Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your weekly helping of your Rapid-Fire Reviews? Best Shots has your back, with a dozen bite-sized pellets for your weekly enjoyment. So let’s kick off today’s column with Opulent Oscar Maltby, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Batgirl…
Batgirl #43 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): When a big cat causes chaos at tech offices all over Burnside, it’s up to Batgirl to grab the tiger by its tail and figure out who let them loose! Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher and Babs Tarr’s energetic take on Barbara Gordon’s hectic double-life continues. As per usual, Stewart and Fletcher’s careful balance between Batgirl’s personal and superhero life is what makes this book so compelling, with character motivation and drama so well fleshed-out that it almost needn’t feature a cape element at all. There are still a few little details that’ll seem painfully dated even in six months (like a start-up company by the not-quite-LOL-worthy name of Baetech), but they only detract for a second or two. Babs Tarr’s art-style takes as much from manga as it does from traditional Disney-esque western animation, making for that distinctive contemporary look that has already proven influential. So, yes. The sky is still blue, the sun is still hot and Batgirl is still an excellent read. If it’s not on your pull-list already, this is a fine moment to jump in.
Ant-Man: Last Days #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): If Secret Wars is a love letter to the Marvel Universe, then this sublime issue of Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas‘ Ant-Man run is a tip of the diminutive cap to its Golden Age. Spencer’s skill is in spinning a yarn that is perfectly in keeping with both the event and the tone of his book to date, while also providing an easy access point for people jumping in from other places (such as the recent film). Completely sweet and self-aware, even in the face of certain annihilation Spencer doesn’t give poor Scott Lang a break, resulting in one of the best visual gags in the final panel after Scott hooks up with a beautiful villain. Rosanas balances the gaudiness of Miami with the grace of the Golden Age in this issue, and is a love letter to both in a way. More impressive is that this is a rare Secret Wars that manages to tell its tale in a single one-shot.
East of West #20 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Consider this one a trust exercise. I’ve been leery of Jonathan Hickman’s writing before, sometimes finding it cold or self-indulgent, but East of West #20 ends with a nice payoff, as Hickman tells a unique story of diplomacy between the White Tower and the Endless Nation. While longtime readers of East of West will certainly appreciate the various factions, even new readers can quickly catch up if they keep their eyes open. Donna, the White Tower’s envoy, is quite the spitfire, and she’s immediately likable as she realizes just how much she’s stepped in it with this assignment. But the real superstar of this book is Nick Dragotta, who along with colorist Frank Martin creates some visually vivid panels and designs - particularly the techno-Mayan-esque designs of the Endless Nation, or the warrior armor of the Maoists. While new readers may be confused on the outset, give this book a chance — it’ll be worth it.
Cyborg #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): After a so-so first issue, David F. Walker and Ivan Reis’ Cyborg begins to take shape. Walker’s script asks all the right questions, mining Cyborg’s shaky relationship with the concept of humanity to establish Victor as a solo hero away from the Justice League. Last issue’s introduction of an insidious race from another dimension seemed disembodied from the main story, but an intriguing development here involves Cyborg personally in that fight. Artist Ivan Reis delights in rendering the more disgusting elements of tech/flesh augmentation, injecting a healthy dose of body-horror into a premise that demands it. Adriano Lucas’ coloring complements Reis’ artwork, adding a gore-slicked sheen to the cybernetic Detroit underworld, even if his blue skies and verdant greens clash with the script’s solemn and introspective tone. All in all, Cyborg #2 is a marked improvement on a shaky start.
Lando #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): A rare slip for the otherwise exceptional series of Star Wars books to date, and despite being a mini-series, Lando #3 just feels like it is spinning its wheels a little bit. What we do get here from Charles Soule is a few more layers beyond Lando’s suavely roguish (or roguishly suave) exterior, and the nature of his relationship with Lobot. Alex Maleev’s art is divine, keeping perfectly in sync with the existing universe but also adding flourishes of his own distinctive style (especially around the ‘Twins’). Leaving us on a final cliffhanger, the final chapter promises to be nothing but momentum, rounding out what has been a mostly terrific short run on this supporting character.
Grayson #11 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Tim Seeley and Tom King have waxed existential lately in Grayson, and it’s an interesting fit — what else would you do with a character who has shifted from identity to identity, but always remained the same underneath each new persona? With a killer assuming Dick’s identity, Tom King shows he’s one of DC’s smartest writers, with a real vibrance and humor to Dick’s dialogue as he guesses who his doppelganger might be. (“Wait! I think I have it,” Dick says at one point, kicking his counterpart in the head. “You’re secretly Wonder Woman.”) Mikel Janin also does a great job at differentiating the two Graysons, and does a remarkable job at keeping the fight energetic and exciting, particularly when he begins woozily changing up his panel layouts. The only downside to this book is the ending is extremely abrupt and difficult to follow, which may burn new readers. Hopefully King and company have something up their sleeves to smooth out this rough landing.
