Best Shots Advance Reviews: SIEGE #2, MESMO, More

Best Shots Advanced

02-02-2010

By The Best Shots Crew

A Second Chance at Sarah

Written by Neil Druckmann

Art by Joysuke Wong

Letters by Michael Thomas

Published by Ape Entertainment

Review by Amanda McDonald

You pretty much prepared everything perfectly for this kid. . . everything except you being there."

~Johnny, speaking to his comatose wife

Imagine being sent back to your youth, charged with the task of meeting the love of your life and saving them from their ill-fated choices. This is the predicament in A Second Chance at Sarah, the debut graphic novel by Neil Druckmann, co-writer of the award winning "Uncharted" video game series. Described by publisher Ape Entertainment as a "supernatural adventure about love, loss, and time-travel," this book sends protagonist Johnny back to the mid-nineties for only 24 hours in an attempt to stop his future wife from making a deal with the devil that will result in her losing her life after their first child is born.

While I envy Johnny's chance to revisit those times (as I still maintain those Doc Marten and purple hair clad days to be my hey day), these circumstances are indeed dark and dire. I would have loved to know how Johnny and Sarah initially met, to see how drastically these circumstances differ. While it really is not necessary for the story-- the reality of feeling this way exemplifies the strength of Druckmann's portrayal of these characters. From the very first pages of the story, I felt for them. As the story progresses one can't help but root for Johnny and hope he and Sarah (and the baby) will be okay. No young couple deserves the fate they are faced with at the opening of the book. Perhaps as a result of his successful career writing for games, Druckmann nails engaging character development in the limited format of a short graphic novel. Clocking in at 94 pages, his story lends itself perfectly to the format. It is not enough for a series, even a limited one at that. Beside that, with a story like this I would hate to wait month to month to see what happens. The short graphic novel is the perfect fit-- a read that can (and should) be completed in one sitting and repeated to further absorb the great marriage of the story and the art.

On that note, digital painter Joysuke Wong's female character design bring to mind the ethereal, wide eyed styles of Tara McPherson or Kathy Olivas, but without the macabre, and with an added touch of softness. While she is a 'digital painter', her images make me feel as if I've walked into a gallery and am looking at oil and acrylic paintings that chronicle the relationship of a high school couple, into their days as a married couple expecting, and finally having their first baby. Her mid-nineties color palette is bright and vibrant, just as so many of us remember (or idealize) our youths, while the present day palette is dark and drab with the only brightness apparent in the baby's rosy cheeks, a reflection of Johnny's dismal situation at hand. Wong partners Druckmann's strong literary character development with characters rich with visual expression.

The only caveat of this book comes in the backmatter. One aspect of graphic novels and trade paperbacks that I really enjoy is the inclusion of a section covering the creative process of storyboarding, character design, and artist/writer collaboration. This book includes this, unfortunately hindered by several glaringly obvious spelling errors in the captions of the sections. Is this worthy of dismissing the book altogether? Absolutely not, the story and art stand strong on their own. However, there are enough errors to make one who notices this sort of thing a bit twitchy. This is also an advance review PDF I'm asserting this from, so those could very well be fixed by the time of release.

I haven't read a self-contained graphic novel in a while that struck me as much as A Second Chance at Sarah. The nature of the story holds appeal to both adults and young adults-- those in relationships, and those wondering what it will be like someday to be one. The scenario evokes one to question themselves, and their own relationships. Just how far would you go to save your partner? Would you risk your own life? The life of your newborn? Risk never having the relationship at all, just to save them? Druckmann and Wong have created a story that will provokes, entertains, and hopefully encourages you to hug your loved ones a little tighter. Not a very common way to feel after reading most comic book or graphic novel fare, but this is certainly not just any graphic novel. I'm really looking forward to seeing future projects from both of these creators.  

Dingo #3

Written by Michael Alan Nelson

Art by Francesco Biagini

Colors by Stephen Downer

Lettering by James Dashiell

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

Who'd've thunk a book called Dingo would end up being BOOM! Studios' top dog?

