Best Shots Rapid Reviews: SECRET AVENGERS, HUNTRESS, More

Best Shots Rapid Reviews

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for some Rapid Reviews? Best Shots is going to put the pedal to the metal, as we launch off on a flurry of bite-sized critiques! So let's kick off with Rick Remender and Gabriel Hardman's first issue together on Secret Avengers...


Secret Avengers #22 (Published by Marvel Comics, Review by Scott Cederlund, ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): Sometimes all a book needs is to find its one or two missing elements and Rick Remender and Gabriel Hardman uncover those elements for Secret Avengers; Hawkeye and Captain Britain. The new creative team on this title injects some energy into this team by introducing these two headstrong and brash heroes into the mix, one a classic Avenger and the other someone who thinks he's been brought in to take control of this team of veterans. Ed Brubaker's original issues of this series always felt more like an offshoot of his Captain America stories, featuring Steve Rogers and his Amazing Friends. By moving Cap out of the spotlight, Remender quickly sets up a wonderfully contentious rivalry between the two new members that is reminiscent of the old Cap/ Hawkeye fights that have always been a part of Avengers lore. If Brubaker's run was the Captain America show, Remender's may turn out to be the Hawkeye/Captain Britain Variety Hour as none of the other characters do much other than react to the pair. Those two are the center of this issue and the other characters are just there to orbit their personalities. Hardman has a very naturalistic storytelling style, giving these fantastic heroes and actions a firm standing in a very recognizable reality. He makes things look the way they would if they actually existed. In some ways, there is very little sense of awe in Hardman's images because you look at everything and think "yup, that's the way it would look if miniature versions of the Avengers just popped out of a woman's body." He doesn't make that seem as weird as it should be. But then when you stop and think about it, it's amazing how wonderful these images are that you can easily accept that the fantastic is happening right before your eyes. 


Huntress #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Although we don't have 100% confirmation that this Huntress is part of The New 52 setting or the soon-to-launch Earth 2, it doesn't really matter. Fun is fun, and that's what this miniseries has been. Helena's wrath is fully realized as she launches her all out assault on the human traffickers hiding in Italy. This is a title that rides comfortably in writer Paul Levitz's wheelhouse. Indeed, with the heavy use of captions acting as the Huntress's internal thoughts makes the bulk of the issue feels like it's taken straight from the late 70s era of DC. Levitz writes a Helena fueled by justifiably righteous anger, and whether she's the daughter of gangsters or Batman and Catwoman's little girl makes little difference, as she's her own person in these pages. The pencils by Marcus To are strong and balanced. He draws a wonderful Huntress, never once slipping into cheesecake territory. His Helena is powerful, poised, and ever so dangerous. The fight scenes are well plotted and To's composition maintains high energy, without becoming too chaotic. It's too bad the subject matter is a bit mature, because as a rule, Huntress has been a good title for younger readers interested in superhero comics. By playing it relatively safe with plotting, character, and art, each issue has yet to blow me out of the water, but neither Levitz and To have disappointed, either. With events, sequels, and prequels the standard of the day, there is something to be said and appreciated about good old-fashioned superhero fare.


Venom #13.1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): Marvel's "Circle of Four" may be its scrappiest event yet. It has all the marks of a cash-grab, with this all-dark, all-extreme version of the '90s-era New Fantastic Four... so it's all the more surprising to see Rob Williams and Lee Garbett go to the freaking mat as they fight to justify this story. And whaddya know — they succeed much more often than they fail. Venom, Red Hulk, X-23 and Ghost Rider may be a team, but it's a smart move from Williams to split them up in their fight against the demonic Blackheart, allowing Williams to speed things up after some admittedly clunky exposition. Every time things start to get uneven with the pacing or dialogue, Williams cranks up the throttle once more, saving the day with some really well-executed fight choreography for Ghost Rider and some sharp metatextual commentary on X-23, a character that could easily be construed as the most one-dimensional of the bunch. Garbett is the big winner here, as he puts in a ton of speed and energy into these fight sequences, particularly getting some nice moments with Venom getting his alien suit ripped off his body. Garbett's clearly stepped up his game in terms of staging and composition, but he's also bolstered by some skilled colorwork from Rob Schwager, who gives Garbett's characters a depth and weight that I haven't seen before. This is one of those books that isn't going to set the world on fire — that's due to concept, due to the properties involved, even due to lack of wider recognition about the creators involved — but it's difficult to ignore how hard Williams, Garbett and company are working to change that. This had all the makings of being a book you'd love to hate... and on that score, I think this team will be happy to disappoint you.


