Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday column? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's edition of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off with Poignant Pierce Lydon, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man...
Amazing Spider-Man #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): World-building spinning out of Original Sin? Check. Repercussions from Superior Spider-Man? Check. Humor? Check. Action? Check. A healthy dose of the ol’ Parker luck? Check. Dan Slott doesn’t get the credit for being a master planner that other writers like Jonathan Hickman do, but it’s clear that he’s always got the big picture in mind. Silk’s introduction blends seamlessly into the rest of the narrative and even though she’s new, it feels like she’s been around for a while. Humberto Ramos has significantly toned down some of his more cartoony tendencies (not a knock, just an observation), and it really helps to sell some of tension in this issue. Spidey definitely swings out on top this week as we are treated to a near-perfect amalgam of his world.
Batman Eternal #19 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Eternal is at its best when the pacing is good. Unfortunately, not every writer is up to the task of balancing each story line every time out. Tim Seeley nail it in this one, though. Four diffferent storylines get some play and provide a good balance between action and exposition. Seeley moves Jim Gordon back toward the “hero cop” persona that we’re used to seeing and really each of storylines are starting to revolve around a theme. This book’s title is a reminder that “Batman” is more than just a single person, he’s an idea that permeates the lives of these individuals and drives them to do what they do. We’re starting to see that come together. Emanuel Simeoni starts off a little rough, due to some odd shading that make his characters look more like they’re covered in charcoal. But he brings it home with strong sequences involving the Fear Toxin and the sewers of Gotham.
Captain Marvel #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Marlene Bonnelly; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): In classic Captain Marvel style, Carol concludes her visit to Torfa with a bang. Kelly Sue DeConnick again proves that she can write a spectacular, well-paced feel-good comic, with this issue in particular further developing a group of genuinely likable, easy-to-empathize-with characters. It also cements the idea that while Carol shines as a hero, she can act the part of a very competent soldier and, in fact, understands the importance of letting others do the saving once in a while. David Lopez’s art is as enjoyable as always; his ability to breathe life into a cast of vastly different shapes and sizes is impressive, and I really appreciate the interesting choice of low-contrast colors. Overall, this is a great conclusion to a fun story that, especially given the villain’s role, reminds me (in the best way) of Brian Michael Bendis’s current Guardians of the Galaxy run. I’m looking forward to seeing where Carol’s adventures take her next!
Sex Criminals #7 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): We catch up with Suzie and Jon stuck in the throes of normalcy in this issue. Suzie attempts to rebuild her friendship with her ex-roommate Rachel, and Jon looks for answers in the home of the menacing Sex Police. Although the colors felt a little undersaturated and overly shaded at times, regular readers will enjoy how this issue is filled with Zdarksy's trademark absurdities (i.e. a dildo-esque homage to Darth Maul's dual-edge lightsaber) and Fraction's witty dialogue. However, the real crux of this issue takes place with Jon's struggles with the morality of having the freedom to do anything he wants and the potential for getting away with it. The bombshell revelation at the end reinforces the notion that this dilemma is one for more than just the protagonists, but many others as well.
Batgirl #34 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It's a wrap for Barbara - and writer Gail Simone - as the fight against Knightfall reaches a quick conclusion. Simone has to take shortcuts to get to everything she'd like before the new status quo, and she does her best here, even if certain things (like the fate of her brother) feel thrown in. The overall tone is from the days when things weren't so decompressed, and it's a welcome change. Fernando Pasarin is more than up for the challenge and doesn't waste an inch showing the dual fronts of the "Birds of Prey" attack on Knightfall and the girl-powered defense of Gotham. The note of hope despite the pain is a fitting ending for what was, for me, the best book of the original New 52.
Skullkickers #30 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Issue #30 provides a bit of a breather for readers following the end of the previous story arc as Jim Zub delivers another round of "Tavern Tales Through Time." The stories written by Zub were the best in terms of comic timing, while Jeff Cruz's art was both versatile, simple, and well-executed. Although the "Axeman…" short provides a biting and humorous dig at Batman, the details were a little hard to make out at times due to the darker palette – an issue that came up again in "Fill 'Er Up" in spite of Sotherland's otherwise solid work. Overall, there are some good laughs with a healthy mix of weirdness just as Zub promises upfront. I don't know much about Cruz, but given the strength of the different artistic styles on display in this issue, it'd be a shame if we don't see more from him in the future.
