Best Shots Advance Reviews: GRAVEYARD SHIFT #1, EVIL EMPIRE #9, THEY'RE NOT LIKE US #1

Graveyard Shift #1
Written by Jay Faerber
Art by Fran Bueno
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Vampire fiction hasn’t exactly been wanting for content over the last decade or so, a fact that comics and television writer Jay Faerber acknowledges in the backmatter of this debut issue. Indeed, Graveyard Shift is a series that has been in the works for the better part of that period, first serialized in comics magazine Galimatías in artist Fran Bueno’s native Galicia, Spain. Drawing upon a number of influences outside this immediate genre, it comes to Image Comics fully formed and is intriguing from the opening pages.

Rather than simply trying to find a new angle on ‘vampires’, Faerber plays to some of his past strengths and examines this world through a similar noir/crime lens that he applied to the well-received Near Death. It begins with a mystery, one in which homicide cop Liam witnesses a routine early morning raid go south with the appearance of unexplained creatures. When his wife Hope is later attacked in their home, and both are left for dead, it becomes apparent that several of his colleagues have been murdered by a gang of vampires and he’s next.

Despite the modern setting and sensibility, the closest comparison to Graveyard Shift is not contemporary fare like Guillermo del Toro and Peter Hogan’s The Strain, but rather the 1980s films like Lost Boys, Fright Night or Near Dark. Readers will readily accept the supernatural element to the story quickly, as they almost become secondary to the greater mystery around the nature of the gang and what happens to Hope and Liam next. In fact, the original title to the series, Undying Love (which wound up being used by Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman’s 2011 vampire series for Image), is indicative that this will play out partly as a romance as well, making it infinitely more interesting than another vampire gang story.

Faerber re-teams with Noble Causes collaborator Fran Bueno, who opens with some purple-tinged grit, before literally busting down the door and bringing a striking mix of light and shadow. The contrast with the casual domesticity of Hope and Liam shows the versatility of the artist, and this kind of juxtaposition is one of the most effective stylistic choices of the issue: a dinner party scene smashes into violence, before the pages are lit up with fire and transition seamlessly into a hospital room.

The artistic attempts to keep us on our toes is shared by the narrative, which almost feels as though it reaching a conclusion several times before catching us off-guard with an added twist. This has all the promise of a rich and layered series that invokes new levels of intrigue each month, so it will be interesting to see where this goes when it returns in the new year.

Evil Empire #9
Written by Max Bemis
Art by Victor Santos and Adam Metcalfe
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

There's something freeing about villainy.

Don't tell me you haven't seen it. We vibe on Suicide Squad movies, trilogies with Danny Ocean, Darth Vader and Doctor Doom permeating pop culture and the entirety of Axis. We may be inspired by heroes, but we're liberated by villains. Call it vicariousness, call it novelty. Call it whatever you want, but time and time again, once we get inside their heads, we are slowly turned - it's not inhuman. It's just fun.

And that's the vibe that Say Anything frontman Max Bemis has evoked with Evil Empire #9, a dark mirror "Behind the Music" that I can't help wonder if it's not the slightest bit autobiographical. Even if you're not aware of the societal plunge into darkness that the rest of Evil Empire chronicles, this nihilistic tale is uncompromising with its vision and voice. Featuring the musical rise, fall and rise again of contrarian musician named Diamonds, this is a comic that you shouldn't miss.

"It was the simplest of motivations, right off the bat. Life is boring. So I got bored." With this first line, Bemis sets the tone of his anti-hero. It's Diamonds' voice that's the real draw here, as Bemis spins a biography that's dizzying in not just how far this musician has come, but to the sheer lengths he goes in order to try to attain notoriety and alienation. From hip-hop to hardcore rock to emo and hookers and reckless orgies, Diamonds is perverse, but there's a strange magnetism to him. There's power in how methodical he is towards diving deeper and darker into the abyss - and there's power in the fact that he doesn't get a damn.

