Best Shots Rapid-Fire Reviews: AMETHYST #1, X-FORCE #8, HIDDEN SOCIETY #1, GRIMM NOIR #1, More

Marvel Comics February 2020 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC

Amethyst #1 (Published by DC; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): What’s worse than nobody turning up for your birthday gala? Nobody turning up because everybody has gone missing, and you have to figure out why. When Amy Winston returns to Gemworld for her 16th birthday, she finds the Amethyst kingdom in ruins and her best friend and closest — literally, right next door — ally strangely tight-lipped about what might have happened. Amy Reeder takes on double-duty in this six-issue miniseries, writing and illustrating with fantastic letters from Gabriela Downie. Amethyst #1 is flat-out fun, harkening back to the heyday of ‘80s kids cartoons like Jem and the Holograms with an action-packed adventure that delights in being a little weird. Reeder balances the high stakes with a light, tongue-in-cheek tone well-suited to a magical girl-style heroine like Amy, and offers an easy and welcoming introduction to the world of Gemworld for those who may meeting Amethyst for the first time. Amethyst #1 is absolutely gorgeous and just flat-out fun to read, and will leave you itching to find out what happens next.

Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Force #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Benjamin Percy’s X-Force had been a strong second-place contender amongst the Dawn of X line, but it’s perhaps inevitable that no lucky streak can go on forever. Pitting Domino and Colossus against a mercenary with a cloned copy of Domino’s probability-altering skin, there’s very little that elevates this story beyond its paper-thin high concept. (As a side note: How does Colossus remember his death post-resurrection, given that House of X established Charles backs everyone up on a cyclical basis?) While Percy throws trope after trope against this not-exactly odd couple, Bazaldua and Guru-eFX’s artwork feels misshapen and rushed, particularly with the faces and heads, looking almost unrecognizable from even the previous issue. In particular, a final set piece involving a horde of Domino clones on a train is absolutely flat-tired by shrunken artwork that looks basically unfinished. Spinnings its wheels narratively and effectively defanged on the art front, this more intimately scaled X-Force does this series no favors.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Hidden Society #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Written by Rafael Scavone and art by Rafael Albuquerque and Marcelo Costa, Hidden Society #1 introduces readers to the cast of characters who will comprise a mystical group charged with saving the world from an unknown, unnamed entity of evil. While Scavone wastes no time and launching into mini-introductions of each soon-to-be-member, there’s never any time taken to properly establish a need for them to gather in the first place. Instead, we’re simply led — like each character — to trust in the strange old wizard and that he knows best, despite offering no rationale. In short, there’s not a lot of reason for readers to invest themselves right away in this first issue. Artistically, Albuquerque and Costa offer a polished, vibrant comic that is dynamic and captivating — feeling both grounded in the right moments and believably supernatural in others. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to make up for the cookie-cutter set-up in this first story, but hopefully, more information will be forthcoming in the next issue to make it worth a second look.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Fantastic Four: Grimm Noir #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Despite what the cover and title of this series might suggest, Fantastic Four: Grimm Noir is not a story about gumshoes and cigarettes, but instead a shaggy dog story from writer Gerry Duggan that borrows liberally from Barry Windsor-Smith’s aborted graphic novel featuring the Thing, which is only salvaged thanks to some strong artwork from Ron Garney and Matt Milla. To their credit, Ben Grimm is exactly the kind of character that Garney excels at — there’s already a lot of character to the Thing’s design, and Garney makes everything from a glance underneath a fedora to some clobbering in another dimension look cool. But this story lacks focus, not to mention fails to deliver on the core concept promised on the cover — beyond Duggan lifting Barry Windsor-Smith’s series of nightmares that grind the Thing literally into dirt, he’s bouncing all over the place otherwise, with little to none of it having any connection to Ben himself. Despite the potential of this creative team, Fantastic Four: Grimm Noir feels like there’s some deeply missed potential.

