Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has your back, with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Charismatic C.K. Stewart, who takes a look at this week’s issue of Batman...
Batman #48 (Published by DC Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The most interesting thing about Tom King’s recent Batman issues is the way he weaves little wedding details into the greater Batman and DC mythos. With Booster Gold’s tragic gift returned, we move on to the wedding party, and Batman #48 offers an unusual perspective on the Joker, who seems to have his sights set on being Bruce Wayne’s worst best man. King offers a Joker who is not actually particularly funny — not “not funny” in the way that crime isn’t comedic to anyone but a criminal like the Joker, but “not funny” in the way that makes you cringe when your friend flops at his open mic night. What follows is an issue as strange and uncomfortable as you’d expect with that sentence, elevated by Mikel Janin and June Chung’s gaunt, sallow Clown Prince of Crime. Batman #48 has the same off-putting, growing tension King sowed the seeds of with Booster Gold in issue #47; there’s a growing sense here that something borrowed and something blue may not give Selina and Bruce all the good luck they need to make it through their wedding unscathed.
Cloak & Dagger #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Just in time for Thursday’s premiere of the Cloak & Dagger television show on Freeform, Marvel has dropped Cloak & Dagger #1 on Comixology to launch a surprise six-issue miniseries with little fanfare. But if you’re hoping for something that ties into the more socially conscious new TV series, you might be disappointed — Dennis Hopeless’ story instead focuses mostly on recap, as Cloak and Dagger deal with the fallout of an unseen split. But despite these characters’ longtime ties to one another, this debut lacks emotional connection and has none of even the cursory attempts at social relevance the show aims for, instead focusing on the codependent and oftentimes toxic dynamic between the two. Meanwhile, David Messina’s artwork does a decent job at introducing the characters, but it’s for fairly utilitarian purposes, watching Dagger fight while Cloak skulks in the shadows. A digital-only miniseries isn’t a bad way to go if you’re looking to bring characters back to the comics fold as a promotional tie-in, but Cloak & Dagger #1 lacks the heart of the adaptation it’s trying to capitalize on.
Isola #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Karl Kerschl and Msassyk have created one of the most beautiful worlds in comics in Isola, and Isola #3 carries that beauty to soaring new heights even in the haunting darkness of the forest Rook and Olwyn find themselves separated in. Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl’s story ramps up the sense of mystery and lurking sense of dread, dipping into fleeting moments of horror that jar but never distract from the heart of the story. Msassyk’s colors are lush and rich; the use of bright pops like the blazing blue of Olwyn’s stripes is stunning and her use of atmospheric shadow and careful lighting is what makes some of the more dramatic moments of this issue so successful, and Aditya Bidikar (one of the most skillful letterers around right now) does exemplary work that serves to elevate Kerschl and Msassyk’s illustrations and the script. This is a weird sort of fantasy tale, with the wistful romance of The Princess Bride with the surreal elements of something a little closer to Return to Oz — something familiar but unexpected, and well worth your time.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Living Legends #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Scott Lang and Janet Van Dyne free an alien dimension under oppression in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Living Legends #1. While the new title looks to the future, pairing up Scott and Nadia Van Dyne for all sorts of science adventures, this one-shot dredges up the past for the atom-sized heroes. Unfortunately, Ralph Maccio’s script also finds itself stuck in the past, opting to make Scott the joke-a-minute prankster he was when he first donned the cybernetic helmet and turning Janet into a stiff facsimile of herself while they rotely go through the one-shot’s plot. Andrea Di Vito and Laura Villari’s artwork comes across a bit better thanks to the pair’s plaintive colors and classic kineticism, which includes more than a few solid displays of the pair’s powers in combat. But, despite the vintage feeling artwork and team-up potential, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Living Legends feels too much like a relic from a bygone era.
Death or Glory #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): I believe in Rick Remender, as both a storyteller and a craftsman… which might be the reason why I find the sophomore issue of Death or Glory to be such an acquired taste. After last issue’s botched heist, Glory takes a needed breather to stitch her wounds and figure out what to do with her newfound knowledge of a human trafficking ring — and while Remender’s overarching narrative about unexpected tragedy and loss rings absolutely true, there’s a gratuitousness that often derails the story, from an extended scene of a live victim having his chest buzzsawed open to a small-town cop getting sodomized with a hot pepper to the jarring use of racial epithets as a shorthand of showing a character is a jerk. Unfortunately, these moments wind up feeling more memorable than the actual high concept or characterization, which makes Death or Glory feel more gross-out than you might expect. Still, Bengal’s artwork is expressive and moody, with a particularly gorgeous sense of color that makes this world feel desolate but lived-in. While it’s obviously Remender’s prerogative to go as dark as he wants on his creator-owned book, the overreliance on these bits winds up costing Death or Glory, making it a potentially alienating read.
