Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has your back, with this week’s installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let’s kick off with Poultry-Lovin’ Pierce Lydon, as they take a look at Generation X #1…
Generation X #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Christina Strain and Amilcar Pinna team-up to bring back a fan-favorite team with a bit of a twist. One thing that isn’t really present in the current X-Men line-up is a look at the student perspective, and Strain uses Generation X to explore that. Jubilee is back at the school and she’s been tasked with a group of young upstarts not unlike the original team. Honestly, given the historical success and popularity of shows like Riverdale, Gossip Girl and The OC, it makes sense for Marvel to broach the “teen-life-but-everyone-is-hot” genre. But right now, this one only has potential on its side. Strain’s narrative isn’t even really there yet - it’s just a snapshot. Pinna’s work is an interesting choice and a great fit for this specific bunch of weirdos. We spend so much time with the main X-characters in other books that it's easy to forget that there is a diverse group of characters back at the school. I like how Pinna really brings them to life, but this book feels like a bit of a hollow read without much in the way of stakes.
Superman #23 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This is just a brutal, brutal book. Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have been really good at winding up readers and making the revelations of the mysteries they’re weaving very impactful. Part of the reason that they’re able to do so is that the art is always on point and the choice to have Doug Mahnke on the arc is very, very intentional. Mahnke’s linework is much more rigid than Gleason’s and while that can make some of his panel work a little too static at times, he’s able to deliver really intensely emotional pages because of the sense of realism. The writers for their part have been really good at playing their cards close to the chest. The big reveal ends all the Watchmen-related speculation surrounding this story but brings up a load of new questions about the Super Elite and Manchester Black’s role in the post-Rebirth DCU. This is how you keep readers coming back for more.
Invincible #136 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Invincible #136 continues to be an action-packed narrative for the series’ final arc as Mark and the team fight against Thragg and his army. Ryan Ottley’s pencils are what really shine in this issue as Ottley showcases the overwhelming circumstances our heroes are up against. Robert Kirkman and Ottley especially puts a great focus on Atom Eve, who’s just recently returned to the superhero life. The reader witnesses the chaos building as Eve’s force fields shatter from the sheer volume of Thragg’s army, which is countered by Eve’s nicely designed medieval-style suit. Invincible #136’s action-heavy plot is a strength and weakness for the issue. The main plot moves a bit slowly, but luckily Kirkman adds a character-driven subplot with Terra as she starts to realize her emotions towards witnessing her uncle’s death. Invincible #136’s main plot is a slow burn, but the issue has some solid action and character moments to keep fans entertained.
Kim Reaper #2 (Published by Oni Press; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10): “There’s more to being a Grim Reaper than hooking up with babes, Becka!” But what’s a Grim Reaper to do when she kinda wants to hook up with a babe who may not be able to handle the adventurous life of a reaper of souls? Kim Reaper #2 manages to tug at your heartstrings even through its heaping helpings of quirky charm and goofy humor. The book is unapologetically silly, from Kim and Becka’s endearingly awkward flirty dialogue to writer/illustrator Sarah Graley’s cartoonishly expressive visual style, and delivers a tale so utterly and immediately endearing you won’t be able to stop smiling after you turn the last page. Kim Reaper is a charmingly illustrated supernatural romp whose characters are relatable and authentic despite the strange circumstances; everyone can relate to Becka and Kim’s fledgling relationship struggles, even if “chasing down a cat-covered muscle man” doesn’t make an appearance in our worst first date halls of fame.
Secret Empire #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Secret Empire gets weirder, but that doesn’t exactly mean better in its second installment. Nick Spencer is still slapping at the narrative potential of the implications of Cap’s New World Order, opting for yet another desolate and muddy post-fight city rescue operation (Vegas and the Dark Dimension’ed New York) as backdrop instead of opening the lens up and giving us the bigger picture. Spencer’s limited scope hampers the genuine character moments scattered throughout, which is a shame because Spencer can and has brought a real spark to certain B and C listers - Dagger being #2‘s stand-out with a simple but stirring cameo. Andrea Sorrentino makes a real go of it this issue, but the Jae-Lee-by-way-of-J.H.-Williams impressions he’s done here lately could use a lot more definition, which is also a letdown because he’s capable of some truly great stuff. Some of that is here in issue two - in particular a stacked panel hint of who exactly holds the Cosmic Cub shards that looks like a superhero punk poster. And the issue’s main double page splash is a real marvel (heh) when looked at as a single piece. But layouts can’t really ink things better or help a reader navigate some of the oddly placed dialogue bubbles bracketed into the aforementioned splash page that sap the energy that Sorrentino had built up until that point. This story has legs but has yet to really use them, but we still have miles to go on Secret Empire before its done and it still has plenty of time to surprise or crush us.
