Best Shots Reviews: JLA #8, X-MEN '92 #1, FAITH #3

Marvel Hip-Hop variant cover
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Justice League of America #8
Written by Bryan Hitch
Art by Bryan Hitch, Daniel Henriques and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

One of the biggest compliments for DC's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is that the film had DC's biggest characters engaged in combat on a massive scale, taking a god-like magnification on these legendary icons. And if your trip to the cineplex wasn't enough for you, then you should feast your eyes on Justice League of America #8, which presents the same larger-than-life quality but without the controversial characterization.

In building up the Kryptonian god Rao, Bryan Hitch has actually created a very cool high concept for a villain - he's someone who is as strong as Superman, but who ultimately derives that power from the very humans that the Justice League is trying to protect. The result is a very tense battle, but one that plays really well with the strength of characters like Superman and the Justice League - this isn't a problem that can be punched out of submission, but something that needs nuance and thought behind it. While Hitch will always be associated with the big, brawny, widescreen visuals of The Ultimates and The Authority, he's proven to be a really canny storyteller as well here - after several issues of the League being divided, he's reunited most of the team to great effect here, with Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman tag-teaming against Rao while Batman, Cyborg and a very fun guest star activate their backup plan.

It goes without saying that all this also looks beautiful. Honestly, my biggest regret about Justice League of America is that we couldn't have gotten this book sooner - Hitch combines such a sureness of character with this bold, sweeping imagery, like Superman punching Rao on the surface of the moon before literally tackling him through Earth's atmosphere, blasting him with a powerful blast of heat vision. Hitch really toes that line well, not making Superman look scary, but showing that the gloves are off here, and that the Man of Steel is absolutely in for the fight of his life. Other bits, like Wonder Woman diving into the fray, with the ground literally exploding under her feet, just showcases the kind of power the League has as its disposal, while there's a really beautiful sequence of Superman using his own body to block Rao's heat vision from incinerating Aquaman, which is such a nice contrast from colorist Alex Sinclair.

But what works best about Justice League of America #8 is not only has Hitch brought up a smart twist to Rao - namely, that the League is going to have to think of another plan other than just punching him - but that he already offers some smart solutions. For example, while I previously rolled my eyes at the inclusion of the Parasite in an earlier issue of the series, Hitch proves me wrong with this issue, showing that all of his storytelling choices are deliberate, and have a payoff to go along with that setup. Additionally, he does a magnificent job juggling all the Leaguers in this issue, with only Green Lantern sitting this issue out. Superman, for example, is ready to die before letting someone get hurt in Rao's thrall, while Batman is sassy as hell as he kicks a bad guy in the face.

While there's the occasional hiccup in this issue - namely, the cliffhanger doesn't really have any teeth, while a splash page featuring Wonder Woman looks a little wonky in the detailing - ultimately, this is the kind of comic that DC purists and fight comic aficionados should absolutely pay attention to. This is bigger than big and larger than life, and does a great job showcasing the different styles of DC's most important icons. If you haven't been reading Justice League of America, now is the time to start.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men ‘92 #1
Written by Chris Sims and Chad Bowers
Art by Alti Firmansyah and Matt Mills
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

For a long time, the X-Men were the belle of the ball in the Marvel Universe. Sure, things didn’t always work out for them, but under the steady hand of Chris Claremont, a group of characters that Stan Lee couldn’t think of a better origin for than “they were born that way” blossomed. Their popularity resulted in one of the most beloved superhero animated series of all time. Despite the wonky animation, the show cut to the heart of the characters and was able to adapt some of the comic books’ more memorable storylines. For many this is the end-all-be-all era for the X-Men, and Marvel paid attention. Chris Sims and Chad Bowers return for a follow-up to their Secret Wars miniseries with X-Men ‘92 #1. But the stakes are different. Outside of that world-changing event, Sims and Bowers are tasked with creating new adventures that still tug at the rose-colored memories of our youths.

Thankfully, the two writers mostly succeed. By all accounts, Sims is a bonafide X-Men: The Animated Series scholar, and the writing team is able to nail down each character’s distinct personalities pretty quickly. Additionally, they hew pretty closely to the tone of the show so while the jokes are a little goofy and ham-handed, it makes sense in the context of the universe. These characters have changed so much in the years since the show debuted but it’s nice to see them back to their old ways and old costumes and Saturday morning hijinks. And the pacing is the same, too. We open at the school when Weapon X alum Maverick shows up with a warning for the X-Men before Darkstar and the Winter Guard appear on the doorstep - and honoring those ‘90s tropes, of course a battle ensues before we get some explanation about their motivations. It’s a tried and true formula that works. I don’t think Sims and Bowers are trying to do more than they have to, but the question is, are they doing enough? I’d say that for what basically amounts to an alternate reality take on the X-Men, they do. Without the weight of current continuity, the book is as breezy and easy to follow as they come and sometimes, that’s a welcome change of pace.

