Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your pellets? Best Shots has you covered with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Jousting Justin Partridge, who is taking a look at Marvel 2-In-One…
Marvel 2-In-One #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The Fantastic Two becomes the Fantastic Three as a classic FF villain returns in Marvel 2-In-One #3. Tagging in new artist Valerio Schiti, writer Chip Zdarsky doesn’t quite set Johnny and Ben on their trip through the multiverse just yet, but he does get them interacting with scene-stealers Hercules and new character Dr. Rachna Koul. In said interaction, Zdarsky’s real talent for dialogue and chemistry comes forward, doubling down on the title’s charm. Schiti, along with colorist Frank Martin, acclimates really well to the issue’s dialogue-heavy script, playing up the comedic beats with drolly funny character reactions and staging and a color scheme that leans into the more optimistic and “friendly” tone that the title has enjoyed. Though I would have loved a bit more time with the returning Mad Thinker, Marvel 2-In-One #3 continues to keep the Fantastic Four’s brand and tone alive with humor and a sunny disposition.
Shade the Changing Girl/Wonder Woman #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Shade the Changing Girl/Wonder Woman #1 is a solid comic with some clever undertones that at times doesn’t quite seem to know the punchline to its own joke. Writer Cecil Castellucci does a stellar job blending the weird, compartmentalized homogeneity of the world of "Milk Wars" with a character as surreal as Shade, but there are moments that fall flat within the limited scope of the comic. A “my body, my choice” sign in the background will make plenty of readers pause and either grimace at its implications or chuckle at its absurdity, but without room for any deeper examination of why a rally like that would be happening in the realm of "Milk Wars," the scene feels shallow. The book is stunning, though; Mirka Andolfo does an excellent job with the faces and body language of the Shade Force, and Marissa Louise knows how to make the vibrant palette we’re accustomed to from Shade the Changing Girl really pop. Not bad by any stretch, just a story that might leave you wishing it could run two or three issues to really flesh out the concept.
Kick-Ass #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This ain’t your daddy’s Kick-Ass. Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. reunite for an all-new vigilante story, only that Patience Lee isn’t half as dumb as Dave Lizewski ever was. Granted, the two do share certain similarities - in the fact that Patience is treated every bit as badly by her loser hipster musician husband Frankie as Dave ever was by the girls in his high school class, but unlike the hapless Dave, Patience has the skill set to get stuff done, allowing Millar to flex his action muscles. To that end, Romita and colorist Peter Steigerwald are, well, kicking some serious ass, with Romita being able to switch between heartfelt moments with Patience and her kids to some bone-crushing beatdowns without breaking a sweat. Steigerwald’s colors are painterly and gorgeous, although occasionally he and Romita get a little muddy in the linework together. Still, while it remains to be seen where Patience’s foray into identity theft will take her, as far as debuts go, Kick-Ass #1 is a great relaunch.
Doctor Strange #385 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Donny Cates' run has been full of more than a few surprises so far, and this issue is no exception. We learn the truth about the Sorcerer Supreme tournament and start dialing up even further to Cates’ upcoming event Damnation, plus we’ve gotten the return of the Sentry, who hadn’t been seen since he was one of the Horseman of Apocalypse. Like I said, there’s a lot going on here. Cates’ pacing couple with Walta’s art is lightning quick. This is a real page-turner that’s almost over before you know it, despite the writer’s penchant for narration. But the creative team does a good job of using the pacing to keep the stakes high as no character’s fate is immediately evident. Walta turns in some gorgeous pages here with some big assists from colorist Jordie Bellaire. It’s hard to separate magic visually from all the other lasers and crazy superpowers, but Bellaire gives us a set of really sublime bright greens and pinks to contrast against the flatter colors the rest of the book and it works exceptionally well. Doctor Strange has a good bit of momentum heading into Damnation, and it will be interesting to see how Loki’s foreshadowing plays out.
Sideways #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Dan Didio, Justin Jordan, and Kenneth Rocafort bring us the latest hero as part of the "New Age of DC Heroes" that’s spinning out of Dark Nights: Metal and the result is less than inspiring. Similar to Damage, which was essentially “DC does the Hulk,” Sideways is little more than attempt to recapture the magic Spider-Man or Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle. But there’s not much substance here. Sideways’ powers have yet to really be explained or explored, and his suit is borrowing a lot of major design elements from Spider-Man mixed with (for some reason) Electric Blue Superman. The story is all but nonexistent, and the threat won’t elicit more than a shrug from most readers. Rocafort’s work here is pretty solid, however. The world looks lived in, and the character designs are fun. There’s a lot to like there, except for the bizarre decision to throw a photo of New York City through a few Photoshop filters and try to pass it off as a double-page spread. One has to wonder why DC would opt to bring in another mediocre new teen hero when they have so many great ones currently sidelined.
