Best Shots Reviews: THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #45, LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES: MILLENNIUM #1, More

"Fantastic Four: 4 Yancy Street #1" preview 2019
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Olivia Jaimes (Image Comics)

The Wicked + The Divine #45
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Warning: Spoilers Ahead.

“We all went through something horrific together and survived, at least for a while.”

The Wicked + The Divine #45 is a book out of time in two respects. The first being that this is the last issue of the ongoing series which debuted on the stands back in 2014, a coda to a lengthy and emotional set of trials and tribulations thrust upon a core cast of teenagers because of archaic structures put in place millennia prior. The second stems from the fact that this is a series where temporality was baked into the book’s concept from the beginning; a recurrent 1-2-3-4 beat and the idea that these characters had two years to live as gods; even as the decade went on in our world, the events unfolding stayed primarily within a 2014-2015 period.

Yet WicDiv has also been a book distinctly of its time, a result of how Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles are a creative team aware of the era they’re working in. Most important to this is how they’ve proven that they understand the way that teenagers act, talk, dress. There are the little details like how cracked someone’s phone screen is because the owner doesn’t want to put a case on it. I remember reading the second issue - which contains a moment where Laura comes to terms with the fact that she’s going to fail her A-Levels - on the day I received my own less-than-stellar results.

To see Laura 40 years later is an image that needs more than a moment to properly process emotionally. As a book that started out being about death, it has gradually made the shift towards being one about life - the penultimate issue’s final scene makes that intent clear - but even then, Laura and the other members of the Pantheon have not been freed from the shackles of time. The grey streak running through her hair and the lines on her face show that.

McKelvie’s knack for character design shows in how he strips away that flair that came with godhood for this cast, ages them up and they’re still recognizable the moment they appear in this story. Time marches on around them as well, made evident during the opening scene of the issue with Laura in a self-driving car – sleek due to his minimalist lines and the blue used by Wilson – looking out at the world passing by, reflecting on where she’s heading that day.

Even though the issue is upfront about what she’s doing, it still feels wrong to reveal it here, due to the lengths that the creative team have gone to keeping it under wraps, and out of a worry that someone will stumble on this before being all caught up on the series.

The series invested heavily in its cast early on, so that when things got crazy and mythology-dense, it was always carried out with a sense of grounding because Gillen’s early scripts prioritized getting to know these characters, initially under the guise of the murder investigation. Just as smart is the justification for this coda, a means to say goodbye that doesn’t undermine how the narrative concluded last issue, instead enhancing its emotional power.

Gillen’s script here is just as sharp, with lines like “I’m not the devil or anything” landing with a self-aware sense that he’s been waiting years to write them, and for good reason. Sprinkled throughout are pieces of dialogue that manage to sum up a series’ worth of events from particular characters’ perspectives. All this in mind, the prevailing emotion of the issue is melancholy, that despite this issue offering a final chance to see some of these characters off, the narrative conceit that makes it possible requires one last hardship to come to terms with.

The overall arc of The Wicked + The Divine’s plotting was about breaking the prophetic cycle – a look at this issue’s credits page and how it’s changed from the usual is indicative enough of how that’s been dismantled. It is also the story about how the cycle of how life and death might be inevitable, but takes on a different meaning when detached from Ananke’s nefarious intentions. When this cast were teenagers, godhood seemed like everything they could ever want, a sense of belonging to something bigger than them (true in ways none of them could have predicted) without a long-term commitment.

In this final installment, the names used by the former Pantheon are their actual ones. It’s a sign that they got to live, that they got to be human. After everything that’s occurred in the previous 44 issues, they made that choice, a statement that’s most moving when thinking about how self-destructive Laura has previously been. The creative team cap this off with a final meta-sequence that says everything it needs to through the use of negative space. In a way, they know that they need not say anything to conclude a series about characters taking back control over their autonomy, their lives.

Much like the series opening with “And once again we return to this,” there are shades of Grant Morrison in the ending of the surface, but when you take these bookends in tandem with everything in between, it’s intrinsically Gillen, McKelvie, Wilson, and Cowles, it’s an ode to living life on your own terms and as what appears to be a final creative statement from this team, it’s a heck of a way to go out.

