Best Shots Rapid Reviews: BATGIRL, SPIDER-MEN, More

Hiya, 'Rama Readers! Ready for your weekly helping of Rapid-Fire Reviews? Best Shots has you covered, so let's step on the gas with Jake Baumgart, as he checks out what's new with Barbara Gordon in Batgirl #10...


Batgirl #10 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This month’s Batgirl sees a new artist in the saddle with Alitha Martinez and a costume change for Barbara Gordon. Not only does Batgirl get a new cape (definitely an improvement) but Martinez definitely brings something more to the title that was missing with Ardian Syaf. Although the two artists are a pretty close match for interiors, Martinez’s exaggerated angels in a flashback and the splash page actually helped enhance this month’s issue above some of its predecessors. Martinez goes the entire issue without skewing something out of perspective or attaching a distorted face to a figure (which is a feat considering some past installments).

Also, it’s good to see some more girl power on this title. It seems that Gail Simone is playing more inside the head of Barbara Gordon and the reader gets more of the quip-laden internal monologue that has helped define this character. Simone has done an excellent job of not only getting Babs back in the suit, but giving her back her personality from the colder, calculating Oracle she was before.

Issue #10 sees more baddies added to Batgirl’s lineup with a team called The Disgraced. Where other New 52 titles seem to have their titular heroes’ pummeling vague, monstrous villains every month, there is a real feeling here that Simone is creating a foundation of evil for Babs to build upon. However, it would be nice to her spend a little more than two issues with any one antagonist.


Spider-Men #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10; Click here for preview): Ten years ago I would have cried fanboy foul at a Marvel-616 and Ultimate Universe crossover. Now? I can't wait and here it is. Do Team Bendis, Pichelli, and Ponsor fill all my nerdy expectations with Spider-Men #1? Kind of.

Considering this is a five-issue miniseries, I was really hoping Brian Michael Bendis would have brought Miles and Peter together sooner. What we get instead is a typical night in Peter Parker's life as the Amazing Spider-Man. Not that reading Peter's banter with crooks and cops (to say nothing of his internal monologue) isn't entertaining. It is, but I guess I was just hoping for more from a story angle. You could argue this was done for new readers. However, let's be realistic here. After 50 years, do even the newest of readers need reminding just how Spider-Man views New York, and vice versa?

Then again, a slow-paced story doesn't matter a lick when you've got Sara Pichelli on art and Justin Ponsor on colors. This is was gorgeous book. Visually, there isn't a weak moment in this comic. Pichelli's Spider-Man is perfectly proportioned and moves with grace through each panel. Ponsor's colors brilliantly bring out both the 616 and Ultimate setting. I love that the night sky in Parker's New York almost felt safer than the day in the New York Miles Morales calls home.

While I wish there was more meat to this story, Pichelli and Ponsor make sure Spider-Men #1 is still a satisfying read.


The Massive #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): When the world crashes around you, sometimes only a focus on the little things can keep you sane. With the earth going mad, Cal and his crew have one mission—find their sister ship, the Massive. Brian Wood takes a micro-focus within a macro disaster story in this new series that’s a bit exposition-heavy but has a great hook.

Ordinarily I would not give such a high rating to a comic that has this much explanation, but I also understand that Wood has to work hard to build up the world, since we begin in media res. He does a good job of mixing the history with the drama facing Cal and the crew as they try to stay alive against the odds. Wood uses the history to pause and build tension while the reader gets a feel for the changed status quo.

I’m unfamiliar with Kristian Donaldson, but he does a great job making the ship look realistic and placing the visual focus on the faces of the characters, which are intricately detailed and show a wide range of emotions. The historical scenes of disaster, also finely crafted, mesh well with Wood’s narration. Dave Stewart places them in sepia tone, which cleverly sets them off from the present day.

The Massive looks to be an extremely promising comic, but be aware the start is a bit slow. I have a feeling that it’s going to be worth it, so start reading now.


Fantastic Four #607 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): Talk about your Marvel Team-Ups. Forget the Fantastic Four and the Black Panther — I'm talking about penciler Giuseppe Camuncoli and inker Karl Kesel. Two artists with two very different styles, but they make this trip to Wakanda a visual feast.

Camuncoli, for those who aren't familiar, has a very craggy, angular style. He's always been dynamic with his character composition — scenes like Mr. Fantastic rushing a Wakandan zombie skeleton, for example, come at you like a freight train — but he's always lacked the human softness. Not so with Kesel on board. The man who inked Mike Wieringo himself smoothes out Camuncoli's sharp faces, giving a lush, animated quality to the issue. It's a very different experience, but one that's really gorgeous.

