Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has your back with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick the column into high gear, as we take a look at The Flash Annual #2...
The Flash Annual #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Writer Joshua Williamson goes full-throttle into speedster mythology in The Flash Annual #2, teaming up with seminal series artist Scott Kollins in an oversized, action-heavy romp that will please Flash fans from all generations. With Wally West having met his presumed end over in Heroes in Crisis, the shockwaves following his loss finally hits Barry Allen and company, but Williamson doesn’t let things get too oppressive as he also brings back Bart Allen as Impulse. While the explanations why are hazy, like his appearance in Young Justice, Bart bounces across the page, his contagious enthusiasm lighting up each sequence he’s in. (And on top of that, Williamson reintroduces another absent speedster, giving Godspeed a likeability we haven’t seen in quite some time.) Kollins, meanwhile, is just a treat to watch - he lends so much energy to the Flash and his fellow runners, but he also knocks a heartbreaking scene with Barry and Iris out of the park. If The Flash Annual #2 isn’t the most entertaining DC book on the stands this week, I don’t know what is.
Amazing Spider-Man #14 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Writer Nick Spencer and artist Chris Bachalo deliver some really fun moments in Amazing Spider-Man #14, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take awhile to get there. Spencer front-loads this issue with a lot of checking-in with various supporting characters of the Spider-Man family - but by the time you see Kraven, the Lizard, Aunt May, and get a nice dose of Spider-exposition from Peter himself, you’ve churned through more than half the issue before we start getting to the really exciting stuff. But when the issue does finally rev up, it’s exceedingly fun, since we get to watch Bachalo really show off - a splash page of Black Ant trying his level best to get the Rhino’s attention feels showstopping rather than just a side gag, and even a short sequence of Spidey fighting Taskmaster is flush with energy (even if the last quarter of the book is almost completely without backgrounds). Amazing Spider-Man #14 is a solid read, even if it has to fight some considerable narrative drag.
Star Trek: The Q Conflict #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It’s the ultimate crossover of the majority of the Star Trek franchises that IDW currently has licences to! An ill-defined battle between the enigmatic Q Continuum and similar beings forms the basis for the historic meeting of the crews of Picard’s Enterprise-E, Sisko’s DS9 crew, Janeway’s still-adrift Voyager crew, and the classic Kirk-led team. Brothers Scott and David Tipton, who have adapted almost every era of Trek at IDW, serve up some shameless fan-service in a feature-length "getting the band together" issue where each of the “gods” (classic villains the Metrons, the Squire of Gothos, the Organians, and Q) pick their champions. David Messina, Elisabetta D’Amico, and Alexandra Alexakis’ art works best in the opening sequences with the Enterprise-E crew, where the Tipton’s narrative leans towards more visually engaging bridge and space sequences. As the introductions begin, it plays out more like a series of headshots and promotional photos. It’s early days yet for this limited series, and how these crews interact and to see whether the Tipton’s can balance the big personalities on both sides of the conflict.
Journey into Unknown Worlds #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): An excellent piece of back-matter from James Beard reminds us of the historic legacy of science fiction at Marvel, one that has led us to the Guardians of the Galaxy taking central places in core canon. Which is what makes Journey into Unknown Worlds, a successor to the 1950 Timely Comics anthology of the same name, all the more frustrating. Cullen Bunn’s opener (“Bones of the Earth”) has an engaging setup of a parasitic invasion that horribly distorts the hosts’ skeletal structures, grimly detailed by artist Guillermo Sanna’s twisted body horror. It’s the kind of thing that might spin Frederick Wertham about in his grave. Yet it’s hampered by a rushed and abrupt ending, something that carries over into Clay McLeoud Chapman and Francesco Manna’s “Chrysalis.” A literal campfire story continues the invasion of the body snatchers theme, although Manna’s lighthearted art style makes it a little less dark. Likewise, superstar color artist Lee Loughridge switches gears from muted tones to bright purple and green to differentiate the stories. Despite the excellent talent and wicked legacy of these stories, the lack of depth and lasting hooks ultimately makes it all feel a bit inconsequential.
Justice League Odyssey #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10):This book is genuinely weird, evidenced by the fact that the mismatched crew find themselves on a planet that worships the Azrael while Starfire and Jessica Cruz ride Lantern constructs while battling robots. Yet in the heart of all this insanity, writer Joshua Williamson end his run by cleverly weaving in a story involving Cyborg and Darkseid that promises to have Multiversal implications. Williamson keeps his eye on several concurrent storylines, and Darkseid’s ultimate plan would almost be a subtle aside were it not for Carmine Di Giandomenico’s blockbuster art. Filled with fluid action sequences, there’s a double-page spread of Darkseid standing in the midst of a nightmarish vision of a New Apokolips. The staggering showstopper is also a showcase for Ivan Plascencia’s color art, who might just invent a few shades that we’ve not seen before. So, while one run is over, the Odyssey team has picked up the mantle of the Challenges of Beyond (from the Countdown era at DC Comics) and gleefully run with it as further mysteries present themselves.
Punisher #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): “I believe every mushroom cloud has a silver lining.” Who’d have thought the best place for Frank Castle to grow would be in a prison? Writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Szymon Kudranski takes a smart twist in Punisher #7, as they subvert the law-and-order paradigm of Marvel’s premiere antihero when he finds himself as the mercy of a deeply corrupt institution in Bagalia. And perhaps most surprisingly, Rosenberg winds up fully justifying his new character Sister Mercy, who would ordinarily come off as silly and on-the-nose in a book like this, but winds up giving some of the best one-liners in the book to teach Frank a lesson about might not always equalling right. Kudranski, however, remains an acquired taste - his hulking Castle, with long flowing hair and a skull insignia scarred into his chest, looks more like Rasputin than a street-level vigilante, but his minimalist page layouts feel inspired, letting the shadows of the prison swallow readers whole. A book that continues to surprise, Punisher #7 is a gem that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Shape of Elvira #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10):This isn’t Dynamite or writer David Avallone’s first foray into portraying the much-parodied 80s horror host, but this comic is certainly in keeping with the B-grade tradition of the character’s appearances to date. Immediately breaking the fourth wall, the titular Elvira (and we do mean titular) is summoned to a spooky mansion to appear in a cult director’s latest film. The issue is largely an excuse to open a series of doors to cult references, shameless innuendo, and multiple winks to the reader. Fran Strukan and Maxim Simic take a no-frills approach to the line art, with a lot of simple panel blocking that emphasizes Avallone’s back-and-forth dialogue between the Mistress of the Dark and the various characters she encounters. It’s all two shades away from being a straight-up Scooby Doo episode, but people who find themselves in the common chunk of Venn Diagrams for classic cinema and crypt-keeper comic books will find a fun home here.