Best Shots Review: MISTER MIRACLE #4, DEADPOOL #289, MICHAEL CRAY #2

Marvel Comics November 2017 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Mister Miracle #4
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Depression can be funny.

Ultimately fickle, capable of bouncing your mood between high, low and anywhere in between seemingly at random, sometimes with cruelly ironic timing. One person may realize the cruelty first, another will notice the irony. Others will respond to the gallows humor that can come with it. (To be honest, that can stick with you – if it plays well, it’s not easy to just drop the material.) Mister Miracle has provided laughs previously, but they’ve been minor ones - warranting small smirks. This issue is home to some big ones, laughs that shouldn’t work or even feel appropriate due to the gravity of the plot and Scott’s mental state, but the fact they do is proof that Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Clayton Cowles have crafted this headspace with such care that they know how far they can push it.

Mister Miracle #4 is the series at its most absurd. Largely a one-location play with much of the action (and inaction) taking place in Scott and Barda’s apartment. It blends an extended gag about a veggie plate with another involving an impending delivery and the issue’s primary focus: Scott Free’s trial at the hands of Orion. It’s also a comic book where this highly pressing concern is also juxtaposed about the day-to-day struggle of getting out of bed, something which many know all too well. When Scott manages to do it, he’s accused of being an agent of Darkseid, by way of a message delivered by Lightray, and opts for the aforementioned trial over a swift execution. That Scott manages to be up and ready (in costume no less) when Orion arrives is one of the simplest, but most inspiring moments a superhero comic book has played host to this year.

This trial makes up the rest of the issue. Confined within the nine-panel grid, Scott finds himself at the whim of Orion - functioning as judge, jury and potential executioner - subjected to a bombardment of questions he’s expected to answer as true or false. It’s Kafka-esque, and depending on the reader, can play like a fast-paced tennis match, with questions and answers being hurtled across the room from one side to the other, or a slower game of chess, Scott and Orion both picking their words with precision to not lose there and then. In lesser comics, this scenario’s length could seem like stalling for time, padding for the trade, but King, Gerads, and Cowles opt to pack as much as possible in. King’s scripts always have a rhythmic quality, but the amount of humor present in this issue grants it a difference cadence, a new register to work in. Comic beats like someone making use of the veggie plate that Barda and Scott bought for the occasion serve to ramp up the tension. We expect nine panels on each of the 22 pages. There’s a fixed limit in our minds, we know the clock is counting down from a set amount.

Despite these asides, much of the issue is comprised of close-ups. The shot/reverse shot became a standard cinematic technique because of its simplicity to shoot, but rarely is it visually stimulating. Scott and Barda’s apartment remains largely undecorated and as a static location, this issue could have been less interesting to look at than others. Instead, Gerads heightens the intensity of it all through using them. Notions of power has been a recurrent theme of the series - such as when Orion has asked Scott and Barda to kneel - primarily in how Gerads blocks his scenes. As the trial picks up, he forces Scott and Orion to face one another, their faces at equal height within their respective panels, which is not the case when they square up to one another in the same panel. When a package is delivered, Barda stands up to collect it and towers over everything in the panel, more than Orion does in his own panel where he is the sole focus.

Through this artistic approach, much of the issue is spent looking at Scott’s masked face. From the outset, this book has been about internalizing the reading experience within his headspace to convey the sense of anxiety and distortion he feels. When he sleeps, we may see what he dreams. Gerads’ frame hovers around Mister Miracle. As Orion interrogates his conviction to the cause, Gerads examines him as intently as a Voight-Kampff machine does a potential replicant, looking for the minute changes and shifts - which are noticeable when you make a point to look and track figurework across a sequence. As the issue ends, the team make use of another filmic technique; the iris out. The panels’ field of vision become tighter while the perspective remains fixed. The walls are closing in around Scott and Barda.

But the fact that he got up. That’s a victory.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Despicable Deadpool #289
Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Scott Koblish and Nick Filardi
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

"I can regret anything - it's my super-power."

Out of all the books returning to their original numbering in as part of "Marvel Legacy," it might be surprising to see the book swinging back with the most energy is Despicable Deadpool, as the Merc With a Mouth sets his sights on his longtime frenemy Cable. Writer Gerry Duggan and artist Scott Koblish aren't looking to reinvent the wheel with this action-heavy arc, but with a new Deadpool film coming out next year, this is a simple but fun diversion that just feels right.

Compared to his work on Guardians of the Galaxy, Despicable Deadpool finds writer Gerry Duggan at his least restrained - thanks to Deadpool's weirdness and Cable's mastery of time and space, there's not a lot of places that Duggan can't take this story, as he bounces from hot lava interrogations to interdimensional attacks from dinosaurs and vampires to an out-of-left-field atomic bomb dropping on New York City. By the time you get to Duggan's final twist, some of the more excessive moments are forgiven, but through it all, the real hook for this book is that Duggan gets the banter between Wade and Nate - Deadpool might think Cable smells like "ozone, old guy and Ben-Gay," but Cable knows deep down that Deadpool wants to do the right thing. It's a buddy-cop dynamic that works.