Hellboy in Hell #7 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Mike Mignola conjures up a bleak and brooding afterworld in Hellboy in Hell, as our titular hero is on the hunt to remove a parasite from his immortal soul. For a place as cold as Hell, Mignola has such a knack for bouncing between beauty and grotesquerie, opening with a half-mangled corpse before jumping to a beautiful peach tree. For many readers, that might be a big shift in experiencing this book — Mignola is an artist, first and foremost, and his imagery is easily more evocative than anything he’s plotted. With that in mind, continuity and exposition isn’t quite as necessary as most other books, because the visual spectacle — the blocky inking, the interesting use of cartooniness in his distance shots, the very deliberate use of detail — is the most important thing. There’s a great poetry to this book, particularly when a demonic doctor stalks the neighborhood, delivering the “toil and trouble” speech from Macbeth. This book is less of a story and more of an experience — and it’s an experience you owe it to yourself to check out.
Hank Johnson, Agent of HYDRA #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): If you’ve been wondering what MODOK performing “Amazing Grace” at a funeral would look like, this is the comic for you. The long-running gag of what happens to the friends and family of villainous henchmen gets trotted out again, but Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld alum David Mandel owns it in this sharp satire. Never making fun of the Marvel Universe, it still gently pokes around the edges of the work/life balance of a HYDRA henchmen with a family. In just a single issue, we get a full sense of downtrodden Hank’s ambition, or lack thereof, making us wondering who the real heroes are. Artist Walsh deftly apes Steranko in the opening pages, before giving us a mockumentary style set of layouts that feel like a rapidly edited show. The only downside is that it leaves us wanting more of Hank’s middle-management adventures.
We Are... Robin #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): I think this book is finally coalescing, and the result is a title that I genuinely enjoy. Lee Bermejo still trips up every once in a while trying to make his teenaged characters sound authentic, but the high concept is rock solid. Three issues in, whatever doubts readers might have had about how well a team of teen vigilantes could work in the current Batverse status quo have been eased. There is a lot going on here, and it’ll be interesting to see how the team deals with the fallout of this issue. Jorge Corona is quickly becoming an exciting name to watch. Somewhere between Rob Guillory and Shawn Crystal, Corona delivers unique characters and really effective action sequences. I feel like the violence might be a little over the top for the tone of this title but that’s a minor quibble. We Are... Robin is a book on the rise.
Old Man Logan #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Different world, same story — while the Deadlands featuring Marvel Zombies might ramp up the tension just a bit, it doesn’t change the fact that Old Man Logan continues to be one of the most repetitive, unimaginative books of the Secret Wars lineup. On the one hand, the grotesque, distended features of the zombies out for Logan’s blood looks absolutely fantastic in the hands of Andrea Sorrentino, as he makes the first third of this book look positively painful. We really feel every punch, bite and slash as Wolverine fights off what could be seen as almost a force of nature. The problem is, after a strong start with Logan waxing philosophic about this melee from hell, Bendis goes right back to the same formula as before: Logan meets a guest star, and is thrown into yet another realm. (The fact that it takes four pages for Logan to land and recollect himself is basically a criminal waste of pages, and Sorrentino’s skills.) There’s so much potential to this book, but Bendis is barely even scratching the surface — and for a writer of his caliber and experience, it’s hard to justify that with an excuse.
Prez #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Prez continues to be a pitch-perfect send up of the American political system. Beth has to choose a cabinet and also come to a very real understanding about what having this job means. Politics is an overtly corrupt arena and she represents everything that career politicians hate. Mark Russell’s writing is humorous but within it there are some real truths. (The bit about the pork bill had me howling.) This is how you write satire. And Ben Caldwell’s art is a great match. It’s bright and busy to fit the world that Beth lives in but it works really well in more contemplative moments as well. Now what do we have to do to get more books like this out of DC?
E is for Extinction #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): What a good week for comics. E is for Extinction dropped off in quality last issue, but this one sees it come roaring back to life. This one is an out-and-out fight comic which lets Chris Burnham and Dennis Culver write some clever counter measures for the X-Men to battle the multidimensional army of Beasts. Ramon Villalobos turns in his best pages of the series as well, specifically focused around Emma Frost. He has a penchant for delivering on really big moments and this is no exception. The fight scenes are interspersed with a few more tender panels that flow perfectly in the narrative. This is one of the strongest books on the shelf this week and just goes to show that sometimes embracing the over-the-top, weird tendencies that a property has can make for good reading.