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 Pasty Pierce Lydon, who takes a look at the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man...
Amazing Spider-Man #797 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It’s the beginning of the end. Dan Slott’s run on Spider-Man is coming to a close, fittingly with a Norman Osborn story. And so far, so good! Ever since Brand New Day, there’s been a lot of hemming and hawing about the lack of foundational elements present in Slott’s run (even thought that couldn’t be further from the truth). With this issue, Slott gives us a kind of greatest hits overview of what’s up with Peter Parker. We see the Bugle, JJ Jameson, Norman Osborn, Harry Osborn and Mary Jane, and in visiting all these parts of Peter’s life, we’re reminded of the conflicts that have been borne out of them. If there’s a negative, it’s that Slott’s monologuing with Osborn might not be as effective as he thinks it is. Those pages tend to spin their wheels a bit narratively as well as visually compared to the rest of the book. Stuart Immonen handles the art and reminds us once again why Slott’s so lucky to have him translating his scripts. Immonen’s deft expression work makes so many of these scenes work, with the standout being the fleeting moments between Peter and MJ. This already feels like a story that will have fans missing Slott as soon as he’s gone.
Batman #42 (Published by DC Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Mikel Janin and June Chung continue to knock this book out of the park in this week’s Batman #42. Janin’s art and Chung’s vibrant colors create a still and empty world consumed by what feels like an almost otherworldly quiet, and in shots of empty city streets Clayton Cowles’ lettering almost feels like voices echoing down an empty corridor. Chung continues to do exceptional work with Ivy in particular — the flat color of her hair and texture of the floral throne she’s built for herself make her feel almost inhuman. “Everyone Loves Ivy” is a quiet, thoughtful arc punctuated by eye-popping fights that King employs to great effect to not just keep things lively but add greater emotional impact. Janin, Chung, King, and Cowles are absolutely a Batman dream team, and this is a story arc well worth your time.
Doctor Strange: Damnation #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Las Vegas has gone to hell, and Wong is putting together the only team that could hope to save it. Damnation #2 is mostly a “getting the team together” issue but it’s fairly delightful. Each character gets a intro that catches readers up quickly with their general status quo. Donny Cates and Nick Spencer’s script does its best to live in the same territory that Spencer’s Superior Foes of Spider-Man did, delivering quick-witted character interactions that are fun to read and then relying on artist Szymon Kudranski to package them in a way that draws out the humor. Kudranski does a pretty good job of that - mixing up his panels to keep them from being just a bunch of talking heads, with some fiery hellscapes that look really cool. That said, he does run into a few issues where it looks like he’s just drawn a couple of faces in the corners of the panel and let the dialogue take over. But on the whole, I can’t wait to see these sort of Magic Avengers throwdown against Mephisto’s dastardly demonic ones.
The Wicked + The Divine #34 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Time has always been at the forefront of this series. A clock has constantly been counting down since the first issue, since it was known that the gods only have two years at best. While this issue does catch up with Laura, Cassandra and the others as they deal with the recent revelations regarding Woden, the opening half is occupied with winding back the clock –– almost six thousand years –– to detail the initial mythology that led to this cycle of death. Kieron Gillen’s script ensures this scene never gets bogged down in the debate that ensues, the back and forth stays lively as it plays out against the backdrop of a sweltering sun bearing down over the desert. Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson depict expansive vistas as the opening and close to the segment, with the middle focusing in on the characters and showcasing how the strength of their character design persists even in this long of an ongoing series, one which has returned without missing a beat, the creative team clearly in step with another and marching towards the end.
Hawkeye #16 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This week’s Hawkeye #16 is a bittersweet finale. The good news: this doesn’t seem to be the last time we’ll see Kelly Thompson on a Kate Bishop book. The bad news: this is the last time we’ll see Kelly Thompson on this particular Kate Bishop book. Hawkeye #16 is a labor of love that ties up the loose ends of the series with ease, offering a satisfying sense of closure while leaving Marvel a little wiggle room to keep this particular Kate timeline going in the future. Artist Leonardo Romero, colorist Jordie Bellaire, and letterer Joe Sabino have developed such a distinct visual style for this book that it will be genuinely disappointing not to see them together again, but Hawkeye #16 delivers enough tongue-in-cheek visual gags to tide devotees over for a long while. This issue is fun and heartfelt, and a fitting send-off for everybody’s favorite L.A. belle.
