Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has your back, with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Matriculating Matthew Sibley, who takes a look at All-New Guardians of the Galaxy…
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy Annual #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Just because they’re well-known doesn’t mean they’re well-liked as the Guardians try to rally support to deal with the force field preventing them reaching Earth in this semi-Secret Empire tie-in that contains more than a dash of corporate synergy. Written by Chad Bowers and David Sims, their script is funny and avoids pushing jokes past their expiration date, but the involvement of characters like Mantis means they get to the meat of the issue later than is ideal. Danilo S. Beyruth keeps to the aesthetic set by Aaron Kuder on the main series albeit less detailed in places, working well with Tamra Bonvillain who imbues the issue with the brightness you can find over in Doom Patrol, another cosmic adventure. It’s fun in the same way the movies are and it’s smart they made this an annual instead of a main series issue because it works better as an optional detour for those who want more of the characters, but disconnected from Duggan’s larger story.
Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Tom King and Lee Weeks make the most of an offputting concept in this moody one-shot, successfully reinterpreting Bugs Bunny's baby-faced nemesis into a grizzled Gothamite. Reimagined here by King as a buck-toothed, carrot-munching mobster, Bugs Bunny is responsible for the death of Fudd's ex-flame, Silver St. Cloud. Naturally, where St. Cloud is concerned, the Dark Knight is never far behind. Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1 is a tight and focused tale with a real noir sensibility. King's adherence to replicating Elmer's lisp-laden speech to the page is sometimes little too thick to parse, but it's unwieldiness is surpassed by how strongly Fudd's voice carries across the page. Lee Weeks' thick inking lends a real sense of weight and age to his grotesque gallery of human Looney Tunes, while his panel composition favors close-ups of tired and worn faces that hammer home the torrid emotions behind the script. King and Byron Vaughns' Looney Tunes back-up story is a low-rent affair, with a mildly amusing premise (It's not Wabbit hunting season, it's Bat hunting season!) let down by poor quality artwork. Still, the quality of the main event easily makes this one-shot worth the asking price.
Edge of Venomverse #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Edge of Venomverse introduces new Venom-ized characters to the Marvel universe, starting with Laura Kinney (X-23) with her version of the symbiote. Edge of Venomverse #1 doesn’t add anything new to Laura’s character, but is a fun throwback to Laura’s early days before becoming a superhero. The biggest treat of writer Matthew Rosenberg’s script is the nice nod to underrated X-Men series NYX where Laura meets up with alternate versions of Kiden Nixon and her friends, but the rest of the issue is just a retelling of Laura’s early days without any of the great emotional beats that have been told in comics elsewhere. Roland Boschi and Adam Gorham’s artwork is solid adding a nice gritty tone to this Venom-ized X-23 origin story. Laura’s Venom design is a highlight, mixing her original Wolverine design with the aesthetic of the Venom symbiote. The small use of yellow in the design really allows the costume to pop. Edge of Venomverse #1 would have been a stronger issue with a more emotionally driven plot, but has some fun nods for hardcore Laura fans to enjoy.
Black Magick #6 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Black Magick has been on hiatus for over a year because of Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s work on Wonder Woman, but the series finally returns with a standalone issue that digs deeper into Rowan Black’s childhood. After a long hiatus, it’s nice to have a story easily accessible to new and old readers alike. The issue focuses on Rowan’s family life and her connection to her coven, something we’ve only seen glimpses of in previous issues. This story allows the reader to understand Rowan better as a character, and hopefully this will help the audience put together the puzzle pieces of the series’ current mystery. The collaboration between Rucka and Scott is electric — I love the play on words Rucka uses describing the color scheme of the mundane black and white world, and magic opening the possibility of color. This showcases the importance of Scott’s gray colors, which also creates a wonderful noir style for the book. Black Magick #6 is a solid return that helps readers adjust back into the story after months of the series being absent on their pull list.
Batman/The Shadow #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): There’s something deliciously pulpy about the way Steve Orlando writes The Joker. His interpretation would feel right at home in Batman: The Animated Series, which drew inspiration from the early 1940’s, but he’ll makes do with this story involving two heroes from that era. The Joker sits down with The Stag and the pair revel in madness while Alfred questions The Shadow, adding some detail to a fairly mysterious character who’s kept their guard up until now. Assisted by Riley Rossmo who never hesitates to go bold and handles everything Orlando throws at him whether it’s a tight fight scene or a more experimental layout in the shape of The Shadow and his billowing attire. Ivan Plascencia sticks to a muted feel for the most part, but shakes it up with some shades that would feel right at home in 1960’s pop art. That playfulness makes for an issue which is respectful of the source material it takes inspiration from, somehow knowing how to avoid going over the top.
WWE #6 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10): This week’s issue of WWE #6 is easily the most endearing yet. Writer Dennis Hopeless offered up a weird partnership in Sasha Banks and Dean Ambrose at the start of this arc, and in this issue turns an almost unbelievable team-up into a warm-hearted and very real friendship. Artist Serg Acuna and colorist Doug Garbark shine in the moments Sasha and Dean spend together out on the road, showing Sasha shining under the colorful lights of a dance floor as Dean sulks, out of place, against the wall, or Sasha’s reluctance and Dean’s smug victorious grin when he convinces Sasha to partake in a few ribs at a roadside restaurant. This issue, and Mairghread Scott and Max Raynor’s back up focused on John Cena, get at the heart of what makes WWE superstars such fan favorites: wrestling is athleticism wrapped up in camp and goofiness, but the athletes and their personas are real people with real motivations. This series offers up a glimpse at these wrestlers’ lives once the cameras are off, lives we rarely ever get to see within the context of kayfabe, and the skillful blending of Hopeless and Acuna’s off-camera world with the events on-screen is precisely what continues to make it such a fun read.
