Best Shots Reviews: LAND OF THE GIANTS #1, ACTION COMICS #1011, VENOM #14

Venom #14
Credit: Kyle Hotz (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Jorge Molina (Marvel Comics)

War of the Realms: Strikeforce - Land of the Giants #1
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Jorge Molina, Adriano Di Benedetto and David Curiel
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

In a landscape that has been saturated by linewide events for the better part of two decades now, it’s become clear that not all events are created equal. But War of the Realms has managed to avoid the pitfalls of many lesser events in its main narrative while giving us some intriguing side stories around the edges. But Strikeforce - Land of the Giants is a bit unique in terms of how it’s positioned within the narrative. This story seems like it should have a lot of weight to it as freeing Thor from Jotunheim seems to be a key to the heroes’ overall victory, but Tom Taylor never gives the story that weight. And that’s a bit of a letdown. Rather than bringing a much grander scale, this story ends up just being a sort of average adventure book, which almost wastes the talents of artist Jorge Molina.

Tom Taylor frames this story from Spider-Man’s perspective as Captain America recruits him for a team that also includes Wolverine, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Their mission is to free Thor from the Frost Giants of Jotunheim and they’ll get to use Asgardian weapons and the Valkyries’ flying horses to do it. But as much as Taylor tries to frame this whole mission as “saving the world” and Cap needing a specific team to do so, this is a surprisingly generic book. In fact, it feels like a very unpolished version of what we usually get from Taylor, which is a mix of humor and action that eventually reveals something of an emotional core. All those pieces are here, but they aren’t as sharp as we’ve seen them before, and without being more refined, the jokes are less funny, the mission feels kind of light, the action beats don’t hit, and the emotional resolution never lands.

It’s kind of a shame too, because Jorge Molina is doing good work here. While I don’t love the winter weather redesign for Cap’s costume while the rest of the heroes are more or less in their regular get-ups, Molina’s expression work is very strong, and he is able to make the fights against some nameless Frost Giants look at least a little bit more unique. (Honestly, if we never see a Frost Giant again after this event, it’ll be too soon.) And the guy can really draw horses, a feat that has proven too much for many an artist. (Drawing horses or children seem to be almost every artist’s Achilles heel.) There’s not much to complain about when it comes to Molina’s work here, though if I had to nitpick, his Wolverine looks a little off-model at times.

So despite a strong visual realization of Taylor’s script, this whole book feels oddly inconsequential, especially where it overlaps with other War of the Realms stories. And that’s a bummer because it starts out looking like it’s going to be at least a little meatier than a run-of-the-mill fight book. Those kinds of books can be super-fun, but only if the writer and artist are locked in on delivering really interesting action choreography. That said, War of the Realms: Strikeforce - Land of the Giants #1 isn’t a terrible book, and if you’re a big fan of Taylor or Molina, you might be able to wring a little bit more fun out of this one than this curmudgeonly critic.

Credit: Steve Epting (DC)

Action Comics #1011
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Steve Epting and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Josh Reed
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

“Event Leviathan” receives a final preamble issue in Action Comics #1011. Having established the stakes and cast of the incoming event, writer Brian Michael Bendis sets about completely eradicating the DC “super-intelligence community,” dedicating this new issue to Leviathan finally stamping out Spyral. But beyond the high-stakes espionage and visuals provided by Steve Epting and Brad Anderson, Bendis continues to make great use of the Fourth Estate by having Lois Lane and Clark Kent fight against this menace with the power of the press. A marked and engaging change from the space opera heights of the main Superman title despite its pre-event decompression, Action Comics #1011 puts the event’s major players in a good position heading into the opening.

Leviathan’s coordinated global attack against the spy outfits of the DCU is in full swing and Lois and Clark are in the very thick of it in London. Also in the thick of it is Kate Spencer, Manhunter, who is apparently being targeted as well in the form of a frame-up. Action Comics has had a lot more moving parts than its sister series Superman, but that has been both a strength and weakness for the title.

The downside is the pacing. Bendis is infamous for decompression, and Action Comics isn’t going to be the book to convince anyone otherwise. Though he has set up a compelling mystery, one that started all the way back with the debut of the Red Cloud, there is only so much information he can eke out at a time each issue. #1011 is also at a double disadvantage being the lead-up to Event Leviathan, so there is only so much climactic action Bendis can engage in without tipping his hand to the incoming event.

But that said, this “finale” issue still contains a lot of good. For one, the mere fact that it is a full blown mystery is a lot of fun. While Superman has been the more “mythic” and family-oriented side of Bendis’ take on the Last Son of Krypton, Action Comics has had a rock solid concept behind it - one laser-focused on Lois and Clark’s career as journalists. Not only does it ground the story, but makes both Superman and Lois more relatable than they’ve been in recent memory. We often get a lot of lip service toward the pair’s careers in service of bigger stories, but seeing it explicitly used in service of the main story is welcome follow through. Sure, the execution of said concept is a bit rocky at times, but it is such an engaging polar opposite to the more A-list title.

