Rama readers — we've got to go back to 1984!
No, it's not to make sure that your father stands up to the bully and marries your mom — it's time for your weekly helping of Best Shots Advance Reviews! But just because we're going back in time doesn't mean you won't be getting tomorrow's reviews today: We've got books from Dark Horse, Image, Top Cow, IDW and much more for your reading pleasure.
Want to see more? Check us out at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, the future is what we make it, as we take a sneak-peek preview of Dark Horse's Terminator: 1984 ...Terminator: 1984 #1
Written by Zack Whedon
Art by Andy MacDonald and Dan Jackson
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse
Review by David Pepose
As far as organically-built sci-fi narratives go, I'd be hard-pressed to find one I like more than the first two Terminator films. There's a real beauty in the structure of how Sarah Connor moves from mousy waitress to a badass revolutionary in killer shades, and how the Terminator itself transforms from a harbinger of death to fearsome protector of the 10-year-old savior of mankind.
So the real question is this: With Dark Horse playing with the franchise in Terminator: 1984 — using time-travel and a new character to play with that perfect little bit of cinematic history — does it throw a spanner in the works? As far as this first issue goes, the answer is surprisingly inconclusive: There's plenty of set-up here, but ultimately there isn't enough original content to make a strong judgment in this comic's favor. As they say, the past is truly prologue here.
Perhaps that's a wise move, considering the love that Terminator fans (myself included) have for this franchise. This isn't some sort of spin-off or distant sequel or alternate universe — this is the "real" deal, or as real as you can make it within the parameters of a fictional universe. Zack Whedon's answer is perhaps a smart one, introducing the character of Ben, a freedom fighter and comrade of Kyle Reese from 2029. Disappointingly, you don't get a particularly strong vibe on who Ben is as a character, but his reaction to the comparative splendor of 1984 is the best part of the book: "It's unbelieveable," he says, just before going dumpster diving behind a restaurant. "They have so much of everything."
As far as the art goes, Andy MacDonald attempts to emulate the looks of Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn, but also has that sort of scratchy, cartoony linework that is as dissonant as it is unique. Seeing a shadowy government cabal is illustrative — on the one hand, the craggy lines across their faces are reminiscent of a harder, darker style, but then you see their overly large eyes, and it reminds you of Jeff Wamester. When MacDonald works in motion — like Ben racing down the highway on a stolen motorcycle — it looks particularly striking, but some of the other action feels almost as an afterthought. Maybe it's because we've already seen it before, maybe it's because the speed and claustrophobia of those sequences don't really shine through.
But ultimately, Whedon gets kneecapped by the exposition here — namely, retelling bits and pieces of the first Terminator film for those who haven't seen the movie. I'll say it: If you haven't seen the Terminator movies, you might understand what's going on here, but will you really get it? You certainly won't get the connection with Sarah Connor that you would from the source material, and I think that's probably the great strength of this series. But with about one-third of this book working as a straight recitation of the first movie, we ultimately don't get enough of a sense of where this book will be headed: Yeah, Whedon is going to be playing with some of the big characters of the franchise as well as his own original guy, but didn't we already know that from the solicits?
Thankfully for Whedon and company, they've got the Terminator name to fall back on as far as this first issue goes — if this was an independent property that didn't really start in the first issue, it'd be over. While I think there's a lot of potential that someone might believe Connor and Reese's horrific story about Terminators and Skynet, right now there isn't a whole lot to go on. You can't say that Whedon has failed to live up to the immaculate structure of the first two Terminator films — but as far as the first issue goes, it's hard to argue there's been much added at all.
Written and Lettered by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
Looking to overhaul your pull list? Are you bored with comic books in general? Are you the grumpy geek disenfranchised by warmed-over story arcs? Rant no more my friend! Your fiction angst ends with Chew. Team Layman/Guillory is at it again bringing their brand of gruesome goodness in Chew #14. You want to experience awesomeness, don't you? DON'T YOU? Of course you do.
Chew serves up some seriously cool characters, but there is much we don't yet know about them. Up to this point, we've been dealing in Tony's FDA capers, but the pace of this month's installment slows a little for some character exposition. Tony flashes back to a very special ex-girlfriend who's left a lasting impression. Everybody has a past. We find out what it means to go toe-to-toe with Mason Savoy, and Tony learns exactly the kind of partner he has in John Colby.
