Greetings, 'Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood Best Shots team is back, with a ton of this week's big releases in bite-sized form! So let's start off with the latest from the ongoing Valiant relaunch, as we take a look at this week's issue of Bloodshot...Bloodshot #3 (Published by Valient Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Bloodshot learns what you do know can kill you as he tries to get at the truth behind the lies in his nanbot-infested memories as this series continues to build momentum. Moving at a lighting-fast pace, writer Duane Swierczynski has Bloodshot leaping to desperate conclusions, even as we see the lengths his former handlers will go to keep their secretive power intact. Despite two pencillers (Manuel Garcia and Arturo Lozzi), the art has a crisp and consistent feel to it thanks to inker Matt Ryan. I really liked the varied panels on every page, using just the right perspective to highlight the drama of the chase and desperation and colorist Ian Hannin varies his tones often to hold together a very solid suspense comic. Worlds' Finest #0 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The human camaraderie isn't quite as strong as it has been in earlier issues of Worlds' Finest, but fluid artwork and a healthy dose of world-building definitely make up for it. Following Huntress and Power Girl's first meeting, Paul Levitz takes a look at this superpowered Thelma and Louise from a new angle, not so much on their relationships with one another, but their relationships with their families — in this case, Batman, Catwoman and Superman. But the real treat here is artist Kevin Maguire, whose sleek lines make Robin and Supergirl fearsome, powerful, and most importantly, extremely expressive. There are a few moments where the emotional impact is light — particularly when one iconic character meets their untimely end — but this book looks good and gives additional context to two great characters.
The Defenders #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): With all the serious, earth-shattering events taking precedence in the Marvel Universe, it’s nice to see some people can still have fun as the world gets destroyed. Is it possible that Matt Fraction's The Defenders has gotten more light-hearted as time goes on? There is a vibe of Marvel’s Silver Age present in the book that doesn’t require a ton of backstory and logic to understand. Just sit down and have some fun as Red She-Hulk punches a blackbird into a smear! Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton and Jordie Bellaire pull off some really cool pages, utilizing negative space and bleached tones. The art really lends itself to the Marvel-of-Days-Past vibe going on here.
Swamp Thing #0 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Chilling. Not just in the way most horror stories are. No, this was chilling. Scott Snyder shows the reader what a real monster looks like in the form of Anton Arcane; torturing Swamp Things, smothering babies, the things with the flesh! It’s a testament to the writer that never once does this feel heavy-handed or forced. Snyder writes his horror with a real grace that seems lacking in most horror material. Kano does some excellent work as well. The layouts fit in with the previous Swamp Thing issues but don’t copy the style beat for beat. Kano is able to keep up with Snyder and make the horrific details seem genuine and not frightening for the sake of frightening.
Amazing Spider-Man #693 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Say it ain't so — I've been a huge fan of Dan Slott's run on Amazing Spider-Man, but this arc with the teenage superpowered narcissist Alpha isn't grabbing me. Perhaps it's because Alpha's character is so obviously a foil, a great power that doesn't understand the great responsibility Peter Parker knows by heart; maybe it's Peter going through the same old motions of blaming himself for everything to the point of being insufferable. Why is Alpha's development solely Spidey's domain? And why is the Jackal Spidey's new nemesis, when literally every other villain Slott has used has been more interesting? Combine that with some seriously sketchy art by Humberto Ramos (there's little in the way of big splashy moments with his layouts), and you've got kind of a non-starter here.
Green Lantern #0 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): The potential is there, but Geoff Johns swings and misses. The new Green Lantern, Simon Baz, is a little too Fast and Furious and a little less the diversity the DCNU needs. It’s great to see an Arab-American character in comics (especially one as mainstream as Green Lantern), but with so many ties to negativity and stereotypes it’s hard to feel like this is a step in the right direction. Maybe it makes him more human, but not the sort of character they need. Doug Mahnke does end up stealing the show with some great artwork. Visually, Mahnke does a great job having his characters act during the issue, making this pill much easier to swallow.
