Best Shots Rapid Reviews: AVENGERS, JUSTICE LEAGUE, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! You feeling 2 Fast, 2 Furious? Because Best Shots is coming to you faster than a muscle car, with our weekly edition of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off today's column with Walt Simonson's return to Marvel in the Avengers vs. X-Men tie-in, Avengers #25...

Avengers #25 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): I need to warn you fair reader right off the bat. Avengers #25 isn't really a crossover with AvX, as the header suggests. Unless, of course, you consider the two-page spread at the very beginning sufficient enough to warrant “tie-in” status. But you know what? I couldn't care a rip. Because Walt Simonson is back at the House of Ideas and life is good. This issue wraps up Bendis' ongoing Dark Avengers revival arc, and reveals to the reader the burden poor Captain America carries as the leader of the Avengers and the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. As a story wrap-up, Avengers #25 a little on the soft side, with still Bendis not fully hitting the right tone with Thor, Storm, or Red Hulk. But as I said in the beginning, that quickly falls to the wayside when you allow Simonson's wildly kinetic art to pull you into the book. From the moment you open this issue, characters are leaping and punching from the page. The Avengers are akin to gods walking among mortals, and under Simonson's pencils, you never once doubt that belief. Captain America is a king feeling the weight of his crown. The Red Hulk is the team's walking gun. All is not perfect though. For all my fanboy drooling over this book, Simonson may not be the best fit for Bendis' writing style. During conversational character moments, where Bendis tends to shine as a writer, Simonson's art falls a little flat; even jarring in it's simplicity. Thankfully, those moments are quickly forgotten once all holy hell breaks loose and Simonson can do what he does best — taking characters that are already larger than life and ramping them up to 11. That alone is worth the price of admission.


Justice League #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Green Arrow gets no respect. The Rodney Dangerfield of the superhero set, Geoff Johns gives him a less-than-auspicious introduction to the Justice League this week. What's interesting about this book is that, in many ways, this is Geoff Johns doing his best Brian Bendis impersonation — his characters are quipping back and forth, there's a sense of humor displayed throughout, and there's some very convenient moments where Character A is around just so he can talk to Character B. While Ollie doesn't quite come off as particularly inspiring — he's kind of clingy, to be honest — Johns hints at a sort of post-Wall Street search for redemption that would make Ollie "Steve Jobs" Queen into a really compelling figure in the New 52. (I only hope that Ollie's main comic follows suit.) Carlos D'Anda will automatically get sniped by fans, as his name is not Jim Lee, but he's a very interesting study here — his strong-jawed characters evoke Howard Chaykin more than a little bit, albeit with a much smoother line. I like what he's doing here, although I will join in when I say is he really the best fit for what is DC's flagship book? Ivan Reis seems to be more of the DC wonderboy, as he illustrates a superb flashback that shows why the Martian Manhunter isn't a member of this Magnificent Seven. The action here is more implied than overt, which might disappoint people looking for higher-octane superhero teamwork — we're eight issues in, and the team still hasn't gelled yet. The players are present, but they need to be more than just there — if Johns and company can't get people to root for this team soon, the Justice League's greatest enemy may become reader apathy.


Wolverine and the X-Men #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): While I'm not crazy with Wolverine siding with the Avengers during the greater AvX standoff, this issue of Wolverine and the X-Men goes a long way towards making me feel better about the situation. The thing that impressed me the most about this book is that while it does introduce the greater conflict between Earth's Mightiest Heroes and the Children of the Atom, Jason Aaron also maintains the lighter, brighter tone that has made this book such a treat to read. From Captain America getting surprised by the school's Danger Room system (and getting a B-minus for his efforts) to Beast protesting that he doesn't have fleas ("The Bamfs got into my Pym Particles!") to aliens actively taking bets on the Phoenix Force, Aaron makes this issue both a joy to read and a somber introduction. Chris Bachalo, drawing the teachers in costume for the first time this series — a milestone when you think of it that way — really makes these superheroes look tough, particularly with the resigned look on Logan's face when he knows he's going to have to get his hands dirty, or the steely look in Beast's eyes as he pilots a ship into space. Combine this with some nice character moments with Idie, Husk and Toad that will likely bear fruit after this event ends, this isn't the best issue of Wolverine and the X-Men, but it's the kind of tie-in all tie-ins should strive to be. It may take a detour to serve the main event, but it doesn't lose its soul.


