Best Shots Reviews: SUPERMAN #45, INFINITY COUNTDOWN #2, More

Infinity Countdown #2 variant
Credit: Aaron Kuder (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Patrick Gleason (DC Comics)

Superman #45
Written by Patrick Gleason and Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason and Stephen Downer
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

While Action Comics is grabbing all the headlines today, Superman #45 delivers a meditative and emotional bookend to its previous stories. One that not only pays tribute to the previous 44 issues of the series, but to Superman’s core values, and Jon’s newfound place in the universe thanks to Gleason and Tomasi. Harkening back to the slower, more rurally-focused early issues, writers Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, who also pulls double duty as artist, craft a bittersweet, but truly affecting issue as the Kents prepare to leave Hamilton for the hustle and bustle of Metropolis (and the incoming slew of rebooted titles). Made whole by the sun-kissed, small town glow of Stephen Downer’s colors Superman #45 ends the title as it began, with a focused understanding of Superman and the kind of stories he excels at starring in.

It is moving day at Kent Farm, but not everyone is happy about it. Patrick Gleason and Peter J. Tomasi lay out early on that they are more concerned about with the emotional core of this issue than the dynamism of this plot. The whole issue is devoted to the Kents packing up their house and the final county fair, a bittersweet call back to one of the series’ best issues. Jon, of course, is hesitant to move and so is Lois for that matter, taking to carrying around the family’s mailbox in protest (“I think that’s illegal," Clark says sheepishly). But as Superman himself says in the issue, “nothing gold can stay” and Gleason and Tomasi take us through the Kent’s clear eyed, but heartfelt last day in Hamilton.

On paper it doesn’t sound like much and some readers may be turned off by the issue’s slower pace, but Tomasi and Gleason really make the most of it thanks to soulful, in-character dialogue from that draws from the pair’s greatest strength: the deep well of emotions they’ve centered through their run. Focusing on Clark and Jon working through Jon’s feelings on the move, the writing team make great use of the issue’s pacing, delivering beat after beat of either callbacks or engaging father/son moments as they pay tribute to their own run as well as the enduring nature of Superman. Like I said, this may not be for everybody but if Superman #45 proves anything, it's that Big Blue is here to stay and that, to me, is a really comforting thought.

But along with the contained plot and engaging dialogue, Gleason also saw fit to provide Superman #45 with some exceptional visuals as well. Drenched in rural county golds and clear bluer-than-blue skies from colorist Stephen Downer, Gleason’s pencils really capture the warmth and strong paternal vibes of the series thus far and focus them into one last trip around the farm for Jon and Clark. Though he gets to sprinkle in his vast scope and keen eye for action here and there throughout this issue, it’s the quiet moments by the pond or Lois tearfully mopping the dust of her memories away from the house that really make Superman #45 soar. I know Superman’s whole deal is “faster than a speeding bullet” and everything, but Gleason and Downer really make these quiet, slower moments more powerful than a locomotive and I can’t think of a better way to send this run of Superman off.

With a Robert Frost quote on his lips and a family to support, Clark Kent heads back into the city and toward the future in Superman #45. Loaded with strong emotional beats, vibrant character-focused artwork, and a keen sense of what Superman and his symbol stands for Superman #45 is a wonderful tribute (and probable send-off) to the Gleason and Tomasi’s take on the Last Son of Krypton and his breakout character of a son. As the Man of Tomorrow heads into that relaunched and headline-grabbing tomorrow Superman #45 shows that there is still power in looking toward the past.

Credit: Nick Bradshaw (Marvel Comics)

Infinity Countdown #2
Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Aaron Kuder, Mike Hawthorne, Terry Pallot, and Jordi Bellaire
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Infinity Countdown is a series with a thankless task. It’s a prelude to an event that promises to change the landscape of Marvel Comics again, while also being something of a capstone for the story that concluded with Guardians of the Galaxy #150. If last month’s debut issue of this series seemed more like the latter, Infinity Countdown #2 begins with writer Gerry Duggan pushing the series to more operatic heights in terms of intensity and drama - to the point where it becomes easy to forget that this is not, in fact, the focal Marvel event book of the year. He plays with a wealth of moving parts but succeeds more often than not in making each narrative thread of the comic interesting and full of forward momentum. The art team of pencillers Aaron Kuder (who also serves as his own inker) and Mike Hawthorne, inker Terry Pallot, and colorist Jordie Bellaire give the comic several memorable panels, but some of the work in between the issue’s high points suffers by comparison.

