Uncanny Inhumans #1
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten and Sunny Gho
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
The Inhumans have been a tricky team for Marvel Comics to launch, as the House of Ideas has spent plenty of time - and plenty of marketing - to make this would-be superteam a hit. With Uncanny Inhumans #1, Charles Soule seems to finally be onto something here, with a reunited Royal Family thrown into some larger-than-life action and some deep personal intrigue.
While many of Marvel's new books have been about establishing the characters' new status quos in the wake of Secret Wars, Charles Soule's take on Uncanny Inhumans eschews any stunts - indeed, with mainstays like Black Bolt, Medusa and Triton back in the fold, this feels more like a true Inhumans book than anything he's put out over the past year. Instead of having to try to justify this team and their central premise - and, in essence, trying to retell the same tired origins that we've been reading about for months - Soule finally cranks things into high gear, pitting the Inhuman king Black Bolt against a foe worthy of his time: Kang the Conqueror. It's a great opening sequence, as the time-traveling Kang throws dinosaurs and World War II battalions at our heroes. "I fight with time itself," Kang taunts. "You are its playthings. I am its conqueror."
With this sort of fantastic hook, Soule immediately establishes the kinds of scale the Uncanny Inhumans are playing at, and it immediately helps them stand alongside teams like the Avengers or the X-Men - months of political infighting with no-name Inhumans can't possibly compare to fighting a longtime Marvel supervillain who controls time itself. (And when you have Steve McNiven drawing Triton slashing a T-Rex across the face, what's not to like?) But Soule also gets the interpersonal drama here - now that Black Bolt and Medusa are reunited, he has enough pieces of the puzzle to tell compelling stories. While Black Bolt drives the action, it's Medusa who drives the plot, ranging from her attempts at mutant diplomacy with new cast member Beast, to some major tension coming from her newfound relationship with the Human Torch. While I don't necessarily buy Johnny and Medusa's pairing, Soule's cliffhanger - ending the book with a "It's not what it looks like" moment between the Torch, Medusa and Black Bolt - is something that could lead to some fertile narrative ground.
Having Steve McNiven on a book like this also doesn't hurt when it comes to establishing Uncanny Inhumans' bonafides. McNiven's take on Kang in particular is incredibly striking - I love the sneer he puts on the conqueror's face, as he declares war on the Inhuman king. (And the panel of Black Bolt, Triton and Reader gearing up to fight Kang's hordes is just beautifully rendered.) That said, there are the occasional hiccups with McNiven's artwork - a sequence featuring Medusa and her NuHumans fighting the Chitauri in Central Park feels a little cramped - this is largely due to Soule's scripting choices rather than anything else - and Sunny Gho's coloring feels surprisingly washed-out, leeching McNiven's artwork of some needed energy.
Ultimately, the real strength of Uncanny Inhumans might just be that Soule actually spends the majority of his focus on the established royal family, which had been divided since the end of Infinity. You see this in Soule's backup feature, with art by Brandon Peterson - Peterson's artwork evokes Howard Porter's with its depth and lush inking, but the characters still don't quite grab you. The NuHumans just seem to be lacking that sort of insane, one-of-a-kind perspective and power set that characters like Black Bolt and Medusa possess, so while Peterson's rendition of an Inhuman rescue squad looks striking, the story doesn't grab you. Having NuHumans with human lives still feels too derivative of the X-Men - ultimately, Soule's story isn't a bad one, but the characters make it forgettable.
Yet with Black Bolt and Medusa in the same house once more - if not the same bed - there's a ton of potential for Uncanny Inhumans to succeed. While this property has undeniably gotten off to a shaky start, now that there's a shared past of betrayal and secrets, Soule and McNiven have a ton of drama to mine, and throwing in a villain as overpowered as Kang the Conqueror gives this book a high concept appeal that's difficult to ignore. A house separated cannot stand, but a house divided might be the best thing to happen to Marvel's next potential franchise.
