Best Shots Reviews: ULTIMATES 2 #100, AQUAMAN #27, GENERATION X #5

Marvel Comics August 2017 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Ultimates2 #100
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Travel Foreman, Filipe Andrade, Marco Lorenzana, Scott Hanna, Dan Brown and Matt Yackey
Lettered by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Time has not been kind to the characterization of the original Ultimates created by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch in the early days of the Ultimate Universe. By taking Captain America and his sense of patriotism and twisting into a fanatical sense of nationalism, he initially came across as more of a caricature than an actual character, one exemplified by their worst tendencies and that feeling has only become stronger as the years have passed. On the other hand, Al Ewing’s Ultimates has involved a more diverse (and less widely-known) set of characters and made them paramedics to the multiverse, with Ewing doing all he can to not only demonstrate their best qualities, but that of the Marvel Universe as well, resulting in a bold and sweeping story that’s felt humanist throughout.

When I wrote about the first issue of Ultimates2 last November, I noted that this relaunching of the series was part of Marvel’s seasonal model. Unfortunately, that rebrand did not allow the series to reach a greater audience, but those who stuck around have been treated to a story of epic proportions and in this final issue it all comes to a head. It involves Galactus the Lifebringer; the High Evolutionary; the original, now antagonistic Ultimate U Ultimates; and the Maker, everything that is and all that ever was. Ewing’s script looks to provide a conclusion to the cosmic tale he’s been telling for 20-plus issues, one that involves many threads and he gets to these systematically, first dealing with a good old-fashioned brawl between the Ultimates of old and new. The way that Ewing goes about ending the series is a treat, but to pick an individual moment, there’s something immensely satisfying to seeing America Chavez offer both a retort and counterpunch to Ultimate Captain America’s now infamous “You think this letter on my head stands for France?”

Of course, Ewing knows that a brawl doesn’t aspire to the level of creativeness he’s operated at prior and as the issue moves along, the plot starts to involve more and more of the multiverse, his script calculatingly zooming further and further out. To help him accomplish this, a number of artists come along for the ride including series regular Travel Foreman, but also Filipe Andrade, Marco Lorenzana, and Scott Hanna. It’s hard to determine exactly where each artist’s contribution begins and ends; Foreman and Andrade (the latter of whom I became aware of through Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel) both have similar styles that sketch out the broad strokes of the scene, skimp on some of the details others may include, but still succeed in packing a punch. Dan Brown provides colors with assistance from Matt Yackey allowing for some consistency between artists meaning the issue can keep pushing along without sacrificing any of the pace already built. Special mention should be given to Joe Sabino who makes white lettering work on white space in addition to packing dialogue into layouts which could have proved unwieldy with a lesser talent involved.

For as big a story as this became, Ewing and all involved let it coalesce into a single, humanistic point feels both quiet and epic thanks to all that came before. Ewing’s a writer that works on many titles at once and this is him at his best. The way he deftly navigates telling new tales of his own, while also serving as expansions to threads left behind by other writers demonstrates how well he works within an established universe and as evidence that he deserves to be a bigger name.

Back at the start of the decade, Marvel named a group of writers that they deemed 'Architects,' and this group included Jonathan Hickman, the man who eventually destroyed and rebuilt the Marvel Universe. Thanks to this book’s scale of cosmic proportions that kept character at its core, calling Al Ewing his successor feels justified. Ultimates2 may have gotten lost amidst a plethora of other titles that launched around the same time, but it will be remembered as the place where Ewing and company were given a sandbox to play around, and chose to use this space to help build a better universe.

Credit: DC Comics

Aquaman #27
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Stjepan Sejic
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

They say heavy is the head that rests the crown, but even in retirement, Arthur Curry still can’t quite catch a break. In Aquaman #27, his former Royal Highness is becoming less incognito by the minute, as he and Dolphin are trapped in the clutches of Krush and his resident magician Kadaver. Writer Dan Abnett keeps all the plates spinning as he alternates between royal intrigue, special guest stars and the exciting superhero action, but it’s artist Stjepan Sejic who again steals the show with his beautiful renderings under and above the sea.

In many ways, Sejic’s artwork alone is worth the price of admission for Aquaman #27, as he’s able to really synthesize the best of all worlds with his unique style. He’s got a lush, gorgeous sense of color with his painterly compositions even as he has Aquaman siccing a deadly sea creature at his captors, but he’s also got that refinement to his characters that comes out of the Michael Turner school. Yet there’s also a playfulness to his expressions with the characters, like Vulko having a meet-cute with Ondine, a disgraced Widowhood Sister whose repartee is as deadly as her combat skills, or even the silent Dolphin’s reactions when she has to tell Arthur she’s out of juice.

