Best Shots Advance Reviews: CHEW #40, DEADLY CLASS #2, REVENGE #1

Credit: Image Comics
Credit: Image Comics

Chew #40
Written and Lettered by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory and Taylor Wells
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

"You've just eaten half of a psychedelic space fruit, in full bloom, and at peak potency, then slow-cooked in the juices of a genetically-engineered psychedelic amphibian. You're really freaking stoned right now."

When you're an ordinary guy, that might sound like a crazy weekend. But when you're the cibopathic star in Chew, this mind-altering trip takes on a greater importance. As John Layman and Rob Guillory round the corner for the final third of their food-centric saga, Chew #40 captures all the silly whimsicality that made this series such a joy to begin with, all while adding in some seriously high stakes. Uh, no pun intended.

Credit: Image Comics

As Tony trips out on a concoction made by his daughter Oliver and his girlfriend Amelia, Layman balances his exposition and action nicely, as he reveals a much larger playing field for this Chew-nivrese than we ever could have expected. The secret ingredient is Tony's sister Toni, brought back from the dead by the power of Tony's psychic skills. (And a severed toe.) Toni is such an endearing character that the information she gives - and the mysteries she leaves in her wake - are easy to digest, giving the reader a reason to continue as well as a compelling, human hook for Tony himself. Underneath all the goofiness, Toni Chu has a lot of lessons to impart both her brother and the audience as a whole, and it's to Layman's credit that it never feels overdone or leaden.

But as I said before, goofiness is the main draw for Chew #40, and I'd be hard-pressed to think of an artist that would portray that as well as Rob Guillory. It's one of the smartest parts of the book to not just have Tony operating under the influence, but also his partner, Colby - as the stoned Tony and Colby suddenly shift into weird cartoon furries, Guillory is allowed to run wild with his art, as the streets bend and a building pokes the sun in the eye. Sheep soldiers, sentient pillows and a man on the moon (with a crown marked "Moon Daddy!") are just a sample of the weirdness that the cartoony Guillory provides. This book has always been Guillory's baby in terms of a visual signature, but this issue in particular he owns.

Considering how many issues of Chew we've read, it's almost surprising that we haven't seen Tony completely under the influence of some sort of psychedelic 'shroom. Layman and Guillory are delivering the ultra-fun acid trip we never knew we wanted, and while Tony Chu may be on the forces of law and order, Chew #40 might just be your gateway drug to a world of hilarious adventure.

Credit: Image Comics

Deadly Class #2
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Wes Craig and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

For the second month running, Rick Remender and Wes Craig give us some lethally good reading in their creator-owned title, Deadly Class. Our protagonist Marcus is an outcast, and he's out to prove it this issue by chain smoking, hanging out in the cemetery, and snubbing cliques that try to recruit him. He's just that cool. This book is starting to look more like a 90's dark comedy than a comic; possibly starring Christian Slater, and definitely worth your time.

Credit: Image Comics

The opening flashback sequence of this issue is… distressing, to put it lightly. Marcus has clearly led a troubled life up until now, and with this new insight into his childhood stacked on top of the memory of the death of his parents, it's no wonder he ended up at a school for assassins. The majority of the issue covers our hero's crash course in the workings of his new school; from knowing student affiliations, to proper shower etiquette. He's off to a good start, having been accepted into an AP class, and even making some friends. Maybe.

Remender's script is a real charmer, full of terrible misdeeds and words that I cannot repeat in this review. Such high levels of vulgarity could easily come off as heavy-handed or contrived, but the writing does not lean on these obscenities for support. Rather, they seems as natural as anything. It's high school, after all, and that's really the focus of this issue. The list of cliques Remender presents was a standout page, and felt a lot like the cafeteria scene in Mean Girls - dissecting every established group of teens, complete with pink background. The supporting characters are starting to get a little more fleshed out, but the personality of Marcus' crush - the mysterious Saya - has yet to be revealed. More high school intrigue and drama is surely forthcoming.

