Best Shots Reviews: UNCANNY X-MEN #1, MISTER MIRACLE #12, WONDER WOMAN #58

Mister Miracle #12
Credit: Nick Derington (DC Comics)
Credit: Leinil Yu (Marvel Comics)

Uncanny X-Men #1
Written by Ed Brisson, Matthew Rosenberg and Kelly Thompson
Art by Mahmud Asrar, Rachelle Rosenberg, Mirko Colak, Ibraim Roberson, Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessy and Guru e-FX
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

A whole new era for the X-Men begins here! Ed Brisson, Matthew Rosenberg, and Kelly Thompson are the current architects of the X-Universe, and while they’ve all done good work in it to date, there’s something missing in this much-ballyhooed return of the Uncanny title. It’s not the characterization - that actually feels spot-on and refreshingly streamlined compared to the sometimes contradictory work we saw across Red, Blue, and Gold. There’s just something about the plotting that feels instantly familiar, and not just by superhero trope standards - instead, this book is almost a straight-up mash-up of a bunch of recent X-Men stories.

We’ll start with what’s good about this issue. I love the focus on the Young X-Men as a way to show who the younger generation is and how they are being trained and utilized within a fairly depleted X-Men team situation. Rockslide, Armor, Pixie and the rest are characters who have never gotten a really fair shot, and with the absence of Cyclops, Wolverine and a couple of other stalwarts, it’s great to see them pushed to the forefront. Brisson, Rosenberg, and Thompson are really fun writers who are quick to throw in some snappy dialogue that really helps flesh out each character. But the plot pushes them into conflict without giving us a clear understanding of the focus of the book. As a result, we feel kind of unmoored from the X-Men as a concept for this new era.

I don’t like to make a one-to-one comparison here, but looking at the X-line at the beginning of the "Regenesis" era, we got a clearer sense of what Uncanny X-Men (2012) and Wolverine & the X-Men were aiming to do. Those first issues establish the conceit of each - Wolverine is going to headmaster a new school while Cyclops is going to establish Utopia and prove that the X-Men are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes so they can hopefully bear the brunt of mutant hate. Here Uncanny X-Men doesn’t feel like it’s kicking off a new era but rather providing another stepping stone to getting to one, not unlike Extermination. Indeed, Uncanny X-Men feels more than a little similar to that still-unfinished event, borrowing heavily from that and from X-Men Red. In this issue, a mysterious character is capturing other characters and we don’t yet know if they are friend or foe, while the X-Men are accused of attacking an anti-mutant politician. If you can’t shake a sense of deja vu after reading this one, you’re not alone.

Mahmud Asrar handles the art for the big return, and if you weren’t a fan already, he won’t do much to win you over here. Asrar is great at selling big action moments, and generally does a good job with most of the smaller moments. But there are some odd panel choices here - we get two panels that take up half of a page to establish a location when it could have been done in one. We get a shot of Beast yelling at his students that is very narrow and takes a lot of energy out of that exchange. Early in the scene with Senator Ashton Allen, Betsy Braddock looks a bit inconsistent, but a few pages later, when she’s in the heat of battle, Asrar renders her with a much stronger expression and pose. In general, it seems like Asrar has trouble with female characters compared to how well most of the male characters are rendered, and for a franchise with such a strong focus on women, that’s not the best look. His work isn’t bad in the aggregate but there are definitely moments that will make you pause.

The back-up stories have a smaller scale that feels a little bit more put together. We get focuses on Bishop, Jean Grey, Armor, and Anole, but all the threads come together with along with some "Age of Apocalypse" rumblings. Considering what we learn in the main plot, it’s a fun little tease. (Though, I still do not understand the current era’s obsession with Bishop. I get that he’s a timecop, but it seems like his defining characteristic is that he’s bad at his job?) Mirko Colak, Ibraim Roberson, and Mark Bagley acquit themselves pretty well on the few pages each is given to handles, with really only Colak’s thin linework standing out against the more polished superhero approaches of Roberson and Bagley. Again, good character work defines these creators and Brisson in particular has a penchant for seeding future story ideas. But this whole package leaves me wanting a little more.

