Best Shots Advance Reviews: The Empty Man #1, Angry Birds Comics #1, More

Credit: idw
Credit: BOOM! Studios

The Empty Man #1
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Vanesa R. Del Rey and Michael Garland
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Equal parts The Following and The Andromeda Strain, BOOM! Studios' creepy new title The Empty Man makes for a chilling read. Following the FBI-CDC joint investigation of the killings linked to the mysterious "Empty Man," the uncertainty of this murderous force makes this comic even more terrifying - because you don't know what might happen next.

Similar to his manhunt of Magneto over at Marvel, writer Cullen Bunn is proving himself to be more than capable of laying out a police procedural, as we meet Special Agents Jansen and Langford, who quickly endear themselves to readers with their Odd Couple-esque personality clashes. Without overwriting, we get a very strong sense of who these two are, with Jensen being the procedural by-the-book stick-in-the-mud, while Langford's wisecracks and snark give some humanity to make all this cop stuff go down smooth. But this duo is really just the foundation for something much more sinister - the virulent phenomenon known as the "Empty Man," which causes people to twist and hallucinate and kill their own... at least, until they wind up suffering a bloody death themselves.

What is the Empty Man? It's unclear - and that's by intention. The smartest thing that Bunn does is that he lets the very nature of this antagonist remain ambiguous, which means that anything bad that you can think of, it can happen. Eerie churches in rusted old convenience stores? Could be the cause of this outbreak - or the solution. Bodies shooting out blood like geysers, or a woman's skin hanging on the wall? Check, check, gruesome check. Twisted creatures that could be infected, or the agents of someone else? Bunn is basically able to compile an all-you-can-scream buffet, and it makes it all the scarier when you know just how out of their depth even the best and brightest of the FBI and CDC are.

The artwork, by Vanesa R. Del Rey, is a welcome fit for this venture. Her artwork is moody, atmospheric, sketchy - there are so many scratchy lines here, like even the most normal characters here are being raked by unseen talons. Del Rey obscures everything except for what's absolutely necessary, making even a down-on-its-luck church seem menacing and ominous, and when she gets to the horror stuff, like bodies contorting or gristly remains being found, it'll make you flinch. Del Rey's artwork reminds me of the sort of style that Paul Pope or Sean Murphy show, but she's a bit more distant, a bit more hazy, a bit more static. That's good for The Empty Man, as we're not constantly being bombarded by movement - it only explodes off the page when it needs to, and that makes it all the scarier.

It's a good time for police-based horror stories, with Nailbiter doing so well at Image and now The Empty Man scoring a victory for BOOM! Studios. Whereas the former book is a masterful balance between three main characters, The Empty Man succeeds purely based on how much Bunn and Del Rey can do with their premise. The worst kind of fear is the kind you can't anticipate or expect. Maybe that's the moral of The Empty Man - that terror doesn't need to be seen in order to be felt.

Credit: idw

Angry Birds Comics #1
Written by Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin
Art by Paco Rodriques, Marco Gervasio, Cesar Ferioli, Julie Gore, David Garcia Cruz and Digikore Studios
Lettering by Rovio Comics and Pisara Oy
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Licensed comics can be a hard sell for a discerning comic-buying audience. And the explosion of Angry Birds’ popularity will definitely have some coming at this offering with a sideways glance. But at the end of the day, it’s all meant as entertainment. Considering that the Big Two are largely bereft of all-ages material that is truly suitable for all-ages, IDW might actually be onto something here. Much in same way that BOOM!’s Adventure Time licenses have allowed it to expand its line, IDW now has a solid alternative for the comic book buying parent set.

Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin deliver three separate stories in this one and they’re all about what you might expect if you’re a fan of the game. There’s always been a loose narrative driving the Angry Birds games that essentially comes down to an eternal struggle in the war between birds and pigs. In the first of this issue’s three stories, Bomb gets hiccups and keeps exploding. Tobin’s tale sees the pigs constructing buildings. And the last one sees the pigs trying to cause some trouble in the birds’ ranks by way of “propiganda.” It’s all very light hearted and fun. Parker and Tobin do their best to establish voices for each of the characters that they work with but mostly they’re just having fun. They’re trying to throw in a few puns and other gags and it plays really well.

The art team works well within the bounds of the Angry Birds recognizable style. And that’s because the Angry Birds look is so important to how this book is received by its audience. Kids are more prone to pester their parents to buy something they recognize. The visual gags are pretty great, though. The slapstick humor that is present in the games’ cut scenes plays very well on the page.

I was a little bit skeptical that an Angry Birds comic book would work. I mean, the game itself isn’t the most original app on the block. But the entire team puts together a convincing package. This might not be the kind of book that you’ll buy month in and month out but if you need to keep your kid entertained for a few minutes or you’re trying to introduce an otherwise video game-obsessed kid to reading, this is a solid purchase.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Bee and Puppycat #2
Written by Natasha Allegri and Garrett Jackson
Art by Natasha Allegri and Patrick Seery
Lettering by Britt Wilson
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

There's something to be said for comics that lean towards a more minimal aesthetic - ones with clear premises and uncluttered panels. Whether it's Hawkeye trying to hook up a DVR, or Jake the dog shaking his butt, the wave of books using this type of structure have been seeing great success of late, and Bee and Puppycat is no exception.

Created by Natasha Allegri and originally put out as an animated short on YouTube by Cartoon Hangover in July of last year, this series had a following and a funded Kickstarter in a span of mere months. The next step was the comic series, and BOOM! Studios was a perfect fit with a family of titles including the work of Allegri's influences and colleagues like Garfield and Pen Ward.

The second issue of the series follows the first well, while also gaining a better foothold on the comics’ medium. Bee and Puppycat find themselves on Snowglobe Planet tasked with fixing a music box. The best part of this comic is contained here, while the pair are opening the many boxes to find out which one is broken. The speech bubbles coming out of each music box actually have a QR code inside them - one that will redirect you to a YouTube video of the song if you scan it. The addition of this audio makes the book so much more interactive and enjoyable - it feels like you are on the hunt for the broken box with the characters themselves. You'll probably have to download a QR reader to enjoy this portion of the book, but it's highly recommended.

The art style of the comic may seem simplistic, but I prefer to think of it as exacting. The linework is beautiful, the colors pitch-perfect, and the overall character designs are cute as heck. Where the pilot for the animated series recalled Miyazaki, the printed series seems to be getting a little inspiration from Rumiko Takahashi and Ranma 1/2. Allegri's style also stands out for the near absence of black inking in the comic. She instead leans towards warmer colors that complement the character design or foreground, the result being a constant change of mood from lines that cycle between brown, pink, blue, and purple. In addition to all of this goodness, there is also a wonderful back-up comic in the final pages titled "Cass" by Becky and Frank of Tiny Kitten Teeth.

Bee and Puppycat might only have two issues under their belt, but this comic has a lot going for it. Boasting an amazing creative team, a great cast of characters, and infinite possibilities for what's to come - there is no where to go but up. A great pick for lovers of kawaii characters and chocolate bars.

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