Greetings, 'Rama readers - ready for your pellets? Best Shots has you covered with this week's installments of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let's kick off today's column with Pistachio-Eating Pierce Lydon, as they take a look at the latest issue of Batman...
Batman #35 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Regardless of how you feel about the Batman/Catwoman engagement, it’s clear that Tom King has found some space to explore family dynamics in the Bat-titles that we haven’t seen before. The dressing might be ridiculous, but that’s to be expected. These are generally unreasonable people who have serious discussion about people they care about while sword fighting, and they haven’t even shared a holiday meal yet. When King isn’t being cute with the banter between Dick Grayson and Damian, the crux of his story works really well, but a lot of the dialogue is grating. Talia Al Ghul is almost laughably one-note and it’s easy to see why Damian gets so annoyed at Dick. But Dick’s points about Batman finding it hard to be happy ring true, even if the bits about Bruce not being selfish don’t. (I mean, what’s more selfish that dragging literally everyone you know and purportedly love into a war they didn’t necessarily ask to take part in? But I digress.) He brings it home nicely in the end and overall, with Joelle Jones handling the art, this is a pretty neatly packaged affair.
Mighty Thor #701 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Guest artist James Harren cranks the dial to 11 in Mighty Thor #701, as Volstagg the War Thor goes head-to-head against the merciless might of the Mangog. Writer Jason Aaron gives some surprisingly sympathetic motivations behind Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s wild-looking monster beast - namely, the Mangog is the reckoning of Asgard’s arrogance and bloodlust, an answer to genocides perpetuated and prayers callously ignored. Longtime readers may be reminded of the underpinnings of Aaron’s first “God Butcher” arc, but Aaron sells it well enough that by the time the issue is over, you might just find yourself rooting for the bad guy. But it’s Harren’s hard-angled artwork that gives this book its charm - it’s been awhile since this title had an artist who could even hope to compete with Russell Dauterman, but Harren shows an equal level of thoughtfulness here. While some readers may be turned off to focus so heavily on a side character rather than Jane Foster herself, Aaron and Harren acquit themselves marvelously with their execution.
Dark Fang #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): First impressions are everything, and the one Dark Fang makes sticks out for all the wrong reasons. Valla is a fisherwoman-turned-vampire who’s new to the modern world after a life beneath the sea, and in search of learning more about our world she becomes... a cam girl? This quickly took me out of the story since this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting from the series jumping into this issue, especially with Kelsey Shannon’s almost Disney-esque pencils. The dialogue is dense and difficult to get through with the first half of the issue, but the story does slightly pick up when writer Miles Gunter dives into Valla’s origins under the waves, and the ecological crisis that drove her to the surface. By the end of the issue, Dark Fang #1 delves deeper into the series’ mythos (taking some noticeable calls from Dracula’s playbook), but the main character’s lack of personality and the issue’s off-beat opening makes this series hard for me to recommend.
Super Sons #10 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): This book suffers a bit without stellar cartooning, and unfortunately, artist Jose Luis isn’t quite up to the task. Drawing is hard. Drawing babies and children even moreso, but without consistent renderings of Jon and Damian, writer Peter J. Tomasi’s script doesn’t play the way it does with some on like Jorge Jimenez. The story here is pretty light overall, so it really hinges on that expression work to sell the smaller bits in the script. Tomasi's dialogue is really great despite not much happening. It’s just held back by some occasionally awkward art. But the Super Sons getting their own base of operations stands to be a pretty cool idea if delivered on properly. Hopefully, the art team can right the ship moving forward and bring back the charm that this books thrives with.
Fence #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): In the footsteps of smash-hit anime Yuri!!! on Ice comes BOOM! Studios’ Fence #1. C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad takes you deep into the world of fencing. Fence #1 does a nice job at introducing main character Nicholas Cox and his rival Seiji Katayama. The issue does what every sports story should – it helps you root for the underdog. Writer C.S. Pacat presents Cox’s backstory of why he loves and wants to excel in this sport, which quickly allows the reader to feel connected to the character. Johanna The Mad on pencils does a good job at embracing the title’s anime inspiration with the series’ character designs making them feel like American versions of characters you would see in Free! or Yuri!!! On Ice. The fencing scenes are solid, but I hope these action sequences get more intense as the series continues because this will be a make it or break it for a comic book called Fence. Fence #1 kept me entertained with its character building and peek into the world of fencing, but got me totally hooked with the issue’s cliffhanger and what this ending could mean for Nicholas and Seiji’s rivalry.
Invincible #142 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The battle Invincible fans have been waiting for is finally here, as Invincible takes on Robot, and this payoff doesn’t disappoint. Mark enlists fan-favorites to take down Robot, which gives Robert Kirkman the opportunity to give Invincible's extended cast a good amount of panel time as the series reaches its end. It was especially nice to see the return of Monster Girl and her son - given Monster Girl and Robot's history with one another, it was very justifying to see her help Mark get the final blow. Mark and Robot’s rivalry ends on a powerful conversation of ideologies, which is a very fitting conclusion for these two, as Ryan Ottley on pencils aces the action sequences and emotional beats for Robot’s final bow. Invincible #142 has it all - action, character moments, and drama as Robert Kirkman inches closer to the final conclusion of his long-running superhero comic book.
Defenders #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Thank goodness for David Marquez. What could have been a fairly threadbare issue of Defenders is rescued by the fact that the artist executing the book is a freaking beast. After an extended (and kind of tiresome) gag involving Deadpool recap pages and a quick introduction between Elektra and Iron Fist, writer Brian Michael Bendis essentially tags out for a quarter of the book for a silent five-page fight between Danny and Elektra - thankfully, Marquez knocks that sequence out so hard that you (almost) don’t mind the conceit. Where Bendis proves his best isn’t so much the interpersonal dynamics of the Defenders themselves (Luke and Jessica are largely just watching on the sidelines as Daredevil gets a cute beat), but the bad guys - there’s one twist I won’t spoil, but was pleasantly surprised that Bendis still finds ways to provide us some stakes. That said, given how threadbare the lead characters are, the revolving door of cameos feels a little gratuitous - for example, do we need Deadpool in another book? Thankfully, this book can coast by on looks for now, but seven issues in, it’d be nice to see more structure and direction to the Defenders.
Bloodshot Salvation #3 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Writer Jeff Lemire weaves the past with the present and makes both of them compelling in this week’s Bloodshot Salvation #3. In the present, Magic has the opportunity to talk to her deceased husband Bloodshot, and uncovers revelations that force Magic and her daughter to reconsider their plan of action. Meanwhile, Lemire's past sequences focus on Ray’s interaction with Magic’s father, a cult leader, and Ray’s devotion to protecting his family by any means necessary. This leads nicely into Magic’s current events, and why Ray isn’t in the picture anymore. Both Lewis LaRosa and Mico Suayan on pencils do a great job at bridging the intertwining storylines Lemire presents with his script. The present art style brings a darker tone with its use of coloring and inking as the past feels brighter with the colorist’s use of water coloring style. Bloodshot Salvation #3 biggest strength is its character moments; Jeff Lemire, Lewis LaRosa, and Mico Suayan beautifully chart the paths that brought Magic and Ray together and tore them apart.