Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your fast and furious Thursday column? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's edition of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off today's column with Scott Cederlund, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Avengers...
Avengers #20 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Avengers #20 reaches heights of grandeur that has been lacking so far in Infinity. Jonathan Hickman, Leinil Francis Yu and Gerry Alanguilan create vistas and characters that finally feel like they belong in a grand cosmic story. As the Avengers still feel like they're only in this story because the Fantastic Four or the X-Men were out of town this week, characters like Ex Nihilo and Abyss begin playing larger parts in this story as Hickman begins building deeper mysteries into their roles in Infinity. Their tie to the Builders, the Doctor Who-ish alien antagonists, is the first sign that there is something more sinister happening here than just an alien horde attacking planet after planet. The story shifts to them and their kind, the playthings of the Builders that may not be as malleable as their masters think. As Hickman expands the scope of the characters, Yu, Alanguilan and colorist Curiel remind us just how alien this story actually is, giving us the closest look to one of the Builders that we’ve seen yet. They present space, not as white dots on a black background, but as a vibrant landscape, full of wonderful colors and unearthly nebulous formations, constantly reminding you that this story is taking place far, far away from the Avenger’s world. They also depict the startling transformation of Ex Nihilo, who was originally depicted as some golden cosmic goof but as he learns what has happened to his people over the millennia, he morphs into something much more disquieting and far more interesting.
Detective Comics #23.4: Man-Bat (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): What we have here is a near-perfect one-shot tie-in book. When it comes to a situation like Villains Month, there are usually too many editorial cooks in the kitchen. However, Frank Tieri and artists Scott Eaton and Jaime Mendoza pull off a strong one shot that address where Man-Bat was and where he is going. Excellent pacing allows the comic to tell the story of Kirk Langstrom’s rise and fall as Gotham’s temporary bat-hero while still getting in the details of She-Bat Francine Langstrom’s addiction to the serum. The story ends on such a strong second act for Kirk that Man-Bat has gone from reluctant participant to full-blown Arkham baddie by the end.
Uncanny Avengers #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Marvel's best Avengers book keeps its momentum strong, as Rick Remender and Salvador Larocca keep putting this team through its paces. Bouncing effortlessly between the origin of the Apocalypse Twins to a critical juncture in the relationship between the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man - seasoned with good old-fashioned punching by Captain America, Havok and Wasp - Rick Remender strikes the perfect balance between action, characterization and plot. But special recognition should go to Larocca, who really ups his game in this issue - in particular, I love the difference in body language as Havok and Cap leap from rooftop to rooftop. Even in silhouette, you know exactly which character is which. Frank Martin's colors also smooth out Larocca's more brittle linework, giving this issue an almost McNiven-like quality at times. If you're looking for some character-driven action that emphasizes relationships and hard choices, Uncanny Avengers #12 is the book to beat.
Sex Criminals #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Sex Criminals #1 requires a careful eye and slow reading to fully appreciate many of the different narrative and artistic elements at play. Artistically, the graphic design elements are exactly what one might expect from a buzz-worthy comic: sleek and eye-catching. The subject matter's edgy, but it's not treated in a cheap, headline-grabbing manner either. That's not to say it was without flaws though. While the designs and computer enhancements worked, the character art just seems a bit cartoonish by comparison, which creates a sort of visual dissonance on the page at times. Fraction's choice to have the narrator speak directly to the reader is also effective, but I found the pace of the story was, at times, driven by dialogue and exposition as opposed to the art on the page. Admittedly, I didn't enjoy Sex Criminals half as much on my first reading as I did the next day upon revisiting it where the different threads started to gel. It's a very different sort of comic that has me thinking about what direction it will go and how the different threads will come together.
The Trial of the Punisher #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): There are only so many stories that I feel are left for Frank Castle. Writer Marc Guggenheim does his best with The Trial of the Punisher. Frank's turned himself in lots of times, but never once with the body of the innocent victim he accidentally killed. It's an interesting set-up that suffers bit from standard police procedural pacing. I usually enjoy Leinil Francis Yu's take on characters, and while his work is nice here, there is a disconnect between the words and art. Guggenheim is penning a slow burn, but Yu's pencils suggest more chaos and overt energy. This is no more apparent than during the Punisher's interrogation scene, I want to see the tension the dialog suggests. Instead, the scene comes off as a standard shouting match. Still, both Guggenheim and Yu are trying their best at something new for Frank. A tall order. They get close. Close enough to make me wonder what happens next.
Rat Queens #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): When I wasn't thinking “why didn't I think of this” while reading Rat Queens #1, I was giggling like a 12-year-old DM designing a skeleton covered in yellow mold. (Trust me, that's a thing). And, if you got that joke, you are so ready for this book. Kurtis J. Wiebe writes a fantastic adventure of four powerful and dangerous questing ladies as they're tasked to clear out some goblins. (Mainly to get out of the town's hair). This books moves at a fantastic pace thanks to Wiebe's whip smart dialog and some wonderful art by Roc Upchurch. Each of the Rat Queens has a distinct look that borrows from standard fantasy tropes and then fully embraces itself as it's own. His facial expresses sell the dialog so well, I found myself speaking the lines out loud, in weird voices. Image Comics has some serious fun on their hands with Rat Queens #1.
