Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off today’s column with Mellifluous Matthew Sibley, who takes a look at DC’s Black Racer and Shilo Norman Special...
Black Racer and Shilo Norman Special #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Earlier this month, DC Comics released the first issue of Mister Miracle, but this week –– the week of Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday –– readers get the chance to get to know a different super-escape artist: namely, Seven Soldiers alum Shilo Norman. Strapped to a missile, Shilo’s story gets increasingly complicated when the Black Racer shows up, forcing Shilo to escape death itself. As other Kirby characters get involved along the way, Reginald Hudlin’s script uses them well, in what might be the best written (and most respectful) of all the Kirby specials. This one-shot also reunites Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz and Jeromy Cox following their previous collaboration on Deathstroke, working with Ryan Benjamin and Richard Friend in lending this issue a wild scale. The two teams work together on this story rather than one handling a back-up, their styles blending well and of course this issue comes with reprints of Kirby’s work which helps to make this special all the more delightful.
Generations: Hawkeye and Hawkeye #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): In Generations: Hawkeye & Hawkeye #1, writer Kelly Thompson and artist Stefano Raffaele traps your favorite archer duo into the middle of a “Hunger Games”-styled battle with Marvel’s best marksmen in a fun, action-packed one-shot. Thompson has been doing a great job at bringing Kate’s voice to the current Hawkeye title, but with Generations she also has a chance to play with Kate’s dynamic with her mentor, Clint. Thompson creates a fun back-and-forth between the two as Kate attempts to gain Clint’s trust while also trying to keep her own identity a secret. The mystery behind this tournament of sharpshooters and mercenaries felt a bit stretched out, but the overall interaction between Clint and Kate is what makes the issue. Raffaele’s pencils are a nice fit for Thompson’s script, as he does a good job at balancing the talking head moments between Kate and Clint with the issue’s more action-oriented scenes. Generations: Hawkeye & Hawkeye #1 is a fun issue that reestablishes Kate’s relationship with her mentor, and reminds us why these two characters work so well together.
Darkseid Special #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Jack Kirby changed comics forever, and DC Comics has pulled out all the stops to honor his 100th birthday. This Darkseid Special features stories about two of Kirby’s creations, the villainous Darkseid and the cyborg OMAC. The first story by Mark Evanier, with art from Scott Kolins, shows up how the freedom fighters on Apokolips resist Darkseid’s powerful reign. It’s a study on tyranny and the motivations of one of comics’ greatest villains that never overstays its welcome. Kolins artwork has a lot to do with that, simultaneously portraying the fear and perseverance of the resistance while also adequately showing Darkseid’s ruthlessness. Meanwhile, Paul Levitz and Phil Hester turn in a story about what happens when an army finds itself without a war. OMAC realizes the casualties that have resulted from his orders and actions and finally fights back. “...You perpetuate your own power by crushing opposition at any cost... No more!” Hester’s art is absolutely gorgeous (especially with assists from Ande Park on inks and Dave Stewart on colors). Both stories honor the King, his creations and his worldview in a way that so many other recent tributes have not been able to. This is a must-read for Kirby fans.
Black Magick #7 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): After a long hiatus, Black Magick returns as the Hammer closes in on Rowan, and her partner Morgan becomes more suspicious on Rowan’s connection to their case. This issue is a slow burn, but does a good job at building Rowan’s relationships with fellow Wiccan Alex and police partner Morgan. Showcasing these relationships creates an interesting balance between Rowan’s two lifestyles, especially shown in the scene where Rowan puts a protection spell on her police gear, or the tension that builds as Morgan gets closer to Rowan’s secrets. The pencils and coloring by Nicola Scott and Chiara Arena is one of the biggest highlights from this title. The black and white coloring is a perfect fit for Greg Rucka’s noir tone, while the added color for the magic scenes allows the fantastical to really stand out from the procedural aspect of the series. Black Magick #7 establishes a slow build, but has some interesting character developments to keep the reader interested.
