Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with 19 bite-sized critiques with this week's Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off today's column with Jaundiced Jake Baumgart, as he takes a look at the latest arc for Green Arrow...
Green Arrow #32 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Action. Packed. Sure, you’ve heard it before, but Lemire and Sorrentino’s Green Arrow #32 hits the ground running with an explosion (literally)! Broken: Part 1 picks up right where Issue #31 left off and the hero’s tumultuous return to Seattle. Lemire has done a fabulous job expanding the post-New 52 Green Arrow mythology in his last arc, and looks to continue the run with some more street-level rogues joining the story. The real stand-out is Andrea Sorrentino’s artwork. Beginning with a bold, monochromatic cover, the issue features the artist’s trademark style and pulpy flashbacks utilizing stylized Ben-Day dots and festive palette. If you have mistakenly missed out on the work this team has done on Oliver Queen, then Green Arrow #32 is the right jumping-on point.
Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Peter Parker is back. Or is he? Brian Bendis and David Marquez left readers with this question at the end of Issue #1, and it's one Miles struggles with over the course of the issue – both before and after his confrontation with the long-thought dead hero. Amidst the issue of whether "dead is truly dead" in the Ultimate Universe, this team quietly reintroduces Norman Osborn to one of his secret caches where he is access to past supplies of his goblin serum foreshadowing yet another Spider-Man/Green Goblin showdown. For many fans, the strength behind Ultimate Spider-Man lay the emotional connection between the characters and the readers, and Marquez and Justin Ponser do a phenomenal job of capturing and connecting Miles to his readership. Overall, it's hard not to sit back and wonder what Bendis and Marquez are going to do next: Does this new series mark the return of the real Peter Parker or is it yet another comic book "bait and switch"? Only Issue #3 will tell (we hope)!
Batman Eternal #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Batman takes a much needed break from Gotham and teams up with Batman Inc. fave, the Batman of Japan for some ninja-fighting detective work. Of course, Batman’s detective work these days is limited to punching and yelling “Talk!” at criminals, but what this issue lacks in nuance, it makes up for in fun. John Layman lays a good groundwork for future issues and the twist is actually surprising, something of a rarity in the modern age of Big Two comics. It isn’t Guillem March’s best outing artistically. Some of his foreshortening is just awkward and his bodies look too loose and distended. I really enjoyed the details included in Batman of Japan’s Batcave, but March gets caught up in style of storytelling too often for this one to be a complete win.
Nailbiter #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): After establishing the town of Buckaroo, Oregon, as the "serial killer capital" of the United States and setting up the narrative's primary trajectory with Finch's search for his missing FBI agent friend, Williamson really begins to differentiate Nailbiter from the pack of crime procedural stories out there. There's a touch of Hannibal Lector in Edward Warren – the Nailbiter – who law enforcement officers must work with in order to find the whereabouts of the missing agent. However, Williamson adds a unique twist through complicating matters with a past romance between the sheriff and Warren. Meanwhile, Mike Henderson and Adam Guzowski do phenomenal work in crafting panels from a variety of perspectives that chill and thrill from hints of what may or may not be something utterly gruesome cooking in a pot or someone sinister in the dark plotting against Finch and Crane. The art is visceral enough to make you wince at times, but not so much to keep you from quickly turning from one page to the next.
Original Sin #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): It's hard to distill all the reasons that this particular comic event just doesn't seem to be hitting the mark, though they're in line with the usual reasons events go south. Jason Aaron puts on a good show for us, but at the end of the day, the entire plot is not something we've been led to be invested in. Secrets are revealed to no real consequence, and the story itself doesn't change much – heck, even the characters don't change much. Mike Deodato's artwork has a few missteps as well, incorporating far too much tenebrism into the panels, making character recognition a bit of an issue at times, as well as detracting from the book overall. While the renderings of Mr. Orb are the highlight of this comic, it's hard to see how the series will fare with five issues left to go.
Princess Ugg #1 (Published by Oni Press; Review by Lindsey Morris; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Princess Ülga of Grimmeria has decided to get herself a higher education in the kingdom of Atraesca, and the first issue of her journey to self-betterment is a sheer delight. What's not to love about a wildling-esque princess riding into the city astride a wooly mammoth to learn etiquette? Ted Naifeh's work on both the scripting and the visuals are exceptional. From the first page, the language of Ülga's people stands out. It can be hard to cipher at times, but it adds a richness to the book and its heroine that would be lacking without it. The beautifully watercolored opening pages, which I can only complain about the lack of, also add to the strength of the issue. This book seems to have it all: rich dialects, great characterization, a compelling story, and lovely ink and color work. One of the best debuts of 2014, and not one to be missed.
