Best Shots Reviews: PREZ #6, JAMES BOND #2, GUARDIANS OF INFINITY #1

Page from "Guardians of Infinity #1"
Credit: Jim Cheung (Marvel Comics)

Prez #6
Written by Mark Russell
Art by Ben Caldwell, Mark Morales and Jeremy Lawson
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

From the outside, any political system looks like a either a mess of competing factions or an impenetrable regime based on ideologies different to our own. As the United States of America gears up for its 2016 presidential race, and all the accompanying media circuses and satirical parody shows that come with it, Prez has provided an incredibly sharp skewer for the current state of the nation, and all it had to do was shift the extremes of the media-led campaigns several decades into the future.

As the series reaches the end of its first arc, writer Mark Russell sticks a fork through political footballs that are definitely analogous to their real-world counterparts. A deadly cat flu epidemic is sweeping the nation, and while various parties – from pharmaceutical companies to government agencies – are able to do something about, nobody is willing to act upon it due to the unpopularity of the solutions or their own self interests. In an age when the polls are decided via Twitter (who won the social media wars after many lives lost), Prez Beth’s solution of actual cat herding is met with responses of “I’ll give you my cat when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.” Meanwhile, there are groups who believe that the virus has a right to life as well, and will kill to exercise that right. You don’t have to be a political scientist to see the analogies to several hot button issues Russell is making here.

Which is one of the clever things about Prez. Russell is clearly making some very pointed remarks about the forces that stop real change, with Beth simply trying to balance out the wishes of everyone, while catering to those interests that can help her. Russell doesn’t have to mention gun control, abortion, or religious freedom, because those issues are all stuck in a familiar cycle. By replacing them with cats, which in reality is what social media smothers these issues with, the ridiculousness of some of the impediments to change becomes obvious. This is what the best science fiction does, stripping back the issues to their core problems and replacing them with something far beyond our normal wheelhouse. The X-Men does it with mutants and prejudice, and here we also get a killer robot arguing for the right to be considered a human named Tina.

With the brightly lit cacophony of information that surrounds the players at any given time, Ben Caldwell captures the same extreme media approach that makes Darrick Robertson’s vision for Transmetropolitan so iconic. In fact, there’s a lot of parallels between the two series, supplanting Spider Jerusalem’s deeply rooted cynicism for Beth’s essential optimism. The faces of company leaders are replaced with avatars, and Caldwell has a lot of fun playing with the protest signs outside of the White House. It’s just the right mix of caricature as well, meaning a robot in a wig and an emailing cat seem perfectly at home alongside Oval Office meetings.

Inspired by a reasonably obscure 1970s comic book (one cancelled after only four issues), it spoke to the youth culture that came out of the baby boom following World War II. With the so-called Millennial generation seen as an echo baby boom, Prez is an argument for taking seriously a generation driven to distraction by mobile ubiquity, giving them a voice by showcasing their solutions to problems created by previous generations. This issue promises that the story will be continued, with Beth confident to take her ideas on the offensive. With a very chaotic 12 months of U.S. politics ahead, this might just be the comic the world needs right now.

Credit: Dan Panosian (Dynamite Entertainment)

James Bond #2
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Jason Masters and Guy Major
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

After an explosive opening issue, Warren Ellis slows things way down with his second issue of James Bond, getting into the nitty gritty of Bond’s mission to Berlin. While this sophomore issue may be light on action, it is very heavy on mood and intrigue as Bond dives deeper into the mystery of the new drug sweeping through the London streets. Warren Ellis's droll and cynical wit fits this series like a fine Italian glove and paired with Jason Masters and Guy Major’s slick, cinematic pencils and colors you have a team with all the tools to make James Bond one of Dnyamite's breakout franchises. Bond may have been dominating the box office as of late, but this book shows that he has the comic book industry dead in his sights.

Picking up with Bond arriving in Berlin, Ellis pulls us deeper into the case that took the life of Bond’s former associate. Of course, this being a James Bond story, there are complications. This time in the form of a slinky assassin named Dharma Reach with fantastic taste in gloves. As Bond is whisked away from the airport by the woman and her driver whom he thinks have been dispatched from the Berlin MI6 field office, she takes her moment to both seduce and strike, providing this issue with its only action scene. Jason Masters and Guy Major make the most of this set piece, switching perspectives from the deadly struggle from inside the car to the busy streets of Berlin as they careen through the streets.

After the kiss kiss, bang bang is all said and done, Ellis throws Bond into the thick of another office dynamic in the form of the Berlin office of MI6. This is where Ellis' gift for banter and witticism come heavily into play as Bond flirts and quips his way through the office on his way to investigate a local research lab with ties to the bodies turning up back in London. While Ellis showed in the debut issue that he has a firm handle on the blunt tool side of Bond’s personality, James Bond #2 shows that he also displays an understanding that Bond isn’t exactly the most subtle spy in the world. Case in point, Bond barely tries to keep up the facade of his cover identity, either with his would be assassin or the head scientist that he is questioning. Bond’s devil may care attitude toward spycraft was always one of the highlights of the novels and it is very heartening to see that Warren Ellis continues that tradition here.

