Best Shots Advance Reviews: LUMBERJANES / GOTHAM ACADEMY #1, MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL #1, WEAVERS #2

"Weavers #2" cover
Credit: BOOM! Studios
Credit: BOOM! Studios / DC Comics

Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy #1
Written by Chynna Clugston Flores
Art by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Maddi Gonzales and Whitney Cogar
Lettering by Warren Montgomery
Published by BOOM! Studios and DC Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

What the junk! DC and BOOM! Studios’ surprise crossover event has been one of the more anticipated miniseries of the summer, and Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy #1 delivers on the promise of its playful premise. Writer Chyna Clugston Flores (Blue Monday) perfectly captures the wit and supernatural charm of both series, proving why Gotham Academy’s Detective Club are a perfect complement to the scouts of Miss Quinzella’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types.

Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy #1 brings Olive, Maps, and the gang into the woods of Miss Quinzella’s in search of the missing Professor MacPherson just as the Lumberjanes have entered the forest in search of their own missing camp director Jen. After a comedy of errors leaves the gang on the wrong side of a property line facing down three oversized, skull-headed ghouls, they do what any Lumberjane or spunky kid from Gotham would do in the face of ghastly danger: team up to solve the mystery, and save their friends.

As young adult-oriented ensemble books, Lumberjanes and Gotham Academy could have proven to be difficult to blend together for precisely the reasons that make them such an excellent fit. The combined casts give the Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy #1 team a total core cast of eleven characters, including the Lumberjanes’ counsellor Jen. But Clugston Flores manages to maintain each character’s unique voice, from Pomeline’s practiced ennui to April’s expert puns, and she and penciller Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (a Lumberjanes veteran) maintain a written and visual pace that keeps the issue from getting too crowded with either bodies in panels or expository dialogue.

Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s distinctive style lacks some of the immediate drama of Gotham Academy’s Victorian Gothic vibe, but she makes the Detective Club look right at home with the Lumberjanes and does an excellent job capturing subtle facial expressions that help maintain each character’s distinct personality even in crowded panels. Inker Maddi Gonzales and colorist Whitney Cogar make the woods seem both foreboding and homey all at once, capturing colors reminiscent of the moment dusk turns to darkness, when the sounds of the woods around your house turn from cheery thoughts of birds and deer towards spookier, unknown beasties lurking in the night. Moments like Maps cheering on the metaphorical 20 Ripley rolled after kicking a skull-headed ghoul in the head keeps the book too fun to be properly frightening, but much like many issues of both series, the ambient eeriness of the artwork keeps each page on the fun side of scary in a way well-suited to both titles.

The Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy team have done a stellar job of bringing two of the best young adult titles out their together in a way that stays true to the spirit of both. Avid fans of both series will undoubtedly find it delightful, but it’s a perfect introduction for new readers of both titles as well, giving them an authentic Lumberjanes or Gotham Academy experience that will hold up when they begin reading either series for the first time.

With two large casts and disparate artistic styles to juggle, Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy #1 could easily have gotten too bogged down in exposition and introductions to set the stage for a compelling story, but the entire creative team has produced a delightful and unexpected crossover that exceeds even the high expectations many fans may have had since the title’s announcement in March. Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy is a must-read for fans of either book, and, with any luck, its success will set the stage for similar collaborations between BOOM! and DC in the future.

Credit: Image Comics

Midnight of the Soul #1
Written by Howard Chaykin
Art by Howard Chaykin and Jesus Aburtov
Lettering by Ken Bruzenak
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

One of Howard Chaykin’s most defining features is scratching under the surface of polite society. Whether it is the seediness of the Black Kiss series or the noir of the television industry in his art for Satellite Sam, Chaykin is adept at picking apart the American Dream, particularly in the mid-twentieth century era that he is so firmly influenced by. With his latest mini-series, Chaykin returns to the 1950s, if he ever truly left them, for another tale that instantly smacks of sex and betrayal.

In some ways, Midnight of the Soul covers some familiar ground for Chaykin. Like American Century’s Harry Block, Joel Breakstone is a World War II veteran who regularly hits the booze to cope with his demons. Renting a room in a house he sold to feed his addiction, his five year attempt at being a writer has met with nothing but rejection and an intimate knowledge of what the bottom of a bottle looks like. Yet when he makes a discovery that rocks his world, he is kicked into action.

There may be similarities to Chaykin’s previous outings, including the discovery of incriminating photos that sharply remind us of Satellite Sam, but in a book that starts by talking about parallel lines, these preexisting elements may not be mere coincidence. Joel is a writer, and one can’t help but draw parallels with the authors’ experience. Yet all the elements of a classic Chaykin story are there: the dame in trouble with a scandalous secret, the violent alcoholic hero, and a murderous mystery to be solved.

Chaykin visually conveys those parallel lines from the first panels, structuring his pages into grids consisting of eight elongated panels, segueing between 1950s America and the camps he helped liberate at Auschwitz. His lantern-jawed lead comes complete with downtrodden face and a kiss-curl hairstyle, like a boozier version of Superman. Yet what strikes home after a few pages is the use of color, certainly not something often associated with Chaykin’s work in noir. It’s not the first time, of course, that Chaykin’s work has been in color, but given the period and genre that he is playing with, Jesus Aburtov’s colors add a whole new dimension to the art, from ruby red lips to the “BLAM” of a gunshot wound to the head.

