Best Shots Advance Reviews: DAREDEVIL #1, TOTALLY AWESOME HULK #1, MYSTERY GIRL #1, More

Marvel December 2015 cover
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Daredevil #1
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Ron Garney and Matt Milla
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Welcome home, Matt Murdock - hope you survive the experience.

With the newest volume of Daredevil, home isn't just a place, it's a state of mind. Gone is the optimism of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's storied run in San Francisco, as writer Charles Soule and artist Ron Garney brings Matt Murdock back to the mean streets of New York City, riding the Netflix wave with a black costume and a darker attitude to match. While it remains to be seen if Soule's story can match that of his Eisner-winning predecessor, the striking artwork by Garney and colorist Matt Milla gives Daredevil the momentum he needs to start fresh once more.

From the very first pages, you can't help but admire the hook that Soule employs here: "I am Matt Murdock. I am Daredevil. And I am not afraid." The idea of wrestling with or overcoming fear in superhero comic books is not new - Geoff Johns built a career out of it in his run on Green Lantern - but to see Soule begin to grapple with what that emotion must mean for the self-styled Man Without Fear is a strong choice, and one that ties into the angst-ridden tone of the Daredevil Netflix series.

While Soule opens this book with a nice bit of action, he also seeds some interesting developments in Matt Murdock's personal life. Somehow, Matt Murdock's secret identity has been restored, but at the cost of his relationship with Foggy Nelson. (Can Mephisto truly be far behind?? I kid, I kid. Or do I?) Soule also gets the opportunity to show off his credentials as an attorney, as Matt has switched beats, transitioning from a defense lawyer to a crusading, tough-guy prosecutor. The tone couldn't be any more different than Soule's previous work on Marvel cheery legal eagle She-Hulk, but he ties it together nicely: No matter what happens to Matt Murdock, he'll always survive, and adapt, and keep moving forward. That's what a Man Without Fear does.

But none of this would fly without the artwork. Ron Garney has leveled up big time with Daredevil, with his scratchy inks reminding me of Scott McDaniel in his prime. Watching Daredevil and his new protege, Blindspot, beat a crowd of kung fu-trained street thugs looks magnificent, with panel after panel of carnage breaking up the fight choreography. But the real revelation of this series has to be colorist Matt Milla, who red, gray and green palette is some of the most evocative colorwork I've seen since Dean White on Uncanny X-Force. Not only do Milla's colors establish the cold, harsh world of the New York underworld, but they actually bring us closer into Matt Murdock's headspace, making sure the readers see the world just as differently as the lead character.

Of course, while Soule's handle on Matt Murdock is strong, there are a few wrinkles in this debut that could be ironed out. This issue begins in medias res, with little in the way of explanation of how Matt went from smiling and happy in San Francisco to being broody and moody in New York. (To be fair, Soule doesn't have to be beholden to the arc before him, but it's a jarring transition to say the least!) Additionally, the character of Blindspot happens to be the weak link of this series - those who haven't read All-New All-Different Marvel #1 are going to be blindsided by his sudden arrival, let alone his relationship to Daredevil, and his characterization doesn't feel nearly as defined as Matt's. I appreciate the dramatic irony of the blind Daredevil having a sidekick that only he can see, but right now, Blindspot feels like a distraction, rather than letting Soule keep digging into what looks like a great take on the Man Without Fear.

Having attracted such a deep bench of stellar artists over the years, Daredevil is a series that would be intimidating for many creators. But thanks to Ron Garney and Matt Milla's beautiful artwork, Charles Soule has the breathing room he needs to start a new chapter in Matt Murdock's life. Whether or not Matt's new chapter as a prosecutor and a mentor pans out, Garney and Milla continue Daredevil's long line of artistic excellence, making this book definitely worth your time.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Totally Awesome Hulk #1
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Frank Cho and Sonia Oback
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Boys will be boys. And Hulks will apparently be Hulks. With Greg Pak and Frank Cho's new Totally Awesome Hulk, you probably won't be surprised with what you get - an over-the-top, occasionally juvenile superhero. While some may rankle at Amadeus Cho's bro-y new status quo, Frank Cho's die-hard fans will likely still think this book lives up to its name.

While Greg Pak is listed as the writer of Totally Awesome Hulk - indeed, he is the co-creator of Amadeus Cho - this book has Frank Cho's stamp all over it. While Amadeus has previously been characterized as a plucky science genius, now he's more a creature of impulse - just like his artist, Amadeus absolutely has no problem admiring the female form, with this all-new Hulk trying to hit on just about anything with two legs. It's not necessarily the most endearing take on the character, even if Amadeus' newfound confidence feels like an organic perk from his newly gamma-enhanced physique. But underneath that boyish bravado, Pak and Cho have a deeper story brewing - namely, the level of hubris that comes when someone thinks they're smart enough to contain the monster.

