Good day, fellow 'Rama Readers. It's a fine selection of Rapid Reviews from the hardest working comic fans in the business. Let's get this column started with the latest from Joe Hill's Locke & Key franchise, the Grindhouse one-shot...


Locke & Key: Grindhouse (Published by IDW, Review by Scott Cederlund, ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez tap old-school EC Comics in this Locke & Key one-shot. Where three armed robbers invade a mysterious house and hold its family hostage. With dialogue peppered in broken English to threats of violent assault. Hill mixes modern storytelling with the EC style. Fun at first, the foul dialogue ends up drudgery by the end. Rodriguez does a better job at imitating the old comics visually, creating a voyeuristic viewpoint. Rodriguez pushes every action into the reader’s face, making them a secret partner to the characters actions. Each sneer and dark smile lives larger than life. With no visual secrets in this book, Rodriguez’s art captures the shock that the reader experiences and the normalness of it for the family who lives in the house.


Wolverine and the X-Men #15 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It's always fun when a title takes a moment to slow down in the middle of a universe shattering event. Jason Aaron does a good job of giving the characters in this book a chance to say their goodbyes. And even better, a chance to remind themselves why they're fighting in the first place. Like Aaron's writing, Jorge Molina's art is most effective at the quieter character moments. I could watch Wolverine and Iceman do shots all day long and not get bored. There is an honesty to his characters that feels very lacking in other tie-in books. Wolverine and the X-Men #15 is by no means a title you need to read to understand the event. But it's one you should.


Justice League #12 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): A year into the new Justice League and this is still an underwhelming title at it's best. Geoff Johns is asking interesting questions of the League and their potential danger to the world. However, Graves is a weak villain that provides little in terms of dramatic storytelling. Visually the book feels like a textbook example of too many cooks in the kitchen. Jim Lee's pencils are tight and vibrant when he's creating a full page spread. But during very personal moments, of which Justice League #12 has many, his lines are choppy and lack any emotional content. That task falling on the army of inkers and colorists with limited success. By the time we get to , I just didn't care.


Axe Cop: President of the World #2 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10):Axe Cop is a perfect example of what happens when you throw everything at the wall to see what sticks and everything sticks. is a perfect follow-up to last years . It’s weird and absurd but unlike many comics out right now, it’s actually really fun. Malachai Nicolle consistently makes and breaks the rules he sets in the Axe Cop universe and reminds us why we love the comic book medium in the first place. Absolutely anything is possible. Ethan Nicolle’s artwork is an excellent complement. His storytelling prowess, adept pacing, and comedic timing translate the insanity into something palatable but still full of whimsy. Creating good all-ages comics is a difficult task but the Nicolle brothers make it look easy.


Before Watchmen: Minutemen #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 10 out 10): This book has been an amazing work in since issue #1, and Darwyn Cooke still finds another way to crank it up a notch. Cooke balances the story of the JSA-like Minutemen comic panels with the trail of Eddie Blake and the very real circumstances his actions; as well as the personal relationship between Metropolis and Hooded Justice. The latter half of the book concerns itself with the Silhouette and Hollis Mason. Cooke doesn’t concentrate on the physical action but the quiet personal explosions within the characters. Not only does he nail it in the story department but the art is just as amazing. From the covers of the Minutemen comic, to the panel layout and color palettes; Cooke is truly delivering something amazing on this book.


The Goon #41 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The enemy of my enemy isn’t actually a friend of the Goon in this spotlight issue on the Priest as writer/artist Eric Powell prepares readers for a darker epic. Powell is equally at home writing comedic or straight-up horror, as he effortlessly switches gears to show that the Goon is in for more tragedy and woe while commenting on humanity’s greed. The art is beautiful, with the team of Bill Farmer and Powell evoking a somber mood with their colors over Powell’s hulking and horrifying creatures. In a backup story, Mark Buckingham echoes this style perfectly in the first part of a more lighthearted look at the characters and sets up for a comedic brawl. Even changing focus, the Goon is a top-notch horror book.


AvX: VS #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 3 out 10: They can't all be winners. The up-till-now strong AvX: VS series has been an enjoyable part of this Marvel event. However, this issue starts with a pretty tame bout between Angel and Hawkeye. Although that fight didn't do much to get the blood pumping, it's the “war at home” second installment between Black Panther and Storm that causes concern. Sure, these are superheroes who are used to brutal attacks. But it feels different when it's a married couple. Tom Raney’s rendition of Storm and Black Panther duking it out in Wakanda adds a level of discomfort to the whole ordeal. Instead of a fight of ideals between two people in love, AvX: VS #5 crosses uncomfortably into domestic violence on both sides.


The Sixth Gun #24 (Published by Oni Press; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10):The latest issue of Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s The Sixth Gun begins a new arc that kicks off with the Sword of Abraham and Gord Cantrell, and Bunn does a good job setting up conflict for what's to come. When it switches to Drake and Becky, we get to see the five guns they possess in full force, which makes this a nice starting point for new readers. Brian Hurtt has an excellent grasp of this world and is excellent at building tension visually. His renderings of the guns’ various powers is wonderful as well. Bill Crabtree’s colors take the art to another level though, displaying the full force of the punishing cold of Winter and the sheer menace of the threats facing our heroes.


Trio #4 (Published by IDW; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Bring on the Bad Guys! Reeling from multiple enemies on all sides, the Trio can’t catch a break (but do catch a building to the face) in the first issue of John Byrne’s newest series that felt like it was breaking the echo of his past Marvel work. Byrne is still skipping scenes the reader should be seeing but he does a great job of twisting expectations and creating surprises. What we do see is illustrated in great detail, showing care was taken in selecting every panel, be it a splash page, close-up, or mixture. Small touches, like seeing a character’s uncertainty reflected in the unfeeling sunglasses of another, show Byrne’s still a master storyteller who is beginning to kick it into high gear.


Detective Comics Annual #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 3 out 10): Although it was a bold choice to go with the Black Mask and Mad Hatter for the first Detective Comics annual, the story as a whole doesn’t really pay off. For as much room as Tony Daniel was given with the larger-sized annual, he doesn’t seem to make much use of it. The story is very fast paced for the size of the issue and much of the dialogue seems superfluous. It’s a poor introduction of this retro version of Black Mask. The art for this issue was just as bland. It’s hard to tell the difference between Romano Molenaar and Pere Pérez. This is usually good thing for a two-artist book, however, neither compliment the book and leave the whole experience feeling rather empty.


Popeye #4 (Published by IDW; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Popeye is a literal one-man army when he’s asked to save Spinachovia from a rival country in another solid issue in the hands of writer Roger Langridge. Working with artist Vince Musacchia, who depicts the classic Segar characters faithfully (but lacks the innovation of backup artist Tom Neely’s work). This comedic tale of intrigue uses the cast quite well, with Popeye’s mashed English taking center stage and Wimpy proving his gluttony and guile can work for good. The Sappo/Wotasnozzle/Myrtle story is much better this time, as the trio end up on the beach, where Wotasnoozle overestimates his technology and the jokes steer clear of rampant misogyny. Neely’s crowd shots are amazing and his pencils compliment every gag as the Popeye comic ship sails steadily on.

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