Better still, Bendis’ more grounded, espionage focused characterization for the cast sells just how different of a story this is. The banter between Lois, Superman, and even Jimmy Olsen crackles with the kind of energy that dimmed from the writer toward his last years at Marvel. It is actually funny and not in the groaning “quippy” way one usually associates with writers from Bendis’ school of scripting. Again, your mileage may vary with this issue due to its pacing and as an event lead up, but to us Action Comics is still a twisty, engaging good time.

The return to superhero also seems to be suting Steve Epting very well. Backed by the moody but enriching colors of Brad Anderson, who is steadily becoming one of DC’s secret weapons, Epting finds strength in simplicity. We begin with a bone-crunching display of his fight choreography as Kate Spencer squares off against Maggie Sawyer and the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit. It is a tight, well-staged fight that looks ripped right from the pages of Velvet, not to mention a bloody commitment to the “action” of the book’s title.

But even after the punches are thrown, Epting and Anderson settle into a cool, expressive tale of source gathering and strategy sessions set across wide, cinematic panel layouts. Trust me, it is bigger than it sounds as most of these scenes are staged either in the back alleys of London or the new Fortress of Solitude. These “set changes” give the team plenty of leeway for painterly displays of backgrounds and humane, personable character models (though I do think Epting draws Jimmy too young). Harkening back to his days on Captain America, Steve Epting shows in Action Comics that he hasn’t lost a step when it comes to the costumed crowd.

Though not perfect, Action Comics #1011 sets the stage nicely for the incoming event. Brian Micheal Bendis has a lot to prove heading into his first major DC event, but Action Comics proves that he’s willing to do the legwork for it.

Credit: Kyle Hotz (Marvel Comics)

Venom #14
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Iban Coello and Andres Mossa
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Of all the characters to most successfully pull off the genre mashup that is War of the Realms, who’d have thought it would be Venom that would come out on top?

Building off the metal-as-hell launchpad that Donny Cates, Jason Aaron, Ryan Stegman, and Russell Dauterman have established, writer Cullen Bunn and artist Iban Coello take this ball and run with it in Venom #14. Donning a new magical suit in lieu of his trademark symbiote, Eddie Brock is bringing the fight to Dark Elves and Frost Giants alike, and while this arc doesn’t necessarily delve into Cates’ heavy themes of depression and codependence, Bunn and Coello make this action-packed detour a true crowd-pleaser.

Picture this — Venom with Asgardian runes and bony spines all over his body, his symbiotic tendrils summoning a fearsome-looking battle axe so he can slice a tank in half. If that sounds as awesome to you as it does to me, you’re gonna be in for a good time in Venom #14. Bunn is no stranger to the character, having written Venom previously in his own series as well as Venom-verse, but this tie-in arc feels like the best possible environment for the writer to flex his muscles — rather than have to layer in new characterization or history for Eddie, Bunn is able to give readers the Cliff’s Notes of what Cates has already masterfully established, instead just letting Eddie Brock unleash his anger at every enemy in sight.

And as a result, the action choreography winds up being nice and memorable throughout, thanks to Bunn and Coello teaming up again once more. Bits like Venom breaking and rebuilding his bones to fight the Frost Giants at their own size is an inspired bit, one that Bunn tees up and Coello knocks out of the park, while repositioning Jack O’Lantern as a mystically enhanced rival gives Eddie a worthy villain to face, especially with a slick, video-game style introduction of the two characters going head-to-head. And Coello’s designs for Eddie towards the end of the book are a nice touch, allowing Bunn to keep shaking up Venom’s status quo, keeping this interesting fantasy mashup running smoothly.

Of course, there are a few hiccups along the way, primarily when Venom isn’t in the middle of a fight — Eddie’s ward Dylan still feels like a little bit of an afterthought at this moment, and one can’t avoid that Jack O’Lantern’s departure from the battle feels a little abrupt. Additionally, there’s a handful of moments where Coello seems to have a disconnect from the script — particularly a group of hellhounds attacking Eddie, which feel more like regular dogs than anything threatening or magically empowered.

Still, this might be my favorite Big Two work from Bunn in quite some time — he and Coello are a strong creative pair, and the two really feel like they’re in their element as we get to watch Eddie Brock slash and smash through all the forces that Jotunheim has to offer. Given the character’s sci-fi roots, it’s hard to imagine Venom working so well in this sword-and-sorcery epic, but thanks to Bunn and Coello building upon an already strong foundation, this symbiote feels right at home in the War of the Realms.

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