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 Jesting Justin Partridge, as he takes a look at Civil War II: Choosing Sides…
Civil War II: Choosing Sides #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): The first installment of the Choosing Sides anthology series is the very definition of mixed bag. The debut of Declan Shalvey as a writer kicks off the debut with an energetic Nick Fury tale that recaptures some of the sardonic, bone-crunching action that made his Moon Knight work so fun, complete with Jordie Bellarie back on colors. Chad Bowers and Chris Sims’ ending Damage Control story sends the audience out with a few laughs, despite actually being less funny than the writers think it is, with the constant banter landing only half of the time. Sandwiched between these stories, however, is a Brandon Easton-scripted Night Thrasher story which takes itself way too seriously to the point of near-parody, taking the wind completely out of Choosing Side’s sails just as it started. Though the artwork throughout satisfies, especially the Chris Samnee-esque team of Leonardo Romeo and Miroslav Mrva on Damage Control, Civil War II: Choosing Sides #1 doesn’t have enough clout behind it to truly win over anyone but the diehards.
Wonder Woman #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Diana returns to her quest for truth this week, albeit with a Steve Trevor/Etta Candy starring B-plot that proves distracting. Though Greg Rucka positions both plots to dovetail at some point and reintroduces a classic Woman Woman antagonist, the jumping from Diana venturing into a dense supernatural jungle and Trevor tracking down a despotic warlord read too disparately to congeal into a satisfying experience. That said, both plots, as separate entities are interesting thanks to Rucka’s grounded approach to both and Liam Sharp and Laura Martin’s powerful artwork. Wonder Woman #1 may offer two different narrative paths right now, but the journey is still worth fan’s time and attention thanks to Rucka’s stripping the title to bare essentials and the art team’s eye-catching pages.
Ms. Marvel #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Both with superheroes and with life, you learn to take the good with the bad, but thankfully Ms. Marvel has a lot more of the former than the latter. Tying into Civil War II with beautiful artwork from Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring about Kamala’s grandparents’ escape from India to Pakistan in 1947, writer G. Willow Wilson makes Kamala a convincing point-of-view character for the debate about whether or not there might be some heroic benefits to Captain Marvel’s Minority Report style of precognitive justice. That said, there are a few hiccups to this book - while Takeshi Miyazawa handles the lion’s share of the book with some expressive and fun cartooning (particularly with a hilarious design of a Canadian ninja tank, which is as amusing as it sounds), putting his artwork after the moody Alphona’s makes him come across as a bit flat. Additionally, the big stumbling block here is Kamala getting her own “Carol Corps” — I bet that Wilson has plans for these kids, but for the moment, this ragtag team of Danvers-certified teen troubleshooters comes off as more annoying than compelling. Still, given that Civil War II as a whole has been a hit-or-miss affair, Wilson and company are doing some strong work with the subject matter in Ms. Marvel #8.
Aquaman #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): There is the potential for greatness in Arthur Curry, but Dan Abnett and Brad Walker don’t offer a unique take on the character’s world in Aquaman #1. That’s not for lack of trying, however — Abnett spends plenty of time developing Aquaman’s mythos, particularly with new supporting characters at the new Atlantean embassy Spindrift, but it’s not quite enough to mask a lead that feels too stoic to really stand behind (even despite the lovey-dovey exposition by a too-complacent Mera). Meanwhile, Black Manta’s plan to ambush Arthur at the embassy feels like boilerplate superhero action, with no big twists or escalation to make this brawl feel particularly exciting or new. In terms of the visuals, Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessey’s art is expressive (if occasionally exaggerated), but doesn’t work well under Gabe Eltaeb’s colors, which come off as a bit flat, robbing this issue of a particularly dramatic atmosphere. While Abnett repeatedly hammers home his theme of Aquaman not being whole, this first issue doesn’t dig deep enough in any one direction to suggest what kind of series this is going to be, or why we might want to see this character put back together in the first place.
