Best Shots Advance Reviews: DEPT. H #1, DOCTOR WHO: FOURTH DOCTOR #1, GRAVEYARD QUEST

"Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor #1" cover
Credit: Titan Comics
Credit: Dark Horse Comics

DEPT. H #1
Written by Matt Kindt
Art by Matt Kindt & Sharlene Kindt
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Matt and Sharlene Kindt’s newest endeavor DEPT.H #1 is a genre-bending mystery that will leave you clamoring for more. A murder mystery miles beneath the ocean, DEPT.H #1 blends elements of 24 and The Abyss that follows investigator and scientist Mia during the 24 hours she has to solve her father’s murder aboard a slowly-flooding underwater research station. Writer and illustrator Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT) threads plenty of mysteries throughout, hinting at other turmoil in the outside world - refugee crises, a potential pandemic - that readers may already find familiar.

Though this premise alone would be enough to capture a reader’s attention, DEPT.H #1’s real strength is Sharlene Kindt’s stunning watercolor work. This isn’t the first time Sharlene and her husband Kindt have worked together, with Sharlene having previously done work on Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT, but it does mark her transition into full-time colorist work, and she is absolutely the perfect choice for a nautical mystery like DEPT.H #1.

The nature of watercolor work lends itself well to an oceanic tale, but Kindt employs them with amazing subtlety, using shifting blues to give a sense of weight and heft to the incredible pressure of the seas. The discovery of the body of Mia’s father, alone in the heavy darkness of the sea and illuminated only by Mia’s depth suit, is absolutely haunting. Kindt’s watercolors lend a sense of disconnect and nostalgia to Mia’s flashbacks, and the Kindts’ combined talents manage to slip memories underneath memories as a previous relationship of Mia’s is illustrated faintly in warmer tones between panels in one impressive page.

DEPT.H is intended to be an episodic, "limited run" series, following Mia in "real-time" over the course of her 24-hour investigation. The time limit lends a sense of urgency not only for the resolution of her father’s murder but for the fate of the base and their research, hinted at in the fragments of world news scattered throughout in dialogue. Thankfully Matt Kindt’s steady pacing in this opening issue will leave readers curious but confident that all truly will be revealed. Mia’s memories are layered throughout the story in a way that provides vital context to her mission and, hopefully, to the relationships she’s hinted at with the crew members she’s tasked with investigating - including her own brother and a former close friend.

This is an artistically gorgeous book that exemplifies some of the best comics has to offer as a visual storytelling medium. DEPT.H #1 hints at a psychological thriller that blends elements of crime and sci-fi into one curious tale with high stakes for Mia’s scientific livelihood and, potentially, far-reaching ramifications for not just her life but the lives of many around the world in what the Kindt hints are tumultuous times. Together, Matt and Sharlene Kindt have crafted an eerie tale of deceit that leaves you sympathetic to the weight bearing down on Mia, not just to find her father’s killer, but to make sure that she and the rest of the crew members don’t find themselves crushed by the looming pressure of an undiscovered killer - or by the ocean’s depths.

Credit: Titan Comics

Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor #1
Written by Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby
Art by Brian Williamson and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Fans of Doctor Who have a ready-made love for the extended universes of Big Finish audio, novels and comic books. During the 16 years the beloved BBC television show spent in the wilderness, it was through these publications that the enthusiasm for the show survived. Vastly expanding on the narratives laid down in the serialized TV episodes, fans have often been quick to embrace the canonicity of these expansions. After all, actors may age and pass on to other projects, but the Doctor can continue to have continuously immortal adventures on the page. Titan Comics have embraced their licence in the last few years, and this is proof positive that the classic Doctors work just as well alongside the current models in the graphic medium.

Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor #1 wins fandom points by endearingly ticking all the right boxes in the first few pages: it’s a Fourth Doctor story with Sarah Jane Smith set in Victorian London. Sharing DNA with the best of the Tom Baker episodes, such as the 1977 classic "The Talons of Weng-Chiang," it concerns a literally veiled figure fascinated with collecting people who have travelled through time. With the Doctor and Sarah Jane firmly targeted in their sites, it even has the classical title "Gaze of the Medusa." It’s like they looked straight into the heart of the TARDIS.

Scribes Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby are well familiar with the culture that they are playing to, having previously collaborated on a Doctor Who Big Finish adventures and a Judge Dredd title, making Beeby the first female writer to do so. The voices of Tom Baker and the late Elisabeth Sladen ring true in the script (“Reveal away, Professor, please. I shall endeavour to steel myself”), but it’s more than simple caricature. The slow reveal of the threat, the deliberately enigmatic villain and the anachronistic spin on Victoria London all add up to the start of a serial that could have happily slipped in alongside any of the Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe tales of the era.

