Greetings, 'Rama readers! Gearing up for the holidays? Best Shots has all the fixin's before your Fourth of July, with this week's Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off today's column with Outrageous Oscar Maltby, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Darth Vader...
Darth Vader #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The Sith Lord goes back to the beginning in Darth Vader #7, an introspective installment that marks a new chapter in the life of the troubled Skywalker. After last issue's “I am your father” revelation, Lord Vader heads back to his home planet of Tatooine. After some soul-searching, he heads towards the Outer Rim to uphold the iron will of the Emperor. Writer Kieron Gillen continues to flesh out Vader's world with a colorful selection of scum, competently rendered by Salvadore Larroca. Larroca's artwork and Edgar Delgado's coloring continue to present a lifelike and screen-accurate rendition of the Star Wars universe, which sometimes suffers from seeming posed and traced. Elsewhere, Vader's quiet gravitas continues to dominate this book, as well it should. Despite the obvious importance of the Skywalker plot, Gillen doesn't rely on it to carry the entire issue, instead sending Vader from planet to planet to show us how Luke's reappearance and Emperor Palpatine's disapproval have startled Vader into action. It's grounded stuff compared to the action-packed bionic Sith-fights of last issue, but gives us a fascinating picture of Vader's frame of mind. Seven issues in, and Darth Vader's still going from strength to strength.
Midnighter #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Steve Orlando’s script brings a lot of clarity to this title as it digs into what makes Midnighter who he is. Juxtaposed with over-the-top fight scenes, Orlando is able to balance out Midnighter’s humanity. His search for a purpose is accessible. The details surrounding his life might not be the most defined, but his personal journey is compelling because it’s one that we’re all on. A movie executive called DC heroes “corny,” recently in part because they lack the relatability of their Marvel counterparts. But Midnighter makes a good case for that not being true. Alec Morgan dials back some of the dynamicism during the fight sequences that ACO inserted in ]#1. It helps make the book a bit easier to follow but it lacks some of the power that was previously on display. Morgan’s pencil’s have a very natural flow to them that lends itself to the smaller moments when Midnighter is out of costume. Overall, this is an improvement on the debut that reveals the heart that was missing previously.
Action Comics #42 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Superman may be beaten, outed, and depowered, but he still is a man of the people, no matter how badly that may go for him. Greg Pak’s tenure on Action Comics has been filled with emotional storytelling, but this new status quo for Kal-El allows him to tell more intimate, street level stories while still exploring who Superman is and how he deals with this new found predicament. Pak also smartly moves away from using bigger threats and monsters to pitting the Man of Tomorrow against threats closer to home like an overzealous police force. Aaron Kuder continues to be Action Comics’ ace in the hole with his clean lines and expressive character rendering. Action Comics has had a murder’s row of talent attached to its pages to years, but month after month, Kuder has proven that his name should be among them. What do you get for the man who has everything? You get him a creative team that is willing and able to deliver new plots as well as a new voice for character that has quite literally done it all.
A-Force #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): A-Force is a title that would be on the top of the heap were it not for its Secret Wars origins. Just as Spider-Woman began to soar when it was divorced of the Spider-Verse tie-in, Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson’s showcase for Marvel’s strong top-tier female leads is precisely the team that the world needs right now - it's just hampered a bit by the fact we know their status quo on Battleworld is to be short-lived. With the introduction of a new heroine and a new threat, the issue skillfully plays to the strengths of the ensemble, from She-Hulk’s natural leadership, Medusa’s ruthless decision making and former Runaway Nico Minoru’s compassion. Jorge Molina is adept at striking poses with Marvel’s A-list here, along with some stunning splashes of multiversal rifts and full-page Sentinels. It will be great to see this team strike out on their own post-Secret Wars.
8House: Arclight #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Brandon Graham and Marian Churchland’s mini-line 8House kicks off with Arclight #1, a fantasy tale about a woman and her companion that exists in contrast to much of Graham’s previously published work. Words are few and far between, serving to make the reader feel like they are looking in on an incredible expansive world. As such, the pacing feels different from what we’re used to from most American comics. The result is something that feels a bit alien in it’s delivery and yet it’s endlessly intriguing. That’s mostly because the creative team adheres strongly to idea that you should “show, not tell” the reader anything. And Marian Churchland’s art is perfectly suited to the task. Her figures are lithe and almost float through the panels. But there is a quiet intensity to them that is especially noticeable in the face-off between Nowak and Arclight. This comic is slow-moving but it’s the kind of thing that makes you want to really dig into the world and see what it’s about. This is a great debut for this unique mini-line.
Secret Wars #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Doom enters the fray with extreme prejudice this month as Secret Wars hits its halfway point. Writer Jonathan Hickman dispenses the introductions with this fourth issue and throws the reader directly into the fray, with Namor and his Cabal cutting a swath through the Thor Corps as Stephen Strange attempts to educate the survivors of the 616 and Ultimate universes on the particulars of Battleworld. Esad Ribic continues to wow readers with his meticulously blocked action sequences (the opening shot of Thanos holding Thors at bay in the first page is a standout) as well as more than a few epic panels of heroes and villains posturing and unleashing their abilities. Secret Wars before now hasn’t exactly blown readers away, but this fourth issue blasts away the exposition and finally puts the “battle” in Battleworld.
