Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: POWERS OF X #1, BATMAN - SECRET FILES #2, VENOM ANNUAL #1, More

DC Comics July 2019 solicitations
Credit: DC

Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has your back with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off this week’s column with Powerful Pierce Lydon, who takes a look at Powers of X...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Powers of X #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): It was obvious from the first issue of House of X that Jonathan Hickman wasn’t content to tell the same old X-Men story (even if it does feature some familiar elements). With Powers of X, he pushes things even further, showing readers multiple eras of the mutant story and how things are poised to change over the next thousand years. Once again, Hickman proves deft at remixing familiar elements just enough to make them interesting, and while the questions posed by his narrative have no easy answers, the journey to finding them and exploring this new status quo is the most exciting the X-line has been in quite some time. R.B. Silva proves to be a worthy artistic collaborator, grounding Hickman’s big ideas with clean linework and straightforward paneling that allows the narrative to be much easier to follow than it might otherwise be.

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Batman: Secret Files #2 (Published by DC; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): It’s all killer, no filler in Batman: Secret Files #2. Handled by a powerhouse group of creatives like Andy Kubert, Mairghread Scott, Steve Orlando, and many more, Secret Files #2 turns the focus on the villains as “City of Bane” comes to the anthology title. And in that focus comes real strength and chilling fun with the Joker, Bane, Hugo Strange, and the Psycho-Pirate all taking center stage in stories that cut right to the core of their villainy and their relationship with the Batman. Highlights include Steve Orlando and Eduardo Risso’s “Doctor Of Psychiatric Medicine” which finds Hugo Strange engaging in a bloody search for the “real” Batman and Colin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, and Carlos D’Anda’s “He Helps Me”, in which the Psycho-Pirate finds a new life...as a cult leader. But honestly, there isn’t a moment of Batman: Secret Files #2 that isn’t great as the anthology series makes a great case for being the best Batman book on the shelves.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain America #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Steve Rogers is the kind of man where being a fugitive from “justice” isn’t enough to deter him from protecting people. The first year of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Captain America run concludes with an issue that reflects on how hard Steve has tried to reclaim his image following Secret Empire, and how if there’s no America to believe in the shield, he might need a new approach going forward. Coates has been telling a story that’s been sure to parse the difference between Cap the icon and Steve Rogers the person, something which also comes across in Adam Kubert and Matt Milla’s art. The opening scene builds to a big moment of Captain America in action, an image that forces the perspective of the panel to crane upwards in order to take it in, which differs greatly from what follows when the pair make use of intimate close-ups to get closer to Steve, Sharon and everyone else. Yet, it’s not the proximity alone, it’s also in the body language. The way that hands come to rest on another person’s because while one may wield the shield, Captain America is about the many.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Angel #3 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): One of the most appealing things about BOOM! Studios’ new Buffy/Angel reboot is how they deliver a freshness to the franchise, all while respecting what has come before, and Angel #3 does this in stride. Even veteran Buffy/Angel fans may find some interesting twist and turns with this chapter as Bryan Edward Hill reinvents Angel Investigations for a new age as it tackles the devilish events that come along with our current age of social media. Gleb Melnikov masterfully showcases the angst that Hill has been able to perfectly translate from the show into his comic. Melnikov gives the story a bit more of an edge with his use of shadows. One of the greatest aspects of Joss Whedon’s properties is his ensemble cast, and Angel #3 does an excellent job at reestablishing our favorite Angel heroes for new and old fans alike.

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Venom Annual #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10) The “Acts of Evil” event running through the annals has focused on changing up regular hero/villain pairings and this issue features stories by Ryan Cady and Emily Ryan Lerner. They serve more to reintroduce Lady Hellbender than tell an essential Venom story, but I think it works pretty well. Lady Hellbender is essentially the Collector, Elsa Bloodstone, and Maxima rolled into a maleficent menagerie of monster husbandry. Both Cady and Lerner play things solidly but also a bit safely with their plots, with Cady introducing the villain and using her introduction to Venom as a way to get readers to understand her character, while Lerner digs into her origins a bit. Thankfully, both writers are paired with impressive artists in Simone Di Meo and Victor Ibanez. Di Meo’s work with Venom is positively kinetic, oozing with energy that works particularly well with the Venom symbiote. Ibanez is more reserved, with thick lines that put the characters and monster designs at the forefront. Venom fans might be a little disappointed with this considering Cady’s story doesn’t do anything exciting with Eddie and his partner, but readers looking for new characters to get excited about might be enticed by Lady Hellbender.

