Best Shots Advance Reviews: GREEN HORNET, FRAGGLE ROCK, More

Best Shots Advance: GREEN HORNET, More

Spoilers on, gentle readers.

Green Hornet #3

Written by Kevin Smith

Art by Jonathan Lau, Phil Hester and Ivan Nunes

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by David Pepose

What's so fascinating about Dynamite's Green Hornet series is that while it brings in plenty of readers with Kevin Smith's name on it, this series often doesn't feel like a "Kevin Smith feature." But that's hardly a bad thing -- while this issue isn't quite as tempered as the last one, it does pretty well for itself, with some sharp art carrying the book past some sometimes rocky terrain.

I think a lot of what makes this issue work is that it starts off with a bang -- Jonathan Lau and Phil Hester really make Smith's pacing work wonders, with three thin panels on the top of the first page really telling you all you need to know. While the idea of Britt Reid Jr.'s nemesis might have been a little goofy or derivative in a lesser art team's hands, the antagonist here really looks fantastic. And the fighting -- wow, there is some speed in these pages, with one page having a ten-punch exchange that never once loses its tempo.

What interests me the most, of course, is the exchange between writer and editorial in terms of making the script work. When Smith is at his most restrained, such as the introduction to this issue, the book soars -- the narration just crackles when Smith writes about Britt Reid Sr., and how he makes his stand against a perversion of all he's stood for. "When he wore the mask, he became someone else," Smith says. "And night after night, as he beat order out of chaos with his bare hands... the Hornet could find reserves Reid didn't know he had." It's beautifully done, and it gives his son a tangible reason to stumble onto the hero's path.

Yet sometimes Smith seems to succumb to his comedic instincts, and that's when the book stumbles a bit. There's a sequence that evokes the Karate Kid (to the point where Smith admits it in the script) that just feels a little too jokey, a little too long -- it's a shame, because if the first seven pages show you anything, it's that Smith can write a straight action flick without trying to fall back to his base. Additionally, Lau's one weakness is in faces -- occasionally, such as in the first scene of the book, each of the characters merge into one another, making it a little harder to differentiate between all of them.

That said, while the book occasionally treads down some familiar (or predictable) territory, you have to give the team credit for their execution. But to write this off as "just a Kevin Smith series" -- or to gobble it up because "it's a Kevin Smith series" is missing the point. This is some rock 'em, sock 'em action that stands on its own two feet, and doesn't need its pedigree to get the job done -- kind of like Britt Reid Jr. himself. Give this book a look.

Fraggle Rock #1

Written by Heather White, Katie Cook, and Jeffery Brown

Art by Jeff Stokely, Katie Cook and Jeffery Brown

Colors by Lizzy John, Katie Cook and Michael DiMotta

Published by Archaia & The Jim Henson Company

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Open this issue and it'll all start rushing back. The songs, the direct and simplistic characters, the unbridled fun. Your cares will feel like they can be danced away. You'll be down in Fraggle Rock.

Fraggle Rock #1 marks the opening salvo of the Archaia/ Jim Henson Company publishing partnership. An anthology book, printed to the same dimensions as Archaia's acclaimed Mouse Guard series, the stories of Fraggle Rock return readers to the innocent subterranean world of songs and wonder, and reminds them just how much they've missed it.

The first thing to notice is this issue's lush, beautiful presentation. Harmonious color and line art bring a pronounced vitality to each of the three stories. The lead story, written by Heather White with pencils by Jeff Stokely and colors by Lizzy John, is something of a Fraggle primer. It gives readers the basics of the Fraggle world; the easily identifiable characteristics of each Fraggle, the world they inhabit and what surrounds it, and the (generally benign) threats they face.

It's a simple sort of story, one that places a premium on solid structure in service of reintroducing the property. Stokely's art is truly striking; he is able to keep all the characters on model while making them expressive, and flexes his own strengths with deep, finely rendered backgrounds. Staying on model with characters that are known as the relatively rigid physical objects they are (don't want to alarm you, but they're puppets), is no easy task. Stray too far from the familiar imagery and you're sure to spurn fans. Stay too close on model and there's no dynamism to the work. This balance is no easy task, and the degree to which Stokley succeeds is laudable.

