Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has your back, with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off today’s column with Jalopy-Drivin’ Justin Partridge, who takes a look at this week’s issue of Detective Comics...
Detective Comics #980 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The Bat-Family confronts their pasts and futures in Detective Comics #980. Standing against the rising tide of Brother Eye, Batwoman and her team attempt a last ditch effort to shut down the Belfry 2.0 and bring the brainwashed Tim Drake down once and for all. By using the past continuity as a scaffold, writer James Tynion IV injects a real sense of history and emotion into the story, giving the action and overall plot real stakes. It also doesn’t hurt that artist Scot Eaton, inker Wayne Faucher, and colorists John Kalisz and Allen Passalaqua match Tynion’s heart and action beats in kind by keeping the action focused on the characters but dynamic enough to really grab a reader. The Bat-Family may be on the ropes, but Detective Comics #980 continues to come out of the corner swinging, thanks to its attention to character and its commitment to heartbreaking set pieces.
Venom #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The Lethal Protector receives some much-needed character development in Venom #1, his latest solo series from writer Donny Cates and artist Ryan Stegman. Plagued with nightmares from the distant past as well as Venom’s increasing instability, Eddie Brock finds himself pulled into a symbiote-centered conspiracy featuring a new breed of alien-powered super soldiers. Smartly sidestepping erroneous backstory, Cates throws us in the middle of Eddie’s new predicament, making his relationship with Venom the focus through dueling sets of narration. Ryan Stegman also proves to be the perfect artist for the new action-heavy title. Though I would have liked for his pencils to be a touch more clearer since the heavily shadowed colors of Frank Martin and inks of JP Mayer make everything look two shades too dark, the team really does make the action move very quickly, adding a real visceral energy to the title. Armed with monstrous thrills and a killer new hook, Venom #1 is a big win for the returning antihero.
Calexit #3 (Published by Black Mask Studios; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Matteo Pizzolo and Amancay Nahuelpan’s Calexit remains an incredibly relevant and compelling work of fiction. Compared to the first two issues, this one is a bit slower - switching back and forth between two scenes for the majority of the book. In many comics, we are used to seeing things as fairly binary - good versus evil, right versus wrong - and while the structure here supports that foundation, Pizzolo’s character work reveals interesting shades of gray. Crowbar and Zora are singularly focused, opposing forces, but they’re the exception. Most people find themselves caught in the middle like Jamil or the Greenshirts who stop him. There’s a lot of humanity in this work thanks to Amancay Nahuelpan’s clean and expressive art. With the book essentially hinging on two conversations, Nahuelpan’s got a lot of heavy lifting to do to keep readers interesting and achieves that with a solid mix of panel and page layouts. If there’s a knock against this issue, it’s the overlong, somewhat voyeuristic nature of Crowbar’s group sex scene, but it’s at least tastefully presented.The back matter also continues to be a vital part of this book, including even more interviews with community organizers and local politicians about their work.
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #44 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It’s all hands on deck, as the Darkstar uprising has led Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps to some desperate ends - and to that end, writer Robert Vendetti and artist Brandon Peterson make some very interesting choices for DC’s leading ring-slingers. Vendetti taps a lot of previous Lantern lore with this issue, as Hal, John, Guy, and Kyle leave no stone unturned, visiting characters ranging from the Sinestro Corps to the New Gods in order to bring some much-needed firepower to stop the powerful Darkstars. But it’s not just continuity surfing, as Vendetti plays up the various Lanterns’ relationships with these characters nicely, even if an opening scene with Hal and the Flash runs a little long. Artist Brandon Peterson, meanwhile, provides a wonderful breath of air to the visuals, evoking almost a J.G. Jones style that is versatile enough to capture all these various designs but realistic enough to lend some weight to the story. Definitely a fun issue that should not be overlooked.
Exiles #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Despite his tightly paced work on Black Bolt and BOOM! Studios’ Abbott, Saladin Ahmed’s Exiles has been the exception to the usually immaculate rule. But with his team assembled and concept established, Ahmed manages to get closer to the ideal flow with his third issue. Blink, Kamala Khan, Iron Lad, Wolvie, and Valkyrie don’t get long to come to terms with the broken Tallus as the issue gets right to them coming to blows with evil talking dinosaurs, and it’s here where Ahmed lets Javier Rodríguez’s art do the talking. Their expressive yet cohesive layouts brings everything together in a dynamic fashion, with character and action beats landing better as a result. This extends to the rest of the issue as well, some later exposition flows more across multiple panels rather than just one because of how Rodríguez, Álvaro López, and Chris O’Halloran direct the reader’s eye. The ambition of the book, and how much ground it tries to cover, makes it hard to hate, but it’s not hard to wonder how much better it would flow in an OGN format.
The Flash #46 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The road to "Flash War" comes to a clearing in The Flash #46. With his memories still a mess, Wally West finds himself again adrift, and his mentor Barry Allen is powerless to help. Writer Joshua Williamson has done a good job thus far of really getting to the emotional core of the Flashes and their enemies, and #46 is no exception. Unfortunately, that pathos is really the only thing supporting this issue, as the rest of its page count is still relegated to setting up the upcoming “Flash War” arc. Artist Scott Kolins and colorist Luis Guerrero really nail the emotions and flickering memories of Wally throughout this issue, amping up the dynamic between Barry and Wally as well as the pair’s fraught emotional states. Though it seems like the lead up to the war has been going on for ages, The Flash #46 finally finds the title gearing up to be more than just prologue.
