Best Shots Advance Reviews: GHOST RIDER #1, SILVER SURFER #1, IRON PATRIOT #1, More

Marvel previews for March 26, 2014
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Ghost Rider #1
Written by Felipe Smith
Art by Tradd Moore, Nelson Daniels, and Val Staples
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Make no mistake, Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore's Ghost Rider is like nothing you've ever seen from the Spirit of Vengeance before, and yet, there's something oddly familiar about its trappings. Ghost Rider #1 is outsized, over-the-top, larger-than-life grit set in a version of East L.A. that feels a lot more like Robocop's decaying Detroit, a comparison that feels more and more apt as the book goes on. With Moore's high-octane artistic acrobatics fueling the story, Smith's oddball script really lets loose, telling a story that reads like The Crow set against the backdrop of The Warriors.

Credit: Marvel Comics

While Smith's script certainly cranks up the atmosphere, in doing so, it sacrifices a lot of nuance. There is very little about Ghost Rider that is at all subtle or charming; instead every beat is huge, writ-large in almost caricatured dramatics, from the inescapable crime of the hellish portion of East L.A. where Robbie Reyes lives, to his relationship with his handicapped younger brother. It makes sense, coming from Smith's manga-fueled background that he should focus on broad strokes to paint an emotional picture, but those readers not familiar with the trappings of manga might find themselves alienated by the lack of restraint, which gives way to inescapable emotional theatrics.

Credit: Marvel Comics

It's hard to categorize Ghost Rider. On one hand, it's influences seem to be culled from a very specific sub-genre of cartoonish crime films of the '80's - appropriate for the Spirit of Vengeance - but there's also a part of it that wants to come across as decidedly modern. For example, the Fast and the Furious-style car chases, which absolutely scream across the page, thanks to Tradd Moore's unbridled kineticism, feel thoroughly contemporary. Indeed, Moore is really the star of this book. Ghost Rider constitutes Moore's first ongoing commitment to a mainstream book, and boy has he earned it. Moore is absolutely unafraid to give this book every ounce of his twisted, meticulous vision, and twin colorists Nelson Daniels and Val Staples really capture the neon grit of Moore's downtrodden but cartoonish pages. If there's anything that's going to hook readers, it's going to be his art.

On the other hand, there's plenty to confuse longtime Ghost Rider fans. This is nothing like any Ghost Rider book that's ever hit the stands. And that is definitely as mixed bag for Marvel. There's a component of Marvel's readership that will be repelled by this new take on the character - it really isn't like anything in mainstream American comics right now - but there are also those who will be drawn to the book for its odd-duck style. The bottom line is, Ghost Rider #1 is a book that wears its influence on its sleeve, along with its emotional core, and its sense of subtlety. But there's something incredibly gripping about its raw, unbridled energy that will make readers who are willing to go along for the ride clamor for the next issue.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Silver Surfer #1
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Mike Allred and Laura Allred
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

On paper, this comic should be perfection. Mike Allred is a legendary artist with a sophisticated style, suited for the stranger sides of the Marvel Universe. Dan Slott is a gifted storyteller with a knack for big ideas. The Silver Surfer is fairly underutilized character that plays to both Slott and Allred’s strengths. But this one misses the mark completely, because no one on the creative team harnesses those strengths.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Anytime Mike Allred is attached to a project, there’s always a certain level of hype and expectation because he’s such a known commodity. Outsider books like X-Statix and FF worked in part because of Allred’s quirky, charming style. Surely, a cosmic book starring the Sentinel of the Spaceways would be a fit. But unfortunately, while Allred and his wife, colorist Laura Allred, ignore the scope of the story. Space is a huge, vast place. The setting is inherent to the Silver Surfer. But the Allreds rely on digital effects to render space and it makes the book feel small and confined, the exact opposite of how a cosmic book should make you feel. The big culprit is really Laura Allred’s coloring. She never makes space black, instead opting for almost pastel blues and purples. This tends to make the Surfer himself not stand out as much and coupled with the gutters, the pages come across as overwhelming white. For what it’s worth, Mike Allred’s Silver Surfer does look great, and the page inside the machine known as the Motivator is definitely one for the ages, portraying the Surfer’s history on his reflective skin. It just a shame that he looks pasted onto someone’s computer desktop wallpaper of a nebula rather than a natural presence in space.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Dan Slott described this book as a cosmic love story of sorts. It makes sense considering that Norrin Radd only became a Herald of Galactus to save his true love. But Slott goes in a decidedly different and all-too-familiar direction. He delivers what feels like a discarded Matt Smith-era Doctor Who script right down to the set-up for a companion and using her as leverage to force the Silver Surfer to be the Impericon’s Champion. Slott is a known Whovian and sci-fi aficionado, but cribbing so much from that concept and shoehorning Silver Surfer in doesn’t play well here. It feels like Slott is missing the loneliness and rage that makes Silver Surfer an enticing character. In the process, he introduces Dawn, a new character that we’re told we have to care about because she’s been named “The Most Important Person In the Universe.” What’s meant to be a mystery just comes off as a lazy, failed attempt at creating gravitas.

