Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday column? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off with Frolicking Forrest Helvie, as he takes a look at Gotham Academy...
Gotham Academy #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This issue concludes the first story arc for Gotham Academy, and it’s safe to say Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher deliver a very solid story in terms of introducing and developing each of the characters and not leaning heavily on its Bat-roots. Although Batman does make an appearance in this issue, it’s interesting to note how much more likeable even Killer Croc is comparatively. This captures a hint of youthful rebelliousness, as Olive and the reptilian criminal come to a sort of mutual understanding and respect for one another in their shared affection for Olive’s mother – and her clear rejection of Batman. What truly makes this series standout, however, is Karl Kerschel’s absolutely polished, animation-like art and colors from Msassyk and Serge LaPointe, which are warm, lush, and unlike those in any other comic on stands today. Each panel just “pops” off the page. Based on the strength of the story and art, if this series isn’t greenlit for a DC Animated film, it’ll be a shame.
Darth Vader #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca finally succeed at putting a face on the faceless in Darth Vader #3, a surprisingly funny book that offers some fresh perspective on the lord of all bad guys. After the explosive failure of the first Death Star, Darth Vader's in the doghouse. Defanged by Emperor Palpatine and Grand General Tagge, he seeks Doctor Aphra, a rogue archaeologist with prodigious programming skills to bolster his own personal forces. There's a fantastic underdog quality to Gillen's Darth Vader that shows the eponymous space-samurai in a new light; Vader's understated desperation is palpable as he attempts to bring Aphra over to the dark side. Vader's dead-pan humor continues to amuse, and Doctor Aphra fills her every appearance with witty dialogue, including one unexpected Indiana Jones reference that made me choke on my tea with laughter. Larroca's Vader is absolutely perfect, although his unmasked faces and body language both look a little too wooden. A bitter reminder to Vader's early days and some effortlessly cool scenes of Vader's power round out an issue well worth the cover price.
Wytches #5 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): You know that feeling at the base of your spine that crawls up your neck late at night while walking alone in the dark? Capture it and put it down in print and you have Wytches #5. Unlike your late night stroll, there is something lurking in the darkness of these pages, as Charlie is about to find out in his journey into the burrows to rescue Sailor. Where Scott Snyder weaves an unnerving story that reveals the insidious nature of the local residents, Jock and Matt Hollingsworth craft a world of nightmares where dangerous creatures wait just outside of the reader’s line of vision blanketed in inks and mottled with a sort of supernatural, psychedelic lighting. With one more issue left of the first story arc, Snyder also reveals a list of Wytch hunters that Charlie possess cueing readers into the next arc. Whether the Rooks survive long enough to make it to that far is debatable; however, interest in not only the final installment, but the follow-on arc will certainly be stoked by this issue’s end.
Catwoman #40 (Published by DC; Review by Lan Pitts; 'Rama Rating 8 out of 10): There's been a transitioning with this latest arc by Genevieve Valentine and Garry Brown, where instead of the book being titled Catwoman, it should revert to "Selina Kyle: Queen of Crime." The culmination of the arc finally comes to a head here. Will Selina take to the skyscrapers and cityscape as Catwoman once more, or will she sit at the head of a mob table? Valentine and Brown are simply one of the best collaborations in a long while over at DC that has gone almost under the radar. Brown's Penguin, who makes a cameo here, along with Valentine's words, is truly a sophisticated monster out to get what's his. If you haven't been following along, you might get lost along the way. It's sort of like being dropped in the middle of a really good Sopranos season. You know it's good, but if you go back and catch up, it becomes that much better.
Curb Stomp #2 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): As we continue to meet the Fever, five friends who are protecting their borough from gangs and corruption, there are some conversations that work but several that don't. Violet is the most impetuous of the Fever, and a conversation she has with a local shopkeeper humanizes her and shows her motivations. However, the main antagonist gets an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of panel time, leaving Fever members like Daisy underdeveloped. Jeremy Lawson keeps up the visual interest by rapidly switching panel background colors: changes from aqua blue to lilac to tangerine look great in one scene. Ryan Ferrier is effective at getting us to sympathize with the Fever. I just wish we could get to know them better as people, not victims responding to aggressors.
Guardians of the Galaxy #25 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): With three different chapters of the "Black Vortex" saga coming out this week alone, perhaps the most solid is Guardians of the Galaxy, which adds a little bit of heft to a somewhat lightweight plot thanks to some solid artwork by Valerio Schiti. On the one hand, Brian Michael Bendis does add in a lot more action than he usually does - we've got the Guardians and the X-Men fighting the Slaughter Lords and the Kree homeworld itself, but the stakes aren't set up, making literally world-shaking events lack any weight at all. Much of this happens to be because way too many characters inhabiting a plot that's pretty thin - it's essentially a MacGuffin that creates all-powerful variant costumes - so even though Schiti's artwork looks gorgeous and is well laid-out, there's not enough focus in the story to make the Black Vortex be all that it can be.
