Greetings, 'Rama readers! Team Best Shots is locked and loaded today, with a ton of Rapid-Fire Reviews for your reading pleasure! So let's kick off the column and salute the flag, as Jake Baumgart takes a look at Ed Brubaker's final issue of Captain America...
Captain America #19 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): It’s been eight years since Ed Brubaker started his run on Captain America, and the writer has pretty much done it all with the character. Here, for his final issue, Brubaker has Steve Rogers talking with the '50's Cap, William Burnside. It’s fitting, given the amount of the character’s background Brubaker was able to work into the stories over the years. Cap details the high points in the history of the men who carried the shield and what this meant to the world and Steve Rogers. This wasn’t a book about a man, out of time, cracking skulls. Brubaker shows, especially with Issue #19, that Captain America is one of the great American symbols and completely irreplaceable both for comics and modern American mythology.
Batman Incorporated #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Brian Bannen; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): What happens when you leave Batman in an inescapable situation? He escapes. But not without the help of his friends, and this is truly the crux of Batman Incorporated. Grant Morrison delivers a taut, action heavy story where each page builds upon the last leading to a finale that ties the previous issues together, and introduces the real focus of the arc. Morrison also delivers on great character moments to show that he can balance pep with depth, particularly when it comes to Damian Wayne. Artist Chris Burnham keeps astride deftly illustrating the energy of the book, keeping the pace perfect and the images clean. Firing on all cylinders, Batman Incorporated is a fantastic read, both in its story and visuals.
Punisher War Zone #1 (Published by Marvel Comics ; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Who punishes the Punisher? It may be Frank Castle’s final war, but he won’t go quietly, in this start to Greg Rucka’s take on a familiar theme. I really like Rucka’s characterization of the Punisher, painting him as a desperate man who we truly believe is capable of anything. However, this loses a few points because “taking down Frank” has been done repeatedly over the year—though mixing in the Avengers definitely ups the ante. Carmine Di Giandomenico really sells the art here, making things extremely realistic without using photo-reference. His battle between Spider-Man and Castle shows both characters at their active best, and I look forward to seeing how the rest of this intriguing series plays out in the hands of two top talents.
Superman #13 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): I really didn't expect to enjoy Clark Kent's very public and justified leaving of The Daily Planet. I was worried it would come off as wholly preachy and uninspiring. And it kind of does. But there is something special when the champion of truth, justice and the American way goes on a righteous tangent. It just works. And against all odds, this path works for him, for now. I'm still not fully sold on this massively powerful Superman, nor a Clark that violates Lois' privacy, but I'm willing to chalk it up to (relatively) youthful insecurity. Rocafort's lines are still a little too sharp for my tastes, but his expressions really sell the setting. Superman #13 isn't a perfect setup, but it has potential.
Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Brandon Graham’s ill-fated Oni Press series finds new life at Image Comics—now in eye-popping color. The plot involves two wasters on a roadtrip across an alternate history sci-fi version of Russia, while an organ hunter is on the search for the regenerated body that belongs a severed head. The story is trippy and bizarre, and jam packed full of fascinating concepts and ideas. It’s a real wild ride that is sure to make your head spin. Graham’s artwork has a wonderfully cartoony look to it that brings to mind the work of Jamie Hewlett, and he packs every page with an amazing amount of detail and little easter eggs. This is an unmissable comic that you need in your collection.
Talon #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jose Camacho; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): After a stellar #0 issue, DC bring us the first chapter of their newest hero. For the benefit of the uninitiated, this is the story of Calvin Rose, a former Talon of the Court of Owls. Instead of doing a Capullo impression, March’s art looks more realistic while still fitting seamlessly into the Batman universe. The creative team is aiming high with this character, and it pays off. Calvin’s relationship with the Court of Owls is complex and engaging. While the two series share Gotham City, Calvin’s story runs parallel with the recent events in Batman while maintaining its own identity. You will not find unnecessary cameos or forced tie-ins here. Originally, Talon might have been “from the pages of Batman,” but this work stands on its own.
