Best Shots Advance: CHEW, SIXTH GUN, More

Best Shots Advance: CHEW, SIXTH GUN

'Rama readers! I bring word of the comics of tomorrow! Today!

Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose is indisposed at the moment (pay no mind to those muffled cries), and so it falls to me to welcome you to today's installment of Best Shots: ADVANCED. We've got an array of early looks at this week's comics' crop, with Shots on Image, Oni, Dynamite and BOOM! So sit back, get your fingers in your preferred scrolling position, and enjoy a peek into the comics of the very near future.

Chew #13

Written by John Layman

Art by Rob Guillory

Lettering by John Layman

Published by Image Comics

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

Who makes mama happy? Chew makes mama happy. Every. Single. Time.

I would like to take this opportunity to instruct you, the reader, on how to properly consume this book. Chew is best enjoyed morsel by morsel by way of a three course meal (In other words, I think you should be supporting these genius bastards by paying for monthly issues that can, and should, be read and re-read). The menu for the third chapter in the “Just Desserts” story arc is as follows:

Course One: When you first get your hands on the issue, voraciousness is encouraged. Scarf it down the same way you would the Cheddar Bay Biscuits at Red Lobster. Enjoy and get high off the carbs. Layman’s writing continues to be thoughtful and thought-provoking. He fills the issue with juicy nuggets of social commentary spirited with cheek and expletives. The story is smart and hilarious.

Course Two: Now that you’ve curbed your ravenous appetite, you can enjoy the main entree slowly. Go back to the beginning and “read” the art. Take your time; devour every bite of Guillory’s work down to the detail of the coffee in the pot. The interior art paints this issue with win: rich man’s GED, the proximity of the Tiger/Wilt reporter notes, and hilarious facial expressions. It is this level of detail that makes the issue such a pleasure to read.  I can’t even handle how righteous the cover art is. UGH! Pullet Fiction. I’d really like to slap Guillory, slap him as hard as it is awesome. Everyone needs some Mason Savoy belly-button in their life, it’s better than cowbell. If Guillory’s quirky style is wrong, I don’t ever want to be right.

Desert is the cohesion of the story with the art, and all that it implies. Jesus H., I thought Grant Morrison was a reference junkie, and, well, he is. But while Morrison is busy alluding to Chaos Theory, these guys are the geek supreme. Can I get a smarmy Lumbergh leaning over a cubicle accented by a red stapler while throwing some socially conscious parodies up in that piece? Yes. Yes I can.

I’m betting my first born that Montero is an ode to the real-life Monsanto company. Based on previous issues, we already know that Montero is the corporate food guy not on team justice. Nor is he above some splicing and dicing to make elite-size money. The “special” kid from the diner in issue #12 makes his second cameo rambling off actual ingredients to food; monodiglcerides, sodium bicardonate, processed meat stuff. There is the allusion of Tony’s cibopath powers, that everything we consume has a story; from the pig ground up to make sausage to the pesticides on the banana. The whole damn thing is one incredible allegory for the financial, government, social, and health implications of Big Business FOOD!

Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but as smart as this book has been, I doubt it. Whatever it is that Layman and Guillory are up to, it’s a fantastic way to get your wheels turning and tummy churning. Chew #13 is Fricken’ Delicious!

The Sixth Gun #3

Written by Cullen Bunn

Art by Brian Hurtt

Published by Oni Press

Review by Lan Pitts

"Did he look alive to you?" -- Drake Sinclair

Three issues in and little by little the world of The Sixth Gun is opening up. Oni's supernatural western is quickly becoming one of my must-have books. Not only are we treated to General Hume's origins, but more of the mystery revolving around the guns is revealed along with a secret about Sinclair's past.

Waking from a dream, Becky noticed the mythical (and titular) sixth gun is eerily glowing and she goes to find Sinclair and O'Henry, but stumbles upon them deep in conversation. The two men are discussing incidents from the first issue as well as something to do with Becky. Now the issues goes back and forth with our trio of heroes and General Hume and his demonic cronies. As I previously stated, Hume's origin and his ties to the guns are revealed. I see the guns as sort of Four Horsemen/One Ring of Power-type weapons. Each one possesses a different power and purpose. One summons the dead, another deals out disease and plague, etc. Becky's gun, formerly her father's gun, shows her the past and the future, which explains Hume's success. The only problem about the gun working is that Hume can feel it's presence, a la Darth Vader to Luke, and knows where she is. Slightly problematic. The possibility of Native America mysticism excites me since that is fairly unexplored ground in comicdom.

