Greetings, 'Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood Best Shots team is at it again, with this week's installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off today's column with George Marston, as he takes a look at the new annual of Superior Spider-Man...
Superior Spider-Man Annual #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): While Dan Slott's Superior Spider-Man has felt like its wheels have been spinning for a few issues, this annual feels like something of a course correction. What it lacks in major developments, it makes up for in characterization for Doc Ock as Spider-Man. This done-in-one follows Ock's further descent into a level of violence he never achieved even as an unrepentant villain, spreading the cracks in his already tenuous visage of heroism. Frequent Slott collaborator Christos Gage's script is engaging and fluid, capturing the energy the regular series has been lacking. However, the real star is Javier Rodriguez, whose economic lines and acrobatic characters are bolstered by Alvaro Lopez's clean inks, and Rodriguez's own moody colors, which create a perfect dynamic between Spider-Man and Blackout.
Harley Quinn #0 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): This series was certainly started with a zero issue for a reason. It stands alone, set up as a lengthy conversation between Harley and writers Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti. Together they go through pages from 18 different creators, offering their comments on the style and feeling of each, with the purpose of finding a permanent artist for the title. Contributors include Becky Cloonan, Bruce Timm, and Paul Pope, Charlie Adlard, and many more. This is a great book visually, but any writing suffers from the fast pace and repeated change of scenery. A solid but disposable book for any Harley fan interested in seeing their beloved manic in the hands of a slew of talented artists.
Young Avengers #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Teens! Angst! Parents! The end of the world! We’re nearing the end of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Young Avengers and things are really starting to feel final. The threat of the end of the world is only evident to our young heroes and it’s up to them to stop Mother. Gillen keeps rolling with the “adults just don’t understand” theme he’s been working and it still isn’t tiring. Even in the face of grave danger, the kids are still cracking jokes (and there’s a Scott Pilgrim reference, the second one in a Marvel book this week!). McKelvie turns in one of the best issues of the run with dynamic spreads during an epic battle sequence and a shot of Miss America that cuts right to the heart of this issue. Loki and Miss America know the only option and the conclusion to this season of Young Avengers is sure to be thrilling.
Wonder Woman #25 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Wonder Woman #25 is a filler issue that does little to engage the reader and serves mostly to set-up the next issue. The title character continues to be sidelined by the vastly more interesting narrative of the supporting characters and pigeon-holed into one-dimensional, unimaginative behavior. Even with her mythic pedigree, Brian Azzarello's Diana feels more banal than ever. Instead of slaying monsters or fighting her own battles, she sits at cafes with Hera and Zola talking about boys and says “You bitch” like a bona fide Gossip Girl. It's less an insult to intelligence as much as a frustrating example of the wasted potential this book has come to embody. But imbued with the spirit of Chiang, Goran Sudzuka brings a bit of honor to the issue. He juggles the convoluted cast with superb expression and a slick panel layout. Matthew Wilson’s well-timed, classic colors are an excellent complement to Sudzuka. Unfortunately, righteous interior art cannot make up for how utterly boring Wonder Woman #25 is.
X-Men #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): In the wake of Arkea’s assault and the Battle of the Atom, the dynamic and roster at the Jean Grey School for Gifted Youngsters has shifted. This beautifully diverse roster features some exciting character returns as X-Men #7 kicks off the Muertas arc with a steady pace. The Dodsons, Terry on pencils and Rachel on inks, signature style create a remarkably cohesive experience of story and character design and deliver exquisitely drawn character moments. Brian Wood employs a solid, yet conventional, story set-up with a dose of nostalgia that hints to a potentially definitive X-Men arc. Despite its virtues, the issue relies too heavily on nostalgia and would benefit from a more creative narrative. X-Men #7 will mean the world to some, and not a whole lot to the rest.
