Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday column? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's edition of our Rapid-Fire reviews! So let's kick off today's edition with Forrest C. Helvie, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Superman Unchained...
Superman Unchained #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Although I missed seeing Lex Luthor, this issue may be the best of the series so far. We finally see Snyder reveal his intent behind juxtaposing Wraith against Superman. This story is less about seeing two ubermensch go head to head and more about exploring the tension between dueling notions: Being true to one's self against subjugating individuality in service to a greater cause. In this regard, Snyder accomplishes something many writers struggle to do: Make Superman human. Artistically, Jim Lee continues to deliver the sort of superhero style that he's built his reputation on in the main storyline; however, it is Dustin Nguyen who truly stands out in this issue. His warm, lush watercolors capture the sense of nostalgia, which our most cherished memories often bring, during the flashbacks to Clark's first discovery of his powers. These sequences remind me how much I love origin stories when they are done well like this (even if it is just a snippet of Superman's origin).
Superior Foes of Spider-Man #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Spencer pulls the curtain back on Beetle's past in Issue No. 7 as he shows readers how Janice got her start in the of field super-villainy. It's an unexpected take on the origin story, with some signature zingers along the way, that not only adds depth to his band of misfit supervillains, but will no doubt keep readers thoroughly entertained. Meanwhile, Rich Ellis steps in for Steve Lieber on art, and he does a fine job of employing the same aesthetic throughout the issue. I particularly enjoyed the page and panel layouts from Janice's flashbacks. The notebook design was smart and cool, while I found the depiction of Janice's reaction to the Fixer and Baron Zemo's argument especially funny. Definitely worth adding to your buy pile!
Damian: Son of Batman #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): The third installment of Andy Kubert’s bizarre Damian Wayne story trudges toward the end by adding even more to an already convoluted plot. But it’s hard to look away because the the art is so good! You almost want to forgive how nonsensical the story actually is. Kubert throws a curveball, introducing a talking cat that advises Damian right after Alfred suggests that the former Robin might have sustained brain damage at some point in the past. The heart of this tale is Damian learning to accept Bruce’s code of honor but Kubert fails to tell that story with any nuance or skill. He does give himself an opportunity to draw some excellent fight scenes, a variety of characters (including a shark mobster, Jackanapes and a new Clown Prince) and a larger view of the Bat Cave. His skills are obviously best utilized at the drawing board.
New Avengers #13.INH (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): While Jonathan Hickman's Avengers book looks to be (hopefully) getting some renewed focus following Infinity, this jumping-on point for New Avengers is a real mess. The art, by Simone Bianchi, is squiggly and loose, and a real departure from the more moody and realistic work of Mike Deodato and Steve Epting. (His detail work in particular is distracting, especially when the two Black Panthers - T'Challa and his sister, Shuri - both have the same thick neck, looking almost indistinguishable from each other in terms of anatomy.) But the real problem is Hickman's story - this is self-indulgent naval-gazing, as we watch the New Avengers play 20 questions to create another techno doodad that's big on mystery and low on substance (not to mention watching an underdeveloped alternate-universe version of the team get turned into cannon fodder for the next ill-defined set of bad guys). Unless you're fully committed to the Hickman hype machine, skip this book - there needs to be more tension and more characterization than this to earn your dollars.
Aquaman #26 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10):If anyone can keep Aquaman fun after Geoff Johns, it's Jeff Parker. His debut with issue #26 is extremely entertaining as Parker works in even more Atlantean mythology with the undersea king (and queen). While the background exposition was necessary, those moments weren't the smoothest integration. It's a minor hiccup that is quickly forgotten when you read just how insanely fun and dangerous Parker writes Aquaman and Mera as the awesome monarchs they are. The art in the issue is vibrant; Paul Pelletier and Netho Diaz have a nice lock on anatomy. However, their facial expressions have a slight disconnect with the emotions as read on the page. Aquaman #26 is still a strong debut and if the art team can find cohesion, this title will soar.
Superman #26 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): One of the benefits of the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship has been the new dynamic between Lois and Clark. Now with Brainiac’s powers, Lois knows his true identity, adding even more tension to the mix. Scott Lobdell’s dialogue is unfortunately a bit stiff but his use of thought bubbles suits the Big Blue Boy Scout. Parasite returns in this issue and while his power hungry M.O. is about as standard as it gets, it gets a bit of a surprise twist. Ken Lashley works very well in the Jim Lee-inspired DC house style. His Parasite gets a little busy as he grows but overall the action scenes play really well. Superman #26 is an enjoyable mix of character drama and action that might only seem pedestrian because of the big stakes and bigger names working in other Superman titles.
Guardians of the Galaxy #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Oftentimes Brian Michael Bendis can be accused of stretching his stories beyond the point of cohesiveness, but when you have Kevin Maguire on art, well, much can be forgiven. It's an intergalactic girls' night with Gamora and Angela, as they trade quips just as fast as they trade punches, as they free a group of slaves from the alien Badoon. Bendis's dialogue occasionally gets a bit cutesy, although it's nice to see Gamora and Angela beat the Bechdel test and establish an organic, butt-kicking friendship. But Maguire's smooth-as-silk linework is the real star of the show here - while occasionally his expressions are a little too smiley and cocky for some of the action beats, the choreography and details he puts into this comic are superb. (And colorist Justin Ponsor really gives Maguire's art some weight, especially the red glow in Angela's eyes as she battles in a shadowy star cruiser.) All in all, this is a great palate cleanser to get readers on-board for Bendis's next arc.
Batwoman #26 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): After a forced tie-in to “Zero Year,” writer Marc Andreyko finally gets to spread his wings in Batwoman #26. But the results are less than inspiring. The opening flashback feels disconnected and extraneous. The plotting is slow and after getting big concepts from J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, Kate having a discussion with a friend at a party and then donning her suit to stop a break-in is fairly ho-hum. Jeremy Haun brings consistency to the book that was absent in the last issue but brings Batwoman completely out of the art style that garnered critical praise in the past. He is certainly a competent artist but not all that exciting. Andreyko hasn’t yet set the tone for his run and that’s troubling because the book had such a clear identity before. Hopefully, with time, that will come together.