Best Shots Reviews: JUSTICE LEAGUE #1, ANT-MAN & WASP #1, MAN OF STEEL #2, DR. STRANGE #1, UNEXPECTED #1

Man of Steel #2
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Justice League #1
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jim Cheung, Mark Morales and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

DC’s heroes have faced existential threat after existential threat in the last year, and Scott Snyder wastes no time throwing the Justice League into another cosmic crisis in this week’s Justice League #1. Snyder, together with Jim Cheung and Mark Morales on pencils and inks, Tomeu Morey on colors, and Tom Napolitano on letters, delivers a truly incredible first issue that captures everything that makes the League such a lasting, iconic presence in comic books. Everything in this week’s debut issue feels larger-than-life, from the gravitas of Snyder’s opening narration to the beautiful gleam Cheung and Morey give the Hall of Justice, drawn with a sense of perspective that makes you feel as if you’re standing at the foot of a national monument.

Justice League #1 offers a League at its best: a gathering of figures with unfathomable power and responsibility doing their best to remain grounded and connected to each other and their humanity in the face of similarly unfathomable cosmic forces. Snyder makes the League feel like a family, supportive of each other even in disagreements, or just riffing on each other’s telepathic Batman impersonations while saving the day. It’s this emotional connection that keeps the issue grounded despite the huge scope of the threat Snyder throws at the League in this opening arc - against the backdrop of this unspeakable danger, Snyder explores Martian Manhunter’s relationship with both the League and his own past. J’onn’s trepidation with his new role is palpable, and his discomfort with his relationship to the League, that sense of becoming too close to people when you thought you’d never be close to someone again, makes him an excellent focal point for the series.

Jim Cheung does great work throughout here, particularly with Martian Manhunter. Cheung imbues him with a familiar stoicism and a sense of lonely introspection. The weight of what’s happening is fully evident in the slightly haunted faces of the League or even the villains of the piece - with an unsurprising exception, these characters seem more grimly resolved than particularly gleeful in the face of what’s headed to Earth. Morey’s colors keep the book vibrant and energetic but underscore the urgency and danger with eerie greens and oranges, with panels reminiscent of the eerie green of the sky when particularly deep, dark thunderstorm clouds loom overhead. They offer the same sense of creepy urgency, hinting at the swift approach of something dangerous that you may not be able to outrun.

While exploring this new threat through J’onn’s emotional journey does make it easier to process some of the more otherworldly plot elements of this debut issue, it’s not quite enough to make up for one particularly shocking development whose consequences seem to get largely glossed over here. With luck, this particular explosive thread will get picked up again down the line; this subplot doesn’t seem to give anyone any pause with the exception of one League member, and it speaks a lot to the scope of the threat Snyder has concocted for this plot line that something so consequential could turn into a minor nuisance in comparison.

It’s a minor complaint in the grand scheme of everything else the team offers with this issue, though - Justice League #1 promises to take readers on a wild enough ride that, much like the rest of the Justice League, little hiccups like this will fade from memory soon enough. For readers not familiar with the events of Dark Nights: Metal or No Justice, there may be some confusing threads here, but Snyder delivers such a strong, clear script that it’s still worth diving in.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ant-Man and the Wasp #1
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Javier Garron and Israel Silva
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

With the duo headlining a movie next month, it’s never been a better time for Marvel to launch a series starring Ant-Man and the Wasp, and given his deep knowledge of physics, it’s a no-brainer to have someone like Mark Waid behind the wheel. And to that end, Waid and artist Javier Garron deliver the sweet science with Scott Lang and Nadia Van Dyne’s latest team-up, even if the high-flying physics comes together a little bit faster than the titular characters.

Marvel’s recent strategy for Ant-Man and the Wasp, both in film and in the comics, has been a generational story - but while that brings some added weight to the movies, it can burn off precious page real estate in comic books. So it’s a bold, perhaps counterintuitive choice on Waid’s part to forgo all that past drama and just cut to the chase - with pure, unadulterated action. It’s some of Ant-Man and the Wasp’s biggest highlights to watch Scott get caught essentially in a teleporter beam accident, forcing Nadia to zoom across the city in a desperate bid to find him in the Microverse. That subatomic realm has its own unique twists, ranging from Scott being trapped for the equivalent of two weeks, as well as a monster based on the visible light spectrum (which admittedly ties into Scott and Nadia’s red costumes in a fairly superficial way).

