Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: DOOMSDAY CLOCK #8, VENOM #9, MARTIAN MANHUNTER #1, More

Marvel Comics December 2018 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics

Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your weekly pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with last week’s slightly belated Rapid-Fire Reviews! Now let’s set our clocks for three minutes till midnight, as Jeering Justin Partridge takes a look at the latest issue of Doomsday Clock...

Credit: Gary Frank/Brad Anderson (DC Comics)

Doomsday Clock #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The metahuman cold war boils over as the mystery of missing DC staples deepens in Doomsday Clock #8. Though Geoff Johns is still taking his time getting to the point of the story, the world he is building feels fully realized as he introduces another international incident involving Firestorm and explicitly mentions another missing set of characters: The Justice Society of America. It is an incredibly bleak world to be sure, but seeing Superman directly involved in diplomatic flashpoints and the ongoing “Superman Theory” chaos is interesting enough to make up for the lack of concrete answers about the “Watchmen” of it all. Artists Gary Frank and Brad Anderson continue to make Doomsday Clock look consistently beautiful, rendering the political fallout and tense action in the hallowed nine-panels with highly expressive pencils and rich colors. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you what Doomsday Clock is really about just yet, but for better or for worse, this issue might be the most explosive and politically charged installment of the series to date.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Venom #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): “We’re better when we aren’t alone.” Writer Donny Cates and artist Ryan Stegman plumb some deep humanity out of a post-symbiotic world in Venom #9, as Eddie Brock tries to make sense of his life now that his alien costume has fallen into a silent, near-bestial state. As Eddie makes his way for a tense family reunion, Cates deftly ties Eddie and his father’s near-bottomless pits of rage to one another — the cycle of violence feels organic and never-ending, an ouroboros of suffering inflicted from child to parent and back again. For my money, the most heartbreaking stuff is when Cates returns to the Alzheimer’s-related threads of God Country, using the metaphor of losing a loved one in spirit if not in body, making this fallen symbiote feel more important than we’ve ever seen him. Stegman, meanwhile, wrings the drama for all it’s worth — who would have thought a moody page of Eddie sitting on a bus would feel so heavy with meaning and mood? — but uses that placid introduction to sneak up on readers, until the symbiote explodes into violence. Venom #9 isn’t just the best issue of this series yet — it might just be Cates’ and Stegman’s best work at Marvel to date.

Credit: Image Comics

Self/Made #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Self/Made #1 is a comic for which the final pages will make or break it as a series. Everything hinges on the subtlety with which it hints that final revelation and the way that it manages to create stakes out of a situation that could very easily be uninspiring. What starts as a straightforward though still visually unique fantasy epic changes entirely to a science fiction story before everything ends, but once readers reach that conclusion, the strange ways in which the characters interact, the odd linearity of the plot, and the ways in which even the panel borders contribute to the sense that what you see is not necessarily what you think it is, all start to make sense. While the opening has some pacing and character motivation issues, Writer Mat Groom excels when the comic nears its conclusion as everything starts to click together. The art team of artist Eduardo Ferigato and colorist Marcelo Costa walk the delicate line between the two worlds the comic straddles with ease, with Ferigato’s facial work and Costa’s lighting being of particular note. Self/Made #1 is difficult to critique. It’s greatest quality is, by far, its promise of what is to come.

Credit: Riley Rossmo/Ivan Plascencia (DC Comics)

Martian Manhunter #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): In the same vein as Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ Mister Miracle, another alliterative DC character is going under the microscope for an intense character study in the form of a 12-issue maxi-series. Based on this first part, Steve Orlando has lofty ambitions for the series, using this book as opportunity to contrast what J’onn J’onzz was like as a Manhunter on Mars, to how John Jones is as a homicide cop in Colorado; as well as how life on Earth differs to that on Mars, and crucially, the ways in which they are the same. On top of this, it also sets-up a narrative-driving plot involving a murder case of Jones and takes time to make comments regarding police brutality without it being a flippant inclusion. That’s a lot to ask an audience to get on board with, though thankfully it’s all juggled with care by Orlando and the art team – Riley Rossmo and colourist Ivan Plascencia. In fact, Orlando asks a lot of his artists, though their versatility shines through due to the multi-faceted story that plays out on their gorgeously designed pages, ranging from the Earth half’s more natural tone to Mars’ freakier and more abstract vibe.

