Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: ROYALS #1, SUPERMAN #20, BLACK CLOUD #1, More

"Motor Girl #5" cover
Credit: Terry Moore (Abstract Studios)

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 Medicated Matthew Sibley, as he takes a look at the first issue of Royals...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Royals #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10) The Inhuman Royal Family are blasting off into space again, and one of them won’t survive the journey. As demonstrated in his Ultimates run, Al Ewing thrives in a cosmic setting, but he hasn’t pushed through the atmosphere just yet as, like the Prime issue, this issue primarily takes place on Earth. What makes this stand out is the cold open for the book taking place five thousand years into the future with gleaming buildings and wall-hanging cocoons. He gradually introduces the core cast of characters, a technique which has become a trademark of his writing and there’s something to be said how he’s honed this as his career has blossomed. Jonboy Meyers is also along for the ride and his pages his feel full, but not as vivid as those early Teen Titans issues. There’s a hint of '90s angular aesthetic in the designs which means that the book feels dated in some areas. This may work for the Arctilan of the future in the cold open, but the Royal Family’s outfits seem like relics.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman #20 (Published by DC Comics; Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): After all the craziness with Mr. Mxyzptlk over the last few issues, it’s nice to get an issue to reset. One thing that Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason do particularly well is ramp up to a new mystery, and they recognize that the father-son dynamic they were exploring at the beginning of this run is still just as important 20 issues in. It’s nice to have a Superman that smiles again, and the opening pages are a reassurance to readers that things are relatively back to normal. Of course, Batman showing up is never a good sign, but the creators are able to have some fun with this "World’s Finest" team-up despite the implications of the plot. Gleason’s art is really as good as ever, delivering the iconic superhero poses right alongside intimate character moments. The pie scene in particular already holds a spot in my mind as one of the most fun scenes in Rebirth to this point. This is really feeling like an essential Superman run, even though it’s only 20 issues old.

Credit: Image Comics

Black Cloud #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Ivan Brandon and Jason Latour might be some big names attached to Black Cloud, but for my money, artist Greg Hinkle might steal this show with this debut issue. The Airboy alum really flexes his muscles for this book, which evokes a bit of Dark Horse's Ether as it features a heroine who is able to jump from the real world to a world of story and imagination - Hinkle portrays these worlds with a wonderful sense of contrast, moving from an oppressively real world to an environment with gorgeously weird creatures, aided by some brilliant color work by Matt Wilson. Brandon and Latour's story moves at a slow burn for the moment, with their lead character Zelda showing some strong potential as a reluctant (but sometimes overconfident) heroine that acts as a fun foil to hapless conservative wastrel Todd, whose father has literally trust-funded his trip to dreamland in order to prevent any political embarrassments. While the pacing is a little decompressed, the monsters hidden out of reach provide a nice hook for readers, making Black Cloud a book to keep an eye on.

Credit: Marvel Comics

America #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): It didn’t take long, but this book is already a mess. Gabby Rivera grossly mishandles her main plots and her subplots, turning the pacing of this book into a whirlwind of ineptitude. Rather than having the plotting flow organically from the previous issue, the events of this book are almost like vaguely related non-sequiturs, and the main conceit of the tile is all but lost under the deluge of stuff happening with little context for what’s actually going on. It’s one thing to misdirect your audience. But this issue is just confusing when it means to be compelling. And the confusion causes Rivera’s penchant for one-liners to not play as well, either. The art doesn’t help - while Ming Doyle and Joe Quinones are both great artists in their own right, their styles don’t really mesh well together as their approach to rendering the titular hero is markedly different. Jose Villarrubia’s colors were inconsistent in the first issue and his his flat approach continues to be just that - flat. America has suffered a massive drop off from its first issue because it isn’t solidifying its identity in a meaningful way through the writing or art.

