Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with a handful of Rapid-Fire Reviews for your reading pleasure. So let's kick off today's column with Righteous Richard Gray, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Spider-Island...
Spider-Island #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): One of the surprisingly clever titles to emerge from the Secret Wars mix-tape of releases becomes a menagerie of mayhem this month, with a vastly transformed Marvel Universe and the return of Peter Parker. Christos Gage plays to the strengths of the Flash Thompson/Agent Venom character, crafting him into a natural born leader that even Parker defers to, but this issue spins its wheels a little given that Steve Rogers already gave Venom that validation last month. Paco Diaz crafts some wonderful character moments in this issue, not least of which is the vision of Parker’s girlfriends past transformed in hideous spider creatures. The Green Goblin version of Tony Stark’s Iron Man is wonderful, as is his hero arc in the final moments of this issue. The back-up story featuring Mayday Parker (a.k.a. Spider-Woman née Spider-Girl) is some old-school fun, and is a nice break from the sometimes overwhelming nature of Marvel’s current event.
Batman Beyond #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Invasion! Dan Jurgens and Bernard Chang's dystopic tale of Tim Drake in a far-flung, Brother Eye-controlled future continues with Batman Beyond #4. Chang's artwork is as stylish as ever, whilst Jurgens' Gotham descends into full-blown war. Alongside the Atom's successor Micron, Tim Drake fights valiantly to uphold Tim McGinnis' legacy as Batman. This is an action-packed issue, playing to all of dynamic penciller Bernard Chang's strengths. Filled with villains like the maniacally stupid Jokerz gang, Jurgens clearly had fun whipping up a worst-case scenario for a Tim Drake who still has self-doubt about taking up the mantle of the Bat. Narratively, #4 is the beginning of the end for Batman Beyond's first arc, and so Jurgens' concentrates on establishing Tim as a worthy Batman to a Gotham that doesn't yet fully trust in him. All in all, this is a top-notch slice of blockbuster superheroics.
Plutona #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Jeff Lemire, Emi Lenox and Jordie Bellaire introduce us to five ordinary teens in a city where caped superheroes are real and heavily discussed in the news. The teens cope with serious obstacles - abusive parents, teasing about body type, and jealousy over a friend's stylish clothes - all under the veneer of small talk about homework. The interactions feel authentic, especially Mie's exasperation at her mom. Lenox and Bellaire's art style is very similar to Matthew Fox and Adam Metcalfe's UFOlogy: simple backgrounds of quiet neighborhoods, hazy sky gradients, and many close-ups of characters' forlorn expressions during dialogue. If you're looking for a mature story that addresses the hidden hurts of adolescent life, Plutona is the best offering on the stands.
Deadpool Vs. Thanos #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): The title fight of this new miniseries goes exactly how you’d anticipate, at least initially, with Deadpool pummeled to a bloody wisecracking pulp. What Tim Seeley’s unlikely tale has going for it is an unexpectedly touching love triangle between the Merc, the Titan and Death herself. Yet on the flip side of the coin, the meta spiral that is Deadpool - after killing the Marvel Universe, himself, and fighting off zombie hordes - tends to get a little bit samey, even for the casual reader. Elmo Bondoc’s playful art is in keeping with the elastic tone, particularly around the ridiculous Black Talon character, who is essentially a voodoo practitioner in a chicken outfit. This may have worked better as a one-shot, but the promise of a Thanos/Deadpool team-up in the next issue is worth another read.
