Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: X-MEN RED #1, BATMAN #40, INFINITY COUNTDOWN: ADAM WARLOCK, BATMAN #40, More

Marvel Comics February 2018 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let's check in with Prolific Pierce Lydon, who takes a look at X-Men: Red...

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Men: Red #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Phoenix’s road to resurrection might have been winding and at times unwieldy, but with Jean Grey back in the fold, Tom Taylor and Mahmud Asrar are ready to kick off a new era for the X-Men. They do so with aplomb. It doesn’t matter how we got to this point, but we’re here. Taylor turns in a great issue full of character building that gives insight into the relationships on display, the history of the X-Men, and what that means for a Jean Grey who has been gone a long time. Taylor smartly sets her up as almost the antithesis to Cyclops’ most recent Magneto-esque turn. Jean puts her team together, does some global outreach and positions the mutants in a way that would make Charles Xavier proud - peacefully. Of course, things don’t go as planned, and the ending of the issue might remind some of the ending of Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked and the Divine, but that can be forgiven considering that it allows the X-Men’s eternal concept to be pushed to the forefront. Mahmud Asrar gives readers some of the best work of his career in this issue. He’s familiar with the X-Men but he’s never drawn them quite like this - imbuing each page with strong and effective linework that serves the story. It might seem utilitarian at points, but it works in concert with Talor’s script and emphasizes the interplay between characters. The craft in X-Men: Red should have other X-Men creative teams taking notes.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #40 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Batman/Wonder Woman portion of “Superfriends” comes to an abrupt but beautiful end in Batman #40. While Selina and the Gentle Man find a compromise in the real world, Diana and Bruce face down decades of demons in the pocket dimension the Gentle Man once guarded. Tom King does a really great job giving both settings emotional stakes, as well as a real sense of humor throughout. That said, however, the plot simply just ends without any real fanfare or build-up, which is disappointing. But what isn’t disappointing is Joelle Jones and Jordie Bellaire’s tremendous artwork, which goes from epic and blood-soaked to cool and intimate in the turn of a page. Though I would have liked a bit more meat on the bones of this story, Batman #40 still stands as a gorgeous team-up for some DC’s bravest and boldest.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Runaways #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Matthew Wilson and Kris Anka continue to shine in this week’s Runaways #6, delivering another issue that elevates writer Rainbow Rowell’s solid script into something as beautiful as it is deeply emotional to read. Together, the three of them deliver a surreal and slightly slapstick tale of telepathic cats that turns into a gripping struggle of how to own up to your troublesome family as Molly tries to balance her justified desire to leave her mad scientist grandma behind with the urge to forgive and forget in the name of reuniting her biological family. If your heartstrings aren’t tugged by Anka’s expressive line art, then something’s amiss. The final panels, featuring the Runaways basking in the warm, colorful glow of the setting sun as they try to come to terms with their next steps, are truly stunning — Rowell has crafted a Runaways story that captures all the spirit of the original, but it’s Anka and Wilson’s stunning art that continues to truly bring this book to life.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman #40 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): There’s something to be said for good ol’ fashioned superheroics, but this run of Superman has only been at its best when it puts its family elements first. Unfortunately, James Robinson has no handle on young Jon Kent’s voice or his dynamic with Superman. So instead of a heartwarming father-son team-up, we get a grating rehash complete with a heavy-handed philosophical bent. Robinson is trying to do more with “Superman saves a dying planet,” but he still manages to churn out a plot we’ve seen in fiction a thousand times before (particularly in a recent issue of Green Lanterns). Doug Mahnke’s work here is solid though his design for the aliens is somewhat pedestrian (and the man can’t draw a human being smiling that doesn’t look unnatural and nightmarish for some reason). But still, the visual storytelling works and the action splashes are effective, even if this issue just feels like filler before Superman's big creative shakeup.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Infinity Countdown: Adam Warlock #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Adam Warlock gets a trippy new lease on life thanks to Gerry Duggan and the Allreds in Infinity Countdown: Adam Warlock #1. Emerging from the Soul Stone and into the inner sanctum of Kang the Conqueror, Adam is given a teasing glimpse of the incoming war for the cosmos through psychedelic splash pages and warbling panel layouts from the Allreds. But writer Gerry Duggan is smart not to just make the whole one-shot some extensive preview for the upcoming event — he also delivers a fairly succinct recap of Warlock’s origins for those out of the loop on top of the time-bending adventure he and the Allreds send him on. Chock full of curios and items from Marvel history and emboldened with the kind of pop art energy that only the Allreds can provide, Infinity Countdown: Adam Warlock #1 is a breezy and fun look at Warlock’s past, present, and possible future.

