Best Shots Advance Reviews: LEGACY OF LUTHER STRODE #1, REANIMATOR #1, SLEEPY HOLLOW: ORIGINS

'Reanimator #1' cover by Jae Lee
Credit: Dynamite Entertainment
Credit: Image Comics

The Legacy of Luther Strode #1
Written by Justin Jordan
Art by Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobreiro
Lettering by Fonograpfiks
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

"That's not even fair."

Luther Strode's girlfriend Petra says this about three-quarters through the 40 pages of insanity that is The Legacy of Luther Strode, but I can't help but think that writer Justin Jordan is really talking about his creative team. And to be honest, for most of the comic book artists in the world, it really isn't fair - not when you're living in a world with Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobreiro. With their gorgeously colored, balls-to-the-freakin'-wall action sequences, The Legacy of Luther Strode is going to be the craziest, most hard-hitting book you read this week.

Four years since the original Luther Strode series came out has given Justin Jordan a lot of room to find himself as a writer. Whereas the first series evoked seminal comics like Kick-Ass or even Flex Mentallo, now that he's created more and more varied works - including some of DC Comics' biggest franchises - he's found his own voice, and this voice leans all the way into Luther Strode's action-friendly high concept. This 40-page comic has no less than three fantastic sequences that evoke a cross between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Incredible Hulk, as we meet more people with similar "strange talents" as our hero. In particular, a death-defying escape from the police is a perfect way to kick off the book - so perfect, in fact, Jordan and Image used that sequence as promotional material.

But like I said from the very first time I reviewed The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, the real hero here is Tradd Moore. My god, it isn't even fair. Moore is probably the single most kinetic comic book artist on the stands today, as he gives the finger to physics and relishes in having these two-ton behemoths leap and twist in the air with the agility of a ballet dancer. It's pretty incredible just from the get-go, as Jordan and Moore open up with a Biblical flashback at someone else who knew Luther Strode's bodybuilding method - the original strongman himself, Samson. And what's even more incredible is that's the least impressive action sequence of all of them - there's a great sequence where Luther goes head-to-head against a female bodybuilder, and their attacks (featuring hair-pulling and groin-smashing) just feels visceral in its viciousness. Moore just has a gift for placing his characters in just the right spot in a panel, making them seem like they're running, bouncing, and manhandling each other faster than most mortal eyes could follow.

The final piece of the puzzle is the colorist here, and let me tell you, Felipe Sobreiro is the best colorist you've never heard of. His sense of contrast is superb - particularly the cool colors of Luther's skin clashing wildly against the syrupy red blood that covers most of his body - and he's not afraid to go a little nutso with his palette, such as the hot pink orgy of destruction in the book's first scene. His work is bright but never cloying, instead just lending a sense of energy that kicks Moore's artwork into the stratosphere. It may sound hyperbolic, but honestly, this art team is firing on all cylinders, and it's pretty astonishing to see these kinds of insane spectacles - even in the cape-heavy field of American comics.

While there may be some who might cry foul at the barest of bare minimum characterization in The Legacy of Luther Strode, I'd say A.) the first issue of a final arc isn't the place to start, and B.) you're really reading this book for the characterization? No way. This is a proving ground, a place for Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobreiro to flex their muscles and assert their dominance over much of the rest of the comic book industry. These may be strong words, but when it comes to Luther Strode, well, there's no one stronger.

Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

Reanimator #1
Written by Keith Davidsen
Art by Randy Valiente and Jorge Sutil
Letters by Marshall Dillon
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Herbert West is one of horror’s most unlikely of heroes. Introduced in the 1920‘s and brought to the screen by legendary character actor Jeffrey Combs on the silver screen decades later, the character found a following on the screen and kept it when he moved into the pages of comic books. Since that move into print, West has become his own walking continuity footnote having been seduced by the Old Ones, resurrected twice, and even completely reconstructed after his body was ripped asunder. Now Dynamite Entertainment has saw fit to reward his many guest appearances with his own solo series written by Keith Davidsen. Reanimator #1 slots itself comfortably into Herbert West’s maze-like comic continuity while managing to hop a few genres through the course of twenty-four pages. West’s solo debut is densely written, bloody, and more than a little bizarre; a comic that the good doctor himself would be proud of.

Reanimator #1 opens on the mundane existence of Susie, West’s assistant-to-be, as she attempts to fill the void in her boring life by selling pills on the side after work. This, of course, goes south pretty quickly and West is forced to dispatch Susie’s buyers with extreme prejudice with the help of his lumbering bodyguard, the Valusian. Writer Keith Davidsen starts Reanimator #1 off with a gory "bang!" chocked with exposition, not only about Susie, but about West and his current state in this new story. Davidsen takes a bit of the pressure off himself with a lengthy chunk of text serving as a previously on on the credit page, but in order to get this story going, he front loads this debut with an action scene in order to keep the deluge of exposition going down smooth. In fact, a lot of Reanimator #1‘s text is devoted to exposition, whether it be in dialogue or captioned narration. Casual readers may be turned off by Reanimator’s dense script, but, for this reviewer, it is refreshing to see a writer lean into the Lovecraftian tendency to overwrite. And this isn’t anywhere near the most Lovecraftian thing about Reanimator #1

While the captions and monologues may lean toward the overwrought, Davidsen doesn’t allow himself to become complacent in the horror genre. Reanimator #1 may start as a horror pulp, but throughout its page count it hops from character drama to crime story to full cosmic horror and finally settling on time-travel yarn. Keith Davidsen goes for the gusto with this first issue, morphing the genres around his script and taking full advantage of Herbert West’s new continuity. Davidsen posits that West has not been idle since his time in service of the Old Ones as he funds his research with a new street drug taken from corpses that he stumbled upon in his lab work.

