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 Jittery Justin Partridge, who takes a look at Excalibur...
Excalibur #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The full might of Excalibur finally stands together in Excalibur #5. The barrier between Otherworld, Krakoa, and the mortal realm as been dissolved by Shogo’s dragon fire and Apocalypse's ritual is almost complete. But he didn’t account for the will of Rogue and the back-channeling of Gambit, who enlists one Rachel Summers to give Rogue the psychic push she needs to finally reawaken. Though the ongoing defense of the new Excalibur tower gives this issue a rushed, slightly muddy pace, Tini Howard continues to keep her eye on the characters, using the full team finally to bounce more engaging dialogue off each other. The way she wraps up on this particular chapter of Apocalypse’s time with the team is also a fun, heartfelt twist on the antihero’s cold machinations. Marcus To and Erick Arciniega continue to shine with the more mythical and magic-based action, the constant battle in the “real world” neatly cut by a sumptuous dream sequence guiding Rogue to consciousness. While a bit lost in the fog of battle this chapter, Excalibur #5 continues to be a worthy tale for the new incarnation of the team.
Batman #86 (Published by DC; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): A new era of Batman begins with Gotham veterans, James Tynion IV and Tony S. Daniel, at the helm. Tynion brings a breath of a fresh air to the franchise, while still keeping elements of Tom King’s run intact. Catwoman is still a vital part of the story and Alfred’s passing is the issue’s strongest emotional tether. Tynion and King even focus on a similar theme – “Can Bruce Wayne exist without Batman?” - but with Tynion’s first chapter, he explores this through Gotham, as Batman uses Bruce Wayne to build a better foundation for the city. This run also shifts gears as it focuses on Batman’s large rogue's gallery. It gives the title a classic feel, even if this makes the premiere feel a bit crowded. On artwork, Tony S. Daniel continues to be a master at kinetic action sequences, but finds his strongest moments through the issue’s emotional beats with Batman’s mourning for Alfred. Overall, Batman #86 is a solid debut that gives us a peek at Tynion’s unique voice for Gotham, while still staying in tune with past Bat creators.
New Mutants #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Jonathan Hickman’s writing on New Mutants is him in full goofball mode, more in line with that issue of Future Foundation where Peter Parker and Johnny Storm (and Annihilus) were roommates than the overall seriousness of his Avengers work and a step further than the glimpses of lightness found in the flagship X-Men series. From the opening salvo of Sunspot’s narration – “I object to these truncated recaps” – turning into a text-dense recap of why the team is protecting Deathbird, he’s simply having fun with the freedom that the cosmos affords. Of course, he’s aided by how stellar Rod Reis’ art is. A glimpse of Chandilar is breath-taking, though it’s the character beats that come from the pair that makes this series so satisfying. Like one about how Chamber drinks without a mouth, or one involving Magik as her grin grows that would be rude to detail further as not to spoil it, letting the plot move at its own pace while languishing in these interactions makes these issues stronger than the Earth-based portion. The fragmentation of the book may eventually prove necessary, but right now, it’s an obstacle to getting these fresher, more enjoyable issues and this team in particular.
Firefly: The Outlaw Ma Reynolds #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The first year of BOOM! Studios’ Firefly series did an assured job of exploring the franchise’s past and future, due to the involvement of both Boss Moon and Mal’s mother, Ma Reynolds. Writer Greg Pak uses this one-shot as a means of exploring that familial relationship and setting up the new status quo for its lead, as the captain of the good ship Serenity finds himself under Alliance orders to track down and capture his fugitive mother. Alternating between flashbacks of what life on Shadow was like and Mal’s current hunt, switching between the art styles of artists George Kambadais and Davide Gianfelice respectively, this mission separates him from the rest of the crew. Boss Moon might be along for the ride, yet this is a Reynolds affair through and through. Kambadais’ pages initially seem lighter in tone due to softer linework, though his atmospheric imagery, use of shadow and Joana LaFuente’s colours all help to create some striking pages, while Gianfelice does some subtle work with shared body language. The issue doesn’t wholly resolve this mother and son’s complicated relationship, but does illustrate the compelling predicament the two find themselves in, as two soldiers with vastly different ideas about when the fighting stops.
X-Force #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Forge, Domino, and Gateway take center stage in another gorily entertaining issue of X-Force. Cut off from the latest human incursion into a Krakoan facility, thanks to a gateway bomb that killed Kid Omega and cut Wolverine in two, our anti-heroes function as the cavalry, attempting to reunite Logan’s halves and find more intel on the human soldiers attacking them. Though the plot is fairly simple, writer Ben Percy really started to delve into the darkness and ruthlessness of this team, centered around Domino who is looking for some major payback in response to being used as the human’s puppet in the opening issues. Art team Joshua Cassara and Dean White also lean heavily into the more MAX-esque visuals of the title, centering a few ghoulish gags on the severed torso of Wolverine and dominating the pages with Forge’s bio-tech armor teased on the cover. X-Force #5 might be the bloodiest offering from the title so far, but it seems Percy and the rest of the creative team have a method behind the bloodshed.
