Happy Thursday, 'Rama readers! Ready for your weekly pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with more than a dozen bite-sized reviews from your favorite publishers! So let's kick off today's column with Majestic Marlene Bonnelly, as she takes a look at the latest issue of S.H.I.E.L.D....
S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Marlene Bonnelly; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Like the show on which it’s based, S.H.I.E.L.D. is shaping up to be an episodic, “baddie of the week” adventure. This time it’s up to Agent Simmons and Coulson to fix things, with help from Ms. Marvel. The team-up works out well, as Kamala proves a valuable asset their guidance and cleverness. She knows how to channel her fierce independence, however, and her attempts to trump Coulson’s encyclopedic knowledge are the highlights of the issue. While I can’t say this was a particularly innovative read in terms of plot or execution (the baddie of this week was slightly predictable), it still flowed well. Fast-paced and beautifully illustrated by Humberto Ramos, it’s a great tie-in to the TV series and a brilliant way to introduce Coulson’s group to the comic book universe. Even those who have never watched the show can appreciate it, though S.H.I.E.L.D. does feel more like a fun extra side read than a necessary, impactful pull.
Batgirl #38 (Published by DC; Review by Lan Pitts; 'Rama Rating 8 out of 10): "I want to have some fun. You think I don't deserve that?" You know, Babs, you're right, however I think you're going about this the wrong way. I love Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher's incorporation of social media into this new take of Batgirl, as the overall plot threads are woven from it, as it's confirmed here that somebody is trying to not just take Batgirl's identity, also seemingly Babs' as well. I like the clear social statement here: actions, even superheroic, have consequences. Artist Babs Tarr is making her mark with some solid action scenes, and breathing life into this world with each passing page. It just needs that one missing link to tie everything together, because right now it just seems like a pile of good ideas and lots of good intentions.
Star Wars #1 (Published by Marvel; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Make no mistake: other licensed comics may have given us a greater view of the so-called expanded universe, but Jason Aaron and John Cassaday’s first chapter is Star Wars. Picking up shortly after A New Hope, Aaron’s dialogue rings so true to characters that you can almost hear John Williams’ score playing in the transitions. Cassaday’s cinematic art doesn’t just achieve a similar authenticity, right down to Harrison Ford’s crooked grin or the unpolished walls of the Empire, but it relays the same action beats that were familiar to its cinematic cousin. While some may quibble about the questionable continuity, including the climactic confrontation in this issue, it is difficult to find anything fans of the original trilogy will judge too harshly.
Rat Queens Special: Braga #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): To fill the void in our lives while we wait for new series artist Stjepan Šejic to come on board with Rat Queens #9, Kurtis J. Wiebe has recruited Tess Fowler to help him tell the backstory of Braga the orc. The engrossing tale is brilliantly told and helps to add further depth to one the series’ most enigmatic and intriguing characters. The story has a much more serious tone than previous issues, which is reflected in Fowler’s artwork, which looks a lot less cartoony than Roc Upchurch’s style and much better suited to a sword & sorcery tale. Her watercolors are particularly gorgeous! I hope to see more work from her in the future and am looking forward to the relaunch of the main series.
Conan and Red Sonja #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): As much fun as it is to read the adventures of Conan and Red Sonja, I think I'd like to see more from Gail Simone and Jim Zub. Both of their styles come through in this bloody team-up, but never once overpower the title characters as they slice their way into the corrupt prince's chamber. And it's an interesting story twist to read about two rather self-serving characters almost acting for the collective good of the people. Dan Panosian's art is at its strongest when the characters are interacting in smaller (but still violent) moments. There is nice attention to expression that goes a long way in breathing life into the dialog. While some of the wider scenes get a little muddled, Dave Stewart's colors make sure we don't lose that sense of scope. Don't let Conan and Red Sonja #1 get lost in the shuffle, this is one fun and impressive debut.
Grayson #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Tim Seeley, Tom King and Mikel Janin give Dick Grayson a nice one-on-one against his rival the Midnighter, and in so doing, provides a nice character piece for this superhero turned spy. Midnighter comes off as appropriately scary and mean (and even occasionally funny, as he reminds us it's not just the ladies of the DCU checking out Nightwing's butt), and for the first time since this series began, we really feel he's a threat towards Dick Grayson. Mikel Janin also continues to impress with his solid characterization and lovely page layouts (particularly any time there's a Spyral hypno probe used). Colorist Jeromy Cox starts off a little unsteadily with his sickly green hues, but once he gets into psychedlic mode, he's back on track. A strong issue for the one-time Boy Wonder.
All-New Captain America #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): A “classic” showdown for all intents and purposes, Cap faces off against Red Skull’s daughter, Sin, in this issue. And Sin proves to be a somewhat formidable foe. By calling Sam Wilson’s character into question, Rick Remender forces readers to potentially reevaluate his role in the Marvel Universe. Considering how far-reaching HYDRA is and the power of the Cosmic Cube, Sin’s scenario seems scarily possible. But the opportunity for Sam to really self-evaluate is squandered and what is meant to come off as an example of the strength of willpower comes across as brash stubbornness. Stuart Immonen’s artwork is on point. He continues to show more and more range with regards to his expression work, shot selection and panel layouts. The visual language of Sam as Cap is (and should be) different than Steve Rogers as Cap. Immonen recognizes that and is able to give this book its own unique visual flavor.
