Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: IMMORTAL HULK #12, BATMAN #63, SMOOTH CRIMINALS #3, SHAZAM #2, More

BOOM! Studios January 2019 cover
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Greetings ‘Rama readers! Pierce Lydon here with the rest of the Best Shots crew to bring you the most cromulent comic book criticism around. We’ll start with a look at Immortal Hulk #12 by editor extraordinaire, David Pepose!

Credit: Marvel Comics

Immortal Hulk #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): There’s a palpable sense of tension to Immortal Hulk #12, as the decaying green giant navigates the depths of a gamma-irradiated hell — and potentially learns something new about himself in the process. Writer Al Ewing has been leaning towards the mystical and the religious over the past couple issues of the series, and while I don’t think his latest retcon will necessarily stand the test of time, the idea of making Bruce Banner a sort of Antichrist by way of gamma-infused immaculate conception is a neat twist, one that gives the concept of the Hulk a brand-new sense of foreboding. Artist Joe Bennett continues to deliver the work of his career with this series, with the Hulk’s emaciated form proving to be the perfect way for him to twist anatomy to suit the series’ mood — honestly, the last image of the Hulk in this issue is something that’ll stick with you for ages, but even bits like the Hulk breaking down into tears shows how much emotion this artist is capable of. Easily one of the most consistent and ambitious books in the Marvel publishing lineup, Immortal Hulk continues to punch even outside its considerable weight class.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #63 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Tom King’s “Knightmares” arc continues plodding along with faux poignancy but the Dark Knight detective is at least beginning to understand what’s going on. The thing that’s unfortunate about these dream/nightmare issues has been their sort of haphazard self-references. Yes, you can dig back into the rest of Tom King’s run to see how the events that Batman is misremembering actually played out versus what he’s experiencing here but that really takes away from the momentum of the book. And unlike last issue, where Mitch Gerads really injected a sense of urgency to the visuals of the issue, Mikel Janin doesn’t have that same energy. Instead, we end up with the same tedious anti-comics approach that marred Batman #50. Frankly, it’s all a bit anticlimactic and boring. Wake me up when this “Knightmare” ends.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Smooth Criminals #3 (Published by BOOM! Box; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating 8 out of 10): With Mia seemingly stranded in 1999, what’s a better way for a master cat burglar to acclimate to the present than by dedicating herself the crime of a lifetime? With Brenda by her side, Mia recommits herself to stealing the Net of Indra, this time with a side mission: find out who set her up all those decades ago, and why. Smooth Criminals #3 remains a fun and well-paced read -- writers Kurt Lustgarten and Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith have a great sense of pace, blending Mia’s heist and the mystery of her stint in cryostasis with the growth of her friendship with Brenda. Leisha Riddel’s art remains a highlight, particularly Brenda in formalwear, and Brittany Peer’s excellent colors give the book a mod vibe reminiscent of The Avengers (no, not those Avengers, the other ones). This is a consistently fun book from month to month, and worth a look if you’re into off-beat crime stories.

Credit: Dave Eaglesham (DC Comics)

Shazam #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10):Geoff Johns continues to knock it out of the park in this soft reboot of Shazam. There’s a lot going on here: a man claiming to be Billy Batson’s father turns up at the foster home, Billy and the gang explore the railway lines of the Magiclands, and a magic connected Dr. Sivana and his Mr. Mind ear-worm begin enacting a wicked plan. Yet Johns manages to weave it all together as compelling whole, three separate mysteries that hint at a shared solution. While the first issue shared art duties between Dale Eaglesham and Mayo "Sen" Naito, this issue sees Marco Santucci on a magnificent solo voyage. Together with the soft glow of color artist Mike Atiyeh’s lighting, Santucci crafts an atmospheric Station of trans-dimensional trains, a truly sinister Sivana and Mr. Mind, and enough candy-colored scenery in the Funlands to make your back teeth twinge. With a final page reveal of a new character that promises to change Shazam lore, this is the best the character has been in decades.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Writer Tom Taylor and artist Juan Cabal deliver some entertainingly low-key adventures in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #2. It’s a testament to Taylor’s characterization of the Webslinger that despite dealing with a superhuman mob conspiracy (and having to care for two orange children caught in the middle), the story still feels engaging and relatable, thanks to Spidey’s self-deprecating internal monologue. Cabal continues to bring the goods here, evoking a mix of John Cassaday, Russell Dauterman and Frank Cho — a nine-panel grid featuring Spidey rescuing a bystander (who is taping the whole thing on his phone, in a nice twist from Taylor) feels like a quintessential Spider-Man moment, and he elevates a quick gag involving the Human Torch into a really tense, cool sequence. While this series is less explosive than most Spider-Man titles, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man has a charm and stylishness that you shouldn’t miss.

