Batman Eternal #52
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, Kyle Higgins and Tim Seeley
Art by Eduardo Pansica, Robson Rocha, David LaFuente, Tim Seeley, Ray Fawkes, Julio Ferreira, Guillermo Ortego, Allen Passalaqua, Gabe Eltaeb, John Kaliza and John Rauch Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Uniting the various members of the Bat-family across 52 ambitious issues, Batman Eternal has perhaps been the most successful weekly comic book series since DC Comics' pioneering efforts with 52. While this series has occasionally buckled under its own weight, there's no denying what an impressive feat it's been to weave a mystery over the course of an entire year's worth of comics. Ultimately, the final issue of Batman Eternal doesn't hit quite as hard as it could, as it tries to pack both a climactic final battle and a lengthy epilogue in its 38 pages, but it's a decent sendoff to a very successful venture overall.
Those who might have been scratching their heads at the end of Batman Eternal #50 will likely rejoice at the true mastermind behind this 52-issue caper, as Lincoln March - unofficially the New 52 Owlman - has been revealed as the most dangerous foe in the Batman mythos. Some may argue it's a little too much of a good thing - indeed, March provided the capstone to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's untouchable first year on Batman, and the Court of Owls is already reappearing in the main series arc, "Endgame" - but in certain ways, the revelation feels like an improvement on the seminal Batman storyarc "Hush." This is a villain who knows Bruce Wayne's secrets, and has every reason to not just hate him, but to wipe out everything that he stands for.
With this knowledge in mind, it may be easier for people to overlook some fairly middling fight choreography, as a battered and exhausted Batman still proves to be more than equal to the task of beating his hooded counterpart. Snyder, Tynion and company have been playing around with the idea of Batman being burned-out for several issues now, so it's a little disappointing that the end result is that he just effortlessly rallies to fight. Combine that with some lackluster side stories, including Selina Kyle watching indecisively, Gordon telling Gothamites "we all need to be Batman," or Lincoln March just retreating when he sees Gordon and the Bat-Family assembled, it can't help but feel just a little bit anticlimactic.
However, with 11 different people responsible for the artwork, it's absolutely incredible that the book looks this good. Granted, there are some odd men out - Ray Fawkes' ultra-scratchy artwork looks a little out of place, even when it's dealing with the spooky subplot of Batwing and Jim Corrigan, while David LaFuente's ultra-polished cartooniness feels tonally too happy for a post-disaster Gotham, even though he's dealing with all of Batman's teen sidekicks. Eduardo Pancisca and Robson Rocha seem to be the most consistent pencilers in the mix, and they handle the overall fight between Bruce and Lincoln with a solidness that befits this long-ranging saga. In a lot of ways, the epilogue to this series feels almost self-indulgent, like a way to justify having as many extra artists as possible - but when you're celebrating 52 unbroken issues, maybe it's not inappropriate to bring in some extra for your victory lap.
Batman Eternal hasn't been a perfect series, nor does it have a perfect ending. But as a whole, there's a lot of ambition to this series that has made it a worthwhile venture. There's been a cadre of different artists on board, allowing DC to experiment with potential up-and-comers in the context of their most popular franchise, and the sheer breadth of the series, including villains from across Batman's rogues gallery, has made this feel like a must-read. The Bat-Family has coalesced and even expanded under Snyder and Tynion's leadership, bringing characters like Bluebird, Spoiler and Julia Pennyworth to the fold. While it might have helped to reveal this series' true big bad an issue earlier, Batman Eternal will be one of DC's most ambitious achievements for some time to come.
Uncanny Inhumans #0
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Looking to cook up a blockbuster first issue? The recipe at Marvel seems increasingly simple: Just add Steve McNiven. Teaming up with his Death of Wolverine co-creator Charles Soule, this dream team puts together a moody, drama-filled first issue of Uncanny Inhumans, which hopefully says good things about future issues to come.
