Best Shots Reviews: DC NATION #0, CAPTAIN AMERICA #701

Captain America #701 cover
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics

DC Nation #0
Written by Tom King, Brian Michael Bendis, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and Joshua Williamson
Art by Clay Mann, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Jorge Jimenez, Dexter Vines, Jordie Bellaire, Alex Sinclair and Alejandro Sanchez
Lettering by Clayton Cowles, Josh Reed and Andworld Design
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Launching three of its highest-profile new storylines, DC Nation #0 is a striking showcase for the future of the DC Universe, delivering three original stories from top-tier creative teams for just the price of a quarter (or free on comiXology). While not all of these stories necessarily measure up to one another, there’s plenty to get excited about with this oversized special, giving DC the best possible springboard for its 2018 flagships.

Let’s address the grinning elephant in the room first - Tom King is indisputably one of the heaviest hitters in the DC bullpen right now, slinging haunting and literary stories seemingly effortlessly. So having his Joker-centric Batman wedding story lead the book almost feels like overkill, even when the Dark Knight doesn’t actually appear in the story. Instead, King and artist Clay Mann spin up an unnerving example of the Clown Prince of Crime’s undeniable malevolence, as he breaks into a random Gothamite’s house and forces him at gunpoint to wait for a wedding invitation from Batman himself.

What’s interesting is that even compared to his take on the character during "The War of Jokes and Riddles," King’s take on the Joker feels different, almost as an acquired taste - rather than Paul Dini’s rapid-fire one-liners, King’s Joker is in full dad-joke mode, so crazed he doesn’t realize he’s more groan-worthy than funny. But with just eight pages, King really ratchets up the tension and absurdity of the situation, as we feel for the Joker’s hostage as they wait for the mail to arrive. Meanwhile, Mann knocks the artwork out of the park - imagine Jim Lee’s Joker mixed with the rendering of Olivier Coipel, and you’ve got a decent approximation of what to expect stylistically, but Mann’s sense of storytelling and expressiveness is in a league of its own, with a silent panel of the Joker mugging for a reaction being particularly unsettling. Colorist Jordie Bellaire deserves a lot of praise for elevating Mann’s linework, adding such a subtle sense of texture in particular to a splash page of the Joker peering through the mail slot.

Yet fans of Marvel Studios’ new film Avengers: Infinity War will likely find a lot to like with Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson, and Jorge Jimenez’s prelude to Justice League: No Justice, which has similar elements of sprawling and eclectic team lineups broken up into separate squads. While the premise itself might feel a little shaky if you think too hard about “energies” like Entropy, Mystery, Wisdom and Wonder, the execution is what matters most, as Snyder, Tynion, and Williamson give us a solid enough basis for splitting the Justice League into teams based on powers, origins and personalities led by Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg. Despite cool moments like Superman throwing Starro like a shuriken over in Team Mystery, it feels like Batman’s Team Entropy is already the frontrunner for the coolest squad in the book, as we see a lot of sparks already coming off of team-ups like Lex Luthor, Deathstroke, and Lobo.

That said, it feels like 10 pages isn’t quite enough for a story this sprawling - while Batman and Superman’s teams get to stretch their legs thanks to some gorgeous-looking double-page spreads from Jorge Jimenez, Cyborg’s team in particular feels like they get the shaft, getting crammed into a single page that never really gets enough space for Jimenez to give them an effective introduction. (Even Wonder Woman’s team barely makes the spacing work, which is a little bit of a shame, because the idea of Earth’s magic users battling alien ghosts is rad as hell.) Still, Jimenez gives this story a ton of dynamism, and colorist Alejandro Sanchez adds a ton of energy to the proceedings, giving each scene its own specific color palette and mood.

Which ultimately brings us to the middle chapter of the series, the biggest question mark at DC Comics right now: Brian Michael Bendis’s run with Superman. Given how solid Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s "Rebirth" run on the title was, you’d be forgiven feeling a hint of skepticism to Bendis’s looser, quippier style - especially because Bendis’s second story with the character feels both like an homage to a long-passed era as well as such a departure from what we’ve seen lately. Gone is the homespun wisdom dispensed by father to son on a Hamilton farm - returning to The Daily Planet, this feels like a stripped-down version of the Man of Steel’s current exploits… which ultimately might be a step backwards, given Tomasi and Gleason’s mature take on Clark and Lois as a superheroic family unit.

