Best Shots Advance Reviews: AGE OF X-MAN: NEXTGEN #1, AVENGERS: NO ROAD HOME #1, SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #1

"Avengers: No Road Home #1" covers
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Lee Garbett (Marvel Comics)

Age of X-Man: Nextgen #1
Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Marcus To and Jason Keith
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

“Age of X-Man” soldiers on with its second spin-off miniseries, Nextgen - a deeper dive into the worlds of the Summer Institute and a few of its familiar students. Expanding dutifully on the concepts introduced in Age of X-Men: Alpha, writer Ed Brisson sprinkles in elements regularly seen in YA fiction to provide another structure for characters to break from. This might feel a little bit like Storytelling 101 type stuff, but Brisson plays things close to the vest with some very deliberate pacing. That does mean that the issue drags its feet once in a while, but it keeps the reveals from being too obvious to readers. Artist Marcus To turns in a solid effort on the right side of things, but some of the character designs don’t really play to his strengths.

What I’ve liked about “Age of X-Man” so far has been how intentional all the storytelling decisions made so far have felt. All of the work has been building to a greater whole and not just an effective conclusion. In that way, it feels like a flip from the work that was done on “Disassembled,” but as it continues, “Age of X-Man” has even sought to recontextualize that arc. I like that Brisson is able to do that here. It gives that story more weight and consequently, it makes the “Age of X-Man” (and “Disassembled) feel more like one big story rather than a cheap plot device to get Cyclops and Wolverine to be the focus of the new Uncanny X-Men arc.

Brisson’s affection for the younger characters featured here, and Glob Herman in particular, is on full display here. Glob is an interesting character to build the story around as Brisson shows us how this school is unlike any other in X-Men history (though not too unlike Hogwart’s) and slowly seeds out the mysteries that are crucial to the plot. But some of that worldbuilding really does slow the book down. While this school is different that what we’ve seen before it’s not too hard to get a handle on, and Brisson might just get a little too cute using a monologue that runs from one character to the next through different panels to ostensibly “show us around.” Overall, it’s good work, but not at the same level as we’ve seen elsewhere in “Age of X-Man.”

Marcus To’s storytelling sensibility works really well for this issue, but he does struggle with characters are a little less human-looking, like Glob or Shark Girl. He’s just generally not able to bring the same level of expressiveness from them as he does with Armor or Pixie or Maxime and Manon. And for a book that centers around Glob so much, that’s a little bit of a problem - especially because the world of this book doesn’t differ too much from our own. The school is a pretty straightforward school setting. The world outside of it is more of the same. It’s a little bland, and I think that takes away from the effectiveness of the concept as a whole. The Alpha issue and even Marvelous X-Men gave a sense that this was a heightened reality that we just don’t see here.

Your mileage with Nextgen will vary, as the trappings of it will feel very familiar and Brisson doesn’t reveal all that much about the world beyond that. To isn’t a terrible fit for the book, but his work doesn’t elevate the script and he doesn’t have any standout moments. (Though I don’t think I’ve seen quite so many accurate depictions of chickens in an X-book before.) Brisson does ensure that this title syncs up with the rest of the event in a neat way, but it feels like there should be a little more meat on this narrative bone. Your enjoyment of Age of X-Man: Nextgen will hinge mostly on how much you like Glob Herman and how patient you’re willing to be.
 

Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers: No Road Home #1
Written by Mark Waid, Al Ewing and Jim Zub
Art by Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco and Jesus Aburtov
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Marvel’s sophomore weekly comic effort featuring Earth’s Mightiest Heroes starts off on a rollicking note in the debut of Avengers: No Road Home. Bringing the band from Avengers: No Surrender back together, writing team Mark Waid, Al Ewing, and Jim Zub, aided by the vibrantly fleshed out artwork of Paco Medina, inker Juan Vlasco, and colorist Jesus Aburtov, swing big once again with a big, super-weird plot populated by some of the biggest Marvel personalities. Night is falling across the entire universe, and Voyager has once again returned to the hero game to gather a new ragtag group of Avengers (and one ex-Guardian of the Galaxy) to face the darkness. Weekly series are tricky to keep up momentum with, but for now, Avengers: No Road Home #1 starts this newest serial off on a very entertaining note.

Employing the “writer’s room” approach to this series, Waid, Ewing, and Zub do a fantastic job selling the stakes and cast of this new series throughout this debut. That said it does fall slightly into the trap of spending most of the issue “gathering the team,” cutting neatly between vignettes starring our new team, which now includes Rocket Raccoon, Hercules, and Monica Rambeau, just mere weeks ahead of Monica’s big screen debut.

