Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered, in this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Plentiful Pierce Lydon, who takes a look at the latest issue of Martian Manhunter...
Martian Manhunter #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): One of the coolest parts of Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo’s Martian Manhunter is how it’s bringing Martian mythology within the DCU to life. While Martian carnal pleasure may have distracted readers from the worldbuilding on display in #1, this issue really puts Martian society front and center and shows us what J’onn was up against as a cop on Mars. J’onn J’onzz has a reputation as being one of the most compassionate heroes in the DCU, and seeing him interact with his family as well as deal with the challenges of his job help underline that. It also helps that Riley Rossmo is is doing some of the best work of his career along with a hearty assist from colorist Ivan Plascencia. Simply put, there’s not a superhero book on the stands that looks like this, and Rossmo’s organic, expressive linework oozes with energy. It easily switches gears between playful and grotesque in a way that frames the horror of certain situations in a different light. The book isn’t meant to be scary, but it is meant to feel alien and Rossmo achieves that splendidly. Martian Manhunter is one of the strangest, most delightful books out there.
Avengers #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): “Getting the team together” issues can be a little hit or miss sometimes, and while Avengers #12 is light on action, Jason Aaron does a good job balancing a huge cast and helping readers understand why this motley crew of heroes can be useful to the Avengers. Ultimately, readers’ enthusiasm for an issue like this is limited by how excited they are to see the characters that Aaron has picked out. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Fat Cobra, Gorilla Man, Ka-Zar and others, and it’s important to remember why that is - they’re certainly not A-listers. Tasked with a fairly quiet issue, Ed McGuinness does a great job bringing all of these characters into the fold and in particular, his work with Ka-Zar and Man-Wolf is exciting just for the potential it brings to future issues. This is very much an issue where Aaron is moving some chess pieces around the board so that he’s set up for future stories. Thankfully, the cast he’s assembled is varied, and it’s fun to see their interactions with Black Panther and each other. This bodes well for the future.
Justice League #15 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): If you never got into Hawkman because his backstory and the history of Thanagar are more convoluted than that of your average comic book superhero, that’s completely understandable. But Scott Snyder’s “Escape from Hawkworld” isn’t going to let you off the hook. Part heist story, part history book, this issue is incredibly dense, and while Snyder still manages to pull off the action beats, it's a bit of a slog. Stephen Segovia handles the meat of the issue, but the tease of having pages by Jim Cheung bookend the issue is a bit unfair to him. His character work is very strong, but the biggest knock against him has to be the lack of backgrounds - Thanagar just doesn’t look like anything, and that makes it hard to place the characters. Of course, a lot of those backgrounds could have been covered by word balloons anyway so it seems like Segovia might have just been making a more efficient move. This is a fun story that’s clearly winging into the next one in a big way, as Snyder is wont to do, but you’d be forgiven for feeling like this one is all a little over your head.
Die #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The player classes are defined in the punchy and entertaining second installment of Die from Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans. Though last issue provided the bedrock of the story, Gillen’s second issue finally gets to the sizzle on this game-inspired steak, laying out the cast’s abilities and setting their group dynamics as they start the hard road back home. Readers who are well-versed in tabletop games and Gillen’s clever deconstruction of narrative conventions will find a lot to love here, but even those coming into this issue cold will be hooked by Gillen’s dour but witty script. And what isn’t to love about Stephanie Hans’ artwork? While she was kind of trapped by exposition in the first issue, this second installment allows her a bit more breathing room as she gets her first major battle set piece and starts to show more of the map that is the mish-mash world of Die. Chocked full of canny gamer culture in jokes and darkly funny characters, Die #2 levels up the series, providing major buffs to fun and a higher entertainment modifier.
Young Justice #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): After years of waiting, Young Justice is finally back together as part of the new Wonder Comics imprint launched by writer Brian Michael Bendis. He’s teamed up with artist Patrick Gleason and colorist Alejandro Sanchez, and they waste no time getting into the action. Combatants from Gemworld descend on Metropolis, as they hunt down Superman following their world being affected by the many Crises undergone by Earth. Thankfully, Red Robin/Tim Drake and Wonder Girl/Cassie Sandsmark are in the area, and ready to spring into the thick of it. The issue moves fast, bringing each member of the classic team into the fold one after the other, as well as new characters Jinny Hex and Teen Lantern. The lettering - frustratingly credited to DC Lettering without specifying who actually contributed - makes use of names in appropriate title font when characters introduce themselves, which adds to the idea of this being a celebration of the team reforming. As a result, it’s an issue sure to carry some nostalgia, through rises above mere remembrance of past runs because of how alive Gleason and Sanchez’s pages are, especially when Impulse is racing through the pages. It may have taken a while to get here, but already Young Justice is making up for lost time.
