Best Shots Rapid Reviews: SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #20, SANDMAN #1, SAGA #15, More

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #20
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's edition of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's start today's column off with Pierce Lydon, as he takes a look at Superior Spider-Man...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Superior Spider-Man #20 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Dan Slott teased big changes coming in Superior Spider-Man #20 quite a bit at New York Comic Con and the issue definitely delivers. While Otto feels like he’s got everything under control, his unfamiliarity with the nuances of Peter’s life is starting to stack against him. The ol’ Parker Luck, it would seem, is more deeply entrenched in that body than we ever thought. Giuseppe Camuncoli is the star here. He’s grown exponentially as an artist over the past few years and he has a star turn here. There’s an efficiency to his lines and visual storytelling that fits the set-up nature of the story. Slott needs to put a bunch of pieces in place and Camuncoli allows him to transition seamlessly between them.

Credit: DC Comics

The Sandman: Overture #1 (Published by Vertigo Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Neil Gaiman is a voice that has been severely missed within the comics world and with Sandman: Overture #1, it seems that his time in the literary world has not dulled his edge one bit. Though the issue is a bit too inside for the casual comic reader, Gaiman reinserts the initiated back into the realms of The Endless with the same elegant storytelling that we loved when he first discovered them. With J.H. Williams, III adding bursts of incredible pencils, this issue recaptures the same chilly magic as if it had never went away. Each Endless, along with some of our favorite denizens of The Dream King’s court, get equal page time as Gaiman introduces us to the main impetus of the series that is sure to keep fans at rapt attention through the entirety of the series. This issue moved me deeply and the Karen Berger credit just solidified the feeling that I was in for something very, very special.

Credit: Image Comics

Saga #15 (Published by Image; Review by Lan Pitts; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10: Each time this book takes a break, I wait with baited breath for it to return and when it does, I'm never disappointed - it's always worth the wait. This issue explored more of the gang's budding relationship with the secluded author Mr. Heist as well as the stress Alana and Marko are facing being on the run and having a long-term plan. I applaud Brian K. Vaughan for demonstrating Alana's sexual aggression, as well as adding more exploration to Marko's culture and race. Fiona Staples once again gives the characters great expressions and brilliant layouts. As usual, he also knows how to lay out a proper cliffhanger that makes me hope I don't have to wait too long again for the next installment.

Credit: DC Comics

Damian: Son of Batman #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): Oof. I wanted to like this book. Andy Kubert is a hell of an artist, but someone needed to tell him to rework this script. Featuring Damian's path to becoming the future Batman, the way his mentor gets taken out is downright laughable, as is the dialogue (particularly a scene where Alfred asks Damian, "you wouldn't happen to know anything about these murders?"). There's a bit of ultra-violence here, but it feels gratuitous rather than earned, which, given the premise, is even more baffling - it should have been an easy sell, but it's not earned at all. (And having Jim Gordon as a priest? Really?) Even Kubert's artwork feels uninspired here, with largely stock poses (particularly as Damian hunches over in rage, blood all over his hands). I wish this had been a knockout, as I love Damian and I love Andy Kubert, but this book might be the biggest disappointment I've seen in awhile.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Infinity #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Infinity has been nothing if not far-reaching and ambitious. Jonathan Hickman wraps up the threat of the Builders here in a classic “If you want the whole story, buy the tie-ins” manner and gives Thanos centerstage. But great character moments amongst the Avengers and the Illuminati provide a nice balance to the issue and keep it from becoming an extended monologue. Jerome Opena continues to solidify himself as one of the great Marvel artists today. Infinity has been an intense story both in planning and execution and Opena’s work echoes Hickman’s prose perfectly. There are still a lot of questions to be answered as the event winds down but the conclusion is sure to be as grandiose as the rest.

