Best Shots Advance Reviews: Marvel & DC's FCBD Titles, FIGHT CLUB 2 #1, More

'Fight Club 2 #1' cover by David Mack
Credit: Dark Horse Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Silver Surfer #11
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Mike Allred and Laura Allred
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Have you ever been lost in a good book? Norrin Radd is stuck in one - literally. With a combination of visual tricks and clever scripting, the one-time herald of Galactus is trapped in an infinite loop in Silver Surfer #11 - and he's taking you with him.

Perhaps its no surprise that writer Dan Slott is responsible for this story, which takes place on a Mobius strip of psychedlic panels. Slott is no stranger to clever structure with his storytelling, including his seminal time-travel issue of Ren & Stimpy. But I'd argue that with Mike Allred by his side, Silver Surfer #11 is even more ambitious, challenging and satisfying. As the Surfer searches for a new planet for the refugees of the planet Newhaven, he's trapped by the constraints of time and manpower - if the lack of supplies don't kill the fleet, the horde of marauding aliens will.

The only solution? Bend time itself, and hope that whatever the future holds might be a little less menacing than the present.

Perhaps this is the time to say that if you buy this book, make sure you buy it in print. Similar to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman #5, in which the Dark Knight's world got literally turned around with tilted and upside-down panels, Slott and Allred one-ups them with a comic that could be read on an infinite loop. With a literal, visual twist, Allred throws the Surfer and his friends down the rabbit hole, and we get to twist and turn the book along with them. In so doing, Slott throws a lot of clever winks in for time travel, including a "Admiral Ouroboros" and one alien soldier complaining how the Surfer "always" aims for him in battle. But as you wind up traveling to the end of the book - and then go upside-down and in reverse - you can't help but feel a little bit of tension. After all, if you can't finish this book, how can we expect the Silver Surfer to survive?

In a lot of ways, the genius of this book couldn't have been realized without Mike and Laura Allred. Part of this is because at his core, Allred's appeal is his style rather than his execution, and this comic is all about layouts and visual storytelling. There are some handy details here, including panels that bend in the direction they want you to read, and it's pretty harrowing to see the Surfer's face when he begins to melt and fall into a time portal. (Letterer Joe Sabino is also a godsend here, as once you get the hang of it, his right-side-up and upside-down lettering really helps readers figure out which direction to read.) Yet once you're done being dazzled by the storytelling, Allred has some great design chops, such as his beautiful yet ethereal take on the Never Queen, or the sadness on Dawn Greenwood's face as she struggles to reconcile Norrin Radd, the alien she had bonded with, with his past as a one-time genocidal herald of Galactus.

Of course, while some people will enjoy the challenge of navigating this book - and I repeat, reading it in print is going to be a much more enjoyable experience than buying it digitally - there are going to be some who prefer their entertainment to be less work. And I get that. In particular, one of the first time-travel twists is an easy one to trip up even veteran comic book readers, and that'll make for some frustrations, particularly among newbies. Additionally, there's a great twist near the end that actually seems to buck the Mobius strip trend, so it's very easy for readers to miss it.

That said, with so many endless variations of the same stories in comics, it's pretty amazing to see a set of creators be this ambitious with the actual form. The sheer audacity here - combined with a storytelling conceit that really makes this comic feel truly oversized - makes Silver Surfer #11 a book you should check out. But if you do, a warning - just be careful you can find your way out.

DC Comics: Divergence Free Comic Book Day issue
DC Comics: Divergence Free Comic Book Day issue
Credit: DC Comics

Divergence
Written by Scott Snyder, Gene Luen Yang and Geoff Johns
Art by Greg Capullo, John Romita, Jr., Jason Fabok, Danny Miki, Klaus Janson, Scott Hanna, Fco Plascencia, Hi-Fi and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Steve Wands, Travis Lanham and Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Free Comic Book Day has become a prime marketing opportunity for comic book publishers, piggybacking on a typical superhero movie opening weekend to showcase great stories and new initiatives for curious consumers. This year, I'd say few can compare with DC Comics' FCBD offering, Divergence, a trio of teasers from the publisher's Batman, Superman and Justice League titles that will definitely grab readers' attentions.

For these three pillars of DC's publishing lineup, big changes are a-coming, with some of these new developments looking like seismic shifts in the status quo. For my money, the biggest shock has to be Gene Luen Yang's Superman, as DC aims to continue the momentum established by writers like Geoff Johns and Greg Pak. Teaming up with John Romita, Jr., Yang doesn't waste any time completely upending Superman's status quo - there's going to be a lot of Internet debate going on after this one, but for the first time in who knows how long, DC has been able to give Superman a credible threat. (Not to mention some very interesting new entanglements with a long-time member of Superman's supporting cast.)

