Best Shots Advance Reviews: FLASH GORDON #1, LUMBERJANES #1, More

Credit: Dynamite
Credit: Dynamite

Flash Gordon #1
Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Evan Shaner and Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

There are a lot of people out there who don’t realize that Flash Gordon is more than a goofy movie from 1980, but instead the forefather of many of pop culture's most enduring properties. The character of Flash Gordon is deeply entrenched into the history of comics and science fiction as a whole. Without Flash, we wouldn’t have gotten Star Wars. Many attempts have been made to revitalize the character for a modern audience through the years, but none have really seemed to stick. Cue Dynamite Entertainment, who have recently enjoyed success with titles starring classic pulp fiction and comic characters from The Green Hornet to Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Part of this success is due in part to the creative teams they have been assigning to these books and Flash Gordon’s team make take the cake: Jeff Parker, Evan Shaner and Jordie Bellaire, who deliver a fun and gorgeous reintroduction to the man who will save every one of us.

Credit: Dynamite

Flash Gordon #1 takes a more prosaic approach to the first issue, opting out of telling just a by the numbers introduction and instead giving us quick introductions to the main characters and then promptly tossing us into the thick of the action on the planet Mongo via a flash forward. Jeff Parker offers us curt opening vignettes into the personalities and actions of our main cast, Flash, Dale Arden, and Dr. Varkov, showing us exactly what they bring to the table in terms of characterization. Dale is a a whip smart reporter with a sharp wit. Dr. Zarkov has fallen on hard times but his cunning is still very much intact. And Flash is...well, Flash is very much Flash. All too often with these reboots the writer will usually use this opportunity to almost retool a heroes personality in order to serve some sort of ideal of a broken man archetype or even worse, turn him into a grimacing anti-hero. Jeff Parker avoids every single one of these pitfalls handedly, giving us instead a purely faithful take on Flash Gordon. He’s a man of action. A smiling swashbuckler who spends more time acting than thinking. Parker understands exactly why Flash is so fun to read and he gives us exactly that. Its all kinds of refreshing and more than welcome in the pages of a Flash Gordon title.

Credit: Dynamite

Jeff Parker also wastes no time showing just how vast the universe of Flash Gordon can be. After the introductions are dispensed with, Parker drops us into a chase through the skies of Mongo which leads into something called The Valley of Portals, which is just as self-explanatory as it sounds. Flash and his crew traverse through several of these portals in an attempt to elude their pursuers and in doing so, they are transported from one weird world to another. It seems that Parker is planning big things for Team Flash and he plans to take them across many different worlds throughout the course of this series. First Parker established just who his characters were and are and then he quickly established the scope of what he wants to do. Its big storytelling for a big character; exactly what you want from a Flash Gordon story.

Along for this fun jaunt across the stars are superstar artists Evan Shaner and Jordie Bellarie, who make the book all the more readable with their top notch pencils and colors. I have a standing rule to take notice of anything and everything that Evan Shaner’s name is on and Flash Gordon #1 is just another example of his vast graphic talent. Each character displays a full range of human emotion making them more than just renderings of people on a page. They feel as real as they look. Shaner also displays his talent for action scene plotting, making each action beat feel different and exciting.

Credit: Dynamite

From the chase through the Valley of Portals to scenes of Flash leaping from tree to tree on the lush planet of Arboria, Shaner gives each set piece a palatable energy as well as a personality all their own. Those looking for a generic punch fest need not apply here. A big part of the visual energy of Flash Gordon is due to the pitch perfect colors of Jordie Bellarie, a name that has been attached to a myriad of gorgeously colored comics as of late. Here she goes full on Saturday morning cartoon with each panel, lending almost a glow to each page. Bellarie’s work as of late has just gotten better and better with each passing series, but in Flash Gordon her enthusiasm for the material shines from the panels. Each and every color on the spectrum is represented in some way in Flash Gordon and the visuals soar because of it. Even though this is the first issue, Shaner and Bellarie make a compellingly strong case for the best looking Dynamite book on shelves.

