Best Shots Rapid Reviews: FF, FIRESTORM, More

Greetings, 'Rama Readers! Buckle in and get ready, because Best Shots is packing your weekly Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off with Webslinger meeting Hothead, as we take a peek at the latest issue of FF...


FF #17 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Spider-Man has a new roommate in Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, and you had better believe hilarity ensues in the latest issue of FF. Imagine The Odd Couple with just a dash of The Hangover by the end, and you've got Jonathan Hickman's character-driven script. But before I get too carried away on Hickman, the real hero of this book is artist Nick Dragotta, whose old-school, Ditko-influenced art style makes this story look like it could have been from the Swingin' Sixties. Of course, we're in an era where the rules are a lot looser, which makes for an even more delicious tension — Peter's about-to-explode expressiveness gives much of the book its humor, and Johnny literally breathing fire after taking an interstellar space shot is a superb moment. (There's another beat involving two horses that's my pick for best moment in the book.) The only disappointment I had was Hickman veers the story towards The Hangover near the end, and to be honest, that feels like a tease — that premise alone could have filled an entire comic (and maybe been even more fun). But considering Spidey and the Torch have to be role models with great power and great responsibilities, I can understand the drunken debauchery being left to a minimum. Either which way, FF #17  is a done-in-one comedy piece that you should not miss.


The Fury of Firestorm #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): I'm not quite sure where this book is headed, but I'll say this — The Fury of Firestorm looks great. Ethan Van Sciver balances the sinister and the sublime really well, going from Ronnie's rather scary-looking transformation/disintegration to Jason turning a giant piece of debris into an avalanche of gorgeous rose petals. And the other thing — it's been so long since I've seen Van Sciver draw a superheroine, but there's more character in Firehawk's arched eyebrow than some comics have in 20 pages. This French Firestorm is hot, and in more ways than one. But the rapid expansion of the cast does worry me some, as Jason still hasn't gotten much definition yet from Van Sciver and co-writer Joe Harris, and the "international weapon" aspect does skew a little too similar to The Ultimates to my taste. Our boys aren't feeling quite unique enough yet, and having international copies with the same powers only compounds that effect. Still, the core concept of Persons of Mass Destruction could still be salvaged and given its own spin away from Mark Millar's famed works — hopefully this book can leverage Van Sciver's artistic chops long enough to make its story a self-sufficient process.


AVX: VS #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): This might be the best sort of companion book for a company-wide event like The Avengers vs. X-Men. AVX: VS #1 features the one on one fights between Marvel’s heavy hitters and showcases the struggle between the two heroes both mentally and physically. The title page sets up the book nicely with a tongue-in-cheek Q&A session suggesting that if you’re looking for plot, go somewhere else- this book is about the heavy blows! The first throw down between Iron Man and Magneto (by writer Jason Aaron and art by Adam Kubert and Morry Hollowell) featured the sizzling schematics of the battle of between the Master of Magnetism and Tony Stark. Without giving anything away, one of the highlights of the match up were the ‘AvX Fun Facts’ that added a sense of levity to things and also provided readers with the sort of facts that might be mulled over for future hypothetical battles between fans. Kubert seemed less than fully invested in his contribution to the issue with his panels featuring minalistic renderings and layouts full of big, oversized panels. The Thing and Namor fight  (by Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger) was a lot of fun as well. Stuart Immonen utilized his page space much better than Kubert by enhancing the action with splashes and characters breaking through the panels. All too often tie-in books for summer events are too supplemental and work harder to squeeze that extra penny from the reader. AvX #1 brings the action and is a quick, fun read.


Star Wars: Blood Ties – Boba Fett is Dead #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10) There is something to be said for fan service. The kind of story that plays directly to your core demographic. Blood Ties: Boba Fett is aims directly for that big old nostalgia target and darn near nails it. The title alone is enough to get a Star Wars fan to pick the issue up without hesitation, and it also explains the story quite well. Shoot, page one, there he is. Dead as a Porkins in a trench run. Is it a cool set-up? Sure. Do we readers buy it for one second? Heck no. But that's half the fun from writer Tom Taylor. He knows none of us are going to buy Fett's death, especially in the era this series takes place. But, Taylor peppers the story with just the right amount of intrigue and galactic lowlifes that we're on board for the ride. Though not required reading, those unfamiliar with the previous Blood Ties story might be a little lost with some returning characters. But, as I said in the beginning, this book is all about the fan service and I doubt many new readers are claiming this issue as their first Star Wars (or even Boba Fett) comic. The art by Chris Scalf is visually pleasing from a color stance, but is a little lacking in the areas of kinetic energy and movement. You can tell his real strength lies in compelling cover art. When setting the scene, Scalf's art works wonderfully as he provides as much attention to the primary characters as he does the background art. However, his action scenes look very static and posed, as do the quieter one on one character moments. Still, some stilted art did little to distract me from a comic that promises some classic revenge action that won't stop 'til everyone is killed to death. Cool.


