Best Shots Advance Reviews: NAILBITER #1, THE WOODS #1, RAT QUEENS #6, SPACE MOUNTAIN

The Woods #1 variant cover
Credit: BOOM! Studios
Credit: Image Comics

Nailbiter #1
Written by Josh Williamson
Art by Mike Henderson and Adam Guzowski
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by Image Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

I admit it – I bite my nails. And even though my mother likes to call me out on it, I hardly think it’s a criminal offense. Nailbiter, however, makes me worried a serial killer might end up disagreeing with me. Josh Williamson’s story is predicated all on Buckaroo, Oregon, and Edward “the Nailbiter” Warren. Though this is only the first issue, Williamson and artists Mike Henderson and Adam Guzowski do a phenomenal job in making this small, unassuming town come to life. Between their unique premise in the Nailbiter, their ability to flesh out a setting in near-record time, and giving our protagonist Finch a clear goal to work towards, Williamson and the team have set themselves up for success.

Credit: Image Comics

Serial killers have been done before, there’s no questioning that – the most recent coming to mind being The Following. I’ll be willing to bet, though, that the M.O.s of any serial killers before this weren’t nearly as interesting as someone killing people who bite their nails, keep them until the nails grow back, kill the hostages, and then bite off the nails. It’s original, terrifying, and brings the reader into the story by the third page because we all have bitten our nails before. Henderson and Guzowski really accentuate the horror aspect of it all: in the one page was see the Nailbiter actually biting nails, the scene is horrifying. His candid attitude is paired with the realistic blood spatters, frightening corpses that look almost too lifelike, and the sickening coloring that ties the disturbing feeling together.

Credit: Image Comics

The one major pitfall in the story is the protagonist. There’s nothing wrong with the premise of it – in fact, Williamson’s choice in characterizing the protagonist as a haunted, suicidal, overly aggressive, anger-prone cop gives Finch several inherent obstacles to overcome as he searches for his friend. The problem lies in the fact that the reason for Finch’s aggressive and depressed behavior is left a mystery – one that looks like Williamson will expand on in further issues. To understand the background in Finch’s problems would help readers predict what he would do next, which would only engage them more in the story. At this point, we’re not sure how Finch will react to things; it’s the entire premise of the story that’s drawing us in, not Finch himself. Hopefully in the next couple of issues, Williamson will finish rounding out Finch’s character so he can completely drive the narrative forward into what appears to be a thrilling tale.

Credit: Image Comics

Besides that, Williamson and the team do wonders in creating a diverse cast. Although Finch is the only racially diverse member of the cast, the fact that there’s an array of male and female characters and body types really pushes the believability of the story forward. Henderson excels in making characters look separate and distinct from one another, Williamson does a great job in creating the voices of these characters, so none sound too similar, and Guzowski bridges it all together his subtle techniques in blending scenes together, such as how there’s an overarching shade of red during the horror store scene.

These small things add up to create a synergy that simply makes this comic stand out. Combining elements of horror, mystery, and suspense, Nailbiter is a story for anyone looking to get down and dirty with something eerie, creepy, sinister, or all of the above. If you can’t get behind these characters, become invested in the plot, or wonder what’s going to happen next as Finch and Edward “the Nailbiter” Warren come face to face, Nailbiter will – at the very least – make you think twice before you nibble on those cuticles.

Credit: Image Comics

Rat Queens #6
Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art by Roc Upchurch
Lettering by Ed Brisson
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

When we left off, it was the party of the decade at the ole Rat Queens abode and now it's time for the morning afterglow – or should I say aftermath? Even in the opening page, writer Kurtis J. Wiebe and artist Roc Upchurch distinguish each of the ladies in their various 20-sided quests for love, ranging from one-night stands to the sparks of a true romance. Kicking off the book as our heroines start the day – with and without bedmates – is a pretty bold way to start an issue, much less a new arc, but gets the point across effectively for new readers.

