Best Shots Reviews: THOR #2, JUSTICE LEAGUE #39, X-MEN #5

X-Men #5
Credit: Leinil Francis Yu (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Olivier Coipel (Marvel Comics)

Thor #2
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Nic Klein and Matt Wilson
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

They say the measure of a man’s character is how he acts when the odds are down and his back is against the wall. We saw the horrors Norrin Radd was forced to commit as the Herald of Galactus - but what makes Thor #2 so satisfying is how writer Donny Cates and artist Nic Klein show that the Worldeater is no longer working with some introverted scientist, but a bonafide king and a god. And in Thor #2, watching the cosmically empowered Thor use his not inconsiderable strength and resources to blunt the sting of Galactus’s hunger feels like an exercise in convictions that makes this sophomore effort truly pop.

Starting off with a cheeky introduction featuring the fall of a particularly Distinguished Cosmos, Cates comes out of the gate swinging - the stakes are high, and even some of the most potent icons of comic book history can’t fight off the Black Winter. But that’s just set dressing ahead of the real conflict of this second issue - namely, that Galactus is finding Thor to be a bit more willful of a herald than he’s ever dealt with before. And while Thor has been harboring some secrets of his own - as Cates winningly calls it, “his mutinous mallet” getting heavier by the day - it’s certainly not enough to stop him from kicking ass, taking names, and saving the day.

It’s a great dynamic that not only illustrates Thor’s expanded status quo as the new king of Asgard, but reminds us that the God of Thunder’s heroism is directly tied to his stubbornness - whereas someone like the Silver Surfer might pontificate on the inevitability of the Worldeater, Thor is fully prepared to send a Power Cosmic hammer through Galactus’s kneecap in order to save a planet full of aliens who (quite rightly) fear the both of them. Cates’ solution to the problem feels sweeping and epic, but what I admire most about this story is that he’s pushing back against the wobbly philosophies that have spared - and even justified - Galactus’s genocidal reason for being. And isn’t that what superheroes are supposed to do - unflinchingly stand between innocents and death?

Artist Nic Klein is also killing it on this book, particularly with the way he’s portrayed Galactus as this gigantic, half-rotting behemoth with what looks like a jet engine on his back. While I’m still not quite as convinced by Klein’s new design on Thor himself - the long hair and headband combined with the giant “P”-looking sigil isn’t for me - it’s hard to argue with how Klein portrays the Thunder God as a surly titan capable of heaps of destruction. Watching the way Mjolnir explodes through Galactus is truly eye-popping, and watching an armada open fire on the Worldeater towards the end of the book feels like some Hollywood pyrotechnics.

His jaunt into psychedelia with Silver Surfer: Black notwithstanding, I truly feel like Thor might be Donny Cates’ best cosmic work since his breakout success on Thanos. Not only is he able to channel a real sense of lyricism with his narration that feels in keeping with Asgardian fantasy, but Cates is able to ground this turn into sci-fi by showing us exactly what kind of hero Thor is, regardless of change of status quo. Nic Klein, meanwhile, scores a home run with his artwork, making this storyline feel every bit as larger-than-life as you might hope. If this is the kind of storytelling we might come to expect from this creative team, Mjolnir couldn’t be in worthier hands.

Credit: Tyler Kirkham (DC)

Justice League #39
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jorge Jimenez, Daniel Sampere, Juan Albarran, Alejandro Sanchez and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Scott Snyder’s run on Justice League ends with a resounding shrug as all the pomp and circumstance doesn’t really seem to settle on an ending. For all the big ideas thrown around by the writer over the years, this just seems like one that he couldn’t (or possibly didn’t plan to) to close the loop on. The result is a big that uses swatches of text to seemingly distract from a subpar outing from the usually stellar Jorge Jimenez and Daniel Sampere. It’s one of the more unsatisfying endings to a run in recent memory.

You can’t fault Snyder for trying, however. Throughout his run, he’s always tried to introduce big ideas and tie them back to parts of his previous work, creating a sort of DC continuity in and of himself. Some might see that as selfish considering the vastness of the DCU, but I see it as putting a method to the madness of what can sometimes be an overwhelming sense of history. Sure, the DCU has rebooted a couple of times, but that hasn’t made it any less complicated. Snyder’s take on these characters has always seemed like “the DCU according to Scott Snyder,” and if you’re a fan, then that probably works for you. But the writer isn’t able to come to as effective a conclusion as he has with a book like Batman. Justice League feels like it got cut off at the knees, and audiences won’t be sure what to make of the ending - it seems quite literally like pages are missing.