Credit: DC

The Green Lantern Annual #1 (Published by DC; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Grant Morrison’s trippy GL run gets the annual treatment in The Green Lantern Annual #1. Family Dinner at the Jordan Household is going swimmingly. That is until a race of aliens that only exist on the radio spectrum invade through their phones! What follows is a Jordan family defense, as Hal and his nieces and nephews have to try and repel the aliens and save the world. While this Annual still has that trademark Morrison weirdness, which is exacerbated in a very entertaining way by the sketchy pencils of Giuseppe Camuncoli and Trevor Scott, this annual’s story is a fair sight more grounded than the regular issues and it does it a world of good. If fans have been wanting a bit more of Hal’s family, along with the cosmic insanity that is his job, then The Green Lantern Annual #1 is the annual to beat this week.

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Avengers #22 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Jason Aaron’s wild and wooly take on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes continues with an exorcism at Avengers Mountain in Avengers #22. Concerned by the erratic behavior of Robbie Reyes and his Hell-Charger, Avengers Chairman Black Panther calls in an expert: Daimon Hellstrom. At the same time, Iron Man, Thor, and Okoaye are investigating a strange cave that’s been uncovered in the recent War of the Realms, one drenched in dread and supernatural energy. While Aaron’s time on Avengers could never be called “conventional,” Issue #22 shows that there is a method to the madness as he continues to throw the team into the deepest ends of weirdness with great success. Artist Stefano Caselli thankfully keeps the action rendered fairly down the middle, keeping the character models etched cleanly and the action fairly grounded. Big, strange, and all kinds of fun Avengers #22 starts this new arc on a strange but engaging foot.

Credit: DC

Justice League Dark Annual #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): James Tynion IV and Guillem March team up with Ram V for a story about the passage of time, nature and how hard it can be to turn the clock back. Despite some ties to the series’ ongoing narrative which bookend the issue, the bulk of this annual is a done-in-one story. The Parliament of Flowers has fashioned a new guardian of the Green, and Swamp Thing sets out to locate them, not out of curiosity about who will be taking up the position he once held, but out of concern that they’ll have to go through it by themselves. March’s depiction of Swamp Thing is the most impressive aspect of his art, rendering a take on the character that conveys the range of emotion demanded by the story. Carried along by an undercurrent of sorrow, Ram V’s scripting of the story he and Tynion IV co-wrote deals with how the new guardian gradually comes to terms with the limits of their new powers, unaware that their transformation cements there is no going back to the way things were. Any moments of hope that occur become consumed by the realization that they’re not built to last.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Runaways #23 (Published by Marvel; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Runaways has always been driven by its character work and that continues to be a major focus in Issue #23. The best character arc is between Gert and Chase as they talk about the complicated state of their relationship. The conversation is raw as the pent-up tension between the two has an opportunity to be fully fleshed out. Karolina and Nico lighten up the mode as Nico finds out about Karolina’s superhero antics. It sets them up to become the ultimate power couple as they fight crime together, but is that too good to be true? This is Runaways, there has to be some drama that will come along with this. Especially, since Karolina is using her super heroics as an outlet for her own guilt. Although, I do enjoy these character-driven issues, it does feel like the title is at a standstill as we haven’t had a major plotline in the series for a number of issues. Andres Genolet’s pencils are at their strongest during the emotional beats, but shifts with the Doombot and Victor subplot. In this section the artwork wasn’t as consistent as the rest of the book. Runaways’ plot may be stagnant, but the character arcs are strong enough to drive the series and make this issue an enjoyable read.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics Presents #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Marvel’s old-school anthology series continues in Marvel Comics Presents #7. This month, however, the issue is on a downward sliding scale. We open with Charles Soule and Paulo Siqueira’s “The Vigil,” which finds Wolverine continuing his search through the darkest corners of the world to find his “daughter” and the demon known as the Truth. The travelogue aspects of “The Vigil,” along with Soule’s portentous voice, really give this entry a leg up on the others. The rest of the stories, including a “Marvel Age” story about Iron Man versus a shady real estate shark and a winsome Winter Soldier tale, don’t really measure up to the power of the opening serialized story, but gives the issue a fun jumbled feeling that leans into the more unconventional makeup of the title. Marvel Comics Presents hasn’t had an “essential” issue just yet, but at least Issue #7 shows that it’s willing to try different tacts along with the seralized aspects.

