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 Obsessive Oscar Maltby, as he takes a look at the first issue of Scarlet Witch...
Scarlet Witch #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): James Robinson and Vanesa Del Rey bring out the witch in Wanda for Scarlet Witch #1, a stylish and melancholy debut that brings a fresh slice of occult horror to the Marvel Universe. After a spate of random murders lead to an impromptu exorcism, it quickly becomes apparent that witchcraft itself has been broken. Naturally, it's up to Wanda Maximoff to fix it! Del Rey's richly textured pencils are the obvious high point here, clearly communicating the dark and eerie nature of Robinson's script. Del Rey's work is colored by the omnipresent Jordie Bellaire, who drenches the entire issue in the gory and gothic hues of blood red, pitch black and alien green. Although Robinson effectively establishes a fittingly creepy tone here, some incredibly heavy exposition makes Scarlet Witch #1 something of a ponderous read. It's a script that leans heavily on atmosphere, often feeling like a spooky campfire story as told by Wanda. More of a visual treat than a narrative triumph, Scarlet Witch #1 is nonetheless a dramatic opening issue that definitely offers something a little different from the House of Ideas.
Grayson #15 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Leave it to Team Grayson to kick "Robin War" into high gear. Functioning as almost an issue-long training montage, Grayson #15 finds all four original Robins taking the legions of new Robins under their wing and whipping them into shape to face the GCPD. Tom King takes each individual Robin, as well as some standouts from the new crop, and focuses on what makes them suited for the mantle of Robin. Coupled with Mikel Janin and Jeromy Cox’s slick pencils and colors, Grayson #15 finally makes "Robin War" look and feel like the blockbuster event that the opening one-shot wanted it to look like. If family is the one thing being a Robin is suppose to be about Grayson #15 finally hammers that point home in a big way.
Star Wars Annual #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): While Darth Vader cuts through platoons of Rebel soldiers in Vader Down, Kieron Gillen gives us a dark tale of espionage in Star Wars Annual #1. Following an embedded spy on Coruscant, Star Wars Annual #1 delivers a gut-wrenching tale of a rescue mission and assassination attempt gone terribly wrong. The Star Wars universe isn’t one known for producing such grim tales but Gillen really aims for the throat with this annual and largely he succeeds. Unfortunately Star Wars Annual #1 is hobbled slightly by some rushed-looking pencils from artist Angel Unzueta. Though he renders the cityscapes and chaos of the Coruscant streets beautifully, his character designs leave much to be desired. Artistic hiccups aside, Star Wars Annual #1 is a nasty little yarn that fits right alongside the wholesale violence of the title’s first crossover event.
Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (Published by DC Comics and IDW Publishing; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The World's Most Fearsome Fighting Team clashes with the World's Greatest Detective in Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, a confident and well-executed crossover book that satisfies the far-fetched potential of its wish-fulfilling premise. Writer James Tynion IV's grasp of Batman has already been established, and he comfortably jumps into the turtles' signature characterization here with a few funny moments that lighten the brooding quality of Gotham City. He strikes a careful balance between a more violent interpretation of the Turtles and the pizza-chompin', skateboard-ridin' radical foursome we all know and love, honestly giving us the best of both worlds. The Foot Clan also get a solid airing here, and a brief face-off between Shredder and the Dark Knight is every bit as tense as it should be. Visually, Freddie E. Williams II puts a new visual slant on the Bat with a strange, almost insectoid Batmobile alongside a more conventional Arkham series inspired Batsuit. His Turtle and Foot Clan designs are on-point, whilst his solid grasp of perspective and anatomy serve him well for the issue's action sequences. This reviewer's a sucker for an improbable cross-over, and Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is shaping up to be one of the greats.
Spider-Gwen #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This month, Spider-Gwen slows way down. Contrasting the stark differences between the two worlds that Gwen now calls home, Spider-Gwen #3 trades in its action beats for emotional ones to great effect. Writer Jason Latour finds a wealth of charm in the interactions between Gwen and her mentor Jessica Drew on Earth-616, and tempers it by raising some major stakes back on Earth-GS. While the script is a bit more exposition-heavy this month, artists Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi still find pockets of action in the flashbacks detailing Gwen fateful encounter with her universe's Lizard, Peter Parker. Even the best punk outfits couldn’t go hard all the time, and Spider-Gwen #3 shows that this series can still deliver even when working within a slower tempo.
All-New Hawkeye #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Jeff Lemire has his cake and eats it too, with a dual narrative that allows the future Old Man Hawkeye and Kate Bishop to have Avengers style adventures against the Mandarin, while the modern day story is a thematic continuation of the excellent street-level everyman character Matt Fraction crafted over the course of the last few years. The strength of this arc is not only in tying back into previous stories, but in also clearly defining what differing characteristics the two Hawkeyes possess and what what makes them stronger together and apart. The other strength, of course, is the Ramon Perez artwork, flipping between the delicate futuristic hues of Ian Herring’s colors and the grim and gritty look of the present day. It’s a rare thing to see the consequences of the heroes’ actions played out in such an innovative way, and it’s almost impossible to say which time period is more fascinating.
