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 Opulent Oscar Maltby, who checks out the first issue of Civil War II...
Civil War II #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Tragedy rocks the Marvel Universe in Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez's Civil War II #1, a truly widescreen comic book of universe-spanning proportions. When an Inhuman with the power to predict the future named Ulysses saves Manhattan from a giant Celestial, celebration soon turns to argument as Carol Danvers and Tony Stark come to loggerheads over the morality of using his power. Ulysses' visions urge him to call the Ultimates, and the resulting battle with Thanos spells apparent doom for two important superheroes. This is Bendis at his best; a fast-paced script with an ensemble cast that he deftly switches focus back and forth, taking us through a plot of constant twists and turns with strong and believable characterization. Visually, David Marquez makes good use of his 40 pages, depicting swirling skies and magical vortexes beneath heroes with sparkling powers and shining costumes, enhanced by Justin Ponsor's atmospheric coloring. All in all, Civil War II #1 is not to be missed.
Batman: Rebirth #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Batman Rebirth #1 feels authentically Batman, and yet somehow fresh. The credit for that goes to Mikel Janin’s swift, meticulous lines and June Chung’s natural color palette. Together they’ve created phenomenally intricate splash pages and beautifully structured panel layouts, illuminated by brilliant uses of light and just the right amount of shadow. Batman faces an unnerving villain reminiscent of The X-Files, and he does what most could not (and would not) do with acumen of strategy and an insane amount of risk. Snyder has this character down to a science, and it works. With the villain subdued, the promising prospect of Duke as a protégé on deck, the prominent placement of Lucius, Alfred and Jim in the issue and Batman contemplating the future – Snyder also succeeds in set-up, character moments and momentum. Batman: Rebirth is a well-balanced, supremely paced kick-off.
Hellboy in Hell #10 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The importance and impact of Hellboy on modern comics cannot be overstated. Beginning in 1993 and wrapping up this week after a monumental 22-year run of stories that spawned multiple spin-offs as well as full fledged universe for Dark Horse, Mike Mignola and his wise-cracking demonic lead garnered critical attention and shined a light on indie comic books in a way none had before, inspiring countless creatives with his gothically flavored visuals, dread filled Lovecraftian plots, and an unheard of longevity of narrative that we are unlikely to see again. Hellboy in Hell #10, the culmination of those 22 years, is an epic, yet quiet final to Hellboy’s war in the underworld and one that casts the Right Hand of Doom as both force of nature and mere man. Sparse in exposition, yet filled to bursting with gorgeous vistas of the underworld and silent story progression in the form of richly-colored panels thanks to long time Mignola partner, Dave Stewart. Laser-focused on Hellboy’s final push against the hulking Behemoth and Leviathan, reintroduced with a single deep green panel as a slinking, hissing beast, adding one last bit of that Cthulhu mythos flair that fans have come to love, the writer/artist aided one last time by Stewart deliver a rousing final battle of titans and then gives Hellboy the ending he truly deserves; a quiet return to his adoptive home with the first words he ever heard on this earth echoing in the background. Hellboy in Hell #10 is big, powerful, and a fittingly poignant end for one of comic books' most enduring characters and his prolific creator.
Spider-Women Omega #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The first major post-"Spider-Verse" crossover between the three female Spider-leads has occasionally meandered, but it’s mostly been a chance for fans to squee over these incredibly likeable totems of the zeitgeist. Writer Dennis Hopeless, along with co-plotters Jason Latour and Robbie Thompson, have saved a huge showdown for last. Action-oriented as it is, the real hero is artist Nico Leon, who works closely with color artist Rachelle Rosenberg to deliver an animated epic slowed down to single panels. Highlights include a silhouetted fist-fight between Evil Cindy Moon and Spider-Gwen, along with a de-powered latter armed to the teeth with an unfeasibly large gun, prepared to deliver damage on her foe “like it’s 1993.” This kind of self-awareness falls short of being a fourth-wall breaking Deadpool comic book, but conclusively proves that Marvel is leading the way in showing us what strong female leads can do. Ultimately, this gets high marks for a clever “appearance” of Paste-Pot Pete. Here’s to more crossovers in the future.
