Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has you covered with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off today’s column with Particular Pierce Lydon, who takes a look at this week’s issue of The Flash...
Avengers: No Road Home #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): While Avengers' "No Surrender" arc was nothing to write home about, Jim Zub, Al Ewing, and Mark Waid have flipped the script here and built a propulsive Avengers story that’s actually really fun. There’s a little bit of annoying lampshading in the script (I don’t think you need to literally call the MacGuffin by name), the writers are using fun character moments and terse narration to keep the story on track and give it some stakes. Paco Medina’s artwork is a great fit, imbuing the work with the right mix of emotionality and action. His expression work is the key to nailing the moments that really need to sing like Hulk’s slight smirk when talking to Nightmare or the horror in Rocket’s eyes in the first scene. No Road Home is a story that is realizing its potential and it’ll be interesting to see the effect it could have on the larger Marvel Universe when all is said and done.
The Flash #65 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The finale to “The Price” crossover with Batman is full of surprises, but perhaps the biggest is the levels of introversion Joshua Williamson weaves into the majority of this issue. After quickly wrapping up the slugfest with Gotham Girl, a well-placed slap from Iris West causes Bruce and Barry to spend the remainder of the pages debating the morality of bringing other people into their respective wars on crime. A direct tie-in to Heroes in Crisis, the climatic moments are emotional ones: Bruce and Barry almost come to blows over their dead allies. The art team of Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona, and Tomeu Morey keep the pace moving through a series of fractured panels, rapidly cutting back and forth between the Scarlet Speedster and the Dark Knight to show that their differences and their commonalities aren’t that far apart. In an epilogue, Williamson teases DC’s next big event (Year of the Villain) by suggesting something more sinister at play, and there’s a surprise cameo from one of DC’s heavy-hitters.
Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #2 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): “I… created a dragon once. An experiment. I didn’t pursue it.” It is dialogue like this which cements Peter Cannon to be the latest, great main character from Kieron Gillen. It’s not right to call him the protagonist considering an alternate version of the character is the one responsible for wreaking havoc; sometimes your biggest enemy is yourself. Yet in such a short time, the series has shown itself to be more than a battle with the self, it being an obvious consideration of Watchmen, its legacy and where comics went in the wake of that maxiseries. There are a number of nods within this issue, drawn by Caspar Wijngaard and Mary Safro, the largest of all being the nine-panel grid. What makes this an issue that’s more than just winking and referential nods is that ideas like this, the formalism of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ opus, is baked directly into the book’s narrative. The characters themselves confront them in order to progress. This leads to one spectacular sequence in the back half that’s expertly executed by writer, artists and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou with regards to how they make use, and transcend, the space provided of the comic page.
Amazing Spider-Man #16 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Much has been made of Nick Spencer’s encyclopedic reading of the entirety of Peter Parker’s adventures to get ready for his run on Amazing Spider-Man, but with this latest prelude to his Kraven-centric "Hunter" arc, one can’t help but wonder if the emphasis on the soap operatics surrounding Spidey’s supporting cast haven’t slowed this series to a crawl. Unfortunately, we’re three-for-three in terms of issues that have made Spider-Man feel like a back-up character in his own book - Spencer’s story of Kraven preparing his ultimate hunt is a solid concept, but this lengthy take feels like a big misstep after the slowness of last arc. (Even when Peter appears in a back-up story, he still feels secondary to Kraven’s overarching hunt.) Ryan Ottley, however, draws his Kraven pages with aplomb, riffing a lot on his mustachioed characters from Invincible — Alberto Albuquerque fares less well in the Spidey/Kid Lizard back-up, with a messiness to his rendering that makes all of his characters feel wrinkled. Here’s hoping Kraven’s latest hunt can pick up the pace soon.
Martian Manhunter #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Steve Orlando slows things down in this issue to have J’onn give his human partner some background about why he took John Jones’ form. For a lot of other creative teams, an issue like this would kill the momentum of the book but Riley Rossmo has such a singular visual style that it’s impossible to stop turning the pages. The main could draw grass growing and seemingly find a way to make it interesting. Not only are the characters in this book so interesting, but Rossmo uses his layouts and panel choices to enable us to experience things that happen to the Martian Manhunter sort of as he does. That kind of ingenuity coupled with Orlando’s ability to build out more and more of the Martian Manhunter’s mythology make this one of the most inventive DC books on the stands.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer #2 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): When it comes to character, the second issue of BOOM!’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer is in keeping with the first’s assured approach. Rather than loading every popular character into those first 20 pages last month, Jordie Bellaire, Dan Mora, and Raúl Angulo have spread it out. So now that Willow, Xander and the Slayer herself have been established, now it’s time to branch further out with Joyce Summers and Cordelia Chase. From the way that Mora’s art captures their likenesses without being beholden to the way things were 20 years ago, to Bellaire’s punchy dialogue, seeing them again is like being greeted by old friends, even if they’re not exactly the same as the characters from the show. But then again, that’s part of the thrill of the reboot, seeing how they’re contextualized for a modern era; something which also applies to Xander and his blog posts. Where the issue falters isn’t so much in what it does, but what it doesn’t do – that it doesn’t really push the plotting forward. Seeing these characters again with such a comfortable vibe is welcome enough for now, but it does mean we’re waiting to see what they’ll end up getting up to.
