Best Shots Advance Reviews: BACK TO THE FUTURE #1, HUCK #1, THE SHIELD #1, More

Image Comics' November 2015 cover
Credit: Image Comics
Credit: IDW Publishing

Back to the Future #1
Written by Bob Gale, John Barber and Erik Burnham
Art by Brett Schoonover, David Witt, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Dan Schoening and Luis Antonio Delgado
Lettering by Shawn Lee
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

It’s not just the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future’s release into cinemas, but this week also marks the date that the fictional Marty McFly found himself in what was then the distant future of 2015. While we are still waiting on hovercars and another fifteen Jaws films, this official comic book spin-off from co-creator Bob Gale - and the distinct possibility that the Cubbies could make the World Series - ensures that the legacy is alive and kicking.

Rather than being a straight sequel (a role left to Telltale Games in the digital realm), original Back to the Future co-writer and producer Gale has crafted the first two “Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines” to fill in some previously unexplored gaps. The first of these, co-scripted with John Barber, takes place in 1982 and concerns the first meeting of Doc Brown and Marty. Framed by some scenes involving Doc, Clara and his children Jules and Verne in 1885, it’s something that could have been written for the 1990s Saturday morning cartoon. A series of circumstances initiated by Marty’s occasional rival Needles lead Marty to the not-so-complex puzzles Doc has left for a would-be job candidate of sorts. The answer to the question of how the pair met, one that is sure to have plagued at least someone for three decades, can now finally be told: and it’s a bit of a non-event. Neither Marty nor Doc appear to be completely on point, but as a prequel of sorts to the original film, it doesn’t harsh anyone’s mellow either.

Far more interesting is the second tale in the book, “Looking For a Few Good Scientists,” this time co-scripted by Erik Burnham, who is already a veteran of IDW’s Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles licenses. Taking us back to 1943, the comical tale follows Doc’s attempts to gain a spot on the infamous Manhattan Project with Robert Oppenheimer. It hits the tone perfectly, giving fans something that is previously unexplored yet familiar. The knowing historical references, and the perpetually awkward anachronism that is Doc Brown, flow eloquently with dialogue that could have been tailor made for Christopher Lloyd.

The art in the first story is not for all tastes, nor is it the polished look one would expect from the lead story in a brand new licensed release. Brett Schoonover is light on details with a largely static style, one that doesn’t fit in with the Back to the Future aesthetic. However, on the second story Burnham is joined by his Ghostbuster collaborator Dan Schoening for some gorgeously rendered pieces, a dynamic cartoon style that lovingly recreates period details to the letter. Doc’s elongated face pushes just the right side of reality, evoking a young Christopher Lloyd despite being unmistakably Schoening’s style. A particular highlight is Doc’s old apartment lab, littered with Easter eggs and evoking some of the “top men” government humor that worked so well in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Gale reminds us in the back-matter that the danger of playing with a time travel story is that one can undo all the things that worked in the first place. Back to the Future thankfully avoids that by focusing on the specific moments we never got to see before. This first issue is a mixed bag, and the ongoing appeal is going to depend on the strength of the stories chosen for the next three issues. That said, fans will struggle to not find at least something they like in this, especially given that it is the closest we’ll get to Bob Gale writing another series film - at least for now.

Credit: Image Comics

Huck #1
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Rafael Albuquerque
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Huck #1 may be Mark Millar’s most restrained comic book to date. Set in a small seaside town, Huck #1 follows the exploits of a gentle yet insanely powerful small-town everyman as he works daily to perform good deeds for the people around him. While Millar’s usual bombast isn’t present here, Huck #1 still feels too short to be a great debut issue. Despite some truly fantastic artwork from American Vampire’s Rafael Albuquerque, Huck #1's characters feel more like ciphers and less like real people. A restrained Mark Millar usually yields the best results - just look at Starlight - but with Huck #1, he may be too concerned with preserving his mystery box than hooking readers.

