Best Shots Advance Reviews: ARTIFACTS, IRON MAN ANIME, More

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with some advanced reviews from the post-SDCC craziness, including books from Dynamite, Top Cow, Oni Press, Aspen Entertainment -- and even a sneak peek at Marvel's Iron Man Anime. Looking for more? Have no fear, you can check out more reviews at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's let Lan kick off the column with a look at Top Cow's years-in-the-making new event, Artifacts...

Artifacts #1

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Michael Broussard, Rick Basaldua, Sal Regla, and Sunny Gho

Letters by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

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"...One of the thirteen. Listen to me. You must know this. Separately each artifact is an immense power. All have bearers, chose by fate to carry those burdens." -- the Curator

This is it.

For months now, Top Cow has been giving us hints, teasers, and even a #0 issue that came out on Free Comic Book Day this year, and it's all lead to Artifacts #1, and by George, it is glorious.

Much like with most things he does with Top Cow, Ron Marz has made it accessible to new readers without them worrying about who's who and what's what. It's right there, in black in white. Well, not exactly black and white, but you get the gist. There is a character dossier, a two-page origin of the Witchblade (written by Marz and drawn by Marc Silvestri), and so much more. With all of that, you would never feel lost even in the slightest.

The story itself is dramatic and heavy. Then again, when you're dealing the notion of a possible apocalypse, it damn well better be. With a strong opening scene, new readers could grasp who Sara Pezzini is and what she is about. We already have some of the major characters in action: Sara Pezzini, the mysterious Curator, fallen priest Tom Judge, and android assassin Aphrodite IV, as well as a peek of the rest in a wonderful two-page spread displaying all the artifact bearers. All the while Marz's narrative keep steady and never overwhelming. It's a big first issue, but it doesn't feel heavy. It reads wonderfully and is quite effective in conveying the danger and emotion of the Top Cow universe.

The artist on board, Michael Broussard, definitely has a visually striking style. Sort of in the vein of Neal Adams with his cross-hatching and layouts. The inking duo of Basaldua and Regla keep the lines small, thus keeping Broussard's great level of detail intact and brings these characters and events to life.

With the Artifacts event being thirteen issues long, this is the most ambitious event for the Cow to date. I'd like to think such an event like this will make new believers out of fans who have dismissed this publisher as nothing more than soft-core porn. True, while it is more "adult" it's not anymore so than what you're seeing in the Big Two. If you've been curious about getting into Top Cow, I advise you consider this issue.

The Green Hornet Strikes! #2

Written by Brett Matthews

Art by Ariel Padilla, John Cassaday and Giovanna Guimarães

Letters by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Erika D. Peterman

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 For a character with roots in the radio era, the Green Hornet is enjoying one heck of a renaissance. Aside from the much-discussed Michel Gondry film, he’s also the subject of a slew of new Dynamite Entertainment comics and Golden Age reissues.

Filmmaker Kevin Smith’s version has gotten the lion’s share of attention, but one of the most intriguing of the new Genus Vespa titles is The Green Hornet Strikes!, which has been referred to as an “ultimate” presentation of the character. That’s an accurate description, as writer Brett Matthews (The Lone Ranger ) — no stranger to classic characters — strips away the elements a casual reader would expect from a Green Hornet book. There’s nothing campy or retro about it. Stories that depart from canon are always controversial among some hardcore fans, but they’re easy entry points for people like me, whose knowledge of the GH universe ends with “Kato.”

Beginning with that arresting John Cassady cover, The Green Hornet Strikes! #2 has a moody, almost menacing feel. That makes sense considering that this new, mysterious Hornet is one paranoid, prickly chap. He thinks he’s being watched (he is), and overnight guests are strongly advised not to poke around his crummy apartment. He only smiles when an extremely tolerant friend-with-benefits appears, or when she makes jokes about him hiding an action figure collection. He comes across as morally ambiguous, which frankly makes him more interesting.