Credit: DC

Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Dustin Nguyen, Andrea Sorrentino, Andre Lima Araujo, Alex Sinclair, John Kalisz, Dave Stewart, and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

The Legion of Super-Heroes recieve a baffling non-reintoduction in Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium #1. The first in a two-part “kick-off” series, writer Brian Michael Bendis weirdly never mentions the Legion — instead, he opts to take us on a time-traveling journey with his new favorite DC C-listers Rose & Thorn who somehow, due to either their connection or power set, have lived an impossibly long time. So far, in fact, that they experience a sort of utopia led by Supergirl, segueing into Kamandi’s apocalyptic future, and then, finally, into the year 3000 where she tries and fails to join the world’s Planeteers.

I have to say, as a long-time Legion fan and someone who has been positively ecstatic for their return, Millennium is kind of a bust. A stocked team of artists, including the lean, tonally appropriate Andre Lima Araujo, bring some beautiful visuals with plenty of splash pages and eye-grabbing layouts. But it’s all surface-level spectacle thanks to Bendis’ truly baffling, meandering script. A Legion story in name only, Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium #1 is decidedly not the glorious return fans of the 31st century have been wanting.

We open in some indeterminate future. An unseen woman is talking to yet another unseen character about something that will “sound insane.” One would think this would have far-future implications that would affect the Legion, or maybe be a character we closely associate as a Legionnaire, perhaps introducing the crux of this return. But we would be wrong, as it’s only Rose, last seen stirring up trouble in the more street-level Action Comics. And she is appealing to an older Supergirl to help her find the medicine that kept her murderous alter-ego in check over the decades, speaking of the former villain like an abusive partner who is in danger of being released back to the public.

Ignoring the problematic optics of Bendis’ characterization of Rose and Thorn’s relationship for a second, this opening scene actually does strike one cool story spark. It seems that, through some quirk of meta-human biology, Rose has lived an impossible lifetime. Several in fact and she isn’t getting any older. But that’s where the interesting bits start and stop of Millennium has Bendis then takes that single idea and stretches over 20 more pages.

Not only is this a small-potatoes entry into the world of the LoSH, one that is known for being stocked with iconic characters, but one that seems head-scratchingly mundane for the return of such a large-scale series. I suppose Bendis is trying to get new readers in the door, taking a relatively low-level street character, and one that has been “off the bench” as of late in Action, and using her as a sort of audience surrogate through the ages. The cleanliness of the vignettes also speak to accessibility, as each pretty much standalone aside from Rose & Thorn’s leading of the scene. But through page after page, it falls flat, her vulgar antiquism standing poorly against banter-heavy takes on icons like Terry McGinnins and Kamandi (who I don’t think I’ve ever once read use the word “Cool”). Perhaps most frustratingly, the Legion is nowhere to be seen. Had there been some sort of tease or connection between Rose’s wanderings and the LoSH (maybe they are building them up toward “fixing” her in the second part, which has its own set of problems), but there is nothing to be found at all. It is truly frustrating, especially after so long a wait for the Legion’s proper return.

Adding a bit of jazziness to Millennium #1 is another trademark “jam session” of artists. Jim Lee, Dustin Nguyen, Andrea Sorrentino, Andre Lima Araujo, backed by an all-star batch of colorists like Alex Sinclair, Dave Stewart, and Jordie Bellaire, all do their damndest with the dry, singularly focused script. And sometimes, it pays out big, like in the case of Lee’s opening splash pages, where he renders epic battles from Thorn’s past across the page in bold, poster-ready displays.

Andrea Sorrentino and Andre Lima Araujo’s segments also bring a bit of life to this opening. The former leaning into broad, Jack Kirby-inspired sequencing tempered with classic, wide-eyed character models. That then moves into Araujo’s gleaming, Syd Mead-esque take on the future, which allows his more manga-inspired sensibilities to rise to the forefront, finally getting us to a future we might want to stay in. But by then, the issue is over and we are left certainly wanting more.

Half-baked and armed with a weak narrative hook, Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium #1 is a high-profile dud. One that was surely bound to happen now that Bendis is starting to branch out beyond his little corner of Metropolis. I just wish it didn’t have to happen at the Legion’s expense.