Flash Gordon is a character that many people know, but not many seem to really get. All too often he is associated with the famous cinematic turkey that carries his name and rarely do fans go beyond that. Flash Gordon #1 strips all of that away. Gone are the campy elements and scenery chewing and in its place is a compelling and vibrant sci-fi adventure. This isn’t the Flash of the 1980‘s. This is the Flash Gordon that Alex Raymond presented us in the 1930s, just with a sheen and momentum that only modern comics could deliver.

Credit: Image Comics

Shutter #1
Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Leila Del Duca and Owen Gieni
Lettering by Ed Brisson
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

We are lucky to have Image Comics putting out a bevy of books in different genres. Joe Keatinge adds one to the sci-fi thriller column with a book much different from his last foray into the genre, Glory. But can he set himself apart from his previous work and the heavyhitters that Image already has in tow? The answer is yes and no. Shutter is a well-made comic, but it definitely has a little ways to go to be considered amongst the cream of the drop.

Credit: Image Comics

Joe Keatinge has big ideas at work here. We open on the moon with Kate Christopher and her father as he explains that their family has been explorers for generations. From the outset, Keatinge is defining Kate’s personality, using every interaction to teach us more about her. Through the course of the book, we learn that she does indeed follow in her father’s footsteps. Plus, she becomes a writer and a photographer. She’s uncomfortable with fame. She keeps to herself and enjoys a little too much bourbon once in a while. But in telling us all these things about Kate, we lose sight of any semblance of a plot. The adage is that “characters should drive plot” but by the final pages, Keatinge introduces conflict for which we’re given little to no context. And the big reveal loses much of its weight because we don’t know why we should care.

Credit: Image Comics

Leila Del Duca’s artistry is delightful. Her cartooning calls to mind a more reined-in Humberto Ramos that loses the sketchiness but none of the facial expressiveness. Keatinge relies on Del Duca to show us the world of Shutter, and she delivers in that regard. New York City is a place inhabited by humans, Minotaurs, aliens and creatures of all sorts. They look natural together, not forced, and the designs are varied, adding a lot of personality to what is already known as a diverse city. Where del Duca’s work takes a hit is in the balance of contrast. While the first shots of the city and the subway scene have a nice balance of black to the color palette that Owen Gieni is working in, the final pages feel overwhelmed by black which obscures some details. Coupled with the almost dayglo coloring of the grass and the spirit ninjas, Shutter starts getting really muddy. The last scene is a total mess artistically but it’s almost completely unclear what’s going on.

There’s a lot to like on the surface of Shutter #1 but it only feels like a rough introduction. Joe Keatinge has shown a penchant for writing strong female characters and he starts defining his lead but there are so many questions about the world of this story that some readers might become distracted. Newcomer Leila Del Duca demonstrates a knack of clean and consistent cartooning but her work is brought down by inconsistent colors from Owen Gieni. Shutter is a book on the cusp that will need a few issues to really hit its stride.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Lumberjanes #1
Written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
Art by Brooke Allen and Maarta Laiho
Lettering by Aubrey Aiese
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Take parts of Nickelodeon's "Gravity Falls" and Image'sRat Queens and you've got the basis of BOOM!'s newest addition to the BOOM! Box imprint, Lumberjanes. Five best friends who stumble upon some supernatural elements while working at a girl scout camp. While the first issue is a neat introduction to the character and world, I feel like it plays like more of a prologue than a formal first chapter to an ongoing series.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Acclaimed cartoonist Noelle Stevenson and newcomer Grace Ellis pen the script that introduce five incredibly cool best friends (Molly, April, Mal, Jo, and Ripley), each with their own distinct look and persona. And charm. Lots of charm here. The thing you'll probably also notice is that there is no chosen leader of the pack. Every girl here is equal and plays her part in the chemistry of the group itself. Ripley stands out a lot, being more of the comedic relief and more direct of the group, but I also really liked innocent-looking April turn into a fighting machine. You'll soon notice what I mean, as the girls battle mystical spirit foxes and bearwomen. Yeah. Bearwomen. Stevenson and Ellis' dialog is whimsical and fun and definitely easy to read and the inclusion of catchphrases is always a good time, with "friendship to the max" being essentially the theme of the book as well.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Right off the bat you're going to notice Brooke Allen's cartoonish style, and it's a perfect fit for a book like this. Allen incorporates high antics and lots of expressions people would usually associate from the likes of Looney Tunes and Tex Avery shorts. As mentioned, each of the girls have their own particular look and voice, covering the spectrum of femininity rather well. From April's red hair to Molly's coonskin hat to Mal's asymmetrical 'do, all the girls come across as unique in their own way. Maarta Laiho's color palette is both eerie yet somewhat muted, giving the book an almost storybook look to it. The fight scene with the fox spirits was certainly the highlight of the issue, showcasing the girls' love for fisticuffs and roughhousing as well as setting the tone for what the book is really about.

