Best Shots Rapid Reviews: UNCANNY X-FORCE, BATMAN, More

Greetings, 'Rama Readers! Ready for the lightning round? Best Shots is running too fast, too furious, with this week's installment of our Rapid-Fire Reviews! So let's kick off today's column with a bang, as Vanessa Gabriel takes a look at the start of "Final Execution" in Uncanny X-Force #25...


Uncanny X-Force #25 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): Uncanny X-Force is the little engine that always could. Twenty-four issues is a long time to pack the mighty wallop that Rick Remender tends to bring to his antiheroes. I thought the events of "The Dark Angel Saga" would be hard to top, but Remender pulled it off on Otherworld. But after reading Issue #25, I wonder how Uncanny X-Force can maintain its signature level of intensity without emanating a been-there-done-that kind of vibe. Uncanny X-Force #25 is the first chapter of the Final Execution arc. It spends most of the issue planting plot seeds, and allowing Deadpool to say and do ridiculous things. Psylocke gave up her ability to feel sorrow and Fantomex is seemingly in love with her; their futures as assassins are up in the air. Wolverine is left with Age of Apocalypse Nightcrawler and a Wade that has a new, pretty face and no healing factor. How is Logan going to defeat the next bad thing with just these two? Perhaps a team change-up is on the horizon. Mike McKone's art is good. From backgrounds to facial close-ups, I was really blown away by the crispness of it all. McKone's striking clarity combined with Dean White's vibrant (and fantastic) color work were doing things to me… aesthetically. McKone's style is a nice fit for Uncanny X-Force. For those who miss Jerome Opeña, he graces us with his art in the celebratory 25th issue back-up reprints. Uncanny X-Force #25 is a lot of comic.


Batman #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): After seeing the vulnerable, human, side of Bruce Wayne leading up to the Night of the Owls event, Batman #9 brings in an element that hasn’t been as present in the past few issues — Batman is a badass. He is the man that has conquered so much, and that’s why he is so beloved — and Issue #9 delivers on this. The gloves come off (or, rather, “on,” in the high-tech The Dark Knight Returns-suit) and Batman is able to cut loose on a fleet of Talon assassins. Scott Snyder nails it with having spent so much time tearing Bruce apart in the previous issues, it’s great to see him come back and prove to Gotham, and the reader, what he’s made of. Greg Capullo’s art might occasionally need a second run-through for readers to see the details and scope of what he is doing, but it’s always worth it. Capullo is able to capture the scope of a emotional moment without ruining it with an overbearing sense of style or linework. The tissue that connects the other books in the cross over is thin and not over-bearing like so many events before it, offering glimpses into the other books without relying heavily on the reader to have consumed them all. It’s wonderful to have a Bat-event book that isn’t steeped in 70-plus years of history and is accessible to new readers and long-time fans.


Avenging Spider-Man #7 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): As far as I'm concerned, Kathryn and Stuart Immonen can wokr on She-Hulk forever. Even though Spider-Man is on the cover (and indeed saves the day), the Jade Giantess absolutely steals the show for Avenging Spider-Man. Kathryn Immonen has no problem imbuing this comic with a sense of whimsy, as Spidey and Shulkie square off against an Egyptian cat goddess who decided that the best way to improve She-Hulk is to send a wave of kittens after her. This comic is also a great example of Marvel's recent trend of character-on-character conflict, which is driving the Avengers movie into the stratosphere — of course Spidey would try to mooch off She-Hulk for free food, and of course She-Hulk would brush him off (and then go to a museum in full costume). Stuart Immonen also really clicks here, with his expressive characters really selling the funny bits of this script, while still injecting that superheroic power to keep this kitten-centric story interesting. It's bite-sized and doesn't quite reach enough with the goofy premise to make the book truly memorable, but this reads like a fun episode of a cartoon. Either way, this book proves that it's easy reading green.


