Best Shots Advance Reviews: MORNING GLORIES, PILGRIM, More

Image Reveals MORNING GLORIES

Yo, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, bending time and space alike to bring to you some advanced reviews from a plethora of companies, including Image, Top Cow, Dynamite and BOOM! Studios! — and even a sneak-peek at the movie Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. As always, if you're looking for more Best Shots action, check out our topic page for a treasure-trove of back issue reviews. And now, let's take a look at the new kids on the stands, as we start with Nick Spencer's new book Morning Glories...

MORNING GLORIES Class Is in Session
MORNING GLORIES Class Is in Session
Morning Glories #1

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by Joe Eisma and Alex Sollazzo

Lettering by Johnny Lowe

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click for an interview with writer Nick Spencer

When people were talking about Morning Glories, the Hollywood elevator pitch went a little something like this — it's Runaways meets Lost. (In fact, if you Google that very phrase, the first, fourth and sixth links all go back to stories about this book.) Think more The Breakfast Club meets The Prisoner, and you'll really see where Nick Spencer is headed with his latest book — it's not as instant a home run as his previous work,  but it is a trippy, foreboding read that is definitely something unique on the stands.

Pacing-wise, Spencer really benefits from the double-size format of this first issue, as he injects some high-flying action before he moves onto some well-worn high school archetypes. Some of these characters — like Zoe, who breaks up with her string of boyfriends before heading off to Morning Glory Academy — have instant personality. Others, like Hunter, take awhile to grow on you; and then there are those like Ike, who start strong but through repeated character traits wind up feeling a bit two-dimensional.

But that said, Spencer's characterization does buck the trend in terms of today's methodical myth-making or quick-change banter — instead, he paces this book more like a horror story, building up character through their reactions to this not-quite-right place. There's moments of Bendis, moments of Brian K. Vaughan in here — particularly where Hunter and Casey first meet. Unlike Spencer's look on Existence 2.0, there's a lot of warring influences competing for attention here, and I think that'll help continue this series Q-rating and keep people guessing about just what kind of book this is.

As far as the art goes, let's get this out of the way first: there's definitely a visual shift between cover artist Rodin Esquejo and interior artist Joe Eisma. Whereas Esquejo works with Choi-esque, personality-driven snapshots, Eisma has the more traditional indie feel, with sharp angles reminding me almost of a sketchier Peter Krause with a hint of Buscema. Where Eisma best succeeds is in the action, giving us almost a teen-James Bond feeling of sex, action and danger. Yet he's still got some room to grow — there's a few pages here, like Jun getting into a limo, where the figures start to lose their detail, and you do see some repetition of faces, such as between a security guard in the first scene and Casey's dad later on in the issue.

The big question is this — with the weight of Image's marketing department behind it, does Morning Glories give you enough of a hook to keep you going? I think ultimately this book is making a slow take-off, but a take-off nevertheless. Now that we've gotten everyone established, it's time to start fleshing out this world. Even as it evokes some similarities to books like The Freshmen — albeit, that one was played for laughs — there's both some real potential and some room to grow for this book. It's not as fully-formed and solid-out-the-gate as Spencers' Existence books, but if you're looking for a darker, unnerving spin on the coming-of-age saga, you may want to enroll with the Morning Glories.

Witchblade #137

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Stjepan Sejic

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

Click here for preview  

I like it when I am surprised. I had not pulled Witchblade previously, and this was a good read. I suppose I lucked out with this being a stand-alone story. The issue stars Abigail van Alstene; her back story and current circumstance. Abby crosses paths with Sara, thus inserting the character Necromancer back into Top Cow continuity.

Ron Marz introduces Abby seamlessly as she narrates the issue with her account of the recent events in her life. She has just relocated to Los Angeles from Colorado, is in her senior year of high school, has taken a liking to art classes, is under the tutelage of a 300 year old sorcerer to hone her magic, and can talk to the dead. Naturally, she takes a trip to New York with fellow art students to visit the museums, and ends up finding an ally in Sara Pezzini.