Batman #23.4: Bane (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The best way to sum this Villains Month one-shot focusing on Mr. Santa Prisca himself, Bane, is as follows: add one part Knightfall and one part The Dark Knight Rises and stir. If either one of those stories catches your attention then Batman #23.4: Bane is your issue. Maybe it was the kinetic pencils of Graham Nolan or the crimson-soaked coloring of John Kalisz that take us back to that iconic "breaking the Bat" image of the 90s. Maybe it’s the impassionate speeches Bane delivers to his soldiers that harkens to the character’s latest film appearance. This issue might have the casual reader rolling their eyes but, but if you’re a fan of the hulking villain, Bane’s standalone is just the book for you.
Jupiter's Legacy #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Holy. Crap. This week's Jupiter's Legacy has us up to our elbows in the stuff that nightmares are made of. Treacherous friends, bloody ends, and faceless corpses make this issue the best yet by far. Mark Millar and Frank Quietly do a stunning job in regards to both writing and art. The story and dialogue are perfectly paced and engaging, while the inks have noticeably tightened up and become more detailed. It's hard to critique single issues sometimes, as there is generally a lot of material spread out over a longer arc, but this issue is the stone cold turning point of this book. This is where everything begins and ends. If you've had lukewarm feelings about this title, be sure to give it another shot this week.
Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Mike Del Mundo is one of those artists that is just one solid hit away from becoming a superstar - and maybe Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #3 is that hit. His fluid, animated take on the unfriendly neighborhood webslinger makes for a truly striking comic, even if the actual plotting is standard origin story 101. In the midst of the fracas taking place in Infinity and Mighty Avengers, writer Robert Rodi introduces a young, lightning-wielding frenemy named Fulmina. Fulmina's motivations aren't the deepest, although Rodi deserves some credit for not going with the straight misunderstanding-fight-team-up route. But Del Mundo's artwork is what sells this book, particularly the acrobatic ways he has Spidey leaping and attacking Thanos' forces. Definitely a book to keep on your radar, if only for the superior artwork.
Batman: The Dark Knight #23.2: Joker's Daughter (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): I have no idea what's going on in Joker's Daughter. I think I understand what writer Ann Nocenti is trying to accomplish. That of a young woman with issues, takes Gotham's under city and decides to make everyone ugly. Strike that, I have no idea. Joker's Daughter bounces all over the place and never once finds any kind of voice, for character or story. Georges Jeanty's pencils look both rushed and wholly uninspired. This isn't even comic art by the numbers. Character proportions are off, but not in a way that suggests the unbalanced nature of the main character. Poor design choices lead to many of the players and their locations looking the same. Colorist Michelle Madsen breathes some creative life into the issue. She plays around with the Joker's bold color scheme within the dark setting, but that's still not enough to save this book.
Saga #14 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Meanwhile, on Quietus… Saga continues to amaze. Brian K. Vaughaun drives the story forward with not only action, but wrenching heartbreak and loss. Stacking slow-building issues on top of conflict-heavy ones, the reader is left guessing when the ball is going to drop. This issue is a great set-up for what's to come, heavy on the dialogue with rich interactions. Fiona Staples further develops her style in every panel, the faces becoming more expressive and detailed, the motions more dynamic, and that coloring is particularly well done. This creative team continues to step up their game, learning and evolving with every installment right alongside their characters. Saga remains a great read for any fan of the comic medium.
Superman #23.4: Parasite (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Who'd have thought Aaron Kuder had it in him? Not only is he one of DC's best up-and-coming artists, but it turns out he can write, too - case in point, Superman #23.4: Parasite. What I enjoy so much about this story is that it wouldn't have taken too much to have made Joshua Michael Allen a hero rather than a villain - indeed, this unlucky loser gets his powers in a semi-heroic fashion, as he leaps into the fray when an alien creature attacks Metropolis. It's that quirky prickliness that sets Parasite apart from the rest of the Villains Month books, which are either parent-centric or focused on how these villains will upend the Secret Society. Kuder's artwork is also superb, really lending a ton of speed as Joshua bikes around the city (and when his body nearly explodes with power when he first encounters Superman). Definitely a surprisingly good read.
High Crimes #5 (Published by Monkeybrain Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10):The tension hits an all-time high in issue #5 of High Crimes as a wounded Zan Jensen makes a play for the summit in order to save her partner and snag the loot. Christopher Sebela keeps up the noir style tension as he allows all the main players to interact with each other, while never once tipping his hand as to who knows who. Wondering just who will make the first move is just the kind of thriller I love. As has been the case since issue #1, Ibrahim Moustafa's art sets a very high bar for this series. Issue #5 has a lot of exposition that kept his pencils more function than style, until the final few pages. Moustafa really gets to cut loose in these final moments and takes advantage of the digital format. His lines are as crisp as ever and generates a real sense of danger on the page. High Crimes might be the best thriller in comics today.