Greetings, 'Rama Readers! The Best Shots Team is leaving you a holiday present, with a ton of Rapid-Fire Reviews from this week's latest releases! So kick back and enjoy the show, as Ed Kaye starts off today's column, with a look at the latest issue of DC's flagship book, Justice League...
Justice League #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 6 out of 10; Click here for a preview): Four issues in and we’re still very much in the awkward introduction phase of Justice League. Like previous issues, Geoff Johns spends an inordinate amount of issue on the new origin of Cyborg, as well as establishing Green Lantern as the wise guy, Flash as the good guy, Batman as the mysterious one, Wonder Woman as the warrior woman, and the new Superman as a bit of a wild card. With the introduction of Aqua Man, Johns also spends a bit of time on fish jokes and establishing that the character isn’t as lame as we apparently think. In the final pages of the issue we get a glimpse at the new version of Darkseid, who blows some stuff up before yelling, “I am Darkseid” - just in case there was any confusion. Jim Lee’s artwork continues to be of a high standard, awash with intricate detail and bombastic action sequences. All in all, it’s not a bad issue, but the story feels a bit decompressed, and Johns has spent far too much time introducing the characters. Hopefully the introduction of Darkseid will mean that the plot will pick up a bit in issue #5.
Wolverine and the X-Men #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; Click here for preview): Talk about a class act. With Krakoa on one side, rampaging Wendigo and Sauron creatures on the other, and a horde of Frankenstein soldiers everywhere else, you'd think that the Hellfire Club has a leg up on Wolverine and the X-Men. Not so. Jason Aaron, along with Chris Bachalo and Duncan Rouleau, has created a brisk action read that crackles with humor and smarts, and if this isn't my favorite arc of this year, I'm hard-pressed to remember what could top it. In a lot of ways, this book is Jason Aaron being able to have the best of all worlds: He gets the icons with personality (Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, and the Beast, who gets the best lines of the book). He gets the youth experience (Idie, Quentin Quire, and Broo, who steals the show the few pages he's in). He gets the death-defying traps and the smooth lateral solutions like the blockbuster books. And he gets Chris Bachalo and Duncan Rouleau. Considering the team is fighting a living island, Bachalo's style is perfect for this book — the jagged panels and avalanche of details evokes that earth-shaking feeling, that debris strewn around all over the place. But at the same time, Bachalo also has some nice humanity to his panels, particularly with the kids, and his "class portrait" is the kind of splash page that more artists should emulate. Rouleau stylistically is a good fit to help Bachalo out with some introductory pages, particularly when he's got that black-and-white color scheme to balance it out. That said, occasionally Rouleau stumbles, particularly with a last page that seems a little too loose with the linework to match Bachalo's stiff lines. That said, it's pretty small critique for a book that's as thoroughly fun as Wolverine and the X-Men, which is one of the best X-Men books I've read all year.
The Activity #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): The Activity refers to the US Army's Intelligence Support Activity, a special ops team for special ops teams that "wields bleeding edge tech". Unfortunately, the title is somewhat misleading, because there really isn't any meaningful activity in its twenty-four pages nor is there any edgy tech. On paper it's a cool concept, and given what Nathan Edmondson did with the phenomenal (my choice for best book of 2011) Who Is Jake Ellis?, easy money says this would grip you by page three at the latest. Plot-wise, though, it reeks overly familiar of the show Spooks (aka MI-5 here in the States) liberally peppered with The Unit with a splash of CSI and follows the standard yawn-inducing first-issue recipe of "Meet and Greet our Cast". The team is operating a man down and has to break in a new team member, Sergeant Leslie Ryan, who Edmondson tells us belongs on the team, but we are never actually shown why. Laughably, the only value she adds to her inaugural mission is plugging in a power cord. Telling and not showing is the rule of the day with this issue, even including the typical crime show cliché of one team member telling another how to do something like an acid wash… when they are clearly aware of how to do it. "This ain't my first rodeo, cowboy" shouldn't be necessary dialogue for a special ops team doing what they do best. The team travels around the world, but there isn't any danger and there's never anything at stake that makes them an ops team lacking anything special about them. Mitch Gerads on artwork is the best thing about the book, being the rare artist who draws people consistently well. His layouts are creative, even if they do tend to mimic the CSI and Spooks montage style, but I can't help but feel he's being held in neutral by a script that lacks edge or action, which is where Mr. Gerads can really shine. Issue #2 needs to save this series by exploding right out of the first panel and traveling in a direction that makes it unique and original.
Catwoman #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): I'll admit, I really hoped this New 52 Catwoman would be the book to finally help me "get" this character. Friends are always surprised that I'm a huge fan of female comic characters, but have always felt less than into this iconic character. I guess what always bothered me was the ambiguity of her — she's a villain, but then there's the Bruce thing, and it just never hooked me. The first couple issues of this series didn't help that, but as it goes on and Winick has woven in this Lola storyline, my interest is piqued. Selina's character has been elevated to more than just a slutty burglar, and this issue showcases the turmoil she has created around her — including the death of a best friend, an old friend coming out from the woodwork, and an unfamiliar foe piling on an already distraught character. While I'm still not so sure I care if she gets out of this turmoil okay, the story is strong enough to make me want to keep reading to see how she at least tries to get out of it. Story wise, this book hits the mark for me — but visually, I'm not so ecstatic. When Guillem March is good, he's really good. Unfortunately, that's not one hundred percent of the time — and it shows, specifically in his facial expressions that can really take a reader out of the moment and make them wonder if a character is upset. . . or just smells something funky. If a story is strong enough, I can overlook that a bit — so I'm hoping Winick continues to build a strong plot that transcends Selina as a caricature of a female villain. . . but I certainly wouldn't mind if she was a bit nicer to look at too.
