Best Shots Advance Reviews: IRREDEEMABLE, BOYS, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews: IRREDEEMABLE

Happy Wednesday, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! Sad that comics are being released tomorrow instead of today? Those July 4th chickens are coming home to roost! Don't worry, we've got your back, with some advanced reviews so rockin' we actually reach into the future for them. We've got some new releases from Dynamite, BOOM! Studios, IDW, Top Cow and Archaia for your enjoyment -- and there's definitely more to come.

And not only that, but we have ourselves yet another new recruit for Best Shots: Reloaded: Patrick Hume. A friend of mine from the Old Country of undergrad, Pat is working on an MFA in creative writing over at Lesley University, all while fighting the good fight on his blog Moving Violations. A comics and pop culture savant, Pat is a master of all 35 forms of review-kwon-do -- a discipline you can check out to your heart's content at the Best Shots Topic Page. Now without further adieu, let's let our newest recruit show you what he can do, as Pat takes on a surprisingly different issue of The Boys...

The Boys #44

Written by Garth Ennis

Art by Russ Braun and Tony Avina

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Patrick Hume

Click here for preview

This issue starts a new arc in creators Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's savagely funny examination of a world where superheroes can only be trusted until the cameras turn off, and the last line of defense for an unsuspecting public are a group of merciless operatives known only as The Boys.

Part 1 of "Believe" delivers a look behind the curtain at both the Boys themselves and rival superteam the Seven as they prepare for a Christian supers rally. The most affecting sections, however, are the bookend scenes with Hughie and his girlfriend Annie. The first delivers the kind of quiet, intimate interlude that we don't often see in mainstream comics, showing the sweetness of their relationship while still maintaining Ennis' trademark biting humor. By issue's end, however, circumstances have changed, and the earlier sequence helps set up just what's at stake between them. Too often, I think, Ennis is seen as someone who always goes for shock value; he doesn't get enough credit for his ability to handle more subtle emotional beats like this.

Beyond the central spine of Hughie and Annie's relationship, this issue served mostly as set-up. I will say that I'm starting to tire of Butcher's modus operandi of manipulate, rinse, repeat when it comes to Hughie. I realize his capacity for doing whatever it takes has been firmly established, but it's hard to buy into how he pulls the strings of someone who's supposed to be a trusted member of his team. With Butcher's Seven counterpart the Homelander, meanwhile, Ennis is foreshadowing some drastic changes, and I'm enjoying the slow build there a great deal.

On art, Russ Braun does an able job of replacing series co-creator Darick Robertson. Following the recent controversy over Robertson's comments on what is for now a temporary hiatus from the title, I was intrigued to see whether Braun could step up to the plate. He acquits himself well here. While his linework doesn't have quite the same nuance as Robertson's, he has a great eye for storytelling, with a visual style that calls to mind another Ennis collaborator, Steve Dillon. I've often thought that Dillon draws some of the most expressive faces in comics, and Braun shows a similar talent here, making the differences between the Homelander's public and private behavior and Hughie's affection for Annie really jump out at you.

After its initial arcs, which I felt were often gratuitous for gratuity's sake, The Boys has settled into a comfortable groove without sacrificing its ability to push the boundaries of what to expect from a "superhero" book. "Believe" may have started out quietly, but its focus on religion (a topic that Ennis has had a few things to say about in the past) means that we should brace ourselves for another wild ride. Ennis has always had a soft spot for taking a parodic look at the superhero genre, tearing down its sacred cows left and right. Over the decade since Hitman, however, I think his writing has matured to the point where he can create a more genuine emotional resonance in his work, while still scorching the earth beneath your standard spandex soap operas. The Boys is a perfect example of this, and I'm looking forward to see what comes next from one of contemporary comics' most blisteringly innovative talents.