Titans Hunt #1
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Paulo Siqueira, Geraldo Borges and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
As the third post-Convergence title to acknowledge the event, Titans Hunt joins Telos and Superman: Lois and Clark in exploring some of the fractures that the Multiverse-shaking showdown left in its wake. However, unlike the previous two titles that dealt with conscious refugees of a forgotten timeline, this new story from writer Dan Abnett presents itself as a mystery to be slowly unwrapped.
While a number of the characters seen in Titans Hunt have appeared before in the "New 52" and beyond - in this case Roy Harper and Dick Grayson most directly - they have only borne a superficial resemblance to their former glories. As each character is introduced into the narrative, they begin to have premonitions of lives they don’t remember leading. Roy drinks to remember, with T-shaped towers and references to his reflexes being "speedy" triggering something in the back of his mind. Malcolm Duncan has visions of infinite stairways while accepting an award. More intriguingly, there’s a precog named Lilith who feels compelled to draw these people together.
The classic Titans team that the Paulo Siqueira cover art promises doesn’t make an overt appearance in this issue. Instead, we get something even better: more than a hint that the lines between the realities are blurred, and this in fact opens up the possibility of seeing any of the great Titans teams throughout history. It gives new depth to characters lacking in it as well, principally Roy Harper, who has been a singularly uninteresting recreation since his re-imagining on this side of Flashpoint. Here he is a haunted man, driven to drink and troubled by memories of a past that isn’t his. You don’t have to be a comics scholar to know that the weight of Harper’s substance abuse carries with a tome of Silver Age legacies, and this simple plot point is indicative of Abnett’s respect for each character's history.
Titans Hunt feels like a series of vignettes rather than a singular story at times, although this is just one of the techniques Abnett is using to maintain mystery and a healthy distance between these characters until he is good and ready. The overcast backgrounds of Harper’s story, the shadow-filled violence of Grayson’s introduction, the glitziness of Duncan’s Hollywood life. Each tell part of the story visually in a shorthand that doesn’t require lengthy explanations, and important trait for what is effectively an issue of exposition.
Abnett has the difficult task with this series of bringing together a team that, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t have a history in this universe. DC appears to have signaled that they are willing to dip back into some of the classic stories a few inches at a time, and Abnett has taken the path of incremental reintegration of those characters. This isn’t quite the classic Titans (at least not yet), and these are certainly variations on even the more recent depictions of those same heroes, but it is also something different, which in the case of decades-old icons is something to take notice of.
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Gerardo Zaffino and Dan Brown
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
A lot has changed for Karnak since his death in Inhumanity. Abandoning his post as advisor to the Inhuman throne, Karnak has opted for a more simple life by becoming the magister of the Tower of Wisdom seeking to teach all who would learn, by any means necessary. We only get the smallest hints of Karnak’s new warrior monk life in the Warren Ellis-penned debut of his solo series, but it is more than enough to hook readers into his enigmatic new incarnation. Along with some kinetic and roughhewn artwork from newcomer Gerardo Zaffino, Karnak #1 is a tough and weird little book that exposes the darker and more philosophical side of the Inhumans as they are poised to take their place among the Marvel A-list.
Smartly glossing over Karnak’s death and subsequent resurrection, Karnak #1 features the Inhuman warrior as he works with S.H.I.E.L.D. to track down a kidnapped Inhuman. Warren Ellis’ trademark dry wit is present and accounted for in this debut, but it is Karnak’s philosophical ideas that end up stealing the show. Hardened and aloof, Karnak drifts through each scene of this debut as a superpowered Cain from Kung-Fu, spouting troubling ideology and inflicting pain with his ability to see the flaw in all things. Ellis also walks a fine line with Karnak as, through most of this debut, he's very much a world class A-hole, telling the traumatized parents of the kidnapped teen that he will only help if he can take the boy back to the Tower of Wisdom and keep him there until he deems him fit to return to humanity. Ellis makes no bones about just who Karnak is and what he stands for, but he never fully pushes him into repellent territory. Ellis is no stranger to anti-heroes, but Karnak never feels particularly like an anti-hero in Karnak #1. He is simply a man willing to do and say and think things that people that are less enlightened than him are not.
