Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Jumpin’ Jon Arvedon, who takes a look at Batman #32…
Batman #32 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jon Arvedon; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): “The War of Jokes and Riddles” has finally come to a close in the pages of Batman #32, and with it comes the answers to two questions that have been plaguing readers for nearly four months: How would Selina respond to Bruce’s proposal, and what was the dark secret he needed her to tell her before she answered? However, while writer Tom King makes good on his promise to deliver these answers, he first allows artist Mikel Janin to do some storytelling of his own, resulting in the beautifully-rendered brawl between Joker, Riddler, and Batman that we’ve all been waiting for. Janin’s crisp, kinetic sequentials and June Chung’s vivid palette selection certainly help carry this narrative that starts out light on exposition, but once the pieces are all lined up, King swings back in to knock them down. King provides us with a take on the Dark Knight and his two most iconic rogues that transcends the self-imposed boundaries many writers daren’t cross, and while you’ll have to read Batman #32 for yourself to find the answers to the aforementioned questions, you’ll come out with a whole new appreciation for not just Batman, but the man behind the mask.
Hawkeye #11 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): On the surface, Hawkeye #11 is a story about Kate battling Madame Masque masquerading as her clone, but if you dig deeper, this doppelganger scenario quickly becomes a representation of Kate fighting her own demons. After learning that Kate’s father most likely killed her mother, Kate is fearful that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Is it possible that she can become a killer one day, as well? Writer Kelly Thompson brilliantly builds up the tension surrounding this question by opening the issue with Madam Masque one push away from her fatal fall adding to the heart pounding battle physically between Hawkeye and Madame Masque and emotionally between Hawkeye… and, well, Hawkeye. Leonardo Romero on pencils does a great job at crafting this fight with a nice mix of punches and archery skills using the large landscape of the Hollywood sign as a dynamic backdrop. My only negative with this issue is the little build-up between the romance Kate has with one of her friends. Their kiss felt thrown into the story just for the sake of a happy ending. Hawkeye #11 tests Kate’s limits as a hero as she proves that she is more than her father’s sins.
Harley and Ivy Meet Betty and Veronica #1 (Published by DC Comics and Archie Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): The frenemies of Riverdale meet the baddies of Gotham in an underwhelming first issue for this Archie and DC Comics crossover. After failing to persuade Veronica’s father Hiram Lodge to rethink his new college development on Sweetwater Swamp (admittedly, a pretty underwhelming catalyst to launch a six-issue crossover), Ivy and Harley crash the Lodge “Heroes and Villains” costume gala in plans to kidnap Veronica… who, along with her BFF Betty Cooper, is also dressed up as Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. (It’s a confusing if meta ending.) The dynamic between Harley and Ivy is a bit lacking in this debut, but the back-and-forth between Betty and Veronica is thoroughly entertaining as writers Paul Dini and Marc Andreyko do a nice job at heightened the frenemies aspect of their relationship. On artwork, Laura Braga does a great job at creating nice expressive facial expressions, and her pencils really shine through the variety of personal styles showcased throughout the issue, but Braga’s expressive pencils are dampened by Tony Avina and Arif Prianto’s coloring. The tone of the story and the pencils are begging for a brighter color palette! Harley and Ivy Meet Betty and Veronica #1 centers around a group of women with outstanding personalities, but sadly with this premiere issue that energy never comes to the surface.
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #11 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): For a story that’s really more of a one-off (and doesn’t actually feature any of the titular Guardians), All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #11 is a superbly polished affair that revamps the Raptors as a legitimate threat, as Gerry Duggan and Roland Boschi tell a deeply unsettling story about torture and brainwashing. With Richard Rider back in the Marvel Universe, it makes sense that he has some loose threads that need attending, but when he learns his kid brother Robbie is lost in space, we’re immediately transfixed by the stakes. Unfortunately, Richard’s worst fears might not even be enough, as Duggan’s take on the Fraternity of Raptors is a creepy, creepy thing, with brainwashing helmets and threats of murder reshaping Robbie’s entire psyche. This might also be the best thing I’ve seen Boschi draw in, well, possibly ever - he and colorist Daniel Brown bring a foreboding angularity to this book, reminding me a lot of Kev Walker, particularly with their take on the classic Darkhawk design. While this issue will probably be just for diehard Marvel cosmic fans, don’t sleep on All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #11, which may be one of Marvel’s most consistently good reads.
