Greetings, 'Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood Best Shots team is in full force today, churning out not one, not two, but 25 rapid reviews for your reading enjoyment! So let's kick off the festivities with Perceptive Pierce Lydon, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Animal Man...
Animal Man #27 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Animal Man is hurtling towards an ending, and Jeff Lemire is making sure it goes out with a bang. While Buddy and Maxine are still steeped in the Red, Ellen must deal with the real-world consequences of her family’s super life. And in making Ellen’s story just as important as Buddy and Maxine’s, Lemire effectively brings this book full circle by putting family back at the center of the concept. Rafael Albuquerque is a superstar artist, and while his work on Animal Man may not be his best, he still turns in a stellar effort. Albuquerque’s take on Buddy’s evolved power set is big and exciting, but the artist is still able to finesse the smaller moments like those between Maxine and Socks. “Evolve or Die” is off to a great start.
Black Widow #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Phil Noto and Nathan Edmondson are absolutely killing it with their new spy book, Black Widow. First, it is incredibly rare when the art on the inside of a book can stand toe-to-toe with the level of detail and overall quality from that of the cover – but that is exactly what Phil Noto is bringing to this series. The vibrant and lush colors add a sense of warmth and humanity to this lethal weapon, which underscores the very concept behind this book. Meanwhile, Edmondson's vision of Natasha and the story he places her in makes it very clear this is a character with mass appeal in the same way fans have enjoyed franchises like the Bourne or 007 series. I never cared for Black Widow before, but these two creators have single-handedly changed my mind over the course of these first two issues.
Batman #27 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The strength of this issue comes from Scott Snyder fleshing out what makes these characters tick: from the revelation about Jim Gordon and his coat to Alfred believing Bruce became Batman to punish everyone who couldn’t help him by doing what they couldn’t. These seemingly unbelievable revelations are readily accepted because they come from such trusted characters like Alfred; Snyder captures their voices perfectly, letting the reader believe what the characters are saying is credible and true. And, as usual, the synergy between the story and visuals makes this story even stronger. The fluorescent quality to the colors makes the action seem more dynamic, while Greg Capullo balances the level of realism in his art to make characters look fluid. Batman #27 is another great installment in the Zero Year storyline and promises to send the reader head-first into the climax between the Riddler and Batman as Dark City concludes in Issue #28.
Deadly Class #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10): Ten pages of following a paranoid and nigh-suicidal 14-year-old as he ekes it out on the streets of San Fran had me questioning where this story was headed, but the payoff of a school for wayward youth assassins is a destination well worth the ride. Rick Remender's Marvel work is more miss than hit for me, but he fires on all cylinders with this issue, heavy on the mystery, intrigue, and action. If only the X-Men could recruit their members this way. It helps that he's got Mssrs. Craig, Loughridge, and Wooten respectively on art, color and lettering, which lends the book a Hawkeye feel in layout and design, with Lark by way of Maleev in execution. Fantastic work and a great first issue.
All-New X-Men #22 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Looks like it’s really time to fold the scrappy young mutants from the past into the greater Marvel Universe. Despite the Merry Mutants being involved with extra-terrestrial stories in the past, having the Guardians of the Galaxy show up at the end feels too much like two great tastes that don’t readily go together. However, Bendis is doing what Bendis does best by raising the teen tension all the way to eleven and thus playing with the hearts of Scott/Jean fans. Immonen’s art is cinematic in scale and his direction makes this feel like The Breakfast Club plus a scary-alien-soldier-attack. Come for the Mutant Degrassi drama but stay to see how this crossover goes.
The Walking Dead #120 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): When you're a shuffling zombie, you only want one thing - and that may be true of Walking Dead readers, as well. Even if you've taken a break from the series, you'd be forgiven if it feels like you never left - Rick and company are under seige, but this time, instead of the villainous Governor, it's the brutal Negan who's raining fire down on the hapless norms. Robert Kirkman has his puny human protagonists bitten and blown up, but unless you've been along for the ride for the long-term, most of these deaths will still seem bloodless. Charlie Adlard's artwork is still as striking and reliable as ever, but for some reason, even the goriest of wounds don't quite seem as powerful as some of his previous work. The execution is still strong, but unless Kirkman changes up the game, only die-hard Walking Dead zombies are going to pick up the comic over its TV counterpart.
