Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: DARTH VADER #1, BATMAN #24, BLACK BOLT #2, MAGNUS #1, More

"Darth Vader #1" preview
Credit: Marvel Comics

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 today’s column with Pleasantry-Avoidin’ Pierce Lydon, who takes a look at Wonder Woman: Steve Trevor #1

Credit: DC Comics

Wonder Woman: Steve Trevor #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): With the recent success of Wonder Woman’s big screen debut, it makes sense that DC would release a little bit of additional Wonder Woman-adjacent material. And Diana wasn't the only character to endear herself to audiences - Steve Trevor and his team of commandos definitely connected with moviegoers, and fans looking for more from them will be pleasantly surprised with this one-shot. Tim Seeley does some really fun character work between Diana and Steve setting up an understanding of their comic book dynamic as opposed to their film one. Credit where credit is due, Christian Duce turns in some really clear linework that should allow even the newest comic book reader to jump right in. There might not be a lot here for more seasoned fans, but this is an effective and entertaining story that embraces its world, and that’s not a bad thing.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Bolt #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Christian Ward is one of the most profoundly strange and visually stimulating artists working at Marvel today. While he does occasionally have problems rendering his characters consistently, his visual storytelling skills are nearly unparalleled. Black Bolt almost feels more like a movie in that regard, as Ward frames the focus of his panels so intentionally on each page and allows the action rather than dialogue or rigid panel structure to inform his layouts. Saladin Ahmed is a great fit an artist like Ward. His script is able to shift gears quickly between action, humor and drama without losing momentum. While he takes a less poetic approach here in favor of something resembling a slightly more traditional superhero book, there’s still a very natural quality to his characters and dialogue that’s so important when you’re dealing mostly with aliens and the unknown. Black Bolt #2 continues to be an interesting look at one of Marvel’s most mysterious characters.

Credit: Archie Comics

Riverdale #3 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Something is missing in Riverdale #3. Writers James DeWille and Will Ewing do an admirable job of capturing the characters’ voices and personalities, this time delivering stories about some of the great unexpected groupings of the show, #Bughead (Jughead and Betty) and Veronica and the Pussycats. The pair also provide pretty solid plots for them with #Bughead taking on a bit of P.I. work on behalf of Cheryl Blossom while V and the Pussycats paint the town red in their pre-gig ritual, face their own personal Misfits (Southside band Venom), and get real with one another. But even all of that can’t distract from the fact that none of these characters have the same undeniable charisma of the show’s leads and their deliciously campy commitment to the soapy elements of the show. Artists Joe Eisma, Thomas Pitilli, and colorist Andre Szymanowicz do their best to provide the kind of sincere camp that the show does, with touching character interactions, heavily shippable scenes of banter, and even an actual cartoon dust cloud fight when the Pussycats and Venom square off. But, alas, Riverdale #3 is grasping at the kind of sparks that the show delivered and probably will deliver again once it graces our airwaves once more. #RiverdaleStrong, you guys.

Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

Kiss/Vampirella #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Something wicked is sweeping through “Lipstick City” and Vampirella is looking to stomp it out while serving looks and tasty riffs in Kiss/Vampirella #1. Christopher Sebela rewinds to 1974, five years into Vampi’s time on Earth, and transplants her into the LA rock scene as a member of an all-girl goth-rock band which provides cover for her monster hunting night-job. Sebela’s characters and plot are appropriately raucous and weird, as he steadily introduces a cult of musician-killing weirdos obsessed with totems from the bands they look to enthrall, and the boys from KISS who get a grisly introduction to the plot on the fringes of Vampi’s main plot. Artists Annapaola Martello and Valentina Pinto provide sultry, but never exploitative pencils and 70s goth/glam-inspired colors throughout, as if they were dipping a documentary about the Sunset Strip into a vat full of the blood KISS used to color their comic back in the day. You wanted the best and you got the best with a bit of gothy flair, thanks to the debut of Kiss/Vampirella.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Darth Vader #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jon Arvedon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Regardless of your feelings about the Star Wars prequels, few can deny the feeling of pure ecstasy upon seeing Darth Vader emerge in his armor - so naturally, that’s where our story begins in Darth Vader #1. However, rather than dwell on Vader’s despair due to the loss of his beloved Padme, writer Charles Soule instead opts to take us on an intriguing journey with the former Anakin Skywalker as he seeks out one of the few remaining Kyber crystals in the galaxy – the same Kyber crystal that will eventually power the fiery, crimson red lightsaber that Vader uses to gain vengeance against his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. This is very much a set-up issue for what’s sure to be a brutal endeavor for Emperor Palpatine’s right-hand man, but Soule manages to execute said set-up to perfection, giving the reader a clear direction as to where this series is headed, with plenty of expository dialogue that helps build upon the already established Star Wars mythos. Then, of course, we have the exceptional imagery from the art team consisting of Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, and David Curiel, with crisp lines, smooth inks, and vibrant hues that perfectly capture the sleek, pristine aesthetic of the Galactic Empire. While Kieron Gillen’s epic 25-issue run gave us the methodical Sith Lord we loved from The Empire Strikes Back, Soule’s Darth Vader #1 sets the stage for a series that will likely embody the savagery of Rogue One’s closing moments, making this introductory issue perfect for those left salivating after Vader’s last on-screen appearance.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #24 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jon Arvedon; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Following the two-issue tale “Rooftops,” Batman #24 progresses the ongoing love story between Bat and Cat further with this direct sequel, intercut with scenes that tie up the remaining loose threads following the Dark Knight’s mission to save Gotham Girl. King’s Batman has never been short on heart, and this issue takes that concept to new heights –l iterally and figuratively - as the Caped Crusader proposes to Selina Kyle high above the Gotham City skyline. While this moment could have been seen as out of character for Batman in a lesser writer’s hands, King has been slowly building towards this throughout his run on the series, making it feel entirely earned - and it makes all the more sense when you consider Thomas Wayne’s final words in the closing issue of “The Button.” From a visual standpoint, it’s all hands on deck as familiar pencil and ink powerhouses such as David Finch and Danny Miki are joined by Clay and Seth Mann, giving the issue a unique, yet subtle dose stylistic contrast as we jump between the sequences featuring Catwoman and those featuring Gotham Girl. However, it’s Jordie Bellaire’s gorgeous color art that helps bring harmony to the stunning layouts, linework and finishes, giving us a taste of Gotham at its brightest and darkest hours. And speaking of shining brightest, it’s worth mentioning that as great as King’s Batman run has been so far, these one-shots are where he truly excels, so definitely don’t pass on Batman #24.

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It’s always a treat to see Frazer Irving’s name on the cover of comic. Irving teams up with writer Gerry Duggan to give us a slightly different flavor of Guardians story than we had settled into with the first two issues. This Gamora-focused book rehashes a bit of her origin before putting a potentially heavy twist on an old bit of continuity. It’s the kind of issue that will definitely have implications somewhere down the line and allows Duggan to do more than just build off the success of the films. And I generally like this approach as well. The Guardians haven’t been able to carry solo titles, but having a character focused one-shot every few issues helps deepen their mythology and underline the work Duggan is doing when they’re all together. Irving is a master at creating mood with his artwork, but some of his stylistic tendencies can overwhelm the clarity of the narrative at points. But overall, Irving’s art works well with Duggan’s haunting script and provides some additional depth we didn’t have before.

Credit: AfterShock Comics

Babyteeth #1 (Published by AfterShock Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Even the Antichrist had a mom, and Donny Cates, Garry Brown and Mark Englert aim to tell her story in the debut of Babyteeth #1. Cates baits the hook of his story well, opening with a cryptically apocalyptic tease of the scale of this series and then hard cutting to the past to focus on the lead, 16-year-old Sadie. Sadie is instantly likable and sincere as her son, Clark, comes into the world bringing literal Hell with him - but all Sadie cares about is that her son is safe and in her arms. Artists Garry Brown and Mark Englert adjust well to the shifting macro and micro scales of the script, going for the gusto with the desolation of the opening and ending beat. The pair also delivers genuine endearing emotional turns as Sadie recounts the day of Clark’s birth with a garnish of shock value with the deep reds of Sadie’s water breaking. I’ve always said that horror needs more heart and armed with said heart and a sneakily large scale, Babyteeth #1 makes AfterShock Comics two-for-two when it comes to great comics of the spooky variety.

Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

Magnus #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Dynamite Entertainment’s latest stab at a Gold Key revival fires off one hell of a solo series opening salvo in the form of Magnus #1. Dropping the pulpy, fisticuffs based trappings of the old Magnus, Kyle Higgins eases us slowly into the deep waters of this story, focusing on the title character and the potentially limitless story potential of his realist cyberpunk world. Higgins leans into his Magnus being a woman apart from all worlds, both machine and man, but still dedicated to her job and her “patients”, the depressed and increasingly murderous AI that inhabit the world now. Artist Jorge Fornes and colorist Chris O’Halloran seem game as hell for Higgins’ view of the future, the former laying out the world and process of how we got there in showy, but never overwhelming double page splashes of exposition set pieces drenched in metallic and LED inspired colors from O’Halloran. Capped off by the latest grittily poetic Turok backup to tease his upcoming title, Magnus #1 keeps the Gold Key revival on track with suspense, science fiction, and smarts.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Hawkeye #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Hawkeye #7 is the series’ strongest issue to date as Kelly Thompson digs deeper into the mysteries surrounding Kate Bishop’s family. The issue opens up with Kate receiving a package from Madame Masque, which holds Kate’s mother’s triangle pendent. Kate knows that she’s walking into a trap by accepting Madame Masque’s invitation, and is shocked to find out the identity of the person who is actually pulling the strings of this operation. A great strength of this issue is how Thompson seamlessly weaves in Kate’s flashbacks from her childhood to build the current family drama unraveling in the present. Leonardo Romero’s visuals help make these transitions from past to present also seem effortless, such as the transition from young Kate using the family pool to forget about her sorrows to present Kate being forcibly held under water by a bodyguard. This issue of Hawkeye is a powerfully emotional issue for Kate, but it also delivers fantastic action. Romero does a beautiful job at showcasing Kate’s strategic fighting skills as she uses her surroundings to defeat an overwhelming amount of bodyguards. Overall, Hawkeye #7 is a strong character-driven issue that gives the reader a glimpse at how Kate’s family situation drove her to become a hero.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Faith #12 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): As more and more female heroes take center stage throughout comics, Valiant Entertainment continues to deliver consistently entertaining stories starring one of its vanguard ladies, Faith Herbert. Issue #13 wraps up the all-star villain team-up that was “The Faithless” with a triumph of the heart rather than one of strength. Jody Houser once again bases her plot around Faith’s deep love of fandom and of people in general, which in turn fuels her heroism. Here she gains the upper hand simply by connecting with one of her kidnappers, Murder Mouse A.K.A. Jeff. Though the ending of this story leaves it a bit too vaguely open, Houser’s Faith is still too charming to dismiss, especially when her stories find entertainment without the trademark Valiant blockbuster action. Aiding that charm along is artist Joe Eisma - in sunny Archie mode here, but with a bit more propulsion - and Valiant’s most trusted colorist Andrew Dalhouse, who amplifies Houser’s upbeat script with colors to match. Though Valiant Entertainment is mainly known for high-flying action and gritty science fiction, Faith continues to shine by leading with its heart instead of its fists.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men Gold #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): If there’s anything somewhat redeeming about X-Men: Gold #5, it might be artist R.B. Silva. There’s a fluidity to his lines and rendering that is a big departure from what Ardian Syaf was doing in the first arc. And while that may not always lend too much in the way of consistency of perspective or body proportions, it does result in some very good expression work from time to time. Frank Martin’s coloring deserves a mention as well for giving us a really inspired palette of pinks, purple and blues throughout the book that helps buoy the tone. But Guggenheim just can’t seem to put an interesting plot together. His pacing is snail-like and it’s hard not to look at other books in the line (like the mostly stellar X-Men: Blue) and wonder why it feels like they’ve been able to do so much more in the same amount of pages. The core concept of Gold is solid but the execution is sorely lacking.

Credit: IDW

Night Owl Society #3 (Published by IDW Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Night Owl Society up to this point has been a strong series focusing on a group of high school students finding their inner heroes after the murder of their school’s priest, but sadly the series’ final issue delivers a disappointingly rushed conclusion. In this issue, David is forced to go head-to-head with his father while the rest of his team use their individual skills to try and find David’s whereabouts. Night Owl Society’s biggest strength is with character building as James Venhaus creates a very competent and likable group of teenagers, but sadly these characters aren’t used to their fullest in this last issue. It’s a wasted opportunity to not have these skilled team members involved in the final boss battle between David and his father. The artwork by Pius Bak continues to be a strength for this book. His simplistic pencils work well with the action and emotions Venhaus builds in his script. Overall, the final issue of Night Owl Society feels abrupt, proving that a three-issue arc wasn’t enough space to tell this character-driven story.

Credit: Jim Towe

Baroque Pop Anthology (Published by Red Stylo Press; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Lana Del Rey gets her very own Heavy Metal in the Baroque Pop Anthology from Red Stylo Press. Assembled like a modern day fanzine, this anthology takes the imagery and themes at play throughout Del Ray’s albums and projects them into snappy, theatrical one-acts interspersed with pin-ups, standing as a DIY tribute gallery to the pop star. The stories run the gamut from sultry crime stories like “Summer Sadness” from Daniel Charles, Ashley St. Lawrence, and Scott Ewen to hazy science fiction like “Body Electric” from Eric Palicki, Daniel Earls, and Scott Ewen, pulling double duty, and presenting a story about a woman exploring the world of robotic body modification in a “progressive” world. Zine culture and production is a lost art, but Red Stylo Press and a full roster of talented creators aim to change that with a properly weird tribute to the woman behind “Hollywood sadcore.”

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