Best Shots Advance Reviews: THE FIX #1, WICKED + DIVINE #18, MIGHTY ZODIAC #1, BRUCE LEE: DRAGON RISES #1

"Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rises #1" cover
Credit: Darby Pop
Credit: Image Comics

The Fix #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Steve Lieber and Ryan Hill
Lettering by Nic J. Shaw
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

A few years ago, a book called The Superior Foes of Spider-Man surprised readers and critics alike with its irreverent take on the underworld of the Marvel Universe. Now, the guys behind that title, writer Nick Spencer and artist Steve Lieber, along with colorist Ryan Hill, are back with another hilarious tale of crime. The Fix #1 is a clever, screamingly funny, and well-produced debut from Image Comics that tells the story of two lowlifes as they try to navigate the criminal underworld and attempt to keep their head above water as an unconventional crime boss breathing down their necks.

Though The Fix #1 is very, very funny and I could spend much of this review just speaking to that aspect of it, writer Nick Spencer manages to do something very big with this debut, while still making its readers laugh as much as possible. He manages to really surprise the reader and not once, but twice! The issue opens with a truly inept robbery of a nursing home with one of our leads, Roy, providing biting narration throughout on how the nature of crime in a digital age has caused blue collar criminals like himself to pull jobs like this. After the two get away with armfuls of cash, Spencer delivers one hell of a curveball. Roy and his partner Mac aren’t just run of the mill smash-and-grab guys - they’re bent cops.

And it just gets funnier from there. After Spencer finally gives us the straight dope on our crooked leads, he lovingly details the origin of a scumbag, giving us a grimly funny look at Roy’s childhood and how he realized just what team he wanted to be on in the game of law and order. Spencer also surrounds Mac and Roy with a truly out there cast that will certainly shine in upcoming issues. Characters like the bath salts-obsessed movie producer friend of Roy’s and the terrifying yet domestic crime boss Josh, who our leads owe quite a bit of money to, gives readers a lot to chew on and laugh about in this first issue.

As Nick Spencer works to make the script sing with clever turns of phrase and pointed pop culture references, artist Steve Lieber, much like his stint on Superior Foes, fills this issue with small yet wickedly funny visual gags. Though Lieber’s natural character work and panel construction are also really great here, its hard to ignore just how funny it is to see him inserting wildly inappropriate sound effects into certain scenes or seeing streaks of tiny flames emanating from Mac and Roy’s feet as they try to skid to a halt. Bringing it all together is the plaintive colors of Ryan Hill, who nails the sun-bleached look of Los Angeles, as well as the seedy darkness of both dive bars and police interrogation rooms.

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man was a surprise hit, but The Fix #1 isn’t just going to take you by surprise - it’s just going to make you laugh your ass off. Nick Spencer, Steve Lieber and Ryan Hill have struck raunchy gold here with this new Image Comics debut and they confidently show that that weird little book about Spider-Man villains wasn’t just a one-hit wonder. The Fix has it all; compelling yet morally corrupt characters, a hilarious script, and more than a few visual gags that are sure to reward repeat readers. Bottom line, you need The Fix, whether you know it or not.

Credit: Image Comics

The Wicked + The Divine #18
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson and Dee Cunniffe
Lettering Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

They live, they die, they live again, they die: such are the lives of the Pantheon in Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s hit Image series, embodied succinctly and surprisingly in the tale The Wicked + The Divine #18 weaves around Persephone in this week’s new issue. After a short publishing break - not a long enough break to help anyone recover from the emotionally fraught Commercial Suicide arc, by the way - The Wicked + The Divine #18 throws readers right into the thick of things with a fast-paced issue that will leave brand new readers confused and longtime fans clamoring for more.

One of the consistent highlights of The Wicked + Divine is Gillen’s ability to build storyline on top of storyline with an impressive level of internal consistency and a mastery of narrative pacing. Each arc builds to an emotional peak that seems unsustainable until the following issue, and The Wicked + Divine #18 is no different, revealing new layers to the Pantheon’s internal conflicts and shedding light on as many new mysteries as it does clues to the unresolved questions lingering from previous issues.

