Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the fast column? Best Shots is going 2 fast, 2 furious, as we bust out our weekly helping of Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's cut to the quick with the Man of Steel, as Forrest Helvie takes a look at his new series, Superman Unchained...
Superman Unchained #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): There’s enough in this first issue to pique reader curiosity, but the slow build up may turn others off expecting something more explosive. The opening creatively re-imagines the atomic bombing of Nagasaki before launching into a 13-page sequence of Superman preventing a space station from crashing to earth, which felt a bit dragged out by the end. Readers are then introduced to a non-bumbling, well-spoken Clark Kent, and this is a fresh change from past caricatures of Superman’s alter ego. It seems Snyder is also setting up some potential showdowns for Superman from the mystery character seen at the beginning and ending as well as Lex Luthor himself. Lee’s art is consistent with his traditionally polished aesthetic, but it also doesn’t set itself apart from his past work. Overall, it’s a fine story but it seemed to lack the same “punch” from other story arcs Snyder has recently kicked off. Fans who know his past record of slowly building a compelling story, however, will want to give Superman Unchained another shot to see what develops.
Thor: God of Thunder #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Three times the Thors equals three times the fun, as Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic deliver their single best issue of Thor: God of Thunder yet. Not only does Aaron deliver an over-the-top battle royale between Young Thor, Modern Thor, Future Thor and the God Butcher Gorr, but he also delivers some surprising characterization between the three iterations of the God of Thunder. Ribic has drawn his best issue yet, with his composition really hitting home, especially on a page where all three Thors get their shots in. He's also surprisingly expressive here, giving Gorr a surprising sympathy as he speaks with his wife. All in all, this is an explosive climax with a great cliffhanger — definitely the best book Marvel has put out this week.
Batman #21 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Snyder and Capullo draw pretty deep from Batman's published past with Issue #21. "Zero Year" doesn't read so much as a resetting of what came before, but rather a Cliff Notes primer. A primer that's also quite entertaining. Just as he did with the Court of Owls, Snyder deftly draws from over 70 years of Batman lore and distills elements to their emotional core. Newer readers will enjoy this addition to the character, while old school fans will appreciate the attention to detail while maintaining a sense of new. Capullo pulls back just a little, suggesting this Batman is indeed a living and evolving character that is not yet the unrelenting force we know today. I still don't know if this is a story that DC needs to tell, but it's at least entertaining.
Six-Gun Gorilla #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Whoa! What the heck was that? Simon Spurrier unleashes a new sci-fi series that will just floor you with its inventive plot and original premise. This opening salvo steams ahead at a relentless pace and is packed full of smart dialogue and creative plot developments. The hilarity and weirdness just keeps flowing and never stop. Jeff Stokely’s dynamic and cartoony artwork brings this madcap battlefield to life in splendid fashion. His panels are just overflowing with detail and his characters all have wonderfully expressive faces. His brushy inks are the finishing touch that gives that art a somewhat surreal and kooky look. Make sure you pick this one up, because you’ll be kicking yourself if you miss out.
American Vampire: The Long Road To Hell #1 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Vampire hunter Travis Kidd returns in this week's The Long Road to Hell one-shot, setting the stage for a relaunch later this year. The series and all of its constituents are normally frightening, but not as much as the price tag of this issue, which clocks in at $6.99. Is it worth it? It certainly tries it's best with a whopping 64-page count. Snyder delivers another classic script filled with both emotion and gore while Albuquerque grinds his ink into the page to deliver the spectacular art we've become accustomed to. This issue is by no means a departure from what we've come to expect of them, but damn if they don't deliver with consistency. A strong introduction to the upcoming return of the series.
Green Lantern Corps #21 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Robert Venditti takes on his second Green Lantern book this week, and thanks to some able artwork from Bernard Chang, Green Lantern Corps #21 starts off on a solid foot. John Stewart's relationship with the Star Sapphire Fatality gives this comic some needed humanity, and Venditti's greater subplot of the Green Lantern rings failing feels like a good place to prove that these characters are more than just tools of the emotional spectrum. Still, Fatality does come off as a bit one-dimensional (not to mention clingy), and the villains of the piece feel slightly underdeveloped (awesome cliffhanger notwithstanding). Chang's artwork goes a long way towards selling this book, as his sleek designs and subtle expressions - like Fatality biting her lip as she helps save the day - make this a stylish read.
