Best Shots Advance Reviews: ORIGINAL SIN #5, IRON FIST #4, SOUTHERN BASTARDS #3, More

Original Sin #5 Standard Cover
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Original Sin #5
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Mike Deodato and Frank Martin
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

All is revealed after last issue’s big cliffhanger as Jason Aaron uses this issue to set up a huge piece of the plot. “Who killed the Watcher?” has always been the question at the center of this book but now the picture is starting to become clearer. Mike Deodato employs an overly modular paneling style in this one that fits the summarizing tone of the book but doesn’t do the flow of the book any favors. While the explanations present in this issue seem necessary, the read is uneven at best, even while doing a decent job of redefining Nick Fury’s role in the Marvel Universe.

Original Sin #5 Standard Cover
Original Sin #5 Standard Cover
Credit: Marvel Comics

That redefinition is both a strength and a weakness here. It allows Jason Aaron to establish Nick Fury as the ultimate protector of Earth, more than superhero we’ve encountered through the years. And that’s a wholly Marvel style idea that easy to get behind. It’s not a superhuman that’s been keeping us safe. It’s been a regular guy all along. (I can hear some of you saying “But he’s got an eye patch and had training and some alt-version of the Super-Soldier serum!” and to that I say “Yeah, but that’s about as close to ‘regular guy’ as you get in the Marvel U.”) Aaron gives us a great moment between Fury and Spider-Man as well as insight on how Fury sees himself. If he’s “the man on the wall,” “the monster that keeps the other monsters at bay,” “Forever unknown. Unnamed. Unseen,” then what does that make the Watcher? If Fury has been tasked with being the first stand against evil, have his actions been justified? We can’t know yet. And to make matters worse, Aaron falls back into using the Orb to blurt out the beginnings of an answer before his words are cut off to create some tension. (It’s a cheap trick, Jason. Quit teasing us.)

The layouts really bring this one down. Deodato opts for heavily modular layouts with white gutters that contrast the space settings well but they also tend to make some of the pages look empty. And some of the gutters make such small panels that there’s really no point to them at all. It really unravels the flow of the book because the reading experience doesn’t translate at a steady clip. Deodato still delivers heavy inks and some really big moments but his choice of panel layouts really robs his work of his usually very cinematic style. Frank Martin’s coloring isn’t as strong as it was in the last issue. It’s probably in part because of the browns and greys of some of the locales but he does deliver of a few standout moments of fury and the Watcher in space.

This is an improvement from the last issue, but it’s not as strong as the opening was. A flashback issue to kick off the second half of this event is a bit unconventional, but it mostly works here. We’re finally making some headway on answering the murder mystery that is central to the story and we’re gaining insight on a character that we thought we were pretty familiar with. Deodato robs the books of a some clarity with his layouts, but hopefully he can right the ship next issue. Across the tie-ins and spin-offs, there are a lot of changes happening in the Marvel Universe and even if they don’t seem to be important just yet, they’ll have to come to a head. Original Sin has three more issues to solidify how it will be remembered. Here’s hoping a satisfying conclusion is just around the corner.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #4
Written and Illustrated by Kaare Andrews
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

As the auteur behind Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, Kaare Andrews is in a different place than most creators in the Big Two these days. Oftentimes, the failure of a superhero is more the failure of imagination than anything else - oftentimes compounded by a lack of time, a conflicted mandate, or simply a lesser quality of talent. That's not the case with Kaare Andrews. Andrwes knows how to write and he knows how to draw, and so his vision is raw, focused, almost overpowering when it comes to Danny Rand.

Credit: Marvel Comics

It might also be a little too much. There's a wild, splatterhouse energy to Iron Fist these days, and it doesn't come from a lack of choices on Andrews' part. In particular, the visuals behind this iteration of Iron Fist are completely methodical, with its oppressive reds and over-the-top rot and gore. It may just be that these choices are discordant, inaccessible - or possibly self-indulgent. Still, there will be plenty of action junkies who will find a lot to love about Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, even if it proves to be a divisive take on the champion of K'un L'un.