The Wicked + The Divine #18 introduces the aptly-named "Rising Action" arc with a bang, offering up frenetic action scenes that give artist McKelvie, colorist Matthew Wilson, and flatter Dee Cunniffe plenty of time to shine; this is, without a doubt, an issue whose visuals will leave you deeply impressed with those involved in every step of the artistic aspect of comics. Persephone and her powers in particular are gorgeously rendered, and a panel towards the end featuring eerie iridescent shades will have you itching for a Persephone print. Also: Baal’s beard? A solid design decision.

The artwork and frenetic pace of the story make some of the issue’s minor foibles easier to gloss over. The Morrigan and Baphomet’s “edgy” dialogue in a couple of panels push their none-more-goth attitudes into parodies that are more jarring than engaging for some readers, and watching them start to become something akin to antiheroes as the plot progresses feels almost out of place - at least until you consider the other Pantheon members. But it’s entirely possible those are intentional decisions; throughout its run the book has certainly earned its “M” rating, and it’s more an occasional word or two that might startle than the fact that there’s salty language at all. Gillen, to his credit, has also never attempted to suggest anyone in The Wicked + The Divine is without flaw, and as in the real world, not all flaws are endearing. Thankfully he’s given them at least one voice of wisdom to guide them, and the divisions between the Pantheon members will still be intriguing to watch as they develop further over the next several issues.

If you’re completely new to The Wicked + The Divine, this is a spoiler-tastic place to start and will take much of the dramatic punch out of earlier issues, all of which are available already in trade paperback form. But The Wicked + The Divine #18 is everything WicDiv fans have been waiting for during its brief hiatus. Gorgeous to read, action-packed, and finally pointing towards answers to questions raised over a year ago, this is a solid issue to return to and the wait has been well worth it.

Credit: Oni Press

The Mighty Zodiac #1
Written by J. Torres
Art by Corin Howell and Maarta Laiho
Lettering by Warren Wucinich
Published by Oni Press
Review by Joey Edsall
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

It is no small feat to create for an audience that includes both children and adult comic book fans, and for the most part J. Torres' The Mighty Zodiac #1 manages to appeal to both demographics, largely thanks to an interesting blend of cultural aesthetics and narrative choices. Aided by some noticeably strong and appropriate artwork by Corin Howell and vibrant coloring from Maarta Laiho, the comic is a standout in the sense that there really isn't much else like it. The trouble is that being distinctive doesn't absolve the story of its shortcomings.

The story involves the effects that the death of the Blue Dragon in the Eastern Skies has on the world. Following his death, six stars fall to the planet, and as a result a dark threat (bunnies - they aren't just cute like everybody supposes) descends from the moon in a legitimately breathtaking scene that involves a shadow of a rabbit on the moon shattering into the outlines of countless rabbit outlines. Howell's art is pretty great throughout, but this is one of a few scenes that are jarringly well depicted. The rest of the first issue involves the dispersed members of the Mighty Zodiac searching for the fallen stars. Not much information is given as to why this has to be done, nor are any of the dark rabbit's motivations explored beyond them hating the light.

While the writing is clunky at times, the art manages to highlight the best parts of the narrative. Despite the fact that titular zodiac is known as the "Chinese zodiac,” Japanese culture adopted the custom, and it is from Japan where Torres seems to draw the most inspiration, as evident by the deliberate use of the distinctively Japanese word ronin. Japanese aesthetics function in a very different way to what is generally regarded as Western aesthetics. In fact, American comic books are perhaps the best illustration of Western aesthetic virtues. The art is often finely tuned to a sort of realism, and the stories are often action driven. Japanese aesthetics, by contrast, are much more focused on space and how the world is in a state of impermanence. These two different art world-views brush against one another in a few interesting ways in the comic, and when they do it is Howell's art and Laiho's coloring that really make the moments fully realized.

