Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for an avalanche of Rapid-Fire Reviews? Team Best Shots has you covered, with no less than 17 quick hits for this week's latest releases. Want some more? Be sure to check out the Best Shots Topics Page. And now, let's let Amanda kick off today's column, as we're reintroduced to the Dark Knight in Detective Comics #1...
Detective Comics #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): In the midst of the new 52, there have been innumerable changes to the DC Universe. That said, the debut issue of Detective had me smiling in relief — the Batman we all know (and most of us love) is ever-present on these pages. With Tony S. Daniel in the driver's seat with both writing and pencils, we are meeting a Batman that is still his iconic self. There is a fine line between establishing character, and overwhelming the reader with too much character exposition. Daniel stays on the safe side and doesn't overwhelm us. He establishes the character, but it's not all in our face in this one issue. We know what we need to know to make the story work and we still get a great action packed issue that establishes the Batman/Joker rivalry. Bruce is still a millionaire playboy, asking Alfred to make apologies to missed dates and send flowers. Jim Gordon still turns to him for assistance. He is inherently a detective as well as a hero, as we read his inner monologue as he analyzes clues and narrows down his options for finding the Joker. Our "new" Joker is classic Joker, on a killing spree and bent on taking down Batman. Or is he? When the opportunity arises, he misses his mark and finds himself at Arkham where the book takes a very dark turn as we learn the Joker isn't operating alone. And oh, is there operating going on! Take a look at the last pages and you'll see something rather horrific, but definitely an image that has me hooked already and looking forward to seeing what comes next. Not only is this a solid story, but Daniel's art hits the mark as well. His action sequences have a very kinetic style to them, especially evidenced in the panels where Bruce and the Joker face off. Tomeu Morey's colors and Jared K. Fletcher's lettering don't interfere with the flow, serving to support and enhance the strong artwork and script. Daniel is really the star on this book and I hope it keeps up its strength in both areas. This is a great introductory issue, and definitely one I can see new readers getting hooked on. As someone who has read Tec for awhile, I would have appreciated just a bit more exposition such as knowing when chronologically the book is taking place, but maybe that will be coming in future issues. I'll definitely be staying tuned.
Punisher #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It's taken a few issues for me to warm up to this latest iteration of Frank Castle, but damn if Marco Checchetto hasn't done it. This is a fight comic, all the way, and while it's still a little unnerving at how quiet writer Greg Rucka has gotten these past three issues, this is a great opportunity for Checchetto to use his ultra-stylized, almost too-pretty designs and really tear the roof off, with a mano-a-mano fight-and-flight combo of Frank Castle versus the Vulture. It's probably the sickest-looking fight sequence Marvel's put out since Olivier Coipel's last issue of The Mighty Thor, mainly because the layouts seem to pitch-perfect. I love the look of determination on Frank's face, as he bites his lip and pulls out a mean-looking knife from his belt, just about ready to tear himself off the page and show the reader what's what. To be honest, this particular story has very little in the way of actual story progression, but that's fine — this comic is a great example of an artist absolutely dominating a book, and showing that he can take on any tone, any content, at any time. This book is a major win.
Animal Man #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Generally, I’m not a big fan of anything hipster-y. However, I chuckled out loud at the first page of Animal Man, which was made to resemble an interview in the über-hipstery literary magazine, The Believer, in which Animal Man discusses what it’s like being a hipster icon. Throughout the rest of the issue, Travel Foreman’s artwork gives the title an indie comic feel, its sparse, DIY style bringing the look of hipster comics like Optic Nerve or Ghost World (both of which I love. Maybe I’m more of a hipster than I thought?) to the superhero genre. Lemire’s story, about a superhero dad who channels the powers of the animal world, works because he doesn’t shy away from hipsterness. His take on Buddy Baker as California family man and almost has-been superhero is the most ironic, navel-gazey, Dave Eggers-ish way of telling a superhero story in a mainstream comic and this vibe, coupled with Foreman’s art is what makes Animal Man so fresh and interesting and an asset to the New DCU, diversifying the style of what once seemed like a very homogeneous Universe and bringing to superheroes a sensibility that was once reserved for Vertigo. Also, the sight of a little girl surrounded by animals she’s seemingly awakened from the dead is deliciously creepy, and makes me want to come back for more to make me find out what happens next!
