Ready for reviews, 'Rama readers? Best Shots is locked and loaded with a ton of Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off with Pierce Lydon, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Action Comics...
Action Comics #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10:Action Comics has been exactly what it set out to be. It exists to establish Clark’s history and provide a backbone for future stories across the DCU. Morrison’s world-building skills are unprecedented and while a couple of issues set on Krypton were a little jarring to the more casual Kal-El fan, he’s building the sandbox of Superman that all writers after him will get play in. This one slowly falls into place and Morrison is able to use the pacing of the book to not only increase our curiosity at who is behind everything but also allow up to feel Clark’s trepidation. Morrison is painting in masterstrokes foes that could legitimately defeat Superman one day. That’s a scary thought for Clark but it’s exciting to get to see a side of the Superman saga that hasn’t been as fully developed. Brainiac ends up putting Clark between a rock and a hard place. Clark has a hard time deciding between his home world and his hometown and the situation positions Brainiac as a threat as big as Joker is to Batman. Rags Morales flashes some great moments in this script. Since issue one, he’s been excellent at capturing Superman’s body language through motion. His pencils are tighter, too. And his rendering of Brainiac is absolutely perfect to close the issue. In the past, I’ve noticed some problems with his work on expressions but he delivers an effective set in this issue, allowing some of the nuances of the script to be shown through the art rather than force fed through the dialogue or captions. With this issue, Morrison is truly beginning to show us his hand. He has huge plans for the book but with this issue we truly begin to understand just how encompassing they may be.
Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This might have been my favorite book this month. The Children’s Crusade ends with Issue #9 and the issue concerns itself with the emotional fallout from Issue #8. Even though the issue features very little action, the emotional outpour from the characters was palpable outside of the book. This is because of the amazing writing of Allan Heinberg who can nail drama (especially the emotions of teenagers) and really drive them home for people of all ages. It isn’t just that these kids are upset over what happened, it’s that they are getting their first taste of adult tragedy and it makes for great comics. Of course, this could all be derailed by bad artwork. Luckily an excellent writing is paired well with excellent art by Jim Cheung, Mark Morales and Justin Ponsor. Cheung is able to balance his pencils between standard, clean comic story telling art and an artistic flare for details. His figures always look masterfully rendered but the eye hangs on the details of the belt buckle or the seams in gloves. Sometimes I feel that books the lead into summer events (like Avengers vs. X-Men, for example) sometimes suffer from too much exposition or the logistics of putting characters into place. The Avengers: The Children’s Crusade does this without feeling heavy handed or trite and makes for an excellent reading experience.
The Manhattan Projects #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Yup, this is one of the reasons why I dig comics book so much. Good old fashion high concept insanity. It's an alternative take on America and the world during World War II. Where Oppenheimer's work on the Atomic Bomb was the least of his inventions during those dark days. I think what I enjoy the most in this debut issue is Hickman's ease with which he introduces the reader to this world. He doesn't bother with any explanation as to the whys of Japan's Zen Death Buddhists or our own telepathic troops. They simply are in this setting, so sit back and enjoy the crazy. And what a glorious kind of crazy it is, in no small part to the slightly chaotic art of Nick Pitarra. His character composition is just shy of characterture, and in doing so, he's created a world that is wholly familiar and extremely unsettling. Just the sort of imagery one would expect from a title that deals with fringe concepts in a history that (thankfully) never happened. Like his composition, Pitarra adds just enough detail to his panel backgrounds that you're pulled in, but never distracted. As if the art is telling you, “go ahead, look deep, but not too deep, you may not like what you find”. Like the issue itself, this review is dealing in abstracts and concepts, because that is exactly how one needs to approach The Manhattan Projects. Hickman and Pitarra have crafted a book where I see the whole picture, but get lost in the little details. Even better, they've reminded me how much crazy fun you can have in comics.
Amazing Spider-Man #681 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): It's a weird industry when Spider-Man in Space isn't something totally mind-blowing just on sheer concept alone, but Dan Slott, Chris Yost and Guiseppe Camuncoli make up for it with just some solid, enjoyable superhero comfort food. Even if you haven't read the preceding issue, this is an exceedingly accessible comic, which is no easy feat — add in the fact that Spidey and the Human Torch really play well off one another, and you basically get to watch a buddy comedy with some epic action sequences. (No spoilers, but the way Slott and Yost get our crew out of the vacuum of space is a smart use of the duo's powers, and is about as nail-biting as you get in a genre where death has long lost its sting). Guiseppe Camuncoli makes this zero-G fighting environment look really wonderful, particularly in a fluid, fast-moving sequence where Spidey has to speed-web an entire horde of zombie astronauts. (I also like that Romita-esque stockiness he gives Spidey, just as a change of pace from the thinner, Bagley-inspired version.) That said, the story logic in this issue isn't always as airtight as it could be, and the attempts to hand-wave them are actually more jarring than if they had been ignored. Still, for a story that isn't character-defining or continuity-altering, Amazing Spider-Man earns its keep by showing what kind of sparks can fly when you put two smart-alec superheroes in space.