With a book that looks like this, Jonathan Hickman's story is almost a superfluous concern. His take on T'Challa has some nice gravitas, particularly when he makes it clear that he's head and shoulders above Reed Richards' vaunted intellect. The overall exposition does get muddled, however, against a gorgeous fight sequence. While that makes the stakes less than urgent, the artwork for Fantastic Four #607 make this a book to watch.


Mind the Gap #2 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): With its multiple twists and turns and not-what-they-seem cast of characters, Mind the Gap is akin to a can’t-miss television series.

It would be easy for a comic with so many plot threads to be confounding. However, writer Jim McCann has such firm control of this tightly paced, magical mystery tour that the story isn’t at all frustrating to follow. As Ellis Peterssen remains in a coma in the earthly realm, McCann begins shaping the characters around her who are trying to discover or obfuscate the circumstances of her injury and hospitalization.

An exploding brownstone indicates a pretty serious cover-up, and I found myself combing each of the panels — exquisitely rendered by artists Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback — for clues. I can't say enough about these two. Their character work is impeccable and they make each panel a full experience in and of itself. Together with McCann, they’re giving readers an excellent return on their $2.99.


Ultimate X-Men #13 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10 Click here for preview): With Brian Wood's arrival and Paco Medina's return, Ultimate X-Men once again becomes a book with an intriguing amount of potential. Wood uses the best part of Nick Spencer's run as his hook for the series, focusing on Kitty Pryde's transformation from fledgling X-Man to teenaged vigilante. The new status quo for mutants in the Ultimate Universe has not only changed Kitty but all mutants in some way. Wood uses Kitty as a device to reflect that change and it allows us to get in on the ground level of the impending mutant revolt.

Meanwhile, Paco Medina delivers a huge sense of scope that matches the big ideas that Wood plays with in the narrative. Medina's strong character rendering and attention to detail carry the book even through a couple of the slower scenes. Some faith has been restored in the title but there are still a lot of questions.

This stronger, more focused direction could be the springboard that this title needs. Hopefully, it will stick even in the wake of the upcoming "Divided We Fall" summer event.


Saucer Country #4 (Published by Vertigo Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): I just know Paul Cornell has an interesting story to tell with Saucer Country, but this issue isn’t it. Saucer Country #4 is too busy planting story seeds and lacks the luster of the previous issues, making the issue as a whole feel a little disappointing.

It seems emotionally intense at first as Arcadia’s ex-husband, Michael, recalls the details of his alien abduction. There is mention of an anal probe, and everything. Too trite to be true; this angers the resident extraterrestrial expert and confounds all the others in the room. Michael’s story being the primary focus of the issue, everyone else is left with Scooby snacks for dialogue. Thus, we only get hints of character moments and plot lines.

Also, there is a lot of everyone else, and things begin to feel and look crowded. Ryan Kelly, who does fantastic work on detail and facial expressions, is resigned to smaller panels with more characters. The opening page and the last page are drawn exquisitely, the rest falls somewhere in the middle. For Kelly, the middle is still better than most, but not as good as he can be.

I think it is evident that Issue #4 is a stepping stone to see the bigger picture, but it feels like Cornell is holding out on us. Saucer Country #4 is a little dodgy on the fluidity and only almost works. I am looking forward to a bigger stride in Issue #5.


Batman and Robin #10 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10: What the heck am I going to do about Batman and Robin? One month, it's one of DC's strongest titles that truly showcases the fascinating relationship between Bruce and Damian. The next, it makes me want to toss it out the window.

As a long-time Batman fan, Issue #10 starts with a staggering issue for me. Seeing a group of defeated nobodies band together for vengeance is well and good. But, seeing that the bulk of them have potentially life threatening wounds at the hands of Batman? Sorry, I just don't buy it. And the comic only gets more frustrating from there. I love that Tomasi is trying to show a Bruce that truly wants his family to be normal, or at least as normal as they can. But he can't seem to make up his mind on Damian. Having the newest Boy Wonder, literally, threaten each previous incarnation with an attack of his choosing is simply wrong. Tomasi himself has moved the character beyond such petty actions. It's a shame he can't let Damian evolve.

The art doesn't fair much better. This is the weakest I've seen from Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray in a long time. Were it not for the fact that that each generation of the “Wayne family” is taller than the previous, you can't tell them apart. Shoot, take away Alfred's mustache and he could be a long-lost Robin. I will admit, there are a few moments of action that carry some dynamic movement. But as a whole, Gleason and Mick turn in a lackluster issue.