Part of the strangeness of Andrews' story is the fact that his pacing is all over the place - he often goes from slow melodrama only to explode into gruesome horror or over-the-top violence, and that definitely remains the case here. There's a certain poetry to Danny Rand's exposition, as he woos Brenda, a reporter determined to crack the quirky shell behind this despondent kung fu master. Like the way Danny describes his mother: "She was strong. Like scar tissue. Something that had been hurt and healed over." The characterization is interesting, especially when Andrew peppers it with bizarre, almost cartoony physicality that would never translate to the real world, like throwing Brenda into the air and holding her on his foot as he does a one-finger handstand. Of course, those choices might seem a little weird to some - or even exploitative, such as the evocative sex scene that Andrews throws in there, cutting his letterbox panels just for maximum effect.

Credit: Marvel Comics

But as I said before, there's a dissonance between all the scenes that Andrews writes. There's a real subversive sickness to Danny's relationship with his dead parents, particularly as his mother accuses him of almost voyeuristically watching her be torn apart by hungry wolves. Of course, throwing a zombie version of Danny's mother in our faces just one page after seeing Danny and Brenda in the throes of passion can make for some queasy reading. Yet Andrews really illustrates how flexible an artist he is with that counterpoint, as his cartoony, distended characters can play a taser shock as comedic while also fully committing to a horror so powerful that it'll make you retch in the nearest toilet. And the actual kung fu of this comic winds up only taking up the last three pages of the issue, as the cliffhanger from last issue is still barely addressed. (Although Andrews does get to get some hard-core martial arts action in the mix.)

It goes without saying that Iron Fist: The Living Weapon isn't for everyone. It's certainly the most "adult" of all of Marvel's books right now, but at the same time, there's also a juvenile sense of glee to all the bones breaking and boots knocking. Yet this book really feels more like it's an exercise for the artist rather than an outlet for the reader - this is a performance piece, it's Andrews flexing his muscles as he sees fit, and if you like it, great, and if not, the hell with you. Maybe that's the true message of kung fu. Maybe it's not just the artistry, but going your own path with it - even if it may be too strange or too much for others to follow.

Credit: Image Comics

Southern Bastards #3
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Jason Latour
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics
Review by Brendan McGuirk
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Some places are simply generic. No matter where you find yourself, a mall is a mall is a mall. It will have the same expansive parking lot, the same consumables, the same alarmingly desperate kiosk salespeople and probably the same dissatisfied teen lurkers.

Credit: Image Comics

The places we know most intimately, though, the ones we invest in and feel invested in in return, drive signposts into our imaginations with their specificity. These are the places whose tints, flavors and attitudes can loosen cascades of sensory memories and emotions we've forgotten that we ever forgot. These are the places we define ourselves by and against. And, like people, it's the places with which we share the most intimate connection that have the power to betray us the deepest.

Credit: Image Comics

I don't much know the South, but from culture's ambient shorthand and an occasional mid-trip layover. What I don't know about the South could just about fit a book, which is convenient, because with Southern Bastards, Jasons Aaron and Latour are producing that very book. Old Earl Tubb is back in the Alabama hometown he absconded from two score years ago, trying to tie up what he thought were a few loose ends, only to find himself tugging at and fraying each rope he comes across. Things aren't right in Craw County, and while Earl's stated desire is to pack away his late father's home and be on his way, each time he sees laws and common decency being flouted, it compounds his sense of obligation to the community his father dedicated himself to protecting. His shame shapes his duty.

There's a fantastic ambiance to Southern Bastards. Its palette is deeply red. The clean, no-nonsense linework affords no ambiguity to its characters and their types, and the storytelling and layout is similarly direct. More than anything, there's a sturdiness to the artwork, an important trait it shares with the protagonist.

