Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for some reviews that strike as fast as lightning? Best Shots has your back, with this week's installment of Rapid-Fire Reviews! So kick back and enjoy the show, as Aaron Duran starts us off with the latest time-traveling issue of Thunderbolts...
Thunderbolts #165 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): Event fatigue — we all complain about it and we all have it. Alas, they aren't going away. So, if we have to keep reading them, I have a small request. Put that mad genius Jeff Parker in charge of one. His current Thunderbolts arc has everything you could want. Misfits trying to do what's right (though not always for the best reasons). Nazis being evil. And, of course, Captain America. All kidding aside, this newest installment of Golden Age Thunderbolts is an absolute blast. Playing around with time-travel can be a sticky, but Parker does a great job of weaving in elements of Marvel's history, all while keeping the punches and wit flowing. Artist Kev Walker wouldn't have been my first choice on this book, but the title definitely plays to his strengths. Kev does a fine job of capturing the chaos of battle between the Thunderbolts and evil Nazi-cloned Human Torches. There is a real sense of movement with the characters. From the untouchable rage of Troll to the brutal weight of Mr. Hyde, Walker knows how to bring the action. There are a times when it seems Kev enjoys drawing monsters more than humans, as all his tight scenes and facial expressions take a turn for the chunky and lack any real depth. But colorist Chris Sotomayor brings a bit more life to Walker's pencils with vibrant and well-balanced coloring. Ever since Jeff Parker took over this title post-Siege, the Thunderbolts have been one of Marvel's most entertaining reads. In a sea of Avengers, spiders, and mutants, give these glorious you-know-whats a chance. You'll love the ride.
Nightwing #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): You know the real secret to Dick Grayson's success? It's the fact that he's a character with a lot of heart to him, and readers really latch onto that likability. He's the laid-back guy who's also really cool, the brother-slash-wingman you always wish you had. And in this third issue, Kyle Higgins is really starting to hit that balance, giving us a relatable protagonist with human concerns, hang-ups and internal conflicts. Seeing a young Nightwing learn a little bit about how women operate from circus owner Mr. Haly is an adorable moment, and from then on in, you're invested in this character. Watching Dick struggle with his past in the circus — the circus that he ran away from after his parents died, in order to pursue a high-flying career as a superhero — is the heart of this book, and it's something we all understand. There are people from our pasts we haven't kept up with, or maybe even have avoided, but the past never stays dead forever. This sort of issue also works better with Eddy Barrows and Eduardo Panisca' art, as they're able to play up the expressiveness behind Dick's eyes (although I'd still argue that Barrows doesn't quite have the kinetic streak to really play up Nightwing's acrobatics). This book isn't perfect, however, with the villain of the piece feeling incredibly shoehorned in, and Dick's recovery being as inorganic and totally convenient as the original threat to begin with. But thankfully, Higgins already sold us on the character before taking this detour — he's not assuming we know or even like the guy, he's instead earning our trust and reminding us why we like Nightwing. It's a lesson more people could learn from one of DC's newest talents.
Generation Hope #13 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): James Asmus is in a tough position, and it's clear from the metatext in the first page of Generation Hope that he knows it. He's the second writer to take over an already-struggling book that was helmed by the quirky, iconoclastic Kieron Gillen. He's an unknown name. And to be honest — and it's not his fault — he's still very fresh on the scene, and he doesn't quite have a strong style yet. But as far as first issues go, this one is kind of a non-starter, with the plot already seeming a little too familiar for my tastes. (Namely the team complains to Hope, Hope ignores the team, the team goes into battle, and maaaaaybe someone dies or is traumatized.) There's nothing drawing me to these characters, and even the idea of these powers maybe not being so benign isn't quite overt enough to grab my attention. The other thing that draws the energy out of this book is the artwork — Ibraim Roberson's art is just totally washed out by Jim Charalampidis's dulled, painterly colors, which makes him look a lot like Ariel Olivetti than someone who really pops off the page. (And considering this book starts with a fight sequence, having a ton of horizontal panels doesn't quite end up being the best use of space.) I think a lot of what keeps this book from really impressing is the fact that it seems to be hewing so closely to Gillen's style, without actually having the spark in the character dynamics that Gillen had. (Although Asmus gets some humor points for pairing Zero with disembodied mutant brain Martha.) I want to see Asmus really take this book and make the concepts his own, and I really want to see him with an art team that will be as bold and eye-catching as this book needs. With so many other mutant books on the stands, I'd hate for Generation Hope to be at the bottom of the class.
