Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your weekly dose of Rapid-Fire Reviews? Best Shots has your back, with the latest bite-sized critiques from your favorite publishers. So let's kick off today's column with Frolicking Forrest Helvie, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Ms. Marvel...
Ms. Marvel #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This issue makes it very clear that its target audience is not the conventional adult superhero reader, and instead, G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona are speaking directly to their teen readership. Kamala imploring to her peers to stand up against the ageist Inventor and his manipulative machinations for them strikes a chord similar to the concerns expressed by many of today’s youth. While older readers may scoff at the plot conceit of “He stole my dog,” it’s a heartfelt experience (or one like it) that many younger readers will readily identify with – and perhaps older readers whose memory is not so dulled. Combined with Alphona’s unpretentious and yet still lighthearted action sequences (robots with bowlers, anyone?), Ms. Marvel #10 just keeps making it clear why it is one of 2014’s breakout hits.
Batman #37 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It must be incredible difficult, after 75 years of Batman stories, to create a new twist on his arch-nemesis, the Joker. Thinking outside of the character’s past, writer Scott Snyder is playing the Clown Prince of Crime as something closer to the Lord of Hell. Snyder has been able to get a lot of mileage out of this mysterious turn on the character and, through careful pacing, genuinely leaves readers in the dark regarding the future of Gotham. The most stimulating visual in the issue are the textures in the coloring implemented by FCO Plascencia. Although the issue feels stilted in its very beginning and ending, one can hardly fault the creators for this chapter when considering the prestige of the entire collected edition.
The Wicked + The Divine #6 (Published by Image Comics, Review by Scott Cederlund, ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): After you witness a god's head explode, do you lose faith or do you soldier on in stronger belief than before? This issue explores that question as Laura reorients herself after her favorite god Lucifer was killed out on the streets by other gods. For a story focused around superstar gods, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie examine Laura’s teenage idea of mourning and the void created after the absence of such an enigmatic creature. Gillen's story rewrites the last few issues of youthful divine rebellion into a grander mystery going back to the first issue; who would want these so-called gods dead and why. McKelvie's art pulsates like the best pop music, defining the world in a simple and unmistakable rhythm that opens up the questioning challenges of Gillen's story.
Avengers & X-Men: Axis #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): AXIS meanders through its latest issue this week, as hero fights villain and Avenger fights X-Men. Rick Remender plots out a few interesting beats, including Carnage jumping on a bomb, Thor using his enchanted Jarnbjorn against Apocalypse (a nice nod to Uncanny Avengers) and Doctor Doom bringing Remender back to his early Marvel days with Doctor Voodoo... but these moments largely move so fast, they barely sink in. Instead, we've got too many characters trading punches interchangably with one another, and it's ultimately too frenetic to be satisfying. Artist Leinil Yu also struggles to keep all his characters in his panels, and that makes his detail work and his layouts suffer. Still, Remender has a way with dialogue, and his characters all sound right - particularly Loki and Enchantress, who lure Thor to the moon - but it's still one step forward, two steps back with this book.
Multiversity: Thunderworld #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): I can’t say enough about Cameron Stewart and Nathan Fairbairn’s art on this issue: Stewart evokes a look and tone similar to the “Golden Age” of comics, while Fairbairn’s colors impart a contemporary finish with his vibrant colors that is pitch-perfect for breathing new life into Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family. Stewart’s dynamic action sequences intertwined with his expressive and believable characters also made the visual elements of this book a real treat. No doubt, many readers will be rightly clamoring for this artistic team to spearhead a Marvel Family title of their own. The one stumbling block is how beholden Grant Morrison’s plot is to the overall Multiversity storyline. Like many of the Multiversity one-offs, they don’t translate as well in serialization but will likely make for one incredibly nuanced and compelling story when collected.
Black Widow #13 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): There's something haunting and beautiful about the latest issue of Black Widow, as Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto show Natasha reeling from the shooting of her manager and lawyer, Isaiah. As Edmondson waxes poetic about the "changing of the seasons," it's really window dressing for Phil Noto's smoldering artwork, as Nat regroups with a bag full of guns at a safehouse in the Berkshires. Noto's use of color is what makes Black Widow so remarkable, whether its the chilly black-and-white as she visits Isaiah in the hospital, to the autumn reds that appear as she begins to oh-so-subtly boil over in rage. Edmondson excels not with his internal monologues, but with his spoken dialogue, particularly as Isaiah provides the human point of view to this otherwise aloof assassin. Definitely a book to watch.
