Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your weekly pellets? Best Shots has your back, with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Jalopy-Driving Justin Partridge, who takes a look at the latest issue of X-Men...
X-Men #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Guest artist Matteo Buffagni fills in for an intriguing look behind the scenes of Krakoa in X-Men #6. Focused on the now-canon marriage between Destiny and Mystique, Jonathan Hickman starts to fill in the gaps of Raven’s secret mission to the Orchis Mother Mold as well as what Orchis has been up to since the attack. Though a bit condensed between the “Now” and “Then,” Hickman’s Raven fits easily into a leading role, working tirelessly to get her wife back amid Charles and Erik’s stonewalling while also following Destiny’s secret instructions given before her death. Buffagni also brings an expressive, intimately-focused energy to the issue as they render most of the action in tight close ups or densely packed character interactions. It might be a bit slower pace than the previous issues, but X-Men #6 provides some wonderful detailing and character work to the ongoing Dawn of X.
Batman: Pennyworth RIP #1 (Published by DC; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Batman Pennyworth RIP #1 is an anthology that allows each individual Bat-family member to pay tribute to Alfred, but it’s a format that quickly becomes repetitive, which causes the plot to lose its emotional resonance. It’s always a pleasure to see the whole Bat family together, and I wish it would happen more often, but due to recent shake-ups like Dick Grayson’s amnesia, Bane’s takeover of Gotham, and Damian’s involvement in Alfred’s death, Batman Pennyworth RIP #1’s unfamiliar family dynamics rob this issue of some punch. As for the issue’s visuals, there are multiple artists on this title, but the strongest is Eddy Barrows on the main story — that said, the various styles in this book feel discordant, where even standouts like Chris Burnham wind up retroactively clashing with styles like the cartoony David Lafuente. Overall, James Tynion IV and Peter J. Tomasi’s storytelling didn’t deliver the emotional punch that should come along with the death of one of DC’s most prominent characters.
Tartarus #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Deep below the surface of Tartarus, a prison riot breaks out. A dangerous prisoner named Surka moves upwards through various sub-levels, like the rising lava of an erupting volcano, as she makes her last stand against her captors. That’s when Johnnie Christmas, Jack T. Cole and Jim Campbell’s story jumps ahead in time, focusing upon a group of recruits in the Baxna Military Academy — one of whom happens to Surka’s daughter, albeit without knowledge of her heritage and how it relates to the state of galactic war. An explosive opening for a captivating science-fiction story, Tartarus dazzles in both Christmas’ characterization and world-building, and in how Cole depicts that visually. Cole’s cold blue prison eventually morphy to an even more vibrant setting as the story progresses, and he is truly adept at shifting perspective to best fit both humanising moments and ones of great action. Cole’s artwork grabs you from first sight and then implores you to keep up, to see what else this world will look like after turning the page.
The Green Lantern: Season Two #1 (Published by DC; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10) It’s hard not to love the universe that artist Liam Sharp has designed for Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps — his take on characters and settings have an extremely lived-in feel that allows readers to take even the most absurd being as they are. (In this case, it might be a character who describes themselves as “intelligent salt.”) Writer Grant Morrison has been doing a lot of work to recontextualize the Corps as less of a police force and more of a cosmic entity, especially as the Green Lantern rings themselves have some level of sentience. Readers who aren’t caught up might be left scratching their heads a bit, but if you have been onboard for Morrison’s journey into the heart of human willpower, then you'll be satisfied with this chapter.
Nebula #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10):Nebula writer Vita Ayala’s work often shines best when taken as an entire story, and less in the individual issues, this being a major component of why their credits like Submerged, Livewire, and Magic the Gathering: Chandra play out so exceptionally when collected into a trade. I’m hopeful that Nebula follows a similar trajectory, as the biggest criticism of the writing here is how much it feels like scaffolding for the rest of the story. In a certain sense, that feels necessary, but there’s also a lot of action sequences that feel like they get in the way of pacing. That said, Ayala’s exploration of Nebula as an alien cyborg feels thematically rich. The ‘alien’ aspect is found in the background characters and settings, where the action and character herself seem rooted on the ‘cyborg’ end of that spectrum. Artist Claire Roe elevates said action scenes with a notably fluid sense of movement from panel to panel, making what a lesser artist would make cluttered feel instead frantic and tense. Colorist Mike Spicer is at his most noticeable and when alternating between more straightforward panels and the Metal Gear Solid-esque cybernetically enhanced panels. Overall, it’s a book with a lot of potential, and that clearly has a story it plans on telling. It’ll just take a month to see what that story is.
