Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your pellets? Best Shots has you covered with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off today’s column with Punchy Pierce Lydon, who takes a look at Wonder Woman...
Wonder Woman #753 (Published by DC; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10) Steve Orlando might be headed for mighty, Marvelous pastures soon enough, but he proves that he’s not phoning in his last few arcs at DC. “The Iron Maiden” reaches its finale and proves why Orlando has been a stalwart talent at DC for years - he is able to deliver big, bombastic superhero stories month in and month out. Artist Max Raynor is a big help in that regard, taking a less statuesque Terry and Rachel Dodson approach to his characters while rendering the action scenes with an impressive amount of energy. “The Iron Maiden” has proven to be a solid arc that sets more pieces up moving forward.
Immortal Hulk #32 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Xemnu is in your head in Immortal Hulk #32. Taking a step back to show just how far Xemnu’s influence has reached across the Marvel Universe, writer Al Ewing and tag-team artists Joe Bennett and Javier Rodriguez deliver alternating “man-on-the-street” interviews and creepy television-focused interludes to seed Xemnu’s new “canon” in a highly effective set of scenes. Ewing also takes the extra step to show how our main cast is faring, with both the good and bad guys trying to suss out the new memories at the eye of this particular mental storm. While it might not have the same drive as the previous issues, Immortal Hulk #32 is just as weird and creepy as you would expect.
Superman #21 (Published by DC; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10) Superman #21 is a good showing for Brian Michael Bendis, but a great one for Ivan Reis. The artist really grounds this issue with some impressive draftsmanship that allows Bendis’ penchant for densemarration to go down a lot smoother. And Reis’ handling of the big Superman versus Mongul fight is unexpected but effective. A major thing that I appreciate is how Clark’s reveal that he is Superman has had different implications than times we’ve seen that plot point play out in the past. Bendis is great at balancing the drama of Superman’s fight with Mongul with the reality that Lois has to face back on Earth. I do think he kind of swung and missed with the initial reveal but he’s worked this book back into a soap opera-y lather.
Young Justice #14 (Published by DC; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): All the teens of Wonder Comics unite on a mission to save Superboy in Young Justice #14, a jam-packed issue that never has a chance to reach its true potential because of Brian Michael Bendis’ plethora of team members. This leads to the characters fighting for panel time, which prevents the issue from having any true plot progression or memorable character moments. It doesn’t help matters that this issue has multiple artists with mainstay John Timms and guest artist/longtime Bendis’ collaborator Michael Avon Oeming sharing art duties. Young Justice #14 introduces a lot of great personalities to the Wonder Comics’ universe, but the creative team doesn’t give these characters enough breathing room to allow readers to fully enjoy their appearances.
New Mutants #9 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The New Mutants get back on mission in this boots-on-the-ground ninth issue. Fully reunited and refocusing on bringing unaccounted-for mutants to Krakoa, writer Ed Brisson quickly gives the New Mutants a problem only they can solve; a mutant who seems to be the nucleus of their own pocket nightmare reality. Artists Flaviano and Carlos Lopez also thrive with the weird concept and larger cast - striking a balance between expressive character drama and ambitious horror visuals, Flaviano and Lopez’s dynamic seems to solidify fully in this ninth issue after a few patchy efforts during their previous Nebraska story. Though this side-arc has yet to reach the wry heights of the Hickman-penned space comedy, New Mutants #9 gets back to the basics in a fun way.
Stealth #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Writer Mike Costa and artist Nate Bellegarde deliver a solid reimagining of Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri’s Top Cow Pilot Season entry with Stealth #1. As far as the artwork goes, Bellegarde delivers some really well-constructed visuals with some beautiful inking and truly expressive characters. He’s playing in that Chris Samnee school of clean, clear pages, and it makes some of the action sequences look larger than life, such as when Stealth shoots a handheld missile into a car (!!!), or brutally beats the hell out of an unexpected victim. Costa’s story isn’t bad, but his big twist comes at you from a mile away - and given the amount of overlap it has with Donny Cates’ breakout Image hit God Country, your mileage may vary in terms of future enjoyment. Despite that overlap, Stealth is a strong debut from these creators, and I’ll definitely be checking out the next issue.
