Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has your back, with this week’s edition of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Powell-Preachin’ Pierce Lydon, who must have won a bet to lead this week’s column with Infinity Countdown: Darkhawk...
Infinity Countdown: Darkhawk #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Ol’ Wingclaw is back and honestly, he might just be better than ever. While Chris Sims and Chad Bowers’ previous pledge to the Fraternity of Raptors was mired in playing catch-up to Chris Powell’s current continuity, the start of this miniseries sees them effectively building on the ideas they put forward there. Under their pens, Powell is likeable and relatable. His inner monologue recalls the era he was created in, but the writers are quick to not overdo the nostalgia trip. Gang Hyuk Lim’s art is very solidly rendered across the issue. There’s some anime influence in his lines that makes his expression work feel a bit more visceral. His fight choreography is a little half-baked but it does the job. It’s Lim’s figurework that makes Darkhawk (and a surprise antagonist) look better than ever.
The Terrifics #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Sometimes a family is three dads and the ghost girl they’re trying to help get home, and the mom she hasn’t seen in over a decade, and a giant squid. The Terrifics #4 is a fun, fast-paced adventure that will put a smile on your face and even tug at your heartstrings a little bit. Evan "Doc" Shaner and Jeff Lemire’s storytelling brings a Parks and Recreation-esque sensibility to a weird team - the same quick humor and visual gags that would be too much in any other setting but feel like just enough for Mr. Terrific and his ragtag band of accidental heroes. Shaner’s faces in particular are fantastic throughout, and Nathan Fairbairn’s colors make the more out-of-this world elements of this issue truly pop. The Terrifics #4 is another solid issue in a fun, silly series, and Shaner and Lemire provide just enough backstory from previous issues to make this one a decent jumping-on point.
Witchfinder: The Gates of Heaven #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Sir Edward Grey is back and on the trail of a spectral thief in the debut of The Gates of Heaven, the latest standalone adventure in the Witchfinder saga. Scripted once again by series creators Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson, this latest series finds Grey pulled into a series of daring robberies, where various trinkets from occult stores all over London are being whisked away by what witnesses call a “ghost.” But in true Witchfinder fashion, this is just the tip of the weird iceberg, as Roberson and Mignola also introduce threads of steampunk, classic murder mysteries, and a few ancestors of familiar B.P.R.D stars. Penciller D’Israeli and colorist Michelle Madsen really lean into the period setting and visual motifs of the series, giving this debut a more rounded, vintage look than the harder angled arcs of the past. If you have ever wanted to mix the concepts of “weird tales” with the plotting of Agatha Christie mysteries, then Witchfinder: The Gates of Heaven #1 is the book for you.
Doctor Strange #390 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): They say never meet your idols, but when you’re a scene-stealing ghost dog named Bats, and your idol is the Amazing Spider-Man, you’re in for the biggest treat with this week’s Doctor Strange #390. It’s amazing that with all the high concept and continuity stuff that Donny Cates has been making his name with the past year and a half, it’s his sterling character work and sense of humor that makes his last issue with the Sorcerer Supreme far and away his most entertaining yet. First and foremost, having Frazer Irving on art for this last issue is almost a bittersweet sensation, given how off-the-charts perfect Irving’s shadowy, almost black-light poster artwork is for Doctor Strange - but this winds up being a great showcase for Irving’s expressiveness, too, particularly when Bats and Spidey meet. Meanwhile, an interlude with art from Chip Zdarsky is pitch-perfect, and if there’s any justice will be a Spider-Meme that will last through the ages. It’s been a good week for the Big Two in general this week, but Doctor Strange #390 may be my favorite Marvel offering by a country mile.
Detective Comics #981 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): And so James Tynion IV’s tenure on Detective Comics ends by focusing on what made it special to begin with: family. Neatly wrapping up the problem of Brother Eye and the twisted Tim Drake of the future with the power of love, Tynion, and the expressive pencils and rich colors of Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, and Adriano Lucas, send Batman, Batwoman, and the rest of their team into the sunset, and new positions in the DCU, with poise, grace, and more than a few genuinely tearjerker moments. Sure, the denouement of the arc comes a little too quickly, and the other side “big bad” of the story, hacker Ulysses Armstrong, is put down in a grand total of one panel, but, once again, it is Tynion’s attention to the family dynamics and pathos filled energy of his run as a whole that makes this finale truly shine. The Bat-Family is a collection of special men and women, but this run of Detective Comics and the characters it assembled will always hold a special place in the heart of this era of the DCU.
S.H.I.E.L.D. #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton throw down for control of S.H.I.E.L.D. across three timelines in the penultimate issue of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Though I just now realize that that sentence is the most Jonathan Hickman thing ever, so readers should be wary - but also be amazed at the sheer ambition and scene construction of this, admittedly head-scratching, but giddily entertaining return issue. Constructed almost like concurrently running separate comic strips, Hickman and co-creator Dustin Weaver, along with colorist Sonia Oback who gives this whole issue a coppery, apocalyptic glow, spread the fight and story across the fraying timeline and let the reader do with it what they will. I can totally see where people would find it frustrating, and even I had to go back several times just to keep the plot (somewhat) together, but the sheer audacity and scale of the story is something you can’t just outright write off. Blessed (or perhaps cursed) with huge ideas and an unconventional way of telling the story, S.H.I.E.L.D. #5 is too rare to live, but too weird to die.
