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 Jittery Justin Partridge, who takes a look at Valkyrie: Jane Foster...
Valkyrie: Jane Foster #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Jane Foster gets a rollicking, majestic re-debut in Valkyrie: Jane Foster #1. Given a keen wit and grand scope by writers Al Ewing and Jason Aaron, Jane Foster gets to experience how the super-half lives as she takes up the mantle of Valkyrie, while also trying to juggle her career as a doctor. While this double life gives the issue some classic Marvel stakes, Ewing and Aaron up the ante significantly, throwing Jane into the deep end of being the last Valkyrie, with all the new powers and dangers it entails as she hunts for the stolen Dragonfang, ancient weapon of the Valkyries. The issue is given an extra boost of fun by the straight up gorgeous artwork of CAFU and Jesus Aburtov. Leaning into the golden malleability of Jane’s “All-Weapon” (a sort of mind reading tool that can become any weapon Jane wishes or needs at will), CAFU and Aburtov deliver big, splashy action intermingled with strikingly emotive quiet scenes. Believe the hype, Midgardians, Valkyrie: Jane Foster #1 is wall-to-wall awesome.
Action Comics #1013 (Published by DC; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The “Year of the Villain” bleeds into “Event Leviathan” in Action Comics #1013. Picking up after last issue’s cliffhanger, Rose & Thorn are now on the run from Leviathan, having turned down their offer and repelled their attack on Rose’s apartment. But most dangerously of all? She’s willing to go on the record, giving the Daily Planet its first corroborated sightings of Leviathan. This attention to the details of reporting and news gathering has been on the strengths of Action since Bendis came on, and I am really happy that he seems to be committing to it, all while folding elements of “The Offer” neatly into his own event with ease. Artist Szymon Kudranski and colorist Brad Anderson continue to thrive with the office environments and street-level action of this issue, staging Bendis’ verbal sparring between Perry White and Robinson Goode in stagey blocking intercut with a brutal fight scene between Thorn and Levithan agents. It isn’t often a comic gets better after scaling down in stakes, but somehow Action Comics continues to do it, even in the shadow of big events.
House of X #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10) Jonathan Hickman is in the driver’s seat for a new era of the X-Men, and in just a few pages, he already turns everything we thought we knew upside-down. It’s been a lean few years for Marvel’s Merry Mutants, as creators have seemed hamstrung by factors outside their control and an editorial team in place that seemed on the fence about whether they wanted stories that revered the past or pushed forward into unknown territory. Hickman straddles the line a bit — after all, this is far from the first time we’ve seen a “mutant utopia” concept — but at least pays lip service to the idea that everything really will be different this time. And I’m inclined to believe him, given his track record. Pepe Larraz knocks this issue out of the park. Delivering strong superhero visuals is one of Larraz’s utmost talents and it wings together nicely with Hickman’s approach to tone and general design sense. The X-Men feel (almost) all-new and all-different for the first time in a while, and that’s an exciting prospect.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #41 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Ever wonder what happened to Zack, Trini, and Jason in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Season 2? On the show the actors had left mid-season because of pay disputes, forcing the crew to use stock footage and body doubles before being able to fully write the characters off the series. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #41 delivers the story fans have been waiting decades to play out. On the show, Zack, Trini, and Jason had left Angel Grove to attend a peace conference in Switzerland, but as we discover here, they really absconded to an alien planet as the trio become a new type of ranger group – the Omega Rangers. Ryan Parrott does a great job at expanding the Power Rangers mythos all while respecting what had come before, and it’s a pleasure to have “Shattered Grid’s” Daniele Di Nicuolo back on pencils. His character designs are really incredible, and his kinetic illustrations creates the perfect ambiance for the series. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #41 builds some great groundwork for an even larger narrative, as Parrott continues to ace the series’ character work.
Batman: Curse of the White Knight #1 (Published by DC; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Batman: White Knight was one of the most refreshing Bat stories in recent years, so you’d have plenty of company being excited for writer/artist Sean Murphy’s highly anticipated follow-up. Unfortunately, Curse of the White Knight doesn’t connect as strongly as its predecessor. Indeed, it’s telling that the most compelling elements of the story are Batman and Joker’s continued reactions to Jack Napier’s “White Knight” initiative, but these are all smaller elements to the Azrael narrative that Sean Murphy tries to build in this premiere issue, with a 1600s historical bent – all things less interesting than Joker and Batman’s struggles. Even if you’re not totally thrilled by the series’ new plotlines, however, Murphy’s dark and brooding visuals are a perfect fit for this type of narrative. Batman: Curse of the White Knight #1 already has a very interesting world to play with, and hopefully Murphy uses this sequel to hone in on the themes that made the original so great.