Credit: Farel Dalrymple (Image Comics)

Proxima Centauri Volume 1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10): Farel Dalrymple’s Proxima Centauri is borderline inscrutable, but that’s kind of the point. An exploration of space and time through the eyes of a troubled young boy, Dalrymple’s script captures the uncertainty of growing up against the backdrop of a psychedelic interdimensional journey. Sherwood Breadcoat is a young wizard trapped in a phantom zone who spends this six issue collection of Dalrymple’s Image series juggling missions with his fellow prisoners and managing his teenage mood swings. There’s an ephemeral quality to Dalrymple’s illustrations -- he transitions between styles from scene to scene, from intricate inks with vibrant pops of color to hazy sketches, adding another layer of uncertainty to Sherwood’s delicate mental and emotional state. Proxima Centauri is weird but worth reading, and this week’s collected edition of the series is perfect for binging in one long, surreal session.

Credit: DC Entertainment

Aquaman #44 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon, ‘Rama Rating 6 out of 10): Kelly Sue DeConnick and Robson Rocha’s Aquaman is loaded with intrigue but unfortunately not much else. It’s a strange beast at this juncture because DeConnick isn’t keen to give us many answers as she builds out Arthur’s current status quo. We learn some more about the village that he’s trapped in and we begin to see a way forward for the narrative but the stakes (outside of the obvious) are still fairly unclear. Robson Rocha’s art works well for the book - trading in a lot of solid expression work and some inspired costuming (especially for Mera). But overall, this book doesn’t really come together for me as anything particularly super or heroic coming off of the recent “Drowned Earth” event.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10):Dark Horse continued the adventures of Buffy Summers over the course of an additional five seasons and numerous spinoffs. Now writer Jordie Bellaire takes us all the way back to the beginning with a reboot that takes place in 2019 but still feels authentic to the 1997 original. Which is Bellaire’s real success here: the characters, the Sunnydale setting, and the basic scenario all could have happened in Joss Whedon’s earliest episodes but it is still fresh and exciting. Dan Mora and Raúl Angulo’s art has a lot to do with this: Mora references the television cast without being shackled to them. Angulo’s color art is vivid, instantly giving us a point of difference via Buffy’s Tuna Verse fast food outfit, but still revelling in the shadows in the final twisty pages. While some may feel that Buffy is just fine without a reboot, try thinking of this as a journey through the Buffy Multiverse (or Tuna Verse) where you know all the players but everything else is up for grabs.

Credit: DC Entertainment

Teen Titans #26 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Writer Adam Glass and artist Bernard Chang deliver what is probably their best issue of Teen Titans yet, primarily because they’re able to focus on Damian Wayne’s long-simmering feud with his father and extended family. With the Titans breaking into the Batcave — and squaring off against a certain Dark Knight Detective as a result — Glass’s best moments are when he’s analyzing Damian’s dual heritage, like a beat where Alfred tells him he sounds less like Batman and more like Ra’s al Ghul. Additionally, the inclusion of Batman gives Chang a chance to really shine, not just showing off how cool the Dark Knight looks, but showing just how out of their depth the Titans are trying to fend him off. That said, the book does have some spots that drag it down — the idea of Robin starting his own superhuman Guantanamo Bay still feels a little too edgy to be organic, and there’s a reversal at the end of the issue that robs this promising story of some of its punch. Still, this is a solid and exciting outing for this creative team, and one that could yield dividends down the road.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Guardians of the Galaxy #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10):Writer Donny Cates achieves the near-impossible with this series debut. As the ostensibly dead Thanos extends his nefarious plans beyond the grave, Cates manages to funnel the entirety of the Marvel Cosmic Universe and the set-up of a new team into a single issue that still makes total sense. It’s a feat that’s worthy of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s Guardians work, and accessible even to people who last read their adventures a decade ago. Artist Geoff Shaw and Marte Garcia drop some art that is nothing short of cinematic, extending their considerable talents into something that is positively filled with character moments, building their way up through some dialogue-driven scenes before ripping apart the pages (and possibly the fabric of space-time) in a massive action sequence. It ends with a declarative statement of what the Guardians of the Galaxy 2019 look like, a solid face of villainy, and the promise of a wild ride ahead.

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