'Rama readers, get ready for some rapid-fire action with the Best Shots team! Let's cut to the chase and skip the pleasantries, as Jake Baumgart takes a look at the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man...


The Amazing Spider-Man #686 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): It seems that one of the major problems with the Ends of the Earth storyline in Amazing Spider-Man is when it requires the reader to take it seriously. Although the world is at stake, the highlights are the clever quips and light-hearted villainy between the antagonists. However, when the Webhead swings into action with the mental battle cry of “great power, great responsibility”? It’s hard to take it for what it’s trying to be. Dan Slott has nailed down Peter Parker's voice and balances the heroic man with the witty 20-something well. However, it’s when the stakes are raised that the book suffers. Plot points seem a little too convenient for our heroes, but if the reader can ignore them they are going to enjoy the ride much more. Stefano Caselli and Frank Martin Jr. are still amazing together. Caselli rides a fine line between comedic cartoony style and straight-up comic booking that is the perfect blend for Spidey. Martin’s colors over Caselli’s pencils knock it out of the park once again by colored texture over the detail lines. It’s a painted style that, while still fitting the tone of the character, raises the prestige of the book up a notch. (And that's saying something, considering Spidey's new armored costume still feels out of place.) The message behind this storyline maybe needs the following disclaimer: "Don’t think too hard about it and just have fun."


The Flash #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Flash has been a mostly great book so far... but it’s starting to wear me out. Nine issues in and already we’ve blown through three villains, introduced a large supporting cast and built up enough mythology to sustain a dozen future runs. But through it all, we’ve lost sight of Barry Allen. Part of what has made Wally West a beloved character — and to some extent, Barry a slightly derided one — is the fact that readers could connect to him on a more personal level than they could with Barry. While Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato are crafting a high-octane story that would make the Scarlet Speedster proud, they have failed to make Barry stand out as much more than a good guy who runs really fast. It might be the one thing truly holding this title back. This issue features Gorilla Grodd and an explanation of just how he fits into the Flash’s recent wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey adventures. The team continues to do what they’ve done best in building compelling plot points, but it almost seems like The Flash is extraneous because we have no real reason to care about what’s happening to him. The main storyline is interspersed with scenes depicting some of the supporting cast and while some of the dialogue is a little on the soap opera side, it does set up interesting questions and villains for future issues. The art is exactly as expected. Manapul delivers dynamic layouts, some excellent splash pages and possesses a gift for artistic storytelling that I’m sure makes other artists jealous. Manapul and Buccellato are clearly thinking about the broad strokes here, but I hope that in future issues we get a little bit more nuance and focus on character-building rather than world-building.


Astonishing X-Men #50 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Although this issue has been a big deal with the press regarding Northstar’s proposal to his boyfriend Kyle, there really isn’t much else to get excited about. Liu’s story has a hard time standing on its own outside of the arc and isn’t going to win any new readers who are picking up the story for the gay marriage angle. Unfortunately for writer Marjorie Liu, the story is run over by some unrefined artwork. Even though it’s not entirely clear who dropped the ball on the interior pages, the art looks muddy and unrefined. It almost seems as though the coloring by Andy Troy wasn’t rendered and printed properly, giving the book a pixilated and rough finish. That being said, the pencils aren’t much to write home to Utopia about. For going the modern techniques of digitally manipulated backgrounds, copy and paste panels and tons of gradient fills, artist Mike Perkins draws the hell out of everything in a panel. However, this can work to his disadvantage by causing characters and surroundings to be lost in the details and distracting from the action. Also, do heroes need to wear street clothes that resemble their costumes almost to the seam? If the reader can look past the looks of the book, they might be able to find an enjoyable piece to the arc and an important moment for equal rights in comics.


Batman Incorporated #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating 9 out of 10): Hey kids, it's Batman, Incorporated #1, and I'm here to tell you, that old-timey Grant Morrison is back. You know, the one that lives for mythic symbology interspersed with his signature witty, almost too-smart-for-his-own-good banter. Recapping the plot would be a waste of time. As promised though, this first issue does pick up where the original Batman, Inc. left off, with both sides prepping their soldiers for battle. However, the story takes a backseat to focus on the relationship between fathers and sons. One is a headstrong taskmaster that drives his son into the heart of darkness, while the other is willing to sell his soul and kill anyone to ensure his son doesn't go without. As the blood flows through the streets of Gotham, Morrison asks the reader simple questions. Which father is right? And when this is all over, which father will lose the most? Still, for as much fun as this comic was to read, it's even better to look at. Artist Chris Burnham brings this book to chaotic and visceral life. A fight through a slaughterhouse had me thinking I was watching a Batman flick directed by Takashi Miike. And then, in an instant, the book makes a tonal shift from violence to hilarity as Robin proudly poses with Bat-Cow. Under any other artist, this joke would have fallen flat, but Burnham pulls off the image perfectly. This book pops from panel one and never lets up. Alas, if you're expecting any kind of connection to the current DC universe, look somewhere else. It's that disconnect from every other title that stops this from being a perfect comic — that is, unless you only care for Grant's take on Gotham. If that's the case, though, you've got perfection in your hands.


