Best Shots Reviews: THE SANDMAN: OVERTURE #6, CAVALRY #1, GODZILLA IN HELL #3

"Godzilla In Hell #3" cover
Credit: IDW Publishing
Credit: DC Comics

The Sandman: Overture #6
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by Vertigo Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

“It begins.”

Thus ends the long awaited final entry in The Sandman: Overture. Unlike DC Comics’ ill-fated Before Watchmen prequel series, The Sandman: Overture, even though it was plagued with set backs and rescheduling, mainly sticks the landing despite a deus ex machina toward the end. This entire series was set in motion thanks to Dream’s hubris and inability to perform his duties, and the final issue brings it all full circle, giving Dream only one slim chance to set things right. We all know exactly where Morpheus is headed, and Gaiman and Williams artfully guide the Dream King toward that end with a story that is compelling and interesting while largely uninterested in adding anything major into the Sandman mythos. The Sandman: Overture #6 ends up being the antithesis of a cash-in prequel series and that is the best possible outcome for the creators and readers alike.

Though it isn’t exactly news to anyone who has seen his work, J.H. Williams III artwork in this final issue is absolutely gorgeous. Rendering much of the issue like a flowing mosaic and less like a traditional comic book, Williams, along with colorist Dave Stewart, send The Sandman: Overture out with some truly amazing pages, like the spiraled full cast shot of the dream ship and the final kidnapping of Dream. Even though Williams and Stewart’s bread and butter are intricate and almost overwhelming splash pages, they also make the most of negative space as well with this finale. As Dream attempts to heal the broken universe with a ship full of dreamers, he is pulled, once again, into darkness with only a single EKG-like line dividing the page. Williams and Klein render Dream’s trip into the black with him divided himself with his face dominating the background and various screaming incarnations of him spreading out from the background, the line running through the page spiking less and less, fading as it runs into the next page. Of course, he eventually returns to the universe proper with a blast of color and yet another stuff page, but The Sandman: Overture #6 shows that this art team is capable of more than just mosaics and wild character design.

While the artwork of this finale is top notch as per usual, the finale script puts mood over function as Neil Gaiman sends his creation off to his fate with an issue that looks more like a big narrative bow instead of a large curtain call. As the universe implodes in on itself, Dream, Hope, and the cat version of Dream prepare a ship filled with a thousand dreamers to dream a perfect version of the universe; one without the scar left by Dream’s failure to destroy the vortex. As narratives go, its a bit of a cop-out, but one that I don’t really mind at all. The Sandman: Overture always felt like more of Gaiman needing to revisit these characters and worlds more than him attempting to add something more to the Sandman mythos. His script is still filled with beautiful turns of phrase and the Endless still ring true to the characterizations still set back during the original series and that is more important than The Sandman: Overture morphing into some grand companion piece to the original series. Though the finale comfortably slots this prequel series into a comfortable place that readers could read Overture and then pick up the original series directly after, it is nice to know that this new tale can and will stand confidently on its own as a beautiful creative exercise for some of Vertigo’s most well-known creators.

The problems with writing a successful prequel are legion, with many lesser creators simply rushing out a half-baked story that rings false to the story that came before. Thankfully, The Sandman: Overture never felt like that, and even though it felt like ages between issues, Gaiman, Williams, Stewart, and original series letterer Todd Klein brought new and old readers back to the Dreaming with a story that never overreached itself or felt like a cheap cash in on '90s Vertigo nostalgia. The Sandman: Overture #6 isn’t quite the classic that the finale issue of Sandman is, but it didn’t have to be. The Sandman: Overture from the very start stood as its own story and it ended that way as well. That’s what made the finale work. That’s what made this prequel work. It was a story worthy of the Prince of Stories himself, and that’s more than any fan could have hoped for.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Cavalry: 50 Years of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1
Written by Jody Houser
Art by Luke Ross and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

For the longest time, comic book fans always knew that Hollywood and television would come to their world for ideas, and the last decade has been proof positive of that. Now the lines are increasingly blurred, with popular characters and ideas from various media sources cross-pollinating each other. Like Phil Coulson, a product wholly of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Agent Melinda May comes to comics by way of television’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and is highlighted in this one-shot.

Timed to coincide with the release of that show’s third season, this issue doesn’t aim to fill in the gaps between episodes, and instead gives us a day in the life of Melinda May as a S.H.I.E.L.D. trainer. Taking on a handful of new trainees, her enigmatic reputation and nickname "The Cavalry" earn her fear and respect, coupled with actual fear as a pack of robotic wolves attack them. In a time honored training mission scenario, the troops are forced to bond as they fend off this very real and unknown threat.

