Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: SECRET EMPIRE/SPIDER-MAN & Other FCBD Titles, BATMAN #22, More

Batman #22
images from Batman #22
Credit: DC Comics

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has a treat for you, as we're opening up our Rapid-Fire Reviews with a sneak peek at Free Comic Book Day offerings from publishers across the industry! Let's start with Megalomaniacal Matt Sibley, as he takes a look at Marvel's darlings of the big and small screens, with Free Comic Book Day: All-New Guardians of the Galaxy/Defenders #1...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Free Comic Book Day: All-New Guardians of the Galaxy/Defenders #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): For high-aspiring heisters, the plan is get in, get the loot then get out, but when it goes wrong, like it has here for the All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, the plan fast becomes get out of the prison. As a taster for Gerry Duggan, Aaron Kuder and Ive Svorcina’s newly launched series, this Free Comic Book Day offering is like the escape from the Kiln in the first movie, but with the team dynamic of the second film. With a reduced page count, it doesn’t get the chance to astound, but offers competency in plotting, art and banter that’s worth reading before you leave the store in order to see whether you want to pick up the #1 while you’re there. Joining the cosmic caper is a street-level affair from Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez and Justin Ponsor in the form of a Defenders teaser that offers a similar level of competency and corporate synergy, but is decidedly more of an attempt to hook readers in picking up the incoming series due to the cliffhanger. It’s perhaps a more intriguing story, but that stems from the fact it’s not clear where it’ll go, while the Guardians section is designed to be wrapped up with the pages of this issue.

Credit: Mark Brooks (Marvel Comics)

Free Comic Book Day: Secret Empire/Spectacular Spider Man #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Marvel Comics scores an early win in the battle that is Free Comic Book Day with their stylish Secret Empire/Spectacular Spider-Man double feature. Though the Secret Empire story is largely a flashback and is dominated by Nick Spencer’s dramatic narration, Green Arrow artist Andrea Sorrentino runs away with the tale by delivering intricate and beautiful Jae Lee like page layouts that reveal a lot more than just what is shown on panel. Ending the one-shot on a zany high note is our first taste of the Chip Zdarsky Spectacular book that looks to restore Peter to his charming, wise cracking ways through good ol’ fashioned superheroics and banter-offs with MJ. Artist Paulo Siqueira, inkers Walden Wong, Cam Smith, Jay Liesten, and colorist Frank D’Armata take full advantage of Peter’s vibrant and dynamic world, delivering some classic high-flying Spidey action bathed in warm, eye-catching light and color. To call this tonal whiplash would be being kind, but the Secret Empire/Spectacular Spider-Man teaser one-shot does its job well and stands as an interesting slice of current Marvel offerings.

Credit: Archie Comics

Free Comic Book Day: Riverdale #1 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): It’s 2017. The Pope is young, a baby’s a boss and Archie’s hot. A prelude to the first season, Free Comic Book Day: Riverdale #1 unfortunately lacks the madcap energy of the show’s first few episodes and instead offers a milquetoast vibe more in line with what you used to think of when you heard the word Archie. It covers Archie’s entanglement with Ms. Grundy and Hiram Lodge’s arrest which means the issue deals with two things already established for anyone who’s watching the show (not to mention bringing up the worst part of the show in the case of the former), while not presenting them with any of the playfulness the show initially lavished in. This isn’t helped by the art which feels more in line with a house style instead of being distinctly stylized, and means that these stories don’t pop in the same way the show did when it first burst onto our screens.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Free Comic Book Day: Fresh Off the Boat #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): BOOM! Studios releases a Free Comic Book Day book tying into the latest episode of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat “Pie Vs. Cake,” which is hard to follow unless you’ve seen this episode of the television show. Fresh Off the Boat is not a serialized sitcom — you can have fun watching the show even if you watch it out of order — so it’s weird to read a comic book so connected to one particular episode of the TV show. In “Pie Vs. Cake,” Emery and Eddie create a comic book for a chance to get their series put into stores across America. The Free Comic Book Day special follows their superhero creations based on the Huang family. The comic makes a lot of references to the “Pie Vs. Cake” episode. Some examples of this is with Jessica’s power of persuasion, and Evan being called Blazer Boy because of his storyline about joining the debate team. The biggest strength of the comic book is Gene Luen Yang capturing the voices and personalities of the Huang family, but it’s the superhero aspect of the story that falls flat. The comic tries to squeeze too many superhero adventures into this Free Comic Book Day one-shot, but the pencils by Jorge Corona does a good job at bringing the superhero illustrations from the TV show to the comic book medium. It was fun to see the Huang family in action as superheroes! Free Comic Book Day: Fresh Off the Boat is a great comic in concept, but a bit clunky in execution.