Thunderbolts #163 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 7/10): Well, that was interesting. With the bulk of the Thunderbolts now on the lam, the remaining members struggle with their roles in the escape. Luke Cage seems to be taking things pretty harsh, while Mach IV and Songbird don't necessarily disagree. Meanwhile, the escapees and their accomplices find that, somehow, they've ended up in a place they didn't quite plan for. A few surprising guest stars arrive, and this story seems to be shaping up quite nicely. Jeff Parker's script sells a far-fetched situation with ease, and his take on Cage is pitch-perfect. His has been a significant run already, and it doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon. Kev Walker is back on art, and while Declan Shalvey did a terrific job while he was gone, the personality Walker puts into every page is top-notch. This remains a consistently entertaining book with great writing, and lovely art. That's a pretty big feat these days.
Batgirl #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Batgirl's back! And she looks gorgeous under Ardian Syaf's pencils, Vicente Cifuentes's inks and Ulises Arreola's colors. Gail Simone's writing is nothing short of top-notch, as she restores a fully mobile and refreshingly fun Babs to the DCU. This book is enjoyable because Batgirl seems to be enjoying herself, even when she's making mistakes from having been too long out of the game. By now you probably know that the Joker did fire the shot, Barbara did take it in the spine and she eventually got better. What did she do in the three years she was in a chair? And was she Oracle? And how exactly did she get better? Who cares? (Although my money for the last one is hours and hours of Shake Weight.) Simone will get around to the explanation, I'm sure. For now, what's laid before us is enough and what we've got is a strong central female character who can kick a little ass without being dour and dark about it like everyone else whose nom de guerre is prefixed with 'Bat'. The best part of the book is when Batgirl has her rogue, The Mirror, dead to rights and he swings a gun on her… This is the part of the movie she's seen before which wasn't so good the first time and whether it's conscious or not, she freezes up and a price is paid for it. Perfect. Action, reaction, consequences. If there's a nit I have to pick, it's that I think the book is a single panel, one frame, too long. A volatile standoff with a killer's gun trained on Batgirl and a veteran cop ignores the threat in order to draw down on our titular hero, calling her a murderer because of her inactivity? Really? Come on. The drama of the panel feels forced and wholly preposterous; it could have been better used in a later issue to play upon Barbara's still-tender emotions. One panel, however, doesn't derail the whole issue. It's ridiculously good and some of Gail Simone's best work. Batgirl should be an automatic pull on every DC reader's list. Red Skull: Incarnate #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Greg Pak's Red Skull: Incarnate isn't exactly a bullet train to excitement-ville, but it is the kind of slow burn that actually works in comics. It's not decompression, it's drama, and while Red Skull isn't fast-paced, it is fraught with gut-wrenching scenes of a young boy's evolution from a street orphan to Nazi war criminal. The best comparison I can make is to the films of Michael Haneke, or Lars von Trier; confrontational, gorgeous, and without compromise in depicting the nightmares inherent in the setting. There's an unsettling, palpable humanity in the work, as it forces you to identify, and occasionally sympathize with a hero who is, at best, a criminal, and at worst, a monster. This issue sees Johann finally put on the infamous red armband of the Nazis, signaling that, as has been shown in the previous issues, he'll do anything to survive, even compromise what might've once been called his principles. Mirko Colak and Matthew Wilson provide gorgeous artwork, perfectly underscoring the twisted, tragic beauty of the story. Red Skull will undoubtedly make some readers uncomfortable, but that's certainly the point.
Action Comics #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; Click here for preview): Champion of the oppressed, indeed. Grant Morrison wasn't kidding when he said he was taking the Lost Son of Krypton back to his Shuster and Siegel roots. This is a Superman that would rather get corrupt businessmen to air their crimes on the street of Metropolis, than go toe-to-toe with a galactic menace. And you know what? I wouldn't want it any other way. We all know Superman's origin, so Morrison made the right call when he decided to start readers, new and old, right in the thick of Kal-El's earliest days. In fact, throughout the book, I kept hearing the opening narration from the original radio dramas. There was the Superman of myth. Leaping tall buildings. Faster than a speeding bullet. And yes, stronger than the most powerful locomotive (though just barely). The story wonderfully introduces us to all the key players. A Jimmy hungry to respect and friends. A strong and independent Lois Lane. An arrogant Lex Luthor. Finally, Morrison gives us a Clark Kent that is just off the farm, but is not the naïve country boy we always assume. This Clark knows how the world works, indeed, it is why he knows we need a Superman. While Rags Morales wouldn't have been my first choice for artist, I was pleasantly surprised in his work in Action Comics. The actions scenes, as you'd hope, are big and bold. But, where he really shines are the personal moments. Like when Superman stands with the common person on the street, or when Clark Kent interacts with his kindly landlady. Thematically, these moments reminded me of Ditko's Silver Age Peter Parker. Hard to top that kind of comic book magic. Superman is back and the never-ending battle for Truth and Justice continues!
