Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: AVENGERS #674, SHADOW/BATMAN #3, WITCHBLADE #1, More

Marvel Comics December 2017 solicitations
Credit: Ryan Stegman (Marvel Comics)

Greetings, 'Rama readers - ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered with this week's Rapid-Fire Reviews - let's kick off today's column with Juggling Justin Partridge, who takes a look at the latest issue of Avengers...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers #674 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have 58 minutes to save the world in Avengers #674, part five of the “Worlds Collide” crossover with Champions. But while the clock ticks down to zero with Counter-Earth inching closer and closer to our own, writer Mark Waid posits that compassion, not might, will win the day as a newly human Viv Vision makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to save both worlds. Though the Vision and Viv’s relationship has run hot and cold throughout this crossover, Waid manages to make Viv’s interactions with her synthezoid father ring true in this fifth installment, thus making the reveal of what exactly is at the center of Counter-Earth hit all the harder. Artist Jesus Saiz amplifies Waid’s compassionate script, keeping the reaction shots neatly expressive even through masks and the fight scenes clear and precise through the chaos. The Avengers and Champions may only have 58 minutes to save the world, but Avengers #674 shows that they only need 21 pages to make you feel.

Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

The Shadow/Batman #3 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment/DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The Shadow and Batman take the fight to the Silent Seven in an unexpected way in the stylishly thrilling The Shadow/Batman #3. Using forensic accounting, Bruce Wayne and Lamont Cranston think they have the Seven-That-Have-Become-Two, Ra’s Al Ghul and Shiwan Kahn, backed into a corner. But in this world of mysticism and villainy, nothing is what it seems, and now the heroes must face the lurking darkness within themselves in order to best their enemies. Steve Orlando, who is clearly having the time of his life scripting his admitted favorite superhero the Shadow, continues to lean into the theatrical and macabre tone of the old yellow pages dime novels while still delivering an engaging, multifaceted story for those unacquainted with the pulps. Artist Giovanni Timpano, aided by the smoky colors of Flavio Dispenza, continues to outdo himself with this team-up, breaking down each page into eye-catching, collage-like sequences that easily guide the reader’s eye across the action while still presenting the scenes in sumptuous, inventive page layouts. Hitting harder than a right hook from the Dark Knight and moving faster than a .45 from The Shadow’s holster, The Shadow/Batman #3 is another winner from the Dynamite/DC Comics co-production.

Image Comics December 2017 cover
Image Comics December 2017 cover
Credit: Image Comics

Witchblade #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10) This Witchblade feels more immediate in the overall narrative than the original series, but writer Caitlin Kittredge very quickly gives her story a unique appeal by fully embracing a central ethos of survival among characters who all seem to exist in the aftermath of trauma. That, in many ways, is the kind of modernization this title needs, and after a sometimes clunky and hard-to-follow opening, Kittredge’s story finds its footing with a strong character at the helm. The art of Roberta Ingranata and colorist Bryan Valenza is the highlight of the issue, as every panel has a sense of urgency to its composition and the splash of bright colors is restrained until a bloody explosion is shown with a vibrancy for emphasis. It's a very post-Jessica Jones comic, but the juxtaposition of the trauma-centric themes with the urban fantasy setting make this a comic with a lot of potential.

Credit: Ryan Stegman (Marvel Comics)

Amazing Spider-Man: Venom Inc. Alpha #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Hot off the heels of Venomverse, Eddie Brock is at the center of another symbiote-centric event with Amazing Spider-Man: Venom Inc. Alpha #1, a book that may not redefine superhero comics as we know it, but is a nice, solid bit of spider-action that touches upon everyone in Peter Parker's orbit. Writers Dan Slott and Mike Costa play off each other seamlessly, with a snappy sense of pacing that lets them move from characters like Mania to Spider-Man to Flash Thompson and Eddie Brock without skipping a beat. (The issue's expanded page count is used very effectively here.) Ryan Stegman's artwork is also top-notch here, as he's able to really play up the difference in visual vocabulary between the agile Spider-Man and the beefy and vicious Venom. That all said, however, the actual premise of the series - namely, people are splitting up symbiotes, with one former suit owner getting a brand-new power set of his own - feels a little too reminiscent of the '90s to feel all that original. But if you're looking for a good, old-fashioned slice of nostalgia served with some modern flair, this is a solid read.

Credit: Freddie Williams II/Jeremy Colwell (DC Comics/IDW Publishing)

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II #1 (Published by DC Comics/IDW Publishing; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): James Tynion IV and Freddie Williams II reunite the Dark Knight and the Heroes in a Half Shell in Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II #1, an action-packed slice of fan service that'll make you say cowabunga (or booyakasha, if that's your preference). With much of the last series' emotional arc focusing on Raphael, Tynion takes a different track as he begins this series on the Turtles' earth, giving us a rollicking opener that weaves together pizza, techno-skateboarding and ninja political intrigue, all while Donatello suffers a crisis of confidence after getting his shell kicked by the Foot clan. Batman, meanwhile, comes off as more stoic in this first issue, as his son Damian often steals the show from under him. Freddie Williams II continues to kill it with the Turtles, balancing their cartoony designs with some needed grit - Batman is still to be determined, as he only interacts with the Turtles sparingly this issue. If anything, that's this issue's only weakness - Tynion spends enough time building up the Turtles that we still have to wait a bit longer for some more meaningful crossover action.