Fatale #5 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; ‘Rama Rating 8 out of 10; Click here for preview) : How many times has a satanic cult and the demons it summons wreaked havoc in a work of fiction? Lots. Yet somehow Ed Brubaker keeps Fatale from sliding down the slippery slope of cliché. The noir tropes are abound, but they become sharp and nostalgic by Sean Phillips cool, charismatic hand. Fatale is scintillation. Fatale is scary. Fatale is a game that has just thrown its royal flush on the table, but magically enough, that's not all it’s holding. Brubaker really conveys the severe emotions spinning the respective world of each character, and their flaws… are not their fault. I feel for Jo. I feel for Walt. But mostly, I feel for Hank because we know just how bitter he will end up. Fatale #5 spends much of its time in the past unveiling the evil that is the driving force for Jo's actions, and makes clear that there is so much potential for the part of the story that lies in the present. A woman out of time, a woman through the times — Josephine's suffering, sacrifice and manipulation have only just begun. There is so much more to her story, and the men that are enthralled to her power. The mystery is mysterious, the monsters are monstrous, and the men are suffering because the dame is beautiful, cunning, but most imperatively, she's determined to survive. Fatale #5 shows its hairy belly with no shame, instilling fear with no fear. You can't help but be inexplicably curious for what is next.


Wolverine and the X-Men #10 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): It took 10 issues and a crossover to do it, but finally even the inexhaustible Wolverine and the X-Men has hit a wall. Tying into the sprawling Avengers vs. X-Men conflict, there's not much that actually happens in this book, aside from some half-hearted obligatory fisticuffs (if you count Emma socking Logan and Krakoa trying to eat Cyclops) and some drawn-out dueling monologues. Jason Aaron has been put in a weird place, having to put Wolverine on Team Avengers, and so watching Logan and Scott rehash their already lukewarm differences doesn't draw you in as a reader. There is a tender moment between the amnesiac Angel and the reincarnated Kid Apocalypse, but it also comes after Angel's increasingly bizarre religious-tinged status quo. It also feels like a waste to use Chris Bachalo on art for this. Not only do his ultra-stylized figures look distended and rushed (particularly an infantile-looking Spider-Man at the beginning), but he isn't able to really lend any sort of visual oomph to boost Aaron's flat story. If you want a good angle on the X-Men in this conflict, check out X-Men Legacy instead, because Wolverine and the X-Men #10 is about as perfunctory as it gets.


Trio #1 (Published by IDW; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): The game of Rock, Paper, Scissors is as old as time (or at least as old as scissors), and in Trio #1, John Byrne uses the concept to create a comic that feels almost as ancient, with three heroic characters who embody the options usually played out on the fingers of live-action role-players everywhere. In this inaugural issue, the trio of heroes work together to stop a bank robbery, with stereotypical dialog and battling leading up to the unsurprising critical injury of Paper (a thin character spread across a room is ripped — not a big shock there) and a bit of insight into the character of Rock, who turns out to be very different from what you might expect. Byrne is playing from the Bronze Age hero handbook here, and like his other period-piece work, he captures the feel perfectly, especially with Rock. His art is as good as it ever was, being one of the few creators in superhero comics who is able to successfully write and draw while not skimping on either. There’s action in every panel, and the characters practically burst off the page with dynamic movement. The problem is that this looks like it could be a Fantastic Four plot from Byrne’s 1980s run, with only few changes needed to adapt it to a Marvel world. If you like Byrne’s work and/or comics with a retro feel (I do), you will enjoy Trio #1, but it’s not covering any new ground, at least at this time.


Batman and Robin #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The blood is flowing in Gotham as the Court of the Owls’ deadly Talon assassins slaughter their way down a list of the city’s most influential citizens. Almost every member of the Bat-family is engaged, including Damian, who is on a solo mission to protect one of the Talons’ targets. It isn't spoiling anything to say that Robin’s got this. Seeing Damian in all his gutsy glory is always fun, and Peter Tomasi clearly enjoys writing him. Even as Robin jumps feet-first into the action, we see that he’s evolved from an anger-driven hothead into a gifted strategist. As often happens, the adults underestimate our pint-sized hero. That said, Batman and Robin #9 is a largely workmanlike entry in what has been a great series. Though adequate, it does have the air of “obligatory tie-in” about it. I’d have rather seen more of Robin mixing it up with a Talon than wade through a tedious explanation of the Owls’ objective here. However, the art team of Lee Garbett and Andy Clarke deserve a credit for their contributions in drawing the reader into this issue. Garbett's style is simple and clean, and Clarke provides a nicely contrasting throwback sequence set in Gotham's early years. Batman and Robin #9 is by no means a must-read, but as tie-ins go, it gets the job done.