Mind MGMT #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Mind MGMT is a new creator-owned series by writer/artist Matt Kindt. The series follows a young journalist who is investigating a bizarre mystery involving a commercial flight where all of the passengers and crew were suddenly stricken with retrograde amnesia during transit. Many conspiracy theories exist concerning the mystery of Flight 815 (nice Lost reference), but Meru believes that the answer lies in the enigmatic 121st passenger, who boarded the plane but wasn’t onboard when it landed. As she tries to track him down and figure out what triggered the event, she begins to uncover a much bigger story, hinting at a top-secret organization involving weaponized psychics. With this story, Kindt has given readers an incredibly intriguing supernatural mystery story, filled with interesting characters, and told with fantastic dialogue and narration. The series is meant to be read in single-issue format, so not only does it have a great cliffhanger ending, but there are extra stories that won’t be in the trade, secret messages in the panel borders, and a code that you need to put issues together to solve - such a unique touch! Kindt’s artwork here is jaw-droppingly beautiful, with a sketchy linework style that seems to capture characters perfectly, amazing brushwork, and lots of gorgeous ink washes and watercolors. Mind MGMT #1 is a must-read comic, but the only thing that holds it back from getting a perfect score is that the concept is remarkably similar to that Brian Churilla’s new series, The Secret History of D.B. Cooper — a coincidence, I’m sure.


Batman: The Dark Knight #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The ninth issue of Batman: The Dark Knight is experiencing the same boost in quality that the other Night of the Owls tie-in books got the past few weeks. Instead of the typical "villain-per-issue" storyline, #9 gives the audience a nice self-contained story that stands well on its own as well as assists the Night of the Owls. Judd Winick, like Gail Simone before him, spends most of the issue concentrating on the Talon instead of the title character. What’s unique about Winick’s story is the extra texture it gives to the events in Batman #9. Why Red Robin (in that terrible costume) is fighting the Talon member on the cover I have no idea. Although it’s been popular in comics to have the cover not reflect the story inside, this is pretty far off-base, and could have been executed much better. Unfortunately, David Finch’s pencils get overrun in the details. There are stray lines that seemed inked and colored by mistake, such has the scorched body of the young boy or the bare scalp of the Talon assassin. It’s sad, because Finch’s interiors seem like better fit for this story than the previous arcs. Although not one of the strong tie-ins in the Night of the Owls storyline, the story does do a fine job of adding to the main story without being necessary to read.


Hulk Smash Avengers #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): Peter David's mob enforcer gray Hulk, my personal favorite version, takes on the West Coast Avengers on the outskirts of Sin City in this fun but short slugfest. Writing a story that’s designed tie into a tightly established continuity is always difficult, but Jim McCann does a good job of reflecting the personalities of the characters at the time, including Tony Stark’s uncertainly and his feelings on second chances, which even ties into the plot of the comic. I also like that Stark undermines Hawkeye’s leadership of the Avengers, something that also happened in the original series at this time. My only quibble with McCann’s approach here is that Fixit is trying to hide, but he fights in a style that’s inimitably that of the Hulk and even echoes famous lines from the child-like Hulk. Agustin Padilla and Jaime Mendoza work from the "make Hulk impossibly massive" school that I believe started with Mike Deodato, which is a bit out of place for Fixit, but their overall panel construction makes for a clear, clean fight where all of the action falls logically into place. My favorite panel is Fixit in full gangster mode, using Tommy Guns to take down a Quinjet, with a sinister grin on his face. Hulk Smash Avengers #4 is mostly about seeing superheroes fighting without any baggage. As such, it succeeds admirably, but those looking for depth won’t find it here.


Resident Alien #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Resident Alien is a new creator-owned series by writer Peter Hogan, and artist Steve Parkhouse (both 2000 AD alumni). The story involves an alien who crash-lands on Earth, and has to hide out while he waits to be rescued. He uses his special mental abilities to pass himself off as a retired doctor, and tries to lie low in a small rural town. His quiet life comes to an end though, when the town’s real doctor is murdered, and he is forced to stand in. Pretty soon his inquiry into the killing turns into a murder investigation, which only becomes more intriguing when additional bodies start to pile up, and it begins to look like the work of a serial killer. Peter Hogan has put together a truly unique science fiction story here, which is basically a murder mystery that happens to have an alien cast in the role of the investigator. It’s certainly an original angle, but what makes it work so well is Hogan’s amazing character work, which makes readers feel like they know these characters, and thus get dragged into the story and wrapped up in the mystery. Steve Parkhouse brings the story to life with a relaxed cartooning style that bring a light-hearted feel to proceedings. He has a great sketchy inking style, and adds lots of nice finishes that really accentuate the final look. He also colors the book, and uses a very bright palette that makes it look like the art is jumping out of the page. Resident Alien #1 is a refreshingly original take on the classic whodunit murder mystery formula, and feels a bit like a fun mash-up between Diagnosis Murder and The X-Files.


