Best Shots Reviews: JUSTICE LEAGUE #37, AXIS #8, ALEX + ADA #11, More

Captain Marvel #10
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has your back, with this week's installment! So let's kick off today's column with Boisterous Brian Bannen, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Justice League...

Justice League #37
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

With much of the Justice League sidelined with the Amazo Virus, Geoff Johns relies solely on his heavy hitters -- Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman -- to combat Patient Zero and try to get to the bottom of a mystery involving a created sickness, an assassination attempt, and a possible cure. Johns’ pacing is pretty stellar in this issue as the comic is a race against the clock, and combined with Jason Fabok’s gorgeous art, Justice League #37 solidly delivers on several different fronts.

How many times have heroes battled a potential world ending sickness? It’s a trope that’s appeared again and again in comics. Superman just recently battled a Doomsday virus in the “Superman: Doomed” arc, so Geoff Johns isn’t treading any new ground. But Johns adds a level of direness to his tale, what with the Justice League slowly dying without a cure, and a series of hit-men vying to kill Lex Luthor for a mysterious contractor.

Johns’s best work is the pacing. By focusing mostly on Batman and Superman, Johns is working with a well-established team whose long history makes for some solid hero chemistry in the comic, and clearly he’s is at ease with these two characters. The dialogue is very fluid, allowing Johns to throw in a few clever jokes about Batman’s constant naming of his artillery, and the back-and-forth interplay of the characters moves the story along at a decent clip so that the competing plot threads weave a pretty solid climax.

Additionally, the mysteries of the arc -- the origin of the virus and the hit on the Luthor -- are further developed through moments in between the action. Johns knows when to pull away from Batman and Superman’s fight with Patient Zero in order to provide engaging exposition. Luthor’s conversation with his sister is a great example of this as it adds depth to Luthor, but only pads the mystery. I have my own speculations on who wants Luthor dead and what the true role of the Amazo Virus is, but Johns is good at throwing curveballs so at this point, I don’t think anyone can truly predict the outcome -- which is fine; I love a good mystery.

And Jason Fabok’s art is a thing of beauty. His attention to detail makes for great character designs, particularly in the splash pages. Wonder Woman’s heroic entrance towards the end of the comic is almost accompanied by Indiana Jones’ style music, and Patient Zero’s transformation into a flying creature is both awesome and horrific. But Fabok’s best work is in developing character through faces. Lex’s sister has a minor appearance in the book, but in two very similar shots, Fabok makes a minor adjustment to her eyebrows, an alteration which completely changes the tone of her conversation with Lex. Capturing emotions of characters is a strong suit of Fabok, and one which definitely aids the intensity of the story.

It’s this type of attention to detail – both in the story and the art – that makes Justice League #37 such a fun read. I can’t help but think of Mark Waid’s Justice League run of the early 2000’s, a series that combined intense action with solid character development, impressive art, and great action. For me, Johns’ Justice League has been hit and miss, but this arc has been well worth the read. We’re no closer to finding out the truth behind the Amazo Virus, but I could care less. A comic this good is not one I want to see end soon.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers & X-Men: AXIS #8
Written by Rick Remender
Art By Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Jason Paz, Edgar Delgado and Jesus Aburtov
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Avengers & X-Men: AXIS #8 desperately wants to be more than it is. Though presented like little more than a fight comic, writer Rick Remender has managed to make room for character moments throughout. Character, first and foremost, is Issue #8's main redeeming factor, but even still, these moments are mainly presented in service the set pieces; merely the framework for the skull crushing. And this is all well and good, especially with an art team anchored by Leinil Francis Yu making it all look clean and tight, but, inevitably, it all just feels so familiar. AXIS #8 is another pretty issue of another forgettable event in which the heroes of the Marvel Universe are pitted against each other due to outside circumstances.

