Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with 10, count 'em, 10 Rapid-Fire Reviews for your reading enjoyment. So let's kick off today's column with Ribaldrous Richard Gray, as he takes a crack at the Harley Quinn Valentine's Day Special...
Harley Quinn Valentine’s Day Special #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): In the darker world of the New 52, the only place that seasonal specials have really managed to fit in were with Harley Quinn. Only just over a year old, but one Comic-Con special, a holiday edition and a rub ‘n’ smell annual later, it was inevitable Valentine’s Day would get a look in. Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner continue their unique brand of humor with the fan-favorite character, but there’s something intangibly missing here, as if this was one special stretched too thin. Indeed, the 40-plus pages do take their toll in the back half, but do allow for some gorgeous John Timms art, and crazy dream sequence art from Ben Caldwell and Aaron Campbell. Harley fans will truly dig it, and already be in line for the inevitable National Peanut Day Special just in time for September 13.
Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): A complete companion piece to the Jason Aaron/John Cassaday Star Wars, the new Darth Vader book reflects the same events from the Dark Side. While a necessarily more taciturn character, it naturally lacks the quick-witted charm of the main title, but there is something immensely satisfying to seeing Vader tuck his cape between his legs after a decent sized verbal slap-down from Emperor Palpatine. Artist Salvador Larocca immediately solidifies his place on this title with one of the most beautifully rendered versions of Jabba’s palace, and the sheer image of a defiant Vader standing in the familiar Return of the Jedi locales is squee-worthy. Filled with familiar nods, it even achieves the impossible by bringing some of the prequel film’s stories full-circle by the end of this first issue.
Conan/Red Sonja #2 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The second issue of Conan/Red Sonja takes a big leap forward from the last installment, as a more experienced Conan and Red Sonja team up in a tale full of swashbuckling, poetry and surprising humor. Structurally, Gail Simone and Jim Zub's script flows much better than the last issue, and now they balance pulse-pounding action with some wry relationship humor, as both Conan and Red Sonja's significant others frown upon the instant kinship these two display. It also serves to humanize the mythical characters - Conan has a soft spot for the women in his life, while Sonja nurses a quiet hurt over her time as a slave. Buoyed by Dave Stewart's potent colorwork, artist Dan Panosian also paces out his action magnificently, particularly with an opening sequence of two warring pirate ships - one manned by Conan and the other by Sonja. Don't miss out on one of the best comics of the week.
Guardians of the Galaxy #24 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The second chapter of the "Black Vortex" saga makes the assumption you’ve read the Black Vortex Alpha special released last week, but also keeping up to date somewhat with the X-Men’s happenings. It’s hard to tell at this early stage if the familiar set-up, with two factions splitting off over the potential use/misuse of the powerful Black Vortex artifact, is a retread of similar Avengers/Guardians/X-Men encounters over the last few years. Yet the book hits the ground running with some gorgeous art by Valerio Schiti, especially during the sequences in which a character is “touched” by the power, and some lovely moments between Kitty and Peter Quill. There’s still a dozen issues left, so followers are well advised to catch-up on their current Marvel cosmic and X-lore.
Green Lantern Corps #39 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): With Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo on art duties, there's no question that Green Lantern Corps is a pretty book, and even if the actual storyline they're drawing is a little hazy this issue, they make it look action-packed. What holds this book back is that Van Jensen's villains feel a little underdeveloped - there's mind-control involved, but there are also demonic-looking alien beasts threatening, and that makes the threat John Stewart is facing a little harder to embrace. (That said, Jensen does put together some fun action beats, like Stewart creating a florescent jackhammer to get his crew out of a scrap.) The side story is actually more engaging here, as shapeshifting GL Von Daggle finds his long-lost partner and discovers an even graver threat. Ultimately, what sells this book is that Chang and Maiolo make this book look energetic and expressive, and that's a good sign in a week that's otherwise weak of a lot of compelling comic book offerings.