The Wild Storm #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This one starts out with a bang but really slows down as we get to see the cast react to the existence of a Wild C.A.T. (covert action team). That might make it seem like this issue is a disappointment, but Jon Davis-Hunt knows his way around a talky scene. Warren Ellis’ characters can sometimes be a little wordy, especially if they’re ones he’s clearly having fun writing. But Davis-Hunt not only gives him space to do his work, he keeps the characters moving. It’s small details like Henry Bendix taking off his tie and pacing around the room to get more comfortable that make the conversations feel more natural. This is juxtaposed with a lot of silent panels, and widescreen panels that open up the dynamics of the book. I’ve been likening this title to a well-paced television show and that’s still where it’s living. Ellis is parsing his reveals out slowly and allowing us to understand the characters as much as possible in every interaction they have. There are still a lot of questions but even in a short scene, it feels like we’re getting relevant information. Not a lot of writers are able to do that, and The Wild Storm is better for it.
The Sovereigns #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The Gold Key heroes finally get the epic they deserve in the debut of The Sovereigns #1. Employing a writer’s room approach to the whole line, The Sovereigns #1 conjures up a specific sense of pulpy superheroic dread from Ray Fawkes, Johnny Desjardins, and Mohan, as they entrench readers into the time-hopping story of the fall of Earth’s greatest heroes. Filled with beautiful genre displays like a trippy walk in the clouds with Doctor Spektor and a Starlin-esque meeting with the multiform entity that is now Solar, Fawkes and company set up a potentially world-ending mystery while showing some devastating fallout in the grim, earth-toned flash-forwards starring Samson walking the earth after some sort of Cormac McCarthy-esque downfall. (And that’s not even counting a moody, Vision-style tease of the upcoming Magus title from writer Kyle Higgins and artists Jorge Fornes and Chris O’Halloran.) Sure, it isn’t the classic Gold Key or even one of the many attempts at a reboot, but The Sovereigns #1 plants its flag confidently as the new Gold Key standard.
The Mighty Thor #19 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Jane Foster, a god who truly knows what it means to be human as she struggles with cancer, comes face-to-face with the fiery bird of life and death, delivering one of the strongest stories of The Mighty Thor to date. This issue showcases Jane’s sheer will power as she uses her wit and internal strength as weapons to fight against the Phoenix, showing that a god must know what it means to be human before calling themselves truly divine. The Phoenix force also shines with Russel Dauterman’s panel work. Dauterman uses the Phoenix as a way to brilliantly split up the panels. This made for some great action and emotion for both the Phoenix and Jane. Sadly, the issue switches artists halfway through the issue, but Valerio Schiti does a solid job following Dauterman’s pages so the change isn’t too jarring. The Mighty Thor #19 brings in the Phoenix at just the right time as this issue feels like a “rebirth” for the series. After looking death in the eye, Jane has a new evaluation on her priorities, which brings in some new and interesting roles for a few of the series’ characters.
Freeway Fighter #1 (Published by Titan Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The cult classic British table top game you didn’t know you needed returns in the pages of Titan Comics’ Freeway Fighter! Based on writer Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy gamebook of the same name, this debut introduces us to the violent and vehicle dominated world of this “campaign.” Andi Ewington’s script is appropriately spartan, after a quick cold open to better days that introduces our car racing heroine, he shifts up hard to a regular day in the wastes that involves vehicular manslaughter and reaving for every scrap you can; the “Trumpish Delight” candy bar Bella scores being surely the first of many irreverent satirical jabs. Royals: Masters of War artist Simon Colby gives this debut an expressively hardened edge with bone-crunching, but efficiently blocked car action anchored by realistic, but still slightly hammy character models. Coupled with the rusty and sun-scorched colors of Len O’Grady, the pair deliver a style that looks like the British version of a Patrick Zircher or a more fleshed-out Mike Deodato. Given even more of a keen geek edge with an intro from Livingston, letters from British scribes like Al Ewing and James Peaty about the game’s importance to them, and a wonderfully dorky character sheet variant cover, Freeway Fighter #1 makes for a grand return.
