Best Shots Reviews: MAN OF STEEL #1, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #800, DOOMSDAY CLOCK #5

"Man of Steel #1" first look
Credit: Ivan Reis (DC Comics)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #800
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Nick Bradshaw, Humberto Ramos, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mike Hawthorne, Victor Olazaba, Cam Smith, Wade von Grawbadger, JP Mayer, Edgar Delgado, Java Tartaglia, Muntsa Vicente, and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Ever since the days of Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter Parker’s guiding maxim has always been power and responsibility, but Dan Slott’s penultimate issue of Amazing Spider-Man takes a slightly different track - namely, power and forgiveness. In many ways, Slott’s final “Going Down Swinging” arc ends with an organic crescendo to several of his most iconic arcs, not just examining Spider-Man’s ongoing struggles with managing his own powers and never-ending responsibilities, but finding it within himself to clean off his own moral slate. Teaming up with a quartet of dynamite artists, Slott’s extra-long anniversary issue covers enough ground and delivers just enough fan service to justify its $9.99 price tag.

If there’s one theme that’s might most define Slott’s iconic run on Amazing Spider-Man, it’s been about upping Spider-Man’s game. From stepping up as a Horizon think-tanker in “Big Time” and leading the Avengers in “Ends of the Earth” to Otto Octavius vowing to become a “Superior Spider-Man” and Peter’s own adventures as a globe-trotting CEO, Slott’s run has often turned the power-and-responsibility trope into an inflationary equation - overwhelmed by his sense of heroism, Peter keeps expanding his powers to lighten the load… which then typically grows to fill the dramatic void.

So with that in mind, it makes sense for Slott’s swan song to follow Norman Osborn, one of Peter Parker’s most enduring enemies, on a quest of his own - after being humbled by one of Spider-Man’s preemptive strikes, Norman went on his own “Big Time” quest, merging with the Carnage symbiote to become the vicious and homicidal Red Goblin. And like all great Spider-Man stories, Norman knows exactly where to hit Peter where it hurts most - making him choose between the friends and family he loves, as well as innocent bystanders who are unlucky enough to be in the crossfire. To that last point, Slott ratchets up the tension nicely with a crescendo in the heart of Times Square — not only does it lend some comedy to this otherwise breakneck story, but it reminds readers of the self-effacing New York culture that so defines Peter Parker’s personality.

But over the course of Slott’s tenure, Spider-Man’s family has grown beyond the usual hostages-in-waiting, and jumping off of the recent “Venom Inc.” arc and Chip Zdarsky’s run on Spectacular Spider-Man, we really get to see Peter’s supporting cast come into their own, buying the Webslinger a few precious seconds in order to make sure no innocents come to harm. Those who might have been disappointed in Slott’s earlier efforts in “Venom Inc.” will find a lot of redemption here, as characters like Venom and Anti-Venom step up to the plate in a way that feels organic rather than utilitarian, with Slott deftly using the rules behind his three symbiotic characters to make this battle royale feel tense and scary. Meanwhile, Slott also taps into the idea of forgiveness here - in part because Spidey isn’t just trusting his friends, but his enemies as well, with some quality arcs involving Venom, Otto Octavius, and J. Jonah Jameson, the unwitting pawn that kicked off Norman’s mad plan in the first place. That said, while Slott’s ideas to keep levelling up Spidey hit a critical sweet spot in terms of disarming Norman Osborn, not all of his toys come out in one piece - it might be pacing or it might be just the ubiquity of comic book deaths these days, but it winds up being the moment that strikes the least to me, even as this moment sets up a bittersweet epilogue from superstar artist Marcos Martin.

And speaking of superstars - honestly, Amazing Spider-Man #800 is an embarrassment of riches in the art department, as Slott is able to strut his stuff with many of the artists that have helped make his run such a delight. While Stefano Caselli is likely off working on West Coast Avengers, Slott is able to have one last swan song with Stuart Immonen while reuniting with Humberto Ramos, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Marcos Martin (and getting Nick Bradshaw to return to a Spider-book). The art team is truly wonderful, and the jam-band style of the story works well because Slott breaks down his script into discrete, easy-to-follow chapters - given the over-the-top nature of the Red Goblin, Ramos might be the MVP of the issue, with a cartoony and expressive style that breathes life into bits like someone donning a symbiote suit one last time.

