Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with our latest installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let's kick off today's column with Melodious Matthew Sibley, as he takes a look at the first issue of Star Wars: Doctor Aphra...
Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): I’d like you to think back to the first time you saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, specifically Indy escaping the boulder and the introduction to Belloq that follows, because the feeling you get watching that is the one conveyed in Marvel’s new Star Wars title. After introducing her in Darth Vader, Kieron Gillen is now writing Doctor Aphra as the lead with the murderous droids and Black Krrsantan along for the ride. The Indiana Jones influence is most apparent during an altercation that Aphra gets into with someone she’s in debt to. Kev Walker’s art suits the Star Wars universe as he fleshes out the planet with an appropriate level of detail for the panel and this issue in particular demonstrates how he can handle both swashbuckling and more sinister pages. Complete with a back-up that reunites Gillen with Darth Vader artist Salvador Larroca, this issue is a strong debut that kicks off the initial digging into the nefarious archaeologist’s past.
Superman #12 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jon Arvedon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Superman #12 is a continuation of the trend of family-centric stories by Patrick Gleason and Peter J. Tomasi. The issue begins by picking up on the seeds planted in Superman #7, as Lois interviews for a job writing for the local paper, The Hamilton Horn. Although this seems to contradict the storyline in Action Comics, where Lois has returned to The Daily Planet, a well-placed editor’s note ensures the two titles are still in sync. Naturally, the interview is interrupted by Frankenstein-esque monster/alien (it isn’t entirely clear at this point), but Lois making her getaway thanks to the Hellbat glove was a fun callback to issue #5. It isn’t until eight pages in that Superman shows up but when he does, it’s a much-welcomed introduction thanks to Doug Mahnke’s picturesque rendition of the Man of Steel, from the classic barrel-chested figure to the iconic spit curl. The crisp-clean line work is brought to life with a hefty dose of vibrant, glowing color from Wil Quintana, rounding out what ends up being a beautiful looking, well-written, and all-around fun Superman story.
Reggie and Me #1 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Riverdale’s coolest teen (just ask him!) gets a dryly entertaining solo debut in Reggie and Me #1. Tom DeFalco, employing the same dog-as-narrator gimmick as Betty & Veronica but to much better effect, delivers an oddly charming and emotional exploration of who Reggie is beyond the pranks and general surliness. Artist Sandy Jarrell gives Riverdale’s friendly neighborhood supervillain’s world a stylishly sparse life with neutral colored backgrounds from colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick and blocky, vintage spinner rack-inspired character designs. Reggie and Me #1 could have been a worst case scenario; an inspired collection of gags and one-note characterization. Instead Tom DeFalco, Sandy Jarrell, and Kelly Fitzpatrick deliver a drolly entertaining character study and fits in perfectly with the offbeat but heartfelt tone of “New Riverdale” as a whole.
Midnighter and Apollo #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Two things you should know about Midnighter: One; he loves Apollo and two; if you tell him to go to hell, he’ll do so, kick the ass of everything that gets thrown at him and ask what’s for round two. Now at the halfway point of this miniseries, Steve Orlando keeps the relationship in focus as Midnighter remains determined to bring Apollo back from Neron’s domain. As expected by now, Fernando Blanco’s action is stylized but clean, yet it’s in the subtler details where his brilliance can be fully witnessed. Take the detail on the sigil on the opening splash page or the various pans he utilizes to keep the pace steady during dialogue or to demonstrate character movements within a conversation. Complete with a tender moment from Midnighter, this series is everything it could possibly be and more, as Midnighter and Apollo packs both a physical and emotional punch.
Faith #6 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Faith Herbert learns what real victory is in Faith #6. Writer Jody Houser, once again making great use of Faith’s geeky and optimistic voice, delivers a fast-paced but grounded exploration of celebrity and its negative effect on impressionable minds as she races to stop and bring back from the darkness a former child star who has been infected by one of Project Rising Spirit’s escaped experiments. Giving Houser’s script stylish, heartfelt life is artist Meghan Hetrick, whose rounded pencils and attention to character expressions suit the tone of the title well and look fantastic stacked aganist Marguerite Sauvage’s flashback scenes. Packed with charm and plenty of tasteful pop culture references, Faith #6 is still one of the most human superhero books on shelves.
Champions #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Most superhero comic books wouldn't be able to get away with the timely politics of this very special episode of Champions, but thanks to Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos's pitch-perfect characterization of Marvel's millennial cohort, this winds up still being a fantastic read. As the Champions travel to the Middle East to help a group of women who are being terrorized by fundamentalists hell-bent on oppressing them, you'd be forgiven for thinking that maybe Champions isn't the most nuanced book to be handling gender equality and geopolitics - but given the spirit of hope and goodwill that has summed up Waid's teen heroes, this premise winds up making a lot of sense. If you were an idealistic teen hero, wouldn't you want to jump in, too? But Waid leavens all this with the best team dynamics in superhero comic book today, from Amadeus Cho and Viv Vision's surprising hook-up to Nova trolling everyone by saying that Cyclops should lead the team. (Poor Scott.) Humberto Ramos's artwork occasionally gets a little too cartoony with some of his character shapes, but he still imbues his heroes with an elasticity and energy that keeps the story moving forward, particularly with the endearing ways he has the Champions emote. This book isn't always a perfect one, but it's on some of the most solid foundations of any superhero book on the stands - you owe it yourself to meet your new favorite super-team with Champions.
