Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #9, DC UNIVERSE: REBIRTH #1, More

Image Comics May 2016 cover
Credit: Image omics

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 Jazz-Handin’ Justin Partridge, as he takes a look at DC Universe: Rebirth

Credit: DC Comics

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): On the sands of Mars, a ticking clock has begun, signaling the Rebirth of the DC Universe, and teasing far more interesting things than just a run-of-a-mill reboot. Written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by a bevy of artists and colorists including Gary Frank, Phil Jimenez and Ivan Reis, Johns takes us on a breakneck tour of the current DC Universe with a long-forgotten Wally West as our guide, setting up the impending relaunch and heralding the return of many fan-favorite characters, like the Legion of Superheroes and the Justice Society of America. While some of the stories found therein don’t quite land as hard as they should, such as the clunky inclusion of Mr. Oz, most of the teases found therein are truly exciting to mull over, anchored by an emotional reunion between Wally West and Barry Allen. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 portends that a clock is ticking across the DCU and for the first time in a long time, I am excited to find out what its counting down to.

Credit: Francesco Francavilla (Archie Comics)

Afterlife With Archie #9 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Like its sister title, it has been a while since Afterlife With Archie has hit shelves. Fortunately, also like its witchy sister title, time has not dulled the series’ power in the least. In fact, this ninth issue proves to be its most powerful to date. Focusing on Reggie Mantle as he confesses his sins to Kevin Keller, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa benches the gory eldritch horrors that have made this series such a must read, at least until the issue’s final, gut punch of a scene, and instead brings Reggie’s long-gestating breakdown into focus, making this issue much more about very real psychological horror and less about jump scares. Issue nine, though still stylish and making full use of the Vault of Horrors inspired artwork of Francesco Francavilla, brings the action into intimate, personal focus and shows that not every issue of Afterlife has to be filled to bursting with gore and Cthulhu appearances in order to be scary and affecting. This ninth issue reveals the true horror that lie in the minds and actions of normal people and that could very well prove to be the most terrifying idea of all.

Credit: Image omics

The Legacy of Luther Strode #6 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The Legacy of Luther Strode is not only an impeccably realized concept, it is a life lesson, and the final issue exemplifies that. Luther, Petra and Delilah face Cain in a parable of brute force and unwavering idealism. Justin Jordan’s characters are crisp and memorable, and their story, as insanely violent as it is, is one that speaks to and inspires the underdogs. But it is the unmistakable lines of Tradd Moore and the visceral colors of Felipe Sobreiro that make this issue (and the entire run) not just good, but great. They’ve imbued the book with high-powered contrast and heart that brings a flawless cohesion of story and structure. The Legacy of Luther Strode #6 is a prime example of how to do better.

Credit: DC Comics

Batgirl #52 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Batgirl #52 succeeds with an authentic tone and emotional farewells with those closest to her as Babs moves on to the next stage of her life. But the semantic execution of the issue leaves a lot to be desired. The panels are packed too full as Babs, Black Canary, Blue Bird and Vixen manage to tie up the loose-end of Gladius in a most Saturday morning cartoon kind of way. That resolution feels wholly unimaginative. The few endearing character moments for the girls of Gotham Academy don’t make up for the amount of errors in spelling and grammar, and the panels of faulty costume coloring that rushed Batgirl #52 to print. As the "New 52" is winds down, this closing issue of a defining and innovative run for Batgirl doesn’t quite do the book justice.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This issue is too stinkin' cute. G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona tap into the true strength of a shared superhero universe with Ms. Marvel #7, which pits Kamala Khan against fellow Avenger Miles Morales on the heated battlefield of… a tri-state science fair competition. This is such a fun interlude, and not simply because of hilariously fun concepts like a “Skyshark” (it’s exactly what it sounds like, and it looks positively happy to be there) or the too-cool-for-school bravado that Miles and his nerdy classmates show when they unveil a solution for the world’s energy crisis — Wilson taps into the very real New York/New Jersey rivalry, with some great quips between Kamala and Miles. (“Tesla proved it was safe.” “You don’t get to randomly invoke Tesla for something like this. It’s like Godwin’s Law, but for science.”) Adrian Alphona really outdoes himself here with this largely costume-free issue, instead relying on making his characters seem as emotive and engaging as possible — and boy does he ever succeed. This might be one of the most fun books I’ve read this week, and given the heavy hitters on the stands, that’s saying something.

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Bringing Hunter S. Thompson’s iconic series to comic books seems like a no-brainer, and while Troy Little works valiantly to adapt this one-of-a-kind work, IDW Publishing’s Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas #1 never quite transcends its licensed spinoff status. While the Terry Gilliam film had an over-the-top blend of insane visuals and bravura performances, Little’s chronicling of Hunter S. Thompson’s travels to Sin City feels more like illustrated annotations of the original book, like cartoons doodled in the margins of Thompson’s book. Little’s cartooning reminds me a lot of Skottie Young’s, although I feel like he’s done a disservice by this book being entirely in black-and-white, which doesn’t give him any opportunities to use psychedelic colors to heighten how crazy Hunter’s life is. This book is at its best when Little can focus on the sheer lunacy in Thompson’s eyes, rather than having to be sidelined by huge blocks of text, but at the same time, while this is certainly a faithful and adequate retelling, the art doesn’t really add enough to the mix to make this a must-read for anyone but diehard Hunter S. Thompson fans.

