Best Shots Reviews: MARVEL 2-IN-ONE #2, DOOMSDAY CLOCK #3, More

DC Comics January 2018 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Marvel 2-in-One #2
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Jim Cheung, John Dell, Walden Wong and Frank Martin
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon

The Fantastic Four are a huge part of the foundation that Marvel Comics is built on, and for the first time in a while, their spirit of exploration, friendship and fun has made its way back to the House of Ideas with Marvel 2-in-One. Chip Zdarsky and Jim Cheung may not have gotten the whole gang back together just yet, but their work with Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm is incendiary so far (wordplay entirely intended). Zdarsky leans in on the schmaltzy soap opera stuff and it sings because he nails Ben Grimm’s voice perfectly. Meanwhile, Cheung might be the ideal Marvel artist right now, bringing a balance of style and substance that flows wonderfully through every aspect of this bookl.

Despite the FF’s reputation for out-of-this-world, larger-than-life stories, Marvel 2-in-One is relatively small. At its heart, it’s about Ben Grimm mourning the loss of Reed and Sue Richards while trying to keep their legacy alive. This is a book about grief and the crazy things people do to try and deal with it. In his case, Ben has lied to Johnny Storm about their friends’ whereabouts — giving the Human Torch hope where there likely is none — and the only people that know the truth are Ben... and his arch-nemesis, Victor Von Doom.

Across Marvel’s line we’ve seen creators looking backwards under the pretense of moving forward to varying degrees of success. The X-Men line is locked in an endless and shallow cycle of death and rebirth, while Captain America has donned the red, white and blue again and gotten back to punching villains rather than taking over the country. But in both those cases, those series are handcuffed by what’s come before. Zdarsky doesn’t share those shackles. While Ben and Johnny visit familiar locations and face familiar foes, they’re coming from a different place this time, and the reader’s understanding that Ben is lying colors every interaction. The Fantastic Four have always been about hope. We’ve been told there is none, but every time Ben has to keep up the charade, it's hard not to start to believe it. That’s a masterful framework for this story.?

And the book, more than anything else, is fun! Ben and Johnny quipping back and forth just like they always have, the Mole Man’s tenuous grasp on the rule of Monster Island and Subterranea, the appearance of the one and only Googam, Son of Goom, and Doctor Doom’s bombastic arrival all play to the expectations that we have of an FF story. Zdarsky brings them all to life with aplomb while still holding true to the emotional core — a seemingly simple trick on paper, but one that’s eluded plenty of FF writers in practice in the past.

Meanwhile, Cheung’s work here is breathtaking. This is what the ideal Marvel Universe should always look like. There’s a level of detail that we’ve come to expect from more modern work, and the renderings are spot-on. Cheung has his own style, but he never lets that override the narrative flow or the emotional beats of the story. And he gets some great scenes to draw. Ben and Johnny fighting on Monster Isle and the throwback panel of the entire FF fighting Doom are the kinds of big moments that we should be seeing in Marvel Comics every week, not just in big events. Frank Martin’s coloring is a real standout this issue as well. I’ve always loved his fairly understated approach but he really keeps this one together. The colors allow the the flashback scene to play well within the rest of the narrative and his attention to subtle details (like the color of Alicia Masters’ statues of the Thing) underlines even more the good work that Zdarsky and Cheung are doing.

Marvel 2-in-One might be the standard that all current Marvel Comics should be held to. It’s emotional and nostalgic without letting those aspects of its story hold it back. It delivers big action moments and humor without losing sight of its pathos. It’s a mystery that actually feels like a mystery, because the ending doesn’t seem like a foregone conclusion. With Marvel 2-in-One, Zdarsky and Cheung are a powerhouse creative team, bringing this set of characters to life in a more meaningful way than the FF have gotten over the last decade. ‘Nuff said.

Credit: DC Comics

Doomsday Clock #3
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gary Frank and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Spoilers ahead, Adrian.

Answers give way to bigger questions in the third installment of Doomsday Clock. Picking up directly after last issue’s cliffhanger, #3 opens with a long-overdue beatdown for Adrian Veidt that turns yet another iconic Watchmen scene on its head. Though writer Geoff Johns still is avoiding tipping his hand as to the title’s big mysteries, he is at the very least moving things forward at a decent clip and giving out clues at a steady and exciting pace. Artist Gary Frank and colorist Brad Anderson also continue to impress by still working within the rigid rubric of the original Watchmen’s tone and scene construction, but really making the most of it with kinetic action and gritty, eye-catching colors.

