Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: A-FORCE #3, BATMAN #44, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #14, CIVIL WAR #4, More

"Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #2" by Jamie McKelvie
Credit: Jamie McKelvie (Image Comics)

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with the latest reviews from your favorite publishers. So let's kick off today's column back to Arcadia, as we take a look at the latest issue of A-Force...

Credit: Jorge Molina (Marvel Comics)

A-Force #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Artist Jorge Molina really outdoes himself with the latest issue of A-Force, as She-Hulk and her band of superheroines take the fight back to the Thor Corps. Writers G. Willow Wilson and Marguerite Bennett start the book off effectively, as the interstellar runaway known as Singularity gives us a nice introduction to the various members of A-Force - Molina has a particularly winning way at portraying these characters, evoking a smoother, cleaner version of Olivier Coipel as he shows Singularity interacting with her new family. And it's a good thing this book looks so good, because the plot definitely feels flat, with the reveal of A-Force's traitor - and her endgame after being easily overcome - feels particularly undercooked. That said, here's hoping Molina stays on board once this book exits Secret Wars, as his take could go a long way towards keeping readers interested.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #44 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Jock returns to the Batverse and it reunited with his Detective Comics collaborator Scott Snyder in a suitably doleful, despondent look at Batman’s past. Snyder and co-writer Azzarello relish the opportunity to show a slightly less experienced Batman working out a mystery with some real detective work. For fans clamoring for to get Bruce back in the cape and cowl, this is a great issue that stands as a good juxtaposition for the current James Gordon/Mecha-Batman arc especially as Bruce encounters police violence and world of super villainy merging in the wake of "Zero Year." Jock’s contributions can’t be understated. While the flagship Bat title has flourished under Greg Capullo’s steady hand, it’s nice to get a stylistic shift in this issue. Jock’s loose, shadowy approach is a great fit for the Dark Knight Detective that really mires the book in mystery. Overall, this is a strong showing and a great reminder of the abundance of stories that can be told with Batman at the center.

Credit: Jamie McKelvie (Image Comics)

The Wicked + The Divine #14 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are nothing if not adventurous. This issue focuses on producer/DJ/god Woden, and as such the art is sampled from previous issues (and Sex Criminals) and remixed from his perspective, as he remembers the events that have transpired over the course of the series. It’s an inspired way to really throw readers for a loop, and it works. Just as it seemed that the mystery was being revealed, Gillen throws some kinks in to make us rethink our theories about the book. But the art holds it back - well, not the art so much as the presentation. While I think the remix/glitch approach does give the book it’s own identity, the colors make it blindingly hard to read. Matthew Wilson’s neon color palette is certainly out in full force. A-plus for effort in trying to set this one apart, but the execution isn’t all there.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Civil War #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10):The Blue and the Iron prepare for war! Charles Soule and Leinil  Francis Yu's reinvention of one of Marvel's most infamous events reaches its penultimate installment with Civil War #4. It's all gone a bit Secret Invasion for Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, as the secret mastermind behind their constant war is revealed. Leinil Francis Yu's creased and embittered faces continue to exemplify a life spent in eternal conflict, whilst Charles Soule's script rockets through the busy plot at lightning speed. Soule has a great handle on Tony and Steve, but seems to have forgotten that their interaction is what made the first issue of Civil War so intriguing. Still, even apart, Soule's characterization for the two commanders is well-honed. The plot twist here comes across as unnecessary, watering down a solid war tale into a more generic superhero event book. Solid artwork, an impassioned Steve Rogers and a smarmy Tony Stark still make Civil War #4 worth a read, but it isn't quite the series it should have been.

Credit: DC Comics

Earth 2: Society #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): DC's guiltiest pleasure continues to go on strong. While Jorge Jimenez's hyperkinetic artwork is the major hook here, there's something about Daniel H. Wilson's writing that I think DC as a whole could really learn from. For so many DC books, there's been this seeming preoccupation with exposition, a self-conscious drive to make everything an origin story to perhaps justify why they've been playing continuity musical chairs. But here, Wilson knows that Earth-2 has a history, and eases us into it organically - these heroes are here, they've changed, and the mystery behind the death of Terry Sloan is the backdrop to unspool all this delicious character drama. Wilson's take on the the ill-fated romance between Val-Zod and Kara Zor-EL might not be quite as intrinsically striking as Dick Grayson donning the Bat-suit or Green Lantern losing his humanity, but Wilson gives Val-Zod's pacifism some meaning, and lays out the seeds for a tense dynamic with Kara later on in the series. Admittedly, there's a few hiccups in the execution here, with Jimenez's artwork sometimes getting too sketchy, or the page-to-page pacing sometimes jerking forward, but still, this book is one of the most fun DC titles on the stands.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Star Wars: Darth Vader #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader is a parallel to Star Wars in every way, from the narrative structure to the presence of the twisted companion droids. As we delve deeper into the world of bounty hunters, we can see just how much the Star Wars universe and modern comics like Saga have in common. Vader’s new adjutant Imperial Inspector Thanoth adds a new dimension, and his relentless pursuit of the facts reveals so much about the taciturn Vader without having to spell it out. From the complex tangle of ships at the Orbital Dockyard, to the melee of sabers and blasters in an encounter between the Astarte twins and “the criminal elements,” Salvador Larocca takes an authentic view of the familiar universe, but adds his own lighter flair, such as the crackling energy of the Cloud City-esque Anthan Prime.