Justice League #27 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Justice League #27 marked the emergence - and quick exit - of the current Doom Patrol, at the hands of Johnny Quick and Atomica. While their long-anticipated appearance should have been something exciting, the reader is left underwhelmed as Dr. Caulder dramatically says he has to “start over” as the visuals pan out to reveal a wired brain on one of his desks. A shining point of the issue was the touching heart-to-heart between Cyborg and his father, marking Cybrog’s growth since the beginning of the series. Affirming that he “wants it now,” Victor Stone undergoes surgery to become the upgraded Cyborg 2.0. Regardless, the issue feels more like a set-up issue than an actual story. The weakness of the issue comes from its overly dramatic visuals — both Dr. Caulder and Dr. Magnus (at the end) are both covered in shadows as they leave us with cliffhangers and, like Cyborg, confused as to what to do next.
All New Invaders #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): Jim Hammond may be the original Human Torch, but it’s the reader who’s burned in a story with far too many problems. James Robinson opens by actively making his protagonist a sad sack, then proceeds to have him beat all over the small town he’s hiding in until an eleventh-hour save by Captain America and the Winter Soldier. But the bigger problem is a device that can contain a Norse god that’s conveniently been forgotten to contrive a plot. Steve Pugh and Guru-eFX make this a colorful confrontation, showing in great detail just how weak Hammond is. The pencil to colors style works well here thanks to Pugh’s varied panel constructions and thin, detailed lines, but not enough to save a really badly written comic.
Wonder Woman #27 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Issue #27 of Wonder Woman promised a return to Paradise Island, and while technically true, it is a bit misleading. Searching for Zola and her infant, Wonder Woman and her gang of gods seek more divine assistance, while Apollo continues his mission to break the First Born. Brian Azzarello is certainly playing the long game, but I don't know if it's working to the books favor. This is a dense issue, with dialog that reads clunky in it's attempt at natural conversation. Visually, Cliff Chiang continues to deliver one of the finest renderings of Wonder Woman to date. His lines are crisp and clean. Using subtle strokes, he's able to bring out emotions, both subtle and strong from his characters. Matched perfectly with slightly muted colors by Matthew Wilson and you have a book that I wish read as good as it looked.
Avengers World #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Former terrorists A.I.M. to make the world a better place, but it’s hard to take the mad out of the scientist in this second issue that takes the foot of the gas more than it should. After the rapid-fire events that set the premise for this one, it’s disappointing to see the focus placed on one story here, dulling the scope. The character work for Smasher is well done by writers Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer, but slows down the narrative. Artist Stefano Caselli’s design work for A.I.M. Island is P. Craig Russell-level intricate and worth lingering over, whether it’s the buildings or the strange fauna. This is science fantasy illustration at its finest in a series that should be on your pull list.
Harley Quinn #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): DC’s sorry attempt at using Harley Quinn as a stand-in for Deadpool is so heavy-handed that its almost insulting. The constant beaver jokes are cheap. Deadpool works because his additional voices are built-in to his character at this point, not forced by a detail that doesn’t make sense. Even the visual gags seem like they exist more for shock value than entertainment. This issue features enough Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy to restart the fanfic engines but the plotting is odd and solutions are shoehorned in for convenience’s sake. Chad Hardin is a capable artist but without strong inks some panels take on an almost sketchy, unfinished look that doesn’t suit him. Harley is a great character, but reducing her an inane plot and dumb jokes is an affront to her fans and her creator.
Avengers #25 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Jonathan Hickman seems to be taking a page from Brian Michael Bendis’ book in this new Avengers arc. The Marvel bullpen seems to be completely obsessed with time travel lately, and now its seeped into the adventures of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Jonathan Hickman, as per usual, plays his cards close to the chest, seeding the mystery of the arc early in the cold open and then quickly establishing that something is very wrong with this new/old set of Avengers, yet never really giving us any information aside from a quick flashback to their world in a familiar peril. Salvador Larroca, ever the pitch hitter, fills in on art that looks a bit more refined than the pages of Uncanny Avengers that he provided last year, but still vintage Larroca. It’s nice seeing Larroca still consistently providing art for Marvel, but I’m not sure he’s the best fit for the high concept world of Hickman’s Avengers. All in all though, this issue does a great job presenting the hook for the latest arc and is enough to keep a newcomer curious enough to come back for more.
