Greetings, Rama readers! Ready for some Thursday reviews? Best Shots has you covered, with a ton of rapid reviews from this week's big releases! So let's kick off today's column with the Amazing Amazon herself, as Vanessa takes a look at the second issue of Wonder Woman...Wonder Woman #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10; Click here for preview): Brian Azzarello hits another home run with Wonder Woman #2. Even with the big media reveal of Diana being yet another offspring of Zeus, Azzarello’s delivery of this revelation still manages a gut punch. This issue has a great pace, intelligent, subtle dialogue and plenty of meat. While Azzarello is doing well with the story, it is the beautiful art that earns Wonder Woman #2 a top rating. I have said it before and I will say it again, Cliff Chiang is nothing shy of perfect for this book. There are many talented artists out there that have delivered great Wonder Woman art, including Aaron Lopresti, Nicola Scott, Rags Morales, and (of course) George Perez. But Chiang renders her world so well that I don’t want to imagine her any other way. A giant nod goes to Matthew Wilson’s colors for setting Chiang’s pencils and inks off into the stratosphere. I am absolutely thrilled that DC has a creative powerhouse team on this title. Of all the relaunched DC books; this is one of the few that has potential for being the gold standard. It is true; we are only two issues in, but the writing and art rings more authentic than this Wondy fan dared to hope for. Here’s to hoping it stays on that track. Uncanny X-Men #544 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; Click here for preview): For a final issue, Uncanny X-Men feels a lot like a beginning. Sure, there are plenty of "goodbye" moments, particularly between Cyclops, Iceman, and Beast, but the framing device, involving one of my personal favorite X-Men villains, reads like the set-up for the next story. It strikes a good balance, marking a changing of the seasons for the perennial mutant team, and for a team that's seen its share of these "changing of the guard" issues, this one manages to stand out. Kieron Gillen has really found his voice for these characters, and he allows the moments, particularly those between Scott and Bobby, to really speak for themselves. The framing device, wherein Mr. Sinister narrates, and predicts, the events of the issue, is clever and biting. There's a bit of meta-text there, and it puts a nice cap on a story that is surprisingly emotional and taut. I know I'm not going to make any friends saying this, but I thought Greg Land's art on this issue was gorgeous. Sure, he's not the best storyteller, but this type of story, where he's forced to actually sit down and draw something, rather than compile a series of photo swipes, shows that there really is talent behind the repurposed magazine shots that he's so often criticized for. Land certainly wouldn't have been my first choice for this issue, but he lives up to the moment, and in that, I very much enjoyed his work. Overall, the final issue of Marvel's longest-running single volume title went out not with a big action brawl, but with the kind of story that made the X-Men a force to be reckoned with in the comics industry: understated, tense, and emotional, but with a bit of light at the end of the tunnel... Justice League #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): Very decompressed, but at the same time, the cachet behind Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's names gives this book more oomph than it probably has earned. Jim Lee's artwork is a big part of that -- seeing Superman shatter Green Lantern's constructs shouldn't look new, but his pencilwork gives a lot of force behind the Man of Steel. And force is pretty much all this story is -- it's Superman versus Batman, Green Lantern and now the Flash, and Geoff Johns is pretty unapologetic at smashing them against one another like a bunch of action figures. That's what this story is, and if you're looking for deeper than that -- whether we're talking about theme, metaphor, or even any deeper logic than "Green Lantern has the Flash's phone number" -- well, you're going to be disappointed. Pacing-wise, Johns is channeling Brian Michael Bendis a bit, in the fact that this chapter is pretty short, sharp and to the point -- the B-story starring a pre-Cyborg Victor is embryonic, and it's a little disconcerting that Wonder Woman still hasn't made an appearance in this boy's club. While I wish there was a little bit more meat to this issue, it does look pretty good -- maybe even better than it deserves. Ultimate Hawkeye #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10; Click here for preview): I don't get this book. If Hawkeye deserves his own miniseries, why not focus on Hawkeye? It's a mystery to me, and Jonathan Hickman isn't giving anybody any answers. It's Hawkeye and the X-Men, invading the floating cities of the Southeast Asian Republic, and Hickman's basically juggling two stories -- Hawkeye and the Hulk -- and not really fleshing either of them out sufficiently. Rafa Sandoval doesn't really help matters -- sure, he evokes a little bit of Stuart Immonen with the design, a little bit of Andy Clarke with the linework, but there's nothing here that really strikes you, no one image that really dominates any one page. The result is some widescreen scripting but no widescreen execution. For diehard fans, you'll get to see the surprise inclusion of some more X-characters into the Ultimate universe, but that's besides the point. This series, as it currently stands, doesn't justify itself, doesn't even illustrate its own central premise. Combine that with artwork that has no spark, and this is a book that is for completists only. The Beauty #1 (Published by Top Cow Productions; Review by Erika