Face front, 'Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, leading the charge for this week's Rapid Fire Reviews! We've got more than a half-dozen doozies here for you, featuring some bite-sized top picks from DC, Marvel, Top Cow and Oni. As always, if you're interested in more reviews, check out the Best Shots Topic Page here!
The Return of Bruce Wayne #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): In a lot of ways, this is a very spartan story -- there's not a whole lot of dialogue in there, which means that while Grant Morrison packs as many ideas to bubble as he can, it's Chris Sprouse who really shoulders a lot of the weight for making this first issue memorable. Sprouse's sharp angles yield some nice subtle moments, like when Bruce glares at a caveman -- no lie -- named Joker. While the repetition of the Bat-theme has its interesting moments (and occasionally some eye-rollers, like caveman Joker), for me, I think I like the anticipation of what's next even more than the issue itself -- when Morrison does actually go out with the ideas, it seems really fascinating (and Sprouse's take on some of the other modern-day heroes is nothing less than eerie). This book definitely ties onto the end of Final Crisis, which may mean for a difficult learning curve, but for those who were watching Morrison's previous epic, this may bring some long-delayed resolution for fans of the DC universe's ultimate survivor.
Siege #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): Out of all the books that Brian Michael Bendis has coming out this week, it's ironic that the one that is getting the biggest promotion is the one that feels the weakest to me. Perhaps it's because Siege #4 isn't just the end of its own story, but it wraps up the entire meta-story for the Marvel Universe since Civil War. It is the end of an era, but I don't know if structurally it lands the dismount. There are a couple of great moments here -- Iron Man in particular has a great scene, as does Loki of all characters -- but I found myself scratching my head at one character's about-face, and how quickly another character was taken out of the fight. Part of that is due to Olivier Coipel, who, when he hits, he hits fantastically, but pacing-wise isn't able to do justice to some key pages. It's weird, because Bendis' two companion pieces to this issue, Dark Avengers and New Avengers Finale, feel a lot more satisfying -- and that's a shame it doesn't stand on its own two feet more. Ultimately, this book had a lot of expectations, coming from the chemistry that started it -- this isn't a bad read, but I can't help but feel that this could have been so much more.
Justice League: Generation Lost #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Russ Burlingame): Keith Giffen and Judd Winick's foray into Justice League International storytelling is more or less exactly what was promised: a handful of old JLI characters have been brought together to look for Max Lord, but by the end of the first issue everything goes hinky and only the main characters even remember that Max ever existed, let alone that he's a very, very bad man. The art is hit-or-miss; there are a few pages (notably splashes and some of the larger panels featuring Captain Atom, Fire and Booster Gold) that really show off what Aaron Lopresti can do, but overall it's lacking in the fluidity and energy that Giffen's longtime collaborator Kevin Maguire gave to these characters in their heyday. The script is boilerplate superhero stuff and, while this story is a little too serious in tone and dire in consequences to be told as a screwball comedy, the absence of a single laugh serves as a reminder that the JLI is a loose conglomerate (no pun intended) of characters without many defining personality traits when you take away the team dynamic and the humor. Booster, Captain Atom and Max Lord get most of the speaking parts this week and their portrayals owe a lot to post-JLI interpretations by Geoff Johns. Hopefully Fire and Ice will get a little bit of business once the story starts to take shape, because it would be a real shame to take Tora away from her ongoing story in “Green Lantern Corps” only to make her a glorified extra in this title.
Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Brendan McGuirk): Warren Ellis' recent work on the X-Men might as well be called “Ellis' International X-Mysteries!” He has consistently found ways to push the X-Men out of their storytelling comfort zone. The luxury afforded by the Astonishing-branded minis is that he can sidestep the conventional soap-operatics and focus on what the writer does best; tell stories about challenging thoughts. He does this while still nurturing the familiar interpersonal interactions that characterize a strong X-Men ensemble story. In Xenogenesis, the X-Men are summoned to Africa amidst a wave of apparent mutant births. Unlike the simplistic shorthand present in Claremont's X-Men work, Ellis isn't afraid to take real world xenophobia head on, using Logan to present some of the criticisms of many African interlopers. It is a complicated world of complicated problems, Ellis assures us, and mutant birth tragedies don't help matters, but the X-Men are on the case. On the visual side of things, Kaare Andrews' goes the extra mile in his character construction. It is rare to see such close attention paid to things like bone structure, but each X-Men is uniquely framed and built and undeniably recognizable. Some artists just put different hair on the same bodies over and over. That ain't the case here; Emma Frost has a round, porcelain baby-face, Storm is regal and slender, (and rocking the sick mohawk), and Cyclops is, well, Slim. Andrews also brightly shines when bringing the African landscape to life. Bluntly put, Frank D'Armata is Marvel's closer. When they need a project to emote, and they need it to be taken seriously, he's the colorist they summon. Using ember- orange as the baseline for his palate, D'Armata deepens and tightens Andrews' work throughout, bringing an undeniable prestige to the story. Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis is simply a well-made comic book.