Karnak #1 also gives an interesting narrative reason for Karnak being included in this latest S.H.I.E.L.D. case. While S.H.I.E.L.D. is tasked with protecting the world from threats both worldly and otherworldly, human laws still only extend to humans, not Inhumans. Thus Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. must seek outside Inhuman help in order to be able to function through the red tape. “That is insane even for you people,” Karnak flatly states to Coulson after he lays it all out, and he’s not wrong. That said, it is refreshing to see a writer putting that kind of effort into a character’s inclusion into a story instead of just dropping him in the middle of a story that is already underway.
Warren Ellis also goes a step beyond with this debut's narrative structure, setting aside his own take on first issues and allowing Karnak to openly call it out. After an action sequence in which Karnak violently questions a S.H.I.E.L.D. mole by exploding his liver and then breaking his leg, Coulson asks why didn’t he just start with the leg. Karnak plainly explains that after his examination of cinema, he learned that you start with the exciting bits and then let that lead you into the exposition. Karnak #1 does the exact opposite of that, allowing the exposition to come first while the action is all leading up to the cliffhanger. It is an interesting choice to make with Karnak #1, and one that doesn’t sacrifice the energy of this debut, mainly thanks to Ellis’ fascinatingly blunt take on his lead character. We may have to wait a bit to see Karnak actually throwing hands, but the pages that lead up to it are just as interesting as the action by itself.
While Karnak #1 plays to a lot of Warren Ellis’ strengths as a writer, this first issue’s real powerhouse is artist Gerardo Zaffino along with colorist Dan Brown. Last seen handling IDW Publishing’s Winterworld, Zaffino explodes into the Marvel universe with sketch inspired pages that remind me of a wilder version of Ellis’ Moon Knight compatriot, Declan Shalvey. Though the panel layouts are run of the mill three- to six-panel grids, the artwork found inside is anything but ordinary. Zaffino’s sketchy character renderings are an interesting contrast to Karnak’s rigid philosophical idealogy and they acquit itself perfectly to Karnak’s almost infinite capacity for violence. The prime example of this is the scene in which the S.H.I.E.L.D. mole makes himself known and attempts to gun down Karnak. Here Zaffino switches into almost a manga-like set of visuals as Karnak assesses the flaw in the attack and easily slices the bullet in half with just a finger. Karnak #1's final pages are also fine displays of Zaffino and Brown’s energetic work, as Karnak storms the kidnappers stronghold in a richly colored night scene. In this final scene, Karnak becomes less of a character and more of a force of nature as he cuts through the villains with little effort. It takes a lot of balls to end a debut issue with your lead character chopping off heads and punching through chests with his bare hands, but Karnak #1 does thus demanding your attention for next month while holding it firmly throughout this debut issue.
Karnak #1 is a weird book, but it's the best kind of weird. Warren Ellis, Gerardo Zaffino, and Dan Brown plainly introduce readers to this new incarnation of Karnak with little fanfare but a whole mess of action, as well as interesting philosophical ideals and a lead willing to speak the hard truths. Karnak may have been on the sidelines during the Inhuman’s latest push into the limelight, but Karnak #1 boldly places him on the forefront of the new Inhuman revolution while never softening the lead - or attempting to make him more palatable.
Justice League #45
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
"As New Genesis is to the Fourth World, Earth shall be to the Fifth that is to come."
Grant Morrison wrote that bold pronouncement years ago in his groundbreaking run of JLA, but it took 15 years for Geoff Johns to really deliver on this premise in the pages of Justice League. Teaming up with fellow Adventure Comics alums Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, Johns has delivered a smashing epilogue to the first half of the "Darkseid War," complete with some of the most awesome myth-building since his time on Green Lantern. While this issue is admittedly slower than some of the previous installments, the ideas and change-up in artists still offers a lot for readers to enjoy.
