Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: BATMAN #37, DR. STRANGE #383, HELLBOY: KRAMPUSNACHT, More

Aquaman #31
Credit: Joshua Middleton (DC 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 with Punchy Pierce Lydon, who takes a look at the latest issue of Batman...

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #37 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Following up a run as critically acclaimed as Scott Snyder’s is no doubt a daunting task, but Tom King has taken his Dark Knight Detective down a road less traveled and shown us a different side of the characters. Case in point: Batman #37, a heartwarming and fun issue that shows Bruce, Clark, Selina and Lois on a double date that requires the World’s Finest to switch costumes. It’s a story filled with wonderful small moments that show us the humanity of these characters without undermining their larger than life superhero personas. Meanwhile, Clay Mann’s art works really well for this story. There’s something so gleefully whimsical about seeing these two titans taken a little bit out of their element by switching costumes and competing with each other at carnival games. Mann is able to communicate their rivalry as well as Selina and Lois’s budding friendship with strong visual storytelling that helps sells King’s whip-smart dialogue. This is truly a World’s Finest story for the ages.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Doctor Strange #383 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Despite having an ex-Sorcerer Supreme breaking into Asgard with the Sentry himself, there's a surprising restraint coming from writer Donny Cates and artists Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Niko Henrichon in the latest issue of Doctor Strange. Part of this is because Cates gives only the most fleeting of explanations as to why Stephen was demoted from being the Sorcerer Supreme - even his successor, Loki Laufreyson, is surprised the Vishanti would give this role to a god who didn't even participate in their mystical tournament. (Basically, if you're looking for any answers, you'll have to find them elsewhere.) But Cates excels with his banter, as Stephen and his former assistant Wong bicker about a spell they bought off frost giants on the Internet, and while it's still a manipulative plot point, Cates gets to tap again into last issue's heartbreaker of a character death. Walta does a magnificent job with his visuals here, playing up the wildness of Asgard while still giving just enough shadow and rendering to play up the danger, while Henrichon's flashback is a gorgeous take on Stephen's character design. While Cates has dug into some bonkers corners of the Marvel Universe, Doctor Strange #383 isn't as off-the-wall as you might expect - but it's still a solid entry in the latest trials and tribulations of the Sorcerer Supreme.

Credit: Adam Hughes (Dark Horse Comics)

Hellboy: Krampusnacht (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The legend of Krampus, a half-goat, half-demon sidekick to Saint Nicholas in European legends, is a very strange Christmas legend but an excellent addition to the Hellboy pantheon. Mike Mignola teams up with artist Adam Hughes for a gorgeous and oddly charming holiday Hellboy short, featuring everybody’s favorite big red demon seeking retribution for the little kids whose Christmas mornings Krampus cut short for centuries. Hughes is a perfect fit for the world of Hellboy; his art is haunting, his colors capturing the soft darkness of a snowy winter evening that can turn dangerously icy at a moment’s notice. Krampusnacht is a devilish tale, and a very gruesome little holiday short, but Hughes keeps the story from getting too ghoulish to stomach. Mignola’s script is perfectly paced and a master-class in one-shot comics that pack an emotional punch in a short amount of time. This is a must-read for any Hellboy completionist, but so succinctly self-contained that those who only dip a toe into the Mignola-verse from time to time can cozy up with it this holiday season in front of a roaring fire - but maybe keep the other lights on too, though.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Tales of Suspense #100 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Marvel Universe is still experiencing the fallout of Secret Empire and Tales of Suspense picks up a Black Widow plot thread that we all though was, well... dead. Clint Barton tracks down the source of a bunch of killings that bear the mark of Natasha Romanoff... and ends up running into the Winter Soldier instead. Matthew Rosenberg turns in a delightful script that nails the arrow-slinging Avenger’s voice in a way we haven’t seen since Matt Fraction’s run. The rapid-fire, almost over-narration is a great device that lets you into Clint’s head as he works out this mystery. Travel Foreman’s art usually seems more suited for comics with a horror bent, but his spy thriller action works, too, as he does a great job bringing this book to life. But Foreman’s linework, while very fluid, does lack a certain weight, and that makes it stand in awkward contrast to some of the more rigid backgrounds (or complete lack thereof). Tales of Suspense works really well as an espionage-comedy, and will only improve as the team gets more and more in sync.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League #35 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Christopher Priest’s run on Justice League is only two issues old, but it’s already shaping up to be a great one. Instead of reinventing the wheel, Priest is putting the League in situations that they need to team up for to defeat — simple, right? Fortunately, that doesn’t mean Priest leans on a singular Big Bad or a convoluted plot to get there. Instead, the League finds themselves up against seemingly more everyday occurences — like an alien bug infestation on a potentially global scale. That’s not to say these stories are entirely light and superfluous. Priest weaves in some great personal conflicts for the heroes as well. Wonder Woman is dealing with her sword having been used as a murder weapon. Batman is dealing with simply keeping up with his demanding schedule. Every character has something going on besides the adventure at hand, and that makes the story feel incredibly rich. Pete Woods handles the art for this issue and he captures the essence of the league with his art. While it’s a great departure from the gritty house style that DC has become known for during Jim Lee’s tenure, Woods’ art still gives these characters incredible poise and gravitas. This Justice League has more in common with the Justice League Unlimited version of the team than the recent big screen counterpart and that’s a very, very good thing.

