Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for the fast column? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off today's column with Justin Partridge, III, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Batman...
Batman #25 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10) Ambition has always been the hallmark of Scott Snyder’s Batman run, and that’s what keeps it being a consistently readable comic month after month. Snyder isn’t interested in telling small stories within his Batman comics and it makes every arc feel like an event. After a clunky start, Zero Year starts with an explosive first appearance of the New 52 Batmobile and then a strong set up of the central first case, complete with a few twists and turns that surprise and keep the reader off balance in the most entertaining way possible. Greg Capullo is an artist born to draw Batman and his supporting cast. His pencils have yet to disappoint, as his broad, energetic panels match Snyder’s epically scoped script note for note.
Superior Spider-Man #21 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): This done-in-one romp has some great art and ties into an oft-forgotten part of Otto Octavius's past, but you can't help but think that things wrap up a little too conveniently with Superior Spider-Man #21. Guiseppe Camuncoli's artwork is the real prize here, particularly the way he plays up Otto's robotic spider-arms. That said, Camuncoli's page layouts are a bit simplistic for him, with his composition occasionally suffering for it. Dan Slott's plot, pitting Otto against his one-time lover Stunner, doesn't quite play up the emotional content here, falling back on Otto's ubiquitous spider-drones. While the subplot featuring Carlie Cooper and the Green Goblin piques my interest, Superior Spider-Man #21 feels a little like it's running in place.
Justice League of America #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Haven't we seen this before? Last month we saw the Martian Manhunter navigate the various psychological prisons that have trapped the Justice League of America... and this month, we see more of the same. The problem with this premise is that each Leaguer's private torture feels so similar - they're all overwhelmed and angsty and literally exhausting themselves to death. Additionally, it feels like Stargirl's seeming immunity to this prison is more writer fiat than any earned characterization. Tom Derenick's artwork has a clean, old-school vibe, but it winds up suffering when compared to last issue's dark, moody artwork from Doug Mahnke. Unless you're a Forever Evil completist, you can give this issue a skip.
X-Men Gold #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): To celebrate the X-Men’s 50th anniversary, Marvel assembled five writers who made their mark on the mutants’ history: Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and Fabian Nicieza. Claremont takes us on the trip down memory lane with a Kitty Pryde story that doesn’t quite hit those nostalgia notes at all times and ends up being dragged down by uninspired Bob McLeod artwork. Lee and Simonson team up for a more romantic short story that falls flat and wastes artist Walt Simonson’s still impressive work. Thomas and artist Pat Oliffe turn in a prequel to Giant-Size X-Men #1 about Banshee and Sunfire. Nicieza and Jorge Molina’s Wolverine-centric story has the best artwork but the concept is trite. This anthology seeks to honor the X-Men’s legacy but nostalgia-seekers would be better served digging into dusty longboxes than plunking down for this clunker.
Three #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It’s Helot on Earth as three slaves rise above their station and kill a Spartan elite as this historical fiction series drops knowledge and amazing visuals on the reader. There’s a bit of an information dump in the middle by Kieron Gillen this time, but Ryan Kelly’s art keeps it from bogging down. He does so much with eyes and panel angles, putting extra weight on the leaders’ speeches as they explain that Sparta isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Kelly is aided by colorist Jordie Bellaire’s effects, including random drops of blood red. The star of the show here is Kelly, whether it’s showing the explosive fight scenes or drawing individual Spartan houses or the splash page that portents more blood to come.
All New X-Men #18 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): So, the dust has settled on Battle of the Atom, and Scott Summers’ New Charles Xavier School for the Gifted has become a bit more crowded. Brian Michael Bendis finally allows the cast a moment to breathe, but still allots for the character drama that we’ve come to expect from the heir apparent title to the Claremont days. The Original Five are still going through natural growing pains and tossing them into the Uncanny X-Men mix is exactly the kind of Bendis level shake up that has kept these new X titles interesting. Stuart Immonen is still shining, page after page, giving us inventive panel layouts and expressive emotions during quiet moments. Plus, those new uniforms are all sorts of ginchy. Though this isn’t a really game-changing issue, its a nice bit of talky dramatics going into the next chapter for the Original Five.
Nightwing #25 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): One of the more frustrating elements for fans of the Batman Family, post-New 52, has been the greatly condensed history of the Robins. However, Kyle Higgins has done an amazing job with the character of the past two years and issue #25 of Nightwing demonstrates exactly why. Although Dick Grayson’s origin is vastly different now, Higgins has been able to retain the charm of the young hero in this issue and demonstrate the fun associated with the character. The issue stands strong on its own and isn’t bogged down by crossover necessities. Grayson seems to be at his strongest when working with other teens, flipping and flying past a giant monster with a smile on his face. This is a great issue for people missing the kid-version of Dick Grayson’s Robin.
