Best Shots Advance Reviews: LEGACY OF LUTHER STRODE #6, DOCTOR WHO: TWELFTH DOCTOR #2.6, More

"Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #2.6" cover
Credit: Titan Comics
Credit: Image omics

The Legacy of Luther Strode #6
Written by Justin Jordan
Art by Tradd Moore and Felipe Sobreiro
Lettering by Fonografiks
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

This is it — not just the battle for the ages, the final showdown against the homicidal super-killer Cain.

This is also the end for Luther Strode.

The Legacy of Luther Strode #6 marks the end of a five-year journey for Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore, two talents who blew up after the premiere of 2011’s The Strange Talent of Luther Strode. This has been an important book largely for the careers that came from it, and it actually remains largely the same as when it first began — while as a conclusion this final issue feels a little surface-level, as an off-the-wall, no-holds-barred beat-‘em-up of an issue, it absolutely still delivers.

While the copious amounts of blood might trick you into thinking this was a horror-style book, Tradd Moore’s final issue with this book shows that this is a cranked-to-11 type of martial arts kind of book, with Luther Strode throwing everything and the kitchen sink at his nigh-unbeatable adversary. As Luther Strode has continued, it’s remarkable to see how fully formed Moore was an artist even when this series began — his style remains as fluid and dynamic as it was back in 2011, which is kind of remarkable given he had no professional credits to his name at the time.

Instead, while Moore hasn’t changed much on a craft level, he’s definitely been playing around with his execution — while his characters are coated in Quentin Tarantino levels of blood, you really get a sense of the strength Strode and Cain are operating under, as normal, human characters go flying like weightless ragdolls against the sheer speed and force of these titans. The gridded room literally warps and shifts and bubbles around the power of Cain’s blows, and that sort of liquidity does test the limits of your disbelief, but in an exciting Hong Kong wire fu movie sort of way. I said this when the book first came out, but the Luther Strode series would absolutely not have blown up the same way if a superstar like Moore wasn’t involved, and honestly, this finale does feel much like the same way.

Justin Jordan, meanwhile, I think might not get nearly enough credit as far as the work that’s gone into choreographing and pacing out this series. There are plenty of excellent bits that he’s come up with here, like Luther accidentally sidelining his friends when he cuts a speeding dagger in half. As a story, though, Luther Strode has never been the deepest of narratives, and while Jordan has continued to hone those sorts of themes and plots in his other works, there is something that feels a little lightweight amongst all this exciting carnage. There’s a bit of a theme dropped in amongst the fisticuffs about being the best person you can be — ultimately what the Charles Atlas-esque Hercules Method from the first series promised upon but never delivered — but it does feel a bit like window-dressing, a pretense to show off some exciting artwork. (Thankfully, Jordan’s able to deliver on that score, having teamed up with a find like Moore.)

Ultimately, by the end of the day, The Legacy of Luther Strode ends cleanly — perhaps even a little abruptly — but the character’s legacy will still remain, with two leading voices now putting their freshman series to rest. As a whole, I don’t know if this series will ever be as deep as it could have been, relying so much on Moore’s astonishing artwork — in certain ways, it reminds me of an extended version of the ultra-violent scenes that would pop up from time to time in Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley’s Invincible. While the storyline might not be the most memorable, as a piece of exciting artwork, there’s still a lot to like about this over-the-top, action-packed finale.

Credit: Titan Comics

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #2.6
Written by George Mann
Art by Mariano Laclaustra, Carlos Cabrera and Thiago Riberio
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The departure of a companion is always a bittersweet, yet momentous affair for Doctor Who. But, while we will have to wait until 2017 to see exactly what Pearl Mackie’s Bill brings to the TARDIS on TV, Titan Comics’ The Twelfth Doctor #2.6 uses Clara Oswald’s exit as a springboard for a fun new jumping on point, introducing comic readers to a new comic exclusive companion. Traveling alone again, the Doctor finds himself embroiled in a deadly conspiracy aboard a vast space station called the Twist, dragging along Hattie, the bass player for a futuristic punk band, as well as his flash new sonic screwdriver, making its comic debut. Stocked with character building and written with new readers in mind, Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #2.6 is a brisk and quick witted entry point for new readers as well as a solid first installment of the newest arc in Titan’s already strong Doctor Who offerings.

Opening in the thick of a mosh pit, The Twelfth Doctor #2.6 finds the Doctor soaking in his one of his favorite punk bands and keeping up with the youngsters in a way that only the rebel Time Lord could. However, like most things involving the Doctor, things are not as they appear. After the show, the Doctor meets Hattie, his eventual new companion, though it isn’t exactly a smooth first meeting.

