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 Personable Pierce Lydon, as he takes a look at this week's issue of Batman and Robin...
Batman & Robin #36 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): “Robin Rises” is definitely getting a little bit goofy, but I think we knew it was headed there as soon as Bruce donned his Apokolips armor. Peter J. Tomasi is letting Bruce’s love for his son trump all common sense and it plays directly into Bruce’s usual obsessive, controlling behavior. But the approach also causes the dialogue to be a bit repetitive. Patrick Gleason gives us some incredible fight scenes, though. The desperation is palpable. The stakes are high, and even though it's obvious Bruce is going to make it out of this one, it’s exciting to see how he dispatches his foes. This is a solid fight comic through and through. The “boss battle” is coming up, and it looks like it’ll be a doozy.
Daredevil #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The move to San Francisco has been an interesting, if not always consistent, one for the Man Without Fear. In this concluding chapter of the face-off with Purple Man and his Purple Children (with nary a Prince to be seen), "storytellers" Mark Waid and Chris Samnee bookend their tale with one of the most simple, effective and touching narratives on depression in recent comics. In a handful of pitch-black panels, Matt Murdoch (under the influence of his adversary) explains that, “At its worst, you are numb. You are drained.” Yet the real hero moment comes not in his conquering of the physical threats, which are dealt with almost perfunctorily, but in the “post credits” affirmation that one of the counterpoints to depression is reaching out and letting those willing to help into your life.
The Multiversity: Pax Americana (Published by DC Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The All-Star Superman creative team of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely reunite for a tantalizing glimpse of another one of DC’s 52 alternate universes. This time Morrison takes us on a trip to the Charlton Comics universe, by way of Watchmen. There’s some serious fanboy homage going on here, but Morrison does it so well that it’s hard not to love every moment (though I’m sure Alan Moore would not approve). Quitely’s artwork is fabulous, with wonderful composition, creative layouts, breathtaking splashes, and incredible character work. I’m not sure if this event/crossover is actually going anywhere, but this series seems to be more about the journey than the destination, so just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Amazing Spider-Man #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Olivier Coipel elevates this otherwise utilitarian chapter of Amazing Spider-Man. With the Spider-Verse event in full swing, Dan Slott is the team player of the Spider-Office this issue, as he splits up the various Spider-Men into separate groups (which so happen to conveniently set up spin-off books like Scarlet Spiders and Spider-Woman, as well as a new arc in Spider-Man 2099). Slott should get a lot of credit, however, for juggling such an audacious number of characters - while they might not do a whole lot besides talk and size each other up, there's a lot of thought in the dynamics here. Coipel's sense of design is what sells this book, as he's able to add some nice variation on a time-honored design. The fact that Slott is able to keep this many balls in the air is a victory in and of itself.
Wonder Woman #36 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): To be honest, the Azzarello/Chang run on Wonder Woman was going to be a tough act to follow. However, it’s a bit disappointing how much of a drop off Wonder Woman #36 is. It should be said that writer Meredith Finch paces the comic very well. Even when Diana lays out all of her responsibly to Aquaman, the comic doesn’t feel bogged down by these issues. Meredith Finch is able to streamline the ferocity of Diana and make it a point of focus for the issue. Yet, it’s one step forward and two steps back when paired with the artwork. Although very accomplished, David Finch’s Wonder Woman is too Barbie and not enough Xena. She is lithe like a model which seems out of step with the direction the character has been headed in recent years. Wonder Woman #36 is a new start on the character but it might not be for the better.
Sinergy #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): This is one of the stranger premises in current comics: Jess is a soon-to-be college hockey player who has sex for the first time, and immediately receives the ability to see monsters. Michael Avon Oeming creates an odd predicament: Jess is poised to be mentored by her dad about this supernatural realm, but after a problematic, unsettling scene of domestic violence where Jess' dad grabs Jess' mom's face, so far he is a wholly reprehensible character. Oeming and Taki Soma's art juxtaposes colors starkly, with seafoam green faces set against orange hair. The inset panels revealing characters' monster appearances contrasted with their human selves is a creative effect. This is a visually interesting debut of a relatable protagonist and a deplorable father.