In just one issue, I heart Abigail van Alstene. I care about what is going to happen to her, and I want to know more, please. The character design is not wholly original. We've seen nuances of this before; a teenage girl, a mega-load of magic; serious trauma (Black Alice and Willow come to mind). What matters is how it's told, and Marz tells her story very well. Sara serves as a supporting character this month, but that's OK, because she gets the best one-liner of the book. You'll know it when you see it because it screams NYPD and it'll make you laugh.

At times, I'm not sure how I feel about the ultra-fine lines and realism of digital art. They are present here, but the "painted" coloring softens the edges and the effect is quite spectacular. I could do without the botoxed video-game vixen lips on the ladies though. That aside, the detail in this issue is awesome. I'm not into horror and demons, but I could not help but be impressed by the design of the monsters. Sejic's style seems a perfect fit for the Witchblade world.  

Something else I found to be impressive was the arrangement of the panels, and how fluid one scene transitioned to the next. Even with abstract things like magic, visions and flashbacks the art flows effortlessly with the story.

Being a one-shot story arc, it is probably light on Witchblade continuity. For someone who is a stranger to this universe, perhaps a nice spot to dip your toes in and test the water. It is a first-rate book that I thoroughly enjoyed. I want more Abby, and I think I want more Witchblade too.

The Calling: Cthulhu Chronicles #2

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

Picking right up where the debut issue left off, the second installment of The Calling: Cthulhu Chronicles is just as frustrating as its predecessor in not living up to its potential, but has enough going on that works that I can't dismiss it out of hand.

The action content is even lower this time around, but Nelson and Stokes make more effective use of the languid, creeping pace here. Any effective Lovecraft homage is all about the slow build of horror, the gradual realization that the world is just a flimsy covering over the true darkness that rules reality. Our two central characters, Clay and Paige, uncover more about the insanity and death that has claimed their loved ones, and thus become even more inextricably drawn into a rising tide of supernatural mystery. A couple of brief interludes make vague but daunting implications about the nature of the threat they face, adding to the growing suspense. Part of the tension the writers build, however, is squandered by the dialogue, which continues to be as dull as dishwater, and the introduction of too many ancillary characters. Also, Nelson and Stokes seem to want to use elements of the Cthulhu mythos to add some texture to what is at root a pretty banal contemporary horror story, but don't seem to actually know how to go about doing so. It might be telling that my favorite scene, as Paige cons her way into a medical examiner's office, felt completely out of place, tonally speaking.  

Once again, Christopher Possenti's art doesn't do much to add to the book's appeal. While I didn't notice any instances of some of the more egregious proportion and anatomy issues as last time, the fact remains that his compositions and figures are serviceable but unremittingly bland. Moreover, he doesn't seem to have quite mastered the art of blocking character placements from panel to panel, which combined with a lack of distinguishing character designs leaves it hard to tell who's who. Nelson and Stokes dumping in a bunch of one-note extras doesn't help matters there, either.

I'm convinced that there's a cool story hiding in here somewhere. There's plenty of elements that I like — the mysterious apparition in Clay's photographs, the apparent ties between the Cthulhu cult and various advertisements, and the recruiter that comes around at issue's end, to name a few. Ultimately, however, the structure and lack of urgency in the book as a whole prevent me from developing more than a cursory interest in what's going on. Judging by these first two issues, this book's one hope is that it might be "paced for the trade" and doesn't read well in single installments. Then again, maybe I'm just grasping at straws to give the creators more opportunity to live up to the pedigree of their literary inspiration. I'm leaning toward the latter at the moment.

Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time #4

Written by Robert Jordan

Script by Chuck Dixon

Art by Chase Conley and Nicolas Chapuis

Lettering by Bill Tortolini

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Lan Pitts

Click here for preview  

"I don't know that you are worth it, sheepherder, no matter what she says." -- Lan Mandragora

Reading these comics reminds me why I fell in love with The Wheel of Time in the first place, especially around this time in the books when the action starts to unfold. Coming back to Emond's Field with an injured Tam, Rand discovers that his village was attacked by Trollocs. When Nynaeve, the Wisdom (read: healer) of the village sees to Tam, she informs Rand there is nothing she can do. Despair takes over Rand, but finds hope again when he discovers the mysterious Moiraine is actually an Aes Sedai and can cure his father.

