Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your weekly helping of Rapid-Fire Reviews? Best Shots has you covered, with the latest installment of our bite-sized reviews. So let's kick off today's column with Optimal Oscar Maltby, as he takes a look at Star Wars: Lando...
Star Wars: Lando #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Lando ahoy! The most charismatic man in the Star Wars universe makes his Marvel solo debut in the aptly named Star Wars: Lando #1. Alex Maleev bravely opts for a realistic Billy Dee Williams likeness here, and he knocks it out of the park. Elsewhere, Charles Soule paints Lando as any casino's dream gambler; confident in his luck but burdened by mountains of debt. Soule's script is a slow-paced affair, more interested in intrigue than action. Lando's world is a moody corner of the Star Wars universe, as evidenced by his debtor; a scowling creature who speaks only through his pixie-like henchmen. Soule also translates the blank slate of Lobot into Lando's outspoken friend and accomplice, successfully fleshing out an existing character, adding to the unique feel of Lando #1's refreshingly pacifist approach. Paul Mounts colors Maleev's realistic pencils in a murky palette that flows from yellow to green to blue to red, mirroring Lando as he gets deeper and deeper into the underworld. Lando #1 is yet another stellar Star Wars title that should prove impossible to resist.
Constantine the Hellblazer #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV are doing their best to make sure that this is a Constantine we’ll remember. After setting up Constantine as a charmer in the last issue, Doyle and Tynion up the supernatural ante for their sophomore effort. John needs more power to find out what’s been killing ghosts and contain it so he has to visit the “thin places” across New York City that are just a little bit closer to the extraordinary than others. It’s a great concept that allows us to see the world that Constantine inhabits and his relationship with it. Riley Rossmo turns in a stellar effort. As the script goes in a more supernatural direction, Rossmo gets to increase the creepiness of the art and show off his demon designing chops in the process. This creative team hasn’t disappointed yet and they’re showing no signs of stopping.
Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): I didn’t realize how much I missed Mary Jane and Peter Parker’s relationship until it was put right back in front of me. Adam Kubert’s art takes a step forward from issue one that I didn’t think was possible. The opening nightmare sequence is a credit to just how in sync the art team is. John Dell dials back his inks and Justin Ponsor delivers inspired texture and color to give the scene a completely different look that still gels with the rest of the book. And the regular sequences that follow are an example of an artist that is completely and totally at the top of his game. Dan Slott has a deft understanding of the dynamics of the Parker family in this world and it’s a joy to read. We haven’t seen too much direct Secret Wars influence to this point, but Renew Your Vows is a really fun read and a return to form for Slott after an overlong Spider-Verse event.
Archie #1 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This introduction to the world of Riverdale High School is fun, but not because of Archie Andrews. Supporting characters Sheila, Maria, and Kevin ignite their panels with energetic dialogue and humor, and are easily the script's greatest strength. Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn deserve particular praise for Sheila's vivid hair, another character's electric blue hair, and Maria's shoes. Betty's forlorn facial expressions and messy top bun hairstyle are the highlights of Fiona Staples' flawless art. However, other than one sentence in a flashback, Betty only speaks in one scene, totaling nine short sentences. Mark Waid has assembled a large cast of enjoyable characters, and it's this diversity of personalities that makes Archie an outstanding read.
Earth 2: Society #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It's been a long time since I've had a comic book artist whose work has made me this excited, but Jorge Jiminez's fluid, off-the-wall compositions have made Earth 2: Society my most enjoyable read at DC Comics. Channeling Olivier Coipel, Humberto Ramos and Duncan Rouleau, Jiminez makes the Justice Society look dynamic as hell, which is great, as writer Daniel Wilson adds a neat twist to his story - while the Justice Society may think Terry Sloan is a mass-murderer, it turns out that he had some pretty compelling reasons for Earth 2's traumatic landing. As Wilson flits from character to character, he trusts that you'll get the basic gist of the exposition - and in particular, the way he has Red Arrow play off Huntress is one of the highlights of the book. This book may not be as deep or as ambitious as some of the others on the stands, but with artwork this good, it's hard to think of a comic that's more fun.