Captain America & Hawkeye #629 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Captain America begat Captain America & Bucky, which in turn begat Captain America & Hawyeye, and apparently after the first four-issue arc the title will once again change to Captain America & Iron Man, with more team-ups to follow. To be honest, this title has really just stayed on my pull list from the days of the original Cap series, and while none of the post-Bru stories have been particularly bad, none of them have been particularly memorable either. However, with a new creative team, and a new title, comes renewed hope, especially when the new writer is Cullen Bunn, whose work on The Sixth Gun is some of the best writing in comics today. Sadly though, that hope is short-lived, as this first issue proves to be somewhat uninspired and formulaic. The plot involves Cap and Hawkeye heading to New Mexico to find a missing group of environmentalists, which ends up with them battling technologically enhanced dinosaurs. Bunn uses the opportunity to play the characters of Cap and Hawkeye off of each other - one being a by-the-book patriot, and the other being a roguish former villain - and to that end provides some witty banter between the two, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and it’s a relationship that has been explored rather extensively in recent issues of Secret Avengers. The artwork is by Alessandro Vitti, and while you can tell he has a good sense of composition, and some nice linework, he has a tendency to ink too heavily, which makes several faces look very ugly, and some scenes look messy and muddy.  Captain America & Bucky #629 is only recommended for the most die-hard Cap fans, otherwise, seek your Cap fill elsewhere.


Wolverine #305  (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10; Click here for preview): For a character pushing 40 years old, Wolverine stills acts as a creative cipher for whomever writes for him at that moment. That's why his stories run the gamut from classic superhero adventures, to full on horror tales; which is exactly where writer Cullen Bunn wants to take him. I'm just not convinced this take on him will stick. Wolverine #305 is pretty standard set-up. Some bad killing has been going on all over the country and Logan finds himself back in rural America, with some pretty sketchy holes in his memory and blood on his hands. He patches enough together to find himself at an asylum from his earlier days. Things go badly from there. Like I said, not the most groundbreaking of Wolverine stories. Bunn has a lot of skill in world building and setting the mood for a series. But to be honest, were I not familiar with his work in The Sixth Gun, I don't know if I be as forgiving as I am with Wolverine #305. Paul Pelletier on penciling shows a good eye for composition, and his fights scenes are appropriately brutal. Not sure if he has an eye for horror just yet. I know this is a Wolverine book, but the story foundation requires a hand in the macabre and I just don't see it with Pelletier's line art. The inking and colors, by David Meikes and Rain Beredo respectively, also don't help. Their work is clean and vibrant, but do not lend themselves to the type of story Bunn is trying to tell. Never once did I get a sense of dread as Wolverine learned more and more of his actions in the grisly crimes. Still, with all that said, this isn't a bad title. The creators have a clear vision for this story and I can see all the pieces. If they can pull them together for #306, we'll have a hit. For now? Swing and a miss.


The Activity #5 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The Activity is the latest creator-owned project from Nathan Edmondson, the writer of such acclaimed series as The Light and Who is Jake Ellis?. This latest title is an espionage series, which follows a team of elite government agents, as they carry out beyond-top-secret missions into enemy territory. This issue finds the team captured by Taiwanese forces, and subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques;” meanwhile, through a series of flashbacks, we get to see how Locke ended up joining the team. This was a great story, with a smart and surprising twist at the end, and followed the done-in-one story format that all previous issues have used - in this way it reminds me strongly of Warren Ellis’ Global Frequency. Edmonson grounds the series firmly in reality, with lots of military lingo and technical jargon, but thankfully steers clear of veering into Tom Clancy territory. While I’m enjoying the done-in-one nature of the stories, and there is an ongoing thread of members of the government wanting to shut the team down, my only criticism of the series is that it feels like it needs more of an overarching story, to tie everything together a bit better. Mitch Gerads is the series artist, and provides some nice pages in this issue, highlighted by some great character work, a strong talent for composition, some interesting panel arrangements, and nice use of heavy blacks in his inking - enhancing the covert and shadowy nature of the missions. If you are a fan of espionage stories, The Activity #5 should be right up your alley.


