Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to pass the turkey, the potatoes and most importantly, the Rapid-Fire Reviews! Get ready to gobble up some quick looks at more than a dozen of this week's new releases, including reads from Marvel, DC, Dynamite and Top Cow. As always, we are so thankful for your support, and hope that you'll stir up some piping hot discussion in the comment threads. Want some seconds? Feel free to reach across the table for some back-issue reviews at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's let Erika kick off this holiday column, as she's thankful for the return of Kate Kane in Batwoman #0...
Batwoman #0 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; Click here for preview) This issue sets a beautiful stage for Batwoman’s solo series, and who better to narrate her backstory than a certain caped hero who’s returned from a long hiatus? The narrative is accessible and gripping, and writer/artist J.H. Williams III and artist Amy Reeder are in perfect sync throughout. Through Batman’s eyes, we see what an impressive crime-fighter Batwoman is, and she throws out some moves that even he has never seen before. “Almost got the best of me,” he admits after posing as a would-be attacker. Conversely, there’s a touching vulnerability to Kate when Reeder illustrates her out of uniform. In an issue full of stunning panels, there’s a mirror-image page of Kate/Batwoman that’s the artist equivalent of Olympic-level synchronized swimming. Dave Stewart’s colors -- from blood red to soft yellows -- add richness and depth, conveying just the right mood for the moment. Williams’ commitment to the character that he and previous writer Greg Rucka revived couldn’t be more evident, and I can’t think of a DC book I’m more excited about right now. Kate is in excellent hands, and based on this re-introduction, her fans are, too.
Uncanny X-Force #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; Click here for preview): I picked up Uncanny X-Force on a whim, and I am thrilled that I did. This is a superb "spandex" book that anyone could jump into. Marvel has done an excellent job ensuring that it is accessible to new readers; the synopsis in the front is apt and draws you in. I'm sure some previous knowledge of Archangel and Psylocke's history could add a deeper element for the reader, but without it, the story is still quite powerful. I cannot say enough good things about Jerome Opena's art. His precise detail and dynamic action sequences are just beautiful. Dean White's colors are also worth mention, it feels like visual candy, and really defines the book. Remender is telling an appealing story. Even though he is dealing with common concepts of the Horsemen and Apocalypse, it does not feel over done. Remender keeps it interesting and fresh, and has some really great character moments. The dialogue between X-Force members is thoroughly entertaining. Uncanny X-Force stands strong with classy art and solid story-telling. This is a damn good book.
Detective Comics #871 (Published by DC Comics, Review by Amanda McDonald, Click here for preview): I know it's been said about other recent issues in the Bat-universe -- but with Scott Snyder's debut on Detective Comics, I finally feel like Bruce is really back. Not only back, but better than ever. Snyder weaves a story in which all the major players are back in best form -- Dick, Alfred, Bruce, and Jim Gordon. Centered around a powerful mutagen and corrupt cops, this Black Mirror arc has the potential to be a very strong storyline. While the Hatter is mentioned, I can't help but wonder what other villains Snyder plans to bring to the table. The dark and gritty art of Jock serves as an ideal complement to the story which brings us seamlessly into the back up feature also penned by Snyder, but with art by Francesco Francavilla. Focusing on Jim Gordon, we learn via this back up why there seem to be so many birds flitting about in the main story. Snyder's American Vampire has shown us that he is highly skilled when it comes to creating intersecting story lines and it appears that his run on Detective will show us the same. After the price and page drop in the new year, Gordon's story will be featured in one shots between Tec arcs, and I can't say enough how much I look forward to watching these stories unfold.
Vampirella #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Lan Pitts; Click here for preview): Vampirella has one of those iconic comic book looks. Whether you know little or a lot about the character herself, her costume is easy recognizable. That being said, I guess Dynamite is in the business of pulling a Wondy and deviating from the popular bathing suit design to something a bit more contemporary, or as I like to say, TV-friendly. The thing about it though, is that the wardrobe change doesn't phase me in the slightest or hinder the story. Writer Eric Trautman (DC's Mighty Crusaders) gives Vampi here a Batman-like voice. Lots of inner dialogue that moves the story along, while getting an idea of who this revamped (pun not intended) Vampirella is. The real star in this book is Wagner Reis. His panel layout reminded me of older Batman books and the George Perez era of DC. It's not crammed to the teeth with panels, and he keeps things interesting with great use of angles and such. I love the heavy inking in the book and the play with shadows. If you're looking for a flat-out origin story, don't look here. If you're looking for an entertaining read that's also pretty to look at, check out Vampirella #1.
