Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the Thursday column? Best Shots had you covered, with this week's edition of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off today's column with the latest tie-in to Marvel's Original Sin, Avengers #29...
Avengers #29 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Finally. I've had my share of criticisms for Jonathan Hickman's Avengers, but seeing Steve Rogers remember being mindwiped by Iron Man and the Illuminati gives this title a punch that it hasn't had in quite some time. Writer Jonathan Hickman goes out of his way to remind us of what's happened before, and the white-hot anger he gives Captain America is some of the most energetic the character has been since this series' first arc. Tony Stark comes off as appropriately dupliticitous, snarky and even a little sad, and the sort of Civil War 2.0 battle royale that results is the sort of hard-hitting action that you might expect in an actual Avengers film. (Thunder gods and Starbrands versus a legion of Iron Man suits, with even a cameo of one of the Infinity Gems? Bring it on.) Leinil Francis Yu's artwork is inked a little sketchily, but the pure rage he shows in Captain America's eyes is pretty striking, not to mention the sinister way the Iron Man suit folds upon Tony. Some might say this owes a little too much to DC's Identity Crisis, and others rightly may say this is too little, too late, but this is one of the best outings I've seen of Jonathan Hickman's Avengers.
Futures End #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Now this is some pre-New 52 DC stuff right here! The entire issue plays like a eulogy to the Ollie Queen of old. Audiences get an angry Roy Harper that’s more Red Arrow than Outsiders Arsenal and beardy, social crusader Green Arrow. Even penciler Jesús Merino has a style that reminiscent of Phil Jimenez during Infinite Crisis. The few pages in Futures End #2 not dedicated to the funeral for Green Arrow adds more mystery to the story than actually progressing what’s already been established. However, this might pace fine in the long run for a weekly title. Although there is a lot of entertainment in the DC multiverse, so far things are feeling a little anachronistic in Future’s End.
All-New X-Men #27 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This issue finally answers questions we've had since Battle of the Atom - who is Raze, really? How is the Future Brotherhood's Xavier related to the Charles Xavier we know? Brian Michael Bendis writes plot twists that not even dedicated fans will have predicted. The fact that young Future Xavier has a "Cyclops Was Right" poster in his bedroom shows Bendis' brilliance at ironic humor. Stuart Immonen excels at drawing action-packed fights and framing quiet scenes as the issue alternates between both. Wade von Grawbadger's inks and Marte Gracia's colors look especially emotive and sinister when shading Xavier's and Mystique's faces. It's refreshing to see underutilized characters like Magik, the Stepford Cuckoos, and Christopher Muse speak many more lines than they have recently in this title or in Uncanny X-Men. While normal-length, this issue feels pleasingly longer than average due to the full story and sheer amount of reveals. This is a better, more intriguing, and more exciting issue than any of the "Trial of Jean Grey" mini-event.
Justice League United #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): A version of a self-proclaimed Justice League is handling a rather monumental kerfuffle on a Canadian tundra. Meanwhile, Hawkman and Lobo are exchanging literal and metaphorical blows-off planet. That's basically it. Plot exposition seems to be reserved for a later issue because it’s all characterization and bonding for Justice League United #1. Buddy Baker and Oliver Queen provide the comic relief, while Stargirl steals the superhero show (not to mention a hug from Martian Manhunter). That alone is almost worth the price of admission, except for the part where she refers to herself as a “teenybopper” and the fight scenes being accented with thematic red and white "POW!" panels. So not only are we in Canada, but it's 1988? Despite Jeff Lemire’s honest attempt at team-building, the eye-rolling slang and ham-fisted Canadian innuendo overshadow the potential character chemistry. Good thing Mike McKone was on the job to make it all look very pretty. Justice League United #1 is a comic that exists, but I am not sure why.
