International Iron Man #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
Believe it or not, despite all the creativity that goes into comic books, storytelling ultimately comes down to math. Not necessarily hard numbers, but being able to track minute narrative decisions and be able to figure out how they all total into one cohesive whole. Does a story feel balanced? Is there setup to your payoff? Are there any X-factors that act as force multipliers, those unique moments that make your story even more memorable? Overt or not, there's a kind of calculus that comes into play when it comes to quality entertainment - and unfortunately, International Iron Man #1 doesn't add up.
Perhaps part of the trepidation that came from this book is the fact that already Brian Michael Bendis's first Iron Man series felt decompressed and underdeveloped, even with heavy hitters like David Marquez and Mike Deodato on art. International Iron Man, however, winds up being a different sort of beast, taking place almost entirely in flashback to Tony Stark's college years at Cambridge. (Indeed, Iron Man himself only appears in the bookends of this debut issue, which could very well be a dealbreaker for plenty of people hoping to see some more repulsor-charged action.) Instead, Bendis uses this debut issue to introduce Cassandra Gillespie, a wealthy, sheltered heiress from Tony's past - a James Bond-style cliche that's already getting a little tired, given that Tony's love interests rarely stick around long enough to become fully developed characters.
To his credit, though, Bendis gives this budding couple a fairly cute dynamic, but the nagging issue still remains - this ultimately doesn't feel like a Tony Stark story. And that ultimately winds up blowing up in a big way later, when Bendis suddenly has to shoehorn in the obligatory superhero book action in a book that up until then was a pretty tame rom-com. So when HYDRA agents start suddenly shooting up the place, things start adding up to all the wrong numbers: When trouble strikes, why does this young, inexperienced Tony Stark suddenly start shooting people? Why wouldn't an armed attack - which includes a bullet wound to the shoulder and a HYDRA agent literally ready to execute him - absolutely reshape the course of this young man's life, far more than his later P.O.W. experience that turned him into Iron Man in the first place? We've seen brooding, bat-themed vigilantes come out of way less than this - and it absolutely attacks the very suspension of disbelief that is the foundation of Bendis's narrative. When you combine that with the lightweight dating plot that comes before this abrupt shift, and you wind up with a book that feels barely feels like Iron Man even in name.
But given his long history on Marvel's A-list, Bendis's other great strength is that he always works with superb artists, and Alex Maleev might be International Iron Man's one saving grace. While I'm not yet convinced about how Maleev might tackle the fluid, dynamic choreography of superhero combat, he does deliver on the sheer moodiness and shadow of Cambridge, whether its the crowded halls of a college party or the darkness in a HYDRA agent's eyes as he plans to send Tony Stark to the great beyond. He also does some good work with young Tony Stark - he might not be as recognizable without his signature mustache, but there's something endearing about this kid as he brashly goes after Cassandra. Colorist Paul Mounts can't get enough credit for the visual tone of this book - there's a beautiful, painterly style to his rendering, and he is really effective at using bright bursts of oranges and purples to really add some clarity to what could otherwise be some very dark inked pages.
But when it comes to down to the hard math of comic book storytelling, you wind up realizing that creators like Maleev are known quantities - their style is consistent and expected, and when you know the artist isn't green enough to be making unforced errors, you recognize that their talent is a given. They're going to produce quality artwork, even if the story underneath isn't quality at all. But the formula for iconic work is simple: a great script plus great artwork equals a fantastic issue. But when the script is as inconsistent, underdeveloped and just plain out-of-left-field as Invincible Iron Man #1, it's going to be very difficult for all but the most diehard Bendis super-fans to justify sticking around.
Legends of Tomorrow #1
Written by Gerry Conway, Aaron Lopresti, Keith Giffen and Len Wein
Art by Eduardo Pansica, Rob Hunter, Aaron Lopresti, Matt Banning, Chris Sotomayor, Bilquis Evely, Ivan Plascencia, Yildiray Cinar, Trevor Scott and Dean White
Lettering by Corey Breen ,Michael Heisler, Tom Napolitano and Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Though it shares the title of The CW’s latest hit DC television show, Legends of Tomorrow #1 barely little resemblance to its namesake. Built as a four-story anthology from a myriad of talented creators, this new series gives some of DC’s lesser-known heroes some time center stage with fast-paced mini-stories, some of which functioning as first parts to ongoing serialized stories. Though DC has made a habit of publishing long, drawn-out weekly series with the same goal of highlighting some of their B- and C-listers, Legends of Tomorrow’s execution is much cleaner and more compact, packing a four separate experiences into just a single issue. Though some tales don’t land as well as the others, there is still a lot of fun to be had, and while fans of the TV show may only be familiar Firestorm, this new #1 aims to introduce new readers to their new favorite deep cut DC heroes.
