Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: ALL-NEW X-MEN #37, BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT #1, SPIDER-GWEN #2, SOUTHERN CROSS #1 and More!

Ninjak #1
Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Hello darling 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? As always, Best Shots has your back with this week's installments of our Rapid-Fire Reviews. Let's kick off today's column with the Dynamite Draven Katayama, as he takes a look at this week's issue of All-New X-Men...

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New X-Men #37 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Mike Del Mundo and Brian Michael Bendis give us a one-shot about Jean Grey that is so coherent and straightforward in its storytelling that it's a refreshing surprise. Without any ties to recent events or arcs, Bendis has Emma Frost bring Jean Grey to Madripoor for a crash course in using a specific part of her power set. Emma's vulnerability is unexpected: she could understandably hate Jean, yet chooses to mentor and even encourage her. Del Mundo's art is imaginative, and so precise with its postures and body language. A mid-air fight scene heightens tension by zooming in on Jean's hand and eye right before impact. This is a fascinating character study of Emma and Jean that requires no onboarding to enjoy.

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 Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10):With the Joker dead, Peter Tomasi asks whether Batman will have won or will someone else rise to take the mad man’s place. The story is well-paced as we see how the Joker proves deadly even after death while a new villain arrives in a form not so dissimilar to Batman. It was somewhat refreshing seeing Batman fall short of having every contingency accounted for as he recovers from Joker’s bombs. Viktor Bogdanovic, Art Thibert, and John Rauch put forward strong efforts on art duties, and at times, the backgrounds were reminiscent of some of Greg Capullo’s work on Batman though less epic in scope. Over all, this will prove a solid read for fans anxious for a Bat-fix while waiting for the final part to “Endgame” to drop.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Gwen #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez continue to build their own peculiar twist on the Marvel Universe in Spider-Gwen #2. After being dropped from the sky by the Vulture, Gwen unceremoniously lands on a garbage boat. Potentially suffering from head trauma, haunted by visions of a certain Sporktacular Spider-Pig and with her fellow members of the Mary Janes at each other’s throats, it's all beginning to look a bit grim for the newest Spider-Woman. Latour happily juggles comedy with chaos and his fresh takes on well-known characters are inspired. His villainous Matt Murdoch is positively terrifying and positioning Frank Castle as a stern and uncompromising Policeman is a compelling twist on the man we all know as the Punisher. Art-wise, artist Rodriguez and colorist Rico Renzi's stylish world of neon pink and purple serves to underline the “familiar but not” tone that runs through the universe of Spider-Gwen. Although Spider-Gwen #2 is not exactly packed with action, a compelling story and freshly fleshed-out characters make this issue a must-read.

Credit: DC Comics

Action Comics #40 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Me am hated this comic so much!  Opposites aside, Greg Pak and Aaron Kruder’s run of Action Comics continues to deliver charming, engaging Superman stories. This time includes a jaunt to Bizarroworld. It’s an unexpectedly emotional issue filled to bursting with jokes and visual gags. Action Comics #40 finds Superman falling with style onto the cubed world of opposites, and dealing head on with the lunacy that are the Bizarros, as well as Mentallo and a feral Doomsday. While Pak’s script is razor sharp, as per usual, the real star of this issue is artist Aaron Kruder. Kruder seems to be having the time of his life rendering the insane citizens and cities of Bizarroworld and the ultra-crazy, cute effects of Doomzarro’s powers. It is something you have to experience for yourself. Mark my words, readers, do not run out and buy Action Comics #40 as soon as you can. You will totally regret it for the rest of your life. See what I did there?

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #16 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Event hangover is in full effect in this one. Without a new one to jump into, Dan Slott and Christos Gage's narrative meanders about in a bland attempt at establishing some sort of baseline for stories moving forward. It's probably not entirely the creative team's fault. It's hard to have to start over, especially after such a lengthy event book, and while they work to reestablish Peter and the ol' Parker luck, it's boring. Humberto Ramos’s artwork works as well as it ever has for a Spider-Man book. His action sequences are strong even if they are run-of-the-mill and since he's turned down some of his more animated tendencies, his expression work is solid as well. There's just very little to actually get excited about here.

