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 Freewheeling Forrest Helvie, who takes a look at The Batman’s Grave...
The Batman’s Grave #1 (Published by DC; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): For Batman fans who miss the detective element to the Dark Knight Detective and prefer a more “street-level” approach to Gotham’s hero, Warren Ellis delivers a captivating mystery story in The Batman’s Grave #1 that longtime fans will not want to miss. Not only does Ellis leave readers wondering “What’s next?” from one scene to the other, he also places Alfred in a unique position to call Bruce out in new and fresh ways, and this proves especially effective at creating some real emotional tension between the surrogate father and his son. Artist Bryan Hitch, inker Kevin Nowlan and colorist Alex Sinclair all vie for the MVP award with the art, as Hitch’s composition never seems to miss an opportunity to capture the adrenaline or the emotional weight of a given scene. Likewise, Nowlan’s ink work complements Hitch and underscores the mysterious and heavy atmosphere of the story, neither of which is betrayed by Sinclair’s cool color palette.
Amazing Spider-Man #31 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Amazing Spider-Man #31 takes a deeper dive into exploring the relationship between Kindred and Norman Osborn as Nick Spencer gives more clues to who Kindred is under the mask. I enjoyed the flashbacks and the exploration of the complicated relationship the Osborns have with Peter, even if the plot thread around Kindred’s identity begins to overstay its welcome. On artwork, it’s a pleasure to have Ryan Ottley back on pencils for this title. The tone for the story arc is eerie with Kindred’s aesthetic alongside the return of the Carnage-possessed Osborn, which is a nice contrast to Nathan Fairbairn’s bright color work. Amazing Spider-Man #31 succeeds as it delivers on classic Spidey angst that will hopefully lead to a strong Kindred identity reveal sooner than later.
These Savage Shores #5 (Published by Vault Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The level of blood spilled across the pages of These Savage Shores has resulted in the cast gradually shrinking and the book becoming more refined in terms of focus with each passing issue as a result. Most of this issue is built around Bishan and Kori travelling to London in order to meet with Count Grano. It further illustrates how the world makes monsters of us all, beyond factors such as war. Ram V has managed to make this central relationship all the more moving because of all the suffering they’ve endured, most recently Kori being turned. Their arrival in England’s capital is depicted by Sumit Kumar and Vittorio Astone with scratchy linework and an approaching darkness that manages to envelop the city. When one character eventually makes a move that kicks the action into high gear, Kumar traces their movement against the sky and moon above, as if they’re cutting through the clouds themselves to reach their opponent. Even as it returns to motifs and familiar lines, it connects these with where the story as gone, taking them to a point of no return.
Doctor Doom #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Doctor Doom has taken numerous iterations over the past few years, from cosmic demigod to unlikely hero to the iron-fisted ruler of the kingdom of Latveria. Yet by trying to thread these disparate circumstances, writer Christopher Cantwell’s tone pingpongs a bit in his opening issue of Doctor Doom. Even with an expanded page count, Cantwell feels like he might be overstretching himself a bit — there’s lots of good stuff here, from Doom fighting off international bounty hunters to a bleakly comic look at his pettiness towards the media, but adding in cameos from Kang or Doom fantasizing about another life that could have been feels a bit like throwing everything against the wall, even if there isn’t enough room for everything to stick. Artist Salvador Larocca, however, handles the dense page layouts with ease, bringing a surprising looseness to his pages that really works for this book. While this is an imperfect debut, there’s potential here that hopefully this creative team can uncover.
Year of the Villain: Joker #1 (Published by DC; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Given the hit movie featuring the title character, it’s no surprise that DC would enlist famed horror director John Carpenter to pen Year of the Villain: Joker. Unfortunately, this issue fails to accomplish this task as it opts to focus on one of the surviving members of Joker’s gang, whom he takes a shine to and leads on a romp around Gotham in a parodic Batman and Robin cosplay. Despite established art talent such as Phillip Tan, Marc Deering, Jonathan Glapion, and Jay David Ramos, the story feels inconsistent, and part of that may be due to the large number of people involved. Ultimately, the story itself fails to make a case to readers for why it matters as we gain no new insights into Joker, and we don’t really see him push the Year of the Villain forward in any way.
Hellmouth #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Hellmouth #1 throws you right into the action, which allows this event to already raise the stakes for BOOM!’s first Angel and Buffy crossover. The premiere does a good job at balancing plot and character, even though I do feel like some of the character beats are rushed to meet the development of their later seasons’ counterparts - the moment where Angel and Buffy have to team up together, for example, just doesn’t feel as iconic as the slow burn the original television show provided us. Eleonora Carlini’s pencils are an improvement from David Lopez’s work on the Buffy series, and matches Dan Mora's style a bit more. Hellmouth #1 feels like a classic Buffy season finale, and it’s hard to believe that this is only the set-up for things to come.
