Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the rockin' reviewers of the Best Shots team! We've got a ton of Rapid-Fire Reviews for your reading enjoyment, including books from Marvel, DC, Image and BOOM! Studios — and that's only the beginning. We've also got a ton of back-issue reviews for your perusal at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's say goodbye to a friend, as we check out the Human Torch-tastic latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man…
Amazing Spider-Man #657 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): There's a ton of great books out this week, but damn if Dan Slott isn't giving each of them the fight of their lives. At risk of demeaning the product, Amazing Spider-Man #657 is essentially the clip show done right — juggling artists such as Ty Templeton, Nuno Plati and Stefano Caselli, Slott tells a number of short stories about Spidey's history with the Fantastic Four, all shown through the prism of Johnny Storm's recent demise. While Jonathan Hickman has certainly been amping up the concepts in his run of Fantastic Four, I have to say that Slott humanizes the Four more than any writer I've seen since Mark Waid. Tonally, having Marcos Martin, Templeton, Plati and Caselli works wonders as well, for really bringing a diversity in tone and style to this book — Plati in particular brings a sketchy style reminiscent of JM Ken Nimura with the Invisible Woman story (which I'd argue is the best of the bunch, because it's so unexpected). I have to say, Dan Slott has been on a tear with Amazing Spider-Man, a book that's become one of the most consistently good reads in the entire Marvel catalogue. Read this now.
Detective Comics #875 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald): I read this before bed last night, then proceeded to have a nightmare that Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla got pulled from the book. It was one of the worst nightmares ever, but that exemplifies just how great this current creative team is. Snyder has upped the "Detective" angle of storyline in this book by leaps and bounds — with this issue alternating between Jim Gordon's current case and one that has troubled him for many years. If I have one "complaint" about the book it is that I get so sucked into Snyder's writing, that I forget to look at the art and have to double back through the book to focus on that. Not really a complaint at all, is it? Not at all, when you see Francavilla's artwork — it deserves a read-through of its own. The color palette is stunning, and his paneling and splash pages give the book a look that I'm not seeing anywhere else right now. If you've strayed from this book — Snyder's start a few issues ago is a great place to pick back up. This book just keeps getting better and better each issue. I'm loving this Gordon arc, and the way it covers Jim's tumultuous relationship with his son as well as showing us the difficulty of being police commissioner in crime-addled Gotham.
X-23 #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Margret Smith; Click here for preview.): Why isn't Ryan Stegman a superstar already? Hot on the heels of his spectacular work on She-Hulks, Stegman joins Marjorie Liu's X-23 for the two issues of the Daken crossover, “Collision,” and the book is all the better for it. His incredibly kinetic art is a perfect fit for the snikt-full battle that inevitably ensues between Wolverine-clone X-23 and Wolverine-son Daken, and his big, clear faces are perfect for conveying the expressiveness of the characters. Michael Babinski on inks is a great fit for Stegman's art, too, and John Rauch's colors, while perhaps a bit too dark and brown in the exterior scenes, do a lot to bring the characters to life in moments of better lighting. All of this, though, wouldn't exist if not for Liu's story, which includes some brilliant double-crossing of Daken by Madripoor leader Tiger Tyger and some lovely character notes for Laura herself, who is learning to be her own, fully human person more and more with each issue. Even Gambit, whose characterization has ranged from sleazy to cheesy in times past, manages to be genuinely engaging and sympathetic here. Liu's writing on both X-23 and Daken has been strong from the very beginning of each book, and I have complete confidence that their crossover here will result in fantastic things for both books and both characters.
Wonder Woman #609 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): If you don't believe that art is what makes a comic, read Wonder Woman #609. It was fascinating to me to read this book and parse out the script — which actually is a pretty ambitious read from Phil Hester — but to see where Don Kramer's art couldn't quite bring it to life. Throughout this book, there's a tension — both of stretching creativity and lost potential. I think my beef with the artwork is that, in many ways, it feels a little too literal in its layout and presentation — comics have that theatrical quality to change panel shape, play with design and color in addition to camera positioning… but even in an otherworldly journey with Dr. Psycho, it all feels like storyboards. Which, again, is a shame — this is probably Hester's best-written issue yet, as he uses the surreal nature of Wonder Woman's reimagining to bounce between parallel lives, and when she fights back to reclaim herself it's a pretty inspiring sequence. There's some steel in Phil Hester's writing that is beginning to catch on — it's just a shame that the realized product isn't more ambitious.