Afterlife With Archie #2 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating, 9 out of 10): One of this comic’s greatest strengths is the way it digs deep into the Archie archives and then upends (or in some cases, confirms) every perception readers have of these long-established characters. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is not only serving up a chilling zombie tale but also providing some great character sketches. You will never look at troublemaking twins Cheryl and Jason Blossom the same again, ever. It’s that constant element of surprise, in addition to the gory proceedings, that makes Afterlife With Archie so exciting to read. Artist Francesco Francavilla’s panels explode with blood red, purple and blue against dark backdrops, creating a disturbing mood that’s perfectly in sync with the story. Issue #2 builds upon the promise of a rousing debut, and I suspect the creative team has only just begun to shock us.
Batman and Two-Face #25 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason are in a pretty special place in the Batman universe. Their title, the now Robin-less, Batman and Two-Face gets to remain relatively untouched by the bigger crossovers happening in DC currently (Zero Year and Forever Evil), which allows them to stretch out and create an awesome comic allowed to breath in its own world. Gleason and Mick Gray’s pages feel influenced by Paul Pope’s Batman: Year 100 with its dynamically juxtaposed action splattered with a bold palette. Tomasi’s direction with the Irish mob and Two-Face brings Bruce back down to the ground level with familiar Batman problems of organized crime and the Arkhamites it spawns. Although it might not be getting all the attention, this is the Batman book for the longtime fans.
Daredevil #33 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Sometimes even the most steady heart skips a beat. So it is with Waid and Samnee's Daredevil. Though it's usually a joy to read even on its off days, this issue felt more like a stop gap on the way to Daredevil forthcoming conclusion. The Legion of Monsters serve little purpose outside of atmosphere, and even Waid's script feels flat and lifeless. Only the opening sequence serves DD's ongoing saga, which is disappointing after last issue's well-wrought set up. Even some callbacks to Matt's previous crises of faith do little for the story, other than providing the flimsiest of motivations for this meeting. Fill-in artist Jason Copland brings some BPRD-like flair, but even that can't save Daredevil #33 from mediocrity.
Star Wars – Dawn of the Jedi: Force War #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): By the Maker, there is a lot of background needed for this Dawn of the Jedi arc. Xesh, one time Force Hound for Rakata now serves the Je'Daii as they push back the machinations of the Infinite Empire. Unless you're a dedicated reader to the series, that's a lot to take in. Yet, writers John Ostrander and Jan Duursema still manage to include entertaining and insightful moments in the very foundation of the Star Wars galaxy. Jan Duursema has the look of Star Wars down to a science. Although these are relatively unfamiliar characters, Duursema has a crisp and clean style that immediately locks them in the setting. Her action composition is exciting, even if her more personal moments are still a bit stilted. Of all of Dark Horse's Star Wars titles, Dawn of the Jedi is the least approachable. But for the longtime fan, a welcome addition.
Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): After an inspiring start to this mini-series, Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe #2 goes off the rails in terms of pacing and effectiveness. Christopher Hastings takes this book from a fun, slice-of-life book to a reality-warping, magic caper that’s about as impenetrable as a bad episode of Doctor Who. Longshot’s low-level magic use has lead to an alternate reality where the In-Betweener has been split into two bodies. A bunch of magic Avengers (Strange, Scarlet Witch, Ghost Rider... and Deadpool?) are called to help fix everything. The gags are chuckle-worthy but the plotting is bizarre. Artist Jacopo Camagni is still excellent, though. His no-nonsense style and expressive cartooning suits the “fly by the seat of your pants” action of the issue and he draws a pretty mean Scarlet Witch.
Batwoman #25 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): I wouldn't want to be in Marc Andreyko's shoes. Batwoman comes with a lot of baggage and everyone has an opinion on how DC should let her story play out. Starting in a crossover might be the best and worst timing for Andreyko. He gets to play it a little safe in bringing Kate Kane into the Bat-Family proper. Although entertaining, her exploits during Zero Year read much like a certain billionaire the night a bat crashed into his room. The cadre of artists are all competent, with no one pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling. Special credit to inkers Jay Leisten and Tom Nguyen, with colorist Guy Major, who help balance out the varied styles and create a sense of cohesion in the book. There is nothing bad or great to Batwoman #25. It's safe superhero storytelling. Hopefully the team gets to stretch once Zero Year ends.