Slott and company can probably right the ship given enough time, but right now this is a mess. The plotting relies too heavily on the tropes of another property altogether. (Although, I wouldn’t put it past Slott to somehow include continuity from Marvel’s short Doctor Who comic from a few decades ago.) The art relies too heavily on digital effects and subsequently it undermines it’s greatest setting: space itself. Marvel’s solo titles usually do a great job of delivering compelling adventures outside the context of a team, and that's very valuable, especially to fans of those characters. But this book won’t be enough to entice new fans or satiate old ones.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Iron Patriot #1
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Garry Brown and Jim Charalampidis
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

What is it about James Rhodes that can stymie even the most talented writers?

Greg Pak. Nick Spencer. Even Ed Brubaker and Warren Ellis had a tough time cracking that War Machine shell over in Secret Avengers. And as much as I like Ales Kot in his other books, he too is having a tough time figuring out what drives the Iron Patriot. While Kot zeroes in on the quiet humanity that anchors Rhodey amongst all his superhero derring do, the high concept here feels a bit too understated to qualify as a successful launch.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Given that James Rhodes got his start as a supporting character for Tony Stark, one of the big challenges for an Iron Patriot book is figuring out what makes him tick. What angle can you take on Rhodey that you can't with Tony? He's not a scientist; he's a soldier. He's not a stateside humanitarian; he's an international prescence. But Ales Kot's opening issue barely touches upon any of these distinctions - instead, he focuses primarily on Rhodey's family, such as his precocious niece Lila and his estranged father Terrence. While Lila still feels a bit one-dimensional as the plucky gearhead who will likely become Rhodey's tech support in the field, the tentative dynamic between father and son has at least a little bit more of an emotional spark.

Credit: Marvel Comics

The thing about this issue is that while the Iron Patriot as a character has the potential to be an allegory about might making right in the geopolitical sphere, the actual action in this comic feels almost nonexistent - even the exciting tease at the beginning fizzles out almost as soon as the Rhodes family comes into play. And that's not good for artist Garry Brown, whose chiseled, scratchy style could be a good fit for some bone-crunching, gun-toting fight sequences. His characters have a lot of emotion and grit to them, but at the end of the day, they're also not doing too much. Kot seems to be playing a longer, more sedate game here, which is a problem, particularly when Brown has to introduce new players like the shady Mr. Fujikawa, who are so tiny in each panel that by the time they've been properly introduced, the page is over.

That's not to say that Iron Patriot #1 is a bad book by any means. It's very human, and has a lot of potential for some real growth for James Rhodes as a father, a son, and as an armored crusader. But that's just it - a new #1 shouldn't just be the promise of potential. That's what solicits are for. You need to deliver on that promise, with a confident, unmistakable direction. And it's that lack of direction that is what's holding Iron Patriot back.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Serenity Leaves on the Wind #3
Written by Zack Whedon
Art by Georges Jeanty, Karl Story and Laura Martin
Lettering by Michael Heisler
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Anyone who still isn’t reading this should really reconsider their life decisions. Zack Whedon continues to impress with the strength of Serenity Leaves on the Wind #3 by balancing the narrative tension perfectly and writing these characters well. As the crew faces Jubal, we’re reading on the edge of our seat rooting for everything to turn out alright; as Whedon fleshes out the universe by revealing more secrets through River, the characters guide the narrative forward in an organic and believable manner.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

