Best Shots Advance Reviews: MEMETIC #1, WICKED + DIVINE #5, STARLIGHT #6

Memetic Sloth Teaser
Credit: BOOM! Studios
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Memetic #1
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Eryk Donovan and Adam Guzowski
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by: Good Times Sloth - er, uh, David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Have you seen the Good Times Sloth?

You should really check out the Good Times Sloth.

We live in the age of the meme. People share cat videos, ragefaces, Funny or Die videos and Newsarama review columns like wildfire. It's all in good fun, right? Nobody gets hurt. That is, not unless you're James Tynion IV and Eryk Donovan. Combining a pandemic like Outbreak with the cursed media of The Ring, Tynion's Memetic is a disaster comic that truly feels creepy, hitting all the right notes of our Ebola-fearing, smartphone-addicted society. To say that this is Tynion's strongest work yet is underselling it - this is by far his best comic, an improvement of an exponential level.

What is especially effective in Memetic is Tynion's use of structure. Opening up to an apocalyptic "three days later," Tynion then shoves us back into relative normalcy, as color-blind, hearing impaired college student Aaron pines over his boyfriend while a hot new meme swarms campus: the Good Times Sloth. It's there that that facade of well-being starts to quickly, creepily erode - we're seeing the Sloth on the news, on government computers, with the President of the United States. In this first issue, Tynion sets his stakes high - and that only makes everything more horrifying when they eventually collapse. Without giving too much away, there's a press conference that ends quite abruptly, and it's got just enough realism to send chills down your spine.

It doesn't hurt that artist Eryk Donovan is killing it. Think of a spliced clone of Jeff Lemire and Rob Guillory, and that sums up Donovan's style - he's just cartoony enough to sell the goofy Good Times Sloth, but is able to turn on a dime to show horrifying images of people with blood leaking from their eyes. What's perhaps an unintended benefit stemming from Donovan's clean style is that you really get to see the fear in each character's eyes - there's a lot of crying in this comic, but once we get to the point where the meme virus starts to take hold, wouldn't you freak out, too?

I was as skeptical - perhaps more skeptical - than most when I heard about Memetic, dismissing it as a ham-handed, instantly dated grab at relevance. And perhaps people have done the same about Tynion, who's enjoyed a blossoming career on Batman Eternal along with his mentor, Scott Snyder. But this is the book that's going to take Tynion out from under Snyder's shadow, and establish him as a striking talent in his own right. Memetic is smart, terrifying, timely and surprisingly full of heart. It's the kind of horror story that taps directly into today's fears, whether it be technology turning on us or virulent plagues wiping us all out.

So accept it. Join your friends. Kick back and enjoy the Sloth.

Credit: Image Comics

The Wicked + The Divine #5
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Clash of the Titans? Think more like Clash of the Superstars - in The Wicked + The Divine #5, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie end their first arc with a bang, as the oversized egos of the Pantheon go head-to-head, with not everyone making it out in one piece. This comic comes fast and furious, way more aggro than the first four issues of the series combined, but it's the burst of action that makes the conclusion seem that much more shocking.

Since the beginning of the series, we've all been drawn to Lucifer, that blonde Bowie enthusiast with a cigarette in her hands and a snide remark on her lips. Framed for murder at the end of the first issue, Lucifer's been languishing in jail - but that staycation is officially over, and it's transformed The Wicked + The Divine from a Phonogram remix to something this side of Godzilla. Power has been unleashed, demigods battle one another in the streets, and through it all, a regular, ordinary girl just bears witness to the carnage unfolding.

Because this comic doesn't quite hold the same philosophical underpinnings at the previous issues, this comic winds up being Jamie McKelvie's burden to bear - and it's a weight he handles mightily. Just because his characters look flawless and beautiful - even when they're beaten up and bloodied - doesn't mean he can't handle a disaster. Watching Lucifer walk blithely by a burning car or seeing Sakhmet tear towards us like a flame-mouthed wolf woman is a surprisingly superheroic take on these pop deities, but that's exactly how pantheons seem to go, isn't it?