Southern Bastards #20 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): It was the moment that the series had been building to since the beginning: Coach Boss staring down the barrel of a gun, courtesy of Roberta Tubb. Only instead of letting this confrontation play out as is, Jason Aaron and Jason Latour added an additional player to the mix – the bow-wielding hunter Boone. Rather than a bare-knuckle brawl or Western-style duel, Aaron and Latour opt for a chase between predator and prey that has a palpable drive to it, delivered in the series’ trademark red tones which explode across the pages, raising the adrenaline. Latour’s work conveys an in-the-moment chaos while retaining clarity, the work of someone who knows and understands their storyworld. Yet this isn’t the end of the series, and that’s where this issue disappoints: Aaron’s script sets the stage for the next arc, and while he doesn’t completely redirect where the series is heading, it does result in the intensity being dialled back in preparation for what comes next, instead of being allowed to come fully to fruition. Southern Bastards #20 is not an issue built on catharsis and resolution for either its characters and readers, but knowing that doesn’t mean it doesn’t mean it stings any less.
Hunt for Wolverine: The Adamantium Agenda #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Marvel’s favorite Canucklehead is somewhere in the Marvel Universe, but the publisher seems intent on dragging out the reveal. The Adamantium Agenda from Tom Taylor and R.B. Silva is competent in its characterization of the former New Avengers, but it’s incredibly light on any actual story. Taylor definitely has a handle on these characters’ voices, but he seems more content to get a couple more gags in than actually hunt for Wolverine as the title would suggest. No amount of quippy dialogue can overcome how meaningless this issue feels. R.B. Silva turns in a good issue here - his expression work has evolved, and he throws a few panels out there that look like Stuart Immonen at his best. His panel composition is much smoother than we’ve seen in the past, but he’s still hurt by the decompression here, with a few pages that look like they have panels straight-up copy-and-pasted. Marvel might be bringing out all its best guest stars to hunt for Logan, but right now, readers still have very little reason to pick up The Adamantium Agenda.
The Wild Storm: Michael Cray #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Bryan Edward Hill’s real strength while writing this limited series has been his reinventions of classic DC characters, and as The Wild Storm: Michael Cray returns for its second arc, he gets chance to delve into his most interesting one yet. His interpretation of John Constantine, Cray’s next target, still demonstrates recognizable traits of his usual self, lighting up a cigarette in the first three pages. Yet turning Constantine into a scientist is a stroke of genius, putting him further at odds with his relationship to the mystical. N. Steven Harris and Dexter Vines’ design is not a radical alteration, but the bald head helps to present him as a megalomaniac, while new colorist Ross Campbell is a revelation, adding energy and depth that the series has previously lacked. Hill ensures Cray is still the central character in this narrative, but equally understands how restricting the storytelling to purely his viewpoint wouldn’t be as compelling, and the wider work wouldn’t be as fleshed out. Combined with the art team’s visuals, this approach recalls the strengths of Planetary. Even if the end result isn’t at that level of quality, it’s certainly worth appreciating a series that has taken its time to develop its concept, weave it into a larger story and display with visuals that pack this much of a punch when needed.
Domino #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): There’s a wonderful streak of vulnerability at the core of Gail Simone and Dave Baldeon’s sophomore issue of Domino, a sensibility that not only gives this adventure story some tension and weight, but also makes the title character feel incredibly well-realized and endearing. While Simone pumps up the action with a trio of fast-paced scenes, Baldeon keeps the energy moving, making all of Domino’s movements feel fluid and exciting - especially a double-page splash of Dom falling through the window, lettered expertly with shard-like captions by Clayton Cowles. That said, if there’s one thing that holds back Domino, it’s that this series suffers from a bit of cameo overload - it’s heartwarming to see that Domino has so many friends, but it also robs the character of being able to solve some of her own problems here. Additionally, Domino’s “sense” for discovering weak spots feels a little too similar to Kelly Thompson’s Hawkeye, only the black and white rendering makes it a little hard to spot. Still, the characterization in Domino is so strong that you’d be really making a mistake to pass this book up.
Barrier #1 and #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Image Comics releasing Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s first two issues of Barrier simultaneously is an unconventional ploy that I would argue pays off, allowing Martin’s virtuosic artwork pave over the structural hinkiness of Vaughan’s ambitious conceit. The first issue introduces burned-out cowgirl Libby and the border-crossing Oscar, but their two journeys don’t intersect until the first issue’s out-of-left-field cliffhanger - namely, them being abducted by aliens. It’s the second issue that Vaughn’s high concept really starts to pay off, as the language barrier between the two becomes just as bewildering an obstacle to overcome as the guts of the alien ship. It’s an involving read, particularly if you aren’t fluent in Spanish, although I’m not sure if Vaughan’s plotting is necessarily enough to justify the amount of work readers will have to put in - that said, Martin’s artwork is really the showstopper here, with his acting being so impeccable that he does a lot of the heavy lifting for getting the book’s point across. Barrier is definitely a cool conceit, but it’s also going to be an acquired taste that even the exquisite artwork may have to work overtime to conquer.