Greetings, 'Rama readers! Time to cut to the quick with Best Shots, as we unleash our weekly column of Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's start off with the not-entirely-friendly neighborhood Superior Spider-Man...


Superior Spider-Man #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Dan Slott is taking an interesting approach to Superior Spider-Man, essentially splitting Peter and Otto-centric stories, as the not-so-friendly-neighborhood Spider-Man has been possessed by one of his worst enemies. After last week's heartfelt issue, it's hard not to see Otto squaring off against the Vulture as a little bit of a letdown, even if Otto's vicious takedown has a decent enough reason. I do think artist Ryan Stegman is on (ahem) an upswing here, with some strong composition for the opening Spider-Signal scene, as well as Otto firing one last web strand in his aerial brawl with the Vulture. While there isn't a deep message here, it's still decent enough superhero storytelling.


Detective Comics #17 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Pitting Batman against a gang of Joker-inspired maniacs (and their boss, the Merrymaker), John Layman's quick wit and sharp sense of irony keeps this comic fun and accessible. "There's a difference between being amped," Batman says, as he uses his ninja skills to take out an opponent, "And being fast." Great one-liners, and a great use of artist Jason Fabok's solid, clean characters and layouts. The only downside to this book? The mystery, which anyone could figure out in about two pages. Still, this is no-nonsense, reliable visual storytelling here, and that's a good thing — Detective Comics isn't trying to reinvent the wheel, it's just trying to make the best damn wheel it can.


Youngblood #76 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Badrock’s heroic last stand is featured in an issue that shows this series still has potential. John McLaughlin allows Badrock to be a freewheeling teen hero who loves what he does and knows the responsibility that comes with such power. It really puts the shallow actions of the current team to shame and makes me wish we’d see more of this side of the characters. The art credits Jon Malin and Rob Liefeld, but I’m not sure how the duties are split. Their work definitely evokes Liefeld’s style, with thin lines, faces that don’t always have clear definition, and large splash pages designed to heighten the impact of a moment. This series has been very uneven, but more like this one would be welcome.


Fearless Defenders #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10):I've been waiting a long time for Fearless Defenders, so very glad it did not disappoint. Cullen Bunn doesn't waste any time in pulling the reader into the excitement with ancient warnings and butt-kicking on the high seas. Even more appreciated is the attention to voice he gives both Valkyrie and Misty Knight. Both women read as single individuals and not two sides of the same snarky, post Buffyverse character banter. On the art, Will Sliney pencils some fine fight scenes, although there were a few times the lines got lost in the chaos. Still, I think both Bunn and Sliney make a good team and Fearless Defenders is off to a strong start. This title is going places.


Snapshot #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): The best things in life aren’t always free, as a comic shop worker takes a lost cell phone and ends up in a murder mystery where the victim is still alive in this mini-series that’s slow getting started. I loved Andy Diggle and Jock’s prior collaborations, such as DC’s The Losers, but while the art is as amazing as ever, the story didn’t hook me as much as I’d hoped. Diggle’s dialogue rambles through the middle, which hurts the pacing badly. This comic is still worth reading, however, due to Jock’s use of shadow, panel placement, and incredible level of detail. If anything, switching to black and white art makes Jock look even better. I just hope the pace picks up as we move on.


Swamp Thing #17 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Wow, what a difference an artist can make, and sadly not in a positive direction. Scott Snyder starts to bring the compelling Rotworld mini-event to a close in Swamp Thing #17. Although this issue doesn't have his strongest writing, his work still builds to an appropriate level of tension. Alas, the art by Andrew Belanger only succeeds in pulling the book down. His attempts at non-traditional panel layout that aided the book in the past only highlight the weak lines. There is a lot going on in this book and I truly wish Belanger's style were up to the task. Perhaps in a more traditional superhero title, his work would entertain. Here, it only distracts. Shame.


Avengers #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Last issue, we met Hyperion — this week, we meet Smasher, the first human member of the Shiar Imperial Guard. If you dug Grant Morrison's JLA, this is as close as it gets, as Hickman ramps up the stakes and really plays around with language to evoke an otherworldly feel for the former farmgirl-turned-space adventurer Isabel Dare. Adam Kubert really infuses the emotion needed to connect with a new character like this, which is a good thing, too, because the Avengers themselves are sort of side characters here. Considering Hickman clearly has plans for his three new characters, it makes sense to introduce Smasher early, even though I would argue that he still has plenty of readers to still win over. But those who have been digging the more epic Avengers, this is a nice palate cleanser.


Fairest #12 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): When you think of Rapunzel, and the title “Fairest,” you wouldn't imagine a bizarre horror story. You’d be wrong. As we flash back to Rapunzel’s time in the Hidden Kingdom, we see her bloody revenge enacted on the emperor and his kingdom in the form of monster bezoars birthed from her gut, made of her bile and hair, animated by her rage. It’s super-gross, super-strange, and yet super-fascinating. Lauren Beukes has employed two key factors to keep the reader intrigued – excellent pacing and Frau Totenkinder. Inaki Miranda’s art is a exquisite aesthetic match to the colorful characters and it is consistently sharp. Fairest #12 has does all the things a penultimate issue in an arc is supposed to do — it makes you anticipate the ending.


