Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Recovering from the holidays? Best Shots is ready to welcome you back with a bang, as we light off 17 pellets for your reading pleasure! Hang on to your hats as we kick off our Rapid-Fire Reviews with Educational Edward Kaye, as he takes a look at the first issue of Rocket Raccoon…
Rocket Raccoon #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Best known for his recent adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books and his cute “baby” version of Marvel superheroes, Skottie Young brings his charming artwork to everyone’s favorite Guardian, Rocket Raccoon. Set within the continuity of the upcoming movie, this solo series is aptly enough Young’s first outing as both artist and writer. Surprisingly for a novice writer, he delivers an intriguing plot and engaging dialogue that puts many veterans to shame. The issue is packed with frantic, relentless action that will leave you desperate for more. Young’s characteristic artwork is vibrant and energetic, which is the perfect fit for a story about a foul-mouthed, gun-toting raccoon and a sentient tree. An amazing first issue that promises of great things to come.
Batman Eternal #13 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): We’re treated to another issue from Mikel Janin and there are no almost complaints here. I think Janin might go a little heavy during the Jim Gordon and James, Jr. scene where he consistently shows Gordon reflected in James’ glasses. (The reflection metaphor is easy enough to pick up.) But otherwise, Janin’s strong character renderings really help sell the script especially one that relies on nuance and intrigue rather than big budget action. Lt. Bard’s plan is very well executed. It adds layers to James Tynion IV’s script and it creates a dynamic that other writers can exploit as well. I don’t love his work with Spoiler here as too many of Gotham’s characters are riddled with tragedy but I see why he goes that route. Eternal has rebounded from a few duller issues and is delivering solid story at an exciting clip.
Captain America #22 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Rick Remender and Carlos Pacheco bring the Dimension Z saga from the start of this volume right back around again and it injects some actual entertainment into this book for the first time in months. Nic Klein’s work on the previous arc was solid but Pacheco is clearly superior here. His characters look consistently great. his composition is very strong and the storytelling is free-flowing. The standout scene has to be Arnim Zola’s discussion with the Red Skull. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Skull that looks quite that sinister. Remender picks up his game too, bringing in the top Avengers to assess the situation in the wake of Cap’s sudden incapacitation. It’s a good mix of humor and exposition that brings this book back from the brink of falling off my pull list.
Action Comics #33 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): I have to give DC a lot of credit - their line-spanning story featuring Doomsday has really brought new life back to the Superman books, and Action Comics #33 is no exception. Superman has put himself in exile as he wrestles with the Doomsday infection, and Greg Pak lends a nice little bit of soap operatics as he jumps from supporting character to supporting character, culminating in Red Lantern Supergirl siccing her cousin on a hapless world conqueror. It’s a smart way to tease out this ongoing storyline further, as even when he’s being bad, Superman always tries to point that in the right direction. Aaron Kuder’s page layouts are getting better and better, particularly a bit where Lana Lang and Steel fight government drones together, and he’s starting to really play up the expressiveness of his characters, with the leering Supergirl reminding me a lot of Nick Bradshaw. While some of the subplots feel a little abrupt or unformed, seeing the Man of Steel go (sort of) bad makes this book well worth your time.
Nailbiter #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Josh Williamson attempts the unthinkable when a local bully appears to be the victim of Buckaroo's nail biting serial killer, Edward Warren – the Nailbiter: Can readers sympathize with a serial killer? Ultimately, it doesn't matter, as the real aim seems to be more along the lines of showing the inhumanity of the "normal" people, and it works quite well. Not only that, Williamson adds a few murderous surprises of his own that will keep readers on their toes. Kudos to Mike Henderson and Adam Guzowski as well for bringing a real sense of terror to this issue especially with their use of black out panels that build tension and quicken the pace of the story as readers will no doubt find themselves nervously jumping from one panel to the next. Three issues in, and it is clear this creative team is killing it.
