Best Shots Advance Reviews: SAGA, PRIVATE EYE, Non-BKV Books

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for tomorrow's hits today? Best Shots has you covered with our big advance column! So let's start off with some forward-thinking fiction, as Patrick Hume takes a look at Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin's surprise debut of The Private Eye...


The Private Eye #1

Written by Brian K. Vaughan

Art by Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vincente

Published by Panel Syndicate

Review by Patrick Hume

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Well, that happened fast.

After returning to comics to critical and commercial acclaim with Saga, his collaboration with Fiona Staples at Image, writer Brian K. Vaughan stunned us all with yesterday's tease of another new project with Doctor Strange: The Oath alum Marcos Martin.

And now we have it. Vaughan and Martin have elected to self-publish the book online, DRM-free, using a pay-what-you-can model, allowing them to release it directly to readers each month. According to their website at, their hope is for a ten-issue maxiseries, further issues presumably contingent on whether the economics work out.

Let's hope they do, because The Private Eye #1 is a gem. A colorful future noir set in the Los Angeles of 2076, the book follows Patrick Immelman ("P.I."), a notary public-cum-unlicensed journalist in a world where photography is a crime, reporters and law enforcement are one and the same, and the Internet... is gone.

As in Vaughan's other work, the world-building on display is meticulous. Even as the opening chase scene unfolds, the conceits of the setting get laid out, a hallmark of the best science fiction. Vaughan helps the medicine go down even smoother by building his story atop the familiar noir beats — meeting the nebbishy client, taking a new assignment from a mysterious woman — but with a two-days-after-tomorrow vibe that makes the whole thing feel fresh and vital. P.I. himself is a great example, with the personality of a crusty Marlowe-esque snoop in the body of a skinny, post-ethnic daredevil voyeur. There's some clunky exposition about the collapse of the Internet, but it passes quickly and also delivers the delightful image of P.I.'s hipster grandfather.

Imagine Blade Runner plus cosplay, and you'll have an idea of the aesthetic Martin and colorist Muntsa Vincente have conjured to go with Vaughan's story. Their Los Angeles is a dizzying cityscape of neon and skyscrapers, hovercars and maglev trains, the streets and parks teeming with masked citizens intent on protecting their privacy from those around them. The vibrant colors and crisp lines defy the standard visual tropes of noir; everyone is trying to hide in a world that always seems bright as day.

Given its online-only nature, the page layout is horizontal rather than vertical, optimized for viewing on a tablet. Martin takes full advantage of this wide canvas, giving the art a propulsive linearity in the action sequences and stretching out the quieter moments. Turning the page 90 degrees might not sound like that big a change, but think about how different aspect ratios affect the look of a feature film; the impact here is similar. Splash pages feel more expansive and effective without the binding gutter in the middle. Panel montages like the ones during P.I.'s first conversation with his new client are less busy and cluttered. In comics, space and time are one and the same; since the shape of the page has changed, time moves differently from panel to panel. It's a subtle but profound change in how we experience the work.

Vaughan and Martin have created an intriguing new project in The Private Eye — intriguing for reasons both literary and commercial. Even if the comic itself was undistinguished, the business model it is being created under would be worthy of observation and interest. Happily, the book has everything going for it - ultramodern themes underpinned by tested tropes, a deadly mystery, and an exciting and contemporary look. Even if you come in the name of experimentation with new publishing methods, you'll stay for the story.


Saga #11

Written by Brian K. Vaughan

Art by Fiona Staples

Lettering by Fonografiks

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Sex, violence, thrills, chills, love, death — Saga #11 has it all, folks, and in just 22 pages, to boot. Brian K. Vaughan has that elusive art of comic book pacing down to a sweet science, as he's able to make each chapter of his sci-fi romance-on-the-run feel emotionally compelling, narratively powerful and thoroughly satisfying.

After last issue's stark cliffhanger, it's both surprising and yet somehow true to form that Vaughan opens up this chapter with some... well, more risqué remembrances from Marko and Alana's past. While Vaughan might be a little juvenile with some of it — boys will be boys, I guess — that's also the heart of what makes this series work: it's not really about magic or ghosts or space or even two warring factions. It's about two people from opposite sides of the tracks falling in love and, despite what their families and societies might tell them, bucking the odds and starting a family. Marko and Alana may have horns and wings, but make no mistake — they're all too human, and Vaughan reminding us of that every issue is what keeps us hooked.

It's that striking introduction that actually binds together the quick cuts of the rest of the issue, as Vaughan takes us back to last issue's cliffhanger. With the vacuum of space looking to suck our heroes into its maw, Vaughan shows off some of the best action chops I've ever seen him display, as he quickly sets up danger and then shows how his characters will swiftly, stylishly rise to the occasion. And believe me when I say that the character always comes first — there's one moment in particular when Marko's father Barr puts his neck out on the line to save everyone on the ship where you truly love that old man. As Alana shouts "Barr, be careful! Your heart--" the old man's response is perfect: "--is down in the engine room."

