Best Shots Reviews: X-MEN GOLD #30, JUSTICE LEAGUE #2

new Justice League #2
Credit: DC Entertainment
Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men Gold #30
Written by Marc Guggenheim
Art by David Marquez and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

So real talk — I had been skeptical on the outset of Kitty Pryde and Piotr Rasputin’s upcoming nuptials in X-Men: Gold #30, and upon hearing the heavily publicized twist, felt even more reluctance to give this event a chance. But it just goes to show you that the right creative team can take an unpalatable premise and make it work, as writer Marc Guggenheim is taken care of nicely by the superb artwork of David Marquez. While there will be some who will justifiably see the direction of the latest X-wedding as a stunt rather than as the culmination of decades of will-they-or-won’t-they, they at least won’t be able to fault the execution.

It’s not news to say that while the Avengers have hit a new cultural resurgence thanks to Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis’s mega-popular relaunches as well as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the X-Men have struggled to find their way over the past decade. But one of the last striking X-titles — Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men — recaptured that spark of Kitty Pryde and Colossus’s long-simmering romance, with the genuine heart on display as Kitty discovers her long-lost boyfriend back from the dead. Unfortunately, Kitty and Piotr’s recent engagement has felt less organic and more of a way to goose sales, as even this issue’s recap copy has mentioned “a short engagement punctuated by threats to mutantkind.” Compare this to DC’s upcoming wedding in Batman, and this wedding has never had the kind of emotional focus or weight, forcing Guggenheim to battle uphill to sell the actual event.

But to his credit, he actually sticks the landing with the marching orders he’s been given. Spoilers ahead: Whereas it would be easy for an issue like this to simply be a nostalgia trip through Piotr and Kitty’s up-and-down history, Guggenheim is able to synthesize this into an actual point of view — can people with as screwed-up a history as Colossus and Kitty ever find enough stability to build a life together? In an industry that often expects a time-travel beam or a Mister Sinister clone to break up a wedding, Guggenheim is able to exhibit a surprisingly light touch, with one person’s opinion suddenly causing a chain reaction that culminates in Kitty fading through the ground, with Colossus begging his best man Nightcrawler to teleport him away from his friends’ prying eyes. Meanwhile, the X-Office’s stunt wedding — bringing together Gambit and Rogue after their fun miniseries from Kelly Thompson — feels like the only reasonable choice. Whereas Kitty and Piotr are thoughtful and sensitive to a fault, Remy and Rogue are impulsive and driven by passion — and as Guggenheim rightly has Rogue say, “This... is crazy.” With an arched eyebrow, Gambit says it all: “Have you met me?”

And that salesmanship comes from artist David Marquez. Every bit an A-lister, Marquez’s presence on the book gives X-Men: Gold some much-needed stability and sensitivity for an issue that might otherwise teeter on the brink of shamelessness. While I’m not 100 percent convinced colorist Matthew Wilson’s painterly experimentation is necessarily the best look — in particular, his take on Nightcrawler looks a little distracting in terms of overrendering — the two work together strongly enough that they’re able to sell Guggenheim’s best emotional moments, from Kitty and Magik sharing a bottle of champagne on a rooftop to Colossus turning his back on us as his heart breaks. Marquez also does some superb work jumping through Kitty and Piotr’s history together, evoking the character designs of previous artists but making them his own.

Still, while the general gist of this issue sticks the landing, there are some sour notes to be found at this wedding for the ages. In particular, Guggenheim shoehorning in Nightcrawler and Prestige’s budding romance feels inorganic compared to the two long-term couples sharing the spotlight in this book, while Lockheed having a wife and children of his own can’t help but feel a little saccharine. There is certainly fat to trim in this oversized issue with much of the X-Men’s supporting cast, particularly with Stevie Hunter and the kids of X-Men: Blue, down to the not-so-fresh joke of the best man leaving the wedding rings behind. (It’s okay when he’s a teleporter!)

Warts and all, there’s something to be said about X-Men: Gold #30, even if the eventual twist of the issue is hampered by the fact that the windup never felt that organic in the first place. There is something missing to this doomed wedding — that sense of true affection that readers so often feel when presented with the long tail of nostalgia — and in that regard, this event does feel underwhelming as far as impact goes. But as far as a character piece goes, Guggenheim and Marquez are able to create enough sparks that this wedding doesn’t completely collapse.

Credit: DC Entertainment

Justice League #2
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Before getting into the actual quality of the comic itself, there is a gravity to Justice League #2 that’s obvious in the first few pages, and which only ramps up as the comic progresses. Writer Scott Snyder is at his best when he is making things difficult for his protagonists, and he spends much of the second installment of his run doing so, while artist Jorge Jimenez imbues the actions he is depicting with a sense of importance. Rounding out the creative team are colorist Alejandro Sanchez, whose understanding of lighting gives the artwork a greater sense of depth, and letterer Tom Napolitano, who has always had a particular mastery of balancing a lot of words in panels bursting with action. While Snyder, Jimenez, and Sanchez create a memorable and exciting book when they are all delivering their best, there is an uneven nature to this comic in terms of story and visuals that makes the comic inconsistent.

