X-Men Legacy #266

Written by Christos Gage

Art by Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona and Rachelle Rosenberg

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

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While loyalties were divided at the beginning of Avengers vs. X-Men, it's been surprisingly refreshing to see each team realign across their genetic party lines, with the Children of the Atom standing largely united against Earth's Mightiest Heroes. But while this shift has been a bit abrupt in some of Marvel's other books, Christos Gage and Rafa Sandoval do a great job at showing the pent-up hostilities brewing underneath in X-Men Legacy.

From the very first page — showing Rogue standing triumphantly over a bloodied and beaten Thor — it's clear that not only are the stakes high, but that Gage's protagonists have a power that even we might not recognize... that maybe Earth's Mightiest Heroes have only been called that because the mutants have been holding back. With a powerhouse opener, Gage then dials things back, allowing themes to quietly seep through. Throughout her history, and throughout X-Men: Legacy in particular, Rogue's story has been one about control, and having loose cannons like Frenzy, Moon Knight and She-Hulk in close quarters with her makes for a nice counterpoint. Rogue has always been a character of untapped potential, and it's engaging to see what finally gets her off the bench and into the fight.

Sandoval, meanwhile, is proof that first impressions will get you everywhere. His opening sequence with Rogue versus the Avengers is one of the hardest-hitting action beats I've seen in a long time, and that's even considering it's only three panels. When Sandoval is on, he reminds me a lot of Steve McNiven, in terms of his musculature and the sheer forcefulness of his compositions, down to debris and shrapnel flying everywhere. Yet Sandoval isn't perfect, because his faces are not particularly stylish, reminding me a bit of Stuart Immonen but without his trademark expressiveness. Because there are a decent amount of talky scenes, Randoval's faces do make parts of the comic drag.

The other thing that hampers the comic a little bit is the home team advantage feels a little bit forced. Part of the driving force of these hero-on-hero conflicts is that everybody acts a little hotheaded, but the bias is pushed just a little too hard against the Avengers here. I get that this is an X-Men book, so they have to be on top here, but Moon Knight calling mutants "you people" or She-Hulk putting the slapdown on a student while calling him a "monster" is somewhat over-the-top. Still, Gage gets points for assembling the right Avengers to form this powder keg, even if objectively this comic might be the Battle of the B-listers.

With a nicely paced progression of pacifism to out-and-out combat, X-Men Legacy is definitely the best chapter of Avengers vs. X-Men to come out this week. Even though this book lacks the main players that most people want to see, Gage and Sandoval are really pushing their characters and testing their limits. While I'm not 100% sold on how this fight got started, the creative team on this book makes me want to see who finishes it.


Green Lantern #9

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin, Tom Nguyen and Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The Indigo Tribe was one of the most overlooked elements to Geoff Johns' sprawling Blackest Night saga, but that's all about to change in the latest issue of Green Lantern. While the sheer spectacle is diminished simply due to what has come before, Johns and Doug Mahnke deliver a taut primer for this mysterious faction that will definitely spark reader interest.

Continuing with the not-so-buddy comedy of Hal Jordan teaming up with his former nemesis Sinestro, Johns opens the book with a fast-paced introduction to the villain's past. Johns has long had a bro-crush on the mustachioed ringslinger, but by seeing the horrors and losses of interstellar war, you actually feel for Sinestro, as surprising as that is to believe. That human hook gives Green Lantern its juice long enough to dive right back into the deep end of the continuity waters, with Hal Jordan giving a nice bit of sass before we're treated to the prerequisite amount of exposition.

Of course, this wouldn't work nearly as well without Doug Mahnke on board. Mahnke definitely brings his A-game this week, with some nice variation to his panels that really feels cinematic. You see the fear in Sinestro's eyes when a child self-destructed in front of him, and the transformation of a mysterious hero into a cold-blooded killer (and vice versa) is particularly unnerving with some of the facial details. Something else that's a nice change of pace in this issue is the use of the Lantern constructs, which not only gives some opportunities for unique visuals like race cars and grappling hooks, but also gives colorist Alex Sinclair an opportunity to really bring some powerful energy to the page. His hot greens really pop well off the indigo backgrounds.

