Best Shots Advance Reviews: HADRIAN'S WALL #1, DOCTOR WHO: THIRD DOCTOR #1, THE FOREVERS #1

"Doctor Who: The Third Doctor #1" cover by Josh Burns
Credit: Josh Burns (Titan Comics)
Credit: Image Comics

Hadrian’s Wall #1
Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel
Art by Rod Reis
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The structure that Hadrian’s Wall derives its name from the ancient fortifications in what is now the United Kingdom, marking the northern limit of the Roman Empire. In the C.O.W.L. creative team’s latest outing, writers Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel join forces once again with artist Rod Reis to transplant to moniker into a futuristic space vessel. An intriguing concept that blends genres, its one of the more striking debuts in Image Comics’s already strong line-up of sci-fi outings over the last few years.

In an alternate future where the Cold War led to nuclear detonations in the 1980s, tensions are heating up between Earth and its colony on Theta. Opening with its own 'Rosebud' moment, Edward Madigan is killed when his space suit vents. Pill popping former investigator Simon is called in by an old colleague to investigate the death, knowing full well that Simon has a complicated history with both the victim and his wife. So he heads to the closed room murder mystery in space aboard the titular exploratory vessel, where company interests dictate a broader set of puzzles.

While thematically similar to other comic books that have preceded it, Hadrian’s Wall has a unique blend of 1980s neo-noir and hard-boiled detective fiction. Simon is a classic Philip Marlowe type, albeit rung through the ringer a few more times and spat out looking disarmingly clean and deceptively together. It’s all surface level, just like the clues we are given so far, with every indication that his dependency issues are only a few shades away from sending him down the deep end. What Higgins and Siegel are slyly setting up here is not just a detective yarn, but a race against the clock.

Rod Reis’ art is nothing short of gorgeous, and the three-page visually driven opening sets the tone of the level of detail Reis strives for and achieves in every panel of this issue. There’s a delicate beauty to the violence of watching a man’s helmet shatter in deep space, one that is contrasted with the Blade Runner-inspired Seattle of 2065. Figures are carefully crafted in the same kind of heightened realism common to Phil Noto’s work, but nothing is as impressive as the double-page spread of the ship from which the title derives its name. Perhaps the single most important element to Reis’ art is the lighting, an essential ingredient when dealing with noir, and here it is used as both a subtle indicator of mood or a blunt object in flashbacks.

Hadrian’s Wall is an arresting new series from an established team, one that should hook in readers conclusive from the first panel. While much of the basic narrative structure and style are borrowed from a clear set of influences, they come together in such a meticulously crafted way as to form something new and exciting. This is one book that demands an immediate follow up, and if this first issue is any indication, the month-long wait between issues is going to be a difficult.

Credit: Titan Comics / BBC

Doctor Who: The Third Doctor #1
Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Christopher Jones and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Paul Cornell returns to Titan Comics with the rousing Doctor Who: The Third Doctor #1. Recently released from his earthly exile, Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, along with his companions Jo Grant and the Brigadier, face a horde of self-replicating robots bent on destruction. Cornell, a steady hand at the TARDIS controls, adapts well to the Third Doctor’s voice and to the kind of stories that defined his tenure. Artist Christopher Jones, along with colorist Hi-Fi, also acquit themselves to the idyllic and stylish world of the Third Doctor while keeping the cast and action very much in the confines of the visuals of the original serials. With plenty of ’60s sci-fi action and a positively giddy cliffhanger, Doctor Who: The Third Doctor #1 is a rollicking start to Titan Comics’ latest Doctor Who romp.

Though his TARDIS has been repaired and his way to the stars open again, the Third Doctor is still needed on Earth and its here that we begin our story. Paul Cornell is a writer that always displays a firm grip on the kind of serialized storytelling that Doctor Who made great use of, and this first issue is no different. Packed with well-researched characterizations, Cornell starts this issue off with a tense stand off with a horde of robots, though he doesn’t give much away in terms of his overall plot.

But while he may be playing coy with his larger schemes in this issue, it is still full of teasing hints as to the direction of the series, bolstered by his recognizable take on the main cast. Cornell’s Third Doctor is just as dashing and wry as his television counterpart as he holds court in his club in the middle of a chess game and rushes into the thick of things when called upon. While the Doctor is our focal point in this debut, Cornell also gives equal attention to his companions. Here, Jo Grant is every bit the eager, loyal assistant she was in the old serials, and the Brigadier is still the droll military man fans fell in love with in the first place. Though the action of the first issue is mainly relegated to the sole action sequence, Cornell’s handle on character and the tone of the old serials makes The Third Doctor #1 a richly entertaining classic Who experience.