Criminal Macabre: No Peace For Dead Men (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Five panels. One page. That's all it takes to get hooked on this issue. Steve Niles's Cal McDonald tangles with a nasty piece of vampire-with-a-vendetta called Salem who knows that killing Cal hasn't been a successful strategy in the past, so why not go after anyone and everyone he's ever known or loved. If you can't take him apart from the outside, might as well torch him alive from the inside. Cal takes this new game plan pretty seriously and comes at Salem all hell-bent and leather the Chicago way. Whether he's successful or not is up to you to find out, but if those last three pages don't make your draw drop and something to the effect of "holy schnikes!" to fall from your lips, well, then you're better off reading something like Strawberry Shortcake. Steve Niles has beaten up his main man, broken him down and now stands on the precipice of reinventing him with a conflict on the horizon that portends to be nothing short of epic. Christopher Mitten joins Michelle Madsen on the artwork with this issue with a style that is fittingly perfect, giving a Hitman quality to Cal. It's noir-ish, not cartoony, which helps sell the seriousness of the war between Cal and Salem. And I applaud the vampire designs, the way they borrow from the Nosferatu line; in my book vampires are dreadful and horrifying, not dashing and prom-king eligible. This is a great book, a forty-page thrill-ride that will not disappoint.
Swamp Thing #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): One of the things that makes me happiest about the New DCU is the inclusion of heroes and sensibilities that were once relegated to Vertigo, the comics imprint that brought me to comics in the first place with Sandman. Swamp Thing has always been a very interior character, and Scott Snyder does a wonderful job of pulling us right into his head so that we can see this strange story through his eyes. Or does he? For the first half of the issue, we assume that Alec Holland is, or at least was the Swamp Thing. However, by the end there is doubt cast on where Swamp Thing actually comes from. Was it ever Holland? Where do Holland’s swampy memories come from? Is the new Swamp Thing something Holland created by accident? The mystery, and Snyder’s strong storytelling skill make this an intriguing read. Yanick Paquette’s artwork has a lush, robust quality that is entirely appropriate to a story about the depth and viciousness of nature. Having read this title just before reading Animal Man #1, I noticed that there seems to be an Animals-Rising-From-The-Dead problem in the New DCU. Do I sense an Animal Man/Swamp Thing team-up? I’m looking forward to seeing how Snyder and his DC compatriot, Jeff Lemire bounce off of each other to create a story that allows these two superheroes of nature to shine.
Moon Knight #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Wendy Holler; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): Like many decompressed stories before it, this run of Moon Knight took a while to get going, but is starting to hit its stride. In this issue Avenger Echo and ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. employee Buck Lime both get some well-deserved panel time, and the introduction of the nonplussed Detective Hall provides still more dry and acerbic wit. Don't let the cutting sense of humor fool you; this is a comic about people who care. The characters care messily, in the wrong ways and often for disturbing reasons, but they care. This is a relationships issue, a series of fallout moments after the fight with the Night Shift, but this is also the issue where the investment of reading the series starts to pay off. When Moon Knight is fighting with himself about whether to run or submit to the police or help Echo, the voices' identities are clear just from the color of the lettering and the tone of the advice. The threats and conflicts in this issue are personal, and even when they're not, the characters make them personal. The story is perfectly accessible even to people who haven't been keeping up with the series, but a lot of the fun here lies in seeing the way these characters succeed or fail horribly at interacting about everything that's happened until this point. This is a good issue, a character-based reward for the investment of reading the other four that came before it.
