Best Shots Reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA #698, DARK KNIGHTS RISING: THE WILD HUNT, More

Invincible
Credit: Ryan Ottley (Image Comics)
Credit: Chris Samnee/Matthew Wilson (Marvel Comics)

Captain America #698
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s star-spangled run on Captain America continues with a look at a dystopian future where superheroes have lost, and America as we know it is effectively over. I know what you're thinking: “I thought Secret Empire was over.” Well, I have some good news, some bad news, and some news that kind of splits the difference. The good news is that this is not Secret Empire. The bad news is that this seems to be Waid and Samnee’s attempt to do a better version of that story. And right in the middle of both of those things, we get a well-meaning course correction that struggles with reconciling how to tell this story well… and how to tell it without making anyone angry. The result is an almost “Demolition Man”-esque opener that works decently well — that is, if you don’t think about it too much. Unfortunately, it's shaky at best when thought about critically, and I shudder to think what this book would be without the expertise of Chris Samnee here.

After a few issues of nostalgic meat-and-potatoes storytelling from Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, “Out of Time” looks to be their first major arc. Still using Cap’s initial conceit as the drive behind their run, the storytellers put the already ancient Avenger on ice (again) and thaw him out in future unlike his own (again). To their credit, Waid and Samnee get to the point quickly. The machinations of how the future has gotten this way are summarized briefly and fairly effectively. On just a surface read, this all works as a setup for a big story. Cap’s going to help the rebel underground fight to take back their country. Simple premise. But the reveal that it’s only 2025 and not the far-flung future casts the villains of the story in a different light.

There’s almost too much warring symbolism. The Rampart have taken power and created a new class structure that uses “America” and Cap’s own eponymous “A” as symbols for the elite while everyone below them is relegated to the Z-list. The Rampart themselves are a white supremacist group. The troops that help them remain in order are emblazoned with red stars on black armor. So we’ve got some branding a la the Scarlet Letter by way of the Holocaust mixed with some visual language that recalls Soviet-era Russia. But we’re told that this takeover was partly facilitated by the rich. It’s a little unclear what the creative team is going for outside of “these are bad guys.”

But Waid and Samnee have just thrown a bunch of villain details in a blender, so it's hard to know what this story is about… and in doing so, they’ve made themselves ostensibly critic-proof. They’re not saying any one thing. You can argue they’re talking about too much, but that means they’re actually saying nothing. This isn’t a story about the dangers of fascism or white supremacy or the financial elite. Sure, those are the details, but they don’t quite add up to anything that makes sense, instead serving as fodder for getting us to the last page: Captain America standing above the rubble that is the near future and saying “We’re going to take our country back.” Why? Because we have to. There’s still time for Waid to actually use this as a platform to say something, but this is essentially the teflon-coated version of Secret Empire at this point.

Chris Samnee remains one of the greatest living cartoonists on this and likely many other worlds. That’s the case because the man isn’t afraid to let black ink be the anchor for his pages. Samnee has a Toth-ian understanding of how to use light and shadows to create contrast and get the most out of his pages. In an era when many artists painstakingly draw every details, Samnee is able to give a hint of details while maintaining the fluidity of his characters. We don’t need to see every scale in Cap’s armor to know it’s there, especially as some of them would be rendered basically invisible by movement. And Samnee is adept at letting shadow completely take over for color as we see from the way Cap is inked when he’s out of the light - his costume becoming completely black except for the white details. No matter how these stories are received, at the end of the day, Samnee is one of the best artists to work on the Star-Spangled Avenger ever. There is no question.

It’s hard to know what “Out of Time” is yet. It has a lot of potential to be an answer to Secret Empire, and perhaps its best case scenario is something akin to Captain America’s own “Days of Future Past,” or a spiritual successor to Rick Remender’s “Castaway in Dimension Z” arc. The art is absolutely up to snuff and continues to carry this book on its back, allowing readers to gloss over some of Waid’s more pallid plotting. But I don’t think it’s too much to want Captain America to stand for something. The same way this dystopian future has co-opted “America” it seems like Cap is content to stage his own coup to replace it with some other amorphous ideal. If Waid can find something to say with this arc, it’ll be a win. But his work here is too timid to inspire confidence in that end.

Credit: DC Comics

Dark Knights Rising: The Wild Hunt #1
Written by Scott Snyder, Grant Morrison, Jame Tynion IV, and Joshua Williamson
Art by Howard Porter, Hi-Fi, Jorge Jimenez, Alejandro Sanchez, Doug Mahnke, Jamie Mendoza, and Wil Quintana
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Dark Nights: Metal gets its most audacious tie-in to date in Dark Knights Rising: The Wild Hunt #1. With the Metal writing team joined by superstar Grant Morrison, this one-shot stands as a rollicking, trippy, and unexpectedly emotional side story for this Batman-centered event. Drawn by the likes of Howard Porter, Jorge Jimenez and Doug Mahnke, each segment of this story syncs scarily well with one another, giving an accessibility and harmony to this script’s epic scale. If you have ever wanted all the big ideas and comic history pathos of a Grant Morrison comic but with a much more straightforward execution, then Dark Knights Rising: The Wild Hunt #1 is the comic for you.