Youngblood #71 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Youngblood’s image is shot, and only an entertainment reporter down on her luck can repair it, if it’s even possible. From top to bottom, the group has problems, and so does this reboot of another of Rob Liefeld’s Extreme Studios comics. While I admire John McLaughlin’s tongue-in-cheek opening, where we are shown a comic book version of Youngblood, the story just doesn’t do anything new or interesting with the characters. The premise appears to be a dysfunctional group who may or may not get it together, but that idea has been used so many times by now that only a strong attachment to the characters can save it. Here, there are just too many heroes involved to get a fix on any of them. It would require being a former Youngblood reader to do that, and that’s just not me. Long-time fans should find the art looks very familiar, as Jon Malin and Liefeld himself hew closely to the Image house style of the '90s, with odd camera angles, female characters who share the same body type of thin with big chests and prominent posteriors, and a lot of posing. Facial features are slight, and it’s almost a meta joke that their main villain is a set of female clones who are all blondes. Youngblood #71 can’t hold a candle to the other Extreme reboots and is only for the most nostalgic '90s comic reader.


Ultimate X-Men #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10; Click here for preview): Nick Spencer’s run on Ultimate X-Men ends here and I’m left shrugging my shoulders. Because of the scattered nature of the mutants of the Ultimate Universe, Spencer has been forced to jump around in order to keep us current on all of them. Problem is that the Kitty Pryde, Iceman and Human Torch squad showed an incredible potential direction for the book and it has since been squandered. Since then we’ve checked in with Storm and Quicksilver, obvious twists have reared their ugly heads and if not for Brian Wood’s involvement, this title would be off my pull-list. This issue features the Summers boys and a mysterious figure with a penchant for his head being obscured by various objects. The whole thing is a big lead-up to the final page, which is only half a surprise. It’s almost like all the things that make some of Spencer’s other work so great — off-the-wall plot points, engaging mysteries and fun characterization — have been sucked bone-dry. We’re left with a husk of a comic book. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Carlo Barberi delivers consistent high quality work, but yet again he is given little to draw. It’s hard to knock a guy for not doing much with a boring script. His facial expression work is very good and the design for the character in the final reveal is interesting (from what we can see), even if it is a little bit reminiscent of that Evil Deadpool arc for a few months back. I was really high on this book at first, but since the opening arc it has been nothing but a disappointment.


The Guild Fawkes One-Shot (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Fawkes, the leader of the Guild, has a problem — his life is falling apart, both inside and out of the game. An unpleasant man struggles with his various vices in this follow-up to the Free Comic Book Day offering that just did not work for me. I have no connection to the Guild web series, which could be some of the problem, but after being intrigued by the FCBD offering, I thought I would read more in the Guild’s world. Unfortunately, the results weren’t promising. Fawkes is an absolute jerk, filled with self-importance, arrogance, and rampant misogyny. I’m sure we aren’t supposed to like him, but when we’re asked to follow him for an entire comic, it becomes an extremely unpleasant experience. Jamie McKelvie does a good job with the script, presenting the action with as much comedy as possible, especially with exaggerated faces and even a set of chirping birds when Fawkes is knocked senseless. He slips seamlessly from the virtual world of hack and slash to modern life with slick artwork that reminds me of Kevin Maguire. Felicia Day and Will Wheaton succeed in making Fawkes a jerk, but by the end, I have no desire to read more. This issue seems like a strange choice to capitalize on any goodwill from the free offering and is probably only for those who are fans of the series already.


Star Wars – Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Let's all be honest here. No one likes a Star Wars comic that shows Darth Vader's sensitive side. So, whenever I grab a new arc with the Sith Lord as the focus, I hold my breath. Will this be the evil you-know-what that we all love to hate, or will it be Hayden Christensen? So far, Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison seems to be the former. Good. Although we don't get much of him, as this story focuses on Cadet Laurita Tohm. A scarred and starry-eyed Imperial graduate with visions of duty and conquest for his Empire. To be honest, I wish writer Haden Blackman gave us a little more about Tohm. His physical appearance and how others act around him hint at an intriguing past. As it stands in issue 1, he's just another Imperial Officer with tunnel vision. Agustin Alessio on art is a very mixed bag. His character work looks a little flat and at times feels sloppy, almost unfinished. Interestingly, his background work is very strong. There is an acute attention to detail within the near infinite spires of Coruscant and technical design. It's a real shame the people residing within these backgrounds weren't given the same amount of detail and focus. And while his appearance is limited, Vader's reveal within the eyes of Cadet Tohm makes for a strong visual. I'm always pulling for new Star Wars titles, but I'm still not sure on this one, though. A seemingly uninspired main character paired with lack-luster art will make it hard for me to come back for issue #2.

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