Best Shots Advance Reviews: UFOlogy #1, Nailbiter #11, Project Superpowers: Blackcross #2

'Project Superpowers: Blackcross #2' cover by Lula Tolay
Credit: Dynamite Entertainment
Credit: BOOM! Studios

UFOlogy #1
Written by James Tynion IV and Noah J. Yuenkel
Art by Matthew Fox and Adam Metcalfe
Lettering by Colin Bell
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

I want so badly to believe in UFOlogy but the debut issue of this miniseries leaves a lot to be desired. Artist Matthew Fox provides excellent artwork that works well with colorist Adam Metcalfe’s exceptional palette. James Tynion IV and Noah J. Yuenkel craft an alien encounter tale with a “sins of our parents” mystery bent to it that ends before it really gets going and as a result, makes the whole debut feel a bit half-baked.

The problems with UFOlogy begin with its characters. High-schoolers Becky and Malcolm are bland despite Yuenkel and Tynion’s attempts to inject some life into them. The more time we spend with them, the less and less interesting they become. The writers cop too hard to the 'hero’s journey' arc that we’ve seen about a thousand times before, and so Becky’s reluctance to embrace the unknown makes the book drag. Plus, I don’t think we gain any real insight into Becky as a character the more that we delve into her personal life. The writers continue to beat the same drum as a means of characterization and it doesn’t enhance the character, it only makes her more tiresome.

Malcolm, on the other hand, has at least a hint of intrigue in his introduction. He’s essentially the Luke Skywalker to Becky’s dogged efforts at normalcy. And while his star-gazing, chemical-stealing ways (and weird family dynamic complete with kooky conspiracy theorist radio host father!) are somewhat endearing, the writers still stick too closely to established tropes to allow Malcolm to be a breakout character. Without strong characters at the center, the plot and pacing become tedious. Do we need 30 pages just to get that first alien encounter out of the way? These writers seem to think so but I’m not sure how many readers will agree.

Artist Matthew Fox (not to be confused with the actor or legendary sci-fi/horror artist of the same name) delivers an entirely competent and well-drawn book that features excellent expression work and visual flow. If there’s anyone that’s going to get you to like the characters, it’s Fox. His cartooning is familiar and seemingly effortless. He’s efficient in his use of space and varied in usage of panel layouts and shot selections. Adam Metcalfe’s color palette only really helps add to the tone of the book. Eerie purples and greens with interesting textures and judicious use of digital effects make the book feel very natural. As the plot moves forward the color take on a life of their own, altering the reading experience and probably doing more to heighten the anticipation for the next page than the writing does.

UFOlogy is fairly competent outing that might just be setting us up with familiar tropes in order to tear them down over the next five issues. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for the most interesting debut. The first issue feels almost extraneous when the synopsis covers almost everything we need to know. But Fox and Metcalfe are an artistic duo to look out for and their work keeps this issue somewhat interesting. Here’s hoping that as the plot ramps up, they’re able to improve on an already spectacular team-up.

Credit: Image Comics

Nailbiter #11
Written by Joshua 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

Sometimes people view evil as randomness. But when it comes to the town of Buckaroo, Oregon, well... perhaps there's a method to the madness. Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson set up the answers behind the serial killer breeding ground in Nailbiter #11, and while they don't deliver the coup de grace just yet, they do spin together two eerie parallel storylines that makes for a chilling read.

Since Nailbiter began, Williamson has toyed with the idea of the line between good and evil, and how easy it is to fall from one to the other. Finch, our hero, has struggled with his rage for quite some time now, and so it's unsettling to see him interrogating - you know, let's just call it what it is, torture - Edward Charles Warren, the titular serial killer known as the Nailbiter. Williamson seems to get what makes horror books so good - it's balancing surprise and tension, so drawing out Warren's torture means that there's plenty of room for things to go awry. Either way, you know that pain is coming for someone, and you can't help but get a little squeamish - Finch may get answers about what makes Buckaroo a magnet for deranged minds, but you can bet we're going to see some blood along the way.

The second subplot, featuring Barker, operates on a similar thread - while Williamson jumps between one protagonist and the other, he makes the reader maddeningly miss out on the true nature of Buckaroo. But unlike the first story, which operates mainly on ominous threats and the potential for a hero to extract a bloody confession, Williamson and Henderson don't pull their punches here. Henderson is a great artist for this book, in the fact that his angular characters look just a bit cartoony - and that makes any bloodshed look about a million times more horrifying. The fact that he draws two 20-panel pages cutting in and out of a dismemberment... hoo boy. It's a credit to him that he's one of the best horror artists in the business, and it's all because he knows how to lay out a page.