Credit: Diamond Comic Distributors

Free Comic Book Day: Catalyst Prime: The Event #1 (Published by Lion Forge; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Lion Forge offers some additional insight into their new superhero universe with their Free Comic Book Day offering, Catalyst Prime: The Event. Writers Christopher Priest and Joseph Phillip Illidge do an impressive job developing Catalyst Prime’s large ensemble cast into relatable and distinct characters in this one-shot prequel. Illustrators Marco Turini and Will Rosado’s art is elevated by Jessica Kholine’s color work, featuring eye-popping speedsters that seem to almost warp reality around them with their velocity and flashbacks seemingly captured in soft focus, emphasizing their displacement from time. Unfortunately, the flashbacks and cross-talking sometimes make it to distinguish when you’re reading or who’s saying what on the first read. On the whole, it’s a great story whose ambitious layout, at times, falls slightly short of the issue’s lofty goals. Catalyst Prime: The Event is absolutely a steal as a free book, and is guaranteed to leave you curious about the world of Catalyst Prime and the villainy revealed in the shocking final pages.

Credit: Diamond Comic Distributors

Free Comic Book Day: The Loud House #1 (Published by Papercutz, Review by Kat Calamia, ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): As a teaser for The Loud House graphic novel coming out this month, Papercutz is releasing a solid Free Comic Book Day book that’s an enjoyable read for newcomers and fans of the Nickelodeon television show alike. The issue opens up with a reprint of the 2015 mini comic “Lincoln Loud’s ABC’s of Getting the Last Slice”, which introduces main character, Lincoln Loud, and his 10 sisters as they fight in anime style for the last piece of pizza. The second story focuses on Lincoln and his best friend Clyde creating a superhero team with Lincoln’s sisters to defeat simple tasks around the house. Both of these stories may feel a bit repetitive for Loud House fans, but do a great job at introducing the show's large cast. The superhero story revels in the show’s comic book strip aesthetic, as The Loud House’s stories transition from a TV show format to the comic book medium. The next half of the issue focuses on original stories centered around Lincoln’s sisters, showcasing their different personalities. This section puts the family into some fun situations. One of my favorite beats was seeing Leni take the terms of Go Fish to a new level; but I was also very impressed with how much panel time the comic was able to give to Lincoln’s baby sister, Lily, bringing some visuals to her innermost thoughts. Free Comic Book Day: The Loud House is a must-read for Loud House fans, but is also a great jumping-on point for potential new fans.

And let's not forget about this week's pellets, either! Take it away, Pontificating Pierce Lydon!

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Everybody’s favorite a-holes are back with All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #1 from Gerry Duggan and Aaron Kuder. Duggan looks to take the Guardians back to basics a little, divorcing them from the larger interstellar drama that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing them be a part of. Instead, they’re cosmic burglars, in a conceit that runs a bit closer to what we see from them in their films. I like the Guardians there because it potentially puts them in confrontation with a lot of different parts of the Marvel Universe, and it allows them to blend in a little bit more. The opening gag here is really great and totally the kind of thing that fits the characters and Duggan’s own penchant for humor. Aaron Kuder is my favorite part of the issue, though. His art is extremely expressive, really lending itself to the very out-there locales, various alien species and the different personalities of the Guardians themselves. Duggan writes some really big, silly stuff into his script and Kuder doesn’t shy away from it at all, proving that they’re just the creative team to bring out the best in this ragtag group of intergalactic flarknards.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #22 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jon Arvedon; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): In Batman #22, the mysteries surrounding Flashpoint, the Comedian’s button, and the DCU’s two greatest detectives continues to unfold, beginning with some intriguing expository dialogue from Thomas Wayne. Through Thomas, writer Joshua Williamson reveals that the Flashpoint timeline was never actually erased in the events leading up to the New 52, and – as Thomas puts it – “the nightmare didn’t stop.” Perhaps the most impactful element of this issue, though, is the emotional weight of Bruce’s brief reunion with his father, which gives readers one of those rare, humanizing moments from the stoic Dark Knight, executed to perfection by Williamson. And speaking of impact, artist Jason Fabok packs a hell of a punch in his own right, with aesthetics that rival those of the greatest Batman artists of all time. The double-page spread with Bat-father and Bat-son delivering twin left hooks to the Atlantean/Amazonian soldiers is an image that’s sure to resonate with readers. With one issue remaining, it will be interesting to see how “The Button” concludes, but from a storytelling and visual perspective, Batman #22 has set the bar to incredible heights, placing it at the peak of this four-part crossover thus far.

