Best Shots Rapid Fire Reviews: X-MEN: BLUE #2, BATMAN/THE SHADOW #1, WWE #3, More

BOOM! Studios March 2017 cover
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered with this week’s installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! Kick back with Jungian Justin Partridge, who takes a look at a detective-pulp mashup with Batman/The Shadow #1

Credit: DC Comics

Batman/The Shadow #1 (Published by DC Comics/Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Scott Snyder and Steve Orlando use a marquee team-up to delve into the psyche of heroes and anti-heroes in the debut of Batman/The Shadow, a co-venture between DC and Dynamite Entertainment. An Arkham Asylum employee named Lamont Cranston is murdered and his death sends Batman down a dark, pulpy road to reveal a (ahem) Shadow-y perpetrator. Snyder and Orlando keep the plot fairly focused, pushing Batman’s investigation into the Shadow’s network to the forefront, but in doing so, offers a tight, crime filled exploration of the two crimefighter’s at their deepest level, using a handful of Shadow’s known associates as coldly endearing cameos. Artist Riley Rossomo and colorist Ivan Plascencia are the right team for this gothic and boldly colored jaunt through Old Gotham and Lamont’s various metropolitan haunts. Rossomo’s sketchy style again does Batman good as he wades through this new case with the help of his holographic on board UI. Made whole with Plascencia’s rich colors, the debut of Batman/The Shadow is a moody and engaging trek down the darker path with two of comic’s darkest heroes.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Weapon X #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Weapon X might be all-new and all-claws, but it has zero stakes and little pacing. Writer Greg Pak is clearly taking his time building to something and I have a feeling that this will lead to the book reading better in trades. But issue to issue, it’s a drag. If Pak’s conceit wasn’t clear in the first issue, he makes it slightly clearer here. Someone’s trying to collect the main cast of characters and they’re generally succeeding (even if their successes happen inexplicably off-screen). For his part, artist Greg Land actually looks a little bit better here. Other critics here and elsewhere have noted that when he’s tasked with drawing stuff that can’t be traced, he generally succeeds and that’s the case here. (Unless he found some incredible horse robot monster reference, but I doubt it.) Still there’s a lack of cohesion between the script and the visual narrative. It’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Neither creator is working to their strengths at this point.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

WWE #3 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10): The first arc of BOOM’s first foray into the world of professional wrestling draws to a close with the triumphant return of Seth Rollins to the ring — or at least, that’s Seth’s goal, if he can outsmart his former mentor for once. Writer Dennis Hopeless offers up easily the most entertaining issue of the series so far with a behind-the-scenes look at Extreme Rules 2016, the pay-per-view event that had fans on the edge of their seats with anticipation over a rumored Rollins return (myself included, even as a fairly new fan). This week’s issue showcases Hopeless’s incredible ability to spin new stories out of long-spoiled shows, as he breathes new life into the Rollins/Triple H feud with a wild cat-and-mouse game featuring motorcycle stunts, hallway floods, and a series of delightful cameos from WWE superstars as they try to foil Seth’s plans. Serg Acuna’s main story art has improved consistently from issue to issue, and this is his strongest yet — whether by design or coincidence, Rollins seems almost more endearingly drawn with each page, following the slow transition he makes from Authority heel to rogue babyface. Writer Ryan Ferrier, illustrator Clay McCormack, and colorist Dee Cunniffe offer an eerie Bray Wyatt back-up story that could be a storyboard for any great Wyatt family promo on television — the shadowy colors and Luke Harper’s intense face will leave you with goosebumps. The WWE team’s first outing with this on-going has absolutely made it a number one contender amongst the licensed comics out there today, and continues to offer up a tale that even the smartest marks will find something in to enjoy.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Mighty Thor #18 (Published by Marvel Comics; Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Hold on to your butts! It's the Mighty Thor throwing down against Marvel's dastardly deity of destruction, The Phoenix! And where there is a Phoenix, you can be certain there are X-Men characters close behind. Quentin Quire might be the Asgardians' ace in the hole to defeat the Phoenix but working with him is never quite easy as Thor and company quickly find out. Jason Aaron has had some fun with Quire before and it's nice to see him return to the character in a completely different setting. (Plus the cameo by Krakoa is a nice touch!) Much like last issue, the art team is firing on all cylinders. Russell Dauterman is the kind of artist you want drawing just about everything. His strong lines give his characters impressive weight, even on pages that feel stuffed to the brim with action and motion. Matt Wilson's colors are positively otherworldly, a perfect fit for an out-sized space epic. And Joe Sabino is still treating readers to some really fun work with sound effects, which is something of a trademark for Thor titles at this point. There's a little too much rendering of blur effects to try to give the pages the illusion of motion that when coupled with some foggy panels tends to obscure anything that's going on. But on the whole, Mighty Thor is the kind of big, pop comics we've come to expect from Aaron, Dauterman and company.