Irredeemable #15

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Diego Barreto and Andrew Dalhouse

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Kyle DuVall

Irredeemable may be the most misunderstood book on the market. Its provocative, post-deconstructionist premise, i.e., a look into a world where a Superman-analog has gone rogue, seems like the stuff of a gritty revisionist limited series: a story to be told in a finite, pre-planned limited serial, a la Watchmen. After 15 issues with no resolution in sight, the detractors have accused creator Mark Waid of spinning his wheels. The problem is, Irredeemable was never solicited as a limited series. The carnage of the rampaging Plutonian shouldn’t be seen as a plot in need of a resolution, but a premise to be thoroughly mined. Taken on its own terms Irredeemable’s wheels aren’t spinning at all, they’ve got plenty of traction, and that traction is propelling readers on an exhilirating ride.

Fans hoping for a tidy, timely end to the series will have plenty to be frustrated about with issue #15. If you’re not sweating narrative closure though, this latest issue will treat you to a grade A battle royale that evokes both the classic action-packed team books of days past, and the high-stakes storytelling of modern comics.  

The story is a classic 3-way slugfest, structured around the ol’ “heroes team up with their worst enemy” convention. A faction of The Plutonian’s old super group, The Paradigm, team up with the demonic interdimensional fiend Orian to try and take down the Plutonian with a literal “magic bullet”. But the team is far from united, leaving the “heroes” and the readers pondering the age old question: “is the enemy of my enemy my friend?” The conundrum is rendered even stickier by the fact that the insane super man is the only individual who has ever defeated ersatz ally Orian.

Despite its post-modern premise, Irredeemable doesn’t read like like a high concept revisionist book. Waid and his artists are not working in the irreverent self conscious idiom of a book like Invincible, or the cynical idiom of a Garth Ennis or Mark Millar story. Irredeemable has the feel of a Mighty Marvel melodrama from days gone by, Waid’s not channeling the intellectual voice of Alan Moore or the Gonzo eclecticism of Grant Morrison, its more like he’s writing the avengers story Roy Thomas might have come up with in the 60’s if a copy of The Dark Knight Returns dropped into his lap through a temporal wormhole. Penciler Diego Barreto and colorist Andrew Dalhouse really get this. Barretos’ pencils are emphatically lined and the layouts and composition in issue 15, with its round robin slugfest, have the combination of kinetics and clarity that characterized the Marvel house style of the late silver and bronze ages. Keeping modern, computer effects discrete, Dalhouse’s coloring goes even further in maintaining the classic feel of the story. Colors are bold and light on gradients and digitized higlights or flare, keeping the book form being dtade in either the past or present. sThis combination of Bronze-age tones with modern, unrestrained storytelling make the extreme moments in Irredeemable more effective. It looks like Buscema-era avengers comic, but the story played out in the pictures is as uncompromising as any Millar/Hitch outing. The juxtaposition is savagely effective, without being overly nostalgic or self-aware.

If you take Irredeemable on its own terms, the terms of an open-ended narrative, Issue #15 is masterful. The detractors may want this book to end, but Waid is not going to be content to wind things down until every narrative cranny of his scenario has been explored. Issue #15 delivers earth-shaking action while dramatically expanding the dramatic sweep of the series. That’s an admirable feat for a chapter of an ongoing story regardless of context.

Waid’s introduction of new subplots and conflicts is understandably infuriating to readers with the wrong expectations, but, in this book, closure is overrated. The series title is “Irredeemable,” after all, not “The Plutonian”. Waid is obviously interested in the notion of how one maintains one’s humanity and honor in a world that pushes its heroes to decisions no one should be asked to make. One gets the feeling that, as the story leads on, every character in this book will do something that will make them irredeemable, and that the line between hero and villain will be drawn between those who lose their sanity and soul in the wake of what must be done (Like The Plutonian), and those who cling to some shred of a moral center. With this in mind, Issue #15 is nether a detour on Irredeemable’s journey nor a jarring bump in the road. It’s exactly what it needs to be: a bold combo of thrilling superhero action, and outsized pulp drama.

Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier #1

Written by Andrew E.C. Gaska

Art by Daniel Dussault

Lettering by Nina L. Kester

Published by Archaia

Review by David Pepose

First impressions mean everything -- and when it comes to reading comics, Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier is no exception. This isn't a perfect comic by any means -- in fact, the jury's still out whether or not it can succeed in its sophomore issue -- but the introduction is so strong and so beautiful that you find yourself curious as to what happens next.

