Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off today's column with Draven Katayama, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Ms. Marvel...
Ms. Marvel #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): In just four issues, G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona have created a vivid, detailed world for Kamala Khan and her friends. Alphona immerses us in a New Jersey neighborhood with ethnic restaurants and a corner store stocked with magazines with funny titles, where Kamala has just taken a gunshot wound to the chest. Kamala is now at a turning point where she must choose a public superhero identity. Until now, she has used her shape-shifting powers to masquerade as the former Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers. In a touching extended scene, Bruno, who calls himself Kamala's "second-best friend," encourages her to be a hero without conforming to others' expectations of what a hero should look like. We discover with Kamala that her power set is greater than she knew. A brief scene with her mom shows the dissonance Kamala feels between her desire to fight for the greater good, and the discouragement of having distrustful, restrictive parents. What impresses about Wilson's writing is this microcosm, set apart from other Marvel characters and stories, of a teen learning to make choices, defy societal expectations, and discover her abilities. If you're looking for a solo title that emphasizes original characters rather than elaborate events, this is an outstanding issue of Wilson's engaging, well-paced story.
Batman #31 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Batman bounces back this month after a slow issue that simply moved some pieces around. The Riddler may have taken over Gotham but the city is still Batman’s greatest asset, and he’ll need it to undo the damage that’s been done. Scott Snyder teams Bruce with Lucius Fox and Commissioner Gordon and delivers a thrill ride from start to finish. Any of the punch the book lost in the last issue is back with aplomb. Greg Capullo’s art continues to remind us why Batman has been one of the most consistent and consistently good books in the New 52. He balances big action with the more minute details necessary to sell the tension. All around, this is an excellent issue that’ll have fans foaming at the mouth for next month.
C.O.W.L. #1 (Published by Image Comics; Lilith Wood; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): C.O.W.L. #1 starts off gorgeous and exciting before bogging down into dark, dense panels of grim conversation. A fight sprawls down the streets of Chicago for the first seven pages—the city is beautiful with textured facades and pinpoints of lights. The violence is kinetic, expressive and visceral. After the exhilaration of the fight, the rest of the issue feels flat and stiff. The aging team of heroes is bitter, incohesive, and losing relevance. The story feels like a gritty cop drama, which will help some readers hang in with the energy downshift and airless interiors. There’s a lot of restless talent in both the art and writing, and I’ll be looking to see how this team executes in future issues.
Nightwing #30 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Entirely too long and incredibly self-important, the conclusion to Nightwing is one that nobody needed. Tim Seeley decides that the best way to communicate the change in Bruce and Dick’s relationship is to have them beat each other to a bloody pulp for a third of the book. While superhero comics are prone to fight sequences with expository dialogue as a means of not-so-subtly visualizing metaphors, this one is so on-the-nose that it’s almost insulting. The art in the first two sections is nothing to write home about but Mikel Janin’s work in the last third is proof that the forthcoming Grayson might have some legs, as long as Seeley steps up his game.
Southern Bastards #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): If you like Southern Gothic literature, Southern Bastards #2 is the book for you. The themes of how one can never really leave home – or that home never leaves you – along with the continued "presence of the past" play heavily into this series as Earl Tubb grapples with the ghosts of his and his family's past in their small, ingrown hometown in Craw County. On one hand, his ties are cut and his father's house is emptied; on the other, the coach reigns supreme and there is no one left to do the right thing. Between the all-too-real voices crafted by Jason Aaron and coupled with each scar and care-worn lines imparted by Jason Latour, these characters come alive as the coach and the sheriff's now-older son prepare for a showdown the likes of which haven't been seen for an entire generation.
Mighty Avengers #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Leave it to Al Ewing to paint a day in the life of the Mighty Avengers... all while the assassination of the Watcher reverberates around the Marvel Universe. Ewing tells a lot of different stories here, and all of them are great: we have Blade squaring off against demonic were-roosters (and making us laugh early), we see Luke Cage, the Falcon and Spectrum fight the Mindless Ones (and getting us up to speed on Original Sin), and we get a great heartfelt story of the Blue Marvel mourning his fallen, omniscient friend on the moon (which plucks on the heartstrings). This issue is the jokiest Ewing has been thus far, but it still gives this series a real likability. Greg Land, while occasionally obtrusive with his photorealism, draws the were-roosters with just the right amount of edge, and is surprisingly on point with many of the emotional beats. Marvel's sleeper hit team book continues to impress.
Red Lanterns #31 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Guy Gardner and his squad don’t really get the face-off against Atrocitus that we were hoping for, but Charles Soule and Alessandro Vitti are doing an excellent job expanding the Red Lantern mythology. Supergirl is still finding her way as well and it’s interesting to see how her impulsive heroics contrast with the rest of the squad’s willful ambivalence toward anything that isn’t their exact mission. Anger is the emotion that powers them but Guy Gardner doesn’t allow them to make truly emotional decisions because he knows the consequences. Vitti is at his best with characters like Skallox, Atrocitus and the Judge; the more monstrous, the better. But his rendering of Gardner (especially the goatee) is not in line with what he’s done in previous issues. Still, this might be the best Lantern book of the lot of them.
