Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: VENOM 2099 #1, DEATHSTROKE #50, VAMPIRONICA: NEW BLOOD #1, More

DC Comics December 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 today’s column with Frenetic Forrest Helvie, who takes a look at Venom 2099...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Venom 2099 #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Writer Jody Houser joins artists Francesco Mobili, Geraldo Borges, and Rachelle Rosenberg 80 years in the future for Venom 2099 #1. While there isn’t much to make this book feel definitively like the electric Marvel 2099 books from years past, Houser cooks up an interesting sci-fi horror angle for reintroducing Venom to the Marvel Universe as a dissected symbiote used to cure all illnesses. Mobili and Borges’ mix of scratchy line art and brooding inks pair off well with Rosenberg’s often-muted colors to allow a sense of dread to permeate the story. The only drawback to the story might be the pacing wherein the afflicted protagonist, Alea, too-readily assents to Venom’s urging to free the rest of his symbiote from Alchemax’s control, despite her only just having discovered the alien intelligence now co-inhabiting her body and her misgivings over its baser impulses. Capping with a nice nod to Donny Cates’ ongoing Venom series, the future looks solid in Venom 2099.

Credit: DC

Deathstroke #50 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): For much of its run, Deathstroke could be considered the most consistent title to launch out of DC’s Rebirth initiative. This final arc, however, has unfortunately been hampered by having to contort itself in order to align with Year of the Villain. It’s not enough to completely derail the affair, however, as Priest’s script still feels largely in control via his non-chronological structure, call-backs that avoid feeling intrusive and the overall sense of the journey Slade Wilson and his family have gone through over the past three and a half years. This issue is both one about him facing himself and how he handles his tumultuous family, a statement which is true to how the series first pitched itself to readers. Carlo Pagulayan and Fernando Pasarin handle a number of busy and dense pages along the way, but ensure clean and consistent visual storytelling throughout, and their interpretation of Heat’s diner scene is a fun one, even with the participants being as stone-faced as they are. All things considered, it’s as good an ending as possible, though falls short of the heights thought possible just earlier this year.

Credit: Archie Comics

Vampironica: New Blood #1 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Following his horror crossover with Jughead: The Hunger, writer Frank Tieri teams up on scripting duties with Michael Moreci as they take over Vampironica’s second volume. New Blood follows the crossover closely as it focuses on the mythology of Veronica’s family history. The issue is a bit of a slow burn as it’s mostly exposition, but a good setup to a few new vampires/threats that are introduced to the town of Riverdale. This issue also has Veronica deal with some of the emotional resonance from the crossover as she begins to process her feelings for Jughead — yes Jughead — and tries to adjust going back to her normal life after many not-so-normal events. On artwork, Archie staple Audrey Mok joins the team with a more slice-of-life look, but Matt Herms’ colors still keeps the horrific tone from Veronica’s original series. Overall, Vampironica: New Blood #1 is a solid set-up to building Archie’s larger horror universe.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Excalibur #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The “pretender” Captain Britain faces her brother once again in the mythically entertaining Excalibur #3. Leading a team into the wilds of Otherworld, Betsy Braddock, Jubilee, Gambit, and Baby Shogo, who now has taken the form of a large adorable dragon, hope to liberate Brian from the clutches of Camelot and return home to fix the still comatose Rogue. But thanks to writer Tini Howard what they find is battle and loss as they attempt to storm the gates and find Brian has been fully corrupted by dark magic and aims to kill the “pretender.” Though this first arc has been largely focused on the Braddock family drama, Howard starts to sweeten the pot by giving us check ins on the magical mutant world at large, drawing in new cast members like Rictor and MI:13’s Pete Wisdom. All of this is given expressive, highly kinetic life by artists Marcus To and Erick Arciniega, both of whom thrive in the fantasy realm of Otherworld and the mystical, Krakoan Gate dominated Excalibur Tower. Still standing as a distinctly mythic flavor of Dawn of X, Excalibur #3 continues the series’ streak of improvement.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Strange Skies over East Berlin #3 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): After the dual cliff-hanger of last issue, writer Jeff Loveness’ narrative opts to dive into the interrogation aspect first. What starts out as some one-on-one time between Keiner, the questioner, and Herring, the detainee, dovetails into a flashback into the latter’s life before Berlin, and suggests how a life of espionage can hollow a person out — enough to the point where an otherworldly presence can take over that void. Colorist Patricio Delpeche’s intense reds and oranges of the bunker give way to a more solemn blue hue as the flashback plays out, linked to Steve Wands’ lettering of the accompanying narration, while the second portion of the issue following other soldiers in the bunker melds both aesthetic approaches together. Despite this description making the issue sound like a busy one, it doesn’t fully build on the promise of the series’ first, primarily because it doesn’t dig deep enough to let readers fully invest in Herring as a lead. The real reason for sticking with Strange Skies over East Berlin is to witness artist Lisandro Estherren’s scratchy, yet textured linework. What he can make a character say with their eyes alone is more effective than any other aspect of the book so far.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Marauders #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Marauders shifts its focus from Kitty Pryde to Hellfire Club’s Sebastian Shaw as he revives his son with the power of Krakoa. If the Hellfire Club loves anything – it’s chess, and that’s exactly the game Gerry Duggan plays with the series’ third issue as Shaw plays for the long haul while he manipulates his son and the other mutants. As for artwork, this was the strongest installment yet, as Michele Bandini’s visuals focused more on ambiance, which played perfectly with Shaw’s distinct character beats. Overall, it was nice to see a different side of Marauders as the series sets up the pieces for a larger war for power amongst the Hellfire Club’s royalty.

