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 today's column with Overqualified Oscar Maltby, as he takes a look at the sophomore issue of Spider-Gwen...
Spider-Gwen #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Just as Spider-Gwen finds herself overwhelmed by a legion of lizards, Captain America enters the fray in Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez's Spider-Gwen #2, another quick-witted and action-packed issue of Marvel's standout series. Latour wastes no time here, introducing Samantha Wilson: Captain America with a double-page origin spread that is equal parts familiar and fresh. Artist Robbi Rodriguez contributes 22 pages of angular and animated artwork here, with fluid action that smoothly slides from panel to panel in a flurry of fists and fury. Colorist Rico Renzi complements Rodriguez's pencils by turning his characters into pink, green and white bolts of lightning atop a night-time world of black and blue. Elsewhere, there's ample drama as George Stacy's quest to find Peter Parker's killer hits the rocks. Spider-Gwen has always been a quality title, and this issue is no exception.
Batman and Robin Eternal #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): I’m a big fan of Tony Daniel drawing Batman books. There’s a strength to his linework that suits the Dark Knight. I think a big part of a comic and especially a weekly series is the reader’s expectation and Daniel is able to play to how many people see Batman and Robin in their mind’s eye. And that helps sell a wordy script from James Tynion IV. Thankfully, Tynion gets a minute to let the narrative breathe and push us through some exposition but he’s able to do so with a strong flashback scene at the center. This allows him to avoid just having all the Robins talking at each other and instead lets readers see a bit of the "New 52" Batman/Dick Grayson dynamic that was previously a mystery. All in all, this is a quick read because it’s a fun one and that’s what should be expected from a weekly series that’s working.
Secret Wars #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): At this point, Secret Wars has lost a lot of its impact because so many of the new titles have already rolled out. But for a fight comic book, this one isn’t too bad, as the Battleverse Barons and the 616 Cabal start destabilizing Doom's paradise. Hickman doesn’t bog down the script with too much dialogue, and it’s better for it. Doom’s four generals going at it plays to this series' biggest strength: Esad Ribic. Every page is a masterclass in character rendering, dynamicism and action. Ribic is able to pack this issue full of the big-budget movie visuals that we’ve come to expect from event titles but that aren’t always executed effectively. You might still be scratching your head as to why we have two more issues of Secret Wars coming down the pike, but at least Ribic is giving us something to look at.
Justice League: The Darkseid War - Shazam #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Steve Orlando has been one of DC's sharpest up-and-coming writers with his take on Midnighter, but he and artist Scott Kolins bite off a little bit more than they can chew with Justice League: The Darkseid War - Shazam #1. Possessed by a pantheon of gods from across the DC Universe, Billy Batson's new status quo is an interesting one, as he's now powered by deities from Urgund, Mars and Apokolips itself. Unfortunately, half of this issue feels like exposition, as Orlando has to have Billy meet each and every god before being whisked away to yet another realm. (Orlando tries valiantly to wrap it all up with a monologue about Billy as "Earth's Mightiest Mortal," but because the characterization of the lead feels a little shallow, it doesn't connect as hard as it could.) Artist Scott Kolins looks better than ever with colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr. - who looks more like an heir to Brian Buccellato than anyone else in the DC stable - with the different realms of the gods having their own unique flavor and identity. Occasionally, though, his panels get a little too busy with energy effects and motion lines, which hampers the panel-to-panel storytelling a bit. Honestly, this could have been a miniseries, so hats off to Orlando and Kolins for packing it as best they could into 22 pages.
Constantine: The Hellblazer #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): James Tynion IV, Ming Doyle and Riley Rossmo show us a day in the life of John Constantine, and I gotta say, it makes for the most entertaining issue of Constantine: The Hellblazer yet. While serving as mostly a palate cleanser following the exorcism of all of John's everpresent ghosts, Tynion and Doyle actually out-strange this week's issue of Doctor Strange, showing all the craziness that a paranormal exorcist can get himself into, especially when living in the biggest and craziest city on Earth. Of course, being Constantine, no case is ever straightforward, and it's very funny to see him deal with an exorcism by having a drink with the demon he's supposed to be evicting. Rossmo also takes all of Tynion and Doyle's ideas and goes nuts with them, whether its a spirit dragon crashing a karaoke bar in Koreatown, an evil-looking "haunted buffet," or John telling off a group of hooded ghosts that, no, they cannot eat other people's dogs, no matter how fuzzy they are. This is a very funny, very fast-paced, very entertaining issue. Definitely a must-buy.
Darth Vader #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The reliably cool title from Kieron Gillen reaches the prelude to the forthcoming “Vader Down,” and while the current arc comes to a close with this issue, there’s a certain sense that this is just biding time before it drops the first major crossover between the new Star Wars titles on us. It’s a slow burn as Darth Vader and Thanoth maneuver themselves into their best possible positions. That said, it’s hard to argue with Salvador Larroca depicting Vader casually bringing down a Y-Wing fighter with the flick of a lightsaber. The final conversation in this issue between Aphra and the titular Sith Lord leaves us with a sense of dread foreboding, although that is immediately overtaken by the more imminent rival Gillen presents us with by the end. A flatter end for a high-quality series to date, albeit one that is consciously holding the reins tight until it can launch the next arc.
