Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the Best Shots Team for your weekly-scheduled Rapid-Fire Reviews! We've got books from DC, Marvel, Image and Dynamite for your reading pleasure — and we don't stop there! We've also got tons of back-issue reviews, collected for your convenience at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's salute the flag, Ultimate-style, as we take a look at Jason Aaron and Ron Garney's first issue of Ultimate Captain America...Ultimate Captain America #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): You know what I'd consider one of the biggest gambles in comics? A full-page splash of somebody's head. That's a shot that all too often fails completely — but it's also no surprise that Ron Garney knocks it out of the park, giving Ultimate Captain America a look of defiance, edginess, rage and even desperation, all in just one image. While I didn't always love the direction that Garney and writer Jason Aaron went with in the one-time Weapon X series (i.e., the left-field-why-is-Wolverine-in-this conclusion of their Deathlok arc), the execution was always rock-solid, and they certainly don't disappoint as far as the first issue of Ultimate Captain America goes. Garney's scratchy artwork gives an almost Kubert vibe, and is immaculate with its layouts and composition. Aaron, meanwhile, is a master of evoking previous writers — that sort of cocky nose-to-the-grindstone hardass-itude that Mark Millar brought to Ultimate Cap comes out in full flourish here, as Cap tells an irate British commander to keep his paycheck: "Use it to fix your teeth." There's only two drawbacks to this otherwise great first issue: The first is that, pacing-wise, it almost moves too fast, feeling like the pre-theme intro of a Bond movie rather than a weighty first chapter; and second, the overall content of the plot feels a little similar to Millar's Ultimate Avengers. Still, as far as first impressions go, Ultimate Captain America makes for a strong one, and I'm excited to see where it goes next. Batman Beyond #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino): The Batman Beyond animated series asked an interesting question: What happens when Bruce Wayne is just too old to be Batman anymore? Batman Beyond takes us to 2039, where a teenager named Terry McGinnis has taken over the Batman mantle in a Neo-Gotham, with Bruce mentoring him. The show did a great job of dealing with that concept. In its first issue, the Batman Beyond comic does less well. Terry McGinnis is still a great character, a young boy with Batman’s sense of justice, Spider-Man’s sense of humor, and none of their angst. And the issue opens with an intriguing new villain motivated by suffering a terminal illness due to his working at a metahuman evidence confiscation unit. However, even though a lot of big things “happen”, nothing really happens. It’s as if it was decided that certain things were going to be plot points, but no thought was given to how those things were going to happen realistically, so they’re all sort of strung together. The dialogue is a bit stilted and preachy, and bringing in the Justice League as a third party this early takes away from the real conflict in the issue, which is the way Bruce and Terry disagree about what being Batman means. Sadly, as a comic, Batman Beyond is slow coming out of the gate Avengers Prime #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; Click here for preview): Avengers Prime seemed like it would be the perfect vehicle for Brian Bendis; a five-issue miniseries about three once-great friends rekindling their relationship should've been nothing but conversation. Instead, it wound up being a pretty typical fish-out-of water fantasy story where most of the relationships are incidental until the very end, when we know that things must be wrapped up, and so they are. The story was fine, I suppose. There were no real twists, no big moments of set up for future stories... Really, it was almost the exact opposite of what I expected. There was big action, plenty of payoff for the high concepts, and it moved pretty quickly. So why do I feel cheated? Maybe it's because Bendis, despite his flaws, really does work best when he's just doing his thing. Alan Davis's art was nice, if a little muddy in places, and I always like seeing the, as they say in the comic, "Dungeons and Dragons Camp" versions of characters (though, I'm surprised Bendis didn't just go for a LARP joke...). The last chapter was exactly what you'd expect; the heroes and their forces gather to face the great evil, and just when all is lost, an unexpected ally clinches the victory, and everyone winds up where they belong. It's fine, it's just not exciting. Superboy #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): I think there's a lot of potential for Superboy, and as Jeff Lemire is continuing to build on his understanding of the Teen of Steel, I think the book certainly reads more compellingly with each issue. While there's still some superheroic mysteries afoot, the character moments are what work the best in this issue, whether it's Conner talking about how much he loves walking to school, or his plan with Bart Allen to raise money for Smallville's farmers. You do get the sense that Superboy is on a path of learning and enlightenment — maybe he won't turn out exactly like his "brother" Clark, but seeing how the formerly impetuous clone is tempered by Midwestern patience and community could be a worthwhile exercise. Where I'm not sold on Superboy, however? The artwork from Pier Gallo. The layouts for the artwork still veer a little too much towards the "widescreen" format — the problem, however, is when you've got six-panel conversation scenes, it means that no image becomes particularly dominant, and everything feels tiny. Gallo's musculature is something else that bothers me a bit — sometimes characters feel a little plastic, a