That said, it could have been worse. Avengers & X-Men: AXIS #8 still manages to impress in terms of the cast. One of the strengths of AXIS just on a narrative level is its solid foundation in Remender’s Uncanny Avengers. Remender proved himself with that cast with thrilling, cosmic stories and solid characterization, and the latter is very much present in AXIS. I might not like the reason why they are all punching each other, but I still respond to seeing these characters engaged in craziness. Issue #8 kicks off with a darkly comic opening starring Spider-Man and the terminally crazy Carnage as he sacrifices himself to stop Apocalypse’s gene-bomb, the hanging chad remaining from the previous issue. Carnage almost gleefully engulfs the bomb but makes Spidey promise that he will receive a garish and intensely un-PC memorial in the center of “bleedin’ heart liberal New York”, encrusted with jewels and blaring southern rock at all times. Remender doesn’t just pull at unexpected heartstrings, though. He also gives us a flirty four panels starring Marvel’s new Nick and Nora Charles, Enchantress and Loki, who awake from the carnage of last issue to find that its time for something terribly heroic. All of this stuff feels fun and fresh and completely unexpected to me. I never thought, upon opening this comic, that I would feel fondness toward Cletus Kasady, but that’s what AXIS #8 did for me. It is just unfortunate that it didn’t do much else.

Like I posited above, AXIS wants to be more than just a fight comic, and the character work displayed throughout shows the potential for it, but the concept of the event still demands fisticuffs at all times. Thankfully the Act 3 art team of Yu, Alanguilan, and Jason Paz along with the colors of Jesus Aburtov and Edgar Delgado at least makes this troupe look gorgeous. Each scene in AXIS #8 is either the cooldown of a fight, the buildup to a fight, or a fight itself. There is no real room or time for exposition, so much of it is delivered in motion. Yu’s renderings of the characters in AXIS seem to vibrate with kinetic energy even if they just standing in frame. The team's heavy lines keeps the action feeling weighted and bold and the color palette that Aburtov and Delgado chose anchors the moody blockbuster feel.

That said, while AXIS finally has a striking look, it still has nothing new to say. While all the characters look great, and certain moments shine through, most of the cast is still relegated to bullheaded destruction machines. Remender falls into the regrettable trap of writing the Scarlet Witch as the quasi-antagonist (again), Thor is a whirling Nordic murder machine from start to finish, and I don’t even want to go into how ridiculous the Sam versus Steve set up is. AXIS is still a mess, but at least its a good-looking and unexpectedly fun one at times.

I didn’t expect to respond to Avengers & X-Men: AXIS #8. I know how, looking at my score and reading my review, you might find that laughable, but I’m being genuine. I came in expecting the mess that I had seen previous, and for the most part, got it, save for a consistent art team and a few choice character moments. Rick Remender is an interesting and engaging writer and I have faith that he can bring this year-end slugfest to a satisfying landing, but these middle issues have been just that; middling. This doesn’t bode well for Secret Wars.

Multiversity-Thunderworld Adventures #1 preview
Multiversity-Thunderworld Adventures #1 preview
Credit: DC Entertainment

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 Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Multiversity is a pretty heady romp through the parallel worlds of the DC Universe, but this issue serves as something of a reprieve from the Grant Morrison’s usual high concept convolutions. With artist Cameron Stewart in tow, Morrison delivers something that we haven’t seen from him in a little while: a straightforward superhero story. Morrison is certainly no stranger to the approach. His run on JLA, specifically, was a reminder that sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to give readers a great story. Thunderworld is a nice palate cleanser after last month’s Watchmen-esque Pax Americana, especially since Morrison is probably preparing us to go even further down the rabbit hole.

Cameron Stewart’s art is was really stands out here. A frequent Morrison collaborator, Stewart is able to seamlessly adapt his style to fit the story he’s working on. His cartooning is a mix of what we’re used to seeing from his DC output with some clear infusion of the style he employs for his own comic, Sin Titulo. There’s an almost Herge-like simplicity to some of his methods. The characters serve the needs of the scenes they are in. If black dots for eyes are more suitable for an expression, Stewart uses them in place of something more detailed. The flexibility adds a level of buoyancy to the book that’s enhanced by Nathan Fairbairn’s bright colors. This is a bombastic book because of the colors. In an age when so many comics opt for a darker palette in order to help sell the notion that they are grim and gritty, it’s exciting to see a comic that doesn’t restrict itself to the old comics CMYK standard, but at least uses it as a springboard for inspiration.

