Best Shots Advance Reviews: CHEW, X-FILES/30 DAYS, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews: CHEW + More

Greetings, 'Rama Readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! Ready to generate 1.21 gigawatts, so we can get you some Advanced Reviews? Pah, pay that no heed, your crack team of reviewers have already ripped a hole in the space-time continuum, to get you some early looks at books from Image, Wildstorm, IDW, BOOM! Studios, Dynamite Entertainment and Viper Comics! And as always, if you're interested in reading more reviews, all you have to do is check out the Best Shots Topic Page. Now let's let our very own Vanessa Gabriel lead the way, as she takes a bite out of Image's upcoming issue of Chew ...

Chew #12

Written by John Layman

Art by Rob Guillory

Lettering by John Layman

Published by Image Comics

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

Chew is making headlines this week in the comic book world. Along with being nominated for two Harvey Awards, Chew Vol. 2: International Flavor hit the New York Times Best-Seller list. The accolades are fully deserved. Chew is like no other book that I am currently reading, but definitely one of the best books I am reading. I am not referring to just my comics either. Layman and Guillory are on to something truly special. It is evident these guys are having a lot of fun with this, and the story has evolved into nothing short of fantastic. 

Chew #12 is the second chapter in the “Just Desserts” story arc. This issue revolves around Agent Tony Chu's undercover investigation into the whereabouts of one demon-chicken. Chu's boss, Applebee, has assigned him a new partner; this guy's as obnoxious as his hands are greasy from black-market chicken. Tony is less than thrilled with the assignment, but I sure wasn't. The conversations alone between the two of them basically equal awesome, as do the events that unfold.

It is the characters that bring Chew to life. Layman's concepts are so distinct. When a character appears in a panel, I am completely consumed. Reading these books is an entirely otherworldly experience. I can “hear” the sound of their voices and imagine the crazy stuff they might do next. I bet Layman could devote an entire issue to individual characters, and each one would be wildly entertaining. I don't think I've ever once liked all the characters in a book. I do now.

None of this would be nearly as amusing as it is without Guillory's exaggerated attention to detail. From the heart-shaped tattoo on some guy's neck that says “Boo” in the middle of it, to the FDA's “Stormtrooper Protocol” poster on the wall of the investigation room (rule number one is “Tazers Rock!”); every hysterical nuance that Guillory adds to the background makes this issue a true joy. Hell, it makes every issue an Easter Egg Heaven! I spend as much time chuckling at the art as I do reading the story, probably more. I can just imagine Guillory sketching the pages out, laughing to himself as he does it. The stories in Chew are a tad bit depraved and definitely gory, and that is balanced perfectly by the playfulness of the art.

Word on the street is the guys will be at Comic-Con International in San Diego this week, and they are going to have some goodies at their booth. So if you are going to be there, go pick up this month's issue of Chew. It continues to develop an excellent story and really revs up the pace. I am stoked for the coming issues. With all the twists and turns that occur, I am not sure what will happen next. But I do know that one word rules the day — Poyo!

The X-Files/30 Days of Night #1

Written by Steve Niles and Adam Jones

Art by Tom Mandrake and Darlene Royer

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by Wildstorm and IDW

Review by David Pepose

It's a little bit of a paradigm shift, comparing this book to the more prevalant superhero/action fare out in the industry at this point — especially if you have no real affection for the properties going in. The X-Files/30 Days of Night feels more like a ghost story than a horror book, if that makes any sense; there's moodiness rather than terror, a somber rhythm being established rather than the visceral recoil of the chase.

Writers Steve Niles and Adam Jones take a slow start for this crossover, with the introduction having a particularly lyrical quality to it — perhaps no surprise, considering Jones' history as guitarist for the band Tool. It's a surprisingly effective (if a bit old-school) tool that gives a lot of goodwill before we meet Mulder and Scully. Perhaps its no surprise that Mulder comes off as a bit of a jerk (he was always a little short on people skills in the show), but it may turn off new readers, who actually want to like their protagonists.

