Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT #1, THOR ANNUAL #1, CURB STOMP #1, UNCANNY AVENGERS #2, More

DC Comics February 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday rapids? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off today's column with Mighty Michael Moccio, as he takes a look at the first issue of Batman: Arkham Knight...

Batman: Arkham Knight #1 cover by Dan Panosian
Batman: Arkham Knight #1 cover by Dan Panosian
Credit: DC Entertainment

Batman: Arkham Knight #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The hype for this game is immense, and Batman: Arkham Knight #1 couldn’t have been released during a better week. Peter Tomasi is a strong choice to spearhead this project, especially with the fan base he’s garnered from his work on Batman and Robin. He doesn’t disappoint in this first issue as he reminds that Batman: Arkham City happened in one night (despites hours and hours of gameplay) and that Bruce Wayne is, at the end of the day, only human. Tomasi sets up several different plot threads to explore: Bruce balancing his day and night activities, the beginnings of the Arkham Knight, and the repercussions of the Joker’s death. Viktor Bogdanovic’s artwork are oddly reminiscent of Greg Capullo and Danny Miki, which is indicative of the quality in the illustrations of this book.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Thor Annual #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Jason Aaron, Noelle Stevenson and CM Punk present Thor Annual: a light-hearted grab-bag of stories from the God of Thunder's past, present and future. Aaron tells the heart-warming tale of King Thor's birthday with a script that is equally humorous and sobering, although Timothy Truman struggles to draw expressions. Next, Stevenson tackles the current Thor, enlightening the Warriors Three to the strength and cunning of Mjolnir's worthy new bearer. Stevenson really flexes her action chops here, helped along by Marguerite Sauvage's unique pencilling style and pastel color palette. Lastly, ex-pro wrestler and soon-to-be UFC fighter CM Punk brings us a story about Mephisto challenging young Thor to a drinking game. Punk's comic book debut is a parody of the overwrought style of the Silver Age, complete with thick blocks of redundant narration. There's a few chuckles in here, mostly thanks to Rob Guillory's elastic pencilling, but overall Punk just isn't ready for Marvel yet. Whilst there are a few rough edges here, Thor Annual #1 is a diverse selection of stories from a faithful hand, a promising up-and-comer and an oddball celebrity fan.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Curb Stomp #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Ryan Ferrier introduces us to the Fever: a group of five vigilante women who protect their borough from two neighboring boroughs' gangs. Ferrier highlights real-life issues of sexism: a male gang member calls one of the Fever a misogynistic epithet, sparking major repercussions. Devaki Neogi's panels flow smoothly with a '70s noir aesthetic that evokes Pulp Fiction and Ming Doyle's The Kitchen. Neil Lalonde's pop art-inspired colors are reminiscent of Taki Soma's high contrast style, but with a Jordie Bellaire-like intuition for interplay between background and foreground that looks fitting, not jarring. Ferrier, Neogi, Lalonde, and letterer Colin Bell capture the powerlessness people feel when subjected to perpetual injustice. This is timely social commentary, smart storytelling, and a solid cast of lead characters.

Credit: DC Comics

Red Lanterns #39 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Easily the most bonkers single issue to come out of DC Comics in months, Red Lanterns #39 is a comic book entirely centered around Guy Gardner getting into a fight with a baby. That's it. Landry Walker's high concept is what makes or breaks this book - you either will think it's hilarious that Guy gets his ring handed to him by a bloodthirsty toddler, or you're going to want to put this book right back on the shelf. Jim Calafiore's artwork admittedly doesn't feel like a natural fit for this goofy of a concept - he's all hard edges, not comedy - but admittedly he does excellent work for the rage entity powering this diaper-wearing destroyer. Unfortunately, you've got to be pretty forgiving in terms of suspension of disbelief, both to follow this premise as well as to swallow the tenuous solution to the problem. I give this book points for craziness, but your mileage will almost certainly vary.