Undone by Blood or the Shadow of a Wanted Man #1 (Published by Aftershock Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): A bifurcated tale, Undone by Blood starts not at the beginning, but with its protagonists already on their respective searches. Sami Kivelä’s barren Arizona plains make up the first image of the book, as Sol searches for his missing cattle under the heat of the sweltering sun. It’s also the first image of the book being read by Ethel in 1971. She’s got a bike, a hat, a need for some smokes and a burning desire to hunt down her father’s killer. Writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler script a first issue that luxuriates in the setting’s atmosphere, meaning the dual narratives have promise and potential without really getting going just yet. While there are comparisons to be made between the two tales, the best choice made by the writers is that the stories don’t directly parallel each other in their construction; don’t expect a formalist structure that oscillates from one to another with equivalent panel layouts. Both stories give Kivelä and Jason Wordie the space for some striking work, with their most impressive pages coming once night falls and Ethel visits the gaudy, neon-lit bars, with the violence that kicks off being reflected in dark red hues.
Gwen Stacy #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Decades after her death and five years following her reimagining as Spider-Gwen, Marvel launches a miniseries starring the original Gwen Stacy, but does this version of the character fit into the modern landscape of Marvel Comics? The issue concludes with some promise on that forefront, but unlike Spider-Gwen’s first appearance, Christos Gage hews a little too closely to the original Gwen’s thinner characterization. That said, Cage starts to build some uniqueness into the setup as he builds Gwen into a sort of Nancy Drew-style teen sleuth, but I didn't get quite enough of it in this debut. On artwork, Todd Nauck gives a great slice-of-life feel to the title that matches modern Archie and classic Spider-Man and fits perfectly with the tone writer, Christos Gage, is trying to set up with the title. Gwen Stacy #1 doesn’t electrify quite as much as her interdimensional counterpart, but let’s hope her and her father’s underworld investigation gives Gwen a larger voice for issues to come.
Harley Quinn and The Birds of Prey #1 (Published by DC; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Much like the Birds of Prey film, Harley Quinn and The Birds of Prey #1 is predominantly a Harley Quinn story. If you were a fan of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner’s Harley Quinn run you will quickly adjust to the title’s tone, but if you are looking for a more traditional or serious Birds of Prey story, this won’t be the title for you. This is not only a love letter to their run on Harley, but their work at DC as a whole – even Power Girl makes a guest cameo. I personally wasn’t a huge fan of the humor from their original Harley Quinn series, so this premiere didn’t click for me, but I did enjoy the brief sparks between Huntress, Rene Montoya, Harley and Cassandra Cain — I just wish there was more of it. On artwork, it’s always a pleasure to see Amanda Conner doing interiors and her style fits perfectly for this comedic book. Overall, If you wanted more of Harley Quinn after watching Margot Robbie’s version of the character, then Harley Quinn and The Birds of Prey #1 will be able to whet your appetite, but this may not satisfy fans solely looking to fill the void for a Birds of Prey series.
Immortal Hulk #31 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Teaming with longtime “street-level” artist Javier Rodriguez, Al Ewing and Joe Bennett deliver another mind-bending installment for Banner and his “others” as they face old-school Hulk baddie Xemnu, who seems to be bleeding false memories into the populace and turning the world once again against the Hulk. Supported by Dr. McGowen’s “memories” of her first meetings with superheroes, Ewing provides us more backstory for the newest co-star along with more exploration into Hulk’s “Big Guy” persona. All wrapped in a fun dueling art package of Rodiguez’s city-bound scenes and Joe Bennett’s nightmarish Hulk action. Continuing its commitment to character and plot Immortal Hulk #31 is another winner for the Immortal Era of Hulk.
G.I. Joe #5 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Heartbreaking, action-packed, and deeply philosophical, G.I. Joe #5 is the little licensed title that could. Writer Paul Allor and artist Chris Evenhuis wring so much tragedy out of the scarred United States after Cobra’s takeover — in this case, a day in the life of “Dreadnokistan,” an Indianapolis commune that prizes anarchy and self-sufficiency in equal measure. And as Joes Jinx and Stalker embed themselves within this community ahead of an impending Cobra strike, Allor imbues this community with a wild sense of charm and family — even as we quickly see these rowdy roughnecks get ground into the dirt. As the action winds up, Evenhuis continues to impress, as Jinx and Buzzer tackle a rampaging B.A.T. robot — but as Evenhuis and Allor quickly introduce (and then subvert) suicide tactics into the mix, this war-time franchise picks up a heavy resonance. A deeply underrated gem of a comic, G.I. Joe is a powerful take on war and loss that should not be missed.
X-Force #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Domino goes on the hunt for the person who stole her luck in X-Force #7. Though most of the team is sidelined in this issue, writer Ben Percy mines a great deal of pathos and engaging characterization from Domino, haunted by dreams of her capture, and Colossus, who himself is struggling with his recent resurrection. It all culminates in a chilling but heartfelt scene between the two on a beach of Krakoa, bonding in trauma. Artists Oscar Bazaldua and GURU-eFX also adapt well to the more emotional scripting for this installment, rendering the pair’s pain with care, giving their interactions with a real charge through the tight staging. The resulting action scene comes across a bit muddy, but it isn’t anything that completely ruins the pages that come before. Aiming more for the heart and less for the neck, X-Force #7 keeps the series on steady legs.
