'Rama Readers! Time for some Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off Best Shots' column for the day with Aaron Duran, as he checks in with the latest issue of Batman and Robin...
Batman and Robin #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating 9 out of 10; Click here for preview): We're eight issues into Batman and Robin, and I think I can safely say this title isn't getting the recognition it deserves. As Issue #7 ended, we watched Damian perform an unthinkable yet also sadly inevitable action against Nobody. While some are upset over this course of action for Bruce Wayne's son, it also served as a reminder and catalyst between father and son. Damian is still the daughter of Talia Al Ghul and that linage can't be denied. However, Tomasi takes that dangerous pedigree and writes a wonderful story of forgiveness and growth between Bruce and Damian. I'm still not fully sold on artist Patrick Gleason, with his tendency to focus on the physical extremes of his characters, but in this issue it works. There is a real tenderness when Bruce carries his badly battered son from the flames and wreckage of their conflict with Nobody. For the first time in years, I had that sense that Bruce and Damian will one day grow to love each other as father and son. It will take time and a lot of work, but the seeds of family are firmly planted. Together, Tomasi and Gleason are bringing back the concept of family, long since missing within all the Bat-books — a family I think they will need when Night of Owls begins. While Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo firmly have the mind of Batman locked in, it is Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason that are the caretakers of his soul.
Scarlet Spider #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): There were some readers who really took offense to the way I covered the last issue of Scarlet Spider, which I likened to a '90s book placed suddenly in today's storytelling paradigm. I said it then and I'll say it again — that's not necessarily a bad thing. This is definitely an artist-focused book, and when you have Ryan Stegman behind the wheel, that's a decent spectacle in and of itself. Chris Yost is also pulling tricks out of the '90s playbook here, putting Kaine against the League of Assassins (featuring Gambit's old flame, Belladonna! Talk about nostalgia-inducing). The result is unapologetically fight-happy comic, with a group of mismatched assassins ranging from immortal zombie ninjas to gun-conjuring mercenaries to super-speed swordsmen — there's no logic inherent here, no firm storytelling structure here, but it does make for an entertaining matchup. It's a looser style of comic book, but with Stegman taking ownership of the visuals, it survives. Ultimately, the unpredictable nature of Kaine will need something more to sustain readers, but for now, he still gets by on looks and excitement alone.
Secret #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10):Secret is the latest creator-owned project from Jonathan Hickman, and sees him reunited with Red Mass for Mars collaborator Ryan Bodenheim. Alongside The Manhattan Projects and his multiple Marvel titles, it’s hard to imagine how Hickman finds the time to write so many stories, never mind come up with new ideas. Somehow he does it though, and not only that but he always manages to come up with something refreshing and original. This latest sees him take a break from high-concept science fiction to take a dip into the world of crime and espionage, with an interesting series that takes a hard look at a world run by corrupt corporations and policed by private security firms. It’s a brilliantly constructed debut issue, which opens with a shocking scene that grabs the reader’s attention, before taking time to introduce the premise, and the book’s cast of characters. He closes the issue with a twist ending that shines a new light on the preceding story, and makes certain that readers will come back for more. My only problem with the script is that I noticed a number of typos and grammatical errors throughout the comic, which is a bit sloppy on the editorial front. Ryan Bodenheim’s artwork on the issue is really spectacular. His linework is very clean and aesthetically pleasing, but what makes it really shine is the way he plays with color — by using grayscale in some scenes and picking out objects and highlighting them in red, then in other scenes he uses solid color panel washes to differentiate between characters and story threads. Secret #1 is a impressive series opener that is a definite change of pace from some of Hickman’s recent work, and harkens back to the style of The Nightly News, which is sure to please many.
Batwoman #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It’s hard to be so critical on a book that has been fantastic since Issue #1, but Batwoman #8 really falls short of its predecessors. One of the most noticeable changes is the lack of variation in the coloring. Guy Major, especially when J.H. Williams III was penciling, used different styles of coloring to signify the different story lines or personas of Kate Kane. Although it is still somewhat present, it isn’t as strong as it was in the previous issues. Amy Reeder’s pencils seem lacking as well. It becomes harder and harder to tell the blonde characters apart (Agent Chase, Maggie Sawyer) when there isn’t context clues to give it away. Enjoying the panel work was always a special treat with Batwoman every month but Reeder isn’t bring any pizzazz to that either with standard layouts that sometimes feel cramped and crowded. Although Reeder is still better than some of her other New 52 peers and it can’t be easy following Williams’ work, it still isn’t matching the quality set before it. Assuming this is part three of five like the last arc, the jumbled storyline might feel more organic when collected or read as a whole. However, right now it does feel a little hectic when reading the issue alone with the nonlinear storytelling style. Although Batwomanstarted off as one of the stand-outs of DC’s lineup, it is quickly beginning to just feel like one of the masses
Saga #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): With all the buzz surrounding issue #1, the catch phrase for Saga seems to be Star Wars meets Romeo and Juliet. I think it is more like Total Recall meets Anakin and Padme. Whatever it might remind you of; Saga stands firmly on its own merits. The star-crossed lovers and their newborn offspring on the run for their lives have completely captivated me. I read a lot of comics, and Saga #2 is one of the best single issues I have read this year. Comics are one of the few genres where anything is possible. This begets one of great joys of comics; when the story and art conjure something beyond your wildest imagination, and you are genuinely surprised. Brain K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are proving that very point with Saga #2. Vaughan’s bold language has led us into the realm of wildly fascinating. Staples is pushing the visual boundaries beyond galaxies far, far away. The momentum and fusion that Vaughan and Staples have created is rare and wonderful. Saga #2 is a must-read.
