Best Shots Reviews: PREZ #1, RUNAWAYS #1, WONDER WOMAN #41, SOUTHERN BASTARDS #9, JLA #1, More

"Martian Manhunter #1" cover by Dan Panosian
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off with Plentiful Pierce Lydon, as he takes a look at DC's latest series, Prez...

Credit: DC Comics

Prez #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): DC delivers a massive surprise with Prez #1. Like a combination of Mike Judge (Idiocracy, Office Space) and Saturday Night Live’s (good) political sketches, Prez attempts to skewer the Presidential election process, and for the most part, it does a great job. Some of Mark Russell’s script does get a little hammy (see: the “Taco Freedom” debate), but it’s all to highlight the circus that modern American politics have become. Senator Downey’s appearance on a YouTube sensation’s nonsense show works to that end as well and astute readers will be rewarded with even more jokes. Ben Caldwell’s artwork helps strengthen what is already a formidable concept and his cartoony flourishes help sell the humor in the script. Caldwell has an almost Disney-like approach to his character designs that allows them continually underline the ideas in Russell’s script. A book like this is definitely a risk for a publisher that makes its money on capes and cowls, but it’s exciting to see DC truly expanding their publishing line in a way that their competitors haven’t.

Runaways #1
Runaways #1
Credit: Marvel

Runaways #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Its a team for the fandom age in Runaways #1. Lumberjanes and Nimona mastermind Noelle Stevenson turns one of Marvel’s premiere teen teams into a fun, fiery, and progressive group of misfits all struggling to find a place in the despotic world of Secret Wars. Its final exam time at the Von Doom Institute for Gifted Youths and superpowered teens from across the kingdoms await their turn to display their skill as a team in the hopes of becoming part of the Doom Elite. Then, of course, we have our Runaways, who are less than impressive and more than a little angst-y. Stevenson smartly recasts the team completely, aside from an adorably destructive Molly Hayes, and makes the most out of the ragtag nature of the team’s genesis as well as the draconian nature of their surroundings. Handling the artwork for this fun reboot is Sandford Greene along with colorist John Rauch whose rough edged, energetic pencils aid in the indie darling feel of Runaways #1. It might not be the team you remember, but this first issue certainly contains the same crackling youthful energy of the Runaways we all loved; just with 100% more moody Bucky Barnes and that’s certainly a great thing.

Credit: DC Comics

Wonder Woman #41 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This is one of the best issues of Wonder Woman from this creative team, and really dives deep into what makes Diana such an amazing character. For those of you who haven’t been keeping the most up to date with Wonder Woman, this is a great place to jump on as Meredith Finch seamlessly moves Diana into her next storyline. David Finch does a great job on the artwork; there are a few times where characters, particularly Diana in flight, feel a bit static, but overall it’s quality work, especially in the design of Wonder Woman’s new costume. One of the major strengths of this issue was how the Finch’s worked together to move flawlessly from scene to scene: every conversation was written to show deeper character nuances and push the plot forward and the artwork enabled the story to move along fluidly. With this new threat looming on the horizon, things are starting to get much more interesting for Diana as she tries to rehabilitate Donna and move into this new phase of her life.

