Best Shots Advance Reviews: VELOCITY, ABE SAPIEN, More

Exclusive Top Cow Preview: VELOCITY #1

Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, ready to rock with some advance reviews from Dark Horse, Top Cow, IDW and BOOM! Studios! As always, if you're interested in more, check out the Best Shots Topic Page here!

Velocity #1

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Kenneth Rocafort and Sunny Gho

Letters by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

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"My name is Carin Taylor. Carin with a C instead of a K and an I instead of an E in case you were wondering. Or you can just call me Velocity. I run fast."

There are very few mainstream books out on the market that features a hero without a city to save, without a love interest, without a sidekick, without having to worry about a secret identity, without worrying about holding a job outside your superhero one...yeah, you get the picture. Yet here is Velocity in her own mini-series, and in this first issue at least, it truly is a solo book. It's her against the bad guys. No back up from Cyberforce (not to say they won't show up later in the series) and you really get the feeling it's her against all odds.

Right off the bat, you'll notice Kenneth Rocafort's stylish and kinetic style with a glorious spread at the beginning. that pretty much sets the bar for what you are to expect in this issue. It's fast, fun and exciting. Now, I have little to no knowledge of the character, I think I may have one or two Cyberforce comics somewhere, but writer Ron Marz excelled in giving me a good idea who Carin/Velocity is and her purpose, all the while setting up the frame of the five-issue mini-series. Essentially, take an episode of "24" and put it in the world of Top Cow superheroics, and there you have it.  

Since Velocity isn't exactly a household name or even that well-known, Marz uses heavy inner monologue to get the character across. We get a sense of who she is and what she's about. Also, because of her lacking a supporting cast of any kind, all of our attention is on her and her thoughts. Of course with lots of inner monologue boxes on the page, you would think it would a distraction, but letterer Troy Peteri does an amazing job of making sure nothing gets lost or buried and goes with the flow of Rocafort's art. Sunny Gho's colors are striking but again, not distracting from what is going on in the story.

Simply put, pick this up. Top Cow has a slew of talent in their ranks and this book proves they can hang with the best of them.

Usagi Yojimbo #129

Written and Drawn by Stan Sakai

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

Usagi Yojimbo is a book whose overall character very much reflects that of its long-eared protagonist. Humble, understated, yet full of skill, Usagi Yojimbo, Like all great examples of the cartoonist’s art, is engaging because it gives the reader so much, yet requires so little. One can praise Stan Sakai for simplicity, but the compliment of “simplicity” unlike Usagi’s blade, is a double edged-sword. It’s better to regard Sakai’s long-running labor of love as a masterpiece of clarity. Like a mountain stream in a Japanese painting, the book just flows, moving so naturally and leisurely, one seldom notices just how much has actually happened in each issue.

Issue 129 is a great example. In just over 20 pages, Sakai runs his samurai rabbit through a wonderful comedic aside that doesn’t really move the plot along, throws in some quiet moments of characterization, embroils Usagi in a gang swordfight, and resolves a conflict and subplot that has been bubbling in the background for a few issues. Despite all of this “crowded” or “frenetic” are the last adjectives that anyone would use to describe this issue or any other issue of Usagi Yojimbo.

Sakai has a knack for leaving so much narrative space in his saga that there is always room for playful interludes or genre crossing stand-alone segments, yet, when plots cross multiple issues, the reader never seems tangled in threads of continuity.

The only drawback of Usagi Yojimbo is that in the era of $3 comics, it may be hard for some fans to justify scraping up the funds for such an airy, inconspicuous book. That, and Usagi Yojimbo seems like the type of tale that would be best read in a phonebook-thick collected tome that one could just get lost in on a lazy weekend afternoon. Nevertheless, Sakai’s venerable book is recommended for anyone who appreciates superior craft and the sort of magic that happens when the subtly different sensibilities of the comic artist and the cartoonist are combined.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: Dust to Dust #2

Written by Chris Roberson

Art by Robert Adler, Andres Lozano and Javier Suppa

Lettering by Jimmy Betancourt

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

The streets are dark with Dust -- a mood that's tangible in Dust to Dust, which has little in the way of action but more than makes up for it in atmosphere. As the sci-fi detective story continues, the various pieces of the puzzle are starting to show themselves, as the conspiracy for the rogue androids goes even deeper than anyone ever realized.