Jonah Hex/Yosemite Sam Special #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Yee-haw! Grizzled gunslinger meets mustachioed madman in Jimmy Palmiotti and Mark Texeira's sand-blasted mash-up between DC cowboy and Looney Tune prospector. Jonah Hex/Yosemite Sam Special #1 is a lurid tale that mines more than its worth of the concept of a wacky cartoon character inhabiting the cut-throat realism of Jonah Hex's Wild West. Palmiotti's experience writing Harley Quinn pays dividends here in Sam's cartoon-accurate speech patterns, while Texeira clearly has a lot of fun rendering the pint-sized prospector in an all-too realistic style. After striking it lucky at a gold mine, Yosemite Sam enlists Jonah Hex to protect him and his new-found riches. The burgeoning friendship between carnival freak Foghorn Leghorn and Yosemite Sam proves the issue's highlight, while Hex himself offers little but grimaces and gunshots. It's mean-spirited stuff, albeit with a satisfying ending. Bill Maheney and Dave Alvarez provide the Looney Tunes back-up strip, which sees Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny meet Jonah Hex while bear-hunting. Alvarez's artwork is a triumph, with a Disney Animation Studios-esque take on Hex and a wonderfully elastic Bugs and Sam. While the main story is rather rote and grisly for grisly's sake, Maheney and Alvarez's back-up shines brightly at the back of the book.
Jean Grey #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Jean takes the plunge this issue, heading beneath the surface of the sea to have a chat with Namor, everyone’s favorite swarthy sea dog. They might have a connection in the Phoenix, but he’s not really in the mood for talking, and neither is Dennis Hopeless who chooses to go for more action than the previous issues have provided. It’s a prime place for it, there’s all sorts of nasty sea creatures that need slaying, but Hopeless cuts away from what looks to be a juicy conversation in order to so at one point and his handle on Jean seems less firm than before. Victor Ibáñez does well enough in this underwater setting, making it feel like a land under the sea. Hypothetically, fights under the sea are more appealing than pure conversation, but in reality, it’s disappointing to see Jean’s inner monologue start to fade, even if it’s replaced by sea monsters taking up the page.
Underwinter #4 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Ray Fawkes’ Underwinter has since its inception been something of a hard sell. While Fawkes’ art style for the book seems to be the most challenging and divisive aspect of the series, it’s the story that he has crafted for these past four issues that is the strangest component to 2017’s strangest comic. Underwinter #4 is no exception as it revels in its own unknowable horror at a faster pace than the previous three issues. It’s been clear from the onset of the series that Fawkes’ primary concern is atmosphere and mood, and it’s hard to think of a comic that has this pervasive a sense of dread in recent memory. With art that is both minimal and highly stylized and a narrative that pushes its string quartet protagonists to insanity with varying degrees of glee, misery, and glass-vomiting body horror, every component to this comic feels meticulously crafted to further that dread. As the first arc passes the halfway point, things are most definitely not alright, and for fans of genuinely scary comics, that is definitely alright.
Spider-Gwen #21 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Spider-Gwen #21 is a build-up issue that intensifies the continuing battle between Matt Murdock and Gwen Stacy, but sadly doesn’t add much to the overall plot, as Gwen and Harry are still on the run from The Hand, Wolverine and Shadowcat. Writer Jason Latour has an opportunity to explore Gwen’s internal struggle, but doesn’t add anything new to what we’ve already seen in previous issues. The most interesting aspect of this story is the look at Harry and Gwen’s struggling dynamic as the Lizard starts to take control over Harry’s mind, leading Gwen to struggle with whether the cost will be too great to save her friend. Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi on art do a great job at adding some energy to this slow story. Gwen and Harry running from their enemies while dealing with their personal struggles was a great way to keep momentum in this issue. Spider-Gwen #21 has some solid character interactions between Harry and Gwen, but the issue is stunted by the plot’s repetitiveness.
Strange Romance, Vol. 2 (Published by Phantasmic Tales; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating 8 out of 10): Strange Romance is the second installment of an anthology series focusing on, you guessed it, unusual romances - not just tales we don’t often see, but tales of monstrous beasts and their deadly trysts, light-hearted relationships that blossom between humans and newly-discovered alien species, and bonds that allow folks to become who they’ve subconsciously always wished to be. Published by Phantasmic Tales and edited by Adam Prosser, Strange Romance Volume 2 offers up a number of sweet tales with a sci-fi bent. Andrew Otis Weiss’ writing in “It Means the World to Me” is particularly charming, complemented by beautiful colors from Matthew Tavares, and “Beatrice,” with art by Nizamt and story by Andrew Healey, is visually stunning. The tale offers vibrant colors and textures that have a timeless feel, evoking older sci-fi works like Logan’s Run. Though not all of the stories seem like a great fit for this particular installment - “Embodied” offers an interesting premise, but its macabre violence is jarring and out of place amidst a set of otherwise romantic tales - the anthology offers an intriguing mix of genre-bending tales that will offer a little something for all readers, and will leave you with a whole list of new, talented creators to follow in the future.