Credit: Image Comics

Then there's the art. What can I even say. Craig is exceptional at facial expressions, action sequences, and making the mundane activities of daily life engrossing. While in the first issue there was an extended fight scene, here we see barely a punch thrown. Pages and pages of nothing but hallways, classes, and students - and it doesn't ever get boring. The scarring on Marcus' body and the dramatic silhouetting in the closing panels were particularly well done. Rounding out the talent is colorist Lee Loughridge - the glue holding this book together so seamlessly. His color choices are consistent, yet his palettes are varied. Where in the previous installment there was a wild, bright palette, there is now a more subdued, neutral one. The daily grind of school life only looks as bleak as Loughridge wants it to.

Deadly Class continues to set a devastating standard for the competition, keeping its plot fresh but steady, and replete with stunning visuals. With any luck, this creative team is looking at another sold out run of their brainchild, so snatch yours up while you can. It's a doozy.

Credit: Image Comics

Revenge #1
Written by Jonathan Ross
Art by Ian Churchill and Arif Prianto
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

The ironic thing about Image's Revenge is the small cursive note on the blood-splattered cover stating "For Mature Readers." Yet "mature" is the last thing this gross-out torture porn is, as Jonathan Ross and Ian Churchill try to stitch together slasher violence with the standard superhero origin fare.

Credit: Image Comics

What gets me the most about Revenge is how gratuitous it all feels. Exploitation flicks are nothing new, but a story that starts off with the main character literally getting the skin peeled off his face (while narrating!) is already the kind of story that's going to alienate all but the most bloodthirsty of readers. And yet I'd argue this - while the over-the-top, gross-out nature of Jonathan Ross's central concept isn't necessarily my cup of tea, ultraviolence has its devotees. But whereas books like Crossed have already pushed the bar in terms of insane, almost Rube Goldberg-esque levels of depravity and horror, and books like Luther Strode have turned violence into a sick, beautiful form of art, Revenge's tale of an aging actor turned vivesection victim doesn't quite have that redeeming characteristic. It's blood for the sake of blood and sex for the sake of sex, but it doesn't tread new ground.

Part of that problem is because Jonathan Ross isn't just free to drench himself in blood and gruesome spectacle - he also dips into the murky, overdone waters of the masked vigilante. I get that superhero comics (and anything that even looks like a superhero comic) will sell big time, but there was a whole genre of revenge stories that didn't require a mask. But Ross dutifully has to go back to the superhero origin trope, as we meet aging actor Griffin Franks. Like a cross between Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis, the 72-year-old actor isn't ready to give up the tough-guy parts, even going to a shady Mexican clinic for some harrowing - and deadly - surgical procedures. Ross's backstory about Griffin's vengeful young girlfriend feels perfunctory, as does Griffin's "endearing" moment of trying to protect a horned dwarf from a lisping German surgeon and his goons. Sure, he can jolt readers by lingering on Griffin's skinless face for panels at a time, but we neither root for the guy nor feel gross enough that we can argue he's getting what he deserves.

Credit: Image Comics

The artwork by Ian Churchill may be the one redeeming aspect to this comic, although that's still not too much to write home about. Churchill sells the gruesome high concept of this story, reminding me a lot of a cleaner Ethan Van Sciver, particularly as we watch a scalpel cut into Griffin's temple, or watching the psychedelic spiders and skulls that flicker about as the surgeon pulls off Griffin's face. Churchill's over-the-top designs are also on full display here, whether its Griffin's wrinkled, leathery face or his girlfriend Candy having a plastic body with gravity-defying, spherical breasts. Speaking of breasts, he's also in a weird place when it comes to the sex - on one page, he's focusing on Griffin's O-face as he's screwing Candy, but on another, he's artfully covering up a topless woman's bottom half with an Academy Award. Again, much of the success of a sick book like Revenge comes from how far out the artist is willing to go - whether that's on Churchill or on Image doesn't matter as much as the fact that this book doesn't go far enough.

The idea of having your face ripped off is an intrinsically gruesome one, one that'll make you flinch just thinking about. It's a trope that's been done before, whether it's Face/Off, Silence of the Lambs, or even in comics like Death of the Family and Crossed, but the execution in Revenge is for the most childlike of reasons - it's the kind of gory scary story that kids would tell to try to gross each other out and seem "older" than their scaredy-cat peers. Despite its "Mature Readers" tag, not only does Revenge pander to the least mature segment of the comics-sphere, but it's so derivative that it doesn't even break new ground doing it.

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