Meanwhile, a senior citizen with shades of Bruce Wayne in “Batman Beyond” is skulking around, and an impatient Chicago police detective is trying to bring down a corrupt construction magnate. One could argue that not a whole lot happens in this issue, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Matthews’ writing and pacing are strong, and there’s a sense that readers will be rewarded for their patience. Giovanna Guimarães’ swampy color palette matches the book’s tone well, and while Ariel Padilla’s art is a little rugged for my taste, there are some memorable panels — including an extreme close-up of an eyeball (green, of course).

The Green Hornet Strikes! is definitely worth checking out for anyone with a passing interest in this decades-old character. It’s a modern spin done well, one that ought to bring some new fans into the fold while giving longtime GH lovers plenty to discuss — and argue about.

Super Pro K.O.!

Written and Drawn by Jarrett Williams

Published by Oni Press

Review by David Pepose

Move on over, Pilgrim! There's a new challenger in the Oni Press ring -- and it's name is Super Pro K.O.!, a lighthearted wrestling romp that, while not an instant knockout, will win over fans through its balance of humor and heart.

While many people would likely see Super Pro K.O.! as a sort of high-octane free-for-all in the vein of Scott Pilgrim's "boss fights," writer/artist/wrestling aficionado Jarrett Williams instead takes a deeper look, introducing us to the world of fame and stardom through the eyes of newbie Joe Somiano. Right off the bat, it feels like Rocky spliced with Cartoon Network, with characters like El Heroe and the Richter Twins in particular stealing the show.

Artwise, Williams has that rounded manga look that's similar to the sort of eye-friendly, easy-to-manipulate styles of, say, Powerpuff Girls or Dexter's Laboratory. For him, the rules of page composition are made to be broken, as he places his panels and characters based on enthusiasm alone. Where he truly sets his hooks in you, however, is during Joe's first match -- it's got all the crazy personality of pro wrestling, but there's also that emotion, that Rocky-style coming of age that seeps through and makes Joe not just a protagonist, but a hero.

That said, this book isn't a reigning champ just yet. Structurally, it does take a bit to pick up, and I think that the characters who introduce the world of Super Pro K.O.! -- Yoko Nono and Tomahawk Slamson -- aren't quite as fully-formed or compelling as some of Williams' later wrestlers. While it's understandable that Williams has to set up his world early, it occasionally comes at the expense of the focus of the narrative -- Joe himself.

Still, while Super Pro K.O.! isn't as effortlessly three-dimensional as Oni's megahit Scott Pilgrim, you have to remember that in his first volume, Scott Pilgrim wasn't, either. Where this book truly succeeds is that it gives a fresh world in the capes-sci-fi-horror-saturated world of comics, and takes a rather unpredictable look at the colorful world of pro wrestling, and the costs that come with achieving your dream. It may look like a cartoon, but there's some surprising weight to these punches -- even with its flaws, Super Pro K.O.!'s sense of humor and storytelling chops make this a book that comes out on top.

Mindfield #2

Written by J.T. Krul

Art by Alex Konat, Richard Zajac and John Stark

Lettering by Josh Reed

Published by Aspen Entertainment

Review by David Pepose

In a lot of ways, with all the press -- both good and bad -- that J.T. Krul has been getting on his work with the Green Arrow family (and that means Arsenal, too), passion projects like Mindfield may get overlooked. Which is really too bad, because while it's not a perfect read, it's definitely a series that has some real creative spark to it, a sort of Law-and-Order-meets-The-Dead-Zone ensemble piece.

That said, there is one warning with this issue: You definitely should read the first issue (and Issue #0, if you can get your hands on it) to get the full experience. Where Krul really succeeds in this book is not necessarily with the exposition, but with the expanding mythology of the government's "remote viewing" operatives. Seeing the cons for the psychotropic preparation is a great way to establish this series past the action and the conspiracies that so many other spy books have. Both seeing a unique weapon that turns out to be double edged? That's what sets this book apart.

