Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has your back, with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Pontificatin’ Pierce Lydon, who takes a look at the latest issue of Conan...
Conan the Barbarian #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It was immediately clear that Jason Aaron was born to write Conan the Barbarian after the debut issue, but Aaron has definitely avoided a sophomore slump with the second entry in the series. He opts for a somewhat slower, darker and more brooding tale this time around - underlining some of Conan’s worldview and his background while giving readers all the bloody barbarian action they can ask for. And while this one is a much wordier affair that the debut, Mahmud Asrar still makes it as visually stunning as possible. This time, that’s thanks to the Ghost Snakes and conan’s team-up with the Picts. Asrar is doing the best work of his career in terms of dynamism and strength of character design. Simply put, he’s never drawn a character as well as he draws Conan - it’s a match made in Cimmeria. If you’re looking for good, fun adventure comics, look no further.
Goddess Mode #2 (Published by Vertigo Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The new age of Vertigo continues to go from strength to strength as writer Zoe Quinn brings her video game aesthetics to one of the most original comic books of the last few years. This issue, which sees Cassandra get pulled deeper into the world of cyber-demons and superpowered women, continues the heavy amount of exposition that characterized the first issue. In this sense it’s almost the other half of the opening act, but Robbi Rodriguez’s insanely detailed layers of art ensure this is an exercise in finely controlled chaos. The punk meets cyber aesthetic explodes in a mix of neon rainbows thanks to color artist Rico Renzi. Like Ben Caldwell’s art on DC Comics’ Prez, Rodriguez takes the trappings of the world - pop-up messages, livestreams, and onomatopoeic screeches - and wraps the mountains of story in and around the art. It’s like a chemical infusion straight into your brain, and one that doesn’t pause for breath until the final arrested panel.
Return of Wolverine #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 2 out of 10): This book is a mess, plain and simple. Soule decides to skimp on the action we seemed to be building toward at the end of last issue and instead it’s told as a flashback while Persephone villainsplains her powers and motivations. Turns out she can bring people back from the dead and it seems that she can then control them? It’s not totally clear. That might be a clever trick for Wolverine’s return, except that we still have one more issue left and it doesn’t really make a lick of sense. Not even in a “comics are dumb, just roll with it” way - there’s just no logic to this narrative. Declan Shalvey is forced to basically draw an entire issue that takes place in one very boring room, and he’s just not up to the task. His Wolverine is inconsistent, going from mostly on-model to looking more like John Belushi in cosplay. The colors are bland and uninteresting. To borrow a phrase from Charles Soule’s script, this issue was “born dead.”
Flash #62 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Josh Williamson’s wholly solid run on The Flash continues and this one fails to inspire because the twist is completely telegraphed. Williamson needs Barry to be extremely gullible and trusting for the issue to proceed so that’s exactly the route the narrative takes. It’s a run of the mill superhero comic book but it’s at least kind of fun. Christian Duce’s artwork starts out seeming a bit over-rendered but smooths out through the middle and gets a little uneven again at the end. Compared to the other artists that have joined Williamson, Duce’s individual character work is on par but his ability to sell us on action and give us kinetic page and panel layouts is lacking. It’s not a great look for a Flash book to feel this much like it’s standing still. But the mysteries of the different Forces ramps up a bit more here and for readers that are onboard, this will be another satisfying entry in the saga.
Uncanny X-Men #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Uncanny X-Men #10 is a comic that prioritizes the sense of a climactic final battle at the cost of making those sequences engaging. The desire to go for high-adrenaline action sequences above all makes the comic book claustrophobic. For example, when Jean Grey finds herself trapped inside the rampaging X-Man’s mind, the goal is obviously to have the cacophony of action juxtaposed with a serene and surreal calm. While this is perhaps too common of a trope, there isn’t enough room in the comic for that calm to breath. The writing team imbue the scene with some strong gestures towards interesting themes, particularly when X-Man questions the difference between playing god and being a god, but the comic can’t really spare the space. The result is a rush of dialogue before readers are able to settle down with a space that has limited visual stimuli. The difficult-to-follow action is just replaced with speech bubbles. The writing team, artist Pere Perez, and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg bring the comic book to a peak in its closing moments. The harsh tilts of the frames suit a world that has been twisted to a large degree from how it was. While this is obviously going to be explored in subsequent issues, it would have been nice for readers to have more of this and be spared of the more tedious action scenes earlier on.