The lead story is sweet, but it is the two stories that follow that offer the keenest insight into the prospects of the Fraggle Rock book going forward.

Katie Cook's time-sensitive tale spends less time giving the ins-and-outs and more on just allowing the Fraggles to be Fraggles. It is whimsical and light, and while her art is more cartoonish than that of Stokely, it is no less identifiable or effective. It isn't too much, or too little. It simply works.

Independent cartoonist extraordinaire Jeffery Brown makes his unlikely debut in the world of licensed character comicery with the final story, revealing an obvious affinity for the Fraggles. His story shows true versatility, straying from the nuanced and grounded autobiographical comics by which he has made his name in favor of light, pure and unapologetic humor. Brown's visual flair is instantly recognizable, making it something of a trip to see that style brought to drawing the Fraggles. But the best compliment that can be paid to his story is that it is genuinely funny.

Fraggle Rock is, ostensibly, for kids. But so was every Henson project, and that never stopped them from bringing a sense of wit and whimsey to each turn.  This anthology offers the opportunity for comics' creators to showcase strong art and storytelling in the name of the true Hensonian mission statement; Family Entertainment. Comics' have a diverse pool of creative talent, and it will be a real adventure to see what Archaia's talent creates as they play with the toys Jim Henson left us.

Locke & Key #5
Locke & Key #5
Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows #5

Written by Joe Hill

Art by Gabriel Rodriguez and Jay Fotos

Lettering by Robbie Robbins

Published by IDW Publishing

Ever since I started reading Locke & Key, I've known that this was a comic that was operating on an entirely different level than most. Between Joe Hill's smart characterization and Gabriel Rodriguez's fantastic character design, this was the book to beat.

So reading this climactic issue to Crown of Shadows made me feel a bit conflicted, in a lot of ways. It's not that it was bad -- oh, no, I wouldn't go that far, it still runs rings around half the books on the stands -- but in certain ways, I think it might have been a victim of its own success. The bar has been set high already, and when it comes to this issue, there's a lot of sound and fury, but ultimately, the key to this series -- the characters -- feels a little less pervasive than in previous issues.

That said, if any team has earned the chance to experiment, it's Hill and Rodriguez, who take the "giant-sized" descriptor as literal as they can. The first half of this book is a spotlight for Rodriguez to flex his battle muscles, as he draws 10 -- count 'em, 10 -- splash pages, with a gigantic Tyler Locke in mortal combat with the shadows that have held his family under siege. It may feel a little light, but it's some smart, silent storytelling that really gets a sense of size and power.

But unfortunately, that gambit eats up a lot of the pages, which unfortunately doesn't give Joe Hill as much to work with in terms of the Locke family or Dodge, who struggles to steal the magic keys from them. In a lot of ways, the plot feels a little bit on hold on this issue, which is a shame -- I really, really love the Locke family, and there doesn't seem like there is nearly as much emotional development for them outside of the grand scale fight. And what kills me is that Hill could have had his cake and eaten it, too -- there's plenty of room for internal dialogue or even reaction shots to Tyler's family to flesh things out just a bit more than just fighting.

Of course, rereading this review makes it sound as if I hate this issue -- and I don't. There's still another issue left to tie things together, and if IDW doesn't continue this series for another six-issue chapter, it would be a bigger loss for them than it would Hill and Rodriguez, who have proven themselves time and time again. And rereading this issue again -- with the other five issues in tow -- I'm sure this will seem like a fitting climax, like the motorcycle chase you see in plenty of blockbuster movies. But as a standalone issue, I feel like that's not necessarily what this series is about -- Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows is about human characters surviving against extraordinary circumstances. And I can't wait to see Hill and Rodriguez bring it back.

Incorruptible #5

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Horacio Domingues and Andrew Dalhouse

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

Well. That was different.

