Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday column? Best Shots has your back, with this week's installment of your Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off today's column with Jousting Justin Partridge, III, as he takes a look at the sophomore issue of Secret Avengers...
Secret Avengers #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Clap for M.O.D.O.K. and Team Secret Avengers! After a breezy and funny debut issue, Ales Kot capitalizes on the momentum of #1 and starts to reveal the value and heart of his weird black-ops Avengers. Kot absolutely nails the characterization of Phil Coulson, the issue’s main POV character, as he and Nick Fury, jr discuss metaphysics while slowing drifting to their doom in space. Kot also gives fun moments to the rest of the team, making Secret Avengers truly feel like an ensemble. Micheal Walsh continues to impress with his lean and clean lines, lending an almost David Aja by way of Adult Swim look to the title with the help of colorist wunderkind Matthew Wilson. Ales Kot’s Secret Avengers is a complete 180-degree turn from the cloak and dagger slog that was the previous volume and it could not have come at a better time for the title.
Batman Eternal #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10):This is a heck of a way to launch a new title. The greatest strength of Batman Eternal #1 is its trust in the reader to simply dive in with the characters. Even Snyder's ever present captain monologue as exposition is dropped in favor of straight story. He and co-writer James Tynion IV show a real understanding of the relationship between Gordon and Batman, to say nothing of their own connection to Gotham City. Some of Jason Fabok's best work is on display in Batman Eternal. While he's always been good at the big action, there are some very personal moments between characters and Fabok really brings out the emotional honesty in his expressions. Brad Anderson on colors support Fabok well enough, but fall a bit short when you consider one of the opening themes to the book. Still, this is a great start to a series that has all kinds of promise.
Ghost Rider #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating 9 out of 10): Ghost Rider is absolutely insane, and that's starting to look like a very good thing. Though last issue felt disconnected, sacrificing a cohesive story for energy and momentum, Ghost Rider #2 starts bringing those threads together, and paints a clearer picture of Robbie Reyes's larger-than-life world, leaving behind some of its harder to follow conceits. Smith and Moore's Ghost Rider is something like Speed Racer via Katsuhiro Otomo, with Smith providing the most maniacal, entertaining take on Mr. Hyde yet, and Moore twisting, tearing, and exploding the anatomy of both people and cars the way only he can. Ghost Rider is fast and furious, speed lines and blood splatters, and it's unlike anything else Marvel is doing right now, and it’s quickly becoming a must-read.
Superboy #30 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): I’m not in love with the New 52’s take on Superboy but there’s a lot to like here. Aaron Kuder has proven himself a capable writer and he attempts to make sense of the recent events of the book. Clones always get confusing but taking a “boy out of time” approach makes this Superboy a bit less irritable and melodramatic. Bringing Jon back to the S.T.A.R. Labs beginnings of his clone counterpart, Kon, sort of resets the book and allows for a decent jumping on point. jorge Jimenez Moreno is the star here. His cartooning isn’t flashy but it’s effective. His lines are efficient. His characters are expressive and realistic while still maintaining an almost “animated series” feel to them and he’s able to balance the real-world sequences with the nightmare ones with aplomb. It’s too bad that DC doesn’t approach their house style this way.
Avengers Undercover #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Here’s the book we were hoping for! After a debut issue issue that didn’t fully explain the concept and did a lackluster job of reintroducing the characters, Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker are back on track. Avengers Undercover #2 hits all the emotional beats it needs to as the kids’ rescue mission takes an unexpected turn. The Son of Satan makes an appearance and it seems that his influence will be felt. Hopeless is keying in on an idea that ran through Runaways, Avengers Academy and Avengers Arena: are you always meant to be a villain? Multifaceted characterization and a great team dynamic makes this a fun read with clear stakes. Kev Walker turns in a beauty of a book that recalls his best work on Arena and erases any doubts that issue one of Undercover. If you’re hankering to fill the void left by Young Avengers, this is a book to watch.