That said, this book is an improvement, but it's still not perfect. The thing that got me in particular is that Abin Sur seems to have gotten everywhere before his somewhat ignominious passing on Earth. I understand that Johns wants to waste not, want not, but after awhile, the continuity knots become almost incestuous, straining the levels of even our suspended disbelief. The other issue is one of balance — Hal may be doing all the work here, but this still feels like Sinestro's book. If Sinestro didn't feel so flatly evil, that might be a good thing, but it feels like Johns is wasting a lot of pages trying to get us to root for a sneering villain while he neglects the fun daredevil in our midst.

While the character balance still isn't quite there, Green Lantern is still improving by leaps and bounds every month, and might be my favorite DC book of the week. (Yep, even including Batman.) At the end of the day, Johns proves that he knows how to structure a universe with its own history and its own rules, and it's that sureness of mythology that makes Green Lantern #9 a treat to read.


Morning Glories #18

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by Joe Eisma and Alex Sollazzo

Lettering by Johnny Lowe

Published by Image Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

I have to admit, I've been out of the loop when it comes to this book and much like if you missed a few episodes of Lost, you can find yourself lost pretty easily. So after a quick marathon, I am up to speed on things. The issue concentrates on the backstory of Jun/Hisao and a revelation near the end that about the character that I probably should have seen coming. A small note, events from all the way back to issue #9 come back in this issue, so big kudos to Nick Spencer with his layered storytelling.

Spencer uses both the past and the present to get the story across as he has in most issues, all the while giving Hisao plenty of character development and sets the next stage in the story. The past few issues have felt a little out of joint, but here, the pieces start coming together, especially at the sight of the last page. It's always good to see Spencer expand this world and here he does so with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge. Spoilers here, but Hisao's revelation of his sexuality is something handled with care and compassion. It's something that was obvious to him since his childhood and his feelings for Guillaume never stopped, especially after they had kissed before. Joe Eisma's two-page, eight-panels that show their intimate moment is endearing and show that they really do love, or at least care very much about one another. There's no words needed as the two embrace each other.

Speaking of Eisma, his art has really grown on me as of late. The first few issues seemed a little stiff and he didn't quite capture proper motion. How far he's come. This issue really displays his talent and how well he handles small fight scenes to really having a grasp on facial expressions that nearly rival Kevin Maguire in some aspects. His thin line work leaves plenty of room for colorist Alex Sollazzo to play around with. Everything just meshes well and one creator here complements the other one. Morning Glories, like any good mystery, can be confusing for people who want to jump in after hearing the buzz or it being recommended. If any book needs a recap page for new readers, it is definitely this one.

From Spencer's consistent world-building and adding more mystique to the story, to Eisma's quiet depiction of a love-making scene, the emotion is running strong and Morning Glories fans are sure to be pleased, but newer readers may want to stay away from this issue for now.


Higher Earth #1

Written by Sam Humphries #1

Art by Francesco Biagini and Andrew Crossley

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Hopping from one alternate dimension to another is a classic trope of science fiction, so the basic premise behind Higher Earth isn't all that groundbreaking. Still, there is a reason the premise became a classic, when you do it right, it can make for some compelling reading. Writer Sam Humphries' original comic may not be there yet, but it sure as heck is pointed in the right direction. The space we know is dead, but with infinite dimensions comes infinite space, infinite Earths, and infinite possibilities. One rogue solider, on the run from unknown forces, needs a young woman named Heidi to make this and other potential opportunities a reality. And that's all Humphries gives us once the action kicks in on what can only be called “Trash Earth”. It's a little jarring, but I can appreciate the fact that Humphries trusts the readers enough to not go into detailed explanation about the setting or what gave these people the ability to jump realities. I'm sure in time all will be revealed, but for now Humphries is letting to characters and setting tell the story.