Credit: DC Comics

The Flash #21 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): A solid follow-up to Batman #21, The Flash #21 focuses on Barry’s connection to Reverse Flash as well as his mastery of forensic science, applying an interesting narrative to why Barry Allen is as much as a detective as Batman himself. The Flash #21’s biggest strength is weaving Barry’s past connections to the Multiverse, and its effects on DC’s Rebirth storyline – you can’t have a story about Infinite Earths without the Flash! The issue leaves readers on a good cliffhanger, that sure should be an emotional story for both Batman and The Flash. The weakest aspect of The Flash #21 is Howard Porter’s artwork, especially compared to the strong pencils in Batman #21. There are times in the issue where characters look lanky, and facial expressions do not convey the emotions needed for the story. While the second chapter of “The Button” is not as strong as the story arc’s electrifying premiere, but still delivers an interesting narrative for Barry Allen fans.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men Blue #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): ResurreXion was always intended to reestablish the basics of the X-Men and while X-Men Gold may have looked to Claremont, Cullen Bunn goes back a decade further and considers the fundamentals that Lee and Kirby first laid out. Defined early on by the difference between Professor X and Magneto’s viewpoints, Bunn take this opportunity to see how the Original Five work with a Magneto who’s lived through this battle of ideologies. This is unfortunately undercut by an early panel of Jorge Molina’s where Magneto looks very close to the age of the Original Five. Otherwise, his art has a sheen to it, and while it shines in the smaller moments, the larger moments are hurt by being fragmented into so many panels where the composition of the full page doesn’t come together. Despite the change from working with Xavier to Erik, the underlying tensions of the team persist, and one beat involving Iceman and Angel lands because of brief three panel set-up on a single tier to make it feel fleeting. While not a grand reinvention, the basics are locked down enough that anyone’s who jumped on will be able to ride out the growing pains without too much trouble.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

X-O Manowar #2 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Valiant Entertainment’s heavy metal reboot of X-O Manowar gets brutal in its second installment. After laying great and terrible groundwork in the debut, Matt Kindt shifts into rack focus on Aric, exploring his stranger-in-a-strange-land status, his brewing cold war with his sentient armor, and his place as a conscripted soldier in someone else’s fight. It is a lot to handle for a second issue, but Kindt threads the needle well, thanks in large part to this issue’s “Men on a Mission” structure as Aric and his new squad aim to blind the Cadmiums as well as cripple their defenses. Artist Tomas Giorello and colorist Diego Rodriguez continue to balance the title’s humanity and propulsive and wickedly violent action with plenty of character focused action scenes and coppery, heavily shaded colors that sell Aric’s new alien home and its bloody civil war. Valiant Entertainment has been really shaking things up here lately and if Matt Kindt, Tomas Giorello, and Diego Rodriguez’s X-O Manowar isn’t careful, they make end up making the biggest waves of all.

