Best Shots Advance Reviews: KAPTARA #1, EMPIRE: UPRISING #1, CHEW #48

Empire: Uprising #1 covers
Credit: IDW Publishing
Credit: Image Comics

Kaptara #1
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Kagan McLeod and Becka Kinzie
Production by Drew Gill
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

In a stroke of marketing genius, Chip Zdarsky has been calling Kaptara “Gay Saga.” But does it really live up to that lofty (albeit tongue-in-cheek) descriptor? Probably not. Together with illustrator Kagan McLeod, Zdarsky has created a sci-fi story that, at least at its onset, plays pretty close to established tropes. But the creative team does flip some expectations of a traditional adventure story and while the result is interesting, this debut doesn’t feature a strong enough hook to be considered in the conversation as one of Image’s best books just yet.

Chip Zdarsky’s trademark and greatest strength is definitely his humor which makes Kaptara somewhat interesting because it’s probably the least “laugh-out-loud” funny of any of his current output. Are there funny bits? Sure. But it’s clear that the creative team wants to make the story bigger than that. So Zdarsky’s focus in the first issue is good ol’ fashioned worldbuilding and he immediately presents us with a pretty standard crew of space explorers who are thrust into the unknown when they fly through an unknown space anomaly. Like I said, pretty standard stuff. Most of the characters work as standard sci-fi tropes as well with the exception of our protagonist Keith. Keith is gay and Indian and I don’t think we’ve ever had a sci-fi story with a gay Indian lead, so that’s the new lens that Zdarsky and McLeod want us to experience this story through. The creative team is careful not to tokenize Keith, but at the same time their narrative doesn’t really allow for it at this point. This is essentially Planet of the Apes with a different lead character.

The most exciting part of Kaptara is getting to see Kagan McLeod’s work in a comic again. His work has something for everyone. His characters are spindly and Steve Ditko-esque but also very detailed. His expression work is pitch-perfect for the script he’s working on. And he’s able to deliver the big moments in the script with ease. From the very first page, he thrusts us into a world that we are sure is not our own and that we want to learn more about. The color palette he’s chosen also works well with the script. The pinks, blues and yellows stand out against the blackness of space and also do a lot to deliver that otherworldly quality to the setting and extraterrestrial characters.

Zdarsky has set a pretty high bar for himself, and Kaptara’s biggest weakness is only that it’s not as strong as some of his other work. That’s what make this a merely solid debut, despite stellar art from McLeod, rather than a truly spectacular one. The main character, Keith, has a lot of potential as the creative team continues to flesh him out. It’s refreshing to see creators that are willing to try someone other than a straight, white character at the center of their narrative, but that may not be enough for readers that don’t really get to know Keith very well in this issue.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Empire: Uprising #1
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Barry Kitson and Chris Sotomayor
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Its been 10 years since the conclusion of Empire, Waid’s dystopian tale of a supervillain who managed to conquer the world. Now, after a decade and a tenure as a digital comic, Empire: Uprising finally hits stands this Wednesday. Uprising takes place one year after the conclusion of the first series and finds our lead, the despotic Golgoth, struggling to hold his empire together in the face of brazen resistance attacks. Mark Waid isn’t a writer that often goes dark, but when he does, he does it all the damn way. Empire: Uprising #1 goes the distance, not only as an introduction to this rich world that he and Barry Kitson built a decade ago, but as a rich and violently entertaining debut issue.

Right from the jump, Waid quickly brings the audience up to speed on just what Empire: Uprising is as well as a quick primer on the previous series. After a brief, teasing glimpse at a cabal of off-world entities that conspire against Golgoth, Waid drops us in the middle of a classroom in the middle of a lesson. This lesson is on the importance of this particular day, the first anniversary of Golgoth’s only daughter’s death; a day in which three minutes of global silence is observed and policed with extreme prejudice. Even newborns in their cribs are quieted by their nurses for fear of them being killed if they disobey Golgoth’s decree. Waid very quickly informs the reader of the state of the world as well as Golgoth’s efforts to eliminate the world’s problems through violence and genocide. As the teacher gleefully tells the children of their leader’s efforts to end war, hunger, and disease, Waid and Kitson intersperse her dialogue with horrifying images of Golgoth snapping the neck of an African leader and putting those who failed genetic testing to the torch. Sun Tzu once said that the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting, but clearly Golgoth’s war with the Earth was long fought and fraught with the bodies of those who opposed him.

