Greetings, 'Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood Best Shots team is at it again, delivering to you this week's edition of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off this week's edition with the latest from Superior Spidey, with a look at Avenging Spider-Man #18...


Avenging Spider-Man #18 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Some books look good. Others look great. But Avenging Spider-Man #18 can only be described as superior. Marco Checchetto tears the roof off of a team-up between Spider-Man and the mighty Thor this week, making what could have been a low-watt one-shot into something truly striking. Checchetto's characters are gorgeously rendered, from the smooth grandeur of Thor to the jagged rage of Electro, who rages against the God of Thunder for defeating him in "Ends of the Earth." Even Spidey, whose face is covered by a mask, has a sharp angularity to his movements that fits nicely with his sinister new status quo. The story by Chris Yost almost feels like window dressing against Checchetto strutting his stuff — it's quickly paced, lots of action, but the resolution is pretty convenient and the lesson learned is pretty flat. Still, when a book looks this good, it's hard not to enjoy the sparks that fly with Avenging Spider-Man.


Batman and Robin #18 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): People whose kids are alive and well have a way of saying, “I can’t imagine” when someone loses a child. The truth is that we can imagine it; we just don’t want to. So be warned: Batman and Robin #18 forces readers down that road as writer Peter J. Tomasi and illustrator Patrick Gleason explore, wordlessly and masterfully, the suffocating grief that hangs over Wayne Manor after Damian’s death. Gleason’s haunting pencil work conveys the weight of Bruce’s pain — the gaping void that the loss of his son has created. Inker Mick Gray and colorist John Kalisz create a powerful combo of fire and shadow. No matter how you felt about this Robin, you’ll find the emotional pull of Batman and Robin #18 difficult to resist.


Star Wars #3 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Writer Brian Wood is mining the gaps in the Star Wars mythos for storytelling gold, and with this issue, the series makes the jump to lightspeed (sorry). Wood offers up a rich combination of action, revealing character moments, conflict and even a little romance. Why are Leia and Wedge so irked by Luke’s flirtation with Prithi? Do tell! Illustrator Carlos D’Anda’s work continues to impress whether in a massive scene of the second Death Star, floating ominously in space, or in the gathering beads of sweat on a terrified Imperial officer’s face. Every thread in Star Wars #3 — Vader’s demotion, Han and Chewie’s peril on Coruscant and the drama within the Rebel Alliance — hits the mark, adding up to the best entry yet in this series.


Age of Ultron #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): There’s no denying that Age of Ultron started with a bang and left readers eager to find out how the MU got to this point. However, the momentum of the opening chapter doesn’t seem to have carried over into this second issue. No events of note take place, and we don’t learn any more than we already knew, but there is some good character work going on, which helps to enrich the story. What holds the issue back is an overwhelming feeling of decompression—it’s hard to shake the feeling that the story elements of the first and second issues could be combined and delivered in a more succinct manner, making for a much stronger product. Hopefully, next issue adds more focus to the story.


The New Ghostbusters #2 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): The New Ghostbusters #2 continues with the rather sleazy Ron Alexander running the team of replacement paranormal investigators. In addition to the main arc of finding the original gang, writer Erik Burnham does his best to play with the “it's a woman, so it's the sexy version” trope. It's fun for a one-liner or two, but Burnham isn't going to make any real impact with this issue. Dan Schoening maintains his strong animated style of pencils, but is hindered by some less than inspired coloring by Luis Antonio Delgado. Taking the bulk of the exposition that was pleasantly missing in issue #1, issue #2 is the lull I was hoping this arc would skip. Not a bad issue, but it's not going to pull in new readers.


Batgirl #18 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Narration by James Gordon Jr. is a fun way to look at Batgirl. Ray Fawkes does a good job of selling Barbara as a hero that will never give up, yet not losing the voice of a monster that can't wait to watch her die. It's messed up, but it works. However, both Batgirl's takedown of Firebug and her reaction to Damian's death read as less than realized. Considering Fawkes went from replacement, to fill-in, on the writing duties; the jittery nature is understandable. I'm really enjoying Daniel Sampere on pencils. His Batgirl moves with wonderful energy, but avoids the more egregious poses she's been placed on earlier issues. Visually strong, Batgirl #18 is still held back by narrative uncertainty — one that I hope will pass soon.