But Immonen and Camuncoli also put out terrific work here, even if the Webslinger makes only a short appearance in Camuncoli’s two chapters. But it’s fitting, given the announcement of Immonen’s imminent sabbatical, that he’s given the lion’s share of the storytelling here, as he’s entrusted to drawing both Anti-Venom saving the day as well as Spider-Man’s last stand against Norman Osborn, which feels brutal and dangerous as the Red Goblin blows up half of Times Square. Colorist Marte Gracia does some superb work at making these scenes seem over-the-top but somehow realistic, channeling the fluorescence of New York while still making the danger feel very apparent. Bradshaw, meanwhile, feels like one of the bigger surprises, since it’s been awhile since we saw him in the pages of Spidey - while his take on Spider-Man’s geometric mask design can be a little bit of an acquired taste, his cartoony style gets readers in on the ground floor smoothly, and makes side characters like J. Jonah Jameson seem charming as hell.

With the exception of one character’s abrupt demise, as well as an off-color line from Norman that I’m surprised made it to the final draft, Amazing Spider-Man #800 feels like the logical conclusion to all the threads that Slott has been building his nearly eight years as sole writer of the series - Spider-Man has leveled up, gotten promoted, built new suits, delegated to robots and Avengers and worldwide conglomerates, but what’s held him back the most has been his inability to trust the people he loves, to throw himself in the line of fire again and again instead of letting his closest confidantes help. But there’s also a question of forgiveness - of not just learning how to trust some of his most dire enemies, but to forgive them of his faults… and as well as himself. It’s unclear that Spider-Man will ever find true peace - which is usually one of the first casualties of drama - but with Amazing Spider-Man #800, Slott and company stick the landing magnificently, finding a truly cathartic solution to Peter’s never-ending calculus of power and responsibility.

Credit: Gary Frank/Brad Anderson (DC Comics)

Doomsday Clock #5
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gary Frank and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Forgotten heroes and political fallout emerge in Doomsday Clock #5. Though very much a table-setting issue, which is doubly frustrating after the significant delay between Issues #4 and #5, writer Geoff Johns starts to bring some of the characters orbiting this story into the forefront. Not only that, but this issue sees Johns really starting to dig into the geopolitical implications of this story on Prime Earth, edging it closer and closer to the superpowered powder keg that engulfed the Watchmen’s world. Though art team Gary Frank and Brad Anderson don’t get much to do this issue, aside from a thrilling Owlship chase through the skyline of Gotham City, Doomsday Clock #5 starts to reveal the sheer scope of this series and the political ramifications of “The Superman Theory.”

After last issue’s laser focus on the new Rorschach, Geoff Johns smartly gives us check ins with the rest of this powerhouse cast. While it is really great to come back to Batman, Lex Luthor, and the rest of the gang, Doomsday Clock #5 reads much more like a new statement of intent than the latest installment of a serialized story. This boths works and hinders the latest issue.

On one hand, establishing the whole cast once again, especially after last issue’s singular focus, is very much the right move. Better yet, Johns finally gets ancillary characters like Johnny Thunder and the newly escaped Saturn Girl into the thick of the action instead of just using them as fun, fan-servicey set dressing. Seeing Saturn Girl finally don her Flight Ring and seeing Johnny Thunder hunting down a major DCU artifact really injects a healthy pathos into the tale to balance out the heady politics of the issue and big A-list characters that have been running throughout the tale.

But on the other hand, this return, spread across the entire cast, plus some relatively new additions, makes Doomsday Clock #5 feel and read very much like a dreaded “table setting” issue. Johns really tries to gussy up the new place setting by opening up the world a bit more and showing exactly how the incoming political explosion will be primed, but it only serves to muddy Doomsday Clock #5’s waters a bit more. Again, I am so glad to get this entire ensemble back on panel and working toward solving their respective mysteries, but I feel as if it would have worked a lot better had some of the arcs been spaced out a little more, or even benched for another issue in order to let them breathe. Instead we have an issue that tries to do too much with too many characters, while also trying to establish a new geopolitical climate.

