Best Shots Reviews: POWERS OF X #2, BATMAN #77, SUPERMAN: YEAR ONE #2

DC Comics August 2019 solicitations
Credit: DC
Credit: Marvel Comics

Powers of X #3
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by R.B. Silva and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Jonathan Hickman’s foundational X-Men saga continues with another dose of Powers of X’s future-focused world building that fills in readers’ understanding of events they’ve seen referenced while providing even more mysteries. It’s a bit of frustrating genius in a way. Unless something happens to change the timeline, Hickman has already told us so much of what happens in Moira’s tenth life - we just don’t understand entirely how we get to those events. Regardless, the approach has reinvigorated the franchise and with artists R.B. Silva and Marte Gracia turning in some of the best work of their careers, the sky's the limit for the line.

We’re almost halfway through these interconnected limited series and it’s Hickman’s planning and pacing that has really been the star so far. Aside from Moira herself, this story has taken a real top-down approach to the X-Men and their history - zooming out farther and farther to reveal new places to jump back in. On one hand, that can be a little frustrating because there’s just so much we don’t know. Fans who aren’t as keen on reading brief reports or parsing Hickman’s various charts and graphs aren’t likely to be enamored with what Hickman is building. But the writer is treating this work as much more than just a 20-22 page adventure. No, this is a roadmap for what the X-Men can become that takes into account everything they’ve already been.

Slight spoilers here for anyone worried about those. This issue specifically deals with Moira’s ninth life as Apocalypse and his Horsemen look to extract necessary data from Nimrod’s computers in order to possibly prevent their reality from ever coming to pass. Hickman gives us a better understanding of the roles these characters play in this world and how they are remixes of characters we know and love. In doing so, he’s counting on the fact that we have some familiarity with the concepts he’s playing with. When Moira says to Wolverine “...this is what you do” before he ends her life by stabbing her through the gut, Hickman is playing with so much loaded intent there from the twist on Wolvie’s catchphrase to the imagery of him stabbing a woman through and her death signaling a new beginning. Hickman recognizes that superhero comics are cyclical, but he’s playing these familiar songs with all-new instruments.

R.B. Silva and Marte Gracia make really significant contributions to the success of this issue. Silva does a great job with the design of the remixed characters that makes them feel much more unique than just a simple palette swap. And for my money, his rendering of Apocalypse is some of the best work we’ve seen with that character in a while. Even though the world of this story is a strange one, Silva and Gracia are able to anchor with their character work. The layouts are clean and while I’m not generally a fan of the blur effect to denote movement, they use it sparingly enough that it’s still effective.

Powers of X continues Hickman and company’s winning streak by echoing the past but pushing forward to the future. Weekly series usually suffer from an extreme lack of momentum from issue to issue but slight shifts in focus and the introduction of exciting new concepts have kept the books feeling fresh. This is appointment reading, straight to the top of the pile each week and it would be a mistake to miss it.

Credit: DC

Batman #77
Written by Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin, Tony S. Daniel, Norm Rapmund, Jordie Bellaire and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Spoilers ahoy, naturally. You have been warned.

Welp — looks like Batman’s going to have to get his own cucumber sandwiches from now on.

Those who will remember this issue of Batman will likely remember this as the death of Alfred Pennyworth — although it’s hard not to be skeptical on that front, given that writer Tom King has been playing with a storyline involving multiple dimensions, villains including Scarecrow and Clayface, not to mention the mind-bending Psycho-Pirate mask.

If you think this is the end of Batman’s trusted butler, I’ve got a bridge in Gotham to sell you, but to King’s credit, he and artists Mikel Janin and Tony S. Daniel do a solid job at building up the tension in this City of Bane, even if this arc has suffered a bit from decompression and an unconvincing cliffhanger.

But what’s truly excellent about this issue is that while Bruce Wayne is out of commission, his extended family isn’t taking Gotham’s new rulers lying down. King writes Damian Wayne as driven and brash, and the way he’s able to circumvent Gotham Girl’s perimeter feels vicious enough that King is able to get away with pulling a narrative rabbit out of his hat. Moreover, watching Robin stare down his extradimensional grandfather Thomas Wayne is a strong sequence — Damian echoes Bruce all the way to talking about beating Thomas “into the damn ground,” so watching this young Robin get his licks in before eventually getting overwhelmed is a strong sequence, not to mention a nice chaser to Bruce’s own one-on-one with Thomas in the desert just before this arc began.