Credit: Image Comics

There's a bit of slight of hand going on with Southern Bastards. At first bluff, the title's profanity reads as an appeal for levity; these are bad dudes that don't care if you know it. You sink your teeth into it, though, and come to realize that here, “bastard” has less to do with morale fiber than it does rejected lineage and inescapable legacy. Earl is haunted by the man his father was and the one he isn't. Coach Boss, who heads the Runnin' Reb high school football team and seems like an impossible concoction of Jon Voight in Varsity Blues, Billy Bob Thornton in Friday Night Lights, and Mr. Potter from It's A Wonderful Life, is a patriarch of the highest and lowest order, and manages to be both totalitarian and detached in his rule of Craw County. The story then becomes about the daddies we have, the ones we've disappointed, the ones that hurt us, the ones we never had and the ones we hope to be.

For this book, “Southern,” isn't just the locale, but the state of mind. Craw County is an insular culture, one that is wary of outsiders, even warier of their influence. It's a world where posturing comes as much through words said as unsaid, and where, when actions are taken, you can rest assured that they have been well-contemplated. Oh, and there's nothing so important as football.

In issue three, old man Tubb has dusted off his daddy's righteous law-dispensing cudgel and gone and crossed the Mason-Rubicon-Dixon, deciding to fight the community in order to fight for the community, and along the way making the classic stoically reluctant warrior mistake of caring about something just enough to let himself be hurt by and through it. It's a familiar sort of story, where the best of intentions result in the worst repercussions, but watching Earl struggle with his growing dread stops that predictability from releasing any tension from the story.

Southern Bastards isn't a history lesson. There's no hot air hemming and hawing about its lofty sense of self. It's a book about action- actions taken and not- and the power of letting that action speak for itself. Inner turmoil, it turns out, is something that a place can experience just as well as a man. And legacy is turmoil's record book.

I don't much know the South, but thanks to Southern Bastards , I'm starting to get a feel for it.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Robocop #1
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Carlos Magno and Marissa Louise
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Detective Alex Murphy has had it pretty rough since 1987. After a string of less-than-stellar sequels, two false starts at a television show, and a sanitized reboot, Old Detroit’s most effective officer is making the rounds in the medium that is may be most suited for his ultraviolent adventures - comics. Robocop #1, from BOOM Studios, is tailor-made for Robocop fans old and new. Taking place directly after the 1987 classic, Josh Williamson, Carlos Magno, and Marissa Louise throw readers into Murphy’s world head first with an all-new, original adventure with more than enough connective tissue to the Paul Verhoeven classic to please die-hard fans all while reintroducing new fans to Murphy, Lewis and OCP with a hefty dose of hard R-rated storytelling.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Robocop #1 starts a bit jarringly with newly released criminal Killian being brought up to speed on what exactly has happened in Detroit since his incarceration. The only word that seems to keep coming up is “Robocop,” and Killian just can’t help himself. Joshua Williamson uses this opening scene to introduce the series’ antagonist even though it comes across a bit jarring as an opening. The next scene, which shows Robocop and Lewis offering assistance as they attempt to quell a gunfight between some officers and some heavily armed criminals, ratchets up the action and momentum of the issue in the space of two pages. Williamson nails the characterization of Murphy, Lewis and the insane criminals that inhabit Old Detroit, making it feel like a true-blue Robocop story. This first action scene also comes complete with all the blood, drugs and swearing that one would expect from a Verhoeven action scene, washing away any doubt that this would be a milquetoast, bloodless entry into the Robocop canon. Joshua Williamson and BOOM! Studios go for the gusto in the early pages, offering the hook of ultraviolence and following up with an engaging story beneath the blood and bullets.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

After a slight time jump, Williamson introduces the real main plot of this first arc. OCP, after the skirmish detailed in the issue’s opening set piece, has started to round up every gun in Old Detroit not registered with their records. Officer Lewis posits that it would be a horrible move and would put her life and the lives of fellow officers in danger as they work to enforce this law. OCP, of course, always has a plan and have moved to appoint a civilian liaison from the surrounding communities in order to allow the law to pass smoothly; Mister Killian. The best Robocop stories usually involve a heavy dose of satire and more than a bit of that “ripped from the headlines” feel and Joshua Williamson delivers that in Robocop #1. Controversial gun legislation, corrupt officials and casual misogyny within the police force is all here. Joshua Williamson is giving us a Robocop story for our times, just like Paul Verhoeven did in '87, one that positions Lewis as the main character and casts Murphy as the blunt instrument that he is.