Unity #1 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It will take more than Unity to stop X-O Manowar from drawing the world into a nuclear conflict as this new series starts off with quite a few bangs. Matt Kindt’s script is brutal, with the death toll climbing higher and higher as artist Doug Braithwaite draws detailed scenes of every destructive moment. It’s nice to see the Valiant Universe coming together like this, with Harada, Ninjak, and the Eternal Warrior all playing roles in the story. Kindt shows Harada as being arrogant to a fault but there is a bit of a cannon-fodder feel, as a pretense to get the “real” heroes together. Still, with Kindt’s sharp dialogue and Braithwaite’s strong, steady artwork, this one definitely is worth reading to see where it goes.
Marvel Knights: X-Men #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10) My Best Shots cohort, George Marston, noted that Marvel Knights: X-Men #1 limits its potential to be a stand-out X-Men story because writer and artist Brahm Revel sets it within the current continuity. I’ll take it further, and say that it’s limited because of its adherence to what we already know about the X-Men and, in this case, Wolverine. With a solicit like “what happens when your past comes back to kill you?” it’s not all that hard to guess what the major reveal here will be. It’s unfortunate because the Marvel Knights imprint has always taken characters further than their regular stories would allow them. You won’t see Spider-Man tripping out of his mind in any 616 book. Marvel Knights: X-Men doesn’t go there and while the artwork is strong, a blend of Chris Samnee’s simplicity with Jeff Lemire’s off-kilter darkness, it’s not enough to save this one.
Forever Evil: Arkham War #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Peter J. Tomasi has been entrenched in the Batman camp for years down and is also currently working on one of the absolute best Batman books being put out by the publisher. So, letting him have his run with the crazies in Forever Evil: Arkham War #2 is a lot of fun for fans of the character’s popular rogues gallery. Although it might be overwhelming and a bit confusing for the initiated (or this not following Forever Evil), Forever Evil: Arkham War #2 scratches a very particular itch in that we get to see these popular villains battle it out and stab each other in the back. Does this make for the most compelling story? Maybe not - but it sure is fun!
Superior Foes of Spider-Man #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The thing about a book like Superior Foes of Spider-Man is that "good" is all relative - this book is consistently great, so the worst I can say is that this issue has slowed down only slightly. With the Sinister Six in action, Nick Spencer has fewer opportunities to play up the laughs, aside from a great opening sequence featuring the Owl and the sight of Speed Demon trying (and failing) to run around with one roller blade. Steve Lieber's artwork continues to be accessible and easy to follow, which helps pack in a lot of storytelling per page. (He's also got a splash page of the Owl's ridiculous lair that's the highlight of the book.) Not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as usual, but still a well-crafted book that's worth reading.
Archer and Armstrong #15 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): It’s time for the brews, brothers! Armstong and Ivar take the world’s longest bender before sobering thoughts kick in a return to this series’ more irreverent style. Romping from Egypt to England to America, the pair of immortals bond over beers while artist Khari Evans helpfully provides a gauge to Armstrong’s lack of sobriety and writer Fred Van Lente gives his stats, D&D style. There’s plenty of quips-and potentially a few clues-as Van Lente carefully steers Armstrong back to Archer, who is doing his best Frank Castle impression in a clever send-up. Evans’ art keeps up with the romp nicely, using facial emotions and visual gags to keep the reader smiling right up to the inevitable reunion of the title characters of this great series.
Suicide Squad #25 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10) The Thinker pits the Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad against one of his own design as both track down OMAC: The One Man Attack Construct. Without a human host or the guidance of Brother Eye, OMAC is just a weapon waiting to be activated. Writer Matt Kindt has a little fun with both teams as they realize how they’ve been brought together while Harley Quinn helps reveal the Thinker’s true plot. Patrick Zircher’s art doesn’t have any real highlights but it is mostly consistent. The busy design of characters like Unknown Soldier, Deadshot and Steel make the scenes they appear in look cramped and confined. The return of a fan-favorite character and Kindt’s character work with Harley is the standout in an issue that could be characterized as something of a red herring.
Doctor Who Prisoner of Time #11 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Matthew Dow Smith returns to Doctor Who to draw Matt Smith’s incarnation as this issue shows what this 50th anniversary series is capable of being. Fitting the pieces together, the Eleventh Doctor travels across timelines to confront Adam, who’s done far more than what we’ve seen on the page. Scott and David Tipton bring back a classic villain for one more round, and put the Doctor in an impossible choice by the end. As with the best issues here, they dip into the rich history of the show and Smith easily changes eras as the Doctor seeks his prey. With Smith’s stark, angular line work and extensive use of shadow giving the story heft, menace, and spot-on depictions, this might be the best issue yet.