Best Shots Reviews: ULTIMATES 2 #1, TITANS #5, A.D.: AFTER DEATH #1

"Titans #5" cover
Credit: Brett Booth (DC Comics)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Ultimates 2 #1
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Travel Foreman and Dan Brown
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

This time last year, Ultimates was one of the most promising books in Marvel’s line-up, with Al Ewing capitalizing on threads left behind by writers like Jonathan Hickman to deliver a cosmic story of grand proportions, like reinventing Galactus with the finest art of Kenneth Rocafort’s career. It became more Earth-centric in its latter half, but luckily Ultimates 2 doubles down on what made the book so captivating in the first place - a cosmic story. The series may have lost Rocafort in the process, but Al Ewing and new series artist Travel Foreman get the book back on track to being one of the most scintillating reads of the Marvel line.

From the outset, this feels like a grandiose cosmic epic that can stand alongside Jim Starlin’s books or the Annihilation-era cosmic stories f Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. The omniscient narration is akin to how Starlin toed the line between poetry and purple prose in books like Infinity Gauntlet while the accompanying images quickly construct a universe in disarray and at war. While it’s an idea applicable to the larger Marvel Universe, it’s also relevant to the Ultimates themselves, whose fracturing during Civil War II illustrates a microcosm of the divisiveness of the conflict. And the fact the universe is so fractured shows why the Ultimates need to exist, to solve the biggest problems. Now the book is titled Ultimates 2, this idea is amplified and as a result, Connor Sims moves to repair the broken team in preparation of what’s to come.

This also illustrates a strength of the seasonal model that Marvel has been working to implement over the past couple years. While the basic underlying idea remains the same, it’s also amplified by making cosmic entities a larger part of the series and providing a new status quo for the characters involved. If you haven’t read the previous Ultimates series, this is an appropriate jumping-on point, while those who have read the preceding 12 issues will get to enjoy a new chapter for Al Ewing and the team to tell.

Speaking of Ewing, his voice was the most consistent aspect of the preceding Ultimates series, and here in Ultimates 2, it’s just as strong. Without missing a beat, the wider story he wants to tell keeps moving forward, in addition to taking the fractured team in his stride. When Captain Marvel and Black Panther argue, it feels like a natural development that would happened at some point down the line, just Civil War II accelerated the timeline of when it would happen. This means that the series is getting back on track, but also that the Civil War II tie-ins don’t necessarily feel like as much of a detour as they did upon their release. Ewing’s always been a strong writer for working in and around events, and we should’ve expected nothing less from him here in the regard.

Another element which helps Ultimates 2 bounce back is Travel Foreman taking up art duties on the series. Much like Kenneth Rocafort, he excels in his layouts, the universe spanning scene that opens the book features larger panels compared to the more conversational scenes where the pages consist of a larger number of panels which serves the tennis match style of back-and-forth retorts. Something which really highlights Foreman's strengths is when the cosmic and conversation come together later on the book, as neither of the aesthetics feel at odd with one another. One panel in particular superimposes a cosmic element over Carol Danvers and results in a blending of the two factors that feels seamless.

'Seamless' is perhaps the best way to describe Ultimates 2. Mainly down to how it functions as a jumping-on point for new readers, but it also continues to tell the tale that Ewing has been building up. Neither of these factors affect how effective the issue is at doing the other, Ewing provides sufficient context for the status quo, but does this in conversation without using overt exposition which would slow the pace of the issue dramatically. It also manages to reassert the team’s purpose for existing, but up the stakes and provide a glimpse of the future, highlighting how the biggest problems of the universe are about to get drastically bigger.

Credit: Brett Booth (DC Comics)

Titans #5
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Hell. Yes.

If you're a Wally West fan, that's what you're going to be saying if you read Titans #5. Echoing the plot of The Flash #163, Titans #5 not only rivals Geoff Johns' DC Universe: Rebirth as one of the best Wally West stories of the 2010s, but it might just be one of the single best Flash comic books in years.

With the Titans each in death traps around the world, it seems like the end is already nigh for the second generation of superheroes - that is, unless you're the Fastest Man Alive. Abnett puts Wally West through his paces, as he has to speed around the world to save his friends, as he prioritizes distance, timing and danger as a one-man triage team. It's some truly exciting stuff, and while diehard fans might remember a similar Flash story from Pat McGreal and Ron Lim about Wally and the JLA back in 2000, 16 years is plenty of time to dust off a concept that happens to be this cool.