Anthology issues are a tricky tightrope to walk. Inevitably some stories will come across better than the rest and Legends of Tomorrow #1 is no different. Though fans will find four different stories therein, presented by four separate creative teams. Of course, there are standouts: for example, Keith Giffen, Bilquis Evely and Ivan Plascencia’s Sugar and Spike story handily walks away with this debut issue, delivering a funny street-level tale of metahuman private eyes attempting to recover some of Batman’s craziest Silver Age costumes from Killer Moth. While the rest of the stories slot themselves comfortably into the genre of superheroics, this Sugar and Spike story feels like an episode of Veronica Mars that just happens to be set in Gotham City. Giffen, Evely and Plascencia commit themselves to do something the exact opposite of the stories that surround it, instantly making it a standout simply because of its acidic wit and smoothly rendered pulpy visuals. Though Legends of Tomorrow #1 openly advertises itself as a superhero series, it is two wisecracking private eyes that make it fun, even without otherworldly powers.
This isn’t to say that the rest of the stories are bad - they just don’t seem as interesting compared to Sugar and Spike mainly because we have seen stories like them before. I mentioned the Silver Age before, and while Keith Giffen uses the era as the set up for a hilarious gag, the rest of the stories and writers lean into the Silver Age style as they present their stories. Each story, aside from Sugar and Spike, could stand on their own as miniseries #1s, reintroducing each character into the DC landscape with fast-paced (and somewhat clunky) minisode-like pages. Gerry Conway returns to his creation to deliver a story of Firestorm, once again, struggling to stay together safely. Writer/artist Aaron Lopestri delves deep into the DC canon to recount Metamorpho’s insane origins, complete with his first heavy, a caveman procured from ice named Java. Finally Len Wein sends us out with a rollicking Metal Men story in which they find themselves once again hated and feared by the outside world.
While these metahuman starring stories are nothing we haven’t read before, especially that of the Metal Men, whose story feels weirdly similar to their guest-starring turn in Justice League, Legends of Tomorrow #1 still feels energetic, thanks to the loaded bench of artistic talent rendering each story. Each artist’s style, like Eduardo Pansica and Rob Hunter’s sketchy Firestorm tale and Yildiray Cinar, Trevor Scott, and Dean White’s polished and vibrant Metal Men pages, meld into an interesting collection of visuals that do their best to make up for the familiar feeling scripts that make up the superhero yarns of this debut. Anthology books are tricky, but thankfully Legends of Tomorrow’s multiple creative teams are trying their best to make theirs as entertaining and as visually interesting as possible.
Legends of Tomorrow may not look anything like its TV counterpart, but that might actually be for the best. Though the Legends of CW TV were threaded into The CW-verse through their respective shows, the Legends here are lesser-known DC staples that are ripe for the kind of resurgence this anthology can offer. Though the weekly format quickly feels boorish and unending, Legends of Tomorrow #1 makes great use of a format that DC could and should be using to its advantage more often. DC has a wealth of characters that are just itching to be made use of and Legends of Tomorrow #1 is a fun step in the right direction for all those lost or forgotten DC heroes of yesteryear.
Extraordinary X-Men #8
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Ibanez, Victor Olzaba, Sotocolor and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
"You look tired."
It's something that Wolverine - err, Old Man Logan - tells Storm on the first page of Extraordinary X-Men #8. But to be honest, it feels like something that could be said of the Children of the Atom as a franchise right now, as they struggle further and further, sinking deeper into the quicksands of a narrative rut. Even in the aftermath of Secret Wars, which was supposed to give readers a new jumping-on point for Marvel's various series, the X-Men have never felt more scattered and unfocused, with their central metaphor of intolerance and coexistence being muddied by Terrigen Mists, magic, and now the shoehorning in of a big Apocalypse-themed event.
Writer Jeff Lemire has a lot of balls in the air with this book, and on the one hand, you can't help but admire how feverishly he's trying to keep everything going. But as a reader, this rapid pacing winds up steamrolling some legitimately good character moments: for example, Storm and Wolverine wind up sharing a moment together in the book's first scene, but it's immediately undercut by some requisite soap opera drama (in this case, with Storm's ex, Forge), followed immediately by the mutant rescue plot of the month, which pits Colossus and his team of young X-misfits against the Sugar Man. Given that we're now eight issues into the mix, you'd think that we'd have some tighter focus here, but instead, it feels like Lemire is throwing things against the wall in the hopes that something sticks.
Part of the other problem with Lemire's script is that the story is so sprawling, there are constantly characters assaulting readers with expository dialogue - it's so utilitarian that it's difficult for Lemire to really capture anyone's voices. Nothing is really being expressed visually, so it's all showing, not telling. The one emotional highlight of the issue winds up really only playing to longtime readers, who have watched characters like Anole or Glob start off as awkward teenagers, so seeing them grow into a team of X-Men shaped by time travel plucks at the heartstrings a bit. But the moment is fleeting, and is ultimately undercut by the reveal of Apocalypse - it's less the equivalent of putting a cherry on top of a sundae, and more like deciding to put a whole new cake on top of it.