As much as I love the actual novels, I want to like this comic more. Then again, it's hard to replace the images you've had in your heard for more than half your life with Chase Conley's art. Some characters still aren't quite there, but if there is one that Conley has down pat it is Moiraine. The way she stands, her face, the way she channels the One Power, it's all very, for a lack of a better term: Moiraine-like. Now the layout of some of the pages still bother me, but it isn't so much a diversion that I want to cast baelfire on the book (that's an in-joke).

I feel the main thing is that his inks are inconsistent, but his image of a charred Emond's Field was pretty spot-on and just a great shot. Nicolas Chapuis' colors are another thing. While it was exciting to see Moiraine channel and fight back with lightning, the rest of his art just comes across as boring and shallow. I just think with a rich tale like the Wheel of Time, there ought to be richer colors as well.

Chuck Dixon continues to take Jordan's story and get the best parts of the story without taking much out, if anything, because it's just how I remember it. The scene with Rand and Egwene comes across as honest and emotional. And I think Dixon understands the characters as well as the fact that he is dealing with material that is considered the Lord of the Rings for this generation.

The fact that Dynamite is going through with a Wheel of Time comic, rather than having a network adapt it into a TV series or it becoming a movie franchise is probably the smoothest, most faithful way for it to reach fans young and old. The fact that Harriet, Jordan's widow, is on board just confirms the idea harder than the Stone of Tear. I want the series to continue, but just hope the art department steps up their game because the story is only going to get better from here.

Uncle Scrooge #394

Written by Regis Maine

Art by José Cardona Blasi, Digikore Studios and Giorgio Cavazzano

Published by Boom! Studios

Review by Erika D. Peterman

Scrooge McDuck is unapologetically retro, and I love him for it. Even in 2010, he’s still decked out in that fussy little morning coat, a top hat and spats. He’s always on the verge of a cane-hurling meltdown, and his greed is so outrageous that kids and adults alike can’t help but giggle. I giggled often while reading Uncle Scrooge #394, and it's good to know that some things never change. The high-strung, feathered tycoon I remembered from childhood remains as amusingly over the top as ever.

With the aid of his bumbling pilot, Launchpad, Uncle Scrooge is in hot pursuit of exotic treasure in the Spamazon Rainforest — namely, the humongous Dreamstone Diamond. Writer Regis Maine has a lot of fun with Scrooge’s weakness for acquisition, and the comic is full of clever/goofy lines that suit the characater. Upon seeing the object of his desire, Scrooge says, “I’ve estimated its value at six fantasticatillion, nine umptillion dollars and twenty-five cents! Of course, I’ve been searching for it for years, so we may need to round up for inflation …”

When disaster strikes and he’s denied the rock, Scrooge throws an increasingly hilarious hissy fit that more than a few young readers will empathize with. It’s always a good time when rascally triplets Huey, Dewey and Louie show up, and the action reaches even zanier heights when the whole gang heads to Paris — this time to find the famed (and possibly cursed) Flabbergé egg. (One quibble: Why is the performers’ entrance sign in a French opera house written in English?)

In addition to a nifty, madcap story, Uncle Scrooge has the kind of pleasantly familiar illustrations and sunny color scheme you’d expect from a Disney-centric comic. Geeky moms and dads will get a kick out of the book’s nod to a certain “felonious feline,” as well as a few other sharp pop culture gags. Uncle Scrooge #394 is an enjoyable read for all ages, and it sets up nicely for the next chapter in the Duckburg crew’s adventures.

Cinematic Shot!

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Featuring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jason Schwartzman, Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong and Anna Kendrick

Filmed by Big Talk Films and Universal Pictures

Review by Patrick Hume

Last week, I had the opportunity to see a preview screening of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, adapted from Bryan Lee O'Malley's popular series by writer/director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). Not only were attendees lucky enough to see the film a week early, but we were also treated to a Q&A session with Wright and actors Cera, Schwartzman and Kendrick after the screening. We'll get back to that shortly.

I watched the film from a rather odd perspective, as a pop culture and comics junkie who has somehow never managed to read any of the Scott Pilgrim books, despite their apparent distillation of everything that I like (video games, music, super-brawls, angst) into a single potent stew of sequential art epicness. That's what I hear, anyway. The only preconceived notions I had going in were the popularity of the comic, the high caliber of the cast, and my admiration for Wright's filmmaking.