Wonder Woman #8; Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 6 out of 10: Brian Azzarello dropped a serious bombshell in issue #7, which may go down in Wonder Woman comics history as one of her most polarizing stories, ever. For now, he and co-writer/artist Cliff Chiang aren't shedding any more light on the topic of the Amazons using men as sperm donors and killing them, then casting off their male offspring. The focus here is Diana and Hermes’ descent into Hell to rescue Zola, the young woman who bears Zeus’ offspring. Chiang’s art continues to delight, and his take on Hades’ realm, in which the dead are not just residents but part of the architecture, is quietly menacing. I've also become quite fond of the wise, deadly Hermes, who has a pretty awesome action hero moment. Chiang shows off his mastery of physicality and movement in the panels where Diana leaps and flips, then slices the demons on their trail. And then we come to a deep pothole. At a crucial moment, Wonder Woman — who is supposed to possess the wisdom of Athena — makes a patently boneheaded decision. Maybe this was intended to show that Diana isn't perfect, which is fine, but it only served to make her look, well, stupid. What a shame to end an otherwise enjoyable issue with grating whimper.


Avengers vs. X-Men #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Round 2 — FIGHT! This is what the title has been building to. Not only are the Marvel architects bringing the pain by pitting hero against hero, but Jason Aaron scores with a script heavy on the action and layered emotions you get by setting friends and family against one another. Although the other AvX books are slow to build or not even concerning the brawl on Utopia, Avengers vs. X-Men #2 isn’t wasting anyone’s time. Aaron provides interesting insight into the ramifications on land from each fight and it’s important to remember what this means for the rest of the planet. With almost every hero an Avenger now and the rest being X-Men, this is the obvious choice to be the standout summer event for Marvel. Perhaps the best part of the "one-on-one" fights are the less obvious choices, like Emma Frost and Iron Man. Sure, Magneto and Iron Man seem like an interesting pairing, but Emma and Tony have more in common under the armor/diamonds and it creates some fun in-battle banter. That being said, there is still some levity going on with heroes punctuation punches with quips and a fun exchange between Black Panther and Storm. There is also a nice balance struck between the throwdowns and the story concerning Hope and the Phoenix Force. The issue isn’t heavy on either side, and the two blend together nicely. John Romita, Jr. keeps up with the writers and as well. Fair warning: It actually hurts to look at Cyclops with that mashed-in visor from Cap’s shield. Blow for blow, Romita doesn’t hold back but still keeps it clean without a lot of blood and viscera that might be expected from such powerful match-ups (or his work on Kick-Ass). Over all the impending doom and drama on the island, Avengers vs. X-Men #2 is the kind of fun a Marvel fan would want from a summer event.

Garth Ennis Writing THE SHADOW
Garth Ennis Writing THE SHADOW

The Shadow #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Dynamite Entertainment has become a bit of a dab hand at pulp comic revival, with the company returning to life many beloved characters of yesteryear. For this latest, the company has recruited Garth Ennis, who gives us a gritty and brazen version of the vigilante much closer in spirit to his 1930s origin than any more recent incarnations. Ennis sets the story in 1938, and plays into the pre-war hysteria of the time, with a plot involving the U.S. government attempting to prevent Japanese spies from getting their hands on a mysterious artifact. We only get a brief glimpse of the Shadow in action, with the majority of the issue spent introducing us to his civilian identity, Lamont Cranston, a standoffish and arrogant man who seems to alienate all of those around him. This iteration of the character’s powers aren’t fully spelled out yet, but they seem to involve prescience in some capacity. The artwork is by Aaron Campbell, who does a remarkable job of giving the story a 1930s pulp feel, with his detailed linework and luscious, brushy inking. The Shadow #1 is a strong debut that will be sure to please fans of this classic pulp character.


