Best Shots Reviews: EVENT LEVIATHAN #1, IMMORTAL HULK #19, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #23, THE FLASH #72

Immortal Hulk #19
Credit: Greg Smallwood (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Alex Maleev (DC)

Event Leviathan #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev
Lettering by Joshua Reed
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Team Daredevil reunites in the expository but intriguing debut of Event Leviathan. After being teased throughout the last arc of his Lois Lane-focused Action Comics, the prolific Brian Michael Bendis takes his first real crack at a DC event title, bringing the moody and cinematic pages of his long-time Marvel collaborator Alex Maleev with him. The result is an expectedly talky but still interesting opening, one that resells the stakes for those hopping on from Action and solidly sells the “superhero mystery” hook, kicking off Bendis’ first “big” story for the Distinguished Competition off on a fun note.

For those out of the loop, the “super-intelligence” communities of the DCU are in shambles. After a sweeping night of attacks, Kobra, Task Force X, A.R.G.U.S., Spryal, and the Department of Extranormal Operations all lie in ruin, their leadership either dead or dying. The only clues point to new threat called Leviathan (not that Talia al Ghul-headed organization, the comic is quick to remind you) who has been quietly recruiting in support of their night of terror.

The baseline story is a very fun one and has sustained the recent Action for a bit now. But one of Event Leviathan’s major strengths is it sweetens the plot further, using Bendis’ engaging take on Batman and Lois Lane to do it. As the unlikely team-up start to investigate Leviathan's latest attack site, a souped-up new A.R.G.U.S. headquarters, they quickly realize that Leviathan isn’t done “pulling the pillars of society down” and whatever they are planning is only meant to last the night. So Lois Lane and Batman, supported by Green Arrow and an incoming “team of detectives” only have one night to solve the mystery and save the world. As far as ticking clocks go, that’s a damn fun one, and as you get there in the issue, it hits just as hard as the team wants it to.

Unfortunately, in order to get there, you have to get through a lot of dialogue. And I mean a lot of dialogue. Centering his story solely around Lois and Batman’s questioning of a shell-shocked Steve Trevor, Bendis’ gift for gab is in full display here. Occasionally it crackles, particularly when set against a massive Maleev splash page or when Lois delivers a particularly wicked turn of phrase. Bendis’ Lois has been one of the great unexpected joys of his time at DC so far and I would be lying if I said I didn’t love her being the co-lead of a major event. But that all said, I would have liked just a bit more dynamism for this opening issue.

Artist Alex Maleev however does what he can with the talky opening script. Instantly calling to mind the vibe and visual storytelling of he and Bendis’s seminal Daredevil run, Maleev really makes a meal of the quieter moments and the chances he gets to deliver big visuals this time around. In particular, a fantastic “previously on” page made up of thick slatted panels of each “super-intelligence” group’s leader being brought low, indicated by really cool logos of each in the margins.

Later on, Maleev delivers another epic vista, revealing the very A.R.G.U.S. base that was attacked bathed in hopeful, radiant sunlight. These flashback scenes are a welcome swath of color from the gray- and blue-scaled main action of Lois and Batman’s questioning. But again, just a bit more pep in the scenes visually could have made a world of difference. The backgrounds are also a bit bare for my tastes. Though they really remind of the Daredevil days and his character models are still just as stylish as ever, seeing people talk on “bare stages” isn’t fun no matter who is talking.

Armed with a monster hook and a sparkling take on Lois Lane, Event Leviathan #1 is a lot of fun - provided you don’t mind seeing a lot of people talk in a single location for the duration, that is. That might sound harsh, but Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s reunion tour really is a fine comic book, one that commits to it’s super-crime fiction premise and aims to find a new take on event narratives. Can they sustain it over five more issues? Only DC’s greatest detectives will be able to find out.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Immortal Hulk #19
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Belardino Brabo, Paul Mounts and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Adrian Care
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Since its debut issue, Al Ewing and Joe Bennett’s Immortal Hulk run has given new dimension to the Marvel staple by leaning hard into horror themes. #19 is possibly the most horrific yet — but to play on an old Hulk cliché, the more horrific Hulk becomes, the better Hulk gets. After escaping a battle with Bushmaster by order of the string-pulling Fortean, the Hulk clashed with a nightmarish incarnation of Rick Jones’ Abomination. Meanwhile Betty Ross had been shot dead only to return as a ghastly version of herself that was part Harpy and part Red She-Hulk.

