Best Shots Reviews: BUG! #1, RENATO JONES: FREELANCER #1, LOUD HOUSE, More

Renato Jones
Credit: Kaare Andrews (Image Comics)
Credit: Mike Allred/Laura Allred (DC Comics)

Bug! The Adventures of Forager #1
Written by Lee Allred and Michael Allred
Art by Michael Allred and Laura Allred
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by DC Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Forager is far from being the most popular of Jack Kirby’s New Gods characters. He’s no Orion or Lightray, but at least he’s better than Lonar (and if you’re asking “who?” that’s exactly my point.) And it’s been about 30 years since one of the most memorable Forager stories after his noble sacrifice in Jim Starlin and Mike Mignola’s Cosmic Odyssey. So three decades later, Lee and Michael Allred give the character his due in the year that celebrates Kirby’s 100th birthday. With the seeming resurrection of this long-dead character, the Allreds use this first issue to question rebellion, talk about Albert Camus and his philosophy, while tripping through the memory of some lesser (but no less great) Kirby creations like Fraser, O.M.A.C., Sandman, and the Manhunter.

Michael Allred has always had a Kirby flair to his work without being a slavish Kirby disciple. Allred’s sweet fluidity is about capturing the moment in a panel or a page the same way that Kirby used power and spectacle to capture that perfect image. Whether it’s his own Madman books, his work on Silver Surfer or now in Bug! The Adventures of Forager, Allred loves to create these visual labyrinths in his work. With the story of a character who knows that he shouldn’t be alive, Allred crafts these wonderfully mysterious images while perfectly fitting Kirby’s characters like the freaky Brute and Glob into them.

Waking up from death after such a long time, Lee and Michael place Forager in a house of mystery. At first, their issue reads like the tortured writing of some teenager who has learned to question the world that he was raised in. On the first page, the Allreds remind of the totality of Forager’s story, from the bug colony on New Genesis to the sacrifice and the impact he made on a certain dark knight. While there have been other Forager tales, these moments are the real story of this character, but the Allreds remove the character from those defining points and create a story that’s as much about Jack Kirby as it is about his creations.

While the Kirby influence is obviously heavy in this book, Lee and Michael’s story is far more navel-gazey than most of Kirby’s work is. While Kirby never shied away from having his characters wax philosophically in a 1960s groovy kind of way, the Allreds’ story channels Kirby’s writing by way of Neil Gaiman, producing an oddly introspective comic that’s more about the philosopher as a superhero than it is about philosophic superheroes. The result is a heady read that poses a lot of questions that the Allred’s now have five more issues to explore and answer.

Bug! The Adventures of Forager #1 fits into DC’s Young Animal imprint, with its looking-to-the-future-by-way-of-the-past methodology. The questions and doubts of Forager align with Michael Allred’s Madman, creating a worldview that is colored by costumes and capes. The resurrected naivety of Forager is both a character strength and a character flaw that allows Lee and Michael Allred to wonder about the nature of man, existence, and rebellion. That strength allows the Allreds to ask these universal questions, while those weaknesses keeps those questions from achieving the depth that they deserve.

Credit: Image Comics

Renato Jones, Season 2: Freelancer #1
Written, Drawn and Colored by Kaare Kyle Andrews
Lettering by Jeff Powell
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

One of the most stylishly pissed-off titles going right now makes its explosive return to shelves in Renato Jones, Season 2: Freelancer #1. Kaare Kyle Andrews, armed with the wealth of insane inspiration that was this last election cycle, opts for a completely different kind of opening for this second season, but one that is just as visually arresting and engaging as the debut was.

This time around Andrews isn’t bothering with setting the mood or providing a solid base for readers, aside from the acerbic “Previously On” this issue opens with. No, this season Andrews is aiming straight for the woke lizard brain that comic readers are sporting nowadays, tempering this issue-long monochromatic action sequence with engrossing character beats and the same politically-charged narrative fire-blazing just behind the splashy meticulously detailed action.

And when I say, “issue-long,” I mean it in the truest sense. Picking up directly after the previous “season finale” in which Renato’s true love, Bliss, and her capo father were caught in the crosshairs of a shady cabal of fat-cats and about to be atomized thanks to an approaching RPG. In media res right after the rocket’s aftermath, Andrews rises the action quickly as Renato and his mentor Church race through restricted airspace in order to get Bliss out of the assassins’ murderous path.

