Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your pellets? Best Shots has you covered, with the latest Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off today’s column with the soon-to-be Fastest Man Alive, as we take a look at The Flash...
The Flash #71 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Given Barry Allen’s long and complicated relationship with time travel, it would be easy for writer Joshua Williamson and artist Howard Porter to simply let their “Year One” story in The Flash #71 linger in a dystopian future. But Williamson manages to really lean into the optimism that’s so core to the character, even in a world where the Turtle reigns supreme. There’s a lot of potential about a hero who’s spurred to action by his future self - almost an echo of Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s classic Flash #0 story - but it’s to Williamson’s credit that he left his story just be about this wild high concept. Instead, there’s a lot of humanity here, about Barry finding his own sort of power and responsibility lesson. It doesn’t hurt that this series is a wild departure from artist Howard Porter, whose densely paneled pages cuts against the grain of his normally widescreen sensibilities. It gives these pages a sense of deliberateness, with the occasional 10- or even 16-panel grid providing a nice juxtaposition between the sprawling world of superheroics, back down to the everyday, even claustrophobic nature of everyday life in Central City. Balancing high concept and characterization well, this may very well be this creative team’s best arc on The Flash yet.
Avengers #19 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): “What’s more fun than saving the world?” Avengers #19 is at its best when it’s getting inside the head of Gorilla Man, a member of the Avengers Support Staff and Agent of Wakanda - similar to his work in Wolverine and the X-Men, writer Jason Aaron and artist Ed McGuinness excel when they’re diving into the wonder and humor of playing with the big guns of the Marvel Universe. That said, once the storyline veers into Aaron’s work elsewhere in War of the Realms, things start to get jumbled a bit - if you’re not intimately familiar with the numerous Avengers spin-off books, there’s a number of tangents that don’t mean much more than a cameo from Captain America, Punisher, or Captain Marvel’s various teams. Still, Aaron’s characterization from Gorilla Man’s perspective is strong, and McGuinness does a terrific job in making this book feel epic - in particular, his take on the Black Panther exudes intensity and commands respect. While the central narrative may feel a bit disjointed, the artwork and central character still chalks up a nice win for Avengers #19.
Assassin Nation #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): There’s nothing that distills Assassin Nation #3 down more than an image of a gigantic bear fighter slamming his way through a wall and decimating a bunch of hapless guards with a big hearty sound effect that screams “f*ck yeah.” Seriously, that’s in the book - and a whole explosion of fun action besides. Writer Kyle Starks is funny as hell with this series, from Smoke commenting on how being an Asian woman in America is the perfect cover for witnesses (who can’t tell if she’s Chinese or Japanese, or between 15 years old and 100) to Fingerman telling the chipper Dave that every time he tries to tell him about mowing season, it is his own personal hell. The other appeal for Assassin Nation is just being reminded how versatile Erica Henderson’s style is - if you think you knew her just from Squirrel Girl, you’re gonna find out just how wrong you are, as she gleefully throws her characters into some brutal situations, from a henchman getting his hands cut off (we can literally see inside the wound!) to over-the-top displays of the world’s top assassins doing what they do best. If you haven’t read this series, pick up the previous two issues, because Assassin Nation is one of the funniest books you’ll read all year.
Martian Manhunter #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Writer Steve Orlando and artist Riley Rossmo lean into the terror with Martian Manhunter #5, as we not only get to witness the brutal strictures of Martian justice, but we get to see J’onn himself manifest the horrifying boils of H’ronmeer’s Curse. Rossmo’s drawing the work of his career in his opening pages here, as there’s almost a visceral sense of tension to watching J’onn get worked over by a former High Felon whose telepathy has grown exponentially after he was stripped of his shapeshifting abilities. But in addition to this fraught introduction, Orlando and Rossmo are also able to give us a much-needed breather, as we’re able to focus on J’onn’s shaky recovery from this telepathic assault - you almost feel refreshed seeing J’onn walk through the rain after believing he was on fire - as well as an interlude with Detective Diane Meade, which helps flesh out her character beyond J’onn’s initial betrayal. There’s a lot of personality and perspective to Martian Manhunter, and it’s a series that should be getting more attention as it continues to unfold.
