Best Shots Advance Reviews: AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #6, SUPREME: BLUE ROSE #1, Double DOCTOR WHO

Art from Afterlife with Archie #6
Credit: Archie Comics
Supreme: Blue Rose #1 cover
Supreme: Blue Rose #1 cover
Credit: Image Comics

Supreme: Blue Rose #1
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Tula Lotay
Lettering by Richard Starkings
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

“I feel like a story that the universe didn’t finish writing.”

Warren Ellis’ take on Supreme begins here. After Erik Larsen’s run flamed out on a cliffhanger, the quote above is more than appropriate. And since Supreme exists as an analogue of Superman and comic book strongmen in general, a little bit of metacommentary on the nature of superhero comics makes sense. On some level, they’re all stories that the universe didn’t finish writing. And Ellis fixes to find out whatever happened to Rob Liefeld’s wayward man of tomorrow by surrounding a strong central concept with more surreal elements to great effect. Coupled with Tula Lotay’s incredible artwork, we’re treated to a modern-day comic book equivalent of Twin Peaks.

That’s a big comparison to make but the trappings are all there. An opening dream sequence will immediately test any reader’s expectations of the book. The same way that Twin Peaks wasn’t just a murder mystery, Supreme aims to be more than your average Liefeld-created superhero comic in much the same way that we saw elevated reimaginings of Glory and Prophet. All of the players are still very thinly-veiled Superman concepts. Diana Dane is the heart, though. An investigative journalist looking for a job that comes into the employ of the somewhat sinister Darius Dax, Dane is instantly likable. She’s questioning and smart and she’s something of a paradox. She seems to be very put-together, but her nightmares/visions might have you reconsider her mental fortitude. She seems very real while the world she inhabits is something else entirely. And this is how Ellis is able to play up the intrigue of his main concept. Dax wants to know about Ethan Crane a.k.a Supreme and Diana’s investigative background gives us, not only a new reader-friendly approach to the character but one that allows mystery to overtake the narrative rather than out and out superheroics. Diana Dane is the protagonist. Supreme is the quest. Dax holds the prize. But what’s the catch? Well, now Ellis has just gotten a few hooks in you.

Tula Lotay is probably the breakout artist of 2014, and I don’t think you’ll see another debut that looks this good. Her character designs are positively Allredian. Her urban landscapes call to mind Sean Phillips’ best work. The more surreal moments are sold by sublime coloring. I think that’s the most intriguing part of her work. There are wisps of blue and green and red that mark the pages almost begging the readers attention. It doesn’t distract from the narrative or the action, but it’s the presence of these colors, existing outside the black inks and marking pages like threads of a single tapestry coming undone, that seem to signify something. It adds to the air of mystery in the book. And the Lynchian influence isn’t lost on Lotay, either. One room is marked with a very familiar combination of red and chevron. There isn’t a single book on the shelves that looks like this. It’s a combination of traditional and digital mediums that blends seamlessly and gives this comic and identity that exceeds its history. That’s a huge win for a fairly new creator on a property that has boasted some of comics’ biggest names.

Supreme: Blue Rose is as rare as its namesake. Books like this one don’t come around all that often, and the pairing of Warren Ellis with a brilliant new artistic talent in Tula Lotay will remind you why. By placing the initial focus on Diana Dane, Ellis and Lotay are able to ground this superhero story with a fleshed out human character that is not content to play the victim. Ellis might be playing in someone else’s sandbox, but he’s taking the property into new territory. Fittingly, so is Lotay. This is only the beginning of what’s sure to be an interesting examination of the superhero archetype.

Credit: Archie Comics

Afterlife with Archie #6
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art by Francesco Francavilla
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

I think I need an adult.

After five issues of zombie mayhem over in Riverdale, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla give us a Lovecraftian palate cleanser, as we check back in with the person responsible for all this bloodshed in the first place: Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Whiel you might recall her seemingly brutal end in the opening chapters of Afterlife with Archie, Aguirre-Sacasa is too smart a writer to waste a character like that, as we now follow Sabrina towards an even more shocking fate.

While some might find Aguirre-Sacasa's swerve into the myth of Cthulu to be a little jarring from the zombie apocalpyse going on in Riverdale, I'd argue that it's just another way for him to weave unsettlingly familiar terror into the all-too-wholesome Archie universe. If Archie and company stand for American innocence, it's all the more sinister to have hideous monsters creeping on the edges of perception, as Sabrina has dreams and nightmares that follow her into waking life. There's a line in the intro that's particularly poignant, as Sabrina says to herself, "I'm gonna marry this boy, and be happy for the rest of my life."

So naive. So full of hope. So utterly unready for the horrors to come.

