Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off today’s column with Justice-Seeking Justin Partridge, who takes a look at Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man...
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Enter… Spider-Bite! Framed as an epic, but self-aware fantasy team-up between Spidey and the new member of the Web-Warriors against all of his deadliest foes (including Stilt-Man!), writer Tom Taylor continues his more grounded, but effective take on the heroic life of Peter Parker in the heartfelt Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6. But when the fantasy ends, Taylor reveals a deeper heart to the team-up, which fits right along nicely with the rest of the affecting plots he has been developing with Aunt May and her condition. Artist Juann Cabal goes absolutely buck wild in the opening of this issue, lovingly rendering the script’s “fan fiction” approach to Bite and Spider-Man’s adventure to recapture a precious “box” from the Sinister Sixty. The issue’s midpoint splash pages revealing the Sixty and the subsequent action set piece is pure dynamite, but that shouldn’t distract from the power of the scenes in the real world. After the “adventure,” Spidey plays goodwill ambassador to the rest of Spider-Bite’s friends and family, and Cabal continues to make great use of the expressiveness of Spidey’s costume as a foil for more realistic character models. Armed with the perfect mixture of heart and humor, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6 is an absolute winner.
The Batman Who Laughs #5 (Published by DC; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Much like its title character, The Batman Who Laughs has been a series that’s been a bit at war with itself, with writer Scott Snyder’s ambitious, archetype-bending script taxing artist Jock to the limit. Unfortunately, while there’s some good character beats here from Snyder, Jock’s visual storytelling hampers this issue quite a bit - in particular, there’s a lengthy sequence near the end of the issue that took me a few rereads to make sense of it, in part because the script and the art feel so at odds with one another, while a Year One-style action sequence of Batman evading the police feels choppy rather than hard-hitting. It’s when Jock is able to take a second for Snyder’s big dramatic moments - particularly when our Batman starts channeling his maniacal alter ego a little too convincingly, or seeing the Batman Who Laughs decisively deal with some other subterranean counterparts - that this issue really picks up, but it’s certainly uneven. With two issues to go, The Batman Who Laughs feels like a comprehensive look back at much of Snyder’s tenure, even if this book’s artwork winds up being the limiting factor as a whole.
Invaders #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Namor’s plan is revealed in the most brutal installment of the Invaders yet. Having gotten to the bottom of the stolen U.S. missiles Namor stockpiled in the early issues, Steve Rogers races to stop his plan. But it’s too little, too late - the missiles are already flying, and Jim Hammond has been gravely injured. Chip Zdarsky has been slowly building a pretty engaging Tom Clancy-esque political thriller between the surface and Atlantis, but here he really starts to dig into the tension and explosive action of the next act. Artists Carlos Magno and Butch Guice lean into it as well. I am still a little disappointed Guice hasn’t gotten any major action set pieces, but he provides a nice heart to the flashback scenes. And Magno more than holds his own in the action department, especially this issue with the brutal fight between original Human Torch Jim Hammond and Namor. While the Invaders may be a product of their World War II upbringing, Zdarsky, Magno, and Guice show that the war has followed them with an all-too-eerie modernity.
Catwoman #11 (Published by DC; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Structured around an extended chase sequence - first between vehicles, then on foot -Catwoman #11’s big draw is in how the thrill of motion can be conveyed through sequential, yet still images. This is a fitting inquiry for a series starring Selina Kyle considering one of her most interesting qualities as a character is how she maneuvers herself through a morally ambiguous world, between the law and more overt criminals like the Creels. Joëlle Jones has been plotting her story in a way that means this is not just a thematic consideration, but an aesthetic one as well, so much so that it registers even when she is just scripting the book, with Fernando Blanco and Hugo Petrus instead providing the issue’s linework. Petrus deals with the threads of Detective Yilmaz and the Creels’ stories, while Blanco handles the lion’s share of the issue. His speed lines are the defining element of many a panel in the issue, and paired with John Kalisz’s colours, result in the nighttime surroundings becoming a neon-blur whizzing by, all the while allowing Selina’s actions and movement in order to reach her target gaining an ultra-clarity in the compositions.