That said, if there's one thing that might hold back Nailbiter #11, it's the patience of the audience. Granted, we're only 11 issues into this series, and it's been as consistent a comic as they come - but at the end of the day, the story doesn't actually progress too far this issue. Finch and Warren are still at their original status quo by the end of the issue, and while Barker sees some truly brutal stuff that she will never be able to unsee, her story is left on a cliffhanger rather than giving the readers any solid resolution or progression. The atmosphere is great, and that will make a lot of readers feel very forgiving - but there will be some who might find the teasing too much.

I'm not sure if I'd consider myself one of them, however. Plenty of comics bite the dust when they have to give exposition and set-up, so the fact that Williamson and Henderson are able to set the stage in this interesting a manner is something they sould be congratulated on. Nailbiter #11 is, well, a nailbiter of a comic, and you'd only be doing a disservice to yourself to miss out on one of Image's best series.

Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

Project Superpowers: Blackcross #2
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Colton Worley and Morgan Hickman
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Readers going into the Project Superpowers: Blackcross #2 expecting a superhero story will be inevitably disappointed. Blackcross has more in common with Twin Peaks than it does Secret Avengers, and therein lies its strength. Ellis has always been a writer known for his keen eye for concepts and wild ideas, and applied to the pulp heroes of Project Superpowers, we are presented a superhero book that barely functions as a superhero book. Coupled with the rough-hewn pencils of Colton Worley and the muted, naturalistic colors of Morgan Hickman, Blackcross #2 toes the line between human drama and superhuman suspense yarn, and it does it stylishly.

Blackcross #2 opens with our leading man, Benton, being hit with a mysterious green gas after opening a package marked “formic ethers.” He is quickly rushed to the hospital with a familiar symbol burned onto his chest and an even more familiar presence monitoring his progress from deep inside his cave-like lair. The supernatural aspects of this issue are few are far between, but Warren Ellis finds much more interest in the town’s reaction to the insane goings on that have descended upon Blackcross. Ellis spends most of the comic’s page count detailing just how all of these characters react to the flaming man from the previous issue and the strange attack on Benton; there is where most of the drama comes from Blackcross #2. Both the town’s residents and the federal agents that have taken up residence are obviously taken aback by the superhero antics of the past few days, but Ellis plays all of this stone straight, still holding back going full pulp yarn just yet. This may be the closest that Warren Ellis has come to writing an hour-long drama, and even without all the comic book craziness, Ellis still makes it all feel compelling.

Of course, this being a Warren Ellis comic, nothing is what it seems. Ellis presents the town of Blackcross as a cypher waiting to be solved; a town stocked with normal humans, but also with individuals with secrets, and possibly superpowers. Federal agents have descended upon the town to protect the witness protection asset that was just engulfed in a cloud of mysterious smoke. A man has just lit himself on fire and took a walk as if nothing has happened. This isn’t even counting the lunatic in the woods who is seems indestructible and is draped in a tattered American flag. A secret-filled narrative like this only has so long before it loses an audience due to lack of answers; I’m looking at you, Lost. Blackcross #2 doesn’t give much away, but it is just enigmatic enough to keep readers hooked without feeling underwhelmed. The only draw back to this approach would be just how serialized Blackcross is. I said before that this comic is Warren Ellis at his most hour-long drama and with that comes with the weekly drama format. Blackcross #2 isn’t the best jumping on point for novice readers, but those willing to stick it out through the complete story will more than likely find something special waiting for them at the end.

However, readers don’t have to wait long at all for the something special waiting for them this month: artist Colton Worley. Worley is another slam-dunk collaborator for Ellis, much like Tula Lotay was on Supreme: Blue Rose. Worley not only seems to get Ellis’ dark asthenic, but he revels in it, detailing most of Blackcross #2 more like a charcoal painting and less like a monthly comic. Colorist Morgan Hickman also falls in lock step with the artistic look of Blackcross drenching Worley’s renderings of the mundane town of Blackcross with dusky greys, pale blues, and stark halogen lighting in the scenes in the hospital. Worley and Hickman make Blackcross #2 look like the David Lynch superhero movie that we’ve always wanted.

Project Superpowers: Blackcross #2 isn’t a superhero comic - at least not yet. Warren Ellis, Colton Worley, and Morgan Hickman have taken the tried and true concept of Project Superpowers and molded it into something aimed at today’s comic reading populace. Blackcross may be Dynamite’s first made for tv drama and, of course, it was presented to us by Warren Ellis. Though the heavily serialized nature of the narrative may hurt its audience in the short term, Project Superpowers: Blackcross has the potential to be yet another blockbuster franchise for Dynamite Comics.

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