Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, the Best Shots crew has your weekly helping of Rapid-Fire Reviews for your reading pleasure! We've got looks at books from DC, Marvel, Image, Dynamite and more, and the fun doesn't stop there — we've got tons of reviews, rapid and otherwise, at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's let Teresa Jusino ring in a new era for Peter Parker, as she checks out the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man: Big Time...Amazing Spider-Man #648 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): I’d given up on ASM much like Peter Parker had given up on his own crappy life. After a breathtaking issue featuring The Rhino and Norah Winters’ poignant narration, everything started to go downhill and felt like a parade of former villains for its own sake. I’m happy to see that, with issue #648, we have reason to care about Peter Parker (and Spider-Man) again! Dan Slott is hilarious, plain and simple, and is one of the few writers who should be allowed to touch Spider-Man. He gets Spidey, heart and soul. Humberto Ramos, whose work I loved on Runaways, is doing great, lively, character-focused work here. Spider-Man finally getting some respect as an Avenger, and Peter Parker finally getting respect from Corporate America — all on the basis of his genius brain, for which he hardly ever gets credit — is immensely satisfying! It’s also a great sign that Peter’s allowed to have another girlfriend in the cute, geeky, roller-derbying Carlie Cooper. Peter Parker is moving on and not being angsty! He even has a moment with MJ where they both laugh at the absurdity of living together in a really touching humorous way. Of course, Peter probably won’t get to be happy for too long before something else tears his world apart, but it’s refreshing to see him win personally, professionally, and as Spider-Man. Just this once. And I continue to love Norah Winters: “Manuel Labor,” “Hugh Want-Fries-With-That” and “Will Work-For-Food” are the best nicknames ever.
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; Click here for preview): This comic’s first five issues were so strong that its finale bears the weight of unrealistically high expectations. Don’t get me wrong; there are some high-quality moments here, and Grant Morrison ties everything together with his trademark high-concept style. Prepare for some mind-bending dialogue about vanishing points, hyperfauna, bioorganic archives and Omega sanctions. From the beginning, one of the best parts of The Return of Bruce Wayne has been seeing the World’s Greatest Detective figure things out, even without knowing who, where or even when he was. Issue # 6 is no exception, and it’s not spoiling anything to say that Bruce uses his extreme ingenuity to solve the puzzle and save the day — at least for now. The story doesn’t quite sizzle like its predecessors, and the art, while attractive, is a bit of a letdown. (The again, Frazer Irving is a tough act to follow.) However, every stop on Bruce’s journey to the present has contributed to the Bat-mythology, and I’m confident that Morrison has much more where that came from.
Avengers: The Children's Crusade #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): It's a surprisingly heavy read from Allen Heinberg this month, but fans of the Young Avengers will likely still enjoy the progression of Wiccan seeking out his mother, the Scarlet Witch. The interaction between Wiccan and his boyfriend Hulkling is easily the highlight here, as Heinberg shows the range of his main characters. And Jim Cheung? I think his expressiveness often gets overlooked, but the smirk he puts on Wolverine's face, or the look of constant irritation on Quicksilver's face, well, that looks pretty darn good. Colorist Justin Ponsor, meanwhile, almost does too good a job pouring on the mood — sometimes the atmosphere can get a little stifling, with the heavy blues and yellow candlelight, but it's far from bad. Where I think this story still stumbles, however, is with its focus. There are a lot of characters here, and that means characters like Vision, Stature, Hawkeye, even Patriot don't get much screen time, and the Avengers themselves only get one scene to remind you of the stakes. But that said, I think that's more of a stickler's argument: Children's Crusade is more a family affair anyway, and while it's a dense read, there's enough heart to keep interest pumping.
Red Robin #17 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): There's something to be said for a happy return, and Fabian Nicieza plays all his cards out early by bringing in a long-absent supporting Bat-character to interact with Tim Drake. It's a great way to set a first impression, as Marcus To's fluid style plays off so well with Nicieza's character work — I love the little smirk Tim gives as he asks, "so, have I gotten faster — have you gotten slower — or did I throw my voice?" And the fact that he leaves a door open for some future changes in the Bat-family — nothing binding, just open — is a nice touch, reminiscent of Dan Slott and Christos Gage's work on Avengers: The Initiative. This issue also really works for illustrating Tim's world — in particular, there's a shout-out to Crime Alley that is absolutely, wonderfully appropriate, and it's a great tip of the hat to the Bat-mythos in general. If this book has a weakness, it's that it does slow down a little bit closer to the end — while Tim gets some good interaction with the maybe-cop-maybe-assassin known as Lynx, but the return of Bruce Wayne himself drags a little (although To does a fantastic job differentiating Bruce from Dick Grayson). Still, as far as breather issues go, Red Robin is a fun, stylish read that I can't recommend enough.
Welcome to Tranquility #5 (Published by Wildstorm Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman): Now we know just how powerful Alex and Suzy Fury’s only child is, and considering that he’s terrorizing his hometown, things aren’t looking good for Tranquility. Gail Simone reveals just enough about Derek Fury, including his teenage love affair with Sheriff Thomasina Lindo, to unnerve the reader. Why did his parents keep his existence a secret? When did Thomasina find out that the boy she loved was a monster? What the hell happened to Derek’s pet pony? Simone is a master at making readers care about her characters and illustrating their relationships to one another. The flashbacks to Thomasina and Derek’s early courtship are touching, even with the clouds of doom on the horizon. I haven’t yet found a good comfort level with Horacio Domingues’ art. While his facial close-up panels are appealing, the overall presentation is harsh and a bit stiff. Even so, this exciting story is yet another example of why more comics fans should be visiting Tranquility.
