Best Shots Advance Reviews: BATMAN #22, BREATH OF BONES, More
CREDIT: DC Comics
Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Art by Greg Capulllo, Danny Miki, FCO Plascencia, Rafael Albuquerque, and Dave McCaig
Letters by Nick Napolitano, and Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
In the wake of Scott Snyder's "Zero Year," many questions have arisen regarding the need for retelling Batman's origin, and the wisdom of retroactively contradicting "Batman: Year One," widely considered the definitive vision of Batman's early days. Though the arc is only two issues in, Snyder and artist Greg Capullo are already making a case for their version of the story, focusing on Bruce Wayne — a character who has seemed lacking in Snyder's run up to now — and dropping him into the kind of bombastic, compelling, and almost subversive adventure that The New 52 should and could have been built upon.
Batman #22 continues "Secret City," the first arc of the Caped Crusader's Zero Year, upping the stakes in Bruce Wayne's war on the Red Hood Gang, and leading him to find allies in some fairly strange places. This is a different Gotham from the one that Batman inhabits, but even this early in the story, the stage is being set for what the city, and its favorite son Bruce Wayne, will one day become. Like Bruce, many of the city's most important figures are in their infancy here, with glimpses at a pre-Penguin Oswald Cobblepot, and of course Edward Nygma, whose mind-bending game of mental cat and mouse with Bruce may be the issue's best sequence.
There's a feeling of familiarity in this world; it reads like the "real" Gotham, and the "real" Bruce Wayne, not some reimagined world of connections that could only exist after the fact. Even the elements of the story, like Nygma's involvement, that seem a little convenient don't come across as self-congratulatory, instead reading as insightful and bold. Honestly, it's a little surprising how even-handed and natural Snyder's script feels after some of the heavy-handed and obvious issues of "Death of the Family." Dialing back to a smaller stage, and a more back to basics approach for his characters has given Snyder some breathing room, and further, allowed Greg Capullo to hone some of the weaker points in his approach to Batman.
While Capullo has often nailed the menacing nature of Bruce Wayne's cowled alter-ego and his gallery of menacing rogues, he's rarely nailed the more human side of the story, delving too far into a cartoony style that cuts the tension of Batman's adventures rather than complementing them. Here, he's managed to strike a balance in that cartoony approach, which is bolstered by Danny Miki's turn towards more solid, bolder inks. Further, FCO Plascencia breaks some of the DC house mold by using a more refined color palette to actually set a mood and complement the story rather than treating the line art like a coloring book. Scenes of zeppelins over Gotham offer an amazing view of Capullo's pre-Batman Gotham, dark and imposing, but not as foreboding and grimy as the Gotham occupied by faceless killers and masked cults.
Bolstered by snippets of Bruce's formative travels prior to his return to Gotham provided by James Tynion IV and Rafael Albuquerque, "Zero Year" isn't just retelling Batman's origin, it's transforming Bruce Wayne into the man he'll one day become. Along the way, it's bringing his city and its inhabitants down the same dark path, creating a cycle that, like Nygma's Egyptian board game, feeds itself, ensuring it's own existence even as its main catalyst works to stop it. Snyder is onto something here, and it seems like DC is letting its faith in its creators guide their story. Good move.
Quantum and Woody #1
Written by James Asmus
Art by Tom Fowler and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Dave Lanphear
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
The comic book odd couple of the '90s is back, as Valiant has resurrected its cult classic Quantum and Woody for a new generation. With writer James Asmus and artist Tom Fowler behind the wheel, the World's Worst Superhero Team has some potential, even if it's only operating at half-capacity.
With his background as a comedian, it's clear that James Asmus is at his best when he's leaning into this book's "bwa-ha-ha" side. In this new take on Quantum and Woody, these kids are literally brothers from another mother, as Woody was adopted into Henderson family as a foster child. It's a very, very smart move that immediately injects some drama into the duo's relationship, as well as streamlines why these two opposites wind up coming together. You can see just how much fun Asmus has with Woody in particular, as the black sheep of the family winds up sleeping around, picking pockets and otherwise acting as a ne'er-do-well to his straight-laced brother Eric.
Yet when it comes to the second half of this pair, well, there's still some room for improvement. While Woody has immediate motivation to do what he does — he's adopted, he never was accepted as part of the family, even his best intentions landed him into trouble — Eric still feels like a blank slate. He's a straight-shooter, a superhero-in-training, but there's really no reason for him to be doing all that just yet. Part of the problem is that, unlike Woody, Eric doesn't have anything funny to lean back on, and feels like a less-than-active character (even when he attempts to stop a robbery not really in progress). Eric also represents some of the tonal inconsistencies of this book, as it's hard to keep a book this funny when you also have moments like an adopted father saying that that his foster child isn't "one of us."
The art in this book, while not revolutionary, is clean and easy to follow. In certain ways, Fowler's lush inking reminds me a bit of Phil Hester, with the character design of Peter Krause. Fowler's page layouts are particularly smooth, especially a page where we establish the adult Woody — indeed, we see him start off in a hotel room with a beautiful woman, getting up to take a leak, bouncing out of the window when security arrives, and hopping down the fire escape without a care in the world. He also injects some nice energy to a fight sequence with Eric, as he tosses a coffee cup at an assailant's head, and the sheer emotion you see when Woody confronts Eric at their father's funeral is the highlight of the book.
While this is not a perfect debut, there are more hits than misses to this first issue of the reborn Quantum and Woody. Particularly with Asmus's smart redefinition of the duo's relationship, there is a lot of potential for this partnership, as they explore family, heroism, and doing the right thing (or at least trying and failing miserably). With their new origin story out of the way, Asmus and Fowler have earned my interest for their next installment — once superpowers fall into the mix, there's no telling where Quantum and Woody might end up.
Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
It's kind of amazing watching Tony Chu grow up.
When Chew first started, the series was almost a slapsticky kind of comedy, as this hapless FDA agent wound up eating fingernails and excrement to track down food-related perps. But somewhere along the line, John Layman and Rob Guillory slowly but surely started switching gears. Once they had the audience in their hands, Layman and Guillory started focusing less on the laughs and more on the plot — namely, watching Tony go from a victim to a victor as he takes ownership over his kooky cibopathic abilities.
In so doing, Layman actually makes Chew #35 a surprisingly action-oriented read. Watching Tony stage a one-man raid against a pack of cultists, for example, is the culmination of years of world-building on Layman's part, as Tony now just has to take a bite out of a building to get a full blueprint of what's inside. The exposition here is also surprisingly smooth, as Layman fills readers in on the growing threat of the Collector, the Divinity of the Immaculate Ova, Mason Savoy, and even the fate of Chu's sister, Toni. In short, all of Layman's threads are quickly coming together, and the deliberateness and accessibility of these long-term plans make this book satisfying for new readers and veterans alike.
But for my money, my favorite part about Chew #35 is the characterization. Considering how funny John Layman's scripts can be, it was at first a little jarring to watch Tony go from being the butt of the joke to being a bit more proactive, a bit more heroic. (Of course, Tony's partner Colby does get some amusing beats, as his love triangle between two elderly bureau chiefs doesn't quite go the way he expected.) But Layman really spells out the theme here, as Tony is tired of swallowing other people's crap, both literally and figuratively. In a medium where characters are largely static, this sort of growth and agency is actually quite refreshing, once you get used to it. Leavened by the innate weirdness of a world with foodie powers, the newer, tougher Chu is less of a downer and more of a geek gone good.
Thankfully, Rob Guillory's artwork also keeps this book on an even comedic keel. Little moments like Savoy's "Twerkin'" hat, or a cultist having the words "Me So Crazy" tattooed on his knuckles really reward the eagle-eyed reader, and his cartoony characters really draw in the reader by being so expressive. Guillory's panel-to-panel storytelling is really on point this issue, as well, particularly as he sets up Tony's raid. (The message they leave for him is also particularly well set-up.)
Without giving too much away, let's just say that this issue concludes with Layman turning the very concept of "fridging" on its head. With a cliffhanger like that, there's a lot to like about Chew, a comic that hasn't rested on its comedic laurels, but instead has given its main character - and its readers - enough credit to evolve. While that makes for a very different product than when this comic debuted back in 2009, tastes change, and it takes a real craftsman to stay one step ahead of the reader's palate. This is one of the best issues of Chew I've read in a long time, and I'm very excited to see where Layman and Guillory take us next.
Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #2
?Written by Scott Niles
Art by Dave Wachter
?Published by Dark Horse Comics
?Review by Forrest C. Helvie
?'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Steve Niles and Dave Wachter continue to weave a rich tale that tells the story of those left behind during a time of war. But unlike the real world stories of those who lived through World War on the European front, this story pulls back the curtain on a small town, which is protected by an ancient Golem — unbeknownst to most of the villagers. And now the Germans have been alerted to the presence of the downed Allied pilot who has taken refuge with Jacob and his family. This issue focused strictly on Noah’s role in the creation of the golem, and readers can expect the conclusion to resolve not only the conflict with the Germans’ invasion of the village but also Noah’s fate as a solider in the trenches of World War II. When given access to the power of the golem, I'm curious to see how exactly Noah decides when to relinquish control of the monster. Given the events in this issue, it will likely be a difficult decision to do so.
I continue to find myself reminded of Will Eisner’s A Contract With God trilogy while reading this miniseries. Niles’ story and Wachter’s art combine to tell a similar sort of visual exploration of the human experience and mankind’s will to overcome great hardships. Although there were no golems in Eisner’s work, there is something vaguely reminiscent of the style of character depiction between the two pieces, although Wachter adds his own signature to his characters. Thematically, there is also the similarity between the two where there is the temptation to choose the easy wrong over the hard right. Jacob could either ignore the injured pilot and leave him to be found by the Nazis or betray him to the Germans upon their arrival. Yet, there is also the other option of choosing the morally upright path, even if it may come with a high cost. I found the final scene particularly moving as it shows the cost to imbuing the Golem with life — or at least, suggest it with the young boy’s exhortations for the clay behemoth to come to life. The depiction of Noah in this scene captures both the sense of loss and the desire of the people to strike back at those who had already taken much from these poor villagers.
Dave Wachter’s art continues to deliver a captivating and emotional reading experience as Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem poignantly conveys the sorrows of those left behind the not-so-distant battle lines of war. Lines of care and concern weigh heavy on each face with the encroaching presence of the Nazis and the certain fate of the young men gone to face them. I also found the use of gray tones instead colors is a much stronger choice for underscoring the bleak and weary atmosphere that characterizes this war torn village where many realize the sons and fathers who left for war will not be returning home. Wachter also makes use of water colors within his backgrounds to create ghost-like landscapes, which add yet another subtle touch to a haunting story. And in this issue, we see the creation of the golem itself. Although I don’t aim to try and replicate the process by which this monster was made, I really appreciated the way in which Wacther opted for a more grounded and realistic depiction of this beast’s creation as opposed to something that went over the top and would have lost touch with the rest of the narrative.
Overall, I continue to find myself amazed at the evocative artwork and the captivating narrative of human perseverance, even with the assistance of the supernatural. My only criticism is that I realize there is only one issue left to the mini-series, and I would have easily been on board for many more. Given the strength of this story, however, perhaps we’ll see more tales of the Golem from Niles and Watchter in the future.