Batman/Superman Annual #1
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with eight reviews from the industry's biggest publishers! So let's kick off today's column with Jumpin' Justin Partridge, III, as he takes a look at the latest issue of She-Hulk...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday column? Best Shots has you covered, with eight reviews from the industry's biggest publishers! So let's kick off today's column with Jumpin' Justin Partridge, III, as he takes a look at the latest issue of She-Hulk...

She-Hulk #2
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

She-Hulk is charming. This may be a foreign concept to some readers, or even a dirty word to some of those working in the industry, but there is absolutely no avoiding it. Charles Soule’s take on She-Hulk is just downright charming, and it's a breath of fresh air within comics. Soule seems to be channeling John Byrne in the best possible way by giving us just the most fun stories imaginable and building off the amazing foundation that is Jennifer Walters as a character, much like Byrne did during his classic Sensational She-Hulk run. In a climate of gloom and doom, She-Hulk stands as a beacon of bright storytelling that has nowhere to go but up.

Issue #2 finds Jennifer Walters facing the reality of her decision to start her own firm. Its here that Soule really takes the time to deepen She-Hulk’s cast and establish her surroundings. We are not only introduced to her new assistant, a genius with a monkey companion, but we are given our second lead in the form of the woefully underused Patsy Walker, Hellcat. Every time Patsy shows up in a comic you should know that you are in for something pretty ginchy and She-Hulk #2 is no exception. Soule writes her as the sparkplug that we all know and love, but he takes it just a step further in casting her as more than a match for the Jade Giantess, using her as the fiery foil to Jen’s harried lead. Its almost superhero sitcom writing and its a blast and a half to read. But this comic isn’t just wall to wall jokes for 22 pages. Soule makes a real effort to write these characters are realistically as possible. Patsy makes rash decisions, Jen puts herself in harm’s way to protect her friend, and then imparts the wisdom that people aren’t marks on a scoreboard to a pair of ambitious A.I.M. agents. Like most great sitcoms, they manage to tell grounded human stories amid the wackiness and She-Hulk does precisely that.

Javier Pulido displays once again why he’s one of the most visually interesting and kinetic artists working today with She-Hulk #2. In a conversation with one of my fellow critics the other day, I used the analogy of him being the Jack Kirby to Mike Allred’s Steve Ditko and this issue gives me a few more examples to strengthen my argument. From his powerful action poses to his incredible examples of comic book sound effects that leap from the page, Pulido is doing the work of his career here. The entire issue moves at a breakneck pace, even when its just telling jokes or delivering exposition. Each and every panel conveys the perfect balance of emotion and action, all while giving the book a signature, wide paneled look that harken back to the days of Byrne and Juan Bobillo. Also instrumental in giving She-Hulk its gorgeous look is colorist Muntsa Vicente, who gives the book a slick pop art look that makes each page burst forth in gorgeous classic Marvel style colors. The whole look of the comic is wonderfully retro and that’s is a huge part of the charm of the series. It isn’t interested in huge crossovers (just yet anyway) or reinventing the wheel when it comes to the medium. It just wants to tell a great story coupled with gorgeous old school art and it delivers one hundred fold on all fronts.

Charles Soule’s star is quickly on the rise in the world of comics, but She-Hulk is making a very strong case for the standout book in his current output and a big part of that is Soule’s charmingly retro take on Jennifer Walters. For too long have certain comics reveled in the darkness of what people have called “legitimate comics,” but there is absolutely no room for that sort of thing in the pages of She-Hulk. This isn’t to say that the comic is juvenile, but there is a certain freshness to seeing a creative team commit to just telling fun and engaging stories with characters that they are clearly having a blast working with. Its almost enough to make you want to break out your old Merry Marvel Marching Society badges.

Credit: DC Comics

Batwing #29
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Eduardo Pansica, Julio Ferreira and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

I love when a hero gets payback, especially when the act is both retaliatory and cathartic. Batwing writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray give the relatively new Luke Fox a reason to enact his revenge in a comic that is a bit uneven, but definitely satisfying.

Batwing falls a little flat in two areas: pacing and characterization. Most of the comic is a great build up to Luke Fox taking on a city of subterranean thugs dressed in Anubis masks, and people who were responsible for some pretty terrible things that happened to his sister. Palmiotti and Gray deserve a lot of credit for the game change they’ve thrown into Lucius Fox’s life as it adds a malevolence which makes Luke’s actions understandable while not diminishing their intensity.