Birds of Prey #27 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Christy Marx created Jem and the Holograms! But even nostalgia isn’t enough to make this issue of Birds of Prey worthwhile for anyone but hardcore BoP fans. The team’s mysterious benefactor is finally revealed and Condor opens up about his history but nothing really happens in this one. The whole issue is bogged down by exposition but Marx does capture a nice moment between Babs and Black Canary. Jeremy Sampere works almost entirely in the DC house style pocket but shows some real promise in a few close-ups of Condor and other characters. On the whole this one just sets the status quo as we launch into Gothtopia. There’s nothing here you won’t glean from the next issue’s recap page.
Pretty Deadly #4 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios have rightly earned the lion's share of credit when it comes to the success of this supernatural Western series as the writer and artist respectively. However, I think this fourth issue really belongs to colorist, Jordie Bellaire. She brings her full range of abilities to bear on this issue, and in many instances, she is the one breathing life into Rios' artwork, which runs the risk of becoming muddied at times due to over-inking and inconsistent line weights (especially in the fight scene). DeConnick's vision of Death and his daughters is a compelling one, and the question of Sissy's role in the grand scheme of things presents an interesting plot twist most readers will not see coming.
Supergirl #27 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Tony Bedard is still moving Supergirl toward the Red Lantern status quo that was teased months ago. With Lobo temporarily incapacitated in the Block, Dr. Veritas and Supergirl discuss the effects that the Red Sun might have had on Kara and her powers. Unfortunately, the reader knows more than the characters do which eliminates any potentially compelling reveals in the exposition. The star this issue is Yildiray Cinar. His artwork is very strong, particularly as Kara’s rage builds. There are some choices he makes regarding angles that are fairly pedestrian but Cinar’s take on Kenneth Rocafort’’s Lobo redesign is sinister and true to the original, making the last Czarnian a worthy adversary for Kara.
Hawkeye #16 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): I really wanted to like this issue more, and while it wasn't bad per se, it also failed to deliver any of the magic that has made this series so enjoyable. The overall plot felt like a repeat of Issue #14 and the dialogue just fell flat, which is odd considering how consistent Matt Fraction has been on this title. Additionally, while Annie Wu's art is bouncy and expressive, the absence of David Aja's distinct style was noticeable as the simplicity behind his linework is part of what made this series stand out. This has been a phenomenal series, but it seems some of the behind-the-scenes delays have finally started to have an effect on the comic, so hopefully, Marvel can correct whatever production and editorial issues forced a delay in Issue #15 causing this this issue to be rushed out to newsstands.
Batman and Two-Face #27 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): I hope Patrick Gleason always draws Batman books. If there was ever a worthy successor to Greg Capullo on the mina book, Gleason is it. Excellent character work coupled with fluid storytelling are his bread and butter and his work on this issue is no exception. Peter J. Tomasi stumbles a little bit out of the gate with this one as the action feels rushed and frivolous. But the flashback sequence saves the issue, establishing a Bruce Wayne-Harvey Dent connection before either of them donned their more colorful pseudonyms. Their relationship provides great context for the history of Gotham as a whole and plays well against their ceasefire in current time.
Hacktivist #1 (Published by Archaia; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Created by Alyssa Milano, Hacktivist #1 is a frustratingly naïve comic. Written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, the book takes current global events and attempts to distil them into an entertaining narrative. I say naïve because there is certainly room for this story. But it reads like work done by people that only know what they see on prime time spy shows. That being said, Marcus To on art is certainly the best element to Hacktivist. He still has some bumps with tight expressions causing the art to go flat, and there is more than one occasion where he suffers from “same face” syndrome. Still, his action scenes have real energy to them and To does a great job of catching some of the chaos within a street riot. Hacktivist has good ideas that given more time to gel might have made for a strong debut. As it stands, it's too safe and middle of the road.
Captain America #15 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): With Rick Remender currently killing it on the creator-owned front, it is easy to forget that he’s also doing solid work on the mainstream superhero side. While Captain America #15 might not be his best issue to date, it's still a serviceable enough ending for his current “Loose Nuke” storyline. We get a bit more understanding as to The Iron Nail’s ultimate motivations, a tieing up of Nuke’s fate, and a bizarre introduction to the book’s next antagonist. Like I said, nothing really earth shattering, but a fun issue nonetheless. Carlos Pacheco still provides dependable pencils with the reflective moments and what he can with the sparse action of this installment. Pacheco is an artist that is rarely on anyone’s favorites list, but here, and with his work on Cap as a whole, he’s shown just how consistent he is at balancing emotional scenes with explosive action. If you have been following Remender’s Cap from the start, you’ll be pleased enough with this issues, but I would be remiss to recommend this as a jumping on point for new readers.
