Greetings, 'Rama readers - ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered with this week's Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let's kick off today's column with Punctual Pierce Lydon, as he takes a look at The Unworthy Thor...
The Unworthy Thor #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Jason Aaron’s run with Thor will be remembered as one for the ages. In this issue, we finally wrap up the plot thread of just what made Thor unworthy back in Original Sin. And on some level, it’s probably not the earth-shattering revelation that many readers were hoping for, but it speaks to Aaron’s strengths as a writer. This plot point reinforces Jane Foster’s place as Thor. If all gods are unworthy because of their do their best to blend their vanity and vengeful natures, it makes sense that there could be an altruistic human who would wield the hammer. The art team really does a great job as well. Olivier Coipel, Kim Jacinto, and Pascal Alixe bring a lot of weight to the narrative, rendering a very strong Odinson that anchors the book. Their take on Thanos and Hela is good as well, in that it’s particularly unnerving to see them kiss. Aaron’s Thor is contemplative and that’s something we don’t see often enough. Aaron’s deconstruction of Thor has been really fun and while the constant mysteries may be a bit tiring, it’s exciting to know that Aaron is striving to make each story bigger than the last.
Action Comics #976 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jon Arvedon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): As the "Superman Reborn" crossover comes to close, so too do the mysteries surrounding the fate of the "New 52" Big Blue in the pages of Action Comics #976. What’s odd, though, is writer Dan Jurgens’ characterization of the "New 52" Lois and Clark. Their initial reluctance to accept that Jon may, in fact, be their son, while simultaneously acknowledging Mr. Mxyzptlk’s notorious use of manipulation and trickery, is puzzling, to say the least. Still, the subsequent merging of the two Kal-Els, along with their collective memories, is a moment that’s truly worthy of the "Rebirth" banner. Additionally, the implications for Mr. Oz’s role in the larger puzzle of the post-"Rebirth" DCU, as well as the closing shot of a certain big, red planet, are sure to captivate readers that have been waiting for answers since DC Universe: Rebirth #1 last May. Speaking of captivating, Doug Mahnke once again manages to flex his artistic muscles when it comes to his depiction of the Man of Steel, with gorgeous, crisp linework that’s made all the more beautiful by Christian Alamy and Trevor Scott’s smooth, precise inks. However, Wil Quintana's palette selection, although beautiful, feels a bit too muted at times, failing to capture the whimsy one would expect from a Mxyzptlk story. In any case, Action Comics #976 is an overall solid conclusion to "Superman Reborn" and closes just as many doors as it opens for the future of the Man of Steel.
X-O Manowar #1 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10: Aric of Dacia receives a a grimly beautiful relaunch in the latest X-O Manowar #1. Having left behind Earth for the stars, Aric finds himself conscripted into yet another conflict he wants no part of. Writer Matt Kindt’s plot of a retired soldier being pulled into someone else’s war isn’t exactly the most groundbreaking one, but his John Carter-like approach to Aric’s new setting and his new aversion to both violence and his alien armor is a interesting throughline running through the bloody and epic story. And speaking of epic, artist Tomas Giorello’s stony and pulpy art style is perfect for Aric’s new status quo, topped off by the yellowed, almost tea-stained colors of Diego Rodriguez. If you are unfamiliar with the Valiant Universe or with X-O in general, the newest X-O Manowar #1 is a perfectly bone-crunching place to start.
Captain America: Steve Rogers #14 (Published by Marvel Comics; Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): For better or worse, we’re rolling toward Secret Empire, and this issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers is fairly quiet, but it does some interesting things. Spencer needs Madame Hydra to get her new High Council together, so he very economically gives us a series of one-page scenes that very succinctly let us know each character’s motivations for the team-up. There’s a bit of mystery as to the identities of some of the members, and that ups the ante for the big event. The rest of the book is a flashback sequence that digs into more of Steve’s past, as well as a present-day scene with Captain Marvel that stands as a very telling look at how insidious Steve can be. Jesus Saiz handles the art here and he delivers the narrative but not much else. This isn’t the most exciting looking book that we’ve seen, especially from Saiz, but he gets the job done. His standout moment is the final page reveal and that promises to make the next issue much more of an event.