Road of Bones #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Writer Rich Douek and artist Alex Cormack deliver a horrific little slice of Hell in Road of Bones #1, a story that’s half-prison escape and half-demonic terror. There’s so much mood in this Russian work camp in 1950, with Cormack’s hyper-rendered faces almost giving a sense of interchangeability between his characters - that suffering really is everywhere in Kolyma, and the only difference we need to know is who’s wearing a guard uniform and who isn’t. Douek’s opening pages - particularly two pages of nine-panel grids - shows the clockwork nature of this horrible place, but a later scene of an interrogation brings its own strain of jet-black, beyond-the-gallows humor. That said, I think Road of Bones’ best elements are what lies ahead - the idea of a lengthy journey across the unforgiving Russian winterlands is a great hook, and Douek is clearly playing the long game about the demonic Domovik who only creeps along the story’s outskirts. Road of Bones is a strong debut whose historical settings take an excellent twist on tried-and-true horror tropes.
Tony Stark: Iron Man #11 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Despite the debut of the new Godkiller armor, the conclusion to Tony Stark: Iron Man #11 can’t help but feel a little anticlimactic, with writers Dan Slott and Jim Zub and artist Valerio Schiti racing towards an epilogue rather than tightening up their large-scale finale. To be fair, there’s a lot of moving parts here - after hacking Tony Stark’s new virtual reality platform, the Controller is on a rampage, and Iron Man is M.I.A. But given the worldwide implications of the previous issues - where gamers worldwide have run amok - the Controller’s threat feels pretty small-scale, and Tony’s return to the battlefield (and subsequent win with the Godkiller armor) feels a little convenient and rushed. (In part because Tony isn’t so much creating the right tool to save the day, but instead it’s just bigger armor - “super-Saiyan” mode, as the book itself describes it, just feels too easy.) Schiti’s artwork struggles to keep together all the characters Slott and Zub throw into the mix, but I can’t help but wish a more lush inker was able to smooth out his scratchier linework, especially a scene where Rhodey catches Tony using the Manticore armor. To be fair, it feels like Slott and Zub are trying to fit a lot into 20 pages - nearly half the book is the aftermath of Tony’s quick win, and unfortunately, it’s hard to put a lot of emotional investment in the corporate espionage elements of this soap opera cast. There’s a lot of talented people involved in Tony Stark: Iron Man, and I’m confident the book can regain its momentum quickly, but now that this “Stark Realities” arc is over, I’m definitely ready for a refresh for Tony Stark’s next narrative.
Incursion #4 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Writers Alex Paknadel and Andy Diggle and artist Doug Braithwaite stick the landing nicely with Incursion #4, a finale that escalates its tension with some strong emotional content that - perhaps even more surprisingly - is pretty accessible even in its last chapter. If you know the Eternal Warrior’s story - namely, that he’s been tasked with protecting a young Geomancer named Tama - then you’ve got pretty much all you need to know. Gilad has come back mostly unscathed from the Deadside, with a cure for Tama’s necromantic plague - but that cure not only has an ugly cost, but it won’t mean much if an evil sorceress overruns them where they hide. Teaming up with Doctor Mirage, Paknadel’s scripting sells Gilad’s last stand against Imperatrix Virago nicely - you can sense that there’s a real threat to even this immortal warrior, but even more importantly, when Tama enters the fray again, you can sense that there’s a real threat to her innocence as a child. Braithwaite, teaming up with colorists Diego Rodriguez and Leonardo Paciarotti, delivers a painterly kind of epic that evokes sword-and-sorcery elements, while still keeping the bits of fantasy that are key to Valiant’s iconography. Even if you haven’t been keeping up with this series, Incursion’s finale is surprisingly accessible, with Paknadel keying into those core human elements that make the spectacle feel worthwhile.