The basic story behind Cavalry: 50 Years of S.H.I.E.L.D. is absolutely nothing new, with the "things get real" trope serving fiction from Ender’s Game to Police Academy. Yet there’s also something incredibly charming about this particular group of recruits, and perhaps it’s because they are all such enthusiastic and genuinely positive S.H.I.E.L.D. and tech geeks that the core audience can’t help but relate to them. Likewise, while we learn very little new substantial information about May herself, a handful of single-panel flashbacks indicate another accident or tragedy in her life that adds to the well-guarded layers of this character. Which is ultimately the missed opportunity of this issue. While ostensibly an issue about the titular Cavalry, very little time is spent on May. As charming as the time spent with the familiar recruits is, they are one-off characters. As part of an ensemble cast, the TV show offers fewer opportunities for laser focused profiles like this, and it's a shame for fans who want to find out a little bit more about the elements this issue is clearly teasing.

Artist Luke Ross plays with a much smaller scale that the rest of the Marvel Universe in this issue, his setups mostly confined to the inside of the T-Hawk jet and a wooded clearing where the "war games" take place. The claustrophobia of the setting adds to the tension, and it carries on over into the action as well. The tight panelling gives the slender volume a rapid pace. As the cyberwolves close in, colorist Rosenberg brings the lights down with it, effectively taking a golden glow down to a deep orange ebb.

Cavalry: 50 Years of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a familiar albeit engaging foray into the crossover world between television and comics. Several references to "Doombots" mean that this doesn’t sit entirely in a Marvel Cinematic Universe that is devoid of Fox-owned Fantastic Four characters, but nevertheless opens up the characters of the television series to a slightly larger world, even if it is in passing conversation. By no means essential reading for either fans of the TV series or readers of the S.H.I.E.L.D. ongoing, it’s a rapid one-off story that is designed purely to keep fans of May happy.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Godzilla in Hell #3
Written by Ulises Farinas and Erick Frietas
Art by Buster Moody and Ludwig Laguna Olimba
Lettered by Chris Mowry
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Godzilla’s sojourn through the Underworld continues in Godzilla in Hell #3. By using flashbacks, writers Ulises Farinas and Erick Frietas bring out another aspect of Godzilla’s persona, while also paying tribute to the tone of some of Godzilla’s earlier adventures. A lively ruggedness carries throughout Godzilla in Hell #3 making it an enjoyable and unique entry in the miniseries.

An anthology series like Godzilla in Hell will inevitably draw readers to compare the work of the many artists. It is abundantly clear from the opening page that Chris Mowry’s work is a stark contrast from the hauntingly beautiful paintings by Bob Eggleton in the previous issue. And while that contrast may drive away some readers, it shouldn’t. Each issue of Godzilla in Hell has captured a different aspect of the King of the Monsters, and Mowry’s work here captures the power and personality of Godzilla. The rugged linework, and the use of crosshatching gives a less strict framework to the visuals, allowing for some of the rawer displays of power to take place without pulling the reader out of the story.

The colors by Ludwig Laguna Olimba fit Mowry’s dynamic artwork perfectly. The clash between Godzilla and SpaceGodzilla is an energetic one, and the bright colors of the monsters’ beams works perfectly to convey the raw force in play. The choice of color for Godzilla’s flesh is a nice touch, it wavers between charcoal gray and dark green, honoring the various ways he has looked throughout the franchise.

The story here also honors some of the earlier Godzilla films. While the previous issues by James Stokoe and Bob Eggleton captured the ferocity of Godzilla and the dread he can cause, Ulises Farinas and Erick Frietas call back to the earnest fun this series can be. While the somber film Gojira gets the most love by fans, it’d be inappropriate for a tribute series like this to not pay homage to the fun and often goofy imagery of the late sixties and seventies films. This is a Godzilla who destroys everything and doesn’t care who knows it, who is willing to prove why he has “God” in his name. When Godzilla is confronted by the angels of Heaven (who carry a nice visual callback to another Godzilla foe), he defiantly tries to destroy them before they throw him into the abyss. It’s a nice touch that really shows what type of kaiju Godzilla is, and ultimately, why Godzilla in Hell #3 works so well.

The shift in tone may jar readers, but it’s a change of pace that was needed for Godzilla in Hell to work as a tribute to all things Godzilla. Dante’s Inferno worked to show not only the variedness of Hell, but also the different aspects of Dante himself. In this way, Godzilla in Hell #3 shows the raw destructive power of Godzilla while highlighting his defiant personality. The creative team of Farinas, Frietas, Mowry, and Laguna Olimba make this issue a delightful read. Godzilla is in Hell. Hell should be worried.

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