Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with 15 freshly-served Rapid-Fire Reviews from the Best Shots Team! Your favorite team of crackshot reviewers have taken on a ton of books this week, including the latest releases from DC, Marvel, Image and Archaia! Want to see more? We've got plenty over at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's see what happens to Peter Parker when the Serpent strikes New York, as George Marston checks out Fear Itself: Spider-Man…
Fear Itself: Spider-Man #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; Click here for preview): Whoa! Talk about building suspense! The first issue of Fear Itself: Spider-Man is probably the best event tie-in comic I've read in a long, looooonnnngggg time. Why is that? Well, because it feels like it matters. The impact of the story is felt, and can be felt with only the bare minimum of involvement with the event. An ancient Asgardian entity that radiates desperate fear has recently arrived on Earth. Spider-Man is doing his best to stem the tide of citizens who have gone crazy with fear. Further, the creative talent involved is top-notch. The way Christopher Yost builds the tension in this issue, the fear that permeates New York City throughout the plot becomes palpable, and soon, even the reader gets anxious. Mike McKone remains one of my favorite Spider-Man artists, and I'm thankful they got someone who is able to balance the energy of Spidey with the mood of the story. If you're a Spider-Man fan, even if you're avoiding the larger event, definitely pick up Fear Itself: Spider-Man. Hell, even if you aren't already a fan of ol' Webhead, this may be the rare tie-in comic that could convince you!
Superboy #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino): Superboy has been an enjoyable title from the very beginning, but Jeff Lemire’s opening story was more focused on the teenage aspects of things, honing in on how “normal” Superboy is through his relationships to Simon and Lori. In the current story arc, now that Doomsday is causing trouble and Psionic Lad not being what he seems, we’ve finally arrived at Superboy As Superhero, and it is a welcome progression at this stage in the series. Issue #7 is carefully structured, flashing between a real-world “Then” where Superboy and Psionic Lad are investigating a derelict ship in space, and an alternate-universe “Now” where Superboy and Simon have killed all the superheroes and anyone else who would stand in the way of their pursuit of global domination. Except that Superboy clearly doesn’t want this version of things and has no recollection of any of the horrors he’s blamed for in that world. Lemire cuts to the heart of who Conner Kent is, maintaining his youthful (sometimes hokey, but in a good, Smallville way) dialogue while also upping the ante for his superhero identity. The star of this issue, however, is the artwork by Marco Rudy along with Daniel Hor, whose beautiful, canvas-painted art for the alt-U compliments Rudy’s detailed pencils perfectly. Issue #7 shows the Superboy title taking things to the next level.
Uncanny X-Force #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): This is a gorgeous book, even if some might cry foul at the low-calorie content of this done-in-one breather issue. Rick Remender shows an extraordinary amount of trust in Billy Tan and Dean White, but damn if they're continuing to impress and improve. Tan's inkerless artwork looks downright gorgeous with Dean White's colors, which don't so much obscure some of the extraneous details as much as give a painterly, almost concept-art kind of feel. It's moody but surprisingly streamlined, and at risk of continuing to repeat myself, it looks great. Writing-wise, Remender acts more as a director than anything else -- directing bits of silence as Magneto wrestles with a relic from the past, or watching the tension build as Wolverine silently stalks an old man, with nothing but a music note on the page. That said, there is one question that Remender has Wolverine bring up that I don't think is adequately answered, which will likely bug people who want a little more neatness to their structure, and, yeah, there's always going to be somebody who says they demand more words, more progression, blah blah blah. Sometimes an interlude is just an interlude, and with Wolverine having 99 problems in his own series, it's just nice to see him showing why he's the best there is at what he does. If you're into some serious craftsmanship, Uncanny X-Force is where you go.
Secret Six #33 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel): There is so much that happened in this issue! After Ragdoll absconded with the “Get out of Hell Free” card, our unsavory sextet chases him straight to Hell. Ragdoll being a newly dubbed prince in Hell is all set to wed Knockout, and asks the Six to join him in his “court.” Faced with the choice of living as Lords and Ladies in Hell or as the “tortured offal in some demon’s latrine” as Jeannette so eloquently put it, Scandal chooses to risk it all and fight for her beloved. Our darling Deadshot takes the lead with trigger-happy one-liners, and melee ensues. Gail’s greatest talent is giving each of her characters such distinct timbre, and Secret Six #33 is a smorgasbord of defining moments. It is an interesting phenomenon to feel so cozy with them as you learn how utterly screwed up they are! I love it. I am giving my usual kudos to Jim Calafiore with some sugar on top for this issue. He is consistently great on this book, and he does some really fun things with the Hell-inspired character designs. Dan LuVisi’s cover is perfectly ominous and beautifully rendered. This is an instance where DC’s page reduction left me a bit frustrated. I have been waiting for Knockout’s return for so long, and I really wanted those two extra pages. Who’s dying to read the next issue? I am.
