Greetings, Rama readers! Ready for some lightning-fast responses to this week's biggest releases? I bet you are, and Best Shots has you covered with some Rapid-Fire Reviews from Marvel, DC, Dynamite, and IDW! Want some more back issue reviews? Check out the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's take a look at the end of an era, as we review the final pre-boot issue of the comic that started it all with Action Comics…
Action Comics #904 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): This is it, people — the end of an era. 904 issues, and we finally close the books on Action Comics, the comic that started it all. And I have to give credit where it's due — artist Axel Giménez absolutely takes that job seriously. Giménez isn't a superstar for his design — it's clear he's got some room to grow — but at the same time, there's more heart in this issue than I've seen in months of Superman books. The intensity in Superman's eyes as he grapples with Doomslayer, or even the composition of him flying through an unknown world, it's clean and expressive, particularly with some painterly colors by Brad Anderson. That sort of visual charm goes a long way with me, as Giménez makes the best he can out of a less-than-great script from Paul Cornell, who in turn has to make lemonade out of lemons for tying up this "War of the Doomsdays" storyline. (Although he gets points for referencing Muhammad Ali.) The problem with the writing is theme — is it really that if things are "complicated," you can team up with unexpected people? That heroes occasionally make sacrifices? It isn't particularly deep, but considering that Cornell has other things on his plate with the relaunch, not unsurprising. It's not exactly the send-off that I think this historic book deserves, but seeing the art team hustle gives this book a silver lining.
Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #1 (Published by Marvel Comics, Review by Scott Cederlund; Click here for preview), ‘Rama Rating 7 out of 10: In one of the text pages at the end of this issue in a Q&A with writer Jonathan Hickman, he says “It’s probably my intention to take to heart our new mandate, ‘Do things we can’t do in the 616’ to a fairly extreme level.” Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates is a kind of puzzling book because while this issue stays away from doing anything we may have seen in the regular Marvel books, it feels very much like an Ultimates comic meaning it actually feels more like the logical lead-in to next summer’s Avengers movie as Hickman and Ribic even lift a scene right out of Iron Man 2 to try and show just how cool Tony Stark is. And they manage to make it work. This issue harkens back to the Millar/Hitch days of the title and feels very comfortable that way. This doesn’t feel too different from the Bush-era Ultimates, with Nick Fury in charge, Thor getting into fights and Tony Stark dreaming of redheads. “Redheads, old boy... always redheads,” Stark tells Fury, as Hickman tells us that he’s using Millar/Hitch as his starting point. It’s a good point to start with, too, as those comics defined the look and feel of Marvel’s movies. If Hickman is using those original books as his starting point, Ribic goes off in a different direction, creating a smaller, more claustrophobic world than Hitch did. Hitch went for widescreen storytelling; Ribic pulls back, creating wonderfully rendered images with figures moving gracefully through them. His figures move so elegantly across the page that there’s an eerie silence in this comic. Hickman and Ribic let the images tell the story, putting as few words as possible on the page. Even the sound effects melt into the backdrop as Dean White de-emphasizes them and let’s them work below the surface of your perceptions. For a relaunch of this title, Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates doesn’t start out with a bang. Instead, Hickman and Ribic seem to be funneling some of their own concepts into the book while paying a certain amount of homage to the popular summer Marvel movies at the same time. Instead of starting out with a bang, announcing to the world the new Ultimate Comics line, Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #1 feels very comfortable and safe. I don’t think you could have ever said that about those original Millar/Hitch issues.
The Bionic Man #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 8/10; Click here for preview): As someone who once loved “The Six Million Dollar Man” beyond reason, I had a hard time checking my childhood baggage at the door before reading this comic. And with Kevin Smith, there’s always the possibility that the gross-out jokes and blue dialogue will go a little too far. Fortunately, readers with a soft spot for Steve Austin should be pleased with Smith and Phil Hester’s The Bionic Man #1, a fast-paced and often humorous kickoff to the new Dynamite series. It’s especially nice to see Hester’s name attached to the book, as he did such impressive work on the Wonder Woman “Odyssey” story. There is a bionic being in this story, but it’s not Steve — yet. Rather, it’s a raging cyborg who wrecks a lab and tears several scientists to bits before stealing some highly important files. As for Steve, he’s recast as a swaggering test pilot who casually ticks off authority figures and trades sexy zingers with fiancée Jamie Sommers, the first of several familiar characters. (Hal Jordan’s ears must be burning, because Steve is not only an ace pilot, but also “the bravest man alive.”) Smith is clearly fond of the source material, incorporating old favorites like Oscar Goldman, Steve’s future boss, and physician Dr. Rudy Wells. Readers who are put off by Smith’s toilet references and naughty writing style are unlikely to be converted, though the writer stops just short of going over the top. Illustrator Jonathan Lau knows how to construct a good action scene, which is essential for a comic about a guy who’s destined to be better, stronger, faster. He’s also very good at showing human interaction. Lau’s panels of Oscar calmly tolerating a bellowing general who hates Steve and robots with equal intensity are great fun. I do wish the colors weren’t so drab overall, but they intensify in a closing sequence that, despite its foregone conclusion, remains thrilling. Count me in for issue #2.