Batman #34 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): With "Zero Year" now behind us, Issue #34 provides readers with a bit of a palate cleanser with "The Meek" – a stand-alone detective story with guest writer Gerry Dugan and artist Matteo Scalera. The concept of the story is an interesting one that documents a serial killer who manages to stay under Batman's radar over a number of years. Given the epic nature of the previous arc, the street-level approach is a smart choice. The only nit-pick would be the twist ending with Dr. Thompkins, which is a bit of a hard sell. Still, one can't help but be taken in with Scalera's gritty landscapes and characters along with his lean, sinewy Batman, all of which expertly convey the ominous feel and tone of Gotham and its Dark Knight Detective. Overall, it's easy to get caught up in the notion that Batman is perfect, and this story's ending reminds us about his flawed humanity making it a solid read.
Hulk #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Gerry Duggan jumps onto Hulk and the results are... interesting. With Banner (mostly) out of the picture, the all-new, super-smart Doctor Green, as our incredible gamma-irradiated hero now prefers to be called, has big plans and they’re a tinge sinister. It’s easy to start to extrapolate on Duggan’s plans here. With plans to rid the world of other gamma weapons such as A-Bomb, we could very well see a Marvel Universe where Doc Green is the one true Gamma monster, and that could have serious repercussions considering his intelligence. Mark Bagley plays to all his strengths, never really venturing outside the pocket to experiment with new methods of expression or storytelling. But for a script that leans a little heavy on exposition to set the stage, that works here. Bagley is a reliable artist who will deliver the Marvel universe the way that most people are used to seeing it. Whether or not that’s a good thing for a Hulk book with seemingly loftier aspirations, we’ll have to wait and see.
Dark Ages #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Dan Abnett transports us to 14th century Europe, where a grim band of mercenaries fights to survive in a harsh land... then the skies open and alien legions descend upon them. It’s an interesting spin on the post-GoT medieval fantasy, though slightly similar to the plot of the new Usagi Yojimbo series. I like that Abnett has the characters perceive the aliens as demons, as that’s their only point of reference. There’s some really interesting characters here and a few intriguing seeds planted for future issues. I.N.J. Culbard’s art has a somewhat minimalist look, which really suits the setting. He also designs some deliciously gruesome aliens/monsters that remind me of Guy Davis’s designs. Sword & sworcery meets sci-fi horror — sign me up!
Armor Hunters #3 (Published by Valiant Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The third installment of the Valiant summer crossover gets underway in this issue, and fans of the series will find a lot to enjoy in this issue. Following the devastation of Mexico City and the hounds' initial assault throughout North America and Europe, the heroes of Earth begin to mobilize and launch their own countermeasures. Despite having multiple threads in play, however, Venditti keeps things moving at a fast but easy to follow pace. Braithwaite's line work is exquisite without feeling overworked, and the scenes with GIN-GR are some of the most dynamic. Moreover, Laura Martin's colors are truly stunning and help the sci-fi elements pop off each page. If readers aren't willing to try the various tie-ins, and they should, rest assured this mini-series provides more than enough to stand on its own.
Avengers World #11 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): Oof. Talk about a decent story handicapped by some seriously gnarly art. Going from the expressive, cartoony artwork of Stefano Caselli or the clean, stylized work of Marco Checchetto to the rough, undynamic work of Raffaele Ienco is one of the biggest issue-to-issue trip-ups I've seen in a long, long time. It's rough enough to derail what would otherwise be a really strong concept, as Nick Spencer brings the Next Avengers into mainstream continuity for the first time. Of course, the story itself also is a bit light, as Spencer channels the lyrical narration that Jonathan Hickman used when he first took over the Avengers books. It just feels like a weird interlude, and the actual battle versus A.I.M. feels abrupt, with the kids' technical doohickey not making a whole lot of sense. This one is definitely worth skipping.
Unity #10 (Published by Valiant Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): A tie-in to the Armor Hunter crossover series, this issue explores some of the same events from Armor Hunters #3 with the hunters' assault throughout Europe and North America but from the perspective of Unity teammates, Ninjak and the Eternal Warrior. It's a nice opportunity for readers to get a chance to see these two different warriors handle themselves on the battlefield. What makes the issue really stand out, however, is the 10-page detour Kindt and Segovia take to explore the origins of the hunters' transport and kaiju-like robot, GIN-GR. What was once thought to be a mere machine transforms into a sympathetic survivor all told on the strength of Segovia's art and Kindt's scripting, as there is no discernible dialogue in this scene. Although readers will need to be following the main crossover for all of these elements to make sense, it's an issue that's well worth adding to the pile for any Valiant reader.
