Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the fast column? Best Shots is at it again, with this week's helping of Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off with Richard Gray, as he takes a look at the latest installment of Superman Unchained...
Superman Unchained #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): The problem with Superman is that after 75 years and countless appearances, excuses for bigger and punchier villains are getting more convoluted. Wraith, which turns out to be an acronym, is a kind of Doomsday with a heart of gold, but the real menace are his military backers. Things do get more interesting when Superman’s notions of global protection are challenged. Jim Lee’s art is somewhat inconsistent, at times seeming like an afterthought, but other others iconic. It remains an intriguing spin on Superman, but is still yet to distinguish itself from the plethora of similar titles out there.
Superior Spider-Man #16 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Cracks in Ock-Spidey’s plans start showing as he battles at the Bugle in an issue that doesn’t give any of its many storylines room to breathe. I love the Ock-Spidey saga, but I feel like writer Dan Slott is stretching things too thin here, trying to juggle a fight, supporting characters, investigations from several points into this “new” Spider-Man, and the building of the Green Goblin versus Ock-Spidey showdown. This issue isn’t helped by artists Humberto Ramos and Victor Olazaba. The panels are almost nothing but reaction shots with little background, Phil Urich looks exactly like Ramos’s Peter Parker but with a dye job, and at one point, Robbie Robertson turns into cubist-era Picasso. This was a low point for the series so far.
Batman and Nightwing #23 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Sometimes, life hits you with a blow that you can't stop revisiting. In the case of Batman, the death of his son Damian has led to an even more literal replaying, as the Dark Knight has ruthlessly subjected himself to a VR simulation in order to prove he could have saved his son's life. In case you didn't read Batman Incorporated, Peter Tomasi recaps the story quite effectively, adding in some more action for good measure. But the real hero of this comic is Patrick Gleason, who stages this frightening melees perfectly, including Damian's tough-guy scowl at his impending doom, the larger-than-life nature of the Heretic, and the sheer broken-hearted look on Alfred's face as he wrestles with his own culpability. Alfred's denouement absolutely steals the show as one of the best emotional beats Tomasi has ever written, making Batman and Nightwing #23 a must-read.
Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus #2 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Three cheers for another story featuring the Noh monkeys! Pulp hero Lobster Johnson returns this week with the second and final issue of his latest mini series. Chock-full of the usual noir influence, this installment (as well as its predecessor) has stood out thanks to denser dialogue and more thoughtfully fleshed out characters, not to mention the return of the Noh monkeys. Writers Mike Mignola and John Arcudi have created a brilliant story, albeit a short one, for our protagonist and recurring villain the Crimson Lotus. With Sebastian Fiumara beautifully capturing the rapid action and dark moods that pervade the series, all masterfully colored by Dave Stewart, this issue brings together everything you love about the book and then some.
Wonder Woman #23 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Wonder Woman learns that War might be good for something after all as she gets an unlikely promotion at the end of a very strong story arc. Working hard to tie up loose ends before the Trinity War crossover, Brian Azzarello writes a masterpiece of a story that shows he has a better handle on Diana than I thought and gives a character one of the best death scenes I’ve read in comics. Meanwhile, artist Cliff Chiang draws crisp, clean fight scenes as the group take on the hordes of the first born. Stark lines combine with odd angles to bring frenzy to the action and his depiction of War’s army blew me away as this one ends (for now) on a high note.
Daredevil #30 (Published by Marvel; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): In the hands of anybody else, the sudden appearance of an alien and the Silver Surfer in the gritty world of Daredevil would be classic shark jumping. Yet we take the leap of faith due to Mark Waid’s flawless track record, and it’s to his credit that this still plays like a 70’s cop show. Chasing down an alien who is a “master of persuasion”, Javier Rodriguez continues to provide a perfect alternate for Chris Samnee, matching his eye for style. He also gets coolest moment of the month in bringing Daredevil on Silver Surfer’s board to life. Getting to see the world through the Surfer’s eyes is also something new artistically, and is another example of how this series continues to break new ground every month.
Justice League Dark #23 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Pandora’s plans show the road to Hell is paved with good intentions as all of the Leagues scramble to get to the root of the evil plaguing them in the best installment of the Trinity War so far. Writer Jeff Lemire gives each group of this large cast something to do that feels like it matters, which is a first. Even in small doses, Lemire has a good handle on the characterization of everyone from Constantine to Wonder Woman. Given how much he has to draw, I thought Mikel Janin managed it well, using body posture to give depth to group shots . He alternates crowd scenes with tight close-ups, keeping things varied and adding punch as this crowded crossover moves to its finish.
Avengers Assemble #18 (Published by Marvel; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Following the “The Enemy Within” crossover, this segue into a two-part Infinity tie-in feels a little jarring. Indeed, it is hard to take this issue in isolation of several other books, not least of which is this week’s Avengers #18 or how it gels with the dramatic Captain Marvel #14. Told from the perspective of Jessica Drew, it trades some of DeConnick’s signature characterizations for momentum. Barry Kitson’s clean and bold art style makes for an easy accompaniment for the straightforward actioner. It’s a capable diversion, but returning to the solid character foundations that DeConnick has been creating over the last year will be very welcome when this latest crossover is done.