Earth 2 #25 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10):The characters of Earth-2 race to the now-inevitable war with the New 52 Earth as a new Superman rises. Since the beginning, Earth 2 has been a slow burn title. But also one of DC's most consistently entertaining ones. Tom Taylor does a decent, if a little uninspired, job of moving the series to its violent confrontation. However, Taylor does manage to find time for real emotions between the characters. Still, the main star of this book is Nicola Scott. Her linework continues to be some of the finest in comics and is an artist that should be on the highest of profile titles. Her characters appear every ounce the living gods they are, while still maintaining a humanity that keeps the reader connected. Combined with perfectly balanced inks by Trevor Scott and properly vibrant colors by Pete Pantazis and you have DC's best-looking book of the week.
Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This issue continues to expand upon Norman Osborne's reappearance in the Ultimate Universe as Miles and Ganke attempt to come to grips with Peter Parker's possible return from the grave. We see Marquez's Goblin in full action, and in all honesty, it's probably the best depiction of the Ultimate Green Goblin to date. Bendis ends the story with a cliffhanger that recalls the emotional point where readers last left the Green Goblin, but this time with Miles in place of Peter Parker. Between seeing this conflict play out, continuing to question the truth behind Peter's reappearance, and wondering how Miles' revelation to his friends will resolve itself, there's a lot to force readers back for Issue #4. While Bendis knows how to move the pieces in this story to tug at longtime readers' heartstrings, however, one cannot overstate Marquez and Ponsor's collective ability to translate Bendis's scripts into a beautifully rendered story that feel true – even we don't really live in a world of Spider-Men.
Southern Bastards #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): As Earl comes to grips with the legacy of being his father's son and wages his one-man war against the coach's corrupt reign over Craw County, it's hard to find any fault with Southern Bastards #2. Jason Aaron strikes a perfect balance in blending fast-paced, hard-hitting action scenes with his slow-burning storyline. It is clear this comic is all about the exploration of its violent but relatable hero as he finally embraces his past and seeks to clean house – both figuratively and literally. Combined with the roughly hewn yet highly emotive style of Jason Latour's art in both line and color, this title is quickly becoming the title that should not be missed for 2014.
Legendary Star-Lord #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Sam Humphries and Paco Medina are tasked with bringing the Legendary Star-Lord out of relative obscurity and what we get is a comic book that’s very in line with the upcoming movie portrayal of the character. Humphries sets him up as an intergalactic Robin Hood and it fits the swashbuckling, scruffy nerf herder sensibilities of character. There’s just not much substance. Peter Quill is a quick-witted, flirtatious, impulsive blond-haired, blue-eyed Marvel hero. I could list about a dozen of those. Why should we care about this one? Paco Medina doesn’t do much to set this book apart from the pack. His clean lines are reminiscent of Sara Pichelli’s recent work on Guardian of the Galaxy and so he doesn’t really get to make his own mark on this property. This book might not be as “legendary” as the its name suggests but you could do a lot worse for your money on the comic stands than this fun, if somewhat hollow, debut.
Swamp Thing #33 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): There’s something very unorthodox about Charles Soule’s approach to Swamp Thing #33, almost as though he’s trying to cram an entire arc into one issue - but instead of the tension being brought about by thrills, spills and near-misses, this issue winds up looking more like a Swamp Thing trailer than an actual narrative. Seeing the Wolf and Lady Weeds plot against Swamp Thing’s new reign as master of the plant world known as the Green has a lot of promise to it, but listening to the Wolf explain his plan ad nauseum rather than let the viewer watch it unfold feels like a strange choice. (It also makes the obvious conclusion seem totally unearned. It’s very much a “because I said so, that’s why” kind of approach.) Javier Pina brings out some decent art, looking very clean when it comes to intimate conversation but still lacking that visual oomph when it comes to the big double-page splashes. There are some cute bits to this book, like alluding to a Pirate Swamp Thing, Swampy’s cute mini-avatar, or watching Capucine and Jonah fall for one another, but there is something missing here.
Lazarus #9 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10):The Lift goes as planned as Forever Carlyle seeks out a terrorist bomber by the name of Angel. On paper, a simple denouement, but as has been the case since issue #1, Lazarus #9 is anything but. Greg Rucka continues to draft a world that is rich in reality. Yet, horrible in its ease with which we can see these events play out in our world. Artist Michael Lark continues to display his strength in conveying the most powerful of emotions in the most subtle use of facial expressions and body movement. Santi Arcas' color choices finally elevates the tone of a comic that always felt a tad lacking on visuals. It's rare when an ending presents more questions than answers, yet maintains such a high level of reader acceptance. This creative team has truly created a special book that demands attention.