Justice League #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran;'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): I really want to love this book. Not just like, but full-on fanboy love. With Wonder Woman finally making her debut, all my favorite DC characters are now in one book. One big, sloppy, dragging, and ultimately frustrating book. Justice League #3 continues the forming of DC's flagship team, the group upon which all heroes will look and draw inspiration. So far, these aren't the heroes I want protecting my world. I know Geoff Johns and Jim Lee are trying to pull in new readers with this title, but after three issues, all I can think is “just get on with it!” However, what's most frustrating about this title is the potential. Everything you need for a great comic is there. Wonder Woman standing proud and regal among a sea of mortals, looking for harpies. Perfect. Then, she dissolves into dialogue that sounds like it was lifted from David E. Kelley's failed Wonder Woman pilot. Then it goes right back to awesome when this younger and slightly untested Wonder Woman leaps at the chance of battle. Even Lee's pencils feel like pieces of great comic art and not complete sequential storytelling. Which again leads back to my frustration with this title. For every gorgeous splash page Lee draws (and this issue has a doozy with Diana trashing a wall of Parademons), it's followed by overly dense panels that ultimately cause you to lose interest. It's telling that through all this action and team building, I'm more interested in Cyborg's origin than the Justice League itself. There's really nothing wrong with that, he's a cool character whose time has come. But, when you have Wonder Woman front and center and all I'm interested in is Cyborg, something has gone seriously wrong.
Severed #4 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): In the afterword of the first issue of this series, Scott Snyder said that he and co-writer Scott Tuft were trying to make this series work like a classic horror movie - by slowly building up that unsettling creepy feeling before finally showing its teeth. Well, four issues in, and it feels like this approach is working perfectly for them. Every page of Severed #4 is packed with tension and suspense - you can see the noose closing around the protagonist’s neck, and the anticipation keeps you on edge, just waiting for the trapdoor to open beneath his feet. In many ways Severed puts me in mind of good, early Stephen King, in that the protagonist is a child, he’s on a journey, and is being pursued by an unnameable horror. Snyder and Tuft’s storytelling is also very King-esque, as over the first three issues of the series they’ve done some wonderful character work, just enough so that you really feel for the characters, and now they are preparing to put them through all manner of horror. Attila Futaki’s artwork on this series is quite breathtakingly beautiful, and his gorgeous watercolors really bring this period story to life. Severed #4 is a fantastic issue of one of the best horror comics on the shelves.
Birds of Prey #3 (Published by DC Comics, Review by Amanda McDonald; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; Click here for preview): I'm not hearing a lot of buzz about the new Birds in my comic loving circles, and with Issue #3, I'm going to do my best to change that. This book started with a good premise, though I found the lack of the complete team annoying at the time. With this issue, I understand writer Duane Swierczynski's choice to do it this way — and now that all four major players are at work, it's a book that deserves some positive attention. Remember Gotham City Sirens? This book is what I was hoping to get out of that series — a team-up of strong female characters and a well-written story that keeps the reader guessing. Canary says right on page two of this issue, "nobody on this team has a squeaky-clean soul," which lends itself to a plot that is much less predictable than a lot of super hero team books. Swierczynski does a fine job of truly treating this as a team book, with no one character standing out or getting more page time — Starling is that girl that says and does the things I wish I had the proverbial balls to do so myself, and Katana — well, she's a tad insane but her insanity serves a purpose that may very well save their butts as the time goes on. I'm really digging artist Jesus Saiz's style — the facial expressions support the strong character development happening in the book and are not overly rendered, resulting in a really clean look. Colorist Nei Ruffino's colors are considerably less lustrous than we usually see from her, but stylistically it seems like a good fit for Saiz's simple and sexy character design. I'm still trying to get over that not all of these characters are actually based on birds, but that's such a small sticking point when it comes to a book that is as solidly executed as this one. If you've been let down by female team up books in the past, or just team-up books in general — give these birds a chance.
