Best Shots Reviews: ILLUMINATI #2, WE ARE ROBIN #7

DC Comics Decmber 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Illuminati #2
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Shawn Crystal and John Rauch
Lettering by Joe Carmagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

You might be forgiven for turning your nose up at Marvel's Illuminati - and you wouldn't be the only one. With a team name that once evoked Marvel's best and brightest thinkers, Joshua Williamson and Shawn Crystal have inherited the team name but with none of the characters, instead drawing together a motley crew of C- and D-list villains.

But thankfully, we all know it's way more interesting to be the bad guys.

Despite having what would be a lemon of a high concept on paper, Williamson and Crystal imbue a surprising level of charm to the Hood and his infamous associates. The result isn't a must-read story - at least, not yet - but after a sharp, character-driven first issue featuring Titania, this sophomore effort shows that Williamson and Crystal have put plenty of thought into the rest of the the Hood's crew.

In many ways, Williamson's biggest hurdle is that he is coming on the heels of Nick Spencer, whose masterful Superior Foes of Spider-Man was one of the best Marvel series in recent memory. And before I start getting anybody's hopes up, Illuminati isn't Superior Foes-level quality. But the same sort of charm is still there, as the Hood makes his smarmy sales pitches, trying to entice some of Marvel's least-feared criminals with promises of fortune and glory. But unlike the screwball idiots of Superior Foes, Williamson plays his gang of crooks a little more straight, feeling more in the realm of Ocean's Eleven. There are some interesting bits here, with Thunderball immediately coming off as grounded and relatable, the Mad Thinker acting as the comic relief, and Black Ant being the team's resident sociopath.

Shawn Crystal, meanwhile, draws some compelling work, with his sharp-angled characters fitting the dingy atmosphere perfectly. (Props to colorist John Rauch, who always makes this book look dark, but never dour.) I really like the nuances of design that Crystal gives these characters - Thunderball's stubble, earring and haircut give him a lot more personality than his wrecking ball, while Titania's spiked leather jacket evokes her costume just enough to qualify as a wink. He also keeps the mood of the series more serious - he doesn't have that comedic streak like Steve Lieber, which backfires a little during the Hood's speeches, but makes up for it when the Black Ant decides to get a little murderous with his powers. The one downside to Crystal's artwork is that despite how sharp his characters look, the panel-to-panel storytelling still looks fairly static, which makes the talk-heavy script flow even slower.

Despite these hiccups, there's a lot to like about Illuminati, which feels like a D-team version of Thunderbolts. Williamson's script doesn't drag when it comes to introducing his characters - always a plus - and the fact that he's able to bring his team into the larger Marvel universe (and give them a compelling threat to face next issue) is a victory. That said, this book's biggest hurdle is going to be the fact that this team and its members have no Q rating, and with Marvel relaunching so many of its other titles, books like this one might get lost in the shuffle.

Credit: DC Comics

We Are Robin #7
Written by Lee Bermejo
Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico and Mat Lopes
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Bruce Wayne's wards show the We Are Robin crew how it's done, as Lee Bermejo and Carmine Di Giandomenico strut their stuff with the latest chapter of "Robin War." While this issue ultimately sidelines that crew of teenagers we've been following the past few months, this still winds up being a fun issue, thanks in large part to the upgraded art team.

Like I've said before, "Robin War"'s greatest strength as a crossover has been allowing different creators to tack on different angles of the same story, keeping the narrative moving forward while varying things up enough to keep us from getting bored. And the big x-factor in this issue has to be Spider-Man Noir alum Carmine Di Giandomenico on art. Di Giandomenico in many ways feels like a spiritual successor to Scott McDaniel, particularly with his lanky character designs and his eye for kinetic action. Just like you might have guessed from the cover, this issue's big set piece is a knock-down, drag-out brawl between Red Hood and Red Robin, and after seeing Di Giandomenico in action, I only wish it had gone on longer.

Watching Di Giandomenico work his magic on the various Bat-characters in this storyline, you can't help but notice a little bit of repetition, as well as a few contradictions from previous chapters of "Robin War." While Di Giandomenico's take on Grayson and Jim Gordon look superb, writer Lee Bermejo actually switches the characterization that Ray Fawkes utilized in Detective Comics, as Gordon winds up reading as much savvier than his super-spy comrade. Additionally, Bermejo only progresses the overarching "Robin War" storyline incrementally, with all the various players only a step or two further than they were an issue ago.

If there's any one big problem with We Are Robin #7, it's that the main characters of the comic are by and large missing in action. While mastermind Duke Thomas narrates the majority of this issue, he and his band of ragtag teens don't actually do anything, leaving the grunt work to the professionals. Unfortunately, we're already at peak Robin saturation with Dick, Jason, Tim and Damian, and having Duke deliver some eye-rollers like "suppose I just didn't fully realize when I got into this, just how skilled you have to be" doesn't make We Are Robin fly as a concept. If these kids aren't going to be playing at the varsity level, as Damian Wayne calls it, we have to figure out another way for these kids not to come off as dopes in their own book.

While the main storyline of this book is simple and unvarnished, the art makes We Are Robin #7 a worthwhile read regardless. Carmine Di Giandomenico is a real catch for DC, and if they know what's good for them, they'll continue to throw high-profile work his way. We Are Robin #7 may not reinvent the wheel - or even this crossover - but it is a particularly stylish entry for an easily overlooked book.

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