Given Bendis’s love of dialogue, it’s not surprising seeing him emulate the awkward soft-spokenness of Christopher Reeve’s Superman in this story, as Clark Kent stammers his way through The Daily Planet's offices - yet one could also argue that Bendis captures the surface qualities of Reeve’s Man of Steel, but doesn’t seem to capture that aspirational spirit that makes the character so iconic. Additionally, Bendis might be a little too much of a tease for his own good with this story, which alludes to some soap-operatic changes going on in Superman’s world, but doesn’t do enough to establish where this series might be headed, other than stylistically. To that end, bringing in Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez on art feels like a nice nod to classic Superman stories - it’s a little weird watching colorist Alex Sinclair try to bring this master artist into today’s aesthetics, however, and one almost wishes they had gone for a simpler color palette.

Yet even some trepidation over a radical reinvention of the Man of Steel isn’t enough to tarnish DC Nation #0’s luster, as all three stories bring strong execution and points of view to some of the biggest titles in the DC Universe. With hundreds of comics coming out every month, the law of averages says that there’s going to be product that’s just that - product - and it’s so easy for anthologies or short story collections to feel forgettable or irrelevant. But DC really puts its best foot forward with this trifecta of stories in DC Nation, and opens up the ground floor to new readers with an incredible 25-cent price point. With a price tag that low, anyone interested in the DC Universe should really give DC Nation a look.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain America #701
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Leonardo Romero, Adam Hughes, JG Jones, Matthew Wilson and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

While we wait for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Captain America relaunch, the last days of Mark Waid’s run seem to really only serve as a showcase for artist Leonardo Romero. In fact, the issue doesn’t even feature much of Steve Rogers at all - eschewing the Star-Spangled Avengers for a more macro story about what his legacy means in the future. Given how much potential these alternate future stories can hold, the result feels fairly punchless, but Romero saves the day with some stellar cartooning that overcomes a script that feels like it’s just marking time.

Given how iconic his work on the character has been in the past, you can't help but wonder if Waid has run out of things to say with Captain America. His tenure on the title has been elevated by great art, but the hero himself is a cipher in his own title. Waid wants to talk about what Captain America means but it's increasingly clear that he doesn’t really know. His run has vacillated between neoliberal nothinginess and nostalgia for an American Dream that doesn’t really jive with modern living. But that lack of vision has marked the book since the beginning - there’s a safety in not pushing the book forward and not forcing Steve to confront reality. If Waid’s goal was to see the “real” Steve Rogers return to prominence after the events of Secret Empire, he’s really only achieved that by mostly ignoring the implications of that event and Nick Spencer’s run on Cap as a whole.

Instead, Waid is content with examining the idea of Captain America from a distance or through a lens that doesn’t require him to really explore his own feelings about the character or the feelings of readers. The result is storytelling that you can feel tiptoeing around the dangerous bits. Waid continually tells us how Cap would feel about the things depicted on the page, but he never puts the character or really any character in any uncomfortable position. And in the end, that’s disappointing, because it doesn’t dig into what’s great about Captain America at all. At this point, it just feels like Waid’s story is jogging in place until new blood can arrive, regurgitating the Cliff’s Notes version of Cap back to readers who probably already know them.

However, Leonardo Romero is a revelation, proving to readers exactly why his work on Hawkeye earned the title an Eisner nomination last week. Adam Hughes and JG Jones also handle a few pages here and even though their pages feature the shield-wielder himself, I find myself more compelled by what Romero is putting on the page. His line economy and storytelling instincts buoy a bad script by adding a level of propulsion to a narrative about a bunch of characters that we don’t really know and don’t have much stake in. That energy is the real thrust of the story, pushing the action forward rather than dragging readers through the plot. It may feel somewhat reductive to say this, but Romero’s work is very reminiscent of Chris Samnee’s, and it’s easy to see why Marvel would tap him for this gig. You can easily see the Alex Toth influence in both of their work, and it’s a great fit for the general eyes-wide-open optimism of superhero comics.

At the end of the day, Captain America #701 is a reminder that it's really easy to write a lifeless superhero story. Not every book needs to make a statement, but it shouldn’t be so averse to the idea that it's just treading water. But given the book’s relative limbo status as it waits for a new creative team, it’s understandable why such a thin story would get the greenlight. Romero deserves a lot of credit for putting this issue on his back. Hopefully someone notices, and he’s rewarded for his efforts with a long tenure on an A-list title soon. If you’re looking for a clinic in visual storytelling, this is your book. But if you’re looking for a good Captain America story, sadly, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

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