Daphne Byrne #1 (Published by DC/Black Label; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Fans of artist Kelley Jones know him best for his incredibly heavy, brooding inks and chilling horror stories. On paper, a story of ghosts and spirits falls directly in his wheelhouse and would be a “must-buy” for longtime fans. Unfortunately, writer Laura Marks’ story itself fails to connect with readers on an emotional level, nor does it provide many opportunities for Jones to truly show the breadth of his ability to horrify readers. Too often, the issue relies on talking heads and only a few times do we see the trademark horrors of humanity that Jones renders so well (such as a scary-looking old beggar on the street). And while many readers may empathize with a younger girl who lost a parent, readers are only told that Daphne misses her father. We don’t really see anything special or unique about their relationship that would illustrate her grief or what might make her especially susceptible to darker influences preying upon her. Overall, the promise of a horror comic with Joe Hill’s name on the imprint and Kelley Jones on art duties might sound too good to be true; sadly, the story on the inside of the cover proves that to be the case.
Immortal Hulk #29 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Series artist Joe Bennett returns just in time for a three-fronted monster war in Immortal Hulk #29. The Minotaur is ready to make his move against the Hulk, timing a multi-pronged attack so that the Hulk and his gamma-irradiated friends are the only ones to be able to respond. But while writer Al Ewing and artist Joe Bennett deliver plenty of horrifying monster-on-monster action, Ewing is still developing and refining the system that has defined the Hulk and the people in his orbit. Blessed with lengthy scenes featuring Leonard Sampson, Betty Ross and Jackie McGee, Ewing and Bennett start to dive deeper into how the rest of Bruce’s co-stars are coping with his new crusade and how it is affecting the parameters of his “Hulk-dom”. This continues Immortal Hulk’s strong streak of characterization and narrative as it barrels toward its conclusion. Come for the monster fights, but stay for the compelling script in Immortal Hulk #29.
Magnificent Ms. Marvel #11 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Since Ms. Marvel’s debut, I’ve always seen Kamala as the modern Spider-Man. She’s a geek like us who just wants to be a friendly neighborhood superhero. So perhaps it's not surprising to see the series take a deep dive into Spidey inspiration as Kamala is forced to fight her own alien costume. Magnificent Ms. Marvel #11 is one of the strongest issues from this volume to date as Saladin Ahmed and Minkyu Jung focuses on Kamala physically fighting her inner demons. There’s a lot of sentiment to this issue, but it’s also just plain old fun. Kamala must continue to fight throughout Jersey City while trying to keep her superhero identity a secret, which does become a challenge. Jung has some great comedic timing, especially when it comes to the costume dilemma.
Young Justice #12 (Published by DC; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10) Young Justice #12 is an example of what happens a busy book has no solid structure to support its plot threads. All the momentum built up by the journey undertaken in previous issues, including the intriguing enough cliffhanger of Connor getting disappeared by Star Labs last issue, is rendered inert. While Brian Michael Bendis’ script offers a glimpse at where he ended up, much of the issue is devoted to bringing the characters of Wonder Comics together. Naomi’s already been introduced to the team, yet there’s two other pairs that get involved, and much of the issue then becomes about them all standing around, trying to catch one another up. There are occasional moments where artist John Timms and colorist Gabe Eltaeb get to draw brief bursts of energy, though they’re few and far between. Still, they and letterer Wes Abbott deserve praise for how they keep an issue with this many characters in dialogue coherent – managing a page where 11 characters appear in five of its six panels is no small feat. The voices might not be exactly the same, but the level of crosstalk going on makes it hard to parse for anything but noise for the sake of noise.
Ghost-Spider #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): There are so many things that make Spider-Gwen/Ghost-Spider a great franchise: Gwen’s relationship with her father, her friendship with the Mary Janes as they navigate rock stardom, and the fresh new take Earth-65 gives to the Marvel mythos. Thankfully, Ghost-Spider #6 brings all this together and more. While Gwen multiverse-hopping to enjoy concerts with her bandmates brings on the laughs, her team-up with her father delivers the heart, as Johnny and Sue Storm’s socialite Earth-65 counterparts introduces an intriguing mystery. On pencils, Ig Guara takes on art duties in an incredible debut to the series. Guara has great, sleek pencils that has a more adult vibe compared to mainstay artist Takeshi Miyazawa. Ghost-Spider #6 is the perfect balance of slice-of-life and action, delivering the best issue of an already incredible series.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #101 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): If you're looking for an easy jumping-on point for the adventures of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you're in luck, because Sophie Campbell absolutely crushes it with this new arc. Reeling from the death of Splinter and the spread of a mutant plague in Manhattan, the Heroes in a Halfshell have been scattered to the winds, each navigating their depression and sadness in various ways. While there's a little bit of overlap between some of the characters' trajectories, Campbell's work is accessible and deeply engaging - you see so much emotion in her characters' faces from the very first page. Campbell's art also excels when it comes to action - watching Jenny take down some mutant muggers is incredibly kinetic and fast-paced, and really helps establish her nicely as an equal member of the Turtle pantheon. Definitely don't sleep on this.
Star Wars: Rise of Kylo Ren #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): You know you have a good comic in your hands when your biggest complaint is it ended before you were ready for the issue to be finished, and Charles Soule, Will Sliney and Guru eFX accomplish this with Rise of Kylo Ren #2. We dig deeper into the past of Ben Solo’s fall into the Dark Side due – in part – to his relationship with the nefarious Snoke. Further, we also discover Ben’s first encounter with the Knights of Ren alongside his mentor and uncle, Luke Skywalker. This series continues to deliver on the promise of providing answers to so many of the questions that fans had arising from the Star Wars sequel trilogy that were never answered. As a result, Soule finds a hungry audience but doesn’t leave them disappointed. Further, Sliney and eFX’s artwork captivate readers with their dynamic and eye-catching rendering of Soule’s script. For anyone with questions about Kylo Ren’s origins, this series delivers.