Greetings, 'Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood Best Shots team is at it again, with a whopping 21 Rapid-Fire Reviews for your reading pleasure! So let's kick off today's column with Punctual Pierce Lydon, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Batman Eternal...
Batman Eternal #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): John Layman and Dustin Nguyen deliver another solid installation in this weekly series. As we bounce around the Bat-verse, we’re seeing how Gordon’s initial misstep has a ripple effect. If Falcone is really behind all of this, the writing team is setting him up as an interesting villain. Nguyen is a competent artist who brings a great deal of modd to his Batman work but his action scenes look remarkably stiff. More and more mysterious characters are making themselves known as Batgirl gets a nice moment with Batman. But we’re not really getting anywhere and four issues in, the plot is starting to spin its wheels. We are less than 10% through this series, but we’re not seeing enough effective payoff yet. The World’s Greatest Detective is really taking his time doing any detecting.
Silver Surfer #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The coloring is greatly improved in this issue because the Never Queen’s midnight black hair finally allows for the kind of contrast that was missing in the first issue. Allred’s character renderings are improved as well with the Silver Surfer appearing a less doughy than in Issue #1. Dan Slott’s starting to get into a little bit of Stan Lee’s overdramatic superhero speak with this one and while it works, it comes in contrast to the Surfer he wrote in issue one. Dawn is up to some more plucky manic pixie dream girl hijinks, but she feels more like a machination of the plot than an actual character. The ending is a cute little twist on expectations, but I’m eager to see Slott get back to writing the kinds of more nuanced characters we’re used to seeing from him.
Batwoman Annual #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Batwoman Annual is an underwhelming attempt at the long-awaited resolution to the Kane family tragedy that created the villain, Alice. Trevor McCarthy admirably attempts to maintain the structure and panel aesthetic created by J.H. Williams for Batwoman, a hard act to replicate. Still, McCarthy's attention to the detail of movement and background are the best thing about this issue. Guy Major's skillful gradient colors compliment McCarthy's line-work beautifully. Unfortunately, Moritat's cute, bubbly style doesn't work in Gotham City. It diminishes the gravity of the story making for an inconsistent tone. Apart from some fun dialogue between Batman and Batwoman, Marc Andreyko tells the story with little passion or complexity. Batwoman Annual has some gratifying moments, but overall it is not as significant as it should be particularly for a character-defining story years in the making.
Southern Bastards #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Jason Aaron does an admirable job with the first issue of this new southern series. He makes the protagonist’s goals clear, shows who’s standing between the protagonist and his goal, and sets up the culture of the environment through the reactions of the town to the casual, violent actions taken by the townsfolk. Unfortunately, he and artist Jason Latour don’t fully realize the potential of the narrative. They focus on the mannerisms of the town and expect that to drive the interest of the reader—showing us aggressive townsfolk does flesh out the culture of the setting, but it does little to ultimately engage readers in the narrative. The ethereal antagonist of the story—the Coach and “boss”—remains removed from the story throughout the issue and acts more of a plot device than anything else, hindering the future credibility of the character. Latour’s art is stellar for this series, capturing the grit and roughness enraptured by the southern qualities Aaron writes.
Amazing Spider-Man #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Peter Parker is truly back and with him, the ol’ Parker luck. We’re along for the ride as Peter navigates a myriad of messes left by the Superior Spider-Man, and while the light tone comes in heavy contrast to the recent web-slinging stories, it lacks any real gravitas. Even though Otto was serious and self-important, at least the switch in tone gave way to big story ideas. A funnier Spider-Man doesn’t mean we should lose that and in the past Dan Slott has been all about big ideas. This issue feels a little bit directionless. Humberto Ramos is back handling art duties and his style suits the new tone, but it’s hard to get excited about. This is something we’ve seen before and while it fits, it doesn’t feel new and improved, nor is it up to the level of work that Ramos was turning in during “Spider-Island.”