Credit: Image Comics

Southern Bastards #9 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Jason Aaron and Jason Latour’s Southern Bastards goes from strength to strength, shifting its laser-focused character lens to Sheriff Hardy, who walked away while Coach Boss beat Earl Tubb to death in front of the whole town. What it does is continue to take us down the rabbit hole of just how twisted and evil Coach Boss is, and another broken life he has left in his wake, although with the death of Boss' mentor Big we start to see a few cracks in his facade. Latour’s superb look and feel for this book continues untarnished, literally washing the past with a golden colored lens. You can feel the weight of the burden Hardy has from the way Latour draws his heavy shoulders, and every inch of Coach Boss’ past is carved into his face. It’s rare that a book that so summarily dispatches some of its leading characters keeps you compelled month after month, let alone maintain something as close to comic book perfection as this.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League of America #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Blockbuster seems like too small a word to describe Justice League of America #1. Writer/artist Bryan Hitch swings for the fences with this debut issue, cutting through the fog of continuity and delivering a rousing and epic JLA story. Everything has its time and everything dies, including Superman, but the mysterious Infinity Corporation has a room filled with bodies of the last son of Krypton, leaving Clark determined to get to the bottom of it. Meanwhile, the rest of the Big Seven are occupied elsewhere. Aquaman is speaking to the United Nations general assembly and the remaining JLA members are lured into a deadly trap and brought face-to-face with the hungry maw of the Parasite. Hitch skillfully renders his own verbosely engaging script with the appropriate hero shots of the League and plenty of twists and turns throughout the issue’s main set piece, all culminating in one hell of a debut issue and a welcome return to vintage superhero action. If you are looking for an easy access point into the DC universe or just an exciting action romp, look no further than Justice League of America #1.

Thors #1
Thors #1
Credit: Marvel

Thors #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Thor as a homicide cop drama - it seems so obvious now. Jason Aaron effortlessly spins his superb Thor run into this investigative piece, with wearied partners Ultimate Thor and Beta Ray Bill catching an “Allthing” - a murder that will get the attention of Doom. It just so happens to be a serial killer who is targeting the one women in multiple realms. All the checkboxes are ticked, from departmental in-fighting, Odin as the angry captain, and even Throg as a forensic scientist. Amidst all the darkness and murder, there is plenty of room for humor too, including Groot’s inclusion (“I am Thor!”). Chris Sprouse gives a distinctive flavor to each of the Thors, nailing the Ultimate Thor look for example, while giving us the wonderful splash page fight of multiple Thors battling a legion of Ghost Riders. Easily one of the highlights of the whole Secret Wars event.

Credit: DC Comics

Black Canary #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The Black Canary band's on tour, and their fans are out of this world! Hot off the pages of Brendan Fletcher and Becky Cloonan's wildly successful Batgirl revamp comes Black Canary #1, which introduces an energetic new concept for the erstwhile Bird of Prey. Wu's harsh and scratchy pencilling style lends itself well to the indie music aesthetic of Fletcher's book, which is helped along by Steve Wands' zine-esque typewritten letters. Elsewhere, Fletcher's script is dense and entertaining, letting Annie Wu take the stage to illustrate the book's fight sequences in complete silence. Fletcher has an excellent knack for adding in fantastical elements to an otherwise grounded story, and Black Canary #1 continues that tradition with haunting black specters that leer in the crowd of Dinah's show. Annie Wu depicts these creatures with arcane scribbles that resemble charred skeletons. As foes, they're spindly but effective. All in all, if you enjoyed Fletcher's take on Batgirl, you'll be in your element here. Highly recommended.

Credit: Image Comics

Lazarus #17 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Greg Rucka switches gears with a slower, dialogue-heavy issue. Forever Carlyle is in a vulnerable place as enemies prepare to invade Carlyle territory. A scene where a general explains the situation in a meeting room slows the pace down considerably. This is followed by another extended conversation between Carlyle siblings Jo and Stephen. Rucka's razor sharp skill at creating intriguing characters is shown best in a scene featuring Mike Barrett. The way Michael Lark draws Dr. Bethany Carlyle's facial expression in that conversation captures the aloofness of the Carlyle family perfectly. Santi Arcas fills the Stanford campus with attractive, bright colors that parallel the hope Mike Barrett gives. As the issue spans five different locations, our anticipation sustains, but we never get more than lots of setup for upcoming conflicts.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Armor Wars #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): As a concept, a murder mystery set in a techno-dystopia sounds great, a sort of Blade Runner-esque thriller for the Marvel Universe. But somewhere in the execution, Armor Wars doesn't quite connect. James Robinson's scenes seem to lack a purpose - there's an action beat featuring a mechanized version of the Stingray, but because we don't care about any of the characters, there's no tension (not to mention that there's little fallout after this attack). Robinson doesn't seem to be sure what this story is about - is it about James Rhodes, figuring out the murder of Spyder-Man (and showing the secret history of the world), or is it about the power play between Tony and Arno Stark? Tonally, artist Marcio Takara has it right, but while his art has the appropriate darkness, it's also a little rough, considering this is a world of perfect machinery. This could have been a winner, but there's definitely some bugs to work out.