Civil War #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It's cynical. It's pessimistic. It's Civil War. Step into a world where one of Marvel's darkest hours never ended with Charles Soule and Leinil Francis Yu's Civil War #1. Soule clearly relishes in serving up the most apocalyptic scenario he can think of, killing off hero and villain alike in the name of the war between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. He takes Civil War to its most logical conclusion, establishing warring communities on each side of America: the Iron and the Blue. Stark and Rogers' extremist views neatly fit into two boxes marked “order” and “chaos,” which is only highlighted when the two meet for peace talks. Yu's craggy style works well to render war-torn landscapes and the mottled, aging faces of the Marvel universe, while Sunny Gho uses saturated primary colors that match the colorful heroes with their harsh desert environment. Soule's script paints Stark and Rogers as politicians, and their tumultuous world is easy to imagine in 2015. Civil War #1 is a quiet caution against extremism, and both men's arguments should feel familiar to anyone who pays attention to world news. It's a purposefully ugly comic book, and it won't be to everyone's taste, but there's no denying the quality.
Mad Max: Fury Road - Mad Max #1 (Published by Vertigo Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): For those that needed a crash course in the brutal world of Mad Max comes Mad Max: Fury Road - Mad Max #1. Functioning as a primer into the franchise, Mad Max #1 takes the formula of The Road Warrior (someone telling the tale of Max long after his departure) and applies it to the world of comics. Writers Mark Sexton and Nico Lathouris, working off a story by mastermind George Miller, do an adequate job detailing the fall of humanity and the brutality of the wasteland, but spend too much time retreading familiar territory and recounting the previous films to make any real headway into the main prequel story of Max attempting to rebuild his Interceptor. Sexton also handles the artwork on Mad Max #1 and fares much better rendering the scorched landscapes, outlandish costumes, and the scowl of Tom Hardy than he does on the scripting front. Though fun in parts and decidedly on brand for Vertigo Comics, Mad Max: Fury Road - Mad Max #1 fails to get out of second gear and achieve the shininess of this summer’s loudest blockbuster.
Age of Apocalypse #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): The dream of the '90s is alive in Age of Apocalypse. It seems that things are tough all over for mutants in Battleworld as Baron En Sabah Nur rules over his fiefdom with a iron fist while the “mutant terrorists” the X-Men fight tooth, nail and eyebeam for a world in which humans and mutants can co-exist. Writer Fabian Nicieza turns in a overstuffed and disjointed look into this corner of Battleworld, while artist Gerardo Sandoval channels '90s legends Rob Liefeld and Joe Maduriera with hulking, over-encumbered renditions of the cast. Fairing a bit better is colorist David Curiel who splashes Age of Apocalypse with vibrant colors, even in the darkest panels. Secret Wars, so far, has yielded some thoughtful and interesting tie-ins with killer hooks or returning characters, fresh off the bench. Age of Apocalypse offers none of that, but it has plenty of ammo pouches and huge forearms to go around.
Batman #42 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Not even two issues into his tenure as Batman and Jim Gordon already has his first supervillain. The cryptically named Mr. Bloom is giving superpowers to crime bosses and thugs across Gotham, and the new Batman aims to get to the bottom of it. Scott Snyder effortlessly shifts the title from Bruce Wayne as the lead to the new, focused Jim Gordon and takes full advantage of Gordon’s innate sense of humor by giving him more than a few sharp one-liners. He even allows him a hilarious take on Batman’s famous disappearing act after talking to police commissioners. The art team for Batman continues to be one the best in the business. The combination of Capullo’s dynamic pencils, Miki’s heavy inks, and Plascencia’s florescent color pallete is quickly becoming the visual standard by which all Batman titles should be judged. While Bruce Wayne grew a foxy beard and took himself out of the equation, Batman #42 shows that Gotham City is in more than capable hands.
Big Man Plans #4 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Big Man Plans comes to an epic conclusion, with the most relentlessly brutal issue of the series. Powell has always had a talent for horror, but in league with Tim Weiss he’s shifted focus from fantastical horror to the dark and cruel side of human nature. The humour of The Goon isn’t present here, but it is replaced by rich character development and deep emotional moments. The ending of the issue and the revelation of the mystery of the protagonist’s quest for vengeance will either leave you with chills, or in tears. Powell’s artwork is both gorgeous and grotesque; his style adapts to fit each moment with apparent ease. This was one of my favorite miniseries of 2015.
1872 #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Westerns and the Marvel universe were made for each other, having at least a sense of vigilante justice in common, and Gerry Duggan’s recasting of familiar heroes in Western tropes is a joyous celebration of both. From Tony Stark’s boozy Doc Holliday, to white knight sheriff Rogers and the corrupt Mayor Fisk, the town of Timely is what the comics company would still be publishing if Westerns hadn’t given way to capes in the 1950s and 1960s. Nik Virella’s often ‘widescreen’ art, mirroring Sergio Leone’s vistas, is filled with every bit of the dust and dirt of the Old West that color artist Lee Loughridge could muster, and the results are an authentic experience. In true Western serial fashion, a familiar lawless man on the final page digs the hook in for next issue’s showdown.