While Johns has been teasing the idea of the Justice League ascending to New God status, this issue he goes all in, as the team becomes something altogether more menacing. With Darkseid having fallen to the power of the Anti-Monitor, Batman has supplanted Metron as a brooding God of Knowledge; the Flash, meanwhile, has become DC's avatar of death as the new Black Racer, while Shazam's divine benefactors of Zeus and Achilles have been replaced by gods from other worlds entirely. While some of the names might be a little goofy - Shazam's "God of Gods" being one eye-roller - these are some inspired picks from Johns, and that's a good thing, as much of this issue is taking a breath from the world-shaking violence of the past issue.
Watching Barry Allen, for example, wrestle with the idea of death being inevitable is a strong bit of characterization, especially for fans of the Flash TV show, and Lex Luthor weaseling his way into Superman's birthright as the prophesied savior of Apokolips is about as pitch-perfect as you can get. Ultimately, though, outside of a possessed Superman giving a much-deserved beating to Lex Luthor, there's very little action here - this issue is mostly dialogue-driven, but given the transformations occurring throughout the League, it's easy to forgive.
The other thing that keeps Justice League's energy flowing is the artwork from Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato. It must be good to be at the top of the DC pantheon, because Geoff Johns gets to work with some insanely good artists, and Manapul and Buccellato are no exception. Buccellato might have been working his way up the DC ladder as a writer, but his color work is some of the most striking visuals I've seen in a DC book in quite some time, reminding me a bit of Dean White or Rico Renzi with his inspired sense of contrast. (Even just an introductory page featuring a godly Batman, an enraged Superman, a dead Darkseid and a resolute Wonder Woman tells you all you need to know, just from the use of colors.)
Manapul also dominates with his artwork here, whether its a larger-than-life splash page of Kalibak and his Apokoliptian warriors looming for battle, or Lex Luthor being engulfed in a wave of otherworldly Omega energy. There's a cleanliness to Manapul's designs that make them instantly engaging, and because he and Buccellato have established such a rhythm over the years, they know how to play off each other with color effects and splashes of white. Manapul is different than Jason Fabok - he's far cartoonier with his work - but ultimately the change in visuals helps smooth over the more expositional script.
If there's one concern I might have, having followed Johns' work over the years, it's that sometimes he can get lost in his own sprawling mythologies, as evidenced towards the end of his run on Green Lantern. Yet the nature of a book like Justice League is its sheer impermanence - that these characters can't just be permanently changed - might provide the perfect stopgap towards Johns reaching for plot twists rather than solid characterization. As far as Justice League is concerned, however, Johns is currently hitting that perfect sweet spot, one that results in big moments stemming from an innate knowledge of the DCU and all of its characters. There's a new pantheon in town - and that's the kind of Justice League story we've all been praying for.
Invincible Iron Man #2
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Marquez and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
Secret Wars isn’t even finished, and the post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe is already frustrating. Lending itself to that frustration is Brian Michael Bendis’ second issue of Invincible Iron Man. It was easy to give the debut a pass on its slow pacing, as it stood as a reintroduction to a character that had undergone a few significant personality shifts in recent years, but after its hasty conclusion, there was some expectation that Bendis might really get things going in #2. But really there was no reason to believe that might happen. Instead, Bendis drags out a single scene for half the issue, and we learn little about what this might mean for the book. David Marquez is still a great artist, but this script is a snoozefest.
Doctor Doom is one of the greatest characters in the Marvel Universe. But without the suit of armor and his maniacal quest for power, what is he? Any work that’s been done with him over the last few years (mostly by Secret Wars architect Jonathan Hickman) has been tossed aside in this issue, and we don’t really have any context for it. That’s not entirely Bendis’ fault - Marvel’s publishing schedule is really to blame - but the lack of understanding surrounding Doom’s new status quo really neuters the character. Bendis takes the time to explain more about the world through Doom, but Tony basically spends 10 pages dumbfounded that he’s actually speaking to the real Doctor Doom. It’s not a great look for a character that’s supposed to be one of the most intelligent men alive. The playful banter with Tony’s AI, Friday, borders on obnoxious, as Bendis tries to recreate the Robert Downey Jr./Jarvis dynamic of the films. But without the actual intonation, it doesn’t work.