Credit: DC Comics

Martian Manhunter #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partidge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Martian Manhunter #1 is what happens when everyone’s favorite Oreo-loving alien stops being polite and starts getting real. The world is under attack by seemingly unrelated terror attacks blooming throughout the world but as J’onn J’onzz witnesses firsthand, these attacks are all the world of White Martian sleeper agents, all activating thanks to something called the Epiphany. Writer Rob Williams nails the noble brooding of J’onn as he throws seven kinds of hell his way. Williams also throws in some first class weirdness in the form of new ancillary character Mr. Biscuits, a large cricket looking creature wearing a vintage suit. Martian Manhunter #1 throws a lot of stuff at the wall, and not all of it sticks, but it looks to finally give J’onn a supporting cast beyond his Martian counterparts. Handling the artwork on this debut issue is artist Eddy Barrows who, along with colorist Gabe Eltaeb, projects a 90's Vertigo feel with his shaking lined renderings. Barrows absolutely soars with his take on J’onn’s transformations and the vicious looking morphing of the White Martians. Martian Manhunter #1 might play a bit broad in certain scenes, but lays an interesting foundation for a long overdue new solo title starring one of the JLA’s heavy hitters.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Giant Days #4 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): There's not really any other comic quite like Giant Days. Its humor is random and sometimes outrageous as it follows three college freshmen with very different personalities. John Allison writes a realistic friendship dynamic as Esther and Susan take Daisy, the most innocent of the group, under their wing without being condescending. Lissa Treiman draws elaborate details even on background characters, such as the tattoos and bracelets on students dancing in a club. I like how Treiman and Whitney Cogar contrast Esther's stylish royal blue top with Susan's functional earth tone attire. As Daisy is introduced to the challenges of college life, we feel like we're experiencing it with her. Giant Days shows how entertaining a simple story about new friends in a new place can be.

Credit: DC Comics

Harley Quinn and Power Girl #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): I’m surprised that DC managed to squeeze another Harley Quinn title into their publishing line. She’s a great character that can clearly hold her own (see: Mad Love), but Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner and Justin Gray are really wearing her thin. A team-up with an amnesiac Power Girl sees the duo head into space where the groanworthy sex jokes abound and any semblance of an actual plot is absent. Stephane Roux’s artwork is strong, though, and that’ll keep this one afloat because he able to deliver on some of the more fun action sequences. His expression work flips between wonky and brilliant, but even at its best, it can’t help bad jokes land. The result is an issue that’s not only dumb - it’s completely unfunny. Harley Quinn and Power Girl is a mess of a book that does a disservice to both the characters and creators involved.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

