. (Just talking about killing isn't enough.) It's taken four issues, but now Rick Remender has effectively turned the playing field upside-down - now he just has to show us why it was worth it.

Credit: Image Comics

The Humans #1
Written by Keenan Marshall Keller
Art by Tom Neely and Kristina Collantes
Published by Image Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Confession: I’m of the mind that everything can be improved by adding monkeys. Apparently, Keenan Marshall Keller feels the same ways as his series, The Humans debuts in all its monkey glory, full of bikers, drugs, sex and violence. Written with '70s exploitation films in mind, and celebrating Keller’s love of monkeys, The Humans is a raucous, violent and entertaining debut.

Keenan Marshall Keller tells a pretty straightforward story. One of the members of the biker gang The Humans has died, and his biker brothers lay him to rest before being confronted by their rival gang, The Skabbs. Chaos ensues as the gangs lay waste to each other before parting ways to give their brother, Mojo, a proper sendoff to the punk sounds of Smelly Tongues, a monkey band.

The unique aesthetic of choosing monkeys to tell the story is an interesting one, but I think Keller doesn’t want us to delve to deep into his motivations. He hasn’t crossed over into Planet of the Apes territory (yet), so I don’t think he’s looking to make his book into a world where the humans are the animals. Keller seems more concerned with pumping the reader up. He wants us to feel the thrill of the biker life, and possibly motivate his readers to go smash up stuff afterwards.

But by using Monkeys as his human stand ins, Keller is able to get around the stereotypical biker story and give us something distinctive. The characters turn the concept on its ear and Keller clearly has fun making as many monkey puns as he can. Plus the graphic content isn’t nearly as graphic when it’s a bunch of monkeys who are doing the drugs and throwing the punches.

And maybe this is Keller’s point, that society puts such a premium on censorship that he’s able to slip one under the radar when he changes the entire species of the characters. This also opens the door for interesting story ideas given the range with which he now has to work.

Plus, Keller is joined by the indie stylings of Tom Neely and Kristina Collantes. The Humans isn’t a flashy comic, and much of Neely’s illustrations are simple by comparison to other major artists in the comics field currently. But his composition is solid as is his pacing. A few times, he keeps the scene in frame, but works the action panel by panel so the story has a cinematic quality to it.

Furthermore, Neely’s splash pages are impressively detailed. He plays with panel construction, and is able to give a montage like quality to the story, particularly in the more action heavy moments. The opening pages are a brilliant birds-eye view of the gang, and they smartly set the tone for the comic. Credit also goes to Kristina Collantes, who brings an emotional depth to the comic, particularly in the funeral scene. Collantes plays with tonally sad colors as the Humans mourn their loss, then turns up the volume when they face down their rival gang. The comic hums with energy in these moments, and here you can see the entire team working together well.

The Humans appears like a standard biker story at its face value, but it’s much more. Keller’s creativity is matched by Neely’s smooth character designs and Collantes’ color vitality. The comic takes its chances and succeeds in its undertaking, so if you’re like me and you think monkeys make everything better, take a look at The Humans this week.

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