Best Shots Advanced: REALM OF KINGS, PSYLOCKE, Many More

Pak & Van Lente Lead Herc to NEW OLYMPUS

Best Shots Advanced

11-03-09

By Newsarama’s Best Shots Crew; brought to you by ShotgunReviews.com

Your Host: Troy Brownfield

A Note from Your Friendly Neighborhood Site Editor:

Hey folks, Lucas Siegel here. I wanted to pre-emptively answer some questions. One, this is a new, ADDITIONAL column to the regular Monday Best Shots feature. Here, we'll give reviews for books that haven't yet come out, most of which will come out the following day. This column has books from Marvel, Dynamite, Oni, and even Accent UK. Two, future installments will continue to add other publishers. Best Shots isn't going anywhere, it is simply expanding. Look for ANOTHER new feature coming soon as we, with help from our friends at ShotgunReviews.com, continue to bring you the best selection of comic book reviews anywhere. Take it away, Troy!

Troy here! Welcome to the first installment of Best Shots Advanced!  As the name implies, we’ll be bringing you reviews of books that debut later in the week and occasionally beyond.  The names may be familiar, but the books are new.  Let’s go.

Assault on Olympus #1

From: Marvel

Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente

Art by Rodney Buchemi

Colors by Guillem Mari

Letters by Simon Bowland

Cover by Adi Granov

Review by Troy Brownfield

Within the past few years, Marvel learned to excel at the “mini-event”.  They take a neglected corner of the universe, supply it with a core mini or one-shot, and populate the area surrounding it with other minis or tie-ins.  This strategy worked brilliantly with the “Annihilation” sagas and “World War Hulk”, and it didn’t too shabbily with “War of Kings”.  Now, Marvel turns its sights away from the cosmic line-up and toward a couple of great corners of the 616: Incredible Hercules and the Agents of ATLAS.

It helps, of course, that the terrific writer combo from “Incredible Hercules”, Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, are on the case.  They manage to cram that past few years of exposition into the story in a way that builds momentum while catching you up.  This is one of those rare cases where a new reader could jump right in, while the “constant readers” will no doubt appreciate the updates provided.  It should surprise no one that has even a passing familiarity with Hercules from myth or TV that one source of the Marvel version’s current troubles would be his step-mother, Hera.  And it should also not surprise anyone that twists abound in her schemes and alliances with the likes of Norman Osborn.  Clearly, this means no good for the heroes of Earth.

Much of the fun of this issue comes from seeing how the unlikely allies come together.  The involvement of Spider-Man comes from a hilariously familiar place, while the long-awaited reunion of Hercules and former sidekick Amadeus Cho comes with some heavy tension.  Well-used supporting characters abound, including some clever bits regarding Mighty Avengers member Jocasta.  By issue’s end, we’ve got a motley crew ready to face an armada of enemies that includes Amatsu-Mikaboshi, the Japanese destroyer god that speaks in Haiku.

It’s no shock that Pak and Van Lente are on point, but I thought that the art by Rodney Buchemi was likewise excellent.  He trades equally well in expression, action sequences, and the ridiculous voluptuousness of Aprhodite.   This is just a great-looking, dynamic, super-hero comic.

The issue also comes with a back-up story featuring the Agents of ATLAS versus Phorcys; he’s an authentic early Greek sea god (here, he’s essentially Cthulhu).  If you don’t know the Agents, this is a solid introduction by writer Jeff Parker and artist Gabriel Hardman.  Both this and the main story continue on into “Incredible Hercules” #138.  I don’t know about you guys, but “Herc” is an automatic purchase for me at this point.  However, with this strong set-up and  a variety of appealing creators and characters, here’s hoping that it brings in a number of readers beyond its regular audience.