Though the plot itself reads thin and singularly focused, Andrews and letterer Jeff Powell make an absolute meal out of it and make sure to deliver something the direct inverse of the previous volume’s first issue. While the opening of season one was drenched in moody colors and sported a gradual, horror movie like build to the issue’s set piece, Freelancer #1 is in your face from the very start, delivering page after page of tightly blocked escalation as Renato and Bliss attempt to escape from Wicked Awesome, the living embodiment of deranged frat boy excess and Nineties comic “eXtreme."

Though I would have enjoyed a bit more of season two’s narrative real estate to be revealed (much of the issue’s forward plot is relegated to a coda at the issue’s end), this return back is still enough of a statement to keep me invested in Renato and his crusade against the high-born. While a chase implies linear action, Andrews keeps audiences fully entrenched through variety, opening with a sumptuously explosive double page splash of Renato and Church’s plane being shot out of the sky, adorned with the fresh to death looking logo and pale blue credits letting you know exactly who is and will be searing your eyeballs for the duration.

From there Andrews and Powell go kind of nuts, building upon each moment, either with action or a character beat, like Nicola tearing apart his security detail for leaving his daughter behind or a densely packed six panel stack of Renato, Bliss, and Wicked Awesome finding each other through the din of chaos; all scenes given a sharp jab of comic book production by Powell’s pointed lettering that continue the “verbal” tics of season one and stand out as the only slashes of color across the inverse of Sin City-like action.

At first the black and white color scheme seems a bit of a back step for the stylish series, one that threatens to sap the momentum built from the rollicking first season, but the more I dug into the issue, the more I enjoyed the visual feint and I think fans will to. Kaare Kyle Andrews already built his world, established his tone, and worked within them in season one. Now, in season two as readers will come to find out, all bets are off and Andrews is working to make sure that comes across visually as well as in the script, which this time around upends the power dynamic of season one, positioning Renato in a much more precarious position in both in “professional” life as an bloody avenger of the lower class and as a man with a beating heart underneath his icy assassin exterior.

In a cheekily-placed double-page ad for the series, sandwiched between the wall-to-wall action of the debut issue and the rest of Kaare Kyle Andrews’ beautifully satire starring real-life models, the comic asks “How Do You Feel About Anarchy?” After Renato Jones, Season 2: Freelancer #1, I feel pretty $%@$ing good about it, and I think you will do. The world at large right now feels strange and alien, and we need our art to reflect that. Renato Jones aims to do just that, showing that comics can and should be just as dangerous as the world they inhabit.

Credit: Papercutz

The Loud House: There Will Be Chaos, Vol. 1
Written by Amanda Rynda, Diem Doan, Sammie Crowly, Whitney Wetta, Jordan Rosato, Jared Morgan, Todd Oman, David King, Kevin Sullivan, Miguel Puga, Eric Esquivel
Art by Amanda Rynda, Diem Doan, Kyle Marshall, Jordan Koch, Jordan Rosato, Ashley Kliment, Todd Oman, Jared Morgan, Hallie Wilson, David King, Ari Castleton, Miguel Puga, David Degrand
Lettering by Amanda Rynda, Diem Doan, Kyle Marshall, Jordan Koch, Jordan Rosato, Miguel Puga, Jared Morgan, David King, Ari Castleton, Tom Orzechowski
Published by Papercutz
Review by Kat Calamia
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The Loud House There Will Be Chaos Volume 1 brings the popular Nickelodeon show’s comic book strip aesthetic to life with 15 original stories focusing on Lincoln Loud and his 10 sisters. This graphic novel is a great passageway for potential new fans of the franchise, and a must-read for comic readers already invested in the show.

The graphic novel does a great job at not only focusing on Lincoln, but also his sisters as individuals. This helps new readers get to know The Loud House’s very large cast, but also gives new character perspectives for readers who already fans of the show. For example, there’s a story where we see Luna experimenting with different fashion styles to wear for an upcoming rock concert. In the TV show, Luna isn’t usually the character to worry about fashion - that’s Leni and Lori’s turf - so it’s a nice twist in the end of the story where Luna creates her own “rocking” outfit with a dress Leni and Lori ripped after fighting over it.