After an ominous scene with the mysterious forging that opened the previous issue, the comic book begins with the battle between the Guardians and Scar on the planet Telferina. The opening forge sequence precedes the title page and is visually distinct enough that it doesn’t feel like one more plot that Duggan has to wrangle, instead being at once important and on the backburner. If that opening is representative of the aesthetic highs of the comic book, the battle on Telferina is an example of art that suffers. While much of the planet is an appropriately charred wasteland, the panels suffer from dead space. Of the plots in this comic, the solo Guardians romp is the least interesting, and fortunately doesn’t last very long as readers are shuffled off to Xitaung where Drax the former Destroyer and Nova Corps Commander Eve Bakian are defending the gargantuan Power Stone from Talonar and the Chitauri Empire with Warbringer leading the charge.

The radiance of the stone gives Bellaire a lot to play with as far as colors go, and the way lighting and shadow litter the landscape and characters is impressive. Before long, the Guardians literally crash the fight with a faux-Galactus mobile suit in the best sequence as far as visual wizardry and narrative skill in keeping the action inherently fun. The Trojan Galactus falls apart as it crashes into the ground, and though the art is depicted like a splash page, there are faint panels marking out the progression of time within the page. It manages to be equally unique and effective and elevates the scene by giving it a sense of physical comedy, which is no easy task in a medium of static images.

This delicate balance of intensity and levity is on display again just a few pages later in the second highlight of the issue, Ant-Man’s futile attempts to shrink the Power Stone, a scene which conveys everything it needs primarily through the composition and works as both a gag and a complicator for the plot. From there, the comic book takes a dark turn into Annihilation-esque territory. There is a grim severity in Gamora’s reaction to Bakian’s blink-and-you-miss-it childbirth, as the haunting vision of Thanos behind her conveys enough emotional significance that even unfamiliar readers can pick up on the context of why Gamora is so insistent that Eve’s baby never falls into enemy hands.

The severity and operatic movement of multiple plots continues as the issue focuses on Adam Warlock as he ventures to confront Ultron on the planet Saiph. Ultron is an event-level threat on his own, so it's nice to see Duggan make the scenes on Saiph so unsettling in the wake of the virulent automaton's conquest. This all culminates with a final panel of Ultron forcibly attempting to assimilate Silver Surfer in a well-drawn and distressing panel that gives the next installment of the series an even greater sense of urgency.

Infinity Countdown #2 is, above all else, a fun comic book that successfully ties some of its disparate plot threads together while letting some run further than expected. While the art can be inconsistent at times due to possibly having too many cooks in the kitchen, the pages that show the creative team at their best are strong enough to be the panels that are memorable when you put this book down. That sense of fun might be at the forefront, but the story being told feels like it matters, and its that strength that’s going to do an untold amount of good for the upcoming event and Marvel in general.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #45
Written by Tom King
Art by Tony S. Daniel, John Livesay and Tomeu Morey
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

What do you get for the man who can buy anything?

That’s the question for each of Bruce and Selina’s wedding guests to consider as the big day draws ever closer. With a date set, and Selina having said yes to a dress, Tom King changes pace by putting Booster Gold in the spotlight. Unfortunately, Booster’s actions have put a version of Gotham in disarray and after all this is over, he’ll likely be wishing that the Caped Crusader had an Amazon wishlist he could’ve looked through instead.

A riff on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “For the Man Who Has Everything,” one of the most famous Superman stories and name-dropped by issue’s end, King and Tony S. Daniel start their tale with Hal Jordan who, with a Joker-ish smile on his face, promptly inverts the rules of his power ring and kills himself in front of Booster. Gotham burns in the distance, the Bat Signal has been destroyed and there’s no sign of Batman. While Booster remains assertive that this isn’t a total disaster, his robot buddy Skeets disagrees. Regardless, they both concur they should find Bruce sooner rather than later, if only so Booster can explain the gift he decided on.

For a story that opens with a cosmic suicide and set in a city where people talk about “A Joker" (and not “The Joker”), King avoids plunging into the darkness and grit of this dystopia. Even when Booster and Skeets descend onto the streets, the issue stays reasonably buoyant because of their Abbott and Costello-esque double act. King’s trademark elliptical dialogue remains but is more direct banter between man and robot, having been filtered through a vastly different central character. As such, King’s characterisation and voice of Booster is more akin to Bendis-speak than anything he’s written previously.

Their search for Bruce ensures the issue keeps moving along on a plot level and their conversations refine this momentum further from panel-to-panel. King occasionally devotes a page to worldbuilding about this Gotham, which serves to detail it without bogging down the pacing, but also as a reprieve from Booster and Skeets and prevents them from becoming unbearable or going around in circles with their conversations. These elements will presumably factor into the narrative in a practical sense, much like Bruce himself eventually does, but this appears to be Booster’s arc.

