Greetings, 'Rama Readers! Ready for the lightning round? Best Shots sure is, with a ton of Rapid-Fire Reviews for your reading pleasure! So let's start off with the latest adventures of Selina Kyle, as Jake Baumgart takes a look at the newest issue of Catwoman...Catwoman #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; Click here for preview): With the amazing work on Catwoman #6, the title is standing shoulders above the rest of its reboot peers. This issue, continuing with Judd Winick, Guillem March and Tomeu Morey, is a stand out from an already impressive run. I have mentioned before that March is able to capture this sort of adrenaline junkie, focused feline look in Selina’s eyes but from the start of the issue it’s hauntingly fierce. Even while tied up by crooked cops in the GCPD, the ferocious glint in her eyes conveys more than any dialogue or body language. Morey’s colors are fantastic with the washed out world of Selina’s Gotham mixing with blood red intensity that comes with her lifestyle. The knockdown, drag-out between Reach and Catwoman here is exactly what two female characters in comics should be — brutal. There are no inadvertently sexual angels, no graceful swipes at the other's porcelain skin; just a nasty, bloody throw-down between the hero with nine lives and an Amazon with one heck of a punch. The emotions between Selina and Batman are palpable, as well, adding an interesting layer that was missing from the slinky, sexy Catwoman that was a romantic foil for Batman. She is still those things, but now there is a perspective from Selina that allows the reader to sympathize with the character. Of all the other titles DC is publishing, this is becoming a must-read.
Winter Soldier #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): Reading Winter Soldier #2, you wouldn’t believe that the Cold War ended two decades ago, because Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice are recapturing that old espionage/thriller feel of so many good novels and movies. With Bucky and Black Widow, Brubaker and Guice literally have two relics of the old Soviet empire to play with as their heroes have to clean up the messes they themselves had a hand in. They’re not battling a villain; they’re fighting the ghost of an empire. This issue perfectly captures that feeling, as Guice’s shadowy artwork and Bettie Breitweiser’s climatic coloring give Brubaker’s script a chill that mirrors its subject. Guice pulls off some old-fashioned storytelling, doing a bit of Al Williamson-by-way-of-Steranko artwork that’s dark and secretive. He still manages to get some Kirby and Buscema in there as well, capturing that larger-than-life aspect of his characters even as he keeps them shadowy and mysterious. Brubaker’s exploring those old Cold War espionage stories in a post-Cold War world, building off of everything he’s been doing in Captain America for the past seven years. This is less a second issue of a new series and feels more like it should be the continuation the more interesting aspects of Brubaker’s Captain America, namely the redemption of a good man who was made to do bad things. If anything, after everything that Brubaker put Bucky through, it feels like he’s getting off too easy in this series. The past is there, but it’s not as haunting for Bucky as it once was. Maybe he paid his dues in the last couple of years, but if so, then Bucky’s story ended and there’s nothing left to do with him. While the character can grow and develop, Bucky now sits around, looks cool (and Guice does make him look cool) and kicks ass. And he occasionally snogs Black Widow. Life isn’t too bad for a character who was found guilty of espionage (or something like that) and recently “died.” The characterization of this book is as chillled as Breitweiser’s bluish hues. Road Rage #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Road Rage is a comic adaptation of a novella by Stephen King and Joe Hill called Throttle, which itself was a tribute to the 1971 movie Duel, which was screenwritten by Richard Matheson based on his own short story of the same name. Now I haven’t read the novella, so I can’t comment on how good an adaptation this is, but the Spielberg directed movie was responsible a lot of creepy nightmares when I was a kid. Chris Ryall spends most of this debut issue setting the scene, and introducing us to the characters - this version replaces the original’s travelling salesman with a troop of meth dealing, murderous bikers. His script is pretty good, but a lot of it feels to have been lifted out of the prose version, which makes for a few clunky segments where the narration gives more information than needed, given that the artwork is depicting the same thing. He does a good job of adapting the story into the episodic format, with a nice cliffhanger, but I found that with such unsympathetic characters, I wasn’t all that bothered whether they live or die. Nathan Daniel provides some nice artwork, very rich in detail, which gives the story a bit of a noir feel. Though my only criticism is that he overuses the screentone effect a little too much. Road Rage #1 is a fun read with some nice artwork, but I just found I couldn’t get invested in the characters’ fate.