Star Trek Doctor Who Assimilation2 #6 (Published by IDW; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Doctor has seen many impossible things, but a Federation-Borg Alliance may be the most unlikely yet, as the stakes increase in this crossover. Writers Scott and David Tipton weave everything from the Borg War to Bad Wolf, deftly using a reader’s background knowledge to give this issue more depth as the Doctor tries to save universes against impossible odds. I preferred the art when painter J.K. Woodward was in sole control, but he does a better job of molding penciller Gordon Purcell’s lines this time to give us characters who not only look more on-model than past issues but also show deep emotion on their faces—though they still pose way too much. This continues to be a treat for fans of both shows.
Invincible Iron Man #527 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It might have been too much, but I kept waiting for Tony Stark to say “second star to the right, and straight on till morning,” and that would have been okay. Invincible Iron Man #527 is all about returns and goodbyes, for both character and reader. In a way, the nuts and bolts of the story were less important than the emotional connection between creators and audience. On that level alone, Fraction and Larroca land their final story with grace. It seems fitting that Tony ends this phase of his life with a simple (at least simple for Tony Stark) goodbye to those he cares for. Issue #527 isn't the big explosive end we wanted, but it is the quiet epilogue we needed.
Bravest Warriors #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10):Bravest Warriors is the newest project from Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward, and his touch shows. Fans of Ward’s work will find much of the same weird and childlike whimsy that typifies his output in writer Joey Comeau and artist Mike Holmes’ work. There are cupcake battles (not people battling with cupcakes, mind you, but actual cupcakes battling each other), odd questions and commentary lining the gutters, subtle bouts of unrequited love and the book actually begins with the Bravest Warriors defeating sexism. Yep. They defeat sexism and a banana is proud. If that last sentence seems like something you’re into, you’ll dig this book. It’s fun and silly and a reminder that not everything has to be dark and brooding to be good.
Justice League Dark #13 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10):By now you'd think Jeff Lemire couldn't keep ramping the crazy supernatural action that is Justice League Dark. But somehow, he and artist Mikel Janin keep it coming with Issue #13. As has been the case since Lemire took over the title, this issue not only shows how well the players act as a team, but also gives them space to shine on their own. Both Mikel Janin and Victor Drujiniu have fun with panel design that make for some completely insane fights scenes. For being a part of DC's “dark” titles, JLD pops with color you didn't expect, but are glad to find. Issue #13 is like a classic haunted attraction. It doesn't want to sacrifice all the fun for a fleeting scream.
Ghost #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): I had high hopes for paranormal noir with this new Ghost series, but it appears Kelly Sue DeConnick prefers instead to re-tread the titular character with the "who am I and where did I come from" journey of discovery trope. The reality TV baboons-cum-Elisa's traveling partners function more as a plot crutch than as necessary supporting cast, and the even the final scene, with its graphic violence on women, is forced and wholly unnecessary. Phil Noto's gorgeous cover and interior artwork saves the book somewhat, even though he's hamstrung by a script that is obese on yapping heads and anemic on action. The art and lettering are the only signs of life in this issue, which is a listless 22-page trudge even for a first chapter.
Let’s Play God #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10):Let’s Play God #1 is a horror mystery comic that touts itself as “Siouxsie and the Banshees meets Halloween” but comes off more like Evanescence in one of those awful Netflix horror movies that you come across when there is absolutely nothing left in the queue. Brea and Zane Grant’s story is predictably by-the-numbers, their dialogue is stilted and disingenuous and their characters are completely hollow. The book opens with overwrought captions meant to set the tone of the story that only serve to make it seem trite and melodramatic. Artist EricJ’s artwork isn’t bad. He does some decent character work with both his overall renderings and expressions but his storytelling could use work as certain panel layouts lead the eye in the wrong direction.
National Comics: Madame X #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Madame Xanadu has had no shortage of relaunches over the years. What makes this one different though is that Rob Williams has reimagined her as a TV psychic, working as a consultant for a New Orleans law firm. It’s a fresh take that breathes new life into a tired old character. The plot is gripping and exciting—involving a dead councilman, a Voodoo queen, and zombies. There are lots of twists and turns that keep the story interesting, and Williams leaves readers with a cliffhanger ending that will leave them begging for more. Trevor Hairsine’s artwork brings this southern fried story to life in fantastic fashion, giving it a look much more like something you would find in a Vertigo comic than a DCU title.