The Ultimates #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): “We can’t just be another Illuminati,” remarks Dr. Adam Brashear, aka Blue Marvel, towards the end of this debut issue, and that was always going to be a danger with a title like this. It certainly plays on the same grand scale as Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers, but the coming together of this unique group - also consisting of Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Monica Rambeau, and Ms. America - takes a far more proactive approach to the Multiverse, a welcome positive note after the fatalistic few years that led up to Secret War. Writer Al Ewing is definitely dealing with some abstracts here, as well as pulling together some epic threads, but Kenneth Rocafort’s art simultaneously grounds and elevates the story. He gives the cosmic grandness a sense of scale and tangibility, but some of his original constructs - such as a warlord’s throne being used to maintain a “panopticon astral consciousness” - are simply mind-blowing. A difficult concept for a first issue, but so brimming with ideas and grace that it is hard not to be enveloped by it.
Airboy #4 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Outside of the controversy generated a few issues back regarding transphobic slurs, I feel like the greater comic book readership has really missed out on Airboy, which is a startlingly reflective work, given that it also involves series writer James Robinson and artist Greg Hinkle fighting Nazis in a parallel universe. While the bumbling antics of Robinson and Hinkle provide a great chemistry, it's really the confessional aspect of Airboy that really makes this work so unique - Robinson is fueled by self-loathing, drowning in a sea of drugs and debauchery following the cratering of his once-meteoric career. Getting nailed by critics again and again would have an affect on anyone, as he asks, "So me, great? Hell, was I even good? Ever?" Of course, Robinson also has to wrap up Airboy's story, and while he tries to give himself a heroic redemption, it can't help but feel a little jarring. (Still, Hinkle's cartoony, expressive artwork is absolutely gorgeous, and I love his use of single colors versus a full palette. He actually does make that extraneous fight scene with robots and Nazis look good.) Ultimately, this series ends with ambiguity, but I think that's fair - Airboy seems more raw and autobiographical than I think anyone would expect, and that's what makes it such a compelling read.
Spider-Man 2099 #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It’s taken a few issues, but Peter David has finally set Miguel O’Hara apart from the now full dance card that is the Marvel Spider-Verse. The standard, albeit unusual, confrontation with the villain is nothing especially unique, but you can’t help but smile when you see a big splash page of Miguel knocking out a cyborg and saying, “I’m Spider-Man, you idiot.” Will Sliney finally gets to cut loose at this point as well, showcasing the new costume and some of its plot-twisting features, using lots of thin horizontal panels to create the illusion of cinematic fast-cutting. However, in the moments that follow, we start to see what kind of driven anti-hero this Spider-Man has a chance of becoming, and the exploration of this dark side is something that is an exciting prospect for future issues. The final revelation is a surprise, even if it does involve a character that audiences have barely had a chance to grow any attachment to yet.
Slash & Burn #1 (Published by Vertigo; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Si Spurrier has a great hook with Slash & Burn, although his firefighting series starts with a slow burn thanks to story decompression and some nondescript artwork. Focusing on a firefighter who has a deep, intimate connection with flames, you can probably guess Spurrier's main twist (if you haven't had it spoiled by the numerous interviews, anyway). Still, series protagonist Rosheen is an interesting character, and I love the level of detail that Spurrier gives when illustrating her top-to-bottom knowledge of flame, whether its describing a weak flame as "a fumbling backseat teenage necker," or knowing which materials burn and which explode. The artwork, however, is a little less memorable - Max Dunbar actually reminds me a bit of Stefano Caselli, but for a book that seems to be as moody as Slash & Burn, his style doesn't quite do the heavy lifting that Spurrier's obvious research has. This issue doesn't do a ton beyond just introducing the main character - there's little in the way of a greater mystery here - but now that that's been established, hopefully this series will start to heat up.
Robyn Hood #16 (Published by Zenescope; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Readers might not expect deep social commentary in a comic book based on fairy tale characters, but Pat Shand surprises. Robyn's vigilante activities led her to be harassed by a tough cop, Officer Julia Gengrich. Now Gengrich is on the run from corrupt policemen, and she goes to Robyn for help. Shand writes moving flashbacks to illustrate the casual sexism and racism Gengrich and others endure. I like how Shand balances serious themes with funny dialogue, such as a Mumford & Sons reference. Roberta Ingranata's art is rounder and more fluid than past issues. Ingranata draws an exciting fight scene by alternating between close-ups of Gengrich's face and bullets hitting their targets. Like Daredevil or Jessica Jones, Shand's Robyn Hood is a darker, smarter spin on a superhero story.