Electric Warriors #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): One of the strangest DC series on the stands, Electric Warriors continues to dive headlong into its ambitious worldbuilding, even if the pacing of this series’ six-issue count is starting to feel a little more apparent. There’s a frenetic energy to writer Steve Orlando’s storytelling here, a wellspring of unspoken history as we watch Khund champion Serene cut down a longstanding champion, War Cry struggling with his own internal conflict about Deep Dweller and the animal kingdom, or a tender moment where a Dominator is given his own name. The moments where Orlando digs into these alien cultures is the highlight of the book, but he also shoehorns in plenty of action - which sometimes comes across almost too quickly, with War Cry and Deep Dweller’s fight only lasting two pages, or a major infiltration sneaking in with just a few small panels. This definitely continues to be a strong showcase for Travel Foreman, whose off-kilter designs wind up fitting perfectly for these weird aliens - that said, there are a few pages where you can tell he’s sweating, trying to fit in all of Orlando’s ambitious ideas. Still, there’s no comic book quite like Electric Warriors, and it’s really refreshing to see a pair of creators revel in their own over-the-top world like this.
Invaders #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Chip Zdarsky brings back the Invaders in a seamless blend of past and present. Built around the Human Torch writing a book about their adventures in the Second World War, Namor’s nightmares and his current dark side converge. Running dual narratives, the issue is effectively a “getting the band back together” story that has no qualms in taking its sweet time to get there. Artists Carlos Magno and Bruce Guice alternate between the two time periods, from the deep inks and roughly hewn memories of the past to the slicker underwater vistas and aquatic battles of now. Alex Guimarães’ color art ties the two together, with the dusty sepias of the past colliding with the explosive mix of colors in the contemporary sequences. It’s a superhero comic book about the pain that unites heroes and villains across time, and a book that will be a joy to watch slowly unfold.
Wonder Woman #62 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Writer G. Willow Wilson, artist Xermanico, and colorist Romulo Fajardo, Jr. are an absolute powerhouse of a creative team when they are all in sync, and Wonder Woman #62 is an impressive showcase. The art team in particular shines in the opening of the comic, which picks up directly where the previous issue left off. This is the final conflict between Wonder Woman and her most famous rogue. The way that the brighter colors of the characters sit against the darker backdrops gives the comic a really distinct feeling, but also helps accentuate how the characters fighting are more than human. It would be too easy to conclude the issue with Ares and Diana as allies; to let this arc serve as the “Diana and Ares become friends” arc. Wilson, thankfully, spares us the easy route and instead offers us something interesting. Diana makes it abundantly clear that the two are not friends, but that she will not put herself in opposition to someone who wants to change for the better, and this is an echo of a theme previously alluded to when Diana comments on the peace negotiations that “this is not peace. But it is a beginning.” It’s a nuanced bit of character work that also sets Ares up as a character in his own right who wants something, and so it will be interesting to see how the series progresses him. Wilson, Xermanico, and Fajardo Jr. give readers a little bit of everything in Wonder Woman #62 a comic book that is thoughtful and well-executed.
Marvel Comics Presents #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): For the 80th anniversary of the company, Marvel has once again revived the anthology series that bears the company’s name. It’s a mixed bag, with two of the three stories focusing on the Second World War. This would be fine if The Invaders didn’t come out in the same week with a superior World War II tale. That said, writer Charles Soule and artist Paulo Siqueira set up an intriguing ghost story starring Wolverine in the opening chapter, a tale that only just gets going as the ‘To be continued…’ text appears. Greg Pak’s self-contained Namor story is far more successful, a spiritual companion to Namor’s dark path in The Invaders. Tomm Coker and Michael Garland’s deep shadows and muted tones bring home the horrors of humans at war. Ann Nocenti’s contemporary Captain America story, is less successful. It’s an afterschool special where Cap teaches a young girl the value of disobeying her mother’s concerns for safety in a bizarre morality tale. Greg Land’s art works best here when Cap and his new friend are tearing it up on bikes, but less so in the quieter character moments.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 20/20 #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Man… this is a book I really wanted to like. Writer Paul Allor and artist Nelson Daniel are given a dynamite high concept in TMNT 20/20 - namely, seeing the Turtles as adults, 20 years into a losing war with the planet Ultrom - but they never take a big enough swing to really connect. For the most part, even 20 years later, the Turtles are largely the same as they ever were - Leonardo’s astral-jumping new powers aside, there’s little to show the passage of time or the scars of war, and Allor’s video confessional framing device robs the story of much of its emotion, instead becoming a boring exposition drip. Artist Nelson Daniel, meanwhile, is an effective Turtles artist - but because the Turtles haven’t had any major shakeups or scars during the war, they honestly look like teenagers still, going against the stated concept of this 20/20 event. Given that this is a licensed book, one can’t help but wonder if there was a mandate beyond Allor - who is usually a very talented writer - to play things this safe, but the resulting tepidness kills what should have been a slam-dunk one-shot.