The United States of Murder Inc. #1 (Published by Marvel/Icon; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Clocking in at a staggering 32 pages of story and 53 pages worth of back matter (a creator interview, the script for issue #1, and concept sketches) for just $3.99, Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming are certainly aiming to give readers their money's worth in this inaugural issue. More important than quantity, however, is the quality this creative team delivers. Bendis' ear for dialogue is a continued strength even as he creates some interesting character dynamics while establishing this crime-ridden world. And while I am fan of Oeming's linework, I found his inking stood out most in the way he helped set and maintain the ominous tone of this gangster book especially during the initiation ceremony early on. Additionally, this issue was Taki Soma's first publication as a colorist, and I thought she was most effective in those scenes where she applies a more monochromatic palate, which accentuated Oeming's brooding atmosphere without overpowering his ink work. Overall, it's a compelling crime drama that will no doubt appeal to enthusiastic and even casual fans of the genre.
Batman Eternal #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Trevor McCarthy turns in the best looking issue we’ve seen so far as James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder add Batwing, Doctor Phosphorus, Gentleman Ghost and Spectre to the fray. We’re still firmly in building mode but we’re starting to lose sight of the inciting incident. Gordon’s mishap and the return of the Roman feel like they happened so long ago because we’ve seen an attempt to weave so many other storylines in. On the character front though, Tynion and Snyder do a great job establishing Batwing and Spectre for those who may be unfamiliar. Batman’s defeat of Gentleman Ghost is a welcome injection of levity as well. McCarthy is sorely missed across DC’s publishing line. This might be a bit more traditional than his work on Batwoman but it still displays an adept understanding of mood and storytelling that suits this installation.
All-New Ghost Rider #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Style can only take you so far, and All-New Ghost Rider #3 already feels in danger of stalling out. Writer Felipe Smith's story focuses a little too heavy on the nondescript gangbanger bad guys, and has too little time with new antihero Robbie Reyes behind the wheel. (And when the Ghost Rider is in action, he's not even driving!) It's not bad to remove your main character from his regular motorcycling milieu, but there needs to be something else substantial in its place. Artist Tradd Moore is clearly stretching himself with his cartoony lines, but sometimes moments don't translate or - in the case of one bad guy who nearly folds in half with a blow to the chin - winds up looking comical. Moore's true believers will have every reason to stick around, but this relaunch of Ghost Rider is unlikely to win any new converts.
Batgirl #31 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Few characters in DC Comics continuity are as endearing, albeit psychotically, as Ragdoll. And as Alex Garner’s gorgeous cover to Batgirl #31 promises, there is Ragdoll here. Armed with Gail Simone’s signature sadism and strange sentiment, Ragdoll punctuates the plot in the most delightful way, while Batgirl is galvanized to defend those she loves. It is all set-up and super-tight hugs for Batgirl with the promise of something sinister on the horizon. Simone’s exquisite and emotional character moments are intricately animated by Fernando Pasarin’s wildly detailed pencils and Jonathan Glapion’s potent inks. The detail and perspectives they’ve rendered are remarkable, made even more so by Blond’s stunning reds and yellows, the definitive colors of our punchy protagonist and our darling Ragdoll. Batgirl #31 is a beautifully drawn, engaging issue, and also serves as a pretty solid jumping-on point. Go for it.
New Avengers #18 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): After what has felt like pages upon pages of exposition, Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers finally seems to be pouring it on in terms of dynamic storytelling. Issue #18 gives us a final check-in with our secretive heroes as well as firmly bringing new member Bruce Banner into the fold before they face their newest moral judgment call: whether or not they should face down the Great Society, a not-so-subtle spin on DC's Justice League. This series as a whole has always been a presser cooker of tension between the characters and the outside world, but in Issue #18 everything feels as if it was just about to boil over at any second - a welcome change to the ponderous sci-fi that we have been presented in previous issues. Valerio Schiti is the latest artist to join the rotating stable of New Avengers artists, and much like his previous work in Mighty Avengers, he does not disappoint. Schiti also injects a much-needed sense of visual dynamism into the title. While Rags Morales swatted at this feeling in previous issues, Schiti smashes it, loading each panel with heavy subtext and embuing the sparse action sequences with fast-paced energy. If you dropped this book long ago, no one could really blame you, but with issue #18, Hickman and Schiti may be finally on the road to regaining a lapsed readership.