Veteran Who writer George Mann doesn’t take the easy road with Hattie, in that their first encounter isn’t exactly a meet cute or some sort of puzzle for the Doctor to solve, like Rose or Clara. Instead, Mann allows Hattie and the Doctor to bond over their shared punk sensibilities, their love of vintage instruments, as well as revealing that the Doctor is just an outright fan of Hattie and her band. The Doctor’s love of vintage rock/punk and loud guitars is something that has been used for comedic effect in the television show but is used to great strides here in terms of character building as well as providing a solid base for the rapport between Hattie and the Doctor. Hattie, while reluctant at first, is quickly swept up in the Doctor’s crazy world, having been unwittingly used as a distraction to allow a fleeing possible fugitive ample time to get away from the pursuing jackbooted men in black that patrol the Twist. As the Doctor states, he’s “old enough to know you never trust the men in black.” Thus, our adventure truly begins.

Though Mann is still keeping his cards close to the chest in this first installment, the teasing hints of a government cover up gripping the Twist as well as threading a good old fashioned murder mystery into the center of this story provide a good hook for this new jumping on point. Aided by authentic characterizations, this issue is exactly what makes Doctor Whoso appealing. I have often said that one of the great things about this property is its ability to tell any story or inhabit any genre the writer wants and George Mann, a proven hand at the TARDIS controls, delivers that with this issue, along with an engaging new companion in Hattie as well as a rock solid take on Peter Capaldi’s gruff, yet magnetic take on the Time Lord . While it may take place in an otherworldly setting, the themes found within are all too human, all wrapped in a story that bends genre conventions to its benefit. Doctor Who can be whatever you want it to be and The Twelfth Doctor #2.6 is yet another example of the malleability that has kept this franchise going for so long.

As for the running, artist Mariano Laclaustra, along with the colors of Carlos Cabrera and Thiago Riberio acquit themselves well to the fast paced visuals of the property, providing smooth and very interesting character designs, as well as two gorgeous splash pages that anchor The Twelfth Doctor #2.6‘s visual storytelling. Laclaustra throws his full weight behind the intriguing designs of the Twist, both in exterior and interior, as the former is displayed in full free-floating glory in the first of the issue’s two page splashes, showing the full station hanging in deep space, appearing like a giant infinity symbol amid the inky blackness of Cabrera and Riberio’s star system.

Though he starts with a big, bold image right off the bat, Laclaustra also does some interesting things with the citizens of the Twist, modifying them with small, but eye catching bits of tech and Shadowrun like enhancements throughout their bodies, tattoos, and vintage Brit-Punk hair styles just to give each side character a little extra visual spice instead of just allowing them to be bland background crowds. Laclaustra, Cabrera, and Riberio also buck visual expectations with their second splash doubling as the issue’s main set piece. As Hattie and the Doctor are in hot pursuit of the man pursued by Twist security, the art team pulls out to reveal a very detailed map of the station, charting the paths of both sets of characters, and punctuating it with panels of the characters silently interacting. Though it may not be the most bombastic of set pieces, it is still an admirable way for the art team to break out of the mold of usual Who set pieces, while still involving the famous running that fans have come to expect.

While he may have a new companion and a new sonic screwdriver, he’s still the same old Doctor, but that doesn’t lessen the fun to be had reading his adventures. Though absent from the airwaves for the foreseeable future, The Twelfth Doctor #2.6 is the kind of story that will keep diehard Whovians satiated until his return to screens as well as roping in new readers looking to see what the fuss is all about regarding this traveling alien and his wondrous blue box. George Mann, Mariano Laclaustra, Carlos Cabrera, and Thiago Riberio deliver a rousing, yet narratively light first issue that makes up for its withholding story elements with interesting visuals and striking character work. Clara Oswald may be gone, but the Doctor, and his new comic book companion, are in good hands in her absence.

Credit: Magnetic Press

Love: The Lion
Written by Frédéric Brrémaud
Art by Federico Bertolucci
Published by Magnetic Press
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The natural world can be a cruel one, but it’s also one filled with amazing beauty. This dichotomy is one that writer Frédéric Brrémaud and artist Federico Bertolucci seek to capture in Love: The Lion. Using only Bertolucci’s artwork as the storytelling device, Love: The Lion tells a story of the African grasslands, demonstrating the effectiveness of the graphic novel form.

The tale woven by Brrémaud and Bertolucci is of a rogue male lion, transitioning between his pride as a cub and the next. Alone, and with a group of bachelor lions harassing him at every turn, he leads a tough life, and Bertolucci is able to convey the pain of his solitude through his body language. This particular lion has been through trial after trial, making it easy for the audience to latch onto him.

While the story is written by Frédéric Brrémaud, it is the artwork by Federico Bertolucci that makes Love: The Lion such a splendid read. Bertolucci blends an element of theatricality into the natural world with his artwork, using a wide palette of colors in his illustrations to bring about a sense of drama. From a purple sunrise, to the bright greens of a newfound territory, Bertolucci’s world is one of luscious beauty, which underscores the violence of the world.

