Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let's kick off today's column with Punchy Pierce Lydon, as he takes a crack at the latest issue of Batman Eternal...
Batman Eternal #43 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Easily the best issue of Batman Eternal yet! James Tynion and David LaFuente team up for a story that meshes almost seamlessly with Batman #28. I think this issue might feature the most convergence of any issue yet and finally getting to see Harper Row as Bluebird in action is a treat. Tynion really nails the interactions between all the members of the Bat-family and we’re reminded that despite the grim grittiness of Gotham, Batman comics can be fun. David LaFuente’s art has a ton to do with that. His character designs are extremely likable. Their faces are accurately expressive. And his action sequences feature more than a few surprising moments that make me wonder why he’s been toiling away on lesser known. Batman Eternal is trying to bring it all home and if it keeps up this level of quality, we’re in for a great conclusion.
Secret Avengers #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): I usually love this series, but it feels like Secret Avengers #12 is lacking, well, much in the way of secrets. Writer Ales Kot had been doing a great job with his wackier take on Marvel's black ops unit, but now that he has to unspool the mystery before this story's inevitable conclusion... it feels like a comedian explaining his jokes ad nauseum. The story doesn't progress as much as it has before, with characters just delivering exposition to each other before the final showdown. Artist Michael Walsh, however, continues to sell the mood and scratchy style of this comic, making it easy on the eyes, especially when we check in on Black Widow and Lady Bullseye in Tlon. Still, even he isn't able to make a trip to the Venezuelan rainforest look interesting, as there's just too much blank space (including three splash pages of the bad guys' lair.) While there are a couple of gags that still hit the mark, on the whole this is a misstep for a usually rock-solid sleeper hit.
Casanova: Acedia #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Stranded in a parallel universe, Casanova Quinn akes with no memory of his past and no idea why strangers are trying to kill him. For a Casanova story, it's pretty straightforward and while the amnesia angle has been done to death, I'm willing to give Matt Fraction the benefit of the doubt and assume he has something special up his sleeve for subsequent issues. As a bonus, Michael Chabon delivers a quirky back-up that is actually a much more fun read than the main story. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of this. Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba both work on this issue and deliver some absolutely jaw-dropping pages, so be sure to wear a bib, so your drool doesn’t ruin the paper.
Uncanny Avengers #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): First issues should tantalize and entice with something fresh before leaving me agog for the next issue. That doesn’t happen here, with this new team feeling less purposefully assembled and more Garanimal-ed together out of the What if? slush pile. The moody quintet led by Rogue doesn’t quite mesh as they hunt for the Scarlet Witch, and Sabretooth surprisingly displays the most personality. Rick Remender’s script isn’t bad, it just lacks flavor while meandering from scene to scene and ultimately giving too much to focus on. Daniel Acuna’s art shines for most of the issue until they cross over to Counter-Earth where he departs from his typical work by losing details and letting his character designs get silly. I hope it gets better from here.
The Multiversity: Guidebook #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The chibified version of the Justice League is just as great as it was in Mike Johnson and Michael Green’s run in the pre-New 52 Superman/Batman #51. Grant Morrison continues to be wacky and weird and withholding of information, but for some strange reason it works and works incredibly well. It’s both fun and heart-wrenching to see the miniaturized Justice League face off against the League of Silvanas, especially when they’re not used to any real fighting at all. It may be hard to grasp exactly where this story’s going, but this does give readers a rundown on all the different Earths — sans seven of them — that’ll ultimately give you more context than before. All the various artists do this book justice and it all amounts to an enjoyable read and a really great time.
The Dying and the Dead #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): An aging hero undertakes one last mission, in order to save his dying wife. Okay, that sounds clichéd as hell, but as with everything Jonathan Hickman does, there's a lot more than meets the eye and this 60-page monster is packed full of interweaving story-threads and densely layered sub-plots. The dialogue is top-notch and the protagonist is instantly likable. This opener seeds several intriguing mysteries that will hopefully blossom in future issues. Regular Hickman collaborator Ryan Bodenheim is the artist here and uses an interesting style similar to that he employed on Secret, with blue- and red-panel washes throughout. It’s a solid debut, but perhaps a little decompressed at points.
Uncanny X-Men #30 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Brian Michael Bendis is losing some steam here. For a while now, it’s seemed like we’ve been building to the inevitable return of a Charles Xavier and the introduction of Matthew Malloy solidfied that path. This issue eschews action for more philosophical debate, but most of the characters are just echoing things that have been obvious to readers for years at this point. Chris Bachalo is good, but it’s not even a saving grace for a fairly dull issue. Bachalo helps pad the issue with a few big four panel pages but they’re basically just talking heads, allowing him to skip backgrounds, etc. Of course, the artist is never at fault for the script they’re given. But this issue is decompression at its worst from all involved.
Bitch Planet #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This issue is a busy one in terms of the world building that takes place at both the macro and micro levels. On one hand, Kelly Sue DeConnick continues establishing the dominant patriarchal infrastructure through getting to know the Father character; on the other, she also dedicates time to further establish her protagonist and the overall tone and atmosphere of the facility. Although DeConnick’s story is unapologetic in its pursuit to push the boundaries of mainstream comics, I was surprised at how conventional and controlled Valentine De Landro’s art was. Although the visual storytelling was exceptionally clean, with its undeviating adherence to the standard grid and conventional shots, it felt … safe, even if it was well-executed. His angular and sometimes heavy lines, however, continue to be well-suited to this harsh and hard environment, and I look forward to seeing what else he brings to future issues.
