DC Comics May 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's first installment of reviews. So let's kick off today's column with Battling Brian Bannen, as he takes a look at the final issue of Al Ewing and Alan Davis's Ultron Forever...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Uncanny Avengers: Ultron Forever #1
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Alan Davis, Mark Farmer and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Al Ewing delivers a fantastic end to his history-heavy miniseries with Uncanny Avengers: Ultron Forever #1, a comic that gives readers a crash course in the rich lore of the Marvel Universe, an action packed finale that provides a solid and satisfying conclusion, and a team of heroes who proves that term “Avengers Assemble” never gets old.

With last issue’s reveal that Doctor Doom was pulling the strings all along (not really a surprise there), this issue focuses on delivering a climax that hits all the necessary beats for a solid finish. For starters, Ewing has a lot of fun with Vision’s coyness as the other members of the team struggle to trust him given the secret he’s carried around with him since the team first met Doom. But Vision’s role is easily the most important in the issue as he provides the necessary foil to defeat Doom and restore the world to order.

Ewing’s writing is a textbook lesson in how to develop character. He captures the individuality of all his players, and seamlessly intertwines their personalities amidst all the chaos of the issue. It’s very much a cinematic Avengers experience as Ewing keeps the banter light through all of the action in the comic (and there’s a lot of it), but he keeps the story fluid as well.

The ending is a bit mawkish, but very welcome as it provides powerful redemption for its main villain. In three issues, Ewing expertly told a tale of the Avengers, spanning space and time, keeping the story chugging along, bringing his heroes to brink of destruction, and then providing their salvation with some timely help. It’s a classic Doom and a classic Avengers tale, but melded together with such skill that it reads as its own unique story, regardless of its tried and true formula.

The artistic team of Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, and Rachelle Rosenberg give the comic a classic Marvel look and feel. It’s vibrantly Silver Age in its colors, classic in its character structure, and emotionally powerful in its use of shadows and shading - particularly for Vision. The splash pages are visual treats that emphasize the epic scope of the story, especially during the final battle sequence, and not one panel is wasted or lacking detail.

Ultron Forever is the kind of comic that every comic fan should read. It’s a love letter to the Marvel Universe, but one that leaves enough crumbs for its readers - new and old - to follow in order to get them as invested as well. While reading Ultron Forever, I wanted to track down every editor’s note and every minor reference, and I can’t believe that this comic isn’t getting more attention.

If you take away anything from this review, let it be that Uncanny Avengers: Ultron Forever should be your next purchase. It’s a comic book for comic fans, and what more could we ask for?

Credit: DC Comics

The Sandman: Overture #5
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by Vertigo
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart’s artwork is as mercurial as Neil Gaiman’s imagination. The Sandman: Overture #5 continually reminds us that the skills of these two creators cannot be contained by conventionality or rigidity. As Dream continues to trip through the highways and byways of reality, he now finds himself in the presence of his mother, even as he’s ensnared in a black hole due to past trespasses. Dream’s mother is everything you’d expect out of Gaiman; she’s caring and cold. She’s comforting yet aloof in that way that only mothers can be. She’s the night sky, whatever that may mean. Gaiman’s almost parodying characterization (but is he parodying all mothers, or is he parodying his own writing?) gets lost amid Williams and Stewart’s dizzying artwork, which ends up overshadowing Gaiman’s tasty but ultimately unsatisfying story.

For Williams and Stewart, style is a tool to be used like other artists and colorists use pens and brushes. Gaiman’s story operates on multiple levels as Dream exists simultaneously in various states of reality. Each of these levels gets a different artistic flavor. Dream’s mother exists in this flowery, psychedelic world, laden with flowery and slightly sexual imagery, creating a subtle Oedipal tinge to these sequences. The quite literal pages of Destiny’s books are more traditional comics, with an attention to linework that’s rarely seen in modern comics. There are even pages that look painted, where Stewart’s sublime coloring takes the center stage over Williams’ base artwork. The art is the star of The Sandman: Overture #5, something that hardly could have been said of any Sandman comic before this miniseries.

It’s the rare artist who has overshadowed Neil Gaiman. This comic feels like it was written by Neil Gaiman the novelist more than Neil Gaiman the comic book writer. If nothing else, Gaiman’s imagination is fueling Williams III and Stewart’s artistic fervor but Gaiman’s story lacks any real heft to it. A discussion with Dream’s mother should be a big thing. It should be revelatory and empathic. Gaiman somehow missed the opportunity to use this moment to blow our minds with the awesomeness of this moment and to make us think that Dream is just like us because his mother is just like our mother. It’s a brief discussion designed to make us admire the creative team’s skill but it lacks any heft to it.