Justice League 3000 #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): It seems like the newly reborn members of the Justice League are finally finding their place within The New 52; while this issue was, for the most part, fairly mediocre, it’s gold compared to the preceding issues. Perhaps it’s the addition of Firestorm, or that we can finally move on from the over-dramatic reveal that the people had to die for the League to come back, but this issue lacks some the blaring problems it’s had in the past. Where the action now matters and the art from panel-to-panel feels more fluid, the grating arguments between team members is replaced with awkward and uncharacteristic encounters, such as when Superman says he recalls Wonder Woman “begging” him in bed and refers to her as “babe.” Perhaps there’s hope for the series, but if its future is as passive as its main cast of characters, don’t hold your breath.
Daredevil #1.50 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Daredevil #1.5 suffers from a unique problem that a regular issue doesn’t commonly suffer from. #1.5 is a collection of interesting artwork, unappealing storytelling and more blocks of text, letters and extra material than one can desire. It felt like just watching the dvd extras. Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez take the bulk of the issue to tell a pretty mundane future story but the real work for the reader gets started in the bonus story by Karl and Kurt Kesel and the strange prose story by Bendis and Maleev. This might be the sort of thing that a Daredevil completionist has to have or bonus material for the graphic novel, but as a standalone issue it’s a pass.
Lola XOXO #1 (Published by Aspen Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): While Lola XOXO may not be anything groundbreaking, there’s nonetheless potential for future development. The issue starts out incredibly strong, making us become invested in the young character Lola. Though we don’t know why she’s leaving her parents, our questions are put on hold as the story ups the stakes. It’s when writer Siya Oum jumps ahead into the future, we start to get lost in the story. Characters’ motivations, reasons for why they are the way they are, and background information are all lost after the time skip. Though the issue ultimately recovers by the end of the issue, we’re left wanting a different story to be told, the one that Oum skips right over entirely. Her art, however, is top notch, with the character designs standing out — the way Oum draws Lola, especially at a young age, really captures the innocence with which readers can readily identify. It’s nice to see another strong female character come out of the woodwork — let’s see what Oum can do with it.
Batgirl #30 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Although I can appreciate writer Marguerite Bennett tackling Barbara's emotional issues surrounding Forever Evil; using a Bloody Mary inspired monster as symbolic cipher for her fears and dreams doesn't quite work here. Robert Gill draws a comic that again falls in line with the current DC design, and while it's functional, the line work does little to truly excite the reader. He has some fun with the Midnight Man design, but most is lost in the background. The same could be said for the coloring by Romulo Fajardo, it doesn't take away, but nor does it add. There are still some good elements here. Although the story is very clunky, Bennett has a nice grasp of Batgirl's inner monologue. She is definitely someone I'd like to see tackle a longer arc.
Mighty Avengers #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Secrets are revealed in this month’s issue of Mighty Avengers, but they may not be the secrets that you were expecting. Al Ewing displays once again why he’s one of Marvel’s rising stars by deftly subverting the reveal of Ronin (which was accidentally spoiled a few months back), merely by making it the B-story framing of the issue. The A-story picks up the plot of Blue Marvel’s team and the fate of Adam Brashear’s sons. This gives Mighty Avengers a hefty helping of emotional weight and gives us a more insight into a character that readers are largely unfamiliar with. Greg Land is back on pencils and doing his usual serviceable work but it is extremely hard not to miss the heavy hitting and kinetic work of Valerio Schiti while reading this issue. Mighty Avengers may have dipped a bit in quality this month, but even the low points in Mighty Avengers soar beyond expectations.
Superman/Wonder Woman #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): If there could be one word to describe Superman/Wonder Woman #7, it would be disappointing. This prelude issue sacrifices a good ending to the previous arc for a lackluster start to the next. After the nuclear explosion in last month’s issue, it felt like we deserved something more emotionally intense, especially after both Superman and Wonder Woman were so badly hurt. Instead of devoting time to their recovery, as well as Hessia’s mysterious purple gem, Soule attempts to humanize the power couple’s relationship by showing them in their civvies. Though it was enjoyable to read, Soule’s writing just felt misdirected. The artwork, as usual, is one of the main highlights of the book, and Superman’s grotesque appearance conveyed the stress his body went under well.