Herogasm #6 of 6 (From the Pages of THE BOYS)

From: Dynamite

Story by Garth Ennis

Pencils by John McCrea with Keith Burns

Inks by Keith Burns with John McCrea

Colors by Tony Avina

Letters by Simon Bowland

Cover by Darick Robertson

Review by Troy Brownfield

Despite the fact that it appears in a branching mini-series, this side-story seems to actually be pretty essential to the ongoing story of “The Boys”.  Taking the piss out of event comics, the titular event presupposes the notion that the capes of the “Boys” world fake a world-threatening emergency every year so that they can disappear to a resort for days of relentlessly continuous orgies, binge drinking, drug abuse, and super-hero awards ceremonies.  Buried within that premise is the fact that The Boys are on a surveillance mission with larger implications concerning their various enemies in the government, the military-industrial complex, and the super-hero community.

Ennis and McCrea obviously work well together, given their history on “Hitman” and beyond.  McCrea’s rough style suits this story particularly well.  He hasn’t been shy about depicting the over-the-top sexuality or violence, and he really brings the pain on this Tarantino-esque conclusion.  (Those keeping score would do well to place this mini in its proper context; it happens prior to the apocalyptic confrontation between Butcher and Stormfront).

On a subplot note, the mini also marks an important point on the Homelander’s arc.  His ongoing internal struggle promises to lead in interesting directions, and we see more plot seeds planted here.  Whatever happens, I don’t imagine that it’s going to end entirely happily.  In many ways, I believe that the bait-and-switch in the main series that lead us to believe that The Female had been killed was something of a soft set-up for losses to come.  And I think that we’ll probably see some of the ultimate resolution of that spin out from the Homelander’s mental state versus the growing perception I have of Butcher as someone that may be more callous than we thought.

If you’ve been enjoying the biting satire and harsh humor of the main series, then I hope that you’ve been checking this one out as well.  If not, roll back and grab these; they’re certain to be crucial issues before all is said and done in the main book.

Psylocke #1 of 4

Written by Chris Yost

Art Harvey Tolibad

Inked by Paul Neary

Colors by Ulises Arreola and Brian Reber

Letters by VC’s Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Brian Andersen

It’s about time the X-Men’s Psylocke takes center stage by starring her very own limited series. Aside from Rogue and Dazzler, I love Psylocke the most. I’m aware that there are two camps of Psylocke fans out there in comic-dom: those that love the British-Mojo-eyed-butterfly-imaged-telepath of old, and those that are down with the current Asian-ninja-bathing-suit-telepathic/telekinetic. Having grown up with the X-Men right around the time Psylocke joined, I can say that I actually like both versions; if push comes to shove, I will confess that I do have a softer spot for Ninja Psylocke.

What I’m not a fan of is her ultra-confusing back-story (why do so many Marvel Mutants have such confusing back-stories?). Back in the day (the ‘day’ being the mostly-horrible early 90’s) too many writers - who will remain nameless (*cough*cough* Fabian Nicieza*cough*) - messed up what original Ninja Psylocke writer/creator Chris Claremont set up.

For those not schooled in Psylocke 101, please hold tight while I try to explain it all: the original (classic) Psylocke was a British mutant (and twin sister to Captain Britain) who went through this “do-over” portal where she would start fresh in a new life - without any memories or personality traits from her old self. British Psylocke ended up being found, brainwashed, and physically remolded by the Japanese Ninja assassin group known as The Hand and turned into an Asian telepathic ass-kicker, complete with a psychic knife that could fry your brain.

It wasn’t until sometime later that everything went downhill (keep in mind that this is during the ridiculous 90’s when writers threw in new concept after new concept in the desperate attempt to have one of their new creations stick) as a new British-looking Psylocke popped up calling herself Kwannon, and later (barf), Revanche. Revanche claimed to be the real Psylocke, as opposed to the Asian version that the X-Men had fought alongside for months. Basically, a lot of unnecessary stuff happened between the two, and thankfully, Revanche ended up taking her (much deserved) dirt nap. After all was said and done, it turned out that that the real (classic British) Psylocke’s mind and powers did in fact inhabit Revanche’s Asian body, while poor, sick Revanche died in Psylocke’s original British body. Whew! A few months back, the whole body swapping deal-io was revisited in the pages of Uncanny, but nothing really changed, as classic British Psylocke’s mind and powers are still in her Asian, Ninja body that we know and love.  