There is a lot of plot in the comic’s lean 20-page duration. Justice League #2 has a twisting and interesting opening, with Lex Luthor giving a speech amid a U.S. flag backdrop. A few panels later reveals that he is speaking at the Kansas West Legionaires Club to a crowd of about five old-timers who look on with confusion. The comic then quickly offers another twist when Luthor blows the building up while exiting through an ethereal door that seems to have just manifested. The comic then jumps to Green Lantern John Stewart, who knows that things are amiss in the universe when Swamp Thing appears, delivering a message from Batman on behalf of Martian Manhunter.

As Stewart refuses to join the Justice League in investigating the Totality, an energy source containing all of the power of the shattered Source Wall, Snyder winds up throwing the longtime Lantern a curveball, slyly introducing the threat of the Invisible Emotional Spectrum. Meanwhile, Luthor assembles the villains of the Legion of Doom and talks about how two of the seven forces necessary to access the totality. This sequence is one of the comic’s stronger ones, as it, along with the earlier scene of Luthor, shows Snyder confident in the long-term story he is telling. When he gets into that storyteller groove — as evident by this scene and the narration as it comes sparingly — he’s one of the best current superhero comic writers.

Readers will likely have a hard time with the part of the plot that depicts Stewart receiving a message via Swamp Thing, from Batman, on behalf of Martian Manhunter. The only real payoff to making that obtuse line of communication is a throwaway panel of Batman saying that Martian Manhunter’s hands are full while the latter is in the midst of a brutal fight. The payoff of John Stewart bearing the Ultraviolet Lantern Corps ring is undoubtedly cool and a highlight of both Jimenez and Sanchez’s work, but the way he re-emerges mid-sentence seems more random than anything else, and the story loses momentum as a result. Meanwhile, the comic’s conclusion of Superman and Martian Manhunter entering the Totality is visually engaging and dramatic, but ultimately cheap as an ending. Strong serialized storytelling will often end with change, and the best will leave readers to contemplate how the ending they just read will affect the characters. This doesn’t do that. Rather than wondering about the consequences of the ending, readers are left wondering what the ending is in the first place. The disparity between how engaging the opening is and how cheap the final moment is hurts the overall impression of the story being told.

Jimenez’s best moments are undoubtedly those earlier in the comic, showing Superman and Martian Manhunter in high-tech power suits in the desert sunlight. The former has Jimenez playing with styles in interesting ways, as Gorilla Grodd’s more cartoonish aesthetic appears in panel with grittier-looking characters and makes everything look more exciting. The latter is such a change of pace visually from what he has drawn for the majority of the comic, and frames it in such a way that it emphasizes both the heroes’ isolation as the only two capable of crossing the barrier and their powerful standing as heroes. Unfortunately, Jimenez’s background art in the middle of the book in particular holds the rest of the book back aesthetically. He is obviously a talented artist when it comes to drawing people and things to fill his panels, and he is equally skilled at large action sequences, but when things slow down the comic often presents readers with single scenes and plain backgrounds. This is mostly a problem with Justice League-focused scenes, as John Stewart’s space-tinged scenes have enough cosmic ambiance in the background that the earlier panels become noticeable.

The aforementioned space and desert scenes are where Sanchez is at his peak. Sanchez’s lighting in space is where it is at its best as he often uses those opportunities to make panels that feel otherworldly through their coloring. The contrast of that setting with the desert scene is as powerful as it is because of the color choices. The light of the sky feels close to light glowing off of Sinestro, and turning the page feels like opening a door to the outside world. In the bombastic panels that close out the issue, the colors help make the flurry of action feel distinct. Napolitano’s lettering is noticeably good in these moments, as he allows the images to breathe while guiding readers’ eyes along the panels. Where Sanchez struggles is in the action sequences, with a lot of the impact’s being rendered as plain white, which makes the panels they are in look unfinished.

This feels like the weak issue of a good arc, and with how many storyline elements Snyder has at play at once, there’s an incredible number of directions that the story can go from this early point. That, combined with how good the stronger moments of this issue are, make Justice League #2 a fun, if sometimes frustrating read. Cheap endings with some sloppy executions in terms of story and art are blemishes on something that feels like it could be special. And when you look at the moments when the story and the art are at their peak, this is a comic that is. Hopefully, whatever our heroes find at the other end of the barrier will give the title a more immediate focus to smooth itself out in the coming months.

Twitter activity