Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off today’s column with Poultry-Lovin’ Pierce Lydon, who takes a look at this week’s finale for Cosmic Ghost Rider...
Cosmic Ghost Rider #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10) Donny Cates and Dylan Burnett close out the saga of Cosmic Ghost Rider in Super Saiyan fashion as Frank Castle takes on a new and deadly Thanos. And they end up leaving the motorcyclist of the spaceways in a similar place to where he started, but with an important lesson learned — once Death chooses you, there are no second chances. In a strange way, Cates’ mashup of Frank Castle and Ghost Rider ends up realizing both of those characters in ways that their regular iterations are unable to by shedding the chains of “street level” heroics and constantly shifting wielders of Zarathos’ powers. (You can look at recent What Ifs and Infinity Warp books to see how the mashup concept limits more writers than it opens up.) Dylan Burnett’s art leans into some of the ridiculousness of Cates’ script and allows even the somewhat serious tone of the message to play as kind of goofy and fun. The creative team puts a pretty neat bow on this one, but it’ll be exciting to see where Cates takes Frank in Guardians of the Galaxy. This is about as satisfying an ending as you can get for a miniseries that really came out of nowhere.
Electric Warriors #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Steve Orlando and Travel Foreman present a truly bonkers superheroic take on the Hunger Games in the debut of Electric Warriors. Flinging us into the impossibly far future where humans are considered a second-class species by hyper-intelligent animals, Orlando builds a fascinating future world using iconography from across the DCU, like the Trinity’s symbols being used as an octopus society’s holy power source and Joker Fish being used as a cheap food source for the lower classes. And I haven’t even mentioned the planetary tournament that powers up citizens and then pits them against other superpowered planetary champions! Artists Travel Foreman and Hi-Fi lean into the neon-infused psychedelic futurism of Orlando’s script, rendering sequences in rigid, computerized panel displays and anime inspired staging. Strange in all the right ways and epic in scope, Electric Warriors #1 is a chance well worth taking this week.
Bitter Root #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10) Bitter Root has a breezy setup: if you’ve got a problem with monsters or demons or some other evil, you go see the Sangeryes. You’ve likely read books that are somewhat similar to this — it’s easy to see the influence of comics like Hellboy, Atomic Robo and even Skullkickers here, but there’s an intention that’s extremely important. David Walker, Chuck Brown and Sanford Greene call this an “ethnogothic” story. The monsters fought by Berg, Blink, Cullen, Ford and Ma Etta aren’t just mindless ghouls — they are hate and racism made flesh. That might seem a little on the nose, but Brown and Walker’s script flows really well, placing an emphasis on establishing characters and their dynamics before overall plot. We still get a good sense of what’s going on, of course. But understanding the stakes of the world at large doesn’t hinder our ability to fall in love with these characters. And I don’t think I can say enough good things about Sanford Greene’s artwork — his character designs are excellent and his action choreography is sublime. Rico Renzi assists on colors and brings some really stellar greens and purples to the look of this book. Bitter Root is more than worthy of a place on your pull list.
Firefly #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Big Damn Heroes are back, getting right into the swing of things with an opening scene that recalls the team’s one-by-one introduction in Serenity –– though considering Wash and Book are still around, this takes places before the film. Writer Greg Pak, artist Dan McDaid, colorist Marcelo Costa and letterer Jim Campbell are at the helm of this new launch, making use of an approach that will better serve existing fans rather than one that’ll make new converts. Pak proves to have a steady handle on the numerous voices in rapid fashion, but the bulk of the plot feels more rushed through, even the gang being under attack and needing to lay low on a remote planet does ring true for this series. McDaid and Costa opt out of using likenesses for the cast, in service of a more distinct cartooning, which may take a second to get used to after the Dark Horse Comics. It’s a start, one that’s able to get by on having the gang back together.
Flash #58 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10) Writer Joshua Williamson has turned in some really fun stories during his time on the Flash, and this issue is no exception. Barry and Iris are on a Force Quest that has brought them to Badhnisia, where they hope to find out more about the different Forces that work in conjunction with or against the Speed Force. This is a setup issue, but Williamson allows his issue to carry things along by taking a smaller scale action scene and making it the standout of the issue. Artist Rafa Sandoval does some really incredible and energetic work here that explodes off the pages. Not just through lots of speedlines and dynamic paneling, Sandoval’s expression work is lively and his layouts are inspired. This is the beginning of another great chapter in Barry Allen’s story.
Murder Falcon #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): I’ll admit it — I was wrong. While I had my reservations about the first issue of Murder Falcon, Daniel Warren Johnson builds upon his considerable momentum as an artist by expanding his cast of characters, giving this book a vibe similar to Avatar: The Last Airbender more than the operatic post-apocalypse of Extremity. With ex-metalhead Jake called upon to rock out once more by the gigantic, metal-armed Murder Falcon, Johnson’s handling of the characters already feels markedly smoother, especially when we meet Jake’s former bassist Johann. Like any good bass player, Johann immediately feels like the glue holding the whole band together — while good ol’ Murf brings the bombastic spectacle, it’s Johann who is able to give us the exposition we need to get inside Jake’s head, as Johnson teases the tragedy that made Jake put down his guitar in the first place. And if you aren’t already aware, Johnson is a beast of an artist — the over-the-top insane action looks kinetic and exciting, from Murf karate-chopping through a monster to the crazy back-up that’s conjured up to save him. Lighthearted but increasingly possessed of its own sophisticated mythology, make sure you fly to your comics shop to rock out with Murder Falcon.