It’s also here that Mikel Janin delivers some of the book’s most memorable instances, such as Robin and Thomas leaping off a rooftop, or the bone-crushing finale of their fight. Yet beyond this some readers might call shenanigans — both for the cliffhanger of this issue, as well as the subplot featuring Bruce Wayne’s return. Maybe I’m just in denial, but I’ll be honest with you — I’d be more surprised if Alfred was actually dead at this point, rather than some chicanery being pulled elsewhere (see the aforementioned Scarecrow and Psycho-Pirate). The character hasn’t had a ton of buildup to get to this point, so his death can’t help but feel a little bit hollow and unconvincing.

The other thing that drags down Batman #77 a bit is that half the issue feels weighed down by decompression — particularly King’s subplot with Bruce drawn by artist Tony Daniel. At this point, we’ve seen three issues of Bruce just recovering to get back into the fight — when you look at that and the lengthy amount of time it took to establish Bane’s regime in Gotham, it feels like we could have cut the previous issue almost entirely. But here, while Robin’s incursion into Gotham feels tense and weighty, Bruce’s comeback feels a little too slow to have that same kind of momentum or impact. While King gives him some portentous dialogue — Bruce talking about “a good death” is never a good sign — seeing Bruce and Selina sipping coffee in Paris while Gotham is under siege feels almost blase for the Dark Knight Detective.

Whoever said death and taxes were inescapable has never read a superhero comic. The various ways writers have swerved to avoid killing off their characters entirely could fill, well, another book entirely, which is why I can’t help but feel like the death of Alfred Pennyworth might just be a bit exaggerated. (And hey, if it is the way King and company say it is, we all saw what happened to Damian Wayne — there’s always another Lazarus Pit or New God device just around the corner.) With that bit of narrative flashiness out of the way, Batman #77 is a solid but flawed installment of the “City of Bane” arc — three issues in, one can feel the decompression dragging a bit, but there’s still enough sparks from both the writer and his dual art teams that we may still want to see this storyline through to the bitter end.

Superman: Year One #2
Written by Frank Miller
Art by John Romita Jr, Danny Miki, and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by John Workman
Published by DC Black Label
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Clark Kent continues his journey to being a different kind of all-American hero in the second installment of DC Black Label’s Superman: Year One. Though still handled by the slightly cranky yet large-scale tones of its iconic creative team, the overall story of this second issue is a very odd affair. On one hand you have a grounded, but ham-fisted tale of a young man experiencing the limits of human endurance and forming his personal stance on taking lives in the pursuit of “freedom.”

But meanwhile — in the same issue, no less — you also have a crazy, over-the-top story about Superman competing for the heart of the daughter of Atlantis, with all the demigods and sea creatures that might entail. It’s the sort of tonal mishmash that speaks to Superman: Year One’s failures so far — while writer Frank Miller occasionally zeros in on some strong turns of phrase and artist John Romita, Jr. delivers some mythic visuals, this 65-page juggernaut never comes together to form a cohesive whole.

When we last left Miller’s confidently cornfed take on Clark, he was shipping out to a nearby naval base. It’s here we spend more than half the page count of this issue, following Clark as he undergoes boot camp while trying to keep his Kryptonian abilities under the radar. The idea could be an interesting one, but the point of it all builds up to a whole lot of ado about one of Clark Kent’s core tenets; he doesn’t kill.

The issue posits that even though Clark undergoes the training to become a soldier — even excelling and reveling in the regimented physicality of it — he would never be able to stomach the idea of killing the way a “real” soldier does. I have to admit, it is an unexpectedly human turn from Miller and a rare modern opportunity for him to engage in some powerful storytelling. The moment where Clark realizes just how “easy” it is for humans to kill is a particularly hard-hitting moment.

That said, I’m not sure the story needed to take 20-plus pages in order to get there. There is also the matter of the brazenly Bronze Age weirdness of the issue’s B-plot, which takes over the narrative baton once

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