Marvel Comics December 2019 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics

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 Ferocious Forrest Helvie, who takes a look at Wonder Woman: Dead Earth...

Credit: DC/Black Label

Wonder Woman: Dead Earth #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): A woman out of her time, Diana finds herself transplanted into a post-apocalyptic future where the earth lies scorched and humanity seems to have reverted back to its early days as hunters and gatherers in order to survive. Writer/artist Daniel Warren Johnson’s story positions Wonder Woman as humanity’s last surviving hero and protector, and it very much plays out like a superhero riff on Mad Max: Fury Road as far as the narrative goes. Artistically, Johnson and Spicer’s style complements the raw and rough world where Diana finds herself and really sets the tone for the first issue. Aside from the “Elseworlds” nature of the story, however, there wasn’t an edginess that suggested why this would be a part of the DC: Black Label line (which one could argue has already tapped the alternate future well dry with Snyder and Capullo’s Batman: The Last Knight on Earth). Still, fans of dystopian superhero sci-fi, this first issue should provide enough to whet their appetite.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Excalibur #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The new Captain Britain bends the knee in Excalibur #4. Fresh from her meeting with the actual Queen and officially branding the team as the new Excalibur, Captain Betsy sets about tackling her first problem — Coven Akkiba unleashing the hordes of Otherworld onto England to undermine her tenure as the realm’s champion. After a fair amount of laying narrative track, writer Tini Howard finally feels like she is digging into the raw dynamics of the characters, the Braddock legacy, and slightly off-kilter mythic tone of the title overall. Artist Marcus To and colorist Erick Arciniega also have settled well into the characters throughout the series. The pair’s staging here is a bit more closed-off than the previous issues, but through the strength of strong character models and rich colors it doesn’t hamper the issue too terribly. With wit, scope, and strong style, Excalibur #4 keeps the British Champions standing strong amid the Dawn of X.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

The Visitor #1 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Writer Paul Levitz joins “Team Valiant” with the intriguing, but reserved The Visitor #1. Mysterious freak accidents are plaguing New York. Starting with a bombing in the vicinity of the U.N., the city is put on high alert. Enter U.N. Security Service agent Talia Dauber, who is tasked with protecting a Japanese science team based out of Cornell, who are becoming increasingly paranoid that the accidents are targeted toward them. While the hook is fairly interesting, Levitz is keeping the really fun stuff, like the nature of the team’s work and the titular Visitor themselves, too close to the chest to really dig into. Fortunately the artwork from MJ Kim and Diego Rodriguez pep up the plaintive script with realistic, lean artwork, highlighting the realistic spy pulp tone Levitz presents (but doesn’t flesh out very well). While it is cool to see Valiant taking more chances with these standalone genre exercises, much like Britannia and Savage before this, but readers might want to wait until a follow-up issue can fully sell The Visitor better than this debut did.

Credit: DC

Suicide Squad #1 (Published by DC; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Artistically, Bruno Redondo and Adriano Lucas provide a crisp, clean looking story despite the dozen or so outlandish villains they have at play in Suicide Squad #1. Despite serviceable artwork, however, writer Tom Taylor’s story feels too overcrowded for any meaningful development to take place or create a sense of investment in his characters. On the one hand, Taylor leans heavily into an almost brand-new cast of characters, a group of superpowered activist-terrorists who are quickly drafted into the Squad’s ranks — unfortunately, they’re so paper-thin on characterization and motives that it’s hard to care about them (especially when heads start exploding). Meanwhile, the few established characters are predictable in their survivability — when you’ve got Harley Quinn and Deadshot in the ranks, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see who else is getting the axe — but because they’re repeatedly told they’re inadequate, it’s hard to give these career supervillains their just feeling of menace or charm. Not only is there a lack of personal investment in the primary cast of characters, but the dialogue lacked the sort of snappy, humorous zing one might expect from a character like Harley Quinn. Diehard fans of the Suicide Squad may find something to enjoy in this new series, but for most readers, it’s worth passing over.

