Best Shots Extra: AVENGERS VS. X-MEN, MIND THE GAP, More


Avengers vs. X-Men #3

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by John Romita, Jr., Scott Hanna and Laura Martin

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

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It's been built up as the clash of the year, but I'm starting to think there are no real winners in Avengers vs. X-Men — well, except for the finances of the people making it, of course. This book is going to sell like gangbusters, just by virtue of the characters, concept and creators involved, but there's something just a little bit forced here that keeps this book from being the durable classic it could be.

While the overall Avengers vs. X-Men storyline has been mapped out by Marvel's five "Architects" — Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker and Jonathan Hickman — the actual structuring of this chapter falls in Ed Brubaker's hands. He's a lot more sober than Jason Aaron was last issue, but then again, he also cruelly doesn't have the fun beats to play with: the big Avengers/X-Men brawl has been settled off-camera, leaving the rest of this story as a chase sequence. Of course, if you've seen the cover, you know that Wolverine has long been in the middle of the two warring factions, and that does come to a head with Captain America.

The problem with all this: these characters just come off as dumb. Whether its the X-Men pulling a magic switcheroo to escape the Avengers (although, awkward moment, they've kind of left all their kids behind) or Captain America suddenly deciding he's going to punch Wolverine, it feels like Brubaker keeps putting the cart before the horse. These characters have to move from Point A to Point B, because there's an outline that has to be adhered to... but it's far from organic, and it makes every character come off as a bit of a jerk. When the Avengers are invaders, the X-Men are zealots and Wolverine thinks that anyone who doesn't want to kill a teenage girl isn't going far enough... well, who do you have left to root for?

I guess the answer to that question is John Romita, Jr. War might be ugly, but Romita makes it look oh-so-sweet. With inker Scott Hanna giving his lines a smoothness that few can match, Romita's characters look expressive yet iconic, making the talkier sequences look more dynamic than they probably deserve to be. And when we do get to our inevitable fight scene, well, Romita sells it well enough (especially when you consider that he has to apply different Cap/Wolvie choreography than he did during Wolverine: Enemy of the State), as the sliced-up Cap actually comes off as pretty funny against Brubaker's business-as-usual characterization.

That said, good looks can only carry you so far, and Avengers vs. X-Men still hasn't hit that sweet spot in terms of story logic or nuanced characterization. Everyone's got to be at an extreme, and unfortunately, with the all-too-human characters of Marvel, that means nobody looks good. Ultimately, that won't matter much, as the appeal of most of the Marvel Universe in one place is too good for most readers to pass up, but I can't help but wonder what kind of a knockout we're missing here.


Mind the Gap #1

Written by Jim McCann

Art by Rodin Esquejo

Lettering by Dave Lanphear

Published by Image Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

If someone had told me that a mystery comic was better than most TV shows right now, I probably wouldn’t be very surprised. If someone told me that a mystery comic was better than most comics out right now, I would probably scoff at them and start making a list. But Mind the Gap #1 defies all expectations and delivers a high concept supernatural thriller brimming with layers and details.

Elle’s incident makes her the main player in this game. Someone attacked her. We don’t know how and we don’t know why but we do know that she’s in a coma. And Jim McCann tells us that we meet the attacker in these inaugural 46 pages, adding the first layer of suspicion to the mystery and forcing us the analyze the motivations of every character we’ve met. McCann’s background, which includes writing for soap operas, comes through in his character work. Every character has a unique and defined voice that inhabits not only their dialogue but their interactions with their surroundings and each other. McCann makes everyone a suspect and there are clear clues to their motivations from their actions and Elle’s exposition.

McCann is definitely one of the luckiest writers in comics, based just on the quality artistic talent he works with. Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback are no exception and they translate McCann’s vision with aplomb. Esquejo’s beautiful character renderings are enhanced by Oback’s use of color and light. The glow of fluorescents in a hospital versus the rain soaked world outside bring a level of added realism to this book. There are some awkward panels here are there. They aren’t poorly rendered or layed out. They just require an adjustment of perspective to fully understand. On the whole, the layouts don’t take too many chances but when they do the effect is tenfold. Elle’s out of body experiences allow the artists to crank up the supernatural elements of the book to great effect.

The decision to include two pages worth of backmatter to supplement the story make it clear that this team has made a dedicated effort to make the reader more aware of even the tiniest details. It reminds me of some of the clues placed through the first set of 27. They want you to ask questions. They want you to find clues. They want you to figure this out before they inevitably have to reveal it. That’s half the fun here.