Avengers Academy #13 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jennifer Margret Smith; Click here for preview): Life hasn't been a picnic for the students of Avengers Academy. After suffering horrible physical transformations and torture at the hands of Norman Osborn, they found themselves at a school where the teachers were convinced they might go evil at any moment. Then, on top of everything else, they had to defeat Korvac, one of Marvel's most formidable villains. All things considered, the kids were in need of a break. So Tigra (or, more accurately, writer Christos Gage) came up with a brilliant idea: throwing an Avengers Academy prom, so the kids could, for at least a few hours, simply be kids. And the results are absolutely delightful. The issue is far from fluff – character development abounds, especially for the rapidly-aged Reptil and the morose, physically-untouchable Hazmat and Mettle. But the issue is also full of jokes and lightheartedness, as the Academy kids interact with other superheroic teens (Spider-Girl and the other Young Allies, and Gage's old Avengers Initiative characters) and Tigra and Hank Pym finally work through their complicated issues and consummate their relationship. Even Justice and Firestar manage to find time to heal some reopened wounds. The magic of Gage's work is his ability to intertwine plot and fun, tying up loose ends and advancing new story threads while giving the characters and the readers the breather they so desperately need. Throw in some fantastically detailed art from Sean Chen, and you've got a perfect bridge between storylines in what may be Marvel's very best series.
Adventure Comics #526 (Published by DC Comics; Review by George Marston): Ever since the relaunch of Adventure Comics, I've kind of felt like it's been struggling to find the right focus. The switch from Superboy to the Legion was a natural one, but the Legion stories kind of flip-flopped between small glimpses at the modern Legion, and tales of the Legion in the past. Now that it's centered in on the Legion Academy, however, Adventure Comics seems to be finding its footing. This issue does feel a bit like filler, wrapping up the preceding story of Chemical Kid's father, and his dealing with the old Legion foes, the Taurus Gang. The second feature is a brief glimpse at fan favorite Legionaire XS (and is that a reference to old Thor villain Tana Nile? Or just coincidence?) as she chooses to remain apart from the team. Paul Levitz does an admirable job of keeping the story upbeat, and the main feature's guest artist Geraldo Borges, while he's no Phil Jiminez, does an admirable job with the characters. Some of his layouts seem a little sparse, and his faces sometimes get a bit wonky, but he's got potential. The Bros. Moy (Jefferey and Philip), return to the Legion to handle the art chores on the XS tale, and while it's nice to see them handling some familiar characters, the colors from Hi-Fi don't quite suit the art, and it comes off looking a little dated as a result. All in all, this seems to be a bit of a stopgap issue, but one that served the story at hand.
Gladstone's School For World Conquerers #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Lan Pitts): In a school dedicated to the art and mastery of being a future world conquerer, and a great all-around super villain, anything can happen. That is the setting for "Gladstone's". With a bit of a prologue, we see how a rivalry between two great villains was the foundation for such a place. After that, it reminds me a bit of the Teen Team from Invincible sprinkled with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Though the most important factor here is fun. Tons of fun. I mean, the school is set on Mars! C'mon. Mark Andrew Smith has truly crafted what could be an all-ages sleeper hit. The dialog is crisp and witty, and the somewhat twist at the end gives you a bit of perspective on what heroes and villains do after the their battles are fought. Armand Villavert and Carlos Carrasco nail the vibe perfectly for this book. The cartoon style goes well with the story, and I really couldn't imagine it any other way. The level of creativity is insane with the costumes and designs, especially in a fast-paced page with dynamic action shots and movement. It's something I would have loved when I was eight, and something I throughly enjoyed now that I'm almost thirty. Being the bad guy has never been this fun.
iZombie #13 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Jennifer Margret Smith): With the start of the series' third arc, Chris Roberson and Mike Allred prove their facility with balancing all of the intertwining storylines playing out in the intricate world of iZombie. No fewer than five different stories run through this issue, tying together vampires and monster hunters, ancient horrors and modern birthday celebrations. Yet all the necessary exposition is layered into the dialogue with precision, making the issue a great jumping-on point for new readers without feeling clunky for pre-existing fans. Every scene presents new opportunities for forward momentum, and a final few pages introducing the “Dead Presidents,” a government-run team of monsters named after U.S. leaders, promises even more twists and turns to come. The creativity of Roberson's world-building in this series is unparalleled, and Allred is with him every step of the way, filling each issue with new characters and new monsters that all have distinctive and appealing designs. But it's the characters – protagonist Gwen and her ghost and wereterrier friends – that truly anchor the story, imbuing it with pathos and emotional weight. If you've ever been curious about iZombie but haven't jumped on the bandwagon quite yet, iZombie #13 is the opportunity you've been waiting for.