All the hallmarks of a star artist in the making are here, but David Marquez does fumble with his layouts here. Bendis collaborators tend to take some time to gel, but given their work on Ultimate Spider-Man, these two creators are not new to each other - with this tenure in mind, it’s odd to see Marquez try to cram so much into his pages. Still, Marquez’s character renderings and backgrounds are as strong as ever. The new armor finally gets some play in this issue and it’s the body language of the characters and expression work that’s key to getting across the some of Bendis’ script. That said, the pages sometimes feel really busy, and Marquez chooses a few shots (which may have been directed by Bendis) that don’t really add anything to the story.
This issue is really light, and Bendis has to overly decompress the plot in order to stretch it out to 20 pages. I mean, we literally get a double-page spread that has slivers of panels showing us the steps Madame Masque takes in order to take a shower. It’s laughable, and it doesn’t enhance the storytelling experience. It’s a task that we’ve (presumably) all done before. Not only is there no storytelling reason to show it, but it handcuffs Marquez, as well. There isn’t much you can show in those small panels, and it doesn’t give Marquez the breathing room to really wow us.
Invincible Iron Man seems to be biding time until Secret Wars to end so that it can really start revving up the plot. But if that’s the case, maybe it wasn’t the right time to reveal your new flagship title. I can’t believe the plot is moving this slowly only two issues in, but at least the book is nice to look at. Bendis is not utilizing Marquez to the fullest extent, but they have a history, so I’m sure that there will be some big moments coming. Unfortunately, you won’t find them here, and there’s no reason to check in on an issue that can be summarized in half a sentence on the next recap page.
Book of Death: Fall of X-O Manowar #1
Written by Robert Vendetti
Art by Clayton Henry and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by Oscar Maltby
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Valiant's "Book of Death" event casts its spotlight upon Valiant's very own “Iron Man the Barbarian” with Book of Death: Fall of X-O Manowar #1, a story that is more preoccupied with Aric of Dacia's legacy than his actual demise.
Writer Robert Vendetti wisely removes focus from the actual causes of Aric's death (spoilers: old age) in favor of what happens next. For those not in the Valiant loop, X-O Manowar focuses around Shanhara, a symbiotic and intelligent suit of armor that chooses its host. The main villains of the series are the Vine, the cruel, all-conquering alien species who worship Shanhara as a god. Naturally, they're not too happy about it having chosen a human host, and following Aric's death, they travel to the sight of his burial ground to retrieve their idol. Fittingly titled “Succession,” Book of Death: Fall of X-O Manowar #1 serves as a dignified farewell for Aric of Dacia as well as a cathartic, albeit rushed, end to its central conflict.
Vendetti's script avoid the pitfalls other writers have made with the "Book of Death" one-shots and lets Aric's life naturally reach finality instead of concocting an unnecessarily elaborate and narratively clunky death for him. Vendetti realises that Aric is best portrayed as a king from ancient times with unknowable power, and so dedicates a chunk of the issue to a tragic Game of Thrones-styled throne room sequence. Aric's final dying words to his daughter carry weight and substance, making for a genuine and appropriate end for Valiant's flagship superhero.
It's not all dignified death and quiet ruminations on a life well lived though, as Aric's daughter Jhukka bonds with Shanhara and fends off the Vine from her father's final resting place. Narratively, the story holds itself together well until its last few pages, which see Jhukka reasoning with the Vine and uniting them with humanity. Peace comes to easy for Vendetti here, as if all it took to get the beastly Trill and his savage band of zealots to stand down were a few well-placed words. The sentiment is solid, but the resolution comes out of nowhere and makes the series' villains seem too suddenly understanding. The weight of X-O Manowar's history bears down heavily on Book of Death: Fall of X-O Manowar #1; Trill enslaved Aric's people and waged entire wars against humanity, surely he's long past the time for reasonable introspection? Given more space, perhaps Vendetti could have made it work. As it stands, it's a important and complex moment squished into 6 panels that don't come close to doing the idea justice.
