Best Shots Advance Reviews: BOB'S BURGERS #1, WAYWARD #1, POP #1, More

Black Science #8
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Matteo Scalera and Dean White
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

We all live in the shadow of our fathers, in one way or another. Thankfully for us, though, most of our fathers are your basic bankers or plumbers and not an egomaniacal inter-dimensional scientist that has flung you into the ether of the multiverse to serve his own pride. Sadly, Pia and Nate McKay didn’t have the luxury of having a normal father, therefore they couldn’t hope to have a normal life, and their father’s hubris just might be the thing that gets them killed. While the Anarchist League of Scientists have been the leads thus far of Black Science, issue eight focuses in on the children of Grant McKay and the enigmatic techno-Indian, delivering one of the few more intimate issues amid the tense thrill ride that this series has been so far. Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera, and Dean White have excelled in the previous seven issues by going big and hard at a breakneck pace, but Black Science #8 shows that the series can be just as effective when going smaller and introspective as well.

Just to get it out of the way now, Black Science is still one of the most gorgeous Image books on the shelves, thanks to the rough-hewn renderings of Scalera and the heavy, moody colors of Dean White. Black Science #8 kicks off with the thundering action and dizzying scope that we have come to expect from the title with yet another tense fight for survival against the weird fauna of an alien world blossoming into another gorgeous wide-paneled landscape beauty shot doubling as credit page, but the really impressive stuff comes in the form of a flashback. As the nameless techno-Indian starts to finally tell his story - in flawless English, no less - Scalera and White deliver a truly arresting look into the comic’s Man With No Name. As the chief details his experience with a Pillar and the corrupting power that it carried along with it, White’s colors shift into a hazy golden sepia tone, along with a muted yet bold color palette to compliment Scalera’s shifting line work. I’ve said once before that there is nothing like Black Science on shelves right now, and Black Science #8 proves that once again with emotive character moments and evocative graphic storytelling taking the place of bombast.

But what of the meat of the issue? Thankfully, Remender more than pulls his weight, scripting-wise, giving the art team a script that slows the action way down, but is rife with telling character moments and newly uncovered motivations. Black Science #8 finds our party split between the McKay kids, who are fighting there way through an alien jungle, and the Anarchist League of Scientists, who are struggling to keep it together amid their recent losses. Rick Remender has always been a writer that has done very well juggling multiple plots and shifting viewpoints, but never truly making them feel separate. Black Science #8 is a prime example of that as both groups of characters are dealing with their shared loss in their own ways. As Kadir struggles to make amends and to regain the trust of the group, Pia and Nate buckle down and try to apply their father’s lessons in order to get back to the group and, hopefully, survive long enough to get home. Remender also can't seem to help himself with another hanging thread of a tease that will surely either spell disaster or salvation for our travelers of the Everyverse. Almost buried in the middle of the issue is Chandra speaking in a strange tone with even stranger looking dialogue bubbles, almost in reverence to the Pillar and making clandestine adjustments to the arcane machine. Seeing as how Kadir's sabotage was what got them in this multiversal mess in the first place, I can't see how this can be good for our League, but then again, I didn't think I would see our heroes being saved by a man dressed like a goblin knight, so anything is game in Black Science, which is what makes it so dizzyingly entertaining.

Remender also finds two unlikely sympathetic protagonists in Kadir and the chief of the techno-Indians in Black Science #8, adding to the emotional workload of this issue as well as a deeper look into characters that we may have thought we had all but figured out. Kadir, the comic’s whipping boy and erstwhile antagonist so far, finally gets a bit of emotional spotlight or comeuppance depending on your read of the scene. While Kadir may be a world class A-hole, he still maintains that “that doesn’t make him a calculated murderer,” as he struggles to convince the group that Grant sacrificed himself for Kandir and his family’s sake. It is very interesting to see this face turn for Kadir and the static that still exists between him and the group because of his past actions. In this no-win scenario of a trip around the Onion, you would think that the group as whole would put aside their differences and accept Kadir just to have a fighting chance at surviving, but as Rick Remender is quick to remind us, they are still human, petty and spiteful, even in the face of being lost amid the multiverse. There is something so wonderfully real about science fiction like that and it’s what keeps me coming back to Black Science month after month.

