Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday column? Best Shots has you covered, with a whopping 22 Rapid-Fire Reviews for your reading pleasure! So let's kick off today's column with Ferocious Forrest Helvie, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Hawkeye...
Hawkeye #15 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Better late than never; in the case of Hawkeye #15, however, late makes better. This issue opens with laugh-out-loud comedy from the situations the characters find themselves in to the deadpan dialogue – most often from the Brothers Barton. The issue turns in an entirely different direction at the end, however, which left me in stunned silence. Aja and Hollingsworth's familiar muted approach is welcome given the pair's recent absence, but it's their noir-esque use of shadow and inks that really helps convey the tension in this issue and deliver the sucker punch ending at the issue's conclusion. Without a doubt, Fraction's continued deconstruction of Clint Barton with this issue will be sure to both please and surprise readers leaving them anxiously awaiting the next issue.
The Flash #28 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Brian Buccellato’s supernatural crime noir caper continues as Barry Allen teams up with Deadman. Barry realizes that he couldn’t have a better ally against the undead spirit of the Keystone Killer and Deadman’s inclusion definitely adds a dynamic to their relationship that many heroes in the New 52 don’t have at this point. Some of the dialogue might be a little too expository but that’s par for the course when the plot goes into police procedural mode. Patrick Zircher and Matthew Hollingsworth are, once again, absolute powerhouses on the art side. They bring a darkness to the story that hangs heavy over the normally bright Central City and it perfectly suits the nature of this arc.
Fantastic Four #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Considering the point of All-New Marvel Now is to create perfect jumping on points, there is still a lot of ground to cover in Fantastic Four #1. To his credit, James Robinson does a nice job of brining newer readers to speed on Marvel's first family, if at the cost of a compelling read. The real star of this book is artist Leonard Kirk. His grasp of the team look is spot-on and his composition during moments of action are bordering on cinematic. Some of that detail is lost with some poor coloring choices by Jesus Aburtov. While I enjoy the bright and shiny, his over-the-top colors actually drown out some of the detail from Kirk. Still, it's a book with promise and when you open with Fing-Fang-Foom, it's good times.
Aquaman #28 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Aquaman may have braved the ravenous Trench or the murderous Black Manta, but can even the King of Atlantis survive... his high school reunion? Jeff Parker's all-too-human premise is exactly what Aquaman - heck, what DC as a whole - needs more of, as he opens this book up with action and intrigue before turning it into a curiously fun take down memory lane. Artist Paul Pelletier is equally adept at portraying Arthur's anger when he has to outrace torpedoes to save a man's life (and then have mere surface-dwellers try to provoke him into a war) as well as the humorous scenes, particularly when Arthur meets a man who once keyed his car in high school. ("Go forth and be a better man. Or the sea gods will find you," he tells the hapless alum.) When Aquaman recalls accidentally lashing out as a classmate, or when his high school ex gushes over the seashells he used to find for her, you can't help but love him. That's what characterization is all about, and superhero comics in general could always use more of it. While readers who are craving over-the-top action and political intrigue may be disappointed, it's nice to see Aquaman be human, be vulnerable, and actually have even a little bit of a sense of humor.
Wolverine and the X-Men #42 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The finale to Jason Aaron's run on Wolverine and the X-Men may be tarnished by uneven artwork, but damn if it isn't a heartfelt goodbye to one of the best concepts in recent X-Men history. Bouncing back and forth between Wolverine congratulating the graduating class of today and an aging Wolverine contemplating shutting down the school in the future, Aaron positively oozes affection for the Jean Grey School and its students. Quentin Quire in particular steals the show as the institute's reluctant success story, and seeing the future versions of he and Idie are particularly endearing. (Also, the use of the Bamfs as teleporting backpacks is a great idea.) Where this comic stumbles, however, is in the conclusion, particularly with the art - while Nick Bradshaw and Chris Bachalo each lend their own great styles to the series, some of the other artists wind up looking overly cartoony and distorted, which doesn't help when the conclusion hinges on the clarity of a bunch of alien creatures. Still, a great way to close out the school year, and a great way to pass the torch for the next creative team.