It’s understandable if this structure will turn off certain readers, but thankfully, Zub, Waid, and Ewing do a tremendous job of stringing these vignettes together narratively, tied together neatly with persistent and affecting narration from the former Valerie Vector. They do so either by making good use of their pasts together, like a scene between Clint and Scarlet Witch recalling their “Kooky Quartet” days at the Mansion, or amping up the tension between the newly formed team, with an ominous reunion between Hawkeye and the now Immortal Hulk, as well as Rocket Raccoon’s budding frenemyship with… just about everyone else on the team. It’s all big pulpy stuff for sure, but stuff that could give this new weekly series a lot of legs going forward as they face an impossible night, side-by-side.

Even better, No Road Home isn’t just a satisfying opening just as a read, it also packs several visual wallops thanks to artists Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco, and Jesus Aburtov. Setting a nice bit of visual continuity between this series and No Surrender, all three artists have seriously leveled up for this new weekly event. Given thick definition by the wide inks of Vlasco, Medina’s artwork, which is already pretty damn sumptuous as is, leans into the operatic feel of the plot and high emotions at play throughout the cast. We get tastes of the team’s action staging in a rousing flashback from Hercules, as he is blathering to an exasperated beat cop on the street, but a lot of the visual energy of this issue is more personable and cinematic, as they make the one-on-one interactions between the cast really pop in wide-set panel grids. Another thing that bears mentioning is how consistently great Jesus Aburtov’s colors have been here lately — his colors for No Road Home #1 have a glossy, modern texture, but he somehow always evoke vibes of classic spinner rack action with every book he works on. It’s really terrific stuff.

Weekly comics are always a tricky needle to thread but Avengers: No Road Home #1 makes a confident, well-produced debut. We might be singing a different tune come this time some days for now, but for now, lightning seems to have struck twice for the creative team Marvel has assembled for these weekly epics. No Road Home certainly has the talent, the cast, and the potential to succeed, topped off with a high fantasy hook that is tailor made for serialization. Eyes front, True Believer, because Avengers: No Road Home #1 is Marvel Comics in their purest form.
 

Credit: Marvel Comics

Savage Sword of Conan #1
Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Ron Garney and Richard Isanove
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

While Marvel has had a great deal of success with its flagship title featuring Robert E. Howard’s legendary barbarian, I might argue that Savage Sword of Conan might truly tap into the fullest potential that the House of Ideas can bring the character. Writer Gerry Duggan immediately throws readers into the thick of things with a visceral and dramatic story, but that’s nothing compared to the haymakers that artist Ron Garney and colorist Richard Isanove are throwing. Savage Sword of Conan is a potently powerful debut, and one that should win over any fans still riding the fence about this character’s new adventures.

From the jump, Duggan gets readers’ pulses pounding, as he throws Conan into the hopeless scenario of being lost at sea - and then shows what the tough-as-nails Cimmerian would do for food and sustenance, showing nearby sharks exactly who the apex predator is in these waters. In Garney’s able hands, it’s a powerful image that really sets the tone of the rest of the series - Conan is not a character to mess with, but that means the dangers thrown his way are going to be even more harrowing than most. It’s that larger-than-life quality that permeates the rest of the series, allowing Duggan to seamlessly shift from down-to-earth grittiness to magic and sorcery without skipping a beat.

But putting Ron Garney on a book like this feels like exactly the reason why Marvel would make the effort of acquiring a property like Conan the Barbarian in the first place. He absolutely nails the hard-bitten style that Conan requires - the character feels like he’s been chiseled out of rock, but he still has a grace and fluidity to the action that sword-and-sorcery fans will love - but Garney’s sense of drama is what really sets this book apart, giving the visuals a deliberateness and style that will stick with readers for awhile. Colorist Richard Isanove also is a smart pick to compliment Garney’s hard-hitting style, giving it a painterly tone that really pops with big splash pages like Conan drifting away at sea. I will admit my own personal peccadillo here — Garney’s style is already naturally sketchy, and so Isanove’s colorwork sometimes overwhelms as far as the brightness is concerned, rather than leaning into darker shadows — but that’s also a matter of personal taste that I think plenty of other readers will more than enjoy. No matter which side of the spectrum you lie on, though, you’d be hard-pressed to think of a better art team for this character.

Savage Sword of Conan feels like the kind of book that would not only appeal to diehard fans of the Cimmerian, but new readers looking for a jumping-on point for this legendary staple of pulp sword-and-sorcery. Duggan and Garney seem to really relish this storyline, and are delivering some of their best work in recent memory trying to do Conan justice. If this first issue is any indication, the Savage Sword of Conan is sharp as a tack, and a fitting addition to any comics fan’s literary arsenal.

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