Best Shots Advance Reviews: TMNT - DEVIATIONS #1, POWER LINES #1, HOUSE OF PENANCE #1

"House of Penance #1" cover by Ian Bertram
Credit: Ian Bertram (Dark Horse)
Credit: IDW Publishing

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Deviations #1
Written by Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow and Tom Waltz
Art by Zach Howard, Cory Smith, Joylon Yates and Ronda Pattison
Lettering by Shawn Lee
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

"Take him down--but no killing. Master Shredder wants him alive."

Imagine a world where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles weren't just the loveable outcast heroes living in the sewers. What if things changed? What if the Heroes in a Halfshell instead became the Fearsome Foursome stalking the streets of New York City?

Wonder no more, as Tom Waltz and Zach Howard deliver a dark, Elseworlds-style tale in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Deviations, depicting a world where the Turtles fell under the sway of Oroku Saki himself. While the one-and-done nature of this issue means that the story inevitably suffers in structure, this story is still a real treat thanks to Howard's stunning, gritty artwork.

Working off a story he co-wrote with Kevin Eastman and Bobby Curnow spinning off IDW's "City Fall" storyline, Tom Waltz immediately zeroes in on the Turtles' personalities - albeit in a dark and menacing fashion, as they hunt down someone who was once their greatest ally. Whether it's Raph trying to launch an unsanctioned killing strike with his almost palpable Brooklyn accent or Michelangelo quoting The Warriors when he tells his quarry to "come out to playyay," you're immediately drawn in. We typically see the Turtles when they're friendly, but in this new context, we realize that they can be super-dangerous foes when they're not fighting on the side of the angels.

And ultimately, the X-factor that sells this script the most has to be artist Zach Howard, who meshes together the fluid anthropomorphic designs of the Turtles with some lush and gritty inkwork that evokes some of the best of David Finch and Danny Miki's work. Given that the Turtles all have identical outfits, it's really to Waltz and Howard's credit that they're able to so clearly deliniate which Turtle is which - you can tell Leonardo by the way he bows and gives deference to his bleak master. You can tell Donatello by the way he always seems to linger in the back with his bo staff. You can even sense the youthful enthusiasm in Mikey's smile, even when he's looking for blood.

With all that in mind - and knowing that this is only a one-shot - some of this book's other sins are a little easier to ignore. First and foremost, while the high concept of this title seems accessible on a surface level, if you don't know the ins and outs of IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series (particularly its "City Fall" storyline), characters like Kitsune or Old Hob aren't really going to pack much punch. Additionally, from a plotting perspective, the story ends a bit too conveniently, with patch jobs like Casey Jones' dad and psychich combat taking the place of actual character development or struggle from the Turtles themselves. (And no offense to Cory Smith, who's an excellent artist in his own right, but when he has to take the baton from Howard, there's no contest, which means the book ends on a visual down note.)

But that all said, seeing Zach Howard take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is absolutely worth the price of admission, and when you add a cool high concept to the mix, you'll find that this might be the most striking and exciting of IDW's Deviations lineup. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has attracted some of the best artists to IDW since they picked up the title, but this one-shot might be a new high for the series as a whole.

Credit: Image Comics

Power Lines #1
Written by Jimmie Robinson
Art by Jimmie Robinson
Lettering by Jimmie Robinson
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Auteur creator Jimmie Robinson, best known in recent years for the acclaimed series Five Weapons and The Empty, is back with a new creator-owned series. The high concept of the former and the surrealism of the latter gives way to something a little bit more grounded in Power Lines, inasmuch as it is set in modern day California, focusing on a young black man in the ghetto. Yet Robinson is never one to shy away from mixing the fantastic with the everyday, and his new series pulls a little bit from each column.

With its Martin Luther King, Jr. quote on the cover (“Injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere”), there is no mistaking the timeliness and socially relevant nature of Power Lines. Following D-Trick, the street tag of the new crew member in the local gang, things take a turn for the heroic when our protagonist is imbued with ancient super-abilities based on forgotten titular “power lines.” The twist is that his powers only seem to activate when he is in the more affluent areas of town, where he is less likely to be accepted because of his background.

Power Lines is a familiar story, in that it follows many of the tropes we have seen from countless origin stories, but it would be completely unfair to call it derivative. Robinson transplants a decades-old formula to modern West Coast setting, and on that level the narrative is pretty straightforward. Many of the plot turns are telegraphed early, and this issue merely sets up the world that D-Trick will have to navigate in the coming issues. Yet all credit to Robinson for not pulling any punches on the outright racism D-Trick encounters, especially from the middle-aged mother of Kevin Bellingham, a military vet that is drawn into D-Trick’s world by happenstance. It’s on this level that Power Lines lays down its point of difference, weaving Native American history into his super powers set, marking itself as a title that has something to say, even if it is somewhat reserved in this first issue.

