Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your quick volley of reviews? Best Shots has your back, with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Courageous Kat Calamia, who takes a look at X-Men...
X-Men #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Three brave X-Men enter the vault... but will they return? X-Men #5 is a solid set-up issue that puts Cyclops’ leadership skills on full display as he makes a risky decision to send Synch, Darwin, and X-23 into unknown territory that will either change their lives forever or have them not return at all. Writer Jonathan Hickman focuses on character work to make this adventure into the vault feel even greater and more threatening, but I especially enjoyed Hickman’s voice for X-23, who fully embraces the character’s growth from her time as Wolverine (Kudos to R.B. Silva who uses Laura’s All-New Wolverine costume design for the scene). The art team does a fantastic job at landing these character beats while adding an air of wonderment as we learn more about the Vault. X-Men #5 shows that the A-Listers are not the only characters that will be dealing with the consequences of paradise.
Dial H For Hero #11 (Published by DC; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Dial H For Hero goes from “Dear Superman” to “Dear Dad” as writer Sam Humphries switches the title’s points of view from Miguel to Summer - allowing perspective to be the issue’s most important theme. What’s so refreshing is that Humphries doesn’t paint Miguel as the bad guy and Summer never sees him as the villain even as he teams up with the series’ big bad. It’s Summer’s relationship with her dad and the wrongs he’s done that helps her stay away from the temptations of the H-Dial, as we see how Miguel and Summer’s pasts have driven them to their current paths. #11 is not only a great character-driven story, but it also has some stellar twist and turns where Humphries completely shakes the foundation of not only this series but the multiverse as a whole. On artwork, this is one of Joe Quinones’ best issues, as he juggles multiple comic styles that all seamlessly marinate together in a series that truly embraces the beauty of this medium. Dial H for Hero’s penultimate issue is a heartfelt story that perfectly balances plot progression and character development.
The Immortal Hulk #30 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): The Immortal Hulk revels in its horror roots with a full-on monster battle that forces the Hulk family to step out of the shadows. This is a very action-heavy issue that artist Joe Bennett uses to fully embrace the series’ monster movie aesthetic, adding to the title’s already compelling horror elements. It doesn’t progress the plot too much, but the issue creates for some interesting character beats, especially taking into consideration the political tension writer Al Ewing has been building with his last couple of issues. The most interesting aspect is to see how this battle will affect the Hulk family moving forward. When it concludes, who will the public see as the bigger monsters: the ones destroying the city, or the Hulks trying to save it?
Criminal #12 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It was never going to have a happy ending. As this volume of Criminal concludes, all the character perspectives converge. Teeg, Jane, Ricky, and Faraday all find themselves worse off than when the story started, something which long-term readers of the series will have anticipated when it began. Still, what Ed Brubaker, Sean and Jacob Philips have done with this arc that ensures it still packs a punch is capture this sense of inevitability like a chain of dominos, or a snowball rolling downhill with each subsequent decision the characters made. The Philips’ pairing have a starkness to their images - When tragedy strikes, they capture it straight-on. Their pacing in the most important sequences sees them linger just long enough to make the reader understand that it’s going to get worse on the page turn. This arc has been a long time coming, and while "Bad Weekend" marks the highpoint of the volume, the great strength of this arc is it still makes you wish it could end any other way, even at the end. But it was always on the road to tragedy.
X-Force #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Anchored by a monologue from Beast, X-Force continues its dive into the murky business of Krakoa’s Counter-Intelligence Agency. Having established the operation’s existence with its opening story - a factor which becomes recontextualized here by a killer data page - Benjamin Percy refines the series’ focus with each passing issue. Terra Verde’s president has agreed to sign with the mutants until the ceremony goes horribly wrong, and X-Force must be quick to ensure the deal remains intact. Stephen Segovia and Guru eFX handle the art, and it can unfortunately be said that it’s a step down from previous issues. How they handle Beast through the issue is strong - most notable is how they depict his domineering handle on the situation through imposing, lower-angle perspectives - though Percy’s script doesn’t operate in the high-octane manner of previous issues. (There’s no opportunity for an image as striking as the Wolverine torso of #5, for example.) This team makes up for it increased political intrigue akin to the John Ostrander and Kim Yale Suicide Squad, showing just how volatile this operation is going to become.