Lewis has much more going on here in this first issue than she really ever did in the films. Williamson gives us the sizzle with Murphy in action, but the actual plot of the issue and Lewis’ scenes are the definite steak. The same gum chewing hard-ass that we all fell in love with as kids is still there, but she wants more. She is studying for the detective’s exam around the clock and dealing with boneheaded comments about Murphy being her “boy-toy” from fellow officers. She retorts that Murphy is her partner, and she is right, but she also knows that Murphy is something else - an anchor. It is very interesting and personal stuff to lead off a series with but, as a dyed-in-the wool fan of these characters, it is exactly what I want to read in a Robocop series. Joshua Williamson writes exploitation well because he knows that while it can be as over the top as it needs to be, it still needs to be stocked with living, breathing, feeling characters and that’s perfectly describes Robocop #1's cast.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Handling the artwork of Robocop #1 is Carlos Magno and Marissa Louise who give this debut issue the gritty, Leonard Manco-esque look that it deserves. Magno’s pencils offer a stylish and cinematic take on traditionally “grim n’ gritty” settings. Of course, Magno draws Old Detroit like the hovel that it is, but he doesn’t allow himself to get bogged down in the squalor of it. He is too busy having a blast detailing the snarling smiles and intricate tattoos of the city’s criminal element as well as giving us insane two page splashes of a battle between them and Detroit’s Finest. Aiding him in the exploitation movie visuals are the rich colors of Marissa Louise, who gives the panels of Robocop #1 a film grain quality. Louise’s color palette isn’t as bright as the gorgeous A cover by Goni Montes promises, nor should it be. Louise colors the panels in deep, muted colors mimicking the production design and look of the 1987 film, offering a visual connective tissue to the classic along with the narrative ones that Williamson introduces. Marissa Louise and Carlos Magno makes this comic look exactly like the Robocop film we love, making it the new Robocop series we deserve.

It had to be a daunting task taking on a property as beloved as Robocop, both for BOOM! Studios and for Joshua Williamson. As a fan myself and after enduring more than a few lackluster takes on the character, I wasn’t entirely convinced that another ongoing series was the answer. Thankfully, Williamson, Magno and Louise proved me dead wrong and delivered a stellar first issue that feels right at home in the canon of Robocop. Robocop #1 is the total package. It has swearing. It has blood. It has guns. It even has a cameo by Kirkwood Smith. But above all, it has an engaging story populated with fully realized characters. You’d buy that for a dollar.

Credit: Image Comics

Tech Jacket #1
Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Khary Randolph and Dave McCaig
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Zack Thompson is back this week in a new iteration of the Image Skybound series, Tech Jacket. Originally conceived by Robert Kirkman and E.J. Su, this book finds itself once again in the hands of Joe Keatinge and Khary Randolph, who completed a short digital run on the comic early this year.

After a heartwarming opening flashback, the story takes us to present day where Zack is furiously punching the purple out of a squishy alien foe. His father fills out unemployment forms, and two shadowed men discuss Zack's possible role in their dubious plans. There is talk of burgers and donuts. Everything is going pretty well, until a transmission comes in from Zack's girlfriend, warning them of an incoming danger. Stuff gets pretty bleak from there.