The chief’s flashback also holds up an interesting mirror to the book’s protagonists as the story that the chief tells is an altogether human one as well, filled with revenge and lust for power. The chief details his own experience with another Pillar, piloted by a traveler like McKay, after a long and bloody war with the white man. The chief promptly killed the traveler and reaped the rewards of his technology, aiming toward his and his people’s enemies, thus folding to the arcane allure of the true black science and losing sight of their own humanity in exchange for absolute power. While McKay and his group merely aimed to explore the multiverse, it isn’t too far off to suppose that they might have become just like the techno-Indians after their first taste of advanced tech. It is a very interesting parallel to draw between the so-called “civilized” men and women of science and the “savage” enemies of a previous issue, and yet another narrative layer to the satisfying story onion that is Black Science.

We all want to make our dads proud in one way or another, but regrettably, for the time being, Pia and Nate McKay don’t have that chance anymore - but instead of crumbling and accepting their fates, they buckle down and trudge forward. Fueled by the words of their father, they rage against their surroundings and their own limitations, truly becoming their own people and every inch the people their father hoped they would be. Black Science #8 has quite a lot going for it, wrapped around gorgeously and moodily rendered pages. While previous issues have presented bone crunching action, high ideas, and plenty of intrigue, Black Science #8 shows that this title can still be great even without all of these elements, as long as it replaces them with a genuine human story.

Bob’s Burgers #1
Written by Mike Olsen, Jeff Drake, Rachel Hastings and Justin Hook
Art by Brad Rader, Derek Schroeder, Tony Gennaro, hector Reynoso, Frank Forte, Paige Garrison, Tyler Garrison, Liza Epps and Bernard Derriman
Lettering by Tony Gennaro, Bernard Derriman
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

It’s not a successful animated series until you’ve got a tie-in comic to extend the franchise beyond the screen, and this month the subversive Fox series joins the ranks of Simpsons Comics, Futurama Comics and just about anything the Cartoon Network has done in the last decade. The transition from screen to page isn’t always a smooth one, so rather than try and present complete “episodes” in comic book format, Bob’s Burgers is released as an anthology of short stories focusing on each of the characters.

Curiously, this debut issue mostly ignores the titular Bob and his wife, with the three main stories highlighting Tina, Louise and Gene respectively. The first piece, “Tina's Erotic Friend Fiction Presents: My So-Called Life as a Horse” by Mike Olsen, the only one written by a series writer, wins points for originality and the best use of a horse-head cannon this year. Setting the tone for the rest of the book by being a glimpse into the fantasy life of one of the characters, it’s probably a slight dig at the My Little Pony culture. Yet as the dream version of "Tinasus" asks Horse Jimmy Jr “What’s your name, stud?” it’s hard to say neigh to its crazy. The other two main stories, “Louise’s Unsolved Mysteries and Curious Curiosities: Picture Day” and “Gene Belcher Presents: The Boy in the Burger, The Musical” are less successful. The former is filled with typical Louise paranoia and insanity, but fails to come to a satisfying conclusion, while it is difficult to ever fully buy into the musical story due to the inherent lack of audio in comics.

Which brings up one of the biggest barriers for fans of this book. Bob’s Burgers is somewhat problematic in print, as much of the humor of the show relies on the comic timing of the terrific voice actors such as H. Jon Benjamin and Kristan Schaal. Similarly, much of the joy of the show is in watching the family interact with each other, their idiosyncrasies almost vying to outdo the other members. Bob’s Burgers the comic is devoid of both of these things, making it necessarily lesser than the show that spawned it. Yet there are some flashes of brilliance here, with Olsen in particular nailing Dan Mintz’s voice patterns in writing Tina, and you can almost hear Kristen Schaal’s unmistakable scream coming out of Rachel Hasting’s script.