Mind the Gap #1 is an excellent debut of what’s sure to be an incredible series. McCann is a master of pacing and left-hand page reveals that are sure to keep readers guessing. The art team of Esquejo and Oback is perfectly in sync with eac other and the vision that’s been laid out for this book. The mystery at hand is compelling in ways that Lost was and Morning Glories is. This is a "whodunit" done right.


The Avengers

Directed by Joss Whedon

Written by Joss Whedon

Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston

Review by Colin Bell

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The Avengers — or perhaps Marvel Avengers Assemble, depending on the territory you live in — is a certified behemoth of a movie. Obliterating the overseas box-office in the week since its release, it has quite likely generated more revenue than the Gross Domestic Product of most of the countries it has played in, and will probably be the first movie in history to have gained sentience by the time it opens in the U.S. this Friday. It’s that big. I for one welcome our new cinematic overlord.

This success basically renders the film critic-proof. By which I mean, chances are, if you’ve ever had a passing interest in comics (and I suspect some of you reading this do) you’re going to see the filmic debut of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes regardless of the next few hundred words or so.  So instead of trying to convince you to see the film, allow me to do you a favor and at the very least relieve you of the crushing weight of four years worth of expectation on your shoulders. You can let that go now, you needn’t worry. Simply put, The Avengers is a great film, and you’re going to love it.

The plot, while as basic as they come — our heroes must come together as a team to stop Loki using (MacGuffin) to allow him to (nefarious plan) — seems to have been kept simple solely to allow room for a checklist of escalating skirmishes. Above all it appears designed to give the fans what they want, which is namely their favorite heroes fighting world-ending threats alongside (and occasionally against) each other in a bid to settle “who’s strongest?”-type debates once and for all.

Pulling together the threads from established Marvel Studios movie franchises and weaving them into a wholly new and cohesive experience was always going to be an incredible challenge but writer/director Joss Whedon pulls it off with considerable aplomb. The fact that the film could quite feasibly be viewed as the next installment in any one of the Iron Man, Thor and Captain America cinematic sagas without missing a beat is a testament to his screenplay. The script stays faithful to everything that’s come before, but infuses the proceedings with the dialogue, wit and heart that Whedon is known for, creating some memorable and laugh-out-loud moments.

The main cast continue their solid work having established themselves in their previous outings. This is with the exception of Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, who if anything is even better in this film, mainly due to having better material to work with and more to do in general. Mark Ruffalo brings an equal parts soulful and nervy Bruce Banner to the mix in what is the Hulk’s finest appearance in any movie to date, with numerous moments where the jade giant threatens to walk away with the whole film.

All this isn’t to say that the film is without its flaws. While everyone gets their own aw-yeah-comics demonstration of their power set, not everyone can lay claim to having a serviceable character arc. Hawkeye goes into the film as the team-member with the least screentime to date, and though Jeremy Renner plays the skilled marksman to a tee he isn’t given much to do and ends the film still being the least developed.

An even rawer deal is handed to Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill who, barring a bit of spy-action in the opening sequence, is utilised as a sounding board for Nick Fury’s orders and exposition. While riveting for the most part, the film lags during a second act of team-growing-pains bickering that has the whole film teetering on the brink of becoming Avengers A-grumble; but then EXPLOSIONS, and they start punching each other again, and all is right with the world.

Ultimately any complaint you can level at the film is steam-rolled by a thunderous juggernaut of a final act, where The Avengers find themselves in a forty-minute midtown Manhattan throwdown with Loki’s army, and the Marvel Universe comes to life in front of you in a way that no Nick Fury cameo or movie before achieved.

It’s a stunning set-piece, where Iron Man blasting his repulsors off of Cap’s shield is presented not as a “finishing move”, or showcased as a big moment, but just two seconds of screen time to show a move that seems second nature to the characters. It’s just one of many small instances showing how these characters work together in battle that lends the whole final act a verisimilitude unlike any other comic adaptation to date. These moments stack up and are capped with a simply stunning shot that swoops across the battlefield from hero to hero in one continuous take, allowing Whedon and company to bypass any critical faculties you possess and poke and stomp on the parts of your brain that elicit uncomplicated wonder and joy.

It’s not a perfect movie by any means (hence the mere 9 out of 10 scoring) but it is the perfect comic book movie, and the closest thing I’ve ever seen to recreating the simple joy of Comics Done Right up on the big screen. By wholly embracing its roots, respecting and building upon what’s come before it, The Avengers is set to become a perennial favorite and the benchmark of quality for all comic book movies to follow.

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