Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Ready for your Thursday pellets? Best Shots has your back, with this week’s Rapid-Fire Reviews! Let’s kick off with Jittery Justin Partridge, who takes a look at Venom...
Venom #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): The first arc of Venom comes to a colossal close in issue #6. Having prepared for war and bonded with Rex Strickland, Eddie Brock is ready to face down the full might of Knull, the God of Symbiotes. Given a dark funny edge by his narration, writer Donny Cates really sells the stakes of this match up as well as Eddie’s brand of heroism, which could be mistaken for sadism. Art team Ryan Stegman, JP Mayer, and Frank Martin leave it all on the table here with this finale, filling the page with inky black tendrils, heavy weapons, and monstrous character models as Eddie and Knull go to war and almost crack a warehouse and tanker in half while doing so. The Lethal Protector is in top form with this finale, as Venom #6 ends this new volume with vigor and heart-stopping action.
Batman #55 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Well, this one is grim. Nine-panel grid aficionado Tom King and artist Tony Daniel kick off a new storyline for the G-D Batman, and things get bleak pretty fast. I like the interplay between Nightwing and Batman, though it does feel like King is really just winding us up, especially considering the ending of the issue. However, the interspersal nine-panel grid pages fail to connect. They’re definitely supposed to be giving us a sense of tone and pacing, and they do some extent, but Daniel’s style doesn’t feel suited to the constraints, and I’m not particularly enthralled by a panel of a clock radio or a pen. When King’s script lets him open up, Daniel’s work really soars, but overall, King doesn’t play to Daniel’s strengths. King’s been able to do some interesting things with a close adherence to structure in the past, but forcing it into every issue just doesn’t work. It’s the kind of thing that you don’t want to have come across as gimmicky, and unfortunately, it’s getting to that territory.
Captain America Annual #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Do you know that Captain America and Bucky fought in World War II? That the Nazis were the bad guys? If yes to both, then great, because that means you’re all set to jump into Tini Howard, Chris Sprouse and company’s single issue story. If you somehow didn’t, then never fear, because Howard’s script quickly establishes those concise details as the duo stumble across a trio fleeing persecution and decide to help as best they can. With just an annual’s worth of space, the team can’t fully dig into the multiple ideas brought up over the course of the narrative, though the point of organising this narrative around perspectives of the marginalized is a noble effort, given further context by Howard’s letter which closes the issue. About half of the issue is set in the same location and manages to avoid any sense of stagnation or talking heads, and the tale in full also enlists contributions from Ron Lim, Karl Story, Walden Wong, Scott Hanna, Jesus Aburtov, Erick Arciniega and Israel Silva. It is to the issue’s credit and general cohesiveness that the various approaches all gel, even if the ending reads as abbreviated.
Harley Quinn #50 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon, ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): To celebrate Harley’s 50th issue, DC put together one of those art jam celebration issues that we get every so often, but this one has a bit of a twist. While it does feature a lot of different artists (including John McCrea, Jon Davis Hunt, Brett Booth, Babs Tarr and so many more) drawing Harley in their own styles, writer Sam Humphries takes the opportunity to remix some bit of DC continuity as Harley breaks the DC Universe and struggles to put it back together again. The story is fairly straightforward in that regard, and that’s fine as the art really stands out. The DCU is reimagined as all dinosaurs or pirates or the Three Musketeers amongst other things. So the zany, Looney Tunes feel of Harley Quinn is maintained, even as we get Lobo starring in an all-time great Sandman moment. It’s a weird and wacky spectacle despite the plotting being a little thin, but there are far worse ways you could spend $4 at the comic shop.
Immortal Hulk #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Immortal Hulk #6 continues Bruce Banner’s bleak road to ruin. Having drained Sasquatch of his gamma radiation and constantly tormented by the Hulk’s cryptic messages, Banner decides to go on the offensive and try to get to the bottom of what has infected the Hulk beyond the “Green Door.” But Al Ewing isn’t just delivering a dark character piece this issue — instead he zooms outward a bit, showing how the world is reacting to Banner being alive and how they plan on dealing with him. This issue is very much a table-setting issue, but Ewing makes the setting really interesting thanks to these deviations from Banner’s story and the glimpses of the forces standing in his way. Guest artist Lee Garbett and Paul Mounts do a good job capturing the same rough hewn look and energy of regular series artist Joe Bennett while intermingling some choice comic book science fiction set dressing with Banner’s tale of woe and terror. Immortal Hulk is shifting gears now, and something tells me that it is about to kick into overdrive.
Avengers #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10) It may have taken a little while for Jason Aaron and the Avengers to gel, but they absolutely have. Aaron’s handle on character dynamics is in full effect here as he gives us a closer look at the Avengers new base and explores some of the fallout from the last arc. It’s a great blend of humor and character drama as an additional threat lurks in the background and Aaron gives every character some substantial screen time. David Marquez is a welcome addition to the Avengers team, especially when coupled with Justin Ponsor’s excellent textured coloring. This issue might just be a new beginning for the team, but it’s got a big budget weightiness to it. It’s going to be fun seeing where Aaron and company take this book next.
