Best Shots Reviews: MERA #1, THANOS #16, TERRIFICS #1, More

Doom Patrol/Justice League of America Special #1
Credit: DC COmics/Young Animal
Credit: DC Comics

Mera: Queen of Atlantis #1
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Lan Medina, Richard Friend and Vero Gandini
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by DC Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Despite the name on the cover, Mera: Queen of Atlantis doesn’t feel like a Mera book.

Much of that is probably because the debut of this six-issue miniseries doesn’t open with the Queen of Atlantis, but instead with the return of the Ocean Master, who’s living his best life with the woman whose son he saved in his last appearance. Typically I do my best to avoid major spoilers for reviewing issues that just dropped, but this doesn’t even feel like a spoiler: it’s the first thing that happens as soon as you crack the book open. What follows is a series of events that happen to Mera in a way that just feels as if it’s intended to facilitate more exciting things eventually happening because of Orm, and given the circumstances Mera finds herself in at the launch of this miniseries, immediately making a surprise return character central to the series feels like a missed opportunity.

Four pages in, we finally see Mera kicking butt and taking names, relying on her Xebel upbringing to compensate for the powers she’s lost as a result of recent events in Aquaman. Mera’s doing her best to cope with the emotional strain of both her injuries and the distance from Arthur Curry, as well as her newfound status as Atlantean queen-in-exile. There is so much potential here for something exciting and dramatic and emotional, but Abnett’s writing just makes Mera seem as if she’s going through the motions.

The fight scene in the early pages is somewhat interesting but largely a vehicle for exposition (exposition that does, to Abnett’s credit, make this fairly easy for non-Aquaman readers to pick up) and her actions through the rest of the series feel perfunctory. By the end of the issue it feels as if there are really two directions for this series to go, and neither of them are interesting enough to merit a six-issue stand-alone series - it almost feels like an Aquaman arc they couldn’t find room for.

From the art to the writing, Mera: Queen of Atlantis #1 is a serviceable but not particularly interesting book. Lan Medina and Richard Friend’s pencils and inks are decent but a bit inconsistent - nobody ever seems to look quite the same from panel to panel in a way that’s more jarring than charming. Meanwhile, colorist Vero Gandini does her best work in the flashbacks, where his soft, faded work does give the art the feel of a hazy, dreamline memory that slips through your fingers like water. It’s frankly difficult at times not to think wistfully of Stjepan Sejic or even Nicola Scott.

Ultimately, if Mera is an attempt to capitalize on the Mera buzz from Amber Heard’s Justice League cameo or this fall’s Aquaman, it’s an attempt that falls flat. While this issue can be picked up by anyone regardless of their familiarity with the primary Aquaman comic book, it’s not really a standalone series, and is perhaps held back by whatever plans Abnett has for Aquaman down the line. The flashbacks to Mera’s upbringing are some of the most interesting moments in this week’s debut, and one can’t help but think that a miniseries focusing on her military training and upbringing might have been a better way to capitalize on the character Heard is bringing to life in the DCEU. With any luck, Mera: Queen of Atlantis will gain some urgency and manage to weave Orm into Mera’s storyline without accidentally making him more central to the narrative than she is. It’s just a shame that Mera’s first-ever solo sets something of a low bar.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Thanos #16
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Geoff Shaw and Antonio Fabela
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

With Marvel announcing that Donny Cates would be writing a Cosmic Ghost Rider spinoff series, it’s almost surprising to see the cosmically empowered, demonically possessed Frank Castle get his origin story told in Thanos #16. And perhaps even more surprising - even though Thanos barely factors into this issue, it’s great. Scratch that - it’s terrific. Because even though there are two Thanoses in this series, Cates slyly uses them as just a pretext to do some exciting, insane things with other corners of the Marvel Universe.

So how does one go from being a street-level vigilante to an overpowered Turducken of cosmic concepts? Cates makes it look easy, using Frank Castle’s need to punish as a counterpoint to Thanos’ trail of destruction, pinballing the one-time Punisher to the depths of the Marvel underworld to the heights of being a herald of Galactus - and eventually having the snake eat its own tail by becoming the right-hand man of the very being he set out to punish in the first place. What seems like a crazy flight of fancy on paper actually becomes a skillfully plotted and surprisingly convincing Evel Knievel jump across continuity - it’s risky, but it’s planned to a tee, daisy-chaining together character concepts and pulp tropes in a way that’s more than just random mashups.

