Best Shots Reviews: EXILES #1, IMMORTAL MEN #1, CAPTAIN AMERICA #700, More

Domino #1 variant
Credit: J. Scott Campbell (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Exiles #1
Written by Saladin Ahmed
Art by Javier Rodriguez, Alvaro Lopez and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Hot off the critical success of Black Bolt, it was no surprise to hear that Marvel was tapping Saladin Ahmed for more work. But given Ahmed’s penchant for sci-fi tinged pathos, Exiles’ brand of Quantum Leap by way of The Real World was probably the last thing anyone was expecting. While the concept has been dormant at Marvel for quite a while, fans of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow should be familiar with the concept - a team of heroes from across the multiverse team up to fix alternate realities. It’s a pretty evergreen hook that essentially gives writers no-holds-barred access to the Marvel Universe which is part of what made Judd Winick and Mike McKone’s original run so well-remembered. Unfortunately, Ahmed and artist Javier Rodriguez stumble a bit in laying the foundation for the series - not trusting readers enough to just go with the flow and ultimately delivering a book that even at a scant 20 pages feels woefully decompressed.

Exiles is the kind of book that should allow you to basically hit the ground running but Ahmed gets mired in exposition every step of the way. In a way, it’s hard to blame him - that’s almost exactly what happened with Winick’s original launch. But he knew he had almost 40 pages to work with. In an era where page counts are really at a premium, stretching out the “getting the team together” part of a team book over multiple issues feels like a luxury that can’t really be afforded, especially since getting the team together is just a random occurrence in this case rather than something carefully curated by the main character. So while the story reasons that the Tallus has brought this specific group together will be revealed over time, there’s something really deflating about not even getting the team as advertised on the cover all in same issue.

Instead, we get a group of talented creators seemingly working in spite of each other. Javier Rodriguez’ layouts, while sometimes imaginative, are terrible in terms of narrative clarity when Ahemd is tasked with getting the whole of the concept communicated effectively to readers. And letterer Joe Caramagna isworking overtime to pull this book together. The exposition is absolutely leaden, dragging down just about every aspect of the book. Ahmed’s meet-cutes with the first two members of the team even feel like space that would have been better served by shorter introductions with tighter scripting. Rodriguez wants to make these pages pop and Ahmed doesn’t want to give too many pages to exposition, but the scenes we’re given feel inconsequential, rife with awkward dialogue that exists only for dialogue’s sake. It’s understandable why when given the same task, Judd Winick dropped his team into a desert. It might not be that visually interesting but it gives the exposition some room to breathe.

On the surface, there’s a lot to like here but Ahmed’s done nothing to hook readers yet. Rodriguez’ work is nice to look at but awful to try and read. The problem is compounded by the fact that caramagna has struggle to find space to fit all of Ahmed's words in conjunction with the layouts to give us something with some semblance of readability. The visual narrative consistency of this book is really the biggest knock against it which is a shame because Blink is fun under Ahmed's pen, Rodriguez is very talented and the concept (once you can parse it) is really solid and fun. Unfortunately, this book is going to take a couple of issues to really come together.

Credit: DC Entertainment

The Immortal Men #1
Story by Jim Lee, Ryan Benjamin, and James Tynion IV
Art by Jim Lee, Ryan Benjamin, Scott Williams, Richard Friend, Jeremiah Skipper and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Caden Park spends most of today’s debut issue of The Immortal Men #1 feeling adrift and confused, uncertain of his place in the world around him and unable to make sense of his experience with the limited knowledge at his disposal. For better and for worse, The Immortal Men #1 readers - especially newcomers - will likely spend much of the issue feeling the same way.

Storytellers James Tynion IV, Jim Lee, and Ryan Benjamin throw readers head-first into a world with a rich, long mythos with very little hand-holding. There’s a strong sense from the script that they’ve got a clear grasp on the universe they’re trying to build, but it’s less clear whether the somewhat disorienting pace and inconsistent introductions (one villain gets a big dramatic spread, while the names of the Immortal Men team are a little harder to pick up on at first read if you don’t already know what you’re looking for) are an intentional mirror to Caden Park’s journey of discovery or an unintended side effect of a book that has a lot going on.