Violent Love #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The violent jaunt through the past continues in Violent Love #2. Jumping forward to New Mexico in 1971, Frank J. Barbiere skips all the lead up and throws us into Daisy Jane’s new life as a bank robber and seeker of revenge. Barbiere also wastes little time getting her other half, Rock Bradley, into the mix, giving Daisy a cool-as-ice foil mere seconds into his introduction. Victor Santos and designer Dylan Todd are still making all the right moves with this second issue. Santos also displays a clever bit of quick visual storytelling as well, casting heavily-shadowed flashback montages behind characters as they speak of the events. Armed with clever cinematic tricks and a breakneck pace, Violent Love #2 avoids the sophomore slump with style.
Avengers #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jon Arvedon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Avengers #1 was a major step forward from the previous All-New All-Different Avengers title. Unfortunately, Avengers #2 feels more like two steps back compared to its predecessor. With the majority of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes stuck in a state of limbo, it’s up to Hercules to save his teammates, in a story with enough heavy-handed time travel tropes to truly make your head spin. This is always a concern in a story that uses Kang as a protagonist, so adding his past self, the Scarlet Centurion, and his future self, who’s introduced in this issue, doesn’t exactly ease any qualms. Mike del Mundo’s art continues to impress, with lots of negative space to allow his line work, as well as his and Marco D’Alfonso’s color art, to jump off the page. Nevertheless, outstanding aesthetics can only do so much to alleviate a muddled narrative complete with time travel paradoxes, as well as a few tongue-in-cheek pop culture references.
The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong #10 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Archer and Armstrong’s streak of pure insanity rolls on unabated in #10. Writer Rafer Roberts keeps all the plates spinning, including a budding body swap plot and a daring heist pulled by Mary-Maria, and he does so with plenty of wry dialogue and straight up gags, keeping the comedy and action firmly within the A&A brand. Penciler Mike Norton presents the Florida setting as an indie-flavored dreamscape, made complete by the sun-baked colors of Allen Passalaqua. Guest artist Ryan Lee also gives this tenth issue a rough-and-tumble jolt of energy with his Robert Crumb-like trip into Gub-Gub’s mind and a tense heist sequences that devolves into full-on ninja-versus-ninja action. If you like your comic books just slightly, or perhaps way off-center, with plenty of humor to boot, then The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong continues to be the comic for you.
Batman #12 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Tom King and Mikel Janin make a bold, bleak statement about the Dark Knight in Batman #12, as they push their hero to his limits. There's a great widescreen quality to this issue, as Janin's pages are often unconstrained by conventional panel layouts - instead, we get to see Batman climb a towering castle, fight through a hallway full of henchmen (in a great nod to Oldboy), and a beautiful first-person perspective of Batman getting the jump on a hapless bad guy. Tom King also makes good on the title "I Am Suicide," providing a very cool (if incredibly depressing) take on pain and the Dark Knight's reason for being - while I don't anticipate this revised origin supplanting the generally hopeful and generous roots of Batman, it's a statement that gives this story some needed weight. Far and away the best issue of this run yet.
Josie and the Pussycats #3 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Josie and the Pussycats blockbuster return continues with its infectiously charming third issue. Marguerite Bennett and Cameron Deordio further the grand tradition of Archie Comics’ beach stories but sweeten the pot with a humorous but pathos-filled exploration of Alexandria and Josie’s relationship. This emotional turn reveals a newly complex side of Josie and one that will surely pay dividends for the title going forward. Artist Audrey Mok and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick turn in their densest issue to date, but Fitzpatrick’s bleached-out beach colors and Mok’s panel construction and visual jokes compliment Bennett and Deordio’s script just as well as they did in the previous two issues. Jam packed with heart and laughs Josie and the Pussycats #3 continue to keep the Pussycats dominating the charts.
Nova #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): For a book that includes Richard Rider on what is essentially his big return to the Marvel universe, Nova #1 includes very little of him. Instead Jeff Loveness and Ramón Pérez choose to spend the bulk of the issue with Sam Alexander tracking him through a space-faring adventure with Ego, through to school day mishaps. As a result, the balance that should come from having a primary cast of two space cops isn’t there yet, but appears to be fast approaching. It’s to the book’s benefit then that the pair makes Sam’s escapades delightful to read, as a book with a teen protagonist should feel. When it comes to the cosmic and high-flying scenes, Pérez imbues them with an overall flair that is similar to Gunn’s take on the Guardians of the Galaxy for the big screen. In the more down-to-earth moments, it feels a little too conventional by comparison. So for all these quibbles about the middle of the issue, it should be noted that the opening and final few pages indicate a book with promise from the outset that could easily soar to success in the near future.
Ninjak #22 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Colin King gets the Snake Eyes treatment in the silent Ninjak #22. Serving as a prelude to the next arc “The Seven Blades of Master Darque,” Ninjak finds himself fighting through legions of monks in order to face Roku at a magical temple that has materialized in the Nevada desert. Though Matt Kindt smartly gets out of artist Cafu and colorist Ulises Arreola’s way, leading to some truly exciting and bloody action, reader’s are essentially getting an issue long action sequence with little to no story. Which is disappointing since Kindt’s assured melding of spy fiction and supernatural kung fu action is one of the main selling points of Ninjak. The way Cafu and Arreola set the table is fun to watch, but Ninjak #22 is still a table setting issue and readers looking for a real sense of where the next arc is going should wait for the trade or until next month, when the Seven Blades come out proper.