Batman Eternal #41 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): A good script, great art and a bunch of fan-favorite characters place this issue of Eternal firmly in the win column. Joe Quinones is a great artistic fit for Batgirl, Red Robin, Red Hood, Spoiler and Harper Row. Batman’s extended family is still working out their group dynamic a bit and writer Kyle Higgins gives us a script that plays to each of their personalities while setting up a big moment for Harper. She’s a character we’ve seen repeatedly in the New 52, and it’s exciting to see her role really start to be clearly defined. Quinones’ expressions really help sell the tension between our heroes. Many readers have taken issue with the inconsistent check-ins with the more ancillary characters in this story, but they should be satisfied with this one.
Daredevil #12 (Published by Marvel; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s conclusion to the “Stunt-Master” arc also sees the series completely finding its groove in the newish San Francisco setting. The stylish finale is mostly an action climax, Samnee forever placing his stamp on the city of some of the most famous car chases with Daredevil actually behind the wheel. This alone should make it worth the price of admission, but it the double twist in the tale (the kind Waid excels at) that keeps this issue gripping until its heartwarming final panels. At its core, it’s a human story, the type of down-on-their-luck client with a secret that could have been found in the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. That Waid and Samnee have made the most of the Californian setting in this issue is not only a testament to their own craft, but to the versatility of the character.
Adventure Time: Marceline Gone Adrift #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): For all it's humor, Adventure Time always works best when a sense of melancholy weaves within the laughs. To that end, Marceline Gone Adrift #1 hits the nail on the head. Marceline can't find her musical passion, while Princess Bubblegum deals with the fallout from the Leaflans. All simple stuff. Until you feel the underlying emotion Meredith Gran works into a tale that thrusts the one time friends and couple back together. Emotion beautifully captured by some wonderful illustrations by Carey Pietsch. And while the dialog is fresh, funny, and poignant, this could easily work as an utterly wordless comic. None of the meaning or story would be lost. So like the best episodes, Marceline Gone Adrift #1 is a tale that everyone will find humor and meaning within. The book is the perfect start to a miniseries with a lot of promise.
Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This may be the issue where David Marquez pushes himself to the next level as an artist more than any other comic in terms of the way he shifts from one style to the next. Bendis’ story is a simple but poignant one: Jefferson continues to relate his experience as an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. operative spying on the ambitious Wilson Fisk during his rise to prominence, and it underscores the similarities between father and son. Marquez enhances Jefferson’s crime-drama backstory with scratchy and a times uneven lines and inks (not unintentional), which impart a slight air of unpredictability in the art that parallels Jefferson’s lifestyle as a mob enforcer. It feels dangerous! In many ways it seemed reminiscent of Daredevil with hints of artists such as Alex Maleev or Bill Sienkiewicz. What’s remarkable is this duo tells a captivating story, which further fleshes out the cast of characters, without once bringing Spider-Man into the picture.
Fables: The Wolf Among Us #1 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): In a mobius strip of adaptations, the Telltale Games video game based on Fables gets turned into its own comic, which acts as a canonical prequel to the series it was based on. Matthew Sturges and Dave Justus provide a plot that stays pretty true to the game, but their script also adds extra depth to the characters and some nice narration from Bigby. The issue collects three digital-first comics, each of which had a different artist: Stephen Sadowski, Dave Justus and Travis Moore. They’re all fine artists, but have very different styles, which creates a somewhat disjointed experience. It’s a decent debut that will please fans of the game, but was clearly designed to be read digitally rather than collected in print.
Wolverines #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Getting together Wolverine’s extended family for one last, albeit post-mortem, adventure is a great concept. However, Wolverines #2 has more than a few rough patches. The second installment finds the Paradise survivors and Wolverine’s associates betwixt epic battles and little more than that happens. Alisson Borges and colorists Israel Silva and Brett Smith are a great team for the visual aspects and bring a natural talent to the sort of high action adventure this title is shaping up for. Writer Ray Fawkes hits a couple pot holes, story-wise, with some cliché sentiments from X-23 and Sabretooth’s voice. It’s hard to image the ageless killer using the word ‘like’ as filler when describing the urgency of a medical situation. Although Wolverines #2 is a bit slow, the title is gearing up for big things to come.
Stumptown #5 (Published by Oni Press; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10):Ever since Issue #1 of "The Case of the King of Clubs," Stumptown has been about the home team. Meaning that even if the reader could identify with soccer or the city of Portland (both in the case of this reviewer), the arc was a mixed bag. Greg Rucka is still rock-solid in his growth of P.I. Dex Parios as a wholly believable character. And even the larger mystery, while steeped in city and sport lore, is a solid whodunnit, there is something missing. As if this arc is a stopgap to a larger story. Although Justin Greenwood has an interesting style, it just never seemed to fit within the world of Stumptown. A series that works best when drawn like a muted late '70s to early '80s detective film. The colors by Ryan Hill help to balance Greenwood's heavy lines, but the visual disconnect remains. #5, along with the rest of the arc, is still compelling enough, but lacking the impact of the previous stories.
New Suicide Squad #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 1 out of 10): Oof. It's hard not to read New Suicide Squad #6 as some sort of metaphor for the behind-the-scenes dysfunction of working on corporate-owned characters. In short, even the book's characters know this is a mess, as they remind us every chance they get. Sean Ryan gives us zero reason to like the Suicide Squad, as he bounces around from Vic Sage and Amanda Waller complaining about each other, and how the team (or this new iteration of this book) isn't operating at the level that it should. (There is also an unintentionally hilarious page of Waller grinning wildly as she asks for someone to bring her some pulled pork.) The artwork, by Tom Derenick and a trio of inkers, fluctuates in terms of its grittiness, but it becomes all the more glaring when the final five pages have zero dialogue (including a double-page splash of a silent explosion). I hate punching down on a comic, but not only should this serve as a warning for readers, but a plea for this creative team to right the ship before it's too late.