Typically, a new book would lead in with origin stories for the characters. Instead Layman is pulling back the layers of who these people are as the story progresses. It leaves room for genuine surprises, and it is really hard to surprise me. There are so many comics being published; and sure, each one may have different characters in different outfits, even in a different universe, but the stories are derived from an overused template. Chew has created its own template. In the face of all that is familiar and safe it often turns wildly and disgustingly awry. Therein lies the beauty of this book, you never know what's going to happen.
I spied the "Kevin Smith Cookbook" and the "ums" on Tony Chu's nightstand, Guillory's attention to detail is what sets this book apart. Rob's art continues to be thoughtful and hilarious. I was particularly impressed with his rendering of Tony's cibopathic images; the colors and the action felt like I was inside Tony's head, so to speak. With six Mason Savoy belly-button shots, I crown you king of September Mr. Guillory. It's the little things.
Chew is what all comics should strive to be: unique, thought-provoking, artistic entertainment. Another awesome Chew fact, it's a creator owned book, which makes adding it to your pull list that much sweeter. For the record, I am not Layman's personal toady. There are just very few books as consistently good as Chew. Period. After 14 issues, I have not been disappointed, and I'm always entertained. The truth ... cannot be contained.
Pilot Season: Asset #1
Written by Filip Sablik
Art by David Marquez and William Farmer
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Top Cow
Review by David Pepose
Maybe it says something about me, but I love stories about manipulation.
Whether it's The Departed, Dark Wolverine, or Top Cow's Asset, I love stories where characters get into each other's heads before they suddenly, unexpectedly pull the trigger. Plans, counterplans, love is a battlefield, and you're not the target, you're the weapon.
And in that regard, I think Filip Sablik really succeeds with this book, and with his lead character Madeline. You can tell from the get-go that not all is right with this raven-haired beauty, but it's to Sablik's credit that you don't know exactly where it's all headed until it's way, way too late. I think part of the reason I like Madeline so much is not so much her premise — c'mon, it's been used so often that there's a term for femme fatales — but the execution. Her internal monologue makes the metaphor: "Mata Hari didn't have the benefit of a world wide net of information at her fingertips," Maddie says. "If she had, perhaps she would have picked her assets better." Seeing how Maddie plays puppetmaster is as revealing as it is resourceful. This is characterization at its most utilitarian, at its most fun.
That said, I don't think this book would have worked nearly as well without the art. I raved about David Marquez on his work on Archaia's Syndrome, and I'm going to do it again here — he's fantastic. Marquez is one of those artists who recognizes that comics are having increasingly more talk than action, and so he's able to play with the shots and expressiveness to make every panel look deliberate. His style is a big cartoony, but there's those hard angles to his characters that is reminiscent of Howard Porter. It's a good fit for a mostly talky book, and if anything, I think Marquez's only weakness is in the fight sequences, where the realism set up in the previous scenes is undercut by flip-kicks and crazy diagonal leaps. The colorwork by William Farmer is another misstep — he did great stuff for Syndrome, but here, the darker colors just look washed out.
The real question Pilot Season: Asset brings up to me is not how fun it is — although it's really, really fun — but is it sustainable? This is an example of one of those great done-in-one stories, but I think that skill becomes double-edged: What's to bring someone back? Why do we need to see more of Asset? Ultimately, with three other Pilot Season books on the horizon, Asset may lose to the fickle nature of fandom, who might forget about her closer to the vote. But make no mistake about it: Even if this series doesn't continue, this is a 20-page master class in how first issues should be. It's as smart as it is sexy — an Asset to any publisher.
5 Days to Die #5
Written by Andy Schmidt
Art by Chee
Lettering by Robbie Robbins
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by David Pepose
Can a personal story survive in a commercial world?
That's one way to look at the final issue of 5 Days to Die, a book that's arguably more exorcism than standalone story. There's another way to look at this, as well: What if you were watching Die Hard in reverse? What if John McClane was really killing diplomats instead of terrorists? There's something about that dogged determination, that see-it-to-the-end ruggedness that informs this last issue. But make no mistake — this is an ending that will split plenty of readers, and could cause many a debate.
And it's all on Andy Schmidt. Now that he's been setting up four issues of unpredictability, he's got to bring it all to a close. Will Detective Ray Crisara get that resolution with his family that he so deeply needs? Will he find a conspiracy hiding beneath it all, or is this just a figment of his imagination? I'll admit, I wasn't a fan of Schmidt's answer at first glance — but that's also why I brought up the question of a personal story in an impersonal marketplace. Schmidt has said since the very first issue that this series was a reaction to his relationship with his infant son, and when you look at this book as an analysis of the author, it's a cathartic moment to see Crisara realize that he killed his relationship with his family long before a truck T-boned his car.
