Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has your back, with this week's Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let's kick off with Melodious Matthew Sibley, as he takes a look at Batman Annual #1...
Batman Annual #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Much like a holiday grab-bag, the Batman Annual contains enough little treats that there should be something for everyone to enjoy. Be it a Harley Quinn short from Paul Dini, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire’s depiction of Gotham being reminiscent of Tim Sale’s, but just a tad brighter, or a scintillating tease of what’s to come in 2017 thanks to Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo, this issue should assist you in getting into the holiday spirit. While many of the stories have an air of grimness to them, by their resolutions, the majority of the tales bring in a heart-warming element - see Tom King and David Finch’s opening story about Ace the Bat-Hound to see which of the vignettes accomplish this. Everyone involved is in top form for these short-form narratives which are economical in their storytelling – getting in just as the action rises and bowing out as the tension starts to slow. While you may be dying to find out what happens next in "I Am Suicide," this Batman Annual is a worthwhile interlude.
Ms. Marvel #13 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): There's something a little bit heartbreaking about Ms. Marvel #13, coming weeks after a decidedly non-progressive candidate won the U.S. presidential election. Taking the divisiveness of the election and boiling it down to Jersey City politics, Kamala Khan's can-do spirit and grass roots activism might feel like a balm for some readers, although I for one wish we could have seen artist Mirka Andolfo's beautiful splash page of Kamala holding an American flag a month ago. Coming so late after the election, G. Willow Wilson's story — which winds up ushering in a third-party candidate amidst the ruins of two crooked campaigns — feels a little like a false equivalence (not to mention a little too late with a great PSA about registering to vote), but for many readers, this is still going to be a Marvel book that you can't miss.
Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers #9 (Published by Boom Studios; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Kyle Higgins and Hendry Prasetya pull off the mighty feat of setting the table for the upcoming third act of this year-long narrative, while also continuing to drive the story forward without letting its momentum slow. The Billy and Goldar thread that’s been lurking in the background for the previous couple of issues loops into the ongoing Zord problem in a way that may not necessarily be surprising, but keeps propelling the narrative onwards, taking only a page for a catch-up conversation before moving on with the plan. The creative team do a solid job of bringing this sequence to an end in a kinetic way, while also using the denouement to sprinkle in a sober tone for the Rangers and moving straight into new problems that they’ll have to face. And as always Steve Orlando fills us in on what Bulk and Skull are up to, albeit in one of the lesser back-ups thus far, due to the heavy focus on set-up.
Romulus #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Delving further into brutal and violent secret societies, Romulus certainly takes a more action-packed route through hidden history. Along the way, Ashlar fleshes out her supporting cast, including a spiritual pop princess, which is a surprising character, but the skills she shows off are ones that give Bryan Hill a way to further the spirituality of the book itself moving forward. Nelson Blake II’s art continues to be the high point, showing off their skill in an action sequence that adheres to panel uniformity, isolating and drawing focus to each action beat while continuing to push further and further into the fray. This might have been one of the more low-key releases to come from Image Comics in recent months, but Hill and Blake have kept the quality consistent from the first issue to the second as it heads further down the rabbit hole, and that consistency is enough of a reason this should be on your radar.
Rick and Morty #20 (Published by Oni Press; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Morty pulls a Teen Wolf in this week’s Rick and Morty #20. Desperate to impress Jessica with some sort of athletic skill, Morty turns to Rick for a solution, which of course, has some hilariously weird consequences. While Kyle Starks’ script captures the unique humor of the show and voices of the characters well, it is his sketch like art that sets this issue apart from the usual look of the series. Starks’ pages look more like classroom notebook drawings, coupled with splotchy marker like colors from Katy Farina that adds to the punk rock charm of the series overall. Made complete with a violent Christmas themed back up from Marc Ellerby, Rick and Morty #20 is a prime example of how to make the most out of a standalone issue.
Thunderbolts #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jon Arvedon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): After being detained in issue #5, Thunderbolts #7 deals with the rest of the ragtag group of semi-reformed rogues attempting to free the Winter Soldier from S.H.I.E.L.D. captivity. In a nice twist by Jim Zub, the team even turns to Songbird for help, adding a fun “one last heist” feel to the story. However, the subplot in the form of an exchange between Bucky and Captain America steals the show entirely in this issue. Bucky telling Steve, “You haven’t been manipulated like that,” clearly teases some more heavy correlation between this series and Captain America: Steve Rogers. An artistic change results in Sean Izaakse sitting in for Jon Malin, with Matt Yackey on colors. Izaakse’s line work and layouts are a welcomed improvement, and it’s all complemented nicely by Yackey’s diverse palette selection. While the character of Kobik is becoming a grating presence to the rest of the team, Thunderbolts #7 is nonetheless enjoyable for what it is, and if your pull list isn’t too crowded, it’s certainly worth a read.
Jughead #11 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s time in Riverdale comes to a satisfyingly charming conclusion in Jughead #11. Though writer Ryan North’s resolution to last issue’s magical monster cliffhanger is appropriately funny, it is the connection he forges between Jughead and Sabrina, as well as the reveal of exactly why she’s in Riverdale that truly shines. Artist Derek Charm also sells this connection between the two cool teens well with plenty of engaging shots of the pair hashing out their problems and just naturally looking like two friends. While not exactly the all-out magic fest that readers may have been expecting, Jughead #11 is still an emotionally affecting and chuckle inducting finale to Sabrina’s long-awaited debut in New Riverdale.