The Flash, Cyborg, and Raven are mounting a daring escape to the House of Heroes in a ship that runs on music. As if that wasn’t enough, the Batman Who Laughs and his horde of Dark Knights are in hot pursuit. Metal has already staked its claim as a modern epic, but The Wild Hunt turns that epic scope into an actual setting, as our heroes fly through the multiverse itself, trying to shake the tail of the Batmen’s heavily armed ship.

But while this one-shot is chock full of multiversal intrigue, the writing team work overtime to temper that scope with genuine character. Opening with a beautifully emotional recap of the tragic hero’s journey of Detective Chimp, rendered with the emotive pencils of Howard Porter and the rich colors of Hi-Fi, the script instantly fosters a sense of empathy for the crime solving ape and then doubles down on it as more and more heroes are introduced. Big ideas and multiversal narrative feints are all well and good, but they don’t mean a damn if I don’t care about the actual people getting thrown through space and time. Thankfully, The Wild Hunt gives us plenty of great heroic moments and engaging character beats throughout its story, thanks to its focused and slyly funny writing team.

But while the merging of A-list voices from the scripting team is strong, the way the multiple art teams converge is truly impressive. Sporting up to three full penciler and colorist teams, The Wild Hunt never once looks or feels discordant. Opening with the sunny, rural setting of a carnival and then blasting through all manner of universes and realities, the art teams and colorists assault the reader with all manner of lighting effects, bursting background details, and speed lines. Sequences like Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez’s take on Raven’s powers and Howard Porter and Hi-Fi’s vicious Swamp Thing cameo are just a few of the standouts here, but the art teams’ real feat is their coming together to deliver a jam-band of styles that work alongside one another in harmony, rather than competing with each other or washing each other out.

Spearheaded by a full bench of writing and artistic talent, Dark Knights Rising: The Wild Hunt #1 is a triumph of a tie-in. Equal parts satisfying side-story and accessible standalone story experience, Scott Snyder and his teams have really tapped into what makes these characters and the whole DC multiverse cool, while giving his latest epic some major fandom cred thanks to the inclusion of Grant Morrison. Brandishing an epic, reality-spanning scope, emotional character moments, and a surprising reader-friendliness to its multiversal yarns, Dark Knights Rising: The Wild Hunt #1 might just be Dark Night: Metal’s first truly unmissable tie-in issue.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Old Man Hawkeye #2
Written by Ethan Sacks
Art by Marco Checchetto, Andres Massa
Lettering by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The legend of Clint Barton continues to crawl along at a snail’s pace in today’s Old Man Hawkeye #2, begging the question of why exactly this launched as a 12-issue maxiseries in the first place. Bullseye continues his pursuit of Clint through the dusty countryside as the former Hawkeye pursues the truth of what he was protecting for Justin Hammer, but elements that could be punchy and dramatic trundle on for panel after panel in a way that can’t help winding up feeling like filler.

Old Man Hawkeye’s narrative struggles are reflected, intentionally or no, in the overarching narrative of Clint Barton being widely derided as a D-list Avenger most supervillains don’t even see the need to kill. The plot is so sluggish that every casual jab at Hawkeye’s “minor superhero” status feels like a gentle jab at readers for picking up the book; there’s not enough going on to give Clint a chance to feel like a character worthy of shouldering the “Old Man” mantle in a series that goes on longer than the original story arc that spawned it.

Artist Marco Checchetto and colorist Andres Massa continue to shine, capturing the wild west dystopian vibe of Old Man Logan but never letting the sandy beige palette get overwhelming. There are pops of color to break up the landscape, and Massa gives the fleeting glimpses of advanced technology a sheen and glow that’s jarring without feeling out of place. Around the subtle glow of Bullseye’s cybernetics or the strobing lights of a club Hawkeye’s investigation to, the windblown, rocky landscape and folks’ old-fashioned “tarnations” are what winds up feeling anachronistic. These fleeting moments, from the visuals to writer Ethan Sacks’ infrequent but effective references to things like the X-villain Arcade, serve as subtle reminders of the world that could have been before Red Skull crushed the world’s heroes beneath his boot.

These fleeting moments aren’t enough to bring fresh life to a tale that relies heavily on readers’ emotional connection to Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s original work. Old Man Hawkeye #2 is a reasonably well-executed comic whose issues are less with its quality and more with the questions surrounding its inception. Do we really need twelve issues to deliver us to the beginning of a comic we’ve known the ending to for ten years, particularly at such a plodding pace?