Credit: Image Comics

Southern Cross #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Artist-turned-writer Becky Cloonan takes the reins with a wonderfully scripted thriller set aboard a deep-space vessel destined for a mining operation on Titan. It’s a suspenseful murder-mystery featuring an intriguing protagonist, enigmatic sub-plots, and a well-crafted support cast. It’s something of a slow burner, but focusses more on the long game of plot rather than the quick thrills of action scenes. Andy Belanger produces some of his finest work here, with some glorious splash pages and trippy panel designs that nail the sci-fi elements of the story on the head. Lee Loughridge’s colors are a bit dull, though, with frequent use of the blue and red color washes that have become so popular these days. A top-notch debut with a few minor flaws.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman Eternal #49 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Mocco; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Everyone is pushed to the limit while Batman is away, and Hush continues to play. The writers are great at making it feel like these heroes are being wrought - with the exception of Batgirl. Babs should be able to take someone like the Joker's Daughter with her eyes closed and two hands behind her back! This issue feels like the turning point of Batman Eternal as the advantage and momentum goes to the heroes. Alfred gets a wonderful opportunity to shine as a hero in his own right, proving that even at his old age and everything he's been through that he's still got it. Batman's entrance at the end of the issue, reflective of the great cover, is one of the most exciting and amped up moments in recent issues. Despite its hits, this issue doesn't have much actually happen. In addition, the mystery of who's really behind this looms too heavy over the narrative for us to be as excited as we should be about the turning of the tides.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Lantern Corps #40 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating 2 out of 10): Don’t let the title, “With a Bang,” fool you: This series finale is actually much more of a whimper. John Stewart’s revisiting of his greatest failure, Xanshi, never materializes into anything more than marketing hype; and as an emasculating blow to the series’ marquee, it’s actually as Star Sapphire that John vanquishes the overwhelmingly unintimidating Shadow Empire. Bernard Chang does a decent job of incorporating artistic energy to such a lackluster script, even with alien race designs that are uninspired and cartoony. His pencils and action scenes tend to be undone, however, by Marcelo Maiolo’s poorly timed monochromatic panels that give a haphazardly unfinished look to several of the scenes. The issue is pre-Convergence filler and testament to why this series needs a serious revamping.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Thor #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): While the dark forces of the world form unholy alliances, the Odinson is on the case; the case of who holds the hammer of Thor. Jason Aaron has played the identity of the new Thor pretty coy since the start of the series, but the sixth installment mines some much needed pathos out of Odinson’s growing obsession with the true name of the new Goddess of Thunder. While this issue is light on action, it is heavy with some much needed exposition as the Odinson chases down clues wherever he can find them. Artist Russell Dauterman is back as regular artist and everything is alright in the realm, art-wise. Dauterman’s sad Odinson is the face that will surely break a thousand Tumblr blogs, but thankfully, Aaron and Dauterman don’t keep him moping for long as he manifests his frustrations in the form of some lively punching of trolls in the issue’s main set piece. Thor #6 finds Jason Aaron still playing his cards close to his chest, but things are definitely heating up for both the current and former Gods of Thunder.

Howard the Duck #1
Howard the Duck #1
Credit: Marvel Comics

Howard the Duck #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): “Trapped in a world he's grown accustomed to”, Howard the Duck is one disgruntled mallard. Fuelled by a surprise appearance at the end of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones bring us an all-new take on the down-on-his-luck duck. Working as a private detective, Howard seeks out Black Cat in order to retrieve his only client's stolen necklace, only to run head-first into a henchman of the Collector. The plot runs at a fair clip, quickly introducing us to Howard's new partner-in-crime Tara and the dynamic between Howard and his resentful office-mate She-Hulk. Rico Renzi's distinctive palette brings out the best in Quinones' artwork, who’s clean and simple lines perfectly suit the Howard's classic Looney Tunes design. Zdarsky's script is chock-full of jokes and visual humor, and whilst not every joke lands (a training montage sequence feels especially derivative), Howard the Duck #1 is still a hugely enjoyable first issue.

Credit: DC Comics

Klarion #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): What an unfortunately rushed conclusion for a character that previously held so much potential. Klarion #6 is a stuttering cacophony of tech-wizardry, classic paganism and zero cohesion. The narrative suffers from overloaded dialogue that forces unearned character moments and tries to wrap plot points heavy-handedly. Guy Major’s magical color work and Trevor McCarthy’s creative panel layout are not enough to redeem the issue. It is too bad this book didn’t garner enough consumer traction. If given some room to breathe, perhaps the Witch Boy could have been an eccentric asset to the DC roster. Instead, at its end, Klarion is a confusing read and an ill-fated send-off.

Credit: DC Comics

The New 52: Futures End #45 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): In the same vein as Batman Eternal, the momentum and advantage shifts in Futures End #45. Except in this scenario, Brother Eye goes on the offensive. The writers succeed in making us feel real terror when the bodies start coming to life with their glowing red eyes, which is a big payoff considering the buildup since #1 nearly a year ago. At this point, it's hard to say what the future Terry's trying to make will look like, which makes the series that much more interesting as we try and figure out what's going to happen next. The tension between Batman and Superman is still more than palpable, and it will hopefully be explored in the coming issues since it seems impossible they won't work together to fight Brother Eye's uprising. Despite evoking a good amount of feeling, Futures End doesn't have much else going for it. It's not that the issue was bad by any means, there just wasn't enough to make it distinct from the last few issues.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ant-Man #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The truly great thing about the latest Ant-Man series is the tone. It’s the quirky yet down to earth voice of the comic that makes it so enjoyable. Scott Lang, still ever the con-man, is trying to keep his life boring in order to maintain some stability for his daughter. It’s this sort of heart that pumps blood into the title. Sure, the references and editor notes might be a little too ‘inside baseball’ for the casual reader, but Nick Spencer’s story has enough comedy and unique action beats to stay exciting to new fans. Artist Ramon Rosanas is an excellent complement to the comic with crisp, clean line work, and an attention to detail that is required for a comic where it’s protagonist is usually teeny tiny.