The Flash #751 (Published by DC; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10) This issue feels like it’s over before it really gets going, but then maybe I shouldn’t expect a Flash book to be anything less than a fast read. At this point, writer Josh Williamson is a master of structuring his issues to end just before you get any answers. But that does lead to the book feeling like it's running in place. There’s not really any meaningful character work, just some villain monologuing before a sort of twist ending. (Tune in next issue!) That said, artist Christian Duce acquits himself extremely well. His pages are well laid out and the linework really leans into the speed of the titular hero. Distinct linework is a must for a Flash title because communicating speed in a way that doesn’t obscure the narrative is infinitely important. Duce has that fairly locked down. Unfortunately, Wiliamson doesn’t give his audience much to chew on.
Cable #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): “Dawn of X” has introduced a new age for the X-Men and swept in a literal new age for Cable. A much younger version of the hero navigates the day-to-day adventures of Krakoa - including fights in the Quarry, saving young mutants, and obtaining large swords. Writer Gerry Duggan pays homage to some of our favorite 90’s tropes including big guns and even bigger fights, but doesn’t have enough in this premiere to help the title stand apart from the many X-books already on the shelves. And sadly, Phil Noto’s pencils doesn’t quite fit the tone of Duggan’s script - Noto’s palette is way too light for the book as the yellow sand-like coloring distracts from his own youthful pencils. This first installment of Cable has an intriguing cliffhanger, but just doesn’t do enough to allow the title to stand out.
The Green Lantern Season Two #2 (Published by DC; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10) Grant Morrison’s reframing and rehabilitation of Hal Jordan has been a welcome one. By moving him away from the more rank-and-file elements of the “space cop” setup and instead letting Hal become more of a hero who protects and serves using his brains before his fists, he’s made Green Lantern exciting again. This issue is the exploration of a new locale and alien culture, rather than Hal just beating a problem into submission. Liam Sharp's art lends itself to the horror elements in the script and gives a touch of gritty realism to a setting that is otherwise unknown to us. Fans of their previous work together won’t be disappointed with what Morrison and Sharp are doing here.
Snotgirl #15 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Kat Calamia; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Lottie and friends go to Norm Girl - err, Meg’s wedding, and after 15 issues of Snotgirl, you should know nothing ever goes well at parties. Following a long hiatus, the series is back better than ever, with an issue filled with comedy, drama, and, of course, snot. Lottie is reeling from the revelation that Norm Girl hooked up with her maybe-girlfriend Caroline, as she builds up the courage to talk about her feelings. This is where things get really interesting, as Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung dig deeper into the series’ overall mystery - Caroline and Lottie talk on the edge of a cliff, before Caroline falls off… and somehow survives. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen her die, but it is the first time Lottie witnesses her come back to life. We get a few more clues about Caroline’s secrets, but what makes this such an intriguing scene was how Caroline reacts to the situation. She’s able to easily erase Lottie’s suspicions with a kiss and confirmation of their relationship - and just like that, Lottie is head-over-heels for Caroline again. Hung perfectly aces these emotional pages with a mix of hilarious chaos as she intercuts between the leads and the disastrous wedding. Snotgirl #15 is a perfect return to form for the series, making it very easy to jump back into Lottie’s vapid world.
Avengers #32 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The World’s Mightiest Villains unite in the table-setting Avengers #32. Having introduced a whole volley of new and old threats to the team, writer Jason Aaron now starts to the task of gathering them all for the inevitable team-up arc. Checking in with Namor, Phil Coulson and the Squadron Supreme, the Winter Guard, Dracula, and Mephisto cuts the momentum of the title down a bit, but Aaron’s control of language and portentous tone keeps it all from feeling as boring as it might in a lesser writer’s hands. Artist Ed McGuinness keeps it all looking rather cinematic as well, bounding from lush one-page splashes to tight, expressive character interactions with ease. The “Age of Khonshu” might be next on the docket, but Avengers #32 sets up some very interesting and potentially destructive things on the horizon for Marvel’s A-list.
Sweet Heart #1 (Published by Action Lab: Danger Zone; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Writer Dillon Gilbertson and artist Francesco Iaquiinta put the “gory” into allegory with the debut of Sweet Heart. Sweet Heart posits a world in which a violent race of replite beings latch onto certain humans with a diabetes-like blood abnormality. Mixing the constant dread of zombie stories with the sudden jolts of a slasher movie, Gilbertson carefully lays out the rules and stakes of the concept, only to bloodily upend them with his cliffhanger. It is bold stuff given a bolder look by the abstract and shocking artwork of Iaquinta and colorist Marco Pagnotta, who inject a real dream-like tone to the opening issue, peppered with the looming dread of the creatures who are always lurking at the edges of every page. If you like some real-world stakes to your horror, then Sweet Heart #1 is the treat for you.