Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your pellets? Best Shots has you covered with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Melodious Matthew Sibley, who takes a look at Absolute Carnage...
Absolute Carnage #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): To Eddie Brock, the Venom symbiote functions as a layer of protection, of armor, from the world and threats around him. So what is he without it? In an attempt to stop Carnage from procuring more codices, Eddie’s symbiote has attached itself to the Hulk, and while their battle ensues, the all-too-human Eddie still has to find a way to fight. Ryan Stegman’s linework on the opening splash gets at the body horror that comes with the Hulk at this present moment in continuity, a tendril digging through an eyehole while another hand attempts to rip apart a jaw. As tie-in related material comes back into play during the middle of Absolute Carnage #4, Donny Cates’ script loses its focus on Eddie, however - it’s a stumbling block that comes from this crossover needing to be bigger than an arc of his ongoing Venom, even if the purpose of it all loops back into Eddie’s journey by the end. The overall craziness and pace of the story is one that struggles to fit into the page count from a writing perspective, even though Stegman his inkers JP Mayer and Jay Leisten, plus colorist Frank Martin pack in plenty of the grotesque.
Superman: Year One #3 (Published by DCBlack Label; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): There’s nobody who is a bigger fan of classic Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr. than me, which is why the scattered and abrupt finale of Superman: Year One breaks my heart more than most. Written as a jam band session between these two legendary storytellers, Superman: Year One has almost a dream sense of logic to it, as we’re extricated almost immediately from the depths of Atlantis last issue, and instead Miller and Romita basically skip ahead to an essentially fully formed Superman, complete with cameos from Batman and Wonder Woman to give everything a Dark Knight Strikes Again style goosing. While Romita’s artwork is solid (although whoever’s idea it was to slot in a Trump-style “MSM” headline for The Daily Planet is way off-base about this icon of truth, justice and the American Way), major establishing points for Clark Kent - Lois Lane, The Daily Planet - are glossed over, while the finale reads as if they simply ran out of pages. I’d say Superman: Year One is for completists only, but given the looseness and weirdness of much of its storyline, I’m not sure I can even make that endorsement.
Dead Beats: A Musical Horror Anthology (Published by A Wave Blue World; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Just in time for Halloween, Eric Palicki and Joe Corallo have delivered a collection of more than two dozen music-themed horror stories featuring some of the best creators in comics today. Centered around shorts by Palicki and Corallo (with art by Lisa Sterle and letters by Micah Myers) set in a supernatural record store of the same name, Dead Beats delivers all the thrills and chills you crave this spooky season with a thrumming undercurrent of musical melodrama. It’s exciting to see the myriad ways creators take to the theme, whether it’s a ska band that gets their hands on a cursed saxophone (the delightfully weird “The Cursed Saxophone of Skasferatu” by Matt Summo, Dan Buksa, Gab Contreras, and Matt Krotzer) or an album whose songs offer closure after a long and loving life (Vita Ayala and Raymond Salvador’s “Let’s Stay Together,” which will make you cry). There are a number of particularly standout stories here — Regine Sawyer and Y. Sanders’ “Gold Dust Woman,” Mark O. Stack and Rio Burton’s “The Angel From My Nightmare,” and Ivy Noelle Weir and Steenz’s “Beyond Her Years,” especially — but every story and the Dead Beats shopkeeper interludes are a delight and make this 170-page anthology well worth the $20.
Spider-Man #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): The origins of Spider-Man’s son continues as Ben finds a friend to confide in about his newfound powers. The added element of this character allows for the book to find a bit more personality, even if the narrative still doesn’t feel unique enough to warrant its own miniseries. But overall, Ben’s heroic journey is more engaging in this issue than the first, as Abrams digs deeper into Ben’s internal struggles with the loss of his mother and his absent father. Sara Pichelli’s artwork continues to be the strongest aspect of this book, particularly with the way she plays up Ben as a lanky, awkward, everyday teenager. Spider-Man #2 is a step in the right direction, but there is still no element that makes this series a must-buy.
The Mask: I Pledge Allegiance To The Mask #1 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Somebody stop him! Those who only know about The Mask from the 1994 Jim Carrey film would likely have their jaws on the ground based on the dark, shaggy dog classic tales from John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke back in 1991. But a generation later, does Ol’ Bighead still have the same manic fire as in his classic years? Unfortunately, writer Christopher Cantwell and artist Patric Reynolds might be bringing too little, too late, with this political-centric story that barely gives us the title character. Cantwell’s debut issue is more about worldbuilding, but that’s never been the most interesting part of The Mask — in particular, the morality tale about this series is largely glossed over at this point, with the new Mask bearer getting only the quickest of introductions before being set loose. (Meanwhile, Reynolds’ super-scratchy art definitely brings mood to the book, but I’d argue it comes at the cost of the cartoony, bouncy energy needed to sell the Mask’s over-the-top mayhem.) In today’s moment in history, political books should be approached with caution, but I Pledge Allegiance To The Mask feels stale right out of the gate.
