Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Filipe Andrade, Rachelle Rosenberg, Yasmine Putri, Kyle Strahm, Jesus Aburtov and In-Hyuk Lee
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
By now all of you have surely heard Kieron Gillen’s dire logline for his take on Siege. Touted as Nextwave as a tragedy, Seige #2 finds our guardians atop the wall facing down tragedy and learning to process it in their own way. Most of this cast has lost something, but in that loss, they have gained brothers and sisters as they defend the realm from the countless horrors that roam in the wilds of Battleworld. But the dire prophecy of Kang looms over the entire issue, as a new, yet familiar enemy looms his ugly head in the last page. Kieron Gillen, no stranger to tragedy, and a cadre of talented artists dig deep into these defenders’ thoughts throughout Siege #2, finding deep wells of pathos underneath.
Siege #2 opens with a discussion between Commander Brand and her fan-favorite second, Leah of Hel, who is desperate to venture into the Deadlands in order to find her lost love, Magik. Though the discussion starts with them evaluating Kang as a potential leader of the Hel-Rangers, the Shield’s version of Game of Thrones’ Night’s Watch rangers, the conversation quickly turns to Magik and Leah’s restlessness during her absence. It’s a quick scene, and really just a neat cold open to the first of three incredible double-page splashes from Siege #2‘s guest artists. But still Gillen doesn’t just throw this interaction away – instead he frames it as the thesis statement of the entire issue. Leah and Brand have a genuine connection as commander and second, and Gillen stages the scene in such a way that the professional relationship bleeds into the personal relationship.
While the regular works of artist Filipe Andrade and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg give Siege #2 its regular neon-infused look and feel, the three guest splash pages put the issue over into unexpectedly innovative narrative territory as the art team uses the contrast between the splashes and the regular panels as a narrative weapon to hammer home just what kind of odds our defenders are facing to great effect.With three double-page splashes delivered by guest artists Yasmine Putri, Kyle Strahm, Jesus Aburtov, and In-Hyuk Lee, each artist takes a horde of terror that threatens the Shield and quite frankly, renders them in the most terrifying way possible in order to truly sell the danger that our cast faces every day.
Yasmine Putri is first, and she gives us a horde of undead that would put some of the wandering flocks of zombies from The Walking Dead to shame as she details Magik’s first day on the Shield, blasting apart the undead and stealing the heart of Leah of Hel. Kyle Strahm and Jesus Aburtov handle the second splash, which details the stomach-churning body horror of the Annihilation Wave and the unrecognizable monster that it transformed Hank McCoy into it. Cover artist In-Hyuk Lee rounds out the guest artists with a cold and mechanical splash starring the legions of Ultron. This splash looks straight out of The Matrix as the technological perfection of Ultron creeps across the entire page, columns of metal branching off and onto the Shield in order to bring it all crumbling down.
By all accounts, Siege should be a real downer of a book. Each character is dealing with heavy loss and they face an insurmountable threat that will surely take their life at some point. Yet, Siege #2 frames that bleak premise with fascinating characters, trademark banter from Gillen, and a fantastic set of pages from a cadre of talented artists. Love it or hate it, Secret Wars has allowed writers and artists to take established events and titles and morph them into interesting, unrecognizable yarns that aren’t afraid to try new things or be less than optimistic in regards to their cast’s safety. Siege #2 might not hit the same highs as Nextwave, but it sure as hell continues its ballsy legacy of being something truly singular.
Batman Beyond #3
Written by Dan Jurgens
Art by Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
If Dan Jurgens keeps up the quality in Batman Beyond #3, he might just make “schway” a thing. Anyone that tries to take on the legacy of the classic DC Animated Universe will already be held up to the standards set forth by the show. As such, Jurgens does a great job this issue in honoring the original material and making his own story soar. Artists Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo really stepped up to the plate with this issue as the action intensified, making the overall quality that much better.
First and foremost, there’s a deep satisfaction watching Tim finally finding his footing as the new Batman and fighting back against Brother Eye. We finally get to see the tides turn in Tim’s favor; in the bleak landscape of Neo-Gotham, any ray of hope is more than appreciated. This issue is predominantly an extended action sequence, which sometimes have the danger of being senseless and without substance. Jurgens avoids that by doing the best thing any writer can do with action sequences: push the narrative forward and flesh out the characters. Tim gets the opportunity to show off his smarts as well as his fighting ability when going toe-to-toe with Inque: Jurgens reveals exactly why Inque has sided with Brother Eye in such a way that it ultimately enhances the fight sequence to make it feel meaningful.