So . . . how is the actual story, you ask? Pretty darn good, actually. But what else should we expect for writer Chris Yost? He’s one of those rare comic writers who “get it.” Much like Geoff Johns, or Matt Fraction, Yost is able to tell compelling, exciting stories that both respect and celebrate the past while also making these concepts current and new. Yost writes Psylocke as she’s supposed to be written: a smart, complex, interesting, confident woman who loves the thrill of battle and dreams of nothing more than being in the thick of any conflict, challenging herself and her skills to the fullest.

What I loved most about this comic is Psylocke’s interaction with her teammates. Everything rings true, from her interactions with Dazzler (how awesome is that page with both ladies free-wheeling on that sweet motorcycle? A total throw-back to the Australian-era X-Men), to her very insightful take on Emma Frost’s delicious bitchiness (she finds Emma more transparent than ever and her “biting wit” amusing), to her verbal-volley back-and-forth with Wolverine. It’s all excellently written. It takes a talented writer to make dialogue thrilling when nobody is getting punched in the face, and I find that Yost does it quite well.

The rest of the story sails along with plenty of high-kicking Ninja action (lots and lots of Ninja goodness here), which all leads up to Psylocke coming face-to-face (again) with her aforementioned (confusing) past. After much fighting, Psylocke comes to the clear decision to get her revenge on the man who brainwashed and swapped her body in the first place: Matsu’o Tsurayaba. Thus, the series has been staged for their upcoming duel to the death (briefly spotlighted at the beginning of this comic). All great stuff here.

I was also very impressed by the eye-popping art by Harvey Tolibad. Hot damn, this man’s good! While I feel that he has some room to grow (a few panels are a tad crammed and over-stuffed), Tolibad really delivers in this issue. Honestly, he’s nothing short of stellar. Every panel is dynamic. Tolibad not only uses varying angles and “camera” shots (top views, ground views, side views, you name it; the angles are here), but man-o-man can he really draw a sexy woman. A respectfully rendered sexy woman, I might add, that never feels exploitive to me. I don’t recall a single ass-shot or super-thong-riding-up-Psylocke’s-booty shot. What a welcome relief! I also loved the various flourishes Tolibad added to Psylocke’s overall appearance - the return of her Telepathic Butterfly effect (yay! loves it!), to how he drew the swirling energy of her Psychic knife, to the way he made her sash 20 feet long - everything showcases the making of a future superstar artist.

I really don’t have much to complain about. I think my only negative comment is that I wasn’t sure, and was a mite confused, as to who Psylocke is referring to when she remembers a past life as a charter pilot (did she get some of Madelyne Pryor’s memories from their battle in Uncanny a few months back?). I also found it kinda funny that Psylocke would fly across the ocean to drop off her old (dead) body while wearing her Elektra inspired action togs. Wouldn’t she have changed into something more, I dunno, normal, since she was flying into a foreign country to deliver a corpse? Maybe I’m too much of a traditionalist, but usually you don’t wear a sexy outfit to bury a person. But maybe social norms don’t apply when it’s your own, former body? Aside from these small, ridiculous gripes on my part, all in all this is one pretty great issue. I look forward to more. Here’s hoping Yost and Tolibad (and the rest of the talented crew on this book) can keep up the momentum!

Captain America: Reborn #4

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice

Coloring by Paul Mounts

Lettering by VC's Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

It's a wonderful life -- that is, unless you're Steve Rogers, bouncing like a pinball through your greatest hits, spanning from battling Hydra to the end of World War II. And while Captain America: Reborn is still moving at a slower pace, it's the rock-solid artwork that really makes this issue pack a punch.

