Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your weekly dose of Rapid Reviews? Best Shots sure is, with a heaping handful of books from your favorite publishers! So let's kick off today's column with a trip to Gotham City, as George takes a look at Batman & Robin...
Batman & Robin #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10; Click here for preview): I have a hard time giving a perfect score to any book, but honestly, there was nothing I didn't love about this issue of Batman & Robin, which continues to be the only Batman title in all of the new 52 that I love without caveat. Peter Tomasi's exploration of Bruce and Damian's relationship is perhaps the most compelling dynamic in comics right now, showing the father/son experience in a way that would be a superb read even without the tights and capes. The use of Morgan Ducard as the best "anti-Batman" I think I've seen is also pitch-perfect, showing the difference between the type of father who gives his son everything he wants, and the type of father who gives his son what he needs. Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray, along with colorist John Kalisz provide some of the cleanest, most engaging art on the stands, and Gleason's brooding, occasionally petulant Damian is a highlight. This issue also sees the team tackle a young Bruce Wayne, as he works to complete his early days of training, and the determination and defiance in his face is more than a little reminiscent of his son's in the sequences set in the present day. I love this book, and you should, too.
Wolverine and the X-Men #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): Who knew school could be so much fun? By rebuilding the school for mutants, now dubbed the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, Jason Aaron and Nick Bradshaw have given us “The Breakfast Club” of the X-Men as we get to see these kids in a class that’s just a thinly veiled fortune telling session. Instead of “ a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal,” we get a killer, a monster, an alien, a madman and a Phoenix. At least, that’s what they can all become as Deathlok so succinctly tells Genesis, the clone of Apocalypse, when asked by the boy who he is. “That... is what you are here to discover.” Unlike other classes of X-Men or New Mutants, for all of the potential that kids like Broo, Edie, Kid Gladiator and Quentin Quire have to be heroes, they have an equal chance to become everything that the X-Men fight. Aaron’s kids, full of every possibility in the world, feel so fresh and new when compared the old guard X-Men like Wolverine, Beast and Kitty, who just this morning discovered a gray hair. I can’t wait for the first student to whirl around defiantly and announce “Professor Pryde is a jerk!” The old guard is the characters with the history and set paths. We know who Iceman and Wolverine are and really, they feel like the relics in this book. It’s hard to feel anything for Angel, who was essentially mindwiped in Uncanny X-Force, because we’ve seen it before. The X-Men are old, and there’s no danger of change for those characters. They’re the school staff and the school staff is never cool. In the students, Bradshaw captures that mix of bravado, arrogance and cruelty that takes place in every classroom. Between meeting the new kid and discovering about their possible futures (67.3% chance that Quire burns down the entire school), these characters aren’t exciting because they’re heroes; they’re exciting because Aaron and Bradshaw let them be kids. If it were possible, it would be great if Aaron and Bradshaw could jettison the “Wolverine and the...” part of this book and replace it with “Quentin Quire and the...” because that would be something we haven’t seen before. That would be fun.
Severed #6 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Lan Pitts; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; Click here for preview): Young Jack Garron is not exactly having the time of his life. Having run away from home and now in the clutches of a shark-toothed salesman isn't exactly what I'd call a grand adventure. Scott Snyder has conceived a true American horror story that never seems over the top with the right amount of intense moments, nightmarish antagonists, and the feeling that Jack is so helpless at times. Since it's set in the early 1900's, there's nothing he can really do, which makes him all the more resourceful. Which, of course, you see that a lot in this issue. Snyder's homage to King's "The Shining" was a nice touch and layered on the sickness that the Salesman really has. Atilla Futaki really nails home the sinister imagery we've come to expect from a book with Snyder. There's masterful visuals that are as sharp as the Saleman's teeth, which keep the tension high and the blood pumping until you've reached the last page that will keep you edge waiting the next installment.
Shade #4 (Published by DC Comics, Review by Scott Cederlund, ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Darwyn Cooke knows how to tell stories. Whether it’s his own stories (DC: The New Frontier,) an adaptation (Parker: The Hunter) and just working with another writer like James Robinson in this latest issue of the Shade miniseries, Cooke’s deceptively simple and clean style constantly works to pull you into the story and involve you in these characters’ lives. Robinson gives him a story that has a bit of mystery and intrigue, a bit of action fighting and a bit of soul searching as the Shade fights to prevent the kidnapping an American patriot during World War II. Robinson continues to make the Shade a charismatic character, sliding through the world as easily as his shadows do. Cooke makes him this suave scoundrel, always looking like he’s idly standing around while his mind and his powers are always operating in the dark corners of the page. Cooke uses his panels to great effect in this one, using larger and wider ones to show the true impact of the battles that are happening and then pulling into smaller panels as the moments between Shade and the other characters get more intimate and private. The last three pages are a discussion between Shade and Caldecott, the patriot he saved and it’s this revelatory and wistful dialogue between the two that’s perfectly timed from panel to panel. And then it gets large again, as the two wander off into the distance and the Shade begins regaling Caldecott with a story about an expedition to Skartaris. Cooke pulls you ever closer and closer into the confidential discussions of these two men and then quite literally broadens your horizons with large panels as Shade begins telling the man about his grand adventures. And it all works because Cooke makes you privy to the personal moments just as skillfully as he gets you excited by the fighting and punching.