But that's not why you're going to read this book. If you're reading this book for the drama, you're kind of a dummy. No, chances are, if you're reading Totally Awesome Hulk, it's because you want to see Frank Cho drawing Marvel's unjolly Green Giant, not to mention all the buxom beauties that Cho is going to pack his pages with. But even if you're not a fan of cheesecake, it's difficult not to be impressed with Cho's lush inking style, or the over-the-top physiques of his characters (superhero and otherwise). Cho has plenty of sight gags in his artwork, such as the Hulk realizing a giant monster turtle has blasted off his pants, or even the sheer glee on Amadeus' face when he thinks about a hot bystander he rescued on the beach. (My favorite recurring gag is seeing just how much Amadeus loves food, now that he grows into a 12-foot behemoth at the drop of a hat. That kid just packs it in.)

Yet this book is absolutely junk food, and if you're looking for steak, well, you better pick up that sequential art filet mignon elsewhere. Outside of some of the over-the-top action sequences, there's very little in the way of story progression here - we don't even know how Amadeus came to take this role from Bruce Banner, and even Amadeus' current goals feel nebulous at best. Unfortunately, that winds up becoming a big missed opportunity with Amadeus' supporting cast - there's one reunion that's taken place with barely any fanfare, which is all the more shocking considering this character drove much of Amadeus' actions for years. Additionally, there are going to be plenty of people who find Frank Cho's artwork to be cartoonishly proportioned - although Cho can definitely say he's equal opportunity for both men and women.

But if you're not into Frank Cho, you're not going to be a fan of Totally Awesome Hulk. This is absolutely a case of an artist defining the tone of a series, and whereas previous Hulk books have been moody and bleak, this book is a teenager's equivalent of a Saturday morning cartoon -- all bombast and cheesecake and quips -- with very little in the way of a concrete narrative holding it together underneath. There will be plenty who enjoy the sheer energy that Pak and Cho bring to this book, but there needs to be something deeper here if they want to keep our attention.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Red Wolf #1
Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Dalibor Talajic, Jose Marzan, Jr. and Miroslav Mrva
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Spinning straight out of the pages of 1872, it’s the book you didn’t ask for: Red Wolf! While I applaud Marvel for wanting to diversify their line further, it’s hard to relaunch a character with such a ho-hum creative team and hook. Red Wolf treads the line between genre fiction and something else, but by the end of this issue, readers will realize that there was little intention to keep this book to 1872’s Western roots.

The biggest problem with Edmonson’s script is that it makes a lot of assumptions. It assumes that you’ve read 1872 and in doing so, it does nothing to flesh out Red Wolf as a character. The surface level facts are clear. He’s a sheriff of a town that clearly has some anti-Native American sentiments running through its blood, and he’s doing his best to clean it up. But we don’t get to know what makes Red Wolf tick. As such, this issue plays out for most of its pages as a lame “monster of the week” plot. There’s no reason to care whether any of the characters live or die. There are a couple of mysterious moments, but the reveal has no teeth. I am not questioning Edmondson’s ability to write a comic book. He’s clearly done that, and he gets us from page one to 20 just like he’s paid to do. But there’s no style here, and even the story itself lacks the fundamental elements that might take it from simple existence to something that might actually be enjoyable. I want to care about the latest addition to the Marvel Universe, but Edmondson doesn’t make it clear that he even does.

And that same attitude is perpetuated by the art. Talajic is a fine artist who can deliver on good script. (See: his work on Master of Kung Fu.) But he doesn't have the skills to elevate a bad script and make it worth reading. He doesn’t really do anything wrong here. His characters renderings are strong, but it’s clear that his art isn’t refined as some of his peers. He loses the action a bit when it comes to hand-to-hand combat sequences, making the actual motions a little bit hard to follow. Some of his settings tend to blend together. And his panel payouts aren’t particularly inventive which unfortunately plays up how by-the-numbers the script is.

Red Wolf #1 is no way to quell those that said this book and this creative team wouldn’t work. Hopefully, it’s not an instance that allows Marvel to say, “Well, we tried and you didn’t like it,” because it’s clear that they didn’t really put their best foot forward. By the end, there’s little doubt that Edmondson and his editors had any plans to actually keep Red Wolf in his original setting. Instead, they opted to go down the “man out of time” route that we’ve seen from Marvel so often. We get it. It worked with Captain America. But maybe it’s time to try a narrative approach that’s actually new.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Mystery Girl #1
Written by Paul Tobin
Art by Alberto J. Alburquerque and Marissa Louise
Lettering by Marshall Dillon
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Paul Tobin and Alberto J. Alburquerque introduce us to a fresh new conundrum with Mystery Girl #1, an immediately intriguing debut issue with a well-realized central character but heavily stylized artwork that proves to be something of an acquired taste.