The Sixth Gun #1 (Published by Oni Press; Review by Lan Pitts): Wow. I've never walked into a book so blindly and loved every second of it. It's a real world surrounding with a mystical twist involving a dead man's gun. Or something like that. The elements of the titular gun are really unknown except for it has supernatural powers. I'm sure it will all be explained with the ongoing coming out this summer. Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt really nail it on the head of what comics should be: exciting, fun, with hints of danger. I'm sure this will appeal to the non-spandex crowd out there who enjoy the no-so-common books out there, like the ones Oni usually puts out. Bunn's words are as sharp as Hurtt's art is polished, but with a slight roughness in the detail. You can smell the dirt and feel the desert wind. I know fans of the short-lived 13 Chambers will want a shot at this, and readers who are looking for something different will want a taste. Saddle up for what might be the sleeper hit of the year.
The Flash #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Russ Burlingame): The second issue of The Flash is quite an improvement over the first; the pacing is much better, for one, and the art -- while it's not as slick and sexy as the first issue -- is more stylistically interesting. It looks like it belongs more in a copy of Wednesday Comics than in an ongoing monthly book -- and in a good way. Johns, meanwhile, has found a way to blend action and consequences with humor (this month's “speed reading” segment is the kind of thing that standalone, six-page backup stories are made of), and to tell a pair of apparently-related but nominally isolated narratives -- one involving today's Rogues, one involving Barry Allen's near-future murder of one of the far-future Rogues who, apparently, are good guys in the 25th Century. How did Booster Gold fail to mention THAT to Wally? Next month, we'll see the present and future storylines start to blend together, apparently, and Johns will need more than clever speed tricks (he's had one a month now, with the car in #1 and the house this month) to keep Barry's cherished status quo.
Witchblade #136 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Lan Pitts): In the conclusion to the "Almost Human" arc, we find Sara Pezzini and cyborg assassin Aphrodite IV up against cybernetic upgrades of Aphrodite herself. The two take down Aphrodite's "sisters" almost too easily and then move on to Dr. Singh, the rogue scientist that created the Aphrodite models. Of course, you can never trust a cyborg assassin these days and things go horribly awry. Ron Marz has stepped away from the supernatural these past issues and delved more into the cybernetic side of Top Cow this arc, which is interesting to note that Artifacts #0 immediately follows this issue, which I'm sure will give you more than enough of the best supernatural action you've seen in a while. Marz and his comrade in arts, Stjepan Sejic continues to push the boundary on what a great team up can accomplish. His layouts are exciting and conveys the tone of danger and action that Marz has directed in the story. Some parts Sejic's art didn't seem as finished as others, but it didn't take me out of drama.
First Wave #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Brendan McGuirk): I'm sorry, but this is the only First Wave book for me. Also, this is the only way I can conceive Brian Azzarello writing superhero comics. Like Ed Brubaker on The Marvels Project, Azzarello has found a way to sell pure pulp in a superhero market. And, with all apologies to both Will Eisner, Frank Miller and Darwyn Cooke, he also may have a better chance to give The Spirit any traction with the Wednesday-shopping crowd than any of them, given the way he's contextualized The Spirit against the rest of the faux-40's costumed set. These characters, and the world they inhabit, simply make sense in Azz and Rags Morales' world. Comics' historians know there is a relationship between Doc Savage, Batman and The Spirit, and even the Blackhawks, but dramatizing that interplay enriches the vitality of the characters more than a history lesson ever could. There are also many inspired flourishes to this work, like the recasting Ebony Hide as another of The Spirit's many femme fatales. With all the intermingling of disparate properties, this is basically a crossover book. But instead of a flash-in-the-pan summer event, it's a crossover that spans long eras. If this is the First Wave, let's all hope for many more.