Marvel Comics January 2017 cover
Credit: Marvel Comics

Happy Wednesday, 'Rama Readers! The Best Shots team is back to help you sort through this week's biggest titles, starting with a review of Doom Patrol #4 from Jolly Justin Patridge.

Credit: DC Comics

Doom Patrol #4
Written by Gerard Way
Art by Nick Derington and Tamra Bonvillain
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by DC’s Young Animal
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The World’s Strangest Heroes return in a home run of a fourth issue. Gerard Way is still collecting weird and broken toys as his first arc of Doom Patrol heads to its conclusion, but readers frustrated at the prosaic nature of the previous issues will be thrilled by the fantastically bizarre and deeply emotional developments the established characters like Casey Brinke, the Negative Man, and Danny the Ambulance receive.

Though still not a team in the strictest sense, Way has started to draw the characters together in a loose net as they travel through the stars and deep into the heart of Negative Space, racing against time to stop the villainous Vectra from converting the universe into ground beef. Way’s wooly style could still use a bit of trimming, but the emotions at play here in this fourth issue as well as a flashback containing the return of a beloved Doom Patrol veteran is more than enough to blast away the confusion around those hard to crack first issues.

Artist Nick Derington and colorist Tamra Bonvillain are still putting their best feet forward with their clean but packed pages. After melding the everyday and the weird in the previous issues, the pair completely let loose with this, riding the energy of the coming finale, delivering Italian horror film inspired bloody spaceship interiors and desolate alien landscapes peppered with Derington’s knack for cool costumes and expressive characters. It may have taken a few months to make sense, but Doom Patrol #4 is finally revealing its secrets while wearing its heart on its sleeve making it well worth the wait.

Casey Brinke, AKA Space Case, is trapped on a space ship and on the tail end of a major existential crisis. I won’t lie, this forth issue lays a lot of cards on the table, plot-wise, and it came not a moment too soon. Gerard Way, a student of some of the best and worst qualities of Grant Morrison, gives up a few of his ghosts in the main plot, but couldn’t help introducing a few more in the issue’s interesting, but altogether insubstantial cold open focused on a father and his fledgling sorcerer son’s strained relationship.

But more than the developments, the emotions that Way employs throughout this issue, as well as his thesis about heroism and existence are what really makes this new issue such a winner. Casey, faced with her true existence and in danger, pushes back against her destiny while worlds away in the Negative Space, Larry Trainor and Robotman face Larry’s fate as the Negative Man. Way even gets Danny in on the fun with the aforementioned flashback in which he and the beloved Crazy Jane traveled the universe only to face tragedy. Way is filtering all sorts of ideas about one’s purpose, what it means to be a hero, and how people can come together due to shared trauma through the lens of modernist comic book superheroism, and now that most of his plot isn’t obfuscated, it's a tremendously enjoyable and heartfelt experience.

Adding to the overall experience is artist Nick Derington and colorist Tamra Bonvillain, who both started this series on a high note and have sustained that high note across four months. Seeing the pair be able to completely untether themselves to earthy settings is a delight and pays off big especially in the scenes in the Negative Space which they render like a arid Pink Floyd album cover. That said, while their sets and characters are still impressive, its their handle visually of the more emotional scenes that again sets Young Animal apart, in terms of visual storytelling.

For example in the Crazy Jane flashback, Derington simplifies the panels, setting the characters in the center of the panel while Bonvillain lovingly brushes colors around them. And when the turn comes for our heroes, he hazes the pencils allowing the colors to stand as a focal point, as if recalling an actual dream only to rack focus on the horror of their faces and the divine blood that stains the scenes. There are a few more examples just like this one that proves that Doom Patrol continues to be drawn and colored by the right people.

Frustrated fans and readers can rejoice, for Doom Patrol #4 is the blast of answers that we all desperately needed and wanted. But more than that, Gerard Way, Nick Derington, and Tamra Bonvillain plant a flag for this series being the most emotionally vulnerable and sincere of the Young Animal line, telling a story of self-actualization, goodness, and coping that just happens to have biological Teddy Ruxpin like creatures and sassy robots in it. If you found yourself pushing back from this title during its frustrating genesis then Doom Patrol #4 will welcome you back with strange and weirdly comforting arms.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Inhumans Vs. X-Men #3
Written by Charles Soule and Jeff Lemire
Art by Javier Garron, Andres Mossa and Jay David Ramos
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Marvel’s still trying to make the Inhumans happen. There have been some promising developments in Inhumans vs. X-Men, but there’s a lot left to be desired. The conceit of this story makes sense, considering the effect of the Terrigen Mists on the mutant population, and the character work has been generally solid. But it’s getting harder and harder to care about a story with barely any stakes. Try as they might, Charles Soule and Jeff Lemire can’t drum up enough excitement for their story. Javier Garron is a good fit for the proceedings, managing the pacing of each scene well. But the coloring is a bit over rendered giving some of the art almost a carnival airbrush quality that is distracting.

