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 Courageous C.K. Stewart, who takes a look at Batman and the Signal…
Batman and the Signal #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Honestly, Batman and the Signal should have started with this week's issue. While its debut felt hesitant and unsure about what it wanted to explain and what it wanted to throw readers smack in the middle of, Batman and the Signal #2 somehow manages to be both more informative and more exciting all at once. Writers Scott Snyder and Tony Patrick are fully into the groove of Gotham by day, and practice a careful economy of storytelling that more than makes up for the somewhat faltering pace of Batman and the Signal's debut. Colorist Laura Martin is the MVP of this issue; her vibrant, gorgeous colors amp up artist Cully Hamner's inks and turn Gotham into something wholly new and unusual by the light of day, serving as a perfect complement to the Signal's curious position as something not quite a Robin but not quite a Bat. This miniseries is shaping up to be a tight, thrilling arc that hopefully will serve as a launchpad for similar Signal stories after its conclusion.
Amazing Spider-Man #796 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10: Teamwork doesn't exactly make the dream work in Amazing Spider-Man #796. Though I very much enjoy Peter's new/old status quo as a broke goofball, Dan Slott and Christos Gage's plotting still leaves a lot to be desired. Centered around a semi-team-up between Spidey and Agent Anti-Venom, the pair seem to be really taking their sweet time getting to the real crux of this final Amazing arc as Slott aims to take his final bow with Peter and the gang. Mike Hawthorne, Terry Pallot, Cam Smith, and Erick Arciniega's stiff artwork doesn't do much to alleviate matters, either. Though the team delivers some easy-to-follow, if a bit stilted action when Spidey's in costume, the scenes out of costume look extra rough due to the Hawthorne's glassy-eyed models and expressions. Peter Parker may be broke, but that doesn't mean the momentum of the issue has to be, but unfortunately that's exactly how it feels reading Amazing Spider-Man #796.
Mata Hari #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The life of famed dancer and notorious double agent Mata Hari is a rich and thrilling one, and this week's Mata Hari #1 from Dark Horse Comics delivers a beautifully illustrated exploration of her long career through the framework of her trial and fictional autobiography. The debut issue is heavy on exposition, but writer Emma Beeby's script makes the pace feel like more of a slow burn than a drag. Ariela Kristantina and Pat Masioni's artwork is what truly elevates the issue into something ethereal and haunting -- Kristantina's linework at times feels as if it's fading into the hazy edges of a memory, and Masioni's rich colors perfectly capture the long arc of Margaretha Zelle's life from the warm, lush tones of her childhood to the shadowy, faded shades of her tragic end. It would be easy for a sloppier creative team to turn the tale of a famed exotic dancer into something lascivious, but Mata Hari #1 is a sensuous and thoughtful exploration of the life of a complicated woman.
Batman #41 (Published by DC Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Batman #41 is an absolutely stunning book; please keep Mikel Janin and June Chung in mind for all of your beautiful earthy artwork needs. Poison Ivy's managed to get the entire world trapped in her thrall, and between Janin's delicate, intricate work on her freshly-sprouted stronghold and Chung's deceptively romantic colors, it's not hard to see why. Yes, Tom King is an excellent Batman writer, and this issue is engaging and delivers an excellent jumping-on point for Poison Ivy fans who have let the main Batman title pass them by recently. But it's Janin and Chung who elevate this issue from "a good Batman comic" into a gorgeous comic flat-out. The vibrant flat color of Ivy's hair punctuated by textured leaves that look like ornaments rather than roughage is a stunning shot and the intricate, weaving vines that define the individual panels in early pages are as beautiful as they are eerie, building to a sense of hopelessness as Ivy's plot becomes clear. Batman #41 is a gorgeous book to read, and a perfect place to jump in for folks pining for a little more Poison Ivy in their lives.
