Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with this week’s installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Poultry-Partakin’ Pierce Lydon, who takes a look at the special anniversary issue of Venom…
Venom #150 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Three stories make up this anniversary issue, and this is truly a celebration of an icon if I’ve ever seen one. While some deride Venom for the bevy of lesser symbiotes he inspired, this issue is an interesting exploration of the original and a reminder that Eddie Brock is a flawed character in the mighty Marvel mold. The first story by Mike Costa and Tradd Moore dives right into Eddie’s struggle with the symbiote and trying to do the right thing. Moore’s artwork is the star here. His stylized linework works in tandem with his non-traditional layouts to effectively give a sense of Venom’s power, Eddie’s struggle and the complicated nature of their relationship. The second story by Robbie Thompson and Gerardo Sandoval features another Venom, Flash Thompson, and how he came to lose the symbiote. It’s a solid little story that doesn’t dive too deep, but shows how Flash’s relationship with the symbiote compared to Brock’s. The final story looks like a flashback to the early days of Venom’s history and David Michelinie and Ron Lim show the beginnings of his days as a Lethal Protector. While the story itself is fairly standard, colorist Lee Loughridge transforms Ron Lim’s art into something really special. By adding a grid texture and working in mostly flat tones, Loughridge embraces a bygone era of comics coloring with a modern twist. Venom fans do not want to miss out on this one. It’s a love letter to everything we remember about that most sinister of symbiotes.
Wonder Woman #23 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): A singer once sang “it takes strength to be gentle and kind,” and that idea forms the heart of Greg Rucka’s run on Wonder Woman. In the conclusion of “The Truth,” Phobos and Deimos are fast approaching to exact their revenge while Diana discussing with Ares how to defeat them. What Rucka has done really beautifully is remind us that there are many different ways to be strong. So while the ending might feel anticlimactic to some, it’s really the only way that Rucka could close this arc out while remaining true to the main ideas and concepts he put forth. And Liam Sharp’s continued great work on this title also comes to close here. He’s a perfect fit to render the nightmarish god hounds that are Phobos and Deimos and their attack on the warriors of Themyscira. But he’s able to switch gears to communicate the emotional ending effectively. Hi-Fi’s colors don’t really work for me. I think they tend to make the pages look a bit muddy as even the slightly brighter reds get swallowed up by browns and the black inks. But overall, this is a great way to close out this arc, and in essence, a large portion of Rucka’s latest run with Diana.
Redneck #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Donny Cates and Lissando Estherren’s Kentucky-fried vampire tale is an interesting beast, in part because it feels more akin to a crime story than anything innately supernatural. With a death in JV’s undead family, this good ol’ boy vampire patriarch is on lockdown - and unfortunately, things are only going to get worse from here. But honestly, the fangs and the aversion to sunlight are only window dressing to Cates’ story - sure, the vampire high concept actually isn’t as important as the actual hunting down of JV and his family by parties unknown, which evokes the tension of crime stories like Heat. Estherren’s artwork, while sometimes a bit too sketchy for my tastes (particularly the final scene, which loses some of its punch thanks to its too-distant shot), at its best reminds me of a fun mash-up of Eduardo Risso with the rendering of Joe Kubert. But ultimately, the tension of this book is what sells it - both what will happen to JV’s clan, and what bloodshed they might wreak in response.
Star-Lord Annual #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Crashed on a desert planet, the scoundrel known as Peter Quill finds himself in a familiar Western scenario. There’s a varmint terrorizing the local town and lucky for the town, Quill might just be the Element Gunslinger that they need. What’s surprising about this is not the story of the issue, but instead the sombre tone. The prior issues of Chip Zdarsky’s run on Star-Lord have had an energetic attitude, but here Zdarsky lets the issue gradually build, a sentiment perfectly fitting Djibril Morissette’s style. Like on Glitterbomb, Morissette shines in these more methodical moments, extracting as much tension as they can from looks alone, while still making the action sequences look sharp. It’s not the way you may expect this run to end, especially on which scene Zdarsky chooses to say farewell, but that unexpectedness, while not hilarious, lands in much the same way Zdarsky’s more
The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop The Reign? #2 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): A psychic and cartoonishly racist crab leads a convoy of beater cars to kill a monk/cowboy, and that isn’t even the weirdest thing to happen in The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop The Reign? #2. Opening with an immensely detailed and dense fight scene between the Cowboy and a giant crab with a VW Bug full of henchmen on its back, Geof Darrow throws everything visually at the reader including several kitchen sinks. But it is the truly hilarious and violently surreal origin story of Hog Kong that runs away cackling with this issue. Poised as the next “boss” of the series, Darrow walks us carefully through the mutant pig’s origins from farm animal to iron-hoofed crime boss as he learned of how humans treated pigs and decided to fight back. It is truly, truly crazy, but exactly the kind of crazy we have come to expect from Darrow, giving this second installment a new favorite bit of lunacy and continuing this volume’s commitment to delivering satirical surreal displays of comic book storytelling.
