Best Shots Reviews: AQUAMAN #26, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #2, SECRET WEAPONS #2, More

Superb #1
Credit: Lion Forge

Greetings, ‘Rama readers! With all the craziness of Comic-Con, Best Shots has been hard at work with your weekly helping of Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let’s kick off with Oblong Oscar Maltby, who is taking a look at the latest issue of Aquaman

Credit: DC Comics

Aquaman #26 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10):The tyrannical state of King Rath faces the might of Mera in the second part of Dan Abnett and Stjepan Sejic's blockbuster take on Aquaman, a fast-paced and visually stunning story of an evil kingdom under siege. From the worries of the elite to the oppressed underclass, Dan Abnett's Atlantis is a place filled with fear. Abnett paints a vivid, Game of Thrones-esque story of warring tribes, an ignorant king wielding powers he barely understands, and an anonymous hero fighting from beyond the grave for those without a voice. Newly empowered by last issue's news of Arthur's survival, Mera's seemingly impotent rage against the unbreakable barriers of Atlantis provides a healthy dose of suspense and intrigue (can she break through?!), ably supported by Sejic's emotive faces. Sejic's artwork is a real selling point here, offering up polished pages of fluid action and expression that elevates Aquaman into a AAA title for DC. Gorgeous and compelling, Aquaman #26 is the cream of the crop this week.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It's all secret sisters and coffee date chaos in Chip Zdarsky and Adam Kubert's light-hearted Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #2, a genuinely funny book that's a little too thick on exposition and a little too light on action to match up to the compelling first issue. Zdarsky condenses the whole Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business OGN into 4 pages here, dusting off Teresa Parker and popping her right in the middle of the growing Project Twilight mystery. In true Zdarsky style, it's all played very casually and for laughs, which helps to distinguish it from continuity porn for continuity porn's sake. Away from espionage and intrigue, the soul of the story is in Spidey's date with Rebecca. The rom-com element of this book is much more narratively satisfying than the overarching mystery, especially when Zdarsky puts a humorous spin on the whole “secret identity to protect Spider-Man's loved ones” thing. Adam Kubert's loose and angular Spider-Man is as fluid as ever, although his faces sometimes seem a little shaky and rushed. His take on Ironheart is especially mean looking, which amps up the contrast between Peter's immaturity and Riri's calculated competence. It's not a perfect issue, but it'll still put a smile on your face.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Secret Weapons #2 (Published by Valiant Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Limited series don’t last forever, so it’s always rewarding to see one like Secret Weapons come together as quickly as it has. The whole issue crackles with a lively spark, from the opening moment where Nikki Finch comments about the blade Rex-O threw at her and that she subsequently stole from the monster. The issue’s backmatter details how Heisserer retooled the script to suit Raúl Allén once they came aboard and it shows, resulting in a uniform aesthetic across the action scenes and the more talkative moments. While not rigid in their layouts, Allén’s pages have a similar approach giving it a controlled sense of artistic pacing that comes from the steady hand of a creative team operating as well as they are here. I’m admittedly not well-versed in modern Valiant stories, but the main plot is clear enough to follow even if some (presumed) references to the wider universe fly over your head and that is exactly how a comic taking place in an existing universe should function.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Gerry Conway and Ryan Stegman bring Peter Parker back into the narrative with this installment of The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows as both Mary Jane and Peter deal with the consequences of MJ melding with the Venom symbiote. The strongest aspect of this issue is seeing MJ’s day-to-day life as a family woman and superhero change as the Venom symbiote starts to take control. This forces MJ to search through her inner strength to fight the temptations of the symbiote. MJ’s battle with the Venom is beautifully portrayed through guest artist Juan Frigeri’s pencils. In this sequence Frigeri shows the battle MJ is having in her mind with the Venom while contrasting the battle Spider-Man is having with MJ and Venom’s physical form. There are some intense emotions and action during these scenes as MJ grits her teeth and throws punches using all her might to release her connection with the symbiote. The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #9 is not only a strong issue for Mary Jane, but also for her relationship with Peter. It’s their connection with each other that allows MJ to harness enough strength to fight against one of Spider-Man’s deadliest foes.

Credit: Clay Mann/Danny Miki/John Livesay/Gabe Eltaeb (DC Comics)

Batman #27 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): An interlude to the main event finds someone caught in the middle of "The War of Jokes & Riddles." His name? Charles (Chuck for short) Brown, the soon to be Kite Man, who’s “encouraged” into contacting the Joker by Batman only to find himself falling further and further into the conflict crossing paths with characters like Deadshot and Clayface who’ve already chosen sides. It’s a story about a character that deserves a degree of pity. Tom King’s script sees his life getting worse and worse while Clay Mann’s pencils double down on this. Chuck is either insignificant in the frame overshadowed by other characters or the center of attention in claustrophobic panels as the world closes in around him. A story of casualties, of the ones who suffered as chaos reigned, makes Chuck a ripe subject to study under this lens, that miraculously reaches an ending that’ll make you want to say, “hell yeah.”

