Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: SPIDER-WOMAN #17, BLACK WIDOW #12, BATGIRL ANNUAL #1, More

Marvel Comics March 2017 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let's kick off today's column with Macklemore-Mimicking Matthew Sibley, as he takes a look at the final issue of Spider-Woman...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Woman #17 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10) Yet another conclusion this week as Dennis Hopeless and Veronica Fish say goodbye to Jessica Drew. Spider-Woman gets a warmer ending than Black Widow this week as she decides to throw a party in the down time she can spare and encompasses how this series has excelled by going against the grain of being a superhero book or even a detective story. A sub-plot involving Gerry and Roger results in one of Veronica Fish’s most astounding two-page spreads, a birds-eye view of a room which has more energy than some full issues of other books. The party itself is where most of the verbal wit comes across as heroes collide with entrées and there’s snark and sweetness in spades - a signature of Spider-Woman and a wonderful send-off for what’s been an endearing book each and every month.

Credit: DC Comics

Batgirl Annual #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Batgirl Annual #1 brings two fun-filled stories that make this comic worth its $4.99 price tag. The first story is a playful team-up between Batgirl and Supergirl, where the girls’ chemistry truly shines throughout the issue. Barbara takes on a big sister role for Supergirl, but what makes this team-up entertaining is watching the two heroes learn from each other. The pencils by Inaki Miranda add to the playful nature of the story, as the girls sip coffee together and Supergirl gives Batgirl an accidental wedgie. The second story featured in this annual also focuses on friendship, putting a spotlight on the relationship between Babs and her friend Alysia. In this story, Alysia unknowingly tags along on a mission with Barbara while Batgirl is on the heels of escaped fugitive Riot Black. It was fun seeing Barbara defeat Riot outside of her costume with the help of Alysia, showing that Barbara can think quick on her feet even outside of her Batgirl persona. The pencils by Elenora Carlini are solid, and showcase Alysia and Babs’ friendship well; but there are times throughout the issue where Alysia and Barbara’s facial expressions could’ve had more detail. Overall, both these stories about friendship deliver – making this an annual worth picking up.

Credit: Black Mask Studios

Quantum Teens Are Go #2 (Published by Black Mask Studios; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Natalie and Sumesh’s problems go from cool weird to bad weird in the follow up installment of Quantum Teens Are Go. After their time machine freakout, the couple are now seeing the vac-suited constructs from the debut's finale everywhere. Worse still, they seem to be aware of the pair and plotting something involving them. Writer Magdalene Visaggio is clearly playing a longer game here, based on the issue’s cryptic ending note, but her keeping her cards close to her chest doesn’t diminish the series’ youthful voice and sense of humor. For example, Sumesh creates a weapon to make the constructs solid and then promptly names it after a Final Fantasy summon. If this issue had any downside it would be that art team Eryk Donovan and Claudia Aguirre aren’t given much to do, aside from display their expressive character work. But by the looks of things, they will have plenty of crazy junk to draw in later issues. While this issue is considerably more low-key than the debut, the spark of the Quantum Teens is still there and primed for next issue.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Widow #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): As this series comes to close, we must return to where we first began — praising Chris Samnee. Black Widow has continually been a book that allows for a spy story with some expected twists and turns, to then be bolstered by an outstanding art team. It happened with Daniel Acuna, then Phil Noto, and now Samnee and Matthew Wilson depict Natasha Romanov and Recluse’s final fight. Keeping with earlier issues, the dialogue is kept to a minimum to emphasize the visual storytelling. The second page uses thin panels to control the time flow and add to the tension while later pages are opened up, allowing the pair to keep the book moving with a pace that only Samnee can convey. Wilson’s colours are so sharp that this pace can be sustained by the book and let us keep up without needing to parse what’s going on. Black Widow #12 is a phenomenal issue to cap off a phenomenal run that’s a deserving candidate of an oversized hardcover in the future.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