The Immortal Men #1 continues to peel back the layers of the DC Universe that the Dark Nights event has been plucking at for months, introducing us to a millennia long struggle between the immortal forces of good and evil - a battle for humanity’s very continued existence, played out on a grander scale and for bigger stakes than even the bombastic final battles DC’s mortal heroes find themselves trapped in again and again. There are plenty of immortal figures in DC comic books, some more helpful than others, and Tynion, Lee, and Benjamin set themselves to building a mythos that feels as ancient and far-reaching as these characters to explain their inconsistent appearances throughout DC’s history through the eyes of Caden Park, the young son of wealthy parents who are doing their best to support him as he and his therapist attempt to explain his constant visions of a world of superheroes beckoning him to join but always staying just out of his grasp.

This feels like a big important book, often because of how big and important everything feels specifically to Caden. His confusion and his longing to make sense of a huge world he knows exists but can’t seem to convince others to understand is a relatable experience to any comic book reader trying to make sense of the sweeping history of stories available to us, and Tynion, Lee, and Benjamin do a solid job giving the world of the Immortals a sense of grandeur and drama in contrast to Caden’s daily life. The art, both Williams’ and Friend’s inks and Skipper’s and Sinclair’s colors, makes the Immortals’ campus and its surrounding locales feel practically ancient - there’s always a sense when engaging with these characters that you’re dealing with a world too old for Caden (and us) to truly comprehend. The pops of color in the mystical moments keep things from getting too dull; Ghost Fist in particular looks fantastic, a vibrant, phantasmic take on the The Spirit who brightens up the page despite his dramatic black attire.

For readers who have been following Dark Nights: Metal from the beginning, this will be an exciting continuation of some unresolved threads from the event’s final issue. This is an easy enough read for newcomers to pick up as well; the moments that are a bit confusing, whether intentional or not, are never confusing enough to detract significantly from the rest of the story. The Immortal Men #1 team are talented storytellers, and today’s issue is an intriguing debut that promises to weave the events of the last few months into the long history of the entire DC universe in some very exciting and potentially far-reaching ways.

Credit: Chris Samnee (Marvel Comics)

Captain America #700
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

”I don’t know how to stop. I never did.”

Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and Matthew Wilson pay tribute to Captain America’s indomitable spirit in his landmark 700th issue this week. Capped off by a “brand new” Jack Kirby-penciled story and bringing the current “King Rogers” story arc to a close, Captain America #700 is a stirring, action-packed anniversary issue for the Star Spangled Avenger, one that displays an innate understanding of Steve Rogers and the kind of stories that he can comfortably inhabit. Tasked with rebuilding New America in the wake of Rampart’s reign, Steve Rogers does what he does best - winning battles - but he quickly learns that winning battles won’t be enough if he wants to save this future. Anchored by Waid’s stern but heartfelt voice and Samnee and Wilson’s dynamically emotive artwork, Captain America #700 is a worthy tribute to hero behind the shield.

King Babbington has been deposed, and now it is up to Steve Rogers to bring New America back from the brink. But as we quickly see, it is easy to win a war, but it is much harder to run a country - especially one that is constantly under siege by foreign powers. By showing Cap once again in his “element” of war, Waid pays tribute to Steve’s iron will and drive to help people. While some might find the metaphor somewhat flimsy, especially in the wake of Secret Empire, I found it to be just sincere enough to hook me, as we watch a grueling 200-plus day sequence of Steve learning his own limitations as a leader and a warrior. Of course Steve would throw himself into the defense of the country instead of building the infrastructure - because at the end of the day, that’s all he knows.