In certain ways, Uncanny Inhumans #0 finally gets us to the point where we've wanted to be at since the conclusion of Marvel's Infinity event - instead of introducing tertiary new Inhumans, Soule is playing with the A-listers, as the king of the Inhumans, Black Bolt, has some very real conflict to deal with: a wife and son who are fuming with righteous anger. There's a family drama to Uncanny Inhumans that makes for a surprisingly compelling read - what happens when your husband isn't the person you thought he was? What happens when your wife finds out your secrets, even the ones done for a greater good? And what happens when your child finally lashes out, raging at his father who loved him in spirit but consistently let work get in the way?
Suddenly, the Inhumans seem anything but. And that layer of real humanity instantly makes these flawed characters feel more readable and relatable. Even though there is some crazy high-concept stuff going on in this issue, such as Brazilian mercenaries looking to sell Inhumans in their most vulnerable state or the temporal armies of Kang the Conqueror, there's always a human motivation behind everything. In particular, Black Bolt's reunion with his son, Ahura, is a highlight of the book, as the King shares with his son a powerful Inhuman tradition that feels as heartfelt as it does terrifying.
Of course, without the artwork of Steve McNiven involved, this would be just an academic discussion. McNiven is the real deal, and the cleanness of his lines makes all of his characters look powerful and dynamic in a way few other artists can match. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Travis Charest meets Frank Quitely. While Black Bolt is the main character in this issue, McNiven's take on Medusa, whose hair whips and curls around in the air like a snake ready to strike. Yet McNiven's expressiveness is also quite profound, and he particularly speaks volumes with the wordless Black Bolt. There's a sadness to the Inhuman kind's eyes, and also a charisma - he's the kind of guy who knows he's done wrong, and yet you desperately want to forgive him. Colorist Justin Ponsor is the icing on the cake here, and in particular gives an Inhuman mind-link an eerie blue atmosphere.
What is so interesting about an artist like Steve McNiven is that, at this point, he's about as sure of a thing as Marvel can get - and that also makes the future of Uncanny Inhumans uncertain. We've seen McNiven pop up on several series in recent years, such as Uncanny Avengers, Wolverine and Guardians of the Galaxy... and as soon as he left, the buzz left with him. It's the blessing and curse of being a true A-lister - he can't sustain a yearly output, and so it becomes a bit more apparent just how much a book's appeal is based solely on the art. Still, with a streamlined cast, it looks like plenty of people will stick with Uncanny Inhumans - at least as long as McNiven does.
The New 52: Futures End #48
Written by Brian Azzarello, Keith Giffen, Dan Jurgens and Leff Lemire
Art by Allan Goldman, Freddie Williams II, Andy MacDonald, Stephen Thompson, Scott Hanna and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10
Oof. This is not a good look.
With the last issue of The New 52: Futures End hitting stands on April 1, you'd be forgiven if you thought this was some kind of joke. Unfortunately, no one's going to be laughing at this one. Despite its fractured storytelling, one thing has made Futures End feel like an "important" story is the stakes - namely, that a Batman from Beyond the timestream has escaped a bleak future taken over by a malevolent A.I.
So it's incredibly frustrating that, 48 issues later, we're back exactly where we started, with next to zero resolution.
While much of Futures End has jumped from subplot to subplot, featuring Grifter, Frankenstein and Firestorm as central characters, the most compelling plot has been that of Batman Beyond, as he conducted a suicide mission into the past to stop the rise of Brother Eye. The Brother Eye conspiracy has driven Futures End just as much - if not moreso - than any other incident in this entire series, which makes it seem especially cruel when not only has Terry McGinnis been killed... but that his replacement, Tim Drake, has taken up the cape and cowl only to fail miserably in his quest.
That's right - after 48 issues, the future is still horrifically infested with superpowered killer robot zombies, and that makes all the time we've invested in this book feel a bit like a waste. Brian Azzarello, Keith Giffen, Dan Jurgens and Jeff Lemire try to make you feel a bit better by adding in some cameos from some of the rest of the Futures End cast, as Mister Terrific, the Atom and Madison all make some appearances, but it ultimately feels incomplete. Indeed, the ending to this series - which again, 48 issues worth of comics - feels maddeningly ambiguous, almost to the point where I thought I was missing out on some pages in my digital copy. This is what we've been holding out for? A half-hearted fight that doesn't even have a resolution?