And speaking of rich, artist Christopher Jones turns in some very richly rendered panels all throughout this debut issue backed by the vibrant colors of Hi-Fi. Much like Cornell, Jones very much understands the personalities of the cast and that understanding shines through in his artwork. From the exaggerated facial expressions of the Doctor to the stoicism of the Brigadier and the warmly coy smiles of Jo Grant, Jones’ take on the cast not only keeps in tone with the story, but perfectly translates to the page the performances of all involved.

Though their take on the cast comes across well, Jones and Hi-Fi also deliver quite the spectacle with the issue’s main set piece. Framed in wide panels to allow readers to soak in the sumptuous colors of Hi-Fi, Jones opts for the loud-quiet-loud approach to the scene, opening with a panel-dominating explosion as the Doctor approaches only to downshift into character focused blocking then kick back up into action once the robots make their laser firing advance on our heroes. It is a nifty bit of showmanship from Jones and Hi-Fi and one that shows that they are more than capable of delivering action movie thrills along with accurate character models.

While light on plot Doctor Who: The Third Doctor #1 is a tonally perfect and kinetic start to Titan Comics’ newest Classic Who series. Paul Cornell adds another incarnation of the famous Time Lord to his growing collection with a fast-paced first issue with huge implications for the rest of the series. Artists Christopher Jones and Hi-Fi keep pace with Cornell, keeping the visuals just as in tone with the classic series as Cornell’s script. Though the stars await the Doctor, The Third Doctor #1 shows that there is plenty of adventure to be found on planet Earth.

Credit: Black Mask Studios

The Forevers #1
Written by Curt Pires
Art by Eric Pfeiffer
Lettering by Colin Bell
Published by Black Mask Studios
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Curt Pires’ career has been marked with books that have strong central concepts that get tied up somewhere in the execution. The Forevers is another fairly straightforward murder mystery about seven friends who use black magic to attain fame and stardom and must deal with the consequences when someone starts killing them off. Right off the bat, it sounds like something that you could easily find sharing the shelf with books like Wicked + Divine or Deadly Class, but the edge that makes those books so urgent isn’t present. That’s partly due to artist Eric Pfeiffer’s stagnant photorealism and Pires’ flat characterization.

The concept is expanded by the idea that the members of the pact get stronger when one of them dies. But that idea isn’t actually present in the text. It’s only in the solicit copy and present in the backmatter. Pires fails to put the idea in the first issue of the book, and subsequently squelches some of the potential mystery by telling us that one of the members of the pact is killing the rest of them. Obviously, that could be a red herring, but if we weren’t given that information, there’s greater potential for a more entertaining mystery.

Compounding that problem is that Pires doesn’t give his character much in the way of personality. We meet them straight away. We get faces and names and then we immediately jump 10 years into the future. The narrative structure doesn’t flow very well. It feels like the reader has to struggle to play catch up with the story. Some of the characters get fleshed out, but just barely. We get to know a couple of the faces from the opening scene as washed-up rock star Jamie Ashby, his ex-girlfriend Kate Sage, and famous actress Daisy Cates. The characters are intent on keeping their secret, but Pires doesn’t give the reader any reason to really care about their plight. They’re vacuous and self-absorbed and the banality of their lives isn’t all that entertaining. Even as one of them meets their demise, it’s hard to have any reaction except to cringe at the brutality of it.

Eric Pfeiffer’s artwork looks competent on the surface, but it feels so heavily referenced that it’s almost antiseptic. Pfeiffer’s concert scene looks ripped straight from screens of shots of Blur’s Damon Albarn or LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy’s live performances. The two characters at the end bear more than a passing resemblance to Idris Elba and Anthony Hopkins to the point where it can completely take you out of the book. At its worst, Pfeiffer's work looks like he threw Photoshop filters over actual photographs. There is little fluidity. There is no motion. Characters are posed and stagnant. There's an attempt to tie scenes together through the use of color, and I give the artist credit for doing a decent job of creating the dark overtones that the script suggests especially as the book progresses. But even towards the end as that mood becomes more apparent, there’s the very odd artistic decision to split a page in half with a very poorly rendered syringe. Much like the script, the art is fighting against itself.

I like the themes that Pires has worked with in the past and the ones that he seems to want to explore here. But this is a disjointed attempted at making some sort of statement. Is is decrying fame? Does it even want to? If ruminations on fame are essential to the book, the, uh, “cameos” (to put it lightly) at the end ring even more hollow. Pfeiffer’s art is so referential that it feels manufactured and cold. When fans buy comic books, they buy it for the medium that it comes in just as much as for the story that’s contained within those pages. Pires and Pfeiffer fail to use the medium to their advantage, and unfortunately only succeed in delivering a product that feels like an imitation of titles that tread similar territory.

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