Power Man and Iron Fist #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): David Walker plays with a super-fun premise as he taps into his inner Kurosawa with this Rashomon-inspired issue of Power Man and Iron Fist. By approaching a regular supervillain donnybrook through different people’s perspectives, Walker gets to play up this title’s endearing humor, as pun-tastic radio host “Yo, Jimbo!” takes callers from witnesses, Wiki editors and wannabe supervillains alike. The real strength of Power Man and Iron Fist is that Walker knows these heroes don’t operate in a vacuum, and it’s a real testament to his talents as a writer that he’s able to make done-in-one civilians as funny and engaging as he does. (This is also thanks to guest artist Flaviano, who plays up these characters’ expressiveness - honestly, Jimbo might have more life in him than many other books have in an entire arc.) The only problem with this comic is that once Walker has to wrap things up, it comes across as a little convenient (and even a little sad, since I can relate to Manslaughter Marsdale just wanting to enjoy his hot dog) - perhaps in part because Luke and Danny had their book stolen right from under them. Still, for these one-time Heroes for Hire, having too strong of a supporting cast is a heck of a problem to have.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #4 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Things go from bad to good to even worse this week for the Power Rangers. Framed by Tommy’s emotional struggle, writer Kyle Higgins and artists Hendry Prasetya and Matt Herms provide titanic Tokusatsu action with the issue’s main kaiju-versus-Zord set piece only to bring it all crashing down around the Rangers on a personal level once the dust has settled. Though still making full use of the show’s familiar structural beats,to a degree that comes across as rote, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #4 still satisfies by making the comic feel much more human than the show ever did. Pitting giant robots against giant shark men is all well and good, but doesn’t mean a thing unless you care about the characters in the fight. Thankfully Issue #4 does exactly that, adding up to another substantial installment for BOOM! Studios’ breakout adaptation.
Rai #14 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): A dark dive into New Japan’s past provides 4001 A.D. its first essential tie-in. Writer Matt Kindt, the event’s architect and Rai’s solo title caretaker, delivers a powerful Heavy Metal-esque tale of an unconventional synthetic uprising strengthened by themes of questioning one’s existence culminating in a bleak look into the beginning of Father’s despotic reign. Rendered in slick, claustrophobic pages by penciler Cafu and colorist Andrew Dalhouse, issue fourteen stands above the good, but not great one shot tie-ins with a story that presents grim context for the event along with a substantial peek into the lineage of one of Valiant’s lead characters. While the other tie-ins were fun, but disposable, Rai #14 is a can’t-miss affair for those following Valiant Entertainment’s sprawling superhero epic.
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Draven Katayama; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It's not every day you get to switch bodies with a dinosaur, but that's what happens to Lunella Lafayette, whiz kid and newly activated Inhuman. Through her internal monologue, Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder let the reader sympathize with Lunella's horrified realization: What if she’s stuck like this forever? Natacha Bustos and Tamra Bonvillain illustrate physical comedy perfectly as Lunella, in her first moments in dinosaur form, knocks over her inventions and makes a mess. You can feel Lunella's isolation when Bustos skillfully frames a lunchroom where everyone stares at her. Bonvillain takes these emotional moments and energizes them accordingly with bright, high-contrast palettes. I also love the representation of an ethnically diverse student body. Moon Girl is a delight for readers of all ages, and Bustos and Bonvillain are a one-two punch of artistic talent.
Power Up TPB (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Power Up is a perfect confluence of its creators’ interests. Combining the best parts of magical girl anime, ensemble sitcoms and space operas, writer Kate Leth and artist Matt Cummings deliver a rousing contained epic that is so charming you are almost sad that its over. The set up is a familiar one, three Earthbound nobodies (and one scene stealing goldfish) are gifted with extraordinary powers and must come together to defend their planet from extraterrestrial threats. While familiar, Leth’s character-driven, inclusively-minded, and consistently funny script coupled with Cummings’ gorgeous manga-inspired visuals make the story feel fresh while also endearing each character to the reader, like any great team book. If you missed this BOOM! Studios hit the first time around, the collected edition of Power Up is an adorably thrilling addition to any fan’s shelf.