Credit: Marie Enger

Everything Is Going Wrong: Comics On Punk & Mental Illness (Edited by Mark Bouchard; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating 8 out of 10): This anthology is a gripping collection of comics exploring mental health and punk music — featuring tales of overcoming anxiety through shows, grappling with addiction, and wearing punk as an armor against the stigma of mental illness, this anthology is at times tough to read but is a vital addition to the comics landscape. The anthology features more than two dozen stories by written or illustrated by creators like, Nadia Shammas, Tini Howard, Kelly Williams, and Brian Level. Cori Walters’ “OCPD,” written and illustrated by Walters, is a beautifully-illustrated exploration of wielding punk music as a shield against intrusive thoughts, and Marie Enger’s “Thanks, Bastard!” is a visually stunning, frank discussion of what it really means to live with an illness much maligned and grossly stereotyped by fiction and news media alike.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Fantastic Four #12 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): During Alicia and Thing’s wedding the team went up against their biggest powerhouse villain, Galactus. What dangers await the couple as they finally go on their honeymoon? It’s Immortal Hulk versus the Thing, as the Puppet Master takes control of the damaged hero. Fantastic Four #12 is sprinkled with some great Alicia and Ben moments as Alicia even goes on one knee to proclaim her love for him, but it’s also a great action-packed issue as Ben delivers some fun snarky remarks to Marvel’s famous heavy hitter. Sean Izaakse aces both the action and emotional moments perfectly. If you thought this issue was already jammed packed, it also has time to squeeze in a back-up story with the creative team of next week’s Future Foundation , which is a must read for any Power Pack fan. Jeremy Whitely deals with the consequences of Julie and Karolina’s breakup from Rainbow Rowell’s Runaways . Overall, Fantastic Four #12 shows that the franchise has a very promising future.

Credit: Quirk Books

We Are Here Forever (Published by Quirk Books; Review by C.K. Stewart, ‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10): We Are Here Forever is a delight. This collected edition of Michelle Gish’s webcomic follows the lives and adventures of Puramus, charming little four-legged critters who roam an earth free of humans (and most other creatures) in search of friendship and knowledge. The graphic novel, out this week from Quirk Books, is a curated collection of strips from the webcomic — it’s easy for readers to dive in whether or not they’re already familiar with Gish’s work, and still offers plenty to check out on Gish’s website after the 225-page print edition hooks you in. Gish’s bright colors and the maximally cute design of the Puramus make the moments of thoughtful unease about the empty earth that much more uneasy — We Are Here Forever doesn’t really linger on the circumstances of the Puramus’ rise to dominance, but there are a few moments where Gish drives home that, yes, we’ve left the Earth behind, under the care of these sweet creatures.

Credit: Terry Moore (Abstract Studios)

Five Years #3 (Published by Abstract Studios; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Terry Moore’s Echo finally receives some spotlight as Tambi meets up with Julie, the most dangerous weapon on earth. It was a delight to see what Julie and company have been up to as they become a bigger piece to the puzzle of Tambi’s mission. But Five Years #3 is not only about new bonds forming as Tambi’s army is falling apart, and are in the hands of the Russians. This is a fun issue that moves everything from Point A to Point B — it’s just great to see all of Moore’s franchises mixing together to create a bigger world as they fight for their survival. Moore’s black-and-white art style is always a refreshing delight to have every month in my pull list. Five Years is one of Moore’s most ambitious stories, and he’s doing a smooth job at putting together all of the pieces.

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