Guardians of the Galaxy #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Great artwork from Steve McNiven isn't enough to justify Guardians of the Galaxy #3, which suffers from repetitiveness after only three issues. If you read last month's chapter, you're not getting too much different here - the Guardians are blasting away at nameless alien peons, while Star-Lord's father J-Son has intergalactic intrigue with the other monarchs of the universe. Even Brian Michael Bendis's quips from Rocket Raccoon — groanworthy lines about shooting people in the face — feel recycled. (Although his interplay between Starlord and Gamora is great.) Steve McNiven does inject some likeability here, particularly how at ease this team feels shooting hordes of bad guys (and his Tony Stark really evokes Robert Downey Jr.'s comedic acting). Still, this comic feels more like too little, too late.
Batgirl #21 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; Rama 'Rating: 7 out of 10): Batgirl feels like it has really gotten a shot in the arm. Maybe it’s because Gail Simone as been fleshing out Barbara for some time now, but the whole world of Batgirl seems richer for it, as we have moved past our initial reintroduction to the character. Readers are really getting to see what happens after Barbara is put through the ringer physically and mentally and it’s paying off with a more tenacious, although distressed, Batgirl. Fernando Pasarin is certainly doing better than some of his Batgirl predecessors but hasn’t broken free of the DC house style to make it a standout book in the art department. Although most of the supporting cast falls a little flat, addition of the new Ventriloquist is a fitting rogue for the young heroes’ gallery as well. Gail Simone is taking Batgirl to some really dark places and to see what this character is capable of.
Breath of Bones: A Golem’s Tale #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Set against a backdrop of Europe during World War II, Breath of Bones tells a tale of a young boy’s experience at war—from both his time as a soldier as well as the events in his home village prior to going off to fight the Nazis. Dave Wachter’s haunting black and white art masterfully conveys the emotional weight of the narrative, especially of the sadness of the grandfather, who has come to accept the loss of his son to war and a grandson who will soon go off to the battlefront. Steve Niles is known for his work in writing horror, and this story promises to include the monstrous golem of Jewish lore; yet, it is clear there is a much deeper thread these storytellers look to weave into this comic. The only disappointing thing about this comic is the month readers will have to wait for the second issue to arrive.
Avenging Spider-Man #22 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): As the Superior Spider-Man continues to take down his former colleagues of the Sinister Six, Chris Yost takes a detour by pitting Otto against the Punisher — the result, however, is an unfocused and decidedly average installment of Avenging Spider-Man. Yost's rationale for the Punisher seems decidedly out of character, and as a result, it makes his battle with Otto feel forced (not to mention one-note). David Lopez does some solid work for Spider-Man's fight choreography, particularly the balletic way he kicks the Punisher in the face. Yet with three antagonists, this comic feels more frenetic than deliberate - this is definitely a case of quantity over quality, as Avenging Spider-Man #22 mainly just coasts on the strength of its central concept.
Black Beetle: No Way Out #4 (of 4) (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): At the conclusion of the penultimate issue of this series, it seemed very obvious where the plot was going, but in this final issue Francesco Francavilla pulls the rug out from under us with a clever twist that makes the story that much richer. This is a great conclusion to a smart series filled with mystery and non-stop action that doesn’t let up till the very last panel. Francavilla’s pulp artwork is just dripping with atmosphere in this final issue, highlighted by creative composition, inventive layouts, dark and moody panels swimming with heavy blacks, and some truly gorgeous use of color. The final page sets things up for the next miniseries, which just can’t come soon enough.
Batman: Li'l Gotham #12 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Batman: Li'l Gotham quickly became the series that just hits me in all the right spots. And yes, issue #12 is no different. Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs lighten things up a bit for Father's Day, most welcome after the rather heavy-hearted Mother's Day issue. As always, Li'l Gotham works for those that miss the whimsical fun to be had with heroes in tights, even ones born of darkness and stuff. Some of the art does a look a little rushed, with Nguyen's lines and colors not as tight as I've come to expect. Issue #12 might also delve a little too deep into the wacky territory with all the Bat-boys trying to cook for Alfred. Still, this series has me hooked. These are small missteps in a series everyone should try to embrace.
The Victories, Vol. 1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Bold. This miniseries is absolutely bold in its depiction of some very difficult themes about what happens when our superheroes are mentally and emotionally scarred. On the surface, Oeming takes the normal superhero comic and absolutely revs up the sex and violence to new highs, which might make some readers uncomfortable. But what really makes this story stand out is the exploration of the tortured Faustus, which picks up steam in the second half of the collection. From addictions and risky behaviors to struggling with abuse, this hero teeters on the edge of not only becoming no different from the villains he fights, but fall off the edge of sanity. Instead of titillating readers with realistic sex and violence, Oeming and Filardi two take readers through a shadowy and roughly hewn world that is visceral and impressionistic as it conveys the narrative of a broken hero. Not for the squeamish, but well worth the read.