Granted, some critics may see Superman's new temperament and vagabond tendencies to be a little too similar to J. Michael Stracznyski's poorly received "Grounded" storyline - and admittedly, John Romita Jr.'s short-haired, stubble-wearing design might not help improve that perception - but if Yang and company have the ideas to back up their audacious premise, we might be seeing a dangerous new era for the Man of Steel.

The other two storylines, meanwhile, showcase consistency - after all, Batman and Justice League are two of DC's most enduring properties. Scott Snyder's Batman opens teasingly after the current "Endgame" arc, as Gotham sits unsettled and unprotected after the Joker's mad rampage. More often than not, Snyder paints a picture of Gotham as an organism, cutting back and forth with TV personalities in the same style as Frank Miller during The Dark Knight Returns. That kind of personality is interesting, if not as sharp-toothed as Miller's opus, but it does provide a great showcase for artist Greg Capullo, whose sharp angles and widescreen imagery makes Gotham feel like a hulking, diseased city. Top this with a potentially fun twist on the identity of the new Batman, and you're adding fuel to an already red-hot property.

Whereas the first two stories in this book are about the big new changes for the World's Finest, the third story - Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok showcasing "The Darkseid War," their next arc for Justice League - is the story that doesn't reinvent the wheel. In many ways, when I first began reading this story, I thought it was a Wonder Woman tale - and in many ways, the story of the daughter of Darkseid does tie in with the lore and legend of Themyscria. Johns gives us a nice double-page sequence full of juicy teases, and it seems like he's continuing the character-driven hot streak he had picked up during the recent "Amazo Virus" arc. Jason Fabok's artwork feels like the most traditional of the three artists here, but that's not a bad thing - his characters look solid and powerful, and there are some nice little details to be picked up here, such as Grail's collection of familiar weaponry.

Of course, when it comes to Free Comic Book Day offerings, it's easy to speculate - indeed, many of the books offered are teases towards a larger storyline. It remains to be seen if DC sticks the landing with any of these three storylines, but in terms of high concept and sheer marketability, DC has one of the better books this weekend. If you're interested in seeing what's next for DC's biggest heroes following Convergence, you'll likely want to check this book out.

All-New, All-Different Avengers
All-New, All-Different Avengers
Credit: Marvel

The All-New, All-Different Avengers
Written by Mark Waid and Charles Soule
Art by Mahmud Asrar, Brandon Peterson, Frank Martin and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Joe Sabino and Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

** SPOILER WARNING **

All-New and All-Different doesn't necessarily translate to all-star quality, as Marvel's Free Comic Book Day offering featuring Mark Waid and Mahmud Asrar's Avengers feels a little too simplistic to really dazzle. Perhaps it's because the main hook has already been given away by the cover - featuring new recruits Ms. Marvel, Nova and Miles Morales as the Ultimate Spider-Man - or perhaps it's because these 10 pages aren't really enough to sell this book's new premise or status quo. Either way, this book isn't a bad one, but it's not enough to have readers champing at the bit for more.

The thing that's interesting about All-New, All-Different Avengers is that unlike the intergalactic world-beaters of Jonathan Hickman's scattered run, Waid is taking the exact opposite approach: his roster is tight and his team is down-to-earth, and with half the team being the greenest kids on the block, I certainly wouldn't even consider this team to be "Earth's Mightiest Heroes." But as a game plan, Marvel and Mark Waid look to be trying to reverse the increasingly grim and convoluted trend superhero books have taken the past 10 years - this is a streamlined story prominently featuring young, popular and diverse heroes.

On paper, it sounds like a great idea - so why doesn't it grab me in execution? There are two reasons here. The first is that in general, Waid's storyline feels pretty run-of-the-mill, as the Radioactive Man launches an attack on the Federal Reserve Bank. Waid alludes to some post-Secret War status quo changes, but he's a bit too subtle for his own good, considering the developments seem pretty low-key - Sam Wilson seems to be on the outs with Steve Rogers, the Vision is weakened, and Tony Stark's money is no longer in play. We've seen a lot of these things before, and so it doesn't provide a lot of window-dressing to some pretty directionless action. Adding insult to injury is the pacing, where the main twist of the story feels both too abrupt and totally predictable.

Admittedly, just like the roster of the Avengers seems to have had a bit of a brain drain, the art also feels a little less than A-list. Mahmud Asrar comes from the same stylistic corner as Stuart Immonen and Olivier Coipel, but his artwork comes off as really flat, and his overall action choreography is almost non-existent, aside from a tiny Miles Morales doing a flip in the background of a panel. In some ways, it just feels less natural than his work on All-New X-Men, and I think that has to do with the learning curves of these clashing, ultra-detailed costumes, rather than the sleeker and more uniform look of the original X-Men. Frank Martin's colorwork gives the book a bright, Saturday Morning cartoon feel, and while occasionally some of his background colors look muddy and washed-out, it certainly establishes the sunnier tone of the book.