The Valiant #4 (Published by Valiant Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This book is going to be a hard pill to swallow for readers who want neat and tidy stories, so be warned. Matt Kindt and Jeff Lemire craft a compelling story that introduces a never-ending narrative wherein readers get the opportunity to see one chapter playout in the present-day Valiant Universe. So, will the Eternal Warrior, Bloodshot, and Kay finally break the cycle of the Enemy? It may not have the happiest conclusion imaginable, but its willingness to eschew fan service pays off in opening other bold storytelling opportunities for the characters involved. Of course, none of this would come to fruition – the emotional highs and lows – without Paolo Rivera’s ability to sell it on the page. Mr. Flay remains a terrifying nemesis right up to the end, and the action sequences and character interactions land on almost every panel. It’s safe to say The Valiant delivers on its promise to create an inclusive entry point into Valiant Comics that long-time fans would find just as equally satisfying.
Sinestro #11 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): What has Brad Walker been putting in his Wheaties? The artist absolutely dominates in this issue of Sinestro, as Walker teams up with writer Cullen Bunn to deliver one gorgeous, cinematic comic filled to the brim with space action. In terms of the script, meanwhile, Bunn focuses in from Bekka and the high-flying Sinestro Corps assault and zooms in on Sinestro in captivity, where, like Magneto, he continually is the craftiest man in the room, always in control of the situation. The one downside is that once Sinestro is freed, some of the internal politics between Sinestro and Mongul (not to mention the other ring-wielders) can sometimes be a little difficult to follow, and the handoff to artist Geraldo Borges is very noticable, since his art just feels a bit flatter than Walker's. All in all, though, a nice showing.
Skullkickers #31 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Jim Zub, Edwin Huang, and Misty Coates begin the descent into their epic grand finale as the setting opens up where it left with Thool having gained control of the inter-dimensional portal to the multiverse. The choice before the heroes is a simple one: accept their fate or do what they do best – get drunk and kick ass. Zub does fine work bringing elements of his story together from the very first arc up to this last one, but as usually, he shines in the little moments where he’ll wink at the reader via dialogue or the random sound effects. Huang and Coates’ animated approach never fails to disappoint. Action scenes can cause a comic to read “fast,” but I never felt their art rushed me through the story. It’s explosive, colorful, and just incredibly well done. This issue of Skullkickers, like those before it, makes a great example of how comics can be just fun and still be completely successful.
Secret Avengers #14 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): "We simply have to go with the flow and imagine a better game." Secret Avengers may be a confounding book for mainstream purists, but Ales Kot injects a loopy and occasionally wise sensibility to this superhero spy book. For those who haven't been reading - and even for some who have - this is not the issue to jump in on, as Kot is in full swing, as M.O.D.O.K. and the Secret Avengers are trying to stop a one-time henchman from bringing an extradimensional monster into the world. Sometimes Kot's message gets to be a little much - Spider-Woman beating Snapper with the power of empathy, for example, rings a little hollow when you think about all the people Snapper's killed - but as a whole, this book's progressiveness and surprising cheer reads very different than any other book on the market. Michael Walsh's artwork is elevated by some electrifying colors by Matthew Wilson - Walsh's storytelling is superb (like a very funny bit about Hawkeye's suction arrow picking up an item and spitting it across the field), even if occasionally some of the inks make it hard to follow.
The Wicked + the Divine #9 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): For the already-converted, The Wicked and the Divine #9 continues Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's hot streak, but for the skeptics and the agnostics, this issue might be a little bit of a slow-down from some of the previous ones. Perhaps part of it is the revelation of the last of the pantheon has been assembled - after all of the striking interpretations Gillen and McKelvie have given their characters, this one feels a bit played-out, particularly because the transformation of a supporting character feels a bit overdone. Still, McKelvie's artwork looks as beautiful as ever, particularly two pages where a character falls deep down a chasm filled with faces. Yet there's definitely some bits that will make your ears perk up, as Gillen continues to set up the mystery behind his pantheon - between that overall game plan and this book's good looks, it's hard not to enjoy The Wicked and the Divine.
Hit: 1957 #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Bryce Carlson introduces us to a lot of characters in very little time, and almost solely through a narrator. The exposition feels like a pulp novel that is nearly self-aware of its campiness. At the end of the sixth page, we're clued into which character to follow as the story's lead. Vanesa R. Del Rey captures the look of the era, from slicked-back hair and skinny ties to Bonnie's evening gown, all beautifully inked in dark, deliberate lines. I love Niko Guardia's colors, especially the first page's intense contrasts of blues and purples. While every scene looks exquisite and Bonnie is an intriguing character, a flashback added in the third act compounds the feeling that Carlson may have packed too much into one issue.