Superman #42 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): No matter how many Bizarro stories you’ve read, it always takes a moment to reacclimatize to the altered language. Kicking off this issue with an extended stop in Bizarroworld, Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason help to ease the reader into this manner of speaking. Focusing on Boyzarro and his parents who live on a farm, the parallels to the Kent family are hard to miss –– though the visual rhyming with Superman #1 is stealthier –– but the issue takes its time before their two worlds come crashing together. Having Gleason back as the book’s artist, working with Alejandro Sanchez, is a delight, especially as their run starts to wind down, but Tomasi’s script feels all too standard in the back-half, hitting familiar beats like a family dinner without pushing any part of the dynamic further. Rob Leigh clearly had their work cut out with this issue, as it’s one bursting with dialogue of the Bizarro and non-Bizarro variety but manages to keep it moving along even as panels veer into being too talkative. The dynamic that this team helped to establish as the start of the series is still warm, but certainly doesn’t burn as brightly as it did then.
Captain America #699 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Come for the art and stay for the... well, just come for the art. Despite all the fighting in this issue, Waid’s writing here lacks a certain punch. It's not that he’s particularly bad at writing Captain America - he’s not. But his attempt bringing Steve back from the throes of secret Empire is just to give us the sort of platonic ideal of the character. This is the version of Steve Rogers that exists in the gym class videos from “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” This isn’t the numanced character that we’ve seen in the past. And that serves the story just fine. But there’s nothing to sink your teeth into as a reader if you’re well-versed in the Star-Spangled Avenger. Chris Samnee’s art is, as always, absolutely incredible, and he will be greatly missed in the Marvel Universe. He gets to take a crack at the Hulk here but his Ben Grimm is the real star. You haven’t seen this much emotion from a man made of rock since Kirby was working on him. This is a nice story and in a lot of ways, that’s the most damning praise I can give it. It’s not bad. It’s just nice.
Giant Days #36 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10) Daisy’s realized the inevitable — she must break up with Ingrid, and do so sooner rather than later, considering the end to her second year at university draws nearer. Encouraged by Esther and Susan, this issue of Giant Days depicts the break-up and ensuing fallout as it coincides with the final moments of the term, with John Allison’s script weaving from one instance to the next effortlessly. The issue plays like a season finale, everything that’s been building over the past year comes to a head, including the fact that the core trio are moving out of the house they’ve shared during that time. Taking place during a stressful time, Max Sarin and Whitney Cogar convey the multitude of emotions on display with clean, expressive linework, from Daisy’s restlessness which opens to the issue through to the faces of characters in the background. It’s remarkable how textured and rich their collaborative efforts are, something which seems sure to continue into the third year and deepen these characters further.
Justice League #40 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It’s easy to see why Christopher Priest is a fan-favorite. He’s a writer that takes a unique stock of the options available to him in any given story and makes sure he uses them. That does come with a bit of over-explanation sometimes, though — while I like seeing the heroes talk about how they’re going to save the day, this issue of Justice League does veer a little too much into “tell” territory. But Priest reinforce Cyborg’s place on the team well, and does an admirable job handling the extremely large cast. There’s a case to be made for a bit of meta-commentary too, as Frost explains that her JLA team is an expendable B-team at the end of the day - their lives don’t matter as much as those of the “classic line-up.” Given that team’s more diverse cast, it’s hard not to read into Priest’s words there, particularly given the book's opening standoff between police and POC protesters. Pete Woods’ angular artwork gives this a much different feel than a lot of superhero books out there. His character renderings are solid all the way through and I like that when there’s some dissent and danger, he uses more angular panel layouts to underline the conflict. Priest and Woods’ Justice League is a reminder that superheroes and social justice can coexist despite what the Internet might want you to think.