Batman #38 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10):Batman # under the weight of its own exposition, thick with details that make the issue too clever for its own good. Writer Scott Snyder bludgeons the reader with how craftily he has built the Batman and Joker’s world in "Endgame," and it unfortunately pulls you out of the story. Whether it’s Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson saying how "this virus is like nothing we have seen before" for the umpteenth time or the overwrought medical/biological/historical/linguistic origin of Dr. Paul Dekker’s virus, the story is weighed down by the pulling back of the curtain and showing off how cunning this story can be. The redeeming factor is artist Greg Capullo who is a master of his style at this point in his career. The motion of figures, the detail of the grime, the gore of Gotham City are all amazing. Just that page alone of the Joker swimming makes this issue worth reading. Batman #38 might find its weaknesses turned to strengths when collected, but as a standalone issue it just feels like trudging through Snyder’s "A-ha!" moments.
Sex Criminals #10 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Sex Criminals continues to provide a humorous yet touching take on sex, love and depression, as Jon and Suzie bring a third person into their web of crime and self-exploration. Dr. Ana Kincaid - or Jazmine St. Cocaine, as she's been known in the porn business - is a wonderful addition to the book, with her grumpy attitude and her bag full of electrified nipple clamps and dildos. Matt Fraction leavens all this with a truly sweet subplot, as his character Jon gets more complex than ever. Chip Zdarsky also sells this book, particularly the cutaway scenes between Jon and Suzie and their hotel neighbor as the story, uh, reaches its climax. All in all, a superb showing.
Alex + Ada #12 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This comic continues to be a compelling series about a young man and the artificially intelligent robotic woman with whom he falls in love. The opening scene in this issue feels a bit of Jason Alexander and Julia Roberts’ interaction in Pretty Woman, with its themes about social class and who one can love. Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Luna also begin to raise other issues about the darker types of human experiences artificially intelligent robots experience as seen by the end. Its deceptively simple artistic style – from the line work to the inks and colors – do not “pop” in the same way many other comics will vie for the reader’s attention, but it still hits those emotional beats with ease. Luna and Vaughn continue to craft a series that connects with readers on an emotional and intellectual level through numerous visual cues and poignantly depicted moments in this sci-fi drama.
Phantom #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Dynamite starts its new King event off with a bang, as writer Brian Clevinger creates a likable, driven new iteration of the Phantom. From the get-go, Clevinger makes his new hero humble but determined, as he wears the previous Phantom's uniform not to make his own name, but to deliver the mantle to a yet-unknown successor. That sort of self-effacement makes for a hero you already want to see succeed, and it doesn't hurt when Clevinger creates a fun repartee between the Phantom and Guran, his Bandar warrior backup. Brent Schoonover packs together Clevinger's scripts nicely, pacing the comic so the characters are able to sell their crackling dialogue as well as some of the more humorous sight gags. While there are a couple of transitions that aren't quite as clear, particularly when Lothar and Guran go undercover, but there's tons of promise to these books.
Vertigo Quarterly: Black (Published by Vertigo Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Overall, this may have been the most consistent issue from the CMYK series, due in no small part to the A-list talent Vertigo brought on board for this issue. A few of the stories, such as Francesco Francavilla’s “The Dying of the Light” played upon a dark gimmick but still worked well; others dove deep into the theme, however, and were incredibly strong – most notably Tom King and John Paul Leon’s biographical World War I story “Black Death in America” and David Baillie and Will Morris’ sci-fi “Night of the Black Stant.” Interestingly, Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew managed to find something uplifting in an anthology-themed around darkness with their story of life after loss in “Super Blackout.” And finally, it’s worth pointing out that this issue sees Jeff Lemire return to his much-beloved Sweet Tooth in a short story set before the series about the first time the young boy began to realize there were dark things in the world outside the woods. With its mix of indie-styled stories from both new and established creators, I sincerely hope we see more of this from Vertigo.
Amazing X-Men #16 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 1 out of 10): Oh, man. It's been a long time since I've seen a book this badly handicapped by the art. Jorge Fornes' hyper-angular style, combined with some poor page layouts and some even worse character designs, kills this book stone-dead, making it almost impossible to get into a war over Cyttorak's gem. Chris Yost's script doesn't help much, just frenetically bouncing around from cast member to cast member, randomly introducing assassins with zero context. (And Yost's petulant Colossus does little to endear the character.) Consider this book dead on arrival.
Earth 2: World’s End #17 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): It’s hard to feel invested in a series that’s close to an ending you already know and whose outcome doesn’t seem to matter in the long run of the DC Universe. Though the diversity of the cast and the thought the writers put into this series is still phenomenal for DC, it’s hard to feel anything more than ambivalent about what’s going on. Sure, the tension gets amped up as humanity’s on its last legs and the final stages of the war begin to end, but… we already know how this is going to play out: Earth 2 refugees will make their way to Earth 0. Despite the pretty well done artwork and the solid characterization, it’s simply not enough to make this title feel immediate or have any gravitas, which is doubly saddening after Helena and Kara have finally reunited with their world.