Southern Bastards #18
Credit: Jason Latour (Image Comics)

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 Jumping Jon Arvedon, who has a look at Batman: The Murder Machine...

Credit: DC Comics

Batman: The Murder Machine #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jon Arvedon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The spotlight shines on the second of the Dark Knight’s evil doppelgangers in Batman: The Murder Machine #1. Frank Tieri and James Tynion IV deliver a deviously dark tale that packs a surprising amount of heart thanks to the parallel father-son relationships – one between Victor and Silas, the other between Bruce and Alfred – that form the foundation of the narrative. What’s interesting in this one-shot is that unlike the Red Death, we learn that the Murder Machine isn’t actually an amalgamation of Batman and Cyborg, but rather Batman and an AI Alfred, though the Cyborg of Earth-44 certainly played an unwilling role in his creation. In fact, discovering just how the Murder Machine came to be is the strongest part of this issue, not just because of Tieri and Tynion’s storytelling, but because of Riccardo Federici’s pseudo-gothic, photo-realistic art, which sends chills down your spine throughout the appropriately bleak flashback sequences. Credit to colorist Rain Beredo, as well, who brilliantly balances his muted palette in the flashbacks with more vibrant, yet still slightly reserved hues in the present day scenes. If there are any qualms to be found, it’s that Tom Napolitano’s lettering, while stylistic, tends to come at the expense of readability in the case of the Murder Machine and the Batman Who Laughs. Otherwise, Batman: The Murder Machine #1 is an excellent one-shot that promises to have major repercussions for the already-fractured Justice League.

Credit: Nick Bradshaw (Marvel Comics)

Venomverse #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Venomverse continues as steadily as it can, as artist Iban Coello’s charms only take us so far, and writer Cullen Bunn’s script still feels a little bloodless and by-the-numbers. Last issue’s big twist was bringing Cletus Kassidy to the assembled Venoms, and this issue’s major highlights are when we get to see him in action - but the problem is, this book wants to have its cake and eat it, too, so we have Venom- and Poison-possessed superheroes that wind up feeling largely robotic and interchangeable - there’s little about these characters that seem to be dramatically affected by the symbiotes, aside from some cool visual flourishes from Coello, such as when Wolverine and X-23 leap from a building, or when Gwenpool gives Eddie Brock a rattling kick to the face. Bunn gives us a little bit of a twist as far as Deadpool’s switching allegiances, but this minor pivot actually seems to prove the point - this would be a fairly exciting Marvel Universe story (particularly with Coello’s kinetic artwork). The problem is that as far as a Venom story, there’s not a lot of narrative meat for these symbiotes to chew on. This isn’t a bad story, nor it is a particularly great one, but at minimum, this is a proving ground that shows that Coello is ready for bigger projects.

Credit: Robson Rocha (DC Comics)

Action Comics #988 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): “The Oz Effect” might have had a bit of a false start due to some weak art, but Dan Jurgens and Ryan Sook start to shore up the storyline here. Jurgens isn’t really any closer to answering the question of how Jor-El survived. (It’s somewhat unclear if Jor-El knows for certain, to be honest.) But there seem to be some Watchmen-esque implications in the script. Overall, Jurgens sets Jor-El up at the antithesis to Superman, and that’s effective to varying degrees. The “humanity doesn’t deserve you” angle is one we’ve seen before (notably in Zack Snyder’s films), but it’s unclear what that means for Jor-El’s plan. The star of the book is really Ryan Sook’s art. He renders Superman and his dad with all the square-jawed clarity that the characters are meant to embody. Compared to the thin lines of Viktor Bogdanovic in the last issue, this Superman feels definitive and that goes a long way to elevating the stakes of the story. This one is a solid read if you’re on-board with the storyline but otherwise, it’s little more than villain monologuing for 20 pages.