The Fiction #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios, Review by Michael Moccio, ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Writer Curt Pires deserves recognition for being able to take a deeply complex idea and new world that The Fiction #1 presents and boil it down enough to give us a large enough glimpse into this world that we feel like we can understand it. That’s critical throughout this first issue and a testament to his skill as a writer that we feel like we have enough to go on to continue throughout the story. Formulaically, this story hits all the necessary narrative beats: we see the background of the kids in the ordinary world before getting to the real meat of the story, the foundations of the rules of the world are set, and the main characters are given a clear objective to achieve. Despite these smart tactics throughout the narrative that should keep us engaged, there’s something missing from the heart of it all. From reading the first issue, it’s hard to figure out what this story wants to be and, ultimately, that makes it hard to fully engage with the story despite its attractive look and above average story.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman/Wonder Woman #18 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Brian Bannen; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Wonder Woman really takes a back seat to the continuing fallout from Superman’s identity being revealed by Lois Lane. Peter J. Tomasi starts the issue strongly, giving readers an insight into Diana’s reaction to Clark’s reveal, but then the story switches gears to Clark reeling from moment to moment as he tries to find out who’s behind a bunch of missing people in Smallville. The comic is inconsistent as it tries to find an elusive narrative thread which only moves Clark to different locations rather than providing any real depth. There’s potential here, though, particularly in the last page, but Tomasi needs to settle his focus if readers are going to stay invested.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Lumberjanes #15 (Published by BOOM! Studios, Review by Michael Moccio, ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Writers Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters know exactly how much information to give to keep the story exciting and constantly building momentum. In this issue of Lumberjanes, more about the purpose of the camp is slowly hinted at as Jen learns more about Abigail. The vague references that leave Jen in the dark are things that we can guess at because we know about Rosie’s meetings with the old woman and scenes in which Jen was not present. This is the power of dramatic irony: Jen is totally confused during this entire issue, and since we know more about what’s going on, we’re much more engaged with the narrative. Barnes, the male addition from the Scouting Lads for these past few issues, continues to be a great character and gives the Lumberjanes a chance to grow more as characters with this new situation. Brooke Allen and Maarta Laiho continue to impress with their flawless rendering of the issue, capturing the intangible feelings we get from walking into big libraries, cozying up by a fire, and enjoying the company of friends. There’s so much that wouldn’t be accomplished without their amazing art and this issue is no exception.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #16 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Moon Knight's biggest problem is the bar that Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey set. When this series was relaunched, it was by two creators with two potent, singular voices - unfortunately, since their departure, this book has been the equivalent of a cover band, as Cullen Bunn and German Peralta are forced to emulate someone else's style rather than put their own mark on the book. The result is something that feels hollow, as the majority of this book is about Moon Knight and his drone-fu, as he fights against a group of flying mercenaries. There's no characterization here - Bunn's dialogue is largely standard military jargon - and ultimately, the aerial dogfight doesn't have enough twists and turns to feel scary. Artist German Peralta, however, is someone to watch - when he's teamed up with colorist Dan Brown, he really does channel Declan Shalvey well. The problem is, especially with its tacked-on ending, this book is just about style, rather than any sort of substance.

Credit: DC Comics

Doomed #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Brian Bannen; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Stop me if you’ve heard this: a kid who loves science gets recruited by a top secret lab and through his work, accidentally gets infected by something that gives him superpowers. Did I mention he has an old aunt whom he takes care of? And a sassy girl who digs him a lot? Scott Lobdell’s Doomed is Spider-Man fan fiction at its core. Reiser, like Peter Parker, is a loveable loser with a “life is great” attitude which makes him instantly likeable. And while the comic is a retread of many other origin stories, it has a cleverness and humor that occasionally spark. But while Reiser’s transformation into a red, superpowered Frankenstein is stupidity at its best, Javier Fernandez provides some excellent art which at least offers some awesome visuals to counter the heavily borrowed concepts.

Credit: Image Comics

Low #7 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Low returns with a standalone issue focusing on Della Caine, the Minister of Thought in the city of Voldin. It’s an interesting, if somewhat heavy-handed, commentary on free speech and censorship and gives us an intriguing glimpse of a character who Im sure will become integral in later issues. Tocchini is on fire here. I have to admit to not having been a fan of his past work, but he’s really won me over with this series. His style fits the aquatic sci-fi setting perfectly, providing an eerie halcyon feel to the book which is incredibly alluring. If you’ve not read Low before, this would be the perfect jumping-on point, because this series just keeps going from strength to strength.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel #16 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): The major appeal to Ms. Marvel has always been her relatability, showing that even a teenage superhero has a family, romantic troubles and geeky hobbies just like the rest of us. Unfortunately, the end of the world is not quite as relatable. G. Willow Wilson is forced to play ball with the rest of Secret Wars, much to Kamala Khan's detriment, as we never really feel the tension behind the last Incursion, especially since we know Kamala and the Marvel Universe will be back soon enough. Wilson ties back to a bunch of previous plot threads, including Bruno and his brother at the Circle Q, as well as Kamran, Kamala's evil Inhuman ex-boyfriend. Weird things happen, like Loki's magical defenses going off and Kamala's parents getting tazed by an Inhuman, but there's little reaction by any of the characters, which robs this book of any punch. Adrian Alphona's artwork looks as bouncy as ever, but ultimately, this book is out of its element here.