Sledgehammer 44 #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The greatest generation of robots slugs it out in this World War II-era story set in the Hellboy universe that opens with a lot of promise. This story was years in the making, and the time taken by Mike Mignola and co-writer John Arcudi shows. It’s easy to see this is part of the Hellboy universe yet the focus is on the reactions of the common soldiers who view the mechanical creatures battling it out. I really liked how Jason Latour’s art mixed Mignola-like angular lines for the robot action and a Sunday comic strip look for the soldiers. The contrast is striking and highlights the differences between the soldiers and the battling behemoths. I’m eager to see how this one ends in part two.


Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Another Before Watchmen project finally concludes this week, and the biggest disappointment of Ozymandias is that the world's smartest man can't inspire any original ideas. Len Wein is basically retelling parts of the original Watchmen here without adding any new codas or perspective. The one silver lining is Jae Lee's smooth, atmospheric artwork, which makes Adrian Veidt look both dashing and completely dangerous. Yet Lee doesn't get a free pass here, either, because as nice as his layouts and design work is, there's no real moments that stick with you, except for the occasional goofy one like Ozymandias picking up a prisoner from jail while in full costume (and in broad daylight). Sadly this book goes out with a whimper, not a bang.


Nowhere Men #4 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Nowhere Men is one of those books that are actually two stories in one. The backstory, featuring the Beatles of super-science known as World Corp., is the real draw, the potent mix of charisma and character, and writer (and Image publisher) Eric Stephenson deserves heaps of praise for them. But the problem is, the Fab Four have to fight for their own book, as the present-day side story deals with their big mistake: a group of researchers stricken with a virus that has given them superpowers. They, sadly, are not as cool as their ultra-smart, eccentric corporate backers. But between the World Corp. Four (and Stephenson's excellent prose back matter on the team's rise and fall) and some incredibly expressive, accessible artwork from Nate Bellegarde and Jordie Bellaire, you owe it to yourself to dive into this mystery.


Aliens vs. Parker #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): If anything, the writing pedigree between Paul Scheer and Nick Gionvannetti on Aliens vs. Parker #1 suggested some good laughs from within. And it did, for the first few pages. In time, the jokes became old and the overall story simply isn't strong enough to maintain interest. Not that truckers in space can't be fun, but with Aliens vs. Parker, the hook just isn't selling. Manuel Bracchi's art is functional, and while it feels a lot like a comics by the numbers approach, I will give credit to the visual diversity of the crew. Although he has little beyond the main characters to play with, as the bulk of this issue sticks to cramped rooms or dull cargo holds. It's shame, lots of talent on this book, with little follow-through.


Avengers Arena #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Not bad, Dennis Hopeless. Not bad at all. Jumping to yet another narrator in the sixth issue of Avengers Arena, things finally start to heat up — it's not nearly as potent as the first issue, but finally claws are bared, swords are drawn, and some of these kids finally show they're not as friendly as we thought. Granted, Hopeless doesn't quite explain some of the sinister rationales here — but then again, some of these characters are new, so we have time. Kev Walker sells this book, with some great composition and sharp, angular characters that look cornered and ready to pounce. In particular I love his detail work, from the look in X-23's eyes when she goes berserk to the way Reptil transforms from dinosaur to human. Still, the last moment isn't quite enough punch to sustain the entire issue, and the pacing of this comic makes the end hit fairly abruptly. It's been a slightly rough start for Avengers Arena, so hopefully the sophomore arc won't slump.


Hoax Hunters #8 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The Hoax Hunters find themselves part of a story bigger than they expected in this fast moving arc-closer that packs two issues worth of ideas into one. The gnomes themselves actually get pushed to the sideline, something I’d be upset about except that Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley show us they’re only a small part of the puzzle. I wasn’t as impressed with Axel Medellin’s art this time. The more talkative story left him trying to find ways to keep it visually interesting. There’s entirely too much posing this time, showing a limitation in Medellin’s range, though his characters still express great emotions on their faces. This is becoming an amazing comic that’s a must-read for horror fans who like to have their thinking challenged. 

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