Avengers #30 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): It’s a cosmic medical emergency in Avengers #30. After discovering the identity of the new Starbrand - the unborn child of a human refugee from Kansas - forces converge on the mother in labor, all with the aim of containing the Starbrand no matter the cost. Using a fun, highly effective shuffling of the timeline of the issue, Jason Aaron marries real-deal emotions with high concept cosmic drama. Focused around the fallout and real-time action of his Nativity in Space, Aaron jumbles his oddball cast of Avengers against the huge personalities of Marvel Cosmic books and weirdly, it all works. The muscular and cinematic artwork of Ed McGuinness and Francesco Manna certainly help, as the pair rumble across the stars with beefy splash pages and highly expressive character interactions. Though Jason Aaron’s era of Avengers has had its ups and downs, Issue #30 finds it hitting a fine balance between emotions and fun.
Justice League Dark #19 (Published by DC; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): While I’m as excited for Ram V to take over the title as anybody, you can’t help but feel a bittersweet tinge when you read Justice League Dark #19, knowing this is James Tynion IV’s last issue on the series. Because given the way he juggles such a sprawling cast but still manages to hit all the right superheroic crescendos, this has probably been the best team book DC has been publishing over the last year, and I guarantee not enough people have been reading it. There’s a lot of crazy ideas being tossed around, but Tynion tells them with enough confidence and propulsion that you don’t need to have been reading previous issues to catch the gist - it also helps that artist Alvaro Martinez Bueno is such a gifted, generous artist that he’s able to fit together so many panels so beautifully without skimping on any of the storytelling. (If anything, it makes his big moments, like Khalid embracing his mantle as Dr. Fate, all the more explosive.) A great showing from an underrated pair.
Hawkeye: Freefall #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Clint’s double life gets more complicated in the funny, slickly produced Hawkeye: Freefall #2. Written with a dry wit by Matthew Rosenberg and given a poppy kineticism by artist Otto Schmidt, #2 finds Clint trying to convince his superheroic peers that Ronin has nothing to do with him. Or does it? Though Rosenberg is still playing coy with the real identity of Ronin, he seems to understand Clint’s aloof brand of humor and how he bounces well off of the A-listers of the Marvel Universe. Schimdt also seems to be delivering the spiritual sequel to his Green Arrow run, but with far more visual comedy. Comedy like Clint having to spend a whole scene hiding from the Human Bomb, while Luke Cage simply stands talking to him, allowing the Bomb’s bullets to simply bounce off of him. Though its final page throws a head-scratching wrench into the narrative, Hawkeye: Freefall #2 is another fun and funny outing for the “worst Avenger”.
New Mutants #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): The New Mutants side arc gets a grim, violent conclusion in New Mutants #6. Faced with a mutant hostage situation at the hands of a drug cartel, Boom-Boom finally gets the action she has been craving from the start. But things quickly get out of hand with the leader of the cartel resorts to drastic, dark measures to escape. Though writer Ed Brisson mines some fun character moments out of the aloof Boom-Boom, the resolution of the plot is far darker that it needed to be, with a button at the end that adds another grim layer to the plot that I’m not sure is precisely necessary here. At least Flaviano’s artwork peps up the darkness for a bit, especially in the Boom-Boom centered scenes. But even with Flaviano’s pages and Boom-Boom’s boozy attitude, New Mutants #6 might leave a bad taste in the mouth after reading.
Protector #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Artist Artyom Trakhanov has always had a forcefulness to his exaggerated artwork, and pairing him up with an artist-turned-writer as detailed as Simon Roy feels like a strong match - that said, while the artwork of Protector makes a strong statement, the story itself feels so decompressed that it might be considered an acquired taste. To be fair, as someone who’s put in his time at an artist’s desk, I get why Roy would give Trakhanov plenty of room to maneuver, with plenty of pages just letting the artwork do the talking. But I’d argue that we’ve seen a lot of post-apocalyptic societies in comics before, so taking the slow-burn approach might be a little dangerous in terms of showing how this world feels different from dystopias of the past. (By the time we do get to some of the inner politicking, it feels a little too little, too late.) That said, Trakhanov’s artwork, colored by Jason Wordie, looks stunning, particularly a page were a discarded war weapon comes back to frightening life. A solid debut, but it’s one that will live and die based on whether people are here for the art.
Avengers/Defenders: Tarot #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Marvel’s premiere A-listers saddle up with the House of Ideas’ most ragtag “Non-Team” against the threat of Diablo in Avengers/Defenders: Tarot #2. After the real owner of the mind-controlling tarot was revealed last issue, writer Alan Davis starts to show how Diablo uses his newfound control. That is, if his paranoia doesn’t eat him up first. Though this has the charming peppiness of an old-school crossover, the script itself is fairly wooden and plodding, just marking time until the cliffhanger. Artist Paul Renaud also gives this issue a real classic look and feel that highlights the wooden script a bit more than it probably should. That said, seeing the classic incarnation of the Defenders teaming up for some weirdness with the Avengers is pretty fun, even if a bit slow-going at times.