Regarding Ed Brubaker's writing, the plot is moving along, although I feel some of the characterization is muted by the need to hit the right story beats. I love the voice he gives the Avengers as they search for Sharon Carter, and especially Doctor Doom in this -- Brubaker really should take on the Fantastic Four one of these days -- but the voice of Steve Rogers feels a little one-note. "I'm a man who can't feel fatigue, and yet it's all I know," Cap thinks to himself, as he battles a pack of Hydra agents. Still, Brubaker proves to be a team player here, as he certainly scripts some great battle scenes for his art team to shine.

Speaking of that dynamic duo, Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice are really the visual dream team here. There's definitely a sense of grandeur, especially in scenes with Cap and Doctor Doom -- the use of upward shots it just used very effectively here. Probably the most interesting choice in my mind is the Red Skull, who in previous issues solved his embarrassment over his cybernetic body by use of a mask. It's this mask that makes the Skull look edgier, demonically trim -- it's far from realistic-looking, but because there's some level of story logic to it, it looks great. Paul Mounts seems to know just the right colors for everything, whether's a green tint to show Steve's fatigue, or an orange that seems to foreshadow a city on fire.

The overall climax of the story -- while something that's been used before in Captain America's history -- definitely packs an emotional punch here, and its to Brubaker's credit that the stage is now set for Steve Rogers' return in an organic, sensible way. That said, this issue -- specifically the framing of Steve's fall through time -- just feels a little too similar to previous issues for my taste. There's a well-written scene as well with Bucky Barnes, Clint Barton, and the Black Widow that surprisingly the art team doesn't pull off as well -- the composition just doesn't fly. All in all, however, while the tension isn't so high, Brubaker manages to position his team to hit the maximum amount of power, and if they can keep that up, Captain America: Reborn #4 is a beautifully-designed look at not just a patriot's past, but his future.

Exclusive Preview: AMAZING SPIDEY #610
Exclusive Preview: AMAZING SPIDEY #610
Amazing Spider-Man #610

From: Marvel

Written by Marc Guggenheim


Art by Marco Checchetto & Luke Ross

Colors by Fabio D'Auria

Review by Kevin Huxford

As a final issue to an arc (and a writer's tenure on a series), it's the start of something with strong potential.

Marc Guggenheim showed a lot of courage in going back to the Clone-Saga-well for his last arc on the thrice monthly Amazing Spider-Man. Going into it, most people would have likely called it a no-win situation. There aren’t a lot of people out there with fond memories of that period in Spider-Man continuity or a nagging need to see it revisited. If anything, there are some people out there who would like to see Ben Reilly return, but it was made clear early on that his return was not in the cards here.

So, what, if anything, could be accomplished in bringing back characters or plotlines from those days? Well, one thing is the reintroduction of a seriously evil character that knows all of Peter’s secrets, is physically imposing and can be a devious plotter.

The story serves mostly as a refresher on the main players from the Clone Saga days. Guggenheim uses the “Raptor” character generally as a way to inform the audience about Ben Reilly and bring Kaine (the aforementioned serious evil) back into the fold. The Raptor isn’t without some depth, but it is really difficult to keep yourself from seeing him as a device.

The fault for that shortcoming lies with the art team. While the visuals are serviceable, they rarely rise above that level. In an ideal pairing, the writing helps sell the art and the art keeps you from peeking at the man behind the curtain long enough to see the strings he is pulling. Guggenheim does his part, but the uneven quality of the art is unable to distract the reader long enough to help out the story.

And that is a shame. Guggenheim takes the time to create something more than a “throwaway character” to help him advance a development for Spidey’s cast of villains. He takes the time to specifically tell you how much Ben Reilly and Peter Parker must be alike, which he makes obvious.

But less obvious is how he draws a comparison between Kaine and Peter, both being able to plot to their interests (Kaine with the long angle on Raptor/Ben/Peter & Spidey with using Screwball’s interests in his favor). It is subtle, but strong. If Guggenheim comes out and directly compares them, it destroys the “Ben is only capable of the same things I am” rationale by Peter. But by showing instead of telling, he can have it both ways.