Black Widow #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Phil Noto continues one of the most impressively illustrated books on shelves currently. Natasha's first full page here shows off Noto's precision in the detail of her sniper rifle, and the watercolor-like blending of dark blues in her clothing and in the background. Small details really showcase Noto's talent: see how Anderson Cooper is reflected in Captain America's shield. This is clearly a segue issue: Nathan Edmondson gives Natasha more first-person exposition to explain that she's taking this black ops mission to blow off some steam. We don't get the weight, tension or smart one-liners of the first arc. Edmondson is setting up his next arc where Natasha will be more alienated from her fellow Avengers. It's not a ground-breaking issue, but it is a pretty one.
Harley Quinn #12 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The only thing that delights more that seeing writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Connor writing Power Girl again is seeing them skewer Marvel’s cosmic universe in the process. From the sublimely ridiculousness of Sportsmaster and Clock King to the properly ridiculous of a Harley Quinn/Power Girl team-up - in space - this is Harley Quinn in its element, referencing everything from mainstream sci-fi to cult cinema in the naming of Manos, a comedic analogue for the Mad Titan. John Timms and series regular Chad Hardin provide the art, a delightfully batty Saturday morning cartoon mix that looks like it is in constant motion. As long as you don’t mind your comics playing with the fluffy tail of surrealism, then it’s difficult not to like this fun outing.
Justice League #36 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The intriguing premise of the Amazo virus sweeping across Metropolis renews the vigour of a series often arrested by events and line-wide tie-ins. The focus propels the narrative forward, allowing Geoff Johns to play to the core strengths of the Batman/Superman relationship, the "otherness" of Wonder Woman and the puzzle that Lex Luthor represents as both the cause of the virus and potential savior to its victims. Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson create a post-apocalyptic Metropolis that feels like it is full of imminent threats. As one of DC’s flagship books, this is a franchise renewed, and one of the first team stories in a while that indicates we will be guessing and suckered in every inch of the way.
Guardians of the Galaxy #21 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Brian Michael Bendis returns to one of the first themes from his Guardians run, with a galaxy mistrusting and wanting to stamp out the ‘virus’ that is Earth. The start of the “Planet Venom” arc is a slow build, focusing mostly on the budding Peter Quill/Kitty Pryde relationship, and Flash’s inability to control the increasingly erratic symbiote that features a whole shiny new set of scary shapes. Valerio Schiti’s art convincingly conveys the outlandishness of this space saga, although his cartoony choices for Rocket and Groot in particular make them feel as though they’ve stepped in from another book entirely, and partially undermine the drama of one of the best cliffhanger endings of the series to date.
Batman Eternal #33 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): I love when the Eternal braintrust opts to let the same writer/artist duo do back-to-back issues. It helps some of the pacing problems that a weekly series can run into. Right now, the threat of Hush and Batman’s various weapons caches are the biggest problem at hand, and the narrative never wavers from it. The whole team has done a decent job of building Hush up to a sort of unbeatable foe for Batman. Julia Pennyworth is emerging as a very formidable ally for Batman, and writer Kyle Higgins has a strong handle on her voice. Jason Fabok’s art carries a heavy burden. The severity of this threat is casting an even longer shadow over Gotham than we’re used to seeing, so it’s fitting that Fabok’s art is dark and grimy. These characters are being continually tested, and their fatigue is evident in every line.
Spider-Woman #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): This issue doesn't feel like a #1: it feels like we've jumped into the middle of someone else's arc, and essentially, we have. The tie-in to Spider-Verse doesn't mesh well with a series launch. We learn very little about Jessica Drew, other than she is easily exasperated by Silk. Dennis Hopeless writes Silk as an interesting character, but the pacing is cluttered by too many undeveloped guest appearances. I do really like Frank D'Armata's distressed urban landscape colors and the 1930s alternate Earth art, with a classic car, flapper hat, and pink-feather coat being the visual highlights. Jessica needs to express a more holistic personality in her own story, beyond an overwhelmed babysitter attitude and a grim expression. This would be an unideal introduction for new readers to Jessica Drew.
