Best Shots Advance Reviews: IMMORTAL BROTHERS - TALE OF THE GREEN KNIGHT #1, HELLBOY - INTO THE SILENT SEA

"Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea" preview
Credit: Gary Gianni / Dave Stewart (Dark Horse Comics)
Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Immortal Brothers: The Tale of the Green Knight #1
Written by Fred Van Lente
Art by Cary Nord, Clayton Henry, Mark Morales and Brian Reber
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Valiant Entertainment gleefully subverts a legendary Arthurian tale in Immortal Brothers: The Tale of the Green Knight. Faith has been wholloped by a case of the con crud and Archer, being the good sort that he is, decides to give her the full Princess Bride treatment and read her a story. But writer Fred Van Lente, who is returning to Archer & Armstrong to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the pair’s first appearance, doesn’t make it just any story. Taking the poetic base of the timeless poem and injecting a hefty bit of Valiant style and wit into the proceedings, Van Lente starts the company’s push of “historical” one-shots off with a cheeky fantasy adventure that brings together all three of Valiant’s premier immortals: Armstrong; the Eternal Warrior; and Ivar, Timewalker.

Artist Cary Nord, who also makes his return to the characters, with assists from Clayton Henry, inks from Mark Morales, and glassy colors from Brian Reber, all play fast and loose with the story’s shifting tones, allowing the jokes and character beats from Van Lente’s script room to breathe. The team also suppliments the wit with pulpy, slickly produced fantasy visuals in the form of various creatures of legend and angular castle hold settings. While this one-shot’s actual purpose in the new overall makeup of the Valiant Universe remains to be seen, Immortal Brothers: The Tale of the Green Knight #1 is still a fun enough romp through history with three of Valiant’s best leading men.

It is a conceit we’ve seen a few times now, a character is laid up with an illness or injury and another character looks to cheer them up with a story. But its familiarity doesn’t lessen its charm, especially in the hands of Fred Van Lente. Framing the meat of the Green Knight story with adorable interludes of Valiant’s 'It Couple,' Van Lente puts character first, which helps the one-shot’s thin plot go down a lot smoother. More than that, Valiant has some great characters, and Van Lente showcases a handful of them very well here. Bouncing from the banter filled, Dungeons and Dragons-like main plot to genuine affection in the interludes, Van Lente uses his page count wisely, showing you exactly why these characters are cool while attempting to endear them to you along the way.

Standing as the “true history by way of Armstrong” version of the Green Knight legend, Van Lente returns to his surrealist roots displayed in titles like Taskmaster and Valiant’s own Ivar, Timewalker title and plunges the titular brothers into a wild chase across the realm as they hunt for the Green Knight. Faith calls it right away, saying its a pretty balanced questing party and though its supposed importance or impact on the Valiant universe is nowhere to be seen, the journey itself is still a good time thanks to the wry voice of Fred Van Lente.

Adapting well to the shifts between surreal and sweet are the art team of Cary Nord, Clayton Henry, Mark Morales, and Brian Reber. Nord, supported by the metallic pencils of Henry, keeps his signature, blocky Phil Hester-like style here, but deploys it smartly, playing it up during the action and creature-heavy myth scenes and softening it as Archer helps Faith recover. Henry, who also employs a very unique style, melds well with Nord’s layouts, so much so that both men’s work seems indistinguishable from one another.

Inker Mark Morales and colorist Brian Reber should take a fair share of the credit for the smoothness of the pair’s finishes as Morales’ fine inks add a boldness to the legend scenes and a definition to the tenderly funny scenes in the present. Brian Reber brings it home with crystalline, eye-catching colors throughout, making the Green Knight legend look like beautiful stained glass display and bathing Faith and Archer in soft light while surrounded by colorful displays of Faith’s fandom scattered across her shelves.

Though not totally as ground-breaking as advertised, Immortal Brothers: The Tale of the Green Knight #1 still stands as worthy anniversary celebration for Archer & Armstrong and solid entry point into the fun and craziness of the Valiant ongoings. Fred Van Lente and Cary Nord return to the company’s hard-traveling heroes like prodigal sons along with a fantastic production crew in the form of Clayton Henry, Mark Morales, and Brian Reber. With plenty of charm and tabletop-inspired fun, Immortal Brothers: The Tale of the Green Knight #1 is a solid enough start to whatever Valiant has up its sleeve in the months to come.

Credit: Gary Gianni / Dave Stewart (Dark Horse Comics)

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea OGN
Written by Mike Mignola and Gary Gianni
Art by Gary Gianni and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Clem Robins
Published by Dark Horse Books
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comic books are full of visions of worlds governed by a dark imagination where even our worst dreams are grounded in a reality riddled with demons and supernatural forces. They contain nightmares and monsters but thanks to Hellboy, these stories are hardly ever about an apocalypse; they are about these nightmares’ intrusions into a normal world. Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea, written by Mignola and Gary Gianni and intricately drawn by Gianni, is a seafaring adventure about a man who is trying to escape these adventures. Taking place years before his death and descent into Hell, Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea shows Hellboy trapped between reality and dreams in a place that is so dangerous just because it cannot possibly exist.

Taking place in the years after Hellboy quit the B.P.R.D but before his own death., Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea finds Hellboy wandering the Earth, trying as much to avoid his destiny by finding refuge at the bottom of a bottle. Somehow, he finds himself chained to the mast of a 19th century ship, the captive of these seamen who themselves are the captives of a dangerous woman. The sheer number of Mignola’s stories about a lost and directionless Hellboy would almost be funny if they didn’t display the tragedy of the character. Trapped on this ship with a crew under the sway of a possible madwoman on a quest for her own personal Moby Dick, Mignola and Gianni’s Hellboy functions partly as old horror host and partly as horror victim. Hellboy is almost the MacGuffin in his own story about sea monsters and obsessions. Even though he once quotes Herman Melville’s famous line “Call me Ishmael,” he’s no mad sea captain. At best, he’s one of the crewmen trapped and isolated, swept up in the madman Ishmael’s crazy quest.

Generally, Hellboy (and by extension, B.P.R.D. stories) work best when the art is slightly removed from realism, whether it’s Mignola’s lovely shadows or Guy Davis’s character-driven lines. The exception to that rule turns out to be Gary Gianni and his classically-influenced images. The former Prince Valiant artist draws such detailed images of this old ship that you can hear the creak of every joint and plank and, with colorist Dave Stewart’s lovely hues, you can smell the salty air. As Gianni creates this wonderfully illustrative ship, the monsters he imagines take on a more nightmarish quality because of the realism that he has already established on the ship

Gianni and Stewart’s Hellboy is this wonderful visual oddity in a story about a quest for monstrous oddities. Gianni stays faithful to the Mignola model when he draws Hellboy; there are some images in this book that perfectly capture the character as well as Mignola does. With Stewart’s signature red tone for the character, Hellboy is perfectly a character out of his element when contrasted with the ship and its crew. Putting his own spin on the character’s world, Gianni’s artwork evokes horror masters like Bernie Wrightson and Steve Bissette’s comics, creating these deep and textured images where the story’s magic and its horror are contained in every drawing and every line.

Mike Mignola continues to create this rich mythology around the Hellboy character. Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea builds off of the rich history of the character and his world, giving Mignola the opportunity to pay homage to Herman Melville while adding to the legendary narrative of Hellboy. Working with Gary Gianni, this new comic book creates a moody and lovely chapter in the life of a character that feels as if it was ripped out of a sea shanty to simultaneously enchant and frighten off kids dreaming about life on the open ocean.

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