Captain America #23 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): This issue feels a little light, but the more Rick Remender returns to his initial Dimension Z arc, the more we’re seeing a return to form. Captain America might not always seems like a fit for weird sci-fi plots but taking the experimentation at the heart of his porigin and exaggerating it even further works well here. And despite Steve Rogers's newfound advanced age, Remender doesn’t push him to the background in his own book. Old Steve can still hang with the rest of the Avengers. Carlos Pacheco’s fight choreography is strong in this one, but his “Unvengers” are more goofy than chilling. That doesn’t take too much away from Remender’s idea, and the ensuing battle is sure to be a lot of fun. Captain America is continuing its upward swing.
Shutter #5 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It may feel a little late in the game, but it's nice to see Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca finally get to the heart of what's on Kate Christopher's mind, as she reels with the revelation that her father had several secret children that she didn't know about. There's a real sweetness as she bonds with Christopher, Jr., as he asks her whether or not she likes dinosaurs - and it's tempered as Kate flips out when she learns just how old the boy is. Del Duca's artwork is expressive and energetic, aided by some striking colorwork by Owen Gieni. If there's any one downside to this issue, it's that it still feels like Keatinge hasn't quite struck the balance between the spectacular and the substantive, as this issue doesn't have the craziness of some of the others. Still, a great showing by all involved.
Superman/Wonder Woman #11 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): The appeal of Superman/Wonder Woman #11 begins and ends with artist Thony Silas, who brings a kinetic, cartoony take on much of the Justice League as Brainiac descends on the planet. That said, while Silas has some immense talent, he still has a bit of room to grow, particularly as many of his characters' faces look very, very similar. Storywise, Charles Soule is forced to run in place, as this still feels more like a Superman story than a Wonder Woman one - he even has to undo the rapid "cure" that the previous issues built for Superman. This is all flash, no substance, sadly, and a sign that maybe this Doomsday arc has finally run its course.
Godzilla: Cataclysm #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): I love Godzilla, but it’s a concept that has been done to death. There's only so many times you can read about kaiju destroying a city before being eventually defeated, without losing interest. What makes this mini different is that Cullen Bunn decides to ask what would happen if humankind lost and the monsters won. So we find ourselves following a group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world 20 years after it was ravaged by monsters. It’s a fresh spin and Bunn builds a fascinating world filled with interesting characters. Dave Wacher provides suitably grim and gritty visuals for a devastated world and illustrates some energetic and gory monster battles. The best take on Godzilla since “The Half Century War.”
Superboy #34 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Well, Superboy is over, and the creative team certainly closes this chapter with a bang. All the time-travel, temporal loop stuff gets a hasty explanation as a last-ditch effort saves the team and with the book coming to a close, I’m still hung up on one thing. Superboy has been an almost completely joyless book since it’s inception in the New 52. A far cry from past iterations of the character and a reminder that a new take isn’t always a better one. But Kuder, with a huge hand from Jorge Jimenez, was able to give us glimpses of Kon-El’s potential. Jimenez draws an exceptional Superboy and one that I’d gladly read month in and month out if the tone of story fit his clean lines and exuberant character renderings. This was as good an ending as we could’ve hoped for, a big ridiculous paradoxical and actually kind of fun conclusion to a title that has been that severely needed that.
Anderson: Psi Division #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): 2000 AD editor Matt Smith (Tharg) follows up on his incredible Judge Dredd: Year One miniseries with a look at one of Dredd’s most interesting supporting characters: Psi-Judge Cassandra Anderson. The series is part thrilling mystery, part action sci-fi, and part character examination. The plot is engaging, the dialogue is natural, and the characterization is spot on. Smith also manages introduces the character to new readers smoothly, without alienating old fans. Thrud the Barbarian creator Carl Critchlow provides some absolutely stunning artwork, with dynamic linework, fantastic character work, gorgeous cityscapes, and eye-popping colors. This is by far best Dredd book that IDW is publishing and good enough to be featured in the real 2000 AD.