'Rama readers! You ready for your weekly helping of Rapid Reviews? Then let's cut to the quick with the Best Shots team, as Ed Kaye takes a peek at a clash of the titans in Avengers vs. X-Men #4...


Avengers vs. X-Men #4 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Publishers can try and dress it up with plot and storyline, but we all know that big crossover events are just a thinly veiled excuse to get superheroes involved in massive brawls that fill splash page after splash page. What I love about Avengers vs. X-Men is that it’s not pretending to be anything more than it is. Sure there’s a plot involving the return of the Phoenix entity, but it’s kind of secondary to all the action — there’s even a tie-in series that just expands upon the fights that happen in each issue. One problem that the series has suffered from though, is an uneven quality to the writing, because each issue is written by a different Marvel "architect." This was most apparent in Issue #3, where there were a few very poor character moments, and some of the decisions that the characters made were completely illogical. Jonathan Hickman takes over for this issue, and brings things back on track a bit — the characterization is a lot better, the action is exciting, and he manages to fit in a few hilarious lines for light relief. The issue ends with the Avengers fighting the X-Men on the Moon — it’s a heck of a fanboy moment, but that’s what this series is all about. John Romita Jr.’s artwork on this series is some of his best since his work on The Eternals with Neil Gaiman. His chunky cartooning style works really well to bring to life all of the abundant action scenes in the issue. One of the best things he draws is Wolverine wearing the skin of a polar bear to survive the Antarctic cold — it’s a fun nod to the famous scene in The Empire Strikes back, and is guaranteed to make you laugh. Avengers vs. X-Men #4 is fun, thrilling, exciting, and most importantly never takes itself too seriously.


Green Lantern Corps #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The Alpha War doesn't start off with a bang — it starts with character. Thank goodness. What could have been a mindless event actually kicks off with some real heart, as Peter Tomasi gives Green Lantern John Stewart some real blowback following his do-or-die killing of a fellow Lantern under fire. The passions this revelation causes make sense on every side, from the Lanterns that defend the necessity of John's actions, to the Lanterns who feel betrayed, to the Alpha Lanterns, whose seething menace lies in their zeal for justice. Tomasi's pacing is nice, too, with an almost TV-like knack for juggling the supporting cast. Artist Fernando Pasarin, meanwhile, really strikes a great balance between looking iconic and being expressive — you really share in Guy Gardner's outrage as you see his face twist and contort. He reminds me a little bit, at this point, of Barry Kitson with some of that Ethan Van Sciver snarl. Put all that together, and while the outcome of this first issue is never actually in doubt, and you have a surprisingly excellent event opener on your hands.


Saga #3 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The overall theme of love and sacrifice gets turned up another notch in my personal pick for book of the week, Saga #3. It’s almost hard to believe that this book could get better, but Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have outdone themselves. The entire extended cast sees story progression without it feeling forced or choppy. In addition, the ghost Izabel is introduced and set up to play a major role in the lives of baby Hazel and her parents due to a fateful decision that I’m sure will have dire consequences down the line. Vaughan’s dialogue, if anything, is even snappier and more patter-filled than ever, as he keeps the flippant remarks flowing fast and furious throughout the issue. That would be the highlight of Saga #3, except that Staples steals the show with amazing visuals, including great coloring choices. There are so many awesome panels and scenes, such as the design of the dead natives or the looks on Izabel’s face, and we even get a bounty hunter eating children’s cereal. A set piece with our robot Prince is picture perfect in its pacing and its visualization of Vaughan’s slow-burn conversation between Price and Prisoner was my favorite scene until I hit the end. Both writer and artist save the best for last, with a bombshell that has a huge potential for fallout in the issues to come. Saga might be Vaughan’s best work, and that’s saying something.


AVX: VS #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Oh, it's always a great feeling seeing Steve McNiven drawing Captain America again. These battles between heroes in AVX: VS are starting to feel like Street Fighter match-ups, and that is definitely a good thing. McNiven plays all the parts out that a fan of either hero would want to see from Gambit charging the shield to Cap knocking the cocky '90s character out with one punch. However, through all blood and bouts, McNiven doesn't lose sight of the characters who perform true to what's been established. He does this with minimal dialogue and is able to convey this in the fight between the Star-Spangled Avenger and the Ragin' Cajun. The second battle plays to the strengths of artist Salvador Larroca by given the artist the chance to draw Spider-Man and a Juggernaut-ed Colossus. Although writer Kieron Gillen plays his fight with a lot of humor and banter, it's nice to see that every battle doesn't end with one of the heroes completely unconscious. It helps any reader who is trying to keep up in continuity in several titles (of which, AVX has few). The best part of this title? Any reader, young or old, can pick up the title and enjoy a fun comic with two popular characters going head to head. Only problem? I doubt this will stop the debates on "who will win in a fight" at your local comic shop.


Dancer #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Espionage stories are very popular in comic at the moment, and the shelves are overflowing with spy titles from many different publishers, so to be worth buying, a new title has to have something special about it. On the surface, Dancer seems like a very familiar, and slightly clichéd, story — a retired assassin is living a carefree existence, when one day his past comes back to haunt him, and it looks like the very people he once killed for now want him dead. However, Nathan Edmonson adds a brilliant twist in the closing pages of the issue that flips the story on its head, and gives the title that all important hook that makes it stand out from the crowd, and will guarantee that readers will come back for more. It’s a very well-paced issue that builds tension up nice and slowly until the big reveal, leaving us with quite the cliffhanger. The characters in the issue are all well-formed and three-dimensional, particularly the protagonist, who has a heavy sense of mystery about him. The dialogue in the issue is very strong, and there is no narration, or much in the way of exposition — Edmonson instead trusts Nic Klein’s artwork to do its share of the storytelling. As for the artwork, it's pretty amazing stuff, just dripping with atmosphere and noir stylings. Klein’s linework is detailed and expressive, and his inking is smooth and brushy. He also uses quite a bit of screentone, to add texture to backgrounds, and provides a wonderfully moody color job. Dancer #1 is a thrilling series debut that pleases on all fronts, and is sure to take readers by surprise.