Invaders #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Cap ventures under the sea in order to meet with his former Invaders ally, as Chip Zdarsky dives deeper into the murky conflict being established between Steve and Namor, the kind that threatens to escalate with each passing second. This story thread occupies much of the present-day material, though Bucky and Jim Hammond both have tasks of their own to accomplish. Drawn by Carlos Magno, the sequence verges on the fantastical, the sub-aquatic kingdom is captured by widescreen panels that allow the opportunity to take it all in, a quality which in direct contrast with Butch Guice’s work on the more grounded World War II-era flashbacks. The latter’s panelling is tighter- claustrophobic, even - which works for both the intensity of combat, and the walls seemingly closing in on Namor. When characters take a dip under the water in these flashbacks, it’s far more isolating and terrifying than the more sea foam-colored present-day. Editor’s notes remark about this building off a recent Avengers arc, but prior reading is unnecessary as Zdarsky puts the work into showing what the team was like in wartime compared to now they’re at odds, and in demonstrating the mental effects it can have on one’s psyche.
Heroes in Crisis #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Here we are on the north side of the halfway mark and Tom King doesn’t feel like he is any closer to giving us the answers to his murder mystery. Instead we get the unexpectedly tender story of Gnarrk, the deep-thinking caveman. The pathos King creates for this previously fringe character, as he rides a woolly mammoth and fights predators across Mitch Gerads and Tomeu Morey’s delicately rendered plains, gets to the heart of what this series is about, and speaks to why the deaths in the series so far have impacted readers and the DCU so dramatically over the last six months. Similarly, Gerard and Morey juxtapose a breakthrough moment for Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn with the oft-repeated Barry/Wally moments in a way that is honest, heartfelt, and truer to the characters than any fight scene they could conjure. This series may leave us with a richer sense of these players, so it’s just a shame that King’s sense of pacing has kept us in arrested development for so long.
Daredevil #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): “But who would believe the man dressed as the devil?” Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto’s Daredevil continues to be an excellent treatise on guilt and compassion through the lens of one of Marvel’s most tortured characters. At their most basic level, superheroes want to help people, and with Matt Murdock having been framed for a murder he (possibly) didn’t commit, Zdarsky gets to explores the depths of that compulsion to help. What does it mean to help people? Are the mask and tights the right way to do it? Can one hero ever help enough to absolve them of their sins? Zdarsky is examining Daredevil in a way we haven’t seen in some time. And he’s got Marco Checchetto backing him up, delivering intricately rendered panel and characters that bring out some of the grit and grime of everyday life for Matt Murdock. But his work also helps visualize Matt’s internal conundrum, he’s this shadowy, dark figure for so many people and Checchetto leans into that. Now as good a time as any to catch up with ol’ Hornhead.
Wonder Woman #65 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): G. Willow Wilson’s run on Wonder Woman is only eight issues old and it already feels like it’s treading water. Wilson’s approach feels like a bit of a throwback, pushing Diana’s emotions to the forefront of the issue. Her frustration is palpable, but the plotting leaves something to be desired. While Wilson does keep the general spirit of Wonder Woman alive in the book, the plot consists of Diana getting sued for interfering in Veronica Cale’s business and a missing child. Both of these are ideas we’ve seen ad nauseum in superhero comics, and the missing child bit in particular because it was part of Rucka’s recent run on the character. The art doesn’t do Wilson any favors, either. Jesus Merino struggles to figure out how Diana’s costume would work from certain angles leading to some interesting adventures in boob physics. But then a few pages later, he’ll really knock a scene out of the park. It’s consistently inconsistent, and that makes for an odd read overall.
Fight Club 3 #2 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Chuck Palahniuk’s writing, especially his comic book work, hasn’t always made literal sense. It doesn’t have to. Yet even the most diehard fans will still be left head-scratching after this issue. The story so far can readily be summed up by the Slide Penguin: “The art show…the dead dog, suddenly not dead…?” Palahniuk relies chiefly on artists Cameron Stewart and Dave McCaig to do the heavy lifting here, constructing a visual puzzle in which a war is being fought over a seemingly magical frame. Meanwhile, Sebastian/Balthazar’s need to gather a Rize or Die army has become crucial to his health and wellbeing. Save for a few well-placed flies crawling across the pages, Stewart and McCaig keep their panelling mostly in two dimensions, but Palahniuk’s chaotic script ensures that more occurs in a single page than some comics achieve in a whole issue. As the final panel becomes completely obscured, Palahniuk appears to be happy to keep us all in the dark, suggesting that the fun will be in working out what the hell this story is actually about.