Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the Best Shots Team and their fast-paced, bite-sized Rapid-Fire Reviews! We've got some looks at tons of books, including releases from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, BOOM! Studios and Avatar Press! Still looking for more on this week's releases? No sweat, gentle reader, just check us out at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's take a look at the day-and-date release of Jonathan Hickman's new miniseries, Ultimate Comics Thor...Ultimate Comics Thor #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Reading this book on my iPhone, I couldn't help but think: This is the future. Everyone's got a comic shop in their pocket. So having such a tonal return to one of the most forward-thinking series in recent Marvel history is fitting. Jonathan Hickman takes that same sort of seriousness to the Ultimate Universe that Mark Millar did before his more self-indulgent punksterism took over his pop persona. The Ultimate U has always been about building a better weapon, and seeing Hickman take that theme and bring it to Thor and the creation of Mjolnir and the Nazi invasion of Asgard really brings that escalation back in a big way. Screw super-soldiers, we're playing on a whole 'nother level here, baby. Artist Carlos Pacheco is close enough to that ultra-realistic tone that Bryan Hitch set up -- that said, his weak point is his design for Asgard and its characters, which I think could have really pushed the "Ultimate" level. But the fact that Hickman is bringing back the feel of The Ultimates -- the one that's ironically been cast aside by its own creator -- is the real triumph here. There may be a lot of set-up in these pages -- maybe too much -- but it's solid enough to make me come back for Round Two. Batman: Hidden Treasures #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald; Click here for preview): What fanboy or fangirl hasn't thought what they would do if they got to write a Batman book? Well, the same goes for those in the business and this book shows us the potential. Many years ago, Ron Marz was commissioned to write a Batman story that subsequently never saw the light of day until now. A shame, but thanks to the powers that be for finally bringing this one to our shelves. Uniquely formatted in all splash pages, with the story told via narrative, "Splash" tells the story of an encounter between Solomon Grundy and Batman that's surprisingly. . . heartwarming. While it is a great story and great art, does it justify the $4.99 cover price? No. Lucky for us DC editorial has paired the story with another -- "Night of the Bat," originally published in Swamp Thing, circa 1973. Published four years before I was born, it is likely a story I never would have come across if not for this book. This issue was a great pairing of Bats team up tales, and a really enjoyable read. Even marginal comic fans can relate to this book, free of continuity and filled with well-crafted stories and art. I look forward to adding this one to my collection. Hawkeye & Mockingbird #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): I love stories in which marriage/long-term relationships are portrayed as sexy and fun rather than the death knell of all that is exciting. Hawkeye & Mockingbird does just that. Up until now, Jim McCann’s pacing of the story has been really slow, and as someone who had no prior experience with these characters, I was a bit daunted having this new series start with something out of Mockingbird’s past. I have no history with The Phantom Stranger, so having this new title be entirely dependent on knowledge of that character was a disservice to me as a new reader. However, I stuck with it purely on the merit of our leads, who are written in a witty, loving way. Issue #5 is by far the best issue yet, as the somewhat convoluted story of The Phantom Stranger has been resolved – sort of – and the comic ends with a shocking revelation about our two heroes. David Lopez’s interior artwork is great – and Paul Renaud’s intriguing cover is even better – and Jim McCann’s dialogue is top-notch. I only hope that as the title progresses, McCann pursues new stories rather than mining Marvel history for ideas. Hawkeye and Mockingbird are in a new phase in their relationship, and they deserve stories to match. Brightest Day #11 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): After a strong pair of past issues, Brightest Day gets a little hazy in both its visuals and its plot in its eleventh issue. This issue is primarily one big fight scene, with Firestorm taking on his Black Lantern-ized alter ego Deathstorm -- and while the character itself is delightfully goofy enough with its Grim-Reaper-meets-surfer-dude execution (seriously, where did Geoff Johns come up with this?), the art by Scott Clark gets a tetch overrendered with some suffocating black smoke. While there's some character conflict going on with Firestorm -- although the inclusion of Jason Rousch's one-time abusive father Alvin is a little jarring with its lack of set-up -- the Aquaman story is all fight, with no characterization. It's just over one-third of the book, and while Ivan Reis is one heck of an artist, if there's no progression for any of the characters, there's nothing to hook you in. That said, the mythology buffs have plenty to enjoy here, with Deathstorm having a surprisingly strong impact on the Black Lantern saga as a whole. But as far as execution and narrative heft, I wouldn't say that this is the strongest issue of Brightest Day yet.