The Punisher #15 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Frank Castle has made murder into a mission, but it's Marco Checchetto that turns it into art. This comic will hit you like a hurricane, as Frank and his partner Amelia take on a wild gunman inside Wall Street — not to mention the entire NYPD. Writer Greg Rucka doesn't waste time with pleasantries or character definition, he cuts back and forth in a style that's pure cinema, and it really plays up the dynamic nature of Checchetto's sharp lines. With smooth visual continuity and smart composition, I haven't dug the Punisher this much since Jerome Opeña drew it. Hardcore action, hardcore fun.
Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Laurie Juspeczyk's story has always been about mothers and daughters, so the absence of her mother's looming shadow saps Silk Spectre #3 of much of its strength. With Laurie fighting a drug dealer — and tripping on acid — Amanda Conner gets to play around with crazy layouts, which adds to her already impressive expressiveness. That said, Darwyn Cooke and Conner's story almost feels like Scooby-Doo territory, with the cartoony designs making the swinging '60s seem goofy rather than dangerous. Still, Cooke and Conner do have fun with one Watchmen guest star, whose torture sequence is one of the twisted highlights of the book. All in all, this still looks fantastic, but I'm hoping the finale brings back the maternal struggle that so well defined the first two issues.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Microseries #8 Fugitoid (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): A robot on the run! Dr. Honeycutt looks for revenge after he loses everything and becomes a fugitive android as a new character is seamlessly added to the world of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Fugitoid was an early character of Turtle creators Eastman and Laird, and I love how writer Paul Allor integrates him into their origin story and universe without disturbing anything. Paul McCaffrey’s pencils have a blast showing the shape-changing Fugitoid, with multiple in-process shots and dangerous situations giving the reader a good handle on the character’s abilities. His action scenes are a bit stiff, but solid layouts make up for that. Fugitoid is a character who keeps making tragic mistakes and looks like a great addition after this strong debut.
Earth 2 #0 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): One of the best parts in reading Earth 2 is seeing the new versions of JSA characters and how they are interpreted. If this is starting to feel a little stale, however, check out Earth 2 #0. Earth 2 doesn’t need a Lex Luthor because it has its own dangerous, self-righteous genius in Terry Sloan (formerly Mr. Terrific in JSA titles). All the makings of a great villain are present and Sloan magnifies the heroes greatness by his destructive yet "logically sound" deeds. Artists Tomas Giorello and Nathan Eyring make this book really pop. These two really know how to make this alternate costumes look awesome and can add some serious detail to the mechs.
Black Kiss II #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): The original Black Kiss was lauded for the no-holds-barred return to hard-boiled crime noir storytelling. Despite the controversy over its sexual content and violence, it can be considered the kind of comic book that was so unique that you shouldn’t make a sequel (see also: The Dark Knight Returns) or a prequel (see also: Watchmen) to it. With Black Kiss II, Chaykin attempts to push the envelope with talk of “hermaphroditic demons” and “the biggest cock on a white man this side of the Rockies,” but his characters are hollow and unlikable. Meanwhile, the art is definitely a step below Chaykin’s late '80s output but the rough, sketchy style gives the book a suitably dark and dirty air about it a la From Hell. Hardcore Chaykin/Black Kiss fans will probably find something to love here, but casual readers should seek out the original.
Animal Man #0 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): When contrasted with Swamp Thing, Animal Man can be a lot of fun. Sure, they both inhabit the same world of Rot and talking spooky totems, but Buddy Baker can be such a human presence among these things that it adds some much-needed levity. It’s great to see the very normal Buddy in this world of life and death and Jeff Lemire nails this characteristic. Steve Pugh does a great job keeping up and his otherworldly characters can’t be beat. However, some figures may feel a bit awkward. It might seem like a burden to read this book alongside Swamp Thing if you haven’t started already, but it’s totally worth it.