Batman, Incorporated #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10; Click here for preview): If the interiors of this book looked anything like the Chris Burnham cover, I think I'd have a very different perspective on this "season finale" issue of Batman, Incorporated. Unfortunately, the interiors from Scott Clark and Dave Beaty show that something was lost in translation — the interiors of this book look a lot like the cartoon Reboot, and that's not a great thing. Clark and Beaty get so caught up in the bright colors and the "digital" style that they lose out on expressiveness, fluidity, and just sheer design. Which is a shame, because there is a ton of potential to this concept, of Oracle patrolling the cyberspaceways as a digital crusader. But Grant Morrison's take on this new world feels surprisingly unambitious, with a sort of weird video game undertone that doesn't even scratch the surface of what could be told. Sure, this is a done-in-one story, but the sad thing is that with the visuals being this unnatural, it's just difficult to read. This could have been a blockbuster, a sort of Batman-in-Tron kind of story. While I appreciate the attempt at experimentation for the sake of tone and content, there are more than a few glitches in this particular machine.
X-Men #16 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): X-Men! FF! Magneto! Doom! Dinosaurs! What more could you want in a comic book? X-Men #16 ranks as the most fun book I read this week, as the merry mutants team up with the Future Foundation to enter an alternate dimension, hopping through the Bermuda Triangle to a world populated by dinosaurs and lizard men. What really sells this issue are the moments where the characters get to shine, as Victor Gischler really nails the tone. Jorge Molina's pencils are tight, but the anatomy is occasionally a bit funky. His real strength is selling Gischler's script, injecting mountains of personality in the characters' actions and reactions. Highlights include ego clashes between Magneto and Doom, and Thing haphazardly giving Wolverine the "fastball special" as Wolverine shouts, "Never throw me again!" This is what I want from comics. Pure fun!
The Legend of Drizzt (Published by IDW; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): It doesn't matter if you can't tell the difference between a Gnome and Halfling, if you've been a fantasy reader for the last 20 years, chances are you know of the Dark Elf, Drizzt Do'Urden. While I've never been a big fan Drizzt, I was hoping this newest D&D based series from IDW would be as strong as their ongoing Dungeons and Dragons comic. This debut issue from writers R.A. Salvatore and Geno Salvatore with artist Agustin Padilla just didn't click for me. This first issue feels like one extended prologue that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The choice to center around a vampiric dwarf is clearly meant to pull a reader into a deeper mystery. In truth, it made for a rather tedious read. Perhaps I'm spoiled by John Rogers immensely relatable writing in Dungeons and Dragons, but Salvatore's plotting and dialogue reminds me of everything I don't like in a fantasy comic. Bond style villains that watch from afar and lines like “Me king, ye be hurt,” that make this grumpy fantasy fan roll his eyes. Agustin Padilla's pencils along with colors by Leonard O'Grady help to elevate the book. There are some flashback scenes that are quite dynamic and hopefully hint at greater art to come. Alas, most of the comic takes place in a dark dungeon, with very little for Padilla and O'Grady to work with. Even though he's drawing fantasy races, some of Padilla's physical proportions still feel off and it's distracting. O'Grady's heavy use of shadows and negative space helps to cover some of these missteps. One final contention. If you call your comic The Legend of Drizzt, he should appear in more than one or two pages. In all, a rather disappointing debut.
New Mutants #30 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; Click here for preview): David LaFuente is an artist's artist. You don't agree with that? Then skip over to the next review, because I'm a firm believer that LaFuente is the full package, in an era where art gets rushed and overlooked constantly. There's such a sense of composition, expressiveness, and just amazing design in all of his pages, even from the first page, as we see Valkyrie Dani Moonstar soaring in on her winged steed. There's some real humanity to LaFuente's art style, and it makes even a somewhat goofy Mephisto at least resonate as a character, with his own unique wants and desires. And when the rest of the New Mutants are trapped in Hell — double-L, not the single "L" of Asgard — that sort of acting is incredibly important. And to be honest, LaFuente's artwork is what makes it — don't get me wrong, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning lay up some nice groundwork, smoothly injecting the Fear Itself storylines with the X-Men and the Avengers in the story while playing up just what a baller Dani is, but man, this book wouldn't be nearly as fun to read with a different artist. Just a gorgeous, gorgeous, fun book.
Batman: Gates of Gotham #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10; Click here for preview): Gates of Gotham has been a great miniseries, sadly scarred by this dud of an ending. Moving far too quickly, and revealing far too little, it seems like there may have been a bigger and better intent when this book started, but the lack of any major revelations about the "secret history" of Gotham City kind of puts a damper on that tagline. I don't know what I was expecting, but the knowledge that the guy whose journal we've been following this whole time was a nutjob just isn't enough to make me gasp. On the plus side, the art is still great! It's possible that as these threads continue into Nightwing and Batman next month, we'll see more payoff to what was shown here, but one can't help but wonder if the whole operation has been undercut by this reboot business.
Uncanny X-Force #13 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): If Rick Remender has one ace in the hole, it has to be Fantomex. This issue proves that he's far and away the most interesting character in Uncanny X-Force, which would have veered perilously towards being too unfocused if it wasn't for the faux Frenchman. Oh, this is definitely a fight comic, but Fantomex is the thread that truly sticks out, being the active protagonist and the agent of plenty of twists and turns, while the rest of the team feels more interchangeable, more cannon fodder in a fight at the Age of Apocalypse. Mark Brooks and Scot Eaton play well off one another in terms of dual penciling efforts, but Eaton is really the one to watch out for, with a sort of Alan-Davis-meets-Tom-Grummett kind of style that isn't particularly flashy, but is solid as hell. Yeah, there is definitely a lot going on here, and the art team doesn't quite have the sort of choreography that Remender's other partners have had, but with Fantomex still making things unpredictable, it's hard to not find something to enjoy with Uncanny X-Force. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!