Credit: DC

The Infected: Deathbringer #1 (Published by DC; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Donna Troy becomes the next victim to the Batman Who Laughs, but The Infected: Deathbringer #1 doesn’t delve into enough character study to make this a strong Donna Troy story. Writer Zoe Quinn instead focuses on Donna’s short-lived Titans team, which is fine, but her connection with her teammates isn’t effectively used as an emotional tether, making their inclusion feel superfluous. The strongest element is Brent Peeples’ pencils, but the issue’s text-heavy nature doesn’t give a chance for his artwork to fully shine. The Infected: Deathbringer #1 tries to use Donna’s convoluted history to its strength, but with Quinn putting so much weight on this unstable foundation, the issue easily crumbles.

Credit: Marvel Comics

The Magnificent Ms. Marvel #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Tensions rise as Kamala is forced to fight Mr. Hyde while Doctor Strange operates on her father with life-or-death surgery. With the series’ first arc focusing on space, The Magnificent Ms. Marvel #10 grounds the series with Kamala fighting through a tedious super villain battle to get to her father’s side, but the battle was exactly that — tedious. The action sequences don’t quite build up the tension needed for the emotional beats writer Saladin Ahmed tries to play with Kamala’s father’s health challenges. This is because after the issue’s opener we never see Kamala’s father again. There’s no heart pounding moment that makes Kamala’s need to exit the battle feel urgent. On visuals, Minkyu Jung does a solid job with this action heavy issue, even if some of Kamala’s moves look lankier than usual. Overall, The Magnificent Ms. Marvel #10 deals with more grounded themes, but focuses too much on her fight with Mr. Hyde to have these emotional moments fully resonate.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #10 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): As the events of Hellmouth have Buffy and Angel out of play, both series have been relying heavily on their supporting cast and with Buffy the Vampire Slayer #10, writer Jordie Bellaire leads an unlikely group to form their own Scooby Gang. One of the biggest themes of the Buffy franchise is that high school is actually Hell, and new character Robin, a 16-year-old Watcher, deals with this in full force with this issue. It was interesting to see the balance of having a dual identity in high school from a new perspective as a way to explore a different side of the Buffy mythos. On artwork, David Lopez’s cartoonish style still feels a bit jarring from Dan Mora’s work that launched the title, but is starting to find his footing with a few issues under his belt. Overall, Bellaire delivers the strongest narrative since the start of the Hellmouth crossover event, as she uses Buffy’s absence to her strength.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Conan: Serpent War #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The story as a whole busies itself with setting the table in this first of four issues. Fans of Robert E. Howard will not want to miss the story that Jim Zub crafts with his multitudinous team of artists: Scot Eaton, Scott Hannah, Frank D’Armeta, Vanesa R. Del Ray, and Jean-Francois Beaulieu. Normally, such a mix of artists would be a warning sign for inconsistencies, but it work well visually demarcating the different REH worlds that Zub weaves together from across a host of different times, settings, and genres making use of the god-touched Moon Knight as the unifying point who will help bring these protagonists together. Although readers less familiar with the works of REH may not initially appreciate some of the nods to the literary roots from this fantasy RPG-tinged issue and find this over-sized issue a bit packed, the actions scenes are visually strong and engaging so as to keep all readers engaged.