X-Factor #243 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Patrick Hume; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Despite her long history with the X-Men, Polaris has never had quite the same cachet with fans, or writers, as some of the other X-women. Maybe it's due to her duplicate power-set, her lack of a signature story arc, her inconsistent personality, or the fact that she's often been defined by her relationships with Havok and her biological father, Magneto. Here, though, Peter David does what he can to make Polaris a more interesting figure in her own right, burdening her with a dark secret that helps to explain her well-documented mental instability. My concern, however, is that this element will come to define the character's present and future, rather than just informing it. The art is solid, keeping the dialogue-focused story visually interesting, though facial expressions and gestures are at times too exaggerated or cartoony.
Detective Comics #0 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart) 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10 Although it’s somewhat comforting to see Tony Daniel penciling a Batman book again, it’s too bad it has to be on Detective Comics #0. Somewhere between the broad strokes of Bruce Wayne’s training, he trains with a Zen warrior who lives in Japan with a few typical, tragic, archetypes. The characterization and conflict is lost in the pages. This is to the rapid pacing of the story. It feels as though, with time, this might have been an acceptable addition to the pre-Batman canon. However, the conflict is broadcast too far in advance and a bit too clumsily to be enjoyable. If Detective Comics #0 was supposed to fill in the early Batman years, it didn’t add much.
New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes #1 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Family reunions can be killer, especially when an evil supervillain drops in as an unexpected guest in this deck-clearing first issue about the Red Circle heroes that left me wanting to circle it with red ink. Ian Flynn writes a paint-by-numbers “my parents are dead, now I must carry on the legacy” set-up, with no time to get to know the parents or the kids so that we care about that legacy. Why use these characters at all if you are going to kill them off so soon? Ben Bates and Gary Martin’s bulky, blocky characters feel cartoonish, which clashes with the dire threat and their figures and faces lack emotion, even when under extreme stress. New Crusaders is off to a rocky start.
Bloodstrike #30 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Some of the Extreme Studios relaunches proved that Rob Liefeld’s creations had limitless potential. Bloodstrike isn’t one of those. It stands squarely in the middle, lacking any real creativity to enthrall those unfamiliar with Cabbot Stone and his motley crew but providing enough to be an entirely solid superhero comic. Tim Seeley opens with a little cameo by Sgt. Badrock and then Bloodstrike gets down to business spending the issue salvaging a mission gone slightly awry. Francesco Gaston gets the job done with workmanlike efficiency on this one. Nothing is particularly outstanding but nothing is truly terrible, either. Decidedly average is probably the best way to describe this outing.
Dial H #0 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Patrick Hume; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): "Dial H For Hero" has always been one of DC's more bizarre and obscure properties, making it the perfect title to hand over to self-described "weird fiction" novelist China Miéville. In this prequel to the current volume, Miéville delves into a past incarnation of the H-Dial, melding the struggles of an ancient civilization with the esoteric technology and anachronistic alter egos that have characterized his run so far. The central conceit of this standalone story is delightful, and even though Miéville's strength is often in concepts rather than characterization, he manages to draw the reader in to the struggle of these long-dead dialers, while also revealing some important clues about the history and operation of the H-Dial. Riccardo Burchielli replaces regular penciller Mateus Santolouco on art, which helps give this period piece it's own look, although the texture and jagged energy of Santoluoco's work is missed.
Grimm Fairy Tales Myths & Legends #20 (Published by Zenescope Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Playing with fire isn’t a good idea if you’re walking kindling. Hank and Gina go to the ratings well one too many times for their supernatural show in this amazing issue by writer (and former Newsarama contributor) Troy Brownfield. By defying most horror conventions, Brownfield gives the reader everything they expect and more with one of the best narrative choices I’ve read. Joshua Hood returns on art and is up to the task of matching the difficult (but excellent) script, pacing the action just right to lead up to a dramatic conclusion. His panel choices and character placement keep the reader off balance, with faces that really show the emotional impact behind their words. This has been a great horror ride that genre fans should be reading. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!