Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: AVENGERS #7, BATMAN #54, WWE NXT: THE BLUEPRINT #1, CAPTAIN AMERICA #3, COVER #1, More

BOOM! Studios September 2018 cover
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Greetings ‘Rama Readers! Pierce Lydon here! Fearless leader David Pepose is on his way to Rose City Comic Con so I’ll be your host for a column that’s positively brimming with praise for a smattering of this week’s titles. Without further ado, Jaunty Justin Partridge will kick things off with his take on the latest issue of Avengers by Jason Aaron!

Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It is the Prehistoric Ghost Rider vs. the WEN-DI-GO at the dawn of man in Avengers #7. While Jason Aaron’s run on the A-list Marvel team hasn’t exactly been a blockbuster thus far, this new standalone issue breathes a real heavy metal energy into the title thanks to Aaron’s tersely poetic narration and Sara Pichelli’s heartfelt and highly kinetic pencils. Avengers #7 isn’t the most essential issue of the series so far (really have any of them been?), but at the very least we get some more context for Odin’s team of prehistoric “Avengers” as well as some of that trademark Aaron “sword and sorcery” superheroics. But Pichelli, Elisabetta D’Amico, and Justin Ponsor’s artwork really elevates this issue beyond the doldrums of the previous entries. Ed McGuinness is a great artist, but Pichelli’s silky smooth pencils, scaffolded by D’Amico’s lithe inks and Ponsor’s rich colors really level this title up visually and it couldn’t have come a moment too soon. Avengers may still be finding its feet, but this trip to the dawn of recorded time is exactly the kind of shot in the arm it needed.

Credit: Matt Wagner (DC Comics)

Batman #54 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Similar to the work that Christopher Priest is doing over in Deathstroke, Tom King and Matt Wagner take an issue to explore Bruce Wayne’s role as a father figure to the first of his young wards - Dick Grayson. Right off the bat, it’s easy to fall in love with Wagner’s artwork. It’s been a minute since the Mage creator took on the Dark Knight but he settles in quickly and Tom King gives him a few funny villains to render as well. King leans on Wagner to deliver on some crucial transitions and he does but the device is a little too cute for the issue and at times, it feels like the young Dick Grayson could really be any of Batman’s wards. There’s nothing that makes him feel extremely distinct. I like the ambition in the script - trying to give us a different look at Bruce’s role as a father and how that influences his relationship with Dick as an adult - but it’s a bit clunky in the way it gets there. Still, you can’t miss Matt Wagner’s art on this one especially when coupled with a good outing from colorist Tomeu Morey.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

WWE NXT: The Blueprint #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating 8 out of 10): Framed as an event series that hits some of the high points of NXT’s six-year existence, this week’s debut issue of BOOM’s new four-issue, weekly WWE spin-off centers around the American Dream himself, the original commissioner and guiding force of the early crop of NXT talents, Dusty Rhodes. The weirder revisionist history elements are off-set by writer Dennis Hopeless’ excellent grasp on Rhodes’ unique and distinctive voice, and illustrator Jake Elphick does an incredible job capturing the charisma and charm that made Rhodes such a powerful and captivating presence even in the twilight years of his career as an elder statesman within the WWE. For WWE diehards or newer fans, this issue will offer a fun glimpse back into the early days of NXT as a weekly television brand, poking fun at its foibles and helping coalesce the career timeline of some of its early standouts into something that lines up a little more with their current position in the timeline. The art is some of the best in the series so far -- down to Jim Campbell’s always exemplary lettering -- and there are a few laugh out loud moments that are worth the price of admission.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain America #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10)In the wake of everything that happened in 2016, numerous real-world publications and networks sent reporters into “fly-over country” in an attempt to understand. With this issue, Ta-Nehisi Coates considers these ideas in a far better way than the previous Captain America run (and many of those reporters) did, all the while managing to give Agent 13 a subplot, examining Hydra’s effects on America and roping in Black Panther and Okoye for a mission. Helping to tie all this together are Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan and Sunny Gho. Their work on the series is extraordinary –– easily some of their best –– primarily in how hard it manages to hit and not just in terms of the action. That certainly packs a punch, but it’s the quieter moments near the start that manage to stand out –– how the soft out-of-focus lights of the scene aren’t enough to fend off the darkness as a man named Joe talks about how Hydra helped real America. Some of the meatiest material could’ve easily fallen flat if not granted proper attention, yet Coates et al manage to keep every plate spinning.

Credit: DC Comics

Cover #1 (Published by Jinxworld; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10): Cover #1 is a visually captivating book. The latest offering from Brian Michael Bendis under the DC Jinxworld imprint, Cover follows comic book illustrator Max Field and an unusual superfan named Julia as they navigate the surreal social dynamic comic conventions have to offer -- especially when your superfan turns out to be a national security asset. It’s illustrator David Mack and colorist Zu Orzu who really bring the book to life, giving it a “misty, water-colored memories” vibe with a monochrome blue color palette and amorphous lines that make the entire book feel not quite there. Vibrant pops bring Field’s world into sharper focus, with sometimes unsettling effect: the blazing orange of a sunset over a landscape he never expected to see, Julia’s face in full color with a warm and welcoming smile. Together, Mack and Orzu fully realize the more clandestine elements of the premise, turning the mundane vocabulary of Bendis’ almost laconic script into something that feels like a mirage, a hazy image seen through the heat rising off the ground, making it hard to discern what’s real and what’s not. Cover #1 feels like the start of an unusual game -- an exhilarating chase with potentially unnerving consequences for poor Max Field.

