Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your first Rapid-Fire Reviews of 2019? Then let’s get out our new calendars, as Best Shots gets the new year started with a look at Detective Comics #995...
Detective Comics #995 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): “I don’t want to die today.” How can a book this brutal also look this good? Five issues away from its coveted 1000th milestone, Detective Comics #995 shuffles a longtime supporting cast member off this mortal coil, with a level of horror that I honestly am not used to seeing out of a Batman book. Writer Peter Tomasi gets a little bit meta with his bloodthirsty script, which can be a bit alienating despite the technical proficiency involved — while at times the page can get a little overly wordy and expositional, seeing Bruce reflect on his relationship with one of his oldest friends can’t help but stir the emotions, even if it feels a little much on the heels of Catwoman’s departure and Dick Grayson’s traumatic brain injury. Really, it’s Doug Mahnke who is the main showstopper here, with some next-level artwork that revels in experimental panel layouts and the gruesome details of a Joker-induced rictus smile. While plenty of fans will be turned off by the seeming darkness for darkness’s sake of this story, Detective Comics is still a powerful and good-looking book.
Champions #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Marvel’s youngest heroes return to action in this week’s Champions #1, a soft reboot of the series from writer Jim Zub and artist Steven Cummings. Now under the leadership of Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, the Champions have expanded their roster and their rescue efforts across the globe — but the new arrangement doesn’t seem to be sitting well with everyone. Zub and Cummings do an excellent job juggling the large cast, giving each a distinct look and voice that makes it easy to follow the ever-shifting action of the book. Color artists Marcio Menyz and Erick Arciniega deliver vibrant colors that make the book feel fresh and youthful, especially with characters like Snowguard or Pinpoint, whose powers have a bit more visual flair — the Animorphs-esque panel with Snowguard is an amazing touch. If you haven’t been following Zub’s Champions run to date, this is a great jumping on point; he delivers just enough exposition to get you up to speed without bogging the script down, though fair warning, there are a couple of very large spoilers for the previous volumes.
Heroes in Crisis #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Blue and Gold return just in time for the world as they know it to end in Heroes in Crisis #4. Though Tom King’s exploration of superhero trauma has drawn some criticism as of late, mainly for Clay Mann’s depiction of the female stars of this series, this fourth issue reveals an unexpected layer of pathos between leads Harley Quinn and Batgirl and the reunion of Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, all while the Trinity and some of the Leaguers butt head over how to handle this increasingly personal investigation. I have to say, in certain scenes the criticism of the artwork is valid, especially during Barbara Gordon’s confessional, but I feel like King’s script is a little more caring than people have been giving it credit for. Had this issue not had the tender showing between Harley and Batgirl or the Blue and Gold reunion, it might have been another grim offering, but I feel like those scenes elevate this series beyond its already impressive body count. Qualms about Mann’s posing aside, his and Tomeu Morey’s Watchmen-like panel grids and detailed pencils continue to give this series a multi-million dollar movie look, problematic elements and all. Heroes in Crisis continues to be divisive, but Issue #4 at least starts to raise it up beyond the grim and the dark.
Action Comics #1006 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): When Brian Michael Bendis is on, he’s really on. Action Comics #1006 stands as further proof that DC made the right decision putting him in the driver’s seat for their flagship character. Coupled with some strong, expressive artwork from Ryan Sook, Bendis excels at doing the all the little things right even if the overarching plot does seem to be at something of a standstill. It’s the wholesome, kind of aw-shucks quality of Bendis’ Superman that’s balanced by the writer not shying away from the character’s immense power set that really pulls the book through. Bendis asks Sook and the rest of the art team to visualize Superman’s powers in ways that really stand out from past runs. And up against a foe that he can’t punch, the art team works overtime to showcase his great senses and speed. This is the Man of Steel as we’ve rarely seen him before, but have always wanted to.
Immortal Hulk #11 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The Hulk and his puny human companion face Hell itself in the poetic and harrowing Immortal Hulk #11. Picking up after the titanic battle with the Avengers, writer Al Ewing sends the new scrawny, hard-to-look at Hulk through a personal Hell, populated with people both he and his human “friend” Jackie McGee know, taunting them with hollow eyes and repeated dialogue from past comics. Ewing’s whole idea for this series so far has been really interesting, but seeing him actually follow through on it by sending various Marvel “strong men” into Dante’s Inferno is a check I didn’t expect him to cash, but I am so glad he did. Artists Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, and Paul Mounts follow him into the depths smiling delivering destroyed vistas of shattered buildings as they move through the rusty-colored landscape. The grayscale cutaways take sap a bit of the visual energy of the issue away, but the whole experience is still so interesting to dismiss. Immortal Hulk ended up on a lot of Best of 2018 lists, and if #11 is any indication, it may have a shot at the 2019 lists too.
The Flash #61 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Joshua Williamson’s “Force Quest” continues and gives readers a deeper understanding of the Sage Force. Overall, this is just some good old-fashioned superheroing. Flash and Fuerza disarm Cauldron and his Sage Force gauntlet before tracking more Sage Force energy to Zandia, where they come face to face with Psych. Christian Duce’s artwork is the real standout despite the generally straightforward plotting. His characters are well-rendered and his expression work is solid, though some of the characters do look a little too similar across the book. And even though the book doesn’t feature a ton of action, the Sage Force’s nightmarish effects give Duce plenty of monsters and villains to draw. Williamson’s run on The Flash remains one of the most solid book on the stands.
Books of Magic #3 (Published by Vertigo Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Books of Magic gets its first table-setting issue in its third installment. Though he is working on his focus and control, the words of the prophecy and his recent battle with the Cold Flame are still haunting him. Writer Kat Howard has really found a nice voice with the cast of this series. Tim is eager but hesitant, Dr. Rose is still hiding plenty of secrets behind her helpful facade, and Mad Hettie is still, well, mad. But this issue definitely is the least substantial plotwise, which was bound to happen eventually, but I didn’t expect it this early in the run. But Tom Fowler and Jordan Boyd still have a firm handle on the grounded, but whimsical visuals of this series. Built up with slender panels and expressive character models, Books of Magic #3 is a fine-looking low point for the new Sandman Universe title.
All We Ever Wanted (Published by A Wave Blue World; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): If you’re in the mood for some hopeful tales from the post-apocalypse - and these days, honestly, who couldn’t use some of that - then A Wave Blue World’s latest anthology All We Ever Wanted is the book for you. A collection of two dozen stories edited by Matt Miner, Eric Palicki, and Tyler Chin-Tanner, All We Ever Wanted is a sometimes very frank but always ultimately optimistic exploration of our lives in the far future. One standout story is Lela Gwenn, Tony Gregori, Josh Jenson, and Taylor Esposito’s “Everything I Own,” following a reclusive woman who comes to terms with the fact that in a changed world, sharing knowledge is more important than hoarding possessions; Gwenn’s script delivers a powerful punch and artist Gregori and colorist Jenson capture the subtle atmospheric script as the lead character grows and changes through the short. Writer/illustrator Chr!s Visions also delivers incredible artistry in “Blackstar” with co-colorist Cathryn Virginia — their vibrant colors and Visions’ panels and layouts are so immersive you’ll truly feel you’re along for the ride on the virtual tour the story follows. From climate catastrophe to rapid societal shift in the face of technological advancement, the all-star team behind All We Ever Wanted’s stories deliver a solid set of fantastical, futuristic sci-fi stories that will inspire you to make change in the here and now.