Best Shots Reviews: BATMAN UNIVERSE #6, X-MEN #3, BATMAN #84

X-Men #3
Credit: Mike McKone (Marvel Comics)

Credit: DC

Batman Universe #6
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Nick Derington and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by DC
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

After taking the Dark Knight on an adventure that’s criss-crossed the entire DC Universe, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Nick Derington stick the landing in a big way with Batman Universe #6. With Batman and Vandal Savage vying for control over a malfunctioning White Lantern ring, Bendis closes out this story with a wide sense of scale, as Derington’s clean linework and sweeping action sequences continues to prove why he’s the single greatest cartoonist in the DC bullpen.

Just from the title alone, Batman Universe has been about taking Bruce Wayne out of his usual Gotham City haunts and reestablishing him as a key figure across the wider DC lineup. But having him tackle a centuries-long heist involving Vandal Savage and a White Lantern ring immediately raises the stakes, as Batman finds himself trapped in a Oan simulation with no hopes of escape other than his wits. The thing is, though, that this scenario would ordinarily crash and burn with most artists – but Nick Derington isn’t most artists. Instead, he’s able to make every panel look dynamic and fun, even when it’s Batman just walking through psychedelic rainbow space. His expressiveness sells Bendis’ dialogue-driven first act, reminding us that Batman isn’t just the most talented person in the room, but also the smartest.

But as the story starts to build up steam, Bendis and Derington each seem to be trying to one-up each other in terms of finding smart twists on the traditional superhero beat-’em-up. For example, Bendis condenses what could have been an entire It’s A Wonderful Life-style arc in just a handful of pages, after Bruce claws his way back to Vandal Savage and the White Lantern ring after having all of his memories as Batman erased; meanwhile, a sequence of Batman and Vandal bouncing around through the history of the DC Universe becomes a tour-de-force double-page splash thanks to Derington’s virtuosic work.

The other thing that shows how well these creators work together is that while Bendis still peppers this story with rapid-fire dialogue, it never feels cramped – Derington, along with letterer Troy Peteri, makes this issue feel clean and expansive, which makes triumphant splash pages like Batman reclaiming his entire history feel instantly iconic. Derington is able to include so many different Easter eggs through this book, whether it’s seeing Kyle Rayner and Jessica Cruz as part of the Green Lantern raid team or the Who’s Who of the DCU that Batman and Vandal Savage run through in their time-travel jaunt – it’s truly impressive stuff.

Built with sterling production values, Batman Universe #6 is a triumphant conclusion to Brian Michael Bendis and Nick Derington’s globetrotting story. While one might argue that the lighthearted tone of this story keeps it from being one of the all-time great runs with the character, there’s an accessibility and sense of whimsy that makes this an inviting read – not to mention seeing just how masterful Derington’s work can be. If you haven’t been reading Batman Universe, this finale might be the thing that convinces readers to catch up.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men #3
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Sunny Gho, and Rain Beredo
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

”So. We have a bit of a problem.”

The new nation begets a brand new threat in X-Men #3. Krakoa is screaming and the Quiet Council is called into action. Their supposed “closed system” of Gates has been breached, worse still in one of their most vital areas – The Savage Land, where Krakoan flowers are grown and harvested. But the real fun comes when writer Jonathan Hickman reveals just who has breached the gates. Once again taking advantage of the raw newness of “Dawn of X,” Hickman introduces new villains Hordeculture, a rogue outfit of elderly botanists bent on world domination through high level bioengineering. The mutants stand in the way of their plans and now these demented, wryly designed Dark Golden Girls are taking the fight to Krakoa.

Again deploying an easily accessible single X-adventure, calling to mind some of the better single issues of Avengers and following up on the Summers Family Adventure of #2, Jonathan Hickman continues to expand the “Dawn of X” mythos. Though some attention toward the recent twist in the pages of X-Force would be appreciated, it is nice to see the main title continuing to grow through singular, plot-driven storytelling. Brought to kinetic, richly colored life by art team Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Sunny Gho, and Rain Beredo, X-Men #3 is just the right amount of weird.

Opening on a tense Quiet Council scene setting up the issue’s problem, X-Men #3 wastes little time. The Savage Land Gate has been compromised, effectively locking out Krakoa, causing a psychic feedback loop throughout the telepathic population and cutting off field teams. But as he himself says, Cyclops has been well-trained in righting wrongs, and plans to face the problem via Gateway, now properly colored by colorists Sunny Gho, and Rain Beredo.