Crosshair #1 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Erika D. Peterman):No one can accuse Marc Silvestri’s Crosshair creation of wasting time. Like the countless bullets that fly across its pages, this bracing Top Cow Pilot Season contender moves at lightning speed, and it has “popcorn movie” written all over it. In fact, there’s already a deal afoot to bring Crosshair to a theater near you, and it’s practically camera-ready. Former black ops assassin turned suburban dad Justin Weller (not his real name) finds himself on the other side of the gun — a lot of guns — but he’s scarily prepared with hidden weapons, crawl spaces, explosives and disguises. It immediately reminded me of the Viggo Mortensen film A History of Violence, another examination of what happens when a family man’s dangerous past catches up with him. The Things Are Not What They Seem plot isn’t new, and there are still plenty of blanks to fill in about Weller’s character, beyond his being a badass. However, Jeff Katz’s story, which vacillates between past and present, has plenty of zing, and Allan Jefferson’s pencils do justice to the bloody and the playful. Crosshair is a good, old-fashioned rush, and it's sure to be a popular choice come Pilot Season voting time.
Scalped #41 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Teresa Jusino): Jason Aaron is one of the best storytellers in comics today. Period. In the current “Unwanted” story arc in Scalped, he tackles the issue of unwanted pregnancy from every angle and without judgement. Issue #41 focuses on the relationship between parents and their children. Red Crow is looking for his daughter, Carol; Dino puts his daughter to bed and explains to Carol why he decided to care for her depsite his and his girlfriend’s initial impulse to get an abortion, and Dash gets a visit from his estranged father. The three stories intertwine perfectly, set into motion by a heartbreaking opening scene in which a woman tries to give herself a coat-hanger abortion. Aaron doesn’t flinch from either side of the subject matter, and it is this bravery in tone and unwavering pace that makes this not only the best story in Scalped so far, but one of the best stories being told in comics. As always, R.M. Guera’s artwork is perfectly suited to the world of the story, and Jock’s cover of a broken baby doll elegantly captures the world of the series as well as the theme of the story arc. If you’ve never read Scalped, start with “Unwanted.”
Baltimore: The Plague Ships #3 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by David Pepose): If you weren't convinced in the past two issues, Ben Stenbeck proves it here -- this is an artist that makes or breaks this series, and even if the story takes a little bit of a breather, the visuals still hit as hard as ever. Think of this less as a story and more of a guided tour through a bleak world of shipwrecked submarines and undead creatures unwittingly released from Davey Jones' Locker. Even when Stenbeck pulls distance shots, he packs his pages with fantastic touches, such as the daggers drapped from Baltimore's frame, or even the shadow that engulfs his face as he broods. The fact that Mike Mignola and Michael Golden give him the room and the go-ahead to work with mood-setting images like ravens and coral is what gives the book its unique vibe, and that alone is something that many books don't have these days. Of course, even if the beginning of the story is somewhat slow compared to the wrenching origin of this vampire hunter, Mignola and Golden get some good moments here, particularly with a desperate melee in the bowels of one of the book's titular plague ships. The grizzled hero protecting the naive damsel might be a little old hat in theory, but it's the execution that makes me want to return to Baltimore, month after month.
Secret Six #26 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; Click here for preview): Goodness gracious, Gail! I knew you wouldn't let me down, but I did not expect that much amazing to be packed into 22 pages. While reading Secret Six #26, my quality of life improved. Did you really just put Amanda Waller and Katarina Armstrong in the same issue?! Yes. You did. I am beyond grateful. The Six are in all their violent glory, and Ragdoll has some of his most despicable one-liners to date. It's a libertine dream of an issue. Each and every character gets at least one moment to shine their light of depravity on the reader, and one can't help but to laugh, even if it is wrong. The Six are, of course, in yet another precarious situation, but I suspect they ain't seen nothing yet. With Waller and Spy Smasher up in the mix, it's about to be a crisis of infinite bitchiness. Simone is the Queen of the Cliffhanger, and I cannot wait for issue #27. Calafiore's art continues to evolve month by month. He clearly has gotten comfortable with the characters, and you can see a more refined rendering of each one, particularly their faces. He hit the ball out of the park this month with emotional expressiveness. He and Gail obviously work well together, and I hope he remains on the book. All hail Team Gail/Calafiore or … just buy the book.
