Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with today’s column, as we check out Tom King’s Batman...
Batman #49 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Tom King continues to do some interesting structural things with his run on Batman, delivering an inversion on the classic Batman-Joker frenemy dynamic from The Killing Joke and transferring it to the Dark Knight’s bride-to-be Catwoman. With Selina and Joker each inflicting close-to-mortal wounds on one another, the two villains competing most for Batman’s affections wind up having a heart-to-heart of their own, exploring their philosophies of their roles and what makes the Batman tick. King’s issue is of a slower, more methodical pace than his in-your-face insanity of “The Gift,” but to have such a quiet issue before the Batman-Catwoman wedding takes some real guts - artist Mikel Janin, meanwhile, brings a welcome weight to this somber issue, as we can really see the pain in both Catwoman and the Joker as they both struggle to keep from bleeding out. That said, this issue will be an acquired taste for some, both in terms of King’s almost anti-joke Joker as well as with the flat energy of the storyline. Still, I have to give King credit for continuing to experiment with a flagship title like Batman - especially before the Dark Knight’s big day.
Tony Stark: Iron Man #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Tony Stark returns to the hero game with a new suit and a new support staff in the debut of Dan Slott’s Tony Stark: Iron Man #1. Though Slott and artist Valerio Schiti lean a bit too hard into the Robert Downey, Jr. characterization of Tony, going so far as to even put young Tony in RDJ’s costume from Weird Science, this new #1 really works overtime to deliver a fun and breezy new introduction to Tony’s solo adventures. Slott keeps a steady flow of both action and science fiction ideas as Tony works to introduce a new member of his Stark Unlimited team to his crazy new co-workers, including Jocasta Pym, head of Robotic Ethics. Valerio Schiti and colorist Edgar Delgado really leave it all on the page for this new #1, drenching the panels in vibrant, eye grabbing colors while Schiti aims for kineticism and emoting, bouncing from the boardroom to a kaiju-sized battle between Fin Fang Foom and one of the Tony’s new, colossal armors. Big ideas and big fun were teased when Tony Stark: Iron Man #1 was announced, and I am happy to report that this debut issue makes good on both.
Shanghai Red #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Jeff Marsick; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Two years ago, Jack was shanghaied from Portland, Oregon, and sold onto a seafaring square-rigger alongside a dozen other sorry souls. Now that the service contract has expired, instead of re-upping for better wages, Jack leads a mutiny, reveals a long-kept secret, and sets sail for Portland to kill the men who stole his life. Christopher Sebela has masterfully plotted the opening chapter of an unrepentant and vicious revenge tale, one with a main character as full of secrets as they are calculating and captivating and set against the historical backdrop and villainy of late-1800s Portland. Sebela has a great ear for dialogue, which makes it all the more realistic, but it’s the artwork from Josh Hixson - who can evoke so much with his lines and colors especially in the quiet panels - that makes this such a dark and haunting thrill ride. Even the lettering from Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou deserves calling out for the additional layer of gritty realism his work lends this effort in what should be a new genre: high-seas noir. Shanghai Red is simply fantastic comic storytelling.
Justice League #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Justice League continues to just flat-out rule as it heads into its second installment. Faced with the looming presence of the Totality, the League shores up more allies in order to venture into it and suss out its true purpose. But on the other side of the coin, Lex Luthor is doing the same, infiltrating the League in a truly ingenious way while the rest of the Legion of Doom ready themselves for a showdown with the new League. Scott Snyder is throwing a lot of comic book crazy around here in this issue, but in doing so, he has yet to lose a grip on the big characters and their personalities, which is a welcome sight. Sure, this script is a little wordy and nakedly expository at times, but with so much going on, beautifully rendered by Jorge Jimenez and the searing colors of Alejandro Sanchez, it is hard to really be mad at it.
Man of Steel #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): We are now four issues into Brian Michael Bendis’ grand relaunch of the Superman line, and nothing of any real significance has yet to happen, which begs the question, has Bendis’ Superman run even really started yet? Aside from a certain Kryptonian cameo from Supes’ past, which is rendered with real lantern-jawed glory by Jason Fabok, this issue is largely focused around filling in the gaps of Superman and Rogol Zaar’s titanic fight from the pages of Action Comics #1000. Ultimately this fight is adds up to a handsome disappointment, as the legendary Kevin Maguire and colorist Alex Sinclair attempt to liven up the punching with nice character moments like a tense three-panel time-lapse of a woman being rescued by Superman as well as some really fantastic POV shifts like Rogol swatting Supergirl out of the way and advancing. Visually Man of Steel #4 is a triumph, but it will never be accused of being a substantial reading experience.
Runaways #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): With college freshman Julie Power suddenly transformed into a 13-year-old, it’s up to the Runaways to find her a cure while going head-to-head with an eternal teenage girl. Writer Rainbow Rowell and artist Kris Anka play up teenage angst with superhero action magnificently here - while the balance between the team is a little pushed in favor of Molly and Karolina, there’s so many great beats to this issue that it’s hard to fault the creative team. (In particular, there’s a great gag involving the time-lost Gert, particularly her reaction to discovering One Direction broke up in her absence.) Anka’s expression work is really what sells most of this issue, which is pretty incredible given the fact that he also choreographs some smooth-as-hell action beats, where the 13-year-old Abbie gives the Runaways a run for their money with a fencing blade and a beach umbrella. In general, it’s a savvy move for Rowell and Anka to wind up with Molly’s story and wrap up with Karolina’s, and with a touch of moral ambiguity, this is a great way to wrap up Runaways’ second arc.
Shadowman #4 (Published by Valiant Comics; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Shadowman #4 kicks off a new arc for the titular character, and one which is poised to delve deeper into his lore and mythos. For his part, writer Andy Diggle handles this will in telling the story of Jack Boniface’s conscious being sent back in time to his grandfather to see how his ancestors handled the violent tendencies of the loa spirit that gives him his extraordinary powers. Diggle handles the thematics of this well, with the loa being something of a stand-in for anger, and the parallels between being a puppet to it and being a puppet to the mind control device his grandfather destroys at the comic’s conclusion are apt. The only odd choice in terms of writing is when he gives a mind-controlled would-be political assassin salient points in a speech. Artistically, Shawn Martinbrough and Stephen Segovia create a noir aesthetic fitting of the 1940s setting, and the way they and colorist Jose Villarrubia utilize shadows on every characters face only makes Shadowman himself feel more at home in his environment. It’s a visual characteristic that can be very effective if it remains consistent as the arc rotates through its artists. While Jack Boniface himself takes a literal and metaphysical backseat throughout the issue, new and existing fans will likely find his history compelling.