Walking Dead #83 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose): Holy. @#$@. This is where everything hits the fan — it'll sound like a cliché, but Robert Kirkman proves to us once again that no one is safe. With zombies swarming the once-safe community, Kirkman makes some tough freaking decisions, and there are some pages that Charlie Adlard absolutely sells. There's a two-page spread in this issue that is actually the most shocking thing I have seen in this book since the survivors' escape from the prison, and it all works so well within the theme that Kirkman has built up in just this issue alone — if you had to choose between saving people, who would you save? If you haven't been reading this series, go back and get yourself ready — but even those who haven't been digging the slower pace of this arc are going to find that Kirkman and Adlard absolutely stick the landing here. As someone who has read every single issue of this series, this is the best issue of The Walking Dead that I've read in a long, long time.
American Vampire #13 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Aaron Duran): I am a relative newcomer to American Vampire, so starting with the new World War II arc in issue 13 seemed like a good place. Scott Snyder does a good job of bringing newbies like me up to speed with a quick two-page recap of the previous 12 issues. Sure, I don't get all the nuances, but I have everything I need to enjoy the story. Unsurprisingly, this new arc reads more like a hard-boiled war journal than a typical horror comic. However, that doesn't mean the issue lacks some good and creepy moments. Jumping immediately to the outcome of the arc, American Vampire does a good job of using flashbacks to build the tension. Each quiet moment between the aging Henry Preston and his supernaturally youthful vampiric bride Pearl Jones only adds to the sadness and horror to come. Snyder is good at throwing in twists and turns within his stories and this issue is no different. When he brings the opening issue full circle, you know nothing is what it seems and maybe you don't know how Henry and Pearl's story will end. Rafael Albuquerque does a good job of supporting Snyder's writing with his unsettling lines and panel layout. With pencils that seem to trail off into the darkness, Rafael's art maintains the unearthly tone set by Snyder. With dramatic tension on the home front as well as mixing the horrors of war with vampires, Snyder and Albuquerque have a good hook here. I know they have at least one new reader.
Spider-Girl #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Margret Smith; Click here for preview): Paul Tobin's Spider-Girl has been excellent from the very beginning, and that excellence continues here as the protagonist battles Ana, the daughter of Kraven the Hunter. For an issue that is essentially one extended battle scene, Tobin manages to cram in a remarkable amount of characterization, as Spider-Girl's grief over her father's death causes her to act rashly and places her in what might have been a truly perilous situation if not for some quick thinking. The Twitter-based narration is smoother than ever, and Spider-Girl's strategies for defeating Ana, including taunting and literal keelhauling, are revelatory of her intelligence, new-found ruthlessness, and willingness to use every advantage at her disposal, including her familiarity with the streets of New York City. While the story is great, however, and manages to move the overarching plot along in intriguing ways between fight sequences, the art by Matthew Southworth leaves the reader wanting. I know from his amazing work on Greg Rucka's Stumptown that Southworth is a talented artist, but his messy, Michael Gaydos-esque style is ill-suited to the bright, clean look of a teen book like Spider-Girl, a look aptly represented by Sergio Cariello's much more effective pages. Worse still, Southworth's work feels rushed and poorly thought-out, and the storytelling in some action scenes is so unclear that I had to read some sequences several times to figure out that, for instance, Spider-Girl had thrown a laptop at Ana. This book sadly only has a few more issues to go, but I hope it can find a more appropriate artist for that period, and that Southworth can move on to projects that give him the time and subject matter he needs to shine.
Action Comics #899 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): There's a lot of fun to be had in this issue of Action Comics, as Lex Luthor finally gets the confrontation he's been looking for. Paul Cornell makes the battle of wits between Lex Luthor and Brainiac into something that's actually quite amusing, as they shout out nonsense weapons and counterweapons at one another. Lex has this defiance about him that makes him a truly compelling character — "I am my own creation," he spits. "I don't store up knowledge like a miser's gold. I use it. For the sake of mankind." Jesus Merino, meanwhile, feels a little like Pete Woods spliced with the sharp shadows of David Finch — he's got some pretty good design chops, especially when we meet the power behind the spheres, even if the final splash page seems a little bit goofy in a thigh-high-meets-Speedo kind of way. While some of the connective tissue in the plotting might require a second or third read to really click, there's enough character beats to show that even with his compelling spotlight, Lex Luthor still has plenty of untapped potential to be revealed.
Scarlet #5 (Published by Marvel/ICON; Review by Aaron Duran): It has been almost a year since Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev launched their creator-owned book, Scarlet. The bi-monthly title has reached an important turning point, with lines clearly drawn among the people in the book and those reading it. We still know very little about the title character, beyond what was told us in the first issue. But, to be honest, we don't really need to know everything about Scarlet, not yet. I think Bendis understands this, he knows Scarlet is but the vessel for deeper questions. Questions that, as a society we may not want to face, but deep down we know we must, if we are to survive. Each character in the book represents an element within our own society. The anger, the support, the desperation, the fear, and the hope; any one of those emotions could rise to the surface within issue 5. Visually, Alex Maleev's art is exactly what a series like Scarlet demands. While some find his photo realistic style jarring, it lends a sense of realism to the title. The characters in the book aren't heroes swinging from webbing or laced with metallic bones. These are real humans with real feelings. During the moments when the book breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the reader, Maleev's art makes certain they have your undivided attention. Indeed, there is a moment in the issue, just before all hell breaks loose where Maleev's art conveys more emotion than pages of Bendis' dialogue. You may not agree with the questions they're asking, but you have to respect the journey.
