Best Shots Advance Reviews: X-MEN: SCHISM, CHEW, More

Marvel X-Office Talks SCHISM and Beyond

Greetings from the future, 'Rama Readers! While we can't tell you how to keep SkyNet at bay, we do bring tidings from tomorrow with a heaping handful of advance reviews! So what say we cut to the chase and take a look at the conclusion of the latest Marvel event, in the final issue of X-Men: Schism...


X-Men: Schism #5

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Adam Kubert, Mark Roslan and Jason Keith

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

X-Men: Schism is less a story that stands on its own feet, and more of a necessary detour to get the Children of the Atom towards their next status quo. An event without organic setup, it's perhaps no surprise to see this conclusion feel more forced than fun. Even with a strong concept and some killer art by Adam Kubert, I can't help but feel we got handed a lemon of a story by Jason Aaron.

I think maybe it's because I never really believed anything this story propagated in the first place. Not that I believe in spandex-clad mutants or anything, but everything in this story just didn't strike me with any sort of veracity — not the pint-sized Hellfire Club posing a threat, not the seriously-guys-it's-really-big Sentinel looming over Utopia, not the paramilitary-trained X-Men getting knocked out like clowns so the younger mutants would have to step up (and of course, save the day). But perhaps worst of all, I didn't believe in the central conflict of this book: namely, the clash of ideals between Cyclops and Wolverine. Even thought that has been literally years of stories to mine for this conflict, Aaron made the crux of the argument about a superteam that, objectively, has barely made a blip on readers' collective radars, and made that tipping point so abrupt that it never really made any sort of sense.

Well, five issues into it, it's not making any more sense. I get that when you have Adam Kubert drawing your pages, you're going to let him go as crazy with the action sequences as you can, but eleven pages of silence, grunting or splash pages out of 23? Really? If there was a deeper theme or even some stronger internal story logic here, I could forgive all this, but Aaron never really justifies or proves the whole point of the story, so it feels like he's playing for space. The emotional moments feel ham-fisted and awkward: when you end up seeing Cyclops literally rip off his visor as he charges nearly arm-in-arm with Wolverine towards the Sentinel, you just want to facepalm yourself into oblivion. Add this to some truly petty moments from both protagonists, and you don't feel any sort of sympathy or resonance. You just want this catfight to be over already.

In terms of the art, Kubert starts strong, but definitely shows some signs of fatigue along with his digital inker Mark Roslan. There's a lot of intensity in the beginning, particularly as you see Wolverine's adamantium-laced skull exposed, looming over Cyclops like an ominous Death's head. While I actually found myself digging the fragmented pacing of the fight, I think Kubert and Roslan really succeeded with the quieter moments, as you see Wolverine make a fateful decision that will change the X-Men's destiny. But the fight sequences definitely show some wear and tear on the artists, as the main sequence of the mutants charging at their enemies are draped in shadow, killing what's supposed to be the big climactic action beat of the entire series.

When I first heard about X-Men: Schism, there were few books that excited me more. Jason Aaron, a who's who of artists, all teaming up to work on an organic, character-driven story that had already proven itself to be a ridiculous success with Civil War? Marvel should have been printing money with this book. But there are some simple, basic storytelling mechanics that have been left out of this book, particularly theme and setup, which have robbed this concept of its power. Why do these particular X-Men go with Wolverine? Why do these X-Men stay on Utopia? Eh, shrug, no explanation. Maybe the relaunched X-Men will make this missed opportunity worth it. But while this last issue may look decent enough, the only conflict I'm finding with Schism is why I stuck around this long.


Chew  #21

Written by John Layman

Art by Rob Guillory

Published by Image Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating 9 out of 10

Every month I have a stack of comics. In that stack is the usual collection of capes and cowls, with a little sprinkling of horror, and some drama. But then, once every four weeks, I've got a nice little treat waiting for me from Image Comics. I've got some Chew. The monthly adventures of everyone's favorite (and probably only) Cibopathic is such a treat. It's one of those titles I use whenever someone tells me superheroes are the only real genre that work with comics. Packed with characters that seem one dimensional, only to reveal their deeper nuances and hang-ups, Chew is the CSI by way of Hell's Kitchen I know you've been wanting. No, really, you want this title. If you've been missing out on this gem, issue 21 is your perfect jumping on point.

