Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your weekly helping of Rapid-Fire Reviews? Best Shots has you covered, with two dozen of your favorite books of the week! So let's kick off this column with yours truly, as I take a peek at the latest issue of Superior Spider-Man...
Superior Spider-Man #29 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Green Goblin is turning the screws to the Superior Spider-Man - so why aren't we feeling any pain? Dan Slott packs this issue to the gills, but the main casualty of this comic - the places that defined Otto Octavius, like his childhood home and lab - doesn't feel like much of a loss. Is it because we haven't really dug into Otto's psyche lately, finding any new wrinkles on the character that might endear him more? Giuseppe Camuncoli isn't firing on all cylinders, either, as his faces occasionally become blobby and amorphous. That said, the action still comes together nicely, as Camuncoli draws one heck of a Green Goblin (and a pack of Spider Slayers busting through a wall, to boot). Not a bad showing, especially with a Spidey 2099 appearance, but Superior Spider-Man is starting to wear out his welcome.
Green Lantern Corps #29 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Green Lantern Corps might be the only GL book doing the “space cop” concept any justice and it’s one of the best looking cosmic book to come from either of the Big Two. Bernard Chang is absolutely killing it on art. There’s always a bigger chance to fail with space books because while aliens do allow for imagination, that imagination also takes time and so stock characters (usually humanoids with brightly colored skin) fill the backgrounds. Chang uses a variety of looks and couples them with great storytelling sense. Van Jensen does a good job providing adequate pacing to the few storylines he’s balancing and strong characterization all around.
Stray Bullets #41 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Huss and Kevin learn the world is a brutal place when things spiral out of control in a fast paced, twist-and-turn finale to writer-artist David Lapham’s recently resurrected series. Lapham does an amazing job of picking up the threads, moving the story while also filling in backstory for those who never read the initial run. The characters are generally unpleasant, swearing, treating people with contempt, and doing their level best to hurt each other. The art is heavily focused on medium looks and close-ups, showing the anger and fear in the characters. There’s not a lot beyond basic backgrounds, but the emotions and body language more than make up for it in a finale that will make you want to pick up the new series.
Avengers Undercover #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10):Writer Dennis Hopeless takes what's left of these poor kids after Murderworld and prepares more pain in Avengers Undercover #1. Although he does a serviceable job of bringing new readers up to speed, it's a lot of talking head exposition and pulls the story down a bit. Indeed, by the time we get to any kind of narrative hook, most readers will find their attention waning. Visually, the book is rough. Kev Walker's art has a strong grasp of individual expressions to sell the emotional content. However, his character composition simple acts to move the story along, with little reason to excite. This style is hampered further with some muddled coloring by Jean-Francois Beaulieu. This is a book for the loyal only and even then, it has a long way to go.
Batman #29 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This has probably been my favorite of the “Zero Year” tie-ins. Scott Snyder brings his conflict to a head with the drama and tension of the superstorm juxtaposed with the infamous events of Crime Alley. We know why Batman is Batman, but filling in the moments just before his whole life changed enables readers to draw a stronger connection to his methods and motivations. Snyder boils Bruce down to a man that works with what he has. It might be an oversimplification but it works. Greg Capullo pulls out all the stops on the art side. This is some of his strongest cartooning yet and his Chuck Jones influence in undeniable. Readers are also in for a nice homage to The Dark Knight Returns.
Wolverine #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Tell me I'm dreaming. That's the thought I had reading this week's issue of Wolverine - and that's not a good thing. Beyond the big issue of Paul Cornell's premise - namely Wolverine becoming a bit of a coward after the loss of his healing factor - this issue is patched together with tons of hand-waving, whether it's explaining the "soon-to-be-historic sight" of the X-Men fighting a giant robot, or Cornell going through hoops to explain why Jubilee is out in the sun. (Didn't Brian Wood already cover this territory with something smarter than a billion SPF sunscreen?) Ryan Stegman continues to be the best part about this book, with his cartoony designs meshing together parts of Humberto Ramos and Nick Bradshaw, but even he can't save lackluster action sequences like Wolverine nearly being squashed by a robot or being bungee-corded by the Superior Spider-Man. Didn't Fatal Attractions cover this territory years ago, but to much greater effect? It's time to put this all-too-mortal Wolverine out of his misery.