Batman Eternal #47 Cover
Batman Eternal #47 Cover
Credit: DC Comics

Batman Eternal #47 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Just as it seemed that Batman Eternal was buckling under its own weight, the creative team turns in a strong installment mostly because of the gorgeous art of Juan Ferreyra. Tim Seeley’s script reviews checks in with a smattering of Batman’s greatest rogues while also allowing us to see the Bat-family get on the same page. Bruce’s assumptions about Ra’s Al Ghul were wrong and with so few issues left the tension is palpable. Ferreyra really carries the script by staying true to the designs of Batman’s classic rogues and injecting his panels with some truly dynamic angles. Every character gets at least a page of worthwhile development and focus. That’s been a rare feat for a weekly book that’s struggled with pacing.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Gwen #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): One of the joys of "Spider-Verse" was the introduction of Spider-Gwen, along with watching the alternate Earth Gwen Stacy’s stature in the comics morph on panel as her popularity in the real world grew. Jason Latour’s Spider-Gwen is one of the most exciting and new things to happen to the Spider-Man universe, a fun and freewheeling old-school Spidey adventure that returns the youthful vigor to a saga that has been through a tumultuous series of changes over the last few decades. While it does feel at times as if previous reading is required, it’s hard to argue with the sheer fun of the piece, coupled with Robbi Rodriguez’s exuberant take on the character he helped co-create. An early contender for Marvel’s strongest new debut of the year.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #39 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): “Endgame” trudges on. Scott Snyder is working in a lot of ideas about legacy and immortality. It’s something we’ve seen touched on in Batman Eternal. Snyder focuses on Bruce’s relationship with Gotham and how the Joker plays into that. But there’s nothing all that compelling. A scene between the Joker and Alfred is gratuitous, and Snyder manages to remove any bit of nuance and likability from the characters he writes. Greg Capullo’s art is as strong as it’s ever been, and he really gets to dig into a bunch more characters than usual. (His Clayface is a personal favorite of mine.) But a wholly dull script has me wondering if the insular nature of this Batman book is starting to hurt it.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #15 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): As controversial as Dan Slott’s choices have been over the last few years, The Amazing Spider-Man has been given a new lease on life following Superior Spider-Man and the “Spider-Verse” arc. Which is why this issue, effectively an epilogue to the "Spider-Verse" event with everybody saying goodbye and setting up their new jobs, is something of an anti-climax. Taken in isolation, it would be a schizophrenic and haphazard series of events, but coupled with the 30-odd issues that make up the full event, it’s a fitting bookend and a reward for fans. Additionally, Giuseppe Camuncoli and the art team do a terrific job of keeping the many Spider totems consistent and individual, and the chance to see Peter Parker punch out “Doc Ock” Spidey is worth the cover price alone.

Credit: DC Comics

Deathstroke #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Well, I'll say this for Tony Daniel - he sure does draw pretty. The seams are showing pretty heavily in terms of his script for Deathstroke #5, which pits a rejuvenated Slade Wilson against the Dark Knight himself (with Harley Quinn thrown into the mix for kicks). While Daniel's Jim Lee-influenced artwork certainly packs a punch, the writing does leave a little to be desired - Daniel is basically just having Deathstroke narrate what's already happening to him, asking questions like "What the hell is wrong with me? He's beating the crap out of me?" It kind of cheapens DC's premier assassin, and it puts even more of a strain on the already oversaturated Batman. (Who comes off as a little bit of a dope, trusting Harley Quinn to give him the full story.) You'd probably have guessed that Deathstroke is already the kind of comic that will self-select its action-junkie viewership, and this issue is no exception.

Credit: Marvel

Uncanny Avengers #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Even as many readers have started to follow writers more than artists, Daniel Acuna is a reminder that a great artist can really invigorate a title. And it’s needed because Rick Remender’s second stint on Uncanny Avengers has seen a bumpy start. Despite putting the focus on Wanda and Pietro in #1, Remender pulls away from them almost entirely. There’s still mystery around what the twins really are and Remender puts off the reveal by giving us some time with Doctor Voodoo and Sabretooth. It’s not bad but it’s not the balanced approach we’ve become more accustomed to from him. Acuna’s art really serves to make the High Evolutionary a formidable presence and the coloring on the book overall is really stellar. Remender is still putting pieces in place. Hopefully, these building block issues will warrant a big payoff.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Star Wars: Darth Vader #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): There’s always the danger that Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader will suffer by virtue of being the “other”, even if Vader has always been a kind of anti-hero. Yet this sophomore issue is just as strong, watching Vader slowly win the upper hand from merely being the Empire’s obedient dog, setting up some irony for later encounters in Empire Strikes Back. Salvador Larocca’s art is pitch-perfect, not just capturing the authentic nature of the Star Wars universe of ships and landscapes, but in the more subtle way of replicating original actor David Prowse’s stance and movements. In the final pages, he inserts the equivalent of Vader dropping a mic and walking away, and it’s this kind of badassery that will keep us returning month after month.

Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year 3 #22
Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year 3 #22
Credit: DC Comics

Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Three #22 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): If you told me two years ago when the video game came out that I would still be reading the tie-in comic religiously, I would have laughed. I’m not laughing now, because Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Three remains to be one of the most enjoyable books coming out of DC Comics right now. Everything from this arc is starting to come to a close as the two sides call truce to deal with a larger, mystical threat. It’s amazing how you can get so wrapped up in the action, how invested you feel to compel you to turn to the next page, and then realize how important the events transpiring actually are. By the time you get to the end of the issue, you’ll be so amped up from what happened you’ll want the next issue on your computer right now.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #25 Cover
Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #25 Cover
Credit: DC Comics

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #25 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Listen up, comic book fans, especially the ones like me who have been demanding for more diversity in our medium. Sensation Comics #25 is a perfect example of everything Wonder Woman is about: empowering other women, protecting everyone she can, and inspiring them to be better than they ever thought possible. The premise of this standalone revolves around Lexcorp trying to sabotage an Indian research lab trying to solve world hunger. Writer Hearther Nuhfer, in her nuanced writing, shows how important intersectionality is to Wonder Woman’s unique brand of feminism: Diana did her part as a superhero, but allowed the research lab’s people to solve their own problems and champion their own way. Artist Ryan Benjamin does an absolutely fantastic job on art, making Wonder Woman and every character look incredible - he takes complete advantage of the digital format for the layouts making an explosive read from beginning to end.

new Avengers #30 cover by Alan Davis
new Avengers #30 cover by Alan Davis
Credit: Marvel

New Avengers #30 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): The end is nigh, and to be honest... I don't really mind. Jonathan Hickman delves deep into minutae in his latest issue of New Avengers, and the result is pretty underwhelming. This comic doesn't feel much like a story as opposed to a recitation of continuity notes - without a set protagonist or any real themes or emotions underneath, will anyone besides diehard Marvel zombies really care about the true face of the Beyonders, or they getting into fights with cosmological super-beings like Eternity or the Living Tribunal? I feel for artist Dalibor Talajic, who doesn't really get a whole lot of an opportunity to really strut his stuff - he's forced to draw all the Builders and Alephs and other self-indulgences built into this script, and poor Frank D'Armata seems like he's just forced to throw in as many energy effects as possible to keep the reader's eyes. Not this series' best showing.

Earth 2: World’s End #21 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): If there’s one character you can always rely on to make the story interesting, it would be Batman, even if he’s dead. The writers for Earth 2: World’s End #21 revitalize our investment in the story as they show us how Bruce prepared for the complete end of the world and what it means for the issues to come. Suddenly, a new and unexpected facet of the story is revealed and now we want to know what happens next. This issue definitely picked up momentum from the last one, proving that it still has life. The art team is really the hero of the issue, rendering images packed with so many different elements that still feel like they have breathing room - when you’re drawing packed refuge areas and armies coming at you, that’s a feat worth recognizing. If nothing else, we can still look fondly on Earth 2: World’s End for eliminating Power Girl’s infamous boob window in an incredibly meaningful way.

Credit: Marvel Comics

S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): I absolutely love the high concept of "Die Hard in the Sanctum Sanctorum" on paper, but something doesn't quite click in this third issue of SHIELD - and his name is Phil Coulson. Even with guest star Spider-Man and artist Alan Davis giving this issue some serious pedigrees, it doesn't change the fact that in this issue, Coulson goes from being just genre-savvy to being plain overpowered, outclassing a wizard and a wallcrawler in a house full of rampaging spirits. It's a shame, too, because Waid does fine work nailing all of Spidey's jokes, and Davis looks as fluid and magnificent as ever, but at the end of the day, Coulson doesn't have the likability yet of Ms. Marvel, making him feel like an unwelcome addition to his own book.

Credit: DC Comics

Secret Origins #10 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This issue of secret origins covers three heroes and a villain: Batgirl, Firestorm (counts as two!), and Poison Ivy. By far, the Firestorm entry was the most enjoyable - Dan Jurgens does a smart move in choosing how to narrate the story that immediately brings us into the world of these two teenagers. Meanwhile, the Batgirl entry was the most inspiring - seeing Barbara in her wheelchair, making the best of her situation and thriving, echoed back to her tenure as Oracle and served as a reminder to how important her character is to the DC Universe. It helped that Irene Koh’s art was so incredibly on point - the character designs were awesome and it was enjoyable to see our favorite heroine of the Bat-family not drawn like a twig! Finally, Poison Ivy’s entry was the most tragic and Christy Marx makes her the complex villain we know her to be - though we might disagree with her methods, protecting the Earth, the environment, and the people who care for it are of the utmost importance. It’s also important to note that Stjepan Seijic draws some of the best-looking Poison Ivys and Bruce Waynes.

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