Dexter’s Laboratory #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): I grew up on Dexter’s Laboratory; it, like many other Cartoon Network shows has a special place in my heart and I couldn’t be more ecstatic to see the Boy Genius get his time on the comic book page. There was such a distinct cartoon style back then, and artist Ryan Jampole works with the style incredibly well, adding to that nostalgic factor. Written by Derek Fridolfs, who has more than enough experience writing to an all-ages audience, the first issue captures the core of what made Dexter so enjoyable and the power those stories had—how we could sympathize with Dexter, get angry at Dee Dee, and then be moved with regret with Dexter’s actions. Unfortunately, Fridolfs doesn’t do enough to enamor new readers and draw them into the concept of Dexter’s Laboratory if they’ve had no prior investment in the series. To any young adults who were a fan of the series, the first two issues will really show us if this series is worthwhile or not; here’s hoping that it is!
All-New X-Men #26 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen team up for an incredible first half of an issue but they can’t sell the rest as they try to further the plot. Opening with a moment between older Scott and teenage Jean Grey, Bendis answers a lot of questions readers might have had about their relationship. It’s been 25 issues and rather icy between the two of them, so this development is welcome and helps flesh out the team dynamic moving forward. And most of the characterization is wordless. Jean’s awkward wringing of her hands, the way she nervously rubs her feet together, gently placing her hand on Scott’s; all these little details show us their dynamic without overly expository dialogue. But the second half lags. X-23 is mysteriously attacked and Bendis falls back on Mamet-ian methods almost as a means to fill space. By the end of the issue, we haven’t learned much, and it makes this one feel rather light.
Vertigo Quarterly: CMYK #1 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Coming in at a staggering 72 pages, this first installment in the new Vertigo anthology series CMYK is packed with comic talent. Industry vets like Jock, Joe Keatinge, and Fabio Moon join rank with relative newcomers Ken Garing, Alitha Martinez, Martin Morazzo, and the list goes on. Nine individual stories are laid out within the pages of this book, and as is the case with most anthologies, there are a few shorts that really carry the book while the rest struggle to match them. "918" and "Breaking News of the Wonders the Future Holds" in particular stood out as both well-written and beautifully rendered. Definitely worth a read through, but with such a hefty price tag, it might be wise to wait for the entire collected anthology rather than springing for individual issues.
Batgirl Annual #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Maybe DC should be adding page counts instead of taking them away - by and large, their annuals this week have been across-the-board excellent, or at the very least a huge increase in quality from their usual month-to-month output. Gail Simone's oversized annual feels a lot like one of the character-driven, self-contained stories from Batman: The Animated Series, teaming up Batgirl and her one-time compatriot Poison Ivy in a detective story that also plucks some heartstrings. I love the season motif that Simone uses in this story, adding a new wrinkle to Ivy as a character that only serves to make her more unhinged and dangerous to the Bat-family. I also really like how Simone ties this together with Babs' relationship with her parents. Robert Gill and Javier Garron remind me a lot of a cross between Joe Eisma from Morning Glories and Barry Kitson in terms of their sharp linework and clean characters - they also do great work with the composition, such as the opening splash of the Birds of Prey in action. An unexpectedly fun read for what should have been a fill-in. DC should definitely look to these annuals for inspiration moving forward.
Avengers #28 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): After what has felt like issue after issue of set up, Jonathan Hickman finally starts to doll out some answers and resolutions of certain dangling plotlines. In the aftermath of the attack of the alternate Avengers, Bruce Banner corners Tony Stark in order to finally obtain the missing pieces of Banner’s theory as to why Stark’s Avengers Machine was assembled in the way that it was. These scenes between Banner and Stark are rife with the sort of tension that has been missing from Hickman’s Avengers as of late. Hickman also starts to bring both the Avengers and New Avengers title closer to a collision here in #28 and it couldn’t have come a moment sooner. Salvador Larroca is still on pencils here and he does his usual decent enough work. Though his work seems a bit smoother and less exaggerated here than it was in the pages of The Invincible Iron Man, it still is missing the visual dynamism that has carried through Avengers. Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run has been one of the more polarizing runs of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes since its debut, but #28 makes a great case for the title’s inventive, densely layered, and epic storytelling.
Furious #4 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This story of a ne'er-do-well but unlikely superheroine has been slowly finding its legs, and in Issue #4, Furious I found myself fully understanding why Dark Horse gave this miniseries the green light. Glass creates a moment between Furious and the detective where we see the difficulties of being a superhero play out – the awareness of the public demand for superiority juxtaposed against the less-than-glamorous reality of wearing the cape and trying to be "super." And without Santos' cinematic eye for being able to capture both the explosive energy alongside the quiet, thoughtful moments through his expert panel composition, Glass' scene would have fallen flat. Instead, they deliver a powerful scene that explores the psychology of our superheroes when dealing with their utter failure to "get the bad guy," and defend not only truth and justice, but also protect the "little guy." It's a lesson Furious learns the hard way, but it makes for a great read for the audience.