Credit: Titan Comics

Elric: The White Wolf #1 (Published by Titan Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The enigmatic fantasy icon gets a finely detailed reintroduction to monthly comics in Elric: The White Wolf. Moving beyond reprints of old canon stories, Titan Comics invites readers into the rich and dense fantasy world of Michael Moorcock with a brand new adaptation of the character’s days as a raider, with his soul stealing sentient sword in tow. Julien Blondel and Jean-Luc Cano’s script neatly side steps Elric’s prosaic origin story and dives right into the reaving and poetic narration that made his stories so entertaining in the first place. Julien Telo, Robin Recht, and Jean Bastide’s sumptuous pages also lean into the established highly detailed tone of the original comics and stories, but with a much more expressive and lyrical tone, thus heightening the tragedy and violence of Elric’s canon. A treat for longtime fans and new converts Elric: The White Wolf is an all around winner for the infamous elven emperor.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Quicksilver: No Surrender #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10) In X-Factor #87, Pietro laid out what it felt like being brought to a halt by the rest of the work, the equivalent of being perpetually stuck behind people who can’t work cash machines. At the present moment, the speedster finds himself attempting to slow down –– first by breathing in… and out –– in the hopes it will stop the creatures wearing his face connected to his emotional state. Saladin Ahmed’s scripting is blunt in its thematics, making Quicksilver’s emotional journey overt, though the approach works well considering the character is essentially fighting himself. Ahmed proves once again that’s he capable of digging into a character and finding what makes them tick. He’s aided by Eric Nguyen and Rico Renzi who provide scratchy, frenetic linework and bursts of colour which coalesce into a swarm as they all race around together. The speed with which Pietro and the entities move is rendered in a way that implies intense speed despite single panels being static images. The style is not one that would work with many other characters, and the penultimate page is notably, and unfortunately, sloppier than the rest, but the miniseries does manage to end by leaving you wanting more.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Immortal Hulk #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The horror of the Hulk deepens in Immortal Hulk #5. Though the long incoming confrontation between the Hulk and Sasquatch makes up the bulk of this issue, writer Al Ewing delivers a lot more than just a gamma radiated punch-up. Supplementing the violence with more dark twists and interpersonal reflection on the part of the Hulk and the series’ female lead Jackie, Ewing continues to make this new incarnation much more of a satisfying experience beyond the punching and the Hulking out. Aiding in this new macabre direction is the art team of Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, and Paul Mounts. Along with Ewing’s grim story turns, Mounts, Jose, and Bennett continue to keep pace with it, delivering engrossing displays of emotion along with the “Green Door” intrigue and truly striking horror movie beats that the title has been excelling at. While the title overall seems to be moving away from “one-and-done” stories and into longer sustained arc, Immortal Hulk continues to be a dreadfully entertaining experience.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Thanos Legacy #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): In a way, Thanos Legacy has a lot in common with the upcoming Avengers film. With Avengers 4, we’ll presumably find out how the Avengers will win the day and in this issue, we find out the answer to just how exactly Thanos won back in “Thanos Wins.” Cates has a penchant for purple prose that fits the tone of this story like a glove (pun intended? You decide.) and by working in that mode, the issue feels a bit like a love letter to Marvel’s past - namely, the works of Starlin, Claremont, Simonson and Lee. And to Cates’ credit he manages to fit everything here neatly within the bounds of everything going on with Thanos in recent issues of Thor and Infinity Wars. Brian Level turns in a decent effort through his acting with Thanos leaves something to be desired. He can be a hard character to draw emotion out of and Level gets close to cracking the code before succumbing to a myriad of grit teeth. The backup story by Gerry Duggan and Cory Smith is a silent one that really just pads this one out, doing little more than to show Thanos’ abuse of Gamora. It feels lazy despite some very coherent visual storytelling by Smith.

Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

James Bond: Origin #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Her Majesty’s best asset gets a handsome and historied origin story in the debut of James Bond: Origin. Written by Jeff Parker and given expressive stylings by artist Bob Q, this first issue takes what could have been a rote retelling of Bond’s early days and instead delivers an engaging tale of revenge, duty, and the early days of spycraft. Though Parker’s script does a great job of showing us a Bond before he became Bond, artist Bob Q is the real star of this debut. Some might be turned off by his more “cartoonish” style, but his blocky, emotive style and rich colors really set this Bond story apart from the rest of Dynamite’s offerings and gives it an instantly distinctive look. Packed with great character moments and gorgeously rendered James Bond: Origin #1 is another successful mission for Dynamite and their handling of the IP.

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