In a lot of ways, the real heavy lifting takes place here with artist Robert Adler, who is paired up with colorists Andres Lozano and Javier Suppa to really built the world of Dust to Dust from the ground up. It's a real work of art -- everything feels harsh, shadowy, an oppressive world ready to strike you down when you least expect it. Seeing the character of Charlie Victor toes the line between nondescript and instantly recognizable -- a key quality to have considering the protagonist's history. But the colorwork by Lozano and Suppa is just great -- looking at Samantha Wu's office has the literal yellowing and tinge of despair, while Talus's lair has sinister blues that make you know something's up to no good.

Chris Roberson, meanwhile, is as difficult to read as Charlie Victor -- not that I'm saying he's writing anything bad, but his distinctive voice is nearly a whisper here, as he sets up his pieces while lettering his art team go crazy with the world-building. Scenes such as Talus's, however, have that distinctive spark to them, and there's a fantastic quote from Charlie Victor: "Androids don't feel aggression, of course," he says. "But out combat-response protocols do a pretty good imitation. And right about now, I have the sudden urge to punch somebody." It's the plotting that he really does good work with, by showing that the androids don't need hand-to-hand aggression to do some real damage to society.

That said, while there's definitely a lot of set-up here, it's too bad there couldn't be a little bit more sizzle. I have the feeling that this mystery will definitely be an interesting one -- especially with the last page showing how deep it goes -- but because of the scattered structure between characters, and the lack of a real hook to make a reader say "wow," it's not quite as poetic or gripping as the first issue. Still, if you're a fan of Phillip K. Dick's philosophical leanings, this book definitely makes strides.

Robert Bloch's Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper #1

Adapted by Joe R. Lansdale and John L. Lansdale

Art by Kevin Colden

Letters by Robbie Robbins

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Amanda McDonald

Why do you recognize the name Robert Bloch? Author Robert Bloch is best known for his novel Psycho. Before writing the novel that put his name on the map, he wrote a short story entitled Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper that was published in the magazine "Weird Tales," and has been included in many anthologies of suspense fiction since. As a fan of classic mysteries and noir fiction, there is no way I could resist taking a look at this book. Being a fan of these genres, I also hold high standards for them. This first issue met and exceeded those expectations.

IDW Publishing announced this title earlier this spring, indicating that this would be a three part series, and the first of more series featuring the work of Robert Bloch. The story takes place about eighty years after serial killer Jack the Ripper ravages the London streets, and is set in mid 20th century Chicago. Featuring original characters Sir Guy Hollis, a Londoner who has inherited his father's obsession to identify the Ripper and Dr. John Carmody, a psychiatrist-- this adaptation also includes Jenny, an outspoken newspaper heiress who is not content to work in the offices, instead working out in the field as a photographer. Hollis believes that the Ripper is still alive after all these years by means of supernatural forces and rituals.

One of the appeals of Bloch's storytelling is the smooth dialogue and pacing. This strength applies itself well to the sequential style of the comic book medium, and the Lansdale's adaptation translates excellently. Unlike some adaptation works that seem to force an omniscient narrator into dialogue scenes, this story came already primed for adaptation. Minor changes, such as the introduction of the Jenny character do not detract from the story. Rather, she adds to the story -- adding a character enables them to include even more dialogue to effectively tell the story.

Not just the story is a blast from the past. Artist Kevin Colden uses a distinctive pulp style on this re-telling. Using only black, grays, blues, and reds, Colden is responsible for both clean images and impressively effective limited color palette. Okay, maybe "clean" isn't the right word for the imagery. This is, after all, a Jack the Ripper story. However, as a result of Colden's use of the pulp style nothing appears gratuitous or gruesome. There is just enough imagery to know what has occurred, not to make one lose their lunch.

This book was a joy to read. I envy the readers of the 1943 "Weird Tales" edition -- they got to read it in one sitting! Now, I of course could go to the library and read it for myself, but I don't want to spoil the ending. I'm looking forward to seeing the story via this adaptation. While it is only a three issue series, I am pleased to know that IDW Publishing is doing more Robert Bloch adaptations as well. I imagine these will be collected in trade form, but I'm not waiting-- nor do I think any good mystery/suspense fan should. Pick these issues up and send a clear message to publishers that comic fans aren't just super-hero lovers, but lovers of many genres.