WWE #3 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Seth Rollins’ astronomical rise as WWE champion may have come to a screeching halt thanks to a knee injury, but WWE #3 writer Dennis Hopeless manages a surprisingly light-hearted look at Rollins’ months-long absence from the WWE. Hopeless does an excellent job filling in the gaps of Rollins’ television absence with an authentic look the slow spiral of a long recovery can take on someone. Seth comes home from the hospital with high hopes for a quick and healthy recovery, and against the backdrop of a series of extended conversations with Seth’s mother, artist Serg Acuna does an excellent job capturing the visual cues of someone sinking into a difficult depression without even realizing it. By the time the New Day intervene to set Rollins on his road to rebuilding and reclaiming, Seth and his apartment are an emotional and physical mess. The creative team on WWE, including colorist Doug Garbark and letterer Jim Campbell, have done an incredible job giving the kayfabe world of WWE an aesthetic and tone that ground the characters without losing the more outlandish and comedic touches that make professional wrestling stand apart. Serg Acuna’s best work of the series to date can be found in writer Tini Howard’s back up story, "The Brawler and the Beast." Describing Irish brawler Finn’s first encounter with the Demon King Bálor, Howard’s folksy, metered tale sets the perfect rhythm for Acuna’s gorgeously illustrated supernatural battle between the titular brawler and beast. Together the pair perfectly capture Bálor’s in-ring persona and liven up his backstory in just two pages, and will leave you itching for a Bálor arc in the main series down the line (or even an NXT annual).
Ghostbusters 101 #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The wit and charm of the franchises are alive and well in the debut of Ghostbusters 101. Expanding on IDW’s Ghostbusters mythos, writer Erik Burnham opens the way for the Answer the Call team to potentially meet the Prime team while still delivering pretty funny and propulsive stories for both. Though the actual teaming up is left for another issue, Burnham’s script still hums with a proton infused energy that will keep readers happy and engaged while the lines get charged for the eventual meeting of the squads. Series artists Dan Schoening and Luis Antonio Delgado also keep things crackling with sweeping cinematic shots of ‘busting like the opening tussle against a Class 3 vapor steeped in deep neon colors. Apparently more Ghostbusters films on the way, but while you wait for those allow Ghostbusters 101 to supply you the purest Ghostbuster experience outside of a cinema.
Teen Titans #6 (Published by DC Comics; Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Teen Titans have been through a lot in recent years. It feels like an eternity since they were an essential part of the DCU due to awkward artistic fits and bad characterization. Thankfully, this line-up is starting to work really well together. The combination of a fairly classic line-up with some interesting new legacy character in those roles has breathed some life into the concept. Benjamin Percy’s character work is fairly charming even if some of the dialogue falls a little flat at times. This issue features the return of Aqualad but it’s pretty short, doing little more than just putting the character on a collision course with the Titans. Khoi Pham’s art is a good fit for this book as well. His facial expressions help Percy's dialogue immensely, selling the relationships between the characters extremely well. There isn’t much action in this issue but the conclusion promises that we’re in for a doozy next issue. All in all, I think Titans fans will generally be pleased that the team feels like a bunch of teenagers hanging out rather than the bad characterizations that plagued the "New 52."
Hulk #4 (Published by Marvel Comics, Review by Kat Calamia, ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Hulk #4 continues to carefully delve into Jen’s psychological trauma, giving the perfect parallel to dig deeper into the similar trauma affecting Jen’s client, Maise Brewn. The first arc of Hulk is not heavy on plot, but is a necessary slow paced story giving a realistic portrayal of how trauma can affect your life. Every issue Jen focuses on finding a routine in her life, but the Hulk and Jen’s neglected trauma creeps up on her preventing Jen from reestablishing her old lifestyle. The artwork by Nico Leon matches the moody narrative Mariko Tamaki is going for, while colorist Matt Milla masterfully adds shades of green throughout the issue as the Hulk tries to break free. This series focuses on a different angle from She-Hulks’ usual narrative - the human side of Jen Walters, as she has to regain her confidence as both a human lawyer and as She-Hulk. The slow-paced story gives a realistic portrayal of living with a mental illness in everyday life, and shows a side of Jen Walters readers don’t get to see nearly enough.