It works, to a point. Our introduction to the reality-jumping rogue solider is rather bland, but the story moves at such a pace, we're never really given time to question his story or reason. However, the first time we meet young Heidi is both exciting and incredibly frustrating. The image of a twisted bear, covered in rather horrific cybernetic parts as it tears into some rejects from Thunderdome, is all kinds of fantastic and visceral. And had Humphries allowed artist Francesco Biagini to really sell the image, including a young Heidi rising from the control station within the bear, it would have gone a long way to set the tone and determination of the character. As it stands, the reveal less is than impressive, made all the more frustrating because you can see in your mind how it could have played out. Which seems to be the theme throughout the book. Humphries works so hard at keeping the reader smack in the middle of the action, he misses some subtler character moments that could help us become vested in the well-being of Heidi and her mysterious trespasser/savior.

Biagini's art is a strong component to this issue. His actions scenes, while not that fluid, do have a real sense of chaos to them. You get the feeling that life is cheap and short in this world and if you aren't quick on the draw, you're a goner. He plays around with panel layout a bit, and while it doesn't really strengthen the storytelling, the potential is definitely there. His characters are strong and have a strong presence within the book, almost too strong. Each character feels like it's competing with the other when they share panels. I think Biagini's art and the book as a whole would benefit from pulling the camera back a bit. Let the panels play our as wider shots, rather that a series of intense close-ups. Thankfully, for all the over the top action in the book, Biagini has a firm grasp of facial expresses. His Heidi is a believable mix of raw strength and fading innocence as she comes to terms with her situation and her new companion. Andrew Crossley on colors does a great job of setting a temperature for each setting. There is a sickly, almost bruise colored purple in the Trash Earth that morphs into the uncomfortably sterile tones of Earth-9. It's a subtle little trick that plays very well with Biagini's pencils.

Higher Earth is a mixed bag to be sure, but it's a bag I want to keep rummaging around. The characters still don't feel fully flushed out, even for a first issue. However, Humphries fills the story with enough action and questions that I want to know what happens next. Like I said, Higher Earth isn't yet a return to classic hard science fiction. But it could be, and I want to be there if it happens.


By This Shall You Know Him

Written and illustrated by Jesse Jacobs

Published by Koyama Press

Review by Zack Kotzer

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Jesse Jacob’s past profile is littered with enlightened colored use and aggressive geometry, but his bountiful first release from Koyama Press is truly a gift from the gods. Rich and tragic, with art that nuzzles with the biblical-surrealism, By This Shall You Know Him makes for an astounding work that’s a must for anyone looking for something cosmic.

By This Shall You Know Him is about the rivalry between two creation gods, Ablavar and Zantek. The latter is a favorite of the teacher, his signature being silicon-based particles that bring the school of gods much joy. Soon the teacher sees a new star pupil in Ablavar, who develops a series of soft, organic beasts on a growing landmass. Zantek cannot stand Ablavar’s impressive creatures, and decides to sabotage the work-in-progress by secretly adding his own destructive carbon-based life form: humans.

Jacobs presents the act of deityhood as an actual creative process. Discussion amongst the gods more closely resembles art class chatter than Exodus, as they complement and criticize each other's use of textures and their emotional effects. There is some lacking establishments, why Ablavar became fixated on the living animals, but those gaps are quickly filled by how the creations come to define their creators, and how Zantek’s humans create a sinister mirror for his own smug apathy towards others.

Jacobs own work of visual creation is a marvel within itself. The entire book is wisely steeped in a soft purple, letting each object bleed into this larger cosmos. The textures are so lush can feel yourself sinking into them, and the patterns along each of the gods are subtle, subliminal, and sublime. Ablavar with zen waves along his skin, Zantek’s rigid, hard edges and their instructors wise brows and patterns. The grotesquely disproportionate creatures along the planet, humans especially, instill a sense of pathetic sympathy; humans are nothing but a dim wrench thrown into the system, powerless to do anything but overhaul the earth.

By This Shall You Know Him offers some appeal to Kirby and Jodorowsky fans alike. It’s a space trip that’s as delightful as it is wryly crushing, and a window in to the balance of destruction and creation within the inception of new art. A clash of titanic thesis projects.