Magnus: Robot Fighter #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Magnus’ life is turned upside-down when face with a very different worldview on human-robot interactions in a debut that doesn’t do much to engage new readers. The character of Magnus has been re-booted multiple times, each seeming to be less successful than the prior version. Despite having Fred Van Lente scripting, this entry shows little promise. Magnus is less interesting than his antagonists and the opening is dull, with the genial Magnus shoved into a world he doesn’t understand before we’ve had a chance to care about his old one. Corey Smith’s art provides plenty of cool-looking robots, but it’s otherwise a very generic future, competently portrayed but without a sense of wonder or magic. This one feels built only for fans of the character.
Superman/Wonder Woman #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): DC's most unlikely power couple continues to charm and throw down, as Superman and Wonder Woman take on a couple of Kryptonians fresh from the Phantom Zone. Charles Soule ties together a lot of threads from the past few issues, including the armor of Hephaestus and Superman's feud with Wonder Woman's brother, the sun god Apollo. But what's great about this book is that it isn't just about punching and blasting like so many other cape comics these days, but also has an emotional question in the middle - namely, how do Superman and Wonder Woman relate to one another? Can they keep doing their jobs not that they're more than just colleagues? Tony Daniel also does some great work here, particularly for the emotional scenes, as we watch a bloody and beaten Superman telling Diana that he loves her - "Of course you do," she coyly smiles back. Lots of great moments, and while sometimes the action beats can stumble a bit, Superman/Wonder Woman always comes back better and stronger than before. This bears all the makings of a beautiful relationship.
Beasts of Burden: Hunters & Gatherers (Published by Dark Horse Comics, Review by Scott Cederlund, ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson one-shot featuring their four-legged supernatural crusaders is a welcomed but too brief visit to Burden Hill and its protectors. Full of a lot of different and unique animals and one hard to catch monster, Dorkin’s dialogue is distinct and perfectly reveals who the characters are. That’s one thing Dorkin is excellent at in all of his writing-- using the characters own words and actions to reveal who they are. As Dorkin does with dialogue, Thompson expertly reveals the characters through their expression and their movement. Together, the creators create truly individual and rich characters. The fun and wonderfully developed characters aren’t enough to cover up a thin story that doesn’t have much of a shape to it. It’s more of a formless reminder that these characters are out there rather than a solid story that shows us anything new about the animals and dangers of Burden Hill.
Hawkeye #17 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Although DC tried running with the "WTF" theme, it's Hawkeye #17 that wins this distinction. It's an oddball holiday story that focuses on a television special Clint watches with his neighbor's children. "The Winter Friends" spoofs The Super Friends cartoon show, various holiday specials, the movement to make the holidays more politically correct, and Clint's own life as a superhero. The bulk of the story is the actual show with the Clint and company only providing the framing narrative. Fraction's tongue-in-cheek dialogue delivers some laughs while Eliopoulis' Watterson-like art works well in creating the child-like cartoon show, and Bellaire's coloring is well-suited to both the frame and primary narratives. However, it is a little off-putting when taking into account readers last saw Clint left for dead on the floor of his apartment building. This is one of Marvel's premiere titles and it needs to get these major shipping issues sorted out.
Unity #5 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Welcome to MI6, Livewire...hope you survive the experience! The machine manipulator is trapped while the rest of Unity gets a history lesson as a new story with familiar themes begins. There’s a definite danger that writer Matt Kindt is falling into a pattern here, as once again the team fights a rogue person mad with power. There’s also the matter of referencing World War II super-teams, an idea that’s far from original. New artist CAFU isn’t quite as vibrant as Doug Braithwaite, with layouts that are less dynamic. He’s not able to make Kindt’s word-heavy story stand out, but the character designs and line art closely resemble Braithwaite, giving a smooth transition. Hopefully, all aspects of the creative team will distinguish themselves more next issue.
Nightwing #29 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10):There is no getting around it. Nightwing #29 reads like a story where everyone wanted more time, but had the rug pulled out from under them. Kyle Higgins does his best to tie-up looses ends in Dick Grayson's life, while doing his best to say goodbye to the character. You can sense the love for the character in these pages, but also feel there was so much more Higgins wanted to say. The same can be said for the art by Russell Dauterman. Everything about this issue looks like work that was rushed. While his lines are clean, there is very little depth to them. His minimalist panel layout is interesting, but doesn't fit the tone of the book. Instead, it reads as an attempt to cover a lack of time. It's not the best way to end a run, but at least the intent is there.