Clayton Henry excels in portraying Aric in the final moments of his life. Shanhara clings to the elderly Aric in much the same way it always has, only a skin-tight liquid armor doesn't exactly suit a senior that way it does a warrior in the prime of life. The helmet that was once imposing and protective merely drapes itself limply over Aric's face; a premature death mask that looks more of a hindrance than help. Henry's lines are crisp and filled with personality and what little action there is here is dynamic, with a tasteful amount of light gore to highlight the danger of the fight. Atop Henry's lines, Andrew Dalhouse uses sky blues and burnished oranges to complete the regal feel, casting a bright and optimistic light atop what could have been a tediously rueful story.
Book of Death: Fall of X-O Manowar #1 is a great read right up until its last pages. Clayton Henry and Andrew Dalhouse's artwork is strong throughout, but Robert Vendetti's otherwise excellent script stumbles at the final hurdle, resolving an age-old conflict much too easily. Frustration defined.
The Astonishing Ant-Man #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Ramon Rosanas and Jordan Boyd
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Before being so rudely interrupted by Secret Wars, Scott Lang was making a new life for himself in the sunny climes of Miami. Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas return to the inner machinations of Ant-Man Security Systems in The Astonishing Ant-Man #1, a bright and comedic book that sees the formerly shady Scott Lang struggle with estrangement from his daughter as well as his ex-villain-staffed security company; all with a smile on his face and a wisecrack on his lips.
As with all of Marvel's post-Secret Wars output, Writer Nick Spencer (of Superior Foes of Spider-Man fame) zooms us forward eight months into Scott Lang's future. Ant-Man Security Solutions is off to a slow start, and investor Ms. Morgenstern is eager to see her investment pay off. Spencer clearly delights in plundering the D-list of Marvel super-villainry, dusting off Whirlwind and throwing him back into action thanks to the Power Broker's handy “Hench” app. Spencer's written a well-rounded issue here, mixing car-crunching and wall-smashing action with drama that's sure to tug at your heart-strings. To top it all off, the newly Pym Particle-infused Darren Cross is a solid villain, equal parts physical threat and complete buffoon.
Spencer's Lang is easily empathized with, his diminutive form always there for his daughter without her ever even realizing. His charisma and clear intention to “go legit” makes him the perfect underdog; forever striving and always falling short. Aside from the quality characterization, there are a few panels here that are way too dialogue heavy, as Spencer tries to balance multiple speaking characters alongside Lang's own internal monologue. Artist Ramon Rosanas deserves better than to have his work hidden by four dialogue boxes, and there are times when letterer Travis Lanham has no choice but to cut the tops of heads off in order to get all those words in.
Ramon Rosanas makes the most of Spencer's dialogue-heavy script by varying his panel composition between pages, tilting our view to the side in a dutch angle to convey speed or looking upwards at the world through Scott's ant-sized eyes. Despite his unique take on perspective, Rosanas' characters sometimes lack detail and definition, as best exemplified by the splash close-up of Scott's blemish free face on the first page; a veritable skin-tinted desert of visual desolation.
Jordan Boyd handles The Astonishing Ant-Man #1's colors, using an All-American palette of lobster red, sheer white and sky blue to bring the script's sunny location to life. Boyd also does a great job handling Cross' pink-red skin tone, making him look as permanently embarrassed as he probably should be. To finish, Rosanas inks his own work with an even, medium thick line that brings out the best in his simple but characterful pencil-work.
The colorful employees of Ant-Man Security Systems are mostly absent here, relegated to a brief appearance on the second page. Bear-suited lunk Grizzly continues his role as Ant-Man's comically large second-in-command, forever battling the temptation to return to his petty super-villainous ways. Hopefully there's a larger role for him and the rest in future issues.
Despite the lack of Scott Lang's scene-stealing supporting cast and a couple of over-written panels, The Astonishing Ant-Man #1 is a great first issue. With genuinely funny dialogue, effective drama and tense action, Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas have well and truly delivered the goods here.