Best Shots Advance Reviews: POWER UP #1, BOOK OF DEATH: THE FALL OF BLOODSHOT #1, WOLF #1

"Power Up #1" cover
Credit: BOOM! Studios
Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Book of Death: The Fall of Bloodshot #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Doug Braithwaite and Brian Reber
Lettering by Dave Lanphear
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Death has often been a subject of fascination amongst comic book creators. From Marvel: The End to Superman's all-too-impermanent expiration, the world's strongest fictional characters have all fallen foul to their makers at some time or another. It comes as no surprise then, a few short years after the successful revitalization of its universe, that Valiant editorial has decided to tackle the final hours of their most popular characters. Book of Death is Valiant's answer to the summer event book, revolving around the Book of the Geomancer, which holds the fates of all who live. Held by an 11-year-old girl from the future, this arcane volume heralds the end of... well, pretty much everyone. With Book of Death: The Fall of Bloodshot #1, we peer into that morbid tome to witness the end of Valiant's nanite-infused signature meathead.

Book of Death: The Fall of Bloodshot #1 is a sombre and introspective comic book. Writer Jeff Lemire narrates the entire future of the title character's life in Bloodshot's angsty voice (“I thought I'd finally found a spot where I'd never have to hurt anyone again,” reads the caption as Bloodshot gnaws on a polar bear carcass), chronicling a tumultuous journey across the universe. Narratively, The Fall of Bloodshot #1 is about as simple as it comes. This isn't part of your standard multi-issue arc, nor even your traditional one-shot, but the slow story of one man's descent into old age. Lemire doesn't attempt to set up any particular conflict behind Bloodshot's last years, instead allowing him the dignity of a peaceful end. As a result, the whole issue feels unfulfilling and inconsequential. The bulk of the issue is wasted on Bloodshot's tedious journey, only piquing the reader's interest in the last seven pages. Indeed, it is those final pages of a frail and elderly Bloodshot in a neon-soaked future that make the entire issue worth reading, even if that's too little to truly recommend the whole book on.

Doug Braithwaite's artwork is versatile, rendering Bloodshot's swashbuckling years on the high seas as well as his lonely travels through an uncertain future with equal aplomb. His panel composition is on-point, always attacking each sequence from a different and dynamic angle to retain the reader's interest through the issue's dry script. He's made sure to effectively age Bloodshot's face as the issue progresses, helping to sell Lemire's tale of a hired muscle succumbing to the ravages of time.

Atop Braithwaite's pencils, colorist Brian Reber utilizes a wide palette of colors against Bloodshot's pale and silvery complexion. It's less of a palette geared towards one central mood and more of a wide range that shows the extremes of Bloodshot's varying environments. By the issue's end, Bloodshot's final moments are entirely colored in blue and purple, lit by a blood red. It's the perfect aesthetic touch to the highlight of the whole issue, and one that shows a focus that the preceding 18 pages seem to lack.

Book of Death: The Fall of Bloodshot #1 is ultimately forgettable. Doug Braithwaite tries his best to wring some excitement out of Jeff Lemire's sedate script, to some degree of success. Eventually, the entire concept comes together for the issue's finale, but it's almost impossible to recommend a $3.99 book based on the strength of its final seven pages. One for the Valiant completionist only.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Power Up #1
Written by Kate Leth
Illustrated by Matt Cummings
Published by BOOM! Box
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“In the oldest language, by the wisest hands, it was written. Their math was … a little off.”

So opens BOOM!’s new miniseries Power Up. The sweeping celestial backdrop of the opening page, paired with its cheeky dialogue, perfectly encapsulates the book’s quirky premise. Billed as a blend of Sailor Moon and Scott Pilgrim, Power Up #1 is a charming twist on classic magical girl tales from Adventure Time writer Kate Leth and artist Matt Cummings that explores what happens when prophesies about ‘great warriors’ go awry.

Where most stories in the magical girl genre follow the adventures of teens juggling grand destinies and final exams, Power Up’s team of four is more familiar to those of us who have technically outgrown our Sailor Moon binge-watching days. This is the unlikely heroine trope taken to a new level: twenty-something Amie is stuck in a dreary retail job, construction worker Kevin is a washed-up college athlete, and Sandy is a suburban mother of two. Silas, a goldfish, is somehow simultaneously the least and most relatable. He is a goldfish, and yet, much like a goldfish, I doubt I’d have the cognitive capacity to handle sudden onset magical girl status.

But Amie, Sandy, and certainly Kevin (whose more traditional magical girl costume is, thankfully, presented as matter of fact and not played for mean laughs) are similarly unprepared, and as an adult reader Power Up is a refreshing change of pace from teens discovering superpowers and inheriting kingdoms. Kate Leth gets us: it’s hard to imagine being a Moon Princess (or Tuxedo Mask) at your nine to five (or nine to nine, or weekend shift.) But on some level, we still want to, and Power Up gives us the chance.