Aguirre-Sacasa has struck gold with his high concepts, and he knows it. Instead of the ensemble cast of familiar characters banding together in the main Riverdale storyline, Sabrina is on her own, imprisoned in an eerie sanitarium of disturbed prodigies. It's got the drama of a prison story with the outright fear of an insane asylum, and every time Sabrina looks into a shadow, there are eyes or insect legs skittering in the background. With some nice nods to cult horror classics like The Wicker Man, Aguirre-Sacasa's last pages are a truly terrifying tidal wave of bleak poetry and malevolent power. If this is the last we see of Sabrina, I'd be totally satisfied.

The art by Francesco Francavilla is as polished as I've ever seen from him, and I think a lot of that is because of the more subtle terrors he has to evoke. Zombies, believe it or not, need to be both detailed and sketchy, showing just enough of the desiccation and blood and inhumanity, but also leaving something to the imagination. With this issue, Francavilla only shows flashes of Lovecraftian design, adding lots of smaller details in the shadows that stick out just enough not to be overlooked. It's almost as if he's saving his energy, and that's great, because that makes the finale seem all that more shocking in its intensity.

Pitting the innocence of Archie Comics against the scariest horrors of fiction seems, in retrospect, like a no-brainer. With Archie's long history of optimism and happiness and cartoony soap operatics, Aguirre-Sacasa doesn't need that much exposition to make Riverdale's fall from grace that much more tragic and terrifying. But by taking a turn to Cthulu, Aguirre-Sacasa also makes a bold statement in showing how flexible his concept truly is. Apparently the scariest threats are the ones you never could see coming.

Cover to Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #1
Cover to Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #1
Credit: Titan Comics

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #1
Written by Nick Abadzis
Art by Elena Casagrande, Michele Pasta, Arianna Florean, Claudia Sg, Fabiola Ienne, Valentina Cuomo and Azzurra Florean
Lettering by Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

If last year’s 50th anniversary special for Doctor Who taught us anything, apart from the intrinsic awesomeness of the long-running British sci-fi series, it’s that the Tenth Doctor (portrayed by David Tennant) was sorely missed from our screens. Indeed, since the relaunch of the television series in 2005, it’s the Tenth Doctor that has been the focus of furious fandom, or at least until bow-ties and fezzes took over. Branching out from the types of serialized comics that appear in the official Doctor Who Magazine, Titan’s new series takes to monthly comics like a Vortisaur does to the Time Vortex.

Working on the theory that the best “episode” titles are those constructed as ‘Something of Something’, where the second something tends to be death/horror/fear/destruction, the first adventure in this series has the rather grand title of “Revolutions of Terror”. Yet the book immediately departs with tradition by eschewing any overt British-ness and launches the story in modern day New York. Set shortly after The Doctor’s departure from Donna at the end of the fourth season, we’re introduced to Gabby Gonzalez, who is working in a dead-end job for her family’s laundromat business and dreaming of seeing the rest of the world. A series of odd occurrences, including the literal whirlwind of strange that whips through the laundry, soon brings Gabby into contact with the madman in the pinstripe suit and his blue box.

At some points during this debut issue, The Doctor can feel like he’s having a cameo in his own title, and the majority of this outing focuses on the dreams an ambitions of would-be companion Gabby. Yet for most readers, she is the one we will have to learn to love, and writer Abzadzis gives us good reason to be on her side. In this sense, it could have very easily slotted into the Russell T. Davies era of the series, where the companions had just as much development as (if not more than) The Doctor himself. By using The Doctor sparingly, he also manages to build up a fair amount of anticipation for his heroic arrival, leaving us precariously perched on a cliffhanger that harks back to the serialized episodes of the classic Doctor Who television era.

Reassuringly, The Doctor never feels like an aberration or someone else’s construct, with Abzadzis catching the wibbles and wobbles of the Tenth Doctor’s distinctive way of speaking. Readers completely new to the character would do well to go and check out the TV series before attempting to dip into this, but undoubtedly the core audience will be existing fans. On that level, this book does very little to disappoint the faithful.

While the art credits make it difficult to pin down who is responsible for what, Elena Casagrande is listed as the primary penciller “with” a battalion of her own companions and assistants. Even so, the art is consistent throughout, and avoids the traps of most licensed releases in capturing the likeness of David Tennant as much as Abzadzis captures his speech patterns. It doesn’t always feel exactly like a television episode, but perhaps that’s the New York setting, and like the plot itself, Casagrande builds to a terrific hero shot of The Doctor and his companion in the final splash page.

Fans of Doctor Who have put up with some less than spectacular adaptations over the years, but there is nothing in Titan’s first major Tenth Doctor release that is remotely cringeworthy. Fully embracing the spirit of the series, all Whovians will find themselves shouting “Allons-y!” in anticipation of the next installment.

