Best Shots Reviews: GAMORA #1, ARCHIE #15, TOMEI COMPLETE DELUXE EDITION

Archie Comics December 2016 cover
Credit: Archie Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Gamora #1
Written by Nicole Perlman
Art by Marco Checchetto and Andres Mossa
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Guardians of the Galaxy co-screenwriter Nicole Perlman makes her long-awaited comic book debut with Gamora #1, teaming up with former Punisher and Star Wars artist Marco Checchetto for an opener that is beautifully rendered, but one that also falls prey to the acclaimed film’s few weaknesses in characterization.

Given that she is least-defined of the five movie Guardians, it’s perhaps no surprise that despite her internal monologue, Gamora actually the most difficult character in the book to get a read on. Taking place pre-Guardians during her servitude to the galactic despot known as Thanos, Gamora is a mystery even in her own solo series - she’s the sole survivor of the Zen-Whoberians on a mission of revenge against the Badoon, but her pain never seems to ring as keenly as true motivation, nor does her hatred of her adoptive father register particularly strongly. Perlman lets the deadliest Guardian go through her paces as a trained assassin, cutting through Badoon royals like so much cannon fodder, but like the movie, Gamora seems to recognize the futility of this action sequence: “I feel no pleasure in hacking down their family tree,” she thinks.

Instead, Gamora seems to rely on characters like Thanos and Nebula as foils to draw her out, and as a result, it’s these side characters that wind up giving this book an unexpected shot in the arm. While the movie Gamora came across as a bit of a one-dimensional fierce warrior/romantic interest, Thanos and Nebula had a clear voice in the film, and Perlman winds up channeling these voices nicely here. Thanos’s unique method of parental chastisement winds up being this book’s big dramatic engine, pitting Nebula against her sister with some great zingers like, “I have one daughter already. What need have I of two?” or “You weren’t born, Nebula. You were upcycled.” But while she might be Thanos’s least-favored ward, Nebula winds up stealing the whole book from under her sister’s nose, bringing some personal stakes to the mix as she stews over Gamora, inevitably trying to kill her in hand-to-hand combat. “Do you even know my birthday?” she whines to Thanos, bringing a mix of well-earned bitterness and petulant pettiness that makes the character really pop off the page.

And speaking of popping off the page - Marco Checchetto’s artwork continues to be some of the prettiest visuals in Marvel’s catalog today, even giving the craggy features of Thanos a grandeur and scariness that makes him far more engaging than his usually overbuilt design. Checchetto’s lines remind me of the cleanliness of a Carlos Pacheco, but with a smoothness to the rendering that, coupled with Andres Mossa’s almost dream-like colors, makes every character look almost otherworldly beautiful - including the lizard-like Badoon, who unfortunately lose much of their expressiveness due to an overload of scaly detail. Yet Checchetto is occasionally limited in the same way that Perlman is in terms of characterization - while his Nebula seems to radiate with jealousy, his Gamora often feels a little too stoic to truly connect with, as she oftentimes seems to stare out into space rather than emote rage, surprise or sadness.

Who is Gamora? These are the sorts of questions of characterization are often meant to be explored in solo titles, and for a character like Gamora, it’s actually even more important to establish her personality in order to get her to stand on her own two feet (especially alongside such fully-formed voices like Star-Lord, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot). There is such a thing as playing it too cool, and that’s where the Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy currently resides - with the other Guardians each received their own robust titles ahead of next May’s sequel film, every book needs to have a solid hook in order to survive. There’s some beautiful elegance to Marco Checchetto’s linework, but if Gamora wants to truly be a cut above the rest, she’s going to have to show us she’s more than just a stone cold killer.

Credit: Archie Comics

Archie #15
Written by Mark Waid with Lori Matsumoto
Art by Joe Eisma and Andre Szymanowicz
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The Archie Andrews/Jughead Jones body-switching continues with hilariously heartfelt results in Archie #15. As Archie’s parent’s anniversary looms, writers Mark Waid and Lori Matsumoto continue Jughead’s walk on the responsible side while exploring Archie’s feelings of helplessness after Ronnie’s departure and Veronica’s ongoing war with Cheryl Blossom.

Still providing Archie with expressive, sharp-angled artwork is penciler Joe Eisma along with the steady colors of Andre Szymanowicz. Eisma’s time with the title has been short-lived but he’s made the most of his time, setting his tenure apart from the other, smoother-looking issues thanks to his blocky but tightly-staged pencils. While it isn’t exactly a true-to-form body-swapping comedy, Archie #15 still offers a delightful role reversal for the two friends along with the humor and heart that fans have come to expect from the title.

After last issue’s proclamation that he will “become Archie,” Jughead Jones quickly finds himself in over head. Reaching out to Betty, Kevin, and the rest of Riverdale High, Juggy attempts to walk the line between affable and responsible with understandably hilarious results. The overall plot from Waid and Matsumoto has to juggle quite a few things with this fifteenth issue, but reading it, you would never know it. Both writers have to simultaneously get Archie back to his old, sunny self, deliver jokes, and put a compelling button on the battle between Veronica and Cheryl in Switzerland.