Death to the Army of Darkness #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Joey Edsall; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Death to the Army of Darkness #1 is a fun book that super fans of Raimi’s original films will likely enjoy, but has some narrative confusion in its final act that bogs it down. After opening in the distant past, but what is presumably the future of this story (don’t worry about it), there’s a jump to Ash Williams turning down a seniority-mandated promotion at S-Mart. The idea of Ash as someone without much ambition lives more in Evil Dead supplemental materials than anywhere else, but writer Ryan Parrot captures the spirit of the films and gives Ash this additional edge in a way that most of the licensed comics involving him don’t. Jacob Edgar’s art is a high point of the book, with a visual stand out being the way that he repurposes a mirror midway through the comic. At first, it’s set up to subtly reflect (ha!) the iconic mirror scene in Evil Dead 2 before being used instead to foreshadow the second Ash that gets involved in the story. The comic falters in its final moments, unfortunately — what readers will likely assume is several different versions of Ash save Ash-Prime from a Deadite, but this isn’t really clear. It feels like something giving readers some sort of context is missing, and unfortunately the book ends weaker than it starts.
Excalibur #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Captain Britain and her allies go on a good old fashioned Warwolf hunt in Excalibur #7. In perhaps the most British installment yet, writer Tini Howard brings back a major element of the original run, the Warwolves, and carefully weaves them into the new paradigm of Krakoan magic. Not only does this give us plenty of action against the wolves featuring the full Excalibur roster, but Howard continues to build on the ongoing Braddock family saga with a quick check-in with Avalon’s Mad King Jamie. Guest artists Wilton Santos and Oren Junior join colorist Erick Arciniega and keep the title’s lithe expressionism alive and well. The action as well, especially during the Warwolf hunt, also pops well, but with a more low-key and realistic bent in place of Marcus To’s theatricality. If you’ve been wanting a more Marvel U.K. flavor from Dawn of X, Excalibur #7 has you covered.
Superman: Heroes #1 (Published by DC; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10) This one is a punishing read, and if you haven’t been a fan of Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman to this point, it may be especially brutal. Of course, it’s not all Bendis’ fault. After a decent opening scene, the art quality takes a dive off a cliff, as usually standout artist Kevin Maguire delivers a scene where Superman’s expressions and body language are rendered completely wrong, while Bendis’ trademark double-page spread full of Justice Leaguer talking heads ends up being more confusing than entertaining. The Greg Rucka and Matt Fraction scenes acquit themselves fairly well, particularly with Batman and Wonder Woman as well as Jimmy Olsen, but they feel like filler before giving way to an epilogue that features even more talking around the thing than getting to the point. There are lettering mistakes. The coloring is rough in spots. Overall, this just feels sloppy.
Hawkeye: Freefall #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Matt Fraction and David Aja’s trademark Hawkeye mantra — “Okay, this looks bad” — seems to challenged subsequent creative teams about how many obstacles they can put in Clint Barton’s way. Matthew Rosenberg and Otto Schmidt revealed with their last issue that Clint is moonlighting as the vigilante Ronin, while this issue gets into how he’s accomplished this and why he’s been going to such lengths to throw everyone else off the scent. Throw in some screwball antics with a significant other and a new ally, as well as the Hood upping the ante in his efforts to discover Ronin’s identity, and there’s a lot on our lead archer’s plate. Rosenberg’s scenarios are a wonderful match for Schmidt’s scratchy linework – his figures are so expressive and nimble throughout. When Clint tries to make a point with a finger raised, there’s just enough room for it to fit in the top left of the panel. As such, there’s an artful grace to proceedings, even as Hawkeye stumbles from an already bad situation into an even worse one.
In Case You Missed It!
Crowded #11 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Is there anywhere safe for Vita and Charlie to hide until her bounty ticks down to zero? Well – in this issue Vita visits an old friend who is now part of a gun-wielding cult, which they assure won’t be used to kill Charlie… take that as you will. This set-up does slow down this action-packed adventure, but heightens the title’s emotional beats as Charlie and Vita are forced to evaluate their romantic feelings. Are they only interested in each other because of the life-and-death situations that have been thrust upon them? Writer Christopher Sebela delivers a raw issue that allows the title’s leads to deal with many of their pent up emotions about this very subject. As for the art, Ro Stein and Ted Brandt do a great job at displaying this tension and adding small gestures to showcase Charlie and Vita’s new intimacy as a couple. Crowded begins to truly ramp up as the creative team raises the strakes for the threats that target Vita and Charlie internally and externally.