There’s a throwback quality to Robinson’s artwork, a distinctive early '90s feel that comes from the sketch shading and the fine pastel coloring of the figures. In some scenes, the background detailing is light, but that is something is shares with Robinson’s earlier work, allowing for sweeping visits that contrast the studied expressions in the foreground. Robinson isn’t afraid to use speedlines to fill a space, nor does he shy from making a close-up the only figure in the frame. When the art excels, it is often a shadowy sketch in the foreground against a minimal bit of landscape.

Power Lines might not always be a wholly original debut, but it is nevertheless an important one. Robinson throws out some intriguing plot points that warrant further investigation, and it’s clear that there’s a deeper mythology that he is itching to explore. It’s a tough criticism, but Power Lines does suffer in comparison with Robinson’s superb work of the last few years, but perhaps that it is because it doesn’t slap you in the face with its uniqueness just yet. Then again, the social relevancy and racial issues that the book raises before you even open the cover will be as faraway a world as The Empty for a number of readers, and if Robinson can put those issues on the readers’ agenda in a lovingly illustrated superhero origin, then Power Lines may yet have a few surprises up its sleeve.

Credit: Ian Bertram (Dark Horse)

House of Penance #1
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Ian Bertram and Dave Stewart
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Truth proves stranger than fiction in House of Penance #1. Based on the infamous true story of Sarah Winchester and her bizarre palatial house, writer Peter J. Tomasi delivers a ton of tension along with a dreamlike tale of loss and obsession. This debut from Dark Horse Comics, on shelves April 13, is an unsettling yarn that feels so wholly off putting that it couldn’t possibly be true, and while Tomasi has surely taken some liberties, it still feels real enough to make your skin crawl in the best possible way. Along with the detailed pencils of Ian Bertram and the colors of Dave Stewart, House of Penance #1 is an inspired and creepy take on one of America’s lesser known eccentrics.

In 1905, Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester Repeating Rifle fortune, lost her husband and daughter. That is where our story begins. Peter J. Tomasi, a writer best known for his work in the superhero genre, confidently delivers this Hammer films inspired debut and though he wrote some damn fun cape comic books, I can only hope Tomasi stays in the horror genre for a good long while. Reading House of Penance #1 sometimes feels like a fever dream and that is one hundred percent Tomasi’s intention. Sarah Winchester is our lead in this debut, but Tomasi only gives us a surface level knowledge of her and her madness; teasing glimpses of her dissembling bullets by hand as well as her refusing to let anyone else bury her dead family. Tomasi dangles just enough in front of a reader’s face about Sarah to make them want more, and by God, do I want more.

But while Sarah Winchester is the lead of this book, she has a few equally interesting co-stars. In particular, her insane house, built by the hands of toiling volunteers who have offered up their sins and time to the lady of the house. Draining her family’s estate, Sarah has become obsessed with completing her twisting puzzle box of a home, which is given imposing life on the page by artist Ian Bertram and colorist Dave Stewart, who is no stranger to this sort of penny dreadful tone. The workers toil under the watchful eye of Mister Murcer, Sarah’s stoic right hand man, and are constantly at work on the house, working in shifts, as evidenced by the constant banging heard and seen throughout the issue in big, bold block letter sound effects that hammer across multiple pages. Tomasi even throws a wild card of a character into the story in the form of wounded treasure hunter with fresh set of sins to offer up to the Winchester Estate. House of Penace #1 works on a whole lot of levels, each one more interesting than the next, and all of them unsettling.

As Peter J. Tomasi offers up this strange tale of American danse macabre, artist Ian Bertram and colorist Dave Stewart give the story the heavy pencils and sun baked colors that it deserves. Ian Bertram, who’s style can best be described as the gothic version of Nick Pitarra’s sketch like work, amps up the creepiness of Tomasi’s script by allowing Stewart to cast certain scenes in heavy, almost completely blacked out shadows, or by simply giving Sarah Winchester the eyes of a china doll; as wide as saucers, but hollow, save for the twinkle of madness that Bertram renders them with. Bertam’s attention to detail really makes the scenes on the interior and exterior of the house soar, but it his harnessing of Dave Stewart’s skill with shadow and his almost too real character expressions that really make House of Penance #1 one of the more arresting reads to date for me. Ian Bertram and Dave Stewart are two very big guns in this debut’s arsenal and thankfully for the reader, they know exactly where to aim.

If films like Crimson Peak or true weird tales of history strike your fancy, then House of Penance #1 is certainly the book for you. Even the staunchest of genre fan will find something to love about this Dark Horse debut because it is so singularly weird that it demands that you take notice of it. Peter J. Tomasi, Ian Bertram, and Dave Stewart fully commit to this dark tale of an American heiress, gripped by grief and use it as a firm base for this creepy tale of woe, bullets, and stairs that go to nowhere. Horror fans, get your pre-orders in now. The House awaits.

Similar content
Twitter activity