Best Shots Advance Reviews: DESCENDER #3, NAILBITER #12, DEAD DROP #1

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Credit: Image Comics
Credit: Image Comics

Descender #3
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Dustin Nguyen
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It's like Philip K. Dick once asked: Do androids dream of electric sheep? And if artificial intelligence is any kind of intelligence at all, do they think? Do they dream? And if they die, where do they go next?

In a beautifully rendered chapter, Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen go beyond the limits of artificial life and death with Descender #3, as their hero, the robot boy Tim-21, goes on a journey that brings up the question of his own mortality. While this issue won't redefine the course of Tim's journey - let alone readers' perception of his story as a whole - it's a gorgeous detour that you can't help but enjoy.

While Jeff Lemire has made his bones as a big name at DC Comics and Valiant, I'd have to argue that the real star of this particular show is Dustin Nguyen, whose lovingly painted vistas make Descender a book with a singular visual style. As Tim wakes up in a rose-colored machine afterlife, the sheer texture of Nguyen's colors are breathtaking - this is some handpainted gorgeousness, and you can see every little pock mark in the paper, even if you're reading the book on a screen. By leveraging his colors, Nguyen doesn't even have to go crazy with the details, which allows him to focus on the endearing Tim and his mysterious, half-broken guide.

Descender is also a great example of what a comic book writer can do when he's given no parameters, but instead is allowed to go wherever his mind takes him. Perhaps it's due to the sedate colors or the sharp lettering from Steve Wands, but you can really hear Lemire's voice here, particularly as he voices the mysterious robot guiding Tim on his journey. "We are home. This is where we all go." It's a nice, calming voice, but Lemire also knows how to make these robots pop, particularly the giant robot Driller, as he shouts, "You wanna kill me, humes?! Driller a killer! Driller a real killer!"

As the book continues, Nguyen's abrupt shift in colors acts as a nice signifier between Tim's near-death experience and the cold world around him. In particular, I love the way he uses cool blues and stark whites to show the various factions at play here - indeed, a scene featuring Captain Tesla and Quon is probably the most eye-popping sequence of the book, and it's almost exclusively portrayed in white. That said, sometimes Nguyen's paints make the details feel a little too wispy, which hampers the action beats towards the end of the book.

Ultimately, there may be some who are disappointed that this book doesn't progress too far - it's all a detour to the robot afterlife, which is gorgeously portrayed, but is still a little on the decompressed side. That said, it's nice to see two talented creators just shoot for beautiful imagery, and in that regard, Descender #3 scores.

Credit: Image Comics

Nailbiter #12
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Mike Henderson, Adam Markiewicz and Adam Guzowski
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

You ever have an itch that you just can't scratch? You reach and you reach and you reach... and it's just beyond your grasp?

It's the kind of thing that can drive you crazy. In the case of the residents of Buckaroo, Oregon, that could be crazy in a bad way. But for readers of Nailbiter, well, the latest issue is the best kind of tease.

Oftentimes, decompressed storytelling gets a bad rap, and there's a reason - plenty of A-list writers stretch out their narrative till it barely has any meaning anymore, with little to no progression taking place on an issue-to-issue basis. Call it writing for the trade, call it stalling for time, call it whatever you want, because Nailbiter isn't that kind of book. There's a real methodical sense of pacing behind writer Joshua Williamson's work, as he always makes sure to add in a few horrific moments to justify the price of admission. As you might guess with a title like Nailbiter, there's a sick sense of humor to this book, like a perfectly timed Three's Company joke or a twisted gag involving just how many clowns can fit into a clown car.

Yet as interrogator Nicholas Finch comes closer to figuring out why Buckaroo is a breeding ground for serial killers, Williamson keeps his cards close to the vest - it'd be too easy just to let the titular Nailbiter spill the beans, as he's always throwing in twists and turns. In particular, there's a great interruption that ties back to the cliffhanger featuring Agent Barker, who's gotten more insight to Buckaroo than most sane people might ask for. While Barker and the Nailbiter all get some great moments, there are a few others - including the latest round of aberrant behavior from the Buckaroo locals - that feel a little goofier. Structurally, Williamson nails his cliffhanger, it's just the latest threat isn't as strong as some of his others.