Hack/Slash #19 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): How do you kill a serial killer that cannot die? Cassie and Vlad face a problem they can’t just hack their way out of in another strong one-and-done issue, this time written by Steve Seeley and Michael Moreci of Hoax Hunters. The writers cleverly link the hopelessness of stopping Cassie’s killer-du-jour with the ultimate futility of her quest while artist Emilio Laiso shows the hurt and frustration as this reality hits home. Laiso does an excellent job of varying his panels for dramatic effect while Rosario Costanzo highlights them in just the right colors. In the end, Cassie and her allies will fall, whether to the law or to the monsters they face. It’s a sobering reality in this splatterhouse comic that’s deeper than it appears on the surface and is definitely recommended.
Amazing Spider-Man #696 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): When your Spider-Sense is blaring out of control, what's a webslinger to do? To be honest, the answer is "not much," as Dan Slott and Christos Gage let Peter Parker's supporting cast take the reins this issue. I do have a soft spot for the mirror-Peter Phil Urich, who despite having his own "Uncle Ben" has evolved into the scrappy, villainous Hobgoblin, although having him square off against another Hobgoblin shows that the old model doesn't have much spark. Yet the Hobgoblin showdown, while feeling like it takes up much of the issue, does showcase Giuseppe Camuncoli's fluid pencils and fight choreography (especially since Spidey isn't even in costume this issue). While the whole secret identity thing does get strained in terms of story logic, this is a fun diversion — even if it is just a diversion.
Adventure Time #9 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Time travel is awesome. Time travel Adventure Time might be even better. Ryan North and art duo Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb take Finn and Jake through their recent history and in the process explain an overlooked detail from the original Adventure Time pilot. The two heroes jump throughout time to try and regain their young bods because they don’t want to be seniors yet. Maybe that’s a just a simple plot. Maybe that’s North providing commentary on our society’s obsession with youth and fear of death. Paroline and Lamb provide visuals on par with the television show which is really all you can ask and their design for future cyborg bod Finn is pretty great.
The Flash #13 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The consistently excellent Flash does it again. It’s been over a year since the book saw its hard reboot and Issue #13 continues to expand the Flash’s world off this clean slate. We saw what these new Rogues can do and their relationship to the Scarlet Speedster, but now writer/artist Fancis Manapul is bringing in a serious threat as the new Grood makes the scene. Between the awesome script and breath taking pages (with colors by Brain Buccellato), Manapul’s run on the Flash may go down as one of the great runs for the characters. and It’s great to see most of the Flash Family represented here, even if we find ourselves asking... who is the redheaded guy running around worried about Iris?
The Shadow #6 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The conclusion of “The Fire of Creation” ends with a bang as Garth Ennis and Aaron Campbell continue to blaze a trail with their run on The Shadow. You know you’re reading an Ennis comic if something bloody happens in the first few pages and this issue does not disappoint. But instead of doing all the dirty work as The Shadow, Lamont Cranston takes the reigns and spoils a part of Tare Kondo’s plan that eventually leads to his demise. Ennis takes this opportunity to really show-off Cranston’s ingenuity while still delivering a compelling story. Aaron Campbell's work is absolutely stellar and lines up perfectly with Ennis’ script. The epilogue in particular, is moving and effective. Campbell and Ennis soldier on, continuing to prove month in and month out why The Shadow deserves a spot on every pull list.
Grimm Fairy Tales 2012 Halloween Special (Published by Zenescope Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Urban Legends have a basis in fact in this entertaining seasonal comic. Featuring four writers (who each give their story a unique voice) and nine artists on five short entries, this one-shot tells Twilight Zone plots mixed with slasher film artwork, which actually works better than you’d expect. The artists portray the tales capably, if not with any particular innovation. Scares and shocks are paced well by the writers and the gore is slasher-movie appropriate but misses an edge that could really take this book to the next level. What makes this recommended, however, is the twist story within the stories that I did not see coming, making for quite a treat for the reader looking for comic horror for Halloween.
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