Greetings, 'Rama Readers! Best Shots is already moving faster than fast, with this week's edition of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off with the secrets of Paradise Island, as Erika takes a look at the latest issue of Wonder Woman...
Wonder Woman #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): You don’t fully appreciate what a gifted illustrator brings to a comic book until he or she is absent. After two issues of Wonder Woman fill-in art, it’s great to see the return of Cliff Chiang’s bold, exceptional work. Together, Chiang and writer Brian Azzarello are one of the best creative teams of the not-so-new 52. And speaking of Mr. Azzarello, he is on a roll with the big reveals. The Amazons of Themyscira (or Paradise Island, if you’re going way back) have, for the most part, been presented as noble warriors. But in this issue, the writer shows us a predatory, cruel side of Wonder Woman’s sisters that will take many readers by surprise. It certainly throws Diana for a loop during her mission to rescue Zola, the mortal young woman who is pregnant with Zeus’ child. In her haste to do what she perceives as the right thing, our heroine learns the hard truth about her people and the wrenching consequences of their actions. Chiang's character design continues to impress. I got a kick out of his vision of Eros who, aside from the guns, looks like he just stepped out of a Banana Republic ad. It's understandable that the shock factor of Wonder Woman #7 might further alienate fans who remain attached to Wonder Woman’s pre-relaunch background, especially following the headline news that Zeus is her father. But speaking as a longtime fan of the character, I think Azzarello’s risk-taking has paid off. Chiang assumes co-writer duties in the next issue, and it's a good bet that more fireworks are ahead.
Amazing Spider-Man #682 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): On the face of it — or maybe I should say, the costume? — Amazing Spider-Man #682 seemed like a suspect idea at best. The new duds that the wall-crawler is wearing screams “X-Games Spider-Man,” but given the amazing work by the entire creative team on this book, even the casual reader of Spidey can get excited about "Ends of the Earth." Yes, the heavily publicized costume looks like a Spider-Man action figure released late in the toy line with a dune buggy, but that's only part of the story. Throughout the issue, the art by Stefano Caselli is phenomenal. His work perfectly rides the line between serious action super-hero and Saturday morning cartoon, incorporating classic and iconic looks while still keeping the wallcrawler in the modern day. The line work isn’t heavy and overbearing, and instead opts for solid-looking figures and saves the many small pencil ticks for delicate details. The coloring by Frank Martin, Jr. also gets points here, genuinely adding to the pencils and not distracting from it. The gentle shading and coloring of pencil lines reduces the black on the page and gives a sunny, light-hearted tone to the book that is a great match for Spider-Man. Writer Dan Slott really nails the character's voice, too, by balancing the quip-fueled ADD mind of a genius with heart and valor of a hero. Although trying to keep the hero updated, Slott doesn’t lose the core of the character. If you have been curious about Spider-Man, this is the issue to pick up.
Supercrooks #1 (Published by Icon; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10; Click here for preview): Picking up a new creator-owned project from Mark Millar always feels like I'm sitting down at the Roulette table. I never quite know what to expect — but it always seems to be all or nothing. The premise of Supercrooks is interesting, if not as original as or . There are too many dang superheroes in America, so lets go somewhere else to commit crime. In this case, Spain. This debut issue is all normal team building stuff. Johnny Bolt is a B or Clist supervillain that's tired of losing. When a mentor screws up big time and owes the Vegas bosses some money, he hatches his international plan. My biggest issue stems from an underlying tone within the book. It's all style and very little substance. It's one thing to write characters that you don't like, but it's another to find them all wholly uninteresting. I don't feel any form of emotional investment with the characters Millar writes. As they stand, they're just empty shells that occasional explode from a punch or drop an F-bomb. Although I wasn't his biggest fan during Secret Invasion, I think Leinil Yu on art helped to elevate the book a bit more. His sense of motion and action in Super Crooks is stronger than ever. The opening fight scene helps to set the tone in which these character live, all without the seasoning of profanity to remind us that this is an adult book. His paneling also adds a very cinematic feel to each page. Colorist Sunny Gho deserves some credit in the art department as well. His muted colors help to downplay the heroic nature of people in costumes. This isn't a bright and joyous world where everyone looks up in the sky for a savior. This is a world that's seen it all before and is no longer impressed by their gods. Still, as much as I enjoyed the visuals in Super Crooks, I just don't care about the people in it.
