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 Plentiful Pierce Lydon, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Infinity Gauntlet...
Infinity Gauntlet #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): High-octane action through the lens of family superhero melodrama is recipe for success for Gerry Duggan and Dustin Weaver. The gang’s all here for a showdown with Adam Warlock and the Soul Gem, and it’s a fun one. Dustin Weaver’s art takes center stage as the issue is mostly fight choreography and the introduction of the Infinity Armor. The armor is the bit I like the most, because it shows how even a steadfast artifact like the Infinity Gauntlet is not immune to a bit of remixing in the Secret Wars formula. Duggan and Weaver are able to create some levity in the script with the inclusion of the Guardians of the Galaxy while continuing to up the stakes. Early in the series, I lamented the slow start, but the creative team is clicking at a great pace now that will leave readers pretty excited for the conclusion.
Robin, Son of Batman #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): This issue is laden with exposition, but Patrick Gleason manages to work in a few good character moments and an inventive fight sequence to buoy this one. With his artwork firing on all cylinders once more, Gleason injects the narrative with a bit of Indiana Jones/Goonies-style mystery and intrigue that works really well, leading up to Robin facing off against master assassin Deathstroke the Terminator. The relationship dynamic between Robin and Nobody is fun to read, but Gleason has a hard time finding the voice of other characters. Deathstroke in particular sounds a bit stilted and unnatural. That said, Gleason is really trying to carve out a unique niche for Damian Wayne, and I think it’s mostly working. Without relying on Batman’s rogues gallery and supporting cast, the narrative sets Damian apart from his famous father. Robin is back on the upswing this month.
Sex Criminals #12 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This might be the most tonally different issue of Sex Criminals to date, as writer Matt Fraction seems to revert back to his superhero days, with a fairly action-packed issue of a usually thoughtful, cerebral comedy. In a lot of ways, Sex Criminals defies its single-issue status - Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky are talented creators, but each issue feels more like one individual sequence rather than a contained tale in its own right. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Between Suzie and Jon running away from a tentacle monster made out of bodily fluids to Jazmine St. Cocaine's eloquent lecture on sexual "normalcy," this comic is going all over the place, but that speaks to Fraction's strength as a writer. Zdarsky doesn't get as many opportunities for gags here, but when he does - like a malevolent-looking dildo monster chained in someone's basement - he knocks it out of the park. This issue is definitely the jolt in the arm this book needed.
Constantine #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): John Constantine is such a lovable bastard that it’s easy to forget that he’s a bastard. The creative team doesn’t pull any punches in this issue, as John bottoms out in his efforts to save his ghosts. Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV take us back to John’s punk rock days with his band Mucus Membrane, and we start to see how his current situation is indelibly linked to his present. John’s always been running from his mistakes and they’ve started to catch up. The art team outdoes themselves. Vanessa Del Rey and Chris Visions are a tour de force, injecting each page with the anarchistic snarl of the punk rock of yesteryear. As present-day John tries to find salvation at the bottom of a bottle, his past self rips and roars through songs and incantations, and Del Rey and Visions find a perfect balance. Visions’ work particularly stands out in the flashback sequences, giving the book a coat of grit and grime that meshes well the younger John's nihilistic outlook on life. This isn’t an issue you can afford to miss if you’re a Hellblazer fan.
Star Wars #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): For a series set between two superstar films, Jason Aaron’s Star Wars has never ceased to surprise. The notion of Jedi relics becoming cosmic collectors’ items is a stroke of simple genius, as is the vision of a Hutt wearing a necklace of lightsabers. Rather than simply filling the void with incongruous stories, Aaron is expanding the universe in a way that is driven by pure, unadulterated fandom. Stuart Immonen’s world is authentic, depicting a much darker side to the bright cities we saw in the prequel films, with a secondary plot involving Han and Leia (and Han’s alleged wife) providing the levity and a chance geek out over some familiar cameos. This isn’t just a tie-in: this is Star Wars told in deceptively still frames.