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): What’s not to love about this book? There’s action. There’s humor. There’s a heist! These are the Guardians as you know and love them. I get the sense that Gerry Duggan is trying to stump artist Aaron Kuder with his scripts, but Kuder is more than up to the task. He crafts M.C. Escher-esque castles that serve as the home for Collector’s vast collection. Of course, Duggan balances that out with some toilet humor. But it all works together to serve the same purpose - telling a really fun story that is true to the modern characterizations of the Guardians and reminds us that the Marvel Universe is a gigantic place with room for a lot of crazy stuff. Kuder’s art is the vessel for this exploration and he’s pulling out all the stops in a way we haven’t gotten to see with his more grounded work. If you aren’t reading All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, what the flark are you waiting for?
X-O Manowar #3 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Almost the entire list of Action Movie Staples gets checked off in the fast-paced and inevitable X-O Manowar #3. Writer Matt Kindt, starting from a real peak thanks to the cliffhanger of last issue, barrels through a siege, an assassination attempt, a betrayal, and an escape as Aric and his team try to carry out their mission in the heart of the enemy city as hellfire and soldiers cascade around their captured tower. Tomas Giorello and colorist Diego Rodriguez are still working well at this constant speed, moving from one set piece to the next with ease and keeping the reader fully engaged with the action with clear blocking, seemingly weaponized colors, and no-frills layouts. Though the actual narrative direction its taking is inevitable (did we really think Aric could avoid conflict forever?), Kindt and company are making sure to at least make it as bombastic a trip as possible.
X-Men: Blue #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): With the first couple of hurdles out of the way (for now) in the first three issues, writer Cullen Bunn turns his attention to a clawed plot thread from Issue #1. It pays off exactly like we’d expect (the mysterious mutant is in fact Jimmy Hudson, Logan’s son from the Ultimate Universe), and that leads to a little bit of meandering in the narrative. Despite Bunn’s still strong character work, the cast has a bad habit of doing a thing, saying they’ve done a thing and then another character admonishing them in some way for it. The team dynamics are still present and at the forefront, but there’s definitely a loss of momentum from the needless decompression here. Julian Lopez is the new artist on the book, and it’s a fairly seamless transition from Jorge Molina. Lopez renders his characters a little bit less but that allows Jose Marzan, Jr. and Walden Wong’s inks to really make their presence known and create good contrast against Irma Kniivila’s coloring. The pacing might have taken a step back this issue, but X-Men: Blue is still one of the best new X-books out there.
Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem #3 (Published by Titan Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Anno Dracula delivers its sharpest issue to date, but just not in the way you would expect. Though Kim Newman’s increasingly tense plot of a vampire/human alliance working to overthrow Dracula and his regime is still gaining momentum and keeping readers on their toes as to who will be double-crossed next, this third issue’s real strength is that it is funny as all hell. Opening with a truly hilarious meeting between lead Penelope Churchward and Graf Von Orlok, Dracula’s master jailer and strikingly creepy silent film vampire, Newman draws genuine belly laughs from the encounter; the awkwardness of the one-sided conversation bolstered by art team Paul McCaffery, Bambos Georgiou and Kevin Enhart’s hauntingly funny silent Orlok reaction shots. The art team continue to keep pace with Newman’s witty script throughout the issue, settling into a nice rhythm as the dissidents evade capture and strike another blow against the regime, but they all make sure most scenes end on a well-structured joke like Churchward being annoyed that her date/snack has bled on her wallpaper. If you’ve ever wanted to marry the humor of What We Do In The Shadows with the sexy supernatural intrigue of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, then Anno Dracula #3 is the comic for you.