Compare Daniel’s cover to his interior pages, and the latter work seems softer. Getting an inking assist from John Livesay, his lines remain clean, and almost as angular, but there’s a warmth to his faces that comes across as uneasy within the context of the story; as if everyone’s one panel away from their own Joker grin. This isn’t Daniel’s first time in Gotham, having frequented the city on numerous occasions as both writer and artist and his aesthetic approach on this visit ensures the story has a sleek texture and blockbuster stylings. His widescreen panelling has an expansive depth-of-field, so while Hal monologues, a vista of Gotham burns far in the distance behind him, the heat of flames courtesy of Tomeu Morey. Even as Daniel’s tightens his focus onto the Green Lantern, he never pushes in so far to just showcase his face, the plumes of smoke in the background remain.

It’s still Gotham though, and if King’s story could have benefitted from anything to elevate it further, it would’ve been a style more distinct than DC’s house approach, but Daniel’s real strength is the acting he can gift these characters. Returning once again to Hal and his grin showcased on the first page, Daniel’s manages to increase the intensity from panel to panel. A later, more slapstick page involves Booster, Skeets and a rope creates motion across panels despite maintaining a static angle. The approach gives him the space to observe this and give Clayton Cowles enough breathing room to letter the dialogue without either encroaching on the other.

One of the biggest strengths of King’s Batman since "The War of Jokes and Riddles" is how his arcs have been smaller-length affairs. Having stories that are anywhere from one to three issues, coupled with the double shipping approach, ensures his tenure stays dynamic as it builds towards Bruce and Selina’s wedding. This arc allows him to do a big catastrophe-driven story while retaining a psychological angle and without overshadowing the impending nuptials. Compared to Superman: Secret Identity and Batman: Creature of the Night, King isn’t in full conversation with Moore and Gibbons’ story, but ensures enough of a connective tissue for contrast and examination in the following issues.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #799
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger and Marte Garcia
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

With a big anniversary issue looming large, Dan Slott and Stuart Immonen take an issue to let readers catch their collective breath and deliver at least one slightly unexpected twist in the process. Slott’s doing his best to leave it all out on the table here - connecting plot points and characters from across his run while centering Peter Parker and probably his greatest villain (save for Doctor Octopus), Norman Osborn. But there’s a bit of inevitability here that holds the arc back. Almost every beat here has been pretty well telegraphed even if it’s not poorly executed. But that’s the kind of chess game we’re used to seeing from Slott.

The symbiote powered Red Goblin is one of the strongest foes that Spidey has ever faced and Peter makes good on his deal with Norman - he won’t get back in the suit. But we know this forced “Spider-Man No More” can’t last for long especially as all of Peter’s amazing Spider-friends are called on to give him a hand. What’s a little frustrating here is that it seems like Slott’s rehashing a bit from his “Venom Inc.” arc regarding Agent Anti-Venom and how he interacts with this new symbiote-powered foe. One has to wonder if the timing of this arc would have been better served by some separation from that one. But Slott’s character work is good here as it tends to be. For the first time in quite a while, it feels like there are actual stakes despite the inevitability of periodical publishing. This is a Spider-Man you can believe in. Slott has always done his best to deliver that and I think he nails it here.

Stuart Immonen does good work, too. I think he phones it in on medium shots that aren’t action-based - completely losing the impact of exppression work on pages that are a bit more pedestrian (i.e. ones without superheroics happening). But I’ll trade a few odd faces for what he gives us in the action sequences. His Spider-Man feels essential the same way Slott’s voice for him does and that’s what holds this book together. The design for Red Goblin is still laughable - a bad mishmosh of Sam Raimi’s Green Goblin, Carnage, and Akira Toriyama’s Frieza - and even Immonen can’t elevate it. Marte Garcia’s coloring is serviceable but he gives some of the Spider-people an odd sheen that makes Immonen’s posing look more plastic and stiff.

“Go Down Swinging” is headed toward a bombastic finish but your mileage may vary on how much it works it works for you. The twist at the end provides an interesting problem for Peter Parker but the overall feeling that Spidey’s going to win the day kind of erases any real danger. On some level, this is like a microcosm of Slott’s run - good character work that set inside a very familiar formula. We’re ready for a big finale but issues like this feel more like they’re biding time for the big round number rather than revving up the story in wholly meaningful ways.

Similar content
Twitter activity