The detailing in the artwork gives Bertolucci plenty of room to play with the expressions of the animals without shattering the illusion of reality. At one point, a hyena bugs its eyes out in excitement when pursuing a baboon, but the difference in expression is subtly conveyed so that the reader picks up on it subconsciously rather than being drawn to it. Bertolucci's ability to maintain the naturalistic feel of the tale while injecting these unnatural elements is what makes the story so emotionally impactful.

Bertolucci and Brrémaud also show a strong sense of storytelling, balancing the moments of brutality with humor, such as when a group of lion cubs discover that a pangolin makes for an excellent toy. These moments come across just as naturally as the more dramatic beats, and are interspersed in a way that gives the story an ebb-and-flow needed to prevent a sense of monotony. These beats also serve to highlight just how rough the protagonist of the story has it, making his journey all the more sympathetic.

If there is one criticism to be had in Bertolucci’s artwork it is that the realistic way he portrays his animals means that the differences between them are subtle. While there is some artistic license in his characters, there’s nothing so dramatic as, say, the difference between Mufasa and Scar in The Lion King. This can, albeit rarely, make it difficult to determine which animal is which at first glance. Bertolucci’s staging of the creatures in his artwork however, helps to do this, as the sense of special geography in his artwork keeps the reader tuned into which animal they are viewing.

The third entry in the Love series of graphic novels, Frédéric Brrémaud and Federico Bertolucci outdo themselves in creating a tragic story all without a printed word. Love: The Lion is proof of the exquisite power of visual storytelling. Animal aficionados especially will enjoy Brrémaud’s dramatic story, but Bertolucci’s artwork can be easily appreciated by anyone.

Credit: Darby Pop Publishing

The Living Finger #1
Written by Garth Matthams
Art by Armin Ozdic
Lettering by Garth Matthams
Published by Darby Pop Publishing
Review by Joey Edsall
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The Living Finger #1 is so high-concept that it's scary. Its "man-stumbles-upon-sentient-finger" premise makes for a quick sell of the story's novel plot and balances it with just enough strangeness to entice readers. While the artwork can be inconsistent at times, and the characterization weak, the combination of this remarkable inventive set-up and a strong use of surreal horror make for an interesting comic that manages to rise above its flatter moments.

Most of the shortcomings stem from the issue simply not knowing what to do in between the big moments. When the main character, Jason, discovers a disembodied female finger, develops a way of communicating via tapping, and names her/it Wendy, it is truly inspired and gripping to read. Armin Ozdic's art is at its best in these moments as well, often putting subtle variations to repeated panels to build suspense, and with a faded Polaroid style that assists the dark magic realist style of the narrative. It's clear that a lot of effort was put into the big moments, and while the big moments sell the comic, the sequences that connect these moments can be a letdown. From a storytelling perspective, these would be the moments where Jason can become relatable despite his strange fixation on Wendy, but unfortunately he winds up being at best undefined and at worst unlikable. Matthams has a lot of really great ideas and some remarkably disturbing and visceral scenes, it's the bridges between them that suffer. Ozdic's art is similarly less interesting in these moments, as backgrounds become less interesting and faces look less defined.

Though it is far from perfect, it does contain a moment that has unsettled me in a way that no comic book has since Korem Shadmi's In the Flesh. It is in that moment that the horror found in The Living Finger matches the artistry of David Lynch or Haruki Murakami in terms of sheer inventiveness and expanding the world to be something unknowable and terrifying. While communicating with Wendy, Jason find out that she is in need of a body, a request that occupies much of the comic's back-half. When he then asks if she had a body originally, Wendy says, via tapping, "no.” And that is when I put the issue down and had legitimate chills. It is just so creatively developed and that moment is perfectly executed. Matthams just gives that little tidbit and refuses to go into it any further. Wendy, the titular character, simply is. There is no explanation given, at least yet, for her existence. An existence which is so strange that a reader can rampantly speculate why or how Wendy exists, yet with how dark and murky that simply detail has made the world of the comic, you will never land on the answer. It is legitimately scary.

What The Living Finger #1 ultimately does is show promise and potential. Any story that either involves a writer-protagonist, or that opens with the protagonist engaged in some form of writing, tends to give me pause. I am concerned that the series will pull some sort of "none of this really happened" bait-and-switch towards the end, or that Jason will just become unlikable to the point that I simply do not care. Alternately, his negative characterization could wind up being some grand statement about the objectification of women. The opening conversation between Jason and Trevor, his more repugnant friend, sexualizes a classmate, and the literally objectified finger is clearly defined as female, so the potential to use the overall premise as a vehicle for a message is there. Or maybe it'll simply wind up being an unnerving and deeply unusual horror comic. Either way, I'm definitely going to be picking up the next issue.

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