Credit: J. Scott Campbell (Marvel Comics)

Secret Empire #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): The glorious dream of HYDRA becomes a reality in the terse Secret Empire #1. After the grand chess match that was the zero issue, Nick Spencer steps back a bit, allowing each facet of this new world (the restrictive and paranoid new state, Cap’s day to day as Supreme Leader, and the Underground’s sparse resistance) room to breathe. However, seeing and hearing about one of Earth’s Mightiest rounding up Inhumans in internment camps and holding public executions is still a bit hard to swallow even with Spencer’s shift in focus to the youthful and engaging Underground group. Artist Steve McNiven also comes across looking a bit too rough this issue, even with the fine inks of Jay Leisten and rich colors of Matthew Wilson behind him. Instead of the detailed and emotive pencils we are used to seeing from him, much of Secret Empire looks unfinished and haphazard, especially in close-up shots. Though not the disaster I think many were expecting, Secret Empire #1 is still a hard sell made harder by shoddy art and problematic overtones.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Bolt #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The enigmatic Midnight King of the Inhumans gets a solo series to match in the debut of Black Bolt. Betrayed and jailed, Black Bolt now finds himself stripped of his station and inhabiting a nightmarish prison housing the worse the universe has to offer. Author Saladin Ahmed throws us into the thick of Black Bolt’s new status quo with poetic narration, a frenetic prison fight set piece, and a gloriously weird cliffhanger that calls readers deeper into his emerging story. Artist Christian Ward proves the perfect visual style for his surreal science fiction prison tale, rendering the king’s new home as a shifting mass of Kirby tech overseen by a creature that would give Grant Morrison the heebie-jeebies made complete with lavish inky colors that sell the mystery and grandeur of alien architecture. Though the Inhuman titles have had a rocky win/loss record as of late, Black Bolt #1 looks to be just the home run they need in order to shift the odds in their favor.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman #22 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): “Black Dawn” continues with part 3 and Lois Lane is front and center. Being an reporter and being a detective aren’t all that different from each other and we follow a long as Lois tries to piece together just what’s going on. And PEter J. Tomasi is quick to remind us that Lois is no damsel. She gets a chance to defend herself with a leftover Bat-gauntlet, and it’s a lot of fun. Plus she gets to peel out in the Batmobile as well. Doug Mahnke delivers the art in this issue and I’ve got to say, it’s really one of the better issues that he’s turned in recently. He keeps his panel layouts fairly standard but he really knocks the character work out of the park. Wil Quintana’s coloring really adds an air of mystery and intrigue to the book as well. One of the themes of Rebirth on the whole has been the Truth and the rabbit hole is really only getting deeper for each of the characters of DC’s Trinity. Superman continues to be a pillar in DC’s new lineup and that’s exactly how it should be.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Jean Grey #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Young Jean Grey has been one of the best additions to the X-Men family in recent years. Her struggle to be her own person despite the weight of her history is the kind of compelling drama that has always fueled the X-Men (even if that does kind of step into some of Rachel Summers conceit). There are a few creaky bits of dialogue from Dennis Hopeless in this issue, but it’s not completely egregious. Obviously the big entity that hangs over any iteration of Jean Grey is the Phoenix, but Hopeless doesn’t quite dive right into that. Instead, he has Jean alone with her own thoughts — that is, before being interrupted by the Wrecking Crew. It’s a good reminder that while Jean is very capable, she’s also very inexperienced as a superhero. Victor Ibanez handles the art for this issue and it’s a low-key but respectable showing that I think may deliver some standout moments as the story progresses. Hopeless is clearly moving the story into bigger territory and that should allow Ibanez to let loose. For this story, the artist is a fit because he’s able to faithfully render a teenaged character, her surroundings and the action that the script calls for. That’s a good start.