Tony Chu, a gifted detective. He eats something, he knows everything about their life and death. And by something, I mean anything. And by everything, I mean everything. Alas, his boss at hates his guts and he's just been busted down to traffic enforcement. That's it. A simple set-up and the new arc is off and running. Okay, maybe things aren't that simple. His illegal chicken eating cyborg partner John Colby has also been canned. His newly discovered daughter Olive is again missing. And, he has to wear a hat that makes him the biggest target on the Lazer Tag court. This is Chew and that's about as simple and normal as things get for poor Tony. However, even with all those past and current elements dropped into the story, this issue is perfectly accessible by long time readers and newcomers.

Chew really is a team book. It's very hard to separate the writing from the art. Neither would work without the other. Writer Jon Layman writes in a style that is both subtle and gut-busting funny. It's a simple, and in light of the current rumors an easy comparison, but Layman's writing reminds me of Arrested Development. His Tony Chu, while not at all perfect, is the only real center of normalcy in a sea on crazy. Everyone in Chew reads like someone you know, but their individual quirks and ticks are taken up to 11. But it is when his writing works in tandem with Rob Guillory's expressive art that the book flies.

Guillory is hard to peg as an artist. There really isn't anyone out there one can compare his art, and I think that is what makes him stand out. Visually, Chew is a truly unique and original book. As in the writing, everyone in Chew connects with a sense of familiarity, but is just a bit off. As if Guillory wants to remind the reader that these aren't regular folks. Not in a sense that this is a comic and none of it is real. No, that even within this world, the people in Tony Chu's life are just ain't right. This small sheen of oddity adds a whimsical tone that, even in the darkest moments of the comic, you can't shake your grin. For a book that deals with death, murder, and cannibalism, that's a pretty great gift. There has been talk about Chew becoming a television series, and while I'd love to see Layman and Guillory get that TV money, it'd be a crime to use live actors. Guillory's art looks like someone took perfectly preserved cells from an animated film and put them to paper. The readers can mentally see what happened just seconds before. Even when standing still, the world around the characters has a life and sense of movement. The book is simply brilliant to watch. There isn't much more I can say about this issue without spoiling the current or previous stories. So, how about this final thought:

Chew has won multiple Eisners.

Pick up issue #21 and find out why it's going to win more.


Casanova: Avarita #2

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Gabriel Bá and Cris Peter

Lettering by Dustin Harbin

Published by Marvel/ICON

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Casanova Quinn is falling apart. The only question now is: Is Matt Fraction's story following suit?

Moving at a manic pace, it's hard to tell if this sophomore issue is crazy like a fox or so impressionistic in structure that it's lost all cohesiveness. After reading the second issue of Casanova: Avarita, I'm sadly going for the latter — while there are some winks to the crowd that have praised this book over anything else Fraction has done, it seems that there's more spectacle than substance, more self-indulgence than swagger.

In other words: You can't always have your cake and eat it, too. And maybe that's something that applies to consumer, creator and critic alike.

For those of you just tuning in, Casanova Quinn has been in a funk. Jumping from dimension to dimension, he's been wiping out entire species of humanity just to take out one man: Newman Xeno, his bandaged archnemesis. Whereas the last issue really used the fragmented nature of the multiverse to play up the hopelessness, guilt and disorientation that was eating away at the normally ultracool Casanova, here Fraction is moving too fast to follow, not really moving ahead or innovating but throwing out snippets of ideas that never really go anywhere. For a lot of other writers, that might be enough — but for a series that's been as good as Casanova, I think it's not too much to expect more follow-through on Fraction's part.