Trine Hampstead can solve any mystery, because she instinctively knows everyone's secrets. Camped out on the streets of London, people of all sorts come from across the world for closure, answers and catharsis. Between the issue's 25 pages, Trine solves a few life-long mysteries, elaborates on a little back-story and manages to bag herself an adventure to Siberia. Immediately, writer Paul Tobin establishes a colorful and lively world on the streets of London. Artist Alberto J. Alburquerque matches Tobin's strong sense of personality with heavily caricatured faces that are strong on emotion but often deviate into something barely recognizable as human. These caricatures often extends to the body as well; characters lunge, bend and stretch at torturous angles, lose proportion and become unintentionally grotesque. As the issue hits its climax, Alburquerque's work strengthens. A few late-stage depictions of woolly mammoths and a wintry tundra are much more aesthetically pleasing than the citizens of London. As the story progresses into the icy climes of Siberia, hopefully Tobin's script will continue to accentuate Alburquerque's strengths.

Dialogue-wise, each of Paul Tobin's characters speak with a distinct and separate voice, clearly communicating the myriad elements of his busy script. Trine is a strong protagonist with her own set of unanswered questions, ensuring that there's still some intrigue and mystery behind the woman who knows all. Trine's sidewalk set-up also lends itself well to flexibility. After all, it's perfectly plausible for any type of person to walk past at any point in time, especially in such a diverse city as London. The only narratively clunky element is the sequence where Trine unloads her thoughts and feelings on to her pet bird. It's an inelegant way of off-loading a few important bits of info, and stands out in an otherwise excellent script.

Albuquerque isn't afraid to mix things up when it comes to panel composition, oftentimes looking down at the world from the ceiling or gazing at a standard scene from a skewed angle. Over Alberquerque's pencils, Marissa Louise injects a vibrant splash of color into his evocative world, sometimes bathing entire backgrounds in blue or purple to denote a flashback or the villain's presence. The villain in question, a mustachioed hitman with great manners, immediately shows his dangerous potential even before he put Trine in his sights.

Although dynamic and filled with personality, Alburquerque's distorted figures detract from Paul Tobin's rich and characterful script. Despite its artistic problems, Mystery Girl #1 is still a solid first issue with a compelling premise that delivers.

Credit: Image Comics

Black Jack Ketchum #1
Written by Brian Schirmer
Art by Claudia Balboni
Lettering by Rob Bowman
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Thomas Ketchum was hanged in 1901 for attempting to rob a train in the New Mexico Territory. One of the Old West’s legendary outlaws, he was a member of the notorious Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. He’s also writer Brian Schirmer’s great-grandmother's cousin, although don’t mistake this for a simple retelling of the family tree. From the opening pages, the lead’s talking pistol is an early indicator that Black Jack Ketchum is anything but your average western, but in a genre that has been intertwined with the mediums of comic books and film from the very beginning, it’s always best to expect the unexpected in the West.

There is nothing necessarily new about a wanted man being pursued across the dusty mesa, and the cleverly traditional opening is how Schirmer initially lures you into a safety net before whipping it out from under us. Despite maintaining a case of mistaken identity, Tom Ketchum is being pursued by the cosmically faceless Dusters, the brutal and enigmatic Judge, and a trio of powerful men that go by the Banker, the Rail Baron and the Rancher. Protected by a young girl with a well-aimed Winchester, Ketchum slips between saloons that double as dimensional portals, with a much bigger game at play than the wanted posters would have him believe.

Schirmer’s stated influences include Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Lynch, and the former in particular comes through strongly in this debut issue. On the surface, it’s got the solid core of a “wrong man” mystery, with the circumstantially guilty Ketchum simply running from his various pursuers. Yet his taciturn protector hovers like El Topo’s Hijo, and he is chased by a nightmarish train that could have fronted Immortan Joe’s armada in Mad Max: Fury Road. The traditional elements allow Black Jack Ketchum the elasticity to pursue the acid-western motifs, and it is these same trappings that elevate the book to something more than the biography of an outlaw.

The same could be said of Claudia Balboni’s art, who takes innumerable visual touches from classic westerns, from the factory-produced efforts of the 1940s and 1950s, to the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s. Yet Balboni twists them into something darker. The slightly elongated figure of the anti-hero already looks out of step with our reality, but the art triumphs when she overlays more modern and futuristic elements over the top of the traditional: glowing portal shapes, or the star fields in place of the Dusters‘ faces. Balboni measures the pace out with some cinematic layout choices, slowing us down deliberately with wider shots or rapidly cutting through time with a series of perfectly symmetrical vertical panels.

A completely unexpected and wholly welcome addition to a revived genre, and like East of West, it opens a doorway to the weird through the the shopfront of the familiar. The real Ketchum’s final words were reportedly, "Good-bye. Please dig my grave very deep. All right; hurry up," before being decapitated by his hanging due to the weight he’d gained in prison. Fortunately for this Ketchum, it seems that we’ve only just scraped the surface of what promises to be an original new series.

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