Neonomicon #2 (Published by Avatar Press; Review by Amanda McDonald): The debut issue of this series was pretty dark and twisted, but issue two takes it to a whole other level. I'm usually not one much for gore or brutality, but by tangling this story up with the HP Lovecraft mythos, I had to indulge my curiosity. The series centers around the mysterious Carcosa, the murder of his mother, and the team of investigators on the case. So logically, this issue picks up with them where we left off, but then takes a turn for the even weirder as their investigation goes further. This is not a book for anyone with delicate sensibilities, as Alan Moore doesn't even attempt to obfuscate the sex and violence in this book. It's right there, in your face, page after page after page. Is it gratuitous? No. It further exposes the true sickness and horror of the story. This plot is the stuff nightmares are made of, but luckily if it gets to be too much you can set it aside. However, if you're like me and enjoy a book with literary allusions or you like a book that would carry an NC-17 film rating at minimum -- make this the new book you pick up this week.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #37 (Published by Dark Horse; Review by Teresa Jusino): Season Eight has been weird. However, “Last Gleaming” is where it all comes together and, so far, I like where it’s going – even though I’m not exactly sure where that is. Joss Whedon co-scripted this issue with Dark Horse editor, Scott Allie, and I think that they’ve both done a great job of tightening up all the loose story threads with trademark Whedon humor. We also start to see how certain things that have been dropped all “season” long are paying off, like the Seed of Wonder (first glimpsed in issue #10). Aside from the main plot, there is some wonderful character work going on. Buffy and Spike are hilarious in this issue, and watching Dawn and Xander’s relationship mature is really sweet. Georges Jeanty’s artwork is still wonderful, save his drawing of Dawn. For some reason, Dawn either looks exactly like Buffy a lot of the time, or looks really generic, so you don’t know who she is. Overall, I enjoyed this issue. I just hope that we start getting some real answers soon as to where things are really headed. You can pull off this kind of pacing on a weekly TV show, but when waiting a month for the next installment, each issue should provide more bang for my buck, you know?
Madame Xanadu #27 (Published by Vertigo; Review by Vanessa Gabriel): Neon Blue is a mega-star in 1964, and she is the stunning icon whom droves of sycophants worship. But years of celebrity culture have left Blue apathetic. Her feelings are dead in more ways than one. Matt Wagner writes yet another brilliant story, and the smart symbolism woven into this issue is timeless. Even though the events are set in the '60s, they could be applied to today's rampant narcissism. Celia Calle, cover artist for American Virgin, does the art this month. Her art is uniquely stylized. She uses color sparingly, but dramatically. The mood she conveys is cynical with a touch of macabre, yet beautiful at the same time. Her pencils sing of high-fashion sketches, but as sequential art, renders the story of Neon Blue perfectly. Calle does an impeccable job, I am officially a fan. Vertigo has really outdone itself with artist selections for this last Madame Xanadu story arc. I have bought the issues, but I fully intend to get the collected edition. Madame Xanadu: Extra-Sensory will definitely be a favorite of mine for some time to come. The closer we get to issue #29, the sadder I am to see a book of this caliber meet its end. At least she'll go out with a bang.
Incorruptible #10 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Want to know what a good inker (or two) can do for a book? Check out Incorruptible #10, a book that deserves some mention just due to its artistic overhaul. I'll be honest, between inkers Juan Castro and Michael Babinski and colorist Nolan Woodard, you can barely recognize Horacio Domingues' art -- they really all work together to put the art in the best possible light, and it gives some nice weight and smoothness to Domingues' animated linework. With that foundation in place, I think Domingues really succeeds in the personal moments, whether its Max Damage recalling a superpowered armageddon happening right behind him, or even former hostage Alana Patel taking on a woman she thinks tortured her. As far as the writing goes, however, I wouldn't say it's Mark Waid's most striking chapter of the series -- yeah, Max's new partner gets some nice development, and the cliffhanger at the end is a nice touch that may complicate things for our morally shaky hero, but the overall resolution to this arc felt a little disconnected, that no one really changed or learned enough to make the adventure worthwhile. Still, from a visual perspective, mark this book "Highly improved."What are your quick thoughts on books this week?