Best Shots Reviews: DAREDEVIL #2, HEROES IN CRISIS #6, AGE OF X-MAN:X-TREMISTS #1

Heroes in Crisis #6
Credit: Mitch Gerads (DC)
Credit: Julian Totino Tedesco (Marvel Comics)

Daredevil #2
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Marco Checchetto and Sonny Gho
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“When I was younger, I made mistakes. But I would never kill someone. But who would believe the man… dressed as the Devil?”

Second issues are critical for the success of a new run, but Chip Zdarsky, Marco Checchetto, and Sonny Gho make it look easy in Daredevil #2. Digging deeper into this first arc’s major crux and his fantastic take on Matt Murdock. Zdarsky continues to ground the action in dense emotions, peppered with his droll wit. At the same time, artists Checchetto and Gho match Zdarsky’s heart and hard knuckles in kind, providing expressive, realistic character models that populate the pair’s cinematic page layouts. It seems that Chip Zdarsky has entered a brand-new phase of his writing career, and if Daredevil #2 is any barometer of what that phase will be like, we are in for some damn good comics.

Still reeling from the debut issue’s cliffhanger, which found Matt being accused of the death of a robber he stopped, Daredevil is now making himself known in Hell’s Kitchen, attempting to win the hearts and minds of the citizens even in the wake of a warrant being issued for his arrest. At the same time, recently transferred detective Cole North continues to work the case, undaunted that his suspect was once an Avenger. Daredevil being wanted by the police is not exactly a new concept for the title, but in the hands on Zdarsky, this new tale feels so much more emotional and grounded in realism.

Supported by his engaging take on Matt, who is again struggling to parse his career as a hero with his Catholicism, Zdarsky is really working overtime to make this new volume both accessible and effective. And for the moment, he is nailing it! His Matt is appropriately brooding, but not completely dour. He builds on his opening very nicely by neatly dividing the action between Matt and Detective North, both of whom are working the case in their own ways. And he even manages to throw in some choice commentary on Daredevil’s actions as a whole, given voice by a cranky medical examiner Matt attempts to interrogate. “You’ve screwed up. Somebody’s dead, and you need to stop with the violence,” he admonishes. And honestly? It is hard to find fault in that argument.

Along with Zdarsky’s realistic characterizations and narrative turns, artists Marco Checchetto and Sonny Gho keep pace with the script. The pair render the tale in muscular, consistently eye grabbing pages anchored by their eye for character expression. While the previous volume took a baroque, stylized approach to Matt’s adventures, this one brings the title back to a more realistic look and it really works for this story. Though some readers may not love the lack of any real action set pieces this issue, both Checchetto and Gho provide numerous striking shots and posed of the titular hero, either while he is attempting to rescue a group of people from a mugging or as he explores the city trying to suss out who has set him up. Special consideration should also be given to colorist Gho, who has clearly improved since his Avengers days. Injecting a rich, almost glossy color scheme to the issue, Gho’s colors really make Checchetto’s lines pop and Daredevil’s costume jump off the page in a way it hadn’t in the previous volume. I still feel as if the two’s best work is ahead of them, but for now Checchetto and Gho have made these first two issues look tremendous.

On the trail of a possible frame up and dealing with a very real internal struggle, Matt Murdock is wading into the thick of it in Daredevil #2. Layering his script with heart, wit, and a genuinely cool mystery, Chip Zdarsky is giving his all to his new volume and it shows in the work. Pair that with the grounded, but slick artwork of Marco Checchetto and Sonny Gho and we may be seeing the start of one of the great modern DD runs. Was the criminal's death an accident or a mortal mistake by Matt? We aren’t any closer to answers, but thanks to the creative team’s sterling efforts, readers should definitely stick around to to find out.

Credit: Ryan Sook (DC)

Heroes in Crisis #6
Written by Tom King
Art by Clay Mann, Mitch Gerads and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

“But maybe Gnarrk overthink it.”

Despite what the front page copy might declare, I don’t think there’s much in the way of new answers to the massacre at the heart of Heroes in Crisis #6 - but honestly, if that’s why you’re reading this book, you’ve probably been disappointed from the start. While I do think this sixth issue of the series spins its wheels with a little bit of redundancy, writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads are at their best exploring new twists on characterization, breathing new life into heroes long since discarded by the zeitgeist.

While there might be some who see it as one-note or gimmicky, King’s take on the Titans’ caveman Gnarrk proves to be the most refreshing thing about this issue - that while he seems brutish and simple by contemporary standards, this time-lost barbarian would be considered a scholar in his era, thinking deeply on Keats, Hobbes, and Rosseau. And in so doing, Gnarrk actually philosophizes himself over the great tragedy of his origin - namely, was it even worth it to bring him to the modern day, or did the trappings of civilization stamp out something deeper and more pure lost to antiquity? Like Lagoon Boy before him, I think King does a really admirable job at dusting off a character who I think many consider to be a D-lister amongst the Titans line-up - which I think ultimately is the biggest draw for a universe-spanning title like Heroes in Crisis.

