Best Shots Advance Reviews: FIGHT CLUB 2 #5, POWER CUBED #1, POWER UP #3

"Power Up #3" cover by Matt Cummings
Credit: Matt Cummings (BOOM! Box)
Credit: David Mack (Dark Horse Comics)

Fight Club 2 #5
Written by Chuck Palahniuk
Art by Cameron Stewart and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Yikes.

That's the first thought I had upon reading Fight Club 2 #5, a book that will decidedly not be for all readers. Feeling more like an interlude and less like an individual story, Chuck Palahniuk and Cameron Stewart deliver an aggressively transgressive piece of work here, channeling the days of culinary gross-out gags rather than the ultraviolence that typically characterizes this franchise. Still, it's imaginatively alienating, and combined with Stewart's sure-footed artwork, this is the kind of rabblerousing book you can't help but remember.

While the original Fight Club might be remembered as a nihilistic, violent spectacle, it's easy to forget that Tyler Durden's manifestos were always leavened by a razor-sharp, pitch-black sense of humor. It's that kind of tone that dominates Fight club 2, as Palahniuk shows us the latest indignities that are being thrown against our narrator, Sebastian, as well as his wife, Marla. It's the same sort of glee that a little boy takes out of leaving a frog - or worse - in a classmate's cubby, as Palahniuk likens Tyler beating a guy to a pulp as "like working for Steve Jobs," or the pair of great swinging man-breasts that randomly hijack a tense battlefield scene.

Palahniuk jumps back and forth with jerky pacing, and ultimately, this story doesn't actually progress much - but there's so much crazy stuff going on that you'd be hard-pressed to forget about it. As the book continues, however, Palahniuk gets less and less goofy, and gets almost wretch-inducing - particularly with an obviously thought-out sequence involving carefully prescribed medications and do-it-yourself blood fountains. (It's one of the physically grossest things I've read in a comic book in a long time, and that's saying something.) But I ultimately suspect that's Palahniuk's aim here - he's not just putting Sebastian in a tight spot for the sake of a cliffhanger, but he's making his readers feel every bit of pain along the way.

Ultimately, this would probably be a tiny blip on the gross-out radar if it wasn't for artist Cameron Stewart, whose beautiful layouts give Palahniuk's script the structure and ease of reading it so desperately needs. In particular, one smart thing that Stewart does is there's so much he doesn't show, either covering up a supposed death with heaps and heaps of blood, or covering up Rize or Die's plans with strategically placed pills. There's a level of thoughtfulness that works wonders with his naturally clean, cartoony style, and while sometimes that means that Stewart doesn't quite go as far as Palahniuk might envision - Tyler's beatdown of one of his Fight Clubbers, for example, looks relatively bloodless - it ultimately gives this book a legitimacy that even Palahniuk's bibliography might not have afforded it.

Fight Club 2 #5 feels surprisingly short, and I'm sure that's because it consists entirely of short sequences featuring its lead characters. The mystery of what happened to Sebastian's son feels almost like an afterthought, because that's not really the kind of story Palahniuk is putting together here. Instead, he's trying to liven up the over-serious recollections of his pitch-black franchise, trying to inject a little bit more of a punk humor into his now over-serious fanbase. It's going to be a painful job, and one that might not stick on the first try. But Palahniuk seems more than willing to hit us again and again until the lesson sticks.

Credit: Aaron Lopresti (Dark Horse Comics)

Power Cubed #1
Written by Aaron Lopresti
Art by Aaron Lopresti and Hi-Fi Designs
Lettering by Michael Heisler
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The dream of the ‘90s is alive in Power Cubed, or Power3 if you prefer. Creator Aaron Lopresti got his big start in comic books with the Malibu Comics title Sludge, and even though he’s made a bigger splash with the likes of Planet Hulk and Justice League International, it’s a kinetic ‘anything goes’ approach of the 1990s that Lopresti evokes with his latest creator-owned title that asks what would you do with the power to create anything?

Much of the set-up for Power Cubed could have readily been found two decades ago on comic shelves, although it never feels anything less than fresh. The protagonist Kenny is a would-be artist, like Kyle Rayner before him, struggling to communicate with his inventor father following the death of his mother. The menace of the tale is the deliberate pastiche of Doctor Cruel, a mix of old and new with his evil Red Skull-esque Nazi by way of Mad Max: Fury Road’s Immortan Joe. Cruel is after the titular cube that Kenny’s father has crafted, one that allows the wielder to convert any matter into whatever they are imagining.

