Best Shots Reviews: THE WILD STORM #3, SHAOLIN COWBOY: WHO'LL STOP THE REIGN? #1, GREEN ARROW #21

Dark Horse Comics April 2017 cover
Credit: Dark Horse Comics
Credit: DC Comics

The Wild Storm #3
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Jon Davis-Hunt and Steve Buccellato
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

An Authority icon returns in the first honest-to-God fun issue of The Wild Storm. As IO's soldiers close in on the Engineer, a mysterious woman raids their information stores simply by walking through their phones, digital comics, and computer displays. Jenny Sparks, the Spirit of the 20th Century, makes her The Wild Storm debut, and with her debut comes a new energy and, if you’ll pardon the pun, spark for the title. With the groundwork built, Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt now are kicking things into a higher gear, both with Jenny’s introduction and the issue’s main action revolving around the first engagement between IO and the wild covert action team (C.A.T.).

Dividing the issue into two “acts” in order to maximize his character real estate, Warren Ellis finally seems activated in this third installment of this new DC experiment. That isn’t to say that isssues #1 and #2 were bad per se, but they read cold and distant, like a prologue. The Wild Storm #3 finally feels like we are experiencing an active genre offering, complete with the kind of dry humor and characters that Ellis excels at.

First up, we have the return of Jenny Sparks. Though she’s only in the opening few pages, her character radiates off the page thanks to Ellis’ reserved but biting dialogue for her and Davis-Hunt and Steve Buccellato’s visual depiction of her new esoteric and subtle power-set. As Craven and IO gear up to hunt down Angela Spica to appease Henry Bendix and their Skywatch overlords, Jenny simply walks into frame, nestled in the middle of CCTV footage.

At first you aren’t sure if you are reading the panel correctly, but as the creative team move the “camera” through the IO HQ, Jenny is right behind you, hopping through Easter egg-laden screens, apps, and shows. Better still, The Wild Storm seems to be taking cues from her former successor Jenny Quantum, making this new Jenny a woman of color. Though it isn’t as explicit as I would of liked due to Buccellato’s haphazard colors, it is a cheeky showing from the team and one that is 100% on brand for our dear returned Jenny Sparks.

This brings us to the meat of the issue, the battle between IO and the wild C.A.T. for the fate of the Engineer. Here Ellis again shows his reverence and respect for his art team and just lets them do as they may, script permitting, usually to the issue’s benefit. The Wild Storm’s first major dust-up is no exception. After a hilariously dumbstruck Angela is introduced to Grifter, Void, and Kenesha, an IO hit squad quickly busts up their meeting, and as they say in Bad Boys, the s#$% gets real.

Using standard wide boxed panels and tight grid layouts, Davis-Hunt and Buccellato render the fight almost in slow motion, showing terse snapshots of things in motion (launched grenades, Cole reaching for his mask, and the like) giving readers an escalating scale of time passed and level of violence that ends in an attacker literally exploding. It is a simple way to show action, but a damn effective one, as Davis-Hunt and Buccellato lean fully into the coldly wry cinematic tone of this series and provide the action to match it, culminating in the title’s first truly standout sequence.

Though the first two installments of this series could easily be called bland or slow-going, The Wild Storm #3 finally starts to deliver on the promise and energy we expected from an Ellis-led WildStorm reboot. The hard part is over, now it's just up to Ellis to keep delivering the kind of action and weirdness we love from his licensed work. Issue #3 also shows readers that Jon Davis-Hunt can do so much more than tense office conversations and quick bursts of sci-fi action. The Wild Storm had my curiosity before, but after #3, it finally has my full attention.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop The Reign? #1
Written by Geof Darrow
Art by Geof Darrow and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Geof Darrow’s surrealist comedic love letter to the Shaw Brothers and classic westerns returns with the debut of The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop The Reign? #1. Beaten and bloody, the Cowboy is in a bad way and must dig deep into his training and gunslinger grit in order to stand fast against the hordes of the Underworld. Though light on actual plot, Geof Darrow’s world is infectiously entertaining, pulling readers in with equal parts hilariously over the top violence and sharp absurdist comedy, all rendered by the crazy fine detail of Darrow’s pencils.

Noted Mike Mignola collaborator and well-regarded colorist Dave Stewart joins Darrow on this latest hard-knuckled jaunt with the Cowboy and brings a tactile texture and tone to the proceedings. Adding a more muted and moody color scheme to this debut issue, Stewart gives the usually broad comedy of the series a sort of grounded magical realism, both heightening the luminescent weirdness of the Cowboy being attacked by a giant ghost and the dusty, brush-littered desert of this debut’s setting. Though light on solid story beats but brimming with humor and style, The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop The Reign? #1 is a violent tone poem of a comic that reintroduces the Shaolin Cowboy in grand, weird style.

