Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the Rapid-Fire Thursday column? Then fasten your seatbelts, as Best Shots is ready to put the pedal to the metal! So let's kick off today's column with a look at Gotham during its early years, as Richard Gray takes a look at Batman #23...
Batman #23 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): "Zero Year" arc may pause the forward momentum of Scott Snyder's overall Batman narrative, especially given that it's an event that stretches on for some months to come. Yet its actually a bold move, one in which Snyder can put his stamp on Batman's origin and unburden himself from the shackles of decades worth of history. From this he is able to build a duality between Bruce Wayne and Red Hood, stating they were both 'born' on the night the Wayne family was shot, and adding something new and worthy to the Batman canon. For our patience, we are rewarded with one of the most iconic moments in the Dark Knight's history, and artist Greg Capullo will hold you in rapture over every panel. Requiring patience in every reader, however this saga ends, this will likely become required reading one day.
Infinity #1 (Published by Marvel; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Effectively a massive extension to Jonathan Hickman's Avengers and New Avengers run, this 54-page monolith (eight title pages and Free Comic Book Day reprint material notwithstanding) throws a huge amount of information at new audience members, and perhaps a little too much for greener audiences just coming down off another event. Unquestionably epic in the every sense of the word, literally reaching for the stars and including everything from the Avengers to the Inhumans in this cosmic mash-up, Hickman bites off a massive mouthful for a first issue. It's a very cautious thumbs up while we wait to see if he can chew it.
Saga #13 (Published by Image; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating 9 out of 10): After months on hiatus, Brian K. Vaughan's Saga is back at last! This issue chafed a bit at first since the main storyline is set in the past, and after such a long break forward momentum was eagerly anticipated. All concerns were soon set aside however, as further reading proved the book to be as engaging and beautifully illustrated as ever. Vaughan is carefully constructing this new arc, setting the place to a slower beat in the wake of events from the previous issue. While this may be hard for ravenous readers to deal with, it seems like a necessary evil for the moment given the current somber tone of the series. Fiona Staples persists in her excellence, with her aptitude for drawing boneyards in full display. The heavy-weight creative team presents with this issue yet another reason why their book is at the top of the industry.
Justice League of America #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): I’m sure that when all is said and done, the Trinity War will make for a mega-exciting read for DC fans. The way Geoff Johns has laid out all the pieces, it feels like the best battle you and your friends ever had with the old Kenner figures. Yet, as a stand-alone issue, the story falls flat. It’s like you just got to the play ground and everyone has already been at recess for an hour. There are too many adventures going on in too many events for this issue to even feel like it had a genuine story arc. Even though Doug Mahnke’s pencils look as sharp as ever, this issue just cannot stand on its own. If anyone can pull off an event like this, it’s Geoff Johns; just give it some more time.
Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Even though the book is named Superior Spider-Man Team-Up, this crossover is really all about Scarlet Spider - much to this book's detriment. Chris Yost plays up the shared past between Kaine and Otto Octavius, but ultimately that dynamic doesn't really spark much interest, especially not when the clone-master known as the Jackal shows up. In a lot of ways, this story relies more on the assumption that you know all this past continuity, rather than really playing up the emotional content of identity and redemption. Artist Marco Checchetto, however, continues to knock it out of the park, with some really striking designwork for his characters. (That said, I will say I was a little disappointed in how similar Spidey and Scarlet Spider's body language looked. You'd think that these two would differentiate themselves somehow!) Considering this is part one of a Kaine-centric crossover, this is probably a skippable read.
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys #3 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating 8 out of 10): For three issues now there has been a palpable sense of this comic building towards something monumental. With only two installments left in the mini-series, I'm getting a little nervous over whether or not Killjoys will be able to deliver the kind of ending that it needs. In the capable hands of writers Gerard Way and Shaun Simon, there shouldn't be much to worry about. The duo have created another character-rich issue this week, further investing the reader in the characters and expanding the scope of BLI and Battery City. Becky Cloonan continues to lay down the inks that make this one of the most visually stunning comics out there, with Dan Jackson adding beautiful color. The countdown to the penultimate issue begins now.