Credit: Jim Cheung/Mark Morales/Guillermo Ortega/Walden Wong/Richard Isanove/Rain Beredo/Clayton Cowles (Marvel Comics)

Astonishing X-Men #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Psychics are dying, and none of them saw it coming. Charles Soule andn Jim Cheung’s Astonishing X-Men #1 gets right into the plot with a sense of brevity as Psylocke finds herself the target of an attack and brings together a makeshift team of Old Man Logan, Rogue, Gambit, Psylocke, Angel and Mystique to help her deal with that. Designed to operate in the same manner as the recent Scarlet Witch series, each issue of Astonishing X-Men will involve a different artist, with Jim Cheung stepping up to bat first. Soule springs for the frequent use of widescreen panels, introducing the team in this manner over some two-page spreads, and then once assembled, using four or five panels stacked upon each other. Working with a variety of inkers and colorists, Cheung keeps a kinetic pace as characters bounce off one another and combine their powers to suit the situation at hand, but with just one issue to show what he can do, he’d have been better served by having a single inker and colorist to back him up.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel #20 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Ms. Marvel is the premiere hero of Jersey City, but what happens when the community she loves doesn’t want her? Ms. Marvel #20 continues to make things personal for Kamala with familiar foes Discord and Lockdown kidnapping Kamala’s brother, Aamir. The story is a bit of slow burn, but does a nice job at giving more spotlight to Aamir, a character from Kamala’s supporting cast who doesn’t receive nearly enough panel time. But at its core, this current story arc “Mecca” is about the community of Jersey City, making this feel like a much more personal story for Kamala, utilizing the kidnapping of her brother, the hallucination of an old friend, and the mystery behind Discord’s familiarity. Marco Faila pencils bring the needed energy for the issue through the book’s artwork balancing a slower paced story. This issue doesn’t have a lot of action, but Faila does a great job with the characters’ facial expressions. Ms. Marvel #20 is a solid set-up issue for what’s becoming a strong character-driven story arc.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #17 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): After everything that’s happened over the previous issues of the series, you might expect that the Power Rangers will get the chance to experience some down time with the absence of Rita Repulsa. While she might be gone, the world still needs saving so the Rangers will have to help with an evacuation effort in Oklahoma, which is staring down a tornado, first. These sequences have a sense of scale, even in the smaller panels, thanks to Hendry Prasetya and Matt Herms who bring a signature crispness to the action scenes. Kyle Higgins splits the issue between this matter and the Rangers enjoying what downtime they can and it’s a balancing act they can’t quite pull off, likely Higgins’ intention, but something he’ll hopefully look deeper at moving forward. The portion of downtime is unfortunately the weakest part of the issue from an art perspective, suffering from a lack of detail in places, but this sentiment doesn’t linger for long as Higgins gets back to the big stuff in an issue which allows you to jump-on and take a cursory glance and what this series is looking to do moving forward.

Credit: Lion Forge

Superb #1
Written by David Walker and Sheena C. Howard
Art by Ray-Anthony Height, Le Beau L. Underwood and Veronica Gandini
Lettering by AndWorld Design
Published by Lion Forge Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Continuing Lion Forge’s Catalyst Prime initiative, Superb #1 sees writers David Walker and Sheena Howard team with artist Le Beau Underwood to tackle the high school scene in a world that has rapidly changed. It’s an interesting premise that takes an earnest look at how the lives of regular people are altered by the emergence of enhanced individuals, with a slower, character-focused build.

Walker and Howard excel at capturing the smaller moments in the issue, making use of some familiar tropes but adding new spins on them. Kayla is the loner/new girl, but she’s returning to the school after an absence, so it’s less that she doesn’t know anyone, so much as she has to get reacquainted. Jonah is the nerd, and has Down syndrome, but neither of those traits define him, even within this debut issue. Chet is a bully, but also suffers from serious trauma due to the “Event” that kicked off this Catalyst Prime line. It’s an interesting use of tropes and subversion of expectations that helps readers connect to this world but also see the uniqueness within it.

Unfortunately though, that’s all the surprise that readers will get within the story itself. Everything else about Superb #1 is a bit bland from a storytelling standpoint. In this police-state environment, a student that screens as positive as an enhanced is instantly dragged away from her school by a shady government agency, who is now concerned that their scanners aren’t as effective as hoped. This is all stuff that comic book readers have seen a thousand times before and it would have been nice to see the story take some risks beyond its casting choices.

Thankfully though, while the narrative is a bit bland, Superb #1 never falls into outright bad territory. The artwork by Ray-Anthony Height is great at heightening the emotional stakes for the characters, capturing the teenage cast as they go through ups-and-downs in the issue. Kayla and Jonah have a tense relationship, having been friends prior to Kayla moving away and now needing to rebuild trust between one another, and Height brings out those complicated emotions superbly. Le Beau Underwood’s thick lines add weight to the scenes as well, everyone visually looks isolated and burdened thanks to the way Underwood’s inks. Veronica Gandini opts for a more naturalistic color palette, but also makes use of colder blues in her backgrounds that add an oppressive feel to the proceedings.

In all, Superb #1 isn’t the strongest debut, but it has a lot going for it in its premise and characters that Walker and Howard can hopefully expand upon in future outings. Strong artwork by Ray-Anthony Height, Le Beau L. Underwood, and Veronica Gandini really captures the emotions that the characters are going through, but can’t quite overcome the debut’s mundane plot. Hopefully future issues will see Superb live up to its title. Strong artwork by Ray-Anthony Height, Le Beau L. Underwood, and Veronica Gandini really captures the emotions that the characters are going through, but can’t quite overcome the debut’s mundane plot. Hopefully future issues will see Superb live up to its title.

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