It’s clear that Whedon isn’t taking this opportunity to write Serenity for granted. He’s bringing everything to the table and succeeding in making the reader care and become invested in the story. As soon as River’s done with her vision, we’re reminded of the immediate threat Jubal presents to the crew. As we see him knock them out one by one, it’s Michael Heisler that adds the most tension to the story with the lettering: when we see the “crack” from Jubal slapping Simon and the “whak” in red with cracks in the lettering when Kaylee retaliates, the reader is left wondering if Jubal knocked them out or if something more sinister has happened. Georges Jeanty adds to that by knowing exactly when to cut to and from Jubal’s progression through the ship and conversations between other characters. It really does feel like we’re watching the show rather than reading a comic, and in this case it works to the story’s advantage.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

The dialogue continues to be a highlight of the issue, as Whedon knows how to play these characters against each other to keep the story moving. Like any other Whedon-project, good dialogue is a necessity and the writing delivers those expectations. While the conversations between Jubal’s movements could have bogged down the narrative, Whedon took the opportunity to take a moment and explore these characters’ emotions during such a high-intense period of their lives as Zoe’s gone. That balance between the action and emotion only enhanced the issue as a whole.

This doesn’t change, though, that this feels much like an intermediary issue bridging the past two issues with the future story, especially since Jubal’s infiltration on the ship didn’t have as severe effects as we were expecting. As the last few pages move quickly, revealing a past antagonist and leaving readers on a cliffhanger, we’re left in the dust as the story moves on to the next part too fast. Whedon leaves us no time to decompress from the new information River finds and the effects of Jubal’s actions and instead focuses on what’s going to happen next.

The fact this issue serves to lead into the next stage of Whedon’s story doesn’t hinder the issue too much. There’s still great content within the story and is absolutely of the same quality we’ve come to expect from any project with the name “Whedon” on it. Jeanty, as well, continues to prove a major artist for Dark Horse, consistently delivering above-average work. Fans of the series, and even those fans who’ve only seen the movie or were hesitant about the television series should absolutely give this run a chance.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Blackout #1
Written by Frank Barbiere
Art by Colin Lorimer
Lettering by Frank Barbiere
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Frank Barbiere crosses genres from his successful run on White Suits and works with artist Colin Lormier to deliver a science fiction thriller that fails to deliver anything above expectations. It’s unfortunate that the interesting concept is paired with the bland personality of Scott, the main character that gets dragged into the conflict after the suit is sent to him. While this isn’t a bad comic — there are several aspects that are quite enjoyable — the story doesn’t try and be anything beyond its surface, which is the main drawback of the opening issue.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

A suit that travels through shadows — seemingly an intermediary world — is a great starting point for the story. It added an interesting element, but the Barbiere decided to make the suit the central part of the story at the cost of his cast of characters. By the end of the first issue, the reader really hasn’t gotten to know any of the characters, least of all Scott. It that lack of depth that makes the reader unable to full invest themselves in the story—beyond the concept of this suit with shadow powers, none of the characters have enough personality to stand on their own. The entire narrative is predicated on Scott being sent the suit; without it, I’m not sure it would be worth it story-wise to chronicle the lives of these characters.

The artwork is pretty well done, and Lorimer manages to integrate that science fiction quality without sacrificing the overall aesthetic of the world. It looks and feels like our own world, and even the science-fiction aspects of the story look real. It’s Lorimer’s art that conveys the suits abilities: after going into the shadows, Scott enters into the world overlaid by a light blue hue, which indicates he’s in a between kind of state. Barbiere never explicitly said it in the narrative, but its visual cues on Lorimer’s part that tie the narrative together on a cohesive level.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Though it doesn’t help that the majority of the issue fleshes out the world through expository dialogue, Barbiere and Lorimer don’t get too much of an opportunity for the action readers would expect with a science fiction story. Thankfully, there’s one scene between Scott and the group of soldiers that’s really well done. The pacing and breakdowns in that scene especially are well done, making the action and reading incredibly smooth. Although it’s short, it’s definitely the most high-intense and enjoyable scene to watch, but also to read because it finally gives the reader an avenue to become invested in the story. It adds an immediacy to the story: we want to know what happens next and how Scott’s going to get out of this, especially when the antagonist’s superiors enter immediately after.

There’s certainly potential to the story, but it’s only going to be realized if these characters are given enough room to be fleshed out and three-dimensional. The idea of the suit will only get the narrative so far, and it’ll be up to the characters to drive the story at the point; hopefully, the plot in future issues will test these characters and force them to reveal more about their character so we can get behind them and root for them. At this point, Blackout is at least worth a first look in the hopes that it’ll improve going forward.

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