Flash Gordon #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): It's so good to be back at Mongo! Jeff Parker doesn't waste time getting the reader neck deep into the action with Flash, Dale, and Dr. Zarkov on the run from Ming's forces. As a longtime fan of pure pulp adventure, I couldn't be happier. Parker found the perfect balance between dramatic tension and Saturday matinee whimsy. Evan Shaner on pencils and Jordie Bellaire on colors are the perfect art team to tackle this title. The sense of motion on Shaner's art keep the book moving at a needed and welcome pace. While coloring from Bellaire draws us into to a setting that no matter how fantastic, stills looks natural and in place with the environment. Flash Gordon #1 is clearly one of the comics you give to someone that thinks the time of grand heroics is over.
Captain Marvel #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): While the first issue of this series split itself between Carol on a mission in an intergalactic marketplace and her life in New York, Issue #2 plants Captain Marvel firmly in the world of science fiction adventure. Given the big push that Marvel has been giving the sci-fi superhero group, The Guardians of the Galaxy, it shouldn't be a surprise to see them arrive on the scene. For fans of the group, this issue will be an opportunity to see how these characters – especially Star Lord and Rocket Raccoon – interact with Carol. Unfortunately, this also means readers, like me, who have little if any familiarity with these characters, may not connect with the humor or some of the intergalactic references made given their prominence in this issue. And while Loughridge's colors were as strong as before, I did notice a certain inconsistency in Lopez's depiction of Carol, especially her facial features, which I found a little distracting. It's still a good issue, but I do think the mileage will vary depending on readers' interest in the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Adventures of Superman #50 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Although this may surprise many readers, I believe AoS #50 is Kelly Sue DeConnick's first time writing DC's biggest characters, but not surprising is how she and De Landro deliver a pitch-perfect one-shot. Centered on a mystery Valentine's Day present from Lois to Superman, DeConnick manages to capture the charming interplay between the Big Blue Boy Scout, Lois Lane as well as Batman, and Wonder Woman through her witty dialogue and three-dimensional characterizations of each icon. De Landro's art takes a more simple and classic approach to the characters while eschewing some of the more stylized renditions, which is a smart choice considering the type character story DeConnick tells. In spite of the old school vibe, fans of Lois especially will appreciate the more contemporary and realistic depiction Lois receives from this creative team. DC would do well to call this pairing back soon.
Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): I'm torn with Kaare Andrews' Iron Fist #1 . On one hand, I thought the visual storytelling was brilliant. He applies a number of interesting perspectives in each of his panels to keep the pace moving in concert with the story (the black and white, 4-panel kung fu sequence was especially well constructed), and his colors aptly convey the mood, tone, and even setting throughout the issue. We see an example of this in the more traditional, Ben-Day dot coloring for the flashback scenes along with the appearance of paper folds running across the panels and gutters. On the other hand, the inner monologue does little to connect the reader to Danny Rand, who comes across as cold and disconnected from the world around him – what we see versus what we hear don't really gel. Although this fits within the context of the narrative, it's the type of opening that works best in collected – not serialized - form. The art alone, however, should make coming back for Issue #2 a safe bet.
Green Lantern Corps #30 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): I’m not a fan of the dual artist approach to a book unless the artists’ style work well together. Unfortunately, Scott Kolins and Chris Batista don’t really mesh. Kolins’ sketchier lines come at too stark a contrast to Batista’s thick black line work. While I understand that they’re meant to separate the present day from the flashbacks, it makes the book a little too disjointed. Van Jensen is still crafting a good sci-fi story and intriguing character drama with John Stewart and company. Mogo is the standout, because the living planet gives writers endless opportunities to be creative. Jensen takes advantage of that with John Stewart’s strategy against the Durlans. Still, the conflict is almost too easily resolved in order to escalate the next issue.