little flat, and other times their neck muscles and collarbones pop out to a scary degree. Is this book the down-to-earth, character-driven masterpiece of Adventure Comics? Not yet, not with this art team. But Lemire's writing is enough to keep me interested, to see if Superboy will hit the next level. Who Is Jake Ellis #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund) Too many comics nowadays lack a hook. And that’s doubly true for first issues of brand new series that get lost in world building and spend no time actually creating a riveting story. Nathan Edmonson and Tonci Zonjic’s Who Is Jake Ellis #1 has that killer hook that leaves you wanting more pages to magically show up at the end of the issue. It starts out looking like an average espionage story with a hero who’s always connected to his support team by an ear piece in a way that makes him look no different than anyone on 24, Leverage or Burn Notice. The story takes a quick turn when you get an idea of who is actually the voice whispering in Jon’s ear. And that voice is Jake Ellis, whom the creators don’t reveal too much about in this issue. They create a fun mystery as you wonder (appropriately enough from the title) who Jake is and what’s his connection to Jon, the man who counts on him to know everything even as Jon is on the run from the police. Edmonson writes a quick, crafty story that feels slightly familiar but has a great twist that’s exciting, if not a bit creepy at the same time. Zonjic’s art has a Cliff Chiang-like clarity to it, creating stunning pages that match Edmonson’s fast-paced story. In a time where first issues are usually concerned with establishing character and setting, Edmonson and Zonjic don’t forget the most important part; a strong story that dares you to turn to the next page. Adventure Comics #522 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): You know, I picked up Adventure Comics #522 on a whim, sight unseen — and I'm kind of glad that I did that. Even if you're not 100 percent confident with the storyline — and yeah, I'll admit that this isn't the most accessible issue for readers brand-new to the Legion of Superheroes — the artwork by Geraldo Borges, Marlo Alquiza and Hi-Fi looks clean and really draws your eye across the page. I was particularly impressed with Borge's skill at expressions — and maybe it's just TRON fever running through my veins, but I love the new design for Mon-El, the future Green Lantern of that era. In a lot of ways, his style reminds me of those sorts of underrated but exceedingly consistent talents like Butch Guice, with hints of artists ranging from Eddy Barrows to George Perez. Ultimately, Paul Levitz does write us an extended fight sequence, but with this particular artistic team? That's some real eye candy that's aimed square for fan service. But you know something? Even though I haven't read Adventure Comics in awhile, I still really enjoyed myself with this light, action-packed read. Sweets #4 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund) Sweets #4 has cops on the hunt for a killer and, once they discover the killer’s deep, dark secret from the past, one of the cops goes off half-cocked to find the killer by himself. He leaves the badge behind and just takes his gun. This time, it’s personal. That’s it. That’s the story in this issue. It’s also the plot of so many other cop shows and movies that there’s not much in the story itself that sets it apart from any other cop story. I feel like I know these characters only because I do; I’ve seen them and watched them for years. It’s far more interesting to watch how Kody Chamberlain tells the story and creates the atmosphere through his art and, more importantly, through the colors he chooses. There’s an orange and green tint to most of the artwork that creates this hot, sweaty feeling that’s hanging in the air. It’s not a staggering or intense heat but it’s a stagnant and irritating heat, the kind that makes everyone a little pissed off and ready to explode at the slightest thing. Then, to counter that, in a flashback to the killer’s first killing, Chamberlain uses pastel blues and greens. They look friendlier than the oranges but really they enhance the tension that Chamberlain built in the present-day parts of the issue as they’re just as intense and compelling. Through his visual and color choices, Chamberlain subtly shapes the tension in the story. It may feel like we’ve read this story before but we haven’t read the story the way Chamberlain’s telling it. Vampirella #2 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): So I have to give writer Eric Trautmann some praise for this second issue of Vampirella, because oftentimes way too many comics take too long in their opening arc to get to exactly what their story is about. Trautmann runs with the idea of the "traditional" Vampirella, and showing how his revised character has evolved past the red-collared space thong. In certain ways, it's reminiscent of the rebooted Wonder Woman, but the fact that Trautmann gets to the goods relatively early means that tentative readers will find something early to latch onto: "Powers are good. Skills are better. Especially skills the enemy doesn't know you have." Where this book falters, however, is the artwork, as Wagner Reiss is joined by a second artist — Fabiano Neves — in just two issues. Reiss is still feels like a really uneven Mike Deodato Jr., with some very real issues with facial expressions, but Neves brings a nice clarity to his pages that really helps highlight the emotion behind Vampirella's eyes. If you're a fan of Vampirella who wasn't sure what to make of the last issue, I'd definitely give this vampire heroine a second chance — after setting up the mood last issue, Trautmann's direction seems to have some real potential. What's been your favorite comic of the week thus far?
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