Credit: DC Comics

Justice League #38 (Published by DC; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The League’s battle against their overzealous admirer continues in Justice League #38. With the league scattered to the wind, they’ve got to find their way back to each other, and to the Watchtower — and hope their “Fan” doesn’t find even more dangerous ways to divide them. Marco Santucci and Alex Sollazzo deliver another visually impressive issue, and Sollazzo’s colors in particular have a warmth and softness to them that makes the ‘super’ elements like the speed force or a Lantern’s powers really pop. Priest’s snappy humor and impeccable timing are on full display this week, and he continues to write the fourth wall-breaking ‘Fan’ arc with a light touch that keeps the tale funny but still captures the unsettling invasiveness of being betrayed by someone you’d trusted — throughout the issue, there’s a sense, even from Barry, that you have to laugh to keep from crying (or worse). No doubt Scott Snyder will deliver an excellent Justice League series, but Justice League #38 shows why it’ll be a shame to see Priest, Santucci and Sollazzo’s run come to an end.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #795 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Dan Slott continues marching toward the end of his run and has some fun with Peter Parker and the current Sorcerer Supreme in the process. Slott and Gage’s script is quippy and light, but the back-to-basics approach rings a bit hollow. There’s a clear reference to One More Day that is sure to infuriate the fans who are still beside themselves about it, but outside of that there’s nothing really impactful here. Slott is usually pretty good about moving story elements around like chess pieces in order to deliver an interesting twist, but this issue just goes through the motions in service to some things that readers might already know (especially regarding the Red Goblin). Mike Hawthorne’s artwork varies wildly from incredibly competent to plain and ugly. He doesn’t nail down consistent renderings of characters’ faces, and as a result his expression work is lacking. But then again, the plotting is boring, so there isn’t a great deal for him to draw. Still, his work with Spidey swinging around the city in a hat and scarf is perfectly whimsical and fun. We all know something big is coming. I just wish the road to get here was a little more interesting.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Transformers Vs. Visionaries #2 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Justin Partidge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Deescalation is the name of the game in Transformers Vs. Visionaries #2. Coming off the dynamic and deadly debut of the series, writer Magdalene Visaggio turns up the heat as the Darkling Lords take to the streets and start busting up the shield generators that are keeping their new home contained, with the support of the people of New Prysmos. This naturally throws the Spectral Knights into moral conflict as they wish to quell the anger of their citizens before it spills out into Cybertron proper. Like the first issue, Visaggio does a great job of giving us all perspectives in this conflict instead of just bashing the characters together in mindless battle. Artists Fico Ossio and David Garcia Cruz do a fine job of keeping the ever-expanding cast well defined, as well as delivering some kinetic and sparking action scenes as the heavy hitters of the Visionaries go head to head over the fate of the generators. Armed with sass, stakes, and a whole lotta Hasbro action, Transformers Vs. Visionaries #2 deftly avoids the sophomore slump.