Just on a concept level, Huck #1 scores big time. Structured like a Superman story without the trappings of alienation, Huck #1 introduces us to a town with a secret – a gas station attendant named Huck. The first few pages, gorgeously rendered by the watercolor-like style of Rafael Albuquerque, provide the thesis statement of Huck as a character as he bounds across car roofs and dives off a cliff just to find a neighbor’s lost necklace. He is single-minded, selfless, and able to perform superhuman feats of strength. Unfortunately, this is all Huck #1 seems willing to tell us. While Millar presents one hell of a hook, he doesn’t bother to bait it much, allowing Huck’s powers to stand in place of his characterization, which makes him seem less like a character and more like a plot device. Surely Millar has some sort of ace up his sleeve for future issues, but with this debut, he is playing with a less than great hand.

Huck, as a character, is barely developed past his daily good deeds and the characters around him get an even shorter shrift. Diane, the town’s newcomer, doesn’t get any development, aside from her growing fascination with Huck and her out-of-nowhere decision to sell him out to the press after he rescues a group of kidnapped girls from the Boko Haram. Keeping in mind that this is just a first issue, and that Huck’s origins will likely be explored in future issues as he deals with the world’s attention, Huck #1 still doesn’t grab readers like a Millar book usually does. Even at his wildest, Millar still tempered it with character work or a teasing glimpse at the narrative to come. Unfortunately Huck #1 doesn’t have much of that, making it a less than memorable debut issue.

While Huck #1 doesn’t wow at a scripting level, the artwork, however, is good looking throughout despite not being particularly memorable. Rafael Albuquerque provides both pencils and colors for this latest Image debut and shows that he hasn’t lost a single step. Albuquerque’s expressive character designs are present and accounted for in Huck #1, but also on display is Albuquerque’s ability to silently tell a story. The opening pages of Huck’s quest for the necklace is a set of stellar pages that the whole of the debut never really lives up to. Albuquerque shows us everything we need to know about Huck just with a few panels of his abilities and slow smile when his deed is done. The rest of Huck #1‘s pages are filled with Albuquerque’s fantastic pencils, but the opening of Huck is the only time the book ever really sparkles.

Huck #1 is a pairing of two titans of the comic book industry, but that alone doesn’t a great comic book make. Despite a more grounded script from Mark Millar and some great visual storytelling from Rafael Albuquerque, Huck #1 still feels too bare bones to really catch on with readers, especially among the current crop of incredible Image Comics output. As a concept, Huck scores, and perhaps further along in its run, Huck will pick up a head of steam that cannot be denied, but as a debut, it leaves much to be desired.

Credit: Archie Comics

The Shield #1
Written by Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig
Art by Drew Johnson and Kelly Fitzpatrick
Lettering by Rachel Deering
Published by Archie Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Archie’s Dark Circle relaunch continues with The Shield, and while they’ve cobbled together a competent creative team, this debut really fails to inspire. The Shield actually predates Captain America as far as patriotic characters in American comic books go, debuting in January 1940. But the character has somewhat been somewhat lost to time, only appearing intermittently since its wartime heyday. This new Shield book aims to create a larger historical legacy for the character, but Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig don’t have an interesting hook for her. What we’re left with is a book that looks nice but has a pretty by-the-numbers introduction for a character that’s part Bionic Woman, part Winter Soldier and part Captain America.

There’s a lot of potential with a story like this. We meet Victoria Adams during the Revolutionary War, and we’re quickly jolted to the present for what essentially plays out like a superpowered amnesia plotline. Some of the problem with the book is that is doesn’t take enough time to establish its characters. Victoria’s inner monologue is terribly overwrought as she tries to piece together the images flooding her brain. (And normally I’d be frustrated by how much it blocks the art, but we’ll get to that.) The villain is a little too over-the-top with his monologuing and menacing of his underlings. The agent who is trying to help Victoria is incredibly one-note. And Victoria, while trying to explain to the reader what’s going on, just makes things more confusing. It’s not clear what her powers are, and they aren’t demonstrated in any unique or interesting ways. Her flashbacks read more like flashcards of American history, and as a reader, that’s pretty unfulfilling.