Credit: Jason Latour (Image Comics)

Southern Bastards #18 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Holy crap, you guys. Just when you thought you had a handle on Southern Bastards, series artist Jason Latour hops onto writing duties, while guest artist Chris Brunner gives this already gorgeous book some beautiful cartooning that will make Craw County seem like southern-fried purgatory. And perhaps what’s most heartening here is that writer Jason Aaron has so graciously passed the baton on to Latour for an issue that is this important - we get to see the love-hate relationship between the late Earl Tubb and his daughter Berta, who has come back to Craw County with a mad-on for anyone dumb enough to be involved with the death of her father. Latour proves to be Aaron’s equal with his exquisite dialogue, and the mood he brings to Brunner’s artwork as the book’s colorist gives this book a moody, painterly vibe. Brunner does such great work playing in Latour’s sandbox, while putting his own exaggerated spin on these characters - there’s a series of images at the Rubicon Motel that show Berta is not playing around. Easily the best comic of the week, hands-down.

Credit: DC Comics

Detective Comics #965 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The narrative swings back to the missing Red Robin as he’s interrogated by Mr. Oz, as Detective Comics #965 proves to be a comic book that doesn’t hold back. Detective Comics #965 is a love letter to Tim Drake fans as it focuses on his detective skills, and how this talent helped him better the Bat-Family and Gotham. Mr. Oz believes Tim is one of the few humans who deserves better than what humanity has provided because he reminds Jor-El of himself - giving a better scope at Mr. Oz’s motives. Eddy Barrows on pencils and Adriano Lucas on colors give a necessary mysterious tone to the issue with Lucas’ shadowing and Barrow’s use of close-up shots. Detective Comics #965 gives our first true glimpse at Mr. Oz’s lair, ending with a striking twist - one that adds even more mystery behind DC’s "Rebirth."

Credit: Archie Comics

Archie #24 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): “I’m good. But thank you.” Betty continues to mutter as she adjusts to her new life after the events of Reggie and Archie’s drag race. Archie #24 perfectly expresses how strong-willed Betty is as a character, but the real striking moments of this issue is when Mark Waid and Audrey Mok shows the complicated feelings Betty is struggling with behind closed doors. In public, Betty continues to be the light of Riverdale (and, in comparison, Reggie Mantle is now persona non grata around town), but watching her lash out at home as she adjusts to life in a wheelchair is particularly heartbreaking - especially when we learn that Betty’s father hasn’t told her he’s the reason Archie Andrews hasn’t come by to see her. Capping with Archie figuring out a way to help Betty in the place she needs it the most, Archie #24 beautifully showcases Betty’s emotions during this adjustment period through her relationship with the entire town of Riverdale.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Gwen #24 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Spider-Gwen goes from 0 to 60 in a story that embraces all the best elements of the series as Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez lead Gwen down a darker path for Marvel Legacy. In this issue, Gwen can no longer escape her responsibilities as she is forced to embrace the Venom symbiote if she wants any chance at defeating it. Latour spins a nice twist to this plot, as Gwen uses her love of music to exploit the Venom symbiote’s weakness to sound. But the old Parker luck clearly is a multiversal constant, as Matt Murdock reminds Gwen who is really in control here, as he tells her of her father’s coma. This is a great way of summing up Gwen’s bottled-up emotions and guilt that have defined her journey as a hero, as they bubble up to the surface and turn her into the monster the city expects her to be. Rodriguez’s pencils perfectly capture all of the emotions Latour seeps through his script. The most powerful scenes being the unmasked Spider Woman moments where Gwen sees everything slowly slip away as the darkness quickly takes over. Spider-Gwen #24 shakes the very foundation of the series in one of the book’s most powerful issues to date - leading into the perfect set-up for "Marvel Legacy"’s Gwenom arc.

Credit: Image Comics

Crosswind #4 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Gail Simone continues to weave an intriguing narrative with housewife Juniper Lee and hitman Cason Bennett as they learn more about how to live each other’s lives with their opposing personalities. The story of Crosswind is a slow burn that revels in character moments, where Juniper and Cason finally have the opportunity to directly interact with each other. This interaction changes their directive as they both embrace each other’s diverse lives even further, which is the root of what makes this series so entertaining. Artist Cat Staggs does a great job at showcasing Juniper and Cason’s differing personalities with their body language - expressing Juniper’s timidness through slouching and Cason’s confidence with power poses, such as side-by-side panels of Juniper and Cason lying in bed, where Cason sleeps with his hands crossed towards the back of his head, and Juniper slouches onto the pillow in worry. The most appealing aspect of Crosswind #4 is not only Cason and Juniper navigating each other’s lives, but the main leads learning more about themselves through this experience.

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