Frankenstein Alive, Alive #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson have collaborated many times, on titles such as Dead, She Said, The Ghoul, and Doc Macabre, and this latest title sees the creative team reunited to provide readers with a sequel of sorts to Wrightson’s highly acclaimed illustrated version of Frankenstein. The story opens many years after the events of the novel, and finds the monster working as a sideshow attraction. Over the course of the issue he proceeds to explain to the reader how he came to be here, beginning with his fateful confrontation with his creator, at the North Pole. It’s a highly intriguing premise, and takes the rather interesting approach of having the monster tell parts of the classic tale from his own perspective. As good as Steve Niles’ script is, it’s really Bernie Wrightson’s art that is the star here, as he fills the issue with page after page of breathtaking artwork that has to be seen to be believed. Those familiar with Wrightson’s work on the illustrated Frankenstein will recognize the fact that he’s employing similar techniques here, to evoke a period style reminiscent of the work of Franklin Booth and other luminaries. This makes for some incredibly detailed linework, and some astonishing brushwork. At first it appears the book is printed in black and white, but what is actually going on is that Wrightson’s original pages have been scanned in color, and then printed in color — this enables readers to see every tiny nuance of the artwork, from his delicate pencil shadings to his luscious inkwashes. Frankenstein Alive, Alive #1 is an amazing debut issue, which stays faithful to the classic version of the character, while expanding upon the story in new and interesting ways.


Alabaster: Wolves #2 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Hurt, alone and hunted, Dancy — the forsaken warrior of God — struggles to survive in a small town overrun by werewolves in this second part of a supernatural story written as a companion piece to author Caitlin R. Kiernan’s prose tales featuring the same character. I liked the first issue a lot, and this issue was another solid story that holds up on its own but also fits into a larger whole, as the wolf clan that Dancy is dueling in this series decides that there may be worse things to do than kill her. Bedeviled by her doubts, faltering faith and a blisteringly sarcastic blackbird, it’s not looking good for Dancy — which makes for a very good comic for us, the reader. Kiernan’s plot is moved along perfectly by artist Steve Lieber, who once again stages the action to heighten the stress and tension of Dancy’s desperate life, giving us panels that place her off-balance at every opportunity. I also appreciate his work on the backgrounds, such as making the despoiled church hideous. Lieber creates some pretty visceral panels here without any of them feeling like they are gory for shock value alone. Alabaster: Wolves #2 isn’t letting up one bit in story or art, and it’s one of my favorite horror stories on the racks right now.


Batgirl #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): With this month’s Batgirl #9 crossing over with the Night of the Owlsstoryline, fans of the series are given a nice one-shot story that, while still fitting into the event, gives readers great insight into Batgirl so far. Gail Simone hits all the high notes of Barbara Gordon that she has been able to cultivate so far with the series. Readers are given a piece of her relationship between her and her father, where she stands with the Bat-family, and her tenacity as a fighter and brilliant hero. The story is even bookended with some backstory on the Talon assassin she is at odds with that adds a dash of sympathy to the situation. Simone has also been wonderful at working in more female characters, situations and perspective into the series without being heavy-handed or preachy. It’s a unique dimension to see in modern comics with so many young girl’s lives being affected by the horrors presented in this issue. Ardian Syaf doesn’t miss a step this time around and keeps the story flowing. In the past there have been some awkward framing or figures that have caused a hiccup in the narrative but with this issue Syaf is on top of his game. In fact, his pencils pair nicely next to Capullo’s in this week’s Batman #9 with a similar tone and presentation. It seems Simone and Syaf have been building this character though the past eight issues and with Batgirl #9 readers get to see what Barbara Gordon has become.


Memorial #5 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10):
Em is making a run for it across the patchwork worlds that make up the realm of Moment, but it looks like she’s running right into the hands of the magical woman who wants the key that’s keeping Em alive. In other words, this penultimate issue of Chris Roberson and Steve Ellis’ mini-series is often confusing but constantly entertaining. Throughout the entire run, Roberson has not been afraid to plot the story as densely as possible, adding elements such as the Shadow Kingdom, the library, and lots of classic character nods, all of which are coming together fast and furious here as we race towards the climax. Despite almost reaching the end of the story, we still get new information, such as how life operates in Moment’s world or the Shadow Kingdom’s really terrifying origin. Meanwhile, Ellis works hard to keep up with the frantic pace of the narrative, changing scenes as quickly as the story demands. My only issue is that while we have a lot of information conveyed by the art, the action is pretty stilted, with characters that should be moving feeling more posed than captured in natural positions. Memorial #5 requires a dedicated reader willing to concentrate on the intricate story, but those who stick with it will be well-rewarded by this excellent book.