On the art front, none of the creators stray too far from the models of their TV counterparts. Once again, the Tina story offers the most variation in its Saturday morning cartoon vibe from Brad Rader, although some heavy shading and inks (and Derek Schroeder’s dimmer color palette) makes this surprisingly darker in tone. Frank Forte’s Louise story and Frank Derriman’s final piece on Gene could have stepped straight out of the TV series, and Paige and Tyler Garrison’s colors provide a consistent look across both pieces. There’s also two interstitial pieces written by Justin Hook and Jeff Drake respectively: a letter from Lina to the "Apparently You’re Parenting" magazine, and a bit of fanservice in Bob’s ‘Burger of the Day Ideas‘ notebook. Most should remain crossed out, but “The Every Breath You Shi-Take Burger” (from the ‘Hits of the 80s Burgers‘ range) is a guilty chuckle.

Bob’s Burgers undoubtedly works best on screen. However, some knowing writing and a clean artistic translation makes this more than just a cheap cash-in on the success of the television series, albeit one that misses some of the best elements of the show that inspired it. As such, it seems unlikely that this book could have the longevity of the series, due to enter its fifth series next month. Now: is it only a matter of time before we get that Archer comic? Sploosh.

Wayward #1
Written by Jim Zub
Art by Steve Cummings, John Rauch, Jim Zub
Lettering by Marshall Dillon
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

By the end of the first issue of Wayward, Skullkickers and Samurai Jack scribe Jim Zub has opened up a world of possibilities in his latest tale of magical realism, one that pleasingly poses more questions than it answers. Yet it begins with a simple journey of a Rori Lane, our redheaded hero, from her home in Ireland to her mother’s homeland of Japan.

The exposition-heavy opening act of this issue makes us highly aware that we are in the Land of the Rising Sun, plonking us straight in the heart of the Ikebukuro shopping district, one of the busiest areas in Japan. Zub deliberately sets up this overwhelming area to give us an early indication of some innate GPS abilities Rori possesses, ones that come into play later when she is suddenly confronted with a mystical fight between some turtle-demons (kappas) and the mysterious Ayane. However, Zub takes his time in getting us to that destination, as it almost feels as though he is chomping at the bit to share his knowledge of Japan and its mythology with us.

It’s not so much that the issue feels overly didactic, with Zub and artist Cummings’ clear love of Japan never feeling like a lesson (at least until the essays included in the back-matter). It’s more that the issue’s acute sense of place means that the characters feel stilted by comparison. Rori’s mother greets her daughter, who she presumably hasn’t seen for a time, with “So good to see you”, more indicative that they are about to commence some kind of formal interaction. Yet that’s mostly an incongruous scene as Rori’s repeated incredulity that she’s in Japan, something she remarks upon several times, gives way to sudden tonal shift and a back-alley encounter with some unseemly types.

That same idealisation of the Japanese setting results in some gorgeous art from Steve Cummings, who has a keen eye for details in Tokyo. From the Narita train line, one that is well familiar to international travellers, to the pre-fab houses and distinctive convenience stores, Cummings completely envelops us in Tokyo. His manga-influenced art, honed on his TokyoPop work like Star Trek: The Manga and Pantheon High, results in youthful character designs on Rori and Ayane in particular, with John Rauch and Zub’s colors creating an almost unearthly palette of light and shadows. The aforementioned fight sees Rori literally bouncing off the walls, and it is an effective and unique layout that showcases her newfound talents.

Between the Japanese setting and Ayane’s army of cats, there is little doubt that Zub has his eyes set on an otaku audience. Drawing on a number of tropes commonly found in anime and manga, Wayward is comfortingly familiar without being especially groundbreaking. The creators are playing to their strengths, and Zub sets up just enough to make this worth a second or third look in the months to come.

Steed and Mrs. Peel: We’re Needed #2
Written by Ian Edginton
Art by Marco Cosentino, Claudio Grassi and Vladamir Popov
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

There is something extra special about seeing a property that you love so much being treated so well.