Sonitus #1 (Published by Alterna Comics; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): As the medium that seems to embrace narration and internal dialogue more than most, it’s only natural that writers Cody Sousa and Dan Shepherd’s atmospheric horror tale Sonitus #1 works as a genuinely frightening comic. The unnamed protagonist has a perpetual sound in his head that doctors hand-wave as tinnitus. The man is compelled to return to an abandoned house from his youth as the only location where he can be free of the sound. Sousa and Shepherd’s narration is effective at characterizing a man who readers ultimately know nothing about, all while calling into question the reality of everything the man sees or hears. Artistically, Cecila Lo Valvo’s moody art style recalls many of the classics of ‘90s Vertigo Comics, particularly John Ridgway’s work on Hellblazer, albeit with a slight distortion on the edges and a greater emphasis on dread-inducing angles. While it would be tempting to focus on her depictions of the abomination that attacks in the comic’s climax, her drawings of the dilapidated swamp house are some of Sonitus #1’s best moments, as the structure is able to appear at once imposing and inviting. Colorist Dee Cunniffe enhances the art’s already striking qualities with noticeable skill through manipulation of light and shadow. Despite a lack of intimacy with its central character, this debut issue shows promise for a series that emphasis just how much a commitment to tone lends to a story.
X-Men: Red #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The most charming part of this week’s X-Men: Red #2 is tiny Gabby politely requesting that omega-level mutant Jean Grey not look too deeply into feelings she may or may not have for a girl she saw on a bus ride. It’s a fleeting, light-hearted moment that encapsulates what makes Tom Taylor’s take on this team so endearing, and Gabby’s earnest, anxious face is one of the best panels Mahmud Asrar and Ive Svorcina deliver in this issue. The full issue is a little inconsistent in the art — Jean sometimes bears an eerie resemblance to Sophie turner, and moments later doesn’t at all — but ultimately, X-Men Red #2 is a solid standalone series that fans of these characters can enjoy regardless of how many other related titles they’ve been following. At times it feels a little more like a mutant-style Mission: Impossible, a vibe that could make for an extremely interesting book if it keeps up down the line.
Batman: White Knight #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): We’ve seen some cringey political commentary and some “current comics is bad” meta-commentary from Batman: White Knight, but the art has always been top-notch. In this issue, Murphy gets out of his own way and delivers a pretty pure shot of Batman: The Animated Series-tinged action. Murphy is the best there is at what he does, and what he does best is draw cars. I’m convinced that the man is the only artist working in comics today who can actually draw riveting car chase sequences. And that says a lot about when this book is at its best. When it’s moving fast, it’s really fun. We get to see the GCPD put together their plan for catching Batman put into action, and Murphy is on top of his game. The sort of flashback sequences with Mister Freeze do halt the momentum a bit, but overall, it’s nice to get some of that backstory out of the way before the big finish. This book is hurtling towards its end, and it looks to have an exciting finish. We’ll just have to see if Murphy can stick the landing on this one.
Gothic Tales of Haunted Love (Published by Bedside Press; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Fans of dark romances — think Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak — need to pick up this anthology ASAP. Editors Hope Nicholson and S.M. Beiko have put together a fascinating collection of more than a dozen eerie tales of love and loss with an excellent introduction to the genre by Jacque Nodell. Particularly notable are “Fazenda do Sangue Azul” for Dante L.’s absolutely gorgeous artwork, and Hien Pham’s “Minefield.” Pham’s ghostly romance is told in Vietnamese with some English dialogue, but his expressive style will make any reader’s heart break. There are really no misses in this collection; the stories span the full breadth of the genre, from moody supernatural romances to tales where ill-intended suitors receive their much-deserved comeuppance. If you stumble across a story you don’t enjoy, keep reading — you’ll quickly find another haunting tale to capture your heart.