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This is the issue where things start to heat up, and for those who might have been a little fatigued by Brian Michael Bendis's pacing, well, now you've got yourself some action. What's interesting about this book is the way it looks, particularly since you have Sara Pichelli just doing layouts, with David Messina on finishes. Messina's faces definitely look similar to Pichelli's, and I do have to say I very much like some of the fight choreography here, particularly when Miles decks a seminal Spidey-villain with a surprising tactic. In a lot of ways, the final visual product reminds me a lot of original series artist Mark Bagley, with some hints of the exaggerated cartoony style of David LaFuente. But what about the story, you're probably wondering. Well, Bendis still plays up Miles's best quality, which is the fact that underneath any fear or insecurity, he's just a nice kid. Seriously, if Electro was coming after Nick Fury, would you stick around to get the jump on him? Didn't think so. That said, while I was plenty wrapped up in the enthusiasm upon reading the book, don't think I didn't have a little bit of a let-down by the end, where it seemed — even to me — that maybe everything was a little convenient, a little too fast, that we needed to give Miles a win for his track record already. Perhaps it's because we still don't quite have an overarching reason other than tribute for Miles to be running around in costume yet. While the kid's good nature might be starting to flicker out for me, that doesn't stop Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #5 from being a fun read.
Birds of Prey #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Despite being a fan of Gail Simone’s writing, I’ve tried to read Birds of Prey many times in the past, but have never been able to get into it. There was just something about Oracle commanding the team remotely that just didn’t work for me, which is funny because I really like the new Heroes for Hire. After the DC relaunch I decided to give it another go, because I’ve enjoyed several of Duane Swierczynski’s novels, and loved his run on The Immortal Iron Fist. After picking up the first issue I was hooked. I really like the fact that the team is now made up of vigilantes and anti-heroes, operating outside of the law, with no central base of operation. I also applaud him for daring to create a new character, while most writers have just retooled old ones. This issue sees Batgirl added to the roster, and finds the team get really close to the bad guy, before having everything snatched away from them. It’s a great action driven issue with some brilliant dialog, with the only downfall being that some of the science is a little iffy, so some suspension of disbelief is necessary. Jesus Sainz provides some lovely artwork in this issue, with nice clean linework and well-choreographed action scenes. He draws women really well, i.e. realistically, which is an obvious plus. If you are looking for a street-level DC book, look no further than Birds of Prey #4 — you won’t be disappointed.
Amazing Spider-Man #676 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): I like Dan Slott and I love this book, but after finishing this villain-centric interlude, I had to ask myself — who are the readers that would really dig this issue? With Slott laying the groundwork for his "Ends of the Earth" arc, I guess there's no time like the present to make the Sinister Six look like the fighting force they could be. But at the same time, a villain-versus-villain issue without any of the main characters from the previous arcs comes off as pretty jarring even for diehards like me, as almost an indulgence rather than as a fight that really makes me invested. Still, I have to hand it to Slott for introducing the characters with some serious economy, and to make this done-in-one battle royale flow with smoothness. (And Mysterio's line about the Intelligencia being like "The Big Bang Theory, only evil" made me laugh out loud.) Humberto Ramos is part of the reason for this fluidity, although I'd argue that sometimes his pages look too loose, with a Doc Ock vs. Modok panel that's so crazy to look at that you can have a difficult time taking it all in. I have the feeling that this is going to be one of those comics that will look better in a trade, when you're able to immediately get some more context and resolution for why Slott left his lovingly-crafted characters to focus on some more broadly-sketched villains. Yet as a standalone package, I just missed Peter Parker.
Tiny Titans #47 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): News broke recently that one of my consistently favorite books month to month is ending this spring — and I can't lie. . . I might have teared up a bit. However that doesn't mean I can't still enjoy the living daylights out of this book while it's still around, and continue to recommend it in trade form to the kids I work with. Issue #47 adds a new level to the TT family of characters – babies! As Bumblebee and the Atoms (yes, one is named Ryan) work to earn their babysitting badges, they are joined by Mrs. Atom, Miss Martian, Arthur Curry Jr., Damien, Jason "Toddler," and Baby Kid Devil for an adventure in Metropolis. The plot of a Tiny Titans book is fairly formulaic, but Art Baltazar and Franco never make it feel like an issue you've read before. There's a healthy level of in-jokes for adult readers, both in the dialog and the visuals. While it's a part of DC's kids group, and highly suited to kids as far as the vocabulary and cartoony art style, it feels like the creative team is really writing this book for us older readers. This is a book I can pick up anytime I'm feeling down, and be guaranteed to find myself grinning within seconds. Word is that while the book is ending, we'll still be seeing these characters around. For now, I'm just going to keep reading this issue over and over and giggling at Jason Toddler and his red hood-type-garment.
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