Greetings, 'Rama Readers! Ready to close out 2011 with some Rapid-Fire Reviews? Best Shots would like to thank you, our readers, for your continued support through 2011, and hope you will keep the discussion going through 2012! (Any impending apocalypses notwithstanding.) So let's jump off the deep end with this column, as Amanda reviews the end of the first arc of Aquaman...
Aquaman #4 (Published by DC Comics; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; Review by Amanda McDonald; Click here for preview): As the saga of the trench humanoids concludes, this book continues to not disappoint. Mostly set in the murky depths of the sea, we see Aquaman and Mera in their element, and the events of their battle are visually stunning as well as backed with compelling storytelling. While it's no surprise that they free the trapped villagers, the solemnity of the situation was more than I expected. Geoff Johns takes what could have easily been enjoyable as a simple battle, and weaves in compassion for both the aggressors and the hero to elevate it to a level that has me wanting everyone I know to read this book. Add in the foreshadowing of the sinking of Atlantis storyline that is teased at the end of this issue, and this is a book that has the potential to keep topping itself month to month. Visually, Ivan Reis packs so much punch into each panel that this is a book to read through multiple times to get the full effect. He's not just drawing a bunch of fish here, this is an elaborate underwater world with creatures we've never seen before and he has crafted that perfectly. Rod Reis' colors complement the feel of the book as the book starts very dark and brightens as we near the conclusion, with the warm sunrise and glowing tones of the lead characters aesthetically confirming that this nightmare has come to a close. Those last few pages are a bit marred though, in that the inking takes a different direction. There are two inkers on this book, which is something that in rare occasions can work — but more often than not lends itself to a disconnect for the reader when the visual of the book changes abruptly. The last few pages are a really sweet scene, but the characters themselves also appear more cartoony, enough so that I flipped back to the title page and confirmed that yes — that's why, two inkers. That's not to say I don't like both styles, but it feels a bit jarring to have both in one book. It's certainly not enough to dismiss this book, and if you haven't checked this one out — you owe it to yourself to give it a chance.
Astonishing X-Men #45 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): It's easy to overlook books like Astonishing X-Men, considering the proliferation of X-titles on the stands (including the main "continuity" version of this very series over in Uncanny X-Men). But you know something? Greg Pak and Mike McKone make this book a fun read, as he shows us Cyclops's leadership abilities rather than just taking them for granted. With a team of parallel universe X-Men familiar enough to appreciate but just different enough to interest you (particularly what seems to be an X-Men: Evolution version of Nightcrawler), Pak keeps the pacing fast and the tone light enough to keep anyone from feeling too self-conscious. McKone also lends this book accessibility, with the layouts being strong and uncomplicated, and the characters looking just stylized enough to attract diehards and newbies alike. And best of all, he really plays up what a self-assured tough guy Cyke can be, particularly when he carves a path out of a cell in the shape of an X. Lots of stuff is going on in this book, but it's never too heavy to get on board now.
AREA CC (Published by Snakebomb Comix; Review by Zack Kotzer; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): There’s something to be said for running. Dashing forward, into some, I don’t know, yonder. It’s made for chases that stick, for adrenaline rushes and most of your favorite scenes from Super Jail! Degen’s wordless, unspoken AREA CC is a black and white escape plan with vague goals, odd assailants and a very vivid journey. Coco, the heroine (saboteur?) bullets through a world of patterns, techno-flotsam and odd stimuli; effortlessly leaving a path of destruction as she goes. It’s not uncommon to hear “acquired taste” in regards to small, small, small publishers like Snakebomb, but Degen’s style may halt some for reasons unrelated to subject matter — even with a sex scene AREA CC is peaceful, tasteful. Instead it’s because Degen’s work doesn’t boast stunning penmanship, it’s rough and intentionally so. But that said, Degen focuses instead on high design ambitions. The ribbons of black rip down the pages, some spreads look like "Where’s Waldo" puzzles in the key of Tamala 2010. Degen’s also highly skilled with pacing, calamity swaying back and forth as the calm of storms swoon in by clicks before both the reader, and Coco for that matter, arrive at the Garden of Eden.
Flash #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10; Click here for preview): Is there a more bipolar DC book on the stands than Flash? The gap between the writing and art on this title is positively disparate. Manapul and Buccellato's art is some of the most kinetic, charming, and all around best in the industry, and yet their scripts so constantly falter that I am still left wondering if reading this book is worth it. The intuitively artistic layouts, lush inkwash, and compelling depiction of the characters in this issue made what would have otherwise been an intolerable mish-mash of subplots, misguided character beats, and pseudo-psychic science mumbo-jumbo an at least finishable experience. I keep hoping that the writing on this book will turn around, but it has yet to find even one iota of the personality that simply oozes from the art. I'd recommend skipping this book entirely, if the art weren't so damned amazing.