Edison Rex #13 (Published by MonkeyBrain Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10):Edison gets the Planet Hulk treatment but uses a different set of skills to win the day-and a henchman-in an entertaining origin story of a supporting character. Co-creators Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver step away from Superman parallels, showing how the world’s smartest man gets out of a no-win situation of a series of death matches. The plot takes a nice twist at the end, and the character moment of Edison’s determination to return to Earth fits in with the overall theme of the series. Despite having to draw a lot of people with armor on, Culver keeps things varied, thanks to design tweaks and body shapes, along with the usual strong panel constructions. This one-and-done story is a good choice for a sample issue.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #27 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Red Hood and the Outlaws #27’s well-deserved happy ending for Jason comes at the price of the story’s authenticity. The exciting action is kept high as Jason and Ra’s fight from the get-go; however, it’s all downhill from there. Tynion gives too much dialogue during the fight, explaining all the loose ends prior to the climax as to why Jason will win. Regardless, Tynion deserves praise for showing Jason in a positive light and ensuring Essence doesn’t feel like a Deus ex Machina by developing her as a character since her first appearance. However, everything ends too neatly as Jason escapes Ra’s wrath seemingly without consequence. The pencils, meanwhile, by Julius Gopez and Noel Rodriguez make the characters seem too cartoonish, especially in their faces: bug-eyes and unrealistic proportions when characters yell, among other things. Overall, the end to this arc feels almost hollow, leaving the reader wanting more from the conclusion of the story.
All-New X-Factor #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Now in the service of Serval Industries, Polaris, Quicksilver and Gambit are the new X-Factor team and they just seem inconsequential compared to the rest of the X-books. Maybe it’s a symptom of living outside the Bendis-run narrative that runs through All-New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men and at times, Wolverine and the X-Men. Peter David does little to make his team compelling and their mission lacks a real hook. On top of narrative deficiencies, Carmine Di Giandomenico’s art is lacking. Hes almost a Walt Simonson without any of the charm of Simonson’s work and he has a penchant for awkward posing and unruly facial expressions. Hopefully once the entire team is together, David and Giandomenico can flesh out a solid direction for this book.
Batwoman #27 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Batwoman is starting to read like a book on its last legs. Marc Andreyko moves into familiar territory with a hallucination sequence that recounts Kate Kane’s struggles with being gay in the military. While that could have the potential to be very powerful, the delivery method is awkward and haphazard. Also, he doesn’t add anything to the beat. He just rehashes what we’ve seen from Blackman/Williams III and Greg Rucka before them. Jeremy Haun’s once again holds it together with a little assist from Francis Manapul but this book has downgraded all-around. From the art to the plot, it’s just not the caliber it once was or that these creators are capable of achieving.
Peanuts #15 (Published by Boom! Studios; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Snoopy gets the spotlight in a series of stories of uneven quality. The best is from Peanuts regulars Vicki Scott and Paige Braddock, who playfully tweak Snoopy’s imagination, as he must figure out which of his many roles can get him out of a jam against Linus’ grumpy sister. Scott also teams with artists Mona Koth and Justin Thompson for a Woodstock gag that holds true to the character’s determination. But “Press Here” from Nat Gertler misses at social commentary and isn’t helped by Jeff Schulz’s off-model art. “Joe Stockcar” (also by Gertler with art from Andy Hirsch) tries to add to Snoopy’s characters, but just fails to be funny. This issue tries too hard, and ends up being the weaker for it.
Dead Body Road #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The second issue of Justin Jordan and Matteo Scalera’s Dead Body Road slows down from the quick pace of issue one. With Gage, established, Jordan takes a little time to introduce us to another character, Rachel. While Gage’s motives are very clear, Rachel’s are not but her story crosses paths with him in a big way. Scalera is operating at a very high level on this book. the first issue was a little stronger but this one is infused with an undeniable energy. Some might knock the almost stock concept of this book but Jordan and Scalera are making this one their own.