Doctor Fate #13 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): So... I owe Paul Levitz an apology. The funereal title of the issue notwithstanding, I prematurely declared Doctor Fate dead last month, and I'm glad to report I was wrong on more than one level, because it looks like Levitz and guest artist Ibrahim Moustafa are aiming to finish Khalid Nassour's solo series with a bang. With Khalid teaming up with classic Doctor Fate Kent Nelson, Levitz puts his heroes through their paces with some fun meat-and-potatoes action, utilizing some neat bits like Khalid dodging a pair of supposedly defunct rockets from the Hall of Science, a demon using a museum model of New York City as a voodoo-esque talisman. Moustafa also delivers a bit more traditional linework than Sonny Liew, but not only does that make the action pop more, but even small bits like the helmet of Fate emoting looks great. Perhaps most telling is that while Kent Nelson grounds the book in some history and relative normalcy, he doesn't actually detract from Khalid's story. All in all, this is a surprisingly fun story that might prove to skeptics that this character still has plenty of unrealized potential.
Invincible Iron Man #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): This month’s installment of Invincible Iron Man wants to have it all in regards to its current ongoing plots. Locked firmly on the “Road to Civil War II,” though the event has already delivered two issues at this point, writer Brian Michael Bendis, who has juggled multiple plots and juggled them well before, starts to drop the plates he started to spin. Jumping between Tony’s deep cover infiltration of the Techno Golem’s operation, Mary Jane’s wrestling with the job offer, and new character Riri’s maiden voyage in her homemade Iron Man armor, Invincible Iron Man #10, though ending on a note that signals a very interesting possible resolution to the Techno Golem problem, reads as too disjointed to truly be engaging hampered further by a palpable inertness as they only tangible plot progression is the reveal of the Techno Golem’s identity and origin. Also frustrating is Mary Jane’s continued wheel-spinning. Her inclusion was a real shot in the arm for the title, yet Bendis has yet to do anything with her aside from have her wring her hands and serve as a foil for Friday and Tony, drawing unkind comparisons to his inclusions of Storm and Daredevil during his Avengers and New Avengers run respectively. Though buoyed by Mike Deodato Jr.’s fantastic panel layouts (and a distracting but weirdly hilarious Luke Perry cameo in the form of Tony’s disguise) and Frank Martin’s evocative copper and gun metal gray color scheme throughout, Invincible Iron Man #10 is too jumbled of a read to really have fun with.
Casanova: Acedia #5 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): As the series celebrates its tenth anniversary this month, Casanova hits shelves again for the first time in 10 months with a meta installment that starts to draw the characters together in a cohesive push toward the endgame with Micheal Chabon following suit with his "Metanauts" back-ups. Though too much time has passed to make stronger use of #4‘s huge revelations, Cass is presented with his boss, Akim’s true nature and crimes and given a choice and a rallying cry by this universe’s Sasa Lisi; help them or don’t, but stop sitting on the sidelines waiting for resolutions. As Matt Fraction finally gets Cass to a more active participant in this universe’s narrative, he also draws this realities’ versions of the main cast into a tight net with a blast of weirdness that is surely connected to the paradox that is Casanova Quinn and a well-placed omnibus of the very comic book we are reading at that very moment. Ending with a backup story from Michael Chabon and Gabriel that finally justifies their inclusion beyond jokes and getting them connected to the main narrative, beyond a tangential thread and rendered in Fabio Moon’s trademark waifish and sketchy style and muted evocative colors, Acedia #5 celebrates the title’s anniversary in style, making the most of its return, even without the extra juice that would have been provided with a closer release to #4.
Green Arrow: Rebirth #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): “Liberal,” “Sanctimonious,” “Social Justice Warrior” - Green Arrow: Rebirth #1 can, like Ollie’s reputation, feel a tad exhausting with all these buzzwords being slung around. However, it feels like Benjamin Percy is just trying to get the heavy-lifting out of the way in the first issue by reestablishing the titular character. Beyond this, Percy has done an excellent job of bringing Green Arrow back to basics and, using Geoff Johns’ DC Universe: Rebirth and a budding romance with Black Canary as a compass towards hope, let’s this title feel like there really is going to be an adventurous tomorrow. Otto Schmidt is a perfect fit for this title and balances the grittiness that audiences have come to expect with the new mandate of making these characters’ super once again. It’s back to basics for Green Arrow: Rebirth #1, and it feels so right.
