Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for Best Shots' fastest column? Your favorite collective of Internet darlings are back in the ring, with more than 20 Rapid-Fire reviews for your reading pleasure! So let's start off with Marvel's sinister wallcrawler, as Rob McMonigal takes a look at the latest issue of Superior Spider-Man...??
Superior Spider-Man #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The best laid plans of spiders and spider-slayers often go astray in the second part of a story arc pitting Ock-Spidey against several of Peter’s rogue’s gallery at once that once again shows that plotter Dan Slott is at the top of his game. I love the way this story is escalating out of Otto’s careful control, showing that he’s not as superior as he thinks. Christos Gage’s script is top-notch, leaving hints about the change for those careful enough to look and making it feel like this is a villain vs. villain story. Giuseppe Camuncoli, John Dell, and Terry Pallot do well enough on art, but the action feels cramped and static. Spider-Man works best when he’s all over the page, and we don’t get that here. This issue ends with a dark echo of Spider-Man cliffhangers past, and I can’t wait to see how it’s resolved.?
Wonder Woman #21 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Greece’s Old Gods meet Kirby’s New Gods and take Wonder Woman along for the ride as this series continues to be excellent, if mislabeled. Brian Azzarello is doing a great job so far of re-introducing the Fourth World to DC, though some may not like his take on Orion, who acts a bit more like Han Solo than the stoic figure long-time readers came to recognize. The story feels epic, with universe-ending implications, and I appreciate that each issue reads like a chapter than part of trade-written arc. Cliff Chiang illustrates the entire issue, giving a consistency to the art the series has lacked lately, with simple and strong lines that provide clear emotion and action for one of The New 52’s best comics.?
?X-Files Season 10 #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Mulder and Scully get drawn back into the web of mysteries they thought they’d left behind as this new series begins with a solid feeling for the source material. With help from series creator Chris Carter, writer Joe Harris gets fans who have fallen away (like me) up to speed while setting up a creepy new menace. I like the way Harris paces out this issue, creating drama and tension from page one. Michael Walsh does a good job with likenesses, but the action is stilted, which hurts the overall feel of the comic. He has a very Sean Phillips-like style, which works for this series but the characters mugging to the reader gets annoying. This looks to be a new must-read comic for me.?
Batman & Batgirl #21 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Bruce Wayne is a fairly traumatized character to begin with, and having the death of his son Damian Wayne to deal with - especially a death he believes he could have prevented - only sends him down a darker path. Writer Peter J. Tomasi includes a decent bit where Batgirl monologues outside her father’s window. It’s everything she wishes she could say to him about the death of James, Jr., and it provides two parallels: 1) Bruce and Gordon are both fathers who have lost a son; 2) Bruce and Barbara share a similar guilt in knowing that they didn’t do everything they could have. Cliff Richards’s pencils are solid, if unspectacular. Unfortunately, they don’t do enough to sell some of the emotional weight that is present in the script, causing the big moments to fall flat.?
Avengers #14 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It's taken them a little too long for my tastes, but Hickman and Spencer finally start to provide an overall payoff in Avengers #14. Although calling this issue a Prelude to Infinity is a tenuous connection at best, it's still one fun read. There are a lot of threads to pull together and while the moments with the various characters are fleeting, everyone has their moment. No small feat when you consider how many folks are flying around. Caselli's art isn't as dynamic as I've come to expect, but when you think about the tone and theme of this issue, a more reserved style fits. Avengers #14 isn't the multiverse-bending installment Hickman and Spencer normally deliver, but it's still some interesting superhero adventure.
Green Lantern: New Guardians #21 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): The strength of Kyle Rayner has always been his everyman charm, and Justin Jordan and Brad Walker ride on that with their first issue of Green Lantern: New Guardians. This script is neatly segmented into three parts, the first two of which also lend some needed exposition to those just jumping on the Green Lantern bandwagon - it's nice to see Kyle as the human voice of reason amid all the space opera. Walker's old-school pencils is at its best when he lets Kyle show some immaturity in the face of all of limitless power, whether he's smirking at the Guardians, packing up his apartment (again) or smacking a space shark with a baseball bat. The only problem is that this script also doesn't feel particularly ambitious - a threat of "The Anomaly" doesn't really grab you or make you feel the stakes. Not a bad book, but not a distinguished start yet, either.