Secret Six #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Gail Simone writes a nice climax for her ragtag gang of ne'er-do-wells in Secret Six #6, as Ralph Dibny and company battle the Riddler for the greatest prize of all - the love of Sue Dibny. This sort of comic book is the very example of breathing some new life into the standard superhero fare - we've seen a group of heroes all pile on a villain before, but Simone gives her characters a twisted sense of humor, ranging from Catman scoffing at the idea of going straight, to Ferdie the ventriloquist dummy (and self-described "clever dick") gleefully stabbing the Riddler in the leg. Artist Tom Derenick fills in for Dale Eaglesham this issue, and the way he emulates Eaglesham's exaggerated expressions is a great look for him. Ultimately, this low-key book won't redefine comics, but Gail Simone's voice makes this stand above the rank and file.
Spider-Island #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Consistently one of the more interesting corners of Battleworld, Spider-Island has also been the most inconsistent in maintaining momentum, feeling very much as though it has been treading water. After writer Christos Gage once again shows us Venom struggling with the mantle of leader, artist Paco Diaz is able to let loose on some clever reinventions of familiar characters as Venom at last has his army against the Spider-Queen. His ragtag group of a werewolf Cap, Lizard-Hulk, vampire Captain Marvel, and Peter Parker’s lizard ex-girlfriends working together is incredibly cool, but not as cool as the reanimated dinosaurs fighting spider-people on the next page. The series now has the momentum the first couple of excellent issues promised, it’s just a shame that this issue had to spin its wheels a little in order to get there.
Martian Manhunter #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): I've been meaning to review this book for awhile now - ultimately, it's more ambitious than many other DC books on the stands today, but there's something about Martian Manhunter that doesn't quite gel. Rob Williams' story is an interesting one - J'onn has been split apart, with various segments of his subconscious running around, often having retreated into human identities unaware of their superheroic past. It's a heady high concept, and Williams seeds this issue with some breakneck action with three of J'onn's duplicates, but most of these threads wind up ending on anticlimactic beats. Artist Eddy Barrows, however, continues to grow as a talent, with some dynamic panel layouts and some particularly gruesome Martian designs - he's stretching himself, even if his clean style doesn't always lend itself to the creepiness of this hero. This book can be a bit alienating (no pun intended) for new readers, but there's still a ton of potential here. Hopefully Williams can get to the point quickly, before DC has to pull the plug on him.
Spider-Verse #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): One of the most joyful events of the last year was Spider-Verse, and this Battleworld bubble version almost equals its excellence. Mike Costa reaches his conclusion in a spiritual sequel to that epic, bringing together seven different Spider-Totems from across the former multiverse. Powerless and confronted with evil, we see exactly what makes Peter Parker a hero, and how that spirit is reflected in his mirror versions, especially the justifiably popular Spider-Gwen. The connections to Doom are perfunctory, but it still makes for a terrific action sequence. Yet the standout for this entire series has been André Araújo’s exquisite art, with comical leanings that draw on a European tradition of sci-fi that suits this eccentric tale perfectly. Major props must also go to color artist Rachelle Rosenberg, who makes the many reds, blues, and other curious colors leap off the page (or screen). Let’s hope that more of this fun continues when Web Warriors kicks off in November.
UFOlogy #5 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): James Tynion IV and Noah J. Yuenkel's small-town sci-fi mystery finally focuses on a strained father-son relationship. I like how the writers use Becky's affectionate father to contrast how passive and neglectful Malcolm's dad is. However, the plot twists don't feel drastic enough to be surprising, and the alien elements lack any horror or fear factor. Adam Metcalfe has a more eclectic style than most colorists, and the opening scene is an attractive display of electric yellow backgrounds and bright purple clothing. Matthew Fox's inking of rocky forest terrain immerses the reader in the rural winter setting. UFOlogy is a quiet look at ordinary characters discovering alien activity, but readers might wish the story took more risks.