Lincoln Washington: Free Man #1

Written and illustrated by Benjamin Marra

Published by Traditional Comics

Review by Zack Kotzer

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

For those unfamiliar with the works of Benjamin Marra, Traditional Comics, which is his own label, is a library of exclusively shocking entries. Night Business, Gangsta Rap Posse and other violent and spicy titles have given Marra’s low-style high-praise, due to his attitude and the entertainment you can’t help but draw out from it. The “Tradition” of Traditional Comics is more akin to EC and McFarlane than Archie and Richie Rich. Lincoln Washington is Marra’s first published, let’s say, period piece, about the post-Civil War titacular freed slave trying to settle in despite the stink-eyes of local bigots.

Washington is new in the town of Butchergrass. He wears the broken chains around his wrists to remind himself of his tormented past life as an American slave, and to remind the reader that he’s a hulking badass. Much to the surprise of Butchergrass’ locals, Washington isn’t just passing through their hostile streets; Washington now owns the deed to a good plot of land. The locals aren’t very happy about a man of color finding wealth in their community, and they're willing to don white hoods and burning crosses to provoke him away. Unfortunately for the community of local racists, Washington is not a man who’s driven away before ripping off a few arms.

Free Man isn’t a great starting point for readers interested in diving into Marra’s exploitative world. It’s racy, vulgar and wincing, but it isn’t as ridiculous as Gangsta Rap Posse or as illicit as Night Business. Instead, Free Man adds on to the atmosphere of the Traditional Comic line, even so far as the intricacies of its style. While Marra’s art is unilaterally crass, but there are noticeable differences which identify the current source materials he’s bouncing off of. Night Business is heavily inked, like pages floating away from Eastman and Laird’s slush pile. Gangsta Rap Posse is rougher, practically penciled in, like something drawn on study notes while listening to Fear of a Black Planet on a Walkman. Free Man, more rigid and stiff, is definitively of the pulp period, rallying an era of comics which were, not baiting here, more black and white.

The consistencies that do exist throughout is Marra’s desire to unsettle you in some sense, give readers comics they feel like they should not morally be reading. The narrative is waxy, like you’re trapped in a cage being read lullabies by Frank Miller. Another constant is that I wish I could have a poster-sized version of the back page pinup, which shows Washington knocking the blocks off three klansmen in a single swipe.


Horrible #1

Comics by Zach Worton, Michael DeForge, Chris Kuzma and Patrick Kyle


Review by Zack Kotzer

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Wrapped inside the crimson cover, which confronts passerby readers with a plump ghost/genie and a sinister looking Mister Magoo, is a short ensemble of comics that specifically reflect the title rather than the suspicions raised by the cover image. Patrick Kyle (Black Mass), Michael DeForge (LOSE), Zach Worton and Chris Kuzma (Complex) are good and active in the alternative comics ring, and to say that most of them don’t dabble in the surreal, grotesque and off-putting would be a heavy fib. But Horrible is them, presenting to you, an opportunity to churn it all on the table. Horrible is a quartet of horrible stories, a variety of illustrated obscenities. And it’s a blast.

When you catch your breath by the end, you’ll notice that none of the artists depend on the same kind of horridness. Gore, gross, fecal and indecency all rear their heads, but they are different flavors that make you want to vomit in different ways. Patrick Kyle kicks the festivities off with a crude haunted house adventure. “Do you need a place to spend the night?” asks a floating, stiff face. That mug guides you through a sort of a coloring book dark ride, where each new room involves mutilation, fascism, defecation or all simultaneously. A spookhouse experience sitting somewhere in between 13 Ghosts and Salò. Immediately after, Michael DeForge offers a completely different discomfort. Wrinkled sacks of human exploration, mangling sexual gestures evocative of body dysmorphia.

My favorite of the ensemble are the final two tales. Chris Kuzma’s consecutive nightmare chain, where a humble man is attacked repeatedly by his ghostly companion. Worton closes with the story of a puppy-bloodthirsty teen wolf. A circa-Riverdale gang drawn ruffian, transforming mid-midnight stroll to devour the nearest, most adorable thing he can sink his gnarly fangs into.

A good gross-out can’t dip its toe in the water, it has to dive into the murky abyss and apologize for absolutely nothing. No prelude, no justification, Horrible is staring the worst in the eye and laughing/barfing at it.

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