But it’s that superficiality that comes with a lack of character establishment, which might be Ant-Man and the Wasp’s sole weakness. Having to trudge through the Ant-Man mythos is an unenviable task in this day and age - talking about Scott Lang stealing the Ant-Man suit could already take awhile, let alone explaining why he’s in space with the Guardians of the Galaxy, not to mention Nadia’s relationship with her now-Ultroned dad and his ex-wife... it would be a lot to take in. But one can’t help but wish there was a little bit more distillation of why Nadia and Scott have their bickering odd-couple dynamic, particularly since it seems unlikely that there will be the easy rom-com shorthand at play. There’s clearly a connection between these two characters in terms of history and continuity, but it’s never stated outright here, and so while their bickering makes for some fun flashes of character, we’re still missing something to make their personalities truly click as a team.

But I will say that Waid and artist Javier Garron don’t share that problem - they work together terrifically, and Garron continues to up his game with every project. Garron’s take on Nadia flitting through the skies of New York chasing after several inset panels of Scott’s photon beam is one of the best-looking pages of the book, and even small details like the exhausted look on Scott’s face in the Microverse really helps sell the idea that it’s been two weeks stranded for him. While Garron does a great job at selling the expressiveness of his title characters, some of the other design elements are a little amorphous, however - particularly the blobby villainous denizen of the Microverse who has been draining the “souls” of those around it, but even the largely background-less setting of most of this issue.

Yet as far as opening salvos go, there’s a lot of potential to Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Waid and Garron clearly have the right sense of spectacle to sell this odd couple’s adventures. The art in this series looks fantastic, and Waid’s own background as a physics minor seems to make him well-suited for the sorts of crazy relativistic science that could help this series stand apart. But what this debut is really missing is still that foundation of character that Waid is typically so spectacular at - here’s hoping that now that the high concept has been established, future installment of Ant-Man and the Wasp will show us why we love these characters, not just the sci-fi world they inhabit.

Credit: DC Comics

Man of Steel #2
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Doc Shaner, Steve Rude, Jay Fabok and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Josh Reed
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Man of Steel #1 wasn’t quite the barnburner that many expected it to be, but it was a good, solid Superman story. Now coupled with this issue, Brian Michael Bendis’ plan becomes clearer as the flow of the story works much better. Ivan Reis dutifully handled the art on the first issue, and to DC’s credit, they didn’t settle for a lesser Reis lookalike artist for the second installment. Instead, they’re making Man of Steel as much of a celebration of the character as the Action Comics anniversary issue - employing Doc Shaner and Steve Rude to do the heavy lifting this time around with a little assist from Jay Fabok is a shrewd move, allowing DC to break from their house style and making the book all the better for it.

Brian Michael Bendis might be one of the few creators that the weekly format actually works for. We talk a lot about 'writing for the trade' when we talk about narrative decompression in comic books, and Bendis has definitely been at the forefront of that trend. While a monthly schedule sometimes leads to some of his work feeling light on plot or heavy on fluffy dialogue padding, a stream of weekly releases downplays some of the negative aspects of his reputation. Episodic storytelling has a need for a certain amount of immediacy. That immediacy balances the decompression. Bendis veers away from the stock villain, Rogol Zaar, as much as he can in this issue, and instead we get some really great character work across the board, where Bendis revels in the toys he gets to play with.

The writer balances the fun aspects of the script with the more dramatic undercurrents of each situation - each scene a microcosm of the structure of the larger miniseries. For example, we get some really fun work with Perry White in The Daily Planet offices (with one absolutely stellar interaction between him and Jimmy Olsen that’s worth the entire price of the comic), but then it’s revealed that the Planet is in some dire financial straits. We get some classic 'Superman versus a giant robot' superhero fun that’s undercut by Superman’s need to distance himself from allies like Green Lantern. Similarly, we’re having a lot of Superman fun overall, but the threat of Rogol Zaar looms. This is by no means revolutionary, but the weekly format makes the structure much more apparent.