Powers of X #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): With Dawn of X on the imminent horizon, the final issue of Powers of X remains true to the ethos of previous issues, in so much that it manages to recontextualize plenty of what’s come before in addition to paving a road towards a bold, new future. Hickman’s script returns to previously depicted events, meaning this issue’s art is credited to R.B. Silva, Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia, and David Curiel, continue their winning streak and bring it across the finish line. This factor contributes to the issue’s oversized page count, while also allowing a deeper exploration what these mean in relation to Moira MacTaggert. Considering she’s the most important character in this prelude to what’s coming, she’s been curiously absent in the past few issues, and the details dispersed here help the overall ideas of the series link together tighter. It’s not as big a bombshell as other red-marked issues have been, but it does cement how exciting (and potentially self-ruinous) the future looks for the mutants.
Harley/Joker: Criminal Sanity #1 (Published by DC; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): In this Elseworlds-style story, Harley Quinn isn’t romantically obsessed with the Joker, but instead engrossed by her work as a forensic psychiatrist and profiler at the GCPD to find out what makes the Joker tick. It was refreshing to see novelist Kami Garcia explore a new angle for Harley Quinn, but Garcia gets so caught up in the technical side of the Joker’s murderous psychosis that Harley’s emotional beats don’t land as hard as they should. This character has all the obsession, but none of the personality that made us fall in love with previous iterations of the character. On the flip side, the artwork by Mico Suayan and Mike Mayhew bring a lot of life to the book - it has an element of noir and realism that truly grounds this book in the tone Garcia tries to garner with her script. Harley/Joker Criminal Sanity #1 has a very unique premise, especially in a comic landscape flooded with Harley titles, but the story’s stagnant dialogue and execution makes for a lackluster debut.
The Magnificent Ms. Marvel #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): This arc started out as a very promising character-driven narrative as Nakia and Zoe join the fight, while Becky and Josh return to the forefront as adversaries, but The Magnificent Ms. Marvel #8 doesn’t completely stick the landing. There are so many moments where the dynamic between Josh and the team could have been explored more that sadly only reaches a surface level. It was also disappointing to see Nakia and Zoe (heroes in their own right) just standing around during the battle. It’s a letdown because we’ve seen these two supporting characters be more useful during G. Willow Wilson’s run – they even wore Ms. Marvel’s costume for a short period of time. As the story focuses more on the action, both Joey Vazquez and Alex Arizmendi have many moments to shine with their sleek and expressive pencils. Overall, what could have been a powerful character driven narrative becomes just another filler story about corporate zombies.
Blade Runner 2019 #4 (Published by Titan Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Taking an extended trip across the border into Mexico, the conclusion to the first arc of Blade Runner 2019 further fleshes out this world in a way the movies didn’t have time for. The script by Michael Green and Mike Johnson moves at a pace quick enough for Ash to have already caught up with her two targets within a few pages, which is a different vibe and mood to its silver-screen counterparts, but works for serialized comics. Green and Johnson’s direct dialogue and narration drives everything forward, granting a sense of momentum that writers from other mediums don’t always manage to adapt to. When it comes to Andres Guinaldo and Marco Lesko’s work, their panel-to-panel storytelling is consistent. They understand how to move a reader’s eye through a page, albeit in fairly traditional layouts. Overall, the fundamentals are there in terms of both the narrative and art, but the book hasn’t dug deep enough into its conflict yet to hit on big questions, musings on life or an astounding looking moment. That said, where the book’s heading next should allow all involved to stretch their creative muscles and find these in as of yet uncharted territory for the franchise.
Go Go Power Rangers #24 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Bulk and Skull take center stage in this surprisingly heartfelt story that shows that you do not need to be a Power Ranger to be a hero. Ryan Parrott fully fleshes out these comedic relief characters as they become the point of view of what it means to live in a world filled with Zords, monsters, and superheroes, while still keeping the characters’ classic antics intact. Guest artist Daniel Bayliss puts a unique twist to this issue, as readers get to see the world of the Power Rangers through the literal camera lens of Bulk and Skull’s vlog. Go Go Power Rangers #24 could have easily been a filler issue to just act as a breather between the action-packed story of “Necessary Evil,” but Parrott and Bayliss deliver a whole lot of heart to allow this issue to stand out from the pack.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror: Season Two #1 (Published by Ahoy Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Edgar Allan Poe stories work due to the tension that builds towards a terrifying release. Unfortunately, this comic does not deliver on this promise, nor does its deliver much on the promise of anthology-style comics. Writer/artistDean Motter, along with inker Alex Ogle and colorist Julie Barclay tell a jumbled amalgam of Poe-isms in “The Tell-Tale Black Cask of Usher” that spends too much time creating cameos for the many disparate parts of the over half-a-dozen Poe stories at the expense of crafting a slow-building gothic horror story. While the art does a fine job of telling the story, especially with the heavy, brooding inks from Ogle, the predictable and choppy story leaves this comic as a story best left untold. The final six pages of this thirty-two-paged comic offer readers some poetry, a one-page short story, and a slapstick comic strip “Poe and the Black Cat” that looks like a Robert Crumb knock-off without delivering any kind of laughs or biting commentary. What we end up with then is a second season debut that fails the sniff test.