Yet the tension and suspense that Palmiotti and Gray build is almost derailed by Luke’s internal dialogue (which works against the grain of his rage), and a decision to transition back to a one page confrontation between Lucius Fox and Bruce Wayne. Up to this point, Palmiotti and Gray had given Luke full license to be as brutal as he wanted, but the shift - meant to build the tension - pulls us away from the moment slightly, making Luke’s entrance not as powerful.

But when he starts beating the members of Anubis, his rage becomes a vessel for our own disgust, and I couldn’t help but cheer Luke on as he bashed gang member after gang member, failing to hold back his anger and violence. He definitely shows his ability to be both imposing and powerful, and the fight below Gotham is where the character has his best moments.

The redesigned Batwing costume gets some great visuals courtesy of Eduardo Pansica, and when looking at Pansica’s work, I’m reminded of Dan Jurgens. The art has a steady, perfunctory quality. Pansica’s heroes definitely fit the bill, and while he doesn’t get too creative with the panel construction, in the moments when he breaks from a linear, story-telling mold, the art is even sharper. This is particularly impressive during the fight sequence at the end.

Luke Fox is a pretty solid lead, and he definitely gets help being as brutal as Batman. Save for a few hiccups, the issue puts readers on Luke’s side, and as many other members of the Bat-Family already know, personal vendettas lead to dogged heroism. Like his colleagues, Luke has had to learn this the hard way, but hopefully the experience will help mold him into a better character, and one who can solidly carry the title.

Credit: Image Comics

Starlight #1
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Goran Parlov and Ive Svorcina
Lettering by Marko Sunjic
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Where has this Mark Millar been? The Mark Millar from when he wrote DC's Superman with more heart and less violence. The Millar that has a hero grieve and come across as human rather than exploitive stereotypes. We haven't seen this Millar in a while, but he's definitely back in good form with Image's Starlight.

With the resurgence of old pulp hero comics, Millar is creating his own with Starlight, well...sort of. Starlight takes the concept of the Earth hero flying off to an alien world, and answers "and then?". Former pilot Duke McQueen is Millar's Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon analog here and we learn so much about Duke in such a short period of time, it feels like we've already had the series for three issues. As the reason why it feels that way is because Starlight is just that good.

We get glimpses of Duke's adventures on the alien world, taking on a sort of Ming analog and becoming a hero of legend intercut with his life now and hints of what it was like returning to Earth. Hint: it didn't go really well when he tried to explain he was the savior of an alien race. Duke has tried to make good with his children who have pretty much abandoned him and actually debated on putting him in a home at their mother's funeral. Yeesh. There was a moment where everything felt like it could have been an illusion in Duke's mind, but a familiar face showing up near the end guarantees this is only the start of Duke's next big adventure.

Artist Goran Parlov joins Millar on this contemporary take on an old genre as he gives the look and feel to the alien world a distinguished and inspired look with outrageous architecture and sleek fashions. Though on the flipside, gives the modern world an Anywhere, USA look to it and as we get a feel on how the town, and possibly the world, views Duke: boring and somewhat of an outsider, almost a nuisance. Parlov's quasi-P. Craig Russell linework along with colorist Ive Svorcina, paints one world with exaggerating flair with rich blues and eerie greens and bold yellows, and the other with a toned down look, but still great looking nonetheless.

Millar and Parlov's portrait of Starlight is an easy one to grasp. It feels accessible and reads like a charm. Definitely a departure from Millar's recent hard sci-fi Jupiter's Legacy and pretty much world's apart from his ultraviolent works, Starlight is for fans hungering for a throwback adventure story, and for those who know that Millar is capable of delivering more than just twisted spins on superhero stories. Should Millar and Parlov keep this up, this book could be the next big hit for Image and given the impressive start, I don't know how it couldn't be.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman/Superman Annual #1
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Jae Lee, Kenneth Rocafort, Philip Tan, June Chung, Nei Ruffino and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Rob Lee
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Greg Pak wouldn't be Greg Pak if it wasn't for his magnum opus Planet Hulk, the sword-swinging, bare-knuckle brawling on an alien gladiator planet. Yet even with his cadre of warriors at his side, the Hulk still stood alone - but what happens when you bring family into the mix? Tapping into the robust supporting cast of the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight, Batman/Superman Annual #1 skates along based on the quality of concept and the strength of the art team, resulting in a surprisingly fun read.