WWE: WrestleMania Special 2017 #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): “The Grand Daddy of Them All” is given the rousing anthology treatment in the WWE: WrestleMania Special 2017. Following some of the biggest stars and legends of WrestleMania, this one-shot provides both laughs and heart as it guides readers through some of the biggest “WrestleMania Moments.” But this isn’t just an empty retelling. Each creative team finds an interesting in road on each story, adding even more theatricality to the already big world of sports entertainment. Standouts include Aubrey Sitterson and Kendall Goode’s tale of the ultimate underdog made good, Daniel Bryan, and the Archie by way of Love and Rockets story of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens by writer Andrew Stott, artist Andy Belanger, and colorist Dee Cunniffe. It also contains a recount of the WWE’s first Ladder Match from Box Brown, Jorge Corona, and Gabriel Cassata that reads like an extended Arrested Development gag and You Can’t! Teach! That! In summation, if you are a mark, smark, or even if you have no idea what I just said, there is fun to be had with this year’s WrestleMania Special.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men Prime #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): X-Men Prime #1 launches “ResurrXion,” the latest rebranding of the X-Men franchise. As the team shifts its attention away from fear, this book finally focuses on one of the most important themes of the X-Men – the future. And what character is better to explore the future than the once-youngest X-Man, Kitty Pryde? Marc Guggenheim, Greg Pak and Cullen Bunn's story in X-Men Prime in many ways is a love letter to Chris Claremont’s run of the X-Men, and this is especially showcased with the issue’s opening. Kitty Pryde is back in Chicago practicing her dancing, very similar to how we met the character in Kitty’s early days. Storm comes to visit Kitty to convince her to rejoin the X-Men – artist Ken Lashley uses this scene as an homage to the first time Kitty and Storm met each other in Uncanny X-Men #129. This debut is not just an homage of Chris Claremont’s run with its small moments, but also with its overall tone, focusing on the human element of the X-Men. Kitty wants to lead her team into becoming heroes again, putting the X-Men right into the middle of human life. The story in X-Men Prime is very strong, but sadly it’s the artwork where the issue falters. The art from Lashley brings an old-school feel to the book, but there are many times throughout the issue where the pencils feel inconsistent. For example, during the ending scene where Kitty is giving her speech to the X-Men, she has no face drawn. This lack of detail makes this important and well-written scene lose steam. Overall, the artwork needs some attention to detail, but the old-school tone to the book makes this issue a must-read.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League of America #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Steve Orlando’s Justice League of America cast might be a little strange, but they sure are likable. Orlando gets to have a little fun with them throughout this third issue, but the machinations of the plot might leave many readers feeling a bit wanting. It’s great to see Vixen at the forefront, and Lobo is really coming into his own. The cast doesn’t feel overshadowed by Batman’s presence, and that’s a good thing. The problem comes from the plan of this book's villain, Lord Havok. The Extremists in general are mostly just a distraction while he increases his area of influence. Orlando is building the threat over time, but it feels like it's taking entirely too long to get to the point. Diogenes Neves artwork is really great though. There’s strong action throughout the book, particularly a real standout splash of Lobo that proves he's the Main Man, and the character work in general really boosts what Orlando’s doing with the script. Orlando needs to have really expressive art backing those moments, and Neves gets it here. Justice League of America is slowly carving out its niche, but it needs to improve its pacing and stop spinning its wheels.

Credit: Image Comics

Old Guard #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Equal parts Highlander and G.I. Joe, writer Greg Rucka and artist Leandro Fernandez deliver a killer second installment of Old Guard. What's perhaps most impressive isn't even the narrative, but Rucka's pacing, giving Fernandez a platform to really blow readers away with his gorgeous renderings of battlefields from the past. After a stellar sequence where Rucka brings readers up to speed about his immortal band of soldiers, the soap opera comes through fast and furious, from a new guardswoman as well as some sinister people out to find out the secret of these warriors' longevity. Rucka's characterization of Andy feels in the same spirit as his work with Renee Montoya, equal parts power and vulnerability, and even his quick shorthand for the others (such as Nick and Joe discovering each other by trying to kill one another) feel nicely fleshed out. But ultimately, art is king in this book — Fernandez is killing on this book, making this a series worth watching.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Occupy Avengers #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Clint Barton, Red Wolf and Tilda Johnson roll into Dungston with a new companion in tow: Gabriel Hernandez Walta. With The Vision in his back pocket, Occupy Avengers #5 really drives home that Walta’s the perfect artist if you want to capture the milieu of a sinister place, be it a suburban home or backwater town. As you might imagine, everything is not as it first appears, but not in the way that you’d expect. David F. Walker’s script is, at times, overstuffed as it works to flesh out the townspeople, but for the rest of the issue, feels in sync with Walta. When this happens, the dialogue is minimal and lets Walta operate in three or four tier pages to build up the ambiance of Dungston which is given a naturalistic tinge by Jordie Bellaire. Like Fargo’s second season without the snow, there’s a lot going on and it’s easy to immerse yourself in the story without feeling like the threads are purely tangential.

