Best Shots Rapid Fire Reviews: AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1, U.S.AVENGERS #12, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA ANNUAL #1, More

Image Comics September 2017 cover
Credit: Image Comics

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 today’s column with Puckish Pierce Lydon, who takes a look at Aquaman Annual #1

Credit: DC Comics

Aquaman Annual #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This is how you do an annual. Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Max Fiumara put together a story that plays as a sort of Aquaman version of “For the Man Who Has Everything” and it works so, so well. The absolute star of the issue is Max Fiumara. His style is unconventional and at times kind of weird looking but there is so much imagination in his work. We meet a future version of the Justice League, which allows Fiumara to riff on some new looks for them. The standout (by far) is the new Hal Jordan, who appears in his regular clothes but has used his ring to craft himself a replacement for his missing arm. Fiumara’s work brings huge stakes to the story because he’s able to sell every moment. And Johnson is no slouch on the writing side. While you might see the ending coming, Johnson is still able to adequately tug at your heartstrings.

Credit: Paco Diaz (Marvel Comics)

U.S.Avengers #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Al Ewing to comics fans: lighten up. The writer uses an homage to Archie Comics to illustrate a how ridiculous it is that certain sections of fans seem to resist any and every change that’s made to characters that they love. This isn’t a particularly superhero-y story but the metaphor is is done well enough that it’s able to carry the issue. Ewing shows how gatekeeping people and ideas just because they’re not the norm eventually leads to betraying the very thing you sought to protect. It’s simple and straightforward, but Ewing makes it fun with a big assist from artist Paco Diaz. Diaz really nails all the homages across the board and has a lot of fun with Ritchie Redwood’s two Power Skrulls. Even if you’re not caught up with U.S.Avengers, this issue is worth a read.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Sword of Ages #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The co-creator of Locke & Key turns his sights from horror to high sci-fi fantasy in the debut of Sword of Ages. Pulling double-duty as writer and penciler, Gabriel Rodriguez, along with colorist Lovern Kindzierski, throw us headfirst into a fantastical world that melds space opera, sword and sorcery epics, and epic quests into a mish-mash of beautiful, but headscratching scenes that do little to assuage the reader’s confusion as to what exactly they are reading. Though the script is a tough nut to crack, Rodriguez and Kindzierski’s artwork is consistently beautiful and evokes the feeling of old Elfquest or Elric comics as it sweeps us from one fantasy location to the next with little to no hand-holding. While Sword of Ages #1 is very, very beautiful, I find myself at odds whether or not I can recommend it fully without warning of its purposefully prosaic script. Here is hoping that Issue #2 at least provides some clarity.

Credit: DC Comics

Super Sons Annual #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): You’ve heard of the Pet Avengers — now get ready for the Super Pets! The DCU’s own pet crime-fighting team gets together for one more job — taking down a dognapping ring. Peter J. Tomasi scripts a couple of funny scenes between Jon and Damian to bookend the issue and has Detective Chimp handle all the expository heavy lifting, but otherwise, this issue is all Paul Pelletier. Thankfully, he draws good animals and he’s able to give them a level of expressiveness that works for the tone of the book. The two best pets have got to be Flexi the Plastic Bird and Clay Critter. They’re on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of emotional arc in this story, but they steal the show. Super Sons has been a very solid book to this point, and this annual stands as a reminder that comics are, can be, and should be as fun as possible sometimes.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #189 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): There’s a lot of really deliberate craft at work in Max Bemis and Jacen Burrows’ Moon Knight. Burrows carries the book on his back with clean and expressive linework that never overwhelms the page. It’s utilitarian in that it delivers story beats efficiently, but the insistence on modular layouts and his deft foreground/background work bring the book to life in a more thoughtful way. Mat Lopes’ color palette works for the book generally, but scenes that feature the Sun King feel very gray and lifeless when that’s probably not the intent. Bemis’ writing is exactly what fans of his have come to expect. His voice for Khonshu works to frame the book and his alliterative, almost overly descriptive caption work is very on brand. But two issues in, we’re still getting caught up with character and concept introductions and that’s holding the book back for now.

Credit: Image Comics

Renato Jones: Season 2 #5 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): In a world where comics can sometimes feel disposable or directionless, Renato Jones is refreshing because it wears its point of view on its sleeve — that said, while Kaare Andrews’ story might not be quite as clever as it thinks it is, the actual storytelling behind it is as bold, experimental and unrelenting as it is occasionally self-indulgent. Opening with pages of dead bodies of the Nazi-style Wealth Power group, Andrews has a gutsy visual style with this book, all hard angles portrayed in unforgiving black, white and red. Andrews’ over-earnestness with the script is buoyed by the fact that as an artist, he certainly has the skills to back it up — on-the-nose choices like Nicola Chambers ballooning into an actual monstrous parasite shouting “consume everything” or cliches like a secret Freelancer under Renato’s nose are portrayed beautifully through distended characters and negative space, with an abandon that feels like a modern-day Frank Miller. While the surprisingly opulent tone of the final scene feels like a misstep given the anti-capitalist leanings of the rest of the series, the story of Renato Jones might be an uneven one, but like all good assassins, the real money shot comes in the execution.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men: Blue #16 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): For an arc meekly titled “Cross Time Capers,” writer Cullen Bunn and artist Thony Silas deliver some solid adventuring with a sprawling cast in X-Men: Blue #16. Given that the original five X-Men have been plucked from time, it makes plenty of sense for Bunn to put them at the center of a temporal anomaly that has plucked Magneto and Polaris from existence. Yet the real selling point of this book is the Claremont-style soap opera surrounding (isn’t it always?) Cyclops and Jean Grey, with great scenes of Scott bonding with the vampiric Bloodstorm, or Hank McCoy brooding over not being Jean’s top choice. Silas, meanwhile, can occasionally veer into sketchy territory with his characters, but thankfully their designs force him to switch things up a bit (even if several of his faces look a little samey). Cap that off with a cliffhanger that’s pure fan-service for a certain age of comics reader, and you have yourself a surprisingly engaging read.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League of America Annual #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Heart, weirdness, and humor collide in the far out Justice League of America Annual #1. Someone is killing space dolphins (yes, really) and the Main Man can’t abide that so he enlists Black Canary for a trip out into the wilds of space to avenge the deaths of Lobo’s favorite race of aliens. Though the core concept of this annual is so, so strange, writer Steve Orlando uses that weirdness to usher through a surprisingly tender backstory for Lobo detailing his connection with the intergalactic aquatic mammals as well as delivering a pretty solid team-up story for Lobo and Dinah. Artist Kelley Jones and colorist Michelle Madsen also amp up the bioluminescence of this issue by coating the entire issue in thick, almost acrylic looking colors atop Jones’ rubbery, but expressive pencils. I have long suspected that the Main Man has some sort of heart beating in that barrel chest of his, and now the Justice League of America Annual has given me all the proof I need.

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