Batgirl #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): Although the long-term plans for the Batgirl series seem vague, I am still thoroughly enjoying the adventures of Barbara Gordon getting back into action after a miraculous recovery. Each issue sees a bit of Batgirl’s past revealed and what her new life is shaping up to be. Issue #6 focused more on the relationship between Batman and Batgirl that was truly the highlight of the story. Gail Simone was right when she suggested that she was the best person for the job when it came to putting Barbara back in the cape and cowl and I can definitely confirm that now. She hits the emotional pinpoints with such finesse that you want more of the Batgirl/Batman relationship without it coming off as heavy-handed or cheesy. Simone really understands this relationship. The only thing that threw me off was Barbara’s long lost mother showing up and her presence in the books. It would be nice to see more of Batgirl’s life behind the mask but it seems like it is not a priority in the book that sees the heroine more in her mask than out of it. The pencils and inks by Ardian Syaf and Vincente Cifuentes have been consistent and well balanced by keeping the murky, dirty tone of Gotham City and the spunky, smiling life of Batgirl. Not giving anything away, the origin of new villainess Gretel is complemented by this style, with ink heavy linework adding another uncomfortable layer to her grisly story. Although the colors by Ulises Arreola are well-done and in keeping with the modern DCnU, it would be nice to see some variation in style here for fear of Batgirl getting lost in the sea of new titles.


Kevin Keller #1 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): If there's a more likable character in Riverdale than Kevin Keller, I've yet to see him or her (sorry, Betty). He's like the prom king who's actually nice, and he's been endearing himself to readers since first appearing in 2010. Archie Comics made a smart move in giving Kevin his own series, and not only because he's such a charmer. His presence has given the publisher an opportunity to go in new directions while adhering to the classic, kid-friendly formula that Archie readers enjoy. But it turns out that Kevin isn't perfect. Normally confident and poised, he's a nervous wreck as he prepares for his first date. Since he's gay, the event represents another first in a series of refreshingly progressive moves on Archie Comics' part. Writer/artist Dan Parent has never made a big deal of Kevin's sexual orientation, but his stories do acknowledge it in subtle ways that work. The scene where Veronica tearfully confesses to Betty that she still has a big crush on Kevin was surprisingly sad. Parent's script sneaks up on you that way. One minute you're reading a typically gag-filled story, and then he throws in a razor-sharp moment that's unexpected. When Archie tries to give Kevin dating advice, Jughead reminds the redhead that he's in no position to school anyone. "I don't think Kevin’s gonna start the whole love triangle olympics like you've got going on." Zing! Parent's illustrations are, as always, clean and energetic, and Rich Koslowski's bold inks give them crisp definition. Kevin Keller #1 is engaging and fun, and you'll want to know what happens next.


Incredible Hulk #5 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): I haven’t picked up a Hulk comic since I was a teenager, but given Jason Aaron’s past performance, I decided to give this new run a shot, and so far I’ve not been disappointed. I really like the angle that Aaron has taken with the title, it’s one that’s kind of been done before, but Aaron has really taken the Hulk and Banner separation that one step further. In this issue the Hulk battles all manner of Hulked-out wildlife in order to get his hands on Banner, and we’re also treated to a flashback revealing who actually performed the operation that separated them. It’s a fun issue that is packed full of over-the-top action and ridiculous super-science. Aaron isn’t going to win any awards for this one, but it’s a Hulk book and he embraces this fact and just has a blast with it. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Whilce Portacio’s artwork here. There’s a lot of exaggerated and improbably anatomy, and some of the faces he draws look very ugly. I don’t think the inking job helps on this front, as it’s incredibly muddy and sketchy-looking. Incredible Hulk #5 is a quick fun read, but is a bit of a letdown on the art front.


Justice League Beyond #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Sometimes, a book can't escape from what it is. In the case of Justice League Beyond #2, what it is is bite-sized, even by today's standards of decompression. Which is a shame, because if this were a full-length comic, I would read the absolute heck out of it month-in and month-out. Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen really evoke the vibe of the Batman Beyond universe, with Terry, Bruce and company having a really strong voice that translates well from the small screen. Nguyen's artwork in particular looks emotive and polished, particularly when it comes to Terry McGinnis — I love the goofy way he folds his arms and smirks at Commissioner Gordon as they take in two of Gotham's most truant teenagers. But the problem with this book? It is crazy short, barely making it to the inciting incident of the story as a whole, let alone moving us forward towards any kind of conclusion. If we had a better introduction to the rest of the League — which, granted, is what #1 issues are for, instead of second outings — it might be worth it, but even with a diminished price point, it gets to the point where you wonder, am I wasting my money here? At what point does a good deal end and not enough story begins? Justice League Beyond has the potential to be something amazing, but if it's in these bite-sized chunks, I don't know who's going to stick around to see it.


