Best Shots Advance Reviews: SIXTH GUN #50, JUGHEAD #7, WEIRD DETECTIVE #1

"Jughead" preview art by Derek Charm
Credit: Derek Charm (Archie Comics)
Credit: Brian Hurtt (Oni Press)

The Sixth Gun #50
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt and Bill Crabtree
Lettering by Crank!
Published by Oni Press
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s The Sixth Gun #50 concludes one of the best and most solidstories of the past six years.The story of Drake Sinclair and Becky Moncrief, two people who have made huge sacrifices in the struggle against the six guns — each gun an individual talisman leading to the end of the world — had led them to the land of the dead for the final battle. Reunited with both long-lost friends and deadly enemies, Sinclair and Becky fight to reshape the world one final time without the influence of guns. And while Sinclair has changed the most since the start of the series, Bunn and Hurtt cast Becky as the true hero through her ultimate sacrifices in this final issue.

The battle in this issue uses primal forces and beings, bending them to mortals' wills. In the end, it’s not the guns that really matter, but the men and women who are pulled into the battle over them. In many ways, the characters of The Sixth Gun have been Bunn and Hurtt’s secret weapons, because Drake, Becky, the once-dead Billjohn, the monstrous Griselda and her son General Hume keep the story operating on a very small and personal level. Bunn and Hurtt story is built around these colorful characters that are wrapped up in these epic events but remain creatures of their own wants and desires. There are apocalyptic and creation-level tales that Bunn and Hurtt are telling but the story is still about a man who wants to break the cycle of evil he’s been a part of for centuries and the woman who may have the spirit to actually save him.

Hurtt’s art is the rocksteady foundation that The Sixth Gun #50 is built on. Since the first issue, his clear storytelling has given him to room to focus on the characters and the changes that they’ve gone through. His Sinclair and Becky of this final issue are the same characters that debuted years ago but they’ve both changed. Becky is no longer the young, naive girl that she once was, protected from a world filled with all kinds of evils, but she is now a spiritual warrior. Hurtt’s rendition of her shows how she’s grown into being her own character. Sinclair, when we met him, was looking for the power of the Six Guns but in the end, he’s looking for a peace that’s been long denied to him. Hurtt portrays hims as a character who isn’t fighting to win but is looking for salvation for himself, for the world, and for those he loves.

The Sixth Gun has shown Bunn at his best. The yarn he spins in this last issue is worthy of late nights when all the responsible adults have gone to bed and it’s time for legendary truths to be told around the fire. As the guns have become less and less important over the course of the series, his story of destruction and re-creation has become about breaking the cycle of death and rebirth. The epic narrative and themes of The Sixth Gun #50 feel so personal because this is the story of two people, Sinclair and Becky, fighting for what is right. But it’s also been about all the characters whose paths Sinclair and Becky have crossed, both the allies and the enemies. And in this final issue, each of them gets at least one perfect moment before the end that tells their story and gives them their own small finales.

For 50 issues, Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt have been telling the story about the end of one world and the race to recreate it. This seemingly endless cycle has been the sole purpose of the six mystical guns and Drake Sinclair, their human human agent of destruction and recreation time and time again. The fiftieth issue, the finale of the series, sees Drake Sinclair once again at the center of the chaos of the guns but instead of acting for the guns, Sinclair and Becky Montcrief fight to end the cycle through one final recreation of the world. Bunn and Hurtt conclude the series staying true to the characters. And while they maybe don’t give the characters the ending they want, they give them the ending that they deserve.

Credit: Derek Charm (Archie Comics)

Jughead #7
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Derek Charm
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

There’s something missing in the latest issue of Jughead, and I don’t mean just two teenagers lost in the woods. With new artist Derek Charm replacing Erika Henderson, a distinct comedic element has been lost in this issue, one that is compounded by a script that departs from Chip Zdarsky’s usual sharpness. But without its charm or zany sense of humor, this issue of Jughead feels surprisingly forgettable.

