Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday Rapids? Best Shots has your back, with 17 bite-sized reviews for your reading pleasure! So let's kick off today's column with Erudite Edward Kaye, as he takes a look at the 100th anniversary special for today's newest movie stars, the Guardians of the Galaxy...
100th Anniversary Special: Guardians of the Galaxy #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Set 100 years after their debut, the Guardians of the Galaxy must protect the universe from a hybrid of Galactus and the Silver Surfer. Yes, you read that right. Andy Lanning and Ron Marz deliver a wonderfully fun, high-octane story that brings to mind the modern classic DnA stories that inspired the new movie. It even stars a nanite swarm Iron Man and baby Rocket Raccoons! Gustavo Duarte brings the Guardians to life in a dynamic cartoony style that feel like a more refined Humberto Ramos. It’s a perfect fit for the story and looks absolutely charming. The issue ends with “To be continued?” and boy, I really wish it was, because I’d read a whole series of this!
Red Lanterns Annual #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Adopting Guy Gardner as its new lead and teaming up with Supergirl has made Red Lanterns one of the sleeper successes of DC's publishing lineup these days, and Red Lantern Annual #1 is an extra-sized battle royale between Guy Gardner and his evil predecessor Atrocitus. This is old-school space opera, with twists and turns and heroic (antiheroic?) sacrifice. Miguel Sepulveda has always been a hit or miss artist with me, but teamed up with colorist Chris Sotomayor, his ghoulish, alien characters look particularly menacing, and his human characters remind me a lot of Barry Kitson. Writer Charles Soule may occasionally have some awkward slip-ups, like a forced guest appearance by Batman or a wasteful full-page splash of the planet Earth, but his plotting is superb, and Guy's reunion with the newly freed Supergirl is really great. (Soule and Sepulveda also have not one, but two great moments with the rabid Lantern Rankorr that show just how versatile the universe-spanning Lantern concept can go.) This may be the best Lantern book you're not reading.
Hawkeye #19 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): It's been a while since readers last met up with Clint Barton as he fell victim to an assassin's attack. A long while. Yet, Fraction and Aja show fans they still have what it takes to keep this series innovative and complex while still delivering a straightforward story of a ne'er do well superhero off the clock. What makes this particular issue so interesting – and frustrating – is it sets out to use the comic form to convey Clint's deafness. Speech bubbles are garbled, inconsistent, or blocked out altogether. Aja makes use of other panels by communicating to his readers with sign language, which further enhances the feeling of isolation for non-ASL fluent readers underscoring similar feelings Clint experiences in hearing world. Yet, the issue also reminds readers – or informs them – of Clint's history with deafness and affirms his place in his community as a deaf person. It's a segment of society that is vastly underrepresented in comics, apart from the Blue Ear, so it's an interesting and welcome character development.
Detective Comics Annual #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Normally the DC Annual is the time to do a massive one of story for the titular character. For Detective Comics Annual #3 a brain trust, led by series writer Brian Buccellato, tackles an origin story of sorts that provides the colorful background for their ongoing Icarus storyline. Artists Kalisz, Loughridge and Proctor are all strong, individual talents but the transition between their work can feel jarring within the flow of the story. Also, the story ark for Annette here is damped only when compared to what the character has gone through in the monthly Detective Comics story. It comes across a little flat here. Now, on that note, let’s all cross our fingers that we get more Calendar Man in the future!
Low #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Fast on the heels of Black Science, Rick Remender delivers another high-concept sci-fi epic. This time, set in a distant future where the expanding sun has driven mankind to the depths of the ocean. With an enthralling premise, an engaging cast of characters, some fabulous word building, and a thrilling plot, this debut issue certainly delivers the goods. Greg Tocchini’s art style tends to be divisive, but I think it suits this story well. He makes the underwater environments look incredibly alluring and renders some fascinating looking technology. However, the flow can be difficult to follow at times, and there’s something odd about his characters’ facial expressions that is slightly off-putting. This is a unique sci-fi series with lots of potential.