Credit: DC Comics

Grayson #20 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly had some big shoes to fill in the wake of Tom King and Tim Seeley, but they absolutely stick the landing with the final issue of Grayson, which largely ditches the convoluted spy stuff and instead cuts to the heart of this series — who is Dick Grayson? Lanzing and Kelly tap into all the threads that their predecessors have laid out, with bits like hypnos, Spyral and the mind-controlling Dr. Daedalus coming together nicely in a battle inside Dick Grayson’s head, where the writers are able to deftly use all the various identities this one-time Boy Wonder has adopted over the years. Roge Antonio’s artwork, meanwhile, is way sketchier than the work of Mikel Janin, but given the high-flying nature of this final battle, it actually winds up being a good fit. While occasionally this book loses focus by having to also end the stories of Grayson’s supporting cast, this is some very solid work from a pair of up-and-coming writers.

Captain America: Steve Rogers #1
Captain America: Steve Rogers #1
Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Well, Mr. Spencer, you had my curiosity, but now, you have my attention. After landing like an atom bomb and sending shockwaves through the comics-reading community, I had to experience Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 for myself and what I found was a lot more interesting than what people were making this debut out to be. Bolstered by compelling flashbacks to Steve’s childhood that build on threads introduced in the Rick Remender run, this debut jumps back and forth from the ’20s to today in order to give us a detailed look at Steve’s hardscrabble childhood as well as making his mother Sarah a fully realized character. In the present, Steve’s adventures are also buoyed by a compelling power struggle for control of Hydra, charged with political rhetoric ripped from today’s headlines, adding up to an experience that is more than just its final page twist. Though not perfect by any stretch as it is hindered by the sheer amount of exposition that Spencer packs onto the page, this debut, featuring vivid shifting colors that capture the tone of each featured era from Jesus Saiz poured over his own clean pencils, is a bold one to say the least and a #1 that time may look more kindly on as the story progresses and the heat from its controversial release dies down.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Divinity II #2 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partidge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10) Bolstered by the recent announcement of a third installment, Divinity II #2 avoids a sophomore slump in bold fashion by wasting no time expanding its world and pitting the two Russian superweapons against each other in an attempt to prevent World War III. Writer Matt Kindt hits the ground in a dead sprint with the second issue, seeding Valiant Entertainment A-listers like Ninjak, Livewire, and X-O Manowar into the narrative and also quickly establishing Myshka’s power set, her lack of hesitation in using them, and her ever increasing effect on the world around her. Artist Trevor Hairsine, along with inker Ryan Winn and colorist David Baron, keep up with the breakneck space of Kindt’s script, delivering large swathes of story in economically packed panels, like the quick glimpses of various parts of the world descending in chaos, while still delivering kinetic action and mind-bending displays of near infinite power, like the showdown between Adams and Myshka that starts on the material plane and ends somewhere between the space between reality. While the Summer of 4001 A.D. may be in full swing, Divinity II #2 demands your attention and dares you to sleep on its smooth world-building, compelling characters, and stratospherically high stakes.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): A new arc begins for Lunella Lafayette, a young science prodigy who undergoes what she has been desperately avoiding: her activation as an Inhuman. While Lunella tries to pinpoint her mysterious abilities, Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder introduce a character who feels equally out of place. Mel-Varr is a Kree boy whom we immediately feel sympathy for because of his overbearing father. The writers capture both Mel-Varr's humiliation and Lunella's indignation at having a new academic rival. Marco Failla and Tamra Bonvillain create a lively classroom setting for the characters, and Bonvillain's glossy colors, especially of Devil Dinosaur's bright red appearance, look fantastic. Moon Girl is an all-ages title done right: a story about friendship and identity, charming characters, and lots of laughs.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Bloodshot Reborn #13 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Untouched by the recent line-wide crossover, Bloodshot Reborn #13 returns this week with the frustrating conclusion to “The Analog Man.” Intercut with flashes of his memories before the fall of humanity, Bloodshot and Ninjak make their way into Goo-controlled L.A. in order to put an end to it’s X-O-aided control of the world. Writer Jeff Lemire does an admirable job balancing the pathos of the flashbacks with the energy of the action sequences, a trick he’s starting to become well known for, as Bloodshot struggles to stay focused enough to finally meet the Man in the Tower. However, Lemire’s resolution is a jarring bit of twisty plotting and one that only serves to limply set up the events of the next arc, “Bloodshot Island.” Though this finale fully leans into the strangeness and action heavy storytelling given life and visual energy by the charcoal like artwork of Lewis Larosa, along with assistance from Stefano Gaudiano, tied together by the colors Brian Reber, its hard to not feel let down by this resolution. Bloodshot Reborn #13 is not perfect, but what works work and we have a small idea of where its going. Here is hoping that “Bloodshot Island” can allow the title to recover after a lackluster arc finale.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Man/Deadpool #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Not even death can stop this unlikely bromance, as Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness deliver a surprisingly touching issue of Spider-Man/Deadpool. With Wade Wilson having assassinated Peter Parker, he quickly realizes he’s made a terrible mistake — and thanks to having a demonic bride, Deadpool actually ascends to Limbo to make things right. Kelly lays off the quips a bit in this issue, to great effect — instead, he’s able to not just establish Peter Parker’s tenacity, but also to establish Wade as a perpetual screw-up who owns up to his shortcomings. McGuinness, meanwhile, also gets to go against the grain here, with his fluid and cartoony designs making Kelly’s talkier scenes flow smoothly, punctuated by some great bets like Peter summoning his Spider-Man suit like an ectoplasmic patronus. Combine that with a particularly shocking cameo, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

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