Best Shots Reviews: DOOMSDAY CLOCK #11, HOUSE OF X #4, HARLEY QUINN & POISON IVY #1

HARLEY QUINN AND POISON IVY #1
Credit: Mikel Janin (DC)

Greetings ‘Rama readers! Pierce Lydon here, filling in for Best Shots captain David Pepose. We’ve got a trio of reviews for you today so we’ll kick things off with Joltin’ Justin Patridge’s look at Doomsday Clock.

Credit: DC

Doomsday Clock #11
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gary Frank and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

”Does Superman remember you?"

Absence does not make the heart grow fonder in Doomsday Clock #11. Facing continued delays, breaks in the weak flow of momentum, and the separate return of one of his leads in a whole other book, Geoff Johns seems forced to explain how we all got there. With the looming confrontation between Dr. Manhattan and Superman still incoming (literal years later), Lex Luthor and Ozymandias shift into full on “villain monologue mode” both explaining their grand schemes in naked exposition, backed with sketchy flashbacks and cutaways. It is really hard not to be disappointed with it.

Like the rest of these issues, there is really good stuff here. Striking design work and juicy bits of lore still pepper the pages and back matter of this beleaguered series. But, once again, it doesn’t prove to be enough to make this a worthy single issue or even really a satisfying return to us still on the hook as long time readers. Despite DC’s “best” efforts, the legacy of Watchmen is undeniable. I wonder what the legacy of Doomsday Clock will be. After an issue like this, I am thinking it will be more of a cult curiosity and less of a classic.

So, after the tenth issue, which left us with several cliffhangers, you would think the world of Doomsday Clock would be forever changed, right? Well, you would be wrong, as Geoff Johns takes the “tell, don’t show” route when it comes to following through on them. Strung together with discordant narration from news sources and “overheard” conversations with the President and his cabinet, Johns edges the world closer and closer to the brink of war now with the JLA and Superman largely off the board of geopolitical politics.

We don’t get much of a look at this beyond a punchy, all-too-short opening sequence in which Batman takes down a group of soldiers looking to make the first strike. We don’t get much of a look at the outside world, because Johns is too busy commiting to his explanation of the internal world of the series. That’s right, Doomsday Clock #11 is a dreaded “table-setting issue”, allowing Lex and Adrian to take center stage to talk at the audience about everything they might have missed up until this point.

In Ozy’s case, it is how he planned on getting Jon to save his world originally and how his plan has evolved through the whole series. Over on the Lex side of the stage, he explains how he’s been aware of the meta-verse the whole time, tracking Jon through his own history through a macabre calling card. It seemed every time Dr. Manhattan made a change to their reality, he unwittingly recreated the iconic picture of him before his accident, giving Lex a sort of narrative bread crumb trail. But this turn perfectly exemplifies the problem with Doomsday Clock; the details are amazing, while the overall story is just a slog. Though this issue is probably the most substantial, information wise, wrapping up the loose ends of the series (re: the Superman Theory, who sent Lois Lane the JSA footage etc.), it just never feels like it matters. It might be too little, too late for this supposed “game-changer”.

This rushed, insubstantial feeling also, depressingly enough, extends to the artwork. While the opening issues of this series were richly detailed and carefully colored, this issue looks and feels rushed. Though Gary Frank and Brad Anderson’s work isn’t necessarily bad, it certainly doesn’t have the same energy or construction in this issue. Still adhering to the hallowed, nine-panel grid, Frank’s work seems far too sketchy in the main action of the issue. His splash pages, one of which contains the combined impressive might of the DCU characters, are still top notch, lovingly colored by Anderson. But they just make the discrepancy between the set pieces and main action all the more apparent. I was really hoping that, even if the script was a dud with this return issue, the artwork would be good. I can’t tell you how crushing it was to see that wasn’t the case.

And so, it looks like Doomsday Clock is going to die how it lived - explaining its reasons for existing. That may sound harsh, but it might be the best one can get for a comic that is largely, somehow, both recap of itself and exposition. It is almost a feat itself. But that doesn’t make Doomsday Clock #11 any less of a bummer.

Credit: Marvel Comics

House of X #4
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Claton Cowles
Design by Tom Muller
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Jonathan Hickman and company have brought a sense of urgency and mystery back to the X-line that hasn’t been seen in a long time. By acknowledging the feedback loop common to so many superhero stories (and X-Men stories especially), the creative team has turned a weakness into a strength - they’ve turned a trope into a tool. And in doing so, created a brave new world for these characters to explore and grow in. That’s honestly a bit of a masterstroke in a genre that sometimes seems content to settle for the same old, same old.

