Best Shots Reviews: CIVIL WAR II #4, TITANS #1, FUTURE QUEST #3, More

Marvel Comics July 2016 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New All-Different Avengers #12
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Mahmud Asrar and Dave McCaig
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Now this is what an Avengers story should look like.

Bringing a professional wrestling twist to an interdimensional battle with Annihulus, Mark Waid and Mahmud Asrar deliver a fast-paced and fun read with All-New All-Different Avengers #12. Thanks to a very smart conceit surrounding Captain Marvel’s Nega-Bands, this action-packed issue is a perfect showcase of this team’s chemistry, abilities and personalities.

Following last issue’s cliffhanger, the Avengers have freed themselves from the Negative Zone unscathed - that is, unless you count the fact that Miles Morales has been stranded on the other side of a dimensional portal, with an insectoid warlord hot on his tail! One would think that it’s all over for this fledgling Spider-Man, but Waid has a fantastic trick up his sleeve: namely, using some deep-cut Marvel mythology to turn this one-on-one battle into some ingenious tag-team action.

Not only does this premise show how selfless and heroic each member of the team is as they jump into the fray without hesitation, but it also gives Waid a chance to highlight each Avenger’s strengths. The Vision, for example, atones for his sins when he was reprogrammed by Kang, while Ms. Marvel and Nova each use their unique abilities to destroy Annihulus' Blackstar cannon, and Iron Man and Thor have a great team-up that makes great use of an Uru hammer and a billion-dollar armored suit.

Waid’s breezy, action-heavy script also gives artist Mahmud Asrar a great chance to shine. With the Avengers each jumping in and out of the battle, there’s a great rhythm and sense of motion to the action choreography here, with some really good-looking panels such as the Vision taking Spider-Man’s place in the Negative Zone, or Nova making the executive decision that “it’s up to me to fix this!” Colorist Dave McCaig, meanwhile, uses some unconventional choices with his green and orange backgrounds, but given the otherworldly nature of this story, it winds up being a nicely energetic fit.

If there’s one hiccup to this issue, it’s Waid’s continuing subplot featuring Nadia Pym, the All-New Wasp, having a day out exploring Washington, D.C. with Janet Van Dyne, which feels like a bit of an insubstantial interlude amidst the Avengers’ battle to the death out in space. But besides this detour into B-story territory, All-New All-Different Avengers #12 is one of the strongest issues of this series yet. If you’re a fan of character-driven superhero comics like Grant Morrison’s JLA or Geoff Johns’ Justice Society of America, you should definitely check this issue out.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Civil War II #4
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Marquez and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Heroes fighting heroes. An Avenger on trial. An Inhuman with a power to profile the future.

And all that Civil War II can elicit is a yawn.

Trust me, it’s not something I like saying. The original Civil War was a perennial bestseller for Marvel, and it’s a no-brainer to try to recapture that spirit with another round of politically-inspired superhero infighting. But four issues into Marvel’s latest event, it doesn’t take a precog to tell you that this series isn’t just in trouble, but might be past the point of no return.

Given that we’re in an election year with some very clear themes, it’s shocking that Civil War II feels this slow and this formless. But that formlessness comes from Brian Michael Bendis’ script, which introduces new concepts only to drop them almost immediately, which might work well in character summaries on Wikipedia but lacks any of the emotion or resonance of a dramatic narrative. We see a new spin on an old Hulk, we get the verdict of the trial of Hawkeye, we get to finally see Iron Man and Captain Marvel’s conflict come to a head - but there’s little buildup and zero follow-through, making what should be an interesting head-to-head feel both perfunctory and totally unearned.

And while I’ve said this regarding previous issues of the series, it bears repeating here - we’re four issues into a series called Civil War II, we’ve barely seen any action. Literally, the most we see here is Carol Danvers arresting a nobody with a briefcase. That’s it. To call it disappointing and frustrating is an understatement to say the least.

Instead, what Bendis spends much of his time focusing on the exact wrong stuff. A huge chunk of this book is just Tony Stark explaining how the precognitive Ulysses’ visions work, and the problem is, Bendis is burning through tons of pages answering a question that no one even asked. There is some very surface-level philosophy questions being asked here about profiling and accuracy percentages, but there’s little here to get you excited. In that regard, he actually doubles down on a problem the original Civil War had, in that he’s trying very hard to tip the scales and assign a clear moral winner and loser in this debate, when it’s clear just from one panel that you’re not going to side against Iron Man and Captain America, especially not when you have Carol Danvers throwing an unpowered civilian in jail with literally zero evidence to support it.