Artwise, Alex Konat is an interesting study. He doesn't blow you out of the water with his art -- and his style certainly doesn't have the busty, beautiful women that Aspen is known for producing -- but instead, there's a real solidness to everything, an easy-to-follow stream that evokes a low-key, "real-world" quality that's actually quite important for the world that Krul is setting up here. The one weak spot that Konat has, however, is when it comes to character design -- henchmen kind of look a little too similar, and when it comes to our protagonists, they're a little too GQ-clean. It's totally cool to have a character look handsome, don't get me wrong -- but I think in a lot of ways he's missing some opportunities to further flesh out who these people are.

While it isn't the most accessible issue in the world, I would say that the strength of Krul's concept -- as well as the increasing characterization on his part -- is enough to say that Mindfield is a book worth picking up. With the solidness of a police procedural with a twist that takes you to the darkest side of the human subconscious, this is the book that could really show J.T. Krul's potential for storytelling depth. So do yourself a favor, be a rebel and check it out.

TV Shot!

Iron Man Anime

Written by Warren Ellis

Produced by Marvel Animation and Madhouse Studios

Review by David Pepose

With repulsor tech and a billion-dollar armored suit, you'd think Iron Man would be a perfect fit for the neon lights and avant-garde pop culture of Japan. And with Marvel launching their anime line with G4, it's cool to see the Armored Avenger take a more global stage. But while the Iron Man Anime sure does look slick, it's not without some glitches, with some key elements to the pilot that get lost in translation.

The episode begins with a surprising status quo: Tony Stark is going to hang up the suit, creating spinoff Dios units and training a team of successors in Japan. Storywise, Iron Man: Extremis writer Warren Ellis injects some surprising smarts into the reasoning: Because Japan is a demilitarized country, it stands to reason that the Arc technology won't be turned into weaponry. Seeing the East-meets-West culture shock between Tony and the Japanese people is particularly interesting -- it's a sociological track you wouldn't have expected out of a series like this, and it provides some obstacles that Tony can't just punch his way through.

That said, no good deed goes unpunished, and proliferating the Iron Man tech ultimately means Tony will have a hijacked shadow version of his alter ego to fight. Surprisingly, the armor has a bit if a CG look to it, which means the smooth lines of the Adi Granov suit hold sway, as opposed to the infinitely detailed and nearly organic mechs of, say, Neon Genesis Evangelion. While the design feels a little underachieving -- especially when you compare it to the trailer Marvel released last year -- what the Madhouse team does with it undeniably packs some punch. Seeing armor-on-armor combat is brutal and swift, as Tony combines hand-to-hand with the power of twin afterburners.

Seeing the character designs and how it interacts with the voice acting for Tony and company brings to mind what I think will be the biggest obstacle for the series: Hooking casual viewers. The preview shown at SDCC was entirely in Japanese, with English subtitles, and neither G4 nor Marvel were indicating that this might change for the final release. I hope they reconsider: Tony Stark looks stylish with his delicate anime angles, but it's at the cost of expressiveness. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be an issue, as the voice actor would bolster the "acting" of the animated character -- but there will definitely be a gap for non-Japanese speakers, one that will hamper down the comedic and dramatic elements of Tony Stark, whether he's saying that his dating criteria are "two X chromosomes" or telling himself that he'll have to retire the Iron Man another day.

Ultimately, while this prototype for the Marvel Anime line has its rougher patches, it still establshes a clean launchpad for further episodes. What I'm most interested in seeing is whether or not Ellis can inject more of his science savvy into future episodes without slowing viewers down. This series clearly has a vision -- what it needs now is to truly establish its voice. Hopefully Marvel and G4 will give casual viewers an English option to show Iron Man through the stylish, speedy prism of Madhouse anime -- if they don't alienate the masses through a language barrier, this artistic approach could be a welcome upgrade to Tony Stark's already-considerable appeal.


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