Stormwatch #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The first of the Wildstorm books to fold into DC proper is also the biggest gamble. Stormwatch was the team that didn't have any issues with annihilating any villain that got in their way. Unlike Justice League #1, writer Paul Cornell throws us right into the middle of a small crisis. Stormwatch isn't yet at full power and it would seem the moon is trying to kill us all. If you're new to comics, this is a bit of a stretch. Us long time Stormwatch readers know, it's just another day. Stormwatch might be the first of the New 52 that appeals to readers looking for a completely fresh start. While most members are from previous comics, few are known outside the comic book community. Cornell writes with a tone that fans of BBC espionage or thriller programming will enjoy. Sure, the world is about to tear apart, but it's nothing to panic about. As they would say, keep calm and carry on. For old fans, it's really fun to see Martian Manhunter cut loose from time to time. Sometimes we forget he's as strong as Superman, but can also turn into a giant Sandworm from hell as needed! I do have a personal gripe about the lack of a relationship between Apollo and Midnighter, orientation aside, it was interesting to see a real couple deal with love and the dangers of being a superhero team. Hopefully Cornell works it back in. Miguel Sepulveda has really grown as an artist. His facial expressions and character interaction are better than ever. You get a real sense of these people talking with each other, not just flat poses on the page. The action in Stormwatch can get a little chaotic, but Miguel keeps attention focused on the proper elements in the book. While Stormwatch isn't the best debut this week from DC, it is still a strong title and one that will continue to grow if Cornell and Sepulveda are given the time.
Atomic Robo: The Ghost of Station X #1 (Published by Red 5 Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): In this sixth volume of the always enjoyable series, Robo's got himself a couple of seemingly disparate and unrelated problems. NASA needs Robo's help in retrieving astronauts trapped in orbit with seven hours left to live, while over in England a historical yet secretive building has just up and disappeared. The only clue about its relevance is an odd note from 1954 that specifically names Robo and mentions something about a Station X. You'd think after, what, thirty or so issues of the series (including FCBD offerings) that writer Brian Clevinger and artist Scott Wegener would show their wear and finally put out an issue that was a dud, maybe start a new series that pushes hard against the limits of how much longer Robo can remain interesting, intriguing and fun. Well, these guys are the dynamic duo for certain because Atomic Robo is just as good now as it was back in the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne days of volume one. Clevinger's humor is never forced, his dialogue is believable and his plot trots along at a comfortable speed without ever being weighed down unnecessarily. Scott Wegener's artwork is just cartoony enough for the book's tone with panels that are filled with only enough "stuff" to tell the story, no extra calories necessary. Come on, now. You don't need to read a review of this book. Just go out and get it. And make it an automatic pull on your list.
Wolverine: Debt of Death #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): David Aja drawing Wolverine. That's pretty much all you need to know whether or not you'd like Wolverine: Debt of Death, a one-shot that's less of a cohesive story and more of a done-in-one exercise in getting the former Iron Fist artist to draw giant robots, Nick Fury, aerial combat, and one tough-as-nails Canucklehead. So that all said… it's pretty awesome. Aja is the modern Mazzucchelli with his art style, with a bit more of a chunkiness to his inkwork that gives it a raw, dirty, almost filmic look. I also love Aja's layouts — there's a sequence where we see some S.H.I.E.L.D. experimental aircraft, and he cuts through the steel to see Nick Fury sitting doggedly behind a control stick. And all these visuals are a good thing, because David Lapham's story, well, it's certainly broad, but it's also basically just window-dressing — it doesn't say too much about Wolverine as a character, and really, Logan takes his sweet time showing up in this story, and still has to compete with all the back story of the Japanese family he has to rescue. But comics like these? Well, you're not really reading them because of the story. You're reading Debt of Death because it's one of the best-looking books on the stands.