Cover to Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1
Cover to Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1
Credit: Titan Comics

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1
Written by Al Ewing and Rob Williams
Art by Simon Fraser and Gary Caldwell
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

As legions of fans wait in excitement for the August 23 premiere of series eight of Doctor Who, Titan Comics shoots for the stars with their recent acquisition of the license with not one, but two ongoing titles to tide fans over until the Doctor’s return to television. Thanks to the whip-smart talents of Al Ewing and Rob Williams and artists Simon Fraser and Gary Caldwell, Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1 is a rollicking and emotional debut issue that stands alone as a fantastic Eleventh Doctor adventure. Somber, yet unafraid to be silly or joyous, this opening issue not only gives us a pitch-perfect characterization of Matt Smith’s tenure with the character, but also a strong and engaging human protagonist, setting the benchmark for the series as it aims to tell a compelling story that stands apart from the show’s canon. Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1 marks the Time Lord’s triumphant return to the paneled page with a stellar debut issue sure to please Whovians across the board.

Alice Obiefunte just lost her mother. Quickly thereafter it seems that her entire life is coming apart at the seams. Her long antiquated position as a librarian is getting dissolved thanks to budget cuts and she is on the verge of losing her flat. Things look positively bleak for Alice. That is until an adorable multicolored dog like creature leaps into her life, along with the bow-tied stranger that chased it through the high street. Just like that, we are off with The Eleventh Doctor #1. Ewing and Williams, both tried and true hands at superheroics and humor, take to scripting Doctor Who stories with aplomb. Ewing and Williams open with Alice and her tribulations only to shatter her depressive apathy with a truly Who moment.

The Doctor’s introduction is a joyous moment, not only for the reader, but for Alice, this debut issue’s real protagonist. The Doctor, of course, is only as good as his companions, and The Eleventh Doctor #1 is a strong introduction for them. Alice is proud, sharp as a tack, and holding it together as best she can. Ewing and Williams, ever the writers to find humanity amid comic book theatrics, let us spend a lot of time with Alice even before the Doctor arrives to invest us in her before she steps foot aboard the TARDIS. This debut issue takes a lot of the best notes from the first episode of the revival “Rose”, as it fully establishes the companion before the Doctor even lands but instead of whisking Alice away from an exploding building, all he has to do is listen to her when no one else would. Ewing and Williams’ work seems mostly done from this debut issue as they have already introduced an emotionally investing connection between the Doctor and his companion - something the a few of the latest IDW series failed to do. Now all we have to do is see what kind of insane adventures they put our new Team TARDIS through in the future... or, perhaps, past.

While the interplay and emotional connection between the Doctor and Alice is a major highlight of the book, The Eleventh Doctor #1 also delivers on the other half of a good Doctor Who story; the cosmic whimsy and slightly silly exploits. The Doctor has been tracking the movements of the aforemention multi-colored and adorable dog-alien, properly known as a Kharitite, a domesticated alien that feeds on negative emotion. Not only does Alice get this properly bonkers first adventure with the Doctor, but she gets a topsy-turvy instruction to the TARDIS control room and a rare honest moment from the Doctor in his much discussed swimming pool. Ewing and Williams fully commit to the endlessly silly possibilities that come with writing the Doctor and wrap it around an engaging emotional core with Alice. The Doctor Who stories brim with the feeling that anything is possible and hint at wells of sadness just underneath, and that’s exactly what The Eleventh Doctor #1 delivers. Ewing and Williams even go a step further and inject a doozy of a tease, keeping with the enigmatic curveballs thrown at audiences during Steven Moffat’s reign as showrunner. Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1 is up, down, and every which way a solid Doctor Who story.

Handling art duties are Simon Fraser and Gary Caldwell, both of whom take the emotion and whimsy of the script and translate it into expressive and gorgeous looking panels. Fraser’s Doctor is all knees and elbows as he bounds through the streets and wrings his hands as he paces around the control room. While Fraser opts to not depict him as photo realistic as artists on the title before him have, he still captures the spirit and manic energy of Matt Smith throughout the issue. Fraser also renders Alice with the same raw emotion, making panels with them interacting together as joy to read, evoking the feeling of seeing these scenes during the episodes. Simon Fraser handles the zaniness of the alien dog very well, but he, and the rest of the team, know that the real dynamism of the issue is between the Doctor and Alice so they deliver as such.That said colorist Gary Caldwell steals the opening sequence handedly with a simple grey shading lends an instant sadness to the scenes of Alice’s mother’s funeral and Alice’s subsequent downturn. It is a simple yet evocative way to open the issue and it boosts the energy of the Doctor’s introduction as Caldwell blasts the panels from then on with rich colors. No more wobbling walls for the Doctor, Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1 is the show on a limitless budget.

Whovians are a fickle bunch. While we clamor for any bits of new information about the next series, we are desperate, yet unsure of stories that take place outside of canon. Thankfully there are dozens of novels, hours of audio, and now Titan Comics’ Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1 . As the license lapsed from IDW last year, many fans were worried about the fate of the Doctor and his adventures in comic form but, after reading Titan Comics’ debut issue for this ongoing, it is clear that the imprint and creative team has gone to great lengths to deliver a stellar Doctor Who title. Time will tell if the series goes wibbly-wobbly, but for now, Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1 is everything a Whovian, young or old, could want from a debut issue.

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