Monster & Madman #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): Frankenstein’s Monster mopes and murders in a meandering, dull first issue that feels incredibly padded and unnecessarily morose. Steve Niles’s version of the creature gets attacked by a Russian sailor, then hides as a crew member until the unsavory Captain asks him to return to his murderous ways. Whining monster angst is no fun to read, and artist Damien Worm does no favors by opting for an abstract look that plays so heavily on black space to the point of obscuring the art itself. There are entire pages where all you can see clearly are the characters’ eyes, but the attempt at creating a shadowy atmosphere doesn’t work at all. Despite merging Jack the Ripper and the Frankenstein mythos, this one should be avoided.
Captain Marvel #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This #1 issue kicks off Kelly Sue DeConnick's second volume of Captain Marvel, and it provides an interesting launch point for new readers. Although the issue starts in media res set against the backdrop of an alien space market, the book quickly transitions to previous events in New York that led to Carol's intergalactic deployment. Clearly, life has continued moving on since readers finished Issue #17 of volume one, such as her relationship with Rhodey, that readers may not be following from the other Marvel titles. That said, DeConnick doesn't rely on these extra-title details as key plot points, so it shouldn't bar many readers from jumping onto the series. Artistically, it's incredibly solid between Lopez's mainstream – but distinct – aesthetic to Loughridge's vibrant, earthy colors. Likewise, DeConnick's ear for capturing true-to-life thoughts and voices for her characters helps bring this story together for readers of all persuasions.
X-Files Season 10 #10 (Published by IDW; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Writer Joe Harris peers into the haze of the Cigarette Smoking Man, offering teasing links to Mulder and notable parts of 20th Century history along the way. It’s interesting to see where Harris is going here, as the information provided is clear in some points and vague in others, which is appropriate. However, this is yet another filler issue, albeit one that’s stronger than the past few short stories. Mention3’s moody, atmospheric style works well here, moving in and out of clarity along with the overall storyline. He’s able to strategically obscure details, calling what we do see into sharp relief while using the entire page. Overall, this one works well for what it’s trying to do but Harris needs to find an arc soon.
Constantine #12 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Magic books are already a bit convoluted by their nature. Throw-in a huge overarching crossover and they can become even more dense. But Ray Fawkes tries to keep things as simple as possible. Forever Evil hasn’t been kind to Constantine and what we get here is essentially a drawn out fight comic, bereft of the character’s intrinsic charm. Nick Necro is as bland as villains come and his scorned lover/mentor manner is a snooze. Beni Lobel and Brad Anderson’s art isn’t bad, though. There are a few standout moments in terms of layout and composition with Swamp Thing that bring out the best in both of them.
Witchblade #173 (Published by Top Cow/Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): You don’t know what you had until it’s gone, as Sara fights to regain her lives in a breather issue setting up the (kinda) former bearer of the Witchblade against an amped-up Angelus. Laura Braga and Betsy Golina once again hit all the right artistic notes, showing Angelus’ desperation that leads to less than virtuous acts and the determination on Sara’s face. Their use of body language carries a few talk-heavy scenes. Writer Ron Marz finishes up the backstory of what’s happened before the start of his new arc and does a rather clever job of using Sara to show how much any woman must fight to keep what’s rightfully hers. That combination of character and story makes this a solid comic every month.
Black Widow #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): If I could only be a fly on the wall…and while I can't, it's a device Edmondson effectively uses in (part of) this story to reinforce why Black Widow is the best at what she does. Although some readers may want more continuity from this title, the strength behind this series lies, in part, in its episodic nature making it incredibly accessible to newer readers. This issue also addresses an interesting idea as to the effective deployment of superheroes in certain circumstances – these characters are not necessarily geared for a "one hero fits all situations" approach; yet, Natasha does her best against a canon-toting behemoth in spite of the seeming mismatch. Artistically, Phil Noto's art comes across as breezy and effortless, and it should in no way be mistaken as unfinished. Instead, he creates space for the eye to rest and not be overburdened with excessive detail in all the right spots all the while imbuing each panel with a sense of vibrancy and motion with his varied perspectives and lush colors.
