Best Shots Reviews: OMEGA MEN #9, INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #7

Marvel Comics March 2016 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Omega Men #9
Written by Tom King
Art by Barnaby Begenda and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Tom King and Barnaby Begenda's subversive space opera reaches a feverish crescendo in Omega Men #9, a book that proves that war is hell, even in a galaxy far, far away.

While plenty of comic books make their bones talking about dark and edgy their brooding characters are, I think Tom King is one of the first writers to really take to heart all the calamity and bloodshed a true antihero is capable of. Throughout this entire series, the Omega Men have been people who do bad things in response to a corrupt regime - but I think even King knows that that doesn't make Princess Kalista and her men good people. One man's freedom fighter is very much another man's terrorist in Omega Men, and King really toys with his audience's expectations in that regard. Can we really take the Omega Men at their word when they ask to speak peacefully before the leaders of the universe, when we know that deception is their greatest weapon? Can we truly condemn what is very much a genocidal act, knowing that that act is perpetrated with someone with love in their heart? Characterization can lead to a slippery slope, and King knows it.

But that all said, King isn't descending into nihilism here, with consummate hero Kyle Rayner acting as the audience's surrogate into this physically and morally alien realm. In certain ways, King seems to delight in showing us that Kyle has a simplistic, black-and-white attitude for the complicated landscape in which the Omega Men fight; but in other aspects, King seems to have a more hopeful streak, alluding that Kyle's unwillingness to cavalierly shed blood isn't a weakness, but a perspective cultivated by the nuance that comes with being the universe's first White Lantern. King works with some fun metaphors in this issue, as all hell breaks loose, and Kyle has to remind himself - and his readers - that mastery of the emotional spectrum has more resonance than giant green boxing gloves or a mouth full of boiling blood, leading to a cliffhanger that I think will make plenty of readers cheer.

Meanwhile, the artwork in this book continues to impress. Barnaby Begenda's secret weapon has to be colorist Romulo Fajardo, Jr., who keeps this book looking visually cohesive thanks to the strength of his painterly palette. It works to Begenda's advantage - even with numerous small panels, each character has a very specific color scheme which makes them easy to make out. Yet I wouldn't undersell Begenda's contributions to this book, either - while occasionally his expressions might not be the most consistent, he has a real knack for composition and drama, setting up the danger that lurks even in a place of peace. King and Begenda do some fun stuff in terms of how they pace out their panels, with a sudden expansion into single and double-page splashes showing how fast things can escalate. (And if you don't feel something when you see a splash of the robotic Doc staring into the cosmos, he might not be the only one who's a heartless machine.)

When the stakes are high enough, there are no rules - and there are no heroes, either. That's the ultimate moral of Omega Men, a counterintuitive comic that winds up becoming so much deeper thanks to its ongoing conflict about the ethics of war and rebellion. Having lifelong do-gooder Kyle Rayner front and center in this book has wound up being a truly shrewd decision - not only is this not the kind of fight he typically engages himself in, but this also not the kind of book that DC Comics typically publishes. It's rough-edged, scarred and cynical, but with a world of complexity to dig into. It's not easily digested, or even easily liked. But at the end of the day - perhaps like the Omega Men themselves - it's the kind of book we desperately need.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Invincible Iron Man #7
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Mike Deodato and Frank Martin
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Invincible Iron Man, now more than ever, is a book about relationships. While Tony Stark’s exploits as the armored Avenger provide the book most of its action beats, it's his interpersonal relationships (and their failures) that gives the book a strong humanist streak. This installment from last week is a prime example of this as it focuses on Tony’s new hire, Mary Jane Watson. Brian Michael Bendis displays a firm handle on the voice of our favorite self-proclaimed "hot mess of a human," aided by the gorgeous and defined pencils of Mike Deodato and the rustic colors of Frank Martin. Invincible Iron Man #7 may not be the most action-packed issue of the series to date, but Team Iron Man still make sure to set off more than enough fireworks throughout Tony’s life.

Presented throughout in tight panel grids, this seventh issue finds new Stark Industries employee Mary Jane Watson finding out just what exactly she is getting herself into. Naturally, it's here that Bendis’ gift for gab really shines through, as Tony and Mary Jane spar verbally and eventually come to an understanding about M.J.’s new role. While other writers have leaned into Tony’s foibles as a flake and space-case, Bendis seems to be placing Tony in a position to make a real change in his life, and that’s exactly why Mary Jane is on the payroll.

But, Bendis doesn’t just stop with Marvel’s favorite redhead. Invincible Iron Man #7 also pairs Ol’ Shellhead up with Spider-Man in order to track down War Machine James Rhodes, who has gone missing in Tokyo after investigating the biohack ninjas from the opening issues. It is here that this issue comes off the rails a bit as the fun and flirty interaction between Tony and M.J. is quickly replaced with a rushed cliffhanger and a very quick cameo from Spider-Man himself to set up a full blown team-up next month. One of the frustrating things about a Brian Michael Bendis book is that you can see where the story is going from the get-go most of the time, but since he has to stretch it out for a few more issues, the opening parts always feel like half a story. Invincible Iron Man #7 might not be the most egregious example of this type of story-stretching, but you can’t help but notice it nonetheless. While the rushed ending doesn’t torpedo the issue fully, the plot still feels like it ends before it can well and truly start.

Though it was announced that art team Mike Deodato and Frank Martin will be sticking around on the title for the time being, this seventh issue still stands as a gorgeous example of why they should. Bendis and Deodato are no strangers to each other’s works, having handled much of the latter part of Bendis’ New Avengers. However, since then, Deodato’s work has gotten so much stronger and cleaner, giving Invincible Iron Man a clearly defined style. Employing the same tight grids and character details that fans expect, Deodato really goes for it here, making Tony’s new look his own, both in and out of the armor. Deodato also adds little flourishes throughout to distract from the light action of this seventh issue. For example, as Mary Jane and Tony make their way into his inner laboratory, Deodato presents the scene as a two-page splash, separated into twenty-four separate panels, all meshing into one splash. It isn’t exactly the most groundbreaking of choices but its one that injects a little visual energy into a scene of just people talking.

While Invincible Iron Man #7 is a clear example of one of Brian Michael Bendis’ most frustrating quirks as a writer, there is still a lot of fun to be had with Tony this month. Along with a newly focused Mike Deodato and the rich colors of Frank Martin, Bendis makes this job interview centered issue as fun and quippy as possible as they work toward bigger things. Though Invincible Iron Man may be all about robot fights and replusors most months, it is nice to see that this creative team can deliver a fun and flirty workplace comedy just as well as they can blow up robots and fight ninjas.

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