Credit: DC Comics

Nightwing #18 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Fans of Grant Morrison’s Bat-run will find a lot to love here as Dick and Damian team up to face Professor Pyg and some Dollotrons in order to save Dick's girlfriend Shawn. The past and present Robins had an immediately engrossing dynamic within Morrison’s Batman and Robin, and Tim Seeley retains the playfulness and snark that’s been part of that since the start. Seeley also deserves praise for having fleshed out Dick and Shawn’s relationship enough that Shawn being in danger weighs over the issue like a ticking clock. Unfortunately, Javier Fernandez and Minkyu Jung’s art isn’t as consistently defined as it could be. The primary location for this issue which is a non-distinct warehouse. At times, the pair include statues in panels for flavor, but this almost feels for naught as large chunks of the issue substitute this for blocks of colour to serve as backgrounds. Chris Sotomayor’s colors aren’t usual shades, and there’s a degree of consistency with how they align to characters, but they also mean the issue isn’t grounded within the warehouse.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men: Gold #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): X-Men: Gold #1’s biggest success is the classic feel Marc Guggenheim brings back to the X-Men franchise. Kitty Pryde is now the leader of the X-Men, and Guggenheim uses this issue to highlight why she’s the best person for the job. Just with the opening sequence, Kitty shows off her leadership skills and strength by using teamwork to prevent Terrax from throwing a skyscraper into the streets of Manhattan. The reason Kitty as leader works so well for this series is because of her previous relationships with her teammates. Guggenheim does a great job at establishing the different and important relationships she has with Colossus, Logan, Storm, Rachel, and Nightcrawler - allowing the reader to quickly create a connection to this X-Men roster. The pencils by Ardian Syaf are a weak point for the issue. Syaf’s art style feels grittier compared to the lightness Guggenheim provides in his story, but thankfully the colors by Frank Martin brighten up the pages. Overall X-Men Gold #1 brings a nostalgic feel needed for the X-Men franchise, while also presenting a freshness through Kitty’s leadership.

Credit: DC Comics

Harley Quinn #17 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Love her or hate her, Harley Quinn isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Palmiotti and Conner have her voice pretty locked down at this point, and fans wanting in on her latest adventures surely won’t be disappointed. At the this point, the book has a goofy enough cast of characters that are balanced well throughout the script that it’s hard to knock the creative team for anything except maybe being too competent. There’s no sense of stakes in this story yet, but that’s partly because the humor of the book really undercuts any drama there is to be had, allowing the violence to play as comedic rather than grotesque. John Timms is the real star of the book, handling everything that’s thrown into the script with a lot of grace. Harley Quinn looks like a top-tier book, and that’s a big part of its popularity. The issue of course features the start of a new ongoing back up co-written by Batman: The Animated Series' Paul Dini with art by Bret Blevins. It’s a fun little throwback that will have you struggling to get the characters’ voices out of your head, and that’s a very, very good thing.

Credit: Terry Moore (Abstract Studios)

Motor Girl #5 (Published by Abstract Studio; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Motor Girl #5 continues to balance Sam’s psychological story with the mystery behind the series’ alien characters. In this issue it’s revealed that Sam has more medical problems than first perceived, on-top of post-traumatic stress, Sam also has a tumor in her brain. These medical conditions help confirm that Sam is an unreliable narrator, and Motor Girl is a story about mixing reality with hallucination. Motor Girl #5 does a great job with Sam’s character development, but starts to lose steam when the narrative shifts to Larry’s alien abduction. The title needs to bring a stronger voice for the mysterious government group as the series starts to build its alien mythos. The black and white artwork by Terry Moore perfectly fits this psychological story about aliens because Moore’s pencils focus more on the characters than the flashiness of space. Overall, Motor Girl #5 is a good issue when focusing on Sam and the psychological aspects of the story, but the series needs to start building a stronger voice for the mysterious government like group if they are becoming more important for the alien plot.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Bullseye #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Bullseye kills a lot of people, that’s just the way he works. The opening pages see him dismantle members of the Black Knife Cartel without restraint. The issue later involves a car chase that feels very similar to when Mad Max: Fury Road zeroed in on a couple of cars in the fray, but that comparison also indicates that if the series is going to give into the madness like this, Ed Brisson could afford to be a tad more insane in the script department. The art shows that there’s method in the madness as Guillermo Sanna and Miroslav Mrva showcase some of the kills with card outlines in a very light red. In the moonlight, it makes a contrast against some of the darker blacks and blues even if it isn’t a deep red. It’s wickedly dark and has avoided veering into caricature so far, but I’m not sure there’s been anything which is truly madcap.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Arrow #20 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Sometimes a conclusion just doesn’t feel earned. This issue wraps up the return of Roy Harper, but having to split time between present-day events and flashbacks hurts the flow of the book and the impact of the ending. Simply put, Oliver Queen is kind of a jerk in the way he handles Roy’s addiction, and writer Benjamin Percy doesn’t really try to explore that at all to give it more nuance. The result is a narrative that ends with the two archers back on good terms and Roy forging ahead to be his own hero, but it feels like we skipped a few steps to get there. The artwork by Eleonora Carlini and Mirka Andolfo was generally acceptable. Some of the page layouts could be a bit overwhelming with their use of angled panel borders and characters breaking through multiple panels, but that didn’t affect the quality of the read. I like this artistic take on Count Vertigo, and that Carlini and Andolfo took some chances with their panelling when showing off his powers. But combined with a rushed conclusion to the narrative, I think less would have been more in this case.

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