Jean Grey #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Strip Jean Grey #6 of all dialogue and you still have one of the strongest comics of the year and certainly the most visually ambitious X-book in years, one which is almost certainly going to be looked back upon for a multitude of reasons. Artist Paul Davidson may have a few oddly drawn faces throughout the issue, but the artistic range demonstrated more than makes up for it. As Jean revisits stray memories -- memories which are often not even hers -- under the watchful guidance of Doctor Strange, Davidson channels the very specific and stylized art of various eras of X-Men comics with such skill that readers will undoubtedly be doubling back to see that Frank Quitely didn’t contribute to the issue, as his depiction of Morrison-era New X-Men is a definite highlight, rivaled only by his cosmic, Phoenix-filled panels, where colorist Jay David Ramos also excels. Dennis Hopeless’ story is also excellent in this issue, working on one level because of the thematic relevance of Jane being haunted by the ghost of a different self, but working on a much more interesting meta-level. Hopeless’ script takes to task the revisionism of the problematic sexual politics of Silver Era storytelling before turning its aim on contemporary reactions to the time-displaced X-Men when the first Jean Grey tells her that “People call me [the ‘real’ Jean Grey] because they knew me for years and years. You confuse them.” The lines work in the context of the 616, but they work equally well as a shot at the occasional reactionary fan. But that’s just silly. The time-displaced original five are giving Marvel their best stories of 2017, with Jean Grey #6 easily being Marvel’s best comic of 2017.
Wonder Woman #29 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Steve Trevor returns to the pages of Wonder Woman, racing on a motorcycle towards Diana and Etta Camdy, who find themselves under threat from a multitude of villains. After the previous issue’s gradual build-up, writer Shea Fontana gets into the thick of things right at the start, balancing Diana and Etta’s banter with the brawl against a quintet of quirky villains. With this action underway, artist Inaki Miranda lends the fisticuffs a sense of pace, with compositions full of clean blocking that results in clear visual storytelling. With just one issue left, Fontana merges the two halves of her run into a concise and intriguing package, but this could be hampered by the fact that her tenure has been so short; here’s hoping that won’t be the case.
Lady Killer 2 #5 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): After a few months’ delay, Lady Killer 2 doesn’t skip a beat with its heart-pounding finale. In this exciting conclusion, Josie does everything in her power to protect her family from Irving as she proves that she’s more than the housewife she appears to be. Joelle Jones creates an epic boss battle between Irving and Josie through her artwork and script, but the strongest aspect of this issue is Josie’s characterization. The most powerful scene of the issue, and maybe even the series, is with the finale’s opener, as Jones gives the reader a peek at Josie’s childhood, and how her family life caused her to become the killer she is today. The conclusion of this book leaves many open doors for a sequel, but also rips away the suburban housewife disguise Josie wore since the beginning of the series. This leaves me cautiously wanting more as Josie can become a very different Lady Killer as the series heads into the late ‘60s.
All-Star Batman #13 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Scott Snyder’s All-Star Batman has been an interesting investigation into how the characters that surround Bruce Wayne inform his character. Here, Snyder digs more into Alfred’s complicated relationship with Bruce in the wake of his own somewhat tragic backstory. Alfred’s always been a character who keeps Bruce grounded in many ways, and Snyder gets to expand on that here, as we see Bruce’s stubbornness and Alfred’s concern clash repeatedly. It’s really solid character work from Snyder, even if it doesn’t always weave into the narrative very well. Rafael Albuquerque handles the art for Snyder’s story, and it’s nice to see this team back together again, but it would’ve been nice to get more distinct background work to help differentiate the different time periods the narrative jumps around in. Similarly, Cris Peter’s color work doesn’t help create those distinctions either, and the book might have benefited from some starker contrast. The back-up story is written by Albuquerque and co-writer Rafael Scavone. It’s a fairly straightforward tale about Batman trying to keep weapons out of Gotham, replete with the same standard Batman-isms that we’ve grown used to. The star is Sebastian Fiumara’s artwork, which even puts Albuquerque’s to shame with his dynamic cape design and heavy inks to create great contrast. Overall, this isn’t a bad book at all, but not as cohesive as one might expect given the talent involved.
There’s Nothing There #4 (Published by Black Mask Studios; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): There’s something to be said about how well There’s Nothing There has its finger on the pulse when it comes to technology, social media and culture, but the potential of these ideas are being held back by writer Patrick Kindlon’s narrative not being focused or interesting enough to provide sufficient examination. The primary plot of the issue follows Reno at a yacht party, where she connects with someone named Shawn, is the closest the issue comes to digging into these notions and the characters themselves, but other conflicting narrative threads prevent this from happening. Maria Llovet’s art is still the main attraction, as haunting as always, but the book is spread so thin that even when one of these threads ends in a bang, it lacks that punch that’s expected from something so socially conscious.
