Best Shots Advance Reviews: JUGHEAD #3, LOBSTER JOHNSON: THE GLASS MANTIS

Dark Horse December 2015 cover
Credit: Dark Horse Comics
Credit: Archie Comics

Jughead #3
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Erica Henderson
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Jughead Jones is in a funk, and it's not just because he's been expelled from school. With the new principal planting a knife in his backpack, Jughead is stuck with cabin fever, and unfortunately, this time out can't help but slow down Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson's considerable momentum. For those who haven't been reading the past two issues of Jughead, you'll likely find a ton to enjoy - but for those who have been enjoying this series, you may find the flavor of this book is beginning to wear a little thin.

But the plus side of this book is that Chip Zdarsky's comedic voice still reads strong. From the first page - featuring Jughead pantomiming his video games, since his parents took them away following his school troubles - our hero is a funny guy. Watching Jughead continue his battle of wits with Principal Stanger is the highlight of the book, as Jughead follows the letter of the law so precisely that he essentially gives the finger to his erstwhile nemesis. Zdarsky also loves to poke (loving) fun at the whole Riverdale cast, particularly how hapless Archie Andrews is at just about everything that isn't guitar-playing or being popular in school.

Unfortunately, the other recurring gag in this series - Jughead's prodigious, genre-spanning imagination - is starting to feel a little old. Part of that is because Jughead's "Man from Riverdale" spy story feels very similar in tone to last issue's "Time Police" sequence. But while previous issues have been about Jughead working out solutions to problems in his own wacky, action-packed way, beyond a quick jab at Reggie's expense, it feels like a gratuitous detour rather than an added bonus.

That said, artist Erica Henderson continues to impress with her work here. Just like Zdarsky, Henderson is committed to making with the funny, and so all of her characters are designed and positioned for the maximum amount of comedy. Jughead's over-the-top gestures, Archie freaking out over how "literally no one is talking about how great I am at guitar," or the big non-reveal splash page all look great. And while I just finished talking about how Jughead's latest dream sequence feels a little repetitive from previous issues, that doesn't stop Henderson from drawing the hell out of it, making Betty's kung fu kicks and Jughead's ice gun blasting look dynamic and exciting.

In many ways, Jughead's biggest challenge may just be matching the quality and innovation of its first issues. In terms of sheer craft, this series stands well above many of its peers - it's funny, it's well-drawn, and perhaps most importantly, it has a real sense of intelligence underneath all those one-liners. But with Jughead in limbo at Riverdale, it can't help but slow down this book. That said, I'm confident this series will pick up steam upon Jughead's well-deserved return.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Lobster Johnson: The Glass Mantis
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Toni Fejzula
Letters by Clem Robins
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Pulp heroes are a rare breed in today’s comic book scene. Thankfully, Dark Horse Comics still has one masked avenger going strong in the Hellboy universe; Lobster Johnson, the righteous claw of justice. The mystery man returns to shelves this week in the twist-a-minute one-shot Lobster Johnson: The Glass Mantis written by Dark Horse big-wigs Mike Mignola and John Arcudi and drawn by Veil’s Toni Fejzula. The Glass Mantis tells the tale of murder and occult strangeness at the Met in 1935, all centered around a master glassblower from Turkey and his masterpiece the titular glass mantis. Mignola and Arcudi drop readers into the thick of Johnson’s latest adventure, free of the continuity that surrounds the character, delivering a satisfying one and done two-fisted pulp tale. Mignola and Arcudi’s script coupled with Toni Fejzula’s dream-like pencils and colors make Lobster Johnson: The Glass Mantis a must for genre fans and newcomers alike.

While The Glass Mantis’ vintage thrills are clear and present throughout, it is artist Toni Fejzula that makes this one-shot a can’t-miss affair. A newcomer to Dark Horse’s Hellboy universe, Fejzula’s hazy and stylish artwork fits the strange and wild world of Lobster Johnson perfectly. Though a stark departure from the classic pulp visuals that the series usually employs, Fejzula’s panels give this one-shot a decidedly indie comic book feel with his shifting color schemes; bright sickly yellows on the inside of the palatial museum and moody, chilly blues as Johnson scales buildings and gives chase on the outside. Fejzula also goes one step further with his artwork, leaning into the supernatural, much like other entries into the series with a finale that is perfectly on point for the character. After the bullets and blood have hit the floor, Fejzula sends the reader out with a glowing specter of vengeance that dominates the last pages of this one-shot with a ghostly, screaming presence. The Glass Mantis may be a fun read just on the surface, but Toni Fejzula goes the extra mile to make sure that it thrills visually as well as on a scripting level.

And speaking of the script, Mike Mignola and John Arcudi don’t disappoint. Stripped of all the trappings and winking nods to other stories that usually come with Hellboy universe stories, The Glass Mantis hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until its final page. Tasked with protecting the master Turkish glass blower from attacks, Lobster and his FBI handlers attempt to fool would be assassins with a double during his exhibit in the Met. Fortunately their plan goes off without a hitch as a woman in the crowd guns down the “artist,” unaware that he’s actually an FBI agent in disguise. But, of course, nothing is actually what it seems, as Mignola and Arcudi deliver one hell of twist not even halfway through the issue.

After tracking down the gun-woman, Lobster learns that the so-called “real” artist is yet another man in disguise, one that filled in for the real glass blower and is attempting to smuggle diamonds into the States, hidden in the artist’s pieces. This, naturally, leads to a significant amount of gunplay and the aforementioned ghostly encounter in which the vengeful spirit of the killed master craftsman takes revenge on the imposter. Mignola and Arcudi deliver these twists at a breakneck pace, but not so fast that the reader is overwhelmed with information. They simply have an endgame for the one-shot and are in quite a hurry to get to it, while supplying the trademark two-gun action that Lobster Johnson fans have come to expect. Mike Mignola and John Arcudi are old hands at these kind of stories and The Glass Mantis shows that they are in no danger of losing their edge just yet.

Modern pulp stories are a tricky thing. Often times they come across, at best, as empty parody, or at worst, unabashed aping of previous stories. Thankfully the team behind Lobster Johnson: The Glass Mantis are talented enough to sidestep all those pitfalls, while making the story feel and look fresh thanks to an inspired choice of artist. Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Toni Fejzula waste no time getting to the meat of the story and then it is done before the audience is allowed time to catch its breath. The Glass Mantis is pulp done right; no frills, no grand set-up, just a cool character, some diamonds and two .45’s.

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