“Death changes a man.” If you thought Johns and company audacious before, it’s a genuine surprise to see who Adrian Veidt has to face this issue: the very corpse that launched the original Watchmen series, the Comedian, brought to the DC Universe’s Prime Earth thanks to some Manhattan Ex Machina. But even though Johns put the question of the Comedian’s return to bed — even though some Watchmen fans might cry foul at such a reversal of Alan Moore’s original storyline — the other ones raised in its place deepens the intrigue of the overall story. After a brutally familiar fight between Ozymandias and Blake, rendered in tight, bone-crunching detail and moody shadows by Frank and Anderson, Johns moves us beyond the LexCorp tower and deeper into the roiling politics that are threatening this world.

Bouncing back and forth between the Batcave, the Marionette and Mime’s night on the town in Gotham, and a dreary retirement home, Johns expands the scope of the mystery while giving us check-ins on the rest of the cast. While none of these scenes offer up anything really substantial in terms of answers, they do a fantastic job of fleshing out the world of Doomsday Clock and injecting a new but familiar — one might even say political — sort of energy into the search for Jon Osterman and his godlike abilities.

But while these scenes are still a bit of a narrative tease, they do allow for more bravura action sequences from Frank and Anderson. Though most of the issue’s pages are still locked tightly in the nine-panel layouts, Frank and Anderson continue to test the limits of the grid, using them in ways that both respect the transitions of the original Watchmen while still giving us action that is wholly unique to Doomsday Clock. For example, threaded through the main action of the issue which is focused around leading men -Veidt, Batman, and the new Rorschach - the team shows us the Mime and Marionette “stretching their legs” through some of the more unsavory parts of Gotham City.

It’s this sequence that is particularly memorable, in part because of its kineticism, and in part because of its no-holds-barred viciousness. After unwittingly stumbling into the Joker’s turf, the Mime and Marionette are forced to defend themselves — and let’s just say that the Mime’s invisible handgun doesn’t shoot blanks. Calling to mind the time-lapse heavy work of Jon Davis-Hunt, Frank slows his own “shutter speed” way down to make sure every stab, gunshot, and bloody wound is taken in separately for the highest possible effect. This gives the sequence a sense of weight and momentum, allowing both Frank’s detailed pencils and Anderson’s carefully chosen colors to hit as hard as possible, matching the lunatics throwing the punches.

Light on answers but heavy on intrigue, Doomsday Clock #3 takes us deeper into this new dark DCU epic, daring readers to look beyond the page with an abundance of new clues and hints. The pieces are in place and now we know just how big the game is, but something tells me that Doomsday Clock’s biggest reveals are just around the corner. We just have to follow the breadcrumbs, no matter how dark a place they lead us.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #794
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Bouncing back after the shaky Venom Inc. crossover, Amazing Spider-Man #794 soars nicely with a palate-cleansing actioner featuring the return of Zodiac after he was thrown one year into the timestream. While this issue isn’t going to change the fate of Spider-Man forever — although the final page cliffhanger is a certainly a doozy — the technical prowess of this creative team is on full display here, delivering some solid meat-and-potatoes superheroism that you can’t help but smile about.

Of course, given all this talk about power and responsibility, Peter Parker has long been kind of a space cadet when it comes to deadlines and appointments — so what if this appointment happens to be Zodiac coming back a year after you shot him into the future? Writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage nail the self-deprecation and the ol’ Parker luck, as of course the all-powerful Zodiac Key picks this precise moment to liberate itself from an undersea vault. Well, perhaps that’s not true — the Key does get some help from some unlikely sources, and it’s to art team Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger and Marte Gracia that these side sequences look thrilling even if they impact Spidey’s main story only a tiny bit.

But even though Parker might be caught a little flat-footed, Slott and Gage are eager to make up any lost ground — they swiftly reintroduce supporting cast members like Mockingbird and the crew of Horizon University, even giving Anna Maria Marconi a new title with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it job offer. Admittedly, there are a handful of comic book-isms that might make you shake your head — Slott and Gage have to jump through some unwieldy hoops to keep Mockingbird out of this Spidey vs. Zodiac battle royale — but at the same time, they do great work at establishing some rules to this quasi-magical key, giving Peter a smart strategy to stopping Zodiac’s plan.