DC Universe Presents #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10; Click here for preview): Well, this one is a story in frustration. I love DC's weird teams from the Silver Age of comics. The Sea Devils, Doom Patrol, or the Challengers of the Unknown facing off against the He-Demons of Hollow Earth or something. Anything cool or weird, or better still, both. DC Universe Presents #6 is just frustrating. Turning the Challengers of the Unknown team into a reality show could have been interesting, were it 10 years ago. Now is just feels like lazy storytelling. I've read this issue a few times now and I still don't really know what is happening or the point. Even worse, I don't really care what happens to this group of people, and this is coming from a Challengers fan. I can't imagine what the casual DC reader thinks. Dan DiDio and Jerry Ordway, who share story and art credit, draft incredibly one-dimensional people. While the classic Challengers are made up of heroic cliches, that doesn't mean they need to act as such. Mind you, it isn't all bad. There are some moments in the book where you can see fun doing it's best to come out, like when a giant mountain beast attacks the team, but those moments are annoyingly fleeting. I have no doubt that both DiDio and Ordway have a love for these characters created by Jack Kirby and David Wood, but it's their execution where I find fault. Packed with jokes of celebrity sex tapes (nice to see Green Arrow is still the you-know-what of the DC universe), slipping TV ratings and clunky art, DC Universe Presents #6 is everything I hoped it wouldn't be. Boring and forgettable.
Amazing Spider-Man #679.1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): The problem with long-running mysteries is that if you don't have a strong enough payoff, it can leave a bit of a sour taste in the reader's mouth. Unfortunately, that's what happens with Amazing Spider-Man #679.1, a done-in-one issue with strong execution that will ultimately be overlooked by some deficiencies in content. Dan Slott, who is paired with Chris Yost on writing duties, is smart to use teenage scientist wunderkind Uatu Jackson as our narrator, continuing to spice up Peter Parker's supporting cast. That said, when things start warming up with the action, the storytelling does get a little murky (not to mention that it still doesn't quite click why this person would wind up in Lab Six). Artwise, Matthew Clark wouldn't have been my first pick for a Spidey book, with his somewhat jagged figures running counter to the fluid, expressive nature of Spider-Man, but damn if he isn't putting his all into this one, with Uatu having just the right balance of whimsy and badass, and Spidey having a very clean, Mike McKone-esque vibe to him. With some nice fallout to complicate Peter's life further, this is a decent, accessible, albeit imperfect entry point for anyone interested in the Amazing Spider-Man.
Star Wars – Dawn of the Jedi #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Aaron Duran;'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10; Click here for preview): Focusing on the literal finding of the Force and the earliest days of the Jedi (then called Je'Daii), Star Wars – Dawn of the Jedi is about as early as prequels can get. While I don't know if we actually want to know the whole story, the premise is interesting enough, and writer John Ostrander has a pretty good track record in Star Wars with Legacy and Agent of the Empire. However, his storytelling falters a bit with this new series, mainly due to the massive amount of exposition required to get the ball rolling. The issue is packed with a lot of so-and-so begat so-and-so, with very little advancement of the main characters we'll be following in this first arc. Jan Duursema is one of the better artists to bring the Star Wars universe to life and she doesn't falter here. With a story taking place in such an early era, Duursema is able to draw a more organic setting and really showcases her skills. Her characters have a real sense of weight and presence within this galaxy, a galaxy that still feels very large and untamed. Dan Parsons on inks and Wes Dzioba on colors help establish the setting as well, with colors and shadows that maintain a mood for each world; a staple within Star Wars. This first issue is an enjoyable read, although very little happens until the final pages. It's too bad Ostrander didn't trust the reader enough to simply jump into the action, and allow history to unfold with the characters. As it stands, Star Wars – Dawn of the Jedi #1 is a very basic foundation to a potentially grand house.
