Greetings ‘Rama Readers! Pierce Lydon here! Our fearless leader David Pepose is off gallivanting in some world of wizardry or another so I’ll be your host for this iteration of Best Shots! We’ll kick things off with Oscar Maltby’s take on the latest issue of Ghost Racers.
Ghost Racers #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Robbie Reyes has managed to escape the horrors of the Ghost Races, but he can’t say the same of his younger brother Gabe! Writer Felipe Smith and penciller Juan Gedeon’s Battleworld take on the Spirits of Vengeance comes to a pulse-pounding conclusion with Ghost Racers #4; a frenetic yet shallow conclusion to a series that runs at an appropriately light-speed pace. Gedeon’s clean and angled faces effectively communicate Smith’s simple story-beats, whilst also utilising chaotic and busy lines to render the issue’s vengeful, skull-faced spirits in all their full glory. Atop the lively illustrations, colorist Tamra Bonvillain floods the page in hellfire orange against electrifying blue. It’s a tried-and-true approach that works effectively here. Ghost Racers #4 is a solid slice of mindless and demonic super heroics. And if that doesn’t sway you, here’s four more words of recommendation: Flaming T-Rex flies jet.
Archie #3 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): One of the most highly-awarded writers of the last few years (Mark Waid) and one of the biggest artists around right now (Fiona Staples) work with 75 year-old character, and the results have been revelatory. This issue is the introduction proper of Veronica, completing a love triangle that is just as old. The skill of this book is taking very simple tropes - breakups, first day of school, the rich girl versus the poor - and making them seem fresh and interesting. Construction yard disasters go for broad comedy, yet there’s also real heart in the unity Betty and Jughead share over their friendship for Archie. By the same token, Veronica is an arrogant terror on the surface, but Waid gives us a moment of vulnerability allowing us to see why she would appeal to Archie at all. Her redesign by Staples is spot-on, with the description of “former reality show celebrity” just as apt.
X-Men ‘92 #4 (Published by Marvel; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10): X-Men ‘92 #4’s climactic final battle against Cassandra Nova’s Ten-Sentinel feels straight out of the X-Men: The Animated Series. Artist Scott Koblish and colorist Matt Milla have some especially impressive panels in Nova’s final psychic battle against Jean Grey and Professor Xavier. Writers Chris Sims and Chad Bowers have created a fast-paced script that perfectly balances the tongue-in-cheek humor and explosive action of the original series without feeling dated. Their narrative pacing is excellent, evidenced by how much they’ve introduced and neatly wrapped up in only four issues. Bowers and Sims’ ability to blend older villains like the Shadow King with relatively recent introductions like Cassandra into storylines that feel fresh and new bodes well for the series’ ongoing success. X-Men ‘92 #4 may only mark the end of an arc now that the title has been turned into an ongoing series, but it’s a solid close to a fun and adventurous storyline.
Grayson Annual #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The DC Universe is in a state of constant flux. Needless to say, Grayson and Superman have some catching up to do, right in between battling murderous high-score addicts Fist of Cain and the raging roid-monster Blockbuster. Alvaro Martinez Bueno’s pencils are technically proficient, with a solid grasp of figure posing and fight choreography, even if his expressions seem blank at times. Tim Seeley and Tom King have a solid grasp of characterization here, comparing and contrasting two radically different heroes in a way that sometimes hits and sometimes seems like nothing more than a retread of told tales. There’s an especially touching moment here when Grayson explains his choice of the Nightwing moniker to Supes, not to mention the countless snigger-worthy asides that come from the two guys riffing on each other. The late-stage addition of a pitch-perfect Lex Luthor closes out Grayson Annual #2 as a tale that’s well worth a read for both Grayson and Superman fanatics.
S.H.I.E.L.D. #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): There are a lot of Marvel books on the stands this week, but if you have to choose one, let me suggest you try the duck. Howard the Duck, to be exact, as Mark Waid and Evan "Doc" Shaner deliver a marvelously screwy spin on Dan Slott's Spider-Verse epic with S.H.I.E.L.D. #10. Teaming up Howard and S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Leo Fitz, Shaner's artwork is just beautiful, whether it's Howard's prickly expressiveness or the surprisingly cool visual of a 60-foot robotic duck looming over us. Waid doesn't try to go too clever with this issue, as Howard and his cross-dimensional allies fight off an evil French gourmand, and I think that's to this story's benefit - it's a goofy one-off with an artist who is long overdue for a bigger spotlight. This is a wonderfully drawn palate cleanser that absolutely deserves your attention.