Forever Evil Aftermath: Batman vs. Bane #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): What starts out as an interesting take on a story about a new protector of Gotham City quickly devolves into a punch fest of little consequence. Peter J. Tomasi does an admirable job tieing up one of the loose events left in the wake of Forever Evil and giving us a quick look at Gotham under the reign of Bane, but as soon as The Batman arrives back on the scene, things ramp up rather quickly and more than a few cues are taken from The Dark Knight Rises. While Tomasi still has a keen eye for character work and quick moving plots, nothing found in this issue really goes beyond resolving a dangling plot left over from DC’s latest big event. Scot Eaton makes the most of a thankless job, injecting a sense of kinetic action into the back half of the comic, making up for a dialogue heavy first half. There isn’t much to distinguish this comic from the rest of DC’s current ouvre, but Scot Eaton does what he can with what he has. The smoke has cleared and Batman has returned to his rightful place as Gotham’s protector, its just too bad there is little fanfare to mark his return.
Hulk #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Mark Waid has some potential on his hands with a brain-damaged Bruce Banner and the various factions looking to either take him in or take him out, but this issue still feels more like an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff than an issue of Hulk. Waid's characterization of the sweet, oblivious Bruce feels more cloying than endearing, and having Maria Hill manhandling someone who is mentally handicapped (and breaking their toy!) seems like kind of a bleak concept for Marvel to be letting out of the door. Mark Bagley, to his credit, has leveled-up since the last lackluster issue, particularly with Jason Keith's coloring giving the fire some heat and the gamma-powered gladiator some weight. Still, plotwise this issue feels a little light, with the Abomination feeling kind of perfunctory. Considering how strong Waid's characterization has been since he last relaunched this series, this Hulk still feels pretty puny.
Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #4 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): While this issue might move too quickly, with everything falling into place almost too easily for the characters, there’s no doubt this is a strong continuation of the series. The Operative adds a nice amount of tension at the beginning, but Zack Whedon allows it to all but evaporate while they search for more Alliance secrets. Whedon’s focus on the plot more than the characters was a little disappointing, but he’s done enough character building that it works within the context of the story; the same is felt with Zoe’s scene, which felt more like a need than a necessity, as it served nothing to the immediate story. Georges Jeanty is on point, as usual, and makes the final pages dramatic and extremely satisfying. When River comes face to face with the others at the Academy, the scene sent shivers down my spine, which is in no small part due to Jeanty’s breakdowns. This issue sets up for an explosive fight next time, and hopefully Whedon and the team will deliver.
Uncanny Avengers Annual #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Whoo, boy, this comic is a metric ton of fun. Throwing us into the craziness of comics headlong, Rick Remender takes his ragtag team of Avengers and makes them unwilling participants in a CW like supernatural drama co-starring various magic based characters of the Marvel universe, under the twisted direction of Mojo. Remender takes a break from the grim main story of Uncanny Avengers, displaying instead his wry wit and willingness to lean into the more ridiculous aspects of the Marvel universe in order to tell a cracking good story. Paul Renaud handles the pencils on Uncanny Avengers Annual #1 balancing genuine emotion with bombastic visuals. Renaud’s visuals feel and look natural in regards to the emotional states of the characters, yet when the action starts to kick in and the fists start flying, Paul Renaud soars and his characters leap off the page. If the current story arc of Uncanny Avengers has been proving to be too much of a grind in terms of enjoyment, Uncanny Avengers Annual #1 is sure to re-light that spark of fun for The Avengers Unity Squad.
Loki: Ragnarok and Roll #3 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The energy in the third issue of Eric M. Esquivel’s story starts high and stays high for the issue, giving readers the most enjoyable moments since the start of the narrative. Though Loki becomes a bit deranged, we’re still invested in his success to the point that we’re cheering him on with all the rest of his eight million twitter followers. While Jerry Gaylord’s art is over the top with gore at times and the issue ends rather abruptly, the fact that we still care about Loki and that Esquivel can make us feel sympathy for Odin in his final moments is a testament to the quality of the story. Loki: Ragnarok and Roll never attempts to be anything more than what it is: an incredibly enjoyable time while watching some of the most well-known characters fight and argue in a way we simply haven’t seen before.
