Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday rapids? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off today's column with Dancin' Draven Katayama, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Uncanny X-Men...
Uncanny X-Men Annual #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): We finally get answers to the questions posed by Uncanny X-Men #17 in the most beautiful way possible. Andrea Sorrentino's interior Marvel debut uses the same x-ray inset-box style he used in Green Arrow, and fills panels with swirling, cosmic dreamscapes. Brian Michael Bendis' one-shot is firmly a sci-fi tale out of H.G. Wells' playbook. The issue's two halves are quite diametric: a lonely solo adventure at a hesitant pace transitions into an urgent, heartbreaking mentorship story. We find Eva and another character given maturity and entire arcs-worth of development in very little time. Sorrentino captures fear and horrific trauma with precision. In an age of overhyped crossover events, Bendis uses a simple, personal story to completely change the X-Men canon. This is a memorable read.
Batman Eternal #36 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Another enthralling installment of Batman Eternal puts Lt. Bard a a crossroads, reminds us that Harper Row is a character and gives us another moment to reevaluate just how far-reaching the plot has been. Now, it’s unclear whether the final reveal is a red herring or not. (It wouldn’t be all that surprising if it was.) But the mystery of who the mastermind of this plot is continues to mount. Fernando Blanco's art is clear in the macro sense but his details could be stronger. It’s further muddied by some subpar color work by Marcelo Maiolo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen blood effects thought of as such an afterthought before. Another reminder that art is truly a sum of its parts and the lack of a strong effort on every level can affect the overall quality.
Bitch Planet #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Kelly Sue DeConnick never pulls any punches with her creator-owned titles, and Bitch Planet might be her greatest yet. Subtlety is not the goal here. DeConnick’s feminist approach informs every aspect of this title from its uncompromising depiction of women in prison and its rebellion against tired tropes in the genre. (There will be no White Savior here.) Valentine De Landro’s art is excellent, portraying a world that looks like Blade Runner meets Escape from New York. Cris Peters’ colors provide brief respites from the darkness, injecting neon pinks and greens that sneer in the face of the central concept. Altogether, this is a great book that’s taking a stand that many others might be afraid to.
Amazing Spider-Man #11 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Dan Slott, Olivier Coipel and an army of inkers come together to tell the third chapter of "Spider-Verse," a story that feels fragmented visually and narratively. That said, Slott does spin together some fun moments, like Peter and Otto having a bit of a rematch following Superior Spider-Man, not to mention a super-cool battle royale between Captain Universe Spider-Man and Solus, patriarch of the Inheritors. Yet the five inkers on this book do take a toll on Coipel's artwork, particularly as the faces for his Peter/Otto fight sequence wind up looking overrendered, almost clay-like. While this comic feels clunky with the constant scene changes (in the case of Miles Morales and the TV Ultimate Spider-Man, whose sole purpose is setting up Spider-Verse Team-Up #2), there are just enough awesome moments to see Amazing Spider-Man through.
Southern Bastards #6 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Writer Jason Aaron and artist Jason Latour continue their Southern gothic by opening the doors to “Coach” Euless Boss’ history in Craw County and his rise to prominence. Surely, this origin story is one readers have heard a hundred times over where a scrappy underdog emerges to earn a place on the team and either escape his abusive environment or earn the respect of his hardened parent. However, what makes #6 compelling is the way it serves as Aaron and Latour’s response to the question “How do apples rot from the inside out?” Without a doubt, Latour’s gritty, dirty linework reinforces the tone of this question, and the bleak and burnt color set seems to emphasize the forge that formed the Boss. We get no indication of either creator seeding hope for a possible – and stale – redemption story for this southern bastard. If anything, they reinforce the message that this is man with a history of being hell-bent on securing his position in Craw County by any means necessary.
Batgirl #37 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Batgirl continues to be the best-paced, best-drawn book in the DC stable, even if this issue gets upended by some very non-P.C. villainy. Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher drop us in the action immediately, as there's a faux Batgirl trashing Barbara Gordon's name. Combining pop art with identity and brand, the idea behind this comic is super-smart - and that's not even mentioning Babs Tarr, who works pitch-perfectly with Stewart's layouts. There's a sequence where Babs uses her eidetic memory to remember sign language used in high-brow paintings -- that's pretty spectacular. But what is less spectacular is the resolution to this issue - not only does the villain really fall on their faces without Babs' help, but having the faux Batgirl actually be an overwrought male artist in drag feels almost like a strange punchline. For a book as unabashedly progressive as Batgirl, it's a strange misstep. Thankfully, the art and execution beyond that is so untouchable, this flawed issue still is an effective hook to keep readers on board.
