Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your pellets? Best Shots has you covered with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off today’s column with Pontificatin’ Pierce Lydon, who takes a look at the latest issue of Punisher…
Punisher #227 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): If you haven’t checked in on Matthew Rosenberg’s run on Punisher, you’re definitely missing out. The book has evolved from its initial “Punisher plus War Machine armor” pitch by placing Frank Castle in the crosshairs of the Marvel Universe as he seeks some sort of reconciliation for his role in Secret Empire. That lasting guilt is something that works so well for the character and feels like realistic fallout from an event that most readers have put firmly in the rearview. And Rosenberg’s penchant for snappy dialogue works really well within the Punisher-Bucky-Natasha dynamic. Stefano Landini makes some excellent decisions in terms of shot selection, but his art does feel a little light when it comes to the action sequences considering what’s happening on the page. I know it’s odd to describe it this way, but it feels very quiet, like watching a movie on mute, when the climax of the issue is really begging for something a lot louder. That said, Punisher is a fun read that looks to have real implications for the Marvel Universe.
Titans #23 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): When the Titans are at their best, they rival the X-Men in terms of soap opera dramatics mixed with action. This issue is a perfect example. While the Titans try to contain the effects of the fallen Source Wall, there’s plenty of punching and infighting to go around. Dan Abnett uses Miss Martian’s mindlink ability to frame the action and give us a deeper look at the dynamics of the team. It’s inventive when it works, but he does occasionally use it as a crutch to explain things we see on the page, leading to some awkward pacing. Brandon Peterson’s art works well with the script, but he’s got some characters nailed down a lot better than others. Gar and his transformations are always fun, but Nightwing looks decidedly inconsistent and off-model sometimes. Overall, it’s enough for comics to just be fun, and that’s what this issue accomplishes in spades.
Farmhand #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Do you reap what you sow? Are you just a branch on a family tree of woe? These are the questions being considered from the outset of Farmhand, the new series from writer-artist Rob Guillory, Taylor Wells and Kody Chamberlain. An appropriate dream sequence jolts Zeke Jenkins awake on the day that he’s taking his family to the farm run by his own father, only it’s more advanced than usual – genetic interweaving is now a core part of farming at the Jenkins Family Farmaceutical Institute. There’s also a more sinister B-story lurking in the background alongside hints at existing family tension and past events, all of which serves to suggest an already established history. Guillory has an immense amount of control on this world, right down to the background gags, wrangling the various aspects together into a well-paced package. What’s most unnerving is how Wells’ colours in the B-story feel more natural, everything about the Jenkins’ visit seems too saturated, as if the brightness has been intentionally dialled up. These sequences begin to unearth what’s really going on, while the rest of the issue suggests there’s a lot more to be dug up over the series’ course.
Darth Vader #18 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Man, is this a fun Star Wars comic. Alone and weaponless on a hostile planet, Darth Vader is being hunted a pack of Imperial soldiers… and watching these two groups stage a war of attrition winds up being a deeply satisfying event, thanks to writer Charles Soule and artists Giuseppe Camuncoli and Danielle Orlandini. First off, this issue really showcases Camuncoli’s greatest strength — his sense of composition, as his layouts tee up some real home runs for Orlandini’s inks to knock out. (Seriously, beyond some minor differences in the way she inks faces, I would never have known it wasn’t Camuncoli behind the wheel.) But Soule just paces this issue perfectly, complicating Vader’s guerilla counterattack by inches, with a final twist that’s a superb punchline. If you’re looking for the most badass Vader book you’ve ever seen, pick this book up pronto.
Plastic Man #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): There are gags a-plenty in Gail Simone and Adriana Melo’s latest issue of Plastic Man and honestly, that enough to keep it afloat. Plastic Man is a character who thrives on humor, and Simone’s script is full of jokes. With a hefty assist from Melo, the book delivers punchlines at a frenetic pace that will at least keep readers interested even if they aren’t quite sure what’s going on. But while humor is a strength of this book, it does take all the weight out of the narrative and really muddies the waters in terms of what’s actually happening. It’s not a particularly well-paced book, but arguably some of that has to do with the main character acting as narrator. The jokes and visual gags are solid enough to make this an enjoyable read, but your mileage may vary if those don’t land for you as a reader.
X-23 #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Laura Kinney returns to her X-23 designation, and it’s hard not to feel like this is a step backwards. Mariko Tamaki’s script is fairly straightforward, but having Laura investigate the program that created her even further feels like well-worn territory at this point especially after Tom Taylor’s run seemed to move us past this. And under Tamaki’s pen, Gabby aka Honey Badger is little more than a rote and often annoying moppet. Juann Cabal’s familiarity with these characters really works in the book’s favor as he turns in some solid work. That said, a few of his paneling and page layout decisions feel odd, lending credence to the feeling that there’s a bit of a disconnect between artist and writer. With time, this team may tighten up, but this is a less than inspiring debut.
Wonder Woman #50 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): In order to conclude his run, James Robinson begins his final issue of Wonder Woman a month after last issue’s cliffhanger. That left off revealing that Jason had been brought under the influence of the Dark Gods and any possible momentum is squandered by not immediately picking up at that point. Robinson’s story structure has been messy since the beginning of his run, and he’s consistent to the end in this regard. Instead, the extended length issue is limp in reaching its conclusion, all the more arduous because in order to work, it requires the audience to care for Jason and he’s never been a character deserving of interest, much less investment. In fact, he’s never been a substantial character, just a plot device with great focus than the book’s titular hero. The art team of Stephen Segovia, Jesus Merino, Andy Owens, Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Chris Sotomayor and Saida Temofonte make a noble effort to transform this script into something which isn’t a total affront to the eyes, but no one could salvage something so off the mark. Thank the gods that this run is finally over.