Credit: Archie Comics

Jughead: The Hunger One-Shot (Published by Archie Horror; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Riverdale gets another EC Comics-like alternate reality in Jughead: The Hunger, the latest of Archie Comics’ current one-shot push. Writer Frank Tieri does a fine enough job adapting to the cheeky voices of the Cool Teens that Archie Horror likes to play with, but better still is the Buffy like world he posits in which the Joneses have lycanthropy running through their family and the Coopers have opposed them throughout history. It calls to mind the rich mythology the Sabrina title enjoys. But the artwork is where this one-shot truly terrifies and delights. Penciler Michael Walsh and colorist Dee Cunniffe pay a loving tribute to the sumptuous horror layouts of greats like Wrightson and Corben with multiple double page splashes filled with gory and moody werewolf action. Basically you come for the promise of a Jughead werewolf, but you stay because there is a werewolf-hunting Betty Cooper. Fingers crossed we get another chance to revisit the world of Jughead: The Hunger again down the line.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Backstagers #8 (Published by BOOM! Box; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The boys are back in town in this Wednesday’s Backstagers finale, but how long can they protect their town from the theater magic threatening to destroy it? James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh ramp up the creepy factor as the Backstagers try to put an end to Polaroid’s escape efforts once and for all. Tynion’s pacing is efficient and keeps the story moving at a rapid clip without sacrificing quality or emotional impact, looking back on the supporting cast we’ve been introduced throughout and giving each of the backstage boys’ arcs a satisfying end without the book feeling rushed. Rian Sygh and colorist Walter Baiamonte have offered up beautiful and engrossing artwork throughout the series that culminates in Backstagers #8 with startlingly spooky panels of Polaroid and the emotional damage he’s done to the Backstagers and their friends with his efforts. The issue hits its highest note with a brilliantly colored page that captures the warm and hopeful spirit of the title with vivid pinks and blues that never overwhelm. The book’s final pages are as heart-warming as they are heart-breaking, and serve as a testament to the creative team’s ability to take a light-hearted premise and weave it through with impressive emotional depth. Backstagers has been a delightful and consistently well-done miniseries since its debut — the only disappointment with this week’s issue is knowing there’s no encore in sight.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Man-Thing #2 (Published by Marvel; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): The first issue of R.L. Stine's Man-Thing was charming as it straddled an interesting line between self-deprecating and quippy humor, pulpy horror, and an underlining melancholy, with the first of those being Stine's most obvious stylistic addition. Man-Thing #2, however, finds those three components uncomfortably out of balance. After a shaky opening scene, Man-Thing's return to the swamp and quasi-reunion with a college sweetheart who doesn't recognize him is fantastically written when it comes to the emotion under it and the atmosphere in which it exists, but the quips are so pervasive that they oppress the reader. Some of them are legitimately funny ("That would hurt my ears too -- if I had ears."), and some have that obvious coping mechanism underpinning, but most of them take the reader directly out of any emotional investment in the story. German Peralta and Rachelle Rosenberg's art and colors respectively are just as eye-catching and gorgeous as the previous issue and are a highlight. The comic ends with Man-Thing opening the door to the Nexus of All Realities, which gives the narrative so much room for interesting turns, and hopefully less invasive quips.

Credit: Dynamite

Doc Savage: The Ring of Fire #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Doc, Pat, and the entire Savage team return in the rousing, but sparse Doc Savage: The Ring of Fire #1. Sure-footed and very much in character, writer David Avallone finds a nice middle road between the stodgy voice of the old pulps and a propulsive modern action comic. His take on Doc and the gang are nicely voiced, though it is still hard for me to tell Doc’s cohorts apart; a fault of their homogeny visually, not of the artists' portrayal of them. Also interesting is Avallone’s focus on Pat Savage, who has a completely, much more interesting separate plot that casts a unflattering light on Doc’s story of rogue artifical volcanoes, making it seem a bit empty beside Pat’s. Artist Dave Acosta and colorist Morgan Hickman keep Doc on his feet however with a sketchy and energetic set piece dogfight to go along with their moody and literally explosive opening dream sequence. It isn’t the most auspicious of starts for Doc Savage: The Ring of Fire, but the story has enough spark to keep the embers glowing at least until next month.

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