Fatale #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The feeling that screams the loudest in Fatale is that things are not what they seem. Fatale has all the markers of a classic noir crime drama. Aesthetically, Fatale is those things. Sean Phillips makes sure of that with his beautifully demure art. But Ed Brubaker is telling a much more vicious and magical story than any murder mystery. As Nicolas learns of shocking secrets in his Godfather’s past, Fatale #3 flashes back to the moments in Hank’s life that lead up said shocking events. We see Hank indulging in his time with Josephine; he forgets the world around him and his pregnant wife. On a trip to Fresno circa 1955, Jo reveals parts of her wicked past to Hank. She is not the girl Hank thought, and as horrific as that actually is; something about her makes all the bizarre things happening around them take a back seat to the primal and consuming affection Hank has for Josephine. But in a world where monsters and mobsters are one in the same, Hank’s peace is short-lived. Brubaker’s story is outright captivating as he switches between Nicolas’ experiences now and back to the events of his Godfather’s strange life. Brubaker creates contrasts and parallels from Hank’s time to Lash’s that flow as smoothly as Josephine’s desires. Fatale builds in intensity, and just when you think you’ll be left wondering; Brubaker punches you square in the jaw and makes you spit blood. The taste and the sting are unforgettable. That’s Fatale #3.
Huntress #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): What a frustrating book to read and review. On the surface, there isn't anything wrong with Huntress #6. Paul Levitz continues his smart portrayal of Helena as she brings her final justice to Ibn Hassan for sex trafficking. The pencils by Marcus To are as a crisp as ever, in fact I'd say he's improved since the first issue. And yet, for all that I enjoyed about this final issue, I can't shake the feeling that I didn't need to read it at all. This final issue falls just shy of the classic dénouement, indeed had Levitz extended the final two pages into more of the book, I would have been pleased. As it stands now, I feel a little cheated. Marcus To's pencils help ease that feeling a bit, in fact, I wouldn't mind if he always drew the Huntress. His Huntress simply exudes confidence, power, rage, and when needed, humor.. Everything about his take on Helena is perfect, from proportions that look genuinely human, to a superhero uniform that makes perfect sense without being overtly busy or pandering. I really want to end this review on a high note, because as I said, as a physical comic, there isn't anything bad about it. It's just that, except for the long teased appearance by a certain character at the very end, I didn't need this issue. So there we are. A well-crafted, if wholly unnecessary, final issue to the Huntress' reintroduction into the New 52. If you're a completest like me, you're going to get this issue. If you just want to know about the big reveal at the end, read the interviews Levitz is sure to give or blog comments that are sure to spring up any minute now.
Avengers Acedemy #27 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10); Finally, thousands of fans have had their letter column prayers answered: the rambunctious rapscallions known as the Runaways have made their way into the pages of Avengers Academy. It’s hard to call this an unexpected development but it’s hardly an unwelcome one. After a hit and miss arc involving Rom the Space Knight’s greatest foe, Hybrid, Christos Gage gets back to what he does best with the Avengers Academy: character development. Gage wastes no time using Stryker’s realization that he’s gay to affect the team. Considering Julie Powers’ sexual identity and her history with the Karolina Dean, it’s the perfect way for Gage to involve the Runaways without it seeming like a forced guest appearance. The plot revolves around the search for the Marvel Universe’s second best dinosaur, Old Lace, but Gage’s best work comes from the book’s central conflict, the Runaways’ fierce independence versus the Avengers eternal quest to do what’s best. Hazmat and Nico share an excellent exchange and Molly manages to steal the show as part of the book’s comic relief. It’s clear that Gage has a great affection for the Runaways and it shows in his excellent portrayals of their unique personalities. Karl Moline is this issue’s penciller. He does a solid job handling the storytelling in this issue but because a lot of the short exchanges between the Academy and the Runaways rely on facial expressions, I would’ve preferred a cartoonier artist akin to Humberto Ramos on the book. Still, Moline’s art is serviceable and definitely never hinders the story. It just feels like there was potential for so much more. The reveal at the end is telling. In addition to the Runaways, Gage will get to have some fun with a sparsely used set of characters in an all-new locale but barring some unforeseen twist, the plot looks to be a pretty standard one. The potential for the Runaways to become recurring characters is there. It all depends on Gage’s pen. There are clear similarities and key differences that make these two teen-aged teams good foils for one another and it would be exciting to see more of their interaction. If Marvel is trying to rope in lapsed Runaways readers with this mini-crossover, this is a good way to do it. It not only progresses the Avengers Academy story but the Runaways one, too. Even if this is all we get, this issue (and hopefully the next) will go down as one of the best issues in this run.