Amazing Spider-Man #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10) The Queenpin of Crime, the Black Cat, has popped into Peter Parker’s life again, and she’s not the only ex-girlfriend to make an appearance in this issue. Carlie Cooper returns as well, and while Peter deals with more of the fallout from his recent split-personhood, Mary Jane might be finding a support structure she didn’t know existed. This is a solid table-setting issue for Nick Spencer and company. Your enjoyment is really going to depend on how much you like his Peter Parker - a character who seems unable to let a joke go untold - and if you find the regular person drama of MJ’s life compelling. Spencer calls the new antagonists the Thieves Guild, but seemingly they don’t have any ties to Gambit or Belladonna, which makes that an odd choice in and of itself. The art is a mixed bag. Humberto Ramos is doing his exaggerated, cartoony Spider-Man, while Michele Bandini brings a much more grounded approach to the pages featuring MJ. This one very much feels like a middle chapter in a story, and that’s okay.
Wonder Woman #58 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): One of the best things about G. Willow Wilson’s writing is how eloquently and succinctly she can illustrate a character’s best qualities. While she does open her first Wonder Woman issue with a scene involving Ares and Grail, she, Cary Nord, Mick Gray and Romulo Fajardo, Jr. use the bulk of the issue to cut to the core of the relationship between Diana of Themyscira and Steve Trevor. Wonder Woman is a character where new writers can treat their run as a chance to upend everything that came before, so it’s appreciated that this creative team builds their debut of something sturdier at the center. There is a change at play within the book’s narrative, one which allows for a new dynamic without throwing everything off-balance, which does not tie a status quo shift to Diana for the sake of it. On a similar note, it’s wonderful to see Fajardo still coloring the book, allowing for a level of artistic consistency, even when Nord and Gray’s art is more jagged than previous renditions of the series since the volume’s start.
The Lone Ranger #2 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The Lone Ranger gets a little less lonely in Issue #2. Though I expected to have some sort of tension between Tonto and the Ranger based on the ending of last issue, Mark Russell thankfully sidesteps all that in favor of getting them both mixed up in the ongoing battle for Texas land. Better still, Russell’s Tonto is a clever inversion of the usual “stoic sidekick” approach writers tend to take with the character. Here Tonto is basically the brains of the outfit, misdirecting baddies and beating hasty retreats by blending into his surroundings and using disguises. Artist Bob Q also gets to show off a bit with this second issue, delivering another fantastic set piece starring our heroes and Silver along with more jovial and charming character renderings. Q’s style might still be a touch more cartoony than some of the more gritty and noirish visuals of previous runs, but his pencils and colors really give this run a distinct visual energy and eye grabbing colors. Clever and action packed The Lone Ranger #2 is a stellar sophomore installment for the new volume.
Fantastic Four #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It’s an extended family reunion in Fantastic Four #3. While this first arc kind of dragged its feet getting here, Issue #3 finally feels like some old-school Fantastic action with the combined might of all their previous rosters past facing down the Griever. Writer Dan Slott even manages a pretty swell round of emotions here as the original members finally reunite and bond again before wrapping up the plot in a resolution that puts extra emphasis on its heart. It isn’t perfect, as it is largely a decompressed focus on this one battle, but tonally it is pretty solid. Artist Sara Pichelli continues to be the real star of Fantastic Four. Supplemented by artist Nico Leon and the deeply bold colors of Marte Gracia, Pichelli’s lithe expressionism really pops here as she is allowed all manner of science fiction settings and elemental power displays thanks to the wondrous world of the Four. While it’s far from perfect, Fantastic Four #3 is at least on the right track, as Slott and Pichelli put the First Family back on solid ground.
Friendo #2 (Published by Vault Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): While the marketing for Friendo has focused on a Hollywood wastrel’s relationship with a virtual reality friend, writer Alex Paknadel and artist Martin Simmonds wind up boiling down their story to two of the most basic building blocks you can think of: alienating loneliness and greedy consumerism. After being struck by lightning, Leo has been on a twin bender of hanging out with his new pal Jerry… and buying things to keep this VR avatar interested in said companionship. There’s echoes of the movie Her spliced together with Oliver Stone’s penchant for murky mental landscapes, as we watch Leo slide into increasingly unstable behavior. Simmonds’ clean style portrays this harsh landscape without the comforts of obscuring shadow — whether it’s watching Jerry hijack a car to deliver some harsh retribution or seeing Leo sit across a towering sign of his own psychological void, this book looks sharp. While the pacing of the book moves incredibly quickly compared to the last installment — and Jerry himself still feels like a bit of a wildcard — Friendo is a book that continues to live up to its intriguing premise.
Superman #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman is still taking its time getting places, but at least the heart is there in Issue #5. Receiving some unlikely help from General Zod and Adam Strange (providing a truly funny payoff to “The Unity Saga’s” running gag with the hapless space hero), the Earth is safe, but Superman and now Zod are trapped in the Phantom Zone facing the army of Rogol Zaar and Jax-Ur. As far as plot goes, that is pretty much it, but Bendis is really impressing with his characterization of Superman. This time he starts to deal with the emotions Superman has in this impossible situation, first rising in anger before falling back on his upbringing with Ma and Pa Kent: “If tests were easy, they wouldn’t be tests.” It is kind of hokey, but it is the right kind of hokey for Superman, and I am glad to see that Bendis has that in him. Artist Ivan Reis handles most of the fisticuffs this issue, but artist Joe Prado is the one who really impresses this issues, backed by the vibrant colors of Alex Sinclair. Opening with a shining dream of Zod uniting Kryptonian society, Prado gets real cosmic with it, detailing the elaborate costumes and portentous staging of the united clans of Krypton. Armed with high drama and a lot of heart, Superman #5 is at the very least a great emotional read, if still a bit plodding plot-wise.