Of course, despite similarities in the core concept, this issue is actually very different from the usual Greg Pak output. This story is actually fairly loose in structure, as Batman and Superman are manipulated into a series of gladiator matches thanks to the son of Mongul. Pak writes with a brisk pace as he assembles the supporting cast members of each of these heroes' respective families, including Batgirl, the Red Hood, Supergirl, Steel and Krypto the Super-Dog.

You can already sense that this many characters stretches even this annual almost to bursting - particularly as Batgirl and Steel just act as techie saboteurs, adding little to the story besides forced cameo appearances. Still, Pak seems to have fun not just with Superman and Batman, but also gets in some good moments with Red Hood and Supergirl, the resident loose cannons of their franchises. When you watch Red Hood bouncing around with energy blades while trying to get some good-natured flirting on with the Last Daughter of Krypton, you can't help but wish you could see a spin-off story featuring these two all-powerful screw-ups.

The artwork is the most impressive and the most uneven bit of this book. Jae Lee blows it out of the water with his moody introduction, using shadows and silhouettes to play up the iconic nature of these heroes. (Particularly the unsettling way he draws Superman - he looks so serene the way he flies, yet the sheer size of the items he's lifting, along with the undulating tendrils of hair and shadow in his wake, makes you justifiably feel a bit uneasy.) His take on Supergirl lifting a bridge and Red Hood leaping through the air is especially memorable.

Kenneth Rocafort is a decent shift, with his angular linework, although his panel composition continues to feel self-indulgent - still, his fight sequences are quite nice to look at. (Although it's weird the way that Krypto suddenly transforms from a normal dog to some sort of over-the-top, shaggy wolfhound.) Philip Tan may be the weak link of the bunch towards the end, as his characters feel fairly blobby, with the shadows looking particularly unwieldy as during the book's big explosive climax.

That said, there are people who might cry foul at this issue's large price point, shifting art teams and unfocused, almost jazz-like narrative - and they would be right. Batman/Superman Annual #1 isn't a comic that's going to go down in the history books, but instead is a bit more of a disposable but entertaining read. It's nice to see Greg Pak and DC Comics utilizing the Batman and Superman families beyond something like a depressing, status quo-altering crossover book - this is pure adventure with no frills, and that's what makes it fun.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #1
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Call it the Hawkeye Effect. The ripple effects that spread through Marvel after the success of Hawkeye, at this point, can’t be denied. Now character is being put over concept and books are more personal and singular feeling than ever, guided by the deft hands of some of the most talented people in the business. Last week we were treated to the first issue of another such book like this with the most unlikely character imaginable; Marc Spector, the infamous (and all kinds of crazy) Moon Knight, who has become a out of left field star of a book that fits perfectly among this new crop of character oriented works and along side other notable takes on Marvel’s most notorious C-lister.

Moon Knight #1 finds our sack masked weirdo back in New York and acting as a consultant of sorts to a special investigation squad that handles the grotesque and macabre. Warren Ellis gets all the housecleaning required for new readers out of the way quickly, letting the action of this issue and Moon Knight’s personality take center stage. Moon Knight isn’t the most well known of Marvel’s anti-heroes so Ellis quickly sums up not only his origin, but his recent exploits under the hand of Brian Michael Bendis, providing a fast paced two pages of recap for readers coming in blind. With the introduction done and dusted, Ellis hits the ground with a methodical pace, establishing just who Marc is now and how is likes to spend his days, which is dressing in a completely bug nuts outfit and bringing justice to those who would harm innocent travelers by night.

Ellis also ventures to take it just a bit further than his predecessors by firmly establishing Marc’s relationship with Khonshu, the Egyptian god that restored Marc’s life, instead of just tiptoeing around this deep well of weirdness like other writers have. The connection with an otherworldly entity has always set Moon Knight apart from other more by the numbers Marvel anti-heroes, but now Ellis has added a level of pulp unseen in relation to the character since the Chuck Dixon days. You would think that this would over complicate the book and bog it down in the very thing that sets it apart, but instead it does the direct opposite. In fully committing to this idea that Marc really hasn’t been as crazy as people have thought all along, it streamlines the narrative and gives it definite legs going forward. Its this kind of economic storytelling that makes Warren Ellis one of the greats and his de-cluttering of Marc Spector’s backstory definitely gives him a very large and suitably weird sandbox to play in for future issues.