Artistically, it’s so refreshing to see Doc Shaner and Steve Rude on this book. Their styles are not exactly similar, but they complement each other effectively. Shaner gets to make his mark on the first Daily Planet scenes and the acting on display by his characters is incredible. I had mentioned that Perry White/Jimmy Olsen bit before, and Shaner is the reason that it sings. Bendis’ dialogue in that scene overall can be a little grating with its repetition and sitcom-y flow, but Shaner elevates it enough to make that a moot point. Plus, Shaner nails the giant robot sequence - this is pure and unadulterated joy right on the page. Rude’s work takes a bit of a darker turn, and that’s fitting as the narrative looks to be bringing its disparate plot threads together. Rude is heavy with his blacks, filling his pages with great contrast against Alex Sinclair’s colors. Sinclair, it should be noted, colors the whole issue, which gives it a great sense of consistency despite featuring three different artists — the third of which is Jay Fabok, who turns in another head-scratching two pages. It’s hard to know yet what purpose his pages will serve the overarching story.

I think this is pretty much the best case scenario for Bendis’ start at DC. Rogol Zaar remains a pretty iffy villain, but Bendis is really nailing the Superman and Clark Kent aspects of his story. More than anything else, this feels right, so even if all the pieces aren’t exactly put together just right, it’s still working on the whole. The weekly format might be a boon to this story because it keeps the pacing fairly fresh. Shaner and Rude are a revelation for a title like this one, showcasing the Man of Tomorrow’s lasting charisma without sacrificing their own unique styles. It really underlines just how much of an icon Superman is. It will still be a few weeks before we know if this story is actually worth whatever weight in gold DC had to pay Bendis to woo him away from Marvel, but as it stands now, this is a good book and more importantly, a effective Superman story.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Doctor Strange #1
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Jesús Saiz
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Donny Cates’ run with the Sorcerer Supreme is a hard act to follow, but by the end Doctor Strange #1 it's obvious that the title is in more than capable hands, with Mark Waid seeking to immediately make it his own. Seeing Strange in the radically new contexts that Waid takes him is enjoyable, and Jesús Saiz’s art adds to the unique feeling of the book. What starts with an epic action sequence is quickly scaled back to something more introspective before jumping back to the outlandish. While some of the shifting can be jarring at times, this is, above all, an emotionally investing comic book, and one which new and old fans will likely find enjoyable.

The issue opens with Doctor Strange sealing away the Elder God X’Axal and his eldritch horde before jumping ahead seven years. The opening, while an interesting and well-drawn scene in its own right, feels incongruent with the rest of the comic, and the jump to the more grounded, melancholy storytelling in the middle of the issue makes it feel jarring. While this issue doesn’t capitalize on this in any meaningful way, the back half at least connects to it tonally, and it seems to signify some sort of endgame for the arc. In the present, Stephen Strange begins to lose his ability to see that which is magical, and things rapidly begin to get worse as everything that gives Stephen Strange the identity of Sorcerer Supreme gets deconstructed. It isn’t taken away from him in the sense of when Loki became Sorcerer Supreme, but rather he loses all magical abilities and the artifacts he surrounds himself with become useless.

The issue isn’t content to simply take these exceptional skills from Strange, though, and instead opts to further push the protagonist down by rendering his hands mostly useless as they were before he had any magic in his life. Turning to Tony Stark for advice, the Iron Avenger views the problem as an engineering problem, and the application of science to understand something as esoteric as magic is interesting, and leads to a melding of Strange and the more science-fiction tinged corners of the Marvel universe that feels shockingly obvious. Rather than going to different dimensions to replenish his strength, why doesn’t Strange just use the near limitless expanse of space to refuel his depleted magic?

This seems to be the hook of Waid’s take on the series - the blending of the cosmic with the mystic - and it’s a tantalizing hook. It also makes the detached open seem a little more relevant. The Elder God is an explicit Lovecraft reference, and one of the major pop culture bedrocks of cosmic and mystic interplay is Lovecraft’s mythos. Once Strange gets suited up and off to beyond the Milky Way, he almost immediately damages the ship that Iron Man lent him and is captured by an alien civilization that doesn’t know what the concept of magic is.

While Saiz only falls short visually once - an early panel of Strange floating among a dizzyingly hyper-realistic city street - he contributes some incredible work with multiple standout panels throughout the issue. His opening pages of Strange battling X’Axal gives readers just enough tangibility in the Elder God to be frightened but also enough ambiguity to be disoriented by trying to make sense of it. Saiz doesn’t just excel with spectacles though, as one of his best pages is of a color-muted Doctor Strange as he clutches his vibrant red cape in despair. It’s a combination of Saiz’s skill with creating a melancholy and introspective image to match the narration paired with stylistic coloring that makes the moment so memorable. The powerful sequence of repeating panels that really illustrates how much the titular character feels his identity is wrapped up in those magical artifacts and the abilities they give him, and how powerless and out of focus he feels as a result of losing them.

