Best Shots Reviews: X-MEN #8, THE BATMAN'S GRAVE #6

Batman's Grave #6
Credit: Jee-Hyung Lee (DC)
Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men #8
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Mahmud Asrar and Sunny Gho
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The strength of a reboot as all-encompassing as Jonathan Hickman’s "Dawn of X" is that the number of new directions for storytelling feels nearly limitless - and it’s a testament to Hickman’s enthusiasm and brazenness as a writer that he’s bounced from concept to concept on the flagship X-Men title. Which is what makes X-Men #8 surprising, in that after cutting-edge issues like Charles Xavier’s economic summit or the Krakoan Crucible, Hickman goes back to the classic well, with an alien invasion from the Brood. While Hickman and artist Mahmud Asrar’s premise isn’t necessarily the freshest idea of the lot, their execution is still more than solid, providing some fun action beats between the X-Men’s senior leadership.

For fans of Hickman’s opening arc on New Mutants, readers might appreciate that sense of humor permeating the main X-Men title for a bit - namely, how this team of Gen-X mutant screw-ups didn’t just cause trouble with the Shi’ar Empire, but they unwittingly happened to bring a little bit of trouble back home with them, too, in the form of a Brood King Egg (in other words, a Macguffin that’ll put a target on every head in Krakoa). It’s not the most world-shaking idea in the world, and with the Krakoan resurrection protocols in place, the horror elements of the Brood feel effectively defanged - but one can’t help but wonder if this is intentional on Hickman’s part, that he’s juggling the bolder, more revolutionary new ideas with good old-fashioned meat-and-potatoes superheroics.

Because in that regard, Hickman does succeed. While we’ve seen some action sequences here and there in the main X-title (like the aforementioned Crucible), this feels like some of the most deliberate combat we’ve seen in this series since the X-Men’s doomed assault on the Mother Mold in House of X. In particular, watching Cyclops and Magik play off one another feels like the kind of power-set combinations that are catnip for fanboys, as Illyana refracts Cyclops’ optic blasts across a half-dozen floating portals. We also get some teases into some nice interpersonal dynamics, as well - it’s refreshing to see Scott Summers feeling at home with Jean Grey, Havok, or even his long-lost brother Vulcan without there being drama or angst in the mix. The Summers family finally feels like a cohesive unit, which makes sense as the first family of this brand-new mutant order.

Artist Mahmud Asrar acquits himself nicely here, as well. While his inking doesn’t feel quite as refined as, say, R.B. Silva or Pepe Larraz, his pages operate in that same stylistic wheelhouse, and he does a great job at positioning all these different characters in this Brood-infested battle royale. Like Hickman, Asrar does his best work with Cyclops, making the aftermath of those optic blasts look cool as hell - but that said, I really love the way he sells Cyclops’ dynamic with Magik, almost making her seem like a successor to the berserker Wolverine as the two battle back-to-back.

Not every comic has to reinvent the wheel - but when you’re writing a book that’s been on the map precisely for reinventing the wheel with each new installment, even a little bit of normalcy can feel surprisingly disorienting. That’s no slight on Hickman or Asrar for X-Men #8 - and given how well-realized the rest of this series’ relaunch has been, I feel like he’s going to be pulling the rug out from underneath us soon enough. As it stands, X-Men #8 still reads as a fun and fast-paced actioner, and one that will likely appeal to diehard fans of classic Claremont stories.

Credit: DC

The Batman’s Grave #6
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Bryan Hitch, Kevin Nowlan and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Richard Starkings
Published by DC
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, Kevin Nowlan, and Alex Sinclair’s drolly entertaining murder mystery continues in The Batman’s Grave #6. The midway point of this maxi-series finds Batman and Jim Gordon caught in the middle of a jailbreak in Arkham Asylum.

While Ellis’ script, especially the ongoing procedural elements, will surely shine brighter in a collected edition, The Batman’s Grave #6 is a stunning display of this creative team’s handle on action. Recalling the visceral tone of Ellis’ Moon Knight, Hitch’s larger-than-life artwork barrels Batman and Gordon through a brutally entertaining series of set pieces. The issue settles back into a theatrical murder mystery in the final pages as another complication in the case is introduced, but overall, The Batman’s Grave #6 is a solid middle installment for the series.

“I like that you think you’ll live long enough to retire,” says Batman, as he and his stalwart ally Jim Gordon face down a horde of Arkham escapees. Serving as a wryly funny statement of intent from Warren Ellis, the writer then kicks into full-on action mode, aiming the two characters toward escape and the next clue in the case. Fans of old-school Ellis will find a lot to love here as the two banter and batter bad guys in three steadily heightening set pieces.

Bryan Hitch, Kevin Nowlan, and Alex Sinclair also fully show up during these opening sequences, deftly blocking out Ellis’ script for the maximum amount of visual effectiveness. The best example of this is the second major sequence, wherein Batman and Gordon face a burly, looming escapee that is so big he gets his own font (in a nice extra detail from letterer Richard Starkings). Keeping with Batman’s “no killing” rule, Gordon attempts to subdue the hulking brute with a shot to the leg, cleanly detailed by Hitch and Sinclair with nary any sound effects in sight. Of course, it barely registers to the rampaging inmate, but allows Batman enough time to recover and deliver a brutal leg toss and kick to the head. It’s all cleanly executed by the art team for the highest visual impact, giving the action a real grace and tactility.

The back half of the issue, admittedly, is less exciting, even as Ellis delivers more darkly hilarious characterization for Batman, Alfred, and Gordon. After realizing another of Arkham’s “unique” residents have been released by the still-unseen enemies behind the main plot, Batman starts in doing background on the man, whose pathology includes frightening his victims to death and then eating their hearts. As he works, Alfred is allowed another grimly funny monologue, which directly leads into the next lead in the case. As Ellis develops the clues, he delves deeper into the Batman/Gordon dynamic and fleshes out his unsettling take on how Batman investigates murders — referring to himself as both victim and perpetrator as he works the details of the crime. Mileage may vary with the more investigative elements of this issue, which do read a bit dry after the roller-coaster of an opener, but at the very least Ellis is keeping a consistently fun tone for his cast.

It’s just a shame that Bryan Hitch and Alex Sinclair aren’t given much else to do following the battle royale in Arkham. Their artwork is still nicely staged, which is a real boon to Ellis’ clue-heavy closing scenes, but none of these pages have anything close to the pop of the opening. Instead, they foster a new mood of dread as Batman investigates the new crime scene, complete with a new victim. As Ellis speaks aloud the clues through Batman, Hitch and Sinclair work hard to make them clear in the visual landscape of the set, blocking Batman in such a way that he is usually indicating what needs to be seen and when. It’s not the most exciting of ways to be sent into the next issue, but it is functional.

So we are left with a new suspect, new victim, and new layer to the mystery as The Batman’s Grave reaches its midpoint. But even with the new elements, Warren Ellis, Byran Hitch, and Alex Sinclair have found a fun, consistent tonality and visual language for this series, one that looks steady enough to carry them through the remaining six issues. Though we still don’t know who is actually digging The Batman’s Grave just yet, #6 confidently shows we will have visceral fun continuing to try and find out.

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