Greetings, 'Rama readers! Team Best Shots is at it again, with our weekly helping of Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let's cut to the quick and take to the skies, as Peter Parker takes on one of his oldest villains in Amazing Spider-Man...
Amazing Spider-Man #675 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10; Click here for preview): Flawless victory. Dan Slott delivers a winner with Amazing Spider-Man, with an issue that is so tightly paced, with so much excellent characterization, that you almost feel like you might have picked up an entire trade by mistake. With an entire Vulture gang for Peter Parker to take on, Slott doesn't get self-indulgent, making sure that the real meat of this story is Pete dealing with his forensic cop ex-girlfriend, and the story absolutely benefits because of it. For the first time in a long time, Spidey's supporting cast actually feels necessary, with some nice conflict setting sparks between Pete and Carlie, who is still fuming that her ex kept a secret identity from her. And Giuseppe Camuncoli, paired with inker Klaus Janson and colorist Frank D'Armata, looks really sharp, giving Spidey that sort of John Romita Sr.-style stockiness but also maintaining a fluidity and speed that reminds me of Stefano Caselli. There's plenty of cleverness to this story, and the fact that it looks this good and feels so self-contained makes this book a real treat. With this track record, as far as I'm concerned, Slott and company can do no wrong with Amazing Spider-Man.
Action Comics #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10; Click here for preview): If there's any writer who I think has been able to create striking stories based purely on concept rather than character, it would have to be Grant Morrison. Whether it was JLA, New X-Men or Batman: RIP, Morrison has been known to razzle-dazzle his readers with traps and escapes that are so inventive and crazy, you'd totally overlook that the characters themselves were static, that their personalities were assumed more than fully-fleshed. All-Star Superman was the most opposite of this trend, so perhaps it's not a surprise that Action Comics is so much about the fight that it's drowning out any empathy we might have over this brave new Man of Steel. Aside from the surprise inclusion of a Superman supporting character (who is given a nicely quirky backstory by Sholly Fisch), this is Superman getting pounded into the ground, and while that was fine for the past couple issues, the trend is wearing thin. I want to know who this new Clark Kent is before I care about the threat he's facing! Why would I care about Brainiac shrinking the city if I barely understand Lois and Jimmy? The other problem this book has is that sometimes Rags Morales looks, well, run ragged — there are a few panels here where the faces start to look distorted, with eyes and chins not matching what came before. But when Morales hits, damn, does he hit hard — I love how cinematic it looks when we see Clark wind up to take a swing at a rampaging Metallo. But punches and epic fighting isn't what's going to keep people invested in this book, particularly when the whole premise was to establish a new start for the Man of Steel. Adversity is supposed to reveal character, not build it — and starting from scratch may prove to be Grant Morrison's biggest challenge yet.
Chew #22 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): How many psychic powers does it take to solve an international poultry conspiracy? According to Chew #22, maybe just one more. In the ongoing mystery of the Chewverse, absurdly awesome things like the “Curious Case of the Black-hearted Baristas and the Lethal Lattes" await you within its pages. What does all that mean? Perhaps you are not familiar with the festive stylings of Chew. Fret not, comic reader. The yin and yang team of John Layman and Rob Guillory school fresh meat, prologue style. So, if you have been thinking about trying Chew, now is as good a time as any. Chew #22 is full of exposition, pristine character moments, and perfect pacing that will draw you right on in to the chicken-prohibited, governmentally-debauched, psychic foodie world (and there are plenty of continuity bits for the seasoned reader … juicy bits). Speaking of drawing! Guillory is consistently bringing the funny. Even in an issue where the story feels a bit darker, the happenings more serious; sketched around every corner is a perfectly timed reference or possibly a circus clown chicken smuggler. Chew, once again, delivers the perfect meld of disgusting and delightful. Thanks, guys.
The Defenders #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10; Click here for preview): Ah, the Defenders, the Rodney Dangerfield of the Marvel universe. Every few years they get Doctor Strange, Namor, the Silver Surfer and any other random popular B-stringer and make a go it it. This time with Marvel Architect Matt Fraction and fan-favorites Terry and Rachel Dodson. Does the addition of Iron Fist and Betty “don't call me She-Rulk” Ross help raise this team of misfits to top tier levels? Not really. The book has it's moments, but taken as a whole you will find yourself rolling your eyes more than turning the page. If you're a fan of Fraction's signature “smartest guys in the room... till it's funny we're not” writing style, then Defenders will be a real kick in the pants. However, if you're looking for a solid and weird story from which this group of misfits can band together and fight, Defenders will leave you cold. Adding the Dodsons on pencils and inks helps maintain the whimsical tone this title requires. However, after giving the book a couple of reads (because I really wanted to love it), I can't shake the feeling that both Terry and Rachel are happier doing covers and pin-ups. Whenever a main character has a debut and makes the classic superhero pose, the Dodsons simply nail it. The stance, the expression, the colors — it's all win. Sadly, once they get down to the business of sequential art storytelling, everything falls a little flat. Indeed, both Fraction's writing and the Dodson's art are disappointingly in sync in this book. Both with an eye towards the bigger picture, but forgetting you need smaller steps to get there.