Black Widow #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Nathan Edmondson does a great job of making this issue another stand-alone story while still providing some opportunities for readers to see these characters develop. We see the introduction of Daredevil as a sort of moral compass for the Black Widow, in addition to hinting at a similar role for Isaiah and his relationship with Natasha, all of which hold promising angles for future stories. Moreover, there are opportunities where lesser creators would have readily played the "sex card" with Natasha's getting dressed for work; yet, Phil Noto carefully keeps the art focused on the story and character. Where Edmondson's writing depicts Natasha's thoughts about her colleagues whose superpowers enable them to "get up and go" with far greater ease, Noto shows us the slow and deliberate process of her putting on the role of the Black Widow making her all the more human without distracting the reader with the all-too-popular T&A shots. The panels and pages he creates work in tandem with the writing and produce a solid superhero spy-on-the-side story.
Jirni #1 (Published by Aspen Comics; Review by Lilith Wood; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Jirni #1 achieved what it set out to do - it just didn’t set out to do very much. Ara is every warrior princess—sword skills, nice thighs, noble quest, and a great headdress. Her story feels predictable but is at least told in a mostly simple, uncluttered way. An exception to that simplicity is the look of the narration — J.T. Krul's script reads all right but looks bad with Josh Reed's white letters in gold and purple text boxes. The chintziness of the design detracts from what dignity the story tries to grant Ara as it follows her across sand and sea. This trek would also have more of the adventure and survival appeal of something like Elfquest if Ara were given more personality and heritage. Buy Jirni #1 for Paolo Pantalena’s pin-up art or for cosplay ideas, but not for an exciting story.
Swamp Thing #32 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Coming off the heels of Aquaman last week, Swamp Thing #32 continues the begrudging team-up between DC's premiere aquatic and herbaceous superheroes. Last issue let Swamp Thing get the upper hand, and like a good host, Charles Soule lets the King of the Seven Seas get some payback against Alec Holland, as Swamp Thing tries to stop a rampaging algae from terrorizing the oceans. Soule's characterization of Swamp Thing still feels a little loose and informal, but his take on Aquaman is nice, showing how rigid Arthur is when he has to give cold orders to his Atlantean soldiers. (Also, most badass use of dugongs ever.) Jesus Saiz really nails Aquaman's no-nonsense manner, making him look tougher and harder than anybody outside of Doug Mahnke. While the epilogue featuring the holdouts from the Parliament of Trees feels a little bland (and while you might rightly argue you've seen the same thing in another book last week), this is still a pretty good showing from the Swamp Thing team.
Five Ghosts #12 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This issue serves as the final installment of the "Lost Coastlines" story arc and the final issue of the series while before going on a short hiatus until the fall. And what a great issue to go out on! Fabian has been shown to be a much more mercenary character of late with his betrayal of Asif – a man who not only saved Gray but taught him his swashbuckling ways. With this issue, Barbiere places his protagonist in a position to choose between what he wants most and the very lives of those who helped him reach this point. Suffice to say, it makes for some great storytelling. Yet the force behind Barbiere's scripts is Mooneyham's art. Barbiere doesn't need to tell us what's going on or how characters are feeling because the artistic team behind each page does this work for him. I've read a number of works inspired by "The Tempest," but this issue was easily the most visually arresting of them all.
Amazing X-Men #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): A new creative team means a new, albeit familiar direction for Amazing X-Men. While the first arc treated us to the return of Nightcrawler, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost decide to give us another return: the return of Alpha Flight. So this issue plays out in much more Claremontian fashion that Jason Aaron’s work did. But we get another issue that uses Wolverine as main point of view which makes this no different than almost every other X-Men book. It’s great that Ed McGuinness stuck around after Aaron’s departure but even he’s not up to par here. Teaming up with inker Mark Farmer, his lines lack a clarity that we saw before and with the decrease in action, there’s a decrease in energy in his work. “World War Wendigo” might be an eye-catching title but this issue isn’t worth the cover price. Hopefully, Kyle and Yost will do better than to use ol’ Canucklehead as a storytelling crutch.
The Woods #2 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Overall, this issue was a mixed bag. We see the first of the two narrative threads following the student explorers as they seek to learn more about the alien planet, and this plotline proves to be engaging as there is plenty of unknown territory to cover. The second covers the power struggle back at the high school between the student council president and the administration. This where the writing feels staged and predictable when looking at the interactions between Principal Beaumont, Coach Clay, and Maria (the student council president). Beaumont feels like a copy of Principal Vernon from The Breakfast Club, and Clay comes across as a bad stereotype of an "ends justifies the means" soldier. What's frustrating is Clay was a special forces soldier at one point, and most operators would recognize Maria's initiative in this situation and seek to place the betterment of the group ahead of personal, ego-driven pursuits of control. Yet, Tynion IV needs a teacher-student conflict, and he drives Clay into cliché. The one element of this issue that is still consistent and works well is Michael Dialynas and Josan Gonzalez on art as they work to create realistic and surreal depictions of the hardships each group faces. Gonzalez's odd hues and colors work particularly well in driving home the alien nature of this setting. Hopefully, the story can break from overly worn clichés and focus more on exploring its interesting premise.
