Best Shots Reviews: JUSTICE LEAGUE #30, HOUSE OF X #3

"Justice League #30" preview 2019
Credit: DC
Credit: Marvel Comics

House of X #3
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Jonathan Hickman’s bold new era of the X-Men engages in some old-school teamwork in House of X #3. Though served up with another hefty slice of Hickman’s worldbuilding starring none other than an instantly iconic Emma Frost, House of X #3 is refreshingly straightforward.

A villainous conglomerate of anti-mutant scientists called Orchis are building an interstellar death machine called the Mother Mold — which on top of being a genocidal weapon to destroy mutantkind is also the gateway to the birth of Nimrod, the advanced Sentinel system that is destined to wipe out all of humanity as we know it. At the orders of Professor X and Magneto, Cyclops leads a few good X-Men to the other side of the sun, as they try to tackle destiny head-on by stopping the Orchis and their machines of mutant death.

While the structure of this series only provides us the opening salvos of the X-Men’s conflict, Hickman’s script this installment is pointedly grounded and almost bracingly standalone. Set entirely in the present, Hickman here proves that, while he excels at all the grand scale rebuilding of X-mythos, he’s also pretty adept at just fun, mission-based stories. Backed by the consistently gorgeous and lushly colored artwork from Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia, House of X #3 stands as portentous, tensely entertaining example of what we can expect from the incoming flagship X-title.

From the very opening panel, Hickman and his characters are all laser-focused on the mission. Boarding a brand-new, slickly designed Blackbird, Scott and his team of fan-favorite heavy-hitters, armed with critical information from the reincarnated Moira X, take the fight to the technology-rich Orchis and their massive space station. And Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia prove to be the perfect art team to tackle that head-on. Though we don’t get too many fisticuffs this time around, Larraz and Gracia absolutely nail the heaviness of the mission’s importance and the new, cinematic sheen of the Hickman Era — a true highlight being the sequence in which Nightcrawler runs “recon” on the station, bamfing in densely colored clouds through equally densely rendered technology only to come face-to-face with the Omega Sentinel in a suddenly intimate and whip-smart exchange of dialogue.

But those who want more worldbuilding will also be pleased with House of X #3 as Hickman and the team reveal another crucial bit of mutantkind’s new status in the world. And they do so with absolute style and wit, which is expected, given the other half of this issue stars the immortally fabolous Emma Frost. Acting as Kraoka’s quasi-Attorney General, the White Queen and her remaining Cuckoos barge into the sentencing of Sabretooth, revealing to the U.S.’ “super courts” that Kraokan citizens now have diplomatic immunity. The scene is, in essence, a lot of exposition, but Hickman’s take on Creed and Emma truly shine, edging the whole scene with a proper sort of menace.

The art team also gets in on the fun here. Staging the whole thing like an episode of Perry Mason, allowing readers to drink in the brutalist details of the location, punctuated with a dramatic entrance for Emma in which Larraz and Gracia absolutely knock it out of the park, sartorially and staging wise. From there, the team closes ranks, bringing the point of view much closer on Sabretooth, the judge, the bailiff (with the very fan-servicey name of Tolliver), and Emma, framing a tense standoff after this legal bombshell is dropped and how humans react to it. The whole thing is, admittedly, is very soapy and highly dramatic, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from the White Queen or House of X at this point.

Armed with an old-school cliffhanger, House of X #3 succeeds by getting back to (relative) basics for the X-Men. There are evil, mutant-hating factions out there and the X-Men have to shut them down. Even amid the graphs and detailing of this “new world,” that’s still pretty damn fun to read about, and it also doesn’t hurt that it continues to look absolutely gorgeous as well. While I am sure this is just the beginning of the end for whatever these series have to offer, as we’ve hit the midpoint of the “two series that are one,” House of X #3 is another winner for this new era of X.

Credit: DC

Justice League #30
Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Art by Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Scott Snyder and company have been playing the long game in Justice League as they’ve built up to a massive showdown with Lex Luthor and the Legion of Doom — and now it’s all starting to pay off. In this opening salvo of the Justice/Doom War, Snyder, along with co-writer James Tynion IV and artist Jorge Jimenez, front-loads the story with plenty of exposition as we’re thrown headlong into the battle over seven multiversal forces. But in case you haven’t been spoiled by social media yet, this issue crescendos with not one, but two epic returns from beloved DC heroes lost in the tide of continuity.

If you thought Snyder’s work on Dark Nights: Metal was some heady, trippy stuff, then just wait till you see what he’s been cooking for the Justice League over the past year and a half. For readers who haven’t kept up with this series, you’d be forgiven if you felt overwhelmed with Snyder and Tynion’s sprawling pages explaining powers like the Speed Force, the Emotional Spectrum and the Sphere of the Gods, let alone alluding to their seven opposite forces or the threat of Perpetua.

It’s a lot to take in, but Snyder and Tynion are throwing everything and the kitchen sink at this book — and that includes the cast of characters. When Starman opens a recruitment drive for the Justice League, it’s heartening to see how Jimenez delivers us a crowd of Titans, Outsiders, and members of Justice Leagues from across magic and space. And the enormous cast doesn’t end there, either, as Jimenez mirrors that moment of hope with a moment of foreboding, as we see Lex Luthor’s horde of redesigned and repowered villains — while some of the designs (like Harley Quinn’s) might be a little garish, it’s a nice visual signifier that the old rules are gone, and that these former costumed punching bags are now playing for keeps.

So much of this issue, however, is about biding time for the real fireworks to begin. For Snyder and Tynion, that’s a tactical decision, one that allows them to build tension as much as it does for them to reestablish a veritable thicket of esoteric concepts and continuity. Yet for someone who’s discussed previously how they analyzed Grant Morrison’s landmark JLA run on the series, you can see lots of nods to his work, from the botched time-travel in “Rock of Ages” to the war of good versus evil of Final Crisis. But whereas Morrison used esotericism to make commentary about the DC Universe and the human condition, Snyder and Tynion’s punchline is more liable to hit readers right in the fan service button — when you see who picks up the time-stranded Justice League, it’s going to be hard not to be excited, and I think it’s that enthusiasm that’ll help the Justice/Doom War maintain its momentum moving forward.

That said, Justice League #30 isn’t always the easiest read to connect with — this is a big blockbuster through and through, and it’s one designed to appeal to fans’ sense of continuity and a larger shared universe, even if the broader core themes of justice versus doom might feel a little unwieldy upon close examination. But for those who have been following this series since the jump, this is where all the pieces that Snyder and company have been laboriously assembling are suddenly starting to crackle and come together — this certainly feels like the biggest Justice League story of Snyder’s career in terms of sheer scale alone, and because he’s able to thread the needle in terms of spectacle and fan service, there’s a lot of fun to be had in this battle for the soul of the multiverse.

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