Star Trek #17 (Published by IDW Entertainment; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10):Well, that's a little more like it. Star Trek #17 is a fun and heartwarming one and done story focusing on that good 'ol country doctor, Leonard McCoy. While writer Mike Johnson keeps the story firmly planted in the Abrams universe, his exploration of Bones will appeal to classic Trek fans as well. Claudia Balboni turns in some wonderful pencil work as she brings a McCoy of multiple ages to life. Also, Star Trek nitpickers (of which I proudly count myself) will be happy to know that all the artistic mistakes that littered the horrible Mirror, Mirror arc are gone. Star Trek #17 does what the series has done so well for over 40 years. It provides a story that entertains and moves the reader.


Worlds' Finest #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): This is still one of DC's best and most overlooked books, even if Worlds' Finest is starting to get a little formulaic. Paul Levitz stages an effective opening with George Perez, as an injured Huntress has to protect Power Girl's investments from a cadre of armed goons. The switchup in art to CAFU looks great as well, giving the story a surprising amount of depth with the assorted visuals. Yildiray Cinar feels like the odd one out in terms of the art, as he isn't quite as polished with the cartooniness. The problem with this book? Power Girl always dominates, so it's hard to make the stakes high (or the keep the story from being about her rescuing Huntress all the time). Still, great art, fun characterization, and a nice cliffhanger make this a good, if a little stale, read.


Mudman #6 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Owen learns that life is series of tests and choices, as Mudman returns after an extended break. Paul Grist really does a good job capturing how hard it is to be both a superhero and a high school student, mixing up Owen’s worlds and showing that his path is as clear as, well, mud. There are some great comedic moments with the mysterious Captain Gull, tweaking the many mentoring scenes we find in fiction of all types, as Grist takes advantage of Owen’s powers and his own artistic talents to create unusual and funny visuals. The theme of tests and trials run all through this issue, setting up what I expect to be dark moments for Mudman in its second arc.


Green Arrow #17 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Jeff Lemire takes the reins of DC’s Green Arrow series, and tries to deliver a new-reader friendly jumping-on issue. Unfortunately, he’s starting with something of a handicap, due to the new TV series' friendly continuity, generally unlikable characters, and an uninteresting backstory. He makes a valiant effort, but the script is bogged down by far too much narration and exposition. Hopefully he can make the character his own as the series progresses. The real issue with this comic though, is the artwork. The pencils and composition seem just fine, but it looks like the issue was inked and colored using MS Paint. The final artwork is horrendous—a terrible assault on the senses.


Kevin Keller #7 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Every Riverdale teen has to deal with romance-related shenanigans at some point, and now it’s Kevin Keller’s turn. The result is more moving than you’d expect, as the story shows that not every gay teenager is as comfortable in his or her skin as Kevin is. While he’s all about his budding relationship with Devon, their pairing is overshadowed by secrecy. This is one of the few times Kevin has encountered open meanness because of his sexual orientation, and writer/artist Dan Parent handles the unfolding drama skillfully and with sensitivity. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we get an ending that’s far more sweet than bitter — and there’s a fun cliffhanger to boot. Kevin Keller #7 is easily one of the best entries in this endearing series so far.


Harbinger #0 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10):
The story of the Harbinger Foundation founder Toyo Harada is told, even as he moves to remake the world in this issue that just didn’t hook me back into the series. Joshua Dysart heavily cribs from the tragic manga autobiography Barefoot Gen to tell Harada’s origin (right down to a cameo from a Korean slave) and the comparison doesn’t help his script, especially when mixed with an attack on Syria as Harada schemes to remake the world. Artists Mico Suayan and Pere Perez show how horrific the mental powers of the Harbingers can be, but their work is buried in too many layered effects by colorist Brian Reber. Unfortunately, this is a zero issue that doesn’t accomplish its goal of bringing new readers in.


Grimm Fairy Tales Myths and Legends #25 (Published by Zenescope Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The earth feels the heat as Helios is free to scorch the earth, unless a gathering of allies and enemies can stop him in this final issue. It’s fun to read a comic that’s a rumble on a grand scale, and that’s what Troy Brownfield provides, as the players move from place to place trying to put the solar genie back in the bottle. Josh Hood does all he can to match the epic scale of the fighting and I thought he managed it well, keeping the art flowing more than I’ve seen in other Zenescope stories. It’s hard to recommend a final issue, but this one is worth reading even it’s your first, as the ending sets up new stories in the Grimm world.


Red Team #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): In Garth Ennis’s latest series, the members of an elite anti-narcotics unit become disillusioned with the system after repeated failed attempts to convict a notorious drug lord, so decide to take matters into their own hands, and assassinate him. The concept certainly has merit, but feels like it’s missing an important element. There’s some good character development in the issue, but the delivery of the story is rather sterile, and overall, just a bit boring. Craig Cermark’s artwork on the issue bears a strong similarity to the style employed by Darick Robertson and Russ Braun on The Boys; it’s definitely serviceable, but as the issue is mostly talking heads, it’s hard to get a good sense of it.


Grimm Fairy Tales #82 (Published by Zenescope Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Sela tries to help a fellow mythical creature before she goes too far in a good one and done story. Joe Brusha cleverly finds a way to integrate the Zenescope penchant for suggestive posing into a story by picking a selkie as the protagonist, which means it makes sense for artist Federico De Luca to draw so many posing scenes. Unfortunately, the posing extends to most panels of the book, which takes away from the emotional impact of the dramatic looks on the characters’ faces. The ending also had a nice twist, which is another, more positive trait, for the publisher, as Brusha shows what happens when the trickster is herself tricked. This is worth a look for fans of mythology wanting something new.

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