Mister Miracle #7 variant
Credit: Mitch Gerads (DC Comics)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers #684
Written by Jim Zub, Mark Waid and Al Ewing
Art by Paco Medina, Joe Bennett, Juan Vlasco, Ruy Jose, Jesus Aburtov and Morry Hollowell
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The Incredible Hulk is back - but even as Avengers #684 opens with a promising sequence suggesting a book about the horror of screaming, wild, inescapable immortality, its sprawling ambitions quickly transform it in something unrelated entirely. There are very promising moments here, but the opening sequence and the rest of the book after the credits page feel so wildly different that it’s hard not to spend the issue wishing it was just about the Hulk finally finding peace.

Still, Jim Zub, Mark Waid, and Al Ewing manage to keep this issue straightforward enough that anyone can jump on here without needing extensive knowledge of the "No Surrender" storyline. This selling point of this issue is the Hulk, and the creative team does a decent enough job of navigating the large ensemble cast and tangle of plotlines that if the Hulk is the only reason you’re jumping on board, you’ll find yourself up to speed enough to not regret spending the money.

There are some promising moments here - the opening sequence, Voyager’s motives, a very charming Red Hulk - but the spread of Avengers' massive cast means nothing can be consistently captivating. There’s no time to process moments that should be big emotional punches (a moment with Toni and Aikku in particular falls strangely flat) before moving on to the next big action sequence. No Surrender is an ambitious crossover, but Avengers #684 is an excellent example of where such ambitious stories can fall flat; there’s so much happening and so many people to follow that moments that could be big and impactful in a smaller book just wind up feeling like stepping stones or items checked off a to-do list so we can get to the next big thing.

Inconsistency is Avengers #684’s biggest struggle, from the script to the art. Cory Petit does some excellent, thoughtful lettering work in the opening pages with Bruce Banner, giving the panels where he first wakes up after being irradiated a sense of genuine anxiety and urgency, but other moments later in the issue (again thinking of Toni and Aikku) just feel slightly off, like the lettering doesn’t quite match up to the emotion given to a scene be Medina and Bennett’s pencils.

For every stellar moment - there’s a particularly striking full page with Voyager featuring great pops of vibrant purple that leap off the page - there’s too many panels that feel murky and flat with characters that seem almost unrecognizable from their appearances in other books. The good moments are great though, which is almost what makes it so frustrating; the retro-style "memories" are spot on, and the last page of the issue is an impeccably composed comic book cliffhanger on all levels from the lettering to the lighting. The opening sequence and the final panels just almost feel like two totally different books.

Ultimately, the draw of this issue is the return of the Hulk, and as a vehicle for that, Avengers #684 serves its purpose. It’s hard to tell what the endgame here is -there’s no sense of direction, and not necessarily in a way where you’re excited to be surprised about where the story’s going. Opening the book with the return of someone you thought might be long gone just leaves the lingering feeling that ultimately there may be no consequences for what happens here, and it’s not quite fun enough to allow you to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Credit: DC Comics

Mister Miracle #7
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

You think interstellar war and existential PTSD are terrifying? That's nothing compared to the horrors of childbirth - especially when Darkseid is lurking around every metaphysical corner. But that's a day in the life of Mister Miracle, as Tom King and Mitch Gerads play up the fears every parent goes through, as Big Barda finally has her due date.

In a lot of ways, the very setting of this issue feels daring in both a content and marketing perspective - last we see Scott Free, he had not only been told of his wife's pregnancy, but also assumed the murdered Orion's throne as Highfather, wide-eyed in terror after finally seeing the face of Darkseid. Combine that with Nick Derington's fearsome cover of the Female Furies, and you'd think there would be war coming - but instead, King and Gerads fast-forward through the entirety of Barda's pregnancy, rushing us to the delivery room.

But like the rest of this series, King works hard to keep us on our toes - the Female Furies do appear in this book, but not as adversaries. Instead, there's a sort of weird gray zone in this particular hospital ward, a sort of respectful ceasefire as the Furies instead wait for their former sister-in-arms to deliver her child. Throughout this series, there's been a tinge of trauma to King's characters, many of whom have been scarred by war or the horrors of Apokolips, and so much of this issue is preoccupied with these walking wounded asking themselves how to deal with a brand new life untouched by carnage. Granted, King twists the knife - figuratively and literally at one point in the script - and you can't help but see him twisting postpartum depression into a potentially deadlier, Darkseid-laced threat.

And in that vein, Gerads really does some stellar work here. While a Los Angeles hospital is certainly a far cry from the off-the-wall invasion of New Genesis from last issue, here Gerads reflects upon the horrors of the mundane, his tight panels and scratchy rendering making Big Barda's delivery feel all that much more tense and claustrophobic. But Gerads' major strength for Mister Miracle is the way he renders his characters with such humanity - even in their limited appearances in the issue, you immediately get the Female Furies as characters, and the look of exhaustion and wiped-out horror on Scott's face when he delivers the good news is the face only a dad could portray. Gerads' colors, meanwhile, deliver the more subtle dread of this issue - in particular, the color on Scott's newborn as he's first taken out of the womb, having a distinctly Darkseidian blue-gray. Even if the Lord of Apokolips isn't striking at Scott through his newborn, it's the kind of visual distortion that reminds us that bad things are coming for Mister Miracle.