Credit: Image Comics

The issue has its usual fill of genital jokes and raunchy sense of humor, but moves the story at a solid pace with stoic guardsman Sawyer continuing the mystery behind the Queens' main pain-in-the-neck Bernadette's disappearance (and subsequently solving it), a new revelation about Dee and the possible explanation of why she didn't partake in any sort of shenanigans at the party. Wiebe also exposes a new threat to this world in the form of some serious dark magic users. The issue reads as a sort of DnD campaign made for an Adam McKay audience. There's heart in the story, but when the issue includes a controversy surrounding a statue's broken penis, it's hard to really take anything else away with you. Then again, Upchurch's horrific imagery at the end is definitely something that could hook new readers into staying on board.

Credit: Image Comics

Speaking of Upchurch, he really sells the visuals of this fantasy world, but you’ve gotten the sense that he’s held back from going towards the truly crazy and grotesque. But with this issue, he's starting to really dive into darker elements of the fantasy realm. The action is almost nil in this issue, so Upchurch uses these quieter moments as a character piece to really show the girls in their element. The conversation between mage Hannah and rogue Betty is a scene that could have been potentially boring, but Upchurch kept it moving and interesting with his talent for showing an array of expressions with this characters. Even Sawyer working with his partner, Lola, explaining his relationship with Hannah while investigating is a simple enough scene that could have dragged if it was handled with somebody with a lack of knowing how to do great facial expressions and body language.

With its certain style of R-rated antics and, at times, extreme violence, Rat Queens obviously isn't for everybody. Wiebe's writing style is both hysterical and entertaining, and while it might be weird to see a contemporary vernacular used in such a grand, fantastic setting, it's all part of the book's charm and appeal. I was certainly late to the game coming into this title, but I hope you don't make that same mistake.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

The Woods #1
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Michael Dialynas and Josan Gonzalez
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Michael Moccio
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

James Tynion does everything right in starting this series off. There’s a page to hook readers in to a fantastic, out-of-this-world story, and then he and the creative team set off to make us care about this cast of characters before delving into a world that’s completely unlike our own. This crucial step, which introduces us to all the major players in the story thus far, helps us be grounded in when the story literally becomes uprooted. The general premise of The Woods is that a high school in Milwaukee of all places, suddenly gets transported a different world and a group of students decide to take fate into their own hands and venture out into the woods. Taking elements from successful stories like Predator, Tynion makes it all his own and runs with it.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

While this idea isn’t anything completely new, this cast of characters proves that you can, in fact, reinvent the wheel to make it even better. There’s so much representation between all the characters: Karen, who doesn’t know what to do with her life; Sanami, Karen’s friend and a voice of reason; Calder, the jokester; Isaac, the loveable guy with a crush on a popular guy in school; Benjamin, presumably the stocky gentle giant; and Adrian, the wanna-be future leader with unrealistic expectations. We get a clear sense of who these characters are before they venture off into The Woods. There’s such a diverse pool of personality traits, we can Tynion will take full advantage of their quirks when they’re tested in the unknown.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Artist Michael Dialynas’ sense of fashion is incredibly telling of the characters. Although Karen and Sanami are friends, it’s clear they don’t see eye to eye on a lot. Whereas Sanami’s clothes are reflective of her dynamic personality – the simple, yet cool, cropped jacket over a shirt – Karen’s simple t-shirt and pants are indicative of her listless nature. It’s always a plus when a character’s personality is reflected in their clothing and adds to creating distinct characters that are easily identifiable from one another. Dialynas’ style may fall on a more cartoony type of style, it works with the larger-than-life narrative (not to mention that Calder’s lack of clothing is incredibly appreciated). The simplistic faces and designs allow Dialynas to focus on dynamic poses and fleshing out the background, as in the case with the foreign setting. The only flaw in Dialynas’ designs is that all these characters look the same (with the exception of Benjamin) from a body perspective, the best example being the second to last panel where they actually enter the woods and Karen, Adrian, Isaac, and Calder all appear pretty similar to each other.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Although we’ve only gotten a glimpse of this new world, we can tell that it’s more horrifying than we can imagine. The sudden death of Karen’s charge is more than indicative of that sentiment, as it’s surprising from a narrative standpoint, and gives Karen the proper motivation to enter the woods, but it’s Dialynas’ breakdowns that allows the reader to go “No!” before it actually happens. However, it’s Josna Gonzalez’s coloring that brings the visuals to the next level. The color scheme, which changes to purples and yellows when the school gets transported to this new world, brings that eerie feeling to life. The distinct feeling it has from Milwaukee, Wisconson allows us to really suspend our disbelief and become fully invested in the story by believing these fictional characters have left our world.