Avengers Arena #13 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Christos Gage makes his return to Marvel's teen heroes with the latest issue of Avengers Arena, which answers the question of how these kids could have gone missing without the heroes of the Marvel Universe going on the warpath. This had to come up at some point, even though one could easily argue that this issue comes off as filler, as well. Still, it's nice to see Gage writing Hank Pym again, as you can feel how concerned he is for his former students' safety. Jorge Molina lends a nice sense of design to his characters, particularly the square-jawed Captain Britain and the rough-hewn Wolverine. Ultimately, this issue is for completists only, as this answers some pressing questions on how the responsible heroes of the Marvel Universe haven't figured out Arcade's plans - it's a decently written issue, albeit one that isn't a requirement for the overall Avengers Arena storyline.
Red Sonja #2 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Ghosts aren’t the only thing plaguing Sonja as she battles desperately against overwhelming forces that she may not be able to defeat in this follow-up issue that’s even better than the first. Wasting no time using the backstory she created, Gail Simone weaves it into this current story, aided by the amazing visuals of Walter Geovani, who flips between epic sword clashes and creepy jailers with ease. His pencils bring fluidity to every page, using everything from close-ups to dramatic splash scenes, depending on the need of the script. Simone’s Sonja is reflective here, echoing Howard without copying him, and her decisions here show a combination of anger and wisdom as she’s set on a path with deadly consequences but the promise of amazing stories.
Batgirl #23 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Here we are at the beginning of the next big Batgirl arc, and it feels like everything Gail Simone has been doing is truly coming to a head. However, readers should be able to feel the dark cloud on the horizon, not just for Barbara, but for Simone as well. Critics of her “Women In Refrigerators” might take issue with some of the surprising elements during the books climax. Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion are able to guide these troubled Gotham rivers and deliver a sharp looking book that isn’t bogged down in the details. All the elements from the past twenty two issues are here and even if some of the elements of those issues rubbed you the wrong way, this new Batgirl arc is gearing up to be something special.
Star Wars #8 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): While George Lucas established the cast of characters in the original Star Wars movies as iconic heroes, Brian Wood continues to perform admirably in his duties of recasting these characters in a more human light. This issue ambitiously attempts to move each of the previous storylines forward for Luke, Leia, Han, and Vader as he introduces new elements to some arcs while weaving others together. Kelly and Parsons continue to provide satisfactory visuals that generally popped off each page – the ship designs being the strongest and tightest while some of the characters’ faces were a touch less consistent at times. In all, it’s a great issue that continues to deliver the type of story that captures the look and feel of the films while still incorporating something fresh and new into the well-known epic.
X-Files Season 10 #3 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Secondhand smoking is bad for Mulder’s mental health, while Scully figures out how magnetite works in another strong issue of this new series. Winding his way through the plot threads, writer Joe Harris gives the reader a lot to think about, as the narrators providing details for our heroes are far from reliable. Is the truth coming into focus or being intentionally blurred? It’s a great way to tell an X-Files story and feels entirely in keeping with the show. Michael Walsh nails some of his pages this time, using shadows to ramp up the creepiness in several places. Unfortunately, he’s still stuck on having characters face the reader and talk, but even with that complaint, this series continues to be solid and worth reading.
Deadpool #14 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): I wanted to like this. I loved the last issue of Deadpool, but the return of the White Man shows that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. While the last issue gleefully skewered the 1970s blaxploitation comics of Power Man & Iron Fist, this modern-day follow-up lacks that inside baseball charm. Iron Fist and Power Man really only make a cameo appearance, rather than actually lending some humor to the situation, and the jokes about the White Man wind up crossing the lines of good taste rather than being a guilty laugh. Additionally, you sense that even Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan are tired of the storyline, as the last five pages of the book aren't even about the White Man. Scott Koblish lends some chuckles with his over-the-top expressiveness, but without the '70s vibe to parody, this comic has taken a bit of a tumble.