Archie vs. Predator II #1 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10):Archie and friends follow the road back to themselves in Archie vs. Predator II #1, a laugh-studded yet bewildering start that takes full advantage of modern day Archie's affinity for weird. Picking up straight after 2015(!)'s Archie vs. Predator, the Riverdale gang get used to the Archie/Predator hybrid and decide to get out of Riverdale, only to find leaving a little harder than it should be. The urge to break out the back issues is strong here — Alex de Campi's script assumes a perfect memory of the first Archie vs. Predator, making this a pretty inaccessible read. Outside of that fairly major issue, there's some solid jokes here and a plot that isn't shy about walking off the beaten track into intriguing territory. Penciller Robert Hack inks his own detailed work with a thick and messy line, liberally smearing the page to suggest soot and smoke damage. De Campi's script isn't the most dynamic, so Hack zeroes in on atmosphere and reaction to carry the story with visuals — his bombed-out Riverdale a moody as hell highlight. If you can remember the first clash between the Riverdale redhead and ol' Crab-Face, Archie vs. Predator II #1 is an imaginative and atmospheric read.
Fearless #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10) It’s unfortunate that anthologies are a bit of a lost art in Big Two comics these days, because they’re a fun way to introduce readers to new characters and concepts. Of the three stories here, the one that works the least is Seanan McGuire’s short featuring established Marvel heroes in Captain Marvel, Invisible Woman and Storm. Leah Williams’ Millie the Model update and Kelly Thompson’s team-up of Elsa Bloodstone and Jessica Jones fare much better, because they’re a little less stilted and have the room to be a little bit more fun. The art holds up pretty well across the issue, but the standout is Nina Vakueva’s cartooning for the Millie story. Shying away from anything approaching traditional superhero work, she’s able to imbue the story with a playful energy while still referencing the fashion world that Millie comes from. All in all, this is far from essential, but for a burgeoning new comics reader, it might be the gateway to some new favorites.
Detective Comics #1008 (Published by DC; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): “The Offer” comes to Detective Comics in issue #1008. Helmed by the classic Batman two-hander of Peter J. Tomasi and artist Doug Mahnke, the Joker attempts a kind of demented “distraction” for Batmans the citizens of Gotham before the newly leveled-up Lex Luthor’s world-ending plans come to fruition. Though it isn’t the most substantial of plots, Tomasi’s Joker is actually funny, as he leads Batman through a whole night at the carnival, holding the rest of the patrons hostage with Joker Gas necklaces. Artist Doug Mahnke also mines a ton of visual comedy out of the script, allowing his haggard and worry-lined take on the Joker to bounce around the carnival basically doing schtick. While I would have liked a bit more headway as to what Luthor’s “Offer” really entails, Detective Comics #1008 was a fun side-story as the Year of the Villain starts up in earnest.
Aliens: Rescue #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Oscar Maltby; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Military stories and PTSD have long had history with one another, but that psychological battlefield takes an interstellar twist in Aliens: Rescue #1, a technically solid but ultimately perfunctory first issue from Dark Horse. Following on from this years' Aliens: Resistance, Brian Wood’s script follows Colonial Marines Recruit Alec Brand as he struggles with the traumatic memories of his previous run-in with the Xenomorphs. There's a solid mix of action and character here, but it all stays firmly in the well-trodden lanes of emotionally constipated army guys butting up against classified information. It's solid for what it is, but there's ultimately nothing here that hasn't been done before and better. Penciller Kieren McKeown's rendition of the Xenomorph is a little blunt-headed and his portraits can be uneven panel-to-panel, but he communicates expressions clearly and his backgrounds feel wonderfully lived-in. Away from Giger's classic, McKeown's creature design is solid — his horse-like insects of the Bug Hunt on Mars making for the issue's best sequence. You already know if you want Aliens: Rescue #1, and it delivers exactly what you'd expect — no more, no less.
Dial H for Hero #5 (Published by DC; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Dial H for Hero continues to beautifully deconstruct the comic book medium from Sam Humphries’ widely imaginative script to Joe Quinones’ breathtakingly diverse visuals. In this issue, the creative team dissects the idea of secret origins. Up to this point, the comic has created one-off heroes exploring the different styles of cartooning from manga to the Sunday funnies through original superhero origins. In Issue #5, however, the creative team flips the script once again by having Miguel explore the very tales that became the launchpad for many of the iconic characters from DC. It’s magical to see Miguel run through the pages of so many memorable DC moments all in the span of one comic issue. Dial H for Hero #5 not only is a wonderful spectacle, but it’s also a story with a ton of heart.