Furious #2 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): As a longtime reader of Mice Templar, it's interesting to see the creative team tackle a decidedly different genre in the form capes and costumes. Although there are one or two moments when the exposition feels more epic than the situation warrants and the lineweight could be heavier in the action sequences to help Furious "pop," I think Glass and Santos are putting together a thought-provoking take on superheroes in the real world. Santos' art keeps the reader's eye engaged through the different angles he takes to show the action, and his pacing – especially during the post-gunshot freefall – is especially cinematic. Additionally, Glass' inclusion of little instances of Furious' real life persona help make the character believable, and his notion of the performative nature of identity is one many readers will no doubt find relatable. This team is clearly finding its footing two issues in, and it only stands to reason this series should continue building momentum in later issues.
Batman: The Dark Knight #28 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10):This is a strange thing to write, but I think both artist and writer were trying a little too hard on Batman: The Dark Knight #28. The nature of duality is layered on pretty thick as Batman looks into this all new and far more violent version of Man-Bat. Gregg Hurwitz produces a script that moves along well enough, but adds little in terms of character exploration or even wild action. The same can be said for Ethan Van Sciver on art. There is little here visually that allows Van Sciver to cut loose, save a double splash page or two which felt more like book filler than story enhancer. And while I commend the artist for trying to reveal the two sides of bat versus monster, drawing actual bat veins into Batman's cape is a little heavy-handed. Like most of this comic.
Pariah #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Another day, another story happening in space. Pariah gets off to a weak start as readers are wondering exactly what this world is all about. The issue focuses on a group of “vitros”—presumably people not traditionally born—all seemingly adept at space station maintenance. The issue doesn’t once let any of the characters theorize who put them up there or who sabotaged the space station, the Earth is referred to as hostile, and the reader can assume that the “vitros” probably don’t get along with whoever was “rounding them up.” There were simply too many questions, because Aron Warner and Philip Gelatt start too late in the story, giving us no background or context before getting to the heart of the story, which is a shame because they do a fantastic job of creating a wide variety of characters that have enormous story potential behind them. Brett Weldele’s art borders the line of too cartoonish with his jagged lines that make people look more angular than realistic, which doesn’t fit well with the drama the narrative is trying to convey. While this story didn’t have the best of starts, it still feels like it has potential and remains worthy of at least a second look.
Avengers Assemble #24 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Avengers Assemble is about to take its final bow, but you would never know it by reading this issue. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Warren Ellis continue to propel the story forward at a full clip while still taking the time to give us the cheeky characterizations that have made Kelly Sue’s Avengers Assemble so fun in the first place. Matteo Buffagni’s smooth lines and Ruth Redmond’s anime-like colors are in full effect here, adding to the momentum and vibrancy to the book. This entire arc has looked gorgeous and it seems to the look we should expect coming into the final issue. I, for one, will be sad to see Assemble end as its become one of my favorite Avengers titles under the talented hands of Kelly Sue DeConnick, but it comforts me to know that it seems to be on the path toward ending things with a Technicolor bang instead of a drab whimper.
Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #2 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): If Zack Whedon knows how to do anything, it’s up the stakes in a story. To remove Zoe from play and letting the readers know what’s about to happen to her, Whedon gives the story an immediacy: the Firefly crew need to find her now and they need to find her fast. The story moves organically as a character-driven story: everyone reacts naturally to the events, which is why it doesn’t feel convenient for River to be in a coma when Jubal comes aboard. Georges Jeanty continues to be a major player for big titles at Dark Horse, and his art remains sharp in this Whedon adaptation. Working with characters that look like real life counterparts can be difficult, but Jeanty takes the challenge in stride and succeeds—it helps that he’s had experience before with Buffy. That experience shines in several instances, especially when River kicks a knife into the wall; the physicality of these characters is dynamic and visually stunning. While Serenity may not be anything groundbreaking, it’s nonetheless quite an enjoyable ride.
Teen Titans #28 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): But Scott Lobdell doesn’t stick the landing on this one and that’s what really brings it down. Coupled with heavy-handed dialogue, a fight scene that’s really just one guy choking another for four pages and some muddy coloring work, this ones hard to defend. This book is nearing it’s end and fans that have stuck with it this long will definitely be pleased to see some seeds planted early on come to fruition here. Action? Check. Melodrama? Check. High stakes? Check. Most of the key ingredients for a solid Teen Titans story are in place here. It’s the execution that’s lacking.