Credit: IDW Publishing

30 Days of Night #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): There's a place in Alaska that is smothered in cold and darkness for months on end - and back in 2002, Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith put Barrows on the map with 30 Days of Night, as they revealed this sleepy town was also ground zero for a vampire infestation. Fifteen years laters, Niles is back in Barrows with a new artist, Piotr Kowalski, but there's nary a fang in sight for this new #1 - while Niles does a solid job in establishing the mood of the town, he does so at the expense of the actual high concept readers are paying to see. That said, the interpersonal drama here is interesting - particularly Sheriff Eben and Deputy Stella, as they juggle the pitfalls of dating as well as taking on domestic abusers and drunks. Kowalski's art is solid, bringing a clean Barry Kitson vibe to the mix as he gives some real warmth to the lead characters - that said, he buckles a bit under the challenge of portraying snow without muddling the visuals, which might prove to be a tough pill to swallow given the setting of the book. This new 30 Days of Night isn't a bad book, per se, but it has to pick up the pace if it wants to keep readers interested.

Credit: DC Comics

Aquaman #31 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): While Dan Abnett's plot for Aquaman #31 feels a little on the slower side after the last few installments, the thing that's most interesting about this book is the art - namely, Riccardo Federici and Sunny Gho might just be DC's next powerhouse art duo. Flipping through each page, I was struck at the similarity in style to that of Esad Ribic, with perhaps just a hint of Doug Braithwaite - while it's hard to top Sjepan Sejic, Federici and Gho cut a powerful presence as Arthur tears through Atlantean secret police. That said, Abnett's plotting does take a hit in momentum here - there are a lot of super-talky pages that lay out exposition but do little in the way of plot advancement, and admittedly, even Federici doesn't add much in the way of drama there. Additionally, Abnett is clearly committed to Aquaman's new status quo, but it still pushes my suspension of disbelief past the breaking point that everyone in Atlantis thinks that Aquaman is a dead king's ghost haunting the Seven Seas, rather than, y'know, the rumors of King Arthur's death simply being exaggerated. Bumpy plotting aside, the artwork in this book make Aquaman #31 not only notable, but surprisingly one of DC's best-looking books around.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Ninja-K #2 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Two issues in, and Christos Gage and Tomas Giorello have really sold me on Ninja-K, a globe-trotting spy thriller that honestly has more in common with James Bond than it does any superhero book. There's a wonderful characterization and sense of history to Gage's script, as he introduces us to yet another member of England's clandestine Ninja program before cutting to the present day, where Colin King interrogates a shapeshifting seductress from his predecessor's past. There's such a fun swagger to Gage's Ninjak, and his use of gadgetry like flight suits and taser stars add a gleefully toyetic sort of fun to the mix. Aided by some wonderfully sketchy flashbacks from Roberto de la Torre, Giorello and colorist Diego Rodriguez give a beautiful, painterly vibe to this book - and perhaps even more interestingly, they play up the mood so nicely that it's easy to forget that much of this book is dialogue. While it's easy to overlook Valiant's superhero offerings in the face of long-established capes like Marvel and DC, Ninja-K is a truly compelling alternative.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman #37 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Alternate timeline Tim Drake is on a mission and not even Batman and Superman are going to be able to stop him. Peter J. Tomasi’s “Super Sons of Tomorrow” arc kicks off here in earnest, but aside from a couple of cool moments, this issue is largely just set-up. Tomasi clearly gets these characters, but the insistence on keeping the future Tim’s mission relatively vague until the last page reveal (despite how much dialogue there is) gets a little grating after a while. Obviously, it’s necessary to withhold information from readers in order to increase the drama in the book, but that shouldn’t be the vehicle for meeting the page count. Jorge Jimenez’s art, meanwhile, adds to the stakes in the book. Tim’s assault on the Fortress of Solitude and Batman’s resilience as he fends off Tim’s attacks are highlights, but Jimenez’s pencils here don’t quite have the buoyancy that we’ve seen from him in the past. That might be because of the tone of the book, but hopefully, as the story progresses, we’ll see this creative team return to form.

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