Artwise, Nailbiter continues to impress. Anchored by the colorwork of Adam Guzowski, this issue actually features two different line artists, but their angular styles are so similar that I didn't even notice there was a change-up until I went back to read the credits. Guest artist Adam Markiewicz tackles the pages featuring the Buckaroo locals, and his style reminds me a little bit of Kev Walker, particularly the way he shapes his characters. But he pairs off nicely with series regular Mike Henderson, whose style is reminding me more and more of a mix between Joe Eisma and Fiona Staples, especially during the brief bursts of hellish violence.

There are going to be people who want to get to the point fast, to have economical storytelling like the days of yore - a more episodic kind of storytelling, one that sacrifices mood and pacing for sheer speed and completion. But Williamson and company are actually doing something a little bit different here - they continue to showcase a new "freak of the week" with almost every issue, but they're window dressing towards a larger story that creeps along month after agonizing month. It's the cruelest kind of torture, but they soften the blow by making the stops and starts feel engaging and smart. There is a method to the madness here, and it's that kind of thinking - crazy or not - that'll keep readers coming back to Buckaroo.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Dead Drop #1
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Adam Gorham and Michael Spicer
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Valiant Entertainment hits the ground running with Dead Drop #1, a fast-paced thriller that mixes contemporary cosmic super-heroics with old-school espionage. Although X-O Manowar's race against time and terrorism definitely delivers on thrills, a simplistic script strangles its potential somewhat.

On the hunt for a vial of alien goo, X-O Manowar stampedes across New York City. By navigating a series of dead drops, a classic spy technique wherein packages are left in secret yet public locations, Aric of Dacia attempts to intercept the dangerous specimen and prevent a global pandemic.

Ales Kot's script is fast paced, with the issue opening slap-bang in the middle of Aric's pursuit of an unknown terrorist. It's hard not to be drawn in by the initial fervor and fury of Aric as he zooms through the bustling streets of New York, trying to maximize his speed and minimize the collateral destruction of people and property. An even split between dialogue and narration offers a well-balanced insight into Aric's world. The threat, an un-named alien biological agent which threatens to consume all life, is pretty generic stuff. Developed by X-O Manowar's arch nemesis the Vine, there's a page here that shows the bio-weapon running rampant across an alien landscape and it's nothing particularly original or impressive. Still, by showing Aric's mad rush to claim the vial, Kot sets believably high stakes.

The problem here isn't that it's an ineffective story, but more that it's a story of little consequence. Aric ultimately fails to change the vial's journey across New York, barely hampering it at all. The unoriginal nature of the threat means that Kot barely spends any time dwelling on its origins and purpose, and he doesn't really need to. You know exactly what you're getting into when you hear the phrase “alien biological weapon”; it's a trope almost as old as science fiction itself.

So what are we left with? A chase. It's a fun little chase, but you can't maintain an entire issue on what is essentially a single scene without using it to develop characterization, and there's none of that here. As a result, Dead Drop #1 is an exceptionally breezy read. The chase itself is well-plotted by Kot, showing how a normal young woman's intelligence and parkour skills can help get the better of a Visigoth king imbued with the power of an ancient alien battlesuit. It's the kind of thing that seems dumb when recapped here, but it works surprisingly well in the comic itself.

Up-and-coming penciller Adam Gorham makes his super-hero debut here, and it's impressive and confident stuff. Gorham's characters are lithe and toned, which matches a script where nobody stands still for very long. His posing can be a little ambitious, and there's the odd broken-looking elbow or impossibly bent leg, but overall he matches Kot's bullet-train pace with a solid hand. Gorham's panel layouts are particularly well-composed. There's some exceedingly busy pages here, but Gorham's visual storytelling never becomes muddied, always making it clear exactly where everyone is and what they're doing.

Michael Spicer colors with an overwhelming amount of beige and grey. He's gone for a very naturalistic “dirty city” look, and that's about as appealing to the eye as it sounds. When combined with the silver and yellow of the X-O Manowar armor, it's even uglier. Thankfully, it gets a little brighter towards the end of the issue. There's a page of neon pink in the middle to break things up, and Spicer fills Gorham's few blank backgrounds with a bumble-bee yellow. I think Spicer's hands were tied here; Gorham depicts the city in a fair amount of detail, and there's no escaping the color of concrete. Technically, Spicer's done a perfectly decent coloring job, he just doesn't use the prettiest of palettes.

All in all, Dead Drop #1 is an average read. Story-wise, there just isn't a lot here to go on. It's a polished chase sequence and not much else. Still, Adam Gorham's stylish and fluid pencils are perfectly suited to Ales Kot's speedy script, so if you can stomach its vacuousness, Dead Drop #1 is a fun little popcorn read.

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