Batgirl #23 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): It’s hard to write effective endings in superhero comic books, and that’s plenty evident in Batgirl #23. Writer Hope Larson tries to put Babs in a position where she has to act against her base instincts in order to save the day, but reading Batgirl working through such an obvious problem is exhausting. It’s definitely played to be a big hero moment for her, but it doesn’t resonate at all because there are zero stakes in getting Barbara back to a place where she feels “like anything is possible.” The book looks pretty great, though. Minkyu Jung fits right in with previous work from Babs Tarr and others on the title. The purple and yellow costume still pops and there are a few great panels like Batgirl jumping through smoke to prick her enemies with tranq darts. But in the end, though we’re supposed to believe that Barbara has learned something, it feels like feigned sincerity.
Old Man Hawkeye #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Venom is currently a blight on the Marvel Universe, but Ethan Sacks’ usage of the symbiote menace at least makes for some fun action sequences. I think part of the problem with Old Man Hawkeye is that it doesn’t seem to be about anything in particular. Sacks and artist Marco Checchetto are content with showing us stuff in this world, but it doesn’t really mean anything beyond maybe being a clever idea. You can’t consider this series without the context of the original “Old Man Logan” story that, while far from perfect, aimed to show readers an incredibly broken character taken to his absolute limit - the last ronin standing. This Hawkeye mini doesn’t seem to have nearly the thematic focus. So while it is a gorgeously rendered return to the wasteland, it buckles under the weight of its own legacy.
Skyward #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): In the world of Skyward, Earth’s gravitational pull decreased dramatically 20 years ago - and at this point, not everyone thinks it’s a problem that needs fixing. Skyward #2 explores a world that could easily be written as a dystopian nightmare through the eyes of someone who only knows an Earth she can travel in high-flying leaps and bounds, and it’s Willa’s ease and comfort with this universe that makes Skyward so engaging. Writer Joe Henderson doesn’t gloss over the tragedy of what’s happened, but neither does he create a world so grim and unpleasant that artist Lee Garbett and colorist Antonio Fabela can’t have fun with all the weirdness low gravity entails like the way Willa’s hair flows without anything holding it down and the high fashion magnetized shoes Chicago citizens scramble for to keep them planted on terra firma. Skyward #2 is a unique sci-fi experience and promises to turn into an engrossing mystery, but it’s Willa’s heart and good-natured charm that really carries the book.
Suicide Squad #42 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Sometimes you need to think outside of your regular crew if you want to get something done - and in the case of Deadshot trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter Zoe, he’s going to have to team up with the Dark Knight himself. Admittedly, bringing in Batman as a guest star for Suicide Squad #42 feels like a bit of a cheat (similar to his inclusion in the feature film), especially since it feels like the book is biting on Deathstroke’s style right about now. Batman and Deadshot have chemistry under Rob Williams’ pen, but it also feels fairly interchangeable with what Priest is doing with Slade Wilson - there were plenty of times I had to catch myself to remember that this is an entirely separate character. Artist Jose Luis, meanwhile, shows some promise here - he reminds me a bit of old-school Mark Bagley, with a strong sense of storytelling and construction, but with a semi-cartoony style that I think hampers the dramatic potential of the book. It’s not to say that Williams and Luis don’t do some decent work with Batman and Deadshot, but it’s fairly middle-of-the-road fare.
Champions #20 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The Champions find themselves faced with an unusual dilemma in this week’s Champions #20: what happens when a bad guy goes good, but makes it clear that some terms and conditions apply? “Master of the World” may be doing humanity a solid, but the Inuk locals don’t seem too keen on what he’s doing, and with a name like “Master of the World,” who can really blame them. Writer Jim Zub has easily picked up where Mark Waid left off; the Champions feel like teens again, well-intentioned and with a little more life experience under their belt than the average kid who flounder when faced with a community asking for their help to handle a villain they may want to leave alone for the greater good. Sean Izaakse and Marcio Menyz do a stellar job capturing the wintery beauty of northern Canada; the winter wardrobe additions for the Champions are also fantastic touches, including Spider-Man’s very cute Spidey beanie. If you’re new to the series, you’ll want to grab issue #19 before picking up this one, but this arc is worth checking out.
The Prisoner #2 (Published by Titan Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Breen settles into the “charms" of the Village in the second installment of Titan’s The Prisoner. Though writer Peter Milligan finds use for the familiar conventions of the original show, like constant trippy interrogation and bursts of action, his characters and set up from the first issue provide a new approach to the concept. This sustains this issue throughout and makes it stand out as a respectful adaption. Artist Colin Lorimer and colorist Joana Lafluente also get in on the fun, breaking the script down into hazily segmented beats with coal like colors, like the opening’s jaunt through Breen’s memories that land him in a mysterious desert of the mind. The first time is luck, but the second time is skill, and by that metric the team behind The Prisoner proves themselves to be very skillful.