Night Owl Society #2 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Night Owl Society could be described as The Breakfast Club meets The Sopranos as a rag tag team of Catholic school students destroy the plans of a mobster who killed their school’s priest. This issue perfectly showcases the team’s diverse personalities working together as a well-oiled machine, as writer James Venhaus uses their skill sets in planned missions and even has this group of students start to admit that they’re actually becoming friends. But this all changes when they figure out their leader, David, is hiding a secret – his dad is the mobster they’ve been targeting. Night Owl Society #2 is a great character-driven issue that explores all the students that encompass the Night Owl Society, which allows the confrontation with David to have more of an emotional impact. The pencils by Pius Bak are simplistic, but work very well with the book’s moody blue coloring. The art has a nice focus on character, and the action doesn’t feel over the top – it’s a realistic approach to high schoolers, even if they’re high schoolers who are planning to take on the mob. If you are a fan of stories with teenagers fighting crime, this comic should be considered a must-read.
X-Men: Gold #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Ardian Syaf is out. R.B. Silva takes over but Marc Guggenheim still can’t get this mutant train moving. Guggenheim’s work with Gambit is fun but this book is falling short of the others in the line. I think a big reason for that is Guggenheim’s pacing. The plot feels relatively fast moving but all the reveals stop the momentum dead in its tracks. Everything is a rehash and while that’s true of many superhero books, this one feels especially flimsy. But R.B. Silva does turn in some decent work here. His expression work is particularly strong, but his Sentinel design pales in comparison to what Jorge Molina is doing over in X-Men: Blue. That’s the thing - nothing being done here isn’t being done better elsewhere and Gold is feeling more and more extraneous to the line by the day.
Will Eisner’s The Spirit: The Corpse-Makers #3 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Francesco Francavilla’s macabrely beautiful tribute to Will Eisner’s pulp icon continues in the third issue of The Corpse-Makers. Denny has been hot on the trail of EB’s missing friend for a bit now, but now his snooping has led him to an off-the-books crematorium and that surely can’t be great. Better people have written about the mood and specific kind of modern pulp that Francavilla excels at, and that is of course present here, but he also doesn’t ignore Denny’s “aw, shucks” charm and affability which comes across well in the dialogue Francavilla provides. Another win for the title is Francavilla’s propulsive layouts. Opening with a classic double page title splash of the Spirit absconding down an alley, Francavilla downshifts a bit as we check in on the series’ co-lead Lisa, whose investigations have aligned with the Spirit’s, only to be propelled suddenly into a tense car chase in which the “camera” is hanging above Lisa’s bike and the pursuing van and snapshots of action are placed where the buildings they are passing should be. With an eye for charm and armed with a boatload of pulpy mood, The Corpse-Makers #3 keeps Francavilla’s auteur solo effort going strong.
Luke Cage #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): David Walker’s run on Power Man and Iron Fist might be over, but that doesn’t mean he’s left Luke Cage behind. This new title brings Cage down to New Orleans after the death of the scientist that gave him his unbreakable skin. The set-up is something we’ve seen from the Weapon X program about a thousand times over the years: there are more experiments like the one that made the hero, and now all the subjects are wrapped up in some conspiracy. But after years of street-level superheroing from Cage, it’s nice to see him a little out of his element. Walker’s comfort level with the character is clear - there’s no learning curve. This is the Luke Cage that readers know and love right from the jump. Nelson Blake’s clean lines help anchor the proceedings, but he never tries to do too much. Instead, he’s perfectly in sync with the pacing of the issue playing up power or comedy or whatever the script calls for. Blake’s evenhanded approach might not be in-your-face dynamic but it works for the tone of the book to provide a solid, if unspectacular, debut.