Teen Titans #35 (Published by DC; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Teen Titans is no stranger to betrayal as Adam Glass plays up this recurring theme in his best issue yet. Leading up to this arc, Roundhouse didn’t seem to have a villainous bone in his body, until Glass pulled the rug from underneath us and revealed Roundhouse stole Djinn’s ring to control her. This made for a very satisfying twist and even better origin story as Glass unravels Roundhouse’s pent-up anger for Damian. It’s not only a great Roundhouse-centric issue, but also a well-balanced team book as Glass garners attention to the varying reactions from the rest of the Teen Titans. The only negative to this issue is the last few Year of the Villain-focused pages, which felt shoed in and took away from the rest of the issue’s emotional resonance. On artwork, Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo brilliantly create a darker tone for Roundhouse, which ups the intensity for the character's villainous arc. Although some of the characters’ features still feel overexaggerated, Teen Titans #35 does a beautiful job at giving an emotionally raw narrative to Roundhouse allowing him to become much more than the comic relief.
Once and Future #3 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Artist Dan Mora and colorist Tamra Bonvillain have proven to be a match made in heaven. Their work is textured and rich with expression - even a wide shot with scratchy linework for characters conveys their emotions. Duncan and his Gran’s escape from Otherworld in the opening scene of the issue is a rush of adrenaline and an instant kickstart to the issue. While this isn’t a series as tender as Die or intellectually concerned as Peter Cannon, Once and Future continues to deliver on the fun potential of its concept. After this opening, Kieron Gillen offers a moment of respite for its central pairing and then it’s off to get some much-needed help. This is more of an interstitial issue, getting characters out of one predicament and in place for another, though thanks to the story’s overall momentum and the character bonding while en route, it never feels like pure set-up. The jumping of locations also allows Mora and Bonvillain to show off further, mainly in how different they can make them all feel. The blue hue of the night gives way to a city street that looks like no other, bathed in pink and purple.
Flash Forward #2 (Published by DC; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Love it or hate it, Heroes in Crisis gave Flash Forward many building blocks for an emotionally charged, character-driven story, but the series continues to falter on delivering any new emotional storyline for the character and instead relies on senseless action. The only promising element of the issue is its cliffhanger, but by the time it comes many readers will already feel burnt out. Flash Forward #2 is very action-heavy, but artist Brett Booth doesn’t deliver any memorable sequences to make this worth the pickup. This six issue miniseries continues to spin its wheels with its nebulous direction, and this speedster is running out of time to tell a concrete, meaningful story.
Steeple #2 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Parks and Recreation meets Preacher seems like an unusual pairing, but Steeple has more than enough to justify John Allison’s elevator pitch for the series across its first two issues. Despite seeing the monster-fighting that Reverend Penrose does to keep Tredregyn safe, Billie still thinks community work is a better use of her services within the parish. Allison’s script sees Billie wading into a local music scene where the teens are just looking for an appropriate outlet, and so she endeavors to provide one. As with a book like By Night, Allison’s ideas excel because he leans into the sitcom-style elements and works to flesh out his settings – from the ultra-specific jokes to the way the teens talk, there’s an instant understanding of their group dynamic as well as their feud with another member of the scene. His cartooning is a highlight of the current comics industry, just as light and playful as his stories. Sarah Stern, the colorist, assists with this just in how bright she makes the sky. Even with this being the least of the comics Allison has written this year – that might be more of a compliment towards their greatness – Steeple still perfectly conveys his sensibilities.
Captain Marvel #11 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Captain Marvel #11 marks the ending of a rather underwhelming story arc as Marvel continues to push Carol’s new villain Star with no significant character beats to warrant her exposure and upcoming miniseries. The best element of this issue is its ambiance as Carol fights Star in a rain-drenched, angst-driven brawl, bringing some interesting dialogue about Carol’s own trauma and personal obstacles that I wish was tapped into more. It was recently announced that this will be the last issue of main series artist Carmen Nunez Carnero, but she really aces the visuals to cap off her run. Captain Marvel #11 is a moody issue with an appealing tone, but the villain/hero dynamic between Star and Carol still feels too hollow for the amount of attention Marvel has given their rivalry.