Credit: DC

Batman: Curse of the White Knight #7 (Published by DC; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): One part fan service, one part connective tissue, Sean Murphy prepares to set the table for the final throw down between Batman and Azrael in the Issue #7 of Batman: Curse of the White Knight. To be fair, fan service isn’t necessarily a bad thing as we see Murphy flex his artistic muscles and give a nod to some of his – and ultimately, our – favorite moments in the Bat canon to include reintroducing the 1989 cinematic batmobile into this Elseworlds story along with a threateningly beautiful homage to a classic Joe Quesada splash of Azrael in his newly fashioned Batman suit. Of course, Matt Hollingsworth’s colors ooze attitude, which is what this rendition of Gotham is all about. The action in the story itself is slow, but this serve as a calm before the storm as Batman prepares for his final conflict against Azrael to determine whether it is blood or purpose that makes a man a Wayne. The stakes involved are what you’d mostly expect – save Gotham, save the Bat family, reaffirm the rule of law, but for one exception: Harley Quinn and the budding relationship between her and Batman. In all, it’s a visually appealing issue that does what the story need it to do to get readers ready for the big finish.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Giant-Size X-Men: Jean Grey and Emma Frost #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Jonathan Hickman and Russell Dauterman release an almost silent issue with the launch of the Giant-Size X-Men one-shots, leaving Dauterman with much of the leg work, but boy does he deliver. He perfectly captures Jean Grey and Emma Frost’s very different expressions and character quirks in this psychic adventure to save Storm. I do think the issue could have been more powerful with dialogue, but it was also nice to see the team take a creative risk. This issue shows us that Emma Frost and Jean Grey, two of the most powerful telepaths, don’t need words to tell a story. Overall, Dauterman and Hickman tell a very compelling narrative that hopefully will weave through into the upcoming Giant-Size one-shots.

Credit: Vault Comics

Finger Guns #1 (Published by Vault Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Justin Richards, Val Halvorson and Rebecca Nalty team up to introduce readers to Finger Guns #1 — a story about two 13-year-old kids who have the power to change people’s minds by pointing their fingers at them and “shooting” them with their finger guns. Admittedly, it’s a weird concept, but then again, it’s exactly the kind of thing middle grade and young adult readers will totally get. The dialogue also sounds like it’s something straight out of a seventh grade classroom, and the art is clean and animated — another perfect fit for the MG/YA audience. It’s not a simple walk in the park, though, as Richards makes it clear there’s a deeper story at play here, which is one that many younger and older readers will appreciate. The only criticism — a small one — is that letterer Taylor Esposito’s cell phone texts were difficult to read even when zoomed in. Otherwise, Finger Guns #1 proves itself to be a highly relatable story for those living in the moment of their adolescent years.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Falcon & Winter Soldier #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Artist Federico Vicentini elevates a fairly boilerplate script in Falcon & Winter Soldier #1, a series that feels well-timed given the upcoming Disney+ series featuring the two characters, but one that never seems to go all in as far as celebrating them. Writer Derek Landy is still a relative newcomer to comics, but he does show some promise underneath some of the hiccups — while there’s pages with too much dialogue and the way Bucky and Sam’s paths cross feels the opposite of organic, he throws in some nice sparks of characterization, from Bucky being protective over his cat (and the resultant off-page complications of that with Sam’s girlfriend Misty Knight). What will likely make or break this book with readers is new villain The Natural, whose high concept and design feels totally half-baked, but who somehow manages to charm a bit thanks to his enthusiastic dialogue and the kinetic way that Vicentini portrays his action choreography. If you dig Vicentini’s angular linework, you might enjoy Falcon & Winter Soldier, but if you don’t, this may be a tougher pill to swallow.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #48 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Mighty Morphin Power Rangers continues to focus on character as writer Ryan Parrott and penciller Daniele Di Nicuolo build tension for the impending war between the Rangers and Kiya with her ever-growing army. There are a few standout moments in this issue, including the return of Ranger Slayer and her seamless chemistry with the team, while Jason’s sparring session with Tommy allows Parrott to showcase their apparent differing leadership philosophies. Even though I enjoyed many of these beats, I do feel like this issue was a bit too jam-packed with so many separate character threads being explored. On artwork, Di Nicuolo continues to knock it out of the park with his expressive, kinetic pencils. Overall, the creative team continues to find their strength in character, making Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #48 a fun installment as we ramp up towards the conclusion of “Necessary Evil.”

Twitter activity