Credit: DC Comics

Supergirl: Being Super #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Mariko Tamaki continues with Kara’s exploration of grief as this miniseries nears its conclusion. While many superhero origins may be defined by tragedy of some kind, very few examine the time between the event and the hero rising to the occasion. Here, not only does Tamaki somewhat subvert this tendency of the medium in the issue’s flashbacks, but the time and space allowed for within an extended page count mean that Kara only becomes more defined as a character. While Tamaki’s plot might envelop more traditional elements of superhero comics over the course of the issue, for the most part, Joelle Jones and Kelly Fitzpatrick continue with their portrayal of a realist milieu. This story isn’t purely about Kara, but also the world around her, which involves her classmates and so it’s necessary that these people are literally and appropriately sketched out rather than being purely loose shapes in the background. This is an intense and internal story, seen through the midpoint flashback and the strong sense of character that comes from this approach shows that Supergirl: Being Super should be the go-to recommendation for Kara Zor-El.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Hulk #5 (Published by Marvel Comics, Review by Kat Calamia, ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Hulk #5 looks deeper into Jen’s trauma as she’s finally forced to face the monsters inside herself. Opening with Jen in the hospital after the events of Civil War II, this issue shows our heroine as she continues to deny her trauma, stating that she’s “fine” over and over again until she believes it herself. But as the story unfolds, Jen realizes that she isn’t “fine” as she unleashes the Hulk — a part of her that used to give her confidence, but now is the root of her fear. Artist Nico Leon’s pencils really shine as the issue teases “the monster” hiding in the shadows, while colorists Matt Milla and Andrew Crossley’s use of gray and green throughout the issue adds to the tension of the Hulk’s return. Hulk #5 was used as the perfect build up to Jen’s new relationship to her Hulk. Mariko Tamaki has done a great job at exploring how Jen’s psychological trauma is affecting her day-to-day life, even if the issue loses a little bit of momentum with Maze’s return and the on the nose comparison of Jen and Maze’s internal demons.

Credit: Black Mask Studios

There’s Nothing There #1 (Published by Black Mask Studios; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): A story that combines the spiritual, physical and material worlds as they intersect with the lives of the social bourgeois, There’s Nothing There should feel as uniquely arresting as Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper, but despite the raw sexuality, found present in similar works like The Neon Demon, this debut feels more mechanical than the orgy in Westworld. Patrick Kindlon deals with ideas that most commonly recur in these types of works – the simultaneous emptiness and exuberance, and intimacy (of lack thereof) of high society – but Reno Selleti doesn’t feel as defined as the characters he’s previous created with Matthew Rosenberg. With her as the centrepiece of the story, the lack of distinct personality extends outwards to the rest of the book. The most audacious beat of the issue arrives early on as Maria Llovet builds to two concurrent, but vastly different displays of intimacy, with her color choices meaning that neither feel particularly warm. This coldness runs through the issue, both intentionally and unintentionally as while it’s meant to invoke uncomfortableness, there’s not enough there that allows us to warm to Reno, instead keeping us further detached than being purely at arm’s length.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men: Gold #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): They say familiarity breeds contempt, and that might just be what’s happening with X-Men: Gold. Thankfully, this issue is bereft of the controversy that marked the debut, but writer Marc Guggenheim still isn’t giving any indication that he has a new idea when it comes to his approach to the X-Men. And I’m not sure that he has a really good handle on these characters at this point, either. While the debut checked off a lot of boxes that are almost required at this point for an X-title, there was a feeling that the creative team would ease into a larger metaphor. Guggenheim shows us that’s not the case right away, and the deportation-focused turn that the plot takes sets up Gold as something of a potential modern day “God Loves, Man Kills.” Artist Ardian Syaf’s style is a good fit for the older characters, but he’s unable to draw any of the young characters effectively. Kid Guardian and Anole show up looking like they’re in their early ‘30s and might have just stepped out of an issue of Savage Dragon. (Plus, why is Kid Gladiator even in this book? He’s currently in the middle of the Asgardian/Shi’Ar War, and his main concerns are punching, not mutant rights.) Guggenheim and company fail to build on a tepid debut, but there’s still hope that they can salvage their “back to basics” approach if they do more to meaningfully build up the world around these characters rather than just stick them in familiar roles and familiar situations.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Britannia: We Who Are About To Die #1 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Rome’s only Dectectioner returns in the intriguing and gory Britannia: We Who Are About To Die #1. While the first Britannia installment was a tight creature feature, Peter Milligan expands his scope exponentially, delivering another supernaturally themed murder mystery that stands to threaten the very foundations of Rome itself. The young sons of Rome are turning up dead in the shrines of the gods and its up to Antonious Axia to root out the cause. Juan Rose Ryp is also back for this second entry, along with colorist Frankie D’Armata, and their rustic, heavily inked pages are perfect for the ruddy and sometimes bloody streets of Rome in the Time of Nero, a decidedly different tone than the swampy greens and foggy marshes of the first installment. Even if you missed the debut series, Britannia: We Who Are About To Die #1 is a wonderfully dark and twisted return to the crime infested pre-fall Rome.

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