I think the other problem I had with this book is that it took much longer than usual for Gabriel Bá to really go for the knockout here. There are a lot of smaller panels being used here, and the details like an establishing shot of the Exosphere end up getting lost. Other moments, like Sasa standing nude above a prone Casanova, end up feeling more juvenile than revolutionary, and the panels of dead Newman Xenos don't quite feel as fresh as similar tricks did last issue. Closer to the end of the book, however, Bá really does ignite, with both some great action and even greater acting as Quinn takes an unexpected detour when faced with his worst enemy.

What's interesting about this book, however, is that it feels unclear how much of this is calculated looseness, or if Fraction has lost control of the train and is just throwing down spectacle to try to keep us distracted from the greater (lack of) plot. There are a ton of one-liners and sequences that, if viewed from that bias, could easily be construed as the portrait of an artist struggling with ennui. "I'm just in it for the laffs!" someone shouts, waving a handgun. Considering the kinds of expectations everyone has thrown at him for his corporate-owned comics, I just hope that's not supposed to be Fraction himself.

Usually when I review a comic, I get a strong feeling that doesn't usually change in retrospect. But in that regard, I am willing to give Casanova: Avarita #2 the benefit of the doubt. This could be just a frantic, frenetic second chapter of a book that's already made it clear it's as unreliable as its narrator. This could all be calculated, it could all make sense in the long run. Love it or hate it, this book does give you a lot to talk about. But while this puzzle piece could eventually fit in perfectly into a larger whole, I can't help but feel a little disappointed, a little empty with Casanova: Avarita #2. It may be stuffed with ideas and topped with more than a few winks at the audience, but the story beneath is threatening to come apart at the seams.


The Strange Talent of Luther Strode #1

Written by Justin Jordan

Art by Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobreiro

Lettering by Steven Finch

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

You've probably seen this story before — but rarely has it looked this good.

I'm talking about the rags-to-riches, mumbles-to-muscles success story that (perhaps not surprisingly) has resonated with comic book readers, repeating itself every few years with characters ranging from Peter Parker to Charles Atlas to Dave Lizewski from Kick-Ass. Going from zero to antihero through the help of an Atlas-esque workout regimen, nebbishy high schooler Luther Strode is the latest example of a comic book power fantasy, but given the striking visuals of The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, I'm happy to go down this road again.

But first things first. Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobriero: learn their names, because if they play their cards right, they're going to blow up huge. Imagine a cleaner Rafael Grampa, a more commercial yet similarly effortless style that's cut with a hint of the smooth lines of a Joe Quinones as well as some of the harder scratches of a Phil Noto. Luther has a bounce to his spindly look that contrasts nicely with the ultraviolence that ensues when he becomes an otherworldly muscleman. I often talk about the energy of a book's artwork, but with Sobriero's moody, thick colors, Moore actually shows the potential energy of everyone — it's not so much that everyone's moving all the time, but you can see the energy coiled up in every muscle and every figure, and when they do finally pounce, it's quite the knockout. Just on the second and third pages alone you see a group of thugs literally explode upon impact, and that's when you know, this book isn't taking any prisoners.

In terms of the tone of this book, you wouldn't be wrong to compare The Strange Talents of Luther Strode to the aforementioned Kick-Ass, in which a sweet high school kid is pushed into a dark world of over-the-top violence. Whereas Mark Millar was getting a sick laugh out of demeaning his hero, you do get the sense that writer Justin Jordan at least respects Luther a little bit. Granted, much of his characterization is implied — you don't get the abject humiliation that Dave received, but basically, the only signals we get are Luther's spindly body, some requisite pining over a girl and some foreshadowing at a pretty rough home life. It's nothing new in the telling, but Jordan has tied himself to such strong artists that showing Luther's new powers is enough to keep us hooked.

There have been a lot of new #1s popping up in the stands lately, but The Strange Talents of Luther Strode is definitely one of the most evocative as far as visuals go. Luther follows in the footsteps of some tried-and-true comics characters that have struck a chord with many readers — yet there's definitely a sinister streak to this first issue that shows some potential. But ultimately, this first issue is something we've seen before, but presented with some incredible skill and panache.

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