Chew #15 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose): Looking at the back of the previous two Chew trades, I know that John Layman and company will jokingly take the worst part of the reviews that the Best Shots team produces for future promotional copy. It's just his way, that scamp. So I figured I'd help him out and get it out of the way now: While I don't approve of John Layman's inappropriate relationships with cattle, young boys or the deceased, he and Rob Guillory absolutely score a home run in this latest chapter of Chew. Guillory in particular really showcases his chops not just as a comedic artist, but as a technical one — once you see the detail that goes into renegade agent Mason Savoy's cibopathic abilities, with the small tiles of Tony's past slowly getting narrowed down to one person, you're really amazed by how much mood and expressiveness he can give to a purely silent page. (And the color absolutely pops.) This is showing, not telling, and it shows that Guillory has deeper potential than we ever knew. And John Layman, who's still a tool no matter how many issues of Madame Xanadu copy him, really plays up both the humor as well as the world that Tony inhabits — seeing the various family members (particularly Toni Chu, Tony's twin sister) really spices up Tony's personal life, and there's a bombshell on the last page that you shouldn't miss. John Layman's vestigial chin fuzz aside, I kid because I love, and this is absolutely one of the best chapters of Chew since its stellar first arc.
Mirror, Mirror (Published by Kickstart Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino): High-concept comics are dangerous. Dangerous, because if a writer’s not careful, the comic ends up being all about the concept and not enough about characters and story. The graphic novel, Mirror, Mirror, starts with an intriguing idea – a secret society called The Huntsmen is charged with protecting the broken pieces of the Magic Mirror from the Snow White fairy tale and hiding them so that no one can put the mirror together again to release its dark power. Now, someone has most of the pieces and is killing off Huntsmen, and it’s up to the son of two of those murdered to protect the remaining pieces. An interesting story in theory, and Lee Moder’s art is charming. However, in a world in which we have comics like Fables and The Unwritten, and books like Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, there has to be more to a story like this than “Hey! We’re modernizing fairy tales! Isn’t that great!” Unfortunately, this is where writer Joshua Williamson falls a bit short. The first 10 pages of the story have so much history crammed into them, it’s difficult to get to know any of the characters enough to care about them, and the voice of Owen, the protagonist, isn’t strong enough for me to get exactly who he is. There’s a romance between Owen and Sally, the assistant who’s charged with helping him find the mirror pieces, but nothing in the dialogue or story supports it. The reader is given expository information, but it’s a poor replacement for organic storytelling.
Green Hornet #9 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): If you've written off Kevin Smith for some of his more... we'll just say "juvenile"... stories, I really think you should give him another shot with Green Hornet #9. It's absolutely amazing to see how vulnerable he's able to make the Hornet and Kato in this issue, and that's a pretty big testament considering they spend a good portion of the story tied to a giant typewriter. Yeah, it's crazy, but I have to tell you, seeing a big-name hero confess that she doesn't want to die, well, it really ratchets up the sympathy factor in a big way. Much of that also comes down to Jonathan Lau, who is really coming into his own not just as an action artist, but an actor's artist, as well — there's some real expressiveness, even behind those bug-eyed masks, and when the fireworks go off, holy cow, there is more speed and intensity than a lot of comics have these days. But the emotional intro aside, there's a lot of great action set pieces to this book, with heat-seeking missiles, car chases and automatic rifles. Yeah, the conclusion feels almost comical in that it is so random, but hey, the cliffhanger's in place, no time to stop now! While I was originally pretty skeptical about the creators and the concept, I'm a real believer — Green Hornet is pure pulp action, and it's a testament to Smith, Lau and their editors that this book looks as slick as it reads.
Witchblade #139 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Lan Pitts; Click here for preview): Sara Pezzini has fought demons, devils and witches in her career as NYPD detective and bearer of the Witchblade, but she is now fighting with herself and living with regret of the loss of her sister, Julia from the events of the first issue of Artifacts. Mandated by her department, Sara is seeing a therapist over the loss of her sister. Interesting use of flashbacks as Dr. Hutton brings up a bit of Sara's past partners: Michael Yee, Jake McCarthy and now Gleason, who has had his share of adventures with the bruises to show it. Ron Marz utilized an interesting twist as the therapist, as it turns out, was a cop who couldn't handle having her kids live without her as a mother after her partner was killed. Gleason tries to comfort Sara and tells her the story of his own brother's death, who was a member of the FDNY during 9/11. Sara compares the deaths of Jules and Gleason's brother, who was a member of the FDNY. His brother was a hero, hers was just a casualty. Sara needs a moment to visit Jules at her gravesite. There is followed by a familiar face who wants to help her get the vengeance she is looking for. While being so used to Stjepan Sejic on the art duties, Michael Gaydos' style reflected the emotion of this issue well. Low on the adventure scale, but Marz excels at character development and Sara comes through as an actual woman in this issue, and not just your average supernatural superhero. You can feel the pain and torment inside Sara's thoughts, even though we can't read them. The scene in the graveyard is probably the most vulnerable we've seen Sara in a while. Touching, gripping, thought-out dialogue and just a great read. What have you read so far this week?