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 Plentiful Pierce Lydon, who tackles the latest issue of Guardians of the Galaxy...
Guardians of the Galaxy #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): After a bombastic debut, Donny Cates slows things down and honestly spins his wheels a little bit with the second issue. The opening scene of Peter Quill drunk-dialing Kitty Pryde is a pitch perfect snapshot of where their relationship is at this point and it’s a fun way to provide some background information for readers. But this issue feels like it has a bit of a hangover from that big debut. Even artist Geoff Shaw seems to to be feeling the effects, turning in a much looser looking issue than last issue or even his work on Thanos. There’s still a lot to like here, especially if you like these characters because Cates has a great handle on their voices but the narrative does feel slight in comparison to the last.
Naomi #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10):Writers Brian Michael Bendis and David F. Walker take us deeper down the rabbit hole as Naomi attempts to find the connection between a muscular mechanic, a repeat visit of Superman to her small town, and the circumstances around her adoption. Picking up moments after the first issue, the overarching narrative only progresses by millimeters. Yet the devil’s in the details, and the subtle characterizations as Naomi confronts her parents are far more telling than any dramatic exposition. Jamal Campbell’s art is like a floating dream, bathing Naomi’s voyage of self discovery in a sunset glow, visually indicating a point of transition. It’s interspersed with Campbell’s double-page spreads of warring gods and superhero fights smashing the senses and giving us glimpses of what lurks beneath the surface of a small town. A final panel stinger promises the reveal of the “secret history of the DC Universe” in the next issue. It might just be hype, but it may also be the most quietly important corner of DC’s current slate.
Middlewest #4 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): With a bright splash of Jorge Corona’s energetic artwork, the fourth issue of writer Skottie Young’s alternate world fable complete envelops us in a carnival spectacular. In some ways, it’s an excuse to explore a bit more of the Middlewest’s blend of science and magic, with giant beakers of unidentifiable pink liquid powering everything from carnival concessions to sentient robots. Yet as more of Young’s story emerges, this grim fairy tale shows itself to be just as much about the lives of humans on the fringes and the desperate acts they are pushed to when deprived of their everyday anchors. While the issue may seem like a sidebar from the main epic quest, it builds to a suitably climactic conclusion thanks to Corona’s wordless three-page action sequence, a masterclass in visual tension that combines unconventional angles with vivid color art. As young Abel’s power grows, so do the dramatic possibilities raised by the growing storm that fills a full page to close out this issue.
Age of X-Man: Amazing Nightcrawler #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): One of the most genius things about “Age of X-Man” is the concept that love is outlawed. For a superhero team that’s as historically horny as the X-Men tend to be, that’s always going to spell trouble. In a world where mutants are accepted, it makes sense that the suavest member of the team, one Kurt Wagner, is going to be tempted. Seanan McGuire and Juan Frigeri deliver some pretty wholesome Nightcrawler content here. It’s just about everything you’d want from the swashbuckling savant but it doesn’t as additive to the “Age of X-Man” at this point as maybe it could. The overall conceit is easy to get onboard with and McGuire’s writing is competent enough. Frigeri turns in some effective pages too but it feels like this issue ends before it really, really gets going.
Wolverine: Infinity Watch #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): With Return of Wolverine wrapped, Ol’ Canucklehead is officially back, but Gerry Duggan seems to not really know what to do with him. The Infinity Stones are essentially people now, and Wolverine’s gotta hunt them down but in order to get to that point, Duggan has to use Loki and Phoenix Wolverine to explain a lot of the status quo. That makes this one an extremely talky issue that aside from a few quips from Loki and Logan, isn’t much fun. Andy Macdonald’s work is inconsistent. He seems to excel with the few opening pages that are more of a summary but struggles with medium shots and close-up panels as the book progresses. He doesn’t communicate the stakes of the story well or the scale of Wolverine’s task. There’s a real dissonance between his skillset and the story that Duggan is trying to tell especially as this follows up on Duggan’s other cosmic work.
Sharkey the Bounty Hunter (Published by Image Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Mark Millar’s ready-for-Netflix bounty hunter with a heart of gold comes roaring out of the gate in a blaze of futuristic bullets, combining the writer’s penchant for bold character in high-concept scenarios. There’s a lot happening in this first issue, almost as if its a book in search of the right tone before it sets off on its ultimate adventure. Often raunchy and filled with an offbeat sense of humor, Millar is content to give us a flyby of the major players and let us pick up the important details via osmosis. Beyond the genius design of Sharkey’s vehicle of choice - that is, a spacefaring ice cream truck - Simone Bianchi’s consistently beautiful art is a perfect companion to Millar’s idiosyncratic pulse. Sharkey’s first sexual companion in the issue is a woman transitioning to a mechanized security vehicle, and Bianchi’s biomechanic designs are elegant, sensual, and graceful. It’s also an issue that literally turns off all the lights for a restrained bit of onomatopoeic bloodletting in the dark. With so many ideas running around at once, there’s little doubt that this has the potential to be a cult hit. The best bet is probably just to hold on tight while Millar and Bianchi work it out.
Love Romances #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Following Marvel Comics Presents and Journey into Unknown Worlds, Marvel revives another classic anthology series for a one-shot collection of stories from top creators. Gail Simone and artists Rogé Antõnio and Jim Charalampidis kick off the collection with “The Widow and the Clockwork Heart,” a steampunk-inspired story of the small creatures that run the clockwork hearts inside love model decoys - at least until their gears are broken. Handsomely illustrated, it’s the most successful of the book. That said, Margaux Motin, Pacco Dorwling-Carter and Lee Loughridge’s textless “Heartbroken from Beyond” is an understated albeit tragic gem. Dennis "Hopeless" Hallum teams with Annapaola Martello and Charalampidis on a dark gothic tale of an overprotective father, it’s black and red art leading to an inevitable tragic end. The least successful entry is the comedy finale, “Gone Like the Wind.” Jon Adams and Tamra Bonvillain tell an anti-romance of a couple who transfer their minds to robot bodies, fall out of love, survive an intergalactic war, and let time and desperation take its course. The result is as scattered as the description implies.
Batman #65 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The opening pages are a bit of a slog, but once Batman and the Flash show up, Guillem March takes this one and really runs with it. (No pun intended.) His weird figures and awkward anatomy actually plays so much better to the action in this issue. It’s almost like he’s taking a more outsized manga-inspired approach here. (Think Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure but reined in a bit.) Gotham Girl’s creepy expressions and Gotham’s insane musculature are pretty fun details in a story that’s had to build a bit of momentum to get to this point. Despite a slow start, Josh Williamson’s story has really taken shape as well and works well in tandem with March’s art. This definitely a weird story, but it’s a fun one and a nice reprieve from the usual Batman doom and gloom.