Credit: Image Comics

20XX #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Writer/artist Jonathan Luna and co-writer Lauren Keely deliver a solid start with 20XX, a sci-fi story that has more in common with the X-Men at this point than its Mega Man-style title might otherwise suggest. There’s a virus that’s killing people across Anchorage, but those who do miraculously survive the telltale bleeding tears come out with something special — the ability to manipulate one particular material with their mind. Luna and Keely are mostly world-building at this point of the story, which means things can move a little slowly — but Luna’s artwork is able to shift gears from clean to horrific in just a few panels, making this black-and-white story feel even moodier. While it feels like there’s still a missing ingredient to really make this narrative stand apart, the execution makes 20XX a decent read.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Annihilation Scourge: Fantastic Four #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Johnny Storm faces in his past in the Negative Zone in Annihilation Scourge: Fantastic Four #1. Written with a real pathos by writer Christos Gage, the FF are called into the conflict thanks to a distress call from one of the few Johnny Storm Loyalist groups left following his rule of the Negative Zone. Once there, the FF face the Ftaghen Four, a nightmarish mirror version of themselves from the Cancerverse, forcing the team into a reconciliation battle between their own anxieties and the monsters themselves. The concept itself is pretty novel, but it’s kicked up a notch thanks to artists Diego Olortegui, Juan Vlasco, Cam Smith, Scott Hanna, and Erick Arciniega. The team bounce well between intimate family discussions and pitched cosmic action against a striking, body horror-inspired take on an Evil Fantastic Four. By mixing family drama and high stakes action, Annihilation Scourge: Fantastic Four #1 cuts to the heart of why the Fantastic Four have endured.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Star Trek: Year Five #8 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Trapped in a Tholian Web, the crew of the Enterprise is forced to make some hard choices in Star Trek: Year Five #8. Armed with an episodic speed from writers Jackson Lanzing and Colin Kelly, the pair reestablish the problem, the dire solution, and the feverish mindset of the main crew members Kirk, Sulu, Spock, and McCoy. Better still, the pair make stirring use of the new characters amid the cast, like young Tholian named Bright Eyes or the aquatic alien named Ayal. Both characters, though not as established as the original crew, provide dynamic, last-minute actions to help the Enterprise and her crew. Said action is rendered by the continuously impressive art team of Stephen Thompson and Charlie Kirchoff, both of whom really nail screen-accurate detailing and rich emoting. Rising above the level of usual licenced comics fare, Star Trek: Year Five #8 continues to deliver impressive Star Trek action and storytelling.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Annihilation Scourge: Nova #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Richard Rider goes to war in Annihilation Scourge: Nova #1. Given a starkly funny voice and comedic beats by writer Matthew Rosenberg, this one-shot provides a neat recap of Rider’s rollercoaster of a hero career and pairs him with the deadly, drolly funny Annihilus as he is drawn into the latest conflict against the Cancerverse. While the ending is a touch anticlimactic, baldly setting up the finale Omega issue, Rosenberg and artists Ibraim Roberson and Carlos Lopez deliver a fast-paced and darkly funny cosmic adventure, one that provides another angle on the looming Annihilation Scourge.

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