Bob’s Burgers #4 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): There’s so much going for Bob’s Burgers that it’s so sad to see the comic adaptation continue to fall so flat. The story structure just doesn’t work. The story snippets are too short to make any lasting impact - humorous or otherwise - on us, and when those snippets hit those Bob’s Burgers story beats we love, we’re aching for more. Unfortunately, the stories are usually done by the time we start wanting more. That being said, this issue has one of the best Tina stories yet, merging her love of butts with the classic Frankenstein story. Louise’s comes in second, with a strong premise and beginning but falls flat when the ending just isn’t funny at all, even though it tries to be. Finally, Gene’s musicals continue to not translate well into the comic book form, mostly because he can’t carry a tune without one present. It’s hard to accept, but it looks like Bob’s Burgers is going to remain in the shadow of its source material until it can find a way to break this mold of predictability.
Storm #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Greg Pak writes Storm in a difficult position: fight on behalf of the crime clan run by Yukio and kill a rival clan's champion, or watch innocent people get slaughtered. Pak skillfully connects Storm's mourning Wolverine's death to morality questions: should she kill in the interest of a greater good? Pak and Victor Ibanez are able to make this not only a mature thought piece, but an entertaining episode of action. Ruth Redmond's backdrop of the teal night sky enlarges a fight scene's scale, and a dusty orange sunset during a pivotal conversation fits the solemn tone. Of all Marvel titles, Pak has created the one that is most globally conscious of real-life injustice issues.
Princess Ugg #5 (Published by Oni Press; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): If there were ever a book to give to a girl - or anyone for that matter - who felt like they didn’t belong, this would be one of the most perfect. Issue #5 of Princess Ugg continues to show that the series is quickly becoming one of the most feminist, inspiring, and heartfelt out there right now. While may be points in the narrative that feel drawn out and boring, the overall story is solid and enjoyable. We get see Ulga interact with the guardsmen and show why being herself puts her at an advantage to the other princesses. We’ve seen them attend classes to woo men, so it’s great to see Ulga in her element, being herself, and having the men enjoy the qualities her peers frown upon. Writer and artist Ted Naifeh has done a great job in balancing Ulga’s struggles, showing her capacity to overcome those struggles to improve and learn another culture, how the other characters have started to warm up to her, and her rivalry with Princess Gerta.
Hellraiser: Bestiary #4 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Boom!’s Hellraiser anthology continues to plod along at a snail’s pace, pumping out filler stories that are more disposable than the last couple of movies in the franchise. There’s some gorgeous artwork on display here from the likes of Daniele Serra, Huseyin Ozkan, and Carlos Magno, but the plots of the two short stories are formulaic and forgettable. The ongoing story by Ben Meares and Mark Miller is finally starting to go somewhere, though, after making Pinhead seem pathetic and powerless in the previous issues. I hope Boom! has something better planned for the property once this mini has wrapped up, because even the most diehard of fans, like myself, will find little of interest here.
The Art of Dragon Age Inquisition (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): You might be wondering why the heck an “Art of” book deserves a review - it’s because this book is a great study for any artist or visual storyteller to get an inside look at how one of the most innovative companies works their magic. This expansive book gives us beautiful and downright breathtaking images that flesh out the concepts behind Bioware’s new game. Although the book copy is interesting and provides further context for the world and commentary from the creators, you’ll find yourself glossing over the text and paying all your attention to the art. From character designs, to clothing and armor, and environments, you’ll get a first-hand look at essentially every facet of this game. This definitely isn’t a book for a casual fan, but anyone invested in the world of Dragon Age and anyone looking to draw inspiration from the material would absolutely love this book.