Waid even adds a bittersweet layer of time travel hijinks onto the issue, as Steve winds up finding himself having a second chance to truly undo all of Babbington’s madness. While detailing the twists and turns would spoil some of the more heartfelt moments of the issue, this sends the issue into its focused and kinetic back half, one that stands as a driven, heartfelt set piece that highlights Steve’s constant drive to keep people safe and Samnee and Wilson’s tight handle on action blocking.

Though some might find the issue’s twists a bit too convenient for the issue’s denouement, it hard to deny Samnee and Wilson’s heavy contributions to the issue’s fun and forward momentum. Opening on bombed-out, mutation-filled battlegrounds and ending on a few sunny slices of Americana, Samnee and Wilson really run the gamut in terms of tone throughout Captain America #700. But throughout all the war-torn future visuals and the ticking clock of a set piece that ends the issue, Samnee’s pencils are consistently emotive and human, giving the action a real heart beyond their deliberate construction. Couple them with the warm and eye-grabbing colors of Matthew Wilson and you have a set of pages that that really capture the abilities and pathos of Steve Rogers. All thanks to Samnee and Wilson’s ability to make the art feel “real” even amid dystopias and supervillain attacks.

They say that heavy is the head that wears the crown, but Captain America #700 shows what happens when someone as driven and as empathetic as Steve Rogers takes on his crushing responsibility. Though it isn’t exactly the blockbuster issue one would expect from such a momentously numbered issue, thanks to Waid’s sterling character work and Samnee’s gorgeous pages, Captain America #700 is still a fittingly fun and surprisingly science fiction infused tribute to the “First Avenger” and his time-hopping adventures.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Domino #1
Written by Gail Simone
Art by David Baldeon and Jesus Aburtov
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

You might think that everything’s coming up Domino - but that’s probably because you don’t know her very well. Because even with the probability-altering mutant power of “good luck,” writer Gail Simone and artist David Baldeon remind us that luck is just in the eye of the beholder, and even X-Force’s gun-slinging femme fatale has plenty of problems that even she can’t shoot her way out of.

Of course, when it comes to Neena Thurman, you’ve probably met plenty of people just like her - fantastic at her job, but completely untethered when it comes to her personal life. But as we watch Domino take on a job before returning home for some a surprising bit of R&R, Simone really evokes her runs on Deadpool and Birds of Prey here - there’s a real sense of action and humor that’s baked into the character naturally. Even if you don’t know who Domino is, Simone has you covered, as we learn new facets of Neena’s abilities (like how her “luck” powers only guarantee survival, but can still leave her with broken bones or bruised-up dignity) or just seeing how genuinely troubled the character is (as we watch her get sloshed at her own birthday as she snarks at her ex-boyfriend Colossus for getting engaged to someone with “a normal face”).

But the result of this work means that we wind up liking Domino a lot, and we’re willing to follow her into any situation. That comedic element is sold nicely by artist David Baldeon, particularly a scene where Domino meets her new birthday present - the derpiest dog you’ve probably ever seen in a comic book. But even when the action starts to pick up, Baldeon has a real rubbery, kinetic quality to his characters, especially a bit where Domino is fastball special-ed into a crowd of bad guys. This sense of energy, combined with his exaggerated expressions, gives Domino an effervescent kind of zip to the story, which often pushes the title past moments that might feel obligatory or fan-servicey.

That said, for some, those moments might slow down the book a bit. For example, Simone’s character work is stellar, but there are some moments where the plot feels a little threadbare for a new #1, such as Neena’s cameo-laden birthday party, which makes you wonder how Domino might be in any danger in a scene later on. (Even Domino and Outlaw’s first job at the beginning of the book feels a little thin, particularly with its very caption-heavy opening - you’ll remember the action, but not necessarily why the two were there in the first place.)

Still, with Neena about to hit cinemas next month in Deadpool 2, the timing couldn’t be better for Domino to have her own new series at Marvel, and honestly, Simone and Baldeon are doing some dynamite work on the character so far. There’s a lightness to this book that really makes this a treat to read, but there’s also some clear characterization that makes Neena stand out amongst Simone’s characters, rather than her eccentric, sometimes jokey band of lunatics over on the Secret Six. If you don’t know what this character is about, then you are in luck, because Domino is the kind of book that will likely buck the odds.

