The Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Cameron Stewart and Nathan Fairbairn
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Thunderworld Adventures is the best possible palate cleanser from last month’s Pax Americana. While last month’s issue reveled in the cynicism and grit of the late '80s comics renaissance, Thunderworld Adventures is an unabashed Fawcett Comics throwback adventure from top to bottom. I’m sure eagle-eyed readers will eventually suss out Grant Morrison’s hints and clues seeded throughout the issue, but on first reading, Thunderworld Adventures could be the most accessible issue of Multiversity yet published. We have an earnest group of heroes, a gaggle of madmen from across the Multiverse, and even a group of giant monsters bringing it home for a thrilling third act. What more could you possibly want?
"Captain Marvel and the Day That Never Was" opens with the Earth’s Mightiest Mortal’s arch-nemesis, Dr. Sivana, storming the gates of the Rock of Eternity with his own nightmarish version of the interdimensional mountain, usurping Marvel’s source of power and capturing the Wizard. For a comic that feels propulsive throughout, this is one hell of an inciting incident. Multiversity, so far, has given us inspired peeks into the vast and varied Orrery of Worlds, but the world of Fawcett Comics is about as straightforward as they come. While you might expect some sort of de-construction of the Marvel family, perhaps ala Miracleman - and there are hints at that, mainly in the newly powered Sivana family - this issue mostly serves to remind us all just how much we love the wholesome earnest nature of the Marvel family. And that is the best possible way this issue could have turned out. Thunderworld Adventures doesn't have to be Morrison's thesis statement on Fawcett to be a standout comic; it merely has to be a fun Fawcett comic .Multiversity has been driven by seeing the characters through their Earth's lens - and if you wanted to see a revisionist take, Morrison knows you don't have to look any farther than the recent New 52 reboot. Instead, he gives us an ideal Billy Batson story - no muss, no fuss, just pure shining optimism in the form of a classic tale of superheroism. And that's plenty to be engaged with.
Morrison also gleefully throws himself and the audience into the glorious lunacy of a Fawcett Comics villain plot. You see, before Sivana’s storming of the Rock, he had made contact with the Sivanas from across the multiverse, leading to some truly hilarious visual jokes from Cameron Stewart, in order to literally mine time in the form of the new element, suspendium. After learning that neighboring worlds are sending messages to one another in the form of comic books (in this issue it is The Society of Super-Heroes that is featured, instead of the deadly Ultra Comics), he forms some sort of erstwhile league of Sivanas and gathers the suspendium in order to create a whole new day, Sivanaday. Just typing that out made me feel like a lunatic, but never once did I question it while reading Thunderworld Adventures. This entire issue thrives on nostalgia, instead of fan service. Of course, it is nice to see a pure version of the Marvel family back in action, but Thunderworld Adventures is about much more than just character recognition. Its about how those comics were structured and moved. I’ve talked before about how Multiversity feels like an exercise in genre to me, and Thunderworld Adventures is another solid bit of evidence toward that argument.
Deftly hammering home the vintage feeling of this issue are the pencils of Cameron Stewart and the brighter-than-bright colors of Nathan Fairbairn. Cameron Stewart was a name that had been attached to Multiversity for what seemed like forever, and his issue did not disappoint. Stewart’s clean, smooth lines and heavily stylized realism mesh perfectly with the Marvel family and their wacky world. Stewart’s Marvels actually look like a family, which is something that has always bugged me. Even in their civilian identities, all of them look like they could be conceivably related, which is half the battle for me. The rest of the battle would be the actual battling that Stewart renders. Stewart renders every punch, throw, and landing with proper Superman-like weight and power. For as good as Stewart is, he wouldn’t be anywhere near as good without the vibrancy of Nathan Fairbairn who colors this issue like a 10-cent newsstand standout. Every color is exaggerated and the backgrounds are lit within an inch of their lives. It seems that every issue of Multiversity looks better than the last so Thunderworld Adventures takes the top spot... until next month, that is.
Multiversity, so far, has given us a cosmic pondering on the character of Superman, a jaunt into the pulps of old, superheroes through the lens of reality television, and a paranoid mirror image on the works of Alan Moore. But Thunderworld Adventures is the first straight superhero story of the event thus far and it soars with an old school energy that the previous issues, aside from S.O.S, have lacked. While other issues have relied heavily on the meta story unfolding in Multiversity, this month’s installment casts off the heaviest chains of the story and is just happy to tell a thrilling superhero tale. A villain plots a nefarious plot and a group of mighty mortals step up to take him down and protect the innocent. I ask again - what more could you possibly want?
All-New Captain America #2
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Rick Remender and Stuart Immonen continue to impress with their relaunch of All-New Captain America, as the high-flying Sam Wilson realizes it's not easy to wield that mighty shield. While the first issue of this series was more of a mission statement towards the one-time Falcon and his new role in the world, this issue is much more straightforward adventure akin to a superhero-tinged James Bond.