What do I mean? Well, writer Andrew E.C. Gaska and artist Daniel Dussault really have a masterful introduction, with 12 pages telling us so much -- and yet, deceptively, so little -- about our protagonist Thomm Coney, and his lonely journey into space. Dussault has a style that alternates between UDON-style manga and the more computer-tinged art of, say, Stjepan Sejic -- the composition and the lighting are what gives the book its personality, with a horrifying and action-packed intro that makes you desperate to know how Coney got to this point.

But that said, once the fireworks end, don't look for answers just yet. Gaska sets up a brave new sci-fi world with Critical Millennium, and it's to his credit that it doesn't sputter out. There are some interesting beats -- particularly with hard-core prime minister Madame Blacklytter -- but there are definitely some missteps here, including a gratuitous fight scene with bikini-clad women, some very weird racial politics in the mix, and some real clunkers in the dialogue: "You're just seventeen, Coney, still a pup," Coney's friend Eryc says. "Your grandfather never took you hunting, and your old man never took you nothing."

Still, the artwork by Dussault is eye-catching enough that it brings you through the oversized issue, as you still wonder -- what had turned millionaire wastrel Coney into the desperate, delirious hyperspace castaway? The images are haunting, and hopefully the somewhat complicated story will catch up soon enough. Indeed, first impressions are everything in this business -- which is a good thing that Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier #1 starts out with its best foot forward.

Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files: Storm Front Vol. 2 #2

Written by Jim Butcher and Mark Powers

Art by Adrian Syaf, Brett Booth, Rick Ketcham and Mohan

Letters by Bill Tortolini

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Lan Pitts

Click here for preview

"Useless. It had all be useless. I was going to die in the next two days." -- Harry Dresden

The problem with adapting material, especially one that has a cult following like The Dresden Files does, is that there is already an audience for you to either get praised by or to piss off. In the case of this book, I'm leaning more towards the latter. For those of you unfamiliar with Jim Butcher's book series of the same name, it centers around an adult wizard named Harry Dresden, who is used by the Chicago PD to deal with supernatural situations and beings such as, but not limited to, fairies, vampires, demons and devils. Simply put, very cool stuff. I recently got into the book series via a good word from a friend and was surprised myself when I had not gotten into them sooner once I dove in.

A recap page would have come in handy as well since we are about halfway done with the first novel at this point, so that would make it difficult for non-fans to enjoy something that they otherwise might have. So for those out there, Harry has taken a missing persons case with a client whose husband has been missing for three days, he was also dabbling in magic. On top of that, he is investigated a double murder with the victims whose hearts had been removed. Of course this opens the gates to Dresden and his magical world.

The main problem I have, isn't with the script or the adaptation, though Harry's inner monologues do become cumbersome and make the pages seem cluttered. Very cluttered. Mark Powers' script holds up to the book series and didn't deviate the plot from what I can recall. My main gripe, and it's one hell of a gripe, is the inconsistency of the art. Adrian Syaf, who can be seen working on Brightest Day comes off strong, yet his inks fall by the wayside. Ketcham takes a page out of what is essentially 90's Image style. Too much feathering and cross-hatching in some places that it became distracting. There are three different artists on this book, all with different styles, and it looks choppy. Also, the last pages of the book are strictly done by Brett Booth, who has is probably the most radical in style, but he's also the only one that added text to Harry's shirt that appears out of nowhere since it's not in any other part of the book. Oy.

Dresden File fans, we simply deserve better.

G.I. Joe #20

Written by Chuck Dixon

Art by Alex Cal and  Andrew Crossley

Lettering by Chris Mowry

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by David Pepose

The voices are there -- but without a strong hook, G.I. Joe is nothing but toys.

It's tough saying that -- I dig Chuck Dixon's work, as I'm sure a lot of other people do -- but G.I. Joe #20 doesn't wow me. Sure, there's the technology -- the LALO jumps, the underwater cruisers, the liquid biogoop computer systems -- but ultimately, there isn't that urgency, that reason to care. That's not to say that Chuck Dixon doesn't absolutely nail every voice in the room -- he absolutely does -- but everyone treats this like a walk in the park, and ultimately, that is what this issue is. The tension isn't there.