But what’s also interesting is that this is only half the book. Cates introduced a cliffhanger last issue featuring a dark Silver Surfer leading the Annihilation Wave, and while that already feels like a suitable threat even to an Infinity Gauntlet wielder like Thanos, Cates actually gives us a stellar misdirect, subbing out Norrin Radd’s armies with a weapon that might give the Mad Titan a run for his money. And in a lot of ways, Cates is able to make a compelling case for superhero continuity in a way that many other books - which oftentimes get weighed down by the chains of exposition and minutiae - cannot. He’s instead able to use continuity to surprise readers, to provide a shorthand for stakes and tone, and to make connections that make the Marvel Universe feel fresh.

And Geoff Shaw and Antonio Fabela sell all of Cates’ crazy ideas nicely. Shaw is such an interesting catch for the Marvel bullpen, because he’s not your typical superhero artist - he’s not drawing big and widescreen, his rendering isn’t necessarily the cleanest or the most flashy, he’s not even playing up big moments as “big” moments. But he gets Cates’ story, gets his rhythms and his emotional beats, and is able to sell the concepts just based on designs alone - there’s something that evokes a little bit of Oliver Coipel in the moments he chooses to play up, such as the dynamite final splash page or even just the small moments such as when the Rider sells his soul for the third and final time. Fabela’s colorwork is really what brings Shaw’s work to that next level - it’s energetic and vibrant with beautiful reds, oranges and purples, which at times letterer Clayton Cowles emphasizes with yellows or counterpoints nicely with some cool blue sound effects.

It’s easy to lose your story thread in superhero comic books, especially when you’re churning out books at a monthly or biweekly rate - and perhaps most intriguingly, Thanos often feels unconcerned with its title character. But that’s okay - because it’s rare to find a book that’s not only so aware of its own hook, but is composed almost completely of narrative hooks. If you can only pick up one superhero comic book this week, buy the ticket and take the ride with Frank Castle - pick up Thanos #16 today.

Credit: DC COmics/Young Animal

Doom Patrol/Justice League of America Special #1
Written by Steve Orlando and Gerard Way
Art by Dave Eaglesham, Nick Derington, Tamra Bonvillain, Marissa Louise, Sonny Liew, Ibrahim Moustafa, Michael Avon Oeming, and Marley Zarcone
Lettering by Clem Robins
Published by DC Comics/Young Animal
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

"Milk Wars" comes to an appropriately insane end in the Doom Patrol/Justice League of America Special. With the forces of good gathered in Cave Carson’s cybernetic eye and aimed at the Retconn HQ, writers Steve Orlando and Gerard Way not only double down on the weirdness of the overall event, but the main thesis of the crossover that “strange deserves a shot.” Blessed with a multitude of characters to play with and surrealist energy that refuses to quit, the pair end this crossover on a dizzyingly huge note, throwing everything they have but never losing sight of the strange little hearts of the Young Animal characters and the inherent altruism of the main DCU heroes. Along with the clean, crisp lines of Dave Eaglesham and tight teases of the new Young Animal line from the new and returning crop of artists, the Doom Patrol/Justice League of America Special is big, fun, and weird in all the right ways.

The battle is joined for the fate of all reality! And what a battle it is, too - with the team assembled and laser-focused on the mission of saving Cave Carson and bringing down Retconn, writers Steve Orlando and Gerard Way kick the crossover into hyperdrive to send it out on a multiverse-shaking bang. But like the rest of the Young Animal line, this finale is more than just a mere superhero punch-up. Instead, Orlando and Way weave a tale of self-actualization through the main battle centered around Casey, Milkman Man, and the newly-found Elasti-Girl, Rita Farr. Though the argument could be made that this finale leans a bit too hard on a deus ex machina and a convenient bit of reboot plotting based around Retconn’s “ultimate weapon,” it is really refreshing to see a battle on the page that is more about accepting yourself than it is about beating your opponent.

But beyond the pathos of the main plot, the pair really do a fantastic job of setting up the new status quo of the incoming Young Animal “reboots.” As Retconn bigwigs realize that their days are numbered, they deploy their “ultimate weapon,” a strange little device of Jack Kirby-style tech that promises to wipe the slate clean. “If we can’t sell Prime Earth, NO ONE CAN!” declares the Retconn executive, and then the erasing starts. But thanks to some well-placed Muscle Mystery and Rita Farr’s newfound freedom, the heroes get a new lease on life and a new set of #1s to inhabit. Again, this may sound a bit too easy for readers, but, to me, it is nice to see a group of writers giving a reboot narrative justification instead of just nakedly starting the books over just for the sake of doing so.