Keatinge's writing is very well suited to this story, and he crafts a balanced first issue. The father/teenage son dynamic seems at first glance to be aimed at a younger audience, but upon further reading it becomes clear that this book is more mature than that. This book is here to do business. The pacing is faster than expected for an opening issue, but it's a roller coaster ride any reader should enjoy taking, even newcomers to the series. The main characters are easy to connect with, and converse with each other fluidly, giving the comic a very natural feel despite it's unnatural setting. The only problem I saw was a pretty blatant lack of emotional response from Zack concerning an event that should have been traumatic. Maybe something is going on behind the scenes there, but it derailed the narrative a bit.

As for the visuals, Khary Randolph continues to do a great job with the world of Tech Jacket. He's had a lot of practice by now, but it's good to see his work on the series still evolving. His manga-influenced style is a good fit for the book, and his skills with mech continue to level up. The action scenes are particularly well-done, with dynamic poses and good use of motion lines. Monster tentacles seem to be another thing Randolph has proficiency with. Complementing the inks, colorist Dave McCaig does a great job making this comic pop with his thoughtful palette choices. The blues and purples he uses while the team is in space really add depth to the reading experience.

Tech Jacket might seem like just another book about power suits, fighting aliens, and being awesome, but under the surface this story has a lot more going on. It puts the characters and their relationships to each other before fight scenes, it prioritizes story building. This creative team gives us a book that is fun, exciting, and engaging. Recommended for any reader of any age.

Credit: Oni Press

Archer Coe and The Thousand Natural Shocks
Written by Jamie S. Rich
Art by Dan Christensen
Published by Oni Press
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Part Mandrake the Magician, part Eisner's Spirit, Archer Coe is Jamie S. Rich and Dan Christensen's throwback pulp hero that doesn't rely on heavy superheroics to save the day. Planned as a trilogy, the first volume of Archer Coe and The Thousand Natural Shocks gives us a good impression of what's to come and it sure looks great.

Credit: Oni Press

While it might appear at first like a supernatural tale, Archer Coe plays more like a detective story with a few ounces of "The Prestige" mixed in for good measure. The right tropes are hit accordingly and played out well: a woman in distress, several murders at the hand of a mysterious killer called the Zipper, a mysterious leading mean, etc. Writer Jamie S. Rich also gives us a peek behind the curtains with Coe's narrative about the hows and whys of hypnotism, and we're given the choice to believe how much is real. Then again, we're led to believe that Coe can talk to cats, so there's that as well.

Credit: Oni Press

The actual construct of the graphic novel is an interesting one that reads more of a mystery novel, or something out of "Lost" with flashbacks that fill in the pieces and lands some surprising twists along the way. I've liked Rich's body of work for a long time, but he's playing up his strengths here with not revealing anything until the timing is just right. Some of Coe's dialogue is sharp, but can be a little cliche towards the end, and I didn't see any chemistry with him with any of the other characters, except the cats. That could have been intentional, though.

Credit: Oni Press

Up and comer Dan Christensen was a perfect choice for a book like this. Right off the bat, you're going to notice Christensen's sophisticated simplistic style, shaded gloriously in grayscale for that extra touch of noir. His cartooning nature and storytelling abilities are the big win here. His linework being a cross between something like Andrew MacLean and Darwyn Cooke, his handling of busy club scenes and intimate moments gives the book it's noir/old school pulp feel that it deserves. Probably the best thing about Christensen's style are his use of expressions with these characters. Even with a simple domino mask, Coe is given a range of emotions and expressions. Christensen loosens up by the second act with the camera angles, but the third is really where everything comes together is some great imagery and solid storytelling. The lack of dialogue and sound effects gives the latter amps up the noir edge and it's almost like something out of Hitchcock.

Clocking in at about 150 pages, it might seem like a hefty investment, and Archer Coe might not be for everyone with its downplayed superheroics, but there's a certain charm here with an amount of fun that can't be denied. Fans of such works like Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler's Mysterius: The Unfathomable will eat something like this up. I know I did, and it was worth every bite.

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