Yet I think part of the lack of energy, the lack of dynamism to this book is the artwork. Alex Cal and Andrew Crossley work like a sketchier Peter Krause, but there really isn't a money shot, something to really draw your eye. To be honest, this issue could have used some very different pacing to really break up and direct the viewers, because the art just kind of blurs together. Even the action sequence -- it takes place way too late to hook people in, however -- feels a bit pedestrian, even if the images of the Joes reconning the area looks kind of cool.

It's weird, I don't have a huge affection for the G.I. Joe franchise, only because it's not something I grew up with. But I know that the cast of characters and the globe-trotting premise opens you up for an entire universe of exciting possibilities -- if you can devise the situation, you can find a Joe to light the place up. This issue, however, just doesn't catch the initial spark to keep you interested -- and that spark is half the battle.

Pellet Reviews!

Starstruck #11 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Vanessa Gabriel):: So. Um. Yeah. I've never read anything quite like that before. What an odd story. It reminded me of Total Recall but with better dressed humanoids. I have got to say, for being originally published in 1982, the art is pretty damn rock-star. The background scenery is so intricate and fantastic.  The characters are wholly unusual. The villainess in the story is my favorite kind, sociopathic and despicably twisted (especially for 30 years ago). "Yes Verloona, Numera Una!" It would seem there is quite a bit of continuity and an entirely other futuristic-space vocabulary that I am not privy to. One would definitely need to start from the beginning to truly appreciate it. It's not my cup of tea, but for those who like psychedelic sci-fiction, this is trippy to the tenth power. A strange in a good way kind of read, but you will need to do your homework.

The Secret History #11 (Published by Archaia; Review by David Pepose): Jumping into the middle of the Secret History is like jumping into an episode of the Wire mid-season -- you don't necessarily know all the nooks and crannies of the story, but it moves on with a seriousness and panache that gets you interested regardless. Is this some dense storytelling? Absolutely -- and the occasional editors' notes can certainly be intimidating -- but there's something universal about the work of Igor Kordey, who chops up pages and spits out some clear, visceral storytelling. But Jean-Pierre Pecau's story, while a bit difficult to wrap your arms around, does reward the attentive, with some really interesting mythology spinning out of runes, playing cards and an attempt on a demonic Nazi's life. While the learning curve may turn some people off, this is a series that seems really well-crafted and very interesting -- I definitely will be checking out the back issues as The Secret History continues to unfold.

The Darkness #85 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Lan Pitts): If you really want your dose of anti-hero, then you need to get this issue of The Darkness. The thing is probably the best about Top Cow is the level of accessibility to new readers. If you've just heard about the Darkness character through his video game or word of mouth and not sure what's a good jumping point, I'd say try this issue. Jackie is on a mission to destroy his nemesis', the Sovereign, bodies that he uses as hosts. So, Jackie ends up in Russia where he crosses paths with a former human trafficker that may not be as harmless as he appears. Phil Hester continues to deliver some great, gritty dialog worthy of even the big two's son-of-a-guns. Stealth artist Sheldon Mitchell joins the gang as the new ongoing artist and it's stellar. He has an angular style that is in the same vein as Sean Chen and in some aspects, Frank Quietly. Top Cow has really been on the ball lately and with Artifacts coming up, this is a book that I'm sure will have some great moments in it.

Transformers: Ironhide #3 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by David Pepose): If there's a lesson to be learned in this issue, it's this -- it's always better to show than tell. There is definitely a lot of potential to this book, as writer Mike Costa puts Ironhide in a very bleak situation... but he doesn't utilize artist Casey Coller nearly enough. Coller has that sort of animated look to his work, but it doesn't help him too much, as there's a lot of talking heads to this book. The plotting is interesting enough -- how will Ironhide get himself out of a post-robotapocalyptic future -- but where's the tension, the action, the stakes? While the mood and atmosphere from Coller isn't quite there -- everything's just sort of plateaued a bit -- I will say that Costa gives Ironhide a great voice, making him sort of the Ben Grimm of the Autobots, a rock you automatically know you can rely on. Now if only the story was a bit stronger to suit this well-tailored character, Transformers: Ironhide #3 would be in business.  

What are you most looking forward to this week?

Twitter activity