Static Shock #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Wendy Holler; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10) :The setup for the Static Shock reboot is perfect even if this first issue is a bit rocky. When the comic opens, Virgil Hawkins has moved with his family to New York City. He's a high school student by day and a S.T.A.R. labs intern by night. The comic immediately makes use of his exposure to S.T.A.R. by having a pilot steal and activate a plasma protection suit. The story begins in medias fight as Static cracks joke after shamelessly bad joke. When a character is assassinated less than halfway through the issue, it's clear that the comic is setting itself apart from previous, younger incarnations. At the same time, having Hardware show up as Static's mentor shows interest in the comic's Milestone heritage. The art is active and energetic, and the coloring bathes New York City in warm, inviting tones. Static's antagonists and family are introduced quickly but efficiently, and the comic ends with a cliffhanger and a truly wretched pun. This version of Static is likable, though goofy, and the issue suggests all kinds of great story possibilities. The writing is the weakest point here, with dialogue that misses and monologue that feels unnecessary, but those missteps might be forgiven as part of the difficulty of reintroduction. Individual moments, like the playfully clever cover, show promise, and if the comic feels a bit like a DC universe version of a young Spider-Man, well, there are far worse things to feel like. Much like the character himself, Static Shock needs some time to grow.
Morning Glories #12 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Part of me almost feels like I've given Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma the benefit of the doubt with this issue, considering how much I've enjoyed the previous few chapters. Don't get me wrong, the inclusion of the newest faculty member of this sinister school is pretty refreshing, but at the same time, there's a part of me that wonders if she's fully developed as a character. Miss Hodge certainly comes off as the most human of any of the teachers, but at the same time, she's pretty much on an unbroken win streak the majority of this issue, tearing up Miss Daramount and reaching out to our stressed-out heroes. The other thing that gets me about this particular issue is that because it's a bit talky, it doesn't quite give artist Joe Eisma a lot of room to really knock your socks off — he's got a couple of nice beats, particularly Zoe's look of bemusement when Hodge rips into her, but ultimately, it's a little too much material to fit in this many pages, with some of the layouts looking just a little bit too short for my tastes. It's not a bad issue by any stretch of the imagination, but after the past few knockouts, Morning Glories definitely is catching a breather.
Batwing #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): It was hard to go into this comic with an open mind. After a Barbara Gordon that again had the use of her legs, the “Batman of Africa” written by Judd Winick, was the most contentious launch. Why the conversations had around the comic are still valid, it's time to judge the books on its merits alone. Most of Batwing #1 is told via flashback. We see what led David Zavimbi, an officer in the Tinasha Police Department, to become the Batman of Africa. The story has some potential, though it had many (almost too many) similarities to Dick Grayson's early adventures in Blüdhaven as Nightwing. Winick writes just enough to keep me interested in the ongoing mystery of Batwing's villain, Massacre, and why he's killing people; but just barely. I found myself wanting to know more about a vanished team of African superheroes called The Kingdom than Batwing. A single man representing a continent is a huge stretch, but a whole team? Sure. Visually, Ben Oliver has potential. His style reminds me of an unrefined Salvador Larroca on Invincible Iron Man. His real strength lies in his use of shadows and negative space. Batwing is all about building a myth, both among the innocent and the evil. In time, I think Oliver can pull it off. My strongest beef comes in his backgrounds, or rather, lack thereof. Almost every action in this comic takes place in front of one solid color or another. Unless the scene demanded an element to drive the story, it simply exists to hold the characters. That style works when used sparingly, but panel after panel becomes tedious. Batwing has potential, but it will be a hard climb.
Potter's Field TPB (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Jeff Marsick; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): BOOM!'s excellent mini-series from 2007 gets the trade paperback treatment this week. Written by Mark Waid and drawn by the not-nearly-appreciated-enough Paul Azaceta, Potter's Field is a moody noir-ish tale about the enigmatic John Doe, a stranger with means and influence who seeks to put names and faces on the anonymous buried in the titular graveyard of western Long Island. Doe is something of a Shadow or Jon Sable Freelance for the new millennium, enlisting by hook or by crook the help of a rich network of agents from various specialties to aid him in his endeavor. It's one of the smartest thrillers you'll find outside of Criminal and Mark Waid is every bit as good as Ed Brubaker here, with tight drama that reels the reader in and taut action sequences that pull you to the edge of your seat and defy you to put the book down even for a moment. Waid's Irredeemable and Incorruptible are very good, but his work here is better. It helps that Paul Azaceta is such a perfect fit to the tone of the book, bringing a degree of darkness and hardness to the characters that the work deserves. Nick Filardi's colors deepen the mood so that there's a constant and palpable drear even while John Doe is trying to bring about some semblance of illumination. It has an EZ Streets vibe to it, and why it hasn't been optioned as a television show is as great a mystery as the ones John Doe tries to solve. I can't recommend this book enough. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!