With that in mind, I also want to talk about how beautifully Mitch Gerads and colorist Tomeu Morey portray these scenes. I’ll be honest with you - Gerads’ style in these scenes seems to seamless from Mann’s that I actually had to do a double-take when I looked at the credits on the last page of the book. Whereas the other characters feel more grittily rendered with their inks - particularly Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, who I’ll get back to later - the pages with Gnarrk are exquisitely inked, with a simplicity of the linework that I think really speaks to King’s overarching themes of primitive states versus a more “civilized” era. Morey’s colors are also beautiful here - from a moonlit night to waves of amber across a field, each setting feels realized and almost peaceful compared to the story going on around it, even during the moments where Gnarrk has to fight for his life.

So what holds this issue back, if anything? I’d argue that when the character work recedes from the overarching puzzle at the heart of this series, Heroes in Crisis #6 loses some of the engagement in favor of its more mechanical plot points. The whodunnit of this book still looms large over this series - and like I said, despite what the cover copy says, I think there’s plenty more wrinkles at play here — but that means King and Gerads have to spend even more time with Wally West and Harley Quinn, whose stories I think have already been well-plumbed at this point. King and Gerads get some good moments with Wally as he’s reunited with the rest of the DC Universe - it’s genuinely heartbreaking for all these characters to say Wally’s return is the return of hope, when you see the look of pure despondence on his face - but while it’s well-crafted, it feels a little redundant compared to previous issues. Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy’s vignettes, even more so - while they explain why Harley was in Sanctuary to begin with, I’m not sure we get any new information beyond what Harley told us last issue.

With three more issues to go, however, King has every opportunity to stick the landing with who killed the heroes at Sanctuary - but at the same time, I’m not sure that’s the biggest strength of this series. Mysteries come and go, but it’s the emotional attachment to characters that is what makes a story really stand the test of time - which is why I think Gnarrk’s unlikely tale as a caveman philosopher, while perhaps a little goofy as a premise on paper, winds up being the best part of this book in execution. With his Mister Miracle collaborator Mitch Gerads delivering some truly stirring and versatile artwork, it’s clear that King is very adept at delving into the tortured hearts of his characters, and making readers care for them in the process- hopefully as this series winds down into its final act, he’ll be able to still give those characters the focus they deserve as he pulls off his big reveal.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Age of X-Man: X-Tremists #1
Written by Leah Williams
Art by Georges Jeanty, Roberto Poggi and Jim Charalampidis
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

“Age of X-Man” continues to expand, but it feels like it’s starting to lose steam. This is as big and weird as X-Men events get, but there’s a lack of urgency in some of the storytelling here. While Age of X-Man Alpha #1 was able to deftly introduce the concepts that would inform each of the minis, none of them have been much more than fun thought exercises rather than impactful stories. Leah Williams gets her turn here with the enforcer team the X-Tremists, but she doesn’t stray too far outside what we already know. Georges Jeanty definitely channels some Generation X energy into this book (a mix between the Chris Bachalo era and the more recent Amilcar Pinna work), but feels woefully mismatched with the flow of Williams’ script. It’s an imperfect package, but it does have its moments.

Leah Williams is a great fit for the X-Men because of her dialogue work. As much as the X-Men are defined by melodramatic monologues and lots of action, they are equal parts a daytime soap opera and a primetime sitcom. Williams opens the issue with Iceman and Jubilee baking together before the team is thrust into action, and it’s a delightful back-and-forth between these characters. It’s also a great way to balance out what we understand their mission to be: breaking up couples and mind wiping them to keep the peace. These are still the characters that we know and love even, if they do essentially act as a sort of sex-negative strikeforce, and Williams is great at bringing that out in them.

However, the plot itself is a more decompressed version of what we say in Age of X-Man Alpha, just with characters we aren’t given a chance to really care about. The X-Tremists themselves seem to sort of bumble through a mission we’re told they’ve gone on before, and Blob in particular is characterized much differently than we saw him in Nextgen. So despite decent character work in the small moments and Williams properly seeding out some of the conflict within the team, the stakes don’t feel high because the inner turmoil hasn’t bubbled to the surface yet. There’s a lot of good work here to begin to get us there, but it feels like we just run out of pages.

And Georges Jeanty just doesn’t feel especially suited for this story. I mentioned Williams’ penchant for strong character moments, and a writer like her would be better served by an artist who could really bring a consistent level of expressiveness to his characters. Jeanty is able to deliver that here and there - early panels of Bobby laughing stick out as highlights, but Jubilee looks unrecognizable and some of his expression work with Moneta is baffling. He’s not able to play to the bounciness in Williams’ dialogue, and we just end up with panels where it’s unclear exactly what kind of face a character is supposed to be making. He stages the action decently well, although some moments, like Blob coming in through a wall, feel strangely nonchalant but not in a way that’s played for humor. Colorist Jim Charalampidis gives the whole book a sort of filter that mutes all the colors, and it’s hard to parse a specific reason for that. (Though, to be fair, it might look completely different in print as opposed to my digital review copy.) The coloring definitely works but the filter removes a lot of contrast that would have been especially welcome given that the X-Tremists wear mostly black costumes.

Williams does a great job setting up the next chapter of her story, though, and she’s clearly lit the fuse on some relationship dynamite between these characters. Fans of that kind of character work are going to get a lot more out of this than folks looking for a big superhero punch-up. Meanwhile, there’s hope that Jeanty’s work will even out over time as well - his expression work isn’t bad, it’s just not consistently good at this stage, and that takes a lot of air out of what Williams is trying to do here. All in all, Age of X-Man: X-Tremists #1 helps move the chains on this overall event, but comes up just short of being a must-read entry.

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