The issue definitely reads like the Captain Marvel story that Grant Morrison always wanted to write. But what does it add to the larger plot of Multiversity? Probably not much. That’s probably okay, though. There are obvious callbacks and themes, but nothing that gets in the way of the superhero story that Morrison has planned. I think that on some level this issue works as a reminder to detractors that Morrison can in fact finish what he started and that if he wanted to end Multiversity right now, he could do it in a single issue. Captain Marvel’s exploits here in some way mirror the larger narrative, but instead of a whole group of heroes getting together to handle it, Cap is able to take care of it himself. At its heart though, this issue is just really fun. It’s a fairly light, quick read but it definitely tugs at the part of us that’s still a little kid, just getting into comics for the first time.

This issue isn’t a world-changer and it doesn’t add much to the overall story of Multiversity but it is a master class in delivering a fully fleshed out one and done superhero story. But it’s the optimism present that truly impressive. This book has big stakes and they’re achieved without the hero having to suffer some great tragedy. That seems like a rarity in today’s market. This issue might not have larger implications, but it proves that Multiversity is the gift that keeps on giving.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain Marvel #10
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by David Lopez, Marcio Takara, Laura Braga, Lee Loughridge and Nick Filardi
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

You'd think that an anthology-style issue of Captain Marvel that barely features the titular character would be dead on arrival. But thanks to Kelly Sue DeConnick's deft characterization with those nearest and dearest to Carol Danvers - not to mention a trio of strong artists who work well together yet still maintain their own identities - and this extra-large Christmas-time interlude proves to be a worthy stocking stuffer.

With Carol out in space, it's occasionally a bit difficult to have her stand out from Marvel's other spacefaring sagas (particularly Guardians of the Galaxy). But in this issue, DeConnick nails what sets her apart - namely, she might be a cosmic crusader, but back home on Earth, Carol is still tied to some very human relationships. Focusing on an adventure tying together precocious grade schooler Kit Renner, neurotic BFF Spider-Woman and on-again-off-again boy toy Iron Patriot, Captain Marvel #10 winds up being a charming, personable and altogether humorous read. What's perhaps most refreshing about this issue is how easy DeConnick seems to make juggling these different characters, nailing their particular voices and quirks.

What's also great is that while each of these three stories are tied together by a single foe - namely, Danvers' arch-foe, Grace Valentine, who's broken out of jail with the help of an army of scientifically modified rats. While that might sound like a less-than-interstellar foe, DeConnick is smart enough to offset that by starting off with Kitt - a.k.a. "Lieutenant Trouble" - delivering the exposition (particularly about how rodents can chew through glass and cinderblock, not to mention they can scare plenty of people in their tracks). It's a funny first scene that sets up the irreverent tone of the rest of the issue. David Lopez makes this opening scene feel clean and cartoony, and while he doesn't always nail the expressions - there's a splash of Kit and her stuffed cat Stuffy that looks like she has a retainer stuck in her mouth rather than a joyful shriek - but for the most part, it delivers the kind of youthful enthusiasm that the opening story deserves.

My favorite segment, though, has to be Spider-Woman, as she uses Carol as an inspiration to get over one of her deep-seated fears - you guessed it, rats. DeConnick adds a cute twist to their BFF dynamic, particularly as Jessica and Carol argue about the ethics of using superhuman abilities as a form of pest control. "Fear is not a choice, but what you do with it is," Jessica mumbles to herself repeatedly, and it's the kind of characterization that makes Marvel characters in general so much fun to read. Marcio Takara also draws some of the best work I've seen from him in quite some time, reminding me almost like a more fluid Phil Noto - he sells the absolute hell out of Jess and Carol's conversation, with some especially laugh-out-loud expressiveness.

The story does take a slightly darker turn for the third segment, featuring Iron Patriot going head-to-head with Valentine herself. It's partially because Valentine herself is a bit of a creep - she's wearing her own Captain Marvel suit, and she's trying to seduce Jim in a sultry kitchen scene (at Carol's old apartment, no less). Starting off with the child-sized cowgirl and astronaut costumes of the first scene, suddenly jumping to near-death hallucinations can result in a bit of tonal whiplash - but that all said, you can't deny that DeConnick doesn't put together a good story out of it. Out of everyone in the story, it feels like Jim's longing for Carol is the most poignant of the bunch, and that might have to do with Laura Braga's pencils. There's something angelic - almost messianic - about Jim's close encounter with Carol, and the look on his face when she waves to him is a real highlight.

