Best Shots Advance Reviews: TERMINATOR: FINAL BATTLE #1, THE FOX #2

Credit: Dark Horse Comics
Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Terminator Salvation: The Final Battle #1
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art by Pete Woods and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

This is a book that combined two of my favorite things - J. Michael Straczynski and the Terminator franchise - yet Terminator Salvation: The Final Battle seems to have something lost in the translation. This 12-part saga stumbles out of the gate, as unclear storytelling makes this a slog even for diehard fans.

Part of the appeal of the Terminator series is its simplicity - bad robot is given a target, and heroic freedom fighter steps in to take down this unstoppable force. It's the stuff that action mythology is made of, but unfortunately J. Michael Straczynski's first issue winds up slowing down due to exposition. Of course, if that exposition allowed for an emotional hook, that wouldn't be such a bad thing - but the problem is, it's nearly impossible to tell who's who and what's going on. Three Terminators are sent to the past, but their storyline is just a rehash of what's come before - meanwhile, a Kyle Reese-esque character from the future named Simon is on the prowl for a serial killer named Thomas James Parnell. Right now, none of these characters seem to have any defining characteristics, and considering the Terminators' actual goal still remains murky, there's not much to entice you.

To compound this, Straczynski seems to be adding in several backstories that weigh down the Terminator storyline rather than enhance it. The introduction of SkyNet's human assistant, for example, evokes some questions about time-travel paradoxes, but it feels more like trivia at this point than something that adds to the overall story. John Connor, meanwhile, gets a perfunctory appearance, and the character of Simon in particular seems so shallow that it took me several reads to realize he wasn't Kyle Reese. Right now, there are several new characters who will clearly intersect as Straczynski barrels forward - but the uneven pacing and bouncing between these characters makes for a read that's more difficult than it's worth.

The art, unfortunately, doesn't help. To his credit, Pete Woods draws some very clean figures, with his use of shadow really evoking a Stelfreeze-esque vibe. His Terminators look particularly menacing, and his panel-to-panel storytelling is clean and easy to follow. The problem? Woods' character design - it's very difficult to tell which of his characters are meant to look the same, and which are just stylistic tics. (In particular, there's a transition between a half-built Terminator and Parnell that is very unclear whether or not they are one and the same.) Part of the challenge of a movie-based comic is that you have to evoke certain actors as well as the overall tone of the story - while Woods creates a very moody atmosphere, his characters are so hard to tell apart that it drains the recognizability of this franchise.

Sometimes all you need is a killer robot. Terminator Salvation: The Final Battle #1 proves that point - there's so much going on in this first issue besides what we actually came to see that it becomes a frustrating exercise to read this book. There is so much untapped potential for the Terminator franchise, as we can see by the numerous sequels that have hit the movie screens, but diverging too much from the central premise can rob this book of its appeal. Here's hoping this first issue was just a temporary glitch.

Credit: Archie Comics

The Fox #2
Written by Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid
Art by Dean Haspiel and Allen Passalaqua
Lettering by John Workman
Published by Archie Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Sometimes being crazy as a fox isn't always a good thing. Archie Comics' sophomore issue of The Fox is a bit of a step down from the effervescent, charming opening issue, as Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid focus a little too hard on the weirdness and not quite enough on the heart.

Well, perhaps that's overstating things a bit. Haspiel and Waid's Fox still has that charming everyman quality to him, even when he's been dropped in a bizarre alternate world "where grapefruit-pink water laps a cubic zirconium shore." Where the story really perks up is when we analyze the humanity behind the mask, as Paul Patton goes toe-to-toe with his wife Mae, also known as She-Fox. It's marital bickering writ large, as Paul has to defend himself physically as well as emotionally, as his wife pounds on him for accidentally breaking her father's handmade dishes. "I'm sorry about the towels!" Paul cries, as she nearly breaks his arm. It's a great sequence.

The second half of this script, featuring another weird Archie character, is pretty chuckleworthy, but it's not quite enough to harness the charm of the last issue. Haspiel's plot has so much exposition to lay out that it winds up hurting the momentum of the story - there's so much crazy stuff that can happen on the streets that you don't need to up the ante this hard, this fast. Considering Paul Patton feels like a more well-adjusted version of Peter Parker, it would have been better to spend more time getting to know him in his natural habitat, rather than go the stunt route and push the Kirby psychedelia.

But you can't deny that the artwork is still as great as ever. Haspiel lends a lot of emotion to the Fox, which says something, considering he's clad head-to-toe in a full body stocking. His animated compositions and fight choreoraphy are light and easy to read, evoking a very similar tone to Batman: The Animated Series. That said, some of his non-masked characters occasionally look a little distended, and the three pages of exposition featuring alien royalty doesn't look as tight as the rest of his pages.

While The Fox #2 experiences a bit of a sophomore slump, that's not to say that this is a bad issue. The artwork alone makes this comic worth a look, and the character of Paul Patton still retains a bit of an everyman charm. While I'd argue that this comic pushes the tonal limits a little too fast, it's not a bad alternative to the doom-and-gloom and ultra-seriousness of other superhero offerings.

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