Chang and Maiolo add to the fight by making it feel that much more explosive. Chang capitalizes on diagonal lines, positioning characters so that they’re put in dynamic poses that elongate the action and naturally draw the eye from panel to panel. That’s what makes this issue so easy to get through: Chang makes it so it’s incredibly easy to flow through the narrative. Maiolo does a great job in keeping the most important panels between the fighting stand out with the bright backgrounds and red overlays. Maiolo ties together the visual tone of Brother Eye throughout this entire world to make it so we never forget exactly the kind of situation Tim has found himself in and what’s at stake.
If there’s one thing Jurgens does a phenomenal job doing, it’s using the characters at his disposal. Matt keeps the dramatic tension alive and reminds us that Terry’s absence still has a lasting impact on the plot; Barbara’s presence reminds us of Tim’s connection to the past and provides a fan-favorite character the opportunity to do some good in this post-apocalyptic environment; and Tim has gotten stronger as the protagonist, especially with this issue. We also get a great glimpse at Brother Eye himself and the kind of stronghold he’s built. Jurgens reminds us just how much work Tim has ahead of him to save this new world. Moreover,
Regardless of how great the action sequences of this issue were, it’s hard to feel incredibly invested in them, because we don’t know what kind of lasting impact this series has on the overall universe. Seeing Tim work with Barbara and Max to fight against Brother Eye feels great in the moment, but without knowing where this story could possibly be headed, it’s hard to determine how much Jurgens has progressed towards the end of the arc. Beyond the lack of overall significance, there are certain elements to Chang’s style that can sometimes make awkward character designs, especially with the Batman Beyond suit and its eyes. That awkwardness can sometimes get distracting, but the other aspects of the pencil work more than make up for that.
Overall, Batman Beyond #3 is a solid entry in the series. Jurgens continues his arc by giving Tim the opportunity to be the best Batman he can be, while turning our expectations against us and giving Brother Eye another advantage over the citizens of Neo Gotham. Chang and Maiolo do a wonderful job at enhancing the issue with their visuals, lending their expertise to make the narrative come to life on the page. It’ll be interesting to see how Tim and the rest of the team cope with Brother Eye’s new attack on Neo Gotham – if anything, it’ll just be another opportunity to see a larger amount of great eye puns in Brother Eye’s dialogue.
Future Imperfect #4
Written by Peter David
Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten, and Nolan Woodard
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Sometimes, a series can reverse course in a single issue, correcting the problems from previous entries by discovering a new focus. Future Imperfect #4 is one such issue. After getting mired in repetitive plotting, Peter David and Greg Land steer the series back on track by focusing on the malevolent Maestro and his ambition to overthrow Doom.
One of the great strengths of Peter David’s script is the scenario itself. Maestro finds himself leading a team consisting of rebels – including a rocky-skinned Thaddeus Ross – seeking to overthrow him. This setup leads to great character banter, especially between Maestro and Ross. The travel through the domain of Norseheim also gives the issue a nice storytelling contrast to the previous issues. Visually, Greg Land takes the opportunity and runs with it, covering the characters in thick coats, which shadow the faces of our heroes. Maestro and Thing both look like bestial vikings, which helps foreshadow the forthcoming battle. David uses the story to bring Thor villain Ulik the Troll into the fold, and the back-and-forth between Ulik and Maestro is a fun display of braggadocio as both try to pummel each other.
Future Imperfect #4, while a marked improvement over the previous issue, does still have an imbalance in its narrative. The issue is stronger for its focus on Maestro, but other than a few fleeting moments, Ruby Summers disappears into the background. Even though the characters are travelling together, Future Imperfect #4 often feels like it’s still telling two disparate tales. The trio of Ruby, Layla, and Skooter do not interact with Ross or Maestro in any significant way, even when Ulik and his henchmen attack. Because of this lack of interaction, Future Imperfect often feels like it’s bouncing back and forth between different stories and, in doing so, sells Ruby’s group short. Luckily, the few moments that she does have are brilliantly brought to life by the art team.
Greg Land is a polarizing artist within the fandom, but his artwork in this issue is stellar. His Maestro is lives up to the monstrous reputation of the character, full of scowling menace. The action is lively and appropriately brutal, and his facial expressions do a great job developing the character beats along with David’s witty dialogue. There’s also a fun gag involving a literal pin-drop. Inker Jay Leisten is a brilliant partner for Land’s artwork, bringing out the details in Land’s lines, while adding some details to the art. Leisten varies the weight of his inks nicely, and his heavy outlines on the characters give a dimensionality to the artwork. Nolan Woodard adds some brilliant touches with his color art. The green he has chosen for Maestro is perfect in the way that it adds a ghastly feel (I’m reminded of Universal’s Frankenstein) to the character. He also adds a subtle aurora to the skies of Norseheim, adding a supernatural flavor to the realm while also breaking up the dark blues of the night.