At this point, this book’s only redeeming factor is artist David Marquez, whose character designs are beautiful, if wasted on this storyline. Marquez’s artwork is defined by his clean linework, which feels similar to Steve McNiven’s style on the original Civil War series. That said, Marquez is given very little to do in terms of livening up this talking head extravaganza, and so he struggles valiantly to get some exciting imagery where he can, such as a panel of Captain Marvel flying towards us, or an image of one character’s eyes widening with rage over the Hawkeye verdict. But other times, this script does him a real disservice, such as a double-page spread with Miles Morales in Times Square that might as well just be window dressing to a stream of meaningless newscaster commentary.

On paper, Civil War II should be a runaway success. And if you’re looking just at sales figures, maybe it still is. But Marvel’s goal for a book this big should be to not just make a dent in monthly sales, but to double their back catalog, and produce a product that will have the same kind of long-lasting appeal as the original Civil War. And in that regard, this book has dropped the ball, big-time. While one could argue that this book’s nebulous theme of “profiling the future” doesn’t do this series any favors, it’s ultimately the execution that hobbles Civil War II so badly. It’s not that hard to show people clashing believably over ideological agreements - in this election season, all you have to do is turn on your Facebook feed. And if this review comes across as frustrated, it’s because I am. I want to like this series. I want to like this story. But we’re already halfway through this series, and Civil War II has barely even shown up.

Credit: DC Comics

Titans #1
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, and Andrew Dalhouse
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

After an emotional Rebirth issue, Titans stumbles in its #1 proper. Though armed with slick and vibrant visuals from the art team of Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, and Andrew Dalhouse, writer Dan Abnett’s script reads too dry and exposition-heavy to truly take off. Largely recapping the events of the DC Universe: Rebirth #1 one-shot and Titans: Rebirth #1, this first issue finds Wally attempting to reconnect with his long-lost teammates and struggling with the knowledge of his and Linda Park’s lost relationship. While this debut marks the return of a classic antagonist and is bolstered by some fantastic visuals, Titans #1 fails to build on the momentum of the solid Rebirth one-shot.

Reunited with his former teammates, Wally West and his Titan companions take it upon themselves to get to the bottom of the person behind the rewrite of their lives. Unfortunately, not much by way of forward momentum actually happens in Titans #1. Dan Abnett, who displays a firm handle on each lead and their dynamic as a team, finds himself hampered by dedicating much of the page count to recapping events that readers have more than likely already taken in.

Much of the opening pages of Titans #1 are concerned with Wally’s bouncing through limbo and his return; events that we’ve already seen two full issues of comic books before. Once Abnett finally gets the team all together and pointed toward the central mystery, which provides the issue’s best moments in the form of Roy and Donna Troy mixing it up with drug dealers at the Gotham Bowery, Titans #1 really starts to sing. That said, the seven pages of recap that it takes to get there are a real slog. This debut shows real promise from Abnett, especially in the emotional arcs of the team and the chilling return of a classic DC villain that is too good to spoil here, but I just wish it didn’t take burrowing through an info dump of things we already knew in order to get to that promise.

While the script stumbles out of the gate, the art team of Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse hit in a confident sprint. Even in the scenes of the DC Universe: Rebirth #1 recap, Booth, Rapmund and Dalhouse nail the emotions and energy of the recalled moments, particularly in the now-famous hug between Barry and Wally and in the subsequent scene of Wally racing forward toward the reader and materializing his new costume. The art team is also given a meaty action sequence to cut their teeth on, with Arsenal and Donna Troy getting to show off their respective feats of agility and resilience while they take down drug dealers.

Booth renders much of this scene in dynamic single page splash pages that highlight the designs of Roy and Donna, their powerful figures, and their skill sets, while the actual action beats are rendered in thin, slanted panels cutting through the larger pages. Booth continues this visual layout in the latter scenes of the team together discussing their fractured memories, which adds a nice layer of artistic intent to Abnett’s script. Along with the depth provided by Norm Rapmund’s inks and Andrew Dalhouse’s darkened but eye-catching colors, the Titans’ art team makes the most of what they are provided with to great success.

The embers of a good run are glowing in Titans #1, they only need the fuel to grow into a roaring fire. Dan Abnett, though shot in the foot by his opening recap of events that are widely known at this point, displays a clear understanding of the team’s voice along with displaying the intention to provide them all emotional arc and the promise of a worthy first-time foe. Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse also render Abnett’s script with the kind of energy that is needed for a teen centered book like this, teasing large scale action when things truly kick off. Titans #1 may not be the best opening issue, but it portends great things to come, albeit a bit stuffily.