Credit: Rafael Albuquerque (Netflix/Image Comics)

Prodigy #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The first thing you’ll notice about the latest collaboration between writer Mark Millar and Rafael Albuquerque is just how gorgeous it looks. The book concerns Edison Crane, the world’s smartest man and someone who has achieved everything from the Nobel Prize to athletic prowess. the The retro-modern chic is something that is sure to appeal to fans of Millar’s Kingsman series, and the similarities continue beyond the suits. This issue is all setup, rapidly firing its way through one problem after the next, all to demonstrate that there’s very little that can slow down our titular prodigy. As a debut, it’s vaguely reminiscent of DC’s Mr. Terrific, but Albuquerque’s stunning art is filled with speed-lines and Marcelo Maiolo’s otherworldly colors, ensuring that this cracks along at a pace and transfixed for the next issue.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Immortal Hulk: The Best Defense #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Murder comes to a ghost town in Immortal Hulk: The Best Defense #1. Bringing his new, horror-centric take on Banner to the newly reforming Defenders, writer Al Ewing delivers a twisty macabre tale of Banner discovering the body of a fallen ally in a town that is seemingly abandoned. Of course, it isn’t, and soon “the other guy” is out and seeking revenge for what the scared citizens of the town did to Banner. Artists Simone Di Meo and Dono Sanchez-Almara bring a more stylized and slick art style to the title, marking a far cry from the blockier style of regular series artist Joe Bennett. The team even goes a step further, inserting panels from the first three issues of the Hulk’s original comic that fit in with the action of the story. It might be a bit gimmicky, but it is a tonal knockout alongside the pair’s pages. Though it doesn’t quite reach the dizzyingly creepy heights of the main series, Immortal Hulk: The Best Defense #1 is a wonderful side story for one of the best books Marvel has going right now.

Credit: Image Comics

Die #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The title of Kieron Gillen’s latest indie work actually refers to the multi-sided dice used in RPGs. The clever setup sees a group of teenagers get sucked into a game and emerge years later. After ageing, forgetting the incident and growing apart, they are drawn back into the game with their memories in tact. A cross between the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon and Stephen King’s It, you may have to be a gamer to full appreciate this one. A middling second act feels like it is spinning its wheels until the third act reveal, where both Gillen and artist Stephanie Hans kick it up a notch. Hans’ painted art captures the metal vibe of the visuals seen in D&D guidebooks without aping them, with the metallic colours adding to the fantasy landscapes she ultimately gets to craft. The premise is a solid one, although this patchy first issue makes us ponder whether the concept has legs to sustain a series.

Credit: DC Entertainment

Shazam #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): After a few years of the character lying dormant, Geoff Johns finally gets around to writing that Shazam series… and it’s hard not to wonder how many other creators would’ve been able to deliver a more interesting take. Now to be fair, Johns’ meat-and-potatoes approach to superheroics and emphasis on family is likely to appeal to those who were fans of the "Rebirth" initiative, particularly Superman. Starting with a brief sequence which recaps Billy Batson’s origin –– including some ominous narration concerning family as both strength and weakness –– the story quickly segues into a field trip that threatens to turn sour by way of some robbers. That is, until someone says the magic word. Dale Eaglesham and Mike Atiyeh nail that DC house-style spectacle, though it’s the back-up about Mary Marvel, and drawn by Mayo “Sen” Naito that’s more distinct, expressive (not to mention fitting with the season) and indicative that this book deserved a more interesting artistic angle. This factor is all the more noticeable considering the issue hints at where Johns is going –– note the arc title “Shazam and the Seven Magic Lands” –– which sounds strikingly similar to the mythology of his Green Lantern run.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Ninjak #14 (Published by Valiant Comics; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Series conclusions can often go one of two routes. Writers can either have a bombastic conclusion to something long and drawn out, or they can exist as an emotional send-off. Writer Cristos Gage ensured that Ninjak #14 would be the latter. This run of the Valiant superspy has been keen to draw clear delineation between decision makers and the soldiers that execute those decisions. This obviously comes to a head post-Harbinger Wars 2, where Ninjak and Livewire find one another on opposite sides of a conflict. This puts Ninjak’s relationship with his handler Neville Alcott in a tricky spot. Neville has been his been an ally of Ninjak’s for years at this point, but when Ninjak’s and M16’s interests jump into conflict, Neville’s allegiances fall squarely with the British intelligence agency. The comic’s shadowy final moments maintain the spy-thriller tone of the series thanks to colorist Jose Villarubia, and artist Roberto de la Torre tinges the final impasse between the two with a sense of melancholy that wouldn’t feel out of place in one of the better Metal Gear Solid games. Ninjak will return, as the promotional material for Killers indicates, but this issue works as a strong conclusion to the context in which readers have previously understood this character.