Supergirl #37 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Supergirl is essentially in space high school and that’s working for her as well as the title. Writers K. Perkins and Mike Johnson recognized that putting a strong supporting cast around Supergirl really enhances her story and so they’ve assigned her a clique that will challenge Kara in different ways. Emanuela Lupacchino’s artwork is gorgeous. Her character renderings are strong and her expressions display a distinct understanding of the dynamics in the script. Supergirl definitely stumbled after the “Red Daughter of Krypton” storyline but it looks like it might be picking back up here.
Guardians of the Galaxy #22 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): "Planet of the Symbiotes" is definitely one of the sillier paths that Brian Michael Bendis has taken us down with Guardians of the Galaxy. This issue is a fun little romp that sees the symbiote taking over different members of the Guardians. Valerio Schiti can definitely design a mean-looking symbiote. (Though I would’ve preferred Schiti not sharing drawing duties with David Lopez as it gave the book a bit of an inconsistent feel.) But most of the appeal is in see how each of our heroes get “Venomized.” The story itself isn’t really much of one, and the planet mentioned in the title is still nowhere to be seen. Here’s hoping that Bendis picks up the pace next issue.
Catwoman #37 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Selina Kyle is really settling into her role as a crime boss. In this issue, she faces some tough decisions but she is vicious and unwavering in the face of them. Genevieve Valentine has managed to take the superheroics out of a superhero book and still make it compelling, which is no easy task. Catwoman might be more akin to The Sopranos, which allows it to carve out an interesting space in the Bat publishing line. Garry Brown’s artwork is looser here than it has been in previous issues, sacrificing details for “feel” in some places. That’s only a knock against the book because when he does really turn on his talent in a few more intimate close-ups, the art is staggering and the effect it has on the page is palpable.
All-New Captain America #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Marlene Bonnelly; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): There is a lot happening in this book. We get a better feel for the new Cap with a tasteful flashback, plenty of punching, a little spy action, a revelation, plot twists… Remender tried to cram in 101 great things and succeeded. He paced the plot well, too, with intense action cut by moments of reflection. The icing on the cake, of course, is Immonen’s impeccable linework, which really feeds into the solemn mood. It’s hard not to love the direction Sam’s journey is already taking, especially with all the familiar faces coming into play. My only complaint is that the dialogue does skew towards dry and overwhelming at some points, which can be distracting. That's a small price to pay for so much development in a mere 20 pages, however. I can deal with a bit of wordiness if I get a cliffhanger as good as this one.
Teen Titans #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Scott Hepburn takes the wheel with Teen Titans #5, and honestly, this book hasn't looked this good since the days of Mike McKone and Tony Daniel. Hepburn brings that Ben Caldwell-esque cartooniness to this book, adding some of that Brett Booth edge to that iconic Teen Titans Go! cute. The Teen Titans go head-to-head against a group of trust fund prep schoolers doped up on synthetic superpowers - what's not to love? Will Pfiefer's sense of humor comes across much better with this artist, particularly Beast Boy monkeying around as an actual howler (not to mention infiltrating STAR Labs in the form of head lice). But Hepburn is definitely the star here, nailing the composition, the expressions, everything, with some superb colors by Dan Brown. Mark this down for most improved series of the month.
Wytches #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Wytches #3 is an interesting one from a narrative and artistic standpoint. Jock is typically an artist who is known for his strong, evocative line work; however, it is Matt Hollingsworth’s water color splash effects that creative an almost impressionistic visual experience that drives home the tone and mood in Scott Snyder’s haunted world. It almost overwhelms the eye in those early sequences imparting a claustrophobic feeling akin to what it feels like when trapped in the dark with only glimpses of light to be seen. Likewise, we only see glimpses of Sailor, the protagonist of the book. It’s an interesting choice Snyder makes to build tension as readers question what happened to her since we last saw her. And as the final page points out, it’s not good.
Batman Eternal #37 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): This is the worst I’ve seen Batman Eternal look in a while. The opening action scene plays out well but Andrea Mutti loses it after that. Characters look inconsistent from panel to panel in part because they are over-rendered, using too many lines to communicate a look to the reader. The result is something that becomes very hard to replicate regularly. Tim Seeley’s script gives some of Batman’s rogues something to do, but their group dynamic leaves something to be desired. Still, a groundwork is being laid for a seemingly big finale, so it’s not all bad. Batman Eternal has its duds every few weeks. You just have to weather the bad ones and hope the good ones make up for them.