If there's one redeeming factor in this book, it's that with four artists on board, there are some glimmers of consistency. The final penciller, Stephen Thompson, is absolutely the best of the bunch, reminding me a lot of Patrick Zircher with his realistic characters and expressive faces - watching Tim Drake reunite with his former lover, for example, is a really touching moment that doesn't even need words. (It also works stylistically as a nice bookend to Allan Goldman, whose characters feel similarly clean and hopefully.) Andy MacDonald, who comes right before Thompson, has a much more angular, cartoony style, but it adds a lot of energy as a small group of heroes swoop in to rescue Tim. The odd man out is Freddie Williams II, who makes the agile Tim Drake look like a chunky bodybuilder.
Much of what makes The New 52: Futures End such a bitter pill to swallow is that DC Comics is essentially making a deal with its readers - you pay the extra money, and we'll give you four times the storyline. And from a business standpoint, that makes sense - but from a reader viewpoint, it's very, very easy to get burned. You spend month after month following a series, and are likely inclined to forgive a scattered pacing or a less-than-average issue, because you're not buying a weekly series on an issue-to-issue basis - you're buying it for a collective whole, to hope the weekly investment comes to a satisfying conclusion.
This isn't it. If you have to guess what happened at the end of a 48-issue series, something's gone wrong. If you have to hope that a 48-issue series will be resolved in another ongoing series, something's gone wrong. And if you wind up doing this much of a disservice to an enduring character - one that could easily bring in more readers to a struggling market share, like Batman Beyond - something's gone wrong. And it's a shame to say that - this is a series I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt, and indeed, did give the benefit of the doubt 48 times. After awhile, the message is inescapable - you've been had. And in many ways, that might be the final legacy of The New 52: Futures End. The heroes have lost - and any readers faithful enough to stay through this entire series are just losing with them.
Star Wars: Kanan – The Last Padawan #1
Written by Greg Weisman
Art by Pepe Larraz and David Curiel
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
With Kanan: The Last Padawan #1, Greg Weisman (creator of awesome yet short-lived Gargoyles animated show) and Pepe Larraz take Marvel's first steps out of their original trilogy comfort zone and into Disney's ambitious vision for the future of the franchise. A character created for the Disney animated series Star Wars: Rebels, Jedi Master-in-disguise Kanan hardly excites people in the way that only the further adventures of Luke, Leia and Han can, but instead brings with him the potential for new ground to be broken. Although Kanan: The Last Padawan #1 merely scuffs new ground underfoot, this is a solid first comic book outing for the newest Jedi on the block.
Kanan Jarrus is a former Jedi, travelling the stars whilst concealing his true nature to battle the burgeoning Empire. 15 years ago, he was a Padawan: a Jedi in training during the Clone Wars. Fighting alongside his master, Depa Billaba, Kanan was surrounded by his fellow soldiers when they turned against him as the infamous Order 66 was carried out: the extermination of every Jedi Knight.
Greg Weisman's script is solid but unimpressive. There's a few gems here: namely during scenes with Kanan's Jedi Master Depa Billaba. Weisman regurgitates George Lucas' ham-fisted musings about the moral code of the Jedi, but does so in a much more effective manner than the shaky prequels. In one stand-out scene, Billaba occupies a planet by force but opts to sleep out under the stars so as not to intrude on that species' homes. By clearly presenting the Jedi as meditating monks who use force as an imperfect means to an end, Weisman's Jedi are less obviously tyrannical than they often seem: the only rational actors in a chaotic universe.
Elsewhere, bravado-filled clone troopers and snarky aliens round out the tale, all acting basically how you'd expect them to. Plot-wise, there's not a vast amount going on here. A single opening page set in the 'present' abruptly sets up this jaunt into Kanan's past, followed by a routine Jedi mission which culminates in the execution of Order 66 for the obligatory cliff-hanger. The real meat of the issue's in the interaction between Jedi Master and Padawan, and there's very little here to see without it.