Batman and Robin #17 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): It’s a regular Paul Cornell-A-Thon over at DC, with him contributing a three-part story arc to Batman and Robin starting this week called “The Sum of Her Parts.” In it, he not only creates a suspenseful story about a former girlfriend of Bruce’s that’s been killed, but he manages to create a feeling of warmth for our favorite crime-fighting duo. Dick and Damian have begun to really bond like brothers, and we see that in the way they’ve started finishing each other’s thoughts and bickering about their crime-fighting style. We see Dick and Alfred silently and happily bonding over a shared concern for Bruce’s well-being in his personal life. And then there’s the humor, which is rampant in this issue right from the first page. We are introduced to an interesting new villain called The Absence, who is drawn wonderfully (and creepily) by Scott McDaniel. However, I’ve encountered one of my comic-reading pet peeves in this issue. If you’re going to have a big reveal in an image, do us all a favor and take that into consideration when laying it out, please? What could have been a shocking final image ended up with a reduced impact simply because it was on the right instead of on the left. However, this issue was a strong beginning to a story I’m very much looking forward to continuing.
Astonishing Thor #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): While I totally understand the urge to capitalize on Thor in honor of his upcoming film, I think there's a problem with all these iterations of the character in his six different series: We still don't have a "solid" grasp of what the character's true north is, and in so doing, it's tough to spin the character in this many directions and make it meaningful. As far as Astonishing Thor goes, the energy of this book feels surprisingly leaden, with the flourishy dialogue clashing against the computer-realistic artwork of Mike Choi. This book starts out widescreen in its visuals, but the slow-moving plot doesn't leave much to hook you. I think the problem with this first issue, at least for me, is similar to the problem a lot of people have had for Thor in the past -- it's easy to miss out on the humanity and resonance behind the character with all the Shakespearean prose and high-cosmic craziness. Robert Rodi bring out the coolness factor late in the book, however, with the appearance of Ego the Living Planet -- but ultimately, it's a little too little, a little too late. Less innovative than Ultimate Thor, less astonishing than the flagship title by Matt Fraction, this first issue of Astonishing Thor is more cloudy, less lightning.
Action Comics #895 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): My faith in Paul Cornell was well-placed, it seems. What I thought was a wonky ending to the last issue has paid off in issue #895 with the return of Vandal Savage and the Secret Six, and the intriguing concept of Lex Luthor being prophecied to be the harbinger and cause of Vandal’s “happiness.” People always look at me weird when I say this, but Cornell’s writing of the character has given me a huge crush on Lex Luthor, and with lines like “I don’t associate with “super-villains” unless it’s to lead them. They have master plans and costumes and pretentions. We have little in common.” that crush has been left totally intact. Artist Pete Woods really shines here, as this was a particularly emotional issue for both Lex and Vandal, and so much anger, hurt, and disappointment was conveyed in the images rather than the words. Am I wrong for feeling bad that Lex doesn’t get to have the real Lois? As if you needed more than great writing and art to make you pick up this issue, there’s also the fun and funny Jimmy Olsen feature in the back of the issue by Nick Spencer and RB Silva to make this issue worth your while.
Shadowland: Power Man #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): What a fantastic read. Seriously. What should have been "just" a disposable spin-off in the overall Shadowland storyline has proven to be one of the hidden gems of the Marvel Universe, as Fred Van Lente creates some of the most compelling characterization I've seen from him over his entire career. Victor Alvarez, spiritually, is a great successor to Luke Cage, who never really fit into the "traditional" superhero mold. And that's the fun dynamic between this new Power Man and Iron Fist -- Danny Rand is the guy who sees the big picture, but there's that unpredictable streak from Victor, as he follows his own moral code, no matter how much trouble it might get him (or even others) into. "My whole damn life's a mistake!" he shouts, as he descends into Shadowland. "I gotta do something right -- once -- or die tryin'!" I'll even go one more when I say it -- the new Power Man might be the most interesting teen character out of the Marvel Universe since Amadeus Cho. I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't mention the artwork from Mahmud Asrar and Ray-Anthony Height, who play off of each other nicely with the panel composition with all this martial-arts-inspired action. This book will never get the appreciation it deserves, so I'll start here: Shadowland: Power Man is a great new beginning for a fantastic duo, one that I hope Fred Van Lente and company will return to in the future.
Batman Beyond #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): I was a little rough with Adam Beechen and Ryan Benjamin in the last issue, and I'm pleased to report that, despite whatever misgivings I've had the last couple issues, they very much stick the landing with this final chapter of Batman Beyond's first arc. In this issue, Terry McGinnis picks up a pair of partners that feels just so right, given both the history of the Bat-mythos as well as the past five issues that Beechen's been setting things up. Beechen also manages to take the misgivings I had over Hush's origins and make them work, primarily because of the way he picks Terry's supporting crew. The art by Ryan Benjamin, is still a little rough as far the polish goes -- there's one page where Dick Grayson is sitting in the Batmobile, no shadow, and the very next page, same place and pose, and has a huge shadow across his cheek -- but its markedly improved from the last issue, where everything looked a bit too rushed. He's very much got a style reminscent to the hard edges of the original cartoon, with a little bit of that individual, flawed flair that can't be replicated in animation. There are some moments of unintentional goofiness here -- Hush's demise being the big one -- but while this may be imperfect, it shows Beechen can write a satisfying ending. Here's hoping he can replicate that success with the Batman Beyond ongoing out next year.