Yer there are plenty of artists who might have failed at delivering Vaughan's lofty vision. Fiona Staples  isn't one of them. She imbues so much  personality into these characters that she makes Vaughan's talkier scenes a real pleasure to read — particularly the look on Marko's face when he gets some very conflicting requests from Alana. The action looks great, too, as Staples is able to design some very cool technology with functionality that might just surprise you — and that is perfect for this harrowing deep space situation.

Staples also manages to sell the one weak point of the book — there's a gorgeously rendered flashback that's... also in another language. While one can argue that the words don't really matter as much as the action and soul behind them, they wind up coming off as a distraction to Staples' otherwise charming sequence of an alien kid just getting to have fun for once in their life. In particular, Staples' colorwork is superb here, not just differentiating the era that the story has leapt to, but also giving an energy and serenity different from the rest of the issue.

At its heart, Saga isn't a particularly revolutionary story — indeed, all the sci-fi trappings are just that, trappings. This is really a story about any couple who have come together despite race, religion or political camps — they're the ultimate underdogs, but they're so good together than you immediately root for them to win. Because who needs lasers and magic spells when you've got the power of love?


Chew #32

Written and Lettering by John Layman

Art by Rob Guillory and Taylor Wells

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

What's that phrase again? Too many eggs in the omelette? Too many cooks in the kitchen? Either way, the main ingredient that has made Chew such a treat has been the singularity of vision into John Layman's foodie-empowered world, and that focus has been largely because of the focus on one main protagonist: Tony Chu. Yet lately this series has grown increasingly plot-focused — understandable, since you can't be perpetually at Act One for 32 issues — but it does feel like there's a little less kick to this particular gumbo.

It may be because the real focus in this issue isn't Tony, but his partners, Agents Colby and Valenzano. Sure, there's some food crime in this issue, but this bad guy's particular foodie "power" isn't quite as interesting or as funny as some of Layman's other showings — basically, Chew isn't the straight man in a weird world here: he essentially eats, shoots and leaves. But Colby and Valenzano do make some progress for the series' overarching plot, and while it's a story beat that needed hitting, it's not quite as funny as it could have been.

Yet artist Rob Guillory does get some fun moments to draw here, particularly with some over-the-top crime scenes that get increasingly ridiculous as the pages continue. Yet a series like Chew can only be as funny as what the script allows, so this all-business story doesn't quite give Guillory the room he needs to flex his cartoony chops. (That said, there is a scene at a familiar-looking chocolate factory that is downright inspired.) To be fair, Guillory also gets a chance to portray some action in addition to his over-the-top character designs, so watching Colby and Valenzano all cut up and bruised shows a different side of this artist.

You don't walk into a kitchen with a bunch of ingredients and no idea what to do with them. That's not just Cooking 101, the rule also applies for storytelling. In that regard, John Layman is doing exactly what he has to do to keep Chew headed to its final goal, particularly after some of the darker turns this series has taken in the past few months. Yet he's also missing a little bit of that lightness, of that goofy charm that made Chew so fun to read in the first place. If Layman and Guillory can leaven this book up with a little bit of its old humor, I think Chew will be back in fighting form.


Five Ghosts #1

Written by Frank J. Barbiere

Art by Chris Mooneyham and S. M. Vidaurri

Published by Image Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Take Nathan Drake from Uncharted, put him in the years of World War II, and give him multiple personalities via magic and voila, you've got yourself the makings of Five Ghosts.

Image has had a sort of renaissance in the past two years and it's no wonder with books like this. Frank J. Barbiere sets the tone here with a throwback vibe of old supernatural pulp stories. Fabian Gray is a treasure hunter who stumbled upon a mystical artifact that granted (or cursed, depending on the situation) him with abilities of characters from folklore and myth. Sort of like Captain Marvel, but instead of Wisdom of Solomon, Gray has the fighting skills of a samurai or the savage strength of Dracula, but also the bloodlust. Definitely an interesting concept. Fans of Image's sleeper hit Cowboy Ninja Viking from a few years back might draw instant comparisons, but once you see Gray in action, there's a a definite difference in how much more vulnerable Fabian can be.

Chris Mooneyham really sells the story here with his artistic narration. His style incorporates echoes of pencils lines of Gene Colan mixed with the inking of the likes of Dave Johnson. The compositions are bold with heavy inks, but still allows for the colorist to come in and do their job. The panel layouts themselves hearken back to an almost Steranko-vibe and even with scenes of just people talking, they're dynamic and doesn't slow the story's pace even a second. The fight scene at the end has some of the coolest art this year. Mooneyham showing off Fabian's samurai fighting skills against a pack of spider-god worshippers is action-packed and gives you so much to look at in each panel.

Speaking of the colorist, S. M. Vidaurri handles the colors here and the toned down colorscheme just adds to the pulp feel of the book. Mostly known for his one-man show Iron from Archaia last year, it's cool to see him expand some here. The palette here he uses mainly consists of cool colors like blue and light purple, but the when the action heats up, he flicks the switch to deep reds and mellow golds for that extra punch.