100 Bullets: Brother Lono (Published by Vertigo; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The 100 Bullets creative team reunite for a spin-off story featuring the continuing adventures of everyone’s favorite Minuteman. We catch up with Lono in a small town in Mexico, doing jobs for the police in order to stay out of jail. Most of the issue is spent setting the scene and introducing the cast of characters. The central premise doesn’t seem to have been introduced yet, other than Lono having to protect a sexy nun—though after 100 Bullets one would expect there is more to it than just this. Risso's artwork is dark and gritty and has strong noir overtones. His love of heavy blacks is on full display and he produces some gorgeous panels working with silhouettes and negative space.
Mara #5 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating 9 out of 10): With only one book remaining in the miniseries, this issue finds our protagonist figuring it all out. After leaving the military on bad terms, Mara is on her own. Her powers rapidly develop and she continues to test their boundaries while the world looks on in fear and awe. The tension builds as we discover that she neither feels like a part of humanity, nor cares, and she plans to do something about it. Brian Wood continues to bring his A-game with this perfectly paced story, while Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire lay out breath-taking line work and color. Great set-up for the final issue, leaving the reader wondering whether Mara will become a hero or a villain.
Batwoman #21 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): It truly is a testament to Francesco Francavilla's skill as a visual storyteller that I didn't really need Williams and Blackman's words to enjoy Batwoman #21. Focusing on Killer Croc after the events of "Medusa," this issue is a wonderful balance of monster tale by way of the gritty nickel comics of the past. Indeed, Williams, Blackman and Francavilla make both Croc and his new setting more at home within EC Comics than the pages of Batwoman. It's a welcome departure from the cape and cowl norm. Make no mistake, Batwoman (along with Maggie Sawyer and Hawkfire) have their moments to shine. But this is a tale that's all about a monster that's looking for a home - a home that he isn't even sure he deserves.
Baltimore: The Inquisitor (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Since the beginning of his vampire-hunting trek across Europe, Lord Baltimore has been patiently pursued by Judge Duvic of the new inquisition. In this issue we get something of an origin issue for the character, which helps to explain his hatred for Baltimore and the reasons for his vicious actions. It’s a dark and brooding issue that manages to explain the character’s backstory without being overly expository. The script also fills in some of the blanks between issues and ties up a few loose ends from earlier in the story. Ben Stenbeck brings this alternate history version of Europe to life with eerie linework and lots of rich blacks. The look is completed by moody colors from Dave Stewart.
Birds of Prey #21 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Two troubled Talons go head to head as Canary tries to pick up the pieces in an issue with too much going on to be satisfying. Christy Marx can’t resolve anything between the two combatants, which is shifted to Talon. We also get references to Batgirl’s own title that feel out of place and lost the Freeze plot entirely, while a love angle is awkwardly thrown in for good measure. It’s too much for artists Romano Molennaar and Jonathan Glapion (with breakdowns by Scott McDaniel that are clear in a few places), who struggle to keep all these loose ends juggled together. Their fight scenes are stellar again, but overall, this issue is a misstep that a lower-tier series like this can’t afford.
Demeter (Self-Published; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): About three pages into Demeter and you know how this tale will end. And trust me when I say this, it doesn't make those moments any less poignant. Indeed, as the tale builds you find yourself slowing down because you simply don't want this story to end. With words and art, Becky Cloonan creates a world that is lyrical and haunting. As with all of her creator-owned work, Cloonan continues to grow as a storyteller and Demeter is no different. With each personal outing I find myself wondering how she can top what came before. There are so few books where one can't find a single concern, Demeter is one of those books. I really wish I had more time, both as a reviewer to comment on this work and as a reader, who doesn't want this tale to end.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher #2 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Things fall apart for the Usher family as not even death can stop the morbid relationship between Roderick and Madeline in the creepy conclusion to this new take on one of Poe’s most famous stories. Richard Corben shows why he’s considered one of the best in the horror genre, with page after page of increasingly disturbing images, from a dead grandmother whom Roderick “loved” to Allan’s fitful nightmare. Combining Usher with The Oval Portrait was a great idea, since as Corben noted, the Usher has been done to death. This take, while definitely not safe for work, is one of the best I’ve seen, ramping up the decay until everything quite literally collapses on itself. Horror fans need to add this one to their collection.
Colliders #1 (Self-Published; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Mixing cutting-edge science with more esoteric concepts is nothing new in the comic book world. That still doesn't prevent me from seeking it out every time I see it. Colliders #1 by writer C.J. Renner and artist Jim Clark is an interesting exploration of time and space, if not wholly original. While the dialog reads a little stilted at times, I can appreciate the conversational approach Renner is attempted with his main characters. Clark's art looks a little unfinished at times, but I think this is a stylistic approach that, in all honesty, does add a fun element to the story, as if, like reality within the comic, the book itself may at any time unravel before us. It's an interesting debut book and one that should appeal to readers that like a little extra fiction in their science.