Headspace #2 (Published by MonkeyBrain Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This series is something of an amalgam of Lost, The Walking Dead, and a dash of Avatar due to the combination of an otherworldly and apocalyptic setting alongside the mind-body migration that takes place. Sound crazy? It should… and yet, it all comes together. We follow Shane, whose mind has been projected into that of Max, a killer, for reasons that begin to surface by the issue's conclusion. I'm finding the series is quickly finding its legs and settling into a well-paced story as we learn about Shane's role in Carpenter Cove, the reasons for his son's presence in this mind of the killer, and what directions the plot looks to take in future issues. It is a weird sort of sci-fi psycho-drama that will leave readers wondering, "What happens next?!"
Nightcrawler #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Everything about Nightcrawler #1 feels anachronistic and out of step with the current Marvel books; no artistically abstract interiors or emotionally wrought narrative here. Part of this might be due to Chris Claremont’s writing style which echoes his previous X-Men work. Those first four pages could have been plucked right out of 1987 with the now awkward charter and setting introduction. Artist Todd Nauck pleasantly echoes the retro style without irony and resembles a modern day Alan Davis. Nightcrawler #1 might warm the cockles of your heart with the purest of the X-Men back in action, but the story feels out of time. Indeed, the whole thing feels very out of step with the other Marvel books and the Cinematic age of comics.
Creepy #16 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by Lan Pitts; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The short story anthology format is hardly anything new, but with the revitalized Creepy, contemporary creators get to flex their abilities and give readers something to get creeped out by. Hardly a stranger to the macabre, Ted Naifeh (Courtney Crumrin) opens the issue with a chain email that unleashes an urban legend. Following that, Rachel Deering (In The Dark) and Vanessa Del Rey (Hit) up the ante with a story worthy of this title. Next is A Creepy Family tale with an abridged Lovecraft story, which is always a classic. Now in "I Hate You" Bill Warren and Mike Royer explore the devastating consequences of time travel. To close the show we have a fun Ripley's Believe It Or Not-type of tale involving the first case of modern embalming. It's cute and certainly lighter than the rest. Anthologies like this are usually hit or miss, with the stories either not matching themes or not really meshing well. Here we have a fine example of fun horror to downright classic gothic that shouldn't be missed by horror fans.
Royals: Masters of War #3 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): The war continues to take its toll not only on the world, but on the royal soldiers who fight as well. Rob Williams has been steadily ratcheting up the tension between the princes William and Albert and in #3 it comes to a violent head against the backdrop of the Battle of Midway. Williams’ alternate take on WWII continues to be entertaining, even though it has flirted with a few rote concepts seen in stories before. Artist Simon Colby channels Mike Deodato in this issue with a heaping dose of period spectacle. Colby delivers some truly shocking set pieces in #3, mixing period detail with Micheal Bay-esque destruction. While the rest of the series has yet to really live up to the promise of the debut issue, Royals: Masters of War #3 is still an epic, yet dour, jaunt into a superpowered WWII.
Liberator TPB, Vol. 1 (Published by Black Mask Studios; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): For readers who haven't had the chance to read this visceral and often gut-wrenching series about two vigilante animal rescuers, this trade paperback offers a great opportunity to jump on board. It tells the story of Jeannette and Damon who eventually join up to protect and defend the many defenseless animals subjected to various forms of cruelty – both illegal and legal. They may not be superheroes in the conventional sense but they are heroes. Liberator vol. 1 delivers compelling (and all-too-real and disturbing) art alongside its pro-social story arc, and definitely aspires to more than just entertaining its readers. However, this collected edition also includes an additional 40 pages of new short stories from known creators such as Frank Barbiere, Ed Brisson, Alex de Campi, Ales Kott, Tim Seeley, as well as a number of up-and-comers that make picking up this trade worthwhile for regular readers as well.