Ellis also once again takes full advantage of the familiar beats of the James Bond novels, introducing a femme fatale in the form of Reach who may be more closely tied into the larger narrative than we yet realize. While Reach’s introduction introduces yet another heavy into the mix, James Bond #2 also takes full advantage of the travelogue nature of the old stories, making Berlin a character in itself. That feeling largely falls on the shoulders of Jason Masters and Guy Major, who render the streets of Berlin just as faithfully as they did the streets of London back in the first issue. Masters and Major deliver a photoreal modern Berlin, making this issue feel and look current even though it is employing decades old narrative beats established in the novels. This attention to detail both from Ellis and the art team make this a satisfying read from start to finish, one that can appreciate the old while making it feel totally new.

James Bond #2 proves empirically that Dynamite Comics’ grand experiment with Ian Fleming’s master spy isn’t a fluke. Instead its a bona fide hit with a creative team behind it that fully understands the character and world that he inhabits. Warren Ellis, Jason Masters, and Guy Major may have slowed this second issue way down, but their talent still shines brightly through making this another engaging issue. If you loved Spectre and needed another pure fix of Bond or even if you hated Spectre and want to see Bond done right, Dynamite's spy series is tailor-made for all kinds of fans, both of Bond and of good comic books.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Guardians of Infinity #1
Written by Dan Abnett and Jason Latour
Art by Carlo Barberi, Walden Wong, Israel Silver, Jim Cheung, John Dell and Laura Martin
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The success of the Guardians of the Galaxy film has necessarily influenced the direction of the comic books and animated spin-offs, although what Guardians of Infinity shows is that Marvel hasn’t forgotten what a vast universe and history they have with some of these cosmic characters. Indeed, the film took elements from both the original Guardians teams and the modern variations, and this new series goes one step further by encompassing three different eras of Guardians teams, including the hitherto-unexplored Guardians 1000. To what extent it distinguishes itself from the other titles is yet to be seen.

The most pleasing thing up front about this new series is seeing Dan Abnett’s name attached to the Guardians characters that he and erstwhile writer partner Andy Lanning helped craft into the contemporary versions of the Guardians. One of Abnett and Lanning’s (or DnA, as they were known collectively) more memorable arcs in their original Guardians run was sending their group into the distant future to meet their year 3000 counterparts, the original group to bear the name. In this sense, this issue feels a little bit like coming home, as Drax, Rocket and Groot come face-to-face with the Guardians 3000 team (that Abnett also recently penned as a solo series) aboard a ship that seemingly occupies multiple points in space-time. The interaction between the main three Guardians is the most authentic it has been in quite some time, and Drax casually using Rocket as a feather duster is the kind of trademark humor fans of the 2008 series will appreciate. In the grand tradition of super-team meetings, it all devolves into a brawl, so we don’t get a huge amount of revelations beyond the introduction of a third team.

Carlo Barberi was a terrific choice for setting the tone for the main story in this new series, balancing some cheekier cartoon aspects on the faces of Rocket and Groot (and Drax too for that matter) with the hyper realistic bodies of the ripped Guardians of the future. There’s undoubtedly a whiff of Marvel house style here, and this is perhaps because the issue mostly becomes an action piece in the second half. Barberi’s panel choices don’t so much creation the illusion of movement as highlighting several beats at a time, and this gives the book a rapid pace.

Confusingly, especially given that this is the first book in a new run, there’s a bonus story primarily featuring Rocket and the Thing off on their own cosmic jaunt. Ben Grimm is now a champ in the wrestling circuit on a distant star, Rocket is somewhat miffed at being stranded on the planet and not being able to acquire the parts he needs to escape via Grimm’s victories. It’s an oddity mostly highlighted by Jim Cheung’s gorgeous artwork, given a much grittier edge thanks to John Dell’s inks and Laura Martin’s muted color choices. Then again, the whole story might just be worth it for an interplanetary version of The Golden Girls starring dog doppelgängers.

What a difference a year or two makes, with the Guardians now leading lights after sitting in limbo for several years, now starring in multiple titles instead of just the one. There’s a distinct possibility of the Guardians over-saturating the Marvel market, with at least half a dozen titles exploring these characters in their collective or solo outings. The multiple stories in this first issue do exhibit a bit of brand confusion, but the main story returns at least some of the Guardians to position of protecting the galaxy from curious time anomalies, rounding this out to be a fun and familiar tale that will be appreciated by new and existing fans of the team.

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