Batwoman #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): With Amy Reeder out, Trevor McCarthy is in, and the artist has knocked it out of the park! Nothing against the great work Reeder provided in the previous issues, but McCarthy might be a better fit for J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman's Batwoman. McCarthy's panel work is the closest thing so far to original artist J.H. Williams' work when the series first began by incorporating logos and smoky, modern visual aesthetics. Without spoiling anything, there is a page with Kate Kane's father, Jacob, looking into a hospital room that really grabs he reader by the stomach and tugs hard, thanks to the minimal space used on the page. Guy Major's colors really look amazing when paired with the crisp and defined details in McCarthy's interiors giving Major the chance to be creative with how each character is colored differently (even in the same panel). Williams and Blackman mix up the action behind the cape that complicates things for Kane's love life. Even though non sequitur in its story presentation, the script doesn't lose the reader in this and even stands strong alone. Sure, if you are starting the series at #9, the reader might need to be caught up on who's who, but the emotions and action all hit the same way. While there's been some great comic booking in this series so far, Batwoman #9 shows that there's still plenty of greatness to come.


Daredevil #13 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): After a string of excellent issues, it turns out that 13 is Daredevil'a unlucky number. The problem is that with artists like Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin and Chris Samnee on board, it's tough for any artist to fit in, let alone stack up to their visual chops. Even with Tom Palmer on inks, artist Khoi Pham comes out as more retro than innovative, with the fights coming out as distant and his expressiveness either not showing through at all (or in the case of some of the flashback sequences, coming off as weirdly inhuman). The other problem is Mark Waid's story. The twist isn't so much a twist as it is an awkward stapling of his previously serpentine plot — Matt Murdock needed to be rid of the Omega Drive, got it, but (A) what's to stop all these crime syndicates from murdering him anyway, and (B) the identity of one group is just eye-rolling. Aside from a decently abrupt cliffhanger and a nice internal monologue from Waid, this comic has lost much of its power without an A-list artist in tow.


Danger Club #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Shocking? That word doesn’t do justice to a moment in this issue’s opening pages. Just … whoa. The talented Eric Jones doesn’t flinch in illustrating what may go down as one of the most memorable comic book panels of 2012. With their mentors lost somewhere in space, Danger Club's young heroes are navigating some very hostile terrain. It probably doesn’t help that one of their fellow teen supers, explosively dispatched in Issue #1, attempted to establish a “benevolent” dictatorship. Writer Landry Q. Walker slows down just a bit to provide some intimate character moments. The gutsy pilot Yoshimi pays a visit to her home city of Micro-Tokyo, where she is a fugitive. The scenes of giant robots mixing it up above the skyline are exhilarating, balancing the bleaker but much more affecting story surrounding Kid Vigilante. After making a furious debut, he shows real vulnerability and briefly reveals the scared teenager behind the mask. With moving results, Walker gives the reader a window into Kid Vigilante’s family life and lays bare his fears about the still-undefined threat the Danger Club is facing. There’s a sense that for all their courage and determination, the group could be in way over its head. The path to that bracing scene early in Danger Club #2 is likely to be brutal and full of surprises.


Wonder Woman #9 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): If Tony Akins wasn't such a good artist, I'd probably have put down Wonder Woman with this issue. With Brian Azzarello creating a slow build-up to Diana's marriage to the childlike Hades, I can't help but feel this is like the Tim Burton version of Wonder Woman — the ideas are wild, splashy and over-the-top in their attention to visuals, but it's all to the point of self-indulgence, while the main character still is someone that has things done to her, not doing things on her own. Part of this is also due to much of Azzarello's focus being diverted to Diana's supporting cast, such as the gods War and Strife, who he seems to enjoy working with way more than Diana. (She does get a good moment, however, where she examines the literal hole left in her heart by Eros' romance-dealing pistols.) The saving grace of this dark, weirdly inorganic story is Akins, who makes Diana a memorable figure with her "bride of the undead" outfit (complete with severed hands on the gown), as well as Hades' terrified, emaciated ex-wife. That all said, as memorable as this story is with its ideas, it only feels like a Wonder Woman story because she's there. The shifting tone isn't a bad thing, but Diana needs to be a more active character — and bigger focus from the writer — if she really wants to soar.


Conan the Barbarian #4 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Conan may soon learn that revenge is a bitter dish indeed in the second story arc of Brian Wood’s Conan the Barbarian, in an issue that is features significantly better writing but takes a backseat in terms of the art. After only three issues of Becky Cloonan, drawing duties move into the hands of James Harren, who seems like he wants to be a stylized artist such as Sam Keith but still keeps one foot in the realistic design camp. That leads to portrayals of Conan that vary from burly to anemic, with most of the supporting cast looking bigger and chunkier than the Barbarian himself, a real problem for me. While I love Harren’s rich backgrounds — his design for Argos is spectacular — the figure work really left me cold, which hurt the book’s overall ranking. The unfortunate thing is that this issue finds Wood really hitting his stride. There is a lot packed into this issue, and the reader can see more fully how he’s going to portray Conan’s relationship with Belit — with her firmly in control. I really like how Conan’s single-mindedness, a Howard trademark, is applied to his love for Belit. Wood is also improving his narrative work here as well, a problem in the first three issues. Conan the Barbarian #4 still has flaws, but it definitely worth a second look with this new arc, despite the art issues. 

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