The horror that Al Ewing writes is an assault on multiple fronts. He creates a constant feeling of unsettled conflict throughout the issue, confronting us with the dilemma Hulk, as the transformed Rick Jones both threatens Hulk and pleads for death at the same time. And to that end, Ewing writes the Hulk’s man-fighting-the-monster-within paradigm from a unique stand. It isn’t Bruce trying to negotiate his humanity so much as it is an exploration of inhumanity. There are trace elements of Bruce’s relationship to Betty and Rick that keep him clinging to his human side, but this Hulk is a violent monster with little signs of the Banner super genius intellect. Instead, Hulk is almost pure id and all about self-preservation—right down to appearing when Bruce Banner is in mortal danger.

But if you thought the Hulk was a monster, wait until you see who he’s fighting. The Rick Jones Abomination is a disgusting and terrifying creation that lives up to its own namesake. Rather than be an evenly-matched-for-strength foe for Hulk to trade blows with, this version finds disgusting ways to inflict damage. It’s reminiscent of the most marauding Lovecraftian creations or a Demogorgon from Stranger Things. It’s ability to evoke pure fear is incredibly effective.

Betty Ross, meanwhile, has been used as more than just plot device before, but her central role here is the issues heart — in more than just a literal sense. She has become more of a monster than the one her husband has battled internally for so long. Unlike Bruce, who was almost always in conflict with the beast within, Betty utterly gives into it. She’s remorseless, bestial and more viciously brutal then almost any incarnation of Hulk, and given how well Ewing and company have sold the Abomination, it’s Betty who winds up stealing the show by the issue’s end.

Joe Bennett’s art matches Ewing’s creativity blow for blow. If there were a sudden call for a revival of EC comics titles like Haunt of Fear or Vault of Horror, Bennett should spearhead a list of top talent that would be perfect for these books. He brings a gruesome tangibility to the effects of Abomination's acid vomit. He makes the fear on is human characters’ faces so palpable and real that you might wince or turn away in revulsion. How can you not look away at the resulting toll that the fight’s take on Hulk towards the issues end? The art gives us the Green Goliath, maimed in a way that he has never been maimed before, yet somewhere in that revolting mess you can still sense the power behind the character.

Colorists Paul Mounts and Rachelle Rosenberg deserve credit for the visuals, too. Putting emphasis on the bizarre character designs without rendering them in tones that would nudge them too far towards ridiculous. Giving each of Hulk, Betty, and Abomination their own signature feels while maintaining that they stem from the same Gamma irradiated pools. The sinister, cloudy, moonlit backdrop is complemented by dark blues and purples. The detail in the color work gives the entire issue the feel of watching banned video nasty horror flick, a sense of ominous doom.

An issue filled with psychological horror, paranoid threats, deformed beasts and sickening trauma. Some panels are so well executed that they might incite physical sickness. But you'll be drawn in and fixated on the art and story all the same. Using a tight cast of Hulk mainstays to explore the landscape of fear and terror is supremely effective. Immortal Hulk #19 is an absolutely harrowing issue that shows us the monster inside isn’t always the worst part of us, but that sometimes the most horrifying damage can be inflicted by those close to our hearts.

Credit: Ryan Ottley (Marvel Comics)

Amazing Spider-Man #23
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn and Nathan Fairbairn
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley tie up the loose ends of “Hunted” with this epilogue issue, setting the stage for what comes next in this run. But decompression has really ground this book to a halt. Even as Spencer makes sure to dot his eyes and cross his tees before moving on, it’s hard to muster more than a shrug for what he’s building. Ottley’s return is welcome and he sells the emotional beats of the story well, but Spencer’s script fails to really move the needle.

I’ve talked before about how superhero comic books tend to have a problem with mining nostalgia that readers have for old stories while failing to move their characters forward in meaningful ways. And despite Spencer bringing back some fan-favorite concepts to his run with Spidey, the work has felt like it’s backsliding. Every time something old comes back, it feels like something recent has to be put away. Love or hate Dan Slott’s run on the character, but you can’t deny that he didn’t at least try to introduce new concepts to the characters with “Big Time,” “Superior Spider-Man,” and “Spider-Verse” having a fairly distinct visual style, tone and mission. At the end of “Hunted,” Spencer gives us a new Kraven who looks exactly like the old one, a new Sinister (err, Savage) Six and an unhinged Lizard. He’s building up another villain as well, but it's too early for that character to feel like a unique threat.

On a less macro level though, there’s a lot about what Spencer does here. Taskmaster and Black Ant remain the stalwart scene-stealers that they’ve been throughout Spencer’s run. The book is bookended by scenes of Peter and Sergei crying in the aftermath of this story and that brings a nice sense of closure and symmetry to the issue. This isn’t a poorly constructed book, but much like the last issue, it has very little to say and Spencer’s writing lacks a thematic direction.