Declan Shalvey, fresh off a stint drawing Deadpool, delves into the weird right alongside Ellis, giving us the grime of the street juxtaposed against our starkly dapper protagonist. Armed with the almost weaponized colors of Jordie Bellaire, Shalvey gives us a stylishly macabre noir look that is equal parts Michael Lark and Stephen Bissette. Shalvey understands that Moon Knight inhabits the worlds of above and below so he gives us all aspects of that. Everything on the streets above is properly rain soaked and recognizable as the city that we know, but deep below the street is a world of monsters and unseen horrors. Shalvey gives us both in spades, making them both feel lived in and alive with their own dangers. Jordie Bellaire also seems to be completely game for everything as well, lending a sinister edge to her colors above and below. At the crime scene, she lights and shades it like a dank procedural, hinting at the violence that was just committed with sparse splashes of Giallo reds, yet down below where the monsters hide, she gives us the full horror show, accented with metallic blues and fleshy tones, with the blinding white of Moon Knight’s costume as the light in the center of the violence. The whole look of the book just screams pulp and its exactly what a book like this should look like.

While Hawkeye may have inspired a line of charming, character-centric comics in its wake, Moon Knight seems to be taking this formula and running it straight into the realm of the penny dreadful. Warren Ellis, a writer who has made his name giving us famous outcasts, has definitely found another such weirdo to lend his distinctive voice to and an art team that is 100% along for the ride. Moon Knight always seemed like a character that was always just one run away from truly breaking out as Marvel’s next big star, and now it seems under this creative team, he’s finally poised to take his turn in the spotlight.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Lantern #29
Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Billy Tan, Martin Coccolo, Rob Hunter, Walden Wong, Alex Sinclair and Tony Avina
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that all writers should be sadists. “No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters,” Vonnegut says, “make awful things happen to them - in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” Green Lantern scribe Robert Vendetti has certain taken this advice to heart and he isn’t pulling any punches this month.

Venditti has a lot of irons in a lot of different fires, and all them seem to be leading to some sort of epic interstellar war. The issue is really a buildup for future events, but this kind of plotting allows Venditti to craft some powerful interactions with his characters. Much of the comic centers on a build up to war as The Green Lanterns track munitions back to a planet whose inhabitants used to be friendly with the Corps. What they’re learning, however, is that much of the universe sees them as gluttonous, taking excessively from the light well of the galaxy.

Here, Venditti uses the perfect vehicle to get Hal off world for a while. His goodbye to his brother, while short lived, is pretty heart wrenching. Under Venditti’s command, Hal lacks the ego and hubris that have not only defined the character, but also gotten him into a lot of trouble. We’re seeing a more modest Hal, one who admits to his errors, but one who also looks for ways to improve them.

Additionally, St. Walker’s conversation with Mogo is all about hope, who has it, who’s lost it, and how to regain it. The metaphors are a bit heavy handed, but work well especially with Billy Tan’s shadow leaden imagery. The finale of the comic, however, is a bit underwhelming. Where most of the issue was focused on building relationships between the characters, the sequence at the end is obligatory action. The battle begins and ends quickly, without much fanfare, and the purpose seems to be to reinforce what we’re already aware of. The corps has dissension, led by the always confrontational Vath, and we’ll probably see a civil war of some kind in the near future.

The main inconsistency, though, is in the visuals as the duty passes back and forth between Billy Tan and Martin Coccolo. Save for the moments with St. Walker, the art lacks sharpness, and in many of the panels, the characters look pinched and obscure. Close ups have more of the detail many Green Lantern readers have become accustomed to, but most of the art isn’t polished.