The Avengers, the swinging adventure series that became the first British TV show to air on American airwaves, is one of those odd pockets of nerddom that only people obsessed with PBS seem to really love. Thankfully, BOOM! Studios’ latest entry into the Avengers canon, Steed and Mrs. Peel: We’re Needed is a pitch-perfect translation of what made the show so entertaining into the comic book format. Droll British wit? Check. Stylishly low-fi, yet unsettlingly realistic feeling science fiction elements? Check. A stunning, yet completely capable and badass female lead that served as a precursor to some of our favorite female comic book action heroes? Check and check plus, my friends. Even if you just have the barest minimum of knowledge as to who John Steed and Emma Peel are, Steed and Mrs. Peel: We’re Needed #2 is everything die hard fans loved about the TV in a format that is bound to introduce many new fans to this crazy, yet crazy entertainment property.

Are we sitting comfortably? Good, then let’s begin.

Like most great episodes of the television show that inspired it, Steed and Mrs. Peel: We’re Needed #2 feels serialized, as it rides the narrative that was set up in the first issue, but never feels bogged down by its first part, allowing easy enjoyment for new readers that may have stumbled upon this second issue. Each episode of the show served as easygoing, one and done adventures, even if they carried an overarching story, like this second issue does. In this second issue, Peel delves further into the case of a stalwart bastion of the British Empire that may have turned coat while Steed struggles against the nefarious machinations of his captor and villain behind it all, Major Anatoli Strelnekov, a.k.a. the Puppet Master. Writer Ian Edginton, clearly a fan, throws himself into the script with gusto, leaning into some of the nuttier and so wonderfully British elements of The Avengers in order to give die-hard and new fans a truly authentic-feeling experience. The highest compliment anyone can pay this issue is that it feels exactly like an episode from 1965, right down to the '60s-inspired set design of the Psychotron, Strelnekov’s mind control device.

Edginton also goes out of his way to write both Steed and Peel in a way that falls right in line with the performances of Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee. As Peel interviews ne'er-do-well twins Romulus and Remus, the first of many giddily weird callbacks to the original show, you can almost hear Rigg’s silky voice coming through Edginton’s script. The same goes for Steed as he reveals that he knew he was walking into a trap as soon as someone served him tea in a glass, instead of the fine china that proper British subjects do. The Avengers was always prototypical British and Ian Edginton fully embraces that with open arms. Anything else would ring false. Edginton also gives us two prime examples of Steed and Peel’s badassery, after merely teasing readers with it during the first issue. Here both heroes get short but effective action scenes highlighting their vastly different combat styles that were presented in the show. As Steed attempts an escape, he barrels through henchmen, fists and feet flying like the proper blunt object that he is. Peel, meanwhile, fights much smarter than her partner, as she heads to rescue Steed after a few days of no contact. Peel uses her surroundings to dominate the fight and subsequent chase that ensues with a wry smirk and a quip on her lips as she does. The comic Steed and Peel are entertaining because Edginton directly translates their characterizations directly from the show, making Steed and Mrs. Peel: We’re Needed #2 the purest Avengers experience anyone has gotten since 1965.

Adding to the authenticity of Steed and Peel: We’re Needed #2 are artists Marco Cosentino, Claudio Grassi and Vladamir Popov who all take the pop art influences presented in the show and render them onto the graphic page without missing a beat. Both Cosentino and Grassi employ a Phil Noto-esque style to each panel as they present the story in widescreen like panels that allow the characters ample room for emotive body staging and sparkling facial expressions. Cosentino and Grassi have carte blanche with every other character, but both Steed and Peel look exactly like their respective actors, as if not a day has passed since their show was on the air. This attention to facial details in Steed and Peel offer the strongest bit of connective tissue to the original TV show, and just hammers home the feeling of familiarity that fans will feel as they take in the issue. The art team also takes various visual cues from other examples of cult British TV with the obviously Prisoner-esque design of the Pyschotron and the splashes of violent background color that Popov employs during Steed’s escape. Popov’s colors, though never over-the-top, add a vibrant level of absurdity Steed’s escape and a television like naturalism to everything else. Have you ever watched an older British television show and noticed that the scenes filmed look vastly different depending on whether or not they are filmed on a stage or outside? Vladamir Popov’s colors evokes this feeling, perhaps unintentionally, but they still add richness to the already authentically rich experience of this second issue.