Credit: DC Comics

Swamp Thing Annual #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): I always thank whatever dark gods that watch us from the cold starts that Swamp Thing has remained the stellar book that was promised from #1. Charles Soule has yet to miss a beat as the main writer of Swampy, introducing a violent new threat into the life of Alec Holland in the form of a rival to the mantle of The Green’s champion, Seeder. This issue starts the current arc off in a beautifully sprawling way sending Alec on a vision quest accompanied by former Avatars. Soule’s script still handles Holland’s voice deftly, as well as keeping up the strange plot developments that we expect from a Swamp Thing title. Javier Pina and Kano turn in a gorgeously epic interpretation of Soule’s script, packing the pages with flowing panels that never feel too crowded. Of the new crop of annuals that were just released this week, Swamp Thing Annual #2 is definitely a creepily lyrical must read.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Guardians of the Galaxy #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This issue starts off slowly, but once the action kicks up, this winds up being one of Brian Michael Bendis's best issues of Guardians of the Galaxy yet. With Thanos having taken over Earth in Infinity, it's up to the Guardians to liberate the S.W.O.R.D. space station known as the Peak. What's great about this particular issue is that Bendis is actually pretty self-aware of some of the indulgences of this book, and winds up lampshading them to great effect - he comments on Rocket Raccoon's awful "murdered you" catchphrase, he gives a nod to the Star Wars-esque plot... when he actually acknowledges it, it's pretty good. Francesco Francavilla is an interesting choice for this issue, with his sketchy linework - he doesn't quite sell the epic space scenes, but his intimate heist featuring Starlord and Rocket Raccoon is a great sequence. A surprisingly good read.

Credit: DC Comics

Nightwing Annual #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): I'll always be happy for a comic that allows Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon to hang out, fight crime, and talk about what could be. I guess I'm just a softy. However, I wish writer Kyle Higgins' version of Firebug and the mystery around him that served as the story foundation wasn't so clunky and, well, obvious. The art by Jason Masters, along with Daniel Sampere and Vicente Cifuentes, has an almost casual nature to it that is most welcome. The strong expressions and character composition suggests two people that can really let their guards down around each other. Doing so, however, is a whole other thing. Annuals allow for a book to tell a fun out of arc story, or even set-up what's to come and while Nightwing Annual #1 comes close, it still feels lacking. Like a visit from old friend that's cut far too short.

Credit: Top Cow

Witchblade #170 (Published by Top Cow/Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Witchblade no more? Sara may be wishing she had it back after the events of this first issue in writer Ron Marz’s return to the title that sets up quite a few intriguing questions. Marz turns Sara into a Sherriff with a series of gruesome murders on her hands, one of which is missing is a familiar artifact. A flashback hints at the reason, but this issue is mostly full of mysteries, with tie-ins to Artifacts and The Darkness. Artist Laura Braga, with colorist Betsy Gonia, makes this issue shine, giving Sara a swagger and sensuality that shows from her hip-swinging first appearance. She’s equally at ease providing expressive faces and postures, driving the action as this series receives a much-needed shot in the arm.

The Fox #1 Cover by Darwyn Cooke
The Fox #1 Cover by Darwyn Cooke
Credit: Archie

The Fox #1 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): What can I say - The Fox is charming as hell. Archie may not have the pedigree of Marvel or DC in the superhero biz, but Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid deliver a bright, breezy action book featuring an eminently likeable protagonist. Photojournalist Paul Patton rolls with the punches with a great sense of humor, as Mark Waid's dialogue makes him a Wally West-style everyman. Haspiel's cartoony artwork is extremely accessible - I love the economy of his linework, particularly when Paul is in his Fox outfit (complete with over-the-top kung fu stances). The villain of this piece is a real hoot with a great high concept, and in general this book's sense of humor makes it a fun read. What does The Fox say? Read this book.

Credit: IDW

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #27 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The Turtles and their assembled allies to take to the stage to spoil Shredder’s show as the “City Fall” storyline builds into an explosive confrontation. Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, and Bobby Curnow pull the Turtles further down a path from which there may be no return as the lines are drawn-with the deranged Leonardo caught in the middle. Mateus Santolouco and Ronda Pattison are a big part of why this arc works, coming together to paint a dire and vivid picture, with all of the characters visually strained to the limit. The art is dynamic, varied and controlled, with a great last-page splash with two fan-favorites joining the fray. Putting aside the familiar characters, this is solid story that’s not letting up one bit.