Credit: DC Comics

Eternity Girl #2
Written by Magdalene Visaggio
Art by Sonny Liew and Chris Chuckry
Lettering by Todd Klein
Review by Joey Edsall
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Eternity Girl #2 takes just a few pages to deliver one of the most astute descriptions of mental illness I’ve read in a long time: “Holding human form takes a lot out of me. Holding any form takes a lot out of me.”

The idea of how much it can often hurt to simply be is rarely explained with such precision, and while a lot of praise was heaped on top fellow DC breakout comic Mister Miracle for its depictions of mental illness, the combination of tone and concrete language makes Eternity Girl deserve the accolades and adoration in 2018 that the former received in 2017. Magdalene Visaggio’s profoundly tight script is responsible for the comic’s strength of language, but Sonny Liew’s artwork and Chris Chuckry’s colors create so many interesting images that will stay with you long after you finish reading.

If the series debut was about establishing Caroline Sharp and her mental state, Eternity Girl #2 moves the protagonist away from being reactive towards being an active participant in the plot. On Earth, Caroline is dragged to a stand-up performance by Dani, a friend who is eager to try anything to pull her out of the emotional hole she’s in. Yet we also see Caroline conspiring with the villainous Madame Atom, who informs her that to achieve her goal of truly dying, she will have to do battle with a Galactus-esque alien being known as Astrolas.

What is so impressive about Eternity Girl is that every aspect of Caroline’s character ties to the themes Visaggio explores. For example, the idea that exertion is required to maintain a form is a common conceit for shapeshifters - the implication is that the base form requires no effort, so that is what the shapeshifter defaults to when effort can’t be maintained. But Caroline’s base form requires effort. What happens when she can’t exert that effort? Pain. Discomfort. Caroline’s unemployment doesn’t result in ennui, it results in every action of every single day hurting, and that’s an idea that’s scarier than any world-ending threat.

Visaggio’s depiction of this experience is riveting, from Caroline’s daily struggles to the way she lashes out at her friend Dani. Caroline is struggling and Caroline is imperfect, and so is the person trying to help her, even if there is obviously a great deal of love between the two. Her having a foot in two existences is another powerful allegory for depression, as just as she doesn’t have a comfortable baseline state, she also doesn’t have a comfortable baseline sense of the present. How can someone expect her to be completely in a moment when she’s busy existing in parallel?

If the depiction of depressive episodes is largely Visaggio’s responsibility, Liew deserves the bulk of the praise in the comic’s depiction of dissociative states. This can be boiled down to two primary creative choices. The first is the subtle change of between Caroline’s interactions with the banal and the fantastic, with the latter’s change to cleaner and more distinct line work as if to signify Caroline’s deeper investment with her experiences in the backstage of the universe than with where most of her existence lies. The switching of styles is subtle enough to be unsettling and unique in its depiction of dissociation, which is aided by Liew’s transition between the two.

The gradual pixelation of one style and tone intruding on the other gives readers a POV experience of Caroline fading between selves in panels that are at once frightening and sad. It’s in these panels that Chuckry’s color work is strongest, and helps make his darker choices in the mundane look less disjointed from the vibrancy of the otherworldly. When you can see the two next to each other, the contrast adds to the overall effect, and when that contrast is evident in a single panel it makes for something truly memorable.

Combining high-concept sci-fi with a truly memorable take on depression and mental illness, Eternity Girl is the rare title that is capable of simultaneous indie and mainstream comic appeal and convention, all the while subverting expectations of both. Even with just its sophomore effort, Eternity Girl #2 is already feels like a series destined for best-of-the-year lists. Visaggio, Liew, and Chuckry are so in sync that this feels less like an ordinary narrative and more of a sequential art experience, one that no comics fan should miss.

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