Batwoman #23 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): This issue provides readers with a moment of calm before the storm breaks on Gotham City as Kate, her family, and the D.E.O. make the necessary preparations to uncover Batman's identity. While Bette works on tracking down Beth, Kate attempts to square things with Maggie through injecting herself with fear toxin. Blackman fearfully captures Kate's surreal experience – in part – of undergoing Scarecrow's fear toxin and it looks terrifying. Batwoman continues to set itself apart from traditional, mainstream superhero comics with its smart design and aesthetic style. Narratively speaking, Williams is setting up a story that defies standard superhero-on-superhero conflicts, as it's not a case of mistaken intentions or hidden identities motivating this brewing conflict. Not only is he a talented artist, but he does a great job of writing fleshed out characters with real motivations. We don't want Batwoman to succeed, but we see in this issue how important it is that she does to permanently keep the D.E.O. at bay.
Creepy #13 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Despite being #13, horror fans are in luck with this latest issue, with Dan Braun and Lukas Ketner’s Last Stop taking center stage. They cleverly use Uncle Creepy and proceed down a train track of horror culminating in a truly terrible fate for the main character. Ketner’s art shines in its sketchiness, blurring panels aka Kupert and highlighting the old-school feel of the art in this issue. Also notable is indie horror great Josh Simmons and Dean Haspiel’s story, which starts slowly but steamrolls to a chilling ending for a girl who is the victim of her family’s sins. Every story except the reprint (another lukewarm Archie Goodwin story) is strong, and Peter Bagge once again gives a lighthearted touch to another really solid issue.
X-Men #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Without Olivier Coipel as a selling point, Brian Wood's X-Men is quickly losing its edge, as this well-illustrated book falls back on some fairly tired team tropes. Brian Wood pitting Storm against Rachel Grey over the direction of this unofficial X-team feels more passive-aggressive than compelling, and that as a backdrop for an aerial rescue sequence just doesn't really stand out against the dozens of other action books on the stands. What does stand out, however, is the truly wonderful subplot with Jubilee, her baby Shogo, and Wolverine, as they drive around Jubilee's old digs in California. While Wolverine might come off as a bigger softie than we're used to, David Lopez sure makes every page look adorable. It's the baby factor that keeps this book from really dropping off the radar, but this book needs a stronger hook if it wants to survive.
Batman Beyond Universe #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10):If you've been following the DC digital series of titles, then this review will come as no shock to you. Batman Beyond Universe #1 reprints the first two issues of both Batman Beyond 2.0 and Justice League Beyond, and reveal to the print only crowd that DC digital has some of the strongest storytelling in the company. Both Higgins on Batman and Gage on Justice League prove they know these characters and the continual evolution of the animated series universe. Artists Thony Silas and Iban Coello turn in strong visuals. However, Silas on the Batman portion will be the easiest sell to fans of the series, with a style that lends itself the the Bruce Timm universe, while still standing apart. It's a strong debut where you can almost hear the Shirley Walker score in the background.
Adventure Time #19 (Published by Kaboom!; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The Ice King doles out emotional chills by the spoonful this week with the newest installment of Adventure Time. Finn and Jake conquer dungeon after dungeon created by the Lich, but it's the monologue of Simon Petrikov that really resonates in this issue. Writer Ryan North continues to do an outstanding job with this series, creating mathematical adventures aplenty for our ever-evolving heroes. Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb also remain on their A-game in the art department, flexing their guns with wonderful spreads of alternate realities. All this goodness is only heightened by the great back-up story by Andy Hirsch, along with three outstanding variant covers. A must-read for any AT fan.
Doc Unknown #2 (Self-Published; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10):It's nice to see classic pulp era action still finding it's way into modern comics. Sure, there really isn't anything too new from writer Fabian Rangel as be taps into icons like The Shadow or Doc Savage with Doc Unknown #2. It's still an entertaining story of mystically powered Nazi's bent on global domination, and only Doctor Unknown can stop them. It's a fun read and Rangel has a decent lock on the tone of the era. Although I do wish he'd gone all in with over the top dialog to match the setting. Ryan Cody's art is a nice fit as the title character gets into brawls with Yetis, Nazis, and everything else you expect from two-fisted tales. There were a few moments where the coloring made it hard to follow panels and characters. But, this feels like a learning curve I expect Cody will grow from. If you're a fan of books like 1942 era B.P.R.D. or Atomic Robo, this is a smart title to add.
Telikos Protocol #1 (Self-Published; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10):There is no doubt, Telikos Protocol #1 has some big ideas. Writer Peter Cooper plots out an ambitious sci-fi tale of a near extinct humanity facing an alien threat in a Blade Runner inspired backdrop. However, were it not for the summation on the comic, most of the plot would be lost on readers. There is entering a book mid-scene, and then there is reader confusion, which is where this book frustratingly lands. The art by Adam Burn is highly rendered to the point that it looks like screen captures from a digital film. It's a style that some books benefit from, but the choice to lock this book in panel view only hampered Burn's work. It's a shame, there are a few moments where the book lets the reader take in the whole page and the art works. There still might be a good sci-fi story here, but getting there might be beyond my patience.