Criminal #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Teeg Lawless returns to the mean streets in the return of Criminal, which makes its debut as a brand-new monthly series this week. Though Ed Brubaker’s focus on Teeg and his extended family, including cameos from other Criminal characters, makes this return issue feel a little too “inside baseball” to be a truly great debut, the actual plot is vintage pulp as only Brubaker can deliver. Plus Sean Phillips hasn’t lost a single step with the series, wading back into the morally murky waters of the franchise with all sorts of smoky interiors and tough guy action. Phillips even ages Teeg in real time, letting just how long has past since the last Criminal yarn seep into the actual visual text of the story giving it a extra bit of style and detail. A shaky start, but your comics shelf will be a much better place - not to mention much grittier - now that Criminal is back.
Batman #62 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): “A metaphor. A myth. A story. A dream.” Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ “Lose” could be an interesting examination of Batman, but it falls short of actually saying anything. The blueprint for a standard Tom King story is clearly here. There’s a lot of narration. There’s a lot of repetition in that narration. There’s another story that Tom King uses as scaffolding for his own - in this case, it’s Ovid’s story about Pygmalion from the poem Metamorphoses. You might think that King is trying to draw a parallel about creation and love between Pygmalion and Batman but he purposefully obscures it - essentially letting himself off the hook by committing no interpretation of the story he’s referenced as it relates to Batman. So we’re left with a book that utilizes Professor Pyg only as window dressing and a painfully obvious tie to the name “Pygmalion.” Mitch Gerads acquits himself well in this nightmare scenario as it’s hard as a reader to really get your footing in this book. That has to be by design and Gerads excels at delivering that sort of dreamlike quality to the work. But the book’s faux-deep narrative rings hollow. This is the comic book equivalent of writing a paper the night before it’s due and increasing the font size and margins to hit a page count. It’s empty, and it’s not enough.
Turok #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Turok gets back to basics under the hand of Ron Marz in this latest reboot from Dynamite Entertainment. Trading in lush jungles for dusty Colorado in the 1870s, Marz’s script starts from the ground up with this new incarnation and while that may pay off in later issues, it makes this debut feel a bit small in the wake of Chuck Wendig’s epic retelling and burly, action heavy incarnation in The Sovereigns. That said, Marz really leans into the Western vibe of the series and slowly doles out some dinosaur violence in a fun and pulpy way. Artists Roberto Castro and Salvatore Aiala however impress throughout with sketchy, sunburned pages that instantly invoke the feel of a bloody western serial. The issue ends with a brief window into the pair’s take on the “lost world,” a gorgeous double-page splash of a valley beyond a portal, so the potential is definitely there for the pair to grow amid the Jurassic action of this franchise. Though not as ambitious as the previous Turok reboots at Dynamite, this new incarnation is a fun, grounded introduction to the world before the claws really come out.
By Night #7 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): As the series enters its back half, the town of Spectrum collide with what’s on the other side of an otherworldly portal, as evidenced by the first scene involving Chip needing to help someone from a creature that belongs on the other side. Meanwhile, Heather and Jane get further embroiled with Barney and his debt to a gangster. It perhaps not surprising that these two plot aspects eventually become intertwined, but the most surprising thing is how snugly the pieces fit together. The hijinks that take place sound crazy, as evidenced by Chip’s attempts to explain what’s going on, but John Allison’s script finds a balance between sci-fi and organized crime, once again proving how capable a writer he is. The issue being set at night, artist Christine Larsen and colorist Sarah Stern evoke the right mood, one of heavy shadow that works for getting glimpses of otherworldly creatures - one such panel making use of a silhouette lurking far in the background, unbeknownst to those around - and for a story with a hint of noir to it. Their visualization of this town, its inhabitants and its visitors is an eclectic one.