Bunn has done a good job here of keeping the pace solid, not throwing everything at you at once. There are not that many main characters, yet they all are entwined by the legacy of the guns. It's almost as if the guns were characters themselves, especially Becky's, as it acts like a fortune teller and passes along information. Hume talks to his almost like a lover. That makes sense, especially if you consider somebody like him and his bloodlust. I love the mysterious nature of Sinclair, and the secret he's hiding. Everybody has a distinct voice from the our heroes to the bad guys. It's just really solid storytelling. Brian Hurtt's art doesn't hurt the book either (bad pun intended). His character designs is creative and creepy. The action scenes are well put together and his style still has that flair he had working on Skinwalkers. His colors have a dusty pallet to them, and lots of reds and golds. You have to love how Sinclair stands out being a man in black.

Fans of this book will not want to miss this issue. I can't really recommend this one to people who want to jump on board without saying you have to buy the first two. I still insist that most comics should come with a "previously on..." page. That note aside, it's still a solid read and one of my favorite new titles.

Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story OGN

Written by Mat Johnson

Art by Simon Gane and Lee Loughridge

Lettering by Pat Brousseau

Published by Vertigo

Review by David Pepose

Despite the billing of its title, Dark Rain isn't the first comic to bill itself as a New Orleans-centric comic. And when you think about it, the reasons seem obvious: A natural disaster exacerbated by politics and graft is the sort of crucible that can redeem any flawed hero -- or let any depraved act fester further.

And just looking at the high concept of this book, I had been excited for months to read Dark Rain. Two ex-cons racing to break into a bank submerged under the floodwaters? This is the sort of premise that just might work -- but unfortunately, even with the strengths of the concept, where Dark Rain drizzles is in the execution.

It's weird saying that, considering the brain that came up with this story: Mat Johnson, the writer of the spectacularly high-concept Vertigo OGN . And while I found his prior work to be well-paced if a tied a little neatly at the end, Dark Rain feels punctuated with characters that are too flat to enthrall.

Johnson's best moments, of course, are when the floodwaters initially hit -- "They're trying to kill us again!" a woman shouts as she struggles to hold her doors shut against the hurricane -- but the main characters have no complexity. Ex-customs officer Dabny Arceneaux has a heart of gold, and you know that no matter what he'll do the right thing; Colonel Driggs, on the other hand, is a consummate bad guy who decides "we screw the system before we get screwed first." It feels like a wasted opportunity, considering how much potential the locale has.

As far as the art goes, Simon Gane is one of those storytelling artists like Darick Robertson or Keith Giffen, who doesn't go flashy with the art but does wonders with the emotions. The image of a woman seeing the disaster from her rooftop is absolutely haunting -- the only problem, of course, is that because the story doesn't have a lot of oomph, there's no forward thrust to the proceedings. People talk, people walk through crowded stadiums, but the power behind it all -- the sheer Act-of-God awe that should come from this event -- just doesn't come.

It's doubly disappointing not just to see Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans get such short shrift in a book like this -- you'd think that this city would be a character in and of itself -- but that a talent like Johnson could fall flat. I have no doubts in my mind that New Orleans can have its own story -- it have its own story. But when the city, the characters, the action feels this shallow, Dark Rain feels more jarringly flat and inauthentic than anything else.

The Last Phantom #1

Written by Scott Beatty

Art by Eduardo Ferigato

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Robert Repici

Okay, let me just say this right out of the gate: The only real exposure I've ever had to The Phantom property prior to reading this book was through the classic comic strips that appear daily in my local newspaper and the forgettable 1996 film starring the great Billy Zane in the title role. That said, I was never compelled to follow the character's forays into our contemporary popular culture, and I certainly never realized how much potential the pulp hero had for a modern-day comic book series.

Until now.

Simply put, The Last Phantom #1 fires on all cylinders from beginning to end, as writer Scott Beatty and artist Eduardo Ferigato take us on a visceral, action-packed journey that really does honor the distinguished legacy of the property while simultaneously revitalizing the character for new readers. And while the story told here is indeed somewhat derivative, it certainly manages to hit all the right notes with its spirit and vivacity.