Mudman #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Every so often, you read a new comic that just leaves you going, “Wow!” Mudman #1 is that comic. Paul Grist has really created something special with this new series that chronicles the adventures of a teenager who one day discovers that he has mud-based super-powers. The comic has that magical feeling that early Spider-Man comics had - that sense of boundless adventure and excitement. This first issue is a brilliantly executed origin story, complete with powers of a mysterious provenance, an enigmatic stranger, and bad guys threatening the family of the protagonist. Grist does some brilliant character building throughout the issue, which makes sure that by the last page you feel like you really know Owen Craig and his friends and family. I’ve always been a big fan of Grist’s artwork, and this comic contains some of his best work. His linework has a clean and minimalist look to it, and his nice thick brushwork gives his characters a chunky carved in stone look. There are some wonderfully composed pages in this issue, from creative panel layouts that lead the reader’s eye through the action, to some iconic looking splash pages that would make great pin-ups. I would strongly advise jumping on board with this debut issue of Mudman, or you’ll be kicking yourself later.
Catwoman #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): I keep coming back for more. I loved the first issue, hated the second, and now I'm somewhere in the middle with Catwoman, seeing that there's definitely some potential, but also feeling disappointed at the wild tonal shifts that keep Selena Kyle from reaching a top spot. Artist Guillem March is definitely producing some strong work here — his expressiveness is definitely over-the-top, but there really is a feline quality to Selena's look of pure rage and pain, as she struggles with the first bit of real blood on her hands. March's action sequences are really nice here, as well, with some real speed as Selena breaks out of a chair, rolling into her captors with a thunderous kick. Where the book falters, however, is the fact that neither March nor writer Judd Winick seem able to handle the sexy, romantic or emotional elements of this book with enough maturity — having gratuitous strippers (I think we're three for three now) is pretty grating, and having Batman drop in to create some artificial stakes takes a lot away from our heroine's central conflict. There was plenty to work with about a criminal-lite suddenly getting traumatized with the murder of someone close to her, and when Winick was just focusing on her escape and revenge, that was a great story. But there's enough needless, awkward deviation that mars March's slick execution, and keeps Catwoman from being the book it deserves to be.
Pilot Season: Seraph #1 (Published by Top Cow; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 1 out of 10): Most comics don't hit me the way that Pilot Season: Seraph did. And I don't mean that in a good way. Sure, Lance Briggs' name is on the product, which probably will mean a lot of votes for the Pilot Season competition will go this way, but even I had to take a break from reading comics after reading this book. There are a lot of problems here from soup to nuts — Phil Hester, who I typically think is a great writer, never quite figures out what makes this character relatable, and he ends up getting so stuck in the internal monologue and mythology that the book becomes truly difficult to read. With Jose Luis lacking that typical Top Cow panache, particularly in his layouts, there are pages that just buried under captions, and because none of them really advance the plot or the actual characterization, your eyes glaze over. The concept is even more grating — a superhero who has to follow God's law so he can… exact vigilante justice? I'm pretty even-handed when it comes to books, but having a character say that he will be his enemy's brother, just so he can regain the power to crush him with a flaming statue, is actually a little appalling. Add in random angels and some mysterious figures having a foreboding chat at a diner, and you have just a team effort that goes nowhere. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!