Huntress #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): While the first two issues of this six-issue miniseries really knocked my socks off, issue three feels a bit like filler. Helena is still on Moretti's trail, and by the end of the issue — she's really not any closer to closing the deal. While Paul Levitz writes her character well and crafts a solid plot, this issue doesn't really advance that plot in any notable way. It's got the makings of a good book — an appropriate balance of action and exposition, and Marcus To's attention to detail is notable, but there doesn't seem to be much here to build on that hasn't already been addressed in the previous issues. In her quest to crash Moretti's human trafficking operation, the head honcho continues to be a carrot dangling in front of her as she faces off yet again with more of his henchmen. I still enjoyed reading the book, but this time around that was mostly because of the visual intricacies. There isn't a panel here that To and inker John Dell do not seem to have gone the extra mile on. Whether it's the lush settings, the fearful faces of the victims, the rage in Helena's eyes, or the kinetic style of her fight scenes — this is some of the finest comic art I've seen. However, without the story advancing much in this issue, but also not recapping the previous issues — that may not be enough reason to pick this one up off the shelves or to consider this a jumping on point.
Voltron #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Aaron Duran;'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): Nerd check admission time. Apart from the look and various pop culture references, I know squat about Voltron. My childhood funds were limited and I had to choose my robots. I picked Transformers. Then, as I got older, I never got back to Voltron. If this first issue from Dynamite Entertainment is any indication, I've made a serious mistake. Brandon Thomas starts this story off with a bang and never quite lets up. The evil Zarkon is on the losing side of the war and he wants to take down as many folks as possible as he goes. As such, Earth is going to pay and only a giant sword-wielding lion robot can save us. Sweet. All kidding aside, Thomas is writing a tight little sci-fi action tale here. Knowing very little of the characters, I still got a sense for each individual lion pilot and how they will interact with each other and the situation. The dialogue is primarily action driven as characters struggle to stay alive and save innocents from an alien attack, but Thomas still manages to work in some fun personal moments. Illustrator Ariel Padilla also shines in this debut issue. The movement never stops in Voltron #1 and Padilla is the one that sets the pace. His panel layout and design really pull you into the violence, but you never get lost in the chaos. The art falters a little when he's drawing the title character, but it's hard to pull real emotion from a static robot. That small complaint aside, this is one solid debut from both writer and artist. I don't know how die-hard Voltron fans will respond to this new story and plot twist. But for this Voltron rookie, the book was a blast and I want more!
Penguin: Pain and Prejudice #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It's good news, bad news time — the bad news is, this third issue of Penguin: Pain and Prejudice is weaker than the first two, veering from it's grimy crime roots towards something a little bit more saccharine. The good news? Even as the plot is moving towards something predictable, the production values for this book are as strong as ever, as Gregg Hurwitz and Szymon Kudranski continue to breathe new life into what many have seen as a two-dimensional, almost unusable character. Where Hurwitz succeeds is when he focuses on the Penguin's use of power — for good or for evil, Oswald has to keep moving, has to keep acting, and seeing just how far he goes in either extreme shows what a tragic, conflicted figure he is underneath all the criminal rage. What doesn't work? The inclusion of a (blind) love interest, which seems to telegraph an inevitable rejection for our "hero;" sending him further into darkness. That we've all seen before — what we haven't seen, until now, is Oswald's pure despair, jealousy and impotence as he wails at the family mausoleum, shouting how his dead brothers and father can't have his mother. Kudranski knows how to make these moments work, pouring on shadows and mood and really giving each scene a wonderful sense of drama. In short, he creates a world where not only does the Penguin actually make sense, but actually is terrifying. While I think this new subplot might ultimately harm the book, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the heck out of this book — if you haven't checked out this surprisingly dark series, you're missing out on a good one.
Valen The Outcast #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): When you market a book as "Zombie Conan," you've unwittingly designed a pair of triple-E width size-fourteen boots that demand filling. Unfortunately, this first issue falls short of the hype. The gist is Lord Valen Brand of Oakhaven was killed in a ferocious battle and now he's back in white-skinned undead glory out to recapture his soul. Necromancers seek him for some reason and the soldiers who once fought for him now shun him for the abomination that he has become. Never mind that this is the king that they loved, that they once fought and died for and should WANT to help reclaim what was stolen from him. The real problem with this book is that it isn't established why we should root for Valen in the first place. We have no idea what kind of king he was nor what's at stake if he fails. Personally, I'm not all that enthralled with his character when he decides that if he can't make his former soldiers listen to him and see reason, well then, he might as well hack 'em all down. I would rather have seen this entire issue as groundwork-laying for the series, maybe ending with Valen returning from the dead as opposed to dropping me into this world and leaving it to me to try and suss out the whys and wherefores. Matteo Scalera's artwork and Archie Van Buren's colors create a very dark and oppressive mood for the book, which is great, but panels can sometimes be so heavily inked as to render them almost incomprehensible. Scalera's style deserves bigger panels for fight scenes; it's a disservice to scrunch his work down as it is in this issue. In the end, this issue isn't any more original than a typical "guy with a sword on a mission to get revenge" story. Hopefully in coming issues we get more than that.
In Case You Missed It!
Daredevil #6 (Published by Marvel; Review by Lan Pitts; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; Click here for preview): Daredevil should re-think his solid red attire, because ol' Hornhead is becoming a golden standard when it comes to superhero comics. Six issues in and this is something other books should aim to be. Mark Waid nails the decades old character and has breathed new life in it again and making it fun and exciting. Having DD go against somebody like the luchador-inspired villain Bruiser, shows that it's never about size and it's cool to see Murdock have some smarts about him. The way Waid has him essentially talk himself out of being outgunned in a crossfire I found incredibly smart. Marcos Martin soars once again as one of the House of Ideas' go-to guys when handling somebody acrobatic like DD. His poses and take on how Daredevil moves is uncanny and something to aspire to. Muntsa Vicente's colors go hand in hand with Martin's style. It's a muted pallet and simplistic at times, and maybe old-fashioned, but along with Martin's thin linework and feathering, it looks dynamite. Truth be told, if you are not reading this, you are missing out on, quite possibly, the book of the year. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!