Part of the problem with this particular issue is that Zdarsky’s script feels a bit meandering — there is so much going on, but it feels less like a densely packed read, and more like the beginnings of many ideas that wind up getting little to no follow-through. Jughead’s been kicked out of his usual summer video game slump to get acquainted with the good, old-fashioned outdoors, but Zdarsky gives his hero so many detours that feel a bit forced, ranging from jumping into a pool with open sores to stumbling in on Reggie Mantle’s family reunion. Unfortunately, though, very few of these gags wind up hitting their mark, and when it comes to someone like Zdarsky, who usually can generate the quips fast and furious, that winds up turning into an example of him digging himself in deeper.

But it’s hard to understate how important the visual comedy was to this book — that is, until we lost it. Derek Charm has a cleanness to his linework that reminds me a bit of Silk’s Stacey Lee — it’s very simple but easy to follow, with some particularly clear page layouts, and I think that will open a lot of doors for him in plenty of venues. But following up on Erika Henderson proves to be too much for Charm, who isn’t able to capture the humor in Jughead or Archie’s expressions. That said, when Charm is able to really stretch himself — like a multi-panel spread of Jughead cannonballing into the pool, as swimmers around him gasp in horror at the sores on his body — he’s able to carve more of a niche out for himself. Additionally, Charm’s colors are superb, lending this book a wonderful sense of energy. Unfortunately, though, while the imagery is easy on the eyes, it just doesn’t really elicit much of a chuckle.

With high-publicity launches like Archie and Jughead (or to use another company as an example, Marvel and Star Wars), it’s not enough to come up with a solid first arc, but you need to have a contingency plan in place to keep the book sustainable. For Archie, Veronica Fish proved to be a great, edgy successor to Fiona Staples’ linework, but this first issue of Jughead seems to be a swing and a miss for both Zdarsky and his new artistic collaborator. This isn’t a bad book, per se, and there is plenty of potential to this solid crew, but if the entire arc reads like this, it isn’t going to just be Jughead without his crown — it’s going to be an emperor without his clothes.

Credit: Guiu Vilanova (Dark Horse Comics)

Weird Detective #1
Written by Fred Van Lente
Art by Guiu Vilanova, Josan Gonzalez, and Mauricio Wallace
Letters by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The concepts and creatures of H.P. Lovecraft often prove to be a tricky to make full use of. Either their inclusion can come across too dry or, even worse, a miasma of threads distilled to their lowest common denominators, culminating in a mass of tentacles, period settings and half-baked purple prose. Yet Dark Horse Comics’ Weird Detective #1 not only side-steps all those pitfalls, but delivers the best and most entertaining H.P. Lovecraftian-flavored story I’ve experienced thus far. First given life in the anthology magazine Dark Horse Presents, this debut from Fred Van Lente, Guiu Vilanova, Josan Gonzalez and Mauricio Wallace takes the strangest and most literally alien of Lovecraft’s concepts and drapes them in an often hilarious buddy cop story. Though a Lovecraftian crime story isn’t exactly the most innovative of takes, Weird Detective #1 is a well produced, intensely bizarre, and fully realized debut that is sure to please die-hard cultists and lowly H.P.L. initiates alike.

There is something off about Sebastian Greene. Once the textbook definition of average, now Detective Greene is clearing cases left and right and seemingly knows everything about a crime scene before CSI can even pick up the phone to give him their analysis. Though introduced in a very by the numbers way, writer Fred Van Lente quickly takes this debut issue down a very strange road with his protagonist. Filled throughout with almost inhuman narration, Van Lente quickly lets the readers in on Greene’s extraordinary powers, which are powerfully rendered by art team Guiu Vilanova, Josan Gonzalez, and Mauricio Wallace, along with vague hints as to why he uses them in this line of work. Though Greene and his “mission” are the focus of this debut, Van Lente also gives him a mundane yet hilarious foil in the form of Detective Sana Fayez, recently demoted Homeland Security agent who is just trying to make ends meet while trying to juggle her work with her newfound domestic “bliss” with her wife and new baby.

Fayez’s struggle, sexuality and Arabic decent is a refreshingly diverse contrast to the weirdness and whiteness of Greene, and allows Van Lente to delver some of Weird Detective #1's funniest bits; for example, Sana’s frustration with everyone explaining Greene’s off-putting persona as “just Canadian” and Sana having to bring along her new baby in a chest carrier to investigate a bloody crime scene. Sana’s race and sexual orientation is also a bold move by Van Lente, as Lovecraft was a pretty staunch bigot — most works inspired by Lovecraft’s prose tend to adhere to his largely Caucasian and straight protagonists and side-characters, along with problematic portrayals of people of color, other faiths and “deviant” sexualities. Van Lente, however, blasts all that way in one confident introduction and poises Fayez as much more than a token POC partner, giving her doubts, a sense of humor and motivations all her own.Though the buddy cop dynamic is a strong selling point for Weird Detective, it is simply the icing on a cake that is even crazier than one could possibly imagine.