Ottley is a big reason why those emotional bookends work so well, and it’s nice to see his angular linework return to the title. He’s got a great handle on his characters and their body language, though he doesn’t always vary his expression work enough and that leads to the Avengers looking more than a little constipated throughout their little cameo. But he makes that black Spider-Man suit look really good, and his work with Peter and MJ specifically really sings. Nathan Fairbairn’s coloring is really natural throughout the book which really smooths out the somewhat disparate nature of the script that needs to jump around to deliver some closure. This is a good outing by the art team on a relatively quiet issue.

Amazing Spider-Man feels like it’s in a weird holding pattern under Spencer’s pen - always looking back and never really pushing forward. Superhero comics will only ever really give us the illusion of change, but that doesn’t mean that interesting work can’t be done with them. Maybe it’s too early to consider what Spencer is trying to say with his run, but hopefully he’ll do less to honor the past and more to make his work stand out in the annals of Spidey’s long publishing history.

Credit: Howard Porter/Hi-FI (DC)

The Flash #72
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Howard Porter and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Adrian Care
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

After being hit by a lightning bolt that gifts him his powers, Barry Allen has already seen a lot, racing back in time from a dystopian future in hopes of stopping the villainous Turtle’s rise to power. Yet even with these massive stakes, the third part of The Flash’s 'Year One' treatment feels like it’s stumbling story-wise — that is, before some truly inspired art by a completely rejuvenated Howard Porter lends it the speed it needs to catch back up.

This arc so far has been mostly fine, if a little uneven. Boasting the Year One banner usually grants a story an element of prestige, and writer Joshua Williamson already has big shoes to fill with a legacy of Flash creators that include names like Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, William Messner-Loebs, and Carmine Infantino. But the story this issue jumps all over the place and feels like it’s introducing too many new elements rather than focus on balancing the wonder and tribulations of Barry Allen’s first year as a speedster.

For Barry, the unevenness comes in parts where he already feels like the Barry we’ve been reading since the New 52 rebooted things. If this is a man who’s just been hit by lightning and is coming to terms with his new direction, the character shouldn’t feel as lived in or well-worn. There should be some development and impact on his personal life that’s being caused by the fact he can now exist between the ticks of a clock. Instead it feels in parts that this new aspect of his life is just tacked on to the things he was already dealing with. As a result, it’s not so clear as a reader if we’re to receive this as (yet another) complete reboot or just a tweaked re-telling. In fairness, the shocking conclusions to each installment do really work, but by the beginning of next issue it feels a little like an afterthought that the hero we’re reading is new to his powers and seems to have little trouble using them.

But even with the stakes threatening the Flash’s very legacy as we know it, Williamson is also getting bogged down with the street-level soap operatics. While working in the continuing theme of averting the Turtle’s rise to power, we’re also introduced to a mystery man who will become Captain Cold, which looks like it’ll be a slow burn (chill?) building upon the rest of the narrative. Add that on top of the time spent growing Barry and Iris’ relationship — admittedly, the best part of the book — and Barry gaining and grappling with superpowers threatens to convolute this story if a proper balance and tempo isn’t restored quickly.

Luckily for everyone, Howard Porter’s work this arc makes it look like he’s been juicing up on pure Speed Force. The artist has always been a natural at big action and epic super heroics back to his JLA days, but it is human moments that are the true indicator of his growth as an artist. For starters his characters are drawn with more individuality in their faces, body language and interactions with each other. The way Porter draws the relationship between Iris and Barry genuinely feels like you’re watching two real people develop feelings for each other. In fact, the human elements of this issue were the absolute strength of the art. From detailed backgrounds and settings like Barry’s apartment or the debris strewn streets post action sequence, to wardrobe design. Outside of indie comics, I can’t recall a comic were the civilian art was just as beautiful to gawk at as the superhero stuff.

But Porter doesn’t miss a step with the superhero stuff, either. He’s really honed his layouts and plays up dynamic poses to emphasise excitement and action. All of this combines to show how strongly Porter has come along as a storyteller. Using panel sequence and every new tool at his disposal to really get the most out of Williamson’s script.

After a strong first installment and an interesting second, the third part of The Flash: Year One feels like it trips over too many obstacles, as Williamson tries to stitch together so many storytelling threads that even the Fastest Man Alive can’t quite keep up. Luckily for readers and the big picture, The Flash #72 is simply stunning to look at thanks to Howard Porter’s show-stopping visuals, and despite its flaws keeps racing onward in an entertaining fashion.

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