Credit: DC Comics

Robin: Son of Batman #1 (Published by DC Comics, Review by Michael Moccio, ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): For anyone who’s also a fan of Damian, the announcement of this series was exciting. Patrick Gleason, who had an intimate relationship with the previous series, now takes a stab at doing both the art and the writing. While Gleason's artwork is just as well done as in Batman and Robin, the story in the first issue doesn’t hit enough narrative beats to really succeed. That said, Gleason accomplishes the most important aspect of a first issue: giving the main character a goal to achieve. Throughout this issue, we learn about Damian’s darkest secrets and his resolve to atone for his past, which sets up the rest of the story. That takes up the bulk of the issue, with the other parts focusing on Damian getting Goliath — his giant pet Man-Bat — back, which ultimately feels uninteresting compared to what could have been touched upon in Damian’s past. There was a great scene where we see Damian’s doubts and this is where Gleason succeeds the most, really letting himself let loose with the visuals in Damian’s nightmare. Overall, this wasn’t the best start to a new series, but there’s promise that shined through.

Credit: Image Comics

Empty Zone #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Empty Zone is an undeniably gorgeous comic that plunges you into a dark and dystopian sci-fi world, where man, machine, and humanoid beast all inhabit a hellish megalopolis where survival is a daily struggle. However, for a debut issue there really is quite a lot going on and the character development seems somewhat lacking. A little research shows this series isn’t “all new” as advertised, but it’s actually a series Jason Shaw Alexander has been working on for many years, which may be why it feels like a continuation or retelling. It’s still a good story, if rather derivative, but doesn’t really do everything a first issue should do and it feels like walking into a party half way through the night.

Credit: DC Comics

Dr. Fate #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): The most tragic thing about Dr. Fate #1 is that a lot of what would have made it charming and engaging was left in the free preview. Standing alone, this issue isn’t enough to keep us interested — without the background on Khalid’s family and their situation in America, which is a great conversation to start from this story, the narrative feels clunky and lost as too much time gets spent on verbose narration and dialogue. Sonny Liew’s artwork is rough and exaggerated, while Lee Loughridge’s colors make the overall tone feel grainy. It takes a while to get into this style, but once you can move past it, it starts to feel like it fits the narrative. This is something totally different from everything else DC is currently putting out, so it makes sense that it should look different too. Ultimately, the origin story for Khalid doesn’t end for this issue and as we leave on a cliffhanger for #2, it’s hard to tell whether or not there’s enough to keep us hooked into the next issue.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Old Man Logan #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): The X-Man formally know as Wolverine in Old Man Logan is a consumate wanderer, the lonesome cowboy of Marvel characters. So perhaps it makes sense to have Logan get blown through level after level of Battleworld as a way to encounter its new inhabitants. However, Old Man Logan #2 starts to feel repetitive after the second time Logan is blasted away by some massive force and thrown into the distance. It's hard to feel for the tragic hero when he comes across like a hapless victim of his new home. The real standout here is Andrea Sorrentino's artwork, which perfectly fits Old Man Logan's sunburnt and eerie environment. Although writer Brian Michael Bendis hasn't lost control of this ship yet, here's hoping that both the story and Logan find their purpose.

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