They say the miracle of life is one of the most beautiful things you can experience - but when you've grown up on Apokolips, even great beauty comes with a tinge of horror and ugliness. And that might be a mission statement for Mister Miracle as a whole - there's that unspoken terror, that faceless dread that's stalked Scott ever since his suicide attempt in Issue #1, a depression and disorientation that's placed a staticky filter over his life. Call it Anti-Life, call it PTSD, call it existential rudderlessness - either way, Mister Miracle continues to be a thoughtful, provoking read that you owe it to yourself to read.

Credit: Marvel Comics

New Mutants: Dead Souls #1
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Art by Adam Gorham and Michael Garland
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The New Mutants are back, and they’re older than ever. If you’re a longtime fan of the franchise, New Mutants: Dead Souls #1 isn’t exactly sporting the line-up you might be expecting, but it’s still full of familiar faces. Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Gorham slide readers into this team pretty easily as this issue serves as an effective reintroduction to the characters and their general M.O. But while the New Mutants were known for taking on some paranormal threats in their heyday, there’s something that rings a bit hollow here, and as a result it feels like a book that’s New Mutants in name only. Gorham’s artwork does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of evoking the supernatural tone, but Dead Souls doesn’t do enough to really leave readers begging for more.

On a macro-level, almost all the elements that go into the conceit behind this book fit together. Fairly recognizable line-up of mutants historically known as The New Mutants? Check (with the exception of X-Factor’s Strong Guy, but we’ll give him a pass). Vaguely spooky, mysterious setting? Check. Witty repartee between characters? Check. Unfortunately, though, the devil is in the details - while the cast (Magik, Wolfsbane, Rictor, Boom Boom, and Strong Guy) is solid, they feel almost interchangeable under Rosenberg’s pen. Karma brings up later in the issue that these heroes weren’t her first choice for a team - but even if she had gotten the ones she’d wanted, it doesn’t feel like Rosenberg would have had to drastically rewrite his script. That’s not to say that what he’s written is bad, but there’s nothing here that definitively feels like the New Mutants.

I think that speaks to a bit of a tonal problem at Marvel overall. While the original New Mutants might seem a bit overwrought by today’s standards, they had pretty distinct personalities. As characters enter their twenties, they seem to all get written with base of snarkiness that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the MCU. That’s not a terrible surface level place for those characters to live, but Rosenberg doesn’t really dig into anything specific about these characters outside of all them acting as foils to Magik’s somewhat unnerving stoicism. And that means that we’ll have to wait and see. If Rosenberg’s proven anything with his run on Secret Warriors, it’s that he can handle characters in a team setting, but the structure of this issue doesn’t play to his strengths in characterization. The scenes feel rather secondary to whatever bit of pithy dialogue the writer wants to put in.

Adam Gorham, for his part, seems to be a good fit for this kind of story. It’s not really a horror story, but there’s a creepiness to it that lends itself to his sketchy and sometimes roughly defined artwork. The problem with a style like his is that it leads to a lot of inconsistencies in the renderings of characters and their expressions. Magik looks like she’s falling asleep for the first few pages, and given the plot’s momentum at that point, readers will likely be right there with her. But then he’ll turn in a page like Strong Guy getting shot in the chest or Magik cutting off a guy’s head with her Soul Sword, and it’s clear why Gorham got the job. When Rosenberg’s script gives the characters something to do, Gorham can turn in some dynamic work, but the acting on display in those quieter moments doesn’t always play that well.

Michael Garland’s coloring is pretty spot-on in this book, though. He never overrides Gorham’s inking, and that’s really important for communicating the tone of the book. His two standout moments have to be the big “Hold your ground, New Mutants!” splash and closing page of the book - both scenes are very different in terms of what they’re trying to accomplish, but Garland’s coloring gives the book a measure of consistency that its lacking elsewhere.

It’s hard to know what New Mutants: Dead Souls #1 wants to be. Is this a riff on the New Mutants stories of old? Is it something entirely new? Is this a horror story? Is it a superhero story? Hell, is it even an X-Men story? It doesn’t work very well as an overall introduction to the team, as the in media res approach forces us to just go along with everything and hope its explained later. But there’s not a lot to latch onto yet. The threat is ill-defined. The characters are fairly rote. And the art seems to be an issue or two away from really finding its footing. I have more faith in the creative team than what they’ve shown us here, because it feels like the pieces are mostly here, they’re just one or two more details away from coming together as a compelling whole.

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