Supergirl #21 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): With Michael Alan Nelson at the helm, Supergirl is slowly but surely finding her way. In a lot of ways, Kara feels a little more like the human Clark Kent than Superman does these days — ironically, by making her not the paragon of moral authority, but instead as someone who just tries to do the right thing, even if she's not quite sure what that is. Nelson also adds some nice Kryptonian backstory that humanizes Kara a little bit more. Mahmud Asrar is definitely leveling up with the art, particularly a moment where Kara is struggling to smile as she holds up a collapsing building. Lots of action, lots of fast pacing here - the only downside is the mastermind behind all this feels a bit like a curveball, and there's a scene with a Supergirl supporting character that feels more awkward than endearing. Still, this book is on a welcome upswing.
Witchblade #167 (Published by Top Cow/Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): A villain from the faerie lands tries to prove there’s gnome place like Sweet Home, Chicago at the start of a new story arc that finds this series running out of steam. I was a big fan of writer Tim Seeley’s first arc on Witchblade, but it’s falling apart at the seams, especially with some clunky integration to The Darkness and Artifacts. There are flashes of promise in Seeley’s dialogue and he handles female characters quite well, but we’re back to the bedroom scenes and tight corsets that kept me away originally. That said, Diego Bernard draws very pretty women, aided by inkers Fred Benes and Allison Rodriguez, and he keeps the plot moving with strong panel choices. I’m hoping this one picks up soon.
The Heroes of Echo Company #1 (Self-Published; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Right out the gate, Joseph Henson has an interesting idea with The Heroes of Echo Company, but it's the execution that's a little lacking. The biggest problem Henson runs into is his use of dialog. Everyone seems to talk with the same voice, and with very little exception, that voice is simply canned military speak. Still, he has a solid concept and story. The pencils are rough, with little depth to their lines, although Joshua Cassara does explore panel space and layout well. The coloring by Eugene Perez is a nice highlight to a book that often falls victim to same-face syndrome. Make no mistake, for all my concerns and issues with this comic, there is something to The Heroes of Echo Company. If they can weather these growing pains, they might be onto something.
Alternative Comics #4 (Published by Alternative Comics; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): While the line-up for Alternative Comics #4 might be stellar, the same cannot be said about the quality of work. Small anthologies are tricky like that; luring you in with promises of artists you love only to find out that they have a single, mediocre page in the whole book. This comic boasts contributions from indie darlings like Craig Thompson, Noah Van Sciver, Theo Ellsworth, James Kolchalka, and more. There are a few standout stories, and the issue is solid enough, but not an ideal starting point for someone looking to take the leap into alternative comics.
Adventure Time Vol. 3 TP (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Maybe your Mom was right when she warned you video games were bad for your health! Finn, Jake, and Marceline get sucked into an eight bit trap set that turns their own BMO against them in a multi-part story excellently crafted by Ryan North. North mixes action with ridiculous dialogue digressions and even the occasional editorial aside, leaving readers of all ages laughing in the process. The main story is illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb, who revel in Jake’s improbable flexibility to create visuals that keep pace with North’s verbal maneuvers. They switch effortlessly from matching the style of the television show to a Nintendo-like setting. Combined with short pieces from various creators, this series continues to be a grand comics adventure.
Saga Vol. 2 TP (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): As if trying to survive while warring factions want to kill you isn’t enough, now Alana must deal with her in-laws as this epic space opera shows it has long-term staying power. Writer Brian K. Vaughn keeps the reader guessing and gasping as we begin to learn backstory. He deftly alternates between making the reader laugh and cry, aided and abetted by artist Fiona Staples, whose work alone would be worth purchasing these comics. Staples’ creations in this series never fail to surprise me, even as one of them will give me nightmares for years to come. Working the long and short game in terms of storytelling, this was a breakout hit in 2012 and shows no sign of slowing down.
Batgirl/Robin: Year One TP (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): DC has repreinted two excellent miniseries co-written by Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty. Best known for writing the Tim Drake Robin, Dixon shows he has a masterful handle on what makes Dick Grayson essential to the world of Batman. The pair’s take on Batgirl is marred a bit by shoehorning Dick and Babs together, but it shows her struggles and triumphs in a way that only Gail Simone has been able to recreate. The art in both stories is stunning, with Javier Pulido providing a constantly mobile Robin and Marcos Martin innovating on every page with Batgirl, setting up his later Amazing Spider-Man and Daredevil work. These tales have a questionable place in The New 52, but should have a solid location in your comics library.