Better still we are treated to quick, in-story teases of the new titles thanks to establishing panels from the new and returning artists, providing small windows into the new Young Animal reality. Teases like Ibrahim Moustafa giving us a grim glimpse of a Gotham City without Batman and a cosmically cool look at Cave Carson IN SPAAAAACE featuring the return of Michael Avon Oeming. But while these teases set up the incoming titles well, this special really lives up to the title thanks to the classically comic book pencils of Dave Eaglesham and the searingly vibrant colors of Tamra Bonvillain and Marissa Louise. Bouncing from the kinetically staged blocking of the battle for Retconn and the trippy psychedelia of Rita Farr’s Jesus Christ Superstar-themed prison of the mind, the art team really leans into the pop art and ‘70s-inspired tone that Milk Wars has employed from the jump while exploding the scope of the story (and all of reality along with it).

When this crossover was announced, I was worried that somehow the Young Animal line would be watered down for general audience’s consumption, or that the main DCU heroes would be taken out of their established characters in order to stand shoulder to shoulder with the YA weirdos. But, as the Doom Patrol/Justice League of America Special proves, those fears were unfounded, as the creative team stayed true to both sets of characters while delivering a pleasantly outside-the-box crossover with real ambition and drive. As Casey said, strange deserves a shot, and this finale really made that shot count.

Credit: Ivan Reis/Joe Prado/Marcelo Maiolo (DC Comics)

The Terrifics #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

There's nothing like a good ol’ fashioned comic book company rivalry. With Marvel’s Fantastic Four mostly missing from their line over the last few years, their distinguished competition decided to swoop in and fill the void. With Jeff Lemire and Ivan Reis at the helm of this Terrifi-ship, DC looks to be making an honest-to-goodness attempt at recapturing the adventuring comics spirit of past titles like the Challengers of the Unknown, The Legion of Superheroes and of course, Marvel’s aforementioned first family. But this first issue comes stumbling out of the still incomplete Dark Nights: Metal, failing to do anything interesting with a tried and true formula, and in turn squanders some good work from Reis.

It’s unfair to keep comparing The Terrifics to Fantastic Four #1, because one of those books changed comics forever, and the other is just stealing its playbook in a lot of ways. The Terrifics don’t have a lot of the elements that make the FF easy to swallow and that leaves Lemire to try and cobble this team together from scratch. To his credit, they slide into their roles pretty easily. Mr. Terrific, Metamorpho and Plastic Man are the Mr. Fantastic, Thing and Human Torch of the Terrifics with a slightly different power set. Phantom Girl is Invisible Girl right down to her basically not doing anything in the first issue. On the surface, this should work.

Lemire just doesn’t have any handle on the dynamics of the team, and their mission is unclear. His Plastic Man has a lot of personality, as he’s the one character who has the most going on considering he just got caught up with the current status quo. But Mr. Terrific has just a generic superhero voice and Metamorpho is basically doing a Thing impression. Phantom Girl only appears on three pages, so it's hard to get a read on her. It feels like Lemire’s got all the pieces, but doesn’t know what to do with them. Maybe their mission will come more into focus once we know the ending of Metal, but the most that we get here is confirmation that this book exists, that the twist DC tipped months ago is indeed real, and, uh, not much else.

It’s kind of a shame, because Reis seems to be enjoying himself. He leans in on the FF comparisons by going as Kirby as possible as often as possible. His Plastic Man really holds this book together. He’s inventive and zany and has a wealth of expressions. Reis is at his best when Plastic Man is on the page. But he does tend to have a negative effect on the book as a whole — Plastic Man’s elasticity and energy makes the other characters look like statues by comparison. And the cobbled-together nature of the team means that there’s a lack of visual consistency — for example, Plastic Man’s red bounces off the page and makes the other characters fade more into the background. Colorist Marcelo Maiolo will have to find a better way to tie these characters together in his coloring, because Reis pulls them together with his linework at this stage. The layouts and narrative storytelling work well. But Plastic Man, and Reis’ work on him, really steals the show and outshines the rest of the product.

This is standard is as standard goes, but there’s a little failure to launch here — instead of taking the opportunity to stick their tongue out at their competition and show that they can do the FF better, DC gives us an awkward approximation that pales in comparison to almost any era of the Richards family. Even the last page reveal feels kind of unfortunate, never mind the fact that using Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics’ characters feels like bad practice, especially hot on the heels of Watchmen and Promethea. It makes it feel like there was little faith in the Terrifics as a concept that it seems like it was supposed to be thrown in as a gimmick to get people talking and stir the pot. Lemire and Reis — and The Terrifics as a team and a concept — certainly deserve better than that.

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