Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: BATMAN #38, X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN #2, TMNT UNIVERSE #18, More

IDW Publishing January 2018 cover
Credit: IDW Publishing

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 Juniper-Scented Justin Partridge, who takes a look at the latest issue of Batman...

Credit: Travis Moore/Giulia Brusco/Clayton Cowles (DC Comics)

Batman #38 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Batman hunts a copycat killer in the ghoulishly entertaining Batman #38. Standing confidently as another one of Tom King’s one-and-done cooldown issues, King regals readers with real detective work from Bruce and a twisty, blood-soaked story that would have been right at home as one of the Legends of the Dark Knight stories. Amplifying the old-school tone and look of the issue is artist Travis Moore and colorist Giulia Brusco, who inject a realistic and noirish energy into the artwork as Batman works the case through rigid nine-panel grids. Though it would be nice if we got this kind of procedural, crime-busting story throughout a whole arc, I am more than happy taking what I can get if these one-offs continue to be as good as Batman #38 is.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men: Grand Design #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Who would’ve thought that what essentially amounts to a history book could be so charming? Ed Piskor’s retelling of the X-Men’s winding, whimsical continuity is an absolute pleasure. It’s not just that Piskor finds the best ways to weave the decades-long narrative together, his art also does a great job of waxing nostalgic without remaining slavishly devoted to what came before him. The result is a classic X-Men story with a new kind of attitude like we get to see when Jean uses Cerebro to track down threats in Scotland. Don’t get me wrong - the details are all correct, but Piskor is comfortable enough with the source material to remain entirely in his own element. It’s the kind of authorial voice we don’t often get in comic books, especially cover the course of decades but it will make any fan realize just how special the X-Men are.

Credit: Brian Stelfreeze (Marvel Comics)

Rise of the Black Panther #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The soon-to-be-cinematic-headliner Black Panther hasn’t exactly been a household name, and as wonderful as Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze’s run is, it requires a certain about of history to fully appreciate it. Writer Evan Narcisse (with Coates as a consultant) frames the backstory within the narrative device of a letter from N’Yami to her son, T’Challa. The first chapter in an origin story naturally lends itself to a heavy dose of exposition, and for existing fans of the character it will undoubtedly be covering some old ground. Nevertheless it is a thorough recap of N’Yami and T’Chaka’s early days, their encounters with the outside world, and T’Challa’s future rogue’s gallery. Paul Renaud's clean art and Stephanie Paitreau's earthy colors allow for an easy accessibility to this fairly straightforward story. Regardless of where your Black Panther knowledge sits, it will be vastly improved by the end of this series - and just in time for the film.

Credit: Corin Howell (IDW Publishing)

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call #2 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Kelly Thompson’s light-hearted continuation of the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot takes a nightmarish turn in this week’s issue - literally. The Ghostbusters find themselves facing off with a seemingly unstoppable spectre dead set on invading the dreams of all of New York City, permanently. Artist Corin Howell’s cartoonish take on the characters is a delight, particularly Holtzmann and Erin Gilbert’s expressive faces. Howell might want to take a note from Emma Viecelli’s variant cover for Patty’s hair, though, which seems to change shape, texture, and style throughout the issue without rhyme or reason. Valentina Pinto’s colors make the supernatural elements really pop, and letterer Neil Uyetake’s visual effects in the Ghostbusters’ initial confrontation with the big bad are an unexpected but excellent touch. Ghostbusters: Answer the Call captures the spirit of the film perfectly, in large part thanks to Pinto’s colors and Thompson’s quippy script, and fans of the movie will no doubt appreciate the follow-up series.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Astonishing X-Men #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The second arc of Astonishing X-Men begins here, and Charles Soule gets right to the housekeeping. Xavier is back and younger, having taken over Fantomex’s body (by Fantomex’s own decision, or at least as much of his own decision as it could be considering who he was dealing with) and now he’s got to prove to everyone that he’s not just one of the Shadow King’s tricks. Soule really nails the voices of these characters, and it’s hard not to love the machinations of his plot. All’s not quite as well as it seems, and Soule is great at slowly turning up the dial in what’s a fairly quiet issue. Phil Noto joins him and as is his want, the lines are clean and crisp, the color palette is ever so slightly muted, and there’s a solid emphasis on facial expression that helps underline the script. Noto is very rarely going to knock you out with his sequential work the way he can with his standalone illustrations and design, but he helps make this script sing. It feels big. It looks big. And frankly, I can’t wait for the next issue.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman #38 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): It’s a Teen Titan Civil War in Superman #38, the penultimate issue of “The Super Sons of Tomorrow.” Though the idea of a deranged, Terminator-like Tim Drake hunting down Jon has sustained this arc so far, one can’t help but feel the momentum being lost throughout this issue as Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason bounce from one frantic set piece to another in order to put the characters in place for the finale issue. Complicating things further is the positively dense artwork of Sergio Davila, Vicente Cifuentes, and Gabe Eltaeb, all of whom keep the emotional states of the characters clear, but once the fists start flying, things get a little harder to keep track of; the kiss of death when it comes to an issue with as large a cast as this one. The pieces may be in place for the finale of the latest Super Sons adventure, but Superman #38 makes too big a mess in order to get them there.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe #18 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Artist Tyler Boss and colorist Ronda Pattison continue to deliver impeccable art in TMNT Universe #18, out this week from IDW. Boss’ illustrations are utterly endearing, and he continues to deliver some of the most innovative panel layouts in comics. Paul Allor’s “Monster Hunt” features a pair of children on the hunt for ‘monsters’ in the building their family has been evacuated to, as the Turtles try to keep out of sight of their curious eyes after accidentally “hiding out” in the same building. “Mutagen Maintenance” from Caleb Goellner and Michael Dialynas (who pulls double duty with aplomb on line art and colors) features a surprising and oddly heart-warming twist that perfectly complements “Monster Hunt.” This is a delightful issue, and one TMNT fans will be able to enjoy even if they haven’t been keeping up with the full series.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Star Wars #41 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Rebels get a grim lesson in nihilism in Star Wars #41. While Luke pals around with the Cult of the Central Isopter and experiences what it is like to fumble through the dark in regards to his Jedi training, Han and Leia attempt to impart the importance of human life to Saw Gerrera’s Partisans. Three guesses how all that turns out. But while Kieron Gillen’s script seems dark just for the sake of being dark, his Darth Vader artist Salvador Larroca (along with the colors of Guru-eFX) does a tremendous job of keeping the artwork screen accurate and engaging. The pages here striking a nice balance between the tone and color scheme of Empire Strikes Back and Rogue One. While I am all for a little grit in Star Wars stories, I am hoping that after issue #41, we get more of a sense of why this story is dark and not just how it is dark.