Colorist Matt Wilson cranks the energy past 11 with his colors, especially using contrasts to make the flaming Baal pop off a cool purple background, or the muted Sakhmet backlit by a powerful yellow palette. But for my money, even with the overwhelming fisticuffs, I was struck by the way McKelvie drew his characters, particularly our protagonist Laura. McKelvie's characters aren't just expressive, they're downright beautiful - you're drawn in even as Laura tears up, and you can't take your eyes off the unstable Morrigan, even as she threatens our hero in the darkness.

But just because this comic goes against expectations, don't think you can count out writer Kieron Gillen's contributions here. This comic is all about the plotting, and there's not just one, but two big swerves that I don't think you'll see coming. Because he's worked with McKelvie and Wilson before, Gillen is able to play with the actual structure of the page - in particular, the last two pages execute a stunning fade-out that would likely never work in any other comic. And through it all, Gillen does manage to deliver a very smart coda to his first arc, an arc that's always been about the deification of celebrity. What exactly does it mean to be famous, to have your face on TV? And what's the cost?

I'll never tell. That's for you to find out with The Wicked + The Divine #5, a closer if there ever was a closer. Gillen, McKelvie and company have produced a superb conclusion to the series' first arc, an ending that offers more questions than it solves, but in a way that will only inspire fans to keep going. It's almost like a ritual, a supplication, a prayer to the storytelling gods. More of this book. More of this book. More of this book. Like the catchiest of chords, The Wicked + The Divine is the same old song but with brand-new lyrics, a pop pantheon in strife and disarray - and I can't wait to listen to the next track.

Credit: Image Comics

Starlight #6
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Goran Parlov and Ive Svorcina
Lettering by Marko Sunjic
Published by Image Comics
Review by Brendan McGuirk
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Captain Duke McQueen just wants a little recognition.

In his youth, McQueen rescued a faraway planet from a multitude of threats. A thousand light-years away from home, he compiled a string of successes that transformed him into a legend in the eyes of the denizens of Tantalus. When he returned, however, his Earth-bound contemporaries failed to comprehend the scope of his accomplishments, or even believe his fantastic tale. Only his wife trusted and appreciated his life-defining adventure. Not even his two sons believed him, and when the years marched on, and his wife passed away, Duke was left with nothing but memories, not only of what he'd done, but of being recognized for it. Until Tantalus needed saving again, and the old man was returned to the place that had given him his opportunity to earn greatness.

Mark Millar and Goran Parlov's Starlight is a fairly straightforward old-soldier's-last-ride romp. As much as McQueen's age and perceived limitations color the story, it's less a deep-dive thematic exploration of accomplishment, aging and self-worth, than it is series of clichéd adventure tropes being plucked at like strings until they find a familiar melody. There are tough guys, battered victims with designs on revenge, cartoonish supervillainy that registers on the Doctor Colossus scale, and a healthy amount of monologuing. The plot and dialogue is mercilessly boiled-down to its pulpy core, but Parlov's seemingly simplistic art is actually where the story's nuanced richness reveals itself. There's nothing particularly satisfying about reading a trite line of dialogue like “Oh no. You don't get out of this that easily!” but there is accomplishment in capturing the corresponding reaction shot with economy and verve. Starlight is easily one of the most visually distinct sci-fi comics in years. Ive Svorcina's palate loudly jumps off the page, accentuating Parlov's clean linework. This is a story wants nothing more than humor and action, and the visual language of the book accentuates both perfectly.

Duke McQueen is a hero, so it should be no surprise that the series reaches a heroic conclusion in this finale issue. The nefarious Broteans, whose broad brand of evil is the series' biggest tip-off to the humility of its narrative ambitions, cackle and posture and oppress until they can cackle, posture, and oppress no more. The only way not to sense where this story would end up would be to have avoided all third acts of adventure films and tales. Still, the familiarity and simplicity of Starlight is more asset than anchor, because there is enough originality in the premise and look of the book to justify its telling.

Maybe Starlight could have said something new if it had been less predictable. Perhaps there's something to be said about knowing that the space between you and your best days is only going to grow that has not yet been said. There could be a deep allegory made concerning the Tantalusians' need for inspiration from an interloper. Starlight doesn't really do much of that. Instead, it gives you exactly what it is; meat and potatoes sci-fi pulp. Predictability isn't so bad.

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