Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your pellets? Best shots has your back with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off today’s column with Punchy Pierce Lydon, who takes a look at the latest issue of Nightwing...
Nightwing #51 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10) Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza pick up where Benjamin Percy abruptly left off and the result is a story that feels a little bit uneven. On some level, that works with what’s going on with Dick… excuse me, Ric Grayson. Remembering only brief bits of his life, he’s picking up the pieces and he’s moving on from what he was before. But the brain injury to Grayson results in such a sudden shift in character that it's hard to find anything to latch onto as a reader. The final page reveal gives us the crumbs of something interesting coming down the line, but overall, Lobdell and Nicieza don’t find a strong hook to Grayson’s plight because it doesn’t feel anything more than temporary. The art by Travis Moore and Garry Brown keeps the proceedings fairly consistent until the last few pages, where there’s a noticeably jarring shift in style. It’s a valiant effort from all parties to an imperfect situation, but this issue is a reminder that despite the best laid plans, comic books are more than just the sum of their parts.
Marvel Zombie #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Zombie Simon Garth returns with a cheery disposition in a ruined world in the Marvel Zombie one-shot. Written by the lunatic behind The Ice-Cream Man, W. Maxwell Prince, this grim done-in-one story delivers all the visceral entertainment of the franchise, but on a much more intimate scale. Mainly focused on Simon and his charming narration, Prince strips away all the gory theatrics of the previous volumes and puts the focus on humanity and how some of Marvel’s best might have compromised in the face of true annihilation. Artists Steffano Raffaele and Rachelle Rosenberg lean into Prince’s more wry tone, especially in the opening pages where Simon is addressing the reader directly and introducing us to his “horde friends,” cast in a sickly yellow lighting amid ashen buildings. Though it may not reach the grisly heights of previous incarnations, Marvel Zombie #1 is a grimly funny Halloween read.
Batman #57 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): When people call a fight a slugfest, they usually don’t mean that it was sluggish and banal. Unfortunately, that’s the case regarding how Batman and KGBeast’s confrontation goes down in this issue. Tom King writes it in such a way that Tony S. Daniel and Tomeu Morey can let the violence consume the pages’ widescreen format. Were this a wordless sequence, it might be more successful - Instead, the sequence finds itself filled with word balloons containing “Gnnn!”, “Ungg!” and the like as the two duke it out, the repetition sabotaging the flow while trying to pad it out. Running parallel to this is a folk tale illustrated by (a typecast) Mark Buckingham and Andrew Pepoy about the short term versus the long term. The issue’s construction is mannered, with the tale mean to enhance the primary narrative. It does do that to an extent, after taking a moment to parse the two stories’ connection, but it doesn’t amount to that much of a richer reading experience as the depiction of the fight has little meat on its bones. This feels like a misfire of an arc that would’ve worked better had Batman and the Beast’s violence had consumed the issue for its full length.
Aquaman #41 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10) “Drowned Earth” reaches Atlantis’ shores, as Queen Mera steps up to defend her people. Unfortunately, this issue is woefully decompressed. Mera is an interesting character, and it’s great that Dan Abnett shows us just how capable she is, but this tie-in isn’t all that additive to the overall event in any meaningful way. Lan Medina’s art is effective, especially as he’s able to illustrate the concern on the Atlanteans’ faces as well as the effort that Mera is putting forth for her people. The big moments are a little bit stagnant because their role in the story is to show locations under a state of duress rather than have the dynamism of superheroes punching each other. There’s a fun final page, but there’s nothing here that feels really essential or particularly fun to read.
Venom Annual #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It’s “Venom’s Greatest Hits” in Venom Annual #1. Armed by a stocked roster of creators, anchored by current series writer Donny Cates, this annual anthology takes us through some of Venom’s biggest scraps from a new angle, framed as stories being told at a villain’s bar. Cates, Kev Walker, and Chris Sotomayor’s “Tall Tales” is a really darkly funny throughline through the annual. Cates’ banter between the villains really calls to mind the best Flash Rogue stories and The Superior Foes of Spider-Man. He even manages a really creepy, superheroic O. Henry ending thanks to Venom’s elastic array of powers. The rest of the stories provide new takes and clever retellings of some of Venom’s greatest fights, like his famous bar fight with Wolverine and his first scrap with Black Cat. Artists Tigh Walker, James Stokoe, and Ron Lim weave the stories through the action of “Tall Tales” and give this annual the right lethal energy perfect for the character. Does this rise to the creative team’s claim of being better than Watchmen? Probably not, but at least the Venom Annual #1 is fun as hell.
New Challengers #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): The New Challengers face their fate in their sixth and final issue. Though writers Aaron Gillespie and Scott Snyder introduce some neat ideas in this issue, like the Challengers having to fight through dimensional bleeds and face down their corrupted original counterparts, this issue reads like the series is working on borrowed time. Most of the action is dedicated to plot wrap up, but in doing so, it kind of gets bogged down in its own ending and forgets to just be an entertaining comic book. Only devoted readers of the series will find much to enjoy here, script wise. But at least the artwork sends this “New Age of Heroes” title off into the sunset on a high note. Art team V. Ken Marion, Sandu Florea, and Dinei Ribeiro recapture that kinetic spark that Andy Kubert struck in those early issues. They spread scenes across multiple splash pages, allowing readers to drink in sumptuously weird details like a giant skeleton of a space god or both Challenger teams fighting tooth and nail. It doesn’t make the script pop much, but New Challengers #6 really does look great in the end.
Thor #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10) There are two things we can agree upon: Christian Ward is a great artist and Jason Aaron is a great writer. Unfortunately though, we don’t get a great showing by either of them in Thor #6. Ward’s shortcomings are a bit more noticeable here - all the hallmark cosmic impressionism of his style is here, but there’s a sloppiness to the execution that just makes some of the work look hurried and unfinished. Certain figures look sketched out but never fully rendered, while action scenes are washed with flame, to the point where the action itself is obscured. It’s always fun when Aaron writes Doctor Doom, but without strong artwork to really backup the narrative, this issue feels like it’s missing a certain punchiness that previous issues have had. The “Rule of Cool” definitely wins out in this issue over anything else, but it results in a high-spectacle experience that’s lacking in substance.
Green Lanterns #57 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Before Grant Morrison can take over and get Hal Jordan in a room with God, he has to put down the threat that is Hank Henshaw in Green Lanterns #57. We all know what happened last time the Cyborg Superman visited Coast City, and this time he has the Phantom Ring at his disposal. Writer Dan Jurgens really goes full bore with the stakes here in this issue, both on earth and in space. Admittedly, his resolution to the Hal and Hank fight is a bit underwhelming as is the Corps’ escape from the forces of Eon, but Jurgens still really knows how to write an engaging single superhero experience and this finale issue is no exception. (Plus any comic book with a Sodom Yat cameo is always gonna score high in my book.) This finale is also blessed with a grounded, almost noirish energy by artist Mike Perkins and the colors of Hi-Fi. Though this issue contains plenty of ring-slinging and interstellar combat, Perkins’ lithe character models and realistic sets really gives this finale a refreshing change of look and tone from the usual spacey, stylized artwork. Big things are on the horizon for the Corps, but Green Lanterns #57 keeps it all (relatively) grounded to finish out this volume.