Old Man Hawkeye, to its credit, never gets to the point of feeling like a lifeless nostalgia cash-in. There’s an earnestness and a charm to Clint Barton that makes you want him to succeed, and there are certain characters that do feel fresh and interesting who would be greatly served by some editorial trimming to give them more page time. These moments are few and far between, though, and not enough to carry through the introduction of characters like Ashley Barton from the original miniseries. Ashley’s introduction should be exciting, but she seems flat and one-dimensional — there’s a sense of expectation that we already know everything “important” there is to know about her, that her presence is a perfunctory result of what you’d expect to see based on Old Man Logan.

Perfunctory, rather than fun — that’s Old Man Hawkeye #2. Sacks, Checchetto, Massa, and letterer Joe Caramagna deliver a good comic, but it’s not necessarily a thrilling read. It captures the aesthetic of Old Man Logan but not necessarily its spirit, and subsequent issues will absolutely need to pick up the pace to make this a book worth reading for anyone but absolute diehard fans of Millar and McNiven. There’s not enough here yet to suggest it will reach the level of its predecessor. When you’re offering a prequel to a work with a cult following that effectively spoils your ending, it’s vital to offer something that’s not just good but great, and engrossing enough to keep readers from just returning to the original.

Credit: Image Comics

Invincible #144
Written by Robert Kirkman Art by Ryan Ottley, Cory Walker, Mark Morales and Nathan Fairbairn
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It’s funny how kids grow up.

After celebrating 15 years of stories, Invincible takes its final bow this week, and as far as finales go, writer Robert Kirkman and artists Ryan Ottley and Cory Walker send off this series with an ending that’s both heartfelt and iconoclastic. Shipping in with a double-sized page count, Kirkman and company are less focused on tying up this long-running Image classic with a neat bow, instead weaving up a sprawling, bittersweet epilogue that could have heralded another decade’s worth of stories.

From the first page, it’s hard not to feel sentimental about Kirkman’s script, as he mirrors his introduction from Invincible’s second issue — but instead of Mark Grayson getting “the talk” about his extraterrestrial lineage, it’s Mark giving this speech to his own son, swiftly recapping the lengthy threads of the entire series. And in so doing, it’s hard for longtime readers not to be a little verklempt — especially given the meat-and-potatoes superhero tropes that the series began with, before shifting and metamorphosing into an over-the-top sci-fi story of war, invasion and ever-shifting loyalties and status quos.

But just as Kirkman has showed off his penchant for story twists, his finale to Invincible feels all the more appropriate because it feels less like a goodbye to Mark, and more of a spotlight for his two children, Terra and Marky. In many ways, their stories can’t help but feel cyclical — while the Earth-bound Marky lives with his grandmother and steps into his father’s shoes, Terra (and to some extent, her father) both seem to follow in the footsteps of Omni-Man, transforming the Viltrumite Empire into an unstoppable force for good and eventually disagreeing along the way. Of course, that’s oversimplifying matters quite a bit, as we jump across decades of history along the way, with Kirkman giving fun, if fan-servicey, finales for characters like Atom Eve.

In my mind, Marky’s story feels the most developed, in part because Kirkman has less world-building to attend, giving him more time to focus on characterization and emotion; which in certain ways is a little bit of a shame, since Terra immediately has more resonance as the daughter of a supreme ruler, just like her father before her, as she gets to engage in sequences that are even more fun than regular superheroing like undersea exploration or battling in an alien gladiator pit. In many ways, I wish Terra’s rebelliousness against her father was more realized, if only to give Mark more of a moral challenge — sure, we see some of that Omni-Man edge to the former Invincible, but for the most part, his story is subsumed by that of the Viltrumite Empire. But even so, Marky doesn’t take being upstaged lying down, with an understated but stellar finale about his own origins, with Kirkman giving as much closure as possible to one of his most controversial plot points.

Meanwhile, having Ryan Ottley and Cory Walker tag-teaming the art on this finale is a wonderfully fitting way for Invincible to go out. With Mark Morales on inks, Ottley’s art looks smooth as silk, bringing a roundness to the rendering that gives this book a lot of charm. Like I’ve said before, there’s a lot that goes into the evolution of a story, and Ottley’s artwork shows just how far this series has come — his art is cartoony but mature, expressive and rightfully celebratory, as Marky winds up cannonballing his way into a superhuman melee. Meanwhile, Cory Walker’s take on Terra, Mark and the Viltrumite Empire has a slightly more rigid ink style, reminiscent of Doc Shaner, but his take on Terra is so wonderfully expressive that you can’t help but want to see an entire series of this rebellious alien princess and her lava-pooping puppies. In many ways, Walker is also given the lion’s share of the big visual beats, as Kirkman breathlessly covers Terra’s leap into adolescence, complete with a brief interstellar war in the background.

But in so many ways, Invincible has started off with time-honored tropes and taken them into uncharted territory — and for so many superhero books, the end is never in sight, with cancellations and reboots being yins to each other’s yangs. How do you put down capes and cowls? When and where is the best way to say goodbye? And in that regard, Kirkman, Ottley and Walker really do feel like trailblazers with Invincible #144, giving Mark Grayson a fitting sendoff that will be sure to please longtime readers.

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