People looking for that next big thing, you might want to gaze this way. Five Ghosts has everything in it that a comic should have and then some. If you're wanting to try something a little different, but classic, check out this series pronto.


It Came! #1

Written, Art and Lettering by  Dan Boultwood

Published by Titan Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Growing up on a steady diet of 1950s and 60s monster movies, any story that attempts to nudge that nostalgia line will always get my attention. Toss in some extravagant use of fonts and unnecessary adjectives, and I'm all but hooked. With all that in mind, on the cover alone, It Came! #1 from Titan Comics should be right up my alley. To an extent it is, as sole creator Dan Boultwood expresses all kinds of love for the era of giant robots, charmingly condescending scientists, and English villages that never were.

Working as both focus and classic exposition man, we follow self-acclaimed genius Boy as he travels the English countryside with his lady, the little too ditzy Doris. In time, the lovely pair learn that are we not alone in the universe. Worse still, these alien space robots have an eye toward destruction. It's a simple plot, but when you're playing around with these tropes of early science-fiction, it's rather welcome. In trying to capture the cinematic tone, Boultwood starts out very strong. The opening star field has a classic look and you can all but hear the “you see Timmy” voice in your head as you read the captions.  Combine that with Boultwood's exaggerated pencils and you've got a book that's off to a very good start.

Things get a little tricky once we're introduced to our heroes, Boy and Doris. There is a fine line between honest satire and bad joke. Boultwood gets a close to that line on more than one occasion in It Came! #1. Indeed, there were a few times he might have crossed the line. While the dialog never once transforms into the insulting condescension the book looks to satirize, it does push it just far enough to lose the humor. Which is too bad, being a rather distracting moment or two in a title that really does it's best to amuse the reader. This is also a book that plays to the Anglophile, meaning that unless you grew up in England or have a heavy dose of BBC shows in your past (like this reviewer) you are going to miss more than a few of the subtle jokes in the book. Whether that's a merit or flaw to the book, I just don't know.

There is no doubt, the strongest element to It Came! #1 is the art. Boultwood has a wonderfully expressive style that played to the over-the-top tone of this comic.  This book doesn't have a lick of subtly to it and that goes a long way in selling the tone of the work. Even during moments of rather long exposition, Boultwood draws characters that simply glow with expression. Indeed, much of this comic reads like scenes removed from an animated feature. An interesting choice of color palette maintains the era upon which It Came! #1 is trying to emulate. The varying shades of blue give the reader a sense of watching a Saturday matinee through a smokey haze of theaters that no longer exist. Am I romanticizing that a bit? Perhaps, but you have to respect the tone Boultwood was aiming for.

It Came! #1 is a fun, if flawed, romp through an era of filmmaking that is all but gone. If you're looking for deeper satire on historical and modern sci-fi tropes, this book might feel lacking. However, if you have fond memories of late night Mystery Science Theatre 3000 marathons, then It Came! #1 will hit all the right beats for you.


Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City

Written and Illustrated by Peter Kuper

Published by PM Press

Review by Michael C Lorah

‘Rama Rating: 8 of 10

A combination artbook/short story collection by New York adoptee Peter Kuper, Drawn to New York repurposes many of Kuper's illustrations, sketches and short comics to capture the energy, humanity, chaos and seediness of the Big Apple. As someone who works in Manhattan, I feel safe saying that Kuper succeeds on many levels. Everything is filtered through his political and economical prism, giving Drawn to New York a specific and personal vision, but the sum total of its components adds up to a distinctly New York experience.

The book's biggest success stems from Kuper’s not attempting to force a narrative or structure on its disparate elements - the sprawling, directionless, unbridled mass of the city is best captured in these snapshots and short narratives. Kuper mixes representative illustrations with impressionistic sketches to capture both the physicality and personality of neighborhoods. One sequence uses apartment building windows as panels in a comic book to support the city’s millions of individual stories. Of course, this glorified sketchbook approach may not work for all readers, but when you’ve been drawing city-inspired scenes as long as Kuper has, you have a tremendous catalog of sketches to show off. Appreciate the artwork if not the themes.

Kuper’s short comics stories bring readers into the lives and experiences, not necessarily literal, of Manhattan’s urban dwellers. “Jungleland” is a frenetic adventure of survival against the wilderness and the ceaseless greed of fellow man. “Chains” examines the interconnected nature of our lives and our sins, and “The Wall” takes a satirical approach to the disparity of economic classes living side by side and the exploitation of the poor. Kuper also brings readers inside his September 11, 2001 experience as a resident, a father, and a politically active cartoonist (Kuper is cofounder of and contributor to the superb World War 3 Illustrated).

Whether you live or work on the island, visit as a tourist, or absorb the city’s iconography through its omnipresent pop culture presence, everybody takes something unique away from New York City. Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City is Peter Kuper's New York, and anybody who's spent any time here, physically or otherwise, will recognize the energy and architecture, the grime and crowds, the beautiful humanity, the foods and odors (on one page, he uses smears of color in an attempt to show the smells of parts of the city) and sights. Love it or not, there’s no place on Earth quite like New York City, and few people have captured it as effectively as Kuper.

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