And the problem is four wryly funny evil old ladies, dressed in quasi-steampunk battle armor, sporting slime guns and greenhouse chemical sprayers. Admittedly, it is very strange and could be read as a distraction from the X-Force twist. But instead it reads like some of Hickman’s Manhattan Project characters have breached into the X-Men’s lives, bent on either destroying them outright or conquering their mutant plantlife. Also interesting is the team Hickman gathers for the incursion, as Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw join Scott on a rare field mission, hoping to appeal to the attackers as the heads of the Hellfire Trading Company. I won’t spoil how it turns out, especially for Shaw, but suffice to say it was a ton of fun to read as Hickman more than indulges in his more comedic instincts for this issue.

While you wouldn’t normally associate old women with frenetic action, Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alangulan, Sunny Gho, and Rain Beredo really make it work. Starting with their costumes, which seem inspired by high fantasy steampunk and ancient plague doctor gear, Yu and the rest of the team highlight the anachronism of their costumes amid the sleek uniforms of the X-Men. They also double down on it once their helmets and masks are removed, giving each member a distinctly weathered and surprisingly menacing look to match Hickman’s acerbic voices for them.

It all culminates in a surprisingly broad battle between Hordeculture and Scott’s team. Pitting mutant abilities against the guile of age and power-neutralizing slime guns, the result is a pretty entertaining, occasionally hilarious display of cinematic action from the creative team. Detailed well by the lithe inks of Gerry Alanguilan and the tactile, engaging colors of Sunny Gho and Rain Beredo, Yu jumps well between intimate close-ups and exciting action beats, like the ladies stomping the life out of Shaw or Cyclops’ careful deployment of his eye beams. The fight itself is also carefully staged on a scripting level, making the women a genuine threat to mutants specifically while also measuring how the X-Men go on the offensive. I’m not sure one could really get behind a Scott Summers that just outright punches an old woman, so it is nice to see the creative team thinking through how they could defend and riposte against this new threat.

Though we still don’t get many answers about the “Xavier Question” posed by X-Force, X-Men #3 is still a pretty solid effort from Dawn of X. Continuing to expand the enemies of Kraoka while introducing meaningful problems into the narrative, Jonathan Hickman, Sunny Gho, Rain Beredo, Gerry Alanguilan, and Leinil Francis Yu keep the main X-title on steadily entertaining rails.

Credit: Mikel Janin (DC)

Batman #84
Written by Tom King
Art by Jorge Fornes and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

“I swear by the spirit of my parents to protect your life. By spending the rest of my life warring against anything that might cause you pain.”

Batman #84 is going to read great in a trade, with the momentum of previous issues propelling the reader forward and the next issue waiting there to provide catharsis. But on its own, this issue is all beginning, no middle, and not much end. Tom King kind of stops his story dead in its tracks to show us that Thomas Wayne has been working in the shadows for much of King’s run – which is fine, but hardly feels like something worth dedicating a whole issue to. Given the change in artist, it’s clear that this is a fill-in, and thankfully Jorge Fornes draws the hell out of it; he is such a great fit for Gotham City. But many readers might be a bit disappointed with this penultimate issue.

Tom King helps us understand the motivations behind Thomas Wayne’s personal crusade. But with the creative team opting to dedicate full pages to some of these moments, it feels like they are padding out context that can be fairly easily understood. To Thomas Wayne, the Batman mantle is a tragedy. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.) It’s a curse. And he wants to urge his son to find a way to rise above it. Thomas kills so that Bruce never has to, much in the same way that Bruce does what he does so that Dick, Tim, Damian, and the rest don’t ever have to become him. But just before Bruce’s rebuttal the issue ends, leaving the whole thing feeling a bit light overall. On one hand, I’m glad that King didn’t bog the issue down by shoehorning in some bit of famous literature, but the “clip show” angle isn’t much better.

Jorge Fornes is always a welcome addition to Batman. Has enough ink been spilt praising his David-Mazzucchelli-by way-of Chris-Samnee approach? Probably. But what sets Fornes apart is his framing. He takes a really unique approach to how he lays out his panels and his pages overall. He lets Batman really live in the heavy ink and silhouettes on the page, allowing Jordie Bellaire’s colors to pop a lot more against them. It’s fun getting to see Fornes reinterpret moments from across King’s run and almost makes you wish he had been one of the more primary artists behind it. It’s hard to dislike what he brings to the table.

Batman #84 is fine. That seems like a lackluster assessment, but it really feels like a placeholder, biding time for whatever comes next while doing its best to stretch out the little bit of context that King wanted to give to Thomas Wayne’s motivations. Essentially it’s a drawn-out way to communicate a simple detail. It’s fine. The art at least makes it a pretty read, but this issue doesn’t beg your attention the way others in King’s run have. Here’s hoping the writer has something more impactful to say with his conclusion.

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