Doctor Strange #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Stephen Strange finds himself embarking on a magical mystery tour… IN SPACE in the debut of Doctor Strange #1. While this first issue is largely set up for Strange’s new depowering and place in the Marvel Universe, Mark Waid does an admirable job of chronicling his fall from grace, delving deep into Strange’s melancholy to make up for the lack of forward momentum in the plot department. Artist Jesus Saiz keeps steady pace with Waid’s more emotional take on the series, which is both good and bad. Good because Saiz has the ability to deliver realistic emotions and scene construction, but bad because we get a real sense of how well he can handle the more crazier elements of Strange’s life in the issue’s opening, but then little else afterward. And so Doctor Strange #1 plants its emotional flag on another planet, but hopefully in later issues we can get a bit more than just a sad wizard’s walking tour of his depression and space.
Man of Steel #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Man of Steel #2 finds Brian Michael Bendis still finding his feet with Big Blue. Though this issue is graced with beautiful Superman action thanks to the pencils of Steve Rude and Doc Shaner, including a classic tussle with the Toyman and his giant mech, this second installment’s script still feels like more setup and no real forward direction. Thankfully, Bendis is still proving a worthy writer when it comes to Superman’s voice and demeanor. Does that distract from the glacial pace of the overall plot? Not really, but at the very least the Last Son of Krypton is still saving the day and smiling while doing it, which is always a welcome sight. Hopefully next issue though something will actually happen, instead of just looming in the distance.
Sword Daughter #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Given how overemphasized writers are compared to artists in today’s comic book discourse, Sword Daughter #1 proves to be an anomaly — while artist Mack Chater and colorist Jose Villarrubia excel in creating moody spaces for this Viking-era father-daughter revenge tale, Brian Wood’s actual story still feels terminally underdeveloped. Following a raid on their village, an almost nonverbal little girl winds up stirring her catatonic father back into action, but the exposition is so underwritten that it’s not only easy to lose track of the plot, but it’s hard to feel much for either of Wood’s leads. That said, Sword Daughter does prove to be an excellent showcase for Chater — he does some marvelously cinematic stuff with his page layouts, really playing up the vastness of the setting and even revelling in a fairly unorthodox action sequence. Still, even a script of few words can leave a lot lost in translation, dulling Sword Daughter’s promising debut.
Infinity Countdown #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): It’s always disappointing to see when a series, already designed as both build-up and lead-in for an upcoming event, has to slow down and noticeably move pieces around the board in preparation. The penultimate issue of Infinity Countdown falls victim to slack pacing as a result, with half of the issue dealing with the Guardians, the Nova Corps and who should hold the Power Stone, before even more players get involved. That said, this issue contains some well-done character beats, with Gerry Duggan’s characterisation of Richard Rider being a highlight of this cosmic-faring series. Aaron Kuder and Mike Hawthorne ensure a space-set feel as well, particularly in the backgrounds, but the number of inkers –– Terry Pallot, José Marzan Jr. and Kuder as well –– don’t lend the issue an artistic consistency. Alone, these factors would just result in a subpar issue, but the other half of the issue, involving Adam Warlock, Ultron, Silver Surfer and Galactus the Lifebringer, is what makes it a disappointing one. Here, that alleged necessity to shuffle the characters into position leads to reverting one of the more interesting cosmic developments in recent memory, before more creators beyond its original writer had a chance to take it further.
Invasion from Planet Wrestletopia #2 (Published by Suspicious Behavior Productions; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): When some upstart from a little rinky-dink planet off the beaten path declares himself the intergalactic champion, there’s only one way to settle things: a steel cage match in space. Invasion from Planet Wrestletopia #2 is a wild ride that leans all the way into the wackiness of its premise with no apologies. Pro wrestling is pretty strange, and it’s refreshing to see an adaptation like Matt Entin and Ed Kuehnel’s that doesn’t shy away from the wilder, cartoonish aspects that helped the WWF really start to get a foothold in American pop culture (thankfully without the grosser problematic elements that accompanied that rise). Colorist Marissa Louise delivers a vibrant palette with a retro vibe that perfectly compliments artist Dan Shkade’s slightly exaggerated style; together, they’re the perfect tag team to bring Entin and Kuehnel’s off-beat vision to life. Anyone who loves sci-fi camp, whether or not you’re a wrestling fan, will find something to love here.