D. Peterman; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Physical beauty has always been a form of social currency, one that some will do almost anything and spend any amount of money to have. I don't think it's much of a stretch to suggest that many people would take it even if it meant having permanent illness, albeit one that did not interfere with having dewy skin. That's the premise behind Jeremy Haun and Jason A. Hurley's impressive and thought-provoking Pilot Season entry, The Beauty. Half the people in America have a magical disease that bestows ideal attractiveness upon its carriers. The hitch is that it can only be contracted through a sexual encounter and causes a constant, low-grade fever. Resentment is high among non-Beauty extremists, giving rise to an increasingly violent opposition movement. Haun and Hurley's story works on several levels: It's an exciting, fast-paced mystery that could easily be a police detective drama. (The cops have a Beauty Task Force, which sounds a bit like a reality TV makeover show.) It also taps into the very real obsession that our society has with outward appearance, and I think many readers will ask themselves tough questions while reading this comic. Haun’s realistic illustrations brim with details, and each character has a distinctive look. It's obvious that he took great care with their facial expressions and reactions to what's happening around them. Somber tones are appropriate for a comic with serious themes, but Jason Rauch's colors were a bit too drab and may have dampened the book's visual impact. The Beauty still packs a wallop however, and it's a strong contender in Top Cow's annual competition. Whatever the outcome, it deserves a second round. 30 Days of Night #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): 30 Days of Night returns as an ongoing series, with one of its original creators at the helm. Steve Niles lays down the beginnings of an intriguing plot that focuses on a coming war between the American breed of vampires and the European elders, and also introduces a new character, with the apt name of Alice Blood, who is searching for proof of vampires. The issue is incredibly well written and features some brilliant dialogue, and a great cliffhanger ending. The story is highly new reader friendly, and only requires basic knowledge of the original miniseries, but at the same time contains some nice references for those who have read everything that came before. Sam Keith’s artwork is the perfect fit for this series, and as is his style, his art ranges from looking highly realistic and detailed in one panel, to almost looking like a rough sketch in the next. Keith has reined in his style a bit here, but many of the characters still display his trademark exaggerated and cartoony anatomy. Jay Fotos puts the finishing touches on the artwork, with a color job that gives the book a painted look, which in places is reminiscent the work of original series artist Ben Templesmith. 30 Days of Night #1 is a triumphant return for the preeminent modern vampire story. Birds of Prey #2 (Published by DC Comics, Review by Amanda McDonald, 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for Preview): When I reviewed issue one of the New 52's Birds of Prey, I was a bit skeptical of the book, and hoping we'd see a more fully-formed team before too long. Writer Duane Swierczynski delivers with Issue #2, as Japanese swordster Katana and the usually villainous Poison Ivy accept Black Canary's invitations to join the team. While that first issue is effective in developing a bit of the rapport between Black Canary and Starling, someone really can jump on with this issue without confusion. There's a quick recap of the story to this point, as the team is investigating traces of a stroke treatment drug that was found in a tissue sample of journalist Charlie Keen, who had been investigating the Birds and exploded unexpectedly in the highly secure Gotham International Airport. The fact that this new team is definitely of the fringe of good is exemplified as Starling drives yet another vehicle through a wall as a means to escape quickly, a deed necessary due to Canary's murder accusations and Starling's yet-to-be-explained presence on government watch lists. This issue takes Canary, Starling, and Katana on a hunt to track down the source of the stroke treatment drug, facing off with the same group of masked assailants that were after the Birds in the first issue. Swierczynski incorporates the Katana character well, with an inner monologue that exemplifies Canary's position as the mastermind in this new team up. While her intentions are not clear yet, I'm really enjoying his development of the character as a fighter and as a woman, as he subtly hints at her sexuality when she considers pretending to date Starling. If this trend continues, it's going to be a book that develops these characters as strong characters, gender aside -- which is something so many female (and male) fans have been looking for in female lead superhero books. The last issue's cover depicted all four members of the team, although two were absent from the book. The disconnect annoyed me then, and this issue's cover deceptively depicts what appears to be Starling shooting at Katana. While this could be from the scene in which they the trio faces the masked assailants, it still throws off a person's perception of the book. Yes, there are some moments of tension with the Katana character, but never to the point where Starling is going to take her out. If anything, it seems more likely that it would be Katana taking her out. I understand covers are solicited far ahead of the story being fully fleshed out, but hopefully they'll start being a better representation of the story to pull in new readers. Colorist Nei Ruffino is still on the cover, but this issue's interiors are colored by Allen Passalaqua. I