Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK/WONDER WOMAN: WITCHING HOUR #1, SPIDER-FORCE #1, More

X-Men Black: Emma Frost #1
Credit: Salvador Larroca (Marvel Comics)

Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for yourpellets? Best Shots has your back, with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Jittery Justin Partridge, who takes a look at Justice League Dark/Wonder Woman: The Witching Hour...

Credit: DC Entertainment

Justice League Dark/Wonder Woman: The Witching Hour #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): “The Witching Hour” comes to a grandiose conclusion in the finale crossover one-shot from James Tynion IV and a stacked roster of artists. Though this finale’s exposition can get a bit top-heavy, Tynion really goes nuts with this last issue, bringing all three magical battlegrounds together in an attempt to stop Hecate from controlling magic forever. This Justice League Dark team has been really fun so far, and Tynion’s expanded roster for this event has made it all the more fun. The artwork for this finale is also somewhat overwhelming, but never in a bad way - Jesus Merino, Fernando Blanco, and Miguel Mendonca stock this issue with truly crazy double-page splashes, taking full advantage of the mercurial visuals of magic and the weird heroes standing for it. Standing tall visually and setting up some interesting things for the DCU’s spellcasters, Justice League Dark/Wonder Woman: The Witching Hour #1 is fun chaos.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Spider-Force #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Spiders get their own Uncanny X-Force in the debut of Spider-Force #1, a Spider-Geddon spin-off title. Following Scarlet Spider Kaine Parker and his rough-and-tumble crew of morally gray Spiders, writer Christopher Priest offers up a morbidly entertaining hook baited with some darkly funny characters. The comparisons to Rick Remender’s run on Uncanny X-Force will be instantly apparent to readers, but having it be Spiders gives the issue an inherent heart and humor, just with a much, much darker edge. Art team Paulo Siqueira, Oren Junior, Craig Yeung, and Guru-eFX lean into the lithe and lean art style of the Spider-Verse, giving every character a dynamic athleticism, mixed with more apocalyptic realism and metallic colors. Certainly the darkest Spider book to date, Spider-Force #1 is a gloomy, but entertaining side trip in the ongoing Spider-Geddon.

Credit: Joelle Jones (DC Comics/Vertigo)

Hex Wives #1 (Published by DC Vertigo; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10) Hex Wives #1 serves as a successful debut for writer Ben Blacker and artist Mirka Andolfo. It’s a bit heavy with the set-up and doesn’t work too far outside the bounds established by its solicit, but it does give us some rules and understanding of the world. Hex Wives essentially forces the magical elements into an almost superhero mold, following a brainwashed coven rediscovering themselves and their powers. The threat is still kind of vague but it’s clear that these witches will break out of their “Leave It To Beaver”-esque shackles as we move forward. Andolfo's work is effective and fun for this kind of story. Blacker’s dialogue has a sitcom-y, bouncy feel to it and Andolfo brings that energy to her characters. And Blacker’s script allows the book to lean in on the “show, don’t tell” adage that with regards to the coven’s history and powers - that’s a win for the issue. This debut maybe needed to play things a bit closer to the vest, but Hex Wives still delivers on an intriguing premise.

Credit: DC Entertainment

Batman Secret Files #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10) I love anthologies as a way to see work from creators that don’t currently factor into a company’s current publishing plans but may in the future. The first story in this book is pretty safe - a Tom King/Mikel Janin short that imagines that Superman might give Bruce Wayne the opportunity to have all the powers of the Last Son of Krypton and it ends with a line that is sort of a thesis statement for Tom King’s Sad Batman: “Am I enough?” There are two more stories, “One” by Cheryl Lynn Eaton, and “Enough” by Jordie Bellaire and Jill Thompson that are well told but ultimately unexciting. Bellaire’s story is sort of a similar take to Tom King’s but coming from a different angle, while Eaton explores the nature of Batman’s relationship to the public and technology. The two standouts are Ram V and Jorge Fornes’ “The Nature of Fear” and Tom Taylor and Brad Walker’s “The World’s Greatest Detective, and Batman.” The former see Fornes doing his best David Mazzucchelli impression before giving way to something more monstrous over the course of the narrative. I’m not sure that V’s script says anything we haven’t heard before, but Fornes is turning in some pages of a lifetime, especially in the way he break from format and then puts it back together again. It’s a master stroke. Taylor and Walker’s story features Detective Chimp which might make you think it’s going to be lighter fare but they go straight for those heart strings. Batman is the most elastic character in fiction and all of these stories stretch him in different ways without losing sight of who the Dark Knight Detective is. Kudos to DC for putting this selection together and choosing a bunch of creators who put together a good showing.