As far as the art goes, Mandrake leaves his mark all over this book. From the very get-go, you know that this is his book, and I think it's his style that gives his book it's particular "horror, but not scary" tone with his heavy inks and scratchy lines. The gore is just not too gory in this book, and the attacks are more moody than unsettling. There's some nice moments when it's quiet, as Mandrake really gets into a cinematic vibe that feels like a blend between Kelley Jones and Paul Gulacy. But while there's some definite craft here, I wouldn't call it electric — there may be monsters in the darkness, but there's nothing here that grabs you by the throat.

There are some potholes in the road, of course. Namely, it feels like 30 Days of Night is getting a little bit of a backseat in this opening issue, to make way for some of the more detective-style exposition of X-Files. And there are a few exposition bombs that are dropped in the middle of conversations, particularly with some slightly artificial conflict between Mulder and the feds. And yeah, the cliffhanger is a little goofy, in the way that ghost stories sometimes can be — it might lend to some scare factor for younger readers, but not to hardened horror fans.

Ultimately, this book feels more like the comfort-food, television-style writing of X-Files, rather than the serrated, made-for-comics feel of 30 Days of Night. That's not to say it's a bad book — rather, it's a book with an uncertain identity that doesn't quite assert itself in the ways you might expect. While The X-Files/30 Days of Night #1 certainly has some stylistic weight to it, it's also a book that's missing some critical bite.

The Calling: Cthulhu Chronicles #1

Written by Michael Alan Nelson and Johanna Stokes

Art by Christopher Possenti and Stephen Downer

Lettering by Johnny Lowe

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Patrick Hume

The difficulty in basing a new standalone book around an existing, popular continuity like Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos is that it creates a certain expectation in the reader's mind before they even open to page one. Atmosphere. Dread. Tentacles. When what they find instead is a pretty generic horror story with one obligatory reference thrown in, chances are they're not going to go along on the ride with you.

This is not to say that The Calling: Cthulhu Chronicles #1 doesn't have anything worth recommending. Nelson and Stokes create a potentially intriguing mystery around Clay Diggs* and his sister. I appreciate the device used in the final scene to show Clay just what he's getting into — it's an old one, but it's still got some juice in it. And hey, who doesn't love unexplained mass death? 

But this is Lovecraft! Or, y'know, Lovecraft-inspired. These pages should be oozing a miasma of otherworldly horror as the central character begins his descent into unrecoverable madness. Instead, they just lie there.

The only characters we get to spend any time with are Clay, his sister's smarmy boyfriend, and the grieving Paige Brees, all of whom could have been sent from Horror Casting Central: "Could I have one Noble Hero Who Thinks He Can Handle The Truth, one Sarcastic Hipster, and one Put-Upon Everywoman, please?" Likewise, the dialogue has the tin-ear cadences of a underproduced TV movie. We see at least one terrible thing happen directly, with a few others implied, but nothing that sits up and demands to be noticed. I guess that's really the book's single biggest problem: It doesn't do anything new or innovative to contribute to the Lovecraftian tradition. Perhaps Nelson and Stokes are going for the slow build, but even so, they needed to have more to hook us in than what's delivered here.

On art, Christopher Possenti does an equally unremarkable job. His proportions seem a little off — I had to stare at the splash on pages 10-11 for a minute before I could reconcile the whole thing, and his figure design veers from skeletal to overly muscular without much rhyme or reason. In a couple of places, his depth of field doesn't quite jibe, either, making things that are supposed to lying flat on the floor appear as if they're hovering, etc. Given the subject matter, I could make a joke about non-Euclidean geometries, but it's not really worth the effort. I do like his panel layouts, which keep the eye moving nicely over the page. Colors were muddled here and there, as well.

Looking back over what I've just written, it sounds like The Calling: Cthulhu Chronicles #1 is a bad comic, and I don't want to give you that impression. It's well-paced, introduces its cast with economy, and raises the stakes quickly for its protagonist. Like so much horror material, unfortunately, it doesn't do anything to pull away from the pack, and certainly nothing to live up to the works of the man who invented modern horror literature.