The unambiguously evil-looking villain General Kleeve (You can tell he's evil, on account of the horns, pointy ears, crimson skin and bionic eye) is by far the most interesting non-Jedi character, but he's only here for two fleeting pages before his exit. Weisman purposefully avoids writing Kleeve as the dastardly villain: instead using his placid demeanor and terrifying appearance to contrast against the Jedi's placid appearance but fearsome force on the battlefield.
Pepe Larraz's pencils are highly expressive. He renders characters with wide, glistening eyes that often seem to say more than the script does. The emotions that run across the faces of Larraz's characters communicate shock, wonder, happiness and fear; often all in the same page, making for incredibly effective visual story-telling. Larraz's work is also atmospheric. On one page, Larraz depicts the two hooded Jedi meditating at sun-set. As the sun goes down, only their lightsabers and the swirling cosmos above them lighten the dark night atop an alien mountain. Larraz inks his own work with a heavy hand, highlighting his pencils with a thick line that makes his characters pop against the well-realised backgrounds. Inside the lines, David Curiel's color palette of reds, oranges and browns suit the war-torn setting but can leave some pages looking rather monotonous. Luckily, lime green and deep red aliens appear around the half-way mark, breaking the overwhelming beigeness of rocks, robots and robes.
All in all, Kanan: The Last Padawan #1 is a quality foundation for future escapades. Greg Weisman's solid grasp of the Jedi combined with Pepe Larraz's emotive pencils make for an interesting read, even if the plot doesn't exactly thunder out of the gates.
Space Riders #1
Written by Fabian Rangel, Jr.
Art by Alexis Ziritt
Lettering by Ryan Ferrier
Published by Black Mask Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
People don’t do comics like Space Riders #1 often enough. There was a time in the late 80‘s, during the great underground comix explosion that books like Space Riders would be a dime a dozen. But as the medium evolved and changed, the craziness and workman like obsession with bombastic visuals fell by the wayside and comics became something that resembled a more homogenized version of what came before. Thankfully, Black Mask Comics, and creators Fabian Rangel, Jr. and Alexis Ziritt aren’t interested in homogenized comics. They are more interesting in delivering a comic that can only be described using the words “bugnuts” or "way the hell out there.” Space Riders #1 isn’t a comic that belongs in 2015; it belongs in 1975, possibly spray painted on the side of a van.
Right from the get go, Space Riders #1 digs its psychedelic claws into readers and refuses to let them loose until the very final page. Artist Alexis Ziritt, who I now suspect to be actually insane after reading this, drenches every page in trippy, high school composition book like visuals that will remind readers of shows like SuperJail! or Mr. Pickles. It is Ziritt’s low-fi, yet visually explosive visuals that gives Space Riders #1 the lion’s share of its forward momentum. A lot of readers, unless they are well versed in underground comics of old, won’t have seen a comic like Space Riders before and this one doesn’t disappoint in terms of sheer nuttiness. Ziritt’s pages are absolutely stuffed with detail and lunacy in equal measure. Ziritt’s outer space looks more like a blacklight painting than any actual rendering of space and that is just fine. Both the artwork and the script of Space Riders #1 unsubtly inform the reader that what they are reading is pure escapist lunacy. Plus, the creators are just savvy enough to know to not take the proceedings too seriously, which allows for Space Riders #1 to be just what it is: a blast from cover to cover.