Afterlife with Archie #7 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): With “Betty, RIP,” it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the direction things will be moving in during the series’ second arc, and it doesn’t bode well for Riverdale’s blonde leading lady. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa effectively uses Betty’s diary for a narrative framing device to provide depth to not only Betty, but also her relationships with those surviving members in her party. In many regards, this issue reminded me of some of the finer elements from The Walking Dead where the zombies remain on the periphery, and focus falls on Betty, Archie, and the others’ loss of innocence and struggle to retain some modicum of humanity. Artist Francesco Francavilla’s art is stunning as always, with his linework and coloring quickly conveying the feelings of tension, fear and melancholy that permeate throughout the story and his sense of perspective never failing to keep my eye engaged. Not surprisingly, this issue continues the tradition from the first arc of demonstrating that Archie Comics has more depth in its range than its often given credit for beyond its well-known humor comics.
Spider-Man & the X-Men #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Spider-Man is joining the faculty at the Jean Grey School! Normally, this would be a reason to celebrate. The Daily Show head writer Elliott Kalan is at the helm, but a throwaway cast and a concept borrowed in part from the last few years of young Avengers titles doesn’t help this one. Marco Faila’s art is strong, a definite spiritual follow-up to Chris Bachalo and Nick Bradshaw’s work on Wolverine & the X-Men, complete with strong action sequences and clear, concise linework. But Kalan’s jokes don’t land unless Jon Stewart’s telling them, and unfortunately, he’s not in this issue. There are a bevy of other X- and Spider-titles more deserving of your dollar.
Klarion #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): When you’re working with a fringe character, you need a really strong hook. Ann Nocenti teased a “tech versus magic” conflict in issue #1 but that plot has stagnated. The plot isn’t grounded by anything recognizable save for Klarion himself nor does it take the time to properly build up a side of the DC Universe that we don’t see often. Trevor McCarthy’s breakdowns are finished by Sandu Florea in this issue which provides some solid character work, but the layouts are still all over the place. There’s no point in giving a double-page spread a nontraditional layout if it’s not serving the story in a larger way. Klarion looked promising upon its debut but the central concept will probably leave most fans non-committal.
Princess Ugg #6 (Published by Oni Press; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Closing in on the men that captured the other princesses, Ulga is surround but deadly kidnappers and she couldn't be happier. Ted Naifeh offers the first real temptation for the princess, all while allowing her to deal some serious damage. Naifeh's art always has been the perfect balance of dark whimsy, but mixed in with wonderful violence and you have some scenes that truly shine. Moments helped out by some color choices by Warren Wucinich that really play to Naifeh's line work. However, this attention to the main action does come at the cost of some background that feel rushed or even tacked on. Still, Princess Ugg #6 is a great step forward for both character and reader as we finally see Ulga coming to terms with what truly makes a brave warrior, and maybe someday, ruler.
Eternal #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The dystopian themes here are similar to movies like Equilibrium and The Island. In a future where cloning is commonplace but monopolized by a totalitarian corporation, Giovanni Valletta creates a gritty world of rain-soaked warehouses and crumbling apartment hallways. Valletta's panel style is similar to Cliff Chiang, but with softer, highly detailed faces. Action scenes and movement are drawn extremely well. The protagonist's distinct look of black hair with blue highlights, contrasted with pink and purple backgrounds, is a nice effect by Adam Metcalfe. William Harms' characters - the freedom fighter, the sympathetic cop - are given enough backstory to make us want to know more. This opening chapter to Harms' four-issue story is intriguing and energized with believable tension.
Harley Quinn Holiday Special #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It's a real shame the Darwyn Cooke installment of the Harley Quinn Holiday Special is one of the shortest. It's easily the best, with both Palimotti and Conner writing towards Cooke's strengths as a visual storyteller. The core story is packed with the usual humor readers have come to expect (or dread depending on your view of the current title). However, there are still moments when the writing duo reveal some true heart within Harley's manic mind. It's a touching reminder of what the character once was. The art by Mauricet lacks the polish of the ongoing title, but fans of the animated series will appreciate some of the visual nods to Bruce Timm's expressions. It's a style that lends itself well to a less homicidal Harley, and a welcome one at that. This is a big comic with various creators, so pleasing everyone is rare. Unlike the Halloween issue, the Harley Quinn Holiday Special might just be the comic for old school fans of the insane doctor.