And I have to say I was pretty much blown away.

From the opening frames of the Universal logo done 8-bit style, the film embraces everything that so endears the comic to its fans: the simultaneous reverence for and gentle ridicule of the idiosyncracies of nerddom, the hilarity and pathos of Scott's quest to defeat the seven evil exes that stand between him and the girl of his dreams, and the whip-smart banter that propels it all. Wright seems to have crafted the film as both a compelling action-comedy and a loving homage to every aspect of geek culture for the last thirty years, and he succeeds wildly on both counts. I was interested to see whether Wright's eye for comedy and sense of tone would translate to a non-British milieu, and I'm happy to say he exceeded my expectations. He keeps the film rapid-fire, with his trademark whip pans, crosscutting and split screens in full effect, supplemented with gaming-inspired graphics to create a suitable visual palette for this hyperactive tale.

As a fan of Cera's previous work, particularly on Arrested Development, I've never much understood the dislike for him in many quarters. Sure, he has a schtick, but so do a lot of well-liked movie actors, and Cera uses his to great effect here. He gives Scott a quiet, nervous energy that both frustrates and endears him to those around him. Like any 22-year old, he has moments of callousness and immaturity, but makes a great transition into a new phase of his life by movie's end, and Cera puts that journey across with great skill and humor. Likewise, Winstead's Ramona Flowers starts off as aloof and even off-putting, but as Scott continues his battle to win her heart, Winstead brings out a quiet sweetness that makes it clear why Scott fell for her in the first place, and vice versa.

I can't say enough good things about the supporting cast. From Scott's bandmates in Sex Bob-omb right on through all seven of his opponents, they each do tremendous work in matching Wright's manic pace. Particular mention must be made of Culkin as Scott's roommate and Wong as his most recent ex, both of whom take parts that could have fallen into cliche and instead steal the show.

Whenever a cult favorite like Scott Pilgrim is adapted to another medium, there's a level of risk involved — will the existing fans embrace it, and will it translate to a wider audience? Last year's release of Watchmen, for example, proved a disappointment on both counts. Naturally, some changes had to be made and material excised when compressing Scott Pilgrim from six books down to a two-hour film; lost subplots, major supporting characters relegated to an off-hand reference. I didn't feel as if anything was missing, however, and the essential story made it through loud and clear.

But what about existing fans of the book? If the reaction of the audience I was a part of proves any indication, the filmmakers have nothing to worry about as far as the "geek base" is concerned. Wright and his actors took the stage to riotous applause, answering questions for about half an hour. Cera and Schwartzman had a mutual admiration society going for much of it, sharing a seat at one point and making a date to watch motivational guru Tony Robbins' new reality show on NBC*, Kendrick getting some props for being an "Oscar heavy-hitter" (she was nominated last year for Up In The Air), and Wright expressing his relief that his first studio film was allowed to be "fucking bananas". Audience questions ranged from everything to what were the best scenes to direct (the fights) to when we can expect to see an Arrested Development movie (might film this year) to a request from a Michael Cera doppelganger for a picture (I think it happened afterwards). My favorite anecdote was Wright's explanation of the collaboration with musician Beck, who wrote and recorded all of the Sex Bom-Omb material. Apparently, the conversation between music director (and frequent Radiohead producer) Nigel Godrich and Beck went something like this: "Hey, do you want to work on the Scott Pilgrim movie?" "Yeah, absolutely." Wright then sent over the script, the comics and some blown-up art, which Beck hung around his home studio as he and his band started working. 72 hours later, Wright was holding a CD with 24 tracks on it. That was in November 2008, and apparently the material in the movie is more or less exactly what was on said CD. Wright and the three actors couldn't have been more gracious or excited to be there, and after a profanity-laced sendoff from Schwartzman, they left to another round of applause.

Will Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World find a mainstream audience? It's hard to say. With media as fractured as it's become, it's hard to build interest in something that isn't already a known quantity or franchise. Based on the film's merits, though, I have every hope that it will be embraced by a diverse crowd. A start-to-finish sprint of laughs, action, and genuine emotion, Scott Pilgrim wins this round.

*I awoke the next day to news that it has been cancelled after only two episodes, and had a little laugh.  

Which titles are you looking forward to this week?

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