Magdalena #4 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Lan Pitts; Click here for preview): It looks like Patience has gotten herself in one hell of a pickle yet again. While following the trail of the so-called Antichrist, Patience and Kristof are ambushed and tricked by demons, and the young Antichrist, Anton. Of course things get even worst for our heroine as her spear is taken from her. The cover for the next issue looks incredibly foreboding. It's no secret that Ron Marz wanted to get on this book the moment he got into Top Cow, and in his patience (pun intended) we are rewarded with one fine book. Nelson Blake II does an excellent job showing Magdalena's fighting skills while expressing her grace that I think a descendant of Christ would possess. Also, great detail on the architecture around Paris. Marz's style has always been show and not tell, there's not that much inner dialogue as usual and you get a sense of realism with the characters with their vernacular. Top Cow just keeps churning out with these great titles and if you're checking them out, you are REALLY missing out.
Justice League: Generation Lost #14 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): I love alternate future stories -- and so when I saw the cover of Justice League: Generation Lost #14, I knew I had to pick this book up. And considering this book has been largely overshadowed by its sister event, Brightest Day, I have to say that this done-in-one story featuring Captain Atom meeting the Justice League of tomorrow is some imaginative fun -- even if it's also admittedly a little lightweight. The main draw here, of course, is seeing Judd Winick's take on what the Justice League might be 112 years from now -- and part of me wishes that he would have had more issues to play with this team, because I don't know if 22 pages is enough to really tap into their full potential. Little moments, like Damian Wayne tapping into his grandfather's Lazarus Pits to stay in the fight, are pretty cool -- but that said, many of the others, like Plastic Man, Martian Manhunter or "Blue Scarab" feel almost criminally underused. Aaron Lopresti's storytelling is particularly sharp in this story, as your eyes don't end up glazing over and missing and key details -- the one weakness he has, however, is on his design chops, making some of this alternate Justice League feel a little less cool than they could be. In many ways a bit of a thematic sequel to The OMAC Project, this issue succeeds by playing on some vey particular heartstrings -- it's not the most effective that it could be, but the sheer spectacle is enough to make it worth a look.
Gotham City Sirens #17 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald): As one of their team is in danger, Ivy and Harley team up with Zatanna and Talia Al Ghul to find and rescue Selina who has been trapped in a strange dream world since the previous issue. This installment hits on my favorite elements of the Sirens, mixing adventure and battle with quips that suit their characters perfectly. Andres Guinaldo switches up the paneling in this issue a bit, and has several pages with only a couple panels per page. This affords him the ability to fit in the larger cast of characters, while showing what is going on with each of them as they fight to save Selina. Peter Calloway writes this issue not so much in dialogue, but in these action scenes -- making the revelation spoken between Talia and Zatanna at the end of the issue pack that much more punch. While this issue brings part of the ongoing story to a close, it hints at the story to come -- a perfect jumping in point if you haven't already.
Madame Xanadu #29 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Teresa Jusino): Madame Xanadu was an earthy, comforting presence in the DC/Vertigo universe, second only to Death in her ability to understand people and bring them hope and solace in their times of trouble. Her power and intelligence was tempered by centuries of life and experience, allowing her to remain nurturing and caring even as her mystical powers grew. Her final issue, “The Advent of Tomorrow,” takes place in the 1960s, and we see that she’s taken on Charlotte Blackwood, the college student afflicted with the gift of clairvoyance after a brush with acid, as her first apprentice. This was a wonderful choice for writer Matt Wagner to make for the character, as sharing her gift has always been important to her, and Charlotte is the perfect choice of student. Through Madame Xanadu’s work with Charlotte, we get to see her tie up some loose ends in her own life as well as enjoy the benefit of having a companion who understands what it’s like to have her gifts. I was thrilled to see that Amy Reeder is back for this final issue, as it’s her art that drew me to the title in the first place. While I’ve enjoyed the other artists who’ve visited for the previous story arc, it’s Reeder’s ethereal, open, graceful pencilling that makes Madame Xanadu for me. Kudos to Wagner and Reeder for a wonderful run on a great title, and for giving Madame Xanadu a fitting end.What'd you think of this week's comics?