Power Cubed is fully cognizant that it is treading on familiar narrative ground, so from the start it maintains a healthy self-mocking sense of humor. Cruel mutters that he shouldn’t have hired his henchmen from the Internet, and later releases an anguished cry of “When Dr. Cruel hungers. He. Must. Eat!” Cruel himself is suffered by a manservant that bears more than a passing resemblance to Doctor Strange’s Wong, and it’s countless visual and other references like these that reassure us that Lopresti is consciously playing with the superhero tropes that launched countless issue #1s in the pre-Millennium speculative comic book boom.

On the surface the art is also designed to mirror this 1990s style, but it only takes a cursory second glance to see that there are numerous intertextual references between the panels. The opening page shows a hapless pair of detectives winding their way up a Will Eisner-inspired staircase embedded in the issue’s titles, while those henchmen themselves are caricatures of vintage ‘private dicks’, complete with a rotund fellow with an underbite, decked out in a trench coat and hat. Yet other moments explode with detail, including a wonderful single-page of a dream sequence where Kenny’s overactive imagination gives rise to pop culture references from The NeverEnding Story to Halo. The art is never anything less than energetic, creating a fast flow to the story, one of the few you are likely to see where a staircase morphs into a dinosaur.

Lopresti’s Power Cubed is a little bit anachronistic, but that’s just part of the charm that nevertheless makes it a barrel of fun. Filling out the ranks with a hi-tech Jiminy Cricket in the form of a small anthropomorphic robot named Click, and a mysterious redheaded cop whose loyalties remain ambiguous, the plethora of elements could run the risk of being overloaded. Yet Lopestri has so far balanced them all in a kind of dream logic that only makes sense in this kind of shamelessly confident adventure story.

Credit: Matt Cummings (BOOM! Box)

Power Up #3
Written by Kate Leth
Art by Matt Cummings
Published by BOOM! Box
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Halfway through its six-issue run with BOOM! Studios, Power Up #3 finally picks up the pace. Kate Leth and Matt Cummings’ fish out of water (frequently, in the case of Silas) tale is as charming as ever, but after a slow start this month’s issue is a refreshing change of pace. Finally we see Amie, Sandy, and Kevin engage directly with an emissary of the power that’s been antagonizing them since issue one, and while this month’s installment is still a little light on vital plot it’s good to feel the story has a strong sense of direction again.

Not quite a satire, Power Up #3 shows the series has hit its stride with a blend of parody and plot. Power Up’s irresistible charm is the way Leth and Cummings marry heartfelt and genuine stories about likeable characters with an affectionate, tongue-in-cheek attitude towards the magical girl genre. Each issue plays out like an episode of Sailor Moon in its pacing: a little backstory, a thread of continuous plot, and now the attack of the month, replete with sparkling transformation sequences. Characters like Amie, Sandy, and Kevin turning into superheroes are fun because they’re unusual -- but rather than turning them into perpetual punchlines, Leth’s punchy writing and Cummings’ playful style makes them relatable and real.

It’s odd to have a mother of two running around breaking fridges with her super strength, but sweet to see that Sandy’s kids are supportive (in their own way) rather than embarrassed or angry. No one seems put-off or bothered by the costume Kevin was unwittingly saddled with, and his transformation is funny more because of Cummings’ visual gags like the lingering flowers and ribbons than because it’s a burly guy in a skirt. Amie, after working with Silas to dispatch this month’s antagonist in a particularly spectacular panel, will be familiar to any struggling post-college twenty-something -- especially liberal arts twenty-somethings -- when her pet store manager isn’t quite as thankful as she could be for her rescue.

The way Leth writes the characters she and Cummings have created feels authentic to the kinds of lives now lead by magical girl fans who may be a generation or two removed from being able to empathize with junior high students. These days many older readers may feel a little more like Amie than Ami Mizuno, but while these characters are older than the typical magical girl ingenue, Leth keeps it family friendly and delivers a solid story young readers can still enjoy. Power Up is genuinely an all-ages comic, accessible to genre fanatics and newcomers to the world of pendant-powered transformations alike.

Power Up #3 is certainly the most intriguing issue so far, and begins to hint at answers to some of the questions posited by the premiere issue. We learn Amie and her friends may have been ‘powered up’ not to deal with a threat, but that the threat may simply be an effort by someone to get their misplaced power back. It’s a fun twist on the ‘destined hero’ trope; it’s possible none of these characters will ever grow into the perfect hero or ruler of a future crystal suburbia, but they’re lovable and inspiring all the same, determined to do their best to help others as they get to the bottom of their new situation. Leth and Cummings have created a sweet and light-hearted story, perfect for anyone who prefers a more comedic rather than dramatic bent to their books. If the pace of Power Up #3 is any indication of books to come, it’s possible we may still get a satisfying resolution at the end of its six-issue run. With just three issues left, it’s a perfect time to catch up and find out.

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