When Hess, the snake, sends a message in the form of sky lanterns in regards to the six stars falling, we don't see the linear progression from this, but rather we touch base with each member of the Mighty Zodiac (who are already established, though not much is given about their origin), at what is presumably the same time. While two of the groups of Zodiac members are in the midst of action, the ram, as well as the ox and boar, are in quiet and pensive moments. They are in moments where they are not solely working toward goals, but where they exist within a moving world. Howell illustrates this scene beautifully in another striking artistic highlights, and Laiho's coloring work is able to keep the general atmosphere as bright as it is in the better-lit environments while contrasting the night with the vivid sky lanterns.

The amount of lore that The Mighty Zodiac #1 has to wade through leaves very little room for character development, which is the biggest flaw with the story. Things are more fantastical in this world than most readers might be familiar with, and while Howell's art might do the lion's share of world building, Torres still needs to deliver the basic framework that this world is built on. Unless the next few issues do some serious work in assigning very specific personalities to these characters, they run the risk of being identified solely by their species and becoming relatively interchangeable. If the narrative decides to pursue itself as a myth, then this is fine as long as the sense of wonder and awe are still present, but if this unfolds as a character-driven fantasy story, these characters need to be more distinguishable. Unless a younger reader has a predisposition towards the culture depicted, it may be hard for them to engage without clearly defined characters to root for, and it may be difficult for an older reader to care about the conflict. If Torres can juggle the large cast of over twelve characters evenly, this can be a really rewarding experience, but that's not going to be easy.

Credit: Darby Pop

Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rises #1
Written by Shannon Lee and Jeff Kline
Art by Brandon McKinney and Zac Atkinson
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Darby Pop
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Since Bruce Lee’s death in 1973 at the age of 32, various conspiracy theories have risen up concerning the manner of his death. None of these hold any factual sway, but what is unquestionable is the size of the legacy that the martial artist and actor left behind, including a score of imitators and an all-too-brief collection of revered films. While versions of the Bruce Lee persona have turned up in various media over the years, including Marvel imprint Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, this comic represents something of an ‘official’ Bruce Lee outing, co-written by Lee’s daughter Shannon and Jeff Kline.

Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rises presents as a mystery, awakening Bruce Lee in the present without any knowledge of what has happened to him in the 40 years prior, or even any knowledge of his own fame. Remaining the same age as he did in the 1970s, the book wastes no time in setting out the loose parameters of this familiar story archetype, teaming Lee with former friend and private investigator Joe Toomey, along with a pair of enthusiastic teenagers who help him uncover the circumstances of his death and untimely resurrection.

Despite pushing the “fish out of water” gags as far as they can go, there’s a lot of genuinely good-natured humor in Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rises. The forced set-up is exactly the kind of scenario one would expect from a piece of media wherein the hero plays himself, and part of the charm of this first issue is in its adherence to type. Incredibly earnest, the book appears to have no hidden agendas beyond reintroducing Bruce Lee to modern audiences. Yet it’s his persona that Lee and Kline want to convey, rather than simply bombarding us with a plethora of knowing references to his films. There’s some of them in there, of course, but sandwiched between numerous shadow conspiracies.

McKinney is no stranger in bringing pop cultural icons to life, with work on Aliens, Child’s Play and Godzilla found deep in his CV. Here, the characters are the focus, with backgrounds dropping out completely during action sequences in lieu of brightly colored speed lines. Like the story, the rendering of Bruce Lee himself takes a mostly reverential tone, but lends itself towards the cartoony on the supporting players.

Like the character of Joe Toomey, Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rises is an affable throwback to the 1970s. Bruce Lee fans who also read comic books will actually find more it has more common with the comedic/espionage plotting of a Jackie Chan classic, but the combination mostly works. While this probably would have worked better as an extended one-shot, the mystery around Lee’s return and the group behind it provides enough mystery to warrant at least a second look.

Similar content
Twitter activity