Demon Knights #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 4 out of 10):
This series opened with an promising ensemble cast, consisting of some of the DC Universes’ more mystical characters, as well as a handful of newly created characters. However, what little plot the title started with has floundered greatly over the last eight issues, and has been padded out with endless side-stories and flashbacks. At one point, it seemed that Cornell had painted himself into a corner by having many of these characters coming from Camelot, yet seeming to be strangers to one another, then one character came up with the solution that there must have been multiple iterations of Camelot, and everyone just accepted this rather implausible explanation. In this issue, the party finally makes it to the town of Alba Sarum, only to find out that Merlin was recently there, and was murdered. It’s OK, though, because Xanadu quickly realizes that he’s not really dead, and his spirit has just journeyed to Avalon. It’s another huge intuitive leap that comes out of nowhere, and never gets explained. Some of the confusing and convoluted plot might be excusable if the characters were strong enough, but the characterization is all over the place, and most of the characters are very two-dimensional. Overall, the artwork on the issue is rather nice, and at its best points depicts the medieval/fantasy style of the book really well. However, the art suffers from an uneven quality, which is no doubt down to the fact that there are two pencillers and three inkers involved. Demon Knights is a DC New 52 title that has failed to live up to its potential.


Mega Man #13 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10):
The newest arc of Mega Man, “Spiritus Ex Machina,” has a lot to live up to. The last arc chronicled the events of Mega Man 2, arguably the best Mega Man game to date. Issue #13 aims to set up the next epic from Ian Flynn and company and while the potential is there, the execution leaves something to be desired. Part of this book’s appeal has been the team’s ability to tell fun, fast-paced stories that stayed to true to the hyper-kinetic nature of the characters and video games in general. But in an attempt to tell a new type of story, Flynn slows the pace to try and raise the stakes. It works to some extent — Dr. Light and Dr. LaLinde’s debate on artificial intelligence and robot empathy raises some interesting questions about the roles of robots in society and ethical decision-making, and by making the new villains humans, Flynn brings Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics into play. And while the set-up and exposition in regards to the new robot scientists is tiresome, the book ends with the potential for a Mega Man meets “Die Hard” kind of story. It’s hard not to get excited for that. Jonathan Hill is the new artist for this arc and he continues the kind of consistency we’ve come to expect from this book. Despite the always-rotating cast of artists, readers are never left with an issue that doesn’t jive with the overall tone of the book. So this issue is a little tedious, but it seems like it might be the kind of set-up that will allow the rest of this arc to thrive. Now, with a concept as potentially good as this one, we can only hope the creative team delivers.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Color Classics #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10):
For many children of the '80s, the only Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were those on the television screen and two mediocre movies. That’s part of why I found reading this Color Classics issue so enjoyable, because until this issue, I’d never read any of the Eastman and Laird material. The story in this issue is clearly influenced by the gritty, Dark Knight Returns time period in which it was written and has a few problems as a result. While the plot is very solid, the dialogue is almost cringe-worthy at points, as Leonardo, the team’s leader, narrates in the biggest bravado possible and often describes what we’re seeing in unnecessary narrative boxes. We see the Turtles fight, learn their origin (which has a blatant reference to Marvel’s Daredevil that I’m shocked they got away with), and ends with a grand battle against Shredder and the Foot Clan, all of which is extremely cool and shows that the Eastman and Laird team had a great idea on their hands, but it’s definitely in a rough form here. The art cannot always handle the action being portrayed, leading to the Turtles often looking a bit like deformed Muppets. It reminds me a bit of Jeffrey Brown’s non-autobipgraphical work, with effort overcoming issues with ability. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Color Classics #1 has some faults, but it’s a great insight into these iconic characters and fans of the property should love seeing the early days, warts and all.

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