Zatanna #11 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald; Click here for preview): Upon first seeing the Adam Hughes cover art for this issue, I was intrigued. Not because it is gorgeous (though, it is!), but because of the image of Brother Night peeking in from the corner. The past few issues have centered around Zee's encounter with former puppet/puppeteer Oscar Hampel, and I wondered if that would be resolved in this issue. It most pleasingly is, as Paul Dini gets Zee back to her corporeal self as well as continues to provide us with insight into her issues with her father and her fears. Jamal Igle takes over the pencils in this issue and Jon Sibal is inking — but the transition to the new art team is non-jarring with John Kalisz still on colors. You know an artist knows what he's doing when he manages to make Zee expressive even in her puppet form. The last pages of the book set up the return of Brother Night, and I'm really looking forward to seeing Igle's work in the ensuing story arc sure to include plenty of horrific characters. This issue was a decent conclusion to the puppet story line, but overall I didn't find the Hampel character to be that exciting a villain. I have high hopes that the next issue will have Zee facing off with someone more of her caliber, so we can really see Dini pull out all the stops and have her kicking some serious ass, rather than a wooden puppet.
Wolverine #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): While the onset of Jason Aaron's "Wolverine in Hell" arc didn't wow me, I've been consistently impressed with the last few issues he's written, as Daniel Acuña took over art duties. Maybe it's just that injection of the greater Marvel Universe that's helped stabilize and contextualize Wolverine's inward and outer journeys, but it feels like this arc has found its feel again — and people should take note of that. Aaron's writing is a bit more streamlined here, focusing more on the action, weaving in continuity and character work to really give some heft to this battle royale. Seeing a demonic Wolverine cut through the Children of the Atom is pure fun, and in a lot of ways, having Magneto and Namor and Cyclops and the rest in here makes for a particularly compelling character piece. And the last page cliffhanger — that's the power of continuity at work. A great read.
Incorruptible #16 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Lan Pitts): When he's at his best, Max Damage is an anti-hero that goes right along with Tommy "Hitman" Monaghan and John Constantine. Now, some disclosure: I admit, I've been out of the loop on this book. I've casually glanced it here and there, but always found myself enjoying it. But this issue left me not nearly as satisfied. Even being the Mark Waid fan I am, I haven't been finding myself liking as much as I used to. I guess once the Plutonian had made his exit, things just seem to be thrown in disarray and became jumbled. There is a story here, but it feels like being downgraded to a Big Mac when you once dined on fillet mignon. Any new reader would eventually put the pieces together and slowly but surely figure out what is going on since it's not really clear at times. The saving graces here are a sex magick joke and Marcio Takara's art. It's a mesh of Dustin Nguyen and Francis Manapul with soft colors by Nolan Woodard that really elevate the book. The big reveal at the end could have been handled better though, artistically, and just comes across as awkward. I'm sure things will pick up from here, because I'd hate to read more issues of Max becoming stagnant and suffering from full-blown depression.
Cyclops #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Margret Smith; Click here for preview.): Much like the recent Iceman and Angel one-shot, Lee Black and Dean Haspiel's Cyclops #1 manages to balance pitch-perfect characterization with all the action-packed fun of a Silver Age adventure and the hilarious, affectionately mocking humor only possible in a fictional universe with so much (occasionally absurd) history. The issue places Cyclops on a spontaneous solo mission to stop Batroc the Leaper and the Circus of Crime from delivering equipment to Baron Zemo. Along the way, Scott learns to have a bit of fun with his job without changing his inherently rule-oriented, upstanding personality: he'll steal a bike to catch the bad guys without a second thought, but he'll also leave a note with his phone number to return the bike later. Brief cameos from the other original X-Men and Professor Xavier help to establish Scott's complicated relationships with others, but for the most part this is Scott on his own, being incredibly competent even while battling evil clowns and snake ladies. In-jokes abound, including a subtly hilarious Gambit reference, a possible dig at Spider-Man: The Musical, and a bittersweet nod to the futures of Jean Grey and Wanda Maximoff, but they aren't so obtrusive as to prevent new readers (including children) from reading and enjoying the story. Dean Haspiel's pared-down, cartoony art, as colored in bright hues by Jose Villarrubia, is the perfect fit for the story, and the storytelling in particular is remarkably clear and fluid. All in all, this is everything a character-focused one-shot should be, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to fill the X-Men: First Class-shaped void in their lives.