What’s fascinating about these interlocking miniseries is just how much we don’t know. We don’t have a great understanding of what we’re reading at any given time or how it relates to information we’ve already been given. Obviously, we have an idea and Hickman’s penchant for charts, secret codes and expository articles lend themselves to fueling fan theories while illuminating some small bits of the world. But overall, it kind of feels like we’re trying to navigate a pitch black cave with a birthday candle. Why then, is the story so compelling? It’s all about pacing and Hickman using the way that comics are generally marketed to his advantage. We already know the next six titles coming after this mini so generally that would squelch the stakes in the story we’re reading. But if a character dies, Hickman has made it a mystery as to how they’ll come back. Are they Krakoan pod people? Are they Sinister’s gene spliced mutants? Does it have something to do with Moira’s mutant powers? It could be any of them or none of them and that’s what makes it work so well.

This issue is a pretty action-packed one that sees the X-Men post-explosion carrying out their mission more or less as intended. And again, despite certain details that would seem to rob the story of any sort of narrative stakes, the book is enthralling. Hickman gives his major players some excellent character moments and he continues to write one of the best Cyclops I’ve ever read. He’s slowly meting out an understanding of new threats to the X-Men’s existence and building up a weekly series in a meaningful and intentional way. That’s hard to do. Just look at almost any other weekly title.

Pepe Larraz shows us once again why he got this job, delivering on all the big moments in Hickman’s script with aplomb. These characters really shine and in some unexpected ways, too. Larraz’ Monet is particularly impressive as she stays behind in order to save Jean Grey. And it’s incredible to see Larraz balance economy of storytelling with the scope of the story itself. This is a big space adventure complete with Sentinels and explosions but he’s able (with a hearty assist from colorist extraordinaire Marte Gracia) to get those gut punch emotional moments despite the epic scale.

Hickman’s brand of winding, sometimes exposition aloof storytelling isn’t for everyone but it is so forward-thinking and fresh in this context that it feels impossible to ignore. Hickman and the rest of the creative team and making bold decisions and attempting to break new ground the same way that Claremont did when he burst onto the scene. They aren’t trying to copy their method, only that energy and the X-line is better for it. This is the X-Men as you’ve never really seen them before and possibly, the best they’ve ever been.

Credit: DC

Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy #1
Written by Jody Houser
Art by Adriana Melo, Mark Morales, Hi-Fi
Lettering by Gabriela Downie
Published by DC
Review by Kat Calamia
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy #1 picks up where Heroes in Crisis left off, as Jody Houser and Adriana Melo use Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy’s characters to beautifully showcase the consequences and emotional resonance that linger from this controversial event. Both Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy have been playing a balancing act on the line between good and evil for the past couple of years. With this series, Harley finally makes a decision on which side she will fall on as she tries to reconnect with her semi-dead girlfriend. This premiere does a great job at showing the lengths Harley will go for her puddin’, even if that means becoming a hero.

This issue is all about change, and the adjustments the couple has to make to keep their relationship intact, literally. They’re even willing to sink so low as to move to the suburbs, which is a big adjustment for these Gotham City Sirens. It’s fun to see them in a different environment, and how this changes their interactions with each other, especially as other sides of the DC universe try to creep into their private lives – like Lex Luthor and The Green. Houser explores the quieter side of their dynamic, which is a nice change of pace for these anti-heroes. The story gives more real estate for their romance, and this room allows Houser to paint a clearer picture of their relationship, an aspect I feel other in-continuity DC titles have skimped on in the past.

Melo and Hi-Fi bring a wonderful brightness to this emotional storyline with Harley’s humor and their overall cheery color palette. The art team excels at balancing Harley’s lighter side with Ivy’s new and even colder persona. The story shines the most when their polarizing personalities come together to tell a very poignant story about their relationship. This juxtaposition is placed nicely in one of the issue’s earlier scenes, where Harley and Ivy try to go on a shopping spree. All Harley wants to do is shop lift and find nice clothes with her girlfriend, but instead she finds Ivy’s body converting into leaves. Melo beautifully captures the switch between happy and frantic when Harley tries to save Ivy. She is doing everything in her power not to lose her, but she doesn’t want to show this fear to Ivy. We only see this with her internal dialogue and during her most private moments.

Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy #1 doesn’t only take a deep dive into their relationship, but it also plants the seeds to explore more of The Green and how the events of Heroes in Crisis affected this side of DC’s mythos. It’s a great follow up to the event as it gives time for these characters to breathe. I’m happy to see DC lending this couple the much-needed spotlight that they deserve, and using Ivy’s drastic/controversial change as a positive catalyst to more emotional storytelling about Ivy and Harley’s love for each other.

Twitter activity