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Credit: Marvel Comics

Fantastic Four: 4 Yancy Street #1
Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Greg Smallwood, Mark Bagley, Luciano Vecchio, Pere Perez, and Erick Arciniega
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing takes on gentrification in Fantastic Four: 4 Yancy Street #1. Standing as a charming side tale to the main Dan Slott-headed title, writer Gerry Duggan delves deeply into the Thing’s connection with his home turf. Which, fans will remember, has now become the new home base of the Fantastic Four.

Someone is tagging buildings on Yancy Street, and it’s got Ben Grimm hoppin’ mad. Worse still, they are pretty vehemently anti-FF, suggesting that the neighborhood he so loves doesn’t want his family around due to rent hikes because of their presence. It's a remarkably simplistic turn for an FF book, but Duggan sells it very well, easing into a old-school, charming cadence for the Thing and aiming him at a problem he can’t simply punch away.

But this being a comic about Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew, of course he throws some punches, and this one-shot is graced with a fantastic roster of artists who detail them beautifully. Anchored by the stony, classically-infused pencils of Greg Smallwood and the kinetic fun of Mark Bagley’s vaulting action, this one-shot’s art team really make the smaller scale and streetbound story work for them. Though it certainly doesn’t have any world-ending stakes, Fantastic Four: 4 Yancy Street #1 does tap deeply into the charm and pathos of Marvel’s First Family.

Opening with a heart wrenching recap of Ben’s lost younger brother, given a warmth by Duggan’s narration and Greg Smallwood and Erick Arciniega sepia-toned panel layouts, this one-shot establishes pretty early just how low-key of an affair it is going to be. But small doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Quite the opposite as Gerry Duggan doubles down on the heartfelt nature of the script, making this flashback the bedrock of Ben’s reaction to someone tagging the building that bares his brother’s name.

Naturally, this sends him spiraling, allowing Duggan to display his keen sense of humor with stuff like Ben’s original plan of attack; go back in time one day and clobber the person who tagged the building. But once he calms down and starts to look into the problem, he finds a much bigger one. Predatory landlords are taking advantage of the wave of gentrification happening in the wake of the FF’s arrival on Yancy Street and forcing longtime residents into the street. And they are using the Terrible Trio as muscle to do so!

Admittedly, a clear-eyed look at superhero gentrification was not something I expected to read about going into this issue, but it is a really fun problem to see a character like the Thing tackle. Not only does Duggan make amazing use of his connection to the setting, giving him a real sort of skin in the game, but it makes it a more intangible, society-centered problem for the usual bruiser to have to face. The FF might have the market corner on galactic gods and alternate realities, but 4 Yancy Street #1 shows that that are still just as comfortable down here with the rest of us.

And while the scale of this one-shot is decidedly smaller than the main title, you would never think it thanks to the energy detailed onto the page from the stocked art team. Held together by the rich, vibrant colors of Erick Arciniega, this one-shot comes stocked with, aptly, four fantastic separate artists. We open with Greg Smallwood, who kicks off the issue with a vintage inspired newsprint look only to shift upward into striking Kirby-esque backgrounds and a very, very handsome Reed Richards at his work.

Mark Bagley then picks up the pace of the issue, giving the showdown between the Thing and the Terrible Trio a wonderful velocity and broad humor as his expressive lines barrel through the sequence. Luciano Vecchio and Pere Perez bring us home, downshifting from the kinetics of Bagley into smooth, very polished pencils that highlight the emotional final moments of the one-shot and send the issue out on a high visual note. All together each artist totally nails their sections of the issue, providing a rich, but tonally sound visual tapestry that represents the best and brightest of what Fantastic Four stories have to offer.

Calling to mind more smaller scale runs like Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa’s Marvel Knights run, Fantastic Four: 4 Yancy Street #1 is a satisfying side tale for the Thing and his super-family. Blessed with the wit and heart of Gerry Duggan and a wonderful roster of artists, this one-shot holds the standard of the Richards’ family and Yancy Street well, giving us a fun window into their new street and HQ. Proving you don’t have to head to the starts to have fun 4 Yancy Street #1 is a block party waiting to happen.

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