Doctor Who: Prisoner of Time #12 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The Doctors move to save the day against Adam’s Master plan, but it will take decades of history to preserve life as we know it in this spectacular closing issue of IDW’s Doctor Who 50th anniversary. Scott and David Tipton give every incarnation a moment to shine, with dialogue/action that perfectly nail their characters and even throw a few good companion moments in to boot. Kelly Yates gets the unenviable task of drawing this issue, and she meets the challenge head on. Her likenesses are spot-on, down to the subtle posture and hand gesture differences. Yates also makes the crowded panels work, filling them with action and details as this series concludes with a message of hope, making any Doctor Who fan’s heart sing.
Red Hood and the Outlaws (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It would seem that Tynion is torn between two different paths for the title: one the one hand, the writer has confessed to being a big fan of the Robins and this might explain his focus on Jason Todd overall since taking over. Conversely, the writer has given a fair amount of attention to Roy and Kori despite leaning towards the former Boy Wonder. Issue #25 (a Zero Year tie-in) opts to flesh out Jason’s character and background over showing the young heroes dealing with the natural disaster destroying Gotham. Julius Gopez excels at the current DC house style and is able to add an extra layer of depth to his pages. Tynion and Gopez are shaping this into the book they want it to be and that’s far from a bad thing.
Avengers Arena #17 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Even though readers already know at least one survivor of Avengers Arena thanks to the magic of internet solicits, Dennis Hopeless doesn't use that as an excuse to let up in the home stretch of his teenage deathmatch. Things are rapidly deteriorating in Arcade's arena despite several of our heroes now running the show. The breakneck backstabbing and musical chairs-style Darkhawks add a sense of urgency, but detract from consequences of these scenes. Meanwhile, the book's big twist, while well foreshadowed, feels a little cliche. It's not what you'd call a cop-out, but it's hardly unforeseen, and a little hollow. Still, Kev Walker makes Avengers Arena look good, even if this issue feels like too much flash and not enough substance.
Green Lantern: New Guardians #25 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): I've been away from Kyle Rayner for a while now. I didn't really care what happened in the past, but Justin Jordan finally gave me a reason to enjoy Green Lantern: New Guardians with issue #25. This comic reads like a fun episode of Star Trek, packed with strange aliens and personal morality forcing itself on a populace about to explode. Both Brad Walker and Geraldo Borges pencils meld seamlessly together with great proportions and an excellent attention to detail. For as much as I enjoyed the wider shots, both excelled at character expressions. As strong as Jordan's dialog is in the issue, the expressions alone allowed for a wide range of content. You can keep your angst-ridden space cops and their rage buddies. This is now my favorite Lantern book out there.
Zero #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Ales Kot is good at two things -- establishing a bleak tone, and enlisting murderously good talent to draw his books. Case in point -- Zero #3, which follows super-spy Edward Zero in the field, as he and his partner (and lover) Mina go head-to-head against the world's most wanted terrorist. Artist Mateus Santolouco looks like a cross between Paul Pope and Rafael Albuquerque, as his fluid characters suddenly explode into violence, such as when Zero gives a wall-shattering kick to a hapless criminal sitting on a toilet. Kot's story is largely just action, but he does pepper it with enough human interest -- namely, the relationship between Edward and Mina -- so that the ending hits you like a silenced 9mm handgun. Definitely a striking read.
Sex Criminals #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ' Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Call it juvenile, low-brow, self-indulgent -- all these words would be correct in describing Sex Criminals. But the word I'd use to describe it? Endearing. You wouldn't think it, considering Matt Fraction continues to tell this X-rated crime story driven by orgasm-fueled time travel, but underneath the bank robberies and euphemisms is a surprisingly sweet love story. Anecdotes involving losing your virginity and rocking out to "Fat Bottom Girls" (with a clever, self-effacing swerve by Fraction himself) are drawn with a lot of emotion and relatability, thanks to the cartoony figures of Chip Zdarsky. That said, some will rightly tire of the constant, arguably gratuitous sex talk, but let's be real here -- when the comic is called Sex Criminals, you know what you're in for.