Credit: DC Comics

Injustice 2 #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Tom Taylor goes back to his roots and returns to the Injustice franchise with a powerful character-driven premiere. The issue opens up with Batman talking to his former friend Superman, who is now wearing an orange prison jumpsuit behind protective glass. This feels reminiscent to the classic All-Star Superman scene between Lex Luthor and Superman, except now it’s Clark who’s the bad guy with a twisted view on the world, as Batman and Superman dig into one other to reveal the things they least want to admit about themselves. Another strong relationship showcased in this issue is between Harley Quinn and Batman, as Amanda Waller tries to recruit Harley into the Suicide Squad, culminating in a shocking rescue that will surely get fans clamoring for answers. Artist Bruno Redondo has been a frequent collaborator on the Injustice franchise, and keeps the book consistent with some stunning facial expressions, going hand in hand with Taylor’s character driven storytelling. Injustice 2 #1 revels in character moments, making for an exciting premiere issue.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nova #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): While Brian Michael Bendis’ explanation of what happened in the Cancerverse wasn’t beloved by all, Rich Rider’s sacrifice there has become a key chapter in the story of his life, death, rebirth and the driving mystery of this soon-to-be-concluded series. Nova takes us back there so Rich can do battle with The Worldmind, who also brings us up to speed on what happened after Peter Quill was able to escape. The place is a special kind of hell, and Scott Hepburn shows this grotesque nightmare-scape as exactly that. Creations of the Cancerverse are sinewy, copies without the designs having been smoothed out, and downright ugly, aided by Ian Herring who uses dark shades of purple and blue that would right at home on a color swatch entitled "The Thanos Collection." While necessary, it slows the momentum of the arc substantially. Once the recap is over, it starts to get back up to speed, but it’s no longer rocketing towards the finale as much as it felt it was a month ago.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #14 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Following on from last week’s Supergirl: Being Super comes another comic which takes the time after tragedy to slow down and grieve. While it may not have an oversized issue to extend this vibe, it is instead strengthened by the presence of General Leia Organa (and by being written by Charles Soule following Carrie Fisher’s death). It allows the story, and the Resistance at large, to catch their breath and remember the good times. Angel Unzueta’s art is clean and has a sense of camaraderie in the larger panels and scenes where full squadrons can be seen, but there’s a sense of the uncanny valley when it comes to Poe and Leia’s facial expressions, perhaps down to how the light of Arif Prianto’s colors catches them. Intercut with Terex awaiting his fate following his betrayal, the issue becomes about rising above those hardships. Terex’s experience with that idea may be more nefarious, but the feelings aligned with the Resistance prevail.

Credit: Image Comics

Extremity #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Daniel Warren Johnson proves to be a showstopper with his third issue of Extremity, a comic that proves to be just as deft with the charm as it is with the beautifully rendered displays of horrific violence. Even if you haven't been reading the series before now, this is a great entry point, as we get to see our heroine Thea during a pivotal moment in her childhood. This book grapples with the sense of identity — of who we wish to be versus what circumstances dictate us to become — and it's a theme I can't help but wonder if Johnson might have dealt with himself, being underestimated as "just" an artist rather than a holistic storyteller in his own right. There's something just so organic about the way Johnson tells Thea's story, giving quiet scenes an engaging warmth while making the action sequences towards the end of the book almost explosive with violence (particularly the robotic warrior Shiloh, who gets the book's best moments overall). Don't miss out on this tour-de-force of comics artistry.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Iron Fist #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Danny continues to trudge through the Trial of the Seven Masters in the latest installment of Iron Fist. In what is perhaps the most stylish issue of the run so far thanks to an insanely detailed multi-paneled fight scene from artist Mike Perkins and colorist Andy Troy, Danny finds himself moving up in the rankings, empowered with more chi, and finding connection with his squire for the tourney Hark. But nothing good can last as writer Ed Brisson takes a dark turn as one of the titular masters makes his move to frame Danny for murder and disgracing the tournament. I will always love the tournament structure of this book, and Brisson has done a great job of capturing the specifically strange and entertaining tone of classic kung fu epics, but every month I keep wishing his Danny was a bit warmer, a bit more of a goofball. Having two kind of dark Iron Fist runs back to back is a bit much for me, especially since I know that Danny Rand can and has done more. That said, Iron Fist #3 is still an entertaining and hard knuckled look into a more visceral side of the Marvel Universe.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men: Gold #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): The more that Marc Guggenheim’s plot comes to light, the less there is to like about it. Guggenheim does manage to portray Kitty as a good leader and one that takes the suggestions of the rest of her team into consideration but the rest of the book is a mess. For one, this Brotherhood of Evil Mutants does not do the moniker justice. Kitty’s X-Men take them all out pretty easily on their way to save Logan and the Mayor. It’s all in service of a big reveal. Guggenheim clearly doesn’t care about the fight scene. He wants to get to his twist, but when he does it falls completely flat. Even Mesmero was being manipulated, and it’s by none other than Lydia Nance. We’ve seen this plot about a thousand times from the X-Men before and while Guggenheim’s early riffs on Claremontian tropes were somewhat endearing, this is just obnoxious. Ardian Syaf’s career ends with this issue and I won’t be sad to see him go. The rigidity in his linework has only worsened as the book has gone on and there is just no energy in his pages. Hopefully, a new artist can help pick this one up, but for now, this book is scraping the bottom of the barrel.

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