Worse yet, Gaiman employs a deus ex machina cheat to rescue Dream from the black hole he was trapped in at the end of the last issue. Maybe with characters who embody the concepts of Dream, Destiny, Death and Desire, a god in the machine rescue is not wholly out of place but it undercuts any feeling of danger that Gaiman has been building up in this series. In the second to last issue, Dream is pulled out of danger on a whim without that danger ever having been truly established. And we know what this is leading up to. We know where Dream has to end this series since it is a prequel. So because he can get out of this trap so easily, what does that mean about the trap that he’s being marched into by Gaiman?

The narrative issues of The Sandman: Overture #5 are not caused by this story being a prequel. They’re caused because Gaiman is getting to do everything he couldn’t in 75+ issues of The Sandman series. As he covers this ground, there’s nothing that builds on what has come before but it adds pieces that were never important and are still unneeded. With the stunning art of Williams and Stewart, Gaiman should be writing his epic story but he’s already done that. We’re well beyond that prime time for Gaiman so now we’re still only getting the leftover stories and concepts from a 26-year-old story. For The Sandman #1-75, Gaiman was the superstar; the series soared to new heights because of him. The Sandman: Overture #5 sadly adds nothing new to Gaiman’s past stories, even as Williams and Stewart draw a Sandman story unlike any before it.

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New Hawkeye #3
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Ian Herring and Ramon Perez
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Kelly Richards
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

In the midst of Secret Wars, the release of All-New Hawkeye feels like a welcome break from tie-ins. Following what some have viewed as a shaky start to the series, the creative team seem to have found their footing and produced their best installment yet. With the focus shifted toward Kate, #3 gives over more time toward solidifying the dynamic between the Hawkeyes and their relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D. Featuring far more character and story development than previous issues. #3 allows All-New Hawkeye to move out of the shadow of its predecessor.

All-New Hawkeye #3 picks up the pace in terms of storytelling and brings together the events of the first two issues. It is clear early on that Lemire understands the dynamic between Kate and Clint and the friendship and respect they hold for each other is evident from the dialogue. Allowing Clint to step back in order for Kate to take the lead furthers the readers understanding of this dynamic and the trust they share.

Perez’s inks are incredibly dynamic. His use of loose lines makes the movement he creates seem almost effortless. Perez is able to tell us so much through the posture, body language and hand gestures of the characters. For example, Kate’s clenched fists and crossed arms when dealing with Maria Hill while aboard the Helicarrier. However, it is Kate’s fight with the S.H.I.E.L.D guards, a scene which spans a double-page spread that stands out as the real highlight of #3. The scene posits Kate as an acrobat in addition to a skilled fighter and partially mimics the segment of Clint’s flashback, which centers around his time in the circus, that is unfolding along the bottom edge of the page.

Standing in stark contrast to the art found throughout the main story is a flashback to Clint’s childhood that runs along the lower quarter of the book and resembles a dreamscape with its soft edges and pastel toned watercolor finish. Functioning to inform and echo the events of the book, the flashback gives the reader some inkling as to why Clint is the way he is without having to resort to a long-winded explanation of his "issues." By utilizing the same color palette as the main narrative, it is able to comfortably sit alongside without detracting and by eschewing dialogue the reader can skim over and embrace the feeling of something half remembered.

Providing colors for both aspects of the story is Ian Herring. With a palette that is elegant in its simplicity, Herring leans on purple, blue and grey to bring the story to life. Though muted, the palette allows for a great amount of depth especially when considering that the majority of the story takes place within the grey confines of the S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier. Joe Sabino makes equally informed color choices with regards to his lettering as he picks from Herrings palette to unify the dialogue that sits within the panels of the flashbacks.

#3 stands as a big step forward for the creative team behind All-New Hawkeye as the story and characterization move from strength to strength. If the first two issues had left you unsure of whether you should keep reading, this issue will help you decide as the shift in pace and focus lead to a far more engaging narrative.

Credit: DC Comics

Convergence: Action Comics #2
Written by Justin Gray
Art by Claude St-Aubin, Sean Parsons, Lovern Kindzierski and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

Of all DC’s Convergence titles, I thought Action Comics had the most potential. Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son introduced us to Russian versions of DC’s heaviest hitters, namely Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman. They had their physical traits, but they were colder characters, hardened by a Communist society. The previous issue of Convergence: Action Comics had promise, but didn’t deliver on its mega-battle, settling instead for a lot of build-up. This issue is an even bigger disappointment, though, in that it has a messy plot, inconsistent visuals, and such poor editing that you’re left wondering if its publication was a mistake.

One of the major problems with Convergence: Action Comics is its pacing. Every time Justin Gray gets the story going - either with his Power Girl/Wonder Woman fight, or his Lex/Stalin power struggle - he shifts the focus. And when each plot gains a little steam, the issue cuts to the other thread, sapping any accumulated energy. This may have worked if Convergence: Action Comics were longer than two issues, but with limited space Gray’s writing needs to be more consistent.