Future Imperfect #4 is an issue that helps get the Secret Wars tie-in back on track. By centering the issue around Ross and Maestro, Peter David crafts an issue that has both fun dialogue and entertaining action. Greg Land brings the world to life with strong visual storytelling that gives the issue momentum. If the series can close out with this quality, it will have been well worth the bumps in the road.
Green Lantern #43
Written by Robert Vendetti
Art by Ethan Van Sciver and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Ethan Van Sciver was there for the return of Hal Jordan, but even this seminal artist can't pull Green Lantern out of his current tailspin. Directionless since his abrupt departure from the Green Lantern Corps, Hal Jordan comes face-to-face with recent villain Relic, and while writer Robert Vendetti tries to use some humor to liven up this admittedly beautiful-looking book, you still can't help but notice how far Green Lantern has fallen.
But when Van Sciver is one, he is on. It's nice to see him working on Green Lantern again, as he and colorist Alex Sinclair have a great sense of otherworldly design. Sinclair's galaxy filled with purples and blues is reminiscent of Chris Sotomayor's colorwork on Russel Dauterman's lines in Cyclops, with a beautiful double-page splash that shows Hal just admiring the spaceways. While even Van Sciver can't sell Hal's long hair and green duster design, he does bring a tenseness to Hal's eyes as he meets with one of his most dangerous foes.
Unfortunately, though, once you get over Van Sciver's welcome return, the story itself feels a little undercooked. It's hard to feel the tension as Hal floats over to the amnesiac Relic, because it's unclear why he would leave his sidearm on his spaceship, where literally any of the alien supporting cast could just pick it up and wreak havoc. (Indeed, that's exactly what happens, but the twist has no punch, since of course this sort of thing would happen.) Even as exposition, Relic's appearance feels a bit wooden, with Vendetti giving us no reason why the everyman should care about Hal's plight.
Yet Vendetti does pick things up a little bit towards the end of the book, as Hal's back-and-forth with the sentient space shuttle Darlene evokes memories of the late Green Lantern: The Animated Series. While Vendetti might take the nagging wife dynamic a little too far - and again, it's just window-dressing to some fairly meaningless action choreography - it evokes that sort of Tony Stark-JARVIS banter that gives Green Lantern a much needed emotional spark. If Vendetti's other supporting cast members could be half as interesting at Darlene, this book might be in a place to make a comeback.
Unfortunately, as it currently stands, even with Ethan Van Sciver back in the artistic saddle, this feels as too little, too late for Green Lantern. Coming off an inexplicable new status quo, Vendetti and company haven't really capitalized on the "outlaw" stage of Hal Jordan's career, just plunging this series deeper and deeper into inaccessible space opera. Even Star Trek had fully realized characters to guide us through all this interstellar mumbo-jumbo - Green Lantern, on the other hand, feels completely lost at sea.
John Flood #1
Written by Justin Jordan
Art by Jorge Coelho and Tamra Bonvillain
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by Boom! Studios
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Eccentricity and private investigation seem to go hand-in-hand, from the opium taking quirks of Sherlock Holmes to television’s obsessive compulsive Monk. With John Flood, from The Strange Talent of Luther Strode co-creator Justin Jordan, the titular investigator doesn’t sleep. Ever. The results of a government experiment have rendered him permanently in a waking dream state, attuned to pattern perception that most slumber-prone mortals can’t recognize. This is the high-concept for one of the more intriguing investigative debuts of recent memory, one that quickly establishes a network of characters and plot threads that immediately draw the reader in.
One such character is ex-cop Alexander Berry, a tough-as-nails brick of a man with a very public past, thanks to a viral video. Introduced to Flood by an intermediary, ostensibly to serve as a kind of protection to manic insomniac, Flood sees one man responsible for seemingly unrelated killings across the country, and needs someone that world doesn’t see as “looney tunes.” There is an instant narrative appeal to the broad network of possible plot threads that Flood (and by extension Jordan) lays out, and picking at them is positively addictive.