X-Men Blue #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): With Secret Empire in the rear view, X-Men Blue #10 sows the seeds for a multitude of potential arcs, certainly enough to give writer Cullen Bunn ample room to explore the characters he has been exploring so well throughout this series while changing their circumstances enough to keep anything from feeling stale. If anything, there’s too much being established, with the Goblin Queen revealed as Hank McCoy’s mystical tutor, Scott and Jean’s now-permanent psychic two-way connection and the way that complicates and deepens their relationship in an issue where Jimmy is noticeably off with Angel investigating the spillover of non-616 beings into this universe, the continued looming presence of Emma, Bastion, and Ms. Sinister, and the reminder that secondary mutations are manifesting at an alarmingly increased rate. It’s hard to not hope for Bunn to be given years of creative freedom to explore all of these potential narrative paths. As the comic concludes, the first plot payoff is revealed with the Goblin Queen bringing to the world demonic versions of the X-Men (she calls them “Hex Men,” in what is either the best or worst line in the issue). It’s an odd choice to be the first path to take these characters, as the intrigue of Hank working with Madelyne Pryor is given just a little over 10 pages to develop. Still, Giovanni Valletta and Scott Hanna deliver solid penciling and inking respectively, while color artist Guru-eFX uses a lot of the panels infused with mystical energy as an opportunity to flex.
Supergirl Annual #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Instead of being a one-shot story, this annual is the next part of Steve Orlando’s current arc “The Girl of No Tomorrow,” as the new Fatal Five come after Kara. Teaming up with artist Steve Pugh and colorist Michael Atiyeh, Orlando’s script brings both the confrontation with the Five as well as other long-simmer threads to a head. There’s an intensity to the fight thanks to Atiyeh’s colors as Kara goes on the offensive, bolstered by Pugh’s expression work that carries the issue as it gets heavier on talk and exposition as revelations are discussed and explanations are made. Like the series overall, the qualities that shine are easy to identify. The general idea is strong, the action has weight and Orlando’s characterization of Kara is a joy, particularly with how she responds to family, but it also feels like it’s one script pass away from attaining the heights it should be soaring at.
Spider-Gwen #23 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Spider-Gwen brings back the fun with a done-in-one story focusing on the Mary Janes. Opening with drummer Gwen MIA on spider-missions and the growing tension between the remaining bandmates, Jason Latour and Hannah Blumenreich use most of the issue to showcase how MJ’s self-centered personality has been affecting the people around her, even as the red-headed frontwoman shows the lengths she’ll go to protect her bandmates. MJ’s character growth is also shown when evaluating her friendship with Gwen, as her worries become more about Gwen’s safety as Spider-Woman than any gigs from the Mary Janes. While regular artist Robbi Rodriguez draws a comedic framing story featuring the Watchers, the cartoony style from Hannah Blumenreich and Jordan Gibson fits the rest of the story nicely. Spider-Gwen #23 is a breath of fresh air as Latour and company get ready to jump into the darker story of Gwenom.
Red Hood and the Outlaws Annual #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Scott Lobdell and Tyler Kirkham do some fun work exploring the dynamics of Dick Grayson and Jason Todd’s relationship in the context of their past and current continuity. Lobdell doesn’t entirely nail it here, though, as Jason’s admiration of Dick comes across almost as more of a crush than heroic role model. Still, on the whole, there’s some solid work. Lobdell uses Bizarro well for humor throughout the book, and the chemistry between all three Outlaws is palpable. Kirkham’s art starts out a little rough but really finds its stride after a few pages but I don’t love his fight scene choreography toward the end in the scene with KGBeast. It’s not necessarily hard to follow, but some of the panel layout choices do strike me as a little bit odd. Outlaws and Nightwing fans will have a good time with this one, but it might not be the best book for the uninitiated.
America #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Gabby Rivera’s narrative to this point has settled in and centered itself around themes of family and friendship, allowing Rivera to really play to her strengths as a writer. There’s a still a healthy dose of Marvel Universe weirdness on display (Arcade, the Mindless ones and a bevy of supervillains), but by drilling down to the interpersonal conflicts between America, Madrimar, Kate and Magdalena, Rivera is able to tap into the heart of her book. Ramon Villalobos’ art is always a treat and this issue is a great display of his talents. His linework has a really gutty, visceral quality to it that makes it perfect for superhero fights and unsurprisingly, boxing matches. Fine expression work and almost obsessive attention to detail in his linework makes this one work really well, even if it is vastly different from regular series artist Joe Quinones.