Best Shots Advance Reviews: GOD COUNTRY #3, STAR TREK: DEVIATIONS #1

IDW Publishing March 2017 cover
Credit: IDW Publishing

What's new, 'Rama Readers? We'll tell you what's new - a pair of reviews of some of this week's upcoming releases, both on shelves this Wednesday. I'm your Best Shots host, Dauntless David Pepose, and this week I'm kicking things off with a review of Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw's must-read God Country #3.

Credit: Image Comics

God Country #3
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Geoff Shaw and Jason Wordie
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Wielding poignant characterization and star-spanning spectacle with equal aplomb, God Country continues to be a cut above the rest with its third issue. Writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw have neatly positioned a family drama in the midst of crazy Kirby-esque action, yielding a formula for success that hasn't slowed down yet.

Deep at the heart of this story isn't just the mystery behind Valofax, a sentient sword that represents blades from across time and space — it also marks the return of a patriarch thought long-gone from the ravages of dementia, and the unearthing of the emotional wreckage that his family had thought was buried alongside their hope. Emmett Quinlon was, for all intents and purposes, dead to his son Roy — but now that his mind and body have been revitalized by the mystical sword, Cates digs into some meaty territory as Roy and his wife Janey struggle with the guilt they had about wanting to leave him, and whether or not they somehow brought about this new cosmic conflagration to their lives. It's all the pain of Alzheimer's, but played in reverse — particularly since Cates has already made it clear that if Emmett ever surrendered Valofax, he'd quickly revert back to his dangerously unhinged self.

But even with this impossible choice in the Quinlons' hands, Cates ups the stakes further by making Valofax a troublesome item to associate with — as Cates says on the very first page, this isn't a time for catching up, it's a time for battening down the hatches. This is how Cates is able to have his cake and eat it, too — it's impressive to see him switch gears between quiet family moments and a sudden battle between shadow vampires and floating blades from every corner of the house. Cates doesn't reinvent the wheel with his fight pacing, letting big moments speak for themselves.

Of course, this might not have played out this well if Geoff Shaw and Jason Wordie weren't on the art. Shaw's raw and scratchy style reminds me of Sean Murphy with Jerome Opena's sense of composition and Kelley Jones's use of shadow, with the characters all seemingly imperfect and well-worn by design. While there's still the occasional rough edge with the expression work (the daughter Dee at one point looks almost elderly in one close-up panel), by and large there's a moodiness to all these pages signaling the darkness yet to come. When the action does heat up, Shaw really knocks out some of his fight choreography, especially a panel of Emmett launching himself towards a foe.

Like the Quinlons themselves, there's not a ton of flashiness to God Country #3 — instead, there's a solidness and relatability to this book (despite the space monsters) that gives the narrative some weight even despite the no-frills plotting. There's something special about God Country, and while it remains to be seen if this story can maintain its edge moving forward, for now this is a series you shouldn't ignore.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Star Trek: Deviations #1
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Josh Hood and Jason Lewis
Lettering by AndWorld Design
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

In mainstream Star Trek continuity, The United Federation of Planets is a peacekeeping force made up of men and women across all races and creeds and dedicated to exploration and defense of the stars.

This is not the mainstream Star Trek universe.

In the harrowing second installment of IDW’s latest batch of Deviations, writer Donny Cates chooses a very specific place to deviate, and from that pocket universe comes a powerful story of hope and perseverance in the face of immeasurably cruel odds. Targeting both heart and ambition, Cates’s aim is true and propulsive as he takes the stodgy crew of The Next Generation and transforms them into scrappy freedom fighters pulling one final raid against the might of the Romulan Empire.

The one-shot’s art team, penciler Josh Hood and colorist Jason Lewis, also acquit themselves admirably throughout the issue, keeping pace with Cates’ pointed script. The pair deliver interesting new spins on the looks and personalities of Riker, Geordi, Worf and Troi as they navigate this new and dangerous timeline. Standing bold as brass and armed with a richly prescient narrative throughline, Star Trek Deviations keeps IDW’s latest streak of alternate histories in the win column.

After the trademark recap of the prime timeline of the franchise, Donny Cates puts us right into the thick of this new Romulan-controlled Earth. In this one-shot the Romulans made first contact with Earth instead of the Vulcans, and instantly went about the work of subjugating the planet and throwing its “primitive” populace into brutal prison camps.

We are never specifically told just how long Riker and his crew have been fighting the Romulans, but we don’t need to know. Cates, Hood and Lewis tell the audience exactly what they need to know in the fumbling, but passionate narration from Riker and in the barren, dusty backgrounds filled with silently foreboding Warbirds gliding through the inky skies.

Cates also doesn’t allow the reader to keep their bearings long as the crew’s raid of a Romulan prison dominates most of the forward action of his script. But while the issue captures the rollicking spirit of the “Original Series,” Cates also makes stirring use of the more philosophical and emotional storytelling that TNG provided.

Throughout the issue Cates tempers the action of the raid with heartfelt missives in Riker’s captions about hope and humanity rising to meet the universe with an open mind and heart. If that sounds jarring, it isn’t, because as the writer explains in his post-script essay to the story, it was all about showing the reason they are fighting instead of just delivering an empty, grimdark lark through an alternate canon. Cates has a very specific thesis here and its one that really puts this one-shot over, taking it from fun diversion to a thrilling distillation of everything Star Trek can be.

And putting the “thrill” in “thrilling” are Josh Hood and Jason Lewis. Throwing themselves into this new Romulan dominated world, Hood and Lewis keep the pages looking as screen accurate as possible while still being unafraid to take a few risks when it comes to design and set piece blocking. Starting with a tense chase between our heroes and two Romulan Scorpion fighters, Hood and Lewis fill the page with muted, coppery colors and character focused movement beats in order to showcase their new looks properly. The pair also add a nice bit of rising action that simmers throughout the story. As our heroes finally break into the prison complex (thanks to the first of many badass displays from this reality’s Troi), Hood and Lewis downshift into harsh klaxon blaring reds and Kirby Krackle beams of green as the guards fire disruptor pistols at them through tight hallways. Melding scrappy action and bold design choices, Josh Hood and Jason Lewis stand as artistic heroes of this new action oriented timeline.

IDW and its Deviations one-shots now stand 2-0 thanks to Star Trek Deviations. Donny Cates, Jason Lewis, and Josh Hood completely tear down the history of Trek and in its place build a stirring, action-packed tribute to the core ideals and aspirations of the Federation as well as what it represents to both the characters and the fans that love it. This one-shot could have coasted on its killer central idea, but instead it became something more, just like franchise from which it takes its name.

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