I think the X-Men are in capable hands, but I don’t think we’re totally seeing it on the page yet. The whole line has been stuck in a bit of a rut the last few years, and digging these characters back out is going to take some time. I think part of what feels off is the quickly recycled plot points and an absence of characters who are undeniably core X-Men, like Wolverine, Cyclops, Colossus, Rogue, and Professor X. Even Magneto and Emma Frost’s absence feels really palpable, and thrusting different characters into those roles still doesn’t have the same impact. Of course, “wait and see” is an obvious mantra to spout here - these writers are too good to just be doing the same thing, and one some level we know that to be true what with the revelations about the Age of X-Men and the Horsemen of Salvation on their way. With the context of those developments, maybe this first issue does work better than it seems. And maybe this issue works as a foundational element moving forward. But it’s never a good sign when you have to squint to find justification for a book.

Credit: Mitch Gerads (DC Comics)

Mister Miracle #12
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

The show is over. The curtains are closing. The final bow is upon us.

Darkseid is… no more. But what does that mean for Mister Miracle?

Maybe it’s freedom. Maybe it’s prison. There’s an ambiguity to Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ final epilogue that flies in the face of typical superhero conventions, even as it adheres to the rigidity of a nine-panel grid. But ultimately, structure and expectations are not what makes Mister Miracle such an arresting work - instead, it is the sheer production values, the deliberate point of view that comes across every page that makes this finale worth reading.

With the death of Darkseid, the rescue of Jacob Free, and the warring planets of New Genesis and Apokolips coming to an uneasy standstill, what’s left for Scott Free, with ghosts of another world still flickering within his periphery? That’s the uneasy ground that King and Gerads still manage to stick the landing upon, as we’ve been led to question everything that’s happened so far - did Scott really save the day? Or is he trapped within the Anti-Life Equation? And if the latter, a more sinister thought begins to percolate - did Scott willing remain in this cell of his own choosing?

The way King answers this question is provocative in more ways than one. Scott Free has been the ultimate unreliable narrator since the beginning, as we watched him bleed out in the bathroom as he tried to take his own life. But Scott’s development since that time has been astronomical - we’ve watched him go from general to Highfather, from son to father, from super-escape artist to the executor of intergalactic prophecy. As King’s cameo from a long-deceased member of the Miracle supporting cast reflects, it’s been a long, heartfelt journey, and it’s hard not to feel a lump in your throat to see how far Scott has come from the abyss.

Yet longtime readers of the series will remember the way that King bombastically introduced this story, describing a trap that Scott “dare not” escape. Because in many ways, that’s what life is - it’s the jobs we take, the friends we make, the spouses we choose, the children we bear. And in that regard, King indicts the status quo of his caped and cowled contemporaries, asking us if real life, even if it’s in a simulacrum, more real than constant deaths, rebirths and reboots? Like Scott, King offers a subversive take by showing us that, in our own way, we all build our own prisons - but like Scott’s time being raised on Apokolips, we slowly shape and mold these prisons until they not only feel comfortable, but they reflect our deepest and inner cells. Sure, we can escape at any time - but would we ever want to?

But all that action has come constricted - there’s been much made about Gerads’ masterful artwork inside that ever-present nine-panel grid, but it’s also the way that King has showed his hero in chains. One might argue that the series’ five non-gridded pages might be the only time we’ve seen Scott actually in the “real” world - but unlike the bloody battles and narrow escapes of the previous issues, we find Scott at peace. Gerads has portrayed the character as looser and happier than he’s ever been, even with the flickering afterimages of Granny, Orion, Highfather, and Darkseid looming in the background. The juxtaposition is at times absurd, but the sheer expressiveness and deliberateness of Gerads’ artwork reminds us just how much he earned his Eisner Award, because he’s delivering some of the most beautiful artwork the Big Two has to offer.

Of course, this finale won’t be for everyone - far from it. I’d argue that King’s rejection of not just the conventions of superhero universes, but literally the superhero universe itself, might be a bridge too far for readers, who might consider Scott’s withdrawal from the never-ending battle to be an act of cowardice rather than an act of subversive freedom. And they might not be wrong - despite all that Scott has survived, despite all that he has suffered, there’s the expectation for more. There are no happy endings for superheroes - only death and rebirth. But to that, King does offer Scott an escape - not just from the war, but of the divine expectations of prophecy that have long been thrust upon him.

Regardless of where you stand on the nature of this epilogue, what feels inarguable about Mister Miracle is how much deliberateness has gone into this book. In an industry that’s month-in and month-out like comic books, it’s easy to deliver product rather than perspective - to hit your deadlines and move onto the next one, rather than have any vision with your execution or anything meaningful to say. And that’s what makes books like Mister Miracle feel so special - this book has always taken big swings, and even if not all of them connected, the direction behind this book feels more realized than much of its contemporaries. Scott Free and Big Barda are taking their final bows, but Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Clayton Cowles are the ones that truly deserve your applause.