Fairest #1 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 5 out of 10):Fairest is the latest spin-off of Vertigo’s highly successful Fables series. The title promises to focus on the female side of the Fables Universe, something that I wasn’t aware that had been neglected - especially with multiple Cinderella miniseries, and a miniseries about the Literals, which starred the Page sisters. The story picks up the thread from Fables #107 and explores what happened after the sleeping Briar Rose was kidnapped by the goblin army. This first issue stars Ali Baba, who is aided in by a bottle imp, to find and wake the princess with a kiss - for the promise of untold riches. It’s a fun read, but there’s nothing really special about it - Ali Baba is exactly like the dozens of other roguish males that have been featured in Fables, and the bottle imp is yet another lovable, but pesky, companion, in the vein of Bufkin and McDuff. All in all, it reads like a pretty average issue of the main Fables series. While the issue is little lacking on the story front, Phil Jimenez's artwork is rather impressive, with highly detailed fantasy landscapes, buxom princesses, and charming rogues. Andy Lanning does a great job of finishing off the art with a top-notch inking job, but the coloring is just a touch too shiny looking. Fairest #1 is not a brilliant start for this new series, and hopefully future issues will bring us something more unique.
Age of Apocalypse #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): There’s been a huge 1990s resurgence going on in comics lately, with many of the period’s popular characters and storylines being revisited and revived. At the forefront of these is the Age of Apocalypse alternate-future storyline, which was recently featured in Uncanny X-Force. The events of this new series follow on directly from those depicted there, with Wolverine installed as the new “big bad”, and the now depowered Jean Grey and Sabretooth left as the only remaining X-Men. The series focuses on a non-powered human rebellion group know as the X-Terminators, who are lead by William Styker, and plot to overthrow mutant reign. David Lapham, who is known for his more extreme and violent stories, writes the comic, but manages to tone it down a bit here and tell a pretty straight story, while still maintaining his great command over dialog and character development. A lot of his work is cut out for his though, and many readers’ enjoyment of this is going to be dictated by how much they loved or hated the original storyline. I enjoyed the original story, but think this alternate future has been kind of done to death over the years, and now feels pretty overused. Lapham has found a unique angle with the human rebellion fighters, but I’m not sure how long he’ll be able to keep that interesting. Roberto De La Torre provides the artwork, and makes this run-down world look truly depressing, with a sketchy inking job that is heavy on the blacks, and has a Vertigo feel to it. Age of Apocalypse #1 is an intriguing debut, but it’s going to take a few more issues to tell whether this has any long-term potential.
Hell Yeah #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): One look at Ben Day and you know this is an angry young man not to be trifled with. Even as a thug punches the hell out of him, apparently just for kicks, he has a confident edge that suggests the assailant has made a big mistake. Ben is at the center of Hell Yeah, a promising new comic that takes place two decades after the first superheroes appeared. Writer Joe Keatinge suggests early on that their presence may not be entirely good for humanity. In one flashback, a superhero speaks a little too confidently — arrogantly, really — about making the world a better place, and he doesn't seem one bit concerned about some of the ways in which plain old humans have become obsolete. There are always consequences to evolution. There's a slow burn to this first issue that keeps the reader slightly on edge, making the (literally) explosive moments all the more effective. Andre Szymanowicz’s illustrations combined with Jason Lewis' colors are visually powerful. Szymanowicz has a heavy, arresting style, and Lewis does subtle and bold equally well. The nightclub scenes in particular really leap off the page. Ben is fairly one-dimensional at this point, and I hope he doesn't turn out to be a typical chip-on-his shoulder type. But overall, Hell Yeah comes out of the gate strong and is shaping up to be yet another winner from Image.