Ninjettes #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; Click here for preview): Al Ewing kicks off his Jennifer Blood spinoff series with a blast, with a debut issue packed full of action, violence, gore and hilarious dialogue. The series tells the origin story of the highly memorable Ninjettes girls who featured briefly in the main series, before being quickly disposed of by the protagonist. Ewing puts together a script that Ennis himself would be proud to put his name to, while still maintaining the wacky uniqueness that fans of Ewing’s 2000 AD work love so much. This is definitely not a comic for the light-hearted, with suggested child molestation, brutal murders, and much more, but Ewing manages to keep things just within the confines of good taste... well, maybe he straddles the line a bit. But if you’ve been reading Jennifer Blood, you probably know what you’re signing up for. Industry newcomer Eman Casallos is the book’s artist, and illustrates the issue in a nice open style that reminds me a bit of the work of Darick Robertson. This look suits the story well, and manages to make the extreme gore and violence a little more light-hearted, which fits with the tone of the book. Ninjettes #1 is a hilariously fun read, and highly recommended for fans of ultra-violence.


Scarlet Spider #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): If you're looking for a comic book fight with the gloves off, take a look at Scarlet Spider #2. It's pretty much a Jason Statham movie with spider-powers, as Peter Parker's clone Kaine begrudgingly swoops in to save the day. I'll be honest in saying that Chris Yost's choice of villain — the fire-wielding Salamander according to the recap, although he references Xiuhcoatl more often in the actual story — is a little less than inspired, but it does give Kaine a challenge to cut loose against. And you know what? The fighting is Yost's greatest strength, anyway, as he knows just how to pace it to Ryan Stegman's strengths. Cartoony with his expressiveness, Stegman is a treat to watch as an artist, not relying on the tried-and-true Spidey poses, but adding a bit of a harder edge to his compositions. In particular, there's a sequence where Kaine uses some unexpected means to save his bacon from getting fried, and seeing the rage in his eyes when he lashes out is really nice (especially since, well, the Scarlet Spider suit still isn't the greatest possible design, especially after Humberto Ramos's first take). This comic isn't particularly deep, but it doesn't have to be — it's breezy action with just a dash of wry humor to balance out the brooding of the main character. I won't lie, I enjoyed this much more than the first issue, and the added benefit is, you don't really need it to get into this one. Sophomore slump, prepare to get clobbered by the Scarlet Spider.


Adventure Time with Finn & Jake #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It's been pretty insane watching “Adventure Time” grow from a single, rejected animated short to the pop culture colossus it is now. The takeover continues as Adventure Time with Finn & Jake #1 invades the comic stands. Ryan North does a good job translating “Adventure Time's” absurd humor to a new medium. It's silly and clearly for kids but that's okay! This is one of those books that can be fun for kids and adults. What's really impressive as well is the quick opening recap. In two pages, new readers can be quickly engulfed in the world of “Adventure Time” even if they previously knew nothing about it. North delivers with a story that's equal parts Saturday morning cartoons and just plain weird. The villainous Lich with his magical bag of holding is sucking up everything in the Land of Ooo including Ooo itself and even Finn wearing a Jake Suit can't stop him! If that sounds strange, it's not even the half of it. Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb handle the art and stick pretty closely to the aesthetic of the cartoon. Licensed books have the potential to alienate original fans if they stray too drastically from a style that already works. Thankfully, Adventure Time with Finn & Jake doesn't have that problem. The book also includes a short backup story written and illustrated by Aaron Renier. It's a quirky little tale, mainly involving the larger “Adventure Time” cast of characters, about a cinnamon bun on a juice cleanse. Renier's indie comics art style combines Pendleton Ward and R. Crumb to interesting effect. I don't think I've ever seen such a terrifying donut. All in all, Adventure Time with Finn & Jake #1 marks a promising debut for the all-new ongoing title.


Penguin: Pain and Prejudice #5 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): When I heard that Gregg Hurwitz was getting his own monthly series again with Batman: The Dark Knight, I was thrilled. The reason why? This book. Penguin: Pain and Prejudice stacks up in the same ways that Devin Grayson and Roger Robinson's Batman: Gotham Knights did 10 years ago — it gets you deep inside a character's head, makes you relate and root for them, and then goes absolutely crazy with the action. Now that Hurwitz has spent the past four issues showing us how the Penguin came to be, this is where the gloves come off, as he's put against Batman himself. Fans of the Nolan movies are going to be pleased as punch to see the Dark Knight cut loose, as he tears through bruisers and buildings alike like a wrecking ball. Artist Szymon Kudranski draws like his life depended on it, with Batman looking less human and more like an elemental force, his body stretching and contorting as though it were constantly in motion. Kudranski has such a great sense of style and atmosphere, combining the strengths of greats like Jock or Lee Bermejo — this isn't just a city or a cavernous mansion, this is a shadowy endgame for two combatants who are no longer as black-and-white as you'd think. That said, this book isn't perfect, as occasionally Kudranski's layouts feel a little cramped, and Hurwitz's concluding message came off as just a bit abrupt, considering how much time he spent building up Oswald Cobblepot. Still, this team has pulled off a major coup with this series, which has to be some of the best DC has published in quite a while. 

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