King Conan #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10):This book is dirty, nasty, gritty, and quite possibly the best Conan book Dark Horse Comics has ever put out. A wonderful telling of Conan as he attempts to regain his throne, this is a book that drives forward on mood alone. Tomas Giorello's art is a beautiful melding of classic Conan imagery, with an eye towards brutal savagery that always excites, but never once puts the reader off. Writer Timothy Truman perfectly matches the tone of Robert E. Howard, while making sure his own voice comes through. There are a few blending issues from colorist José Villarrubia, but nowhere close enough to distract from an art team that is truly producing at the top of their game. For as much attention as the other Conan series received, King Conan is the one that's more than earning it.
Batman/Superman #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): After a gimmicky slog through the world of online video games, Batman/Superman tries and mostly succeeds to get back on its feet with a crossover that’s right at home in the pages of this series. Greg Pak shows that he can not only handle Batman and Superman deftly, but their Earth-2 counterparts, The Huntress and Power Girl. Pak also smartly leaves the exposition spares, opting instead to get right to the meat of the story and steadily upping the pace throughout the entire issue as if daring Paul Levitz to take to the next level in the pages of World’s Finest. While this makes for a speedy and fun read, its also a bit less user friendly than it needs to be for a first exposure to the title or the characters of Earth-2. Pak takes a bit of time to fill in new readers on the origins of Huntress and Power Girl, but its a very scant recap. Those looking for full explorations of the character might want to look elsewhere for a true jumping on point . Jae Lee roars the title back to the artistic heights of the first arc in glorious fashion. He’s quickly becoming DC’s secret weapon in terms of innovative and exciting work. He has defined the look of Batman/Superman and his shoes are not easily filled by guest artists. After the missteps made last arc, I was ready to drop this title altogether, but this opening volley is propulsive and gorgeous enough to keep my interest at least until the end of this crossover.
Hacktivist #2 (Published by Archaia Entertainment; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Although Hacktivist falters a bit in the second issue, mainly due to a story bogged down by its own ambition, it’s Marcus To and Ian Herring’s artwork that makes it all worthwhile. These two really know how to complement each other as To borders the line between realistic and traditional to capture a world that looks just like ours, all the while reminding us that it is, indeed, a comic book as well. His control of expressions, body language, and backgrounds create an immersive world for the reader; with Herring using more luminescent coloring, these images come to life. Visuals aside, the narrative gets too caught up in itself as reader are left in the dust wondering why everyone is doing what they’re doing. We still don’t know enough about these characters to fully understand them, which is a real hindrance to get engaged in the story.
Guardians of the Galaxy #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Brian Michael Bendis takes “The Trial of Jean Grey” into full-on soap opera territory in this one which makes sense considering the X-Men’s involvement but sometimes he overdoes. A good portion of the issue stands to set-up Cyclops’ solo adventures and his relationship with his father in a stark contrast to his older counterpart. Meanwhile, it may be her trial but Jean is relegated to a supporting role. Artist Sara Pichelli gives a strong sense of the characters but most of her panels feature them from the chest up, meaning we don’t get too many different looks. That’s sometimes a pitfall of a very “talky” Bendis script but it means that, unfortuantely, we’re not treated to the full range of her abilities.
Revenge #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): “For mature readers” indeed. Writer Jonathan Ross manages to provide us with a complex protagonist that we can root for in the issues to come within a story that’s rife with overdramatics. Griffin Franks is a surprising highlight to the issue: an understandable fear of aging, along with his virtues shown when protecting the dwarf, but still has his vices in breaking families apart. By the end of the issue, Franks’ motives are clear and simple: he wants revenge; Ross’ choice to strike that simplicity is a success because the story has a clear route to go. Beyond Franks as a character, there’s—unfortunately—not much else: the plot is unbelievable at best and the artwork is overly gratuitous in both the gore and sexual content. While artist Ian Churchill may have the chops to create well done, polished visuals, he chooses to focus on the wrong things, which ultimately bring the issue down.
Superior Spider-Man #28 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Run for cover - we are in the thick of the “Goblin Nation” storyline, and the henchmen have hit the fan! Writer Dan Slott’s strongest attribute to the Spidey mythos is that he is genuinely giving the audience something they haven’t seen before, and this issue is no exception. The sort of heart and personal interaction that defines Peter Parker is mostly absent and substituted with a heaping helping of explosions and plot twists. The real highlight in Superior Spider-Man #28 is penciler Giuseppe Camuncoli who is a refreshing break from Humberto Ramos’ more cartoony style. Camuncoli’s figures may struggle from being a bit stiff but the artist has a level of clarity in the panel that is sometimes lost in Ramos’ work on Spider-Man.