3 Story Secret Files of the Giant Man (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Giving “tall tales” a whole new meaning, writer-artist Matt Kindt serves up three short stories about Craig Pressgang, a man grown to giant size who travels the world for the US Government. These stories, reprinted from the late My Space Dark Horse Presents were my first experience with the character, but I left wanting to read both Craig’s first appearance and more work by Kindt. As a larger than life figure, the Giant Man could easily dominate the page, but instead, Kindt filters everything through a normal viewpoint character and uses quirky camera angles in each panel that rarely focus on all of Craig. Framed as declassified stories, we view Craig from the lens of a girl who makes friends with objects, Egyptian laborers who show how rough it can be to serve Craig, and a reporter, who story shows it takes more than size to solve the world’s problems. Beyond the common-man look at dealing with a huge human, Kindt’s artwork makes this a solid comic. He appears to use watercolor over rough pencils, not unlike some of the work I’ve seen from Eddie Campbell, but more reminiscent of a children’s book. Kindt’s artistic angles and choices keep the reader’s eyes engaged as well, providing many visual treats. 3 Story is a big value in a small package and my surprise hit of the week.

Nightwing #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): It is, as they say, on! Nightwing #8 kicks off the beginning to what is shaping up to be one of the most important Batman events since, well, possibly ever. The issue bounces between Nightwing looking into the death of a man murdered with his own escrima sticks and the flashbacks of a mysterious member of the Court of Owls. Those familiar with the pre-New 52 story Gates of Gotham will instantly recognize the players. However, writer Kyle Higgins is able to bring new readers completely up to speed, without ever once boring fans that have been there since day one. Eddie Barrows art continues to improve with each issue, and Nightwing #8 is no exception. Barrows has slowly moved beyond competent and functional sequential art and is allowing some real emotion and energy to come through. The reader gets a real sense of hope and wonder in Gotham's early days, and this plays off wonderfully in the modern era when Gotham and Nightwing face the threat of the Owls. There are still some moments where Barrows art feels hurried and in those moments, the action is a tad wooden. And, in an attempt to create a cinematic feel to the book, both Higgins and Barrows use a lot full page spreads. Although this is a matter of personal taste, as a reader, I always feel a little cheated when more than half the book consists of one- or two-panel pages. Still, Higgins and Barrows do a good job of taking point on an event that I'm legitimately excited to read.

Ragemoor #2 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): As Ragemoor enters its second chapter, we learn more about the bizarre creatures who inhabit the castle, the monsters that roam its grounds, and those who would destroy it. A love triangle also begins to develop between the protagonist, the girl who he thinks is his cousin and a mysterious suitor. Jan Strnad is weaving a rich gothic horror here, which brings to mind classic EC Comics of yore. We’re still very much in the introductory phase of the plot here, as we learn more about the protagonist and the cast of characters, and the over-arching story isn’t yet visible, but that matters not, as every page of the story is filled with creeping horror and pulse-pounding adventure that entertains to the very last page. Richard Corben is in large part responsible for the macabre feel of the story, as he draws page after page of eerie artwork that sends a tingle down the spine. His characters are morose and lost, his monsters are repulsive and vile, and he manages to make the stones of the house feel alive in every single panel. Ragemoor #2 is another great chapter, filled to the brim with chilling visuals and thrilling suspense.


Red Sonja #65 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): My enemy — myself! A mirror reveals the deadly soul of Red Sonja, who must fight all her anger and fear personified in a doppelganger in this penultimate chapter of a six-part story arc that is right out of a fantasy textbook. After being a bit disappointed by the current Conan series, I thought I would see how Howard’s female warrior in the same universe but separated by licensing was doing. Though this might not have been the best time to experiment, I thought writer Eric Trautmann did a good job of filling in a potential new reader without boring anyone who has been in for the long haul. The problem is that the story itself is standard fare, as an evil version of the heroine tries to show why she is better, but is vanquished in the end. There are some good lines, but any longtime fiction reader has seen this all before. I did like the work Walter Geovani did staging the fight between Sonja and her double, using interesting angles and not being overly gratuitous in sexing-up the fight, within reason (they are in chain mail bikinis, after all). Geovani’s art evokes Romita’s heroines, showing Sonja as being both beautiful and able to realistically swing a sword. The overall action was very slick and worked well with Trautmann’s ideas, but Red Sonja seems built for fantasy genre fans only.

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