Best Shots Advance Reviews: JMS's APOCALYPSE AL #1, CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE STAR WARS

Credit: Image Comics
Credit: Image Comics

The Adventures of Apocalypse Al #1
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art by Sid Kotian and Bill Farmer
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Fans of apocalyptic fiction and Buffy the Vampire Slayer might have a new title to add to their pull list. J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) and Sid Kotian kick off this four-issue miniseries with an introduction that’s full of charm and intrigue even though it’s lacking in originality. Supernatural private investigators are nothing new but JMS’ Apocalypse Al distills that idea as well as many of the strongest female lead characters of the past 15 years into one tight concept.

Credit: Image Comics

The book follows Allison Carter as she save the world again and again from the end of days. JMS sets up an internal monologue very early on allowing us to gain insight into Allison’s fairly solitary life. Her voice comes across very light and off-the-cuff. She might face the end of the world on a daily basis but she’s not bothered by it. She does interact with a few key minor characters but they don’t exist as to do much more than move the plot at this point. But they are unique enough that readers will want to see more of them ( and hopefully will). There’s one of JMS’ strengths in this issue: his pacing. He’s able to tease just enough about the world of the story hook readers but holds back enough to keep their interest. Allison isn’t to much different from the “strong female lead” we’ve grown accustomed to in the past few years but we don’t know too much about her yet. In trying to define her with her inner monologue, JMS makes a few awkward choices (the bikini wax/relationship metaphor being one that comes seemingly out of nowhere) but overall it doesn’t hurt the character.

Credit: Image Comics

Sid Kotian’s work is mostly passable. His biggest weakness are his panel layouts. He never sacrifices clarity of storytelling but he does overuse white space in a way that makes the pages seems empty at times. Inside the panels, his lines are solid but somewhat inconsistent. The characters are designed well, especially the ones that play a major role in the book. But the book lacks any real “wow” moments. Kotian never makes you sit up and take notice of his work. The closest we get is a sequence where Allison succumbs to her nightmares. There Kotian’s traditional comic book art is overlayed on a seemingly painted background and for a moment, we’re shown potential for more. Considering the supernatural angle of the story, it might not be out of place for him to explore that style again, even if only in passing.

Apocalypse Al is the kind of book that wouldn’t be out of place on any primetime network if it was a TV show. The question is, is it better than the offerings that are already on the shelf in this crowded genre? JMS’ vague “Book of Keys” that serves as the center of conflict might not be enough for seasoned veterans even though the writer does bring in a supernatural heavy hitter in the finals pages. The miniseries is only four issues so it might be worth taking a chance on. IT’s solid and unassuming. It achieves exactly the goals that it sets out to. But don’t be surprised if you get burned by another fire and brimstone narrative in a world chock full of them.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain America #16.NOW
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Pascal Alixe, Edgar Delgado, Antonio Fabela and Israel Silva
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Earth stinks.

That's the view of Jet Black, the daughter of the deceased supervillain Arnim Zola. Raised from birth in a twist, dystopian world, nothing could prepare Jet for the urban decay that is New York City.

There's got to be a brighter picture for tourist season, right?

Credit: Marvel Comics

The problem with Captain America #16.NOW is that while it ties into Rick Remender's storylines elsewhere, both in terms of Steve Rogers' adventures in his main book as well as in Uncanny Avengers, it doesn't really establish much of a hook. Jet Black hates New York City. But is there anything else that makes her look like an interesting character?

Much of the issue with this comic is the art. Pascal Alixe definitely plays up the grunginess of New York, looking like a cross between Simone Bianchi, Eddy Barrows and Doug Braitwaithe. In other words, his lines look sketchy, his figures look lumpy, and his expressions are detailed in ways that seem more distracting than engaging. In certain ways, it almost seems too real, as Jet leaps around the snowy rooftops wearing nothing but an open-toed body suit - he plays up the ugliness of the city, aided by the muddy colorwork of Edgar Delgado, Antonio Fabela and Israel Silva, but there's no big moments that make you want to drink in the artwork.

The other problem with this comic is that it feels like it's an uncharacteristic bit of decompression by Rick Remender. It makes sense that Jet Black would have second thoughts about her new home, especially since she's been mostly sidelined during Remender's last arc - that said, the actual content of this story feels like it could have been sliced in half, with little to nothing lost. For example, six pages are Jet just running around rooftops, monologuing to herself about New York's soft inhabitants and disgusting urban landscape. (Although, to play Devil's Advocate, wasn't Dimension Z kind of a wreck, as well?)