As the world is hushed, a ragtag band of fighters take advantage of the decree in order to finally gain the upper hand on Golgoth and free the world of his iron grip. Waid wastes no time propelling the story of Empire: Uprising forward after the quick introduction that serves as the comic’s front half. After donning ghoulish masks depicting Golgoth’s daughter’s face, they make their move and find that when you take a shot at the king, you’d better not miss. This is when Mark Waid and Barry Kitson throw all narrative out the window and just allow Golgoth to cut a bloody swath through the resistance fighters with ease.

Artist Barry Kitson, along with colorist Chris Sotomayor, depict the carnage as cleanly (and as bloody) as possible as Golgoth puts his sword through the nearest living thing and doesn’t stop until nothing stands before him. As Golgoth starts his counter-attack, Waid lets the artwork speak for itself, sans dialogue or captions. Kitson’s design of Golgoth is equally regal and imposing and he moves like liquid, striking down those who would dare to stand before him wearing the face of his lost daughter and Sotomayor spreads the red everywhere he can as blood streaks down Golgoth’s costume amid the rich gilded colors already on the page. Its a harrowing set of pages, but it shows precisely what kind of character Golgoth is and what he is capable of going into the rest of this series. And who he is is someone you absolutely do not futz with.

Empire: Uprising #1 is a lot of things, but above all it is a viciously entertaining read. Fans of the original Empire will find a lot to love about this newest extension of Golgoth’s story as well as a look into how his world has changed in just one short year. However, Empire: Uprising #1 also serves as a brisk and bloody introduction to the world of Empire that will surely send new readers seeking out what came before as well as waiting breathlessly for the next installment. Mark Waid, Barry Kitson, and Chris Sotomayor go for the jugular with this debut issue and don’t let go until the final page. The uprising has begun and we, lucky readers, get to experience it in all its macabre glory.

Credit: Image Comics

Chew #48
Written and Lettered by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

For a series as consistent as Chew, it's often hard to recognize - let alone praise - a chapter of the series when it's particularly good. It might even be harder than admitting when it's less than its usual standard. Indeed, after 48 issues, you're likely already familiar with Tony Chu and his world, and should know by now whether or not you like John Layman and Rob Guillory's execution.

But sometimes you need to recognize a great book when it raises the bar. And while this isn't a status quo-rocking issue, I'll be the first to say it: I think this is my favorite issue of Chew in quite some time. Wrapping up several long-standing threads, Layman and Guillory have delivered a perfectly paced comic that balances action, humor and character development with equal gusto. It's the kind of comic that doesn't just seem flawless from an analytical perspective, but is also just damn fun to read, as well.

Much of this has to do with John Layman's pacing, as both his A-story and B-story both feel equally weighted. On the one hand, we get an action-packed sequence featuring Olive, Savoy and Amelia, as they take the fight back to the Collector (through a gang of guns-for-hire hilariously named "the Jellassassins"). Layman has always been great with his puns and his hilarious food-warrior high concepts, but the Jellassassins - whose motto is "Death Before Puddin' Pops" - is a highlight.

But while this trio's action sequence hits all the right notes, the most satisfying part of this book has to be Chu and the members of the FDA. They say that you don't really miss people until they're gone, and that was exactly the case with Applebee and Caesar, as they make their triumphant returns - with some hilariously bizarre add-ons. These heartfelt returns are made even more poignant as Tony Chu himself realizes his own shortcomings, leading to some heartfelt reunions among the cast. With a book as focused on humor and gags like Chew, it'd be easy to forgo character development, coasting instead on plot, but here, Layman reminds us that his funny characters also have room to learn and grow.

What's also great about this issue is that there are tons of opportunities for sight gags for Rob Guillory. You'll note from the cover that Applebee and Caesar have come out of their comas with certain... enhancements... that are completely ridiculous, but Guillory portrays them with a hilarious glee. Meanwhile, other bits of the script call for a lot of visual effects, which gives Guillory the opportunity to really dazzle with his colorwork as well as his pencils. But perhaps even more important is that because Guillory is so well-known for his humor, it makes his serious moments hit even harder. Whether its seeing Olive take her bandages off for the first time, or watching Tony reunite with an old colleague, there's a ton of emotion portrayed here, and it makes you connect that much more with these characters.

When you're putting together five years' worth of comics, it's easy to decrease in quantity. But for some of the better books out there, what might be worse is falling into a rut - a consistency of quality that's so static, it's hard to notice or articulate when you're deviating from your own lofty average. Chew is one of those books that's usually very good, month in and month out. But with this perfectly balanced mix of action, humor and resolutions between characters, this happens to be one issue that's excellent.

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