Unfortunately, the art doesn’t live up to the quality of the script, reducing Guggenheim’s risk-taking to setting the table for the next writer who picks up his threads to potentially deliver something special. He’s essentially taken one for the team on his way out the door. That has to be a bittersweet way to say goodbye to the Brand New Day project.

Army of Darkness: Ash Saves Obama #3 (0f 4)

Writer: Elliott Serrano

Art: Ariel Padilla

Colors: Rael Sidharta

Letters: Bill Tortolini

Published by Dynamite

Review by Henry Chamberlain

Anytime you see an Obama comic, you run the risk of something that is an over-the-top mess waiting for you to buy it, collect it and maybe even read it. This latest effort from Dynamite is over-the-top, complete with zombies, and messy. Too bad it's not a glorious mess.

Picking up Issue Three at random, and going in wanting to like it, I found "Army of Darkness: Ash Saves Obama" to have some amusing moments and one actual pay-off panel. This is a goofy story about visitors to a comic con who read a comic book that is spiked with incantations that turns them into zombies. One of those comic books has made its way into The White House and it's up to Ash to save Obama. Something this cracked up should be hilarious, but it's not. Mostly, this is generic storytelling. The art and the writing are all too pat and safe.

But then, there's that pay-off panel. Maybe a spoiler alert should go up, but you may as well go ahead and keep reading. Basically, it takes the whole issue to set this up. What happens is that the demonic comic book is read near the nation's first dog, Bo. And when that happens, Bo's eyes turn bright red. Uh-oh.

The idea of a zombie-possessed Bo with bright red eyes cracks me, but the comic does not. No, this is not, as you would hope, hilarious. At best, it's somewhat amusing. As a political junkie, and as someone who loves the offbeat, I was ready to like this. The biggest problem this comic has is that it’s holding back when that's the last thing it should do. Well, at least we got Bo's bright red eyes.

Whatever Happened To The World’s Fastest Man?

Published by Accent UK;

Pre-Order In November Previews

Written by Dave West

Art by Marleen Lowe

Advance Review by Jeff Marsick

This isn’t a speedster retrospective, a “This is your life” Cliff Noting of a Flash-derivative’s career and celebration of a hero who had long ago given up the game.  It’s not even about someone who moves fast:  the legend of the fastest man alive occurs a few years back when surveillance cameras at the scene of an accident record rescued passengers here one moment, yet there in the next frame of film, and a few survivors recall glimpses of a man assisting them.  There aren’t any costumed do-gooders fighting villainous egomaniacal blowhards in gaudy union suits.  There’s no robots, aliens, vamps or zombies.

And yet, it’s easily the best comic book I’ve read all year (yes, even better than Robot 13 that I fawned over a few weeks back).

Whatever Happened To The World’s Fastest Man?  takes place in Great Britain where a mad scientist has gone and placed a bomb in the middle of the city with demands of an egregious ransom.  Efforts by the police to disarm or dismantle have gone awry and the countdown to holocaust inadvertently begins.  With an hour until boom time, the news outlets are effectively shooing people by the thousands out of their buildings and into the streets where the citizens are told that they will be safer (so long as they survive the heavily discounted mayhem and bedlam that mass hysteria encourages).  Average nobody Bobby Doyle is pubbing a lunch with some mates when he catches the report on the telly.  With a reluctance that’s palpable through the page, “…he put his half-empty pint glass on its beer mat…and stopped time.”

You see, Bobby’s got a special talent that no one knows about and even he doesn’t fully understand.  Time outside of him comes to a halt, while he exists within a pocket, a sort of “personal time zone” wherein the sand still drains out of the hourglass. Bobby has himself a looksee at the bomb itself:  it’s too complicated for him to suss out a solution, and with wires and doodads perforating the building it can’t be moved.  He does some quick math and figures that the destruction radius is around two miles.  That’s two miles of occupied buildings and people running amok in the streets.  Carry the one and the result is somewhere around two thousand souls at stake with a little over fifty-nine minutes left in their gas tanks.  