Astonishing X-Men #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Astonishing X-Men is a frontrunner for the best X-title on the stands today, but its sophomore arc featuring the return of Proteus can't help but feel a little too familiar, at the cost of some potentially more intriguing story developments. Professor X has made his triumphant return - sort of - by taking over the body of Fantomex, but aside from the X-Men voicing their distrust over the situation, writer Charles Soule isn't able to let that breathe, as the Children of the Atom have to control a runaway Proteus. Still, there are some great beats here, like Bishop's plan of stalling Proteus backfiring in a big way, and Old Man Logan and Mystique's flirtation is a great reminder of how Soule knows his characters - still, even though Proteus delivers a persuasive speech about survival and change, it feels like this arc is talking out of both sides of its mouth, metatextually talking about newness while remaining stuck in nostalgia. Admittedly, after being spoiled by A-listers like Jim Cheung, Ed McGuinness and Mike Del Mundo, artist Paolo Siqueira doesn't have quite as defined as style - it's solid, despite some too-overjoyed expressions towards the beginning, but it's not a home run. There's been a lot to like about this book, but hopefully Soule and company can make the next few issues of Astonishing X-Men pick up the pace.
Hit-Girl #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Mark Millar's spunky little superheroine returns in Hit-Girl, and while I'd give this book points for utilizing the quirky sensibilities of artist Ricardo Lopez Ortiz, this story feels bare-boned even for Millar's decompressed storytelling. There is an emotional core to Hit-Girl's return - namely, an inescapable loneliness and self-isolating intensity after the retirement of Kick-Ass and the death of Big Daddy - but Millar buries it under tangents like our ostensible "point of view" character, a cardboard cutout hitman named Mano, or little jokes like a wannabe Kick-Ass bailing at the last second (or needless gross-out gags like someone exploding thanks to a bomb collar). Ortiz, meanwhile, is definitely going to be polarizing - as opposed to the uber-mainstream John Romita, Jr., Ortiz feels like a wilder, more exaggerated Bengal with a splash of Ben Caldwell, but that often comes at the cost of clarity, like a brief action beat with Hit-Girl freeing her soon-to-be next partner. While the relaunched Kick-Ass has enough to draw your attention, Hit-Girl feels like it's for Millar devotees only.
Daredevil #599 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): For those who have fallen off Daredevil in recent months but find themselves excited by the prospect of its big six hundredth issue, Daredevil #599 is a decent jumping on point. Some additional context for Fisk's ascendancy to the mayorship of New York City might be helpful, but writer Charles Soule does a solid job peppering enough information through the story to allow anyone with a cursory knowledge to hop on the wagon in time for next month's milestone issue. Daredevil #599's biggest flaw is that it tiptoes against this Scandal or House of Cards-esque plot of interoffice machinations threatening to tear down a government and potentially a city but never quite seems to lean into the over-the-top drama of it all. Daredevil tends to be, if not a grim book, then certainly a moody one; there's a bland sameness to the emotional rhythm that puts Matt's paltry efforts to stand up to Fisk as deputy mayor on the same level as his now-criminal activities as Daredevil to rally heroes to overthrow him. It's not exactly bad, but it's certainly monotonous. With luck, next month's big #600 delivers the emotional punch this week's issue was lacking.
Tabula Rosetta #2 (Published by Blackwork Organization; Review by C.K. Stewart; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Sarah Allen Reed's black-and-white Tabula Rosetta isn't quite a horror comic, but it has some of the same haunting elements. Somewhat inspired by the tarot, Tabula Rosetta #2 opens with something like a love story, exploring the twists and turns of young love as it grows into long-lasting, devoted passion. The nature of Reed's heavy inks seem discordant with the sweet tone, but she has a thoughtful sense of pacing that builds the tale with something tiptoeing the fine line between dread and sweet anticipation. At times, the inks become so dense they feel a little claustrophobic in a way that isn't intentional, but the wide white margins Reed employs throughout the issue helps give some of the heavier page room to breathe. Tabula Rosetta #2 is a short but curious read, and worth buying for fans of darker supernatural tales off the beaten path. It can be purchased directly through Blackwork at Blackwork.org