Batman Beyond #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): If The New 52: Futures End felt unfinished, then Batman Beyond feels like it is still getting started. Readers will understandably be a bit like lead Tim Drake in this spin-off, in that they are still trying to get their head around this brave new world. Not really designed to please either Drake fans or those of the original Batman Beyond, this series is a bit muddled at the moment, even if it is clear that writer Dan Jurgens has a bigger picture in mind. The whole notion of Brother Eye, after all, is an intriguing one. Bernard Chiang’s art of the future is grungy and dynamic, and really becomes fluid when Drake recharges his Batman costume. Marcelo Maiolo’s distinctive color art punctuates the issue, highlighting key panels in nothing else but white figures on red backgrounds. For the moment, this is indicative of the rest of the issue: moments of outstanding brilliance surrounding by something that is still finding its feet.
Red Skull #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Dirty Dozen this isn’t, but Red Skull #1 provides the next best thing; a group of villains and anti-heroes tasked with an impossible mission with a next to nil success rate. Nailbiter scribe Josh Williamson assembles a vicious and compelling group of characters to hunt down proof of the death of Red Skull, the despot turned revolutionary, beyond the Shield. Things, of course, go pear shaped pretty quick and we are left with bloodshed and one monster cliffhanger. Artist Luca Pizzari renders Red Skull #1 in an appropriately rough hewn style that matches the volatility of the characters starring in the title. Coupled with the dark colors of Rainier Beredo, Red Skull has a punk rock tinged set of visuals that compliment the character set and men on a mission plot well. The Red Skull’s revolution may have failed but Red Skull #1 assures that he won’t be forgotten any time soon.
Green Arrow #42 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Patrick Zircher’s art is still the main draw, but Benjamin Percy’s concept is crumbling under its own weight. While the idea of a horror story can work in the context of the Emerald Archer, Percy complicates his narrative by introducing a killer robot that Ollie funded without knowing that he did. Considering the brutality that it unleashes, Green Arrow doesn’t have quite as strong a reaction as the situation warrants and Percy just continues to throw a bunch of tired tropes at us. Zircher is as strong as ever and he’s keeping this book afloat with really exceptional linework that is enhanced by Gabe Eltaeb’s muted color palette. It wouldn’t take much to make this work, but in trying to serve up a unique story for Green Arrow, Percy has packed too much in.
Years of Future Past #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Talk about hit or miss - Marguerite Bennett starts off strong with Years of Future Past, but after the explosive introduction, this comic gets way too slow - and way too self-indulgent - for its own good. Artist Mike Norton has a cleanness and strength to his inking that makes characters like Colossus, Magneto and Wolverine look superb, but once the X-Team makes their way to the Morlock tunnels, Bennett's script gives Norton very little to do, capping off in an overcrowded single-page monologue without the dialogue beforehand ever really earning that soapbox. Ultimately, what's wrong with this book is that there's too much talk and not nearly enough direction with the plot, making Years of Future Past a missed opportunity.
Broken World #2 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Frank J. Barbiere puts a spin on the dystopian genre by introducing a world recovering from a near-collision with an asteroid. The main character, Elena, is trying to reunite with her husband and son who were picked for evacuation, while she was not. Barbiere captures the confusion and alienation various characters, including teens, feel in the aftermath of trauma. I really like Christopher Peterson and Marissa Louise's flashback scenes that show Elena's turmoil over missing her family. Peterson gives Elena a stylish but unapologetic look when she wields a gun. Her scarf and high top shoes are subtle but distinct personality touches. Barbiere explores the themes of grief and helplessness in an intriguing and highly original story.
Ultimate End #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): Most Secret Wars tie-ins have been readable but inoffensive at worst. Ultimate End makes no such guarantee that it will be either. This is a Brian Bendis Bendis script at it’s talkiest, and it’s a doozy. The thing is that for a book like this to be good, the dialogue has to be great, because there’s not enough plot to prop it up. But Bendis can’t pull it together here. But if you really like seeing Nick Fury yell at Avengers, this might work for you. Bagley’s artwork mostly just gets out of the way. He gives us a lot of different facial expressions but at times they err on the side of silly. The Christ imagery is a bit forced in this one, too. Overall, this title feels a little too self-important for its own good, and your time is better spent with just about any other Secret Wars tie-in.
Green Lantern #42 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Space scamp Hal Jordan is back at it again, but Robert Venditti’s script is dull, save for one interesting action sequence. At this point in the arc, the supporting characters don’t enhance the script, the plot is positively banal and Hal’s own motivations don’t feel desperate enough. I do like the Gauntlet he wears now and the way his powers manifest, however. It’s cool that Hal has less control over his powers, but there’s not enough of it in the script. Artist Billy Tan really kills locks down a great moment in the book in the tentpole action scene and he’s definitely getting more comfortable rendering this new look Hal. But that’s not enough to move the needle much. Venditti and Tan are really going to have to step up their game to keep readers invested. Hopefully, their final page reveal is the start of a sea change for the title.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart, 'Rama Rating 10 out of 10): Ryan North has taken an admittedly goofy character in Doreen Green and imbued her with so much charm and spirit you can’t help but love her, and this week’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #7 is his best issue yet. It’s clear this book isn’t just a gag. This month’s big bad Ratatoskr, the squirrel moonlighting as Girl Squirrel who Odinson describes as capable of “god-tier smack-talking,” isn’t just thematically relevant but legitimately creepy. And while “Squirrel Loki” may not seem very intimidating, consider this: Squirrel Loki, who can literally swarm you with woodland creatures. All of them. You can’t pretend that’s not a little unnerving, especially when paired with Erica Henderson’s creepy, stylized interpretation of Ratatoskr’s true form in the final pages of this issue. Between North’s punchy dialogue and Erica Henderson’s expressive faces, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl consistently delivers clever, quality stories that are well worth your time.