Afterlife With Archie #5 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating 8 out of 10): The first arc wraps with this issue’s spotlighting of the Lodge family’s Alfred clone, Hubert Smithers. Indispensable and discrete, his are the eyes through which we voyeur on the Riverdale survivors encamped in Veronica’s mansion. The telenovellas of immaturity occurring between characters play petty against the face of the apocalypse unfolding outside, especially Veronica’s “Archie loves Betty more than me” simpering, but they’re teens and, well, hormones. At least Archie steps to as a believable leader whose fateful decision sets up the next arc. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa fumbles a little by telling more than showing in this chapter, but Francesco Francavilla’s artistic stylings are able to mitigate much of that with a noirish feel. This is going to be amazing in a collected trade edition.
Captain Marvel #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): David Lopez’ art really allows Captain Marvel to overcome a lot of the problems that plagued the last volume. His close-up character work is sublime, but he’s talented enough to sell the big action scenes as well. Kelly Sue Deconnick has opened up a realm of possibility for the character since she took over the mantle, but it’s unfortunate to not see her up against a bigger threat just yet. Still, it’s clear why this book has the following that it does. The writing provides a good balance between drama and humor. Carol Danvers feels like the kind of superhero that you could be best friends with, and coupled with David Lopez’s incredible visuals, that’s enough to best any stagnation with the plot.
Superman: Doomed #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Even with a ton of writers on board, Superman: Doomed has a simple enough concept and a strong enough coherence in terms of characterization that this knock-down, drag-out fight between Superman and Doomsday still packs a wallop. Scott Lobdell, Greg Pak and Charles Soule have upped Doomsday's power set to add a time limit to how long Superman can fight him, upping the stakes and tension dramatically. In addition, the use of Superman's supporting cast is very effective, and Superman questioning whether or not he should kill the beast - assuming he even can - gives this comic some heart. Artist Ken Lashley is a little inconsistent with his inks, sometimes looking like different artists from page to page. Still, he sells the big moments well, especially the big dramatic shot where Superman falls to his knees. Is it as potent (or drawn out) as the original Death of Superman? No, but Superman doesn't die, either. Instead, consider this an effective starting point for a surprisingly strong crossover.
Secret Avengers #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): I didn’t stop laughing the entire time I was reading this comic. While Secret Avengers as a title has been rife while dizzying highs and frustrating lows, Ales Kot has tapped into a wonderfully madcap tone for the book that heightens the drama while at the same time delivering consistent laughs. Issue #3 finds our clandestine heroes sent on separate missions around the globe, featuring Black Widow, Spider-Woman and Agent Coulson as they race to break up an arms deal between a deranged former poet who plans to sell a sentient bomb to a mysterious buyer. Things naturally go south leading to a firefight with a laser gun-toting wordsmith and Lady Bullseye. This is a comic that as a bomb that quotes True Detective while making an intensely strong case for a Natasha and Jess team-up book. I would go into more but I don’t want to spoil your fun because that’s precisely what this comic is: wall-to-wall fun. Michael Walsh, who has pulled out stops before in the previous issues, commits fully to the down-to-earth setting while still presenting the world of this comic as a stylish hyperreality. His characters emote very well and sell jokes better than some actual human comedians. I dare you not to laugh/feel something as Spider-Woman offers a talking bomb caramel gelato. That’s all Walsh. He also delivers quite a hard hitting action scene between Black Widow and Lady Bullseye amid the comedy. Basically, you should come for the jokes, but stay for the exciting visuals. While the Secret Avengers spend the majority of their time working silently behind the scenes, Kot and Walsh have delivered yet another issue more than worthy of the spotlight.