*As an aside, I generally recommend trying to avoid having your protagonist's name rhyme with that of a reasonably well-known celebrity, unless it's for satirical purposes. And probably not even then.

Mystery Society #2

Written by Steve Niles

Art by Fiona Staples

Lettering by Robbie Robbins

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Amanda McDonald

From acclaimed author Steve Niles, this week brings us the second issue of his new series, Mystery Society. Many of us think of 30 Days of Night or Criminal Macabre when we hear his name, but this book is considerably different. While his other work fits more into the horror genre, I don't see this book as such. This is a really sharp, smart, well ... mystery! Peppered with literary allusions to mystery and sci-fi writers that paved the way for such books, Niles has created a concept that has a wider appeal to audiences. Sure, many of us enjoy those zombie-filled, hack-and-slash books — but as evidenced with the critical acclaim of books such as The Unwritten and a rise in titles such as Kill Shakespeare, Victorian Undead and Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, there is clearly a market for comic books referencing classic literary works.

Niles has created a couple, Nick and Anastasia "Mystery," that are hard not to like. We see a flashback to them sharing a joint and fantasizing about 'someday' when they have money and can have an elaborate secret lair from which to solve the worlds' great mysteries. That 'someday' is today, as they find themselves fugitives in need of a high tech means of escape. The quickly growing Mystery Society is an eccentric group: the sexy couple, two young girls from the 1960s with powers previously only known by the government, a walking and talking dead woman who calls herself The Secret Skull, and Jules Verne. Well, Verne's brain in a robotic body. As the group deals with the consequences of Nick breaking the girls out of Area 51, we learn more about the group's way of operating. They are not out to kill — they are merely out to expose the secrets of these mysteries.

Fiona Staples' art does not take a back seat in this work at all. Right from the start, her paneling catches the eye. It's unique, but not distracting. The muted color palette provides a setting in which the big bang and boom incidents carry a bit of extra shock with their brighter palette. Without having an omniscient narrator present, it is up to Staples to fill in parts of the story that Niles' dialogue does not address. For example, we see her depicting the two young girls as wide eyed and curious, attempting to inspect the Secret Skulls weaponry. We see the Secret Skull quick to conceal her identity when Jules Verne is quite literally dropping in on them. Are these elements that will come into play later in the story? Maybe, maybe not. But as a reader, I appreciate the visual story telling going on in addition to the dialogue-driven story telling.

In most reviews of books I'm really enjoying, I can at least find some minutiae that is in need of improvement. That is not the case with Mystery Society. This book is a true pleasure from cover to cover. If there is any fault to find in this book, it is that I have to wait a month between installments.

Robocop #5

Written by Rob Williams

Art by Linai Dezarate and Oscar Manuel Martin

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by David Pepose

It may be a little rough around the edges in execution, but there's something beneath the surface of Robocop #5 that makes it worth a look. There's a surprising desperation and humanity underneath Murphy's titanium-Kevlar frame, and it gives the book some surprising tension that harkens back to the splatterhouse origins of the Robocop franchise.

Writer Rob Williams is ultimately the heart of this story, giving Murphy a tough premise to navigate — Detroit is in flames, with rioters having looted the city's key infrastructure. And that means hospitals. Without giving too much away, Williams is able to hit Murphy where it hurts, even puncturing his metallic armor in ways that are more perilous than you'd think. With an extremely tight time frame to deal with, there's a lot of the gratuitous violence and gore that the original Robocop film reveled in, making this seemingly invincible character have plenty of obstacles and hurdles to overcome. And the cliffhanger — this is the very model of a good cliffhanger, one that will may impact the character and his world while still preserving the overall premise of the franchise.

While the writing is immaculate, the art can occasionally be a little rough. Linai Dezarate and Oscar Manuel Martin sometimes have an unfinished, photo-manipulated quality that can take away from the work. But when they're on fire, they're riffing on the old-school indie artists of the 1980s while throwing in the occasional nod to Quitely, McNiven and Hitch. And boy do they ever love to draw blood splatters — those moments where people just explode, even when they're just getting hit by a car, those are the moments that really pop out at you in this book. But what I particularly dig are the small moments here, the western-style curl of Murphy's fingers as he reaches for his gun. There's humanity in that robot, yes sir.