Justice League #44 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Geoff Johns has barely given us pause for breath on the recent "The Darkseid War" run of Justice League, and this dive into the Multiverse is an exemplar of how to run a blockbuster epic in comic books. It’s an issue of dark mirrors and contrasts: Batman piloting the Mobius chair, Superman corrupted by the solar flares on Apokolips, the Flash used spectacularly as an avatar and Darkseid’s Daughter being a flipside of Wonder Woman. Revelations are made about the very nature of the DCU, but the showstopper is the confrontation between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor, one that changes the game considerably. Jason Fabok nails every panel, from the truly terrifying glimpses of the Joker in the opening panels to the complexity of Power Ring’s constructs, or the darkly cool designs for the Black Racer or the corrupted Flash. We get the feeling we’ll be talking about this arc for some time to come.
Zodiac Starforce #2 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating 8 out of 10): Though the first issue felt at times overwhelmed by backstory, Zodiac Starforce #2 gives more insight into the girls’ friendships in their natural habitat: high school. Writer Kevin Panetta has delivered another solid script, filled with playful banter that feels authentic to the youthful ensemble cast. Paulina Ganucheau’s vibrant art goes a long way towards helping develop the crowded cast. She’s careful to give each character their individual style, from their hair to their clothes to simple accessories. Her vivid, saturated colors are punctuated by eerie moments of darkness when evil approaches, and her ability to transition scenes or even individual characters through the use of creeping shadows helps drive home the spooky, insidious nature of the threat facing the team. Zodiac Starforce #2 significantly improves on some of the pacing problems of the debut issue, giving its solid plot and gorgeous art more room to shine.
New Suicide Squad Annual #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Writer Sean Ryan does a nice job of framing the end of the “Monster” arc in this annual. By echoing Reverse Flash and Harley’s final exchange in the closing moments, Ryan is able to come full circle on the intent and concept behind the squad’s existence. The whole squad has a story similar to Reverse Flash’s but will they all find redemption? It begs the reader to question whether people are truly evil or whether they are turned into evil people based on circumstance. Philippe Briones’ art is along for the ride and it serves the story well. The character renderings are generally consistent and the layouts are effective. It’s clear that he values clear visual storytelling over style in this outing and it doesn’t hurt the book but it never brings the script to another level, either. This is a solid story for Suicide Squad fans but there might not be much for anyone else.
Captain America: White #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): There’s an overwhelming sense of nostalgia that surrounds this issue, just as it does with much of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s collaborations. Like their previous ‘color’ titles, the aim seems to be exposing a small part of the picture that was dwarfed by the enormity of the events at the time, although the thesis is not as clear here. It’s primarily about the trusting relationship that Cap and Bucky first built, with Cap’s shield used as a symbol of that trust and the benefit of hindsight on Bucky’s ultimate trajectory. Sale’s painted artwork is gorgeous, from the opening shot of Cap sinking beneath the waves. There’s a tonal shift as a fog rolls in, making it seem even more retro, but the unexpected appearance of Namor is Sale simply having fun. At this stage, it’s just a rose- colored glimpse at those salad days with few stakes, but perhaps it will look different when we can finally view the whole picture.
Aquaman #44 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): No one can ever figure out what to do with Aquaman. Cullen Bunn’s overarching plot is ripped straight from the Mortal Kombat films and this issue sees Arthur Curry still struggling with regaining control of his kingdom. Bunn throws a little switcheroo in the plotting but considering that the lead up is a bit gratuitous, the moment feels like it could have been better executed. Artists Alec Morgan, Jesus Merino and Art Thibert do their best with this issue and I like how they render hair in water but there’s not much going on. This is a talky book through and through that serves to get to the next story while not offering much in the way of meaningful character development. It’s far from the worst book you’ll read this week but it definitely won’t inspire anyone to really dive into the hero of Atlantis.