Credit: Jamie McKelvie (Image Comics)

Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): One of the things that’s great about Phonogram is that it’s allowed us to see Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie grow as creators. Their “music as magic” core concept is still there but the dressing has changed and both creators have honed their craft. McKelvie, especially, is more prone to bouts of experimentation that greatly enhance the story. The panel boundary-breaking nature of the King Behind the Screen is genius as are McKelvie and Gillen’s continued riffs on popular music videos. Gillen’s dialogue has also progressed. He’s always had a quick wit but his characters’ interactions are so much more natural and meaningful than they were in volume one. Despite some exciting moments, this book is a bit of a slow burn but if you’re paying attention, it’s an incredibly rewarding one.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): It might be one of the longest titles in the Star Wars comic book canon, but it’s also the smallest amount of progression in the series to date, with writer Greg Rucka barely taking us beyond the Battle of Endor. Picking up during the final scenes and immediately following Return of the Jedi, the gradual shift away from the main trio to the adventures of pilot “Green Four” and her fiancé might just foreshadow how much we’ll actually see of the original cast in the new films. Marco Checchetto’s art is gorgeous, not just capturing the look and feel of Return of the Jedi, but subtly shifting it into something new. It’s a fun story, but it’s hard to top the quality being produced in the flagship Star Wars Marvel title at the moment, especially as it barely escapes the gravitational pull of Endor’s moon.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Planet Hulk #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Yikes. Planet Hulk, once seen as a flagship title for Marvel's Secret Wars tie-ins, winds up becoming representative of all the wrong trends. Writer Sam Humphries' conclusion feels just about the opposite of satisfying, because there's basically zero twist involved - after five issues of watching Steve Rogers and Devil Dinosaur follow a mysterious Hulk through the Greenlands to find Bucky Barnes, Bucky's just been... eaten off-panel? Really? That's it? The one semi-surprise Humphries delivers is the identity of Steve's Hulk guide, but it's neither a question we were really asking nor an answer that feels particularly daring. (And Steve's reaction is about as one-note as it gets.) Artist Marc Laming's pages are solid enough - they remind me of a cross between Butch Guice and Jim Calafiore, particularly as Steve lands the coup d'grace on a Red Hulk - but ultimately, even his final page splash isn't enough to save this book. Planet Hulk #5 is unfortunate in that it had no real ending it was building towards - and unfortunately, that's a quality that it shares with the last issues of several other Secret Wars tie-ins.

Credit: DC Comics

Action Comics #44 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Superman may have some new duds, but unfortunately, Action Comics feels like a pretty run-of-the-mill story featuring the Man of Steel. It's a little disappointing, because writer Greg Pak has a nice hook - it's easy for an invulnerable superbeing to be calm all the time, but what does it say about Superman's convictions when he doesn't have the benefit of all-powerful abilities or a secret identity to lean back on anymore? Considering Pak has written some of the defining story arcs featuring the Hulk, you might expect a stronger angle on Clark's growing temper, but his fight with the vaguely defined Wrath ends almost as quickly as it begins, leading to another saccharine set of scenes with Clark's neighbors. Artist Aaron Kuder definitely seems to be flexing his muscles in terms of page layouts, such as Wrath casually revealing herself across a web of tight corner panels, but the downside to his work here is that many of his expressive characters feel a little distant. Hopefully, this creative team can inject some energy into future issues, stat.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): There was no way that this book wasn’t going to have a happy ending. Dan Slott really ups the sentimentality in this one and it might be to the book's detriment. The dialogue is groan-worthy (especially that Mary Jane “Mom!” bit). Peter gets out of a predicament through… uh, the power of love? I know that fans want to see Peter and MJ back together but this ended up being cheesier than a ‘90s sitcom. Adam Kubert and Scott Hanna deliver a few nice moments, but the Regent doesn’t have a very exciting character design. Overall, the character renderings have gotten worse and worse as the series has progressed, and the fight scenes don’t feel particularly well laid out. Renew Your Vows was a nice trip down memory lane, but it doesn’t have the teeth to be considered memorable on its own.

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