Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off with Righteous Richard Gray, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens #4...
Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Shattered Empire #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): After a week of the Internet exploding with Star Wars excitement, Greg Rucka finally answers the oft-repeated question of “Where the hell is Luke?” For this first time in this mini-series, the stories of the sequel characters (or at least their antecedents) start to dovetail with the original trilogy heroes, as the seeds for what is likely to be a major plot point of The Force Awakens are quite literally planted by Greg Rucka. The art from Marco Checchetto is sublime, maintaining the lived-in world of the Empire that still remains largely unchanged by the rebellion. It will take a stern follower to not be roused by the sight of a black-suited Luke Skywalker going against Stormtroopers with a lightsaber, and the final peaceful resolution is a gorgeous piece of tranquility. Where we go next is several decades later, and as all good Jedi know, patience is a virtue.
Batman and Robin Eternal #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): All right! Now we’re getting somewhere! Some meaningful plot development shows up here and sets the stage for what’s to come in this weekly series. Tim Seeley does a lot of good work showing us how the dynamic between the Robins makes their relationship something very unique in the DC Universe and builds out the mystery of Cassandra Cain a little bit more. These weekly series are really good when the mystery is becoming evident to the characters and the reader at the same time, but the focus on character development is key. In what seems like a reversal of how the creative team used Spoiler in the last iteration of Eternal, the writers have made it a point to give every character a spotlight. Paul Pelletier is back and his work here is even better than last issue. Just as Seeley is settling into these characters’ voices, Pelletier is starting to own their facial expressions and renderings in a way that really allows to script to breathe.
Back to the Future #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Marty McFly and Doctor Emmett Brown have been one of the best odd couples in cinema, but what circumstances could have possible brought together a 16-year-old smartass with a brilliant scientist in his 70s? The original Back to the Future screenwriter, Bob Gale, teams up with scripters John Barber and Erik Burnham as well as artists Brent Schoonover and Dan Schoening to tell two prequel stories to the legendary series, and fans of the original series will likely love what they deliver. The main story, featuring Marty's first meeting with Doc Brown, incorporates the zaniness of the elder scientist's Rube Goldberg-esque machinery along with the stubbornness of the plucky teen. Schoonover's artwork feels round and likeable, like a Saturday morning cartoon, while Dan Schoening brings a little bit more edge to a story about a young Emmett Brown being brought into the Manhattan Project. If you're riding high off yesterday's Back to the Future lovefest, this is a perfect palate cleanser.
Karnak #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Anytime we’re treated to more work from Warren Ellis in the Marvel Universe, there’s reason for celebration. Karnak sees the writer continue to deliver work that is conceptually strong but this one might leave a little bit to be desired in terms of execution. Simply put, the book doesn’t match up at all with the other Inhumans-related titles that have come out lately, and the timing seems slightly off. For unfamiliar readers, Karnak doesn’t carry much weight, and introducing him working with S.H.I.E.L.D. instead of in the context of the Royal Family feels like a missed opportunity. Gerardo Zaffino is the star of the issue. His art allows Ellis to put Karnak’s brutality on full display, and the moments where he lets loose are as awesome as they are gruesome. Hopefully, Ellis’ narrative will give Zaffino some big moments moving forward, because this is one good-looking book.
Black Canary #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Black Canary is one of the most inventive of DC’s 2015 relaunches. A wild blend of The Bourne Identity and Josie and the Pussycats, Brenden Fletcher has created a fascinating and emotional new take on an iconic DC hero that’s been consistently enjoyable through its first arc. This month features the newly-empowered Maeve challenging Black Canary (the band) to a sonic-powered battle, driven to a fever pitch by Pia Guerra and Sandy Jarrell’s art and Lee Loughridge’s punked out color work. Black Canary #5 is a dramatic build-up to Bo Maeve and Black Canary’s first face-to-face battle royale. Though light on further details about Ditto’s mysterious origins, Black Canary #5 still packs a punch, teasing a can’t-miss musical brawl that will leave you itching for #6.