In a lot of ways, Captain Marvel #10 is a standout - even if, despite this being Carol's 100th solo adventure, this issue has very little of Carol at all. But that's not to say that her presence isn't felt, and keenly. This is a celebration of Carol Danvers, and it's to DeConnick's credit that she's able to praise this heroine without her having to even lift a finger. She doesn't have to prove herself - she's done it for 100 issues already. Complete with a bonafide Christmas miracle on the last page, this is one off-kilter issue that still manages to deeply impress.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Lumberjanes #9
Written by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters and Faith Erin Hicks
Art by Brittney Williams, Maarta Laiho, Aimee Fleck, Becca Tobin, Carolyn Nowak, Felicia Choo and T. Zysk
Lettering by Aubrey Aiese
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

If there’s one thing better than going on adventure with Greek Gods, it’s decompressing with friends around a campfire to earn your “If You’ve Got It, Haunt It” badges by telling scary stories. Well, at least that’s true when you’re talking about Lumberjanes. In this palate cleanser of an issue, the team breaks from its overarching story to give each camper - and Jen! - the opportunity to tell their own version of a scary story. It was a great opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the Lumberjanes and take a breather from the grand story before the next arc starts.

If there’s one thing writer Noelle Stevenson and the entire team is best at, it’s making these characters distinct and unique. And make no mistake — it’s a feat to be able to juggle a cast of six main characters well. The content of each scary story is indicative of their characters: Ripley deliberately tells a story that’s absolutely not scary at all, while Jen fails miserably at trying. It shows that this team knows their characters inside and out and they actively try to bring us into this world and these characters. While there might not be any external factors that drive the plot of this issue forward - if you could even say there’s a plot - the format of this issue does what it sets out to do: give us a break from the momentum of the previous arc and remind us why we love these characters. It’s nice to see these characters in something less than a perilous situation: Mal and Molly acting like a couple, Jo and April being best friends, Riley being her crazy and loveable self and Jen remaining as the most loveable authority figure ever.

It’s hard to pick this up and not feel compelled to just flip through the pages in a cursory reading, especially since it doesn’t seem like there’s anything substantial in terms of character development. At least, that’s how it seems on the first read, but upon another, you’ll notice that these all deal with some very real fears: people forgetting about you or moving on from your life, secret feelings of harboring aggression, accidentally hurting someone and paying for it, and being finding monster inside yourself. Hopefully this is indicative of what the team hopes to explore in future issues and arc, having the Lumberjanes face these internalized fears. If anything, this is yet another example of why Lumberjanes will succeed as an ongoing title.

While Brooke Allen is definitely missed on penciling, Brittney Williams does a fantastic job regardless. She’s able to not only capture that Lumberjanes style and feel, she’s able to make it her own. The characters look softer and more animated, which works when they’re telling these crazy and ridiculous stories. All the guest artists give each spooky story its own distinct look and - by extension - each characters’ look: whereas Ripley’s story is bright with pastels and over exaggerated lines and shapes, Mal’s story is grim, gritty, and realistic. It’s magic when these creative choices work together to make something that works so well with its so many parts.

If enjoyable stand-alone stories that don’t have immediate influence on the overall plot bore you, then this issue of Lumberjanes probably isn’t for you. But if you enjoy great characters, a fun plot structure that gives each of the characters room to tell us a little more about themselves, with absolutely fabulous art throughout the entire issue, then this is definitely for you. Regardless of where you stand on the above, or even if you’re not a fan of the series, everyone has to admit that the badges are flawless - I hope we all earn our “If You Got It, Haunt It” and “Pungeon Master” badges in our lives.

Credit: DC Entertainment

Batman/Superman #17
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Ardian Syaf, Sandra Hope Archer, Jonathan Glapion and Ulises Arreola
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

I like the idea behind Greg Pak’s latest Batman/Superman arc. Superman is encountering his own “Joker,” a person without morals, hellbent on destroying everything and everyone important to the hero. But the comic reads like it’s trying to extend the suspense as the plot inches forward in a comic that’s more about superfluous appearances by uninvolved players, inconsistencies in characters, and a mystery that gets no closer to its resolution by the end of the comic.