Credit: J. Scott Campbell (Marvel Comics)

X-Men Black: Emma Frost #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Between X-Men Black: Emma Frost and What If? Magik, is there anyone who’s having a better week in comic books than writer Leah Williams? Teaming up with artist Chris Bachalo, Williams comes out of the gate swinging, as we watch Emma Frost tear her way through the Hellfire Club’s waves of security with a combination of ruthless telepathy and unyielding diamond skin. Similar to Grant Morrison’s take on Jean Grey’s telekinesis in New X-Men, Williams finds all sorts of ways to show how deadly mind over matter can be, as we watch Emma command these hapless humans to kiss, dance, kill, effectively turning all of their defenses on each other. Williams’ take on Sebastian Shaw, meanwhile, has the right amount of depravity and toxic masculinity, making him feel like the perfect villain for Emma’s poise and precision. Bachalo, meanwhile, looks like he’s having a ball with Williams’ script, and while there are a handful of pages that drag due to lengthy bits of dialogue, he seems to relish seeing the carnage ensuing on the sidelines of Emma’s walk up to the penthouse. Definitely the strongest of the X-Men Black one-shots so far, and hopefully the beginning of a long career for an up-and-coming talent.

Credit: DC Entertainment

Green Lantern/Huckleberry Hound Special #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10) These DC/Hanna Barbera specials have been something of a mixed bag. In this one, Mark Russell takes us back to the ‘70s as John Stewart learns a bit about the illusion of power and what his own responsibility as a Green Lantern means in the context of the world he lives in. Ultimately, there’s some really good work here in terms of elucidating ideas about power dynamics as they relate to race and class. I don’t know that Huckleberry Hound works as more than a character to allow Russell to more easily connect some narrative dots, but that’s okay - he’s got to fit a blue humanoid talking dog into the story somehow. JM Dematteis and Tom Mandrake handle a more straightforward Secret Squirrel adventure as a backup that comes in pretty stark contrast to Russell’s work, to the point where I almost wish it wasn’t included. At the end of the day, the DC/Hanna Barbera hit-or-miss streak continues, but Mark Russell’s socially conscious comic booking reputation remains intact.

Credit: Jeff Dekal (Marvel Comics)

What If? Magik #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10) This one is just delightful in all the right ways. Leah Williams serves up an alternate take on one of Marvel’s mightiest mutants and wonders what might have been if Illyana Rasputin had fallen in with Doctor Strange rather than Magneto’s New Mutants. The result is an incredibly compelling one-shot that sees Strange identifying a possible successor and suddenly having to raise a teenage girl. Williams nails the voices for the eras that these characters would have first met and it’s extremely satisfying reading their interactions. But the more domestic family drama is balanced with Magik’s otherworldly training and Filipe Andrade does all the heavy lifting in that regard. His linework is thin but it suits the tone and style of the story - together with the coloring it hits somewhere between Klaus Janson and P. Craig Russell. And Andrade is still able to imbue his characters with a lot of life and attitude. What If? Magik works so well that even big New Mutants/Magik fans will want to see more of this path not taken.

Credit: Nick Derington (DC Comics/Young Animal)

Doom Patrol #12 (Published by DC Comics/Young Animal; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Reynolds Family rolls for initiative in Doom Patrol #12! Though one can’t help but feel like this story would have a lot more power had it not been delayed several times, Gerard Way’s clear love of tabletop gaming comes through here. It adds a real kitschy, fantasy comic charm to the story, which he then doubles down on by including the family’s character sheets and a map of the Deamonscape in the comic’s backmatter. Also, Doom Patrol continues to look amazing thanks to Nick Derrington, Dan McDaid, and Tamra Bonvillain’s artwork. Gone are the superhero pastiches of the previous issues and in there place are sprawling fantasy landscapes, gross monsters, and towering Lich Kings leering from acid colors pages and sumptuous panel layouts. It would have been better with a bit more connection to the main story, but Doom Patrol #12 is an experience ready-made for the side of a van.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Marvel 2-in-One #11 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Chip Zdarsky continues to deliver the low-key best Fantastic Four book on shelves right now with Marvel 2-in-One #11. Built as sort of an apology tour for Reed Richards, Zdarsky delivers a stirring, clear-eyed conversation between Reed and Ben as the latter attempts to understand why Reed would allow his family to think him dead while the former tries to explain his “logic.” Chip once again displays a keen understanding of the First Family’s dynamic while also not allowing Reed off the hook for some of his more dubious decisions of late. Artists Ramon K. Perez and Federico Blee’s artwork gives this issue a more sketchy, indie comic look and tone, but it never gets in the way of the script’s emotions. The pair also display a real firm handle on the kind of “out there” science fiction visuals the FF have enjoyed with the sequence on a planet with sentient water. The Four might be back, but Marvel 2-in-One is still telling great stories with just half of the cast.

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