Uncanny X-Men #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10; Click here for preview): Poor X-Men. This book has an idea of what it wants to be, but between the strengths of its writer and the undertone following Avengers vs. X-Men, the final results seem sad. Kieron Gillen is, by nature, a cerebral, brainy writer, and that's worked out great for books like Journey Into Mystery or S.W.O.R.D., but when you need something knock-down, drag-out — in other words, an extinction-level event, like the book's central concept entails — Gillen hasn't been able to gain traction. Just like Mr. Sinister or the Immortal Man don't quite make you quake in fear, Gillen's manipulative AI known as Unit doesn't quite feel worthy of Earth's Mightiest Mutants. That choice is probably not Gillen's fault, and he is at least using an enemy that plays to his strengths — namely, characters having to think more than fight — but he winds up adding insult to injury with a dig from the Avengers that makes me worry more and more that the X-Men are being set up as the Strawmen of the Atom. Artwise, this book isn't a knockout, but Carlos Pacheco and Paco Diaz do provide this comic's best-looking issue yet, with some clean linework and some real fluidity to the fight choreography (even if it more or less involves the X-Men tripping all over each other). Diehards'll love this book, and I would say it's far from bad, just not particularly memorable, either. That said, when you finish the comic feeling embarrassed for the protagonists, something is wrong here — with Marvel's big megaevent setting the direction of two franchises, I hope the X-Men are allowed to fight without an editorially-mandated handicap.
America's Got Powers #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating 8 out of 10): As someone that is not a fan of contest-based reality television, I was fully prepared to pass on America's Got Powers #1. But, as a massive fan of Bryan Hitch's art, I had to at least give the book a chance. I'm very glad I did. Writer Jonathan Ross takes the simple concept of super powered teens fighting for money and ratings for the enjoyment of the masses; and manages to design a compelling setting with characters I want to know more about. In fact, if America's Got Powers had one flaw, it's that Ross might have a few too many pieces on the playing field in Issue #1. Instead of simply focusing on the setting of Tommy Watts, the only child born without powers, Ross lays multiple plot threads on the table. Although a compelling read, it was a bit of an overload. On the art side, Bryan Hitch turns in some gorgeous pencils. From a simple establishing shot of the arena to the biggest of battles between powers and robots, every page simply leaps with action and life. It's a real pleasure to see Hitch work on characters that don't have a foundation on an established setting. As such, we're presented with a book filled with people that are both familiar and unsettling. Ross and Hitch have a lot ground to cover within this six-issue limited series. However, with such compelling characters and stunning art, it's a series I can't wait to see through. America's Got Powers indeed.
Demon Knights #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It’s the love story from Hell, as Madame Xanadu finally reveals the nature of her relationship with the Demon to her companions while on the road to Alba Sarum in this post-battle continuation of one of the few New52 titles I’m still reading. Spinning out of the Arthurian legends that spawned both the original origins of the Demon and Matt Wagner’s recent reboot of Madame Xanadu, Cornell takes a page out of Chaucer’s book and uses a journey as an excuse to tell a story that’s been on the minds of readers since this title started. How did Madame Xanadu get involved with Jason Blood, the Demon’s long-suffering host, and just why is there a love triangle between the three of them? The results are both comic and tragic in classic Cornell form, especially when the Demon tries to woo Xanadu to his side. Cleverly weaving between the travelers and Xanadu’s story, Cornell manages to portray a believable tale of tragic love through most of the comic—and then blows it apart with just four panels. By the end of the issue, it’s impossible to know who to believe! The four person art team is almost seamless, giving lots of fine lines and details that make this a beautiful book to look at. Demon Knights #8 is a great jumping on point for new readers as this Medieval Justice League prepares for its next adventure.