Deadly Class #5 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Teens will inevitably come into conflict with their parents for their elder's failings or one another in competition for the affections of a "certain someone." In Deadly Class #5, however, we find the way these circumstances play out takes a far more … deadly bent. Remender keeps things relatable enough to keep readers engaged with his protagonist, but the variations are enough to keep fans interested in coming back to see what will happen next. And combined with Craig's eye for perspective, which helps impart a cinematic quality to the pacing, and Loughridge's surreal coloring effects, this issue continues demand readers' attention from the start of the issue to the end. If there is one thing that is going to stand out for readers of Deadly Class #5, it will be Lee Loughridge's colorful blending of the 1980s with a wild acid trip. Considering this is exactly where Rick Remender and Wes Craig left Marcus in Issue #4, it fits the circumstances well.
Justice League Dark #31 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10):Welcome to Alice Walker’s Nightmare, with Zatana and Constantine on opposite sides as the fallout from Forever Evil continues. Writer J.M. DeMatteis deftly keeps the team as dysfunctional as possible, highlighting the problem of a group of magic users with their own agenda. With yet another of their own turning against them, this has the feel of Peter Gillis’ New Defenders run where the team began to implode. Though he has three inkers, artist Andres Guinaldo’s art still features hyper-detailing, like every brick drawn on a house or the leaves and mold that make up Swamp Thing. Facial features don’t quite capture DeMatteis’s lines, however, which hurt the impact of the dialogue. For fans of character-driven comics, this one continues to be a solid pick-up.
Avengers #30 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Just when we thought we were getting somewhere last issue, Avengers #30 slows the momentum down drastically, as Jonathan Hickman is heavy with portents and light on actual action. With Captain America fuming over being mind-wiped by Iron Man and the rest of his super-powered Illuminati, tensions have rarely been higher between these two brothers-in-arms - so why does Jonathan Hickman have to weigh it down with vague premonitions and turning Tony Stark into the bad guy again. Leinil Francis Yu draws some super-gritty characters and some tough-looking Iron Man suits, especially nailing a bearded future version of Hawkeye, but you can't help but feel a sense of this being too little push, too late. Like the Avengers themselves, I feel lost here - and not sure I even want to wait while they try to find their way back.
Skullkickers #27 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Skullkickers #27 continues with the third part of the "A Dozen Cousins and a Crumpled Crown" story arc, in which the not-dead Rolf continues to face execution at the hands of the King of Dwayre, which is where he was at the end of Issue #25 and all through #26. Although this part of the story hasn't progressed much apart from his friends bungling their way through a rescue attempt, we do get to see (via flashback) Rolf's first time "commanding" the dwarven version of a Jaeger, aka the Wartyke, setting up a medieval fantasy version of Pacific Rim for the next issue given the approaching threat. Overall, Zub keeps the humor flowing while Huang and Coates' visuals animatedly capture and convey the humorous elements of the story in their typical fashion. Ironically, it’s the unseen narrator who continues to steal the show through the third-person commentary on the events playing out. While that may seem odd within a visually-driven medium, Skullkickers is a series that isn't afraid of being a little odd.
Clive Barker's Nightbreed #1 (Published by BOOM! Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Breaking the fourth wall and immediately pulling in the reader is an interesting way to start Nightbreed #1. However, when writer Marc Andreyko shifts to other timelines and a more traditional form of narrative, the moment is a little jarring. It lessens the impact of the horrors on the page. Still, the art by Piotr Kowalski does a fine job of establishing an otherworldly mood within mundane settings. With his real strengths coming through the use of mono colors and shading. His art makes him in total control on how we view the morality of the monsters of Nightbreed. Hopefully his skill becomes more refined as the story evolves. Although the issue is primarily setup, with little characterization, the setting and art is strong enough to make you want to come back for issue #2.
Trees #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): There is a lot of ground Warren Ellis has to cover in this first issue, and time is short as he introduces readers to a number of different characters and plot threads in a world where massive, column-like aliens have landed on Earth. Readers don't get enough about these characters to be fully invested in them yet, but there is enough to pique one's curiosity. Interestingly, it seems humanity hasn't learned much about these aliens nor have these colonizing "trees" demonstrated much interest in the beings whose world they've inhabited. How then does society exist in a world where it now knows it is no longer alone? This seems to be the crux of Ellis' new series. Trees is certainly worth a continued watch, especially given Jason Howard's art. He seamlessly balances both line work and color art resulting in a story that is well-paced and makes use of colors that provide emphasis in all the right moments. Sure, Trees #1 is different – but give it two to three issues before making a judgment call on this series.
Aquaman #31 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): You can almost sense the Silver Age sensibilities within Aquaman #31, as Jeff Parker writes an entertaining battle between Aquaman and Swamp Thing. It's one of those almost-meaningless fights that only exists to service as entertainment, but you still love it. It's a fight made all the more vibrant by Paul Pelletier, who has really started to thrive in the book. His panel layouts and perspectives are spot-on, adding a real sense of movement to the book. Alvaro Martinez takes art duties as Mera investigates her own assassination attempt. While his lines don't look as sharp and his poses seem a bit static compared to Pelletier, Martinez's work is still an efficient design that doesn't hamper the story. Aquaman #31 is juggling two separate but equally interesting stories between Arthur and Mera that could possibly hold their own titles. Tightened up within a single issue, you've got a book that's well worth your time and money.