Once you make the comparison to 007, you start to see a lot of parallels in Remender's writing. The death-defying action sequences - in this case, Sam leaping out of a window to discover he's in the high-tech, crime-ridden city of Bagalia - are just the first similarity, especially once Remender has Cap go one-on-one against Crossbones. (It's also effective in evoking Captain America: Winter Soldier, the movie that got everyone's feel-good buttons pushed for Falcon in the first place.) But it's also the flavor, the tone, the pacing, as Remender sometimes shoves pedal to the metal for the action, only to hit the brakes and draw it all out when we think this could be the end of Sam Wilson. Combine it with Bond-ian cliffhangers, double agents and a sci-fi plot involving an Inhuman's virulent blood, and this is the sort of story that Ian Fleming himself might be vibing with.
While Stuart Immonen also continues to work his magic, the real hero of this book might be colorist Marte Gracia, who is turning in some of the best work of his career. The grayscale and reds Gracia uses to tell Sam's flashbacks are a perfect choice, as it not only evokes the violence of his childhood, but also just evokes the red and white colors of the original Falcon suit. (He also cleverly reverts to that same color scheme later in the book, when it seems as though Crossbones might finally get the jump on our hero.) Earlier on, Gracia makes Bagalia look like a dystopian future, seeped in blood reds and lit with alien purples. All his panels pop exactly when they need to pop, and Gracia actually helps draw the reader's eye across the page by moving from cool shadows to brighter, well-lit figures. It's just stellar work.
Of course, Immonen also provides some superb pencils underneath, and he's not to be overlooked, either. There's one character revealed in this issue who is easily the highlight of the book, from her introduction to her angry interventions to her suspicions toward the some of the bedrocks of the Marvel Universe. (Without giving too much away, Remender's tying into Winter Soldier continuity a lot here, and I can't necessarily say it's a bad thing.) While the initial double-page panel featuring Cap and Nomad fighting Hydra feels just a little too jam-packed with characters for my tastes, once Immonen scales down, his action sequences are superb - especially a beat where Crossbones has a knife right up to Sam's goggles. Spooky.
If there's anything that holds back All-New Captain America #2, it's likely just expectations following the pitch-perfect first issue. Sam's internal monologue here occasionally feels more like him piecing the plot together rather than the really interesting stuff - namely, his history, who he is, and his approach to Captain America as a legacy - and while Baron Zemo's overarching plan is actually quite cool (and, like I said before, a very James Bond kind of premise), Remender's last few pages drag a bit to explain it. But at the same time, I'd argue that that's a symptom of second chapters - you can't constantly be reexplaining your hero's motivations every 10 minutes. Remender did it right the first time, and that makes for a much more solid story as a whole.
Hinging on action, conspiracies and even just a hint of sex appeal, All-New Captain America #2 might share a bit more with a member of the British Secret Service than it ever did a Star-Spangled Avenger. And that's actually a fun niche that the Marvel Universe - even the trippy, psychedelic Winter Soldier comic - hasn't filled in awhile. With some superb artwork and some very tight plotting from Rick Remender, Sam Wilson seems to be filling Steve Rogers' boots far better than we could have hoped.
Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, FCO Plascencia, John McCrea and Michelle Madsen
Lettering by Dezi Sienty and Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
What does Scott Snyder’s Batman stand for? Superheroes are generally such evergreen concepts because they stand for something larger than themselves. Superman stands for truth and justice. Spider-Man’s main tenet is that with great power, comes great responsibility. But what about Batman? I think somewhere along the way Scott Snyder has lost Batman’s identity, or at least he sacrifices it for the sake of the story he’s trying to tell. “Endgame” has emerged as a horror story through and through, but save for a few details, it makes its hero completely inconsequential.
Before diving into the weaknesses of this book, let’s talk about its strengths. Its main strength is, of course, the artwork of penciller Greg Capullo, inker Danny Miki and colorist FCO Plascencia. This team’s familiarity with each other is clear in this issue. Danny Miki’s deep black inks stand in stark contrast to Placencia's blaring blues and reds, capturing exactly the graveness of Bruce and company’s situation. But in other moments, the two take a backseat to Capullo’s sinister new Joker design, allowing the smug visage of the Clown Prince of Crime to dominate the page and sear into our frontal lobes. What I’ve always loved about this group’s Batman is the lack of details on the cape and cowl. Simple black with white triangles for eyes has always worked to communicate Batman’s presence, and I’m always happy to see an artistic team embrace that.
For his part, Snyder does try to make the book compelling. In classic Batman/Joker fashion, the Joker’s new Joker Toxin can’t be stopped! But rather than just have Bruce save the day immediately, Snyder drags out the conflict. He writes the Joker as a larger symptom of Gotham’s darkness, and in turn forces the reader to think that maybe, just maybe, the Joker has orchestrated this entire game. Snyder returns to a familiar moment in Bruce’s history to drive home just how villainous the Joker is. I mentioned earlier that Snyder means this to be a horror story and the way the events play out, you can only imagine that it is a complete nightmare for Bruce. The problem is that it’s not all that scary for the reader, and the way that a few of the beats play out is predictable.