Humberto Ramos, meanwhile, is a bit hit-or-miss with this issue - sometimes there are some really fun moments, particularly in the body language he gives Cerebra, whose massive frame constantly hunkers down meekly, but other times, he strains to fit in a ton of characters into a pretty cramped set of layouts. (His inker, Victor Olzaba, definitely has a lot of rendering to do, with energy bolts and dockyard waters being added in liberally, but once it gets to the coloring stage, it can't help but be a little difficult to follow.) But other times, Ramos really sells his pages - there's a really dynamic sequence with the X-Men teleporting into battle, and a splash page of the X-Men being torn into time looks really striking.
The backup story, featuring a guest appearance by Dr. Strange and art by Victor Ibanez, only reinforces the meandering nature of the X-Men right now. We've already got a lot going on now with time-travel and Apocalypse, so adding in a magical subplot makes this story feel even more schizophrenic - Lemire spends a lot of time explaining the mutant-powered magic of new X-Man Sapna, but there's not enough of her as an actual three-dimensional character to make us really care about her. (It also bugs me that while there's so much thought brought into how a language-absorbing character can learn magic but have a "saturation point" for other skills, but that the M-Pox that has literally driven the X-Men into another dimension is so inconsistent with how it affects people.) Ibanez, however, does seem at home with the life-like imagery of New York City and even Strange's Sanctum, and colorist Edgar Delgado gives a nice few jolts of atmosphere to keep things from getting too slow.
While the X-Men have long been known as the soapiest of Marvel's superheroes, I'd argue that kind of drama was always rooted in character - it's about Storm missing being a goddess in Africa, it's about Nightcrawler being self-conscious about his looks in public, it's about the love triangle between Scott, Logan and Jean. Extraordinary X-Men feels like the opposite of that - it's throwing concept after concept after concept at readers, not giving them a chance to absorb them or really even breathe. It's an exhausting way to consume an issue, and I can't imagine it being any easier to write a book like this. If Extraordinary X-Men doesn't pick a focus soon and stick with it, the Inhumans are going to be the least of their worries.
Green Arrow #50
Written by Benjamin Percy
Art by Szymon Kudranski and Gabe Eltaeb
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Green Arrow celebrates his 75th anniversary this year, and even the most dedicated follower will recognize that change is an essential part of what makes the character continually engaging. For a character that once rode on the back of a giant doppelgänger named Xeen Arrow, made prodigious use of a Boxing Glove Arrow and fought a psychic little girl that looked like Richard Nixon, the introduction of a werewolf storyline feels beyond the pale even for one of the most liberal characters in DC’s stable.
Ollie has been infected with the Lukos disease, one that is slowly turning him into a werewolf-like creature. In and of itself, that could make a fascinating story if writer Benjamin Percy hadn’t felt the limitations of his own idea several issues into the arc. At the start of his run, Percy was determined to keep Ollie out of his Green Arrow costume, frustrating readers but also reminding us of what it means to be the man behind the mask/hood. Percy attempts to bring back some of the concepts that he introduced in his initial arcs, but now it’s a potpourri of ideas from various horror tropes that barely belong together in the same story, let alone in one about Green Arrow.
The issue with the current run of Green Arrow is not necessarily that Ollie is infected with an exotic disease, or even that it turns him into a werewolf style creature. In fact, there is a certain continuity with the highly topical stories that Denny O’Neil or Judd Winick infused the character with, albeit changing the more forthright discussion topics into something obscured by horror fiction. The thinly veiled disease that some have bluntly called a metaphor for HIV lacks the subtlety of an allegorical tale, but also the honesty of Judd Winick’s Speedy tackling the disease head-on. The fault lies in Percy’s execution. In his short run on the title, he has taken what was initially an interesting horror spin on an establishment character and completely lost the thread of his own story. Gang warfare, attempts to spread the Lukos virus by the infected and the last minute introduction of the villain Deathstroke all feel like a massive rush to get to a conclusion that barely had an introduction, let alone a second act. Introducing new characters and (Doctor) Miracle cures are attempts to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear at this late stage.
Percy’s original artist Patrick Zircher is sorely missed this issue, with Szymon Kudranski’s art never quite achieving the uncomfortable and dark sequences that Zircher gave the Seattle backdrop, even if colorist Gaeb Eltaeb. Having said that, Kudranski tackles the action sequences skillfully, and it’s a pleasure to finally see Oliver Queen sporting his iconic beard throughout this run. Yet while there are some definite standouts throughout this issue, including a beautiful blue-on-red attack sequences from some bikers, Kudranski flips between styles as swiftly as Percy attempts to decide on a direction for the issue.
As an anniversary issue marking 50 issues since the dawn of the "New 52," Green Arrow shows no signs of shaking the narrative confusion that plagued it in the initial issues. Still searching for a sense of identity, the addition of the horror genre and a half-hearted attempt at relevancy barely captures the spirit of modern politics, let alone the long history of political discourse that has been a part of Oliver Queen’s adventures over the last three-quarters of a century. At this stage, we can only hope that DC’s much-hyped "Rebirth" event manages to find the center of the target again.