Leth is a talented writer with a broad range, from Adventure Time to her somewhat more grown-up tale currently running in Fresh Romance. Power Up seems to fall somewhere in the middle, marrying an older cast with accessible dialogue. Amie narrating a typical conversation with her boss to her pet chinchilla is sweet, but not cloying, and her first fight with an unnamed villain is dramatic and well-paced, but not particularly gruesome. She and Cummings make an excellent team, and it’s clear that Power Up is a fun labor of love for both of them.

Cummings’ characters are simply drawn but emotive, with an impressive attention to detail. Despite the straightforward designs no two characters look the same, and Cummings peppers his background with minor details that will make you want to reread to make sure you didn’t miss anything. (The posters in Amie’s room, like Murder She Did, are especially fun.)

The biggest flaw: Power Up feels too short. It doesn’t feel rushed or unfinished, but given that Power Up is currently only a six issue mini series, the first issue closes with so many questions left unanswered it seems impossible for the next issue to answer them and still have time to move into the meat of the story. But Leth and Cummings manage to give us a brief glimpse of the entire team -- Sandy as an upbeat if harried mom, Kevin as hard-working and personable -- and a fun adventure with Amie in just 22 pages. However short, the story is a fun read, and better to be disappointed there’s not more than to be disappointed you read it in the first place.

This week’s first issue gets the series off to a solid start. For fans of all ages who like Steven Universe or Adventure Time, or for those of us who grew up on magical girl shows like Sailor Moon, Power Up is a fun book you won’t regret adding to your list.

Credit: Image Comics

Wolf #1
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Matt Taylor and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

When it comes to the mean streets of L.A., sometimes style will get you further than substance. But when it comes to the writing of Ales Kot, usually one leads to the other. Case in point: Wolf #1, which bills itself as a Neil Gaiman/True Detective-style mashup, but is ultimately a fantastic showcase for this creative team's stylistic gifts. Clocking in at 58 pages of story, this first issue may be dense - sometimes to the point of self-indulgence - but if you stick with it, you'll find that Antoine Wolfe is a man worth following.

From its very first page, Wolf is the kind of book that'll only stick with you if you can appreciate gorgeous art over efficient, calculating storytelling. Artist Matt Taylor and colorist Lee Loughridge drop us right in the middle of the action, as Antoine strolls along Mulholland Drive, tied up in a straightjacket and set on fire. It's an evocative image, particularly the way that Loughridge ignites his pages with blazing oranges alongside tranquil greens. Taylor himself is a superb artist, with a clean, angular style that will occasionally give way to ultra-dramatic shadows. Ultimately, that's what will either make or break Wolf in the first place - this artistic team is so good, it's easy to miss little details in the story, requiring some careful reading (and re-reading) if you don't want to get tripped up.

Yet if you're paying attention - and aren't afraid to give this book a couple of reads to really let it sink in - Kot's story is a nice bit of supernatural detective work. Antoine Wolfe is an immortal who a certain zen about him, despite the fact that he may or may not be looking to shuffle off this mortal coil. But like all detectives, he gets pulled into the thick of things whether he likes it or not, whether its the aforementioned self-immolation or just a visit from evicted stoner squid boy Freddy Chtonic, the "O.G. Yog Sothoth Junior" who will likely be your favorite character from the moment he walks through the door. By the end of the book, Kot reveals some nice details about his central character, particularly Wolfe's history in the military, and what came back with him when he returned home.

Of course, there are a few things that may frustrate some readers - true to form for Kot, sometimes he gets a little caught up in his ideas, which can drag the pacing down of his storytelling, like Wolfe's discussion of mythology with racist a-hole Sterling Gibson. (Not only that, but with 58 pages, there are definitely a few silent beats that could have been trimmed for fat.) Ultimately, though, while some people may accuse Kot of being self-indulgent with some of his work - see, for example, his scattered, almost therapy-esque Material - I choose to see it as an exercise of style leading into substance. While some may be annoyed that the plot is still a little ephemeral with all these storylines, Kot and company do their damnedest to make sure your time getting there is well-spent.

Of course, for a lot of people, Ales Kot is not an easy writer to follow. His Zero, as an example, has been a criminally underread spy story that deals with the horrors of warfare. With Wolf, I urge readers not to make the same mistake twice. Yes, there are plenty of comics featuring mysterious protagonists dealing with supernatural plots - indeed, there's a lot of similarities in tone with Jonathan Hickman's The Dying and the Dead, just to think of an example - but when you're looking at similar genres and material, the most important thing to distinguish a book is its style. And that's something Wolf has in abundance.

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