Savage Dragon #190 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Savage Dragon’s prison time may be cut shorter than he’d planned in an issue that’s excellent work but is hard to grasp without context. As Erik Larsen’s creation ramps up towards its 200th issue, there’s a ton going on, from the Hulk Hogan moustache-sporting Dragon to his son’s attempts at a normal life to the actions of villains who aren’t about to stop because Dragon’s on death row. Larsen makes jumping in a bit easier here with some dialogue lines that ease transition. Meanwhile, Larsen’s art, while flat in places, really pops in the action scenes. Dragon and Mako wail on each other in panel after panel of brutal punches filled with energy from speed lines. This is a multi-month investment, but one worth looking into.
Nightwing #23 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): If nothing else, Nightwing is a book that's really showing off the strengths of its creative team. As Nightwing finds his feet in Chicago and goes head-to-head with the Prankster's gang, there's a real lightness to Kyle Higgins's script - in particular, I love when Nightwing dives off a building to save a damsel in distress, only to have her throw herself at him in gratitude. Considering Dick Grayson's history as a ladykiller, it's a fun moment to go along with all the banter. But for my money, Will Conrad really shows what he's capable of here - he's occasionally channeling a bit of a Mike Deodato vibe, but much cleaner, with a ton of energy added by colorist Andrew Dalhouse. Combined with some good old-fashioned soap operatic tropes featuring Tony Zucco, this is a surprisingly fun comic.
Doomsday.1 #4 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): When all seems lost, it may take a little faith to restore humanity as this mini-series comes to a heartwarming conclusion. Moving the group to South America, John Byrne links them up with the former Pope, who is now a literal shepherd of men. They face one final challenge that requires sacrifice (with Byrne opting for a very clunky flashback that slows the pacing) and the story’s climax is both touching and wholly appropriate. Byrne isn’t able to display his art talents quite as much this issue, but he makes up for it with great facial expressions and a respectful approach to his depiction of the aboriginal tribe they encounter. There’s hope for a future, even in devastation, and I hope for more from Byrne.
Vampirella Southern Gothic #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Vampirella travels south to help an old ally that’s gotten in the kind of trouble only she can help him with as this new mini-series gets off to a promising start. The plot of writer Nate Cosby isn’t all that special at this point, but Jose Luis, whose work on the Bionic Man vs Bionic Woman comic really impressed me, knocks this one out of the park. Despite the choppiness of the story here, Luis keeps the visuals interesting. His battle against the demons is especially vibrant-Vampirella is a whirl of motion against bulky creatures that are drawn in detail even in crowd scenes, all without resorting to exploitative posing of the main character in an issue that’s worth trying to see where it goes.
Archer and Armstrong #12 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): A different Archer pairs with Armstrong while Obadiah faces his future in an issue that balances madcap insanity with serious conversations as Fred Van Lente and Pere Perez continue their excellent story arc. Armstrong a great speech about making choices here, which echoes Obadiah’s own conflict as he’s faced with “his” gospel that’s anathema to Obie’s current beliefs. This gives the arc needed weight, making it more than just a romp where Perez gets to draw an army of “greys” ready to die for an American General or Armstrong launched from a catapult at a fleet of flying saucers. Knowing just how to place his characters to either heighten the drama or ramp up the comedy, Perez fits the bill for this highly recommended comic.
The Flash, Vol. 1: Move Forward TPB (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Flash thought he was the hero of his story, but he could be the biggest villain of all in this collection of the first eight issues of the New 52 series. Collaborators Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato work to give Barry a personality and open up the speed force to be a more menacing concept while also including old foes. The selling point is Manapul’s art, which is worth it for the credit splash pages alone, sometimes putting Eisner to shame. His depictions of Flash’s speed are reminiscent of the Silver Age, showing Barry multiple times in the same panel and using line bursts colored bright red by Buccellato. These are good stories that show a very human Barry Allen for a new generation.
Flash Volume 2 Rogues Revolution HC (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Flash’s Rogues are revamped and led by a woman he helped to save as Flash’s main villains make their New 52 debut in more solid stories. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato ontinue their run by cleverly linking Grodd more closely to Barry Allen, then moving on to showing the improved Rogues while he’s still trying to come to terms with the full nature of the speed force. Manapul continues to shine here, using innovating layouts and an almost retro feel to display Flash’s powers. Marus To and Ray McCarthy use the same techniques (though their panel structure and line work is a bit more traditional) making for a smooth transition when reading. Flash continues to be an excellent story from the New 52.