Drew Johnson’s art is utilitarian at worst. The opening scene is by far the most interesting of the book, especially since his period costumes are much more striking than his modern outfits. But we don’t stay in the past for long, and once we are brought to the present, everything becomes painfully non-descript. What’s most disappointing in this is that Johnson is a good artist. His angles are right, his renderings are strong, and his expressions fit the tone of the story and help enhance the script when it can. But the sum of all these parts leaves me wanting. There’s no urgency in the proceedings, and no amount of well-drawn human beings can make up for that. Plenty of books have overcome a bad script with incredible art, but the art seems determined to play second fiddle to the words on the page. Caption boxes take over pages and panels, eating up a lot of real estate and turning what might be considered layouts into a montage of characters in different poses with little context for their location or setting.

This start isn’t impossible to come back from. The idea of an eternal American warrior isn’t a bad one. But the creative team needs to let loose. They had a blank canvas, and the best they could conjure up was the sort of thing that gets canceled after six episodes on USA Network. There’s a lot of strong imagery that can be used here. I mean, plenty of characters have draped themselves in the flag with great success! The Shield can be one, too, but the creators need to show some vision first.

Credit: Z2 Comics

Welcome to Showside #1
Written by Ian McGinty
Art by S.M. Vidaurri, Ian McGinty and Carey Pietsch
Published by Z2 Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

What happens when you cross a H.P. Lovecraft novel with the best of Lisa Frank’s Technicolor ‘90s wonderland? Welcome to Showside, a playfully spooky new all-ages comic book from Ian McGinty premiering next Wednesday, just in time for Halloween. Welcome to Showside follows tiny demon Kit and his buddies Moon and Belle, a trio of perfectly rambunctious kids from the titular seaside town of Showside.

This is Ian McGinty’s first creator-owned project, but his work on licensed properties like Bravest Warriors seems to have been the perfect stepping stone into creator-owned work. Fans of shows like Steven Universe or even Scooby Doo will no doubt find Welcome to Showside #1 a charming addition to their pull list: McGinty’s writing perfectly captures a similar youthful vibe that will appeal to young and older readers alike.

The premiere issue opens with some stunning art from guest artist S.M. Vidaurri, giving the folk tale that Kit narrates in the opening pages a dramatic, eerie edge. Vidaurri’s intense style is a comical contrast to Kit’s appropriately child-like narration. It’s a smart choice by McGinty, though. Kit’s tale would pack less dramatic punch when acted out by characters with the same stout proportions McGinty gives his young cast. Vidaurri’s opening pages help hint at the ominous secrets the demon-populated town of Showside hides beneath the vibrant veneer McGinty gives it in his own style.

McGinty’s artwork is what makes Welcome to Showside #1 such an endearing read, even if “all-ages horror” seems like an unusual genre choice. It’s easy to see Kit, Belle, and Moon inspiring countless fan-art offerings, and to imagine plush versions of Kit’s pet squid Boo popping up in stores. Their wide eyes and youthful, gawky designs make it easy to forget Kit is a tiny demon, and Belle’s enthusiastic assault of a giant, crystal demon cat as she screams “get some, sucka” makes it easy to forget these are babies fighting a giant, crystal demon cat that would be right at home as a kaiju in any monster movie.

Welcome to Showside #1 drops just in time for Halloween, and it’s a great book for anyone looking to add some family-friendly spooky stories to their library. McGinty’s tongue-in-cheek dialogue will make you smile no matter your age. The fourth-wall breaking details peppered throughout the book give it definite re-reading value -- the use of lettering as a weapon in one panel is particularly clever. The art, from McGinty’s unique designs to Rian Sygh’s vibrant colors and Fred Stressing’s lettering work, give this book an appealing visual edge that perfectly captures its off the rails kid-horror premise. Lovecraft meets Lisa Frank may seem like an impossible blend, but McGinty and his team make it work. Welcome to Showside #1 is a solid and charming debut issue for a promising, and very unique, new all-ages title.

Similar content
Twitter activity