Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your pellets? Best Shots has you covered with this week’s installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off today’s column with Kleptomaniacal Kat Calamia, who takes a look at the latest issue of The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows…
Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This issue puts a focus on Mary Jane as she tries to find her place in the Spider-family. This is a great character-driven issue that shows the extent Mary Jane will – including borrowing experimental biotechnology from Liz Allan. Gerry Conway and Ryan Stegman masterfully show the slight changes in Mary Jane’s day-to-day life as the Venom symbiote starts to merge with her, particularly the end of the book closing into the sight of the Venom in MJ’s eyes. The only negative towards this Venom storyline is Renew Your Vow’s questionable continuity, as it’s unclear if Eddie Brock’s Venom exists in this universe or if Liz’s symbiote is the first Venom appearance for this world. Stegman has some of his strongest pencils yet in this issue as he expresses MJ’s emotional and physical changes that she must endure while wearing the symbiote. Stegman’s design for MJ’s symbiote is great as it’s stylish and fits her fun personality. Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #8 sets up for an interesting and strong story as the side effects of the Venom symbiote tests MJ’s will to be a superhero.
Dark Days: The Forge #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jon Arvedon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Dark Days: The Forge sets the stage for what will likely be the biggest shake-up to DC’s status quo since last year’s Rebirth Special one-shot, as writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV dig deep into DC’s past, putting heavy emphasis on elements of Snyder’s epic Batman run from the "New 52." However, other fundamental-but-forgotten pieces of DC lore also reemerge, with characters such as Hawkman (Carter Hall), Lady Blackhawk, Immortal Man, Mister Terrific, and Mister Miracle all returning to the fray, as well as some of Batman’s post-Crisis secrets possibly coming back to bite him in more ways than one. While the story is everything readers could want, though, the aesthetics are rather inconsistent, with Jim Lee’s tight, precise linework clashing hard against John Romita Jr.’s looser, blockier style. Meanwhile, Andy Kubert’s visuals seem to fall somewhere in the middle, so nevertheless, the stylistic transitions from one page to the next can be quite jarring at times. Thankfully, the inks by Scott Williams, Klaus Janson, seem to have a more harmonious feel, and the transitions between Alex Sinclair and Jeremiah Skipper’s color art are near-seamless. Dark Days: The Forge ultimately does what it set out to do, raising the stakes while also raising enough questions to hook readers in for the next chapter, with the creative team doing more than enough legwork to justify the existence of this prelude issue by delivering powerful, filler-free substance.
Winnebago Graveyard #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Atmosphere is the key when it comes to horror, the sense of malaise needs to wash over the audience, making them hesitant about every action, fearing the repercussions. Winnebago Graveyard is in no short supply of this, from an eerie first half depicting a cult sacrifice where Alison Sampson masks the members in cloaks, giving off the appearance of nothingness descending on the poor victims, frequently choosing to pull back in her framing and show the surroundings. The second half is less overtly scary, but still eerie, focusing on a family on a summer road trip. Stephane Paitreau handles both parts equally well, being sure to increase the level of color while keeping a creeping shadow in the second half and Steve Niles’ script here is shocking, not because of what’s seen or unseen, but instead because it feels like it leaves off on an easy cliff-hanger before a real hook has been established.
Defenders #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Back on the streets and with the swagger you’d expect, Brian Michael Bendis follows on from Free Comic Book Day teaser and brings the group of four together as Diamondback’s looking to stake a claim to the city of New York. He starts with Luke Cage, bringing in Jessica Jones (incapacitated after the aforementioned teaser), Matt Murdock and Danny Rand swiftly. While not as astounding as Jessica Jones’ first issue last year, it is just as confident, likely a product of Bendis being back in his element with characters he loves to tell stories and artist David Marquez in tow. Marquez and Justin Ponsor are a dream art-team to have on this book, injecting life into every panel, giving it a realistic feel without veering into grit. Defenders themselves get flashy title cards giving a brief overview of key events in the characters’ lives in a way feels excessive, but appropriately extravagant with regards to Diamondback’s characterization. There may still be a couple months to go until the four join together on screen, but this book has them assembled (to an extent) with a confident collaboration in Bendis, Marquez, and Ponsor already operating in harmony.
Superwoman #11 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Handing over from one creative team to another is never easy, especially when the first team had so many plates spinning like Phil Jimenez did here. With "Superman: Reborn" now out of the way, K. Perkins is able to forge ahead with stories of her own, following on nicely from Jimenez by continuing to spin some of these plates. There’s still a strong sense of character defined story here, with this arc focusing on the Irons family, helpful because it makes it personal for Lana as well. Perkins does well in keeping with the spirit and tone set by Jimenez without being beholden to the precedent set. There’s a sense of momentum, but José Luís’ pages have room to breathe without being loaded with panels. This space allows him to bring a level of polish which can be as simple as keeping the background instead of asking Hi-Fi to fill it in with a block of color. The plot itself zags instead of following the way that the current Superman arc has zigged leading to an interesting direction that looks like it’ll be layering in Lana’s anxiety without it being a crutch to fall back on for tension.
Jimmy’s Bastards #1 (Published by Aftershock; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The name’s Regent. Jimmy Regent. And in Jimmy’s Bastards, he’s the kind of over-the-top a-hole secret agent that would make even James Bond blanche. But that’s ultimately the main appeal of Garth Ennis and Russ Braun’s latest work, which has the same sort of gross-out juvenile humor that’s made his work on The Boys or Preacher so, erm, memorable. But as far as setup goes, Ennis’s parody of 007 is the sort of guilty laugh that you’d find hard to admit in polite company, as he shoots terrorists in the genitals, sci-fi gorillas in their human brains, or just beats the hell out of a foul-mouthed big bad named Theophilis Trigger (who, if it isn’t obvious from his name, just word-vomits every potentially triggering thing he can think of). Russ Braun’s artwork is rubbery and expressive in all the right places, with the stoic Jimmy acting as a foil for all the over-the-top violence and lunacy going on in his wake. The only problem with this issue is that as a James Bond parody, it works - but by the tail end of the issue, when we meet the titular Bastards, it’s unclear if the story’s internal logic will make enough sense to continue. As far as guilty laughs go, Jimmy’s Bastards #1 completes its mission successfully, but only time will tell if this comic earns its license to thrill.
Hulk #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Hulk #7 delivers one of the book’s best issues to date as the series begins its second story arc. The strongest aspect of this issue is Mariko Tamaki’s inner monologue for Jen, who silently judges her trauma group peers because she’s not ready to open up herself. After the meeting, one of the peer members asks Jen if she’s had a “good cry” - Jen finds this weird coming from a complete stranger, but Tamaki uses this scene as a hint that Jen hasn’t fully processed her trauma. She instead uses the brute force of the Hulk to let out her frustrations, which leads to a guest appearance by Hellcat, who seems to be a welcome foil for Jen on her road to recovery. The second arc continues to be a strong personal journey for Hulk, but also introduces a better villain storyline. Tamaki connects Jen’s coping mechanism (watching cooking videos) to this next villain story arc as Jen’s favorite chef is turned into a Hulk-like creature. This feels like a stronger and more personal parallel to Jen’s story compared to the Maise storyline from the previous arc. The switch in artist is also an improvement for the series as George Duarte gives stronger facial expressions in this emotionally driven issue. Hulk #7 continues to give Jen a powerful psychological narrative while also introducing a more personal villain - making this a great start for the series’ second arc.