Credit: DC Comics

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The struggles of the 1950s come into clearer focus in the second installment of Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles. After building a solid foundation of the era of the debut issue, writer Mark Russell now turns his attention to fleshing out his characters and does a bang-up job of it this go around. Still anchored by our leading cat, Russell takes us through a normal production day for Puss, filled with all sorts of close calls and new friends as he tries to secure a production staff in the face of HUAC strong-arming. The art team of Mike Feehan, Mark Morales and Paul Mounts continue to keep pace with Russell’s low-key action and character moments, still providing a fine sheen of period detailing and emotive characters models alight with smooth colors and fine inks. Though nowhere near as clever or humorous as the debut issue Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #2 is a solid follow-up for the daringly human Hanna-Barbera adaptation.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call #3 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): After two superb issues, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call trips over its impressive momentum with its third installment. Part of the problem is that after writer Kelly Thompson’s strong cliffhanger from the last issue, the story suddenly jumps ahead with only the flimsiest of explanations — the Ghostbusters are alive but demoralized after being paralyzed by their own worst fears, but without showing their escape or at least some sort of reversal, Thompson undercuts her story’s stakes in a way that can only feel like a cheat. Unfortunately, outside of a quick interlude featuring the gang capturing more ghosts, Thompson is still largely running in place with the narrative, as her page count feels abruptly cut off before we can see what Holtzmann and company have planned. That said, artist Corin Howell and colorist Valentina Pinto are still kicking ghast and taking names, with some clean designs and wonderful expressiveness that continues to make us root for the Ghostbusters and makes their otherworldly prey look as awesome as they ever have. Hopefully, Answer the Call shakes off this third issue slump, because the previous two issues have shown this creative team has plenty of potential.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Rogue & Gambit #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): “If anything, I feel better. Lighter.” Despite their “couple’s therapy” taking place on a mysterious island plagued by disappearances, Gambit and Rogue still seem to be getting a few positives out of their trip to Paraiso. It’s refreshing to see writer Kelly Thompson explore the idea of therapy as a positive for a couple whose lives, romantic or otherwise, have been wrapped up in a series of never-ending catastrophes. Unfortunately, there’s still the matter of the missing mutants, and who has time for self-improvement when there’s a mutant hit squad on your tails? Artist Pere Perez and Frank D’Armata deliver some incredible action sequence in Rogue & Gambit #2, in fights both from their past and present; Perez’s line art has an urgency and forcefulness to it, while D’Armata nails Gambit’s vibrant signature powers. Rogue & Gambit #2 is a fun and thoughtful exploration of one of comics’ most iconic couple’s complicated pasts.

Credit: DC Comics

Nightwing #38 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10: With Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo on art, the production values on Nightwing couldn’t be any higher, as they infuse writer Sam Humphries’ fast-paced script with some some wonderful drama backlit by florescent neon lights. Humphries gets us invested in Dick Grayson’s latest adventure quickly, as we meet the schlubby wannabe crook known as the Guppy, who is absolutely heartbroken over the cost of doing business with the mysterious Judge. It’s a testament to Chang’s design work and expressiveness that he sells Humphries’ scene so well — honestly, this humanoid shark has such a haunted look in his eyes, thanks to his slumped-over posture and hilariously thin stubble. But Humphries and Chang work well together, as Chang is able to tightly fit plenty of seven- and eight-panel layouts without breaking a sweat, allowing Humphries to bounce around Bludhaven, eventually sneaking into a casino as a male stripper. (Grayson fans are gonna love that beat.) There’s some seriously solid superhero storytelling in Nightwing right now, so don’t miss it.

Credit: Nathan Gooden/Vittorio Astone/Deron Bennett (Vault Comics)

Zojaqan #3 (Published by Vault Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Shannon Kind finally gains controls of her powers — and unintentionally leaves behind the Zoja for a millennium in the process. Zojaqan #3 is just as stunning as the debut issue; writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing have created a sci-fi tale that remains deeply human and relatable even against the stunning alien landscapes artist Nathan Goodan and colorist Vittorio Astone deliver. Every element of Zojaqan furthers its lore and the tale of Shannon Kind, a mother misplaced in time, and Shan, goddess of life and death, including impeccable and atmospheric lettering from Deron Bennett. The overarching story builds to an uneasy climax, with the formal, stylized lettering emphasizing how far the Zoja progress in Shan’s absence and hinting at the unfamiliar people she’ll find upon her return to the little village she left to defend. Zojaqan has been hit by some unfortunate shipping delays, but it’s absolutely worth hunting down the third issue this week and adding it to your list; there’s no delay that could detract from Zojaqan #3’s gorgeous art and engrossing story.

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