Just as Jordan delivered a spin on the conspiracy theorist plot in Deep State, here he takes a classic noir motif and gives it a thoroughly modern and unexpected spin. For the loose structure is akin to a Dashiell Hammett novel, with our muscle being summoned by a mysterious woman to the dilapidated house of a rich eccentric to solve a case that only he believes to be true. In true neo-noir form, we only get a handful of hints as to what is coming, the broader puzzle being the basis for the ongoing story. The other unique twist here would also appear to be the perspective of the actual killer, meaning that the audience is always aware that there is something to Flood’s ravings, even if Berry remains initially unconvinced.
Portuguese artist Jorge Coelho, most recently seen dividing his time between Boom’s Sleepy Hollow and Marvel’s Siege tie-ins to Battleworld, immediately sets the tone with Flood’s waking dreams, a slightly distended version of the other panels’ reality, aided greatly by the burnt oranges of Tamra Bonvillain’s colors. Flood’s eyes are the key here, big saucers that stand out against the distinctive angular shapes of the figures and weathered backgrounds. Bonvillain’s choice of color gives the scenery a sense of realism that fundamentally necessary in a story such as this, and is a stark contrast with those scenes involving the aforementioned killer, shrouded in half-shadow and darkly lit backgrounds.
John Flood is undoubtedly an intriguing pilot, with loads of potential, and there is definitely a sense of the familiar in the loose framework. Yet we also conclude the issue with far more questions than answers, having been sucked into the premise wholeheartedly. Not all of the elements presented here pay off immediately, including Flood’s own high-concept eccentricity, but they all have the promise of leading somewhere, and you really can’t ask more of a first issue than that.
Toil and Trouble #1
Written by Mairghread Scott
Art by Kelly and Nichole Matthews
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Michael Moccio
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Reimagining Shakespeare is an ambitious undertaking. Sometimes, it can be hilariously terrible (see Romeo+Juliet), while at other times, it can be amazing (10 Things I Hate About You). Toil and Trouble by Mairghread Scott falls somewhere in the middle, with its dense and sometimes impenetrable narrative unable to live up to its absolutely stunning artwork.
Toil and Trouble, as a reimagining of Macbeth, should be accessible to all readers, regardless of their familiarity with the source material. Unfortunately, while it’s clear that Scott did an insane amount of research to create this authentic and multifaceted world, that level of detail can get confusing to keep up with all the cultural nods and vocabulary you might not be familiar with. Indeed, I had to read the book several times, as I kept losing track of all the names and important bits of information amidst the unique vernacular that comes from the setting. That sort of depth may appeal to diehard Shakespearean scholars, but it also makes it harder for the story to build and keep up its momentum for the layperson.
And that challenging storytelling style starts from the beginning, as Smertae, one of the three witches, comes back from exile at the start of the story – immediately, we don’t know much about who she is, what she wants, or what she’s doing there. As Scott incorporates more of the story’s mythology as Smertae continues on her journey, it gets more and more difficult to feel invested in Smertae’s journey. There are points throughout the narrative when it’s not clear as to what exactly Smertae and the other witches are doing or what exactly the significance of their actions are. This makes it hard to feel like we’ve been given enough information to fully understand the context of the situation they’re in.
The highlight of the book by far is the art from Kelly and Nichole Matthews. Scott does a great job in weaving a narrative that drives a mystical and ethereal tone forward, but it’s ultimately the Matthews that drives it home with their visuals. At the end of the day, works from Shakespeare are meant to be seen visually, so having Scott’s narrative rendered as beautifully as the Matthews are able to make it ensures the reading experience is that much better. The Matthews avoid a hyperrealistic art style and instead opt for a slightly exaggerated and animated appearance. Its quality you’d expect from a major studio’s animated film. The way they overlay panels on top of each other and create these vast and textured backgrounds gives the book a more cinematic quality.
Some of the best scenes are when the three witches use their powers. Those scenes have the most tension because you can tell clearly how powerful these witches are and what they mean to the progression of the story. One of Scott’s greatest successes was making the witches feel as real as they do. Knowing that this is a story based off Macbeth, the fact that he’s pushed to the sidelines is more than okay because Scott gives Smertae enough intrigue to stand alone as the protagonist.
Ultimately, Toil and Trouble is a story that has enormous potential. Scott has done an amazing job in creating a world full of many different kinds of people: all three of the witches are completely distinct from one another and, even though we don’t know too much about them, there’s a lot of room for Scott to maneuver and create great character-driven tension. The last page of the first issue ties directly into the beginning of Macbeth, so the next issues are bound to make us feel more invested to the story as Macbeth deals with the ramifications of Smertae’s actions.