Detective Comics #937
Detective Comics #937
Credit: DC Comics

Detective Comics #937
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Marilyn Patrizio
Published by DC Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

An ensemble cast can be a gift to creators who know how to use it properly, and the ability to shift back and forth between various cast members offers a lot of flexibility — especially when one of those cast members is Batman. The creators behind Detective Comics appear well-suited for this, having focused on Batwoman and Red Robin last issue while coming back around to Batman and the Colony in this chapter. By simultaneously embracing and playing with some of Batman’s defining qualities, Detective Comics #937 continues the success of its predecessors.

James Tynion IV’s script for Detective Comics #937 shifts the focus towards Batman after an issue in which he was largely absent. Tynion’s Batman is armed to the teeth, as members of the Colony find out when they take an opportunity to explore the contents of Batman’s utility belt. Tynion uses this scene to also provide some meta-humor, poking fun at the fact that Batman’s belt seems to hold far more than it should. Tynion also gets some great moments by highlighting just how much the Colony idolizes Batman, and the myths surrounding him. It’s this strong character work that keeps driving the chapter forward, and it’s nice to see how Tynion is able to worldbuild through characters. An example of this is the way that an abandoned subway station has been remodeled by Red Robin. The station doesn’t see too much use this issue, but it has a ton of potential, and that all flows from Tynion’s take on Tim Drake.

That said, this script doesn’t quite flow as smoothly as previous chapters have. A section in which Batman interrogates a member of the Colony feels like an exposition dump. At one point, the man admits to wanting to stall, and several panels later, Batman calls him out for it. On one hand, it feels like Batman is manipulating his target into spilling the information he needs, but on the other, the scene feels a little too long and a tad unnecessary. It doesn’t completely ruin the issue, but it does feel clunky, especially compared to the rest of the book.

As with the previous issue, Alvaro Martinez’s pencils are utterly fantastic. Detective Comics #937 largely takes place inside various locations and Martinez’s designs keep the locales interesting. From the interior of Batman’s prison to an abandoned subway line, Martinez makes sure that readers not only know where they are, but ensures that each setting has its own feel. The opening pages make great use of smaller panels to set up a gag involving Batman’s utility belt, with the panels dictating the pace of the dialogue, allowing each beat to land. There are also some really great Easter eggs Martinez has planted within the hideout of the Colony that make the issue worth a reread.

Inker Raul Fernandez takes advantage of the low-lit interiors that dominate Detective Comics #937, utilizing heavy blacks to give the whole issue a sense of secrecy that helps add tension to the story. Brad Anderson’s colors help in this regard, never letting anything get to bright, but at the same time, making sure that some of the more vibrant costumes don’t get completely lost. The end result is a book that is able to build suspense without ever losing sight of the fact that its protagonists are superheroes.

Detective Comics #937 may not quite match the thrilling pace of the previous issue, but Tynion’s use of humor in the script keeps this chapter lively, and the vivid artwork by Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez and Brad Anderson makes every page a joy to look at. Detective Comics has been a fantastic series since the DC "Rebirth" initiative took hold and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Credit: DC Comics

Wonder Woman #3
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Liam Sharp and Laura Martin
Lettering by Jodi Wynne
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

It was easy to be bullish about the quality of Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman work in the "Rebirth" era, while both Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott are well-regarded artists in their own right. But three issues in, the shine is starting to dull. While the back-and-forth stories broadens this series’ base, the common thread is that Rucka is in full-on decompressed storytelling mode for both. Unfortunately, that leads to a story that doesn’t do much more than preach to the converted - sacrificing plot development for character moments can work when done sparingly, but it not the most exciting way to continue Diana’s story.

The best thing that Rucka does in this issue is flesh out the relationship between Diana and Cheetah. It’s clear that they have a history and despite Diana forgetting the some of her story, she hasn’t forgotten Cheetah. Their reunion is a heartfelt one that digs into a little of Cheetah’s backstory, particularly her history with her abusive husband, Urzkartga. It’s a powerful moment as Cheetah blames herself for her tortured existence, “because he was not my first.” Given how universal it can be for abuse victims to question if they somehow deserved their pain, it’s a great moment for Diana to be the voice of comfort and truth: “This is not why he punishes you. That is never why any like him do,” she tells Cheetah, holding her in her arms. “They do it because they can.”

Unfortunately, beyond this moment, the book still feels like it’s running in place. While one might say it’s character-focused, I can’t say it’s character-driven, as it barely moves forward at all. Ruck is intensely focused on Diana and Cheetah, but just when he starts to make some progress, he jumps to Steve Trevor and his company, who stumble upon some plot development independently of Diana. This combination makes the proceedings feel a bit overwrought and self-indulgent, particularly when we’ve got another two issues for this storyline to inch its way forward.