There are a myriad of comic book companies that are doing tremendous work with the licenses that they own, giving fans of all sorts many different options when it comes to seeing their favorite characters going on new adventures. If you would have told me a year ago that BOOM! Studios would have one of the best licensed series going on right now and that it would be The Avengers, I would have told you that you were hitting the sherry too hard, but here we are. The hope of these licensed books are to deliver an authentic and canonized feeling experience in a graphic format and that is exactly what Steed and Mrs. Peel: We’re Needed #2 is. Picking up this comic makes you feel as if Steed and Peel never left your TVs, and that is the best possible scenario for a largely forgotten property like this. It makes me wish that Steed and Mrs. Peel: We’re Needed wasn’t just a limited series, because BOOM! Studios may have something special here for both die-hard British TV fans and new fans alike.

Pop #1
Written by Curt Pires
Art by Jason Copland and Pete Toms
Lettering by Ryan Ferrier Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Pop music is fascinating. It’s possibly more fascinating than many other outsider genres of art because it’s so far-reaching that it seems like it must be made for a lowest common denominator audience. But then when an underground artist breaks through, it seems like something more sinister is afoot. Well, Curt Pires and Jason Copland basically agree that the music business is more sinister than we’ve been led to believe, and that their methods are much more depraved than we could have imagined. Someone’s growing pop stars in test tubes for mass consumption, but what happens when one gets out?

Pires and Copland are working from a concept that has a lot of potential, but they spend the first issue introducing us to the machinations of the world instead of endearing us to their characters. It feels unnecessary because the concept can be laid out pretty easily, but the stakes aren’t really clearly defined and the pacing is predictable. Character interactions between Elle (our test tube pop star gone rogue) and Coop (the depressed vinyl and comic book nerd who saves her) come off as fairly vacant because they don’t have much to say to each other. We also don’t really know what Elle knows about her life to this point, and that’s kind of frustrating. It would be one thing for her to explain why she escaped, forcing Coop to call his life and his interests into question. Obviously, we have a clue about why Spike Vandall wants her back, and the muscle we’re shown at the end that keep these pop stars in line clearly sets up the next conflict. But for all the intrigue that Pires is trying to drum up about the mysteries of the pop music machine, his characters come across as shallow archetypes instead of fully formed people.

Jason Copland is an interesting talent that I hadn’t encountered before. His work has a sort of Brahm Revel feel to it, or maybe even Jeff Lemire without the stylization. Copland balances the relatively normal, slice-of-life stuff with the glimpses of science fiction machinery very well. The first page provides such an excellent overview by highlighting the narration with a focus on the fleeting nature of fame and a series of panels at the end that almost serve as the “1, 2, 3, 4” count into the narrative. Unfortunately, he’s not able to improve the pacing of the script that he’s bound to. The script jumps back and forth from Vandall to Elle and Coop in a way that never really allows for Copland to establish the spaces that these characters exist in. (For his part, Pete Toms provides an excellent job on colors that at the very least help differentiate the pages.) But we don’t really get to see what Copland can do with an extended scene until the end of the book and it works so much better than the staccato rhythm presented earlier.

Music and comics go together quite well, and they’ve been fairly popular in recent times. Pires and Copland’s Pop has some of the sci-fi DNA of David Lapham’s Young Liars and they almost certainly have a stronger concept than that book did, but they aren’t able to put it all together on the page. The talent is there, though. If the team can fix the pacing issue, Copland and Toms should be able to carry the broad strokes characterization that Pires has given us thus far. There’s a good story brewing here. Hopefully, it doesn’t take too long to bubble to the surface.

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