All-New Wolverine #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Tom Taylor’s take on the “All-New” version of Wolverine has been superb to date, this is an excellent example of what he is best at. The insanity of Fin Fang Foom attacking a Helicarrier while Wolverine and Old Man Logan battle it from inside his stomach is measured by Gabby’s dry and irreverent quips, the cool factor of a Captain Marvel cameo and the implications the aged Logan leaves us with by the issue’s end. Marcio Takara is a perfect balance for Taylor’s humor and action sensibilities, employing everything from Ben-Day dots (including a love heart around Fin Fang Foom) to speed lines to give this a lively energy that matches the fun and ambitious script. Just ignore that "Road to Civil War II" marquee, as it appears to have very little relevance at this stage, the future implications of Old Man Logan’s presence notwithstanding.
4001 A.D. #2 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Valiant Entertainment’s big summer event returns this week with a much more substantial installment and one that alleviates the complaints I had with the debut. As Rai, Lemur, and the Eternal Warrior battle Father’s self-replicating mecha-dragon in space for control of New Japan (man, I love comic books), writer Matt Kindt delivers some much needed agency and character development for co-star Lula, all while framing the war between Rai and Father as more complex a fight beyond the rigid black-and-white morality that big event titles usually rely on. Rendered in artist Clayton Crain’s gorgeously metallic and neon-inspired pencils and colors, Father and Rai, in his procured giant X-O armor, slice, blast, and smash at each other, though his good intentions may cost even more human life, as Father flatly taunts, jettisoning more sections of New Japan to Earth prompted by a cold scene of number-crunching from Kindt. Inside New Japan, Lula rushes to help the only people she has left, her assigned positron companion Grace and Geomancer. Arriving too late to save Grace, who’s sacrificed herself for Geo, Lula sadly realizes that humanity is just “raw material” for Father, giving a voice to the themes of sacrifice in the face of progress and the value of human life that Kindt touches on in the battle in space. Armed with huge scale action, more outstanding visuals from Crain, and an attention to collateral damage that most big events shy away from or just use as set dressing. Further strengthened by strides in character building, 4001 A.D. #2 establishes the series as arguably the summer’s biggest and best event.
Superman: Rebirth #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Words like “Rebirth” and “Issue #1” suggest that this would be a starting point for something new. More to the point, Superman: Rebirth #1 should make it easy for the reader to jump in to the story, especially one of a flagship character of the imprint. Instead, the issue is convoluted and confusing. As Lana Lang attempts to honor the "New 52" Superman in death, the other, post-Crisis Superman jaggedly narrates through flashbacks and cold conversation with Lana. The story of Supes' demise at the hands of Doomsday is overdone, and takes up real estate in an issue that sorely needed momentum in the present. Artists Doug Mahnke and Jaime Mendoza do the best that they can with what they’ve been given, and Superman: Rebirth looks like a perfectly decent first issue - minus an actual story.
Amazing Spider-Man #13 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): This issue is fairly indicative of the lack of direction Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man has from month-to-month, drifting from a contrived fight between Spider-Man and Iron Man (with a Miles Morales cameo) and a far more interesting plot concerning Betty Brant investigating the identity of new “hero” Regent. Indeed, Spider-Man is increasingly taking a backseat in his own title, or at least saddled with the least interesting part of the narrative. When he does take action, such as inanely punching out Tony Stark, for seemingly no other reason than (as one character winkingly comments) “it’s what super heroes do now.” Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art, on the other hand, is a tasty treat, especially the dark majesty of his take on Regent, who is equal parts Darkseid and cybernetic organism. It’s also great to see the distinct differences between Parker and Morales’ styles, even if the latter is only in a handful of scenes.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Pink #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): BOOM! Studios' tie-ins to the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers television show have been a welcomed success, and the trend continues this week in MMPR: Pink #1. Brenden Fletcher and Kelly Thompson do an excellent job of taking what was already present from the show of the original Pink Ranger, Kimberly Hart, and build a fully realized and engaging character (which was severely missing from the original MMPR series). Artist Daniele Di Nicuolo’s art here is easy accessible and adds a dynamic element that really lets the former Pink Ranger feel like a superhero. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Pink #1 gives a the first Pink Ranger a real edge and is more compelling than many of the original series’ episodes.