Venom #13.2 (Published by Marvel Comic; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): The ‘Circle of Four’ mini event continues into its third chapter, as writer Rob Williams delivers another wonderfully fun issue, packed full of action, excitement, comic relief, and some great character work. Things go from bad to worse for our quartet of antiheroes, as they continue to battle their antitheses, and Ghost Rider faces a very tough decision. I’ve been really impressed with this crossover so far, more so than with any number of big name character crossovers. I think that what makes it work so well is that while the characters are B-listers, the creative teams are A-List all the way. The sad things is that the storyline has made me really interested in the character of X-23, but Marvel have just cancelled her solo book, along with the new Ghost Rider. Come on Marvel, we need more books with strong female leads, not less! I’ve never seen Sana Takeda’s artwork before, and after being treated to chapters illustrated by Tony Moore and Lee Garbett I wasn’t expecting to be wowed again, but boy was I wrong. Takeda puts together some great pages that range from cartoony and manga-esque in places, to incredibly detailed compositions in others. Everything is brought to life with a great color job that takes full advantage of the digital medium. If you’re looking for a great superhero crossover, Venom #13.2 is a hell of a good read.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10; Click here for preview): After all the action, after all the controversy, six months in, we're finally starting to get a glimpse of the man behind the Red Hood. And believe me, this sort of humanizing has been way overdue. Largely actionless besides a perfunctory intro, Scott Lobdell's broad plot of "How Jason Met Kory" is made a little less frenetic thanks to Josh Williamson's scripting. There are some actual moments of tenderness between the Red Hood and Starfire, particularly as far as their relationships with Jason's predecessor, Nightwing, and the fact that there's even a bit of a theme to this book is pretty surprising, considering the action-heavy, sex-drenched excess this book embodied at its launch. (That said, there is still some weirdness to the atmosphere, particularly Kory longingly holding the Nightwing suit up to her face. Does she have to be defined by the men in her life?) Even though things are pretty still in the story, Kenneth Rocafort does draw some beautiful work, with Starfire being an obvious knockout, and her lush tropical hideout being one of the more intoxicating settings I've seen in the New 52. (Then again, we've also seen it before, so how long before we tire of this?) Blond's colorwork will likely polarize some, as you could easily argue that it takes over the story with powerful violets and blues — that said, I think it softens Rocafort's rendered lines and lends the book a striking, sometimes psychedelic energy. Make no mistake, this story is plenty convenient, and there are some plot holes you could drive a truck through, but I'd be remiss if I didn't say it wasn't going in a direction that I liked. If this sort of character-based set-up had taken place in the first issue as opposed to the sixth, I wonder how differently people would feel about Red Hood and the Outlaws today.
Ultimate X-Men #7 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): The return of the X-Men to the Ultimate Universe was a welcome sight back in October. Nick Spencer’s inaugural arc coupled high-stakes situations with excellent storytelling, two ingredients sorely missed as the first volume of the series faded into the Ultimatum event. The second arc starts with Issue #7, as Spencer explores the repercussions of Quicksilver’s grave miscalculation involving Cerebra, the Nimrods and William Stryker. With Stryker’s consciousness now transferred to the Nimrods, Quicksilver is responsible for a mutant massacre and he’s desperate to make things right. So the issue bounces back and forth between the speedster’s current feelings and his thought process when he essentially gave the government a means to kill all the mutants. He defers to his sister, Wanda, and thankfully Spencer doesn’t delve into the weird relationship that these two have shared in the Ultimate Universe. Despite the magnitude of the situation, he still handles the two characters like what they are on a base level, siblings, which makes for some fun back and forth between the two. But as it gets closer to the conclusion, the end reveal becomes painfully clear and considering Spencer’s heavy usage of Quicksilver in the first arc, it should really come as no surprise. When you need to set up a new big bad for the X-Men, it’s inevitable that the master of magnetism is close to the top of the list. Carlo Barberi pencils probably the best issue I’ve ever seen from him. For a very specifically character-based issue, he manages to extract a range of emotions through the use of strong expressions. While some of his anatomy might need a little work (I'm pretty sure Scarlet Witch defies the laws of gravity), artistically, the issue is overall a solid one. Solid performances from everyone on the team result in an issue that moves the plot along and serves as a mini character study on Quicksilver. While the big reveal is a bit predictable, Spencer is surely setting up readers for something big. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!