Batman and Robin Eternal #10 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Comic fans from the '90s will rejoice, as Azrael has made his triumphant return to the post-"New 52" universe in Batman and Robin Eternal #10. Yet this character's grand debut isn't the real draw of this issue, which coasts by nicely on some strong artwork, exciting action and the pull of a deeper mystery featuring Bruce Wayne. Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly's script moves at just the right speeds, but ultimately, the Robins' raid on the Order of Saint Dumas is overshadowed by Batman's secrets, particularly as he reaches out to the human trafficker known as Mother. With the promise of a "perfect" Robin waiting in the continuity ether, the artists here work great - Roge Antonio continues to impress with his clean linework, while Geraldo Borges goes for a darker, weightier tone with Bruce Wayne's flashbacks. All in all, DC continues its winning streak with this book.
Amazing Spider-Man #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Dan Slott’s latest chapters on his epic Spider-Man saga are as frustrating at times as they are fun, and they are certainly a lot of the latter. It’s hard to tell whether the global aspect of Spidey’s adventures is a fresh new approach or an excuse to introduce more toys for a willing market, although this issue touches on two pleasing details. One is the real-world difficulties in trying to bring education and development to certain parts of the world, with Spider-Man the de facto for the United States in not being able to perpetually "police" a state after a regime change is made. The other is the core of Spider-Man, in Peter trying to balance his love of family, and his two lives, and there are few things more Spider-Man than that. Giuseppe Camuncoli brings a stylish flair to a new playground, and the new Spidey suit is looking cooler by the issue.
Constantine: The Hellblazer #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): New York City is a weird place - and it might be the best thing that's happened to Constantine in a long time. Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV instinctively get what makes NYC the city of a thousand stories, taking bits like the more amorous spots in Central Park and spinning a crazy magic subplot in the middle. Constantine as a character is almost manic, and completely committed to being a jerk - and that makes him a great foil to Swamp Thing, a straight man stick in the mud if there ever was one. This done-in-one mystery is drawn to perfection by Riley Rossmo - in particular, I love his use of shapes when designing his different characters. Constantine is angular and rakish, while Swampy is much more buff, with a massive set of shoulders. While the final action sequence featuring Constantine and Swamp Thing versus a horde of homicidal nymphs ends a little abruptly, this is still a super-fun book.
Guardians of the Galaxy #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): With the half-dozen or so Guardians-related titles now floating about, there’s a a sense of a concept being stretched too thin. Brian Michael Bendis’ issue has a solid story behind it, with the rag-tag Guardians trying to come together to save a planet, but we’re still wholeheartedly in the middle of the "getting to know you" stage of this new iteration of the team, and none of it gels holistically yet. That said, Kitty Pryde and Rocket vying for control of the team yields some sharp dialogue, and artist Valerio Schiti it totally on-point with the epic level of his artwork, from the hyper-detailed Knowhere to the full-page splashes of Hala the Accuser doing victory poses over her fallen opponents. It’s a series that often trades its own subtle flavors for perpetual motion, but it has all the necessary component parts if it would just slow down for a minute.
Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor #2 (Published by Titan Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10):Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, despite only appearing on TV in character twice, is the most prolific of all the Doctors thanks to audio adventures, novels, and comic books. The romantic and artistic Eighth is a stark contrast to Peter Capaldi’s current television portrayal, and Josephine Day has so far proven to be a likeable companion. George Mann’s script is mostly self-contained, which is incredibly pleasing for the casual fan reader, but this story in particular could have used a few extra chapters to elongate the drama. Emma Vieceli’s art is energetic and alien, enhanced with a cornucopia of colors by Hi-Fi, although some sequences appear to be less precise than others and lacking in detail. It will be great to see some of these stories take on more ambitious arcs, as a darkness to the Eighth has been hinted at already.
Gwenpool Special #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It's Christmas, and the whole Marvel Universe is invited to the party! A cavalcade of creators team up to gift us Gwenpool Special #1, a giant-sized seasonal anthology that featuring everything from Ms. Marvel's yuletide exclusion to She-Hulk's battle to keep her office. Elsewhere, Gwenpool herself seems like a lab-bred creature designed specifically to catch fire with the cosplaying crowd, and although there's nothing particularly compelling about the mix of wise-cracking murderer and cute-as-a-button teenager, Gurihiru's appealing manga-styled artwork and Christopher Hastings' joke-laden script make “Gwenpool's Holiday Adventure” a solid and funny affair. However, Charles Soule and Langdon Foss' She-Hulk wrap-around tale is the real reason to pick up Gwenpool Special #1, even if Langdon's struggle to draw consistent faces from panel to panel detracts from the overall package.