Jean Grey #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): After her devastating vision of the Phoenix, Jean is on the hunt for answers, even if everyone thinks she’s crazy. Jean Grey #2 is a fun, character-driven issue that brings together all the X-Men previously influenced by the Phoenix Force: Hope Summers, Rachel Summers, Colossus, Magik and Quentin Quire. Dennis Hopeless does a good job at showing the characters’ unique relationship with the Phoenix and with one another as Jean’s paranoia and fear continues to rise. Perhaps the most striking team-up of the issue is between Hope Summers and Jean, as Hopeless really narrows in on their unique similarities as well as their stark differences. (It’s also nice to see Hope growing into her own, and picking up traits from her father Cable.) The pencils by Victor Ibanez is a weaker aspect for the issue, as certain scenes come off as crowded with multiple guest stars teaming up with Jean, but his artwork shines more when focusing on Jean Grey and her emotions. Overall, Jean Grey continues to be a great character-driven story, but I’m fearful the series will start becoming formulaic as Jean continues to visit different members of the Marvel universe to help her understand the mysteries of the Phoenix force.
Mass Effect: Discovery #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): One of the new members of the expansive Mass Effect cast gets a blunt solo prequel in Mass Effect: Discovery #1. Following APEX leader and one of the player’s first NPC contacts in Andromeda, Tiran Kandros, writers John Dombrow and Jeremy Barlow shoot the tone and plot mechanics of an undercover cop show into space to show exactly how and why Kandros found himself hundreds of years from home with the Initiative. Barlow and Dombrow explore some really meaty things here like Kandros’ struggle to get out of his famous mother’s shadow and the inter-species racism that the games always hint at but never explore in ugly detail, but unfortunately, their workman like script is hampered by muddy artwork from Gabriel Guzman. Colorist Michael Atiyeh helps to clear up the haphazard pencils, doing his best to differentiate the sterile, bland sets of Mass Effect (looking at you, Citadel), but there isn’t much you can do shading wise when the pencils start seem like they are running into themselves when two or more Turians are in a room together. Much of that falls on the design of the franchise and Guzman displays some real visual panache in the issue’s morbidly cool opening, but as of now Mass Effect: Discovery #1 isn’t essential reading, but offers the potential for at least a fun, disposable lark with a particularly interesting NPC.
Elektra #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Elektra continues to play Arcade’s game as the stakes are raised when innocent bystander Lauren is put in danger. Elektra #4 is a fun point-A-to-point-B issue that forces Elektra to act quickly on her feet, allowing her to use more tactical fighting. The story feels like a ramped-up video game as Elektra enters different levels to find clues to help her new friend, which is fitting for a story arc centered around Marvel’s game master villain. Juan Cabal and Martin Morazzo’s pencils are both strong in providing some great fluid action for the book, but Morazzo’s linework isn’t as sleek as Cabal’s, the regular artist on the book. Elektra #4 is a fun action issue that focuses on Elektra’s strength as a fighter, but sadly the issue doesn’t give much room to progress the story’s plot.
Doc Savage: Ring of Fire #3 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Cousin Pat continues to steal the show along with Doc’s greatest adversary in the third installment of Doc Savage: Ring of Fire. While writer David Avallone has done his level best to liven up Doc’s plot with plenty of genuinely funny banter and a consistent pace, he still feels like he’s four steps behind Pat who is breaking Amelia Earhart out of jail with a belt that can melt steel and smashing henchmen in the face. It is great stuff, but I wish Doc’s plot contained that same energy. John Sunlight, Doc’s Lex Luthor if you will, also provides a new pulpy layer to the proceedings as Avallone gives us nicely obscured glimpses at his past and keeps him actively controlling and enjoying the hero’s predictable movements against him. Penciler Dave Ascota and colorist Morgan Hickman aren’t given much to do in the way of action this month, but they make up for it with moody, well deployed colors and layouts that sell the tension of the jailbreak scenes well and provide a few impressive character shots that convey their confidence, intelligence, or sly wit very well. I've always thought Doc and his allies should always have a certain optimistic glow about them and I feel Acosta and Hickman have provided that throughout the series. Standing as probably the strongest case yet for a Pat Savage solo title, Doc Savage: Ring of Fire #3 is the kind of female-focused pulp we need much more of.
The Mighty Captain Marvel #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Margaret Stohl charts the events leading up to the Chitauri’s arrival and Captain America’s heel turn against the heroes now isolated in space, splitting her time between some Alpha Flight recruits contending with a simulated threat and Carol Danvers dealing with a very real one. It has as big of a scope as it can, considering the main Secret Empire series has already shown where this ends up, but it does mean that Stohl can continue to pile on the pressure to see how well Carol contends. Michele Bandini brings a style that’s sleeker than Rosanas’ previous work on the title, the emotions are clearer, and when in space, it doesn’t feel as if one set background of stars is in use throughout, but the pacing when it comes to Cap’s actions means that the emotion doesn’t come across as strongly as it did in that initial Secret Empire cut-away.