Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your pellets? Best Shots has your back with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off today’s column with Osteoporosis-Fightin’ Oscar Maltby (because it was his birthday on Thursday!), who takes a look at this week’s Meet the Skrulls...
Meet the Skrulls #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The Warners are an average family with average problems. Trying to fit in at school… navigating workplace politics… attempting to subjugate of all humanity. Wait, what? Robbie Thompson and Niko Henrichon invite us to Meet the Skrulls with a tense first issue that unites schoolyard politics and international espionage with world domination. Tonally, Thompson walks the line between comedy and thrills, mining the inherent humor in a nuclear family of law-abiding alien invaders whilst never letting the reader forget their frightful goal. The focus on outcast daughter Alice’s failure to successfully integrate with high school life provides a relatable hook, while the overarching threat of Skrull hunter Agent Echo Lima raises the stakes for the rest of the limited series. Penciller Henrichon covers entire pages in menacing portraits that leer from the panel with contempt. His angular style extends to his panel composition, which occasionally leads to a skewed sense of perspective. Atop Henrichon’s lines, Laurent Grossat’s color palette of greens and yellows add a sickly sheen to an issue filled with unsavory characters. In short, Meet the Skrulls #1 is a strong introductory issue from a focused creative team. There’s a solid premise here with real potential; let’s hope future issues fulfill it.
Justice League #19 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Scott Snyder and Jorge Jimenez kick off their next Justice League epic by taking readers to the Sixth Dimension, and this issue has everything you’d want from an introductory chapter. Snyder and Jimenez have a little fun with the elastic limits of Mr. Mxyzptlk's powers as the League asks the fifth dimensional imp for help in the wake of the crumbling multiverse. And it’s hard to imagine anyone else drawing this story — Jimenez is able to deliver pitch perfect versions of the greatest DC heroes while still imbuing them with an expressiveness that really makes Snyder’s script sing. But for all the silliness that abounds, there are still some dire stakes and Snyder digs into his old horror bag of tricks to up the ante. Justice League is a must-read for any superhero fan.
Ronin Island #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Despite some strong art from Giannis Milonogiannis, Ronin Island #1 is an uneven introduction to the series. Writer Greg Pak is intent on getting as much of the conceit on the page, but in doing so, delivers clunky, expositional character work that undermines the whole package. It’s not totally clear what the reader’s focus should be and what part of the narrative they’re supposed to be won over by, and that’s the failure of this debut issue. But Milogiannis’ work looks good especially coupled with Irma Kniivila’s coloring. There’s a bit of a Saturday morning cartoon feel to the book as a whole, which feels like it’s trying to endear itself to fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra. Unfortunately, Ronin Island just doesn’t have the initial strength of concept present in those works or Pak’s other creator-owned work like Mech Cadet Yu.
Batman #66 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Writer Tom King and artist Jorge Fornes take a trip down memory lane in Batman #66, and while there’s some repetitiveness from this look back at Bruce and Selina’s failed wedding, it’s hard to deny just how gorgeous this issue truly is. Using the Question as a surrogate for the heartbroken Batman, you immediately sense this character’s obsessive and twisting mindset is a strong fit for King’s writing style - to be honest, this issue alone feels like a strong audition for King’s next book after Mister Miracle. That said, while the Question’s line of interrogation eventually uncovers a new layer behind Selina’s departure, the breakdown of Batman as a philosophical proof (particularly with the breakdown of the wedding scene) feels like a well that King has already tapped before, particularly in his Mister Freeze arc. But that said, if you’re going to repeat yourself, you could do worse than teaming up with Fornes, who continues his best riff on David Mazzucchelli here. Like King, Fornes’ best work is with the Question - even for a guy without a face, the Question looks as expressive as ever. Without its guest star, this issue might not have worked, but King and Fornes pull out a win in Batman #66.