Midnight of the Soul is a mystery, of course, with the catalyst being the ubiquitous girl in trouble. Yet the mystery of her nocturnal activities and the cause of her trouble is almost second to the mystery of where the parallel threads of Joel’s life intersect, from the frequent flashbacks to the War through to his anger over the developments in this issue. It’s a puzzle worth pondering, and it will be curious to see how it unfolds as Chaykin continues to level his gaze at a very particular period in American history.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Weavers #2
Written by Simon Spurrier
Art by Dylan Burnett and Triona Farrell
Lettering by Jim Campbell
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

In just the span of two pages, the world of Weavers expands and becomes a much more satisfying and interesting series. While the first issue was all about establishing lead character Sid and his acclimation into this supernaturally infused world of crime, issue two continues his journey into breaking bad, along with a hefty dose of coy exposition concerning the origins of the spider that now resides in his head.

Simon Spurrier’s gift for snappy dialogue is present throughout Weavers #2, but while he keeps the characters bantering while expanding his mythos, he also dumps a metric ton of tension on the reader with Sid and scene-stealer Frankie’s investigation into the bar bombing that inducted Sid into their ranks. Complicating things further is Pneema, Mr. Weaver’s intensely off-limits “girlfriend,” who administers another test of Sid’s loyalty to his new family. Accompanied by dynamic pencils and vivacious tonally correct colors from Dylan Burnett and Triona Farrell respectively, Spurrier takes us deeper into the world of Weavers with a second installment that keeps you laughing, keeps you guessing, and keeps you planted firmly on the edge of your seat.

Opening with a shakedown gone wrong, Sid is quickly put through another trial by fire, facing down angry Russians with nothing but his unwieldy powers and the increasingly loud voice in his head to guide him. Spurrier, having set up the hierarchy of the Weavers crime syndicate, their enemies, and Sid’s new role in his newfound “family” in the last issue, spends most of this second issue focused on Sid himself, the oncoming war with the Russians (though only in passing), and his struggle to understand the spider inside him.

My main complaint with the first issue was that it just dropped us in the middle of this world where extraordinary and frankly horrific powers were just accepted by the underworld at large with little explanation aside from how powerful the Weavers were and how large their empire stretched. While that worked as a nice opening hook, that level of secrecy would prove untenable for later issues. Thankfully, Weavers #2 doesn’t keep its mystery box closed for long, and even though Spurrier isn’t giving it all up yet, he gives us enough to make this second installment a vast improvement on the withholding debut. Best of all? He and artists Dylan Burnett and Triona Farrell do it in just two pages flat.

After the shakedown, Sid retreats to his apartment only to find Pneema and the manifestation of her powers, a swirling pair of sexy apparitions given haunting, alluring life by Burnett and Farrell, waiting for him. This, of course, another trial put forth by the upper echelons, but Spurrier, Burnett, and Farrell turn it into so much more. The stock character of sultry and duplicitous moll is one that has long since become tired and problematic in this climate of leading female characters with agency. However, Spurrier, Burnett, and Farrell subvert the expectations of what a scene and character like this is usually presented as by making Pneema the one with all the power and casting Sid as the hapless schmuck caught in her crosshairs. Pneema wields her position and understanding of the Weavers like a weapon, all while delivering intriguing and much-needed exposition.

The scene, staged fantastically by Burnett and Farrell, is a star’s turn for Pneema, elevating her from Mr. Weaver’s trophy to power player in the story. Using her ghostly power as a way to both physically move him, shoving Sid across the richly colored pink and purple colored background panel and a way to entice him into letting his guard down, also played to the hilt by Burnett and Farrell with the spirits, bed sheet white with softly glowing pink spider eyes and inked in the same pale pink, cooing and fawning over a sweating, but steadfast Sid. As she carries out her seductive task, which we later learn she was in on the whole time, adding a juicy layer of crime family internal politics to the scene, Sid takes the time to ask questions as to the origin of the spiders, to which Pneema responds with a series of “hypotheticals” involving science gone wrong, animal testing, and a lab accident leading to the first generation of Weavers; normal people who awoke to find themselves something more.

Dylan Burnett and Triona Farrell’s fantastic creature design and eye catching colors are present through much of Weavers #2, however, it is this scene that makes their work in this issue exceptional. Condensing Spurrier’s dialogue into a single, two-page splash with Pneema and Sid being the main focus on either side of the page. Between them sits tight circles and leaf shaped panels of scientists, spiders, and sleeping citizens balanced on the spindly legs of a spider who dominates the center of the page, hazy, air brush like shades of pink filling in the background. And again, this is just two pages, yet they are pages that explode the world of Weavers outward with stylish visual storytelling making the exposition look great and read much more economically than if it was just an info dump.

The rest of Weavers #2 details the tense continuation of Sid and Frankie’s investigation into the bombing that took out the family’s top agent, as well as the sudden imposing first appearance of the character spoken of in whispers across the opening issues, the enigmatic Silence; the one, as Pneema says, they send when you &%$# up. Though even without these nerve racking final scenes, Weavers #2 is a triumph of a sophomore issue that makes the most of its page count. Simon Spurrier provides strong development with this second issue, building firmly on the foundation provided by the debut. This culminates in a genre warping story that fits firmly into his wheelhouse and voice, standing as Carlito’s Way inspired counter-programming to his lyrical Cry Havoc, both containing inspired supernatural elements, razor sharp dialogue, and more than a few secrets left in their arsenals. Spurrier’s script coupled with the visuals of Dylan Burnett and Triona Farrell, who manage to throw in some truly funny business names that would make Chip Zdarsky proud among the neon, grime, and blood, take Weavers from good to great with confidence.

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