Credit: Valiant

Secret Weapons #0 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Eric Heisserer continues to impress with this prequel installment of Secret Weapons, focusing on ornipath (she talks to birds, yo) Nikki Finch's path from mild-mannered high schooler to Psiot candidate to homeless metahuman on the run. Heisserer's skill with manipulating comics as a medium comes across smartly here, as his story literally centers on Nikki as her surroundings change around her - it's a neat trick that justifies what might be considered an apocryphal one-shot otherwise. Meanwhile, they had some big shoes to fill, but artist Adam Pollina and colorist David Baron do a wonderful job stepping up in Raul Allen and Patricia Martin's wake - Nikki is expressive and endearing thanks to Pollina's artwork, which also somehow manages to fit in some wonderfully dynamic bursts of energy when necessary, such as Nikki's gruesome surgical activation, as well as the shock when she learns discovers she can talk to birds. Honestly, a prequel one-shot like this shouldn't be this good, and yet Secret Weapons #0 comes out flawlessly. Bravo.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain America #697 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It’s hard not to like what Mark Waid and Chris Samnee are doing, but it still feels like it's not quite enough. They craft a Cap and Kraven tale here that would make the Hounds of Zaroff proud, but they’re still working in platitudes and surface-level interaction with the character. Coming out of Secret Empire, Steve Rogers needs to confront what it means to be Captain America for readers to get a sense of his role in this Marvel Universe. We’re seeing it elsewhere in the publishing line (namely this week’s Black Bolt #9), but it feels odd to skirt the issue in Steve’s own book. The action and adventure is here in spades, though, and Chris Samnee remains one of comic books' greatest living artists, cementing his legacy with every panel. Settings like Kraven’s trophy room are instantly iconic under Samnee’s pencil and Cap’s stand-off with the lion-vested lowlife at a cliff’s edge is packed with tension and weight. This could be top of the pile stuff - the potential of this team is clearly there - if the characterization just dug a bit deeper.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Arrow #36 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Benjamin Percy’s last few arcs have been building to this issue. After leaving Ollie at the bottom of the ocean, the understandably concerned Black Canary is in hot pursuit. Pitting Team Arrow - including the newly rechristened Red Arrow/Emi - against the Ninth Circle, Malcolm Merlyn, and Shado, it’s a story that taps into the Emerald Archer’s past while confidently declaring what the 2018 comic book is all about. Neither beholden to the TV show nor the wider DC Universe, it refreshingly refocuses the hero on a singular goal of protecting his city above his own neck. Juan Ferreyra does some of his best work here, largely using double-page spreads to contain all of the action, save for a spectacular splash page of Canary taking a knee to Ollie’s groin. Ollie’s trial for murder still hanging around in the background, and with a killer of a cliffhanger, this certainly isn’t the end to this narrative, but Percy appears to be having the time of his life getting us there. We are too.

Credit: Archie Comics

Cosmo #1 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Cosmo #1 is a delightful space-age romp perfect for early-grade readers. The debut issues follows Earth astronaut Max Strongjaw and his rescue by a motley crew of Martian explorers led by Cosmo as they head towards Earth’s moon to investigate a distress signal. Writer Ian Flynn’s story is fast-paced and fun with family-friendly dialogue (though it’s a little advanced for beginner readers). Artist Tracy Yardley and colorist Matt Herms do a stellar job capturing a quirky retro-futuristic vibe with the Martian crew’s eye-popping character designs and the rich palette used to bring them to life. Cosmo #1 is an astronomically fun read that harkens back to The Jetsons or a spacefaring version of old school Scooby Doo. This is a sweet and playful book that would make the perfect addition to any young comic fan’s bourgeoning collection.

Credit: DC Comics

The Jetsons #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): The future isn’t what it used to be. The Jetsons is the one title in the Hanna Barbera reboot line that continues to search for the right tone. As a global disaster approaches the dystopian setting, this month’s issue finally brings George and Jane together on panel. Despite a series of micro-crises, writer Jimmy Palmiotti seems to be in no particular hurry to take his book anywhere in particular. One persistent issue in Pier Brito and Alex Sinclair’s art is that Jane and George are depicted as much younger than their cartoon counterparts, and continue to look not much older than their adolescent children. Perhaps this future just has the good botox. However, their work on underwater phenomena is breathtaking, and a far cry from the low-rent animation of the 1960s. Ultimately, the weird mix of the cartoon influences and wholesome problem-solving still make this a bit of a poor man’s Fantastic Four. It desperately needs a hook in the next issue or so, or else this future is destined to be history.

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