Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: WONDER WOMAN #53, VENOM #5, SHANGHAI RED #3, More

Marvel Comics August 2018 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics

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 a look at this week’s issue of Wonder Woman...

Credit: DC Comics

Wonder Woman #53 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Wonder Woman, Artemis and Aztek against a giant shadow god? Yeah, Steve Orlando’s stint on the Amazing Amazon is as wild as it sounds, especially when this off-the-wall story is illustrated by ACO and Hugo Petreus — the pure spectacle of this comic should be enough to justify the purchase, as we’re showered with dense, hyper-rendered pages riddled with insets, as Diana and her compatriots fire the Bow of Ra and sever a deity’s connection to Hypertime itself. But if you’re scratching your head at what I just said, you’re probably not alone. While Orlando dives deep into Morrison-era DC pop mythology, he’s certainly not pumping the brakes for any newbies — while Petreus is more conventional with his layouts, ACO is pushed to the limit in terms of how much he can fit on a page, sometimes pitting the art and the writing against themselves. Still, there are few superhero books that throw as much against the wall as Orlando and company is doing with Wonder Woman, making this insane, challenging issue definitely worth your time.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Venom #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Contact with Knull, the Symbiote God, has made Venom even stronger than he was before but what does that mean for the Lethal Protector? Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman explore that with a fairly quiet issue that unravels some of the mysteries of the previous four in very effective fashion. It’s one of those ideas that seems so obvious that you’d wonder why it took this long for it to surface but its a compelling way to push the Venom mythos forward. Stegman’s work with the symbiote is especially compelling. It’s not just the addition of wings — Stegman makes the symbiote feel like a living, breathing character in a way that many other artists have had trouble with effectively communicating. He does run into a couple of rough patches with his panel layouts as they work with Cates’ scripts, but those don’t take away from the overall effect. This is a brave new era for Venom.

Credit: Image Comics

Shanghai Red #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The third issue of Shanghai Red only clocks in at 24 pages, but Christopher Sebela and Joshua Hixson’s pacing makes this issue feel even more substantial. While plenty of people have tried to categorize Shanghai Red as a piratical revenge story, Sebela does something even more interesting here with his heroine Molly — namely, her own psychological dissociation with her male alter ego Jack. “You can handle it all… every ugly thing I can’t.” It’s immediately compelling stuff, which he follows up nicely with Molly’s emotional reunion with her sister Katie, capped by a harrowing finale evoking Molly’s initial kidnapping. What makes this issue feel so meaty is how masterfully Hixson lays out his pages — Sebela’s writing plenty of six-, seven-, even eight-panel pages, and Hixson never skips a beat, with some particularly interesting work in the way he’ll throw in a thin vertical panel that somehow punches up the emotional beats despite its small space. (And that’s to say nothing of Hixson’s moody colors, giving an oppressive, bloody atmosphere to every page.) If you’re looking for some seriously great comic booking, you should not pass up Shanghai Red.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): At the very least, Jason Aaron, Ed McGuiness, Paco Medina, Mark Morales, Juan Vlasco and David Curiel appear to all be on a similar artistic wavelength with Avengers #6. Concluding their first arc, they clearly want the stories found within Avengers to be big ones. It’s not enough for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to be making a last stand against Loki and his Dark Celestials, as the accompanying narration talks of how the universe –– everyone from Odin to Iron Fist –– is watching. The intentions of Aaron’s approach suggests an attempt to blend Kurt Busiek’s and Jonathan Hickman’s work on the title, but what’s present on the page is a grand hollowness. Character gets lost amidst intended spectacle, as the arc ends in a big old fight made up of some smaller fights, yet all depicted with the same equally large scale of perspective and without spatial awareness as the panel layouts bleed into one another. The far-reaching allusions don’t mean anything yet, but promise this will all eventually build into something. Hopefully that something is more satisfying than this first arc, which never truly came together even after the team itself had gone through the requisite assembling.

Credit: DC Comics

Detective Comics #987 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): While Bryan Edward Hill’s Detective Comics has served as a bit of a backdoor pilot for a new Outsiders title, it’s a little frustrating to see them practically get sidelined before the big fight. Hill’s Batman is cold, calculating and seemingly all-knowing - a sharp contrast to what we’ve seen over in Tom King’s Batman. It’s a much different side of Bruce than we see in the main Batman title but one that give’s Detective Comics a more unique tone even if its supporting characters are getting short shrift. Miguel Mendoca’s art is fairly standard for the Bat-books, but does feature some good expression work. At the end of the day, it kind of has a neutral effect on the overall package - there are no missteps egregious enough to distract from the story but there’s a lack of anything that really stands out about his work.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The high concept in Nick Spencer’s Spider-Man is so far a solid one - splitting Power and Responsibility and pitting them against each other works from a structural standpoint. But four issues in, Spencer’s narrative has lost steam. With most the story told through Peter Parker’s narration captions, the arc has begun to feel a lot more passive than it was at the outset. The change in pace is expected given the events of the book, but it still feels like Spencer’s wading through wet cement to get us anywhere with the plot - eking out small reveals that should have more weight than they actually land with. Ryan Ottley suffers a bit from the slower pace, too. The best part of the first two issues was see his high-flying take on Spider-Man in action. That’s been cast aside a bit, and while the plot demands it, the book as a whole is worse off for it.

Credit: DC Comics

Teen Titans #21 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Adam Glass and Bernard Chang turn out an issue of Teen Titans that feels a bit slight by the time we get to the end. The issue starts with a lot of momentum, but devolves into a bunch of in-fighting between the team that does little to illuminate anything about their characters. Glass’ script has its quippy moments, but even those good exchanges sometimes go a few panels or lines too long - betraying the adage of “get in late and get out early.” Bernard Chang’s art isn’t a bad fit for the story, but as the script relies on giving us a visual representation of Djinn’s powers, Chang seems to lose his way, with his layouts faltering a bit. The countdown clock give the proceedings a sort of rote feeling, and despite a somewhat surprising solution to the Titans’ problem, this issue really fails to land in an interesting place.

Credit: Marvel Comics

The Life of Captain Marvel #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Writing for comics can be a learning curve, so it’s rewarding to see the results of a creator coming to grips with it. This is true of Margaret Stohl, who had a shaky start to writing Carol Danvers –– and certainly wasn’t aided by needing to tie-in to a line-wide event –– though is far more in control of the story at the center of The Life of Captain Marvel, examining how Carol handles learning about her father’s infidelity. Drawn by Carlos Pacheco, Rafael Fonteriz and Marcio Menyz, and complemented by another flashback illustrated by Marguerite Sauvage, the tale is gorgeously rendered, finding an internal melancholy that rises to the forefront even as the sun beams in ironic fashion. The issue serves another function by establishing a confrontation sure to happen later, though this part is clearly playing second fiddle to Carol’s internal struggle. Regardless, Stohl’s understanding of pacing a monthly book has grown overtime, enough that she now jumps between the stories and finds an appropriate balance. The issue doesn’t beat around the bush or stagnate, it’s about ripping the bandaid off and dealing with it while it’s fresh.

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