This connects him and Susie to a local New Orleans drug lord with aspirations of joining great Cthulhu as his right hand by using West’s serum as a conduit. Of course, this drug lord is moving in on the territory of another drug lord named Samedi who may or may not have control over the living dead. Heaped on top of all that plot is the relevation that Susie’s rescue by West may have been planned all along after she discovers that she has been watched by him for almost her entire life. Let it never be said that Reanimator #1 is short on plot. If I’m honest all these twists might be a bit too much for readers just looking for an easy in for the character, but there is still value to be found in ambitious scripting. Not all of Reanimator #1 lands, but at least it tries for something beyond a simple bloody and guts tale.

Giving Reanimator #1 a distinctly '90s horror look is artist Randy Valiente with colorist Jorge Sutil. While the script hops genres, Valiente keeps the look deeply rooted in the hazy, exaggerated reality of horror comics. Valiente’s renderings of the characters are realistic enough, yet when things start to go strange, so does Valiente. His Herbert West sneers and hunches like a true mad scientist, always with a crazy twinkle dancing behind his eyes. He also revels in some of the more macabre visuals of Reanimator like West’s romper room, a lab filled with bodies and deadly looking surgical tools and the teasing glimpse of a ghostly Cthulhu. Reanimator #1 isn’t filled with too many insane visuals, but I can’t wait until it is because Randy Valiente is going to make them look great. Keeping with that tone and look is colorist Jorge Sutil who colors everything in with a sickly, otherworldly brush. The whole of Reanimator is colored almost three shades too dark, even the character’s skin. Sutil colors West’s world as sick as the patients as he once attended to and it really works.

And so, after many incarnations and guest-starring roles, Herbert West finally gets the solo series he deserves. Reanimator #1 isn’t exactly a blockbuster return, but as far as first issues go, it still works by being an unexpectedly big take on horror’s studious grave robber. Keith Davidsen’s grounded take on one of H.P. Lovecraft’s enduring anti-heroes isn’t perfect, but still worth reader’s attention, especially the legions of Reanimator fans that stalk comic shop floors.Reanimator #1, for all its faults, shows that West is much bigger than just horror. Now the only question is, just how big does all this go? Is Herbert West the next Walter White? One can only hope.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Sleepy Hollow: Origins
Written by Mike Johnson
Art by Matías Bergara
Lettering by Jim Campbell
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

After the enjoyable and imaginative jaunt into occult fantasy that was BOOM! Studios' first Sleepy Hollow miniseries, comes Sleepy Hollow: Origins. Unlike Marguerite Bennett's mostly stand-alone miniseries, Sleepy Hollow: Origins is entirely one for the fans. If you're not already familiar with the Fox show, there is very little here for the new reader to chew on, and for die-hard Hollow-aholics, there isn't enough meat on these bones for this one-shot to be of much interest.

Sleepy Hollow: Origins is an anthology without variety. A single creative team tackling a bunch of short stories is the worst of both worlds: it lacks the grab-bag feel of a traditional anthology and strangles the potential for a larger, more in-depth single story. Despite these obvious drawbacks, Sleepy Hollow: Origins opens promisingly. Writer Mike Johnson takes us back to Ichabod Crane's past life, preparing to leave British shores to fight for the loyalists in the American Revolutionary War. Crane's father is a convincing presence in these first few pages, attempting to instill in Crane a loyalty he never felt for a war he did not want a part in. A head-on collision with a malevolent force catalyses Ichabod's defection to the separatists, alongside a new-found sense of perspective. Matías Bergara's pencils here are acceptable. His strength lies in composition, creating eye-catching panels that lack definition. Featureless bodies inhabit his backgrounds like clothes dummies in a store window; well-posed but ultimately lifeless.

Abbie Mills' story follows much the same pattern as the first. Bergara's artwork here takes a turn for the impressive, with a particularly evocative three-panel border-less page; as Abbie Mills tells her past to the state psychiatrist, we see two girls walking along an autumnal forest, with two wide eyes hanging among the trees and the suggestion of a horned beast among the fallen leaves. It's an interesting and artistic page slap-bang in the middle of an otherwise flavorless conversation. The second Mills story, placed at the issue's end, has more to offer, but it's still just a few pages in a book that seems like 20-odd pages of filler.

The rest of the issue, a look into the the lives of Abraham Van Brunt (the eponymous Headless Horseman) and Ichabod's future wife Katrina Van Tassel, sheds a little light into the villain's motivations, but it'll be lost on readers who don't already watch the show and old news to those who do. However, horror tends to bring out the best in artists, and Bergera is no different. The horseman himself cuts an imposing figure, spurred on by unrequited love, whilst colorist Tamra Bonvillain flashes pitch-black pages of the newly crowned Horseman with hellish orange.

Elsewhere, BOOM!'s prolific letterer Jim Campbell offers up his usual clear and well-placed word balloons. The duelling English and German voices of the Horseman pages are particularly effective, cloaking an abrupt-sounding language in flat blocks of black, as is the orange gradient visible in the narration boxes of a mystical sequence and the purple gradient in the narration of Abbie Mill's origin.

“Origins” is probably the most predictable and overused prequel subtitle, and it's fitting that this Sleepy Hollow one-shot carries that tired name. There's little here for the Sleepy Hollow die-hard to chew on and the backstory will be lost on anyone who's missed out on the show so far. BOOM! Studios have made every mistake they avoided with last year's excellent Sleepy Hollow miniseries; which was accessible to everyone and satisfying for the initiated. There are five vague stories here that probably would have worked much better as five separate one-shots and, although there are a few pretty pages, there's not much here that's truly worth the cover price.

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