Night Force #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10):Night Force back in the '80s was creepy cool fun with Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan at the helm. In the '90s, volume two fell short of the mark and here in the '10s, the third outing is starting off as an insult to the original vision. It's your standard first-inning fare: mysterious house with creepy owner fondling a tome of secrets; a man and a woman that said creepy owner is going to recruit for some secret supernatural reason; and said people exposed to weird shadowy stuff wondering what the hell it all means. Standard cookbook horror story setup with a heaping side of yawn. If this book was rolled into an ER by EMTs it would be declared DOA. It certainly isn't helped by the artwork of Tom Mandrake, an industry veteran whose talent seems to be in ignoring perspective and spatial relationships while making sure that no two renderings of a face are ever alike. In one panel a character looks like they've sprouted a third eye, in another a woman's forehead is now a five and in another, a cop's Glock has grown to the size of an Uzi. (Okay, okay. Pointing out a few of the many may not be completely fair to Mr. Mandrake. I'll concede that Baron Winters's jaguar, Merlin, consistently looks like a big game cat.) If you're a Marv Wolfman fan (and really, who isn't?), do yourself a favor and skip this wandering collection of scenes masquerading as a story. Go back and read the original Night Force and forget this version ever existed.
The Defenders #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): At first it might seem startling when you open up the pages of The Defenders this month. The slick, light-hearted artwork of Terry Dodson has been replaced with the darker, subtler artwork of Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano and Brian Thies. However, two pages deep into the issue, Iron Fist skates close to the forth wall and gives a somewhat story-centric reason for the art change. It’s small, almost personal, touches like this that make The Defenders stand out every month. Matt Fraction is really on point with this series and Issue #4 is no exception. With a Dr. Strange-heavy issue, the story concerns itself with the magical practices of trying to figure out what a Kirby-esque statue could mean. The artwork, characters, and overall tone of the story made it feel more like a Vertigo Comics book instead of the tongue-in-cheek romp the past three issues have been. This is certainly not a bad thing, simply a change that might be off-putting for some. The look into Dr. Strange’s personal life was the center and most intriguing part with the return of his once-dead love, Molly. Although the overall arc of the story is getting closer and closer, it was nice to learn a little bit more about Stephen Strange and the relationships around him. It might be a little too Marvel-centric for new readers, but The Defenders is certainly a must-read this month.
Green Arrow #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10):Green Arrow is definitely getting better, although it's still far from getting a bullseye. Ann Nocenti and Harvey Tolibao mark probably one of the more dramatic shifts in creative teams for The New 52, and while the approach is flawed, it's still a stronger direction than the lackluster first six issues. Nocenti's Green Arrow has a bit of an ADD streak, an innovator in a superhero's body, which gives a little more credence to the "Oliver Queen as Steve Jobs" metaphor that has rung so hollow in the past. Trick arrows are the ultimate toys, right? So of course Ollie the Innovator wants the newest ones. With an action-packed opener that reminds me a bit of Chuck Dixon, Nocenti gets the point quickly, which is nice — although it still isn't enough to get you to ignore some awkward moments, like Ollie monologue/expositioning to himself on a rooftop, or a hummingbird "randomly" interfering with a trick shot. (And those who feel like DC is having one too many booty calls in their books, well, Ollie keeps his himbo crown this month.) Tolibao is an interesting choice for the art, considering the incredibly old-school production values the series opened up with. Tolibao is an ultra-rendered stylist not too dissimilar to Kenneth Rocafort, and while I wouldn't call his work beautiful, it does evoke a ton of speed in the fight sequences. The Hories work colors in this book, and I'll be honest, they do push Tolibao's pencils well into garish territory, with some crazy-bright blues, pinks and oranges. Ultimately, the seams do show a bit too much for me to endorse this book, but I'd be lying if I didn't say this was a marked improvement from before. Now that Nocenti's finished warming up, I'm curious if her sophomore outing will make good on Green Arrow's untapped potential.
Supurbia #1 (Published by BOOM! Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Familiarity breeds contempt, which is probably why I can't join in fanning the flames of hype on this book. It's pitched as a superhero Desperate Housewives when it really isn't anything more than a fanfic take on the DC Trinity, or maybe Squadron Supreme. All the familiar archetypes are here: omnipotent and emotionally-void Superman, same-sex sidekick-shtupping Batman, domesticated and cuckolding social leper Wonder Woman. Oh, and a cantankerous one-foot-in-the-grave Captain America trope with a guest appearance by a blatant John Stewart Green Lantern rip-off. This series is supposed to be about the other side of these characters' coins, the partners and loved ones, but it's tough to make the gimmick work when these are the least interesting of the dramatis personae. Grace Randolph's writing isn't bad, per se, but the plotting feels rehashed and "now where have I seen this before?" Ignoring the awful cover by Ale Garza which doesn't scream "buy me" so much as "move along, nothing to see here", the interiors by Russell Dauterman are kitschy and cute, Katie Cooke in the execution, aided by Gabriel Cassata's bright palette. Altogether, it all but demands that we not take this book seriously. It's an entertaining book, a decent way to spend 20 minutes of downtime, but I was expecting something more original here than this desperate take on superheroes.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!