Credit: DC Entertainment

The Green Lantern #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Even at his best, writer Grant Morrison has been known to leave us confused in his wake, and on the second issue of his Lantern journey he seems to care very little for crafting too many logical links between issues. Yet what Morrison has done here is fully embrace the role of Lantern as space cop, perhaps even too literally at times: in one sequence, Hal and Lantern Tru do a good cop/bad cop interrogation routine on a suspect. Artist Liam Sharp, meanwhile, is one of the handful of artists who can keep up with the shockingly detailed visions that Morrison has rattling around in his head — both modern and decidedly retro in his outlook, the insanely intricate Planet Oa is the psychedelic lovechild of Moebius and Brian Bolland. The classic cliffhanger locks in on Jordan giving some heightened Neal Adams face anguish, a wonderful visual nod to the storied history of this character. We still have faith that Morrison has a grand plan in mind, so perhaps the best course of action is to just strap in and hope for the best.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Wizard Beach #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10: The image of a wizard soaking up the sun rays on a beautiful beach might feel a little half-baked, but honestly, you’ll feel better if you chill out — Wizard Beach #1 is a delightful, lo-fi twist on the usual epic sword and sorcery genre, bringing almost a Douglas Adams-style sense of humor to the table. Writer Shaun Simon drops us into the deep end with a wink, disarming readers with knowing chapter titles as we witness the last stages of a brutal wizarding war. Determined to find his uncle Salazar for reinforcements, young trainee Hexley travels to warmer climes… namely the titular Wizard Beach. From here, however, the vibe mellows out dramatically, as Uncle Sally has gone native, bringing a Lebowski-esque laziness to a world that still is infested with magic… but it’s mainly imps hiding in beards and demons haunting your spice cabinet. Artist Conor Nolan tip-toes that line between silliness and stupidity nicely, selling the humor of this series (particularly the starfish demon haunting Salazer’s spices) with a light enough hand that it never feels garish or trying too hard. I was skeptical about this series for sure, but you’ll be glad if you kick back and take a chance on Wizard Beach.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Namor: The Best Defense #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Chip Zdarsky brings action and the fury of a king to his Defenders one-shot in Namor: The Best Defense #1. Desperate for allies and fed up with with the inaction of his council, Namor sets out to recruit a long-exiled group of Atlanteans known as the Vodani. But there he finds more discord and ends up on the receiving end of several monster-sized butt-kickings. Though Zdarsky captures the haughty, proud voice of Namor well, the issue doesn’t really do much to set up the incoming new Defenders book. Artist Carlos Magno’s pages also don’t shine nearly as well as one might expect them to - made messy by some uneven inks, Magno’s artwork capture the pulpy, monster filled vibe of Namor stories well, but they never quite congeal in a way that makes it easy on the eyes. Missteps aside Namor: The Best Defense #1 gives readers a pretty good idea of what Zdarsky’s incoming Invaders book will be like, but it could have used a bit more of a concrete direction and a clearer art style.

Credit: Titan Comics

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #2 (Published by Titan Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Considering the proximity of this launching to the start of the Jodie Whitaker-headlining season, what’s most impressive about this comic series is how Jody Houser and Rachel Stott’s work feels true to the character and energy of her Doctor and the TARDIS Team. A worthy accomplishment considering previous Titan Comics series, for say Tennant or Smith’s Doctors, had the benefit of multiple seasons as a guideline. In fact, their story, which sees the team try to help a man trapped in a time loop while also having to tangle with the Army of the Just simultaneously, could stake a claim as the strongest material involving the Thirteenth Doctor thus far. Stott –– with assists from Giorgia Sposito and Valeria Fovoccia –– and colorist Enrica Eren Angiolini nail the core cast’s looks and largely skirt around the uncanny valley. There’s room for improvement on a design level –– the settings could do with being a touch more visually interesting as proven by some mid-issue locations –– but in a series based on a licensed property, it’s far easier to enjoy when the characters seem like themselves, even more so when Houser manages to multi-task and use the ensemble effectively, something which the show itself has struggled with.

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