I was also very impressed with the short stories using continuity from specific episodes of the TV show. This was shown in the twins’, Lana and Lola, short story where they put Lincoln on trial after he runs in the hallway heading to the bathroom. Lana and Lola becoming hall monitors of the Loud House is a reference to the episode “Get the Message” where the twins become hall monitors in school and bring their jobs home with them.

Most of the comic strips are standalone stories, like an average newspaper comic strip, but There Will Be Chaos also includes a choose-your-own-adventure story. While this story, focusing on Lincoln’s quest for a remote control, weaves in tonally with the other short stories, the shift in style still reads as a bit jarring amongst the rest of the book until you understand the conceit.

There are multiple artists penciling the short stories, and overall the artwork is consistent with the style of the television show. But there are a few short stories that over-exaggerate the characters’ features with bolder line work, and bigger eyes. These stories felt inconsistent with the rest of the graphic novel’s art style, and is the one down side of having multiple contributors working on the book.

The Loud House There Will Be Chaos focuses on the most important aspect of the popular Nickelodeon television show – the Loud siblings and their relationships with each other. The graphic novel revels in the Sunday morning newspaper comic book strip aesthetic that makes the television show feel timeless.

In Case You Missed It!

Credit: Image Comics

Paper Girls #14
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics
Review by Kat Calamia
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
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Marking the penultimate issue of the series’ third arc, Paper Girls #14 continues Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s sterling character work for both the main leads and newly introduced characters, as our 1980s heroines reunite and wind up on a collision course with threats from the past as well as a mystery from the future.

The story that stands out the most in this issue is K.J.’s emotional journey as she discovers her sexual identity. In the last issue K.J. saw a vision of her kissing Mac, and in Paper Girls #14, Vaughan does a great job at subtly showing K.J. processing these complicated emotions throughout the issue. While at first K.J. wrestles with denial that the visions couldn’t possibly be true, as the issue continues she is able to properly explore her emotions, culminating in a literal leap of faith as she comes to terms with her sexual identity during a life-or-death situation.

This chapter also gives the series an opportunity to explore cavewoman Wari and the futuristic Doctor Braunstein’s characters and their connections to the series’ mysteries. In previous issues, Wari was introduced as a young cave-mother who would do anything to protect her child, and as we learn that her culture forced women to give up their child to their fathers, you can’t help but root for Wari’s maternal gutsiness. Wari’s character development also indirectly gives more development to Jahpo’s three fathers — particularly the one who stole Braunstein’s helmet — as they start to come off more as individuals instead of a generic group of evil men.

Doctor Braunstein, the scientist from the future, also becomes a more fleshed out character in this issue as she starts to interact with the main paper girls. The paper girls meet Braunstein when she’s most vulnerable, tied upside-down, held captive by cavemen and praying to a God she never thought she believed in. This vulnerability allows the audience to understand more about Doctor Braunstein’s personality and her connection to Paper Girl’s mysterious world in a more emotionally investing way.

This issue of Paper Girls has a nice balance of character work and action that Cliff Chiang plays with nicely with his pencils. A great example of this is with the scene where K.J. is running away from Jahpo’s fathers while also thinking about her own self-identity crisis. Chiang perfectly utilizes K.J.’s futuristic gravity boots giving a nice scene of otherworldly action, while also having some great close ups on K.J. for some intense emotional beats.

K.J.’s scenes are particularly powerful throughout the issue because of Chiang’s expressive eye work. In the beginning of the issue K.J.’s eyes dart to the side in uncertainty, and she closes herself off with her posture. This changes by the end of the issue as K.J. builds the confidence to take a literal leap of faith in a beautiful double page spread. Now Chiang uses eye work and posture to show K.J.’s certainty and confidence.

Paper Girls #14 continues to do what the series does best - the perfect balance of character and world building. The issue uses new characters to help expand Vaughan’s mysterious world, but the story’s biggest strength is with K.J.’s subtle emotional arc as she puts together the puzzle pieces of her own identity.

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