Best Shots Advance Reviews: THANOS THE INFINITY REVELATION OGN, NAILBITER #4, CPT VICTORY #1

Thanos: The Infinity Revelation OGN
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Thanos: The Infinity Revelation
Written by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin, Andy Smith and Frank D'Armata
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Thanos. Adam Warlock. The Infinity Saga. It's Jim Starlin's universe, and we're all just living in it. And for Starlin's true believers, there will be a lot to like about Thanos: The Infinity Revelation, an imaginative, old-school cosmic drama that's timed to strike just when the fever surrounding Guardians of the Galaxy is white-hot. For those who have thrilled to Starlin's melodramatic take on Marvel's sci-fi universe, you'll likely still cheer at Starlin's return. For those who haven't, however, you may find The Infinity Revelation to be somewhat antiquated in its storytelling.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Cashing in on the sudden interest in Marvel cosmic thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy, The Thanos Imperative focuses on the Mad Titan as he struggles to unravel a mystery - a mystery to which even he is barely acquainted. Starlin's story waxes philosophic rather than establishing a hard-and-fast high concept, which may turn off readers who need more structure in their plots. That said, Starlin also recognizes that while Thanos is the main attraction, there's plenty more eye candy that readers want - not only does Adam Warlock get to come back in a big way, but guest stars abound, including the Silver Surfer, the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Annihilators. It almost feels like a reunion tour for Starlin, as he gets to take a spin on so many esoteric characters, many of whom he already left a mark on during the '80s and '90s.

Credit: Marvel Comics

But what really sells this book - or sinks it - is the sheer scale of Starlin's storytelling. Sure, there's not a whole lot of in-depth characterization, but the stakes of his story is nothing less than reality as we know it. Thanos and Warlock leap into dimensional tears with groovy, almost psychedelic imagery reminscent of those old Doctor Strange stories. Ominous caves and alien cityscapes all have a ton of detail, reminding me almost of George Perez in his meticulousness. Yet Starlin zigs where many mainstream artists zag, running counter to the environment-focused widescreen storytelling pioneered by Bryan Hitch - Starlin's focus is always on his larger-than-life characters, and while that might not adhere to the tastes of the marketplace, there will be plenty of people who enjoy it for the sake of nostalgia, if nothing else.

The biggest surprise for me as a reader is visually how well Starlin's work has aged. Much of this has to do with colorist Frank D'Armata, who gives all of Starlin's pages a dramatic weight without stealing any of its vital energy. While he does lean on purple as his main color - and with Thanos as your lead, that could backfire on you - the rest of his characters really pop off the page. This works well for Starlin's fight sequences in particular, especially one segment where he beats the hell out of the Annihlators. (Although there is the occasional hiccup, such as one unintentionally hilarious panel where Thanos talks about how inflicting punishment is "nearly orgasmic," just as he seems to punch Ronan the Accuser right in his space-junk.) But for the most part, Starlin deals with intensity and imagination, which makes this a trippy road.

Credit: Marvel Comics

But trippy isn't always great. The main weakness of The Infinity Revelation is that as a story, it's a bit light, with some storytelling choices taking a couple of reads - or just a leap of faith - to accept. One out-of-left-field conceit involves not one, but two parallel universes, where Thanos and Warlock both have to fight to save the universe - it's the sort of heady concept that of course Jim Starlin would come up with, but if you're not feeling warm and fuzzy based on his other, previous successes, you might be a bit less forgiving. Additionally, the plethora of guest characters does feel a little cash-grabby, although if you were Marvel, wouldn't you do the same thing?

It's a trip down memory lane to see Jim Starlin take on Thanos again, and for the most part, this graphic novel is a surprising triumph - probably because the artist's vision is so absolute. There's so much comic book philosophy and grandeur that's tossed around like stardust in The Infinity Revelation, even if the titular revelation is still somewhat difficult to follow. But long-time fans of Marvel's cosmic lineup will highly enjoy this nostalgia-fest - and may even pick up a convert or two along the way.