Fortunately Archie #15 is still armed with the same sharp plotting and emotional intelligence that has been a major tentpole for the series from the very start. Waid and Matsumoto’s script is packed with jokes, given life by the keen eyes of Eisma and Szymanowicz, but better still, this fifteenth issue also continues to develop the characters outward instead of keeping them static to better serve the story.

Most of the featured cast like Archie, Veronica, Jughead, and even Cheryl all get simple but sweetly deployed character moments that continue to push them beyond being just stock characters or joke machines. While this fifteenth issue isn’t exactly a deep dive into the soul of Riverdale teens, it is refreshing to see Waid and Matusmoto committed to leaving these kids a little better than they found them after each new issue.

Aiding in the overall tightness of this issue is the art team of Joe Eisma and Andre Szymanowicz. Eisma’s keen pencils have given the title a brand-new visual language since his debut with the title, but this fifteenth issue allows him to stretch his comedy muscles to great effect. Though his knack for detailing emotive and diverse teens is still on full display in Archie #15, its the silent, gag-filled page that opens the issue’s second chapter that truly steals the show.

After getting Archie’s head back in the game, Jughead tasks the youth of Riverdale to tail Archie, armed with fire extinguishers, in order to make sure his errands don’t cause into undue collateral damage in the process. Presented as a classically rigid six-panel grid, Eisma fills the page with hilariously silent vignettes of Archie being saved by his classmates from all manner of hidden calamity. It’s a simple set of panels, but it fits in well with the overall cadence of Waid and Matsumoto’s humor while also allowing Eisma to show an underused side of his visual storytelling abilities. Tied together by the steadily rich colors Andre Szymanowicz, Archie #15 continues to bear the visual standard of the series well.

Riverdale gets its own low-key Freaky Friday in Archie #15. Mark Waid and Lori Matsumoto take a novel approach to the old plot, providing a heartfelt foundation to the humorous circumstances while also taking the time to provide the coolest kids in school with more layers beyond their core identities. Along with finely detailed pencils from Joe Eisma and colors that cultivate the grounded tone of the script from Andre Szymanowicz, Archie #15 is another winning installment from a consistently entertaining book.

Credit: Junji Ito (VIZ Media)

Tomie Complete Deluxe Edition
Written by Junji Ito
Art by Junji Ito
Published by VIZ Media
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Tomie is this beautiful creature that will seemingly breeze into your life until she drives you to murder, madness or both. Under that beauty, Junji Ito’s monster (and make no mistake about it, Tomie is a monster book) seduces and repulses. There’s no such thing as death for it, because every hacked limb produces another, identical monster. Each follicle of hair and every drop of blood contains the Tomie virus, infecting its victims and turning countless young girls and women into the next beautiful Tomie, spreading its obsessive insanity through Japan. Tomie shows the horror of obsession and the lives it ruins. The monster is a monster and Ito never tries to explain it or give it a reason. He just knows that the monster is out there.

Ito introduces Tomie as a schoolgirl whom her classmates kill and dismember, hiding her parts around their town. After a few days of the mystery of a missing girl takes over the town, Tomie shows back up at school, as if nothing ever happened. When Ito began Tomie in 1987, his story of high school kids only hinted at the depths of the horror that he would explore for over a decade in these stories. Ito would develop the formula over the course of many short stories. That first story about the death and return of Tomie seems quaint by the time you get to the 700th page of this massive collection. The story of obsession sets the formula for how Tomie would infest and manipulate innocent lives that Ito himself would manipulate the formula over and over again to produce this massive body of ever-increasing horror and paranoia.

In Tomie, as well as in his Uzamaki and Gyo, Ito explores the horror of the natural world but it is a natural world that is skewed towards its own worst impulses. Tomie’s focus is on the natural beauty of the character. Ito never gives this evil an origin. There’s no explanation of Tomie’s hold over the lovers and acolytes. It’s just something about this dark-haired girl, with a single birthmark beneath her left eye, that worms its way into the lives of men, women, boys and girls that shifts the centers of their lives to focus solely on her. It drives good people to murder. But in those other books, Ito’s horror is supernatural; it’s unnatural weather and creatures who invade our lives. In Tomie, it’s a girl that leads to insanity and destruction.

Most of the time, Tomie is depicted as a beautiful girl but as in all things, that beauty is only skin deep. And Ito takes that old cliche quite seriously as when we see the true monster, Ito takes delight in showing her almost as a doll out of our worst nightmares. At its least unsettling moments, Tomie is shown with a second, twisted and deformed face protruding from some part of her body. At her worst, the monster is shown as an ugly conglomeration of body parts that appear more melted than put together. Ito’s imagination produces artwork that lulls us with its depictions of normal life and then shocks us with a page turn to some horrible image that you can’t unsee once you’ve seen it.

Tomie walks through this world that Ito has set up, demanding caviar and foie gras from her supplicants. This story is set up as the horror of the pretty, stuck-up girl that just upends everything for her own desires and amusement. The only characteristics she’s given can also double as her motives; she’s pretty and she’s vain. As Ito builds each short story around this creature’s next conquest, Tomie never changes. The impetus for all of this horror remains the Macguffin for all of it. This monstrous girl is always the object of Ito’s stories but never the subject of it. Instead, Ito’s stories are about the lives that are destroyed by her. It’s not the caviar and foie gras but the ruined homes and lives that really feed and drive Ito’s own obsessions about Tomie.

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