New Avengers #20 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by George Marston; 'Rama Rating 9 out of 10; Click here for preview): Wow, I never thought I'd say this, but where has this Brian Bendis been for the last 10 years? Somehow, he finally hit that magic balance of banter, characterization, and action that makes for one of the better straight up "fight" comics I've read in the last year. Usually there's a lot of build up to one of these big standoff issues, and then it just kinda fizzles, like Bendis has lost all interest in actually following through. The current Dark Avengers storyline has moved along pretty quickly, though, and if the rest of it is as fun and exciting as this issue, then I'll be really, really excited about the New Avengers for a while. This issue's got it all; all of the gags, jokes, and dialogue beats that one expects from a Bendis penned comic, but with very little of the back and forth, stilted dross that he loves to get bogged down in. For his part, Mike Deodato's choreography and pacing are terrific, and even the somewhat identical Avengers and Dark Avenger counterparts are easily distinguished. Its hard to say that the slow, occasionally alienating pace of Bendis's Avengers comics is finally turning around, but it's easy to say that this was a high point for the long time franchise scribe.
Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): Issue #5 of Frankenstein AOS keeps the pace of the previous four- tons of fun delivered fast and hideous. What else do you expect from a book about THE Frankenstein Monster working as an agent for Father Time (in the body of a little Japanese girl, of course) who, in his words, “only mission is to protect humanity from the things they themselves cannot bear to face.” Issue #5 is the crossover issue with O.M.A.C. #5 where Frankie throws down with the One-Man Army Corp. The nice thing about the crossover is, not only does this bring Frankenstein and S.H.A.D.E into the larger picture of the DCNU, but the story isn’t held down by editor’s notes and cliffhangers concluded in other issues. The story works as a standalone for Frankie and works as satisfying stitching between the next story arc. We get more awesomely chaotic artwork from Alberto Ponticelli. Even when his pages seem full and messy, Ponticelli is in complete control of his art and the figures within. It might seem like a lot when a new reader first opens the book but the art draws you in. It’s the perfect blend of off-center and beauty that perfectly complements Frankenstein’s world of vampires, cannibalistic dwarves, monks, and (for this issue) O.M.A.C. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E isn’t like its reboot buddies in capes and spandex, and that’s just fine with me.
Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Mike Mignola and John Arcudi bring us a tale from the early days of the B.P.R.D. Universe’s own pulp hero. The events of the series seem to occur before those of ‘The Iron Prometheus’ and his encounter with Memnan Saa, and find Lobster going up against a New York gang lord who is terrorizing citizen into leaving their homes. It’s a great prohibition era story with an intriguing premise that holds lots of promise for thing to come later in the series. Mignola and Arcudi take an interesting approach to telling the story by making the protagonist a female reporter who is investigating the strange gangland deaths in the neighborhood. You see, in the B.P.R.D. universe the public never knew that Lobster Johnson actually existed, and believed him to just be a pulp magazine character. So by focusing on the reporter, it allows the reader to experience the story from her perspective, and really enhances the sense of mystery. The series artist is Tonci Zonjic, whose artwork I’ve never seen before, but I’m already incredibly impressed. His artwork seems a great fit for this book, and is dripping in pulp and noir sensibilities. A look that is enhanced by another breathtaking color job courtesy of Dave Stewart. Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1 is a great fun read and is highly recommended for fans of nostalgic pulp magazine stories.
PunisherMax #21 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): It’s not often that a comic can elicit a real emotional response from me, but as I read the last few pages of PunisherMax #21 a chill ran down my spine, and tears welled up in my eyes. If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know that things are heading toward an inevitable conclusion, but it’s the skill with which Jason Aaron is delivering the finale with that gives the story such a strong emotional impact. Frank Castle’s final mission is punctuated with flashback from his youth, his time in Vietnam, and from the last days before he headed off to war - the latter containing some chillingly foreboding lines from his wife. I just love what Jason Aaron has done with this title, making it like an incredibly dark Ultimate Universe book. He’s never tried to touch what Garth Ennis did with the old series, but in this issue a couple of Frank’s flashbacks will feel familiar to long-time readers - it’s a nice tribute. Steve Dillon illustrates the issue with impeccably clean linework that makes everything look sort of... sterile and calm. I think it beautifully conveys Frank’s emotional state, in that he’s entirely disconnected from the violent acts that he must perpetrate to achieve his goals. There’s no need for excessive gore, no need for flashy effects, everything is portrayed in a very matter-of-fact manner, which suits the tale perfectly. PunisherMax #21 gives readers the perfect ending to the epic Kingpin storyline. It’s some of Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon’s finest work.
Princeless #4; Published by Action Lab Entertainment; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10: This winning series isn’t the first to upend the stereotypical princess tale, but it may be one of the most clever and refreshing. It's a child-appropriate comic that's great for kids, and many an adult reader will appreciate Jeremy Whitley's sharp writing and humor. The concept: Adrienne, an intrepid young princess whose parents locked her in a tower to await a worthy suitor, has escaped and is on a quest to rescue her similarly imprisoned sisters. Adrienne acquires a sidekick of sorts in issue #4, the equally plucky blacksmith Bedelia, who wields a mean hammer and craves adventure. These two make such a good comic duo that they ought to be cast as young action heroines in a separate title. Like the previous issues, Princeless #4 is a fun and fast-paced comic with appealing, cartoon-like illustrations by M. Goodwin. (In one panel, an unconscious bad guy has Xs where his eyes should be.) From the start, I've wondered why Adrienne’s kind mother allowed her bullying husband to put their daughters in pretty jails, and the story sheds some light on her complicity and regret. This issue concludes the first arc, so you’d really have to go back to the beginning to understand what's going on. It's worth it. If the comics industry is interested in getting young readers — especially girls — into comics, more books like Princeless would be a good start. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!