Spider-Woman #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10):Immediately following the "Spider-Women" story arc, Dennis Hopeless doesn’t slack off for a moment with this one-shot freak-out that pits Jessica against the unlikely foe of Tiger Shark. In what is effectively an issue-long fight sequence, Hopeless gives us a microcosm of all of the things that defines the modern Spider-Woman, balancing as she does being a mother with superheroics and simply keeping her life together. There’s an element of detective noir at the start of the issue thanks to Javier Rodriguez’s monumentally good art, and Alvaro Lopez’s pointed shadow work, giving way to a 1960s psychedelic freak-out thanks to the unique aesthetic of Tiger Shark’s Upper East Side apartment. Yet most impressive is how Rodriquez manages to visually convey how it’s impossible to separate Spider-Woman’s private life from her professional, with the gorgeously surreal sequence of Jessica’s babysitter casually strolling through the chaos of a monster street fight while cradling the child, as his phone call quite literally interrupts her action sequence. This is easily one of the most superb single issues in the series to date.
Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Attention: Green Lanterns of Earth. Report to... the classroom?! The superstar team of Geoff Johns, Sam Humphries, Ethan Van Sciver and Ed Benes introduce us to Earth's newest protectors in Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1, a solid one-shot that sets the scene for the coming Green Lanterns ongoing series. Johns' and Humphries' script happily establishes a new status-quo for the corps on Earth, introducing us to Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz; two worthy new ring-bearers with a lot to learn. After Hal Jordan merges their power batteries, and with the Justice League as their new tutors, it's up to Simon and Jessica to learn how to work together to harness the true power of the lantern. Van Sciver and Benes offer their trademark brand of rippling torsos and scowling faces, their styles perfectly attuned to each other, while Johns and Humphries' clear characterization make up the issue's heart. While this is a well-crafted issue, it is also a mostly expository one; a mere teaser for the Green Lanterns #1 yet to come.
Moon Knight #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): ”Your madness is your gift, Marc. Your madness is what will keep you alive.” Part three of Jeff Lemire, Greg Smallwood, and Jordie Bellaire’s opening “Welcome to New Egypt” arc still hasn’t gotten closer to showing its hand as to the mental state of Marc Spector, but its that uncertainty that fuels the title’s manic energy. As Marc and the rest of fleeing friends face down a horde of mummies (at least that’s what Marc sees), the band is separated thanks to an attacking Dr. Emmet and her cronies, Billy and Bobby. And while Marc’s companions see brick tunnels and waiting trains, Marc is once again racked with doubt as he doesn’t trust what he sees or even knows if he is fighting an actual nefarious force, despite Khonshu’s instructions and reveal of the Othervoid last issue. Lemire is still very much playing with the idea of Marc’s sanity while threading in another appearance of Khonshu, who acts as Marc’s inner voice, and another Egyptian deity, the usher of undead souls, Anubis. Lemire’s constant toying with the readers as to the mental state of Moon Knight and his use of Marc’s deep seeded connection to Egyptian iconography gives this title further distance away from the adventure of the week format of the previous incarnation as well as providing a heavy hook to keep readers coming back, either to see if he survives or to see if he is well and truly bonkers. Aided by the slick, expressive pencils of Greg Smallwood, whose work reminds me of a more nightmarish version of Joe Quinones, along with evocative use of the negative space around panels, aided by the confident and slightly over-saturated colors of Jordie Bellaire, Moon Knight #3 is another engrossing advance across the battlefield of Marc Spector’s mind.
The Shadow: The Death of Margo Lane #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Though the title proclaims her fate in bold font, The Death of Margo Lane casts Lamont Cranston’s famous girl Friday in a much more active role in the adventure and our point-of-view character, though the story itself its stuffy and overloaded with exposition. Acting as writer and artist, well-known lover of pulp Matt Wagner turns in some fantastic-looking visuals, handling classic ocean liners, moody nighttime cityscapes, and seedy Chinatown back rooms with panache. While his artwork here lacks the dense intracity that made his Grendel such a can’t miss affair, his pages, given a bleak and heavily-inked final look by the colors of Brennan Wagner, this debut still looks nice enough and presents the Shadow as a truly imposing presence more than once. His script, however, is where things stall. Though the decisions to make Margo the lead and not shying away from Lamont Cranston’s brutal approach to crime fighting and nihilistic voice are good ones, the story, concerning a new upstart crime syndicate and a kidnapped socialite, is presented in overwritten narration and advanced at a snail’s pace across 24 pages. Though the argument could be made that it fits into the classic structure and pace of the original stories, which is true, The Death of Margo Lane #1 still comes across as a slog that is drenched in wordy voiceover that is even given an attempt at visual energy thanks to fun lettering choices by A Larger World Studios. While shining a much appreciated spotlight on an often overlooked female lead, The Shadow: The Death of Margo Lane #1 is starting its run with a dull deficit.