Astonishing Ant-Man #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas’ briefly interrupted Ant-Man run picks up eight months later with a few surprises, but spiritually carrying on the journey of this (mostly) down-on-his-luck hero. The intervening months have seen the character become an international movie star, and there’s a minor bit of hamstringing in trying to smack some of the cinematic villains right back into the mix. Yet the trademark humor is still there, with a series of sight gags Rosanas gives the right amount of levity to, such as Darren Cross unexpectedly enlarging and getting his head stuck in a ceiling. Existing fans may find that the exposition based catch-up issue doesn’t bring us up to speed with Scott Lang’s misadventures fast enough, but the touching moments of his unseen interactions with his daughter - not to mention leaving us on bombshell of a cliffhanger - are exactly where this series is best situated.
Gotham Academy #11 (Published by DC Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Gotham Academy #11 follows the kids’ foray into Gotham City on an ill-fated field trip, including a guest appearance from Red Robin. Fletcher and Cloonan have hit a groove in their exploration of the mysteries of the Silverlock family. They gracefully balance the fine line between revealing too much and too little, and deftly weave in storylines focused on the other Mystery Club kids to keep the story fresh. The light-hearted scene between Red Robin and Maps is a high point this month, perhaps hinting at the "Robin War" crossover in an upcoming issue. Featuring more gorgeously eerie scenes with Calamity from Karl Kerschl, Gotham Academy #11 adds some fuel to the slow burn story of Olive’s mysterious past and shows the series has serious staying power as DC’s strongest young adult-oriented title.
Ivar, Timewalker #10 (Published by Valiant; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): You have to hand to it to Fred Van Lente for the most gonzo high concept of the week, as Ivar, Timewalker is thrown into a gladiator pit... in a world where all the gladiators are dinosaurs. It's absolutely silly, but how you react to that premise is pretty much what will make or break this book for you, as artist Pere Perez just plays up all the ridiculous sight gags that come when you have bipedal ankylosauruses sword-fighting with berserk baboons. While the introduction to this issue reads as a little bit slow - a Romanesque civilization populated entirely by dinosaurs seems pretty self-explanatory, even as Van Lente has to also give us the backstory behind Neela, who has free reign in the kingdom thanks to her temporal doppelganger. This isn't the deepest book you'll ever read - although the final page cliffhanger will likely make you laugh out loud - but it sure is the most memorable.
Star Wars: Darth Vader #11 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): It will come as no surprise to every kid that wanted to be the baddie that Darth Vader has rapidly taken the top spot as the most consistently compelling book in the current line of Marvel Star Wars comic books. Easily matching the sheer scale and scope of the original films, its pleasure in wallowing in the depths of the scum and villainy of the galaxy easily putting it on par with the ne’er-do-wells of Image’s Saga. Running as a parallel to the main story, there’s a giddy thrill in the way Kieron Gillen has dark mirrors to each of the heroic leads, including the delightfully wicked droids. Yet he also never lets us forget that Vader has the power to remain in control, no matter which character appears to have the upper hand in the moment. Salvador Larrocca is instrumental in maintaining this, from the imposing sight of Vader lording a battalion of Stormtroopers to the five-panel violent mercy he shows someone who betrayed him.
The Menace of Monkey Baron #1 (Published by Ficticia; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Take a city where the cops and the politicians are just as dirty as the violent street gangs, where journalists long to report about anything other than drugs and murder, and add in a multiple homicide and the emergence of a mysterious person in a monkey mask that threatens the tenuous status quo. The result is this black-and-white gem of crime noir. Brazilian writer Hector Lima wastes little space in this bleak commentary on a society where crime is a city’s lifeblood, and he doesn’t lead us into the story so much as throws us in headfirst. Milton Sobreiro’s artwork is beautiful, with figures and expressions so realistic and natural that they could be frames cut from a film reel. A great beginning to this series.