What do I mean? For those who went to C2E2, you might have heard during the BOOM! Studios Irredeemable panel that the company was switching artists for sister series Incorruptible. Described as "less Image Comics-influenced, a little more expressive," you wouldn't have expected the culture shock I had reading the first few pages of this book.

But you know something? I kinda liked it.

The jury may still be out on Horacio Domingues as a whole, but in this first issue at the very least he gives this series its own visual identity, and gives it quite the shot in the arm in terms of energy. Domingues reminds me a bit of Daimon Scott from later in his run on Batgirl -- the vibe is definitely a lot more cartoony, and he best succeeds when it comes to action. From the moment you see Max Damage punch a manhole cover -- complete with the old-school flash of energy around his hands -- you know that this is a very, very different comic than last month. I will say that his work seems to lend itself better to colorist Andrew Dalhouse, who makes explosions and car crashes and gunfights positively pop.

And I also have to give some props to Mark Waid on the story, which is a really interesting read that also subtly gets you into our hero's world. Max Damage, at this point in his life, has his heart in the right place -- but how he gets there is ultimately his major conflict, and can lead him to act in some surprising (and not always heroic) ways. There are certainly a couple of plot holes here -- like why Max wouldn't tell his new sidekick what his plans were in the first place -- but the humor and panache that Waid has pulled out for this issue is more than he has in the previous four combined. We're only five issues in, but it feels like we've known Max Damage for a lot longer -- and for a fledgling series like Incorruptible, that can only help draw in risk-averse readers.

There are a couple of glitches, of course -- namely, Domingues's expressions can sometimes be a little too over the top, sometimes clashing with the darker tone that Waid is trying to set in this universe -- but considering this is the guy's first issue, I anticipate that's something BOOM! Studios will be working out. But if anything, the change of pace really helps set Incorruptible as its own series, and not just as a perceived "Director's Cut" of the greater Irredeemable storyline. For a series based on second chances, this might be a sign -- if you didn't dig the first arc of this book, I'd suggest giving Incorruptible another look. You never know if this might be the book turning over a new leaf.

Okko: The Cycle of Air #1

Written by Hub

Art by Hub, Emmanual Michalak and Li

Published by Archaia

Review by David Pepose

The gang is back -- and while there's some a bit familiar about Okko: The Cycle of Air #1, it's hard to argue against sticking to a winning formula. As the masterless samurai and his crew continue to battle the supernatural, it's clear that some strong art, smooth characterization and an engaging plot have kept the wind in this series' sails.

Perhaps "battle" is the wrong word, here. In a lot of ways, Okko and company remind me almost as a detective agency with swords -- they're always on the case, and while they have blades and magic rather than guns and forensic kits, it's fascinating to see where Hub takes them. What's also interesting about this issue is that because there isn't as personal of a case here, there's a lot of subplots bubbling that will come back to haunt Okko and company that will take the fight to them. Yet I think that demonic whodunnits and revenge plots alone would be all style and no substance, without the characterization -- in particular, characters like Noburu and Noshin steal the show, even with only a few pages.

But the art is the real draw here. Hub, aided by Emmanual Michalak, is able to really skillfully pack some incredibly dense pages here that still have an incredible amount of detail. One section that particularly impressed me was watching a younger Okko in action, as he smoothly transitions between three people -- and the eventual blades drawn -- all in one page, never skipping a beat. Meanwhile, Li's color work is quite spectacular -- it reminds me a lot of Dave McCaig, with many of the different scenes having what I'd describe as a "theme" color to anchor everything together. To put it a bit more succinctly: in a lot of ways, this book feels like a master class in panel composition and color work jammed into one.

Despite being surprisingly light on action -- especially when compared to the dynamite first issue of Okko: The Cycle of Water -- there's a lot to like about Okko: The Cycle of Air #1. There's still enough mystery about the characters that even new readers can keep up, and ultimately, Hub's magic-laced mysteries are really quite compelling. If this series can continue to ratchet up the personal hook -- that thrust that keeps us rooting for our heroes -- this is one series that should be a breeze to pick up.

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