Big Trouble in Little China #2 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): For 28 years fans have wondered what happened to old Jack Burton after the credits rolled. Thanks to the timeless magic of comics, the secret is finally revealed. Based on a plot co-written with John Carpenter himself, Eric Powell weaves a wonderful script that is true to the original and peppered with classic lines and old friends. While the first issue took us back to familiar ground, this second takes us on a whole new adventure, packed with tons of interesting characters. Brian Churilla’s illustrations of characters from the movie are like uncanny caricatures of the actors who played them, while his monsters are creepy and eerie. This love letter to the classic ‘80s movie will be sure to please fans both old and new.
Witchblade #176 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Sara and Rooney seek out missing boys in a one-and-done tale that lacks the strength of prior issues. Writer Ron Marz’s plot boils down to rescuing kids from a demon by threatening violence rather than using it. The Witchblade’s main battle is strangely withheld from the reader, and only an ominous note of “Why here?” is used to keep up the tension. Maan House gets the unenviable task of following Laura Braga on art, but he has very little to work with. Using a thin style that’s a bit like Jae Lee but with heavier shadowing, the effect does create a creepy atmosphere for a run-down park. Unfortunately, there’s no originality in the layouts to compensate for being part of a holding pattern story.
The New 52: Futures End #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): There’s something wildly uneven about The New 52: Futures End, which comes part and parcel with having four writers on the team. For every scene that really knocks you on your butt - like Cadmus holding some very recognizable denizens of Earth-2 in their prisons, or their ongoing mission to procure metahumans from around the world - there’s a moment that’s inexplicably goofy, like Hawkman and Frankenstein getting into a fight when Frankenstein erroneously stitches on Katar’s arm (the rationale being he thought Hawkman was dead and thus not needing it anymore). The other subplots are still anyone’s guess - the masked Superman is intriguing, but the main subplot, featuring Batman Beyond and Mister Terrific on opposite sides of a burgeoning OMAC plot, is running a little cold. Patrick Zircher makes this book look palatable and dark, even if it’s not his most atmospheric work. This book is the very definition of “wait and see.”
Sidekick #7 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Flyboy’s rededicated his life to ruining that of his mentor, and his moral slide reaches a new low in an issue that follow suit in terms of quality. Writer J. Michael Straczynski ‘s plotting barely tells anything new: Flyboy’s mental state just gets a bit worse and we see that Red Cowl really is a horrible human being. The dialogue is cringe-worthy (“that’s not my finger”) and unfortunately Tom Mandrake’s usually strong linework isn’t present this time. Pencil lines don’t look finished and the layouts aren’t as strong. The shadowing feels more like it covers art flaws instead of a stylistic choice, giving an impression of rushed work. Sidekick started out intriguing, but now it’s just clichéd, broken-hero fare that’s covered better elsewhere.
Black Widow #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The one-and-done story arcs behind Black Widow are really solid examples of the age-old Marvel notion making sure a comic is new-reader friendly. Not every comic needs to be overburdened with continuity and this series proves the point. Edmondson continues to prove capable of telling a brief story about Black Widow all the while moving his regular readers' understanding of Natasha and company forward. We see hints of her past relationship with Bucky Barnes – the Winter Soldier – while planting hints that not all is running as smoothly for her behind the scenes of her "business" as she might otherwise think. Noto's painted, breezy aesthetic continues to be a welcome style unlike anything in mainstream comics right now making this series all the more appealing. Once again, this duo delivers another spy episode with strong characters and eye-catching art that should not be missed.
Never Ending TPB (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It's a look at the downside of having Superman-like powers, as Charles Baxter wearies of being nearly immortal. Co-writers Adam P. Knave and D.J. Kirkbride take Baxter back and forth across the decades, showing how slowly watching everyone you care about die can kill a man's resolve by inches. In the end, Baxter must come to grips with the fact that yes, great power does come with great responsibility and mishandling it could destroy the world. Love's linework is best when he's inking, allowing it to have an Erik Larsen-like feel, but it suffers when others try to give it more depth. Heather Breckel's colors help with the era shifts in a story that's for fans of stories that look underneath the cape.