Credit: Terry Dodson/Rachel Dodson (DC Comics)

Wonder Woman #58
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Cary Nord, Mick Gray, and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

G. Willow Wilson hits the ground running in her return to DC Comics with the pulpy, intriguing Wonder Woman #58. Functioning as a clear entry point for new readers, Wilson gets down to brass tacks with Diana, smartly sidestepping a heavy mythologized tale in favor of propulsive action and instant stakes. Artists Cary Nord, Mick Gray, and Romulo Fajardo, Jr. lean into Willow’s pulpy tone, delivering pencils that reminded this reviewer of his Conan adaptations. We find here lots of detailed landscapes, dynamic character posing, and bolded inks and colors, honing the sharpness of the panels. Wonder Woman arcs here recently haven’t exactly been the most user friendly of comics, but I am happy to report that for now G. Willow Wilson’s first take on Diana favors action and accessibility over trying to be an “important” soft-reboot.

Dating back to the "New 52," the direction creatives tended to take on new Wonder Woman books was to pile on a bunch of new gods and demigods and start mucking about with Diana’s backstory. Thankfully, Wonder Woman #58 takes the direct opposite approach, going so far as to kill Ares (Again! Not for very long, but still!) just to clear the deck in the issue’s portentous opening on Themyscira. Wilson is really only concerned with our core cast - namely Diana, Etta Candy, and Steve Trevor - for the time being, and it is a wonderful change of pace from the overstuffed opening casts previous volumes have had.

Better still, Wilson’s opening plot is fairly grounded until its godly cliffhanger. Plagued with dreams of something bad happening to Steve, Diana’s visions become prophecy when she gets a call from Etta Candy, saying he’s been kidnapped by a new warlord in a foreign country. Naturally, Diana intervenes. Though Wilson is fully aware of the political implications of Diana’s involvement in foreign operations, she also really understands that a proactive Diana is a fun Diana to read about. Wilson’s Wonder Woman is all forward motion, dispensing battlefield wisdom on the mercenaries she faces. Even if you just had a cursory knowledge of Wonder Woman and what kind of stories she leads, this issue would give you all you needed to know, as it crystallizes the Amazon very well in a tight, engaging first issue.

Cary Nord is also a canny, tonally sound choice for this new entry point. Backed by the broad and bold inks of Mick Gray and the rich colors of Romulo Fajardo, Jr., Nord’s art delivers kinetically expressive panels that capture Diana’s power and charm throughout. After the issue’s opening, which feels ripped right from a Robert E. Howard short story, Nord settes into a unexpected sweetness with an intimate scene between Diana and Steve. Wilson’s script really nails Steve and Diana’s dynamic and Nord and the rest of the art team translate it beautifully, in particular a four panel sequence where Steve is saying goodbye and Diana delivers a playful swat, the scene bathed in a cool blue, delicately detailed by Gray’s inks.

Directly afterward, the team amps up the action, dropping Diana like a bird of prey onto the battle torn city. Here Nord flexes his and Diana’s muscles a bit, staging each encounter she has with ground forces as the powerful protector. In the issue’s first Wonder centric set piece, they fire her across the page like a bullet, shield dashing through a pair of troops like Captain America storming a beach head. They ramp up her fury in the issue’s second, the moments right before she meets the insurgent’s leader. She lands in the center of the frame in a triumphant superhero landing, positioned between a firing squad of soldiers and a defenseless family. The next panel is a action shot of her clobbering the soldiers with her shield, rendered with a bold copper background just to hammer home the impact. Culminating with a tight focus on Diana with a Conan-like snarl on her face, sun blazing in the background as her hair twists into the wind. It is a really powerful sequence and one that cuts right to the heart of the kind of visceral action Wonder Woman comic books can deliver.

By going back to basics and just being a damn fun read overall Wonder Woman #58 is a fine return for G. Willow Wilson for the Distinguished Competition. Focused on the characters we all know and love and armed with a propulsive opening gambit, Wilson, Cary Nord, Mick Gray and Romulo Fajardo, Jr., deliver a solid and dynamic opening chapter to what is hopefully a really great run of Wonder Woman.

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