Superman Annual #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Jorge Jimenez deliver a fun team-up with Superman Annual #1, which pits the Man of Steel against Swamp Thing. As this new Superman is a refugee from another universe, his presence has begun to subtly impact the post-Flashpoint DC Universe, and watching Clark slowly lose his cool when dealing with Alec Holland is a great use of this annual's expanded space. Jimenez totally crushes the action choreography with this book, nailing the shapeshifting powers of Swamp Thing (and adding in some vine-like panel borders that evokes Yanick Paquette's work during the "New 52"). What's great is that Tomasi and Gleason probably could have just rested with this book being a blockbuster brawl, but they score extra points for sticking the landing by examining Superman's place not just in greater DC continuity, but how he feels about living in this brave new world. A very strong showing from one of DC's strongest creative teams.
Generation Zero #4 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Keisha and the Zeroes get a look into the future in Generation Zero #4. Though Fred Van Lente has kept all his strange little teens on the track character wise, offering up equal parts nihilism and humor through their dialogue, plot-wise, he has still been playing his cards close to his chest. Issue #4 is no different, but at least he allows the title to take a few steps forward, even though we still may not know where his path may lead. Artist Francis Portela and colorist Stephen Mooney aren’t given much to do, aside from a grim flashback to the Zeroes' time in the Nursery. But Portela’s continued attention to natural facial expressions and Mooney’s goth inspired colors still impress none the less. With plenty of gallows humor and a few more of Rook’s mystery’s coming to light, Generation Zero #4 continues to be a dark treat.
Ghost Rider #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jon Arvedon; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): With the character appearing on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it was inevitable that Marvel would launch a new solo series featuring the Robbie Reyes iteration of Ghost Rider. The book starts out promising enough, establishing the solid bond between Reyes and his brother Gabe. However, things quickly go off the rails from there as Felipe Smith jumps back and forth between the main narrative and a dreadful subplot featuring Amadeus Cho’s Totally Awesome Hulk, coupled with an awkward transition to a backup story to close out the issue. Furthermore, there’s a good deal of dialogue doesn’t read like natural speech, making hard at times to suspend your disbelief when characters are interacting with one another. Danilo S. Beyruth’s art is solid throughout most of the book, though it feels a bit too animated for the subject matter. It’d be great to see an artist with a more realistic style, or perhaps grittier line work take a stab at this book. Likewise, Val Staples and Jesus Aburtov’s bright and exuberant colors feel a bit out of place, taking some of the edge off of the darkness of the titular character. It’s tough to say where this series will go, but if you’re looking for your badass Ghost Rider fix, you may be better off tuning into ABC on Tuesday nights for the time being.
Torchwood #3 (Published by Titan Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Captain Jack and crew continued to be tangled up in mysteries in Torchwood #3. Though the two issues previous have been cheeky, action packed affairs, Carole and John Barrowman slow way down this issue, letting the threads they’ve introduced so far hang there for a bit longer. Though still showing a bit of the trademark Torchwood wit, issue #3 doesn’t offer too much in the way of forward momentum aside from the appearance of a very familiar and very powerful symbol. Artists Antonio Fuso and Pasquale Qualano make the most of the table setting issue, packing each page with detailed set dressing, backed by the digitally inspired colors of Marco Lesko. Though it doesn’t pack the punch of the previous issues, Torchwood #3 still keeps the returned team on the clock as best that it can.
Old Man Logan #14 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): While it's a drag that Andrea Sorrentino isn't illustrating this issue, Jeff Lemire and artist Felipe Andrade still deliver some fun and spooky thrills with Old Man Logan #14. With Logan having to track down his wayward vampire sidekick Jubilee, Lemire has the perfect entree to introduce the monsters of the Howling Commandos, particularly with a great fight sequence between Logan and the looming, muck-encrusted Man-Thing. As I said before Andrade isn't at Sorrentino's level art-wise, but his style fits great for this dark and gritty storyline — it reminds me of Karnak's Gerardo Zaffino, the way that Andrade uses hard geometric shapes to seemingly chisel out shadows, as monsters hide in the darkness. While this story feels a little decompressed — perhaps because it's missing its trademark flashback sequences — Old Man Logan #14 is still some solid entertainment.
Peepland #2 (Published by Titan Comics/Hard Case Crime; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It's Christmas time in New York, but in Peepland #2 things are anything but merry. Writers Christa Faust and Gray Philips, though still reveling in the old sleaze-filled NYC of yesteryear, slow down with this issue, using its pages mainly to maneuver the cast to the places they need to be for future issues instead of packing this issue with incident like the debut. And speaking of reveling, artist Andrea Camerini and colorist Marco Lesko make the trashy denizens of the title look like a million bucks, even when they are doing deplorable things. Camerini’s lithe character models and accurate detailed backgrounds give Peepland an authentic look and feel, bolstered by the sickly rich colors of Lesko. Though certainly not for everyone,Peepland #2 continues its hard-boiled trek into the deep recesses of old-school, crime-ridden New York.