Credit: Mike Del Mundo (Marvel Comics)

Doctor Strange #382 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Stephen Strange is not in a good place. This should be clear from the veteran spellcaster is now just an ordinary vet, scaring away customers as he passes the time with a talking dog named Bats. And then there’s the fact that the Asgardian God of Mischief Loki is the new Sorcerer Supreme. With an opening flashforward, Donny Cates shows that Strange is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore, as he hopes that an off-the-beaten-path ally is his source for salvation. Cates deserves major praise for how he’s navigated this new status quo for Doctor Strange, revealing the events with a measured pace, ensuring the moments feel earned when he gets to them. Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire render an issue that is largely people talking, but their efforts ensure this story possesses real energy and emotion. The bombshell at the end isn’t as earth-shattering as you may have been led to believe, but everything else is enticing enough for that to not really matter.

Credit: Leila Del Duca/Alissa Sallah (Image Comics)

Sleepless #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10) What is perhaps most interesting about Sleepless #1 is how efficiently and effortlessly it establishes its world. Its mirroring of the vacant eyes of skulls with the sunken-in, sleep-deprived eyes of Cyrenic show artist Leila Del Duca using a single page to tell so much of the tone of the story and the melancholy of its second most prominent character. Writer Sarah Vaughn weaves in exposition with a skill and subtlety that is refreshing as it never feels like a stilted info-dump monologue but still gives readers a comprehensive understanding of the rules of the setting. It's exciting to read the first issue of a speculative fiction series and be eager to see the plot unfolds around the instantly likable protagonist, Poppy, rather than hoping to better understand the context of the world. Colorist Alissa Sallah completes the unique aesthetic of the book, with the art team creating something between the unique digital patterned expressions of Gotham Academy and an oil painting. Overall, this is a fantasy title worth getting exciting about.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Bolt #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): There are certain kinds of superhero reunions that fly in the face of how ordinary people might behave — if only they talked it out, then they could just avoid all that fighting! Of course, that’s trickier when you’re Black Bolt and could level a city with a whisper, let alone exposition. With Christian Ward back on art, Saladin Ahmed returns the king of the Inhumans to Earth – specifically to New Attilan. Of course, this doesn’t go so smoothly, as not only do his countrymen believe he’s actually Maximus the Mad, but they’re also aware that Black Bolt was nowhere to be found when HydraCap took over during Secret Empire. Ward’s expressive art builds on Ahmed’s narration, rich yet carrying a somber tone — the biggest reunion of the issue seems like it’s going to be heart-warming, but then takes a step back to consider why it can’t be that simple. Ahmed and Ward bring a touch of the cosmos back to Earth thanks to all the insanity Black Bolt has dealt with in the first arc, and uses it as proof that difficulty reconnecting with people and family is beyond universal.

Credit: DC Comics

DC Holiday Special #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Like a stocking, anthologies are stuffed with all manner of miniature gifts — thankfully, DC has packed 11 tales that move at a pace merry enough to not get bogged down by the duds. Jeff Lemire and Giuseppe Camuncoli set the festive mood with a tender framing story of hope versus cynicism featuring Superman and John Constantine, while Steve Epting demonstrates how sleek a Batman book of his design would look. Shea Fontana, meanwhile, offers a strong case for being given a Teen Titans run, as her handle on Starfire is filled with optimism and purpose, while Christopher Priest juggles seriousness and silliness in a Deathstroke interlude involving Santa. Perhaps most surprising is a Hanukkah story by Tom King and Francesco Francavilla featuring one of Sergeant Rock’s Easy Company soldiers facing down a Nazi officer, and it surprisingly doesn’t upend the tone of the entire thing. I’ll confess that Joshua Williamson’s Flash story landed with a thud for me, as did the Green Arrow and Black Canary story, but there’s still enough in here for there to be something for everyone.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain America #696 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Steve Rogers continues his journey to become a man of the people once again in Captain America #696. Harkening back to the tone and pace of some of their one-off Daredevil adventures, writer Mark Waid and artist Chris Samnee, along with the crisp colors of Matthew Wilson, treat Steve to some good old-fashioned small town hospitality that is cut short (literally) by the Swordsman. Though it is really nice to see Steve mixing it up with normal people, adorably offering to wash dishes in exchange for a late lunch, one can’t help but feel like this creative team is still playing it relatively safe as they work to escape the cloud that was Secret Empire. One-off adventures are all well and good, but I think it is time for Steve, and this creative team, to start delivering the big, grand adventures that we want from this new iteration of Captain America.

Image Comics December 2017 cover
Image Comics December 2017 cover
Credit: Image Comics

Paradiso #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10) Paradiso #1 is a comic that wears its influences on its sleeve, both visually and narratively, and while much of the setting of Paradiso feels obscured after the first issue, it has the sort of authorial voice and strangeness to its science fiction that it wouldn't feel totally out of place in Alexandro Jodorowsky's Incal mythos. While obfuscation is to be expected from a comic that boasts an Italo Calvino epigraph, it comes at the expense of fully understanding the stakes of the plot beyond main character Jack's quest to get into the titular city. Artist Devmalya Pramanik melds the looks of Paradiso #1 with some clear manga-influenced overtones, provoking specific comparisons to Trigun and the similarly rust-filled cyberpunk story Battle Angel Alita. The comic might be a little nebulous at times, but the confidence with which it is told and the interesting setting will likely draw readers into grabbing the next issue.

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