Meanwhile, Liam Sharp’s artwork still feels a bit hit or miss. Just as in #1, Sharp’s renderings of the environment and his characters are generally fine, but he doesn’t draw Wonder Woman’s face with any consistency from page-to-page. Yet with a script that’s as dialogue-heavy as Rucka’s, Sharp runs out of ways to have Diana stand around in jungle, being hamstrung by posing characters rather than giving them energy and showing them in motion. His page layouts are utilitarian, but he goes back to the well on a few of them so frequently that the book starts to look stagnant. During one action sequence, Sharp cuts white borders through black ones to create a dizzying grid effect that doesn’t work at all. And all the extra black on the page from the gutters on dulls Laura Martin’s colorwork significantly.

DC is all-in with Wonder Woman at this point, but there’s just not enough here yet. The longer that it takes Rucka and Sharp to get the house in order, the more readers they’ll lose, and whatever they are building towards will have less impact. There is some good in the issue, with the character development and the hints of The Island of Dr. Moreau in some of the details of the arc, but it’s almost equally balanced by frustration in both the plot development and the artistic execution. Great character work is incredibly important, but it can’t be the only way for readers to get into a character. It won’t take much for the creative team to right this ship, but they need to do it sooner rather than later.

Credit: DC Comics

Future Quest #3
Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Steve Rude, Aaron Lopresti, Karl Kesel, Steve Buccellato and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Dave Lanphear
Published by DC Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The brilliance of Jeff Parker’s stories in the first couple of issues of Future Quest is that he’s writing a massive event title with a story that’s poised to be on the level of DC’s Infinite Crisis and Crisis on Infinite Earths while staying focused on these characters who may not be as iconic as Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman. The story is still in the early stages but with vortexes opening all over the Earth, linking to the myriad worlds of worlds of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, Parker and his regular artist Evan “Doc” Shaner have used kid adventurer Jonny Quest as our entry into this new and universe-spanning adventure in the past issues. Taking a step back from the Quest-centric main plot, Parker writes two short tales in Future Quest #3, putting the spotlight on Birdman and the Herculoids. With artists Steve Rude and Aaron Lopresti, Parker uses this issue to expand the scope of the narrative and to develop the rich characters that are a part of this story.

More of an introduction to these characters than a continuation of the story from the last issue, Parker, Rude, and Lopresti capture the fun and excitement of the Saturday morning adventure. If Future Quest is the Hanna-Barbera version of an epic crossover event, these stories work as the lead-in to that epic. With elements that tie into the developing mystery that Jonny Quest is discovering, Parker is beginning to set up Birdman as a major player in this story. This story, which leads directly back into Future Quest #1, shows how Birdman is more than just a second-rate Hawkman as Parker gives the character his own voice. He’s not just a vanilla superhero but he’s also not some hardened warrior or space-cop-with-wings either.

The second story featuring the Herculoids begins to give them an origin story. While to story doesn’t have explicit ties into the mystery of the vortexes or the danger threatening this multiverse, it starts to show the depth and diversity of these characters and their own tales. The story of two words, one primitive and the other technically advanced, harkens back to old 1950s science fiction novels and feels like something out of an old EC comic book. As the Hanna-Barbera have a history that spans back to the late 1960s, Parker also acknowledges the influences on Alex Toth and the other creators of these characters.

Steve Rude and Aaron Lopresti are two very different artists. If Rude is displaying more of his Toth influence, Lopresti brings a Jack Kirby flair to his Herculoids story. The differences of the artists gives each tale its own feeling and pace, but working with Parker’s story, there’s a Saturday morning adventurous tone that runs through both artists’ work. Rude’s work feels like it could be a straight adaptation of an old Birdman cartoon. It’s not a nostalgic trip through the past as Rude’s art is some of his most fun and energetic work. Lopresti’s artwork, with the great Karl Kesel on inks, continues the fun in completely different ways. His artwork plays with the wonderful variety of designs of the Herculoids — humans, dinosaurs, rock creatures and organic blogs — and their robotic enemies.

There is some understandable frustration with this issue; it’s the third issue of a brand new series but the issue feels like it’s full of fill-in stories already and the series has gone through more artists than published issues. That’s fairly disturbing if you want to think about the potential long term strengths of Future Quest. But then you have to look at the writing of this issue as Jeff Parker creates a story with the scope of an epic in only a handful of issues. And to do that, he makes the story about the characters as they’re the driving force, not the MacGuffin of another universe-shaking apocalypse, even though that’s present in this issue as well. Future Quest #3 expands the story and develops a history for it. And with the great art by Steve Rude and Aaron Lopresti, Parker has a Birdman story and a Herculoids story that shows just how great these characters are.

Similar content
Twitter activity