Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has your back with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Jousting Justin Partridge, who takes a look at this week’s issue of Excalibur...
Excalibur #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): It’s the battle of Braddocks for the fate of Otherworld in Excalibur #6. Written with a keen heart and drive by Tini Howard, this issue wastes little time resolving the ongoing problem of Morgan Le Fay’s constant siege of Avalon. And the answer is a battle of the champions, newly resurrected Apocalypse's choice Captain Britain versus Le Fay’s champion, the corrupted Brian Braddock. But thanks to Betsy’s selflessness and the timely intervention of Jamie Braddock, order is restored in Otherworld, but that doesn’t mean Howard is avoiding the emotional fallout. Artists Marcus To and Erick Arciniega continue to impress here, melding the science fiction set dressing of Krakoa to the high fantasy thrills of Otherworld, anchored with their keen character models. Still one of the standouts of Dawn of X, Excalibur #6 continues to live up to the legacy.
Superman #19 (Published by DC; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Brian Michael Bendis is aiming squarely for the warm and fuzzies with this one. Clark Kent gets fired. But Superman gets hired! There’s a lot of hugging. Maybe it’s just my ol’ Journalism Sense tingling, but Bendis doesn’t do a good job thinking about the repercussions of one of their reporters using himself as a source for years. This outcome is about as mawkish as they come before Mongul lays a smackdown on Supes a few pages later. Ivan Reis’ art is hard to argue with, however — his Superman is about as iconic as they come, and his character work across the issue is effective. Bendis can lampshade it all he wants, but he is having trouble balancing the feel-good nature of this Clark Kent/Superman reveal with anything resembling actual stakes.
Marauders #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Marauders goes full-on pirate with an action-packed issue as the team goes up against Hate-Monger and X-Cutioner. This not only allows writer Gerry Duggan to showcase some more teamwork, but it also gives artist Matteo Lolli the chance to fully explore the team’s power set. I especially enjoyed seeing more of Kitty’s phasing abilities used in battle. All this being said, I do wish this issue was able to find a better balance for its plot. The story doesn’t truly pick up until the final pages where Kitty goes up against Sebastian Shaw, featuring some great reveals about Kitty’s connection to Krakoa that plays with the political tension that Duggan has been building since his first issue, all while leaving fans on a killer cliffhanger. Marauders #6 gives more panel time to the team, but could have benefited if it focused more on the series’ central conflict.
Batman/Superman #6 (Published by DC; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): An incredible outing by artist Dave Marquez elevates Batman/Superman #6, but the writing feels like little more than a clipshow for what came before. Rather than bringing added depth to the epilogue of this story, writer Josh Williamson pads out the lead up to the next arc by essentially recapping what we’ve seen in this title and in various “Year of the Villain” tie-ins. It hardly makes for satisfying storytelling, but Marquez’s work is extremely easy on the eyes. The artist is able to get a few moments of great acting out of his characters and he delivers some truly stunning and iconic poses for the world’s finest heroes. Williamson will likely be able to pick things up next issue with some new antagonists, but this issue is about as close to non-essential as a book can get.
Guardians of the Galaxy #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Al Ewing heads to the stars in the funny yet cosmically grim Guardians of the Galaxy #1. Centered around Richard Rider, Peter Quill, and Rocket Raccoon, along with some more ragtag cosmic cult favorites, Ewing pits his remixed team against a brand new pantheon of Greek gods, reborn and wreaking havoc across the universe. Better still, Ewing is already seeding major narrative threads for the later issues in the forms of teases as to what interstellar empires like the Skrulls, Shi’ar, and the Kree have been up to since the last major cosmic ongoing. Artists Juann Cabal and Federico Blee bring a real energy to the stars, deploying large-scale cinematic splash pages, like the labyrinthine infiltration of the Guardians into New Olympus rendered like an actual maze. With the Guardians you need stakes, style, and heart. Thankfully Guardians of the Galaxy #1 has all three in spades.
Far Sector #3 (Published by DC; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Writer N.K. Jemisin injects some real-world drama into the alien sci-fi landscape of Far Sector. Green Lantern Sojourner Mullein is already the odd woman out a trillion miles from home, but she’s brought some scars with her from her days on Earth’s police force — and unfortunately, it looks like history is about to repeat itself. While the interstellar politics at the heart of Far Sector — namely, an “emotion exploit” designed to keep civil war in check — never quite ring true, the anguish and anger Jo feels as she tries to avoid a police bloodbath feels extremely timely. Artist Jamal Campbell continues to crush it with this series, his gorgeous colors and sci-fi landscapes making the City Enduring feel like its own unique world — and by the time everything hits the fan, the anger he instills in Jo feels frighteningly well-earned. Three issues running, Far Sector isn’t just Young Animal’s best book — it might be the best book that DC as a whole is printing today.