Superman: Lois Lane (Published by DC Comics; Review by George Marston; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Lois Lane is one of DC’s best POV characters, and she has a massive following in her own right. She should be fronting a solo title. But if this one-shot is any indication, DC has no idea how to capitalize on the things that make Lois such an icon. Writer Marguerite Bennett does hit a few sweet notes, showing Lois’s dedication and ingenuity, but drops her into a generic, forgettable plot about shape-shifting drugs and missing persons that says nothing about Lois’s place as the human touchstone of the DCU. No less than four pencillers worked on this issue, adding to the disjointed feeling of Lois Lane’s scene to scene pacing. It’s great that DC is trying with Lois, but it’s sad they couldn’t give her something more relevant to do.
Black Science #4 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): You would be hard pressed to find a book on shelves better than Black Science (A case could be made for Deadly Class, but that just further proves my point). Rick Remender has yet to really let up in presenting the plight of Grant McKay and his renegade scientists. In this issue, he alternately raises the dramatic stakes on several fronts as well as gives our weary heroes a brief respite that we, as readers, know will only shatter in a matter of time, resuming the chase anew. Matteo Scalera and Dean White continue to deliver horrifyingly beautiful pages, balancing the chaos of battle as well as the alien nature of the extra-dimensional setting. There is an almost European quality to the artwork that revels in the abject darkness of the tone. The situation that the characters are caught in is dire and Scalera and White won’t ever let us forget it. Their panels radiate danger and its one of the reasons the book is just so damn good. Image has a stellar line up on shelves right now, but Black Science continues to set itself apart. Its a book that commands attention with a signature look and tone that is rarely seen within American comics but as firmly supplanted itself within the ranks of Image’s new creative boom.
The Wake #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): It's been a long wait since the previous, heart-rending issue of Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy's underwater thriller last hit newsstands, but the duo is back with Part Two of this maxi-series. This issue provides readers new and old with a chance to catch up with what has happened in the 200 years since we last parted ways with Dr. Lee Archer as she attempted to warn her son – too late – of the pending Merman assault. Readers will no doubt enjoy the art as each page is filled with a number of panels that vary in angle and composition but are always rich in detail – the kind of work that encourages a slow and careful reading. And while Snyder takes his time setting the stage for his second act, he does leave readers with a final twist at the end that will all-but guarantee regular readers will be clamoring for Issue #7 and newer readers will be off in search of Part One.
Mighty Avengers #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Have you been reading Mighty Avengers lately? You really need to be reading Mighty Avengers. It's character-driven, easy to get into, as Al Ewing delivers his barely-needed exposition fast and then lets the White Tiger have her day. As Ava Ayala has given herself over to the spirit of the White Tiger, her Avengers cohorts are suddenly put in the bad position of having to protect a bad man from one of their friends. Ewing's pacing is superb, as he punctuates the White Tiger's lightning-fast fight scenes with bursts of characterization (particularly the ego-crushing decree that she doesn't reciprocate the young Power Man's affections). Not only does Ewing utilize each of these characters and their abilities to great effect, but Valerio Schiti is absolutely dominating with his artwork. His characters look fluid, and I absolutely adore the way he choreographs the White Tiger, as her body contorts and her eyes shine in the darkness as she pounces from the background of a panel. If only more comics could be as good as this one.
Worlds' Finest #20 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): While this crossover's first installment in Batman/Superman is a gorgeously drawn piece of work, Worlds' Finest #20 is an ugly, ill-fitting read. Pitting Power Girl and Batman together in one storyline, and Superman and the Huntress in the other, Paul Levitz doesn't really illuminate much about any of these characters with their new partners-in-heroism. The main characterization is Batman complaining about his Kryptonian co-workers, while there's a not-very-cutesy set of lines about Batman so not being Huntress's father. This wouldn't be as much of an issue if it weren't for the art - Scott McDaniel breakdowns, R.B. Silva pencils and Joe Weems inks make this book look like a mess, with the sharp angles and one-note expressions robbing this book not just of its energy, but of its beauty. Considering the actual premise of Kryptonians losing control of their powers isn't a particularly compelling idea, this book can't coast on the strength of its characters or its art. Unless you're a completist, skip this book.
Correction: We had The Flash and Aquaman both mislabeled as published by Marvel Comics, they are of course from DC Comics.