Justice League of America #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The double-threat of writer/artist Bryan Hitch delivers a rarity with a genuinely contemplative action blockbuster. The arrival of alleged Kryptonian deity Rao sees an immediate convert in Superman, but the rest of the League aren’t so sure. Perhaps only Hitch could have Batman and Alfred pondering the meaning of the Christian Bible, Wonder Woman coming face-to-face with a battered Olympus and Aquaman rejecting the very notion while still feeling like a giant motion epic. It’s easy when there’s highly detailed twin-page spreads of an alien vessel, angelic shots of the same entities against a sunset and underwater empires peppering the dialogue. At least some of the heavy lifting is done by colorist Alex Sinclair, whose lighting on Rao is simply jaw-dropping. More than anything, it feels like there’s lots of little pieces still in motion, and all of these mic-drop moments are slowly building up to something even bigger. It’s the stuff that the Justice League was made for.
Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War #1 (Published by DC Comics and IDW Publishing; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Tapping into the reptilian, fan-fiction-loving side of your geek brain, Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War #1 is the kind of crossover you never knew you needed, but will almost assuredly love once you get into it. Writer Mike Johnson focuses primarily on the J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek crew in this first issue after they find a dead Guardian and a set of surprising artifacts, but once you see where he's headed - like what kind of power ring would each member of the Enterprise wield - you realize that this is the kind of indulgent craziness that you'd never think would be approved by two major companies in a million years. Artist Angel Hernandez does great work nailing the movie likenesses of the Enterprise while still selling the comparatively flamboyant Green Lantern design. This is an unexpected hoot.
Spider-Island #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The original event may still be somewhat divisive amongst fans, but this Spider-Island is a satisfying spin on the Spider Virus that was borne in Dan Slott’s 2011 event. Christos N. Gage’s take sees Venom leading the resistance against a city overrun by spider mutants, including familiar heroes turned into man spiders, but what turns the tide is so crazy it’s brilliant. Paco Diaz has a ball twisting iconic heroes into spiders, and none are more beautifully rendered than a six-armed Hulk careening into a frenzied battle. A backup story from the original Spider-Girl team (Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz) also dovetails not only into Secret Wars, but the wonderful Spider-Verse event as well. Definitely one of the more cohesive domains within Battleworld.
Gotham Academy #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart, 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Gotham Academy is an excellent gateway comic for young readers in your life. Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher have managed the perfect mix of Victorian gothic and teen boarding school dramedy, perfectly reflected in Karl Kerschl’s art. Cloonan and Fletcher do a great job using ‘civilian’ characters like Kyle to emotionally ground an otherwise wholly supernatural tale, giving us the opportunity to see this month’s events through his eyes. Even as a mysterious letter admonishes Olive to “trust no one,” cute moments like Kyle and his little sister Maps teaming up to "protect" Olive from Tristan go far in demonstrating their character and love for her. This is a story about discovering Olive’s past, but also about how these discoveries impact those closest to her, and it will be interesting to see whether Olive takes the letter’s advice to heart in future issues.
Ghost Racers #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Felipe Smith created a fun and surprisingly accessible tie-in with Ghost Racers, and #2 continues to build with a deeper look at Robbie Reyes' past on Battleworld. Fans of films like the Running Man or Death Race could easily start the book and feel right at home with limited knowledge of the Ghost Rider mythos or the overarching Secret Wars storyline. Juan Gedeon's artwork gives a sense of frenetic energy that will make any action aficionados feel right at home. This month's final page, a stunning image of the other ghost racers setting out in pursuit of Robbie, perfectly captures the book's bombastic style. Overall Smith has built an intriguing new world of riders that stands well on its own, and is shaping up to be a stand-out book among countless summer spin-offs.
Silver #5 (Published by Dark Planet Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Professional grifter James Finnegan and his partner, Rosalyn Sledge—the granddaughter of Abraham van Helsing—advance their long con of stealing a massive hoard of silver from under Dracula’s castle while an orgiastic Dracunalia rages overhead. Although writer and artist Stephan Franck continues to masterfully craft his central characters—particularly in this issue with the bonding between Finnegan and the likable pre-cog boy, Tao—what makes this issue shine is the world building Mr. Franck performs in exposing the secretive and decadent vampire aristocracy “far out of reach from the laws of men and the eyes of God.” The artwork is stunning in black and white, and this series continues to be not just a great pulpy adventure story, but excellence in comic book storytelling.