Thunderbolts #171 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10; <a href=/14576-previews-for-all-marvel-titles-shipping-march-21-2012.html?iid=000/056/266> Sometimes it's easy to get swooped up in events or marquee titles and forget the gems sitting on the spinner rack. The Thunderbolts is that gem. Just sitting there, screaming for me to put down “Ultimate this” or “New 52 that”. And when I do, it's issues like 171 that remind me why this is one of Marvel's unsung slices of gold. Songbird is on a much-needed vacation in a tropical paradise. Alas, this is a superhero comic, so the poor girl isn't going to catch much of a break. Enter creepy mad scientists, fish mutants, and some serious butt kicking. Basically, classic Jeff Parker. As is often the case with Parker writing these characters, it's less about the overall story and more about the moment. It's fun to watch a reformed villain enjoy life as a civilian, if only for a moment or two. Parker makes these larger than life characters feel normal, as if you could run into a pink-haired hero while drinking Mai-Tais at the pool. Still, what impressed me the most was his handling of her capture. In a scene that could have easily fallen into the realm of exploitation, we see Songbird's true strength come through. These villains do some nasty things to her, but instead of feeling put off by what I read, all I could think was, “you guys are toast." Kev Walker on pencils is due as much of the credit as well. His vision for Songbird is one of grace and poise, but can turn on the true power when she's pushed hard enough. Walker also shows how you can have a heroine spend the bulk of an issue in a bikini and never once give into gratuity. Scenes are never once drawn for titillation (save a great little James Bond homage) and it helps sell this character as the true leader she's evolving into. I don't know what the future holds for this title. So for now, I will keep singing the praises of Marvel's glorious misfits.
The Strange Talent of Luther Strode #6 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The “what if someone in the ‘real world’ got superpowers” premise has become a little overused of late, but this series sees writer Justin Jordan breath new life into the concept. Not only did he pick an hilariously inventive way to give superpowers to his teenaged protagonist, but where this series really differed from the many similar titles out there is in the incredibly likeable, and well written, characters. I was particularly impressed with the character of Petra - a strong and independent female character who proves that girlfriends in superhero comics can be more than just cannon fodder for the bad guys. I started to lose confidence a bit at the middle of the series, when Jordan wrote in a superfluous origin story for the villain, linking him to the biblical Cain, which is just a terrible cliché. The series really returned to its prime with the last two issues though, and this finale finishes things in spectacular fashion. It’s an action packed showdown, punctuated by shocking surprises and heart-wrenching moments. The final page is a perfect ending the character’s personal story, and concludes things in a very final way. Tradd Moore brings the story to life with slightly cartoony artwork that suits the story perfectly. His action scenes are highly dynamic, and his style keeps all the blood and gore from looking over-the-top. The Strange Talent of Luther Strode #6 is an impressive finale to a great character-driven superhero series.
Batman #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): After six action-heavy issues, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo stop to catch their collective breath with this interlude issue of Batman. After barely surviving his clash with the Court of Owls, Batman's a surprisingly human figure, as unhinged as I've seen him since, well, when Bane broke his back in . I like Scott Snyder's take of Batman being basically the ultimate townie, that his knowledge of Gotham City is what his self-fueled mythology is founded upon, and that a secret society like the Court can throw all that confidence into question. Yet there is a lot of exposition and explanation to this issue, and so Greg Capullo winds up operating at half-strength. There's a great riff on , where Capullo gets to play up the drama with his intense eyes and moody shadows, but after Bruce takes off his mask in the present day, the conversation-heavy scenes with Nightwing seem alternatively a little too cartoony and a little over-rendered with Bruce's combat damage. (That said, Capullo does great work with an eerie first-person perspective of Talon, the Court of Owl's top-tier class of assassin.) This story is great from a plot perspective, as it ties in Nightwing and Gotham City's hidden past far better than, say, Snyder's architecture-based . But after the rock 'em, sock 'em pace of the past six issues, this much denouement is a little bit like whiplash.