Stray Bullets: Killers #1 (Published by Image Comics, Review by Scott Cederlund, ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Part coming-of-age story, part violent and seedy underside-of-life tale, David Lapham’s tale is ultimately one of nihilism. Eli is a teenage boy. Like any other boy, he tries to impresses his friends with tales of hiding his father’s car to sneak into a strip club to see all of the women there. Not yet quite old enough, he doesn’t really understand what any of it means other than naked women dancing and men enjoying it. It gets even more surreal and yet strangely innocent for him when he realizes that he knows one of the women, a friend’s sister who used to babysit him. Lapham’s story of Eli, his father, and this issue’s killer Scottie bounces back and forth between a tale of growing up and a tale of being old enough to understand everything is wrong. Ultimately, the nihilistic ending tells the tale of desperate men and dangerous men. Lapham’s world isn’t about life being meaningless; it’s about life being mean and unforgiving.
Batgirl #29 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Batgirl - sometimes it’s a hit and other times it’s a total miss. For this issue, it's the latter. This quick wrap-up for Barbara’s vampire storyline feels all to empty of any impact and ends abruptly with a shrug for both Babs and the reader. It’s all so much of what we have seen before in Simone’s run on the character with boy trouble, cop trouble, and an unremarkable villain. Art duo of Johnathan Glapion and Fernando Pasarin fit the DC house style but can’t stick the landing when it comes to those blockbuster moments, leaving the action feeling stilted. Simone has deftly brought Barbara back into the cape and cowl in her run on the title but issue #29 doesn’t see the character moving forward - indeed, in this case, it feels almost like she's moving backwards.
Superior Foes of Spider-Man #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Not even a Bullseye on his back can stop Boomerang from trying to scheme his way out of trouble in another issue that defies convention and ups the ridiculousness at every turn. Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber keep pushing the bounds of a corporate comic, this time with a self-loving Chameleon playing both parts in a love scene. Lieber is assisted on art by Rich Ellis, and they work so seamlessly you can barely tell the transitions among the visual gags that give this book its distinctive feel. Every quip by Spencer gets just the right image, whether it’s Silvermane’s head in a pink neck pillow or Tinkerer sporting a Manning jersey. This superior comedy keeping doubling down on the antics and action every month.
Justice League of America #13 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): It's rare for a comic to make me mad, but this one sure did. Writer Matt Kindt weaves a brisk action story with a lot of heart, even if some of his metaphors and jokes are suspect (Despero sounding like a cereal? Really?). But what really upsets me about this book is that Kindt does create a nice moment for Stargirl as she single-handedly battles Despero and frees the Justice League... only to make it all a dream. It automatically invalidates the whole book, stopping it dead in its tracks. Eddy Barrows and Tom Derenick work astonishingly well together, but their quartet of inkers and colorists don't do them any favors, flattening their artwork. But the problem with this book is that it could have been good, it could have been special, if only the greater Forever Evil story would allow it.
Liberator / Earth Crisis #1 (Published by Black Mask Studios; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): This issue is the first part of a two-issue collaboration between Liberator series creator, Matt Miner, with the vegan metal band, Earth Crisis. It tells the story of a young woman, Sarah, who begins working at a laboratory known for using animals as test subjects but soon comes to discover she can no longer tolerate the inhumanity she faces. Inspired by characters from the regular series, Damon and Jeanette, Sarah becomes a vigilante animal rescuer. The depictions of animal treatment are evocative and will no doubt provoke an emotional response from many readers. Make no mistake – this book looks to take a stand on an emotionally charged issue and will not be to everyone's tastes. Nevertheless, it is thought-provoking whatever side of the fence one sits on, and the medium can only stand to benefit from more works that challenge readers to think.
Unity, Vol. 1: To Kill a King TPB (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Toyo Harada’s too clever by half in a scheme to take advantage of a global crisis in this first arc that makes an strong debut. Writer Matt Kindt weaves a tight plot of misdirection and redemption, creating a credible threat when X-O Manowar returns “home” to find himself square in the sights of an aggressive Russia. Kindt has a great handle on the personalities of the Unity “team” and their actions and dialogue feel natural and fluid. Gluing it together is artist Doug Braithwaite, who is able to switch between brutal, violent destruction and the creation of a virtual battlefield for the X-O armor. His work is slick and polished with varied panels, giving readers just the right in-your-face look for this fast moving story.