Credit: DC Comics

Earth 2: World's End #23 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): The new Alan Scott, while controversial and not the most three-dimensional LGBT character, remains as one of the strongest New 52 character reinterpretations with his powers. The idea of tying him to the Green and making him an Avatar in that way was innovative. This issue of World's End shows exactly how powerful Green Lantern is with the new source of his powers, bringing in the full color spectrum again. Despite my fondness of his powers, everything else is pretty hit or miss when Earth 2's Dick Grayson isn't included in the issue. None of the individual plot lines have enough weight to carry the narrative, and it's come to the point where getting to the end feels more important than seeing the events unfold. Although, seeing Barda and Jimmy continue to have spotlights in the series is a major highlight, especially with the new development in Jimmy's character.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Star Wars #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Only one word can really describe the current state and quality of Marvel's Star Wars run: wow. Writer Jason Aaron is able to perfectly capture what it means to write a Star Wars story. Even though we know all the heroes will all make it out alive, it's still believable and exhilarating to see our favorite heroes pinned down. Aaron chooses smart ways to show just how powerful the Force users can be, and there was a certain glee seeing Darth Vader go one-on-one with an AT-AT. Artists John Cassaday and Laura Martin do a wonderful job bringing these battle scenes to life. Seeing blaster fire, you might as well hear the sound effects; seeing Luke zooming in on his speeder bike is like a flashback to the moon of Endor; seeing the Millennium Falcon take off into hyperspace and you're immediately transported to some of your favorite moments in the Star Wars mythos. One of the major things going for Star Wars right now is the nostalgic kick it's still riding, and it works. Aaron and the entire creative team have managed to make it their own and a very enjoyable read.

Credit: DC Comics

Detective Comics: Endgame #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): The major flaw in the Detective Comics: Endgame tie-in is how inconsequential the whole affair feels. Sure, seems like Brian Buccellato is building towards something with the Lonnie Machin (originally Anarky in pre-"New 52" continuity) character, but the events in this issue don’t feel like they are really driving the character or "Endgame" forward any further. The artist on the last half of the book, Ronan Cliquet, is a fine substitute for the Buccellato and FrancisManapul art-team, but Roge Antonio falls into the DC house-style a little too easily causing an otherwise noteworthy title to be dismissed. If this fits into the larger puzzle that Buccellato is working on in Detective Comics or in Scott Snyder’s belabored "Endgame"- it’s fine. It’s just a very small piece of the puzzle.

Credit: Oni Press

Hellbreak #1 (Published by Oni Press; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Cullen Bunn takes a new spin on the myth of demonic possession and exorcism with a story featuring a black ops team that physically journeys to hell itself to retrieve the souls of abducted victims. It’s a fresh concept featuring an interesting cast of characters, and this debut issue delivers page after page of adrenaline-filled action and a plot that draws you in refuses to let go. Brian Churilla’s dynamic and chunky artwork fits the script perfectly and he gets plenty of room to flex his monster design muscles with tons of gloriously creepy demons that will haunt your nightmare. Hellbreak #1 is a thrilling first issue that will leave you wanting more.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Ninjak #1 (Published by Valiant Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Matt Kindt’s take on Ninjak is a solid one launching readers directly into a British spy-action thriller surrounding genetically constructed warriors and their weapons manufacturing makers. In some regards, the model is not so dissimilar to that of Nathan Edmundson’s highly successful Black Widow series. Perhaps one key difference is that this is a character whom many readers don’t know quite so well, which gives Kindt the room to tell his own story free of decades’ worth of continuity surrounding Marvel heroes. Adding to the cinematic feel of this book is Clay Mann, Seth Mann, and Ulises Arreola. The page layouts and panel composition are dynamic, and at times, replicate scenes one might expect from a Kung Fu action film. It’s an interesting set up, if occasionally familiar, and one that fans of Valiant’s resident ninja and newcomers alike should enjoy.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Bill & Ted's Most Triumphant Return #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It's not without a sense of humor that Bill and Ted are facing the sophomore slump in their third official outing with Bill & Ted's Most Triumphant Return #1. Taking place minutes after the battle of the bands, Bill and Ted fall back on old tricks and habits in order to write their next hit song. Bryan Lynch does a great job of capturing the voice and tone, but the story plays it a little too safe. Not that you need to reinvent the wheel with these characters. But it would be nice to see them not revisit similar themes and settings from the films. Visually, Jerry Gaylord draws a book that is heavy on the energy and life. This is a Bill and Ted for a generation that has even less attention than the last. And that's a good thing, as it helps keep the story and action moving at a brisk pace. It's not quite triumphant, but it ain't bogus either.

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