What’s refreshing about Bobby is that he’s not the stereotypical I’ve-always-wanted-to-be-a-super-hero-and-now’s-my-chance character.  He just a guy with a skill who knows that a lot of people are going to die, and he’s probably the only one who can do something about it.  It’s not even that he wants to do the right thing or atone for a sin.  “Confronted by a robber he would gladly hand over his valuables.  Confronted by death on this scale, however, Bobby knew what he had to do.”

Bobby’s plan is simple enough:  with time under a red flag and each person frozen in place, he’s going to carry each and every one to a safe distance from the danger zone.  It’s like hauling pieces of statuary through an obstacle course.  There are a couple of complications for Bobby, though, with one more threatening that the other.

First off, Bobby can’t just open doors or push shopping carts.  In order to make objects move, he has to unfreeze time for small periods.  Unfortunately, unfreezing time allows seconds to tick off the bomb.  And secondly, while the citizens are frozen in time, Doyle Standard Time keeps on tickin’.  So when the rescued get unfrozen they’ll be missing at most an hour of their lives, whereas Bobby will have used up decades.

Writer Dave West could easily have muddied up the story with Chris Claremont-sized introspection and monologuing, or force-fed us the story instead of letting Marleen Lowe show it to us, but he didn’t.  He wrote a script that takes into account choices and consequences, a script that sets our hero firmly behind the eight ball in a tale that is stark and lonely in the face of valiant heroism.  Such as when Bobby, knowing that it will take decades of his life to complete this task, has to decide whether to leave the children for last, in case his failing strength leaves him unable to lift the adults.  But then again, what if he dies sooner from an unknown hereditary defect?

Marleen Lowe does a fantastic job of telling the story of Bobby in his self-imposed solitary confinement.  Black and white artwork with a little roughness to her pencils, she makes terrific work of conveying emotion and imparting a realism to Bobby’s existence.  I have to say that the most heart-wrenching of scenes is when Bobby has to unfreeze time for a moment in order to open a door to the hospital’s pediatric ward, and the first sound not of his own making in many years is of babies and the attending nurses.  It’s tempting, oh so tempting, to succumb to the need to be with another human being and just let time start again…  Art and words combine for four simply amazing pages.

I got a preview of this book and figured I’d tear through it in ten minutes, tops.  A half-hour later (and, I’m man enough to admit, a Kleenex or two), I closed the cover, let out a “Whoa” under my breath, then went back and read it again.  Whatever Happened To The World’s Fastest Man? is that rarity of books, the one that fires on all cylinders and there’s not a weakness to be found.  It’s beautiful and tragic and inspiring, and if there’s ever a comic bok that should be adapted to the big screen, this is it.  

If you’re tired of ‘event’ books or bored of the same old same old where the situations are ever the same and only the color of the costumes changes, then you need to order Whatever Happened To The World’s Fastest Man?.  It’s in the November Previews on page 178 and the order code is NOV09 0580.  Accent UK, that little indie press that’s slowly starting to make a name for itself over here on this side of the pond, has done great anthologies in the past (like my recommended Western), but this forty-eight page issue for $5.95 is by far the best work they have ever put out.  I highly recommend this book and give it the rare (by my ridiculously high standards, anyway) grade of A+.

Realm of Kings #1

From: Marvel

Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Art by Leonard Manco and Mahmud Asrar

Color by Bruno Hang

Letters by VC’s Cory Petit

Cover Art by Clint Langley

Review by Troy Brownfield

As I commented at the top of the piece, Marvel’s really figured out how to do the “mini-event” thing in the past few years.  And truly, the main architects of that have been Abnett and Lanning.  Part of why it all works so well is that the duo really has a knack for taking underappreciated characters and turning out superb, action-packed epics. The latest cosmic spin takes the “cosmic” name seriously, and invokes a much-beloved and much-referenced body of literature for its spine.