Abnett cranks up the tension from the get-go, and in some ways, might even be gilding the lily as Wally frets about possibly being pulled into the Speed Force - it's already plenty perilous knowing that the Titans are in mortal danger, and if Wally makes one bad call, it's either a lobotomy for Nightwing or a molten bath for Linda Park. But watching Wally effortlessly perform the internal calculus of superheroism - of knowing just how long it takes for a rope to burn, or how fast an arrow flies - makes for a particularly satisfying feat of super-speed.

Meanwhile, Brett Booth keeps this issue firing on all cylinders, with his angular panel layouts and his stretchy characters making Wally's race against time seem all the more dynamic. This is a story marked by chaos and peril, and Booth's style is an excellent fit, particularly as we watch Abra Kadabra snake around Wally as he runs. And because Wally is rescuing his friends with such blistering speed, Booth is actually encouraged to cut corners here, with Kadabra's mannequins often just exploding into blue lightning. It's a fun twist that evokes some of the effects in The Flash TV show. Occasionally, though, Booth's poses do look a bit awkward, like the kicking squat Wally performs as he saves Linda Park's life.

Minor hiccups aside, however, Titans #5 proves to be one of the most fun issues of the DC "Rebirth" in total. Fans who have been clamoring for the return of "their" Flash will rejoice, as Wally West gives DC's other speedsters a run for their money, as Dan Abnett and Brett Booth deliver a particularly fine bit of super heroic action.

Credit: Image Comics

A.D.: After Death #1
Written by Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire
Art by Jeff Lemire
Lettering by Steven Wands
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

After Death is simultaneously an experiment for Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire as they craft an issue, part sequential art, part prose and another part which blends the two, but it also something familiar to due to the use of recurrent ideas from the pair’s previous works. The result of this experiment is an issue that’s methodical in its pacing, utilising the way prose can paint a picture to draw out as much tension as possible while letting the standard comic book pages look at the minutiae of Jonah Cooke’s life After Death, but doesn’t necessarily give you any answers, focusing more on the set-up.

Snyder is no stranger to prose, having started his career as a writer of short stories, some of which saw others draw parallels to Stephen King (who he eventually worked with on American Vampire). His work in comic books has also been concerned with what happens after death, such as with he and Sean Murphy’s short in Detective Comics about the legacy of Batman continuing, even after Bruce’s death. Lemire has thrived in writing a post-apocalyptic setting before, in his opus Sweet Tooth. Both have had similar career trajectories and even worked together on DC's "Rotworld" crossover, but they’ve never blended their styles together in this way until now. And it works perfectly - Snyder and Lemire's signature elements wind up connecting beautifully in this expansive narrative, which begins in 1982 and stretches 825 years later.

This space to breathe works well with prose, where the author can utilise laborious detail to describe the specifics of the location, and also works well with the watercolor paintings that Lemire graces the pages with. The introduction to the After Death portion of the story has the traditional minimalist style that’s expected from Lemire’s art, but he’s able to make the pages rich with detail - the tractor which hovers above the ground off to the side of the landscape is a subtle piece of world building, showing how far technology has progressed in comparison to 1982.

The real superstar of the issue is letterer Steven Wands, who also proves himself capable of using the space on the page to his advantage. In the sequential sequences, Lemire frames the characters involved in a way that then allows Wands to include the dialogue without word balloons covering up the art in more dialogue heavy panels. When dealing with prose, it allows the author to delve into more detail, but even when Snyder chooses to do so, Wands spaces out the paragraphs in a way that the pages don’t feel overwhelming, bringing a rhythm to how the prose is placed on the page. Prose in comic books is a tricky thing to get right, especially post-Watchmen, but when done right you end up with this which engages with the form of a comic, while also grappling with prose.

If there is one failing with the issue, it’s that originally After Death was intended to be an original graphic novel, and having been cut into three segments to be released as issues means that this doesn’t build to a big dramatic hook in the way a normal issue would. The use of prose indicates this isn’t just a normal issue, but with the "mystery box" approach that Lemire and Snyder have adopted may have worked better if there’s a question that was posed and then answered within the confines of the issue.

This said, it’s still a minor blemish on what is otherwise a stunning debut. Even with the familiar thematic aspects from the pair’s repertoire, it’s captivating and makes use of both the comic form and the more novelistic approach. Lemire’s watercolours have this dreamlike, wispy quality to them which helps to make this world feel different from other post-apocalyptic scenarios. It’s an issue that I devoured and then went back through to comb over for additional details and clues and I can’t wait to see what comes next, which is maybe the reason for the aforementioned flaw – that I don’t have the rest of it in front of me to devour.

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