My only real criticism of the book centers on the Alex Ross redesign of the Phantom's classic costume. After all, while the Phantom's new war paint look depicted on the book's cover does succeed in making the character appear more fearsome and imposing than he did in the past, there's just something so iconic about the hero's old purple duds that it's a shame Ross ultimately decided to go another route. All in all, however, I have to say that The Last Phantom #1 is a great start to this new series, and it should have no problem winning over both casual and devoted fans of the character. As far as I'm concerned, The Ghost Who Walks is back with a vengeance.

Ides of Blood #1

Written by Stuart Paul

Art by Christian Duce and Carlos Badilla

Lettering by Johnny Lowe

Published by Wildstorm

Review by David Pepose

Wow. Who would have thought I would have liked this book?

With the industry rocked by X-Men versus vampires, you'd think that Wildstorm's foray into the fanged kind -- with Ides of Blood would be lost to the fickle market. Which is a shame, because while it's an imperfect book, the sheer audacity of Stuart Paul's triple-genre-split story is definitely worth checking out.

Paul's hero -- the Praetorian Valens -- incorporates some smart history, speculative and otherwise, into the all-too-shallow realm of sequential art. Walking the streets of ancient Rome -- an ancient Rome that took over a nation of vampires as their slave sect. Splicing together detective fiction, vampires and the sword-and-sandal genre, Paul manages to make his story fusion rock, as he sets up the duality of his lead character while at the same time establishing that whether you have fangs or Caesar's blessing, this is a scary time to live in.

As far as the art goes, while I think Carloes Badilla's color scheme is a bit on the overwhelming side, with the skies and alleys being drenched in a fiery blood red, artist Christian Duce really makes the talking head scenes flow surprisingly well. His inks work surprisingly well, with the faciala expressions of each of the characters having a dangerous edge to their shadows. And the action? While sometimes there are panels that get the short shrift, there's an astonishing acrobatic nature to some of it, and it looks stunning.

Up until today, I would have never thought I would be even Ides of Blood, let alone loving it. But this is a book that, in an industry filled with competition, really stands on its own two feet based on the sheer power of its concept alone. Even if it's packed with bloodsuckers, this book is a perfect palate cleanser with some major teeth.

BOOM! Disney Preview: DARKWING DUCK #3
BOOM! Disney Preview: DARKWING DUCK #3

Darkwing Duck #3

Written by Ian Brill

Art by James Silvani

Color art by Andrew Dalhouse

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Brendan McGuirk

This book has been surprisingly refreshing. Prior to its release, there were no clamors from the halls of fandom for a great Darkwing Duck revamp. There weren't panels at conventions dedicated to rekindling the former glory of this anthropomorphic adventurer. There wasn't demand for this book, but now that it's here, we can all agree it had better stick around for a while.

Brill and Silvani's Duck Knight Returns captures more than just the essence of Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons gone by with their punchy cartoon action comic. While there are incidental and amusing outside Disney references (peep for Duck Tales AND Rescue Rangers eagle-eyed 'Ramaites), and a more fully rounded supporting cast than one might remember, this book's success is not due to nostalgia. Or, at least, not nostalgia alone.

Brill has concocted what I assume is the most ambitious Darkwing Duck story ever brought to the floor. DKR might not be DKR, but it does put its protagonist in a crisis point, stripped of both his identity and sense of self, and uses the breadth of his supporting cast to recapture the character's center, and find its true North.

Or maybe that's overstating it. Maybe Darkwing Duck just had a rogues gallery that was perfectly-tailored to satisfy superhero comic readers in ways that even original characters often can't. Maybe the freshly-squeezed-but-no-pulp, faux-Batman villain set and the harmless humor gives this book a singular flavor in the crowded kitchen of superhero comics. But it is clever, and it is structurally sound. And that cannot be said for all comics where dudes put on masks to get into danger in the night.

Visually, Silvani treads that difficult line between staying on-model enough to appease Disney licensing masters while also finding the breathing room needed to be individually expressive. This looks slick enough to have run as a Disney cartoon, but the there is enough storytelling rendered on each page to remind readers that this is a true comic; not merely a haphazard collection of screen grabs. There's joy in the script, and with melodramatic flourishes and, well, cartoonish “acting” from the cast, the art matches that emotion.

The Duck Knight Returns does not drastically shift the tone in Drake Mallard's alter ego, nor is it a treatise on its time, and he doesn't fight Superman. Or Supermallard. Or what have you. But it does seem to be telling the strongest story the character has ever seen. And is has ushered the character into a new era. So maybe it does live up to its, ahem, billing.

Read it with a bowl of cereal. Preferably something ungodly sugary.

What're you looking forward to this week?

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