Claude St-Aubin’s visuals have similar inconsistency. Power Girl and Wonder Woman look like different characters on almost every other page. At times they’re fluid and detailed, at other times they’re stiff and and uneven. Sean Parsons’ inks are erratic, and character designs fluctuate between pages. It’s like the comic was drawn by two completely different artists. For example, Lex’s army of G.I. Robots go from having red, inhuman eyes to having pupils and irises. They may seem nit-picky, but it alters to visuals to make the robots unintentionally funny, especially given the facial designs and the direction of their stares.

My other big gripe with the comic has to do with the fact that Red Son Superman is completely absent. In the previous issue, he threatened Lex by saying, “Today was the last time Stalin is going to tolerate your disrespect.” Yet Lex usurps Stalin’s dictatorial role without any consequence. The final page promises the story will be continued in Convergence #6, yet the issue was published this previous week with Convergence #8. This kind of mistake is normally laughable, but given the seeming importance of DC’s Convergence, the comic should have been published without such major lapses in content and connectivity.

Maybe this issue would have worked better if it only focused on Power Girl and Wonder Woman, as that seems to be Gray’s narrative hub, because the additional plot threads - which are never addressed - and the poor pacing and visuals only make the comic forgettable.

The only thing consistent about this issue are the colors provided by Lovern Kindzierski and Hi-Fi, but this doesn’t excuse every other poor design of this comic. Luckily, Convergence is over so we can all put this comic behind us and move on to hopefully better issues to come.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Inhumans: Attilan Rising #1
Written by Charles Soule
Art by John Timms, Roberto Poggi and Frank D’Armata
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Insurrection is blooming and the NuHumans are in the dead center of it in Inhumans: Attilan Rising #1. As the patchwork of Battleworld rages against each another, a ragtag group of heroes work tirelessly to free the minds of those trapped in Greenland in order to bring some peace to a savage land. However, Emperor Doom cannot abide this, so he tasks Queen Medusa, one of Battleworld’s remaining royals, to seek out the source of the rebellion and crush it. This, in a nutshell, is Inhumans: Attilan Rising #1, a fun, if a little dry, entry into the Secret Wars canon. Writer Charles Soule transitions his existing Inhuman narrative into the fray of Secret Wars with varying results, delivering a story filled with court intrigue as well as a charming new take on the enigmatic Black Bolt.

Inhumans: Attilan Rising #1 has a lot of narrative ground to cover, and for the most part, he covers it well. Soule does an admirable job of inserting his NuHuman creations into the thick of Secret Wars in a fun and interesting way, casting them as would-be revolutionaries instead of the budding superheroes they are in Inhuman. The only problem with this change of cast is the unavoidable exposition that comes with it. Too much of Inhumans: Attilan Rising #1's first half feels like a recap page as Soule breathlessly relays to the audience the state of both the rebellion and Attilan’s place in the patchwork of Battleworld. The premise of the book is solid, but the actual building of it comes across as tedious, despite Soule’s gift for language.

Attilan Rising #1 isn’t without its bright spots, however. The foundation of the story is there as is Soule’s grasp of the character’s voices. Its is nice to see Soule’s NuHuman creations getting some hefty screen time in a major Marvel Comics event; even more entertaining to see them rubbing elbows with the equally great 1602 character set as they scheme and plan their uprising. Black Bolt is also a major selling point for Attilan Rising, despite his blink and you miss ending appearance. You can’t have an Inhuman book without its Illuminati liege, and Soule banks left hard with a cheekily charming new take on the silent ruler. Surely the looming showdown between Black Bolt and Medusa will be the narrative charge in the coming issues, but Black Bolt’s slick ending cameo provides one of the biggest sparks to be found in Inhumans: Attilan Rising #1.

Giving Inhumans: Attilan Rising #1 a keen artistic edge is penciler John Timms, aided with the sharp inks of Roberto Poggi and the darkly engaging colors of Frank D’Armata. Timms, Poggi, and D’Armata are well suited to detail the issue’s sparse action as well as the intricate vistas of New Attilan, balancing both sets of visuals effortlessly with heavy inks and a dusty color pallette. Timms’ flowing, Stuart Immonen-like character design, coupled with his eye for panel construction give Attilan Rising an energy that the exposition heavy script lacks. Attilan Rising may read a bit stiltedly, but the art team keeps the story moving along at a decent clip throughout with expressive visuals and one doozy of a splash page establishing Black Bolt’s new base of operations.

Charles Soule is a writer who has made his name in comics with his surprising takes on established properties. He killed Wolverine with grace, kept Swamp Thing true to his horror roots, and is now bringing the regality back to the Inhumans. With Inhumans: Attilan Rising #1, he aims to keep that same level of regality in the larger narrative of Secret Wars, but falls prey to the perilous first issue trap of telling instead of showing. Thankfully, this front-loaded debut issue is rendered by a capable art team and plays its trump card of a newly charming Black Bolt at the precisely right time, sending readers out on a high note to hopefully pick up a fully charged second issue. Attilan may be on the rise, but this month, it takes a bit longer than anticipated for it to get fully up to speed.

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