Best Shots Advance Reviews: ROM #1, DIVINITY II #4

Valiant Entertainment July 2016 cover
Credit: Valiant Entertainment
Credit: IDW Publishing

Rom #1
Written by Christos Gage and Chris Ryall
Art by David Messina and Michele Pasta
Lettering by Shawn Lee
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

There’s a war going on, and it’s happening right underneath our noses - but IDW is bringing that conflict to the surface with Rom #1, with the iconic Space Knight taking the fight back to the insidious Dire Wraiths. Writers Christos Gage and Chris Ryall apply some clever spins to this series’ time-honored tropes, but the real superstar of this series is artist David Messina, whose fluid style smoothly brings Rom into the 21st century.

While fans will likely be picking this series up thanks to the dense mythology of the ‘80s title, Gage and Ryall quickly key new readers in on why Rom isn’t your typical alien warrior. For those who aren’t in the know, the Dire Wraiths are shapeshifters, creatures of subterfuge and black magic, and Gage and Ryall do a nice job at showing that Rom isn’t just a blunt object, but a hero based on perception — he’s a character who literally has eyes on his gauntlets, as he immediately scans and verifies the military men who swarm his crash site. But while Rom is more machine than man — “I was remade to fly unaided through space,” he says, in a particularly cool scene while he fights against infected trees — he still has a certain cockiness left over, which Gage and Ryall use to give him more layers than his shiny chrome armor might initially imply. “Well done, Wraiths. Your weapons have indeed grown more powerful,” Rom says while dispatching a foe. “Mine always were.”

But while Rom’s action sequences do eventually wind up settling in the traditional superhero mode, Gage and Ryall also makes for some fun twists with the supporting cast. The character of Darby, a soldier who goes on leave as she struggles with PTSD, is a particularly inspired choice, as she struggles to learn the difference between her own hyperawareness and her inborn sensitivity to Wraith infiltration, while also having some of her worst fears come true when Rom comes crashing down. (Indeed, it’s a shame that Gage and Ryall wrap up that throughline so quickly, as it adds such a level of humanity and drama, and does so through an angle that’s rarely touched upon in comic books.) Camilla, meanwhile, an officer who witnesses Rom in action, has some seeds planted that could lead to some interesting new stories down the line. Perhaps the craziest bit of this entire series is the surprise cliffhanger, which shows that Rom will be headed for some very fun crossovers sooner than you might think.

Yet all of this comes secondary to the real draw of this issue, which is David Messina’s art. Lushly linked by Michele Pasta, Rom is one of the best-looking IDW books I’ve seen in quite some time, evoking bits of Cully Hamner and Terry Dodson with its combination of expressive characters and dynamic action choreography. Rom in particularly is surprisingly emotive, given that his face is literally featureless — there’s a great bit of body language that Messina uses, from the shock of being grabbed by alien tendrils to the surprise when he’s swarmed by humans, eager to take pictures of his battle royale on their smartphones. While Rom gets the lion’s share of the attention, Messina also circles back with some great-looking human characters — Darby’s fear and grief come across so powerfully here, and Camilla’s fever dream featuring Rom and the Wraiths is some unnerving stuff.

What’s great about Rom #1 is that while it might initially start off looking like traditional fare, Gage, Ryall and Messina add in plenty of twists and turns to reward fans who are willing to take the leap. Given that the character of Rom looks pretty surface-level on paper, it’s a testament to this creative team that they’re able to give this character nuance on top of all the exciting action. Here’s hoping that this book can continue to impress after this successful launch.

[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this review listed the incorrect writers. We apologize for the error.]

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Divinity II #4
Written by Matt Kindt
Art by Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn and David Baron
Lettering by Dave Lanphear
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The second installment of Valiant’s Divinity trilogy comes to an emotional conclusion this week. As the two titans of Soviet power battle across a shifting reality, writer Matt Kindt has much more in mind that just a run-of-the-mill action finale, though the opening scenes provide just the right amount of action to make this a true blockbuster. Aiding in that blockbuster feel once again is the art team of penciler Trevor Hairsine, inker Ryan Winn, and colorist David Baron all of whom front-load the issue with a hard-hitting fight between the two leads and then comfortably settle into more emotional visuals. While Valiant’s “Summer of 4001 A.D.” may have grabbed all the headlines, Divinity II #4 proves that it was the real can’t-miss event for the publisher.

Picking up after last month’s time-hopping cliffhanger, Divinity II #4 finds the superpowered cosmonauts locked in a stalemate as the face of world shifts around them with each punch. While last month’s issue had a bit more visual flair in terms of panel construction, penciler Trevor Hairsine goes full Andy Kubert with this opening action sequence. Aided with the heavy inks of Ryan Winn and the flashy colors of David Baron, Hairsine’s raw kinetic energy is unleashed fully during the issue’s opening, a stark, but exciting contrast to the down to earth visuals of the issue’s back half.

Though the innovative panel construction has been shelved for the finale, Kindt’s script still gives Hairsine plenty of trippy details to chew on, specifically that of the constantly shifting Times Square. Building on the time travel thread of the previous issue, Hairsine keeps the background of Myshka and Abrams’ battle fluctuating between the New York that we know and the Soviet controlled hub of their new empire, complete with familiar ads redone in Russian script. Its a striking bit of visual trickery, but one that is well in tone with Divinity II and its world not unlike our own.

While the visuals of Divinity II once again wow, Matt Kindt’s script simultaneously brings this second installment to a concise conclusion and sets up interesting narrative threads for the upcoming Stalinverse. Though opening with an explosive set piece, Kindt quickly takes the issue into more cerebral and emotional territory once the dust has settled. Using Myshka’s past as a weapon, Abrams attempts to appeal to her sense of self as the only person on this planet who knows what she is going through. “I am simply speaking truth to your power,” Abrams pleads as they tussle.

Using a combination of his own time travel hijinks, which provides the issue an deeply emotional and unexpected ending beat and a well deployed lesson imparted by a school assignment of a Dostoyevsky novel, Abrams talks the powerhouse down, making Divinity II one of the rare occasions where intellect and feelings win out over brute force. Throughout this series, Matt Kindt has gone out of his way to make this series a much different event title than what we are used to seeing, and with Divinity II #4, he shows that while action certainly has its place in these big stories, so do pathos, kindness and ideals beyond bloodshed.

Starting as a space opera mixed with alternate history and ending as a rumination on the self and humanity’s capacity to change, Divinity II stands as a refreshing change of pace from this summer’s event malaise. Matt Kindt, Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn, and David Baron have taken would could have been an exploitive and empty sequel and delivered something much more affecting and skillful than just an empty return to what worked in the first place. Divnity II #4 shows that in the right hands, comics can do it all. They can, in equal parts, provide thrilling action and heady narrative ideas while also engage in emotional storytelling. Valiant Entertainment has had a great many wins under their belt as of late but Divinity II stands above them all with grace, energy and heart.

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