Daredevil #11 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Don't get me wrong, there's been a lot to like about "The Omega Effect," teaming up Spider-Man, the Punisher and Daredevil, but I think this saga hit its peak in the first installment, and was unable to top itself moving forward. Part of the problem is that even though this is primarily Daredevil's story — after all, he's in the crosshairs of five crime syndicates after stealing a hard drive with all their secrets — his story doesn't move anywhere. Instead, the only real fallout comes to the Punisher, and even that is tangential, relating to his new sidekick, Rachel Cole-Alves. Considering Punisher has been the most unassuming and quiet of the three franchises, it's a little underwhelming, even as Waid lets Matt Murdock's infamous temper flare up just a little bit. That said, with DD and Rachel taking up most of the spotlight, the friction that comes from Spidey and Frank also feels a little muted, which is too bad. Artist Marco Checchetto still looks slick and stylish (particularly with the acrobatic fight sequences), but I'm also a little disappointed that he wasn't able to add some more visual tricks to this issue, since that's been a hallmark of the Daredevil series since this book was relaunched. The purple radar and heartbeat monitor line is a start, but it could have been a lot more. Ultimately, this book suffers most from its high expectations — this team is capable of some fantastic stuff, and the low-impact conclusion of "The Omega Effect" doesn't quite hit that mark.


Superman #8 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): When you reread Superman #8 for the second or third time, you start to see a really interesting core concept at play — the only problem is, there's a lot of awkward storytelling choices muddling up the message. Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens jump erratically at first from the soap operatic antics of Lois and Lucy Lane, then move to a nearly apocalyptic-feeling chase sequence, all before getting to the real story — namely, Superman fighting back against the Daemonites. I like the underlying message here — namely, there's still a lot of global unease surrounding Earth's Mightiest Alien, but underneath it all, Superman is really driven by his all-too-human parents. That's a great concept, but it takes way too long to get there, and to be honest, is speechifying your mind-controlling kidnapper really the smartest thing to do, instead of knocking this sucker out? (To be fair, Superman does get his badass moments here, particularly when he shrugs off a direct hit from a giant boulder.) The other problem with this book?  Jesus Merino and Dan Jurgens' artwork just feels anachronistic, sort of a Mark Bagley-style normality that doesn't really play up the cinematic side of Superman, that compositionally striking force of nature that is a thrill to see in action. Their chase sequence, for example, doesn't really have any memorable beats to it, which is a shame — with the increasingly panicked radio balloons crowding the page, they could have made the scene seem really dark, desperate, claustrophobic, but no such luck here. This is ultimately too bad, because I do see a glimmer of why DC decided to relaunch its most enduring character, right here in this very issue — Superman could be the True North of this darker, more distrustful DC Universe. But if Superman wants to be a flagship title, it needs to start acting like it — and looking like it — fast.


Uncanny X-Men #11 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Like most tie-in books during a huge crossover event, the stories begin to repeat themselves both in the narrative and art. With Uncanny X-Men #11 it’s more of the same if you have been keeping up with the Avengers vs. X-Men. Kieron Gillen gets to write from a different perspective of the events that have already transpired like Cyclops’ optic blast against Captain America and Hope fleeing Utopia. Perhaps the best bit from this issue was the underwater fight between Red Hulk and Colossus. Although it might have been better suited for AVX this week, it was definitely needed in this story to make the book worth picking up. This isn’t at the fault of the writer; it’s just how many more times is Marvel going to let a book out with that same scene in it over and over? It was nice that the last couple of pages moved the over-arching story forward a tad instead of bringing readers up to speed with what happened four weeks ago. Greg Land’s pencils were sort of hit or miss. He seems to be at his strongest when Rulk and Colossus are pounding away at one another and really knows how to make these two monsters look a little more human. However, Land is at his weakest when it comes to the almost computer-rendered photographs of human characters, with his eerie and creepy looking faces and poses. Uncanny X-Men #11 can be a fun read, but it certainly isn’t essential.

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