I think the other problem this Free Comic Book Day offering has is that instead of spending 20 pages putting a new spin on the Avengers, they wind up spending just 10 to establish the barest minimum of character dynamics, while paying lip-service to the House of Ideas' biggest albatross at the moment, the Uncanny Inhumans. Charles Soule takes some pages from the X-Men playbook - spontaneous mutation as well as human terrorists gunning for anyone different from them - but his major weakness is in character creation. Right now, none of these characters feel like they'd be enduring properties - we have a boorish Indian movie star who is turned into a hideous tree creature (do we really need a second one after Groot?) and a humble engineer turned into some sort of hand-less energy-wielding hero. Combine that with a bizarre status quo change for Queen Medusa and a longtime Marvel hero, and the story just doesn't connect.

Artwise, however, Brandon Peterson adds an immediacy to Uncanny Inhumans, thanks to his realistic artwork. In order to supplant the X-Men as Marvel's premiere species of sympathetic and all-too-human outcasts, the creative team has to work overtime in hammering in the idea that the Inhumans can resonate more with "real life" than the Children of the Atom. More realistic artwork is a great way to do that. Peterson reminds me a little bit of former Crossgen studiomate Steve McNiven and a little bit of Mike Deodato, Jr., although his page layouts sometimes feel a little off compositionally and his take on Medusa doesn't feel quite as inventive as some recent other takes. Justin Ponsor's colorwork, however, is downright gorgeous, and really puts some nice weight behind Peterson's art.

At the end of the day, though, I feel like this Free Comic Book Day issue doesn't really accomplish the goal of getting curious readers hooked on what's coming next for the Marvel Universe. Much of this might be a reaction to event fatigue - because after Secret Wars, how can you really one-up yourself? - but these two stories never really transcend the level of average, and certainly don't help to sell Marvel's big franchises. The only plus I can give this book is that, as a free offering, you at least won't consider it a waste of money.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Fight Club 2 #1
Script by Chuck Palahniuk
Art by Cameron Stewart and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Chuck Palahniuk is taking a huge risk with Fight Club 2. Why even bother? Wasn’t the beloved story of mass consumerism and personal impassion enough the first time?

Clearly, no. Luckily for us a world of an increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor, a world that’s altered the definition of the American Dream to mean “just getting by” means a world that is still just as vapid and obsessed with ownership as ever, and if Tyler Durden needed a resurgence, there’s no time like the present for his return.

Fight Club 2 revisits the unnamed antihero of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel 10 years after the events that brought about the demise of the narrator’s alter ego, the brash, unhinged Tyler Durden, and his connection to the depraved and morally vacuous Marla Singer. But now, the narrator, named Sebastian, feels the alluring tug of Tyler Durden as his life has once again fallen into a mindless routine of normalcy.

Palahniuk isn’t about to mess with the formula that made the previous novel (and resoundingly successful film adaptation) such hits with fans, so he taps back into the same cynical pool that involves Marla attending absurd self-help groups (which are even more cringe-worthy in the comic), and Sebastian seeing the aftershocks of his “Project Mayhem” influence. Clearly, their impact on the world has not been diminished with the passing years.

Now, though, Sebastian is the picture of a good husband and nothing like the bloodied pessimist we last saw. He cares for his wife and his son, and he tries to keep his alter ego at bay through a battery of medication, but regularity has its drawbacks as Sebastian finds himself in a loveless marriage, despised by his wife and ignored by his son.

Tyler, once again, becomes a necessary outlet.

But now there’s a child involved, and this is where the story really becomes interesting. While Palahniuk decides to name his character, he chooses to keep the son unnamed. This makes for an interesting dynamic, especially when the son starts exhibiting very Tyler-like characteristics, and Palahniuk hints that Tyler’s role in Sebastian’s life may not have been a strange coincidence, but maybe something akin to destiny passed between generations.

Once Tyler is freed from his confines, we discover that he’s been escaping to cause trouble for quite some time now, and his resurrection is met with apathy from Sebastian and excitement from Marla who craves more than the redundancy of a typical American life.

Even though Fight Club 2 #1 could easily fill its pages with visuals from the movie, artist Cameron Stewart does a fantastic job of putting his own spin on the character designs so that there’s a vague familiarity with the Hollywood counterparts, but enough has been changed to give the comic a life of its own. But the same pathetic ethos is abound in Sebastian as is Marla’s characteristic indifference, save for when she can coax Tyler from hiding.

Beyond the character designs, though, Stewart plays with the visuals to capture the raucous, hyper-violent world of Chuck Palahniuk. Two splash pages in particular -- one involving the Ikea-soaked world of the narrator’s mind, and another depicting a sex scene between Marla and Tyler -- really allow Cameron Stewart to flex his artistic chops, and capture the visceral, moody imagery associated with David Fincher’s film. Cue Dave Stewarts moody colors which give the comic a dull tone akin to the cinematic world of Fight Club.