The Wild Storm: Michael Cray #5 (Published by DC Comics/WildStorm; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Michael Cray goes full-on Lovecraft in its haunting fifth issue. Assigned to take down the monstrous WildStorm version of Aquaman, Cray soon finds himself facing down seaside cultists who worship the Curry family like gods. Writer Bryan Hill still seems to be having a blast with this insane new version of DC canon and the fun comes through the voice of Michael, who gets one of his drollest moments in this issue. Artists N. Steven Harris, Larry Hama, Dexter Vines, Andy Owens, and Dearbhla Kelly also get a chance to flex different visual muscles this go around; casting most of the real horror in heavy shadows and leering back lights that highlight Arthur’s brutality and the hold he has over the coast town. We are five issues into Michael Cray and just when you think you have it figured out, they do a Shadow Over Innsmouth riff starring Aquaman. Spinning gold out of the unexpected, The Wild Storm: Michael Cray #5 is another dark delight.
Thrawn #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): One of Star Wars’ most enigmatic villains gets an intriguing, if a bit dry, Marvel Comics debut in Thrawn #1. Written by rising star Jody Houser, adapting the Timothy Zahn novel of the same name, this debut issue takes us through the earliest days of Grand Admiral Thrawn as he is discovered by the Galactic Empire and conscripted into their officer training program. Though Houser does a fantastic job of capturing Thrawn’s icy voice and the rigid intrigues of the Empire, this issue is largely made up of characters winning with words and double-crosses and doesn’t make for the most exciting of debut issues. On that same side of the coin, artist Luke Ross and colorist Nolan Woodard are relegated to the chilly corridors of star destroyers with stiff scene blocking, but still make the most of what they are given thanks to Ross’ control of facial expressions. Thrawn may not have had the most auspicious of openings, but the spark is there, just waiting for the infamous villain to light it.
Justice League of America #24 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Given how controversial it was to bring Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III’s Promethea to the DC Universe, you can’t help but be disappointed in how inconsequential the character’s appearance is in Justice League of America #24. But then again, this series feels like it’s been running in place for some time - writer Steve Orlando continues to try channeling the same spirit of the Grant Morrison/ Mark Waid JLA, but the Queen of Fables was always a concept that felt too clever by half, and without any A-list superheroes to bring some sparks to this premise, it’s hard to feel a lot of emotion to beats like Vixen leading a charge of wishers, the Ray returning to the team, or even Killer Frost and Atom’s relationship. But perhaps most unforgivable is to bring back a character as beloved - and as contested - as Promethea, only to have her barely appear in the book, and only a teasing impact on the story as a whole. Artist Neil Edwards is definitely pushing himself as hard as he can, with a style that sometimes evokes Bryan Hitch, but the realism and the panel density of this issue works against him, making it hard to connect with the characters amid battles like Killer Frost versus Lobo or the Queen versus Promethea. Even with Batman making his inevitable return, this issue isn’t a good look for this DC superteam.
Punisher #221 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It was a rough last issue for Frank Castle, but damn if it isn’t fun watching him get back up. With Punisher #221, writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Guiu Vilanova bring a sly sense of humor to the new War Machine as he’s on a mission to repair his suit and kill a few crooked spies in the process. It’s hard not to chuckle at Rosenberg’s pitch-black comedy as Frank threatens to cut someone’s manhood off with a knife while their in mid-pee, or when he sneaks up on a soldier while he’s ice-fishing (as we see the glowing eyes of the War Machine armor underneath the frozen lake). That said, the story is held back still by Vilanova’s artwork, which does an acceptable job approximating Jon Bernthal’s likeness of the character but is so sketchy that we lose a lot of cohesiveness in the story, let alone the details of the War Machine suit. But that said, colorist Lee Loughridge gives the story some nice mood, and one panel of a goon getting stabbed in the head is a nice explosion of color. While the art will keep this series from reaching its fullest potential, the over-the-top craziness of how the Punisher operates still makes this issue a fun one.
Detective Comics #974 (Published by DC Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): James Tynion IV wastes no time launching into the next arc with Detective Comics #974, seeming to put last month’s startling finale in the rearview mirror quickly to center instead on the fallout for Kate Kane and the rest of the Batfamily. The story he teases here is immediately engaging, pitting Batwoman’s moral flexibility against the strictest code of the Bat-Family - no killing. The swift pivot is understandable, and while it feels abrupt without a fleeting moment spared for the aftermath of Clayface’s rampage, the direction Tynion takes the story is compelling enough to make up for it. Allen Passalaqua’s colors keep the typical shadowy palette of a Bat book from feeling too overbearingly gloomy. There are a few awkward moments with Phillipe Briones' art, though; nothing glaring, but some eye-catching inconsistencies with small details like Kate’s hairline (and size) or a strange perspective when Batman confronts Batwoman that will have you doing a quick double-take. Though Detective Comics #974 is a somewhat abrupt end to an arc, it teases some very interesting developments in the immediate future to make up for it.