Now, as far as the art goes, I think Chee has missed some opportunities to wow people. While Schmidt goes out of his way to remind readers of what's happened in the past four issues, you almost get the sense that Chee is exhausted from the previous chapters. Part of it is due to the constraints of the script, but you have to introduce your characters visually, and the sheer number of featureless distance shots of characters is a little disappointing considering the strengths of the previous issue. Outside of the bandaged Ray, there isn't much in the way of defining features to some of the characters, even as he goes a bit Frank Miller-esque with our protagonist's craggy scowl. The shootouts are the highlight of the book, with the panel layout and the flashes of red, and a two-page sequence where you get the twist of the story looks as shattered as Ray's life. There's some terror in these pages, you just have to wait a bit to get there.
But that said, readers could also make the following argument: Is this story ultimately too personal for this impersonal marketplace? Is the story of a man torn between work and family resonant enough with readers? If you've been looking at this comic as just a noir cop story, you may chalk it up as a cliche ending — but if youve bought into Schmidt's allegory of personal conflict since the first issue, then I think you'll find 5 Days to Die a powerful tragedy draped in action hero tropes.
Written by Ron Marz
Art by Michael Broussard, Rick Basaldua, Joe Weems, Sal Regla, Sunny Gho and Dulce Brassea
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Top Cow
Review by Lan Pitts
"And I will find our daughter, and I will kill whoever took her. Because that's what I do." — Jackie Estacado, the Darkness
To be blunt, Artifacts displays how mega events in comics should be done. With revealing the plot with a solid pace and not dumped in your lap, it becomes easy to access and enjoy without worrying or scratching your head in confusion. Last month's first issue of the thirteen-part series, Ron Marz set up his characters like one would on a chess board, with Artifacts #2, he really gets moving. With Marz having shaped or created most of the characters involved, they all have one solid voice. Nothing seems static or incohesive. The best part? You actually care.
The mystical nature of the Top Cow characters plays second fiddle to the characters themselves. The Angelus, Darkness and Witchblade may be the ultimate embodiment of their realms, but here they are Dani, Jackie and Sara, who all are worried about Hope's safety. Let's not forget about Tom Judge here. The priest who isn't so saintly. Again, it all goes with a natural, progressive flow. You aren't assailed vigorously with characters and meaningless dialog, but rather with moments and purposeful storytelling.
Michael Broussard's pencils and layouts are something to behold. He has a keen eye for detail and angle. For some reason, I hearkened back to how John A. Alonzo shot Chinatown. Every panel contains enough drama, intrigue, and emotion that once you see it, you can't help but pore over it and admire what he's done. Somewhat new on the scene, he's quickly becoming my favorite Sara Pezzini artist. From how he does her eyes, to her hair, just everything seems, for a lack of a better word, right. Sunny Gho has proven time and time again, he can handle Top Cow artists with the more kinetic styles, and his colors over Broussard set the tone perfectly.
Honestly, no offense to the other big events going on in comics, but something like Artifacts needs to come out to show an example of how independent books that are flooded with great talent can pull off an on par show, and at times exceed expectations.
Driver For The Dead #2
Written by John Heffernan
Art by Leonard Manco, Kinsun Loh and Jerry Choo
Lettering By Todd Klein
Published by Radical Publishing
Review by Kyle DuVall
Illustrator Leonard Manco puts a level of effort into every page of Driver For The Dead that most mainstream comics can only muster for their covers. Manco and his colorists Kinsun Loh and Jerry Choo make a commitment in each panel. There’s no quality shock once you flip open the cover and stare at the first story page. Visually this is a slick book. Driver For The Dead also has a story that just bleeds cool, and you get 50+ pages of all of this for $4.99. As a wise man once quipped: “'Nuff said.”