The mark of a good writer is one who, even when nothing “happens,” can still keep readers engaged. Robert Venditti is that person. Green Lantern has a lot of promise in its upcoming story line, and all the pieces involved seem to be leading up to an important conclusion, one that will probably have serious repercussions on the Green Lantern universe. And because Venditti isn’t afraid to destroy his characters’ lives, we’ll definitely have an opportunity to see what they’re made of.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Adventure Time: Seeing Red OGN
Written by Kate Leth
Art by Zachary Sterling, Ru Xu, Tessa Stone and Amanda Lafrenais
Lettering by Aubrey Aiese
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

BOOM! Studios has continually taken the road less travelled when tracking down new contributors for their licensed comics. With Adventure Time, tapping webcomics creators has allowed the franchise to maintain the off-kilter sensibilities that make the cartoon so good. Kate Leth is no stranger to Adventure Time with previous work in Marceline and the Scream Queens and Fionna & Cake. In Seeing Red, Leth teams up Marceline and Jake on a quest to find Marceline’s bass guitar. Paired with Zachary Sterling’s art, this one is an absolute winner.

Part of the fun of the Adventure Time world is that basically anything can happen. Creators are only limited by themselves. Leth takes full advantage. She fleshes out some history about the Nighosphere. She reminds of not only of Marceline’s place in Ooo as a Vampire Queen but also a rockstar. There’s a band with a corgi playing drums that has a song called “Battleship Cats.” All the while, Leth maintains the sense of humor that she’s cultivated in her webcomic, Kate of Die, and instills the same self awareness in the characters that is present on the show. Adventure Time isn’t preachy. By speaking truths without masking them in metaphor, it stays fun while also being earnest. Leth captures that in spades. The problem with funny comics like this one though is that pacing can suffer. Extending a scene for the sake of a gag can lead to an uneven reading experience. For the most part, Seeing Red avoids that pitfall, but not entirely.

Zachary Sterling has his Adventure Time chops on full display here. Marceline and Jake are fun characters, in part because of their shapeshifting powers. Sterling fills his panels with all sorts of noodly arms and legs; there’s a ton of energy in his work. The panel layouts are understandably simplistic but he packs a lot in. Amanda Lafrenais tones are excellent as well. The Land of Ooo is usually a very colorful place, but the Lafrenais is still able to capture the buoyancy of the world, even in blacks, whites and greys.

BOOM!’s strong track record continues with Seeing Red. It’s nice to see another book with Marceline at the center. Adventure Time is a property ripe with endless possibilities and, arguably, even the most minor characters could hold their own title if the talent behind them is up to par. Marceline is met with a worthy set of creators in this one who tell a story that opens up opportunities for even more stories. This is how you do strong, licensed comics.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Adventures of Superman Chapter #45
Written by Ron Marz
Art by Evan "Doc" Shaner and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Wes Abbott
Published by DC Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

It's quite the rarity of me to even read Superman titles but if we had more of stuff like this, I could be converted. With the finale of the three-part digital first "Only Child" Ron Marz, Evan Shaner, and Matthew Wilson have crafted a story that officially sets the bar for the next team so high, they're going to have to be able to soar just to skim the bottom of it.

Given the length of each of these "issues", Marz maximized the time allotted and wasted none of it that gives this the finale it deserves and covered all the bases accordingly. This whole arc has sort of felt like a series of short films, but in the sort of old school serial style with Kirk Alyn, but with better special effects. After an Iron Giant-looking robot surfaces, Superman soon discovers it is not of Kryptonian origin, but something more sinister and it's up to him to save the day, and Metropolis. While that comes across as a bit of a cliché or an almost Superman trope, Marz injects tons of heart into the dialog and character. While Superman might not be of this world, Clark Kent didn't realize he was alien until his teen years. Marz reflects that with a Superman that still considers himself an earthling, but can feel lonely now and then.

Shaner's slick throwback Toth-like style balances perfectly with Marz's straightforward action scenes and the more subtle Lois and Clark moments with each scene. Shaner channeled a few of his inspirations to give Superman an adventure older fans and DC purists something to behold with a charming Man of Steel that perseveres in the end. Shaner has been slowly building a solid resume as of late, with this being the pinnacle of his storytelling abilities thus far. Add in uber-talented colorist Matthew Wilson to lay down a soft and gentle look without over saturating and distracting from Shaner's linework, you've got a great looking book.

This arc elevates Shaner to mid-carder to potential main event player and proves Marz's ability that he's still one of the best storytellers on his generation. "Only Child" not only continues the Adventures of Superman's strong lineage, but something that Superman fans who never latched on to the New 52 can find solace in. The Adventures of Superman title has had a lot of great talent so far for such a freshman title, but given this story alone, is probably the Superman title you should concern yourself with.

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