Alti Firmansyah was not a name I was familiar with before this issue, but the Indonesian artist quickly impressed. The book doesn’t look exactly like the show, but that’s a good thing. Instead, Firmansyah opts to recreate the feel of the original by giving us the old costumes and familiar settings. And that still allows the artist to include her own little flourishes here and there. Her expression work is particularly notable. Due to the show’s art direction and animation style, characters were only able to exhibit a small range of expressions. Firmansyah throws that idea to the wind and instead opts to include a few that readers might recognize more from anime or manga than American comics or animation.

If you have nostalgia for the old X-Men animated series, then this is a book for you. Sims and Bowers are reverent of the source material and build on it accordingly. But if you are looking for more meat and potatoes from your superhero comic books, you might want to stick to the in-continuity stuff. There are no really big stakes here. These characters won’t change. They’re frozen in time, and that’s part of the appeal of this book. X-Men ‘92 #1 is like meeting up with some old friends and being pleasantly surprised that you can still enjoy each other’s company even though you’ve gotten older.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Faith #3
Written by Jody Houser
Art by Francis Portela, Marguerite Sauvage, Terry Pallot, Andrew Dalhouse and Michael Spicer
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Faith #3, the series’ penultimate issue, has a lot of ground to cover, and thankfully it covers it well. As gun-toting goons storm her offices at Zipline, Faith is forced to reveal her superhero persona to her coworkers in order to keep them safe. As if that wasn’t enough, the shadowy hand behind the kidnappings Faith was investigating has now made themselves known and they are a name that Valiant Entertainment fans should know well by now: the Vine. Writer Jody Houser, still making the most of Faith’s sunny disposition and limitless geek knowledge, keeps shifting this miniseries’ status quo, giving Faith, and her readers, the full superhero experience in just a few issues. While Faith may be relatively new to the Valiant universe, Faith #3 presents her as an established hero, one with a firm spot carved out in a line full of standout characters.

Resolving last month’s office storming cliffhanger, Faith finds herself having to choose between saving her friends and preserving her civilian identity. Thankfully for her coworkers, Faith’s choice is an easy one as he abandons her civilian in a heartbeat in order to take on the goons who are shooting up her workspace. Jody Houser smartly starts off this issue with some quick action and an obvious moral choice for Faith, which just further illustrates how compelling of a character she is. Though most of her career has been centered around her trying to keep her lives separate, she doesn’t hesitate for a second in order to save her friends. Valiant Entertainment has no shortage of heroes, but Faith #3 is a fun example of exactly why Faith Herbert has struck such a chord with readers.

After battling the goons to an explosive conclusion, Faith is back on the trail of the kidnappers and this is where Jody Houser gives this issue an extra leg up by connecting it to the larger Valiant Entertainment world. As Faith’s personal and professional lives merge, she asked to interview the star of her favorite sci-fi TV show, who casually reveals her place in an alien conspiracy involving the kidnappings and a long standing resentment for humanity on the Vine’s part, who plan to use the kidnapped and converted psiots in order to take back what they believe humanity has taken from them. While other issues benefitted from their disconnect from the larger universe, Houser makes the most of the Vine’s grand reveal at the big bad of this miniseries as well as a flirty cameo from Archer via Skype, giving Faith #3 a firm narrative bedrock along with its engaging characterizations. Though Faith grabbed headlines as a solo hero, it is nice to see that she can play just as well in the larger Valiant sandbox as she does on her own.

While the issue itself benefits from shaking things up, the title’s regular art team, pencilers Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage, inker Terry Pallot and colorists Andrew Dalhouse and Michael Spicer deliver yet another solid issue that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel in terms of the book’s visuals. Armed with yet another gorgeous dream sequence by Sauvage, Faith’s art team delicately balances the high-flying action of the opening office siege as well as the quiet, emotional moments like Faith comparing case notes with Archer via her laptop in her bedroom. Though the balance of action and emotion is always nice to see from an art team, Portela, Pallot, Dalhouse, and Spicer even send readers out with a creepy splash page of Vine weirdness in order to truly sell the threat that Faith faces next issue. The final page, that of the Vine leader shouting about taking back the planet while surrounded by his followers who praise him on bended knees, is an off-putting, but evocative final image to end on. Especially since next month’s issue is Faith’s last... at least for now.

While Faith grabbed all sorts of headlines at the start of her career for Valiant Entertainment, Faith #3 reads like Faith’s place in her universe is secured. By connecting her solo outing to larger narrative threads at play in the company, Jody Houser takes this story of a new, fledgling superhero and makes it feel so much larger as it goes into its finale. Along with evocative pencils from a stocked art team, Faith #3 feels like much more than just a simple solo outing. It feels like the start of something much bigger - and deadlier - for Faith and for the Valiant Universe as a whole.

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