This overstuffed quality also extends itself to the artwork Gary Frank and Brad Anderson. Much like Johns’ script, Anderson and Frank are very much focused on giving us windows into the cast’s new states and placements, but, unfortunately, that’s where their talent’s are solely utilized. Not to say that Doomsday Clock #5 is an ugly comic as I have been consistently impressed with the pair’s use of the nine-panel grid and their melding of the grit of the original series with the garish superheroics of Prime Earth. That said, this fifth issue is a marked downgrade from the theatrical and dynamic previous issues, aside from a peppy, well constructed finale chase between the G.C.P.D. and the Owlship. Though Frank and Anderson keep the tone and look of the series very much intact with this issue, Doomsday Clock #5 feels like a dip in quality from the usually top notch art team.

Though armed with an undercurrent of old-school DCU pathos and incendiary comic book politics, Doomsday Clock #5 stands as the first true misstep of the series. Well, as much of a misstep as a team like Geoff Johns, Brad Anderson, and Gary Frank can deliver. While we now have a clear idea as to where certain characters are headed as well as a solid look at the reverberations the story is having on the world around it, I wish it hadn’t come at the cost of the series’ focus and forward momentum. Hopefully next issue Doomsday Clock regains its tightly wound precision.

Credit: DC Comics

Man of Steel #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Jay Fabok and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Bendis is here.

After months of anticipation, Brian Michael Bendis has finally arrived at DC with his first full issue of Man of Steel, a book that looks to shake things up for Big Blue and begin a new chapter for both creator and character alike. But it’s an awkward beginning. Bendis did himself no favors with his sloppy collaboration with Jim Lee in Action Comics #800 - a story that seemed intent on beating a dead horse before shoehorning in some supposed relevance. Bendis’s first full issue is more natural, but doesn’t have the focus and momentum that have marked the writer’s best work. Meanwhile, artist Ivan Reis proves himself a more than capable collaborator, but there’s almost a “stock” element to his work that keeps anything in the story from being truly memorable. Add to that, Jay Fobok’s two awkwardly tacked-on pages, and this issue will leave some readers scratching their head.

But to his credit, Bendis drops a bit of the David Mamet parody that he tends to fall into when he’s got nothing to say (See: his story in Action Comics #800), and that’s a very welcome development. Man of Steel #1 is still a wordy book at points but it doesn’t feature nearly as much “talking around” a subject as we’ve come to expect from current era Bendis work. In fact, while the book does lack some narrative propulsion, the writer does play with some interesting character moments, such as Superman talking about how the screams he can hear contrast to the one song he heard someone play out of the 3.2 million residents in Metropolis speaks to the great burden this hero bears - for all the beauty that Clark can experience, there is an insurmountable, unfixable amount of pain. This is the humanity at the heart of the character.

Overall, this certainly feels like a Superman book, but it does feel like Bendis is just learning to ride this bike. Clark’s home life and work life feel like an afterthought. (In particular, Clark’s family, which so helped define his "Rebirth" status quo, is practically non-existent, save for the last two pages.) And the villainous Rogol Zaar doesn’t seem to be even half the world-beater he was in his first appearance, taking up space in this issue only to summarize his reason for being. Bendis’ pacing is off, despite the numerous small moments that he’s able to make work.

Ivan Reis’ work is effectively on-model for Superman. When he’s on, Reis’ art plays like a less sketchy, more focused Jim Lee, and that’s a very good thing. He fixes the awkward noseless character design of Lee’s Rogol Zaar, and all his characters are extremely expressive. He nails the more iconic poses for Superman, though he might render him seemingly a bit younger than previously established by Patrick Gleason or even Jay Fabok at the end of this issue. I don’t love his depiction of X-ray vision, though, as it’s almost entirely unclear what Superman is looking at. Stronger, more decisive linework and heavier inking would have aided that sequence greatly and allowed the colorist, Alex Sinclair, to create more contrast. Jay Fabok handles the last two pages and as previously mentioned, they feel tacked on tonally, but Fabok isn't to blame for that. He acquits himself well in the limited space he’s given.

So what have we got here? Not a lot yet. Bendis’ first story with the Man of Tomorrow will hinge on whether or not his villain is more than meets the eye. For now, he seems like some weird cross between Doomsday and Vandal Savage with a mission to snuff out all Kryptonians. That feels a little thin to me, especially coming off of big ideas in Metal and even No Justice. While I realize that those aren’t Superman stories, they speak to the richness and potential of the DCU. Bendis hasn’t fully realized the texture of the world he’s working in yet, but if he can, things will start to come together.

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