X-Men #17 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Like a Middle-Earth battle or Bourne car chase, this is the climactic last half hour of the movie. Brian Wood has brought us through 17 issues of Jubilee protecting her adopted son Shogo, and the X-Men won't give him up easily now. Wood deftly writes twists, developing Shogo and Kymera into more crucial characters in the X-Men's current timeline than expected. While the action scenes and psychic conversation come fast and furiously, Wood's real strength is writing Storm, Rachel and Psylocke as vastly different personalities who are forced to trust each other despite overwhelming risk. Paco Diaz and Phil Briones' art looks best in panels with fast motion: the Blackbird zooming over a forest; Kymera running while clutching Shogo. With a new creative team taking over next issue, Wood leaves behind two permanent gifts to X-Men fans: This all-female X-Men team of five clicked, especially when operating as interdependent equals rather than under one leader, and Jubilee's maturation as a mom to Shogo has been a highlight of all current X-Men stories. Wood concludes his story here with a sober but optimistic resolution.
Chew: Warrior Chicken Poyo #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10):So here is the thing. This is a spin-off one-shot about a hyper-violent-cybernetic-warrior-chicken. You're either down for the premise behind Chew: Warrior Chicken Poyo or your not. While I doubt any critic can sway you one way or another, we're going to try, because John Layman and Rob Guillory amp the crazy to 11 with this one. Riffing on every fantasy trope out there, this comic is everything you wish Deadpool was. It violent and irreverent, without becoming slapstick, and shows just what happens when two creators are allowed to cut loose every now and then. Rob Guillory has a real talent at making the utterly stupid look positively epic. There is no getting around it, under Guillory, Poyo stands as tall as any Conan. Layman understands this one is almost all visual, but knows when to step in and slam a joke or two with bizarre dialogue. It ain't deep, but it's fun as hell.
Batman Eternal #17 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Maybe the problem is Batman. Things were going so well, as Ray Fawkes and company had Batwing team up with Jim Corrigan - the human host of the otherworldly Spectre - but this origin of Deacon Blackfire falls flat as soon as the Batman shows up. Maybe it's because the chained-up hero reminds me too much of Scott Snyder's wonderful "Court of Owls" storyline from a few years back, or the fact that Batman then conveniently beats up this not-too-convincing vilain despite being chained and force-fed nothing but drugs for a solid week. It doesn't help that Batwing and Jim don't have too much progression in their story, while Bluebird gets propped up less by her own virtues and more by making Tim Drake seem like a punk. Dustin Nguyen, however, does deliver some strong, consistent work, keeping this book from falling too flat. Still, this chapter is definitely a step down from the past two weeks.
Prophet #45 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): I stopped trying to makes sense of Prophet about a dozen issues ago and decided it was more enjoyable to view it as a strange collage of bizarre ideas. This “final” issue is no different, and plays out like a madman’s Liefeld-inspired fever dream. It would have been nice to get a definitive conclusion, but Graham instead leaves us with a lead-in to the “Earth Wars” miniseries. The issue is illustrated by no less than three artists and two colorists, but the issue has a uniform look and provides some eye-popping visuals that are some of the most inventive of the series thus far. This was a great issue, but could have done with providing more closure.
Uncanny Avengers #22 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): "Avenge the Earth" ends with fire and mayhem - so why does this story feel like it ends not with a bang, but with a whimper? Daniel Acuna's artwork looks striking (especially his evocative colorwork), and Remender does give many of his characters lasting scars from this event, but overall, the plotting is so scattered that it's hard to find an emotional resonance. Havok, Sunspot, Rogue and Wonder Man really get the bulk of the status quo changes, but most of them aren't given enough time to really register. One of the other issues with this arc is that there are too many teams to encapsulate, with the Unity Squad being joined by Kang's evil Avengers and Immortus's new Infinity Watch, instead of devoting that time to structuring a defeat for Kang that makes any sense. This seems to be a recurring issue for this series - strong buildups, but the conclusion peters out. Hopefully with the characters having some major changes taking place, the next arc will stick the landing.