Credit: DC Comics' November 2013 solicitations

Batman: Li'L Gotham #21 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Since the beginning, Batman: Li'l Gotham has felt like a love letter to days of DC's past. That case has never been stronger than with issue #21 of the DC Digital series. Writers Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs take All Saints Day to heart as Batman and Damian visit their familiar connections within the League of Assassins. Nguyen's art is as whimsical as ever, but never once falls within the realm of parody. Like the story itself, there is a reverence of every Batman story that ever came before, but still manages to crack a smile on the reader. With good-natured pokes at New52, Robin 900 numbers, and furry bare-chested Batman, Li'L Gotham #21 again shows why it's the jewel in DC's digital comics crown.

Adventure Time 2013 Spooktacular #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Lan Pitts; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It's Halloween in the Land of Ooo and BOOM! has gathered quite an array of talent to show off how Finn and friends celebrate the occasion. The best story was easily "Halloween Horticulture" by Jay Hosler, with Finn and Jake helping Pumpkin Princess, but things get crazy for there. It was the closest thing to an actual episode in this anthology, and that's never a bad thing. There's not really any "bad stories" here, but Frazer Irving's "Secret Stache" didn't give a Halloween vibe as the rest of them. Not saying it's bad, just not as consistent. "Costume Party" by Jones Wiedle and "Bad Girl Gone Good" by Kevin Church and Jen Vaughn were equally delightful in this fun but not too scary anthology.

Credit: IDW

Godzilla Rulers of Earth #5 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Rodan takes on another of new creature while the research team discovers some countries have secrets they’d rather not reveal in this issue that’s easy the best of the series so far. Chris Mowry’s script finally finds a human narrator that’s interesting, which makes a huge difference. She’s able to show fear, curiosity, and kindness, releasing another beast being held captive. Jeff Zornow fills in on art, and manages a good balance between showing the clash of the creatures and the human perspective, making it feel less cartoonish and more real. His battle scenes are clearer and reflect the feel of their movie origins, with sideways jumps, crashing buildings, and throw downs. This incarnation of a Godzilla comic stills needs work, but shows promise.

Credit: DHC

The Raven and the Red Death: One-Shot (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Such a mixed bag from the usually stellar Richard Corben. The Raven and the Red Death sets out exactly as title suggests, an adaptation of two of Poe's legendary works. Corben pulls double duty as both writer and artist, with varied success at both. His adaptation of The Raven is choppy at best, and his line work suggests a rather hurried approach at the story. His take on The Masque of the Red Death is a marked improvement, with art that's incredibly compelling in it's intentional horridness. Coupled with wonderful coloring that highlights the grotesque nature of the story, it's a real treat and makes me wish the whole book was an extended adaptation. However, taken as a whole, The Raven and the Red Death is frustrating and only for the Corben completist.

Credit: DHC

Astounding Villain House One-Shot (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Four stories of villains who won’t headline a superhero movie are the subject of writer-artist Shannon Wheeler’s comedic comic. Poking fun at what it’s like to be a criminal that can’t get it right, Wheeler introduces us to criminals out for one last score who find their future is predictable, a woman whose dating history reads like a copy of Bring on the Bad Guys, and more. The best story might be a villain under house arrest who lures D-list creeps to his home in order to secure his early release. Wheeler’s artistic style is a bit grainy and thick, which makes even the most serious demon look comical. It’s a great parody comic that fans of The Tick are sure to love.

Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont's X-Men (Published by Sequart Publishing; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This documentary from Sequart Publishing and Respect Films takes a look at the creative talent behind what is still considered the seminal run on Marvel Comics' X-Men franchise, and it focuses specifically on its writer, Chris Claremont. Although the documentary is fairly short (45 minutes), it cuts to the quick and covers both familiar and new territory. In particular, it was interesting to hear Claremont's take on Jim Lee's influence over the series when the then up-and-coming star joined Uncanny X-Men followed by X-Men vol. 2. And while many fans are familiar with the often-acrimonious relationship Claremont had with his editor, Jim Shooter, there emerges a sense that in spite of the static, it was a far more productive relationship during that past era than either admits. Perhaps the only glaring omission from this documentary is the absence of Claremont's best-known artistic collaborator, John Byrne; however, it is likely this is less a fault of the filmmakers and more a case of simply being unable to secure Byrne's participation. With contributions from various creators of Claremont's era and those who were influenced by his work, this film is certainly a "must-watch" for fans of the X-Men and comic book superheroes in general.

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