Following in the tradition of magic realism from early trailblazer Hexed, Dingo has a quirky, emotive art style paired with a perfectly paced story about a wonderfully self-deprecating -- and surprisingly uncomplicated -- boy and his dog.

Michael Alan Nelson, in many of his other series, has been a bit of a chameleon, never really letting on certain writerly "tells" that colleagues such as Grant Morrison and Brian Michael Bendis have built their fan bases upon. But something tells me that Dingo could be that star-making book, as he makes the titular character a likeable, sardonic lead that you connect with quickly. "There comes a point where battle scars change from sexy to scary," Dingo says at one point. "Sadly, I think I crossed that line somewhere back in fifth grade."

Of course, while Nelson builds his rock-solid foundation, it's artist Francesco Biagini that uncorks the edgy weirdness hanging around the peripheries of this plot. There's a whole lot of speed that comes across in his work, especially with characters like Cerebrus, a canine companion that looks about as hellish and fiercesom as his namesake. The characters are all beautiful in their ugliness, not unlike something from Paul Pope or Nathan Fox, but where Biagini excels is in keeping the emotions clear and uncomplicated, which gives the funny moments their laughs and the dramatic moments their jaw-dropping power.

Combine all this with a cliffhanger that will make you pump your fist in spite of yourself, if you're looking to find a new series, you really can't go wrong with Dingo. As someone who initially scoffed at the name and the character designs, this book'll make you a convert pretty darn fast. There's a lot of books out there with characters -- but there are few books out there with character. Dingo is one of them.

Mesmo Delivery

by Rafael Grampá

Published by Dark Horse

Review by Henry Chamberlain

Releases February 3

Everyone in Mesmo Delivery is pretty much cut from the same cloth and getting what they deserve. Things are stark, spooky and to the point. There isn't really any outright humor although we do get a sort of "Royale with Cheese" moment when Sangrecco is trying to convince Rufo that he's as good as Elvis down to their sharing a taste for comics. Elvis liked Shazam. Sangrecco likes Conan. "What's a Shazam?" asks Rufo. Nobody here is any better or worse than anybody else. It all comes down to who has the most blood lust. What I'm saying here, son, is that we got ourselves a bunch of rejects from a convoy who are all headed to their very own pre-destined death match. And, yeah buddy, it's as good as I'm making it out to be.

Budding cartoonists often wonder about the magic number for the page count to the graphic novel they might create someday. For Rafael Grampá, that magic number is 54. While relatively short, Mesmo Delivery makes up for it in top grade performance. It's all in the delivery. Grampá has a way of packing information, so neatly and precisely, that a few panels, let alone a few pages, take on a powerful cinematic quality. With a high end sense of design, Grampá plays with typography, texture and composition like the art director he once was.  

And, as for story, we get the sense that Grampá was out to get it right in a very big way and share with us something of his childhood love for Sam Peckinpah bloody action movies. Whether it's Peckinpah or the Coen brothers or Quentin Tarantino, it's never just about the violence. It's about art, life, the intensity of the moment. And it's never sloppy. There's always a clarity to it, a clean kill, a creativity that transcends. And like that iconic panel of the back of a man's head blown off in Frank Miller and Geoff Darrow's Hard Boiled, Grampá finds his answer.

Mesmo Delivery is a pretty cool calling card for the new kid on the block, who isn't really quite that new. Grampá has been around long enough to have honed his skills and given us this book and his track record lets us know he's here to stay. He's done well in the company of Gabriel Bá, Becky Cloonan, Vasilos Lolos and Fábio Moon. He made a splash a few years back appearing in an anthology with them. Lately, that group collaborated in the bloody thriller, Pixu: The Mark of Evil, published by Dark Horse. And now their pal ventures off with his baby, Mesmo. Having gone through the challenging process of self-publishing it, Mesmo sold out thanks to distribution through AdHouse Books. Now, Dark Horse brings out a deluxe edition with added treats. It's the perfect time to get to know Rafael Grampá.

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