The thing about Lumberjanes is that it on first appearance, it doesn't look like it could be just for anyone. Sad thing is, that couldn't be further from the truth. Fans of Buffy to Adventure Time will enjoy this flat-out fun and entertaining issue with an awesome quick peek inside this world. Honestly, this title has the potential to be a new favorite cult hit. While it may have some elements of more established material, it's definitely its own thing with its own voice. I think if readers who occasionally wander outside their norm would pick this up, they might have a surprisingly good time. Stevenson, Ellis, Allen, and Laiho definitely deserve their merit badge for having me want more from this series.

Credit: Image Comics

Manifest Destiny #6
Written by Chris Dingess
Art by Matthew Roberts and Owen Gieni
Lettering by Pat Brousseau
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Image's horror-infused take of the New Frontier ends its first arc with aplomb in Manifest Destiny #6, a rare closing chapter that is as easily accessible as it is entertaining. As Lewis and Clark wage a desperate last stand against plant-infested zombie animals, Chris Dinges, Matthew Roberts and Owen Gieni conjure up a wild landscape that's as beautiful as it is eerie and deadly.

Credit: Image Comics

Dingess's writing has a lot of charm to it, particularly the way that he sets up the frontiersmen's frantic flight away from their otherworldly pursuers. The high concept of Manifest Destiny's first arc is kind of a weird one, and the fact that Dingess's characters lean into it by admitting how absurd their plight is makes this story go down smoothly. There's a real horror movie vibe as our heroes flee a possessed bear, but even with the occasionally gross-out artwork, the fear isn't oppressive. These explorers are remarkably cool, calm and collected for the craziness they're seeing, but that gives them (and us) an opportunity to take in the details and see an exit. In this case, an exit made of fire.

Credit: Image Comics

But at the heart of this story - just like the original Lewis and Clark story - is two explorers and their native savior. Lewis and Clark have that kind of True Detective chemistry. They just work well together, even as Lewis is the fanciful, optimistic, scientific half of the expedition, while Clark is the muscle, dour, to-the-point and existentially bleak. There's a great bit at the end of the comic where Dingess is able to not just put his heroes in peril, but also to really showcase the differences in outlook between these two archetypical characters. Sacagawea, meanwhile, cuts a swath through the storyline later in this comic, filling in the silent Man With No Name role that we've seen in other characters such as The Walking Dead's Michonne and Justice League of America's Katana. She's not revealing any cards just yet, but when it comes to this heroine, actions speak louder than words, anyway.

Credit: Image Comics

Artist Matthew Roberts continues to impress with this comic, reminding me a lot of Tony Moore from days gone by with just a hit of Frank Quitely. Sometimes his artwork can come off a little dark, even with Owen Gieni's eerie greens and aqua blues, but the way he lays out his pages is particularly exciting. (There's a great bit with a huge panel of a bear's fangs to another panel of the barrel of a gun, to another panel where vial of Greek fire is tossed towards those monstrous jaws.) Roberts' designs for the zombie woodland creatures are as ragged and scary as they get, and there's a hallucinatory sequence near the end that is amazing visual storytelling. And Sacagawea's entrance? Yowza.

Manifest Destiny is a series that has a lot of legs for future storytelling, as there's a big wide swath of country to explore. Hopefully the creators will continue to keep publishing such a wonderful book, which has only begun to scratch the surface of its off-kilter high concept and its compelling characters. If you haven't been reading this book already, it's never too late to start searching for the unknown with Manifest Destiny.

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