There's also power in the art of Victor Santos, whose razor-sharp linework provides the perfect tone for this done-in-one tale. Santos reminds me of a cross between the rough shapes of Michael Avon Oeming and the theatricality of Francesco Francavilla - in particular, Santos' page layouts feel like some sort of deranged fever dream, the panels all meshing and merging and swirling together, with hard angles never giving us a chance to maintain our balance. (The sickly colors by Adam Metcalfe help increase this effect, showing that there's a sickness going on, even beyond Diamonds' depravity.) What impresses me in particular about Santos is his use of shadow in storytelling - in particular, there's a sequence where Diamonds' band conducts a spontaneous orgy, and the page is covered in shadow, with only smoke, falling dollars, and the flashes of human teeth to show where these thrashing bodies lie.

What's perhaps most fascinating about this book is the fact that you can't help but think - even with the dystopian fiction set aside - that at least a little bit of this comes from a place of truth. As a musician himself, it's eye-opening to see Diamonds struggle with the concept of reinvention, time and time again, trying to use his art to separate himself and to affect change - and then to have that same music put him in a box in the eyes of his fans, his critics, and his society. This story could have been a separate series on its own, if not for a handful of bloody scenes that ties it into the greater Evil Empire arc - and the final page is about as cheeky of a closer as I've seen since Mark Millar and J.G. Jones' Wanted.

And perhaps that's what makes Evil Empire something a little too close to reality. Because once we get to know them, we like our villains. We empathize with them. We get inside their heads. And then we celebrate them - not just for the freedom they are allowed, but for having the sheer balls to reach for it. This comic may be brutal, may be indulgent, may be dense - but at the end of the day, you can't take your eyes off of it. It's a victory for Max Bemis, Victor Santos and BOOM! Studios - even if it might be saying something pretty damning about its readers as a whole.

They’re Not Like Us #1
Written by Eric Stephenson
Art by Simon Gane, Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Fonografiks
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Writer and Image publisher Eric Stephenson has not only been a major advocate for the comics publishing industry in the last few years, but an Eisner-nominated writer for the the acclaimed Nowhere Men. His latest ongoing series is not only a clever exploration of a youth culture bred on entitlement and privilege, but one of the more original takes on the concepts that first came out of the superhero comics of the 1960s.

The anxieties of youth aren’t new territory for comic books, and indeed they are the bread and butter of the reliability of every character from at least Spider-Man upwards. Yet as the character we come to know as Syd stands on the edge of a building ready to jump, Stephenson very clearly states what the underlying message has always been in those books: “with great power comes great angst.” Not every Jean Grey is going to end their journey with the "Dark Phoenix Saga," and most will end up like Syd, a telepath who is simply wanting to get the voices out of her head. However, when her attempts to end it all land her in the company of a group of similarly talented people who have very different ideas about how the world should be run.

If the X-Men had been created in the 21st century, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s origin stories might have looked a little something more like this. The swinging adventures of the ‘60s give way to a more internalized contemporary notion of outsider fears, with the enigmatic the Voice serving as a de facto to the paternal Charles Xavier figure. There’s even a introductory montage of the various “gifted” people we meet in this first issue, one that wouldn’t have been stylistically out of place in 1963. Yet this is a far more sinister version of the avuncular relationship that Professor has with his students, the Voice being far more of a Fagin than father.

Artist Simon Gane has been referred to as the king of “punk” comics aesthetics, so there is something with a whiff of the post-punk about his art style here. Particularly as it is backed by the gorgeous colors of superstar Jordie Bellaire, there is something reminiscent of the stunning cover art that Yuko Shimizu provides for The Unwritten. The sheer attention to detail is stunning, from the finely wrought wicker on the chairs, to the lush landscape around the mansion gates. The simplicity of a conversation is made infinitely more visually interesting by Syd and the Voice being surrounded by thousands of records, and the subtle color detail in this sequence is encompassing.There’s a little bit of the fine art of Moebius or Frank Quitely in there as well, but a style that is very much suited to this fresh interpretation of the X-Men mythos.

It would be far too easy to simply call this a new spin on the X-Men or a deconstruction of the marvelous Silver Age. Instead, They’re Not Like Us updates those core anxieties that plagued the kids of the 1960s, and transplants them to the angst that a myriad of choices gives the so-called “Millennial” generation. In doing so, it embodies the spirit of the original Silver Age books, but filters them through something far more literate and not necessarily heading in the same direction as your average cape. This is definitely one to watch in 2015.

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