Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with this week’s installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Jumping Jon Arvedon, who takes a look at Batman: The Devastator…
Batman: The Devastator #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jon Arvedon; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The latest Metal one-shot, Batman: The Devastator, features one of the most intriguing, sinister slants on the Caped Crusader to emerge yet. The bulk of Frank Tieri and James Tynion IV’s narrative shines the spotlight on how exactly this Doomsday-tinged Dark Knight came to be, evoking memories of Batman v Superman in a manner that works far better in a comic than it does on-screen. Elsewhere, Tieri and Tynion build tension through the Superman family’s involvement in the chaos, as well as a shocking turn for Lois Lane that promises to spark outrage from the Man of Steel. Artistically, Tony S. Daniel’s crisp linework and smooth layouts make for incredibly dynamic action, anchored nicely by Danny Miki’s perfectly weighted inks and Tomeu Morey’s vivid colors, which allow the Devastator’s punches to explode off the page with depth and vibrancy. Not only is Batman: The Devastator one of the best Metal one-shots to date, but it’s an essential part of the overarching story, making it a highly worthwhile addition to your collection.
Astonishing X-Men #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It’s easy to forget that while the actual concept of a sprawling super-team like Astonishing X-Men can be difficult for a writer to juggle, it’s also a daunting task for artists, too. While he’s done some terrific work on Ant-Man, artist Ramon Rosanas is thrown a little bit into the deep end with this sprawling issue, and while he puts out some valiant effort, he can’t help but be outpaced by writer Charles Soule's ambition. With the X-Men trapped in the Shadow King’s Astral Plane, Soule goes full meta with this issue, as Professor X and his old nemesis battle each other with pure story - it’s another way of looking at the soul-searching and constant retooling this franchise has done the past few years. But unfortunately, the story doesn’t quite play to Rosana’s strengths with humor and expressiveness - we get some cool beats like Gambit turning an entire rooftop into an energy grenade, but other showstoppers like an army of Wolverines and Colossi battling giant spiders don’t quite connect. (To his credit, a quieter sequence with Professor X and Fantomex is sweet, but even there, the off-kilter layouts work against Rosana, muffling the moment.) With two shakier issues in a row, one hopes Soule is paired with an artist that can inject Astonishing X-Men with the energy this book needs.
Archie #25 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Evoking its television counterpart, Archie #25 focuses on the friendship between Betty Cooper and Jughead Jones, as Jughead works his sandwich-eating magic in a plan to let Betty see her long-banned BFF Archie, despite her father’s wishes to the contrary. Writer Mark Waid uses this issue to show why Jughead is so loyal to Betty, with a touching flashback how they became true friends in the first place. Delving into the angst of Riverdale, we see Jughead lash out at his friends after his loyal mutt Hot Dog is hospitalized, as he shouts that none of them understand him. It’s a surprising beat for the usually cool Jughead, but it’s all setup to show just how special Betty Cooper is, as she makes her own Jughead-style beanie, going the extra mile to show that she cares about trying to understand him. This issue has some great emotional beats, but does falter towards the end with the issue’s cliffhanger, as Waid goes for some contrivances for the sake of causing drama between Veronica, Archie, and Betty. The artwork by Audrey Mok is a bit simplistic, but still aces the story’s emotional scenes with how she frames the panels. Archie #25 is at its strongest when focusing on the genuine relationships Betty has with her friends, but loses its footing when trying to add unnecessary drama.
Batman: White Knight #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): After getting the sanity literally beaten into him, Batman: White Knight #2 focuses on the Joker figuring out his first steps in his new life — namely, reconciling with Harley Quinn. After threading the needle with some interesting continuity work — that the Joker’s obsession for Batman was so strong he didn’t even notice the classic Harley leave and a second Suicide Squad-style Harley take her place — the most intriguing aspect of this issue is seeing Joker actually in an equal power dynamic with his ex. Ironically, the weakest part of this issue is Batman’s short side story with Mr. Freeze, which felt a little forced and distracting from the Joker’s main story. Sean Murphy’s artwork with Matt Hollingsworth’s colors does a nice job at balancing Batman’s gritty tone with the new light the Joker is discovering about himself. With Batman: White Knight #2, Murphy succeeds in telling an interesting Elseworlds story that has enough twists and familiarity to keep you wanting to come back for more.
Avengers #673 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): With Marvel Legacy, it’s easy to fall into the trap of meat-and-potatoes superheroing, but I feel like Avengers #673 is a perfect example of being careful for what you wish for. This issue feels so old-school it’s almost as if you stepped back in time - but unfortunately, to a time where the Avengers went just back to punching faceless hordes in consequence-free adventures. Some of this is due to the threat of the story, the High Evolutionary - sure, having mutated animals is a little bit different than the norm, but most of the battles end before they really begin, and the only tension comes during the scenes with the captive Falcon and Viv Vision, a trope that’s been done all the way back to when Spider-Man went to the Savage Land. That said, Waid’s also let down by his art team - Javier Pina and Paco Diaz aren’t the team to draw wild stuff like dinosaurs, nor do they particularly sell the grab-bag of designs that a team book like Avengers brings to the table. For a book that brings together two super-teams, Avengers #673 doesn’t bring much of a punch.
Paper Girls #17 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): While we finally get some answers about the world of Paper Girls, this issue’s greatest strength isn’t in its mythology, but in its character moments. In this issue, newspaper comic strip writer Charlotte becomes the girls’ source of information about all things time travel, giving us some much-needed context, but at the cost of coming off as a bit of an information dump. Even as the wider world of Paper Girls is explored, it’s the smaller moments that still shine the brightest, including the much-anticipated reveal of KJ discussing her sexuality with Mac. Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang execute this scene perfectly, as KJ’s developing feelings are blurted to her love interest. Chiang’s eye work sells this scene! Paper Girls #17 is a forgivable exposition issue. It gives valuable information about the series’ world, while injecting the perfect amount of impactful character moments.
Darth Vader #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): With his lightsaber firmly in hand, Darth Vader moves on to the next Jedi on his list - if you’ve heard this story before, you’re not alone, but writer Charles Soule injects just enough humanity to this story, along with some phenomenal artwork from Giuseppe Camuncoli, that you’re likely to stick around with the Dark Lord of the Sith. For diehard fans of Star Wars, you’ll likely thrill to the new tidbits of information Soule brings to the rebooted universe - while his runaway Jedi do occasionally feel a little samey in terms of characterization, their directives are just different enough to pique interest. While this first issue is a bit exposition-heavy, you’ll forgive it thanks to Camuncoli - from a first page of Vader humiliating an opponent to even talky sequences of him kneeling before the Emperor, his style is fluid and energetic enough to keep fans engaged. It’s too early to say if this chapter is a strong one, but if you like great comics artwork, stick around for more Darth Vader.
Crosswind #5 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Crosswind #5 marks the penultimate issue of the series as Gail Simone and Cat Staggs further explore the mythology behind Juniper and Cason’s body-switching, but this issue proves that the method behind the swap isn’t as intriguing as the actual body switch itself. Through this series, these characters have become stronger individuals as they’ve explored the realms of hitman and housewife, so the quasi-religious, semi-magical explanation for the body-swapping winds up robbing the issue of its momentum. This gradual character growth is perfectly presented through Cat Staggs’ artwork. Staggs shows Cason’s confidence and Juniper’s insecurities through their posture and facial expressions, but as the story continues they make these weaknesses their strengths. Crosswind #5 is lacking when trying to squeeze in the series’ long-winded mythology, but the issue finds its strength when exploring Juniper and Cason’s character journeys.