Madame Frankenstein #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Vincent’s humiliations are nearly at an end, as long as his new creation Gail becomes the woman he’s always dreamed of, in the second issue of Madame Frankenstein, a Jazz Age re-imagining of the Frankenstein mythos. Artist Megan Levens and writer Jamie S. Rich weave in backstory, showing the desperation for approval that drives Vincent’s madness and lengths he’ll go to prove his point. At the same time, Levens makes Gail such a tragic figure through visuals that express her current helplessness, a situation that readers know will inevitably change. Elements evoking the Karloff movie, such as fades to black or movie-set dungeons, mix with societal clashes right out of Fitzgerald as this period horror piece continues to breathe new life into Shelley’s story.
Captain America #21 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Rick Remender might be leaving it all out on the court over in Uncanny Avengers, but he’s really slipping in Captain America. The conclusion to Iron Nail and the Gungnir’s story is lifeless. Iron Nail proves to be an uninteresting, single-minded enemy and the implications of the ending are greater than the story that got us there. It’s too bad, because Nic Klein delivered probably the best part of his run in the issue because the battle is drawn out over the course of the whole book. Fight comics are great, don’t get me wrong, but Remender almost set himself up for a fall. When you open a book with a year-long arc in another dimension and Arnim Zola, even the combined might (if you can call it that) of Nuke, Dr. Mindbubble and Iron Nail aren’t going to measure up.
Batwing #32 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): The end is nigh for Batwing as a series, but it's interesting to see that in its final issues, the book is starting to pick up. I hope that Eduardo Pansica and Julio Ferrera continue to team up on art (and on a more high-profile book), as they really are the best answer to Bryan Hitch that I've seen in a long time, with their characters looking realistic and powerful, particularly moments like Ratcatcher riding a wave of vermin, or Lucius Fox sitting numb in his office, dwelling on what might have happened to his kidnapped daughter. That said, the way that Batwing winds up rescuring his kidnapped sister ends a little too abruptly, robbing this book of a lot of its tension. Still, I do have to give Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray credit where it's due - their epilogue is a nice, human bit of storytelling, as Luke struggles to make sense of the staggering losses he's had so early in his career. There's some flaws to the end of this arc, but the artwork is definitely worth noting - and in the case of DC's other books, something well worth continuing.
The Wake #9 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): In the last issue, Leeward joined forces with Captain Mary, and in The Wake #9, we discover she has risen to the station of first mate and is leading the way to uncovering the mystery behind Lee Archer's distress call. What Leeward discovers, however, is far from what she and the rest of the crew expected to find – and it's something the Governess clearly wishes to keep under wraps. This issue in particular provides an excellent showcase for Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth's artistic talents in the variety of different settings as well as panel and page layouts on display. Murphy's enthusiasm is arguably clearest with the large air assault, while Hollingsworth's ethereal colors emanate from the panels at the end of the story. There is an epic conflict playing out in both the immediate sense as well as across time with Leeward finding herself square in the midst of it all. As Snyder begins to draw this aquatic sci-fi thriller to a close, Issue #9 makes it clear he still has a few more surprises left to deliver.
Rise of the Magi #1 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Lilith Wood; ‘Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): The first issue of Rise of the Magi reads like it was hastily cannibalized for the zero issue that came out last month. It feels sewn back up and re-engineered, with a cramped recapping of the zero issue and then disorienting cuts back and forth in time and space. The protagonist from the zero issue disappears for the first half of this issue and then comes back in the second half. At this point the book changes artists from Sumeyye Kesgin to Marc Silvestri (who is also the writer). Silvestri’s art is more organic and emotive and less toy-like than Kesgin’s. I started to engage with the story for a couple of pages before being pitched headlong into a severe plot twist at the very end. The distracting structural problems are compounded by an over-ambitious plot and a hackneyed magic-kingdom setting.
Afterlife with Archie, Vol. 1 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster unlike any other Archie reading experience. Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla eschew shock tactics and the cheap marketing ploys of merely applying the zombie genre in a superficial manner to a classic and wholesome comic line. Instead, this duo looks at the emotional impact and toll on everyday people forced to deal with horrific and tragic circumstances, and the result is a surprisingly emotionally compelling comic. Francavilla's aesthetic leans far more heavily on dark, brooding panels with a cinematic layout that builds tension in the reader than it does on gory details. Arguably, the most powerful and emotionally painful scene takes place between Archie and his faithful dog, Vegas. The back-and-forth dialogue between the two is sparse but incredibly poignant, and it will no doubt leave readers hugging their pets a little tighter. One doesn't need to be a regular fan of Archie Comics to appreciate the superb quality storytelling in this series, but readers who have at least a passing familiarity will no doubt experience an additional feeling of horror at seeing how this zombie infestation plays out across Riverdale.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 8 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10):The Turtles retreat to April’s parents in order to recover from the events of City Fall, but with Leonardo’s internal struggles and a sense of betrayal and lies hanging over their heads, the rest they seek may not be possible in another solid arc. This is some of the best art in Ross Campbell’s career, filled with strong emotions and fluid movement. Writer Tom Waltz, working with Kevin Eastman and Bobby Curnow, provides great character moments for Campbell, such as Raphael’s shifting from anger to attraction to anger again in relation to an exiled member of Shredder’s team. There’s an effortless shift in writing and art between introspection and action, showing us why we continue to care about the Turtles in another recommended trade.