Fantastic Four #18 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): “Point of Origin” clatters through its penultimate chapter in Fantastic Four #18. After revealing the true nature of the Cosmic Ray storm that gave them their powers, Reed Richards’ must deal with the consequences, as he has inadvertently thrown the entire society of Spyre into disarray. But while that seems the most interesting narrative point of the issue, writer Dan Slott quickly brushes past it in favor of the three-fronted action set piece that once again divides the Four against many enemies. Though it’s all handsomely and kinetically rendered by art team Paco Medina, Francesco Manna, Carlos Mango, and Erick Arciniega, the narrative feels a bit too jumbled to gain the purchase it’s hoping for. And while Slott ably replicates classic FF dynamics and banter, it almost feels a little too routine about it, without capturing that spark that makes these time-worn tropes fresh and new. While it certainly has the action of the F4, Fantastic Four #18 is too hectic to be a winner.
Batman: Curse of the White Knight #6 (Published by DC; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Sean Murphy’s artwork is generally unimpeachable, and that makes Batman: Curse of the White Knight worth checking out, even if his plotting is a bit convoluted to follow. We’re just two issues away from the finale of this series, and if Murphy has a weakness, it’s that he still struggles to balance his three main leads of Batman, Joker and Azrael (with Harley Quinn making a compelling case for a fourth). As such, the narrative bounces around a bit, incorporating bits of fan service like Jason Blood, but as a result, we lose out on some of the more interesting reveals, like spending time with Azrael in his new cyber-bat suit. (Indeed, there’s one cliffhanger moment of Harley possibly shooting the Joker… only in the next scene for us to see both of them alive and well.) That said, Murphy’s long-awaited twist is a solid one, if you give it some suspension of disbelief, and it doesn’t hurt that every page looks kinetic and gorgeous. An imperfect but ambitious work.
Conan: Serpent War #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): “Five souls between us and the end of all things.” All told, it’s a pretty awesome summation of Conan: Serpent War #4. Taking the fight across the astral plane, writer Jim Zub brings a major Dungeons & Dragons ending to the final part of this Robert E. Howard-verse crossover. Set and Khonshu have formed an uneasy alliance against the revealed enemy The Wyrm, a new Marvel “elder god” created by Zub. Using our leads as their mortal avatars, the entire cast is set against the Wyrm, titantically rendered by art team Ig Guara, Vanesa R. Del Ray, Frank D’Armata, and Jean-Francois Beaulieu. Going full-on cosmic horror, the creative team turns a fight against a giant worm into precisely the kind of pulp poetry fans expect from the works of Robert E. Howard, cinematically rendered. Though the setting up the next “Conan” event adds a head-scratching teaser to the issue, Conan: Serpent War #4 is a broadly entertaining finale.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #47 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The Power Rangers are used to keeping secrets, but never from each other. The Omega Rangers finally reveal themselves, and not everyone takes it very well. Ryan Parrott does a great job at injecting raw emotion into his scenes with Trini and Kimberly, but the segment I enjoyed the most is with Aisha, a person Trini hardly knows — and who has succeeded her as the newest Yellow Ranger. Aisha’s anxieties about her place on the team — is this all temporary until Trini and the gang rejoin? — is a heartfelt dynamic we never had a chance to see on the show. On pencils, Daniele Di Nicuolo, truly aces these emotional beats and the action sequences sprinkled throughout the book. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #47 slowly builds tension as Kiya’s villainous plans start to unfold, but the heart of the book is Trini’s connection to her old and new teammates as she navigates her duties as an Omega Ranger.
Ruins of Ravencroft: Dracula #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): You would think a showdown between Captain America and Dracula would be pretty cool, yeah? But “cool” isn’t exactly how I would describe Ruins of Ravencroft: Dracula #1. Written with a workmanlike energy by Frank Tieri, this latest lead-up title to Ravencroft #1 chronicles an untold tale of World War II concerning a new group of monsters called “The Unwanted.” The set-up itself is really weird, as most of the action is told in flashback, but the few pages of fight between Steve Rogers and Dracula do have a pulpy charm. A lot of that charm comes from the sketchy pencils of Stefano Landini, who injects a fair amount of fun into the fight between classic-era Cap and the brooding Dracula. But honestly, it's just a lot of head-scratching setup involving characters that have no real connection (like Mister Sinister) that doesn’t really go anywhere, nor does it add much excitement for the upcoming Ravencroft title. A fun diversion, but not much more.