Hack/Slash vs. Vampirella #1 (Published by Dynamite Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Cassie Hack and her sidekick Vlad visit Las Vegas to take a vacation from monster hunting, but this break doesn’t last for long when they see a dead body carted out of their motel. The crossover starts when Cassie finds out the corpse is connected to the Blood Red Queen of Hearts, who Vampirella is also hunting. Hack/Slash vs. Vampirella #1 is not much of a versus issue, but does a good job at setting up why these unlikely horror heroes would be teaming up, as Cassie is a monster hunter and Vampirella is a monster she would usually hunt. The villain seems to be a bit by-the-numbers, but hopefully this will change with future issues. The clean pencils by Rapha Lobosco and moody colors by Chris O’Halloran set a nice tone for the book. The mix of the bright Vegas lights and bloody murder scenes make for a well-balanced color palette. Hack/Slash cs. Vampirella #1 screams formulaic “set-up” issue, but has enough personality to keep me coming for more.
Generations (Published by Lion Forge; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating 10 out of 10): Lion Forge has done a stellar job curating English language adaptations this year. Originally published in Italian as La Generazione, Flavia Biondi’s Generations is an incredible story of familial struggles across lines of generation, gender, and orientation. Generations follows the story of Matteo, a young man who is fleeing from the disappointment of his boyfriend in Milan after fleeing from the disappointment of his family after he came out to them three years previously. Translator Carla Roncalli di Montorio does a skillful job capturing Biondi’s way with words, the charm of lines like "my eyes were blind from the sun-kissed countryside green" and the tense revelations throughout the series. Biondi’s illustrations feel wistful and nostalgic, filled with small off-kilter details like the way she draws Matteo’s freckles that are strangely endearing throughout the book. Biondi captures the turmoil of struggling to reconnect with loved ones under the weight of life-changing secrets; Matteo’s struggle to find himself and his place in the world in relation to his family history and his uncertain future will resonate deeply with young LGBT readers attempting to navigate assumptions about the world around us and its reactions to our identities.
Black Bolt #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Black Bolt #6 is exemplary comic book storytelling to the extent that it’s dizzying. It’s hard to believe that both writer Saladin Ahmed, whose plots have given the Inhuman king both an essential degree of gravitas and a grounding tenderness, and artist Christian Ward, whose visual jazz made the sheer act of looking at each installment of this miniseries a treat, were both saving anything in the tank for this final issue. Remarkably, they both throw everything they have at an emotional conclusion to one of the best Marvel stories of the year. Black Bolt finally overcomes his Jailer, but at the cost of his new friend, Crusher Creel, whose final moments of heroic sacrifice make previous issues’ look into his backstory all the more heartbreaking. It manages to strike the reader as both unexpected and completely necessary for the conclusion of this story. Ward’s use of contrast and panel overlap make this an issue overflowing with memorable visual moments, which manage to get as close to the line of stylistic overkill as possible without becoming a mess. In every way, Black Bolt #6 is a beautiful comic book.
Motor Girl #9 (Published by Abstract Studios; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Motor Girl #9 marks the penultimate issue of the series in a story that nicely parallels the title’s out of this world alien invasion with Sam’s emotionally-driven PTSD arc. The main theme of this series is about finding your way home. Bik is an alien trapped on an unfamiliar planet and Sam is a war veteran who mentally hasn’t left Iraq. In this issue, the comfort of Mike the gorilla starts to fade away as Sam realizes that he’s a figment of her imagination, and that she doesn’t always have to be the strongest person in the room. She’s allowed to ask for help from the people around her, and only then will she leave the frontlines of the warzone. Terry Moore on pencils aces the emotional beats for this issue as he uses small tics like Sam putting her thumb in her beer as a reminder that her mind frame is still in Iraq. Motor Girl uses a story about alien invasion to showcase the true emotional beats of a veteran trying to find her way home in a penultimate issue that promises a great conclusion.
Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Grappling Road (Published by Josh Hicks; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10): Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Grappling Road is a strangely adorable look at life on the road with a delightfully weird roster of wrestlers. Written and illustrated by Josh Hicks, Grappling Road is a sequel to Hicks’ first installment of GWA, but it’s not necessary to read them in order. If you pick up Grappling Road through Gumroad or Hicks’ BigCartel shop (both ‘joshhicks’), you’ll just want to grab both books - you won’t be able to resist reading both. Hicks manages to fit a startling amount of drama in 26 pages, but his bold, cartoonish style keeps the story light-hearted and fun. We’ve all been stuck in a small space for far too long with our family or friends, and Hicks captures that claustrophobic tension perfectly, and the slow deterioration of Great Carp’s roster morale bar throughout the issue is all too familiar. For wrestling fans, the issue will feel like a fun wink and a nod; for non-wrestling fans, it’s silly and lighthearted enough to still be a fun read. At about $3, it’s an absolute steal.