almost didn't notice this, until one panel in particular's colors were especially striking and realized that while most of the book has the polished, almost glowing tones I associate with Ruffino, the scene in which we finally meet Poison Ivy has a shadowy and darker feel. This book is a great follow up to the debut issue, and I hope it continues to gain momentum. The next issue is set up to incorporate Ivy into the team, and if it's done well -- it will be quick to become one of my 'must reads' of the New 52. Key of Z #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Lan Pitts; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Walking Dead this ain't. When a zombie outbreak takes down New York and moves across the country, it sets the stage for a more political environment. It's reminiscent to The Warriors in how Aaron Kuder (The Armory Wars) captures it all. Brought to us by the Claudio Sanchez and Chondra Echert (Kill Audio) and really separates itself from other zombie-centric books. The main protagonist has more characteristics of Frank Castle and less Rick Grimes. It does suffer from minor setbacks, one being is that I found it a bit too wordy. You got a sense of the world, but some of it felt like it could have been cut back for a smoother read. Aaron Kuder's art is something special, too. It reminds me of later Frank Quietly with the rendering style and figure composition. Charlie Kirchoff's colors are another thing I had conflicting thoughts on. In handling his environments, he has great tones that add more depth to the pages. Though with handling light sources or smoke, it comes across as dull and overtakes Kuder's art at times. Now again, Walking Dead is the preliminary zombie book out there these days and a comparison is easy to make, but once readers give it a shot, they'll find only the zombies as the one thing in common. Nightwing #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): Kyle Higgins has said on more than one occasion that Nightwing is his favorite character, and you can see it in the second issue of this series. Now that the exposition has been laid out -- particularly Dick Grayson's career as Batman -- Higgins is able to relax here, and it makes for a much-improved venture. You can see where Higgins is channeling Chuck Dixon's pacing, going for visuals and kinetic action first and foremost, and for an acrobatic, physical character like Nightwing, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Tackling Haly's Circus isn't necessarily the most original idea in the world, but Higgins is lucky enough that it's a well previous writers haven't tapped into that extensively, giving Dick a unique tone and texture that isn't shared by the rest of the Bat-family. (Although do we really need yet another booty call in the DCU? I know it's not Higgins's fault, but it comes off as a little desperate company-wide.) Artwise, however, Eddy Barrows is a bit hit and miss -- the first few pages lock together nicely in terms of composition, of bodies flying and dodging one another, but shots like a car exploding, or Nightwing dropping in for Round Two with the mercenary Saiko, don't come close enough to really have an impact on the reader. And I'll be the first to say that when Barrows experiments with panel shapes and images bleeding into one another, it does not connect. There's some potential here for something really strong with Nightwing, and even the uneven art can't keep Kyle Higgins from making some strong strides in his sophomore issue. Atomic Robo: The Ghost of Station X #2 (Published by Red 5 Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Robo returns in pieces from last issue's venture into space with resulting hit and run by satellite. His support team puts Humpty back together again just in time to figure out there's a big conspiracy going on and someone seems to want Robo dead. As if that's not enough, there's the growing mystery of the missing Station X--the WHOLE building--and it's driving me bananas that I can't figure out its connection to Robo. Solid storytelling with a head-scratching mystery at its core complemented by great artwork, this issue is nothing short of what I have come to expect from the Atomic Robo franchise. This book is a 22-page gravity well projector that keeps you riveted from the opening of the cover, and it only gets better with each re-read. Catwoman #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10; Click here for preview): Oof. Can't say I didn't give this book a chance. As much as I liked the structure of the first installment of Catwoman, Judd Winick has successfully played up all the things I hated about it in his sophomore issue, to the point where he's burnt up a lot of my goodwill. First impressions are everything here, and the sex scene that starts up the first issue is hilariously overwrought, complete with Batman lying naked (except for his cape) and Catwoman lying half out of her costume. If you thought the last issue was fan fiction, this is a whole lot worse. Something else that kind of surprised me was that Winick stumbles with structuring the action here -- whereas last issue Selena jumped into the Russian underworld quickly, having her interact with Bruce Wayne is slower than molasses, and worse yet doesn't give Guillem March nearly enough to do. That said, March has his own problems here -- while I see the potential in his designs, he's part of the reason the opening sequence is so awkward, and seeing Catwoman bloody and crying in the last few pages doesn't exactly scream "girl power" to me. It's a shame to see all the haters proven right in this second issue, because the first one had so much potential, but this second issue throws out the baby with the bathwater in a big, big way. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!
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