I might be overly hard on Batman and Robin #10. But, it's only because I know how great this title can be and to see such progress dropped is wholly disappointing.


Kevin Keller #3 (Published by Archie Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): It’s time for Kevin and the rest of the Riverdale gang to hit the beach! This should be an amazing time for Kevin and his friends, but like other gay teens across the country, he’s faced with a wave of homophobia that threatens to ruin the summer. Kevin Keller tries to take on a tough issue but the touch is too light in an issue that did not work as well for me of this ongoing series.

I’m really proud of Archie Comics for being willing to expand their world and try to look at real problems that teens may face, especially in the age of bullying. The constant comments and eventual violence that Kevin deals with here are very real. However, the lighthearted ending, where the bully gets what he deserves is played for laughs, and homophobia is no laughing matter. I also felt like Kevin’s being gay was treated more as a focal point than just a part of his character, unlike in Issue #2.

This issue also showed a bit of a disconnection between writer/penciller Dan Parent and inker Rick Koslowski. The character outlines are too heavy, making everyone look like they have a silhouette around them (especially in the close-ups). Parent also has a lot of people standing and talking, rather than acting. Kevin Keller #3 couldn’t decide between being fun and being serious, and the result is a bit muddled.


Planetoid #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Silas, a former solider turned space pirate, crash-lands in an attempt to avoid the authorities. Unfortunately, he’s about to learn that while iron bars do not a prison make, a unique planetoid just might be one instead in this story that puts a twist on a familiar genre.

On its surface, Planetoid is another comic set in space with a rugged ruffian that has a checkered past we’ll overlook because he’s fighting against larger forces. It would be easy to pass on this, as Silas definitely echoes Han Solo and others of the genre. What makes this one shine above its origins is the hook at the very end of the comic, but the problem is it takes too long to get there. Instead of having to fight a corrupt government or evil criminal as we often see, Silas must challenge the planet itself, which is just enough to keep me going.

Writer/artist Ken Garing places the comic squarely in shades of brown and gray, giving a sense of desolation that fits this barren world of trapped refugees. His backgrounds are standard sci-fi fare, but there is an impressive level of detail, as you can see every gear on the ruined machines. The action scene is well done, and Garing makes some interesting panel choices. Planetoid is going to have to work hard to get an audience but is worth a look if you like space comics and different takes on the idea.


Pantha #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): They say that the past can haunt you, but for Pantha, the last aspect of a goddess gone mad with power, the meaning is literal. As she tries to redeem herself, the human who can turn into a jungle cat must stop a kidnapping ring with ties to her own history.

While I really like the premise — a portion of an immortal must forever atone for past sins — the execution has a few flaws that definitely could turn a reader off. I thought writer Brandon Jerwa did a good job giving Pantha’s backstory by just blurting it out on the first page. The story itself is also creepy, with immigrants of dubious legality being taken away and no one caring except for Pantha. They’re going to meet a gruesome, pulpy fate, if our heroine can’t save them, and it looks like she’s going to have trouble from both allies and adversaries in the process. Jerwa’s dialog is a bit grating at times, but his plot is solid.

The problem with this lies in the art of Pow Podrix, who draws very well but often places the female characters in exploitative poses. His style reminds me quite a bit of Gary Frank, and it features dynamic action that drives the story. However, the cheesecake factor is so high that it does detract from the overall comic. If you can deal with the art choices, Pantha #1 is a fun pulpy adventure ride that looks like it’s off to a good start.


Michael Turner's Fathom #6 (Published by Aspen Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Aspen Matthews, a human with the powers of a secret underwater race, is caught between a rock (a greedy oil baron) and a hard place (a religious fanatic). There’s more than just the pressure of the sea under the Sahara for Aspen as she might just be dashed on the rocks.

In this era of trades and restarts, it’s unusual to come into a comic blind, but that’s what I did with Fathom, and I was actually pleasantly surprised. There’s a ton I don’t understand, but David Wohl (from a plot assist by Scott Lobdell) does a good job of slipping in hints for a new reader. The idea of water under the Sahara is a great concept and I thought the danger that Aspen finds herself and her friends in to be very real, with Aspen’s actions making logical sense based on the circumstances. There’s also a nice cliffhanger here, making a reader want to know more.

While it would be difficult to replicate Michael Turner’s art, Alex Konat echoes the slick lines of the comic’s creator, though his style is more rounded and smooth than Turner. He changes the angle of panels well, but a lot of the shots are from the same perspective. I thought he matched Wohl’s script, though there’s room for him to experiment more. Overall, Fathom was a pleasant surprise find for me this week.

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