Fight Club 2 is a comic that taps back into everything great about the source material, and one that makes Tyler Durden’s warm nihilistic embrace a welcome draw back into a familiar world of cynicism, violence, and anarchy.

Rule #1 of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club. But after reading Fight Club 2, it’s clear that we should be talking about Fight Club. “Tyler Lives,” and I couldn’t be happier by the prospect of more bedlam.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Steven Universe: Greg Universe Special #1
Written by Jeremy Sorese, Liz Prince, Chrystin Garland, Grace Kraft, Coleman Engle and Kevin Panetta
Art by Jeremy Sorese, Rachel Dukes, Chrystin Garland, Grace Kraft, Coleman Engle, Jared Morgan and Kelly Turnbull
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Steven Universe has no shortage of charming characters but none have endeared themselves to the show’s loyal audience quite like Greg Universe, Steven’s beach bum dad. Serving as the show’s slightly clueless heart, Greg has driven his van into the hearts of many viewers since the shows inception and now, thanks to a special one-shot centered around him, is poised to do the very same for comic readers. Steven Universe: Greg Universe Special #1 is a heartwarming and often hilarious anthology featuring stories that range from the poignant to the ridiculous, but all manage to capture the tone of the show as well as the down-and-out charm of Greg.

Anthologies, as a rule, generally feel jumbled with certain stories aiming for one tone while others aim for another completely different one. Greg Universe Special #1 is no different in this regard, yet this tonal juggling never hinders the reader’s experience. While it is true that some stories found in this anthology aim toward tugging at the heart strings and other gun for straight laughs, it still all feels like it gels in a compelling and highly re-readable way. Each story seems carefully placed throughout the issue with some of the more emotional ones serving as a lead in for the comedic ones, gracefully balancing the emotion with the comedy. Anthology issues are a very tricky thing to fully get right, yet BOOM! Studios seems committed to making this one an enjoyable experience from start to finish by placing each story one after each other, much like a great mixtape. Each tale in Greg Universe Special #1 compliments each other nicely and there isn’t a dud to be found in the bunch.

To go through each story individually would be skew a bit toward woolgathering, instead I’ll just focus on a few stand outs, which will also prove a bit difficult, since they could all be argued as stand outs. The first being Chrystin Garland’s “Now in 3D!” which finds Steven and his dad, along with the Crystal Gems, attending the premier of the Cookie Cat reboot, which is now in glorious 3D. Of course, things go hilariously awry as Amethyst, after eating all the snacks at the snack bar, transforms into a huge tentacle monster and crashes through the movie screen and sends the audience scattering while Greg and Steven can’t contain themselves about how amazing the movie was. Garland absolutely nails the other-worldly banter of the Gems as well as the pie-eyed excitement of the Universe’s as they sit eagerly awaiting the movie. “Now in 3D!” is also one of this special’s artistic highlights as Garland presents a version of the Steven Universe... erm... universe that still maintains the same visual look, just in a highly stylized way, as if filtered through the lens of manga.

Another big stand out in an issue filled with stand outs is the special’s closing tale, Grace Kraft and Kelly Turnbull’s “Snapshots,” an emotional story that presents alternating meetings between Steven and Greg after various missions with the Crystal Gems. Kraft effortlessly presents this disjointed story as a series of vignettes between the father and son as Steven triumphs, doubts himself, and faces fear alongside his companions, always seeking his dad’s advice or comforting words afterward. It's an emotional roller-coaster packed into four pages, but it is the perfect story to send the reader out the door with. Kelly Turnbull’s art in “Snapshots” may be the closest to the show’s visual aesthetic found in this anthology, but it is her coloring choices that sets it apart. When the story starts and Steven is breathlessly recounting a tale of his victory, the panels are bright and sunny like a warm beach day. However, in the next vignette, as Steven tells Greg of his failure, the panels are filtered through a somber orange hue. The next scene, which finds Steven doubting that he will ever gain full control of his powers, is presented through a cool purple, all culminating to the final scene at dusk, which takes that same purple and deepens it to a rich violet. Turnbull reads the emotion of each scene and colors it appropriately, hammering home the emotion in a subtle way.

While I discussed the stand out stories of the Greg Universe Special above, each story brings something entertaining to the table, culminating in one truly great anthology. BOOM! Studios' Steven Universe ongoing title has time and time again captured the spirit of the show, but this special one-shot has effortlessly captured the show’s heart and emotional layers in one easy-to-digest package. Steven Universe: Greg Universe Special #1 is filled with laughs, fantastic art, and multiple moments that might make readers misty-eyed as they read. Greg Universe might not be the star of show, but Steven Universe: Greg Universe Special #1 makes a pretty compelling case for how he could be.

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