Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for some quick critiques? Best Shots has you covered, closing out the week with our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off with Rob McMonigal, as he takes a look at the newest villain in Gotham with Batgirl #20...
Batgirl #20 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): A new Ventriloquist is pulling strings in Gotham City, making life even harder for Batgirl as a new story arc begins with great promise. I’m generally dubious when a female version of a classic villain appears (Lady Octopus, anyone?) but writer Gail Simone nails this one with a brief, chilling origin and a set-up that makes perfect sense for her debut. Four artists combined to work on this issue, but fortunately the transitions are handled smoothly by having one primary inker, Jonathan Glapion. Their depiction of the new Ventriloquist is positively chilling, almost Joker-like in posture, coloring, and potential menace. I’m still not sure how I feel about Simone’s decision to keep Babs on the ropes, but it’s incredibly well written and highly recommended.
FF #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): With the Frightful Four striking out against Scott Lang and his FF, this comic undergoes a few growing pains, as Matt Fraction is forced to try to make this quirky comic something that it isn't. Much of the appeal of this comic has been its weirdness, this bizarro family unit that occasionally fights strange bad guys, but usually just has to deal with their own drama — here, Fraction has to dig into a standard superhero trope and have a team of supervillains challenge Lang and company. This does rob this comic of its vibe, however. Still, Mike Allred's artwork maintains at least some of the charm, particularly a sequence where Medusa holds Ant-Man hostage with just her prehensile eyelashes. Scott's arc featuring his fear of the children dying, however, is a highlight of the book, giving this comic a heartfelt message. Not the strongest outing of the FF ever, but it has its moments.
The Dream Thief #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): John Lincoln is a self-absorbed pothead wafting through a misspent life until he steals an aboriginal mask from a museum, unwittingly becoming a vessel for wronged spirits to exact their revenge while John sleeps. With a mounting body count and no memory of what he's done, writer Jai Nitz throws his lead character off the deep end, delivering a terrific and suspenseful noir. Even better is the artwork by Greg Smallwood that is something of a Sean Murphy/David Aja hybrid. His panels are lean and stylish with wide gutters, augmented with innovative lettering that adds an extra dimension to the storytelling without being a distraction. If that last page is an accurate pulse-taking of the series, The Dream Thief is going to be a wild ride.
Wonder Woman #20 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): The first few pages of Wonder Woman #20 are graced with Cliff Chiang's beautiful art. Matt Wilson's colors are a perfect compliment. That ride is short-lived, because most of the issue is drawn by fill-in artist, Goran Sudzuka. Sudzuka's pretty proportions lend to some cohesiveness, but few can hold a candle to Chiang. And apparently, Wonder Woman can't hold a candle to the other characters ... in her own book. Diana bursts onto the scene for a fiery Amazon brawl with the moon goddess, Artemis. "Yes! That's the spirit! Show me something, Amazon … something to admire." The opportunity for Brian Azzarello to write a character-defining moment for Diana was screaming from the page only to be usurped by War as he sends his "little one" off to do his bidding. Segue into more revelations about the Olympian bastards with no plot payoff. Snore.
Fatale #14 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Where have I seen Nazis as demons summoning arcane power before? It doesn't matter. Ed Brubaker makes archetypes fresh, fascinating and downright chilling in this World War II flashback to the day when Walt meets Josephine, a defining moment referenced many times throughout the course of the series. For Fatale fans, this issue is immensely satisfying as the moments and rituals that have propelled Josephine through the decades are given a face. If you have never read an issue of Fatale, Phillips' sinister, seductive art combined with Brubaker's immaculate pacing and demure dialogue will make you wish you had. The ongoing saga that is Josephine is an intriguing one and Fatale #14 is a must-read.
Nova #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Sam Alexander squares off against the Chitauri and a figure from his father's past, but there's something still missing from the newest incarnation of Nova. The adventures of the Human Rocket screech to a halt about a third of the way through this comic, as Jeph Loeb lays out a flashback that adds some additional wrinkles to Sam's father's past. The problem? I don't know if I'm convinced that I like Sam's father, yet, making his secrets seem less than stellar. Ed McGuinness, however, really channels the joy of a teenager given the abilities of flight and energy blasts, as Sam gleefully tears through spaceship after spaceship with a cartoony fluidity that really makes this book feel accessible. While the story is far from sophisticated, McGuinness fans will likely still be on-board — that all said, a bit more complexity would do Nova a world of good.
Birds of Prey #20 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The betrayal of Starling threatens to put Canary’s fragile team on ice, caught in a war between Mr. Freeze and the Court of Owls, in a fast-paced but familiar story. Writer Christy Marx does a good job of portraying the characters as we’ve come to know them and showing just how powerful Freeze can be as an adversary. The problem is we’re less than a year removed from Poison Ivy’s better-seeded treachery, and I couldn’t shake the feeling of “here we go again.” Romano Molennaar and Jonathan Glapion team to keep the action moving, framing panels well and avoiding posing, but why does Freeze looks like Marvel’s Strong Guy? This remains an underrated book, but I hope it breaks new ground moving forward.
Bionic Man vs. Bionic Woman #5 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): A walking nuclear bomb is headed for Washington, DC and not even the Bionic Couple may be enough to stop him as this mini-series ends a bit less spectacularly than I’d hoped. This issue had padded action scenes and forced dialogue that didn’t add anything to the story. It felt like writer Keith Champagne ran out of steam at the same time as his villain, leaving us with a cliché non-ending reminding us OSI isn’t all it appears to be. Jose Luis shines one final time, however, doing a great job illustrating the slugfest. His characters move fluidly across the page even though one of them is a hulking creature. This one didn’t stick the landing, but otherwise was an enjoyable comic for five issues.
Avengers: The Enemy Within #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): One of the smarter initiatives Marvel has taken in recent months is putting a spotlight on Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel, giving the Avengers one more strong female icon and further diversifying their superhero universe. Yet with her increased exposure in Avengers, Carol's own title has been suffering, and Avengers: The Enemy Within doesn't really buck that trend. Part of the problem is the premise: Kelly Sue DeConnick "grounding" Carol because of a brain lesion isn't a particularly visual problem, and it's hard to pity her or see her in danger when Carol is still super-strong and wielding energy blasts. The inclusion of the Avengers here also feels superfluous, and having a missing person as the stakes means only previously established readers will care. Scott Hepburn's artwork doesn't help, particularly when Carol's face shapeshifts from page to page. Even with the Avengers name on the cover, this Captain Marvel story is one that you can probably skip.
Battlestar Galactica #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): There’s nothing new here: those dastardly Cylons are chasing the Glen Larson Galacticans, forcing an overly weepy Commander Adama to employ Doctor Zee’s controversial temporal displacement weapon as a last resort. Bad things then happen. Abnett and Lanning pureed a mixture of original characters, bad dialogue and tired clichés into this lumbering piece of fan-fiction. Cezar Razek tries hard to draw likenesses true to the classic cast, but fails and often laughably so. It’s surprisingly uneven and amateur-looking work coming from a company like Dynamite where the covers (Alex Ross on the main version, a cute version from Chris Eliopoulos on the exclusive variant) are the best visuals on this debut. It’s an uninspired first issue for a series that hopefully gets better.