Credit: Gary Frank (DC)

Doomsday Clock #12 (Published by DC; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Doomsday Clock posits some big opinions about the state of the DC Universe, but is it all too little, too late? Writer Geoff Johns takes a stand for hope rather than bleakness for the DCU, as the aloof Dr. Manhattan has a change of heart not due to Sally Jupiter, but because he’s been inspired by capes-and-tights do-gooders like Superman. While that development might come as a bit abrupt, Johns’ take on the ever-shifting Crises that redefine the DCU is a way to end a large-scale conflict on an emotional note. On artwork, Gary Frank gives a gorgeous, modern take on these characters. He’s able to seamlessly imitate Dave Gibbon’s work while still giving his own flair to the franchise. So what makes this frustrating for fans? It’s wondering if after all its questions on DC continuity, if Doomsday Clock’s answers have come out too late to truly matter. Brian Michael Bendis has already relaunched the Legion of Superheroes. Ma and Pa Kent are MIA in the Superman titles. Johns’ multiversal lightning rod Wally West has become a killer. And Rorschach isn’t exactly making appearances in Batman these days. In other words, it doesn’t feel connected to the stories being told at DC right now. Doomsday Clock is a love letter to Watchmen from Geoff Johns’ scripting to Gary Frank’s use of nine-panel grids, but it isn’t a love letter to the current landscape of DC.

Credit: DC

Batman #85 (Published by DC; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): The thesis statement of Tom King’s Batman run — “Can Bruce Wayne be happy and still be Batman?” — continues to be the driving force with his last issue on the flagship title, but at the end of the day, there aren’t enough strong character beats to back up King’s argument. Even though it took many issues to get here, Catwoman and Batman’s happiness doesn’t feel earned. The poetic nature of the book never gave room for Bat and Cat to truly ask each other the hard questions about their relationship – the same doubts that made Catwoman leave the altar in the first place, and what caused Batman to go into a downward spiral. These lack of character beats not only affect Batman’s relationship with his now not-legal wife but King’s creation, Gotham Girl, as well. A few issues ago, Gotham Girl was wreaking havoc with Bruce’s father as his evil sidekick, but all seems quickly forgiven in this issue and even rewarded with Gotham Girl keeping her powers without even a slap on the wrist. The saving grace of this issue is Mikel Janin’s stunning pencils, as he’s able to emote small moments that just don’t bleed through King’s script. Batman #85 is a rushed story that desperately wants to say “happily ever after” with none of the fight to get there.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Conan: Serpent War #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Jim Zub’s collection of adventurers get to adventuring in Conan: Serpent War #2. Working across time, the pairings of Dark Agnes and Conan and Solomon Kane and Moon Knight trek across their respective time periods, collecting artifacts that will help them take the fight to Set. Zub doubles down on the fun introductions of the opening issue two-fold. One, by keeping them and art team Stephen Segovia and Frank D’Armata driving forward with consistent set pieces versus various Set cultists and creatures. But even better, Zub’s dynamics between the pairing raise sparks along with the team’s weapons, especially the stoic, fanatical Kane and the droll Moon Knight. Though I would have liked a bit more visual consistency between the opening and this issue, aside from the Vanessa R. Del Ray guest spot, Conan: Serpent War #2 is a fun enough follow-up to the dream pulp fiction team-up.