By the end of this first issue, you’ll be behind these characters like they’re friends of your own. You’ll know enough about them to accept them as the protagonists and yearn to learn more about why they are the way they are. It’s clear from Tynion’s writing that, although the woods are a central aspect of the story, the real story will be the journey these teenagers take, how it changes and tests them. He’s set himself up to tell an amazing story – let’s hope it doesn’t get lost in the woods.

Credit: Disney Comics

Space Mountain TPB
Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Art by Kelley Jones and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by Disney Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Ever since Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney has been hard-up to top that unlikely success story, spawning a cadre of ride-themed would-be franchises including The Haunted Mansion, as well as the upcoming films Tomorrowland and It's A Small World. Yet why wait for the suits to throw cash at the problem when you can streamline the process with a unified vision?

Credit: Disney Comics

Efficiency, thy name is comics. Case in point - Space Mountain, the newest graphic novel from Disney Comics, a rollicking if far from revolutionary sci-fi romp featuring that most futuristic of Disneyland locales. The premise has a nice hook to it, as two students wind up joining the crew of time-traveling space explorers, and wind up having to fix a coup by an evil scientist. Kids will likely relate to the book's plucky protagonists and their super-cool mentor, even if the creative team behind the book may prove to be a bit of a surprise for older readers.

For me, the biggest shock I had reading this book was the artist behind it - yes, that's right, Kelley Jones. The Kelley Jones, the vision behind horror stories like Batman: Crimson Mist and Venom: The Madness. It seems like a strange choice for what's ostensibly a children's book, but the question remains - is Jones a horror artist based solely on his style, or based on the horror stories and properties he's worked on in the past? While Jones' distended style might not line up with the ultra-slick artwork of a Ben 10, he still conveys the exuberance and energy of this book's two young protagonists, Tommy and Stella, particularly as Tommy races to class on a hover scooter. Make no mistake - old jaded types like myself are going to find Jones' work to have plenty of flaws, but the target audience will likely gobble it up with zero compunctions.

Credit: Disney Comics

Granted, with kids being kids, this book is going to live and die based on the art - and chances are, if the kids are picking the books, they'll probably go for something else, whether it be a superhero book or more well-known licensed property like Transformers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But kids will still find a lot to like about Bryan Q. Miller's script, particularly the way he channels the cool factor for Captain Cole and the camaraderie he has with his floating robot Artie. Kids likely won't notice the slightly off-kilter pacing (such as whether or not this book wants to have just kids as the heroes, or making it an ensemble piece like Lost in Space). But the high concept is there, such as Tommy and Stella having to save their chaperones as they've been ditched in the Jurassic era, the time of Da Vinci and even on a pirate ship. Pacing-wise, this book also packs a hefty punch at 168 pages (plus back-matter, which admittedly might soar over kids' heads).

Credit: Disney Comics

Now, can I call this book "all-ages"? Maybe not. Crotchety old readers (admittedly, like myself) will find plenty to nitpick about with Space Mountain, as many of the twists and turns feel tacked on, with no explanation. Will this book lead into a franchise? That's up to Disney, and if they're devoted to churning out Space Mountain books - like the back of the book claims - chances are they're not going to penalize it too much for a light story with some plot holes. Kids won't find anything too wrong with this book - that is, unless they can't stomach the art. This is not a slam-dunk by any means, as the question remains - will this book's unorthodox art style be accepted by the target audience, or will this book's look be the hindrance to keep kids from taking a climb up Space Mountain?

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