Peter Panzerfaust #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; 'Rama Rating: 8 out 10): I was smitten with Tyler Jenkins’ cover of Peter Panzerfaust #3 when I saw the solicit a month ago, and Peter Pan fans won't be able to help but love it too once they read the issue. The way Kurtis J. Wiebe merges Peter Pan lore with World War II is astutely clever. Peter Panzerfaust #3 is very much about these young orphaned boys trying to escape the Nazi-occupied city of Calais, but punctuated with quippy dialogue that reminds you just who these boys really are. Peter Panzerfaust meets his antagonist in this issue, and he's a fierce one. The Kapitän is a steel-jawed, sword-fighting Nazi solider that will not forget Peter so easily. I look forward to their next meeting. Mingled in between Peter’s haphazard antics and grandiose language, Peter Panzerfaust #3 has action, suspense, and a smooth finish. Throw in Jenkins’ impeccably charming art, and you can’t help but enjoy yourself.
Kevin Keller #2 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Spring is in the air and prom is on the mind of the Riverdale Gang, as newcomer Kevin Keller discovers he has a secret admirer that’s still in the closet. Watch as the school president juggles his responsibilities and the needs of his heart in this second issue of his ongoing series that was a surprising favorite for me this week. This was my first experience with Keller, Archie’s first gay teen, though I knew about his creation for the Archie Universe. Parent and Koslowski work well within the Archie house style, which is a bit stiff but is instantly recognizable. I went into the issue worried that Kevin might be a walking stereotype (the cover doesn’t help with this, but it works in context) or that the Archie world would be too outdated to deal with a gay character in a realistic manner. I left the issue extremely impressed. Writer/artist Dan Parent creates a story that could happen to any popular teen (a hidden crush) and then looks at how that dynamic might work if the two characters in question were gay and one was still closeted. The other characters treat Kevin like he were just any other teen, a positive message that I wish we saw everywhere, and the resolution is touching while not falling into the trap of being sappy. This is a solid issue that left me wanting to read more.
Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is one of the most underrated books at DC, right now. It has been good since the beginning, and all of Jeff Lemire's fantastic character building pays off tremendously in issue #8. As Frankie and his Lady search for their son, long thought dead, and neutralize the threat that he presents; decades old wounds are torn open and hard decisions are made fast. Who would have thought monsters could make me a little teary-eyed? I have always had a fondness for Frankie as a character, but with emotive grunts, an assassin’s will, and poetic moments, Lemire has solidified Frankenstein as a recognizable force in the DCU. In this issue, Alberto Ponticelli’s signature, gritty style is given some smooth definition by Waldon Wong’s ink. Travis Lanham’s lettering is a lot of fun and very much adds to the whole. Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #8 is a good issue of a great action comic.
The Bionic Woman #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): Spinning out of the events of The Bionic Man, this book by Paul Tobin and Leno Carvalho probably needed rebuilt before it was published. The story is designed to be an origin of the title character, a woman turned into a cyborg superspy, but the method chosen to do so is clunky in an attempt to be unconventional. Tobin’s narrative device slows the action to a maddeningly slow pace and never gets the action moving in what should be a thriller. In addition, it’s easy to see through the ruse presented by one of the characters as a former employee of OSI rattles through the background of the bionic woman between fight sequences. If that transparency was intentional on Tobin’s part, there’s no payoff for the reader once the big reveal presents itself, as that part of the story just ends with no strong resolution. The story isn’t helped by Carvalho’s art, which manages to make a set of panels featuring bionic monkeys look almost identical to patiently riding a bus. The visuals are enough and the characters are well-drawn, but there’s just no life in the panels. Tobin gets some good snippets of dialogue here and there and shows his talent for banter, but the overall effect just doesn’t work for me, as I was left without a strong need to read further adventures at this slow pace, despite the issue-ending cliffhanger.
Hellraiser Annual #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The first year of the new Hellraiser series came to a close with the shocking climax of last month’s Issue #12, and BOOM! have chosen to mark the occasion with an oversized annual featuring two standalone stories. The opening story is an intriguing short by Clive Barker and Mark Miller that follows the life of a decadent and opulent businessman who ends up in hell after a misspent life, only to be dragged back to life as the gates of hell open. It’s a great done-in-one that plays nicely into the last arc’s climax, and features dark and moody artwork from Jésus Hervás, with lots of nice brushy inking. The second story is by Witch Doctor’s Brandon Seifert, and sees the return of Frank Cotton to the Hellraiser Universe. The plot involves Elliot Spencer (ex-Pinhead) resurrecting Frank to aid him in his war against Kirsty and the forces of Hell. While it’s great to see the return of a character from the original Hellraiser, the story doesn’t quite seem to fit with what is going on elsewhere in the series, and Spencer’s motivations to resurrect Cotton are a bit hard to swallow. The artwork here is by industry newcomer Michael Montenat, and while he does a great job bringing back to life scenes from the original movie, there are a few scenes that look a bit rushed, where some of the linework isn’t quite as detailed, and the colors don’t feel right. Hellraiser Annual #1 is a strong stand-alone issue that should serve as a great jumping-on point for new readers.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!