A gaggle of sass-filled vultures circle a pile of corpses in the desert and already Geof Darrow has shown you what kind of world you’ll be inhabiting for the time being. Presented in his trademark cinematic style, employing widescreen panels and stretching the layouts across both pages with ease, Darrow quickly asserts his world visually and narratively. After establishing a baseline with this bloody and structurally sound opening, Darrow stumbles down the path with the Cowboy as he attempts to heal his wounds through clearing his chi pathways, aided by the memories of his old master, his former faithful mule companion from the previous volume, and the spirit of Robert Mitchum. Like I said, this comic doesn’t have an abundance of plot but what it does have is just strange enough to work thanks to Darrow’s care and attention to making absurdity work for him, instead of the other way around.

It also doesn’t hurt that Geof Darrow is arguably one of the best action “directors” working in comic books today. While this debut only has one major set piece, a cleverly constructed fight on a highway between the Cowboy and a ghost from Hell, much of the other minor actions of the comic are still laid out as striking bits of sequential storytelling. One such example is the above mentioned clearing of chi that the Cowboy engages in. Presented as a tight 12-panel grid with a widescreen hero shot of the Cowboy to kick it off, Darrow and colorist Dave Stewart make each strike to a point feel tactile and graceful, thanks to Stewart’s pale beige backgrounds that highlight the character and the eye catching trails of deep red blood that follow the Cowboy’s hands.

Which brings us to the main event of Who’ll Stop The Reign? #1 and the true showcase of Darrow and Stewart’s surreal sympatico new volume; the highway fight. Using a clever action device of an established and quite insane American highway, Darrow sits the Cowboy, somewhat perilously, in the road to meditate while an oblivious driver careens toward him. So already we have a ticking clock as Darrow and Stewart consistently keep readers aware of how close he is getting to the Cowboy’s physical body.

Oh, did I not mention this entire fight takes place on the astral plane like some sort of kung fu Doctor Strange? As the truck speeds ever closer, Darrow and Stewart detail a neon-washed boss battle in which the Cowboy’s soul punches and kicks Hell’s emissary apart while the creature spouts nonsense kung-fu techniques that include “Big Blade Wang” and “Sacramento.”

If all of that detailed above sounds even remotely entertaining then you will love The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop The Reign? #1. And, I didn’t even mention the racist psychic crab! But seriously, Geof Darrow and Dave Stewart provide an appropriately loony return for the cult favorite character, but beyond the lunacy, this comic is also a boldly colored and intricately assembled piece of comic book storytelling and that shouldn’t go unnoticed. The plains are weird in the world of Shaolin Cowboy but if this new #1 is any indication, the journey through them will be quite the trip.

Credit: DC Comics

Green Arrow #21
Written by Benjamin Percy
Art by Juan Ferreyra
Lettering by Nate Peikos
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It’s fair to say that you have to be a pretty devoted Green Arrow fan to have weathered the ups and downs of the character in the last few years. Since Benjamin Percy began his “Rebirth” storyline, a far more familiar version of the Emerald Archer has been back in the pages of DC Comics and the cosmic ballet goes on. Yet if Benjamin Percy has spent the first few arcs of his run restoring faith and bringing Team Arrow back together, then the latest arc seems set on returning his rogues gallery in a big way as well.

Oliver Queen is dead. At least as far as the world is concerned. As Ollie visits his past to uncover secrets literally buried with his father, a series of suspicious people begin wreaking minor havoc throughout Seattle. The wicked Cheshire flagrantly disobeys the TSA at Sea-Tac with disastrous results. A fellow named Danny Brickwell brings down a building with his fists. A staff member by the name of Eddie Fyers runs amok at the Grand Pacific waterfront hotel. With the Ninth Circle’s very own Mayor Domini now heading up Seattle, these disparate threads are brought together to form something sinister that will unveil itself over the course of the next few issues.

Percy’s instincts are on the money with the selection of villains in this issue, bringing together recognizable rogues from the Mike Grell and Judd Winick eras, along with Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s post-Crisis New Teen Titans. The ambitious plotting gives us a lot of exposition at once, with Ollie’s journey of familial discovery literally running parallel across the top of the page, with the machinations of the assembling villains occupying the other two-thirds of the artistic real estate. The issue falters slightly in the execution of dual narratives that sometimes duel, requiring a little bit more work on the part of the reader than is perhaps necessary.

This minor quibble is one of layout rather than any criticism of the artwork, as Juan Ferreyra continues to go from strength to strength on this series. From an opening shot of Green Arrow in a tangibly soaking Seattle rain through to the fiery finale, Ferreyra’s skill lies in a stylized take on hyper-realism. A plane crash is a page-shaking shocker that is only matched by a building that looks as though it is taking some of the comic’s paper stock (or your screen) with it. Ferreyra’s color choices mostly justify the layout decision, clearly delineating the lower sections with a sepia palette, making the paneling really more of an issue digitally than in print.

The title of this arc, “The Rise of Star City,” is of course a reference to the traditional home of the Battling Bowman. Like Grell’s run, Seattle has served as the home for the "New 52" Green Arrow for much of his run. Yet Percy is playing to his own strengths, incorporating some of his horror/occult leanings into a bigger story that looks like it will change the nature of Ollie’s relationship to his city in much the same way that Court of Owls changed Gotham for Batman.

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