There is a little trepidation to be found in Waid’s direction for Doctor Strange. Strange represents something unique in the Marvel canon, and with Infinity Countdown looming large over the summer, longtime fans will likely not want the Sorcerer Supreme fully immersed in the cosmic. Still, this is a very promising start, with highlights in storytelling and art that overshadow the occasional misstep. It’s an effective hook for a new story, and its courage in stripping it’s main character of everything that gave him power and repeatedly kicking him while he’s down makes it difficult to leave this opening issue without finding yourself emotionally invested in where the next issue goes.

Credit: DC Entertainment

The Unexpected #1
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Ryan Sook, Cary Nord, Mick Gray, Wade von Grawbadger and FCO Plascencia
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The freaks come out at night in the debut of The Unexpected #1, the latest effort in DC’s post-Metal “New Age of Heroes.” Created by artist Ryan Sook and writer Steve Orlando, The Unexpected introduces us to new hero Firebrand, who has a heart of gold and Nth Metal that literally runs on the chaos of battle - but when beings from beyond the Source Wall have plans for Firebrand’s heart, it’ll take a new and eclectic team to save the day. Injected with a real sense of wit and dark whimsy thanks to Steve Orlando’s sharp script and sumptuous artwork from Ryan Sook, Cary Nord, and FCO Plascencia, The Unexpected is a gleefully strange Defenders-like new team for a new DCU.

The Unexpected #1 has a lot of great qualities, but subtlety will never be counted among them. But who said “The New Age of Heroes” had to be subtle, right? Moving at a speed that can only be described as a steady sprint, writer Steve Orlando barrels readers through a lot of establishing information very quickly, which only adds to the issue’s punk rock charm and energy. Throughout the entire page count, Orlando is either blazing through the mechanics of the Conflict Engine, the source of Firebrand’s power, her origins, or the swirling unseen multiversal world this series will inhabit and the characters found therein.

Some of this stuff suffers a bit, due the speed. Mainly the in-dialogue teases of Neon the Unknown and the Bad Samaritan’s history and some of the lore Orlando sprinkles throughout the issue. But the stuff that does work? Oh, man does it ever work. Scaffolded by Orlando’s wit and genuinely funny turns of phrase, like the Bad Samaritan calling his attacking Firebrand a “particular invasive procedure,” this first issue stands as a solidly entertaining and fast-paced origin story for Firebrand, her new partners, and her new insane world of monsters and multiverses. Time will tell how all this holds up once the world and the characters are built out some, but for now, The Unexpected #1 is a win for the weirdos.

And speaking of weird, artists Cary Nord, Ryan Sook, Mick Gray, Wade von Grawbadger, and FCO Plascencia match Orlando’s speed in kind with dense page layouts and splashy arcane action. Starting from the single page origin of Firebrand and going all the way through Neon’s actual neon blood and the Bad Samaritan’s “Macho Man” Randy Savage from Hell cosplay, this art team see Orlando’s crazy and then raise it with another eye grabbing display of action or new bit of visual weirdness. Calling to mind some of the punchier elements of the Seven Soldiers of Victory and Steve Gerber’s Defenders, series co-creator Sook and his art team really leave it all on the page with this first issue, establishing a rich and supremely strange visual benchmark for the series. Again, we will have to see if this can sustain itself, as the brightest stars seem to burn out the fastest, but at the very least The Unexpected will always have a gorgeous first issue and not even Mandrakk can take that away from them.

Steeped in new post-Metal insanity and piloted by an ambitiously game creative team, The Unexpected #1 looks to bring a bit of that ol’ postmodern superhero comic magic to the “New Age of Heroes”. And, fellow readers, I am happy to report they largely succeed. At least for this debut issue. Creators Ryan Sook and Steve Orlando, along with their action-oriented art team, throw a lot of stuff at the wall in this first issue and not all of it necessarily sticks, but the ambition behind it as well as their clear zest for the material makes it really hard to not have fun with The Unexpected. The DCU became a much stranger place once the Source Wall came down, and it is only fair that we have heroes to match. Hopefully The Unexpected are up to the task.

Similar content
Twitter activity