The central player here is Quasar.  If you recall, Quasar took the dirt nap (space nap?) during the first “Annihilation” event.  Now he’s back, and he’s been pulled into a war council with Nova, the Guardians of the Galaxy and others concerning how to deal with The Fault, that dangerous rip in space/time left over from the events of “War of Kings”.  Putting others ahead of himself, Quasar volunteers to enter The Fault to determine the extent of the danger.  To say that what he finds is mind-blowing and terrifying would be low-balling it.  Yes, it’s safe to assume that involves that teaser image that resembled the Avengers, but the whole of the threat is huge, larger than you would expect.  The conclusion to the issue sets up the remainder of the event; based on the pages we’ve seen so far, this is going to be right up there with (and possibly above) the rest of the body of work that DnA have been cranking out for the past few years.

We need to acknowledge as well the contributions of Manco and Asrar.  They do a tremendous job of depicting a busy cast and some intricate and frightening images.  Saying too much would spoil too many things, but it’s safe to say that they’ve banked some serious redesign and horror cred with this particular book.  Hang needs a hat tip, too, bringing as he does some colour out of space.

If you’ve been enjoying the Marvel Cosmic Renaissance all along, then you’re going to be somewhere beyond pleased.  If you haven’t committed yet, get on board.  The books in this subline are tight, focused, action-packed, and seriously entertaining.  Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favorite books on the racks, and this whole thing looks to be A SHOW.   Catch this rocket now.

Stumptown #1

Written by Greg Rucka

Art by Matthew Southworth

Colors by Lee Loughridge

Published by Oni Press

Review by Brendan McGuirk

It begins with a bang. Then, it ripples out.

We are in the midst of a crime-fiction noir renaissance, and with Stumptown, his latest creator-owned comic venture, Greg Rucka tosses his hat into the ring. Given that the commercial comics' medium was, for so long, dominated by a singular genre, the current wave of hard-boiled stories is a welcome addition to the landscape, and a balance of the scales. Stumptown uses the full arsenal of crime fiction; starting with a deeply flawed lead with little to lose, casting her against an enigmatically motivated ensemble, in a provocative locale, with a mystery whose intrigue grows exponentially. It is a sandbox fully loaded for a masterful writer like Rucka.

The story is immediately recognizable as one by Rucka. Once again, the writer's proclivity towards strong female leads is simply trademark. From Tara Chace, to Rene Montoya, to Wonder Woman herself, Rucka has long since established himself as someone with greater command of the female voice than many male contemporaries. He may claim to only be equal opportunity in his approach, but the fact remains that of his most memorable works in comics, the through-line seems to be strong women whose profession casts them against type. That trend is continued here, with the down-on-her-luck but nevertheless upbeat Dex. Dex, saddled with responsibility she seems unable to manage, is offered a chance to settle some outstanding debt by tracking down a missing girl, but, inevitably, gets more than she bargains for, as the mysteries of Stumptown unfold.

“Noir,” stories came to be known as such for their stark visuals, and the artistic team of Matthew Southworth and Lee Loughridge fully oblige here.  Loughridge's pallete is somber and deep, using a range of blues for the story's aesthetic foundation. Southworth also rises to the task here, with a style not too far removed from frequent Rucka collaborator Michael Lark. The pair bring the previously unmined Pacific Northwest to life. Crime fiction has long been associated with urbane areas like New York City, Los Angeles, and San Fransicso, but Portland and the surrounding locales are fresh ground to tread, and a vital wrinkle to the character of this story.

Stumptown is Greg Rucka at his best; operating in a vacuum where he controls both the vertical and the horizontal. It is a story where sin begets sin, power begs to control, and no hands are clean. The first issue is just that; an opening salvo to establish the players, the world, and the rules. Expect all but the world to change, as things invariably spin out of control through means of manipulation, deceit, and maybe even murder.

The ride has just begun.

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