This extends into the artwork as well. Brian Williamson, who will be known to readers from his 2000AD work and several issues of Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor, gloriously recreates a screen-faithful version of Victoria London, feeling for all the world that is still being held together by cardboard glue like the sets of the BBC original. Character likenesses are pretty close most of the time, but even when they are not, the spirit of the gesture remains. You can almost see the comet trails and other video artefacts that were common to the video production processes of the era in Hi-Fi’s coloring of the multi-faceted lens that the villain uses to spy on our heroes.

As we face the prospect of a long 2016 without any regular new Doctor Who episodes until Christmas, Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor goes a long way towards helping us forget this fact. Indeed, it helps us forget the fact that we aren’t in 1977, and Tom Baker isn’t still tripping over his own scarf and lowering his baritone to curse the menace of the week. Like the best Baker episodes, it finds the right balance between Gothic horror and lighthearted adventure, and is the start of a promising set of new stories featuring characters as we remember them.

Credit: Oni Press

Graveyard Quest TPB
Written by KC Green
Art by KC Green and Allison Shabet
Lettering by KC Green
Published by Oni Press
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Graveyard Quest contains multitudes. On the one hand, this collection of KC Green’s acclaimed long form webcomic is a screamingly funny gothic comedy of errors, starring a high-strung gravedigger and his sassy mole pal. On the other, it's a sobering and gut-wrenching story about loss and living up to the expectations of your parents. Either way you look at it, Graveyard Quest is still a towering achievement and one that is well worth reader’s attention. KC Green, creator of Gunshow, the series in which this story first found life, delicately balances the comedy and the pathos throughout this collection, sometimes within the span of a page. Acting as writer and artist, along with colorist Allison Shabet, Green has delivered a surreal, methodical and very human story set in a very inhuman place. From its classic Nintendo-inspired cover to its sweetly funny final page, Graveyard Quest stands as a shining gem of oddball storytelling for Oni Press and its creators.

Presented as a collection of one-page single comics, Graveyard Quest tells the story of the Gravedigger, the latest in a long line of gravediggers that, day in day out, does his job and doesn’t complain. He does his work burying the bodies of the city and then comes home to the bones of his mother; his only company. Well, perhaps not his only company. As he goes about his work the ghost of his overbearing father is always there, watching and loudly judging his son for the work he does, until one day he steals the bones of his wife in order to stop his son from being coddled and descends into Hell, in order to finally untether his son from his material leash. What follows is 190-plus pages of pure heart and hilarity as our gravedigging lead goes below and then promptly starts messing everything up.

KC Green starts Graveyard Quest off slow, but boy, does it ever pick up in a big way. Employing an almost video game logic to the story, Green subjects the Gravedigger to various levels of weirdness on his journey. Pitting him against angry slime bandits attempting to hijack a train headed to Hell and point it toward Heaven, making him the savior and destroyer of a colony of fundamentalist earthworms, and making him an unwilling accomplice to a battalion of soldiers attempting to drill into the netherworld. Like I said, thing get weird, but also really, really funny throughout. Others have compared this book to a undead stretch of Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes and the comparison is very apt as the cause of all of the gravedigger’s misadventures is his own frustration and ignorance throughout his journey to Hell, but even Green’s knack for creating hilarious misunderstandings is just scratching the surface of what Graveyard Quest has to offer up to readers.

Though Green rendered the book in a cartoony, very exaggerated art style, which is brought together with Allison Shabet’s murky and muddy colors, he is still dealing with very complex emotions and characterizations. On its surface, Graveyard Quest is just a silly book about a very silly road trip starring two very silly characters, but very quickly it opens itself up and reveals itself to be so much more. While he may be swept up in insanity, the gravedigger is still experiencing deep sadness and loss during his journey to recover his mom’s bones and all along the way he is facing the very man/ghost that started him on this journey and still he hates him for it. Even the gravedigger’s father and his mole companion, the by in large stand out character of the book as everything he says illicits either a barking laugh or extended awwwww from a reader, get the same treatment from Green; all receiving lengthy scenes of emotionality and depth, even if they just look like squat cartoon people. They say the best stories can be about two to three things simultaneously and by that rubric Graveyard Quest is a rousing success as it delivers, in equal measure, screwball comedy, clear character motivation, and a deep underlying theme of loss and regret.

I won’t lie, when I first saw solicitations for Graveyard Quest, I hoped someone had finally given me a fun adaptation of Fester’s Quest and I was excited. However, after getting my hands on KC Green and Allison Shabet’s collection, I found so much more waiting for me. Graveyard Quest is hilarious and clever, but above all it wears its heart on its sleeve, and that proves to be its biggest strength. Though it started life as a serialized webcomic, I can only hope that a whole new and wider audience discovers this stellar collection from Green, Shabet and Oni Press. Not just because its funny and not just because its emotional, but because its a great story and great stories should be read by as many people as possible, regardless of whether they are alive or dead.

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