Credit: Vault Comics

Black Stars Above #2 (Published by Vault Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Vault Comics’ old-school “weird tale” gets even weirder in Black Stars Above #2. Now lost in the thicket of trees known as the Green Ribbon, Eulalie learns the true nature of the package she was entrusted with, and it threatens to send her spiraling deeper into madness. Eerily narrated by Lonnie Nadler and staged with a dreamy intensity by Jenna Cha and Brad Simpson, this second issue delves deeper into the feverish, disconnected tone of Cosmic Horror, scaffolded by the already done character building of Issue #1. Cha and Simpson especially get a chance to amp up the visual horror of the title, like in a sequence where Eulalie comes across a river full of dead fish, or when she thinks she sees the trees and darkness of the Ribbon come to life to hiss a warning to her. Just the right amount of poetic and unsettling, Black Stars Above #2 avoids the sophomore slump.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Runaways #28 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Are the Runaways a family or superheroes? This is a thread that has been sewn throughout writer Rainbow Rowell’s run and comes to a head as the team joins the ranks of Doc Justice and the J-Team. The Runaways are gung-ho about being real-life superheroes and reveling in the glory that comes along with it — well, everyone except Gert, who feels left out because of the unspoken tension of the team’s overprotectiveness following her death and her lack of superpowers. Rowell and artist Andres Genolet do a great job at slowly unraveling these character beats — they’re larger than her not feeling like a superhero, but instead feeling like she doesn’t belong at all, a teenager brought back to life with her friends as young adults. Where does Gert fit into that? A big moment that highlights Gert’s fear is when Old Lace comes to the rescue not to her psychically linked pal, Gert, but instead Chase. Things have changed since she’s been gone. Runaways #28 brilliantly digs deeper into Gert’s insecurities, all while developing the larger plot of Doc Justice’s menacing motives.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Future Foundation #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): It’s sad to see a series that was just starting to find its footing forced to wrap. Future Foundation #5 has a much better handling of its characters, and a promising future for its leads Alex and Julie Power. As a huge Julie fan, I was happy to see the chemistry between her and Rikki blossom as writer Jeremy Whitley gives us just enough for a satisfying relationship between the two, but it’s a shame that most of Julie’s romances are forced to be explored off-panel. The creative team tries to wrap up as much as they can, but Whitley’s use of exposition does distract from an otherwise strong character-driven issue. Meanwhile, Whitley’s Unstoppable Wasp collaborator Alti Firmansyah aces the romantic beats, while still creating a fun, action-packed finale. Following a sudden cancellation, Whitley and Firmansyah wrap up the series as cleanly as they can by leaving many interesting threads for future titles to pick upon, while still delivering closure for fans of this title and their characters.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ghost Spider #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Ghost Spider switches gears as writer Seanan McGuire puts a spotlight on Earth-616’s Jackal, but sadly the longtime Spider-Man villain just isn’t as infectious as the title’s main star. The issue shines the most when Gwen takes center stage, even if her role is limited to being kidnapped. That said, The Mary Janes coming to the rescue and having the power dynamic in Gwen’s control made this a bit less cliché for this familiar Jackal/Gwen dynamic. On artwork, Takeshi Miyazawa continues to do a great job as his style truly revels with coming of age stories, especially with Ian Herring’s bright color palette. Ghost Spider #5 moves the story from point A to point B with some rather forgettable character beats, but succeeds when playing with recognizable Spider tropes.

Credit: Titan Comics

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor Holiday Special #2 (Published by Titan Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The Doctor and her friends face Krampus in the second and final part of The Thirteenth Doctor Holiday Special. Teaming up with an elf “safety officer” armed with a bat-like candy cane, the Doctor starts to suss out Krampus’ nefarious plot and fight back armed with little more than her trademark fez. Writer Jody Houser has found a real groove on Doctor Who, both nailing the Time Lord and her companions’ voice along with delivering canny, easily sold plots, and this Holiday Special two-parter is just the latest example. Artists Roberta Ingranata and Enrica Eren Angiolini also continue to deliver charming, screen-accurate character models and stagey action. In particular the pair’s 13th Doctor positively radiates the sunny disposition of Jodie Whittaker on the page, especially when she is giving a speech about the joys of Christmas to a room full of aliens and robots. We aren’t getting a Christmas Special on TV this year, but The Thirteenth Doctor Holiday Special is the next best thing.

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