Eve Stranger #1 (Published by IDW Publishing/Black Crown; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Equal parts Memento and The Jason Bourne Identity, writer David Barnett and artist Phillip Bond create a compelling heroine in Eve Stranger #1, even if this debut issue suffers from a bit of decompression on the whole. But as a reading experience, it’s fun to try to piece together bits of this amnesiac hitwoman’s life - she wakes up in a hotel with no memory of how she got there, guided only notes she’s written to herself as she has to immediately contend with people trying to take her life. It’s a fun premise, as Barnett throws in little interludes like the lethal safeguards taken to protect the E.V.E. program at all costs; Bond, meanwhile, excels with the small moments, evoking a little bit of David Lafuente as he makes Eve seem charming, precocious, and also deadly. If there’s anything that holds Eve Stranger back, it’s that the page count runs out before the plot can really get anywhere - as much as Barnett’s characterization is fun to follow, a little bit more illumination on what this story is about (or how amnesia factors into assassinations) would have dug the hooks in a little deeper. Either way, Eve Stranger is definitely not a book to forget in future installments.
Conan the Barbarian #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Conan goes from a thief to a commander in the sixth installment of Marvel’s new Conan the Barbarian. Set against the backdrop of an ongoing desert war between two rival kingdoms, Jason Aaron delivers another tale of Conan’s keen senses in battle coupled with his innate survival skills. Though it suffers a bit from Aaron’s wordiness, he continues to impress with the property’s brutal action and grand scope. And speaking of action, Mahmud Asrar delivers more high pulp set pieces and gorgeous panel dressings. This sixth issue also gives Asrar a chance to display his fun and underrated costuming skills with the members of the rival kingdoms that Conan interacts with. While the script could have been a bit leaner, Conan the Barbarian #6 proves Marvel is still doing right by our favorite Cimmerian.
Murder Falcon #8 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): For those who have been enamored with Daniel Warren Johnson’s metalhead epic Murder Falcon, you’ll probably love this finale issue - it’s bombastic and larger than life, with battleships armed with giant amplifiers and enormous hammers falling out of the sky to smash gigantic anvils. It’s very metal, and Johnson’s artwork is so kinetic and expressive that it’s almost unimpeachable. That said, this series as a whole has had a bit more of a loopiness than Johnson’s soulful work on Extremity, and so if you’re looking for air-tight story logic behind the mythology, well, you probably should be looking at another book rather than the one about the mutant falcon with a robotic arm that’s powered by rock. Still, Johnson ends the series with just the right amount of poignance for this madcap tale, and if everything feels a little conveniently wrapped at the end, this series as a whole still feels like a power chord even amongst the spectacle of most comic books.
The Savage Sword of Conan #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The leaner, meaner Conan title rolls on in The Savage Sword of Conan #5. On the hunt for a dark wizard’s treasure, Conan fights those under his thrall to plunder the wreck of the very ship that brought him to this cursed land. Gerry Duggan’s resolution to this first arc is a bit plotty, having have to resolve antagonist Koga Thun’s rule over the land and the “magic map” in Conan’s head, but he forges a sharper script with lean narration and his punchy dialogue for Conan. Artist Ron Garney also plays it leaner, framing all the action in intimate, closely cut panel layouts. Every page is sparsely staged in deep black page backgrounds, but it works overall in contrast to the more “epic” main title. If you like your Conan stories more horror-inspired, then The Savage Sword of Conan #5 has the pulp you crave.
Blackbird Vol. 1 TPB (Published by Image Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating 8 out of 10): Blackbird is visually stunning. The trade paperback, out today from Image, collects the first arc of the series and offers a master class in color work from Triona Farrell. Her gorgeous, glowing neons make the world of Blackbird feel like a dream, though to poor aspiring paragon Nina it might feel more like a nightmare. Written by Sam Humphries and with art by Jen Bartel, Blackbird drops readers headfirst into a secretive world of hidden magic and haunting demons. When one such demon kidnaps her sister, Nina devotes herself to getting her back, launching herself back into the secretive world she once glimpsed as a child. At times, Humphries goes a little heavy on internal monologuing from Nina — there are pages that feel like storyboards for a visual novel, which, with Jen Bartel’s exceptionally stylish character designs and backgrounds, isn’t really a bad thing. Blackbird feels youthful and exciting, in both its writing and its visuals, and for fans of series like The Magicians or The Vampire Diaries, Blackbird is a must-read.