Justice League #32 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10):The post Forever Evil Justice League started quite strong, but the mid arc slump is definitely starting to set in. Most of the issue acts as an introduction to the New52 Doom Patrol and so far, the outlook is not good. Although his tone with the League is strong, Geoff Johns is stumbling a bit to find a voice for the Doom Patrol, with dialogue and characterization that's more than clumsy. Doug Mahnke on pencils lacks the sense of movement we've come to expect from his work. While not wholly flat and lifeless, it feels a tad uninspired. However, his work benefits greatly with some solid inks by Keith Champagne. With ever more credit going to colorist Andrew Dalhouse, who manages to bring an otherworldly quality to this new team. Although it has a few entertaining moments, Justice League #32 stumbles because it fails to move the story ahead, nor act as a compelling backdoor pilot for the Doom Patrol.
The Wake #10 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The final issue of Scott Snyder, Sean Murphy, and Matt Hollingsworth's epic sea thriller is one that will no shock and surprise readers in all the right ways. Snyder masterfully weaves each of the plot threads together without giving the away the grand twist before the end, which few readers will have expected. Meanwhile, Murphy and Hollingsworth sell the grand, sprawling nature of this story in their visually arresting splash pages and large panel layouts. Like the rest of the series, it's not an issue to be rushed as this team embeds plenty of important details in the captions, dialogue, and images that work in unison to tell this story. Although it's always disappointing to see a series as well executed as The Wake conclude, it certainly lends itself to multiple re-readings given the complexity of Snyder and Murphy's narrative.
Aquaman Annual #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It's the Brave and the Brash as Arthur and Mera team up with Wonder Woman in two action-packed attacks against the monsters released in the regular series. Writer Jeff Parker gives readers an old-fashioned fight while keeping the dialogue fresh, including bringing up the latent distrust between Aquaman and the rest of the Justice League. Splitting the issue with Mera is a nice touch and keeps the battles fresh. Yvel Guichet's linework is extremely thin, allowing for intricate details in faces and showing muscle contours that add depth to the action. The depiction of the disguised and revealed creatures in the main story shows a variety of creepy and grotesque beasts, and he mixes up the panel constructions nicely in a high-quality (and fun) comic.
Mice Templar #12 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The Mice Templar unite under Karic's banner as they strike out against the tyrannical King Icarus in this issue, which focuses solely on the epic battle in a way no other comic has attempted. While the book opens and closes with emotionally charged splash pages depicting the heads of the two opposing forces, it's the twenty-two page spread that readers will either remember most – an impressive visual feat to say the least! The narrative stretches out over the near-entirety of the issue; with the multiple forces of mice, rats, bats, cats, moles, and owls, a clear invitation is being made to draw parallels to Tolkien's "Battle of Five Armies" from The Hobbit. Glass and Santos keep it fresh, however, through tracking the individual conflicts across the battlefield, where as Tolkien never really allowed readers to get too close to the action. Although comics that make excessive use of splash pages are often criticized for doing so, this issue gives readers an exciting and innovative reading experience like no other.
Uncanny X-Men #24 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): It's like they said in Monty Python - "Just get on with it!" Brian Michael Bendis has taken two issues and he's barely even gotten started on "The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier," making this comic feel like a real bait-and-switch. And that's a shame, as artist Kris Anka makes his characters look angular and expressive, even if some of his background color choices feel a little flat. But Anka's artwork doesn't make up for the fact that Cyclops' underground bunker is just casually breached by Beast and Wolverine, or that it takes 18 pages for this story to get anywhere (not to mention that seven pages are super-decompressed seeding of the next storyline). Besides one spoiler you might have already guessed from previous arcs (or the successful First Class movie franchise), this is more filler than anything else.
Tally Marks #1 (Published by Monkeybrain Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10):Being honest up front, Tally Marks #1 isn't a narrative comic. At least not in the traditional sense. Instead, this first issue is a collections of sketches and designs by artist Natalie “Tally” Nourigat on her 2013 – 14 trip through Europe. The comic beautifully reveals Nourigat's wide range of style and expressions, reflecting the emotions of the moment. More importantly, Tally Marks #1 is a great insight into the mind of a comic artist. Too often fans and critics learn about the writing process, but have no knowledge or understanding of the artistic process. This comic does its best to welcome the reader into an artists world, unfiltered. I'll be the first to admit that Tally Marks #1 may not be for everyone. That being said, if you want to expand your knowledge of the medium, this is a fine place to start.