And in that regard, Abnett is smart to stay out of his artist’s way, instead providing him a feast of visuals for him to portray. For example, the obligatory B-plot featuring Mera’s quest to return to Atlantis might be seen as a necessary evil, but Abnett spices it up with a guest appearance by the Titans, where Mera enlists the help of former sidekick and magician Tempest. Even the deathtraps that Abnett portrays are simple but open to explosive artistic interpretation, as Dolphin is held captive by a dragon-like creature known as the Gulfer, which Arthur is able to turn on his captors quickly.

With that all in mind, really the only character that feels a little, ahem, adrift is Arthur himself - but that’s only because the world around him is rendered so beautifully, that he doesn’t quite get a lot of opportunities to show genuine emotion. (Indeed, it’s his one-sided banter with Dolphin at the tail end of the book that is when Abnett is able to show off the most sparks of characterization.) Right now, though, that’s not a huge detriment to Aquaman, as Sejic imbues so much life to his characters just from their design - the crablike Krush, for example, is a gorgeous rendition to Arthur’s typically guppy-size rogues gallery, and further exploration of Atlantis proves to be deeply exciting as we gaze at it through Sejic’s eyes.

It’s rare for a superhero comic to evoke such enthusiasm with its art, in a day and age where double-shipping means uneven artwork in the best of times. But Aquaman continues to be a visual spectacle that should not be missed, giving the King of the Seven Seas a dramatic overhaul that will also dovetail nicely with the brawny and bearded Aquaman set to board cinemas later this year. Aquaman #27 may be meat-and-potatoes superhero comic books when it comes to plot, but the artwork is something that needs to be seen to be believed.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Generation X #5
Written by Christina Strain
Art by Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque and Felipe Sobriero
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

"ResurreXion" was designed to get away from the world-ending apocalypses and allow the characters a greater focus instead of being overshadowed by plots of that magnitude. Overall, the line has succeeded in this, and it’s Christina Strain’s Generation X that’s made the biggest contribution to this goal. Her run so far has seen her move around the cast of characters - starting with Jubilee, then Quentin Quire, followed by previously peripheral mutants - to offer a new point of view for the issue at hand and here it’s Trevor Hawkins, Eye-Boy, who gets his turn in the spotlight.

If you hadn’t already guessed from the name, Trevor’s got more than the usual number of eyes, and the story starts with him practising to make the most of this; keeping his many eyes on many people while Jubilee keeps a watchful eye on him. Unfortunately, he sees a little more than he was intended to (read: Chamber naked) and it only gets worse from there. Luckily Lin Li (Nature Girl) still looks normal to him and so they set out to try and find the cause of this problem. The issue’s plot is a quieter affair to that of the previous four, there’s no Purifiers in sight and neither is Monet, but that’s welcome because it allows for the chance to unwind after those threats and get to know Eye-Boy better as well. He first appeared in Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men and so feels right at home in a story like this, where the pacing and plotting find the time to sit and have a conversation in the cafeteria. Strain’s scripts have only gotten sharper as the series has progressed, as a one-shot story, it spends the right amount of time digging a little deeper into who Trevor is, what his powers can do and ending on a solid punchline - in an issue of many - that prevents it from overstaying its welcome.

That scene in the cafeteria is notable because Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque makes sure to make the scene bigger than solely the table at which our principal cast are sitting. His input here contributes to a lived-in feel, that the Xavier Institute is home to an array of mutants beyond the well-known A-listers, who can all have the chance to shine in issues like this. Yet even as it intends to offer a specific perspective, it doesn’t stray far for the style and tone that’s become expected over the past four issues. Alburquerque’s work is in keeping with Amilcar Pinna’s, although Felipe Sobriero appears to have used softer colors. It remains vibrant and bursting with a multitude of colors, even more so when contrasted with series which adhere to more of a house style like Cable, but that slight toning down of the art might be enough for the book to finally click with you, should the art not have been to your fancy previously.

There aren’t a lot of writers that would opt to spend an issue on a character like Eye-Boy, and there’s even fewer that would do it this well. Other series might use an issue like this as a chance to pass the time between one big arc and the next, but the emphasis that Strain puts on character, and a specific character at that, allows it to stand out as an issue with a sense of purpose. If some of the other ResurreXion titles have felt too homogenous for your taste, then take a chance on this one-shot that’s willing to be this oddball.

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