Heroes For Hire #6 (Published By Marvel Comics; Review By Kyle DuVall; Click here for preview): Heroes For Hire is a book that’s going to live and die on the strength of its fill-in artists. Last Month’s issue, the capstone of the book’s first story arc, lacked the pencils of Brad Walker and wound up being a real de-railer. Writer Dan Abnett and Brad Lanning’s scripts work by playing familiar notes in the superhero canon with a virtuosic sort of chaos, self- reference, and unpredictability, and it takes a keen penciler to bring out these strengths. If you are going to try your hand at a trope as tired as virtual reality brainwashing and psychological combat as computer illusion, you better have somebody who can sell the action with real weight. Last month we didn't have it. This month Walker returns, and the plot is out of digital imaginationland and back on the streets. Issue #5 is a real return to form. The Heroes For Hire concept fits DNA’s literary talents like an infinity gauntlet. Anyone can show up in a book like this, and DNA have preternatural instincts for perfectly populating their stories with intoxicatingly balanced blends of big guns (in this case, Spider-Man), and intriguing c-listers. Lets hope Walker can keep up the pace on this book and keep everything looking good, and let’s also hope he brushes up on his Spider-Man anatomy. The web-head looks displeasingly lumpy coming from Walker’s hands, but it’s an item easily overcome by the fact DNA were born to pen Spidey dialogue. Issues like this almost make me forget the lamentably lost Guardians Of The Galaxy. A few more at this level and I’ll be seeing Heroes as not merely a lateral move for DNA, but an upgrade.
Batman Beyond #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): Considering this book's origins as an animated series, I think Adam Beechen is often in between a rock and a hard place. He can't run self-contained like the animated series could, and at the same time, he's got to justify readers dropping down $2.99 a month on this book. Still, I'd argue that there's just probably one plot-line too many getting tossed around in this first issue, with stuff like Terry's relationship with Dana and Bruce being the most compelling of the bunch, and the return of several jailbirds being among the more distracting. When Beechen has the time to slow down and focus on Terry sulking in the Batmobile (and Bruce totally not caring), these are the great moments of the book -- the voice is definitely there, but when you've got a two-page spread of Terry flying over a protest, it's hard to keep up. Artwise, Ryan Benjamin is cleaner with his details after last month's fill-in, although some of his facial expressions still end up looking a little awkward. The book, while not totally grabbing me, at least has plenty of ambition in its corner -- if the creators can tie this threads together, it may end up landing the dismount.
Herc #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; Click here for preview): I really want to like Herc. I've been on board with Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente's Hercules saga since day one, and they rarely disappoint, but this issue is one of those inauspicious occasions. I found myself really enjoying the first issue of this title, despite the absence of the supporting cast I'd grown to love, and feeling excited about the new status quo for Hercules. This issue, however, was a big let down. The main disappointment comes from the goofy, stilted dialogue constantly spat out by the issue's villain, the Hobgoblin, who fared much better during his recent revival over in "Amazing Spider-Man." Pak and Van Lente usually have a great ear for dialogue, particularly comedic delivery, but this issue strained my patience to the limit. Add to that a wrap-up in which a sullen and defeated Hobgoblin is simply delivered back to the Kingpin like a rowdy child being sent home from daycare, and the whole thing just feels like weak-sauce. On positive notes, I like that Herc's rival gang is called the Warhawks, a reference to Ares's appearance in "Avengers #100," and the art, by Neil Edwards and Scott Hanna, while it isn't the type that usually gets me excited, is clean and expressive. So far, this new direction for Hercules is fifty/fifty on its success rating, so I'll stick with it, but man, this issue really let me down.
Red Spike #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose): In certain ways, the first issue of Red Spike reads more like a fast-moving trailer for a summer blockbuster -- there's action, there's danger, there's just enough of a hint of the premise to get you intrigued for further storytelling. It moves fast and just costs $1, but the question remains of whether or not readers will feel invested enough to keep dropping money to learn more. For me, the thing that stood out the most about this book was artist Salvador Navarro -- while his design chops feel a little nondescript, his actual style and sensibilities are more than a little reminiscent of Bryan Hitch, down to the ultra-widescreen paradropping and photo-based characters. That does get a little much, however, once you're seeing characters that look exactly like Ed Harris, Patrick Stewart or David Strathairn, and Navarro is lacking that detailed world-building that made Hitch such a superstar with Ultimates. Still, that latter quality may come in time. Writing-wise, the script by Jeff Cahn runs quickly even at the cost of thin characterization, with a matter-of-fact explanation to the technology behind the Red Spike program that goes down after a rock 'em, sock 'em action sequence. If this book wasn't $1, I'd think more people would be turned off, but this is a low-cost risk that may pay off as purely action hero storytelling.