Credit: Marvel Comics

Remender then repeats Jet's disgust with Earth culture when she meets up with an unexpected emissary from one of Remender's Uncanny Avengers characters. While the second bit of his script is a decently smart twist, What we're missing here is why Jet has taken this path -- and what makes her decide that she wants to stay on it. Ultimately, Remender's story -- indeed, Remender's entire run on Captain America -- is that doing the right thing is a choice. But while he built up Captain America's moral resolve -- and hooked readers in in the process -- the lack of a hook for Jet Black makes her hard to care about.

It's fashionable to hate on New York. I get it. And it's easy to be glib and brush off Captain America #16.NOW as pure Yankee-hating, Patriots-loving, anti-Big Apple propaganda. But in all seriousness, despite Jet Black's rootfop hopping choreography, this comic feels like it barely takes any steps forward. There's a semi-interesting twist, but with the lack of progression and the alienating artwork, this isn't a great way to set up your next story arc.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

The Star Wars #5
Written by J. W. Rinzler
Art by Mike Mayhew and Rain Beredo
Lettering by Michael Heisler
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

If nothing else, The Star Wars is a fascinating take at what could have been. It’s clear, however, that those revisions before the release of what became Star Wars were sorely needed. Between the larger cast of characters this early in the story, a wider range of factions—between the Jedi Bendu, the old Empire, the New Empire, Aquilae, and the Sith—this story has many more variables that J. W. Rinzler has to keep track of, which can lead to a complex story, but in this case leads to a confusing, but enjoyable story for any Star Wars fans.

The Star Wars synthesizes these new story elements with what we’re already familiar with from the original trilogy. It’s fascinating from a reader’s perspective to realize, “Hey, this is pretty much an extended escape from Mos Eisley.” Though, the similarities between each rendition is mostly on the surface—as The Star Wars continues into its fifth issue, it’s taken on a tone of its own that, although similar, has become a story in its own right, standing apart from A New Hope.

The cast of characters, compared to the finished version, is much larger, which leads to less screen time for characters that should have more room to grow. Han Solo, for instance, had such weight in the original trilogy, that it’s strange this rendition of the character isn’t given the same courtesy to grow. Even if this version doesn’t have the same weight to the story, the reader still expects him to have one, because they go into the story with the background that the “original” Han Solo played an important—and rather enjoyable—role. Rinzler needs to give these character room to breathe or address the preconceptions and expectations the readers bring to the issue prior to reading.

The writing from Rinzler is, to a degree, formulaic; just as George Lucas was able to get away with it in A New Hope, Rinzler is as well. There’s high tension and action from the beginning of the issue, complete with Rinzler raising the stakes and immediacy of the story by having Windy’s container failing from the power, provided by the sacrifice from Annikin’s father in the previous issue. Although these storytelling techniques can seem contrived and predictable at times, they still add excitement to the issue by providing the reader with a reason to turn to the next page and find out what happens next.

From there, however, the issue weakens considerably. The tension evaporates when Han Solo and Luke Skywalker surrender to Prince Valorum. The story suffers from unexplained coincidences, making both the gas that Prince Valorum is immune to and Annikin suddenly acquiring a neuro-stunner more plot device than anything else. They’re included to justify moving from one scene to the next without an organic evolution of the plot. These contrivances add up and serve only to discredit the believability of the story.

The proverbial straw the broke the camel’s back, however, was the amazingly unemotional love confession between Leia and Annikin. Rinzler first sets up Leia in poor light as Annikin scoffs at Leia’s confession, which makes him seem like the more mature and reasonable one; however, later on, he professes his own love for Leia, too. Rinzler hasn’t shown much progression between the two to make a believable claim that the two could be in love, making their overly dramatic confessions hollow and lifeless to the reader, who can’t help but roll their eyes and wonder when the real story will get back in gear.

Beyond that, the art of the issue, done by Mike Mayhew and Rain Beredo remains consistently above average and enjoyable. The coloring, especially, makes the run stand out. Beredo blends colors to create a shading effect that adds to a 3D’ing effect for the visuals, which is a move away from the usual flat colors we see in most mainstream comics. The break from normal stylistic choices is both appreciated for its difference and also the well-done execution provided by both the artists.

Overall, The Star Wars acts as a great “What if?” for any fan of the original Star Wars, but it doesn’t read like it would be easy for someone to enter into the series cold. However, Dark Horse is smart because it knows the target audience of The Star Wars. Looking past the obvious faults of the issue, that are similar to the faults of the movie, the issue nonetheless provides the reader with an engaging and overall enjoyable tale that keeps the reader wanting the next issue.

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