Issue #2 continues the queasy odyssey of the portentously named Alabaster Graves, the titular Driver for The Dead. Graves is a hard-assed chauffeur for corpses with mystical connections in life that make them sought after collector’s items for all manners of necrotic nasties after death. The concept itself is absolutely golden. Monsters + car chases + gore + gunfights? That’s an equation for awesome, and writer John Heffernan knows his math. Reviewers have been quite fond of coming up with clever mash-ups to describe the book’s hot-rod hearse racing, spook-slaying appeal, so I’ll throw in my own Driver For The Dead comparison to keep the theme alive. Driver is like Smokey and The Bandit as conceived by Rob Zombie. Instead of Burt Reynolds in a Trans Am, it’s an undertaker in a rodded out hearse, and instead of delivering Coors Beer he’s delivering a dead hoodoo man, and instead of Jackie Gleason chasing him, there’s an undead necromancer named Farrow who steals the body parts of psychics and sews them to himself to gain their powers.
Manco’s art is photo-realistic and the requisite stiffness of that style does creep into the figures, but not overly so. Manco also has a fluid sense of layout that evokes the cinema, but enough flexibility to be creative with his panel layouts. Driver doesn’t read like a storyboard. It reads like a comic. Driver’s referenced art doesn’t mean Manco and company settle for a dry, realistically drafted vision for their world either. Manco embellishes his lavishly detailed panels with gothic flourishes and Loh and Choo paint it all in atmospherically murky washes of morose colors. This ain’t Alex Ross or Salvador Larocca. Driver looks like a hillbilly gothic dream, rife with ruinous swampscapes filled with the skelotons of houses and automobiles. Margins slither with gators and snakes and other forebodingly slimy creatures. This is photorealism, but photorealism harnessed to create expressive, otherworldly atmosphere . Alabaster’s world is not our own, it’s creepier and more dramatic, even if the laws of perspective and proportions all match up.
Another outstanding element of this book is the attention to detail the writer has injected into all of the ghastly goings-on. The mysticism of Driver’s world isn’t a matter of silly hand gestures and slapped-together nonsense words. The magic practiced by the characters reflects real folk-culture; spells and hexes that, if they aren’t drawn from real practices, are good enough to fool anyone but an anthropologist. It’s a long way from “Eyes of Agamotto” and “Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth.” That’s not to say Heffernan doesn’t throw in some concepts that are completely off the rails either. Last issue had a snake demon flying from a child’s mouth, and this issue has zombie highway patrolmen and undead biker thugs, not to mention a werewolf and the patchwork villain Farrow. It’s pulp flamboyance anchored to earthy creepiness, and it come off brilliantly.
Driver’s most noticeable shortcoming lies in its steely protagonist. Issue #2 gives the reader some much-needed background into Graves’ origins, but he still comes off as a rather generic, tough-guy, albeit one with the requisite heart of gold and iron-clad sense of responsibility. He’s a predictable archetype that gets the job done narratively speaking, but one that could use a little polish of personality.
Driver For The Dead is still top-line stuff. Creator Heffernan cooked up a killer concept and isn’t content with gliding on cruise control. This comic has passion in every page and a squirmy exuberance that animates every scene, whether it’s a moment of scene-setting dialogue or a blood-bursting gore-shot. Rarely does high-octane action co-exist so beautifully with chilling atmosphere. This book is certainly not for the squeamish, but if you don’t mind a little blood and brain matter on your comic pages, you should hitch a ride in Black Betty and buckle up. Alabaster Graves is definitely heading your way.
Written by Joe Brusha
Art by Jean Paul Deshong and Jason Embury
Lettering by Jim Campbell
Published by Zenescope Entertainment
Review by Erika D. Peterman
“What chance does a dragon have to survive in a world of guns and missiles, radar and infra red cameras?” That line explains the break between fantasy and reality in this comic, which is part of Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales series. As science and technology began to dominate Earth, beings like fairies and ogres were relegated to mythology and forced to return to their homelands. And according to this dark interpretation of the Peter Pan story, times are mighty hard in fairy tale world.
It’s impossible to read Neverland without comparing it to Vertigo’s outstanding Fables series. The latter is the comics gold standard for reimagining magical childhood stories in mature and sometimes shocking ways. Though that concept isn’t conveyed as artfully in Neverland, the story is an attention-grabber.
It turns out that Mr. Pan’s immortality requires a steady supply of unsuspecting children, so Neverland, once paradise, is now a hellhole. The lone fairy in Pan’s realm, the last of her kind, is Tinker Belle. Here, she looks disconcertingly like DC Comics’ Starfire, complete with flowing red hair, a miniscule purple garment and … enhancements. But Tink is a sympathetic character defined by loss — not only of her fellow fairies, but also her love affair with Pan. He’s set his demonic sights on Wendy, whom he imprisoned in his lair after she arrived to rescue her nephews