Ragemoor #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Reading Ragemoor is like stepping into a narrative time-machine. The story is very basic. Master Herbert is the tortured owner of Ragemoor, a brooding castle with a very dark past. Convinced his home is cursed, he attempts to persuade his skeptical (and all too greedy) relative to leave before it's too late. Within a few pages, writer Jan Strnad reveals in classic horror fashion that it is already too late. And that's what I mean by a narrative time machine. You see every single written twist and turn coming, but if you're a connoisseur of the classic Universal or Hammer horror films, you wouldn't want it any other way. However, Ragemoor is less about the writing and more about the setting and visual feast. Something that artist Richard Corben lays on very thick. Reading Ragemoor, I found myself wondering if Corben uses pencils at all, or simply dives directly onto the page with a heavy brush. His use of shadows and negative space truly sells the idea that evil lurks around every corner. That you risk your very life when you dare leave what little light permeates this house. His character work is extremely expressive, with facial tones revealing all we need to know about a person. In fact, I don't think a reader would even need dialog to understand the conversation between Herbert and his ambitious guests. There are some moments of extreme violence, but in the classic style, Corben shows us just enough to allow our imaginations to find the terror between the panels. I know Ragemoor won't be to everyone's liking. However, if you miss the days of Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, then Ragemoor is a place you simply must visit.
Green Lantern Corps #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): When Geoff Johns first relaunched the Green Lantern franchise, he described it as meets , the quintessential "space cops." Yet Peter Tomasi has since made sister title Green Lantern Corps more like a war comic, and this John Stewart-focused issue is no exception. What happens when a good soldier has a bad death? What do you tell the family? And how do you deal with the grief and guilt of knowing that it was at your hand? Stewart's plight is mentioned overtly, but Tomasi also plays up the quieter nature of the character, letting the reader fill in the blanks of what must be going through his head as he delivers the body of a fallen Lantern to his family. Artist Claude St. Aubin is a good fit to fill in for regular penciller Fernando Pasarin, as they share that same sort of openness in design that lets you really see the expressions on everyone's faces. It's not flashy by any means, but Tomasi hasn't made a flashy story — this is serious, somber, and the lack of overt drama in the lighting or environments means that we can focus on characters mourning their own. Green Lantern Corps #7 will likely be overlooked because of its low-key art, but the story hits home in a way that none of its sister titles have yet achieved.
Monocyte #3 (Published by IDW; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): is a series created and written by Menton3 and industry newcomer Kasra Ghanbari, with artwork by Menton3. The concept of the story is rather hard to explain in the confines of this review, but the simple explanation is that it's a dystopian fable about two warring races who utilize mankind as fodder and slaves, then one day an enigmatic one-eyed creature appears on the battlefield, and destroys the delicate balance of power. Suffice to say that the comic consists of a highly cerebral blend of horror, science fiction, and fantasy that is staggering in its refreshing originality. The issue’s script is incredibly cerebral, which may put a few casual readers off, but those willing to stay the course will experience an intensely engrossing story that takes far longer to consume that the average five minute comic story, and rewards repeat readings. Menton3’s artwork on this book is by far the most impressive of his career thus far, and is certain to establish him as one of the best fine artists working in comics today. His style here is a stunning mixture of intricate linework, oil painting on canvas, and digital painting. Every page looks like breathtaking beautiful painting that could be appreciated in its own right, but still manages to maintain the flow of the sequential storytelling. The overall effect looks like a gothic horror that draws inspiration from the likes of H.R. Geiger and Clive Barker. Monocyte #3 is an uncompromisingly smart story that both embraces and challenges what is possible with the comic book medium. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!