Ziritt’s insane artwork slots in perfectly with Fabian Rangel, Jr’s winking tale of a badass space captain losing his crew to reavers and returning to the cosmos after a year of being grounded to seek revenge and adventure. Space Riders #1 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, as far as plotting goes, in fact, it may even regress a bit to a time of breakneck pacing and over-the-top action. Rangel, Jr doesn’t seem too interested in building the world of Space Riders into some grand mythos. He does just enough to establish a ground floor for the narrative and then quickly gets to work introducing our lead’s crew, which includes the bureaucratic android that saved his life before his grounding and his new first mate, who is a religiously devout sentient baboon. As you read this debut issue, you can almost hear Fabian Rangel, Jr. cackling at the pure lunacy of this cast and he doesn’t spare a second piling them all onto their skull-shaped spaceship, awesomely named the Santa Muerte, and flinging them into the deep reaches of Ziritt’s far out outer space. Space Riders #1 may be simple, but it is smart enough to know that its simple. This comic isn’t aiming to tell some thoughtful tale of heroism. It is aiming to deliver action and some balls-to-the-wall visuals and it does both with ease.
There isn’t much more to say about Space Riders #1 other than to read it as quickly as possible and then force your friends to read it so you can gloat about having read it before them. Space Riders #1 is all the best parts of being retro with absolutely none of the nostalgia. Fabian Rangel, Jr. and Alexis Ziritt clearly have creative voices that work well in tandem and they have delivered something wholly special to shelves this week. In a market dominated by dramas, superhero books, and grand events, it is all kinds of refreshing to read a book that only aims to be entertaining and achieves that goal by heaping a giant pile of crazy onto the laps of its readers.
Written by Kurtis Wiebe
Art by Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain
Lettering by Ed Brisson
Published by Image Comics
Review by Kat Vendetti
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Making its debut later this month is Kurtis Wiebe and Johnnie Christmas' new series, Pisces. A psychological body horror story, Pisces follows former fighter pilot Dillon Carpenter as he struggles with his recent fatherhood and his future training with NASA to make first contact, all while haunted by traumatic memories of the Vietnam War. Two years in the making, Pisces is a personal piece for both Wiebe and Christmas, confronting themes of troubled pasts and familial roles. With inspiration from David Cronenberg's film resume and sci-fi films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Wiebe and Christmas have crafted an unsettling and uncanny premiere issue, as Dillon is unceremoniously dragged between disastrous moments in his life before culminating in a single, mysterious word in the void of space.
Pisces #1 is like the preamble to the larger story, exploring Dillon's past and its defining moments that will set the foundation for his characterization and the events to come. After Dillon arrives at a hospital drunken, beaten, and three hours late to the birth of his child, he blacks out and awakens at the shores of war. Pisces #1 is primarily set in this period of Dillon's life, yet it seamlessly melds with how his demons affect him in the present day and how they will carry over into the future, providing a thread that ties each segment presented in this first issue.
Pisces #1 is an effective exploration of its protagonist; Dillon is clearly distraught, and despite us not knowing just yet how his story will unfold, this issue gives a clear sense of how his past has and will shape him. Wiebe writes Dillon so tangibly, while Christmas breathes life into Dillon's dialogue and characterization. Dillon emotes with each word and in each panel, always reacting to every situation and never appearing static. Even supporting characters are given this depth and tangibility, no matter how brief their appearance, and every figure populating Pisces embodies their own unique voice and expressive countenance.
Christmas imbues Pisces with vivid and unsettling imagery throughout this issue, producing palpable violence with the effect of blood splattering off the pages, and a horrific glimpse of the Pisces constellation that may continue to haunt Dillon and pervade the series. Tamra Bonvillain's colors are exquisite throughout and distinct in each setting, yet unite each timeline in a cohesive thread as Dillon transitions between purple hues in the rain and the warm glow of both the hospital and Vietnam. Both Bonvillain and Christmas excel in smoothly transitioning Pisces #1 between each of Dillon's eras: in a captivating spread early in the issue featuring Dillon drifting from the hospital to the war, and in this issue's stunning closing pages where the jewel-toned sea set against an orange sky becomes the cosmos.
There is a dreamlike and erratic quality to Pisces #1 that lends to its unsettling tone and alludes to horrors yet to come. Wiebe and Christmas refrain from divulging too many answers just yet, but deliver all the intrigue in discovering what those answers will be. Artful and intricate in its conception, structure, and execution, Pisces already distinguishes itself from the rest in its genre.