The Wild Storm #17 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The hunt for Thunderbook and the cold war between Earth and space continues in The Wild Storm #17. Though Warren Ellis’ WildStorm opus has been the very picture of decompression, the stuff he is setting up and finally name-dropping (mainly the Authority and the eventual reveal of Gen13) is too cool and interesting to just outright ignore. Not to mention the shadowy tease of the WildStorm universe’s “It couple,” Midnighter and Apollo that ends this episode. Unfortunately artists Jon Davis-Hunt and Brian Buccellato aren’t given too terribly much to do this issue, aside from a expansive display of Stephen Rainmaker’s powers in the opening and Angela Spica having a face-to-face with a Daemon. But the pair’s precise blocking and metallic coloring still make this series’ visuals pop and set it clearly aside from the visual language of the old WildStorm titles. This series will definitely read better in trade but the things the The Wild Storm #17 portends are still really fun to see pop back up in canon.
West Coast Avengers #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): It is the secret origin of B.R.O.D.O.K. in West Coast Avengers #2. Having assembled for their first real superhero throwdown against an embiggened Tigra, the new West Coast team find themselves quipping and fighting through a trial by fire before attempting to get to the bottom of their “savior’s” origins. Kelly Thompson’s script continues to bring the funny as well as some unexpected character moments based around both Hawkeyes and the clever “reality show” cutaways she is using in lieu of caption boxes. She is also getting some great stuff out of artist Stefano Caselli and Triona Farrell, both of whom bounce from splashy action in the opening fight scene to sitcom like hijinks once the team retires back to their work-in-progress headquarters. Armed with a boatload of charm and all sorts of explosive arrows the new era of West Coast Avengers continues to be a blast.
Batman: Damned #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Few render Gotham in as equal parts stunning and oppressive a fashion as Lee Bermejo. His moody take sticks primarily to the streets — a rat’s-eye view, if you will — where harsh neon lights are powerless against the darkness, already overwhelmed by the sheer amount of shadow produced by the buildings towering above. Even when Batman leaps off a gargoyle, he and they are only visible in terms of silhouettes. Batman: Damned, the first book of DC’s newly founded Black Label imprint, reunites Bermejo with Brian Azzarello in order to tell a story that picks up shortly after the literal fall of Batman, as narrated by John Constantine. If the depiction wasn’t enough, John’s narration adds yet another layer of grit, the lettering often directly overlaid against the imagery by Jared K. Fletcher. Frank Miller’s work seems the obvious reference point –– fitting considering he also has a Black Label book in the pipeline –– though this in no way matches the quality of his (early) work with the Caped Crusader. The imprint’s announcement stressed the idea of unique stories, only there’s little ambition on display –– though there is a little full-frontal nudity –– just yet another story about The Joker and Batman.
Return of Wolverine #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; ‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): Charles Soule is taking a stab at making this return interesting, but Return of Wolverine #1 just comes across as completely baffling - the kind of thing that will read better in a trade with all the other return of Wolvie miniseries that have been released. Amnesiac Logan is trying to piece everything back together, but he’s not too quick on the uptake. On one hand, the mystery is a bit intriguing (especially how Logan is attempting to “unlock” his memories), but there’s so little context for what’s going on that it’s really easy to be completely taken out of the story. At the end of the day, we all knew Logan would come back eventually, but probably the only reason to buy this book is Steve McNiven’s art. The man can draw the hell out of a Wolverine book, and his wild-haired Logan is a great take on the character. Buyer beware, but if you do decide to jump into the deep end with this one, at least it’ll look good.
X-Men: Gold #36 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Matthew Sibley; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): What’s funny is how the conclusion to X-Men: Gold writes its own critique. The story, which sees Nightcrawler, Rachel Summers, Storm and Kitty Pryde attempting to help out an omega-level mutant who’s having difficulty controlling their powers. At the same time, Marc Guggenheim’s script also takes a moment to “deal” with the fallout of Kitty and Piotr’s wedding as well as how Rachel and Kurt are doing relationship-wise. The whole package is intended as a sombre reflection and not a triumphant “we stopped mutant hate”-esque end to what was originally presented as a flagship book of the X-line. While it is depressing, this is because of all the squandered potential present, both in terms of the art –– Pere Pérez and Jay David Ramos are stuck with a rote, archetypal story to illustrate, so there’s little to appreciate –– and the narrative at large. The run ends dedicated to Chris Claremont. Guggenheim’s final note calls his book a love letter to that monolithic run “at the expense of some originality” that could never reach “the stratospheric heights Mr. Claremont reached in even his most mundane of issues.” In that, Guggenheim himself has given what should be the last word on his run.