Witch Doctor: The Resuscitation #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): If I had a nickel for every time I woke up in a haze, covered in ice in a bathtub, and a wicked surgical scar just next to my kidney. Oh, like I'm the only one. Anyway, this beloved urban legend is exactly how Witch Doctor: The Resuscitation opens and only get weirder from there. I am still enjoying writer Brandon Seifert's take on this recognizable, but really wholly twisted world of medical procedural by way of Lovecraft and Lumley. There were times this issue felt a little rushed, with certain plots points explained away in narration or dialogue, where perhaps a longer reveal would have increased my enjoyment. While I am a fan of Seifert's writing recipe of medical jargon, mystical phrases, with a dash of pop culture references, it can become a little distracting from the story as a whole. (I'm looking at you, Iocane Powder line). On art duties, Lukas Ketner continues his beautifully twisted work that fans have come to love in this series. Honestly, Ketner's art looks tighter than ever with very well defined facial expressions and character composition. This improvement in art might have to do with improvement from colorist Andy Troy. Although never bad, his colors rarely gelled with Ketner's pencils. Until this one-shot. Hopefully the art team has finally hit its stride and continues the quality. Witch Doctor: The Resuscitation will still leave new readers a little lost with quick character introduction and explanation, while long-time readers will sense something is lacking. Still, this book is a fun bridge to the next story arc for Dr. Vincent Morrow and his weird medical team.
Secret Avengers (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10; Click here for preview): Of all Warren Ellis's done-in-one issues of Secret Avengers, this time travel tale is, by far, the least inspired. It may be that Alex Maleev's art, while pretty to look at, isn't as kinetic or engaging as any of the artists who have lent their talents to the previous issues in Ellis's run, or it may be that Ellis's solo portrayal of Black Widow is, astonishingly, uncompelling, and the time loop in which she finds herself hereby trapped is a lame duck of a plot. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth, and what was clearly intended to be a clever and thought provoking tale of time-spanning espionage flounders in a sea of sideways through lines and an expectantly low stakes. Warren Ellis and his bevy of artists have bottled a few bolts of lightning throughout his run, but this is more like a spark that fizzled out.
Voodoo #4 (Published by DC Comics; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Review by Amanda McDonald; Click here for preview): As the hunt for Priscilla Kitaen continues, we find her slinking around a government building that is apparently a headquarters for researching superheroes — though it's still unclear whether she falls into that category, or more of the super villain category. She uses her seductive powers to download a bunch of information, and her shape-shifting powers to escape the building. This issue references events from the first two issues, but seems to let the Kyle Rayner side story of issue three fall to the wayside. Knowing that the book has a new writer coming on board with Issue #5, this issue is well written but seems a bit to just be buying time plot-wise. Obtaining that research information is the main event, and while the action is present — it is presented as a means to that end and doesn't create potential for future conflicts beyond the already existing problem of Kitaen having killed the lead detective's partner. Ron Marz does a fine job of showing us the hunt from the detectives' points of view as well — it's pretty hard to look for someone who can look like anyone. We're reminded at the end that the government agents are not the only ones seeking Voodoo, and that as that storyline progresses the content is likely to get even darker. Sami Basri's art is again simply gorgeous to look at and further enhanced by Jessica Kholinne's muted color palette. While I like the concept of this book, something just hasn't clicked for me yet as a book I'm looking forward to each month. The writing is great, the art is great, but do I care about the character? That's where the problem presents itself — as addressed in this issue, we know very little about her background or motivation. It's still early enough in the series for that to make sense, but I'm hoping we start getting some answers in coming issues sooner than later.
Captain Victory #2 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Take equal parts Star Trek and Jack Kirby, liberally mix, and you've got yourself Captain Victory, a book that continues to impress in its sophomore outing. You'd think that with his bulging muscles and long blond hair, Captain Victory would be another cookie-cutter sci-fi hero, but Sterling Gates has made him and his world a lot more complicated than that. Following the surprisingly dark outcome of the first issue, Gates has shown what kind of dangers exist for a man who can transfer himself into clone bodies every time he dies — namely, how others might react to that lack of self-preservation. A lot of comics these days, particularly those with reduced page counts, are struggling to have enough content to stand on its own two feet, but this comic proves to be quite the opposite, feeling like a full-on TV episode packed within the span of 22 pages. As far as the artwork goes, Wagner Reis is still largely on top of things, with the boxy armor of the Galactic Rangers suiting his shadowy style well. Still, sometimes he's not the most consistent with those same shadows, particularly as far as facial expressions go. That lack of panache may have people overlook Captain Victory, but that's a mistake — this isn't a book you can judge by its cover, its artwork or its previews. It's a refreshing surprise that continues to be worth the read.
Tales Designed to Thrizzle #7 (Published by Fantagraphics Books; Review by Zack Kotzer; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): For years, Michael Kupperman’s genius has stormed shelves with wry, meta-meta prods at the style and tone of pulp. At times his arm’s resting a little bit too long on the “random” button, and at other times the content seems to be on autopilot, but you’d have to be some kind of spiteful spoilsport to deny you didn’t find something to guttural-laugh at. In the seventh issue of his own, glamorously titled Tales Designed to Thrizzle, Kupperman’s got more mockery in store. Though — and as is my right as a critic to tell you what I thought even if you’ll want to clock me for it — it's only bookended by the good bits. Kupperman’s highs are surrealism and satire melting together, and those highs in this issue is a riff on Tales from the Crypt that specifically targets the terrorizing world of baths, and a McGruff the Crime Dog equally as grim. The main adventure is Jack Klugman in his Quincy shoes tumbling down the rabbit hole of allusions new and old. Humor-wise, that focused quest is more spontaneity than surrealism and satire. But that’s the only complaint. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!