That’s not helped by the fact that Jorge Jimenez - a usually incredible collaborator with just about any writer he works with - is way below his usual skill level here. His work looks scratchy and unfinished. His expressions and body language doesn’t have the tightness and line clarity that we’re used to. In a lot of ways, it seems like someone attempting to draw in his style rather than the artist himself. And Sampere, who is a talented artist in his own right, really only meets that level here. The fact that they split the book in half speaks so something going on behind the scenes prohibiting one artist from finishing the hole product and that’s evident on the page.

Snyder’s prose is as pretty and purple as ever throughout the book. He can wax poetic with the best of them. But it feels like he’s padding out an essay that needs a few hundred extra words to seem complete. It makes the book feel unfocused and dense, but the meaning is hollow and the ending just doesn’t feel like one at all. It feels like the next writer will have a lot of messes to clean up rather than just be able to build or even start anew. Talented creators are involved in this one all around, but they just aren’t able to stick the landing.

Credit: Kris Anka (Marvel Comics)

X-Men #5
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by R.B. Silva and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

X-Men #5 marks a few returns to "Dawn of X." Most noticeably, the return of artists R.B. Silva and Marte Gracia, whose rich pencils and colors give Krakoa and her citizens a lush, emotive look once again. X-Men #5 also marks the return of the Children of the Vault, reintroduced during the opening House of X / Powers of X limited series and now branded by Charles Xavier the single most important threat to mutantkind. Retreating into a secondary Vault in Ecuador that fans of Grant Morrison’s era of New X-Men might recognize, last surviving child Serafina is now reactivating the Vault and gathering her brothers and sisters for a counterattack.

Though his particular entry into the new X-Men canon might be a bit more dense than the relatively accessible opening arc before it, #5 finds Hickman in full-on world-building mode, pulling from the opening miniseries and elements of his own past work — in particular, his odd and expansive Ultimates run - and building another worthy, time-breaking adversary for the new nation of X. Neatly divided between Hickman’s highly designed “info” pages and Silva and Gracia’s gorgeously cinematic artwork, X-Men #5 delivers a more metaphysical struggle for the new nation.

Child of the Vault Serafina has led the X-Men on a merry, and violent chase, but now she’s made it “home” - namely, the hollowed-out body of a Master Mold that houses a secondary Vault, fit with all the time-shattering technology that makes the Children possible. Though Jonathan Hickman presents the base plot with a real drive, he doesn’t shy away from the metaphysical terror that now comes with their more dangerous missions. This thread of the script is where X-Men #5 really succeeds.

Laying out the reasoning and expectations behind Scott’s choice of Synch, Darwin, and Laura Kinney’s Wolverine, Hickman coldly lays out the pragmatic choices of infiltrating the Vault in a very engaging way. Basically, they are the only people that can survive long enough to make it out and allow Professor X to download their minds for resurrection. Even more horrifying, time works differently in the Vault, so if they are seperated or locked in the Vault, days would pass on the outside, but thousands of years would pass on the inside. Hickman spices up the high drama with choice character moments, mostly centered around Logan and Laura bonding as Wolverines, but still the existential dread of the Resurrection Protocols and the mission itself hangs over it all.

But even with the metaphysical dread, X-Men #5 still looks fantastic thanks to the return of R.B. Silva and Marte Gracia to the House of X. Though the breakout visual motif of the info-text pages is still around, some now even focused on the boot-up sequencing and internal information of the Vault, Gracia and Silva make all the characters and settings of Krakoa pop once again. Though some of the jungle exteriors of Ecuador and Krakoa kind of look similar in some of the establishing scenes, Silva’s character models and blocking once again shine, lending a true expressiveness to the dialogue. Gracia’s colors also flesh out the interactions well thanks to his rich lighting and eye grabbing color choices for the costuming and lush plant life throughout both settings.

This issue also has a sort of gimmick in the middle section. As Serafina reactivates the Vault, the pages are bisected between coding blocks and real-time action at the bottom of the page. Though it sort of limits the scope of the page’s point of view, it’s a nice burst of theatricality for the art team’s return and evokes the apocalyptic tone of their opening miniseries. Thankfully, the scope opens back up again toward the end of the issue, disrupting its own visual scheme as the team infiltrates the Vault, but it is nice to know that the pair are willing to try new things and new visual language in their return.

While a touch denser than the more user-friendly opening issues X-Men #5 continues the title's aims of expansion. By adding more new threats to Krakoa and continuing to delve into the real deal implications of the mutant’s new “paradise,” Jonathan Hickman continues to make good on the promise of the “new” for the main X-book. And with the return of Gracia and Silva to the line, we not only keep a relative visual consistency, but we get some more fantastic art from the pair, both of whom seem locked in to their own dynamic and how the X-Men move and fight. It used to be “welcome to the X-Men, I hope you survive the experience” - but with X-Men #5, that survival looks harder to come by than ever.

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