Action Comics #31 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): While "Doomed" may look like a retread of The Death of Superman on the surface, Greg Pak seems little concerned with rehashing old story fodder, giving us instead a story that truly seems to be backing Superman up to the wall. After being exposed to some sort of biological agent after a fight with the titular baddie, Superman becomes increasingly unstable, hallucinating violent acts foes great, small and totally imagined. Pak has been excelling recently at the monthly exploits of Superman, but here he presents the audience a Man of Steel that not only feels more dangerous than ever before, but more desperate as he races to understand and contain his newly contracted disease. It’s a thrilling, inspired story for Superman that elevates his problems beyond things that need punching. The triple threat art team of Aaron Kruder, Rafa Sandoval and Cameron Stewart acquit themselves beautifully to the issue, making Supes look and feel increasingly sickly and almost deranged. Kruder’s natural kinetic energy meshes very well with Stewart’s clean line work and Sandoval’s towering emotion, giving the issue a truly singular look and a high energy feel. Superman may be on the road to ruin and doom, but Action Comics is looking to be better than ever.
Captain America #20 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): While Rick Remender’s run of Captain America has leaned into how straight-up weird comics can really be, “The Iron Nail” arc still feels like it is spinning its narrative wheels. After Steve Rogers is presented and rejects the proposed “perfect world” that he experienced due to Dr. Mindbubble’s, uh, bubbles, Cap finally faces his antagonists on his terms, but instead of a climactic set of scenes or a thrilling set piece we are given more speeches from the Iron Nail and heady platitudes from Mindbubble. Remender is a wildly capable and entertaining writer, yet this arc of Captain America just seems like a lot of hot air. Nic Klein is still serviceable enough as a penciler here, really nailing the emotional shifts in the scenes. I still wish that he had just a bit more to do within the pages of Captain America but he still draws a striking looking monster well enough. While Remender started out his run by reaching for the stars, it seems now that he’s slowly inching his way back down to Earth, the weight of his portentous and heavy-handed dialogue dragging him and his run down.
Superman/Wonder Woman #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): "Doomed" is a surprisingly strong crossover among the Superman books, primarily because each issue hits this concept at a new angle. The first issue was the fight; the second was Superman succumbing to the Doomsday virus; and now it's about the Man of Steel getting by with a little help from his friends. Charles Soule continues to cleverly frame adventures through the lens of Clark and Diana's relationship - in this case, Diana really stepping up to help her superpowered beau in his time of need. Underneath all the menace and spectacle, Soule is really telling a story about an almost pathologically independent woman finding out how to be a partner - and that means thinking like him. Artist Tony Daniel draws the hell out of Wonder Woman and Batman, but once his super-menacing SuperDoomsday comes out of the shadows, he looks a little too smooth to be scary. Still, this comic continues to impress, and marks three for three for this crossover.
Avengers Undercover #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Concluding this title's first arc, Avengers Undercover #4 picks up immediately after last issue's last page, where Hazmat permanently ensured Arcade will never wreak havoc again. The spotlight shifts here to Cammi, who was often overlooked in Avengers Arena as a non-superpowered character. Dennis Hopeless writes Cammi as having a surprising amount of levelheaded leadership, and an extended scene between her and a certain visitor ties back into Cammi's character development in issue #1. True to his character, we see Aiden showing sensitivity to Hazmat. I love how Jean-Francois Beaulieu colors Hazmat's hazy green radiation bursts, and how Kev Walker draws convincing facial expressions - see his very panicked Cammi. There are surprise cameos from two of my favorite Runaways, two Avengers Academy students, and a certain monster-hunting older sister. Plus, we learn that S.H.I.E.L.D. has necromancers! This issue transitions us out from under the weight of the Arcade-driven plot of this title and of Avengers Arena, and into a lighter, quirkier story with hellishly handsome Daimon Hellstrom and a very smooth-talking Baron Zemo. Hopeless's direction is promising.