But what does this story say about Batman? Most Batman villains are compelling because they are broken reflections of Bruce himself. The trauma that he suffered had a profound impact on him and if he gave in to his greed or selfishness, maybe he becomes the Penguin or Catwoman. In the Joker, we get the entire picture. A mirror image that is meant to be unnerving because you realize just how close to the edge Bruce is at any given moment. That trading in the cape and cowl for a purple suit and lipstick isn’t all that far-fetched. I suppose that Batman is supposed to be about the strength of human spirit, but we haven’t gotten that in “Endgame.”
There’s also a backup story by James Tynion IV and John McCrea. The story explains the origins of the first laugh in Gotham and the danger that it possesses. It does support the claims made in the main narrative that the Joker has existed (at least as an idea) throughout history, but nothing beyond that really stands out. It’s more suited for a Legends of the Dark Knight type of book, and that makes it’s inclusion in this one dubious at best.
On its own, this issue doesn’t stand up but as part of the whole story - it’s probably a necessary cog in the machine, but that makes it hard to read (let alone enjoy) issues on an individual basis rather than as a collected whole. But even when writing for the trade, each single issue should gets you jazzed for the next issue, and that just doesn’t happen here. The next issue of Batman will undoubtedly be better not because of anything we’ve seen, here but because that’s what we’ve come to expect from this creative team. Here’s to next month.
Wonder Woman #37
Written by Meredith Finch
Art by David Finch, Richard Friend and Sonia Oback
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
The thing about a feminist icon like Wonder Woman is, it feels fundamentally wrong to say the only thing that's good about this comic is its looks.
Yet that's what we've got with Meredith and David Finch's sophomore issue, which brings pretty pictures - and the return of a longtime Wonder Woman cast member lost since the relaunch of the "New 52" - but there's something that still feels wrong-headed about this iteration of the amazing Amazon, even two issues into the run. It's sadly ironic that this symbol of female strength is forced into a storyline where her sense of choice and agency is diminished, and unfortunately, there aren't enough flashes of warrior prowess that can overcome this characterization.
At the heart of the story, Meredith Finch gets the divide that Wonder Woman has as a member of the DC universe - but the conclusions she draws can't help but feel a little off-putting. Should Diana keep to her own world in Themyscira, or should she keep a more global perspective along with the rest of the Justice League? The metatext feels like the ongoing crisis of faith DC has had with Diana for years: Should Wonder Woman be a comic in its own insular vein - something that, for better or for worse, Brian Azzarello adhered to strictly, with three years' worth of stories featuring demigods, pantheons and mythology - or is the only way Diana going to get eyes is if she's alongside Superman or any of DC's other headliners? Ultimately, it already feels like Finch has made her choice, as we've had two issues now that have featured guest appearances from Superman, Cyborg, and one other surprise addition that I can't spoil here. When done sparingly, guest stars can give a shot in the arm to a flailing book, or add a fun new angle to a comic doing well - this early in a new run, however, the plethora of other heroes feels reductive at Diana's expense.
The other thing that bothered me about this take on Wonder Woman is, despite her combat skills, she feels less strong than she has in quite some time. Finch gives Diana a choice, but ultimately, having the Amazons tell her "them or us" winds up putting the world's premiere female superhero in a position that's coercive. Diana has no agency here, she's just being put in a box by someone else - and while one could make plenty of crafty premises based on Wonder Woman's long dichotomy between freedom and submission, it just feels like this warrior princess is being pushed around by committee. The big picture may feel off, but the fine details also need work - a scene with Diana sparring with Superman feels leaden and awkward with the dialogue, including gems like "I'm kicking some super serious butt today" or "now that I'm God of War, I'm terrified I'm going to lose myself, too!" A Wonder Woman who seems on the verge of breaking into tears just feels like the opposite of empowered.
While there will be plenty who find fault in the overt sexualization in David Finch's pencils, at the very least his style feels deliberate and fully realized. Finch's designwork is the best part of this comic, as he imbues Ares' metal eagles with a real sense of terror and menace and gives a serpentine sorceress some beautiful but grotesquely alien features. The single best moment of this book is all in Finch's hands, with a double-page spread of Diana in armor, slashing the clockwork eagle with one swing of her sword. "Amazons to me!" Honestly, if that had been at the beginning of the comic, it might have helped the rest of the scenes go down smoother. (Although that all said, what's the point of giving Diana armor if she's also got to show off her midriff mid-fight? And did we have to end the issue with a full-page spread of a naked woman?) Still, Finch has a few cracks in his armor, particularly where his expressiveness is concerned - Diana really only has two expressions (open-mouthed and closed), and that narrows down the range of emotions his lead character can have.
On the one hand, I want to give DC credit for trying to keep A-list talent on Wonder Woman, showing a commitment to the character and her history. On the other hand, I think this is a clear-cut case of the wrong talent on the wrong book, and when people inevitably begin to leave the book due to its strange handling of a symbol for women everywhere, I'm concerned DC will think of it as an indictment of the character rather than the creative team behind it. There is far more to Wonder Woman - and comics as a whole - than just the pretty pictures. Once can only hope the Finches figure out what that is, and give us a heroine worth rooting for.