The Magdalena #1 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Although the fourth volume of Top Cow’s The Magdalena #1 is off to a shaky start, there are definitely some hidden gems hidden in the young talent on this book. Writing duo Tini Howard and Ryan Cady do an excellent job of breathing fresh air into the well-worn concept by passing down the title to a teenager in Anaheim. Once the story introduces future-Magdalena, Maya, the story gains some much needed traction by introducing a protagonist that feels both real and exciting. The introduction of Maya feels vibrant in a Buffy-like world of fire and brimstone. Much like the hero, artist Christian DiBari hasn’t yet reached his full potential either. Careful attention and passion went into some of the best moments in this book, like when Maya wields the spear for the first time. However, the pages where there is exposition or a character moment, it feels like the artist can’t get through the characters talking to each other fast enough. DiBari working as his own inker might not be the best choice either - most of his art comes out looking sketchy and loses the charm found in his rough sketches from the back of the issue.
Bloodshot Reborn #0 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Ray Garrison and the cast of the recent Bloodshot arcs get a nicely normal reset in the zero issue of the latest volume of Bloodshot Reborn. Still reeling from the events of Bloodshot U.S.A., Jeff Lemire tidies up the threads nicely and places all our characters, both antagonists and protagonists, in comfortable, but relatively normal settings only to surely knock them apart in later issues. Though this more mundane take on Ray and his cast is a novel one, it doesn’t offer much in the way of forward momentum. Even more damming, super slick art team Renato Guedes and Andrew Dalhouse are given criminally little to do as they are stuck drawing and coloring sterile labs, dingy Rising Spirit safe houses, and fuzzy CCTV footage of the clean-up of New York. The pair are given a little space to impress in the ending’s sweet interaction between Deathmate and Agent Festival, but it isn’t enough to pull this zero issue all the way out of its resigned tone.
Iron Fist #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Poor Danny Rand can't catch a break this week. Hot on the heels of his pilloried Netflix series, Iron Fist #1 is a story about an aimless and depressed warrior - and unfortunately, that feeling infects the entire narrative. Writer Ed Brisson never taps into what makes Danny such an energetic or interesting character - instead, a sullen Danny mopes his way through fight club after fight club, wrestling with the sudden impotence of his Iron Fist powers. It's not exactly a stirring mission statement, and Mike Perkins's dark and shadowy art only doubles down on this, sucking the energy out of the room and often cropping too tightly to really let the action breathe. This aesthetic does fit in the intentionally harsher mood of the Netflix shows (especially Daredevil), but Iron Fist #1 is for diehard fans only.
Detective Comics #953 (Published by DC Comics; Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): This “League of Shadows” arc has put Cassandra Cain right at the center of things and it’s great to see her getting the spotlight. James Tynion gives us one really solid character moment between Cass and Clayface, but he spends the rest of the issue doubling down on stuff we’ve seen before. As a result, the issue spins it’s wheels a bit as it races to the final page reveal that just about everyone has to see coming. The art team of Christian Duce and Fernando Blanco don’t blend particularly well either and they leave a lot of be desired when it comes to the fight scenes. Orphan is a character who many writers and fans agree would be the best fighter of all of the members of the Bat-family. Sadly, the choreography in this issue is basic (in part because certain characters are holding back) and so even potentially big moments like Batman and Orphan facing off are wasted. Detective has been one of the better books in the "Rebirth" era, but this arc is leaving a lot to be desired at this juncture.
Jem: The Misfits #3 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Jem: The Misfits #3 continues to be the low-key best teen book on shelves right now. Continuing their single character spotlight, writers Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell turn their sights to Blaze and her journey to chase her dreams. What follows is a well-intentioned and heartfelt exploration of a young woman’s drive and her ambition in the face of being in the rare position of having “made it.” Melding heart, humor, and a genuine voice (something teen comics are severely lacking in some cases), Thompson and Campbell continue to make each Misfit feel like a real person and that in itself should be applauded. Artist Jenn St-Onge and colorist M. Victoria Robado live up to the lead singer’s name and provided plenty of pizzazz to the proceedings, starting from St-Onge’s rounded, expressive style and ending with Robado’s splashy colors and letterer Shawn Lee’s punk rock calligraphy waving across the page as they sing. If you are disappointed or let down by recent teen titles, then look Jem: The Misfits and they will show you the rock-and-roll way.