Wolverine #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 1 out of 10): Holy. Cow. I figured I would give Wolverine another chance, given that there's a new artist on board, but man. Wolverine #5 isn't just bad, it's laughably bad. New artist Gerardo Sandoval takes all the worst parts of ultra-cartoony artists like Humberto Ramos, Ale Garza and Mark Texeira and tears the dial-off, creating an unholy mess of sharp, pinched, scratchy faces. Combined with the awful artwork is an equally awful storyline by Paul Cornell, who had just started to claw this story back to readability with a Departed-esque story of working undercover. Is this seriously a story where Logan tries to reason with Thor by showing him his pretty new rose tattoo? (Let alone try to interrupt Thor's weekly card game. Hilarious, and not intentionally so.) I feel bad for saying this, because I know Cornell is a super-nice guy and already I hate to beat a dead horse, but man, the only reason to read this comic is out of ignorance or out of spite. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Shadowman End Times #1 (Published by Valiant Comics; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Oh, Peter Milligan. It's the voodoo that you do so well. Paired with Valentine de Landro on inks, this duo give Shadowman the fresh start it's been needing. Filled with secrets, swamps, love, and revenge, the premier issue gives us not only a healthy back story, but a solid impetus for the continuation of the series. The plot is well constructed, nicely paced, and the characters are quickly developing. De Landro's visuals are done minimally, but with great line variation and movement. The only place the book falls down a bit is in the color department, where at times the highlighting is overdone to the point of detracting from the inks. All in all, an enjoyable start to the series for readers both old and new.
Rachel Rising #25 (Published by Abstract Studios; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The smell of burning rats and gamey magic potions are the subtle ways that Terry Moore immerses you in his story in spite of this issue being purely expository. There's no "Aha!" moments or a supernatural mass grave scene, just Moore relegating multiple panels to a character pondering whether or not to read a letter or the curious yet cautious cat, Euclid, observing Rachel, Jet, Aunt Johnny and Earl being the people that they are. The conversations and facial expressions overflow with character nuance and are wholly engaging, and Moore's fluid and impeccably cohesive storytelling rings authentic. That continues to be one of the great joys of Rachel Rising, setting it apart from so many other comics. As Rachel and Co. begin a new chapter into the mystery that surrounds them in their bewitched town, Rachel Rising #25 is a solid jumping on point and will certainly pique interest as to what has come before.
Tales of Honor #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): The unfortunate truth about book adaptations is that, sometimes, even with a great story at its core, it just can’t transition well into a different medium. After reading two issues of Tales of Honor, it appears that’s true for this as well. Writer Matt Hawkins does an admirable job in giving us the background of these characters, setting up the scenes, and being as descriptive as possible; the drawback is that, although that level of description is necessary, it really hinders the reading when we have to work through so much text. It doesn’t help that there isn’t an immediacy to the story—it’s continued to be told through flashbacks, and although the flashback story takes the majority of the issue, we can’t escape the present conditions of our protagonist. There’s nothing in the flashback sequences that make us want to turn the page, simply because we still don’t know Honor’s motivations for doing what she’s doing. Sang-Il Jeong’s art for this issue sometimes feels inorganic at times this issue, particularly in the facial features and body postures; he does, however, do a good job in transitioning between panels to make for an easy read through.
Clockwork Angels #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Just as the protagonist of Kevin J. Anderson’s Clockwork Angels listlessly traverses through the plot, so too do we as we read through the issue. Owen Hardy’s problem is—apparently—thinking big, but there’s nothing suggesting in this issue that that’s what he does. Without ambition, without a driving motivation, and without a clear-cut personality, Hardy goes throughout Crown City reactively and without putting up much of a fight for what he wants. Although he’s allegedly obsessed with seeing the Clockwork Angels, he passively allows himself to be denied entry to the Square and doesn’t even try to see what he wants. This dissonance between his actions and wants makes the narrative feel jarring and hollow. The premise of the world is enough to keep us interested, and the festival scene was intriguing in no small part to Nick Robles’ art. The painterly style is imaginative and expressive, making scenes like the one in the carnival beautiful to look at.