Fred Van Lente, along with his art team, revel in the genre trappings, but it is their fantastic use of some of Lovecraft’s most jaw-droppingly odd concepts that makes Weird Detective #1 shine like a dark star. After taking in the debut’s first of two crime scenes, Van Lente gives us a look behind Greene’s stoic persona and sudden crime-solving acumen. Tucked away on a dingy houseboat with a sassy psychic talking cat is the real Sebastian Green, comatose, his mind transported across space and time into an unknown body and the creature — a Mi-Go, one of Lovecraft’s alien races — is taking Greene’s body for a spin in order to prevent the coming of Great Cthulu, the titanic daemon god who shall wake when the stars are right.

Setting aside the fact that Van Lente used a freaking Mi-Go, a serious deep cut in terms of the Lovecraft menagerie, as his lead character, but his use of that race’s established in-canon history of destruction at the hands of Cthulu shows a deep understanding of this universe by Van Lente. As we come to learn, Greene’s time on Earth, immersion in crime, and his studying of famous pop culture detectives to maintain his over is a means to maintain his cover and seek a way to save his race at all cost which serves as the book’s main plot; this is all wrapped in a genre that isn’t even in the same quadrant of the universe as the Cthulu mythos, making this debut an even more impressive feat. While other writers have tried to meld the concepts of Lovecraft to other more generic genres, Fred Van Lente and Weird Detective #1 make it look easy, while never losing what makes the influential works of weird fiction so singularly entertaining.

Aiding in that singular tone is the art team of Guiu Vilanova, Josan Gonzalez and Mauricio Wallace reuniting with their Conan scribe on this series, who deliver down and dirty crime story visuals and epic strange vistas and creatures with equal aplomb. Starting firmly grounded to the real world, Vilanova’s pencils lull the reader into a false sense of normalcy, aided by Gonzalez and Wallace’s flatted color choices, highlighting the everyday look of these scenes. However, when things quickly go weird, the art team is right behind Van Lente rendering Greene’s powers with simple, yet bizarre visuals like a wide Dr. Strange-like eye opening wide on the character’s foreheads and dense, hazy page layouts; the action on the material plane in the foreground and the Greene’s visions spreading out in the background, colored in heavy purples and blacks.

The art team also acquit themselves well to the title’s creature design, delivering accurate portrayals of a local capo’s Deep One goons in a way Lovecraft readers will instantly recognize, as well as other Lovecraftian classics like madness consumed homeless people, the lithely grotesque Mi-Go, and perhaps the most well known of all, Great Cthulu; beautifully rendered and darkly colored by the art team in his own double page splash in order to fully sell his scale and terrifying grandeur as he lumbers from sunken R’lyeh flanked by other mythos horrors like the multi-eyed, multi-mouthed Shoggoth, the flying worm form of Shudde M’ell, and the spindly armed sponge form of who we can only assume is Azathoth, though it could be any number of terrors from beyond the veil of space. Though these mythos creatures have unknowable forms, Vilanova, Gonzalez and Wallace do a fantastic job of presenting them in vibrant ways that stay true of Lovecraft’s sparse prose descriptions.

Weird Detective #1 does what many comics and Lovecraft adaptations have failed to do, make the seminal weird fiction balls out fun. By fleshing out their original short story into a double-sized debut issue, Van Lente, Vilanova, Gonzalez and Wallace are allowed the page count to let their plot breathe, add much needed dynamics and depth to the characters, and fully revel in the monster and supernaturally power filled weirdness of the world they have created. All the while delivering a by the numbers buddy cop story complete with banter and straight up comedic beats. Lovecraftian genre tales are a dime a dozen in popular culture, but Weird Detective #1 stands above the lot by displaying a vast knowledge of the source material along with a keen eye for funny, engaging ways to present that material.

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