Abe Sapien:The Abyssal Plane #1

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi

Art by Peter Snejbjerg and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Clem Robins

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

If you follow Hellboy or BPRD, chances are you’ve got a strong affinity for good ‘ol Abe Sapien. Abe’s the BPRD’s resident mensch, the team’s Martian Manhunter, their Kitty Pryde, the Gamgee of the group. Affable, forever faithful and capable, he’s, dare I use the old cliché: “the heart and soul” of the BPRD. It’s these otherwise laudable attributes, however, that make Abe a problematic character to spin off.  

The firs issue of Abe Sapien: the Abyssal Plane gives us a boilerplate Abe story in line with past solo Abe efforts like Abe Sapien and The drowning Boy. In Abyssal Plane Abe has to retrieve a typically Mignolaesque mystical macguffin from a submerged Soviet submarine. In the death ship, he encounters the corpses of long dead sailors and contemplates his own quiet alienation in a typically Abe-like fashion. It’s a well-realized, if unspectacular jaunt with Mike Mignola’s personable fish man, with the issues conclusion prepping the reader for spooky shenanigans to come in issue 2.  

Mignola has worked to develop Abe over the years, shucking his conscientious-sidekick status and turning him into a capable leader of the BPRD, but, at his core, Abe hasn’t changed all that much. Quiet capability and self-reflection aren’t exactly the flashy fodder of typical comic book melodrama. As such, Abyssal Plane is a tough book to render judgment on after one issue. The art is certainly more than capable. Penciler Peter Snejbjerg does a wonderful job of conveying mood. Although he eschews the blocky chiaroscuro of Mike Mignola and his closest stylistic descendants, Snejbjerg is a master of the classic Mignola-style creepy still life, Snejbjerg perfectly integrates actionless panels of empty hallways, abandoned objects, and  lonely undersea landscapes with flashes of more vibrant disturbing imagery, be they blatant shock-visuals like rotting corpses shot from a decompressing airlock, or vague macabre touches like a desiccated foot floating at the very periphery of a panel. Visually This doesn’t look like a Mignola book, but it feels like one.

Relegated to scripting duties (with assistance from John Arcudi), its clear Mignola has a firm grasp on his long-standing character. The story does hit too many of the predictable, peripheral-BPRD-tale beats however, and it is rooted in rather archetypal spook show conventions rather than the eclectic weirdness of the Lovecraft inspired ongoing BPRD titles. The tales chronological setting, 1984, also precludes inclusion of some of the more bizarre later revelations regarding Abe’s origins. An unexplained preface involving a sinister mermaid hints at the possibility of more exotic scares to come, but with just one more issue in the series, things could go either way.

Ultimately it all depends on how much you enjoy hanging out with Abe Sapien. For those who are enamored with Mignola’s ever-expanding milieu, Abyssal Plane certainly scratches an itch, but, so far, Abyssal Plane seems less than essential for fans of Mignola’s books, or newcomers looking to initiate themselves into the world of The BPRD.

Pellet Reviews!

Angelus #4 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Lan Pitts: Four issues in of a six-part series, Angelus #4 delivers so much and continues to build at the same time. There is romance, the continuing blood-feud of light and shadow, betrayal, and an Artifact revealed. All the makings of a compelling story with characters I quickly have come to love in a span of over two years. Ron Marz as usual has an engaging story with depth, and gets the reader excited for Top Cow's upcoming "Artifacts" mega-event. There is some seriously good dialog going on that has weight and sets the tone of "Artifacts" and how it truly is going to be a war. Now Stjepan Sejic runs hot and cold to me. He's great when he's good, when he fumbles, it shows loud and clear. In this issue, you can really see his talent and imagination shine through.  There's beauty in the environment and facial expressions come across clean and tight and convey genuine emotion. Especially with a touching scene with Finch and Dani. I recommend this comic for readers who are interested in some great fantasy and wonderful storytelling and any and all Top Cow fans.

What book are you most excited for this week?

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