Credit: Image Comics

Nailbiter #4
Written by Josh Williamson
Art by Mike Henderson and Adam Guzowski
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

What is in Josh Williamson and Mike Henderson's Wheaties? It's rare for a new series to hit the stands as confidently and powerfully as the first issue of Nailbiter - but to keep that pace up for four issues in a row? That's crazy - but when you have a high concept as crazy as a town that breeds serial killers, there's a lot of potential for this series to grow.

Credit: Image Comics

As damaged investigator Finch and local cop Crane continue their hunt for a missing colleague, Williamson continues to impress with the bleak lore surrounging Buckaroo, Ore., the home of no less than 16 serial killers. The highlight of this book is the introduction of yet another serial murderer known as the WTF Killer - it's one of the creepier concepts I've seen in a comic in a long time, and the fact that this sequence only lasts a couple of pages is proof positive of how fertile Nailbiter's high concept is.

Credit: Image Comics

The rest of the investigation proceeds as you might expect in a town where anyone could turn around and try to bite your fingers off - namely, Finch and Crane get into a firefight. This, like the WTF Killer, rests on the shoulders of artist Mike Henderson, who brings such a great sense of design to each of his various murderers. Each of these killers has a unique look - almost a costume - to their various exploits, whether its the welding mask of the WTF Killer or the eerie, ghost-like hood of Finch's assailant. The story actually goes fairly straightforwardly, but the sheer artistry - just watching it - makes this a fun book.

If there is one thing that holds this book back a bit, is that the subplot featuring the Nailbiter himself is a slight drag. Williamson cops to the similiarities to Silence of the Lambs, but that winds up weakening the sheer malevolence of this book's title character. Edward Charles Warren is the scariest serial killer in Buckaroo, mainly because he got away with it. He's been sufficiently creepy before, but seeing him in custody making metacommentary brings some necessary lightness, but in the wrong places.

Regardless, this creepy mystery has already gone far beyond its title character - and that's what makes Nailbiter so good. The town of Buckaroo has its own mysteries, mysteries that Williamson is slowly starting to uncover. It feels like there's one big twist coming around the corner, and that's what any good thriller should bring to the table.

Credit: Dynamite

Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #1
Written by Joe Casey
Art by Nathan Fox, Jim Rugg, Ulises Farinas and Brad Simpson
Letters by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge, III
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Now this is how you do a Kirby adaptation.

Just a few weeks back we were presented with a new Jack Kirby adaptation/reboot that felt vapid and soulless, but now all memories of that particular book have been blasted away with the explosion of color and sound that is Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #1. Though it is one of Kirby’s lesser known properties, Joe Casey and a stable of talented artists make this debut issue feel brand new and exciting as they present a soaring tale that has Kirby’s legendary fingerprints all over its pages. If you want dizzying visuals, you got them. If you want sprawling science fiction story telling, you got that too. But most of all, if you want a Jack Kirby adaptation that captures that ever elusive “Kirby Feel,” you got it in every possible way you can imagine.

Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers opens with an ominous shot of an unseen enemy, a blast of color across space, and a block of text that curtly explains the state of this universe before tossing the reader headlong into the expanse of space to the battle joined. The fearsome and unseen warrior known as Mekkanos has finally cornered Captain Victory and aims to destroy him once and for all. Joe Casey takes little time to establish the world around us, using only a sparse single page as a preface to the explosive action to come, but that is half of the fun of this debut issue. Jack Kirby did the exact same thing with most of his comics; starting with a blast of graphic noise before flinging himself and his audience into the ether. Casey’s script follows this rubric to perfection, starting with a single page of slight exposition before exploding the story outward into some truly cosmic and epic storytelling.

I’m going to be discussing the artwork of each individual artist on Captain Victory at length throughout this review, but Nathan Fox’s work with this opening sequence is jaw-dropping and deserves a specific mention. After the opening page, readers are almost assaulted by a two page splash depicting Mekkanos’ forces attacking Victory’s ship, the Dreadnought: Tiger, but the action is framed within the huge blocked letters Fire, Bomb,Kill, and Death. This hugely evocative scene is also capped off with the first of many free hanging captions that cut through the action like a hot knife. “You cannot escape your destiny!” the panel proclaims, before introducing Victory and his intrepid crew.

