Best Shots Advance: EAST OF WEST, GREEN HORNET, SKULLKICKERS
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin
Lettering by Russ Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
There's no easy way to describe East of West, this hodge-podge of mythologies and genres from Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta. A sci-fi alt-history post-apocalyptic western, this comic is very much an auteur's vision — in other words, new converts may be left scratching their heads at this super-stylized first issue, but those who know Hickman and Dragotta will be intrigued by these bold concepts.
Of course, this new world is a disorienting one to enter into. We have puzzle-piece religious texts and meteor strikes hitting the U.S. during the Civil War, we have post-apocalyptic futures with the return of the Four Horsemen, we have this generally foreboding atmosphere of doom all over the place... it's a lot to take in, even as the tone feels methodical and lyrical as Hickman usually does. That said, without that simple high concept to fall back upon, you're not quite sure where this story is going or what to expect — who's the protagonist here, for example? Who's the main villain? It can be a challenge.
For my money, though, the big win of East of West is the art. Nick Dragotta gets super-charged with Frank Martin's colors, which make each page look much more detailed and heavy — fitting, considering the end of the world is upon these characters. The gunslinger known as Death cuts a mean figure in this book, a lanky cowboy all in eye-popping white, and his two compatriots have a nice sense of design, too. Occasionally there are a few pages that feel a little wasted — the establishing shots of the crypt of the Four Horsemen take awhile to get across, for example, and the four pillars don't exactly have a memorable effect for a splash page — but for the most part, this is A-plus work from Dragotta and company.
Many people will dismiss East of West not knowing where it is headed, or even worse, calling it self-indulgent on Hickman's part. I do think this is a comic that relies on the voices of its creators, but I think that's ultimately a good thing — I don't see Hickman or Dragotta going for the deep themes or the movie deals, but instead are producing a platform for pure style. That's good for now, even if that can't last forever. With sharp art and strong dialogue, this first issue has a lot going for it — but first impressions aside, only time will tell if East of West will find its narrative true north.
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Daniel Indro and Marcio Menyz
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Dynamite Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Mark Waid is easily one of the top comic book writers in the industry today, known for excellent runs on The Flash, Daredevil and more. His ability to cut to the core of a character and provide a no-nonsense introduction and examination of them sets him apart from his peers. Dynamite tasked the veteran with relaunching its Green Hornet property, hoping to provide the shot in the arm that the ill-fated foray into film couldn’t.
Waid is clearly on top of his game here. The opening monologue paces an introduction to The Green Hornet and Britt Reid that is informative while still full of wit and period-appropriate slang. Waid’s playful bait-and-switch with the reader is congruent to Britt Reid’s own deception of the 1940s underworld and it sets the tone for the book as a mildly gritty, crime noir with a devil may care attitude. Kato gets a little lost in the shuffle though as he doesn’t talk much. Some of his origins are explained through flashback but he doesn’t get the same treatment that Waid has afforded supporting characters in the past.
We get a tease of a greater evil to come but this issue acts as a one and done introduction to the character and his world. The Green Hornet is a thankless avenger who knows that sometimes the only way to be a good guy is to be one of the bad guys. As the series progresses, it will be interesting to see how Britt Reid balances his vigilantism with his responsibilities to his newspaper as well as how he navigates his personal relationships as he tries to navigate his double life.
Despite Waid’s strong script, the artwork leaves something to be desired. Daniel Indro handles the pencils and inks and at times the panels come through as bit darker than necessary. Most of the action scenes take place at night, lending themselves to darker colors and deeper blacks but some pages come out muddy with characters that look like the Crypt Keeper because of the harsh shadows on their faces. There’s also a lot of unnecessary crosshatching in the background that appears on just about every page. Indro’s sense of storytelling and composition on the whole are strong, I just wish that we had more opportunities to see his line work even in those darker scenes. When we get to see it, as in the first splash page or the scenes of Britt Reid at the Sentinel offices, the art really pops and Marcio Menyz’ colors compliment the action as oppose to further muddy it.
The Green Hornet #1 is a strong debut with a lot of potential. The art is holding it back for now but that’s a bound to change as the creative team gels with future issues. With Mark Waid at the helm, Green Hornet can definitely hang with the best superhero books on the shelves.
Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang and Misty Coates
Published by Image Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Jim Zub and crew continue to take aim at the farcical rebranding of various titles in mainstream comics taking place with their even more newly retitled Savage Skullkickers #1 — or Skullkickers #20 for those readers who are “in” on the joke. Additionally, readers of Marvel’s Savage Wolverine #1 will no doubt recognize the "homage" on the cover to this issue. But while the title continues to poke fun at the cheap industry tricks the Big Two often use to bring in new readers through reboots, static action-oriented pin-up covers, and hyperbolic new titles, fans and new readers alike will find little about this issue that feels cheap.
The story picks up where Issue #19 (or Uncanny Skullkickers #1) left off — Rolf the Dwarf begins his journey into the underworld while Rex and Kusia in righteous combat with the giant ape-men of the jungle island. Rolf’s interactions with Charon are great examples of the clown and straight man in a fantasy setting. Once again, Zub’s story seems to be both a celebration and critique of the high fantasy genre in which his characters existed. From the use of self-aware sound effects (Death's "Awkward Silence") and the sing-along on the River Styx to the kvetching spirits waiting in line for final judgment, Zub’s outlandishness recalls the “Biff! Bam! Pow!” of comics’ past while having a good laugh at it as well. Further, his witty zingers and one-liners never fail to elicit a good laugh through their often-deadpan delivery from the ornery, naked dwarf and his demonic overseers to the interactions between elf, man, and ape.
Huang and Coats carry on with their consistently eye-catching, polished art whose colors help the action pop off the page during moments of action without being so busy that it distracts from what’s going on in the story. If Zub earns credit for writing a witty, laugh-inducing story, it is his artistic teammates who deserve kudos for continuing to deliver that story that makes use of the fantastic elements in a visually appealing way that conveys bizarre and comic absurdity of the narrative.
Overall, it’s not often that a comic can blend an action story that is not only fun to read but genuinely funny. The fact that Jim Zub and crew have been able to do this without feeling stale is a testament to the quality of this book. One does not need earth-shattering events in a comic to be a good comic. At one point while reading this issue, I laughed out so loud that I thought I might have woken up one of my children sleeping upstairs! And at the end of a long workday, that’s worth a solid 10 in my book any day.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!