Sweet Tooth #21 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Teresa Jusino): Jeff Lemire seems to excel at juxtaposing two storylines that are thematically similar in his books. Whereas in this week’s Superboy it’s up to another artist to interpret that, in Sweet Tooth it’s all Lemire, and suddenly the layouts become more interesting and not as dependent on word bubbles. Along the bottom of each page, we see Lucy, Becky, and Wendy getting information about the Evergreen Project headquarters they’ve stumbled onto, using very straightforward panels. Along the top, of each page is a wordless encounter between Jeppard and Gus and a bear that’s attacking them, where the panels work more like a camera lens, using close-ups, wide angles, and fade-ins/outs to structure the storytelling. Lemire even lets us see into the bear’s thoughts, as we see its confusion over whether Gus is a human or a deer, which was a surprising, but lovely choice. Jeppard defends Gus with everything he has, not without taking some fierce blows in the process, and eventually manages to kill the bear, leading to an emotional, hard-earned moment in which the tension between Gus and Jepperd drops completely, and we realize just how much they care for each other in a half-page panel where Gus leaps up into Jeppard’s arms for a hug. The issue ends with Jeppard and Gus arriving at the Evergreen project dam as problems seem to be arising for Lucy, raising the stakes yet again for this breathtaking series.
Annihilators #3 (Published By Marvel Comics. Review by Kyle DuVall; Click here for preview): How can a book that unites the most kick-ass team of cosmic level heavyweights ever assembled be so humdrum? Maybe it’s an “embarrassment of riches” situation. With so many great, titanically-powered characters together, what do you do with them? Annihilators puts Gladiator, Beta ray Bill, Silver Surfer, Ronan The Accuser and Quasar up against The Queen of The Dire Wraiths, a villain that constitutes a typical Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning style reclamation from the obscure corners of the back-issue bins. Unfortunately, As an adversary, Queenie just doesn’t have enough juice. Penciler Tan Eng Huant’s layouts and draftsmanship don’t really explode with the hurricane of cosmic awesomeness and power that should surround every move these characters make. Composition choices tend to be obfuscating rather than enhancing, and the character designs seem slightly off model, especially the Surfer, who looks to have lost about 30 pounds and grown elf-ears. Colorist June Chung is part of the problem too. Annihilators palette is bafflingly muted. It’s like watching Akira through a fried LCD screen. Visually, this book should convey storytelling at its boldest. Instead, its just sort of rote. The “Rocket and Groot” back-up is a bigger disappointment. Taking Rocket back to his eclectic, gonzo talking-animal space opera roots is a great homage, but it puts the character out of touch with what made him such a fan-favorite to modern readers while marginalizing good ‘ol Groot. in Guardians Of The Galaxy Rocket was a wild card fish-out-of- water, a woodland creature among super powered assassins and demigods who, despite cracking wise and looking cute, could more than hold his own. The back-up stories put him a cartoonish context, especially in conjunction with penciller Timothy Green II shrill, hallucinogenic style. Originally planned as a stand-alone mini-series, now crammed in as a back-up feature, the combination of chaotic art and jammed-up plotting makes Rocket and Groot a headache inducing reading experience.
Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #2 (Published by Archaia; Review by David Pepose): There are certain comics that you move swiftly, that become quick hits of entertainment that leave you feeling empty afterwards. And then there's books like Mouse Guard: The Black Axe, which demands that you slow down, put your day-to-day aside, and really get into the interplay between both image and text. Some might argue that that makes this second issue more of an issue of telling, not showing -- and I wouldn't dispute that point -- but at the same time, part of that slowdown likely comes from the delay between the first and second issues. As one part of a larger story, this issue will work -- it's got the appropriate amount of exposition for the Black Axe, and there is danger that raises the stakes -- but in terms of the individual scope of this issue, it is definitely a challenge just to wrap your head around Celenawe's motivations and temperament. Still, David Peterson's artwork is as crisp and iconic as ever, and that sort of consistency alone makes this book feel like the return of an old friend. This isn't the best issue of Mouse Guard I've ever read, but now that the delays are over, I'm thinking that we'll see a stronger follow-up soon enough.