Casey and Fox pull out all the stops with this opening sequence and never once slow down. Victory’s crew is introduced, as they all struggle to keep the ship together in the midst of battle, through short and succinct bios that frame their faces after their first lines of dialogue, much like character cards on the back of G.I. Joe boxes. Fox has an absolute field day with Victory’s diverse and strange looking crew, leaning into the absolutely screwy character designs that Kirby was known for, while bestowing a defined personality onto each, making them distinct and memorable as the script barrels along. Fox also displays a few more amazing visual flourishes as this opening battle rages and the ship starts to take heavy damages. Fox’s depiction of the bridge is all lights and chaos as the hull is breached and Victory is engulfed in flames and killed, depicted as a flaming skull that literally consumes him. But as Jack Kirby taught us, death is not always the end for warriors.

While the opening scene certainly starts the comic with a literal bang, it is a flashback and dream sequence by Casey and guest artists Jim Rugg and Ulises Farinas that give the comic the much needed emotional core that other Kirby adaptations somehow miss entirely. Captain Victory, for the foreseeable future, will contain the work of Nathan Fox, who will serve as the series’ regular artist as well as guest artists who will handle certain scenes throughout each issue. This debut issue contains the works of Rugg and Farinas, who both show that Captain Victory will be more than just cosmic ballyhoo month after month. Casey enlists Rugg to give readers a bit more clues into Victory’s first days as commander as well as explaining the classic Kirby trope of resurrection through miracle technology. The idea that one can achieve a type of immortality through technology is a theme that occurs time and time again through Kirby’s works and Rugg’s pages capture the look and tone of Kirby’s older works near perfectly. These pages have a classic sheen as well as a heavy emphasis on the psychedelic, much like like Kirby comics of old, providing Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers its second stunning splash page as Victory’s consciousness streams into another body after his first one is killed by his first mate.

This debut issue’s second guest artist, Ulises Farinas, also delivers a beautiful two-page scene, rounding out the already gorgeous work done by Fox and Rugg. Featuring an Earth-bound clone of Captain Victory, Farina may have the shortest amount of pages, but his work still delivers and stands right along side the over the top science fiction of Fox and Rugg. Farina’s pages give Captain Victory a jarring, yet beautiful injection of light and optimism amid the crazy space opera visuals. All three artists have distinctive and vastly different styles that all seem to mesh into one wild and woolly comic experience. This could be due in large part to the series’ vastly talented colorist Brad Simpson, who adapts to each artist’s style like a comic chameleon armed with a stunning array of colors. Simpson’s colors drench the insanity and chaos of Nathan Fox’s pages just as easily as the contained and muted panels of Jim Rugg, leading up a truly clean and bright pallet for Farina’s dream sequence. It seems that not one person alone could capture the spirit and wild creativity of a Kirby comic, but thankfully Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #1 has four artists more than willing to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.

There is nothing more exciting or bursting with creativity than a Jack Kirby original concept. Kirby more than earned his prestigious moniker by presenting the comic reading populace with characters and visual storytelling that no one had ever seen before then. Modern comic fans often lament that we will never have another Kirby and while that may be true for the most part, luckily we have titles like Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers and a creative team that is devoted to the wild creative energy that Kirby presented and represents now. Joe Casey, Nathan Fox, Jim Rugg, Brad Simpson, and Ulises Farinas know they aren’t Jack Kirby, nor do they really have to be. All they have to do is give their audience a great comic reading experience and they deliver that within the first few pages of Captain Victory and then ride that wave until the climax. They don’t have to be exactly like a Kirby book, they just have to use that creative momentum and core concept to deliver something that is truly their own and they do from beginning to end. Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #1 isn’t a bad cover version, it is a tribute in the form of an entertaining and gorgeous comic and that is the best possible tribute to the King that anyone can deliver.

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