All-New X-Men #36 (Published by Marvel Comics, Review by Marlene Bonnelly, ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): If you enjoy the X-Men, you’ll get your fill a thousand times over in this issue - there are a ton of them from a variety of different universes. Some are scrambling to work together, others look like the stuff of nightmares, but they’re all rendered beautifully through Asrar’s impressive art. Unfortunately, beyond the novelty of seeing these characters on the same page, the issue lacks much substance. Carmen, the dimension-hopping girl who ties everything together, falls flat outside of her abilities. Her resolution isn’t especially satisfying, either. More than that, the book just has too much going on at once to really appreciate; it feels more like a collection of quips and explosions than a developed story. The most interesting page is actually the last one, where we get a glimpse of Hank’s personal struggle. Compared to Iceman and Iceman’s awkward humor throughout the issue, for example, Hank’s dark agenda is infinitely more interesting.
Batman Eternal #45 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10):Perhaps because the reveal at the end of Batman Eternal #45 felt so inevitable, readers were hoping it wasn't the case. Yet here we are, and while Ray Fawkes does a solid job presenting exposition as compelling as possible, it's still just Batman and Batwing comparing notes. Although the short moments between Spoiler and Bluebird are fun, it's tonally out of place in this issue. However, the stylized and slightly creepy art from Javi Fernandez is quite fun to take in. His panel composition has a non-traditional feel that makes it stand out from most titles (especially weekly ones). And the colors from Dan Brown play well to Fernandez' strengths. This is an issue that simply moves the story along, with little to add, save the last ending that doesn't have the impact the creators intended.
Spider-Woman #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): I'm starting to think I was too tough on Dennis Hopeless when I first reviewed Spider-Woman. If the second half of this issue is any indication, it seems like this guy got hijacked on the greater "Spider-Verse" saga, and is only starting to get a little more autonomy for his own story back. The first half of this book recaps the end of "Spider-Verse," adding a little too neat of a bow as Jessica Drew makes peace with her piratical alt-universe self, but the second half shows Hopeless has promise. There's some nice characterization as Jessica meets up with Captain Marvel and Steve Rogers to make some big decisions about her future, and the sense of humor works well. (And honestly, for those slagging on Greg Land, this is a good showing from him, particularly the way he lays out the final fight scene.) Ultimately, the first half of this book is as forced as the previous three issues, but the final half gives me hope that now that Hopeless actually has the reins of his own book, he'll be able to put a real stamp on Spider-Woman.
Justice League 3000 #14 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Guest artist Andy Kuhn delivers a scratchier set of lines than you might expect from Justice League 3000, but given the medieval setting by writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, the switch-up in styles actually seems to make sense. But with the change in art and the incongruous setting for this future version of the JLA, you might be forgiven for missing that Giffen and DeMatteis are actually giving readers a roadmap from the present DCU to the year 3000. And let me tell you - a lot has changed in 985 years, as we jump from I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League to Kamandi to the Atomic Knights. Kuhn in particular delivers with a double-page spread of fiery destruction of the Great Disaster. That said, the script does have a lot of fat to cut, and while it's cool from a fan perspective to slam all these various bits of continuity together, sometimes it doesn't work. Still, a big improvement for this book.
Princeless – The Pirate Princess #1 (Published by Action Lab Entertainment; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10):With the introduction of Raven, daughter of the self-proclaimed Pirate King, the world of Princeless grows larger as Princess Adrienne continues her quest to inspire those that want to save themselves. Writer Jeremy Whitley does a great job of weaving legend into the Raven, as we see the power of stories to inspire action. Indeed, he spends so much time on Raven that we get little of the main character, but for now, it works and locks Raven in as a strong addition. Visually, Rosy Higgins keeps the pace fast with action scenes and composition that feels like they belong in an animated feature. You can almost feel and hear every punch, kick, and leap. All while keeping book well within the all-ages range for which it is intended. It's a solid new issue that works for both new and returning readers.