The previous issue of Batman/Superman was a flurry of activity, a comic that amped up the intensity with solid pacing and an engrossing story. This issue, however, feels like a holding pattern. The unnamed villain comes no closer to being revealed and instead we’re treated to two cameos that don’t shed any light on the problem currently facing Clark and Bruce. Clark spends the majority of the comic flying around and hitting stuff, but where Pak is attempting to show Clark slowly losing control of his usually composed self, there isn’t enough of the mystery villain to really push him to such rash actions. On one page, Clark is battling the country of Khandaq, but on the next he’s attending a memorial for a murdered singer. Similarly, he’s composed and practical in his meeting with Hector Hammond, yet he’s on the warpath immediately after he learns that Lobo is in Metropolis.

The New 52 Lobo’s appearance, in particular, feels useless. His character lacks consistency, changing personalities in the few short pages he appears, and the macho brashness and egotism that people came to know and love about the old Lobo is gone. He’s basically a ubiquitous DC villain now, and the fact that his time amounts to nothing in the comic is one more frustrating aspect about the issue.

My other problem is that this is more like a Superman comic with Batman guest starring than a story that relies on the two heroes working with each other to solve a mystery. Batman is relegated to little more than posing a few surface level questions and coming up with an odd plan to find out who’s behind the murders. The ending is really out of left field, and feels out of place with how Bruce was acting earlier in the issue. His plan is daring, but also flies in the face of his relationship with Clark. Maybe Pak will be able to pull it off, but I’d be curious to see how it will alter Bruce and Clark’s relationship, especially because it involves someone so close to them.

Even Ardian Syaf’s art is inconsistent. Character faces are different in successive panels, mostly due to excessive cross hatching that leads to excessive shading. Sya has a grittiness that works well in the active moments of the comic, but not in the stationary ones. Superman and Batman’s meeting with Dr. Kapdoor of S.T.A.R. labs, in particular, suffers from these panel to panel alterations. Panels go from clean to messy without any real purpose save for artistic design. Tonally, I was lost when reading Batman/Superman #17 because I could never tell what emotional timbre Pakw as striving for.

Maybe Bruce’s gambit will pay off, and maybe the next issue of Batman/Superman will be a better read. I’m hopeful, anyway, because the talent on this book has proven that it has the goods to deliver solid work, both in story and art. The first issue of the arc made Clark’s situation so dire that I expected the same level of intensity in this one, but instead we’re treated to an issue that acts more like filler. Hopefully, the next issue will get the series back on track.

Credit: Image Comics

Alex + Ada #11
Written by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn
Art and Lettering by Jonathan Luna
Published by Image Comics
Review by Erika D. Peterman
’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Now what?

That’s the dominant question in Alex + Ada now that the two main characters have reached a major turning point in their relationship and become a couple — which is fine when it’s just the two of them. In front of almost everyone else, Ada must hide the fact that she is a sentient android in a world where many humans distrust and fear her kind. It proves to be a difficult act.

The landmines are everywhere as Alex tries to integrate Ada into his world without giving away their secret. A friend is already suspicious, and another is downright hostile. While it’s hard not to root for these two, one of Alex’s friends makes a salient point when confronting him about the nature of his relationship with Ada. How is a human supposed to compete with a beautiful robot that will never gain weight or age? She isn’t yet aware that Ada has the free will and feelings of a person, but the question remains valid.

Alex + Ada #11 is a quiet chapter that shows Ada having yet more human experiences, and her sincere desire to be accepted is touching. Writers Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Luna have consistently done a beautiful job of showing her evolution and development of a distinct personality. There’s still a sense of innocence about her, though she’s already had a bitter taste or two of society’s animosity toward androids. In some ways, she seems more aware of and realistic about the dangers than Alex does. As she tells him, “Everything we do has a consequence.” That fact brings an undercurrent of danger and suspense, leaving the reader on edge for the inevitable explosion.

Jonathan Luna's sleek art has a lovely, understated quality to it and meshes well with a subtle color scheme that never comes across as dull. The setting is convincingly futuristic while looking just enough like the present day to be relatable. Touches like glowing "holojector" screens and blue sensors that appear on characters' temples to indicate incoming calls and messages are subtle but effective. The backgrounds are sparse, but in a pleasantly minimalist way that brings characters to the foreground.

"You picked a hard road to go down," Alex's grandmother tells him. This particular chapter might not be quite as exciting as its predecessors but as the cliffhanger demonstrates, Alex and Ada's road could be rougher and more unpredictable than either imagined.

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