Given where the Inhumans and mutants are at in the Marvel Universe, their conflict in this story makes a lot of sense. Obviously, any species facing extinction is going to fight to survive, and the mutants have been doing that for the better part of their history. But the Inhumans are the “brand du jour” at Marvel right now, so there’s no way they’re going down without a fight. Sidelining the Royal Family (for the most part) allows the younger Inhumans to take center stage and finally show that they are more capable than we realized. But even those shows of power feel empty. A lot of the plot hinges on the mutants not knowing about all the NuHumans and that just doesn’t jive. The X-Men have served as the perennial whipping boys of the Marvel Universe for a few years now, seemingly only gaining an upper hand in any situation so that another team can undermine them. As a result, there’s an element of predictability here when right at the halfway mark of the series, things start to turn.

Javier Garron’s art works very well for this book. He’s definitely evolved his style over time and improved his visual storytelling, and the script really gives him a lot to draw. He takes us from Canada to New Attilan to Limbo and back again very naturally. The standout sequence of the book definitely comes during his work with Karnak and Jean Grey. Karak is the kind of character that has such a unique powerset that it’s tough to accurately make visual. But Garron uses it as an opportunity to give the book a different flavor than we’ve seen elsewhere. Unfortunately, the coloring leaves a lot to be desired. Andres Mossa and Jay David Ramos’ work is distracting and overdone. Their airbrushed approach is suitable for backgrounds but underlines weird parts of the rest of the lineart. By following along so closely to the lines, we get weird effects like Logan’s very distinct muscles and light sources that don’t make any sense. Ultimately, it makes the whole package look worse than it is.

We’re halfway through this event and if you’re feeling a bit nonplussed, you’re not alone. This reviewer may be letting the outside factors of Marvel Entertainment’s reality affect their enjoyment of the book, but it’s hard not to consider when it’s hard-earned cash that plunked down month after month. Clearly, no one is totally trying to phone it in - there are talented creators working on this title - but there’s a level of complacence. Nothing is really going to change. While that feeling is present in all superhero comics, the arcs of these properties are too well-known (the recent “ResurreXion” announcements didn’t help) to feel the gravity of this plot.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Civil War II: The Oath #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Rod Reis, Phil Noto, Raffaele Ienco, Szymon Kudranski and Dono Sanchez-Almara
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

They say Marvel Comics represents the world outside your window. But it's rare for that view to be so scary — and so spot-on — as with Civil War II: The Oath, which feels a little too apropos given today's political climate. Serving as both an epilogue to Marvel's last event story and bridging towards its next one in “Secret Empire,” The Oath is less a somber reconnection between Steve Rogers, Carol Danvers and Tony Stark, and more of the chilling final moments before everything goes to hell.

Steve Rogers is America's new top cop, and unfortunately for the Marvel Universe, no one knows that he's secretly an agent of Hydra. But as Nick Spencer has been following this changed hero in his own solo title, The Oath is a much spookier proposition — the foxes are officially in the henhouse, and now he's just licking his lips before he moves to the slaughter. Spencer has referred to Steve Rogers as Hitchcock-ian in the past, but watching a man draped in the Stars and Stripes delivering a speech about people's fears in the face of inclusiveness and progressiveness is a scary thing, precisely because it's so real. While it takes a little while for Spencer to ramp up to his crescendo, when he does, it hits like a sledgehammer: "You made yourselves gods and now you wonder why the people are ready to crucify you," Steve tells a comatose Tony.

Of course, this extra-long comic does drag a bit in the middle, in part because Spencer has to pay lip service to characters largely outside of Cap's orbit. Spencer gets into some neat metatext with Carol Danvers, flipping Marvel's hard push for the character as a personality trait where she's not just eager, but desperate to please. But like Civil War II as a whole, that doesn't make Carol a particularly sympathetic figure, even as Steve gaslights her into taking down an interplanetary shield that would likely be the thing that saves us all. Other characters, like Miles Morales, fare better, with a particularly poignant scene where the fledgling Spider-Man reveals he's constantly worried about his future, but some characters, like Hawkeye and Amadeus Cho, feel a bit like cameos, given the fairly hefty repercussions Civil War II had on them both.

The art, meanwhile, makes for some moody and spooky stuff. Rod Reis, Phil Noto, Raffaele Ienco, Szymon Kudranski and Dono Sanchez-Almara make this issue feel scratchy and dark, with Steve Rogers' chiseled figure cutting a swath through the shadows. Some of their imagery near the end of the book is about as horrifying as I've seen in a comic in recent days, because it so chillingly represents the wave of Naziism (or as the nitpickers might say, Hydra-ism) that has swept more corners of our country than we'd like to admit. That said, their art is built largely on mood, and the problem is, once you try to sustain that mood for an extended period, it winds up wearing readers out, with even a brightly lit meeting with Carol Danvers and the President looking unnecessarily gloomy.

That said, whatever flaws Civil War II: The Oath has, it's made up by the very real-world vein that Spencer and company tap into. We do live in uncertain times, scary times, times where trust in our elected officials is at an all-time low — and their actions aren't doing much to assuage that anxiety. It's that feeling of corrupted ideals and tarnished heroes that informs Civil War II: The Oath — and we can only hope that our world doesn't wind up looking like the one outside Marvel's window.

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