Part of why this story works so well is also because of Immonen and his artistic collaborators Grawbadger and Garcia. While Immonen doesn’t draw Spidey as hyper-extended or exaggerated as, say, a Humberto Ramos or a Chris Bachalo — for example, Peter still operates with some dimension of humanity as he runs up a wall rather than going full distended arachnid — there’s still a fluidity and expressiveness to his character designs. (Part of that is there’s a subtle smallness to Immonen’s Spidey, which you can tell when he lifts a wrench that seems almost half the size of his body.) Colorist Gracia also does a great job at leading the eye across Immonen’s pages, particularly during a climactic scene in the guts of Big Ben, with the florescent green Zodiac Key acting as a nice counterpoint to the nighttime blues and purples of the combatants inside.

There might be some who cry foul at Amazing Spider-Man #794’s smaller scale or lack of grand ambitions, but I would find that view to be at best condescending — not only is this issue a fun payoff to an issue that took place almost two years ago in real time, but is a deft and breezy introduction to Dan Slott’s swan song as he begins the end of his 10-year tenure writing the adventures of the Webslinger. Sometimes there’s just a time and place for a good, old-fashioned superhero fistfight without deeper philosophy or pretension — because as the last few pages suggest, you should think of this upbeat adventures less as a missed opportunity, and more as the quiet moment just before the next storm breaks.

Credit: DC Comics

Doom Patrol #10
Written by Gerard Way
Art by Nick Derington, Tom Fowler and Tamra Bonvillain
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by DC Comics/Young Animal
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Doom Patrol is weird as hell.

That’s part of its charm, and in that regard, Doom Patrol #10 doesn’t disappoint. Terry None’s spectacular tap dancing has finally activated the mystical $#!+ in Mister Nobody’s $#!+ Chips, Casey Brinke’s about to be a mother, and a young magician has been swept away to save his daemonic kingdom. All in a day’s work for the Doom Patrol — the one both on the page and behind it, as without the collective efforts of Way, Derington, Fowler, and Bonvillain, a story with the breakneck pacing and absolutely bonkers content of Doom Patrol #10 would fall apart in an instant.

The odds are slim that a potential new reader is checking out a review of the tenth issue of anything, but if you are, reader beware: you will be extremely confused. This seems to be a feature of the comic, not a bug; throughout its long publishing history Doom Patrol has been renowned for being the off-kilter cousin of the larger DC publishing family, a legacy writer Gerard Way’s snappy writing upholds with gleeful abandon. Somehow Way keeps an issue as jam-packed with subplots and side characters as Doom Patrol #10 from seeming busy or tough to read — these characters have their own distinct voices that make the extremely convoluted action easier to follow.

At times, Doom Patrol #10 still seems a little too crowded, though. The zany results of Mister Nobody’s meddling with reality crowd most of the earlier pages, and while the designs are delightfully wacky and Nick Derington and Tom Fowler’s lines and ink are as clean as ever, things sometimes get a bit… claustrophobic. It’s not that Doom Patrol is trying too hard, just that sometimes you still wish they’d dial it back to 11 from maybe a consistent 15. An interlude with the Disappointment is a nice visual breather, but the overarching story — filled with ends that are bleeding into the Doom Patrol/JLA crossover event — keeps such a breathtaking pace that you never really have a moment to take it all in.

Seeing as January 24th is Colorist Appreciation Day (founded by rockstar colorist Jordie Bellaire), the occasion calls for a special word of appreciation for the continued impeccable work of colorist Tamra Bonvillain on Doom Patrol. Bonvillain is an inventive and exceptionally versatile colorist who navigates the relentless pacing and weirdness of an issue like Doom Patrol #10 with skill. Her vibrant colors are the perfect compliment to the bizarre and unearthly shapes of the creatures Mister Nobody’s $#!+-eating customers take on thanks to Terry’s tap dancing, and in slower moments the muted palettes she uses will help slow down your pulse at least until the next page turn. A book as off-the-wall as Doom Patrol is made or broken on its art, and along with Derington, Fowler, and letterer Todd Klein, Bonvillain elevates what could frankly be an unreadable visual mess into something charmingly strange.

Doom Patrol #10 is a breakneck rollercoaster ride of unstoppable weirdness, and that’s not a bad thing — it’s just a fact. If you’re looking for gritty realism in your superhero stories, this isn’t the place for you, and it’s nice to see Doom Patrol so consistently unapologetic and gleeful about its surrealist nature. This issue embraces the spirit of all its predecessors — not just in Way’s run, but in every previous Doom Patrol run, from Arnold Drake and Bob Haney to Grant Morrison to Rachel Pollack — and dials it up a little more, raising the stakes yet again before the Milk Wars begin.

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