But at the same time, Duggan also just gets to write whatever weirdness comes to mind in his almost free-associative script - it's artist Scott Koblish who has to actually pull it off. Koblish's angular style has long been a great fit for Deadpool, but it's refreshing to see him tackling Cable as well, playing up the exaggerated features of the character's original design while still playing up his expressiveness, even when he's wearing half a face mask and having one eye perpetually glowing. (There's a 20-panel gag about Cable facing down Stryfe that's very funny, even with the same three panels just being flipped horizontally.) Colorist Nick Filardi also deserves praise for the moodiness of this story, even as it's taking place either with super-hot colors inside a volcano or drenched in cool tones during a wintry night.

Admittedly, there are a few minor hiccups to the story - namely, a few last-minute gags come out of nowhere and aren't quite funny enough to justify themselves, or a final turn that somewhat invalidates this off-the-wall issue - but for a comic that's as straightforward in premise as Despicable Deadpool, it's surprising to see how refreshing the execution is. Deadpool and Cable might bicker and banter, but their shared history over the years has made them one of comics' best buddy duos, and Duggan and Koblish are leveraging that dynamic nicely.

Credit: Khary Randolph (DC Comics)

Wildstorm: Michael Cray #2
Written by Bryan Edward Hill
Art by N. Steven Harris, Dexter Vines, and Dearbhla Kelly
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by DC Comics/WildStorm
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Bryan Edward Hill doubles down on his twisted version of the DCU in the latest installment of Michael Cray. As he interviews a new support team and attempts to turn his newfound powers into another tool in his vast bag of murder tricks, Cray still has a job to do - and that job is killing Oliver Queen. While the novelty of Cray fighting an OG Justice Leaguer is still this series’ main hook, Hill continues to imbue the title with pathos and character work, arguably making Cray the breakout star of The Wild Storm just based on characterization alone. Also avoiding the sophomore slump are artist N. Steven Harris and inker Dexter Vines. Along with colorist and former Jordie Bellaire protégé Dearbhla Kelly, the art team continues to keep pace with Hill’s character-focused script while also delivering viciously entertaining action once Cray and the Green Arrow finally face off. Armed with another sharp script and a keen eye for character blocking, Wildstorm: Michael Cray #2 proves that the success of the debut issue was far from a fluke.

Opening with a dynamic, steampunk-style cold open, Bryan Edward Hill shows early that he is gaining purchase with the kind of out there, anything goes plotting that The Wild Storm offers. But at the same time, Hill doesn’t linger long in the world of virtual reality training simulations and bleeding-edge tech, much to the issue’s benefit. While it is a bit frustrating that Hill introduces a super cool team of diverse mercenaries to fill out Cray’s support team and then barely does anything with them until the issue’s finale, Hill’s characterization of the cast continues to aim for personality and not aesthetics, something that has bogged the main Wild Storm title down. Michael Cray again puts character above ideas, making the plot that much more resonant as we now care about Cray and his exploits. I wish the same could be said about his new team, but it is still early days.

But more importantly, Hill is wise enough to stay the hell out of the art team’s way when it comes to action. Case in point, Michael Cray #2 fully becomes N. Steven Harris, Dexter Vines, and Dearbhla Kelly’s show as Cray and Queen face off in Ollie’s killer jungle habitat. Though Hill’s dialogue shines in this issue, especially in the scene of Cray and Dr. Shahi discussing his condition and in Queen’s insane ranting through the issue’s finale, he gracefully steps back once the fists start flying, making the action sequences sing with a silent tension.

Harris, Vines, and Kelly squeeze every bit of blood out of that stone too, rendering the fight in a tight close-ups, highlighting their muscular character models and lush jungle settings as they are ripped apart by flames and encroaching sound effects from letterer Simon Bowland. As the two scrap, the team builds to a lavishly violent two-page splash in which single punches or reaction shots are neatly arranged across the top and bottom of the page while Cray and Queen’s struggle, wreathed in flames and vegetation, dominates the center of the page like a violent Thanksgiving centerpiece. Taking a page from Jon Davis-Hunt’s playbook, Vines, Harris, and Kelly’s action might not have the same preciseness of Davis-Hunt’s or its chilly composition, but it is precisely the right kind of tone and execution for the main title’s more emotional and volatile sister title.

Though the main Wild Storm title is chocked to bursting with heady science fiction and stone cold super-spy fiction drama, Michael Cray #2 shows how good a book like this can be when it leads with its heart instead of its brain. While disconnected somewhat from the main title, Bryan Edward Hill, Dexter Vines, N. Steven Harris, and Dearbhla Kelly take a simple pitch, “WildStorm hitman takes out contracts on DCU heavyweights,” and turn it into a diverse, clever, and thrilling side story that keeps injecting genuine character and pathos into the coldness of The Wild Storm. And if this issue’s cliffhanger is any indication, Michael Cray has a lot more crazy in store for us before its 12-issue run is concluded.

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