If you're interested in the Robocop franchise but don't know too much about it, this is definitely a good jumping-on point for new readers. Some simple but effective plotting, some nicely laid exposition, and a brutal conclusion means that this book has certainly earned its keep with me. It may not be a perfect home run, but Robocop #5 is definitely batting out of its league.

Strange Science Fantasy #1

Written and Lettered by Scott Morse

Art by Scott Morse and Paul Pope

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by David Pepose

Creativity, start your engines! Because Strange Science Fantasy #1 is the most fun thing you'll read all week, a pulp-laced road rumble that runs circles around its competition as far as out-there ideas go.

But if anything, this book is a fantastic calling card from writer/artist/colorist/letterer Scott Morse, who manages to take all four jobs and make them look easy. Combining NASCAR racing (as well as its drag-racing cousins) with the crazy fight sequences of a Kirby classic, Morse's ideas alone are worth the price of admission. And the dialogue. The dialogue! It's melodrama that doesn't take itself seriously, a sort of crazy style that wraps you up while never sneering. "When he came to, he wept. His tears of joy were beams of light. Lazer light. Straight from his soul." A great introduction for a fun character, an icon that even shines a light on the nature of fandom and change.

But that's just looking at Morse as a writer. He's a capital-A "Artiste" with his drawing skills, evoking this sort of pulpy mix of Darwyn Cooke, Jack Kirby and a hint of Paul Pope (who draws a fascinating one-pager at the end of the book). He's big into using one or two colors to anchor a page, reminding me a bit of Dave McCaig's fun hue choices over at Ghost Rider awhile back. If feels breezy, fun, effortless — the true mark of a true craftsman. And that's not even talking about his lettering skills: Morse's hand-lettering is an absolute treat, a jagged cartoony font that is as fun to look at as the rest of the book.

With more ideas in 28 pages than most series have in a year, you can't go wrong in picking up this book. It's not necessarily the tight plotting of a mainstream book, but more of an art-for-arts-sake explosion, more of spectacle than storyline. And you know what? I really dug it. These are the sorts of crazy concepts that can only make the launch in comics format, where we (ideally) don't take ourselves or our ideas seriously enough to shoot them down. This is high-octane, pedal-to-the-medal fun that absolutely never stops. Seriously, if you buy one book this week, make it Strange Science Fantasy #1.

Uncle Scrooge #393

Written by Didier Le Bornec and Doug Murray

Art by Jose Maria Carreras, Cosme Quartieri and Wanda Gattino

Lettering by Jose Macasocol, Jr.

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Kyle DuVall

Let's face it, you want to be Scrooge McDuck.  He's not just rich, he's tough, he's smart, and he doesn't just spend all of his time swimming (literally) in money, either. He also has adventures. He's like Indiana Jones, if Indy had a bill and could single-handedly pay off the national debt with his pocket change. He's the man, or the duck…whatever.

The masters of the duck tale, Carl Barks and Don Rosa, understood that Scrooge's lust for gold was just a symptom of his lust for life and adventure. They also understood that Scrooge's adventures could be used as a means to convey snippets of real educational facts or under the radar bits of satire or wordplay. At their best, the comic book adventures of Scrooge McDuck were a prime example of a licensed funnybook that exceeded the boundaries of its source material. The classic Scrooge stories also exemplify the idea of the “all-ages” comic, material equally delightful to young and old.

The point of all of this preamble is to express that a comic book about the worlds richest duck and his trademark, copyrighted, and ubiquitous Disney cohorts doesn't have to be rote, or forgettable, or indifferently drawn. When I say that BOOM!'s Uncle Scrooge book is bland and lacking, fans who have kept their focus solely on spandex will say “what did you expect?”,  but conneisseurs of cartooning will sigh “what a shame.”

Issue #393's main story has a plot that's pretty good fodder for an Uncle Scrooge adventure. Scrooge and his entourage head off to Egypt to find some new, exotic treasures for Scrooge's collection. They wind up in a pyramid booby trapped by an ancient pharaoh who was fond of practical jokes. Wackiness and slapstick ensues, albeit rather blandly. 