Star Wars: Vader - Dark Visions #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Darth Vader versus a kaiju: it’s the reason comics exist. Darth Vader as an anti-hero is something that has always been partially present in Star Wars canon, and has been played up in the prequels and expanded universe. In the first issue of a new anthology series, Dennis Hallum casts the Dark Lord as something entirely different: a self-contained story in which Vader’s TIE Fighter crash lands on a planet, he fights off a giant monster terrorizing the locals, and becomes a folk hero. Artists Paolo Villanelli and Arif Prianto have a ball here, starting with their two-page spread of a space battle between the Empire and the Rebels. Vader is drawn as a lithe and balletic figure, whether he is running along the side of a shark -inspired monster, repeatedly slicing it with his lightsaber, perching on its gaping maw, or leaping into its hungry jaws. Yes, all of that is exactly as cool as it sounds, promising a unique series of perspectives on one of the most famous villains (and now heroes) in pop culture.
Young Justice #3 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Brian Michael Bendis certainly isn’t going to make this easy on us. Although the series has brought back characters we’ve not seen in years, caught somewhere between their ‘90s persona and today, there’s no explanations as to why Connor Kent has been taking a siesta over in Gemworld. Maybe there doesn’t need to be. A little bit of puzzle is fine in these early days of the series after all, although the pacing is a a little bit off, especially when the issue ends with three almost identical pages of the rest of the Young Justice crew trapped in an off-panel dungeon. The art crew of Patrick Gleason, Peter Bogdanovic, and Jonathan Glapion are a joyous team to watch work, bringing the same energy and character expression Gleason brought to to the Superman Rebirth series. Punctuated by vividly colored splash pages, and one magnificent page of Connor floating in the void, there’s still a lot to unpack here - something that hopefully Bendis and company get to sooner rather than later.
Six Million Dollar Man #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): There’s something singularly charming about Christopher Hastings and David Hahn’s Six Million Dollar Man, a light touch of humor and characterization that will disarm any fan smart enough to give this new series a shot. Despite being a formidable cyborg with bulletproof limbs and X-ray eyes, Hastings makes Colonel Steve Austin just the right amount of affable and goofy, with his banter with Agent Niko Abe (“Did I tell you I was an astronaut?”) giving this book an instant likability amongst the crazy, sword-swinging action. Artist David Hahn and colorist Roshan Kurichiyanil are also a dream team, giving this debut issue a smoothness and expressiveness that keeps this book moving swiftly. (And letterer Ariana Maher deserves special credit for giving Hasting’s jokey dialogue as much bounce as it has alongside the art, along with a fun gag involving helicopter rotors.) Six Million Dollar Man #1 is a debut that is definitely worth its weight in cybernetic parts.
Uncanny X-Men #13 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Marvel’s merry mutants are back, but their return has turned sour due to the lack of creative synergy between writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Salvador Larroca. It’s a shame, because Rosenberg has been telling a good story, and this issue is no exception. Cyclops outlines a little bit of the mission for this band of X-Men and what their next steps as a team are before they dive right into the thick of things. But Larroca’s overly rendered expressions and lifeless posing does nothing for the book. Rosenberg is an admittedly wordy writer at times, relying on his artists to pace out quick turns of dialogue when needed but leave space for longer bouts of exposition. But this story feels mismatched. Larroca seems to translate the script literally rather than add any semblance of energy or ingenuity to the proceedings. And with the departure of colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, the art overall resembles the muddy inconsistency of his work on Star Wars. Still — and I can’t believe I’m saying this about as visual a medium as comic books — fans that can get past the art will find an inventive and fun story that is exactly the shot in the arm this franchise needs.
The Girl in the Bay #2 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Richard Gray; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): J.M. DeMatteis’ mystery deepens as we learn a whole lot more about the titular girl and her older doppelgänger while winding up with a whole bunch of new questions. The chief one concerns the aged killer Hugh Lancy, who artists Corin Howell and James Devlin have given a giant melting (and possibly imaginary) double as a companion. While less focused that the first issue, it’s these visual clues peppering the issue that continue to intrigue the reader. The art team cuts loose on huge, swirling, and psychedelic montages showcasing Katherine’s new ability of "seeing" the entire history of the departed, including an especially impressive spread that spans 50 years' worth of history. The series hasn’t quite found a singular tone as yet, shifting as it has from time travel drama to supernatural horror in the space of a single issue. Yet perhaps this is the defining aspect of the series, one that is signaling its intention to keep us permanently on our toes.