Midnighter #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Russian vampires are on the menu at the torturous inn of Guire Grando, and who better to dismantle this immoral cabal than the King of Immorality and his new partner, Grayson? Yes, Dick Grayson's been forcibly taken to Russia by the dangerously unhinged Midnighter; a character with potential who too often slips into the kind of sociopathic “comedy” patter that wouldn't seem out of place in a 1993 holofoil “extreme” comic. Outside of the flat humor, Steve Orlando crafts a solid little buddy story here. Grayson and Midnighter have real chemistry together, busting heads and quipping like a well-established team. The main villain of the piece is another of the God Garden's scientific abominations, making for a fun little threat deftly defeated by the dangerous duo. Penciller Stephen Mooney's fight scenes are excellently choreographed, focused around swift and decisive kickery. Although his characters often default to blankly stoic expressions, they break out the odd grin here and there to show that Mooney is more than capable of visual emoting. If you can stomach some embarrassing dialogue (example: “Ready to receive a new A-hole, you goat-fondling jack-ass?”), there's a lot to like in Midnighter #4.
Silk #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Perhaps overlooked for the infinitely more cosplayable Spider-Gwen, Robbie Thompson’s Silk has been one of the best new characters to emerge from "Spider-Verse." Her last days before the end of the Marvel Universe are a fitting tribute to the hero, who maintains the ethos of great responsibility even when it means potentially losing a reconnection with her family. With an uncharacteristically sweet set of moments with J. Jonah Jameson, it’s a fitting - albeit rushed - send-off for this hero we barely got to know. Tana Ford does a solid job on the art, including a wow-worthy double splash page montage of Silk’s acts of heroism, although the character close-ups miss some of the delicate touches of Stacey Lee’s gorgeous designs.
Lobo #10 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Sometimes you have to give credit where it's due - while Lobo as a series hasn't really grabbed me with its derivative, flavorless main character, Cullen Bunn and Frank Barbiere have given this title a much-needed shot in the arm as it ties into Bunn's work over in Sinestro. Now a bounty hunter in the employ of the feared Yellow Lantern, pitting Lobo against members of the Indigo Tribe and the Red Lantern Corps certainly ups the stakes, and gives the scrappy Lobo a worthy set of enemies to fight. While there's some extra-gratuitous blood and guts at the beginning of this issue, Bunn and Barbiere allude to a stronger reason for Lobo's tenacity. Artist Robson Rocha reminds me a lot of Eddy Barrows, and is particularly dynamic in a double-page splash where two Red Lanterns are hurtling through the spaceways - that said, whenever there's blood and gore involved, he can go a little overboard. While Bunn and Barbiere haven't quite cracked what would make Lobo a must-read character, you can't deny that this series has improved dramatically this month.
Mockingbird #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): I don't know what Joelle Jones has been putting in her Wheaties with Mockingbird #1, but I definitely hope she's brought enough to share. The artwork alone makes this S.H.I.E.L.D. one-shot a must-read, as Jones and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg make every page of this book look stunning. Jones' work here reminds me of a ton of great Marvel artists, ranging from David Lafuente to Stefano Caselli, and the use of bright, psychedelic colors from Rosenberg gives this book a singular voice. And speaking of voice, novelist Chelsea Cain sticks the landing for her comic book debut - while some of the finer points of the plot feel a little convenient (such as Bobbi immediately knowing who killed her mentor), her characterization of Bobbi is rock-solid, particularly her ready admittance that between Clint Barton and Lance Hunter, she has a type: "Romantic smart-asses with ties to shadowy government agencies [and] nice abs." The backup story by Margaret Stohl and Nico Leon featuring the all-new Red Widow isn't quite as compelling, although there's a decent hook for Natasha inspiring a successor who happens to think the original Black Widow is a disappointment. While the backup doesn't add a ton to the mix, this is a surprisingly strong one-shot.
Lazarus #19 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Greg Rucka's latest installment is more intriguing than recent issues despite Forever Carlyle's backseat role. The story gets a much needed boost from two plot twists: Johanna's development as a traitor, and Sonja Bittner's genetic modifications to become more like Forever. Michael Lark, Tyler Boss, and Santi Arcas create picturesque scenes when soldiers patrol a snowy Minnesotan town. The concluding fight sequence is gruesome but riveting as Arcas contrasts bright red blood with glossy leather uniforms. Lazarus returns to its strengths: family betrayals, near-superhuman physical feats, and a dystopia where people are commodities.