The whole tale just slides right by with nary an exceptional panel or moment. A master like Rosa would have found a way to slide in some cool historical facts and some sharp moments of irascible scroogeiness into the tale, Barks might have turned the journey through the pyramid into a rollicking, sharply observed romp, but the crew on this issue pretty much play it by the numbers. The art has all the passion and attention to detail one of the lower-budget episodes of the Ducktales cartoon might have had ... i.e. not much. Characters stay on model, and you can always tell what's going on, but there's no invention here, no luxuriating in the details à la Rosa, no whimsical mastery of craft reminiscent of Carl Barks. The colors are flavorless, muted tones that look more like faded animation cels than vibrant modern comic coloring. There's no passion here. And, believe it or not, Scrooge and company are a menagerie that can inspire enthusiasm and passion in many fans and creators. Maybe it's hard to blame artists for not getting fired up about working on a licensed character whose legacy has been pushed to the margins of comics here in the US, but The greats never jobbed it when working on Scrooge comics. Why settle for anything less now?

The second story plays pretty much the same. It involves Scrooge's non-FAA approved pilot Launchpad McQuack swapping jobs with Scrooge's Verhoeven-esque cyborg security chief Gizmoduck. The story is flat and inert. For example, the story has perennial ne'er do wells the beagle boys looking to heist Scrooge's money vault with the help of an unidentified device they grabbed from canardian Reed Richards Gyro Gearloose's garage sale. This sets up a gag where the reader is waiting for the boys to be surprised by just what this wacky invention actually does. The gag here is obvious: when the boys set off their ill-gained armament, the reader knows its probably not going to be the super weapon they are hoping for, but something random and wacky. Needless to say, the payoff is very weak, taking a moment ripe with potential for goofy comic surprise and letting it pass with a yawn. The other half of the plot, Gizmoduck struggling to figure out how to fly a plane, has a nary a gag at all.

Like so many licensed and all ages books, the philosophy here seems to be that kids will read anything. Writing for all ages doesn't mean you don't have to try. Kids are, in many ways, harder to please and entice than adults nowadays. The lackluster effort afforded to this latest incarnation of the Scrooge family is all the more noticeable for the characters' inspired and illustrious past. BOOM! really needs to step up with Scrooge and company if they want a book that can pass the legacy of Carl Barks and Walt Disney on to a new generation of distracted comic readers.

Pellet Reviews!

Widow Warriors #1 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment, Review by Patrick Hume): I've got a couple of warning signs that I watch out for in comics, little things that clue me in to the creators' grasp of their craft. For example, if a book breaks the 180-degree rule on the first page, I'm probably not going to be too impressed. Widow Warriors doesn't buck the trend there, taking an interesting premise (a female army in Song Dynasty China out to avenge the deaths of their loved ones) and bogging it down under overwrought narration, poor visual continuity, and a lack of worldbuilding. With historical epics like this, it helps to have one central character to draw the reader in, rather than the hastily-established ensemble here. The one upside is that, having rushed through the set-up, the writers may be able to take their time to introduce their characters and their setting more fully now that the premise is out of the way.

Stu Bear (Published by Viper Comics; Review by Lan Pitts): When it comes to kid-friendly, an all-ages books Viper doesn't seem to be on anybody's immediate mind, but once you take a gander at their library, you'll see what you've been missing. Stu Bear is a 75-page story that might seem hefty at first, but it reads easily and could be used as a book before bed time or something to give that reader who has surpassed toddler books and looking for something a bit more challenging. The story focuses on Stu Bear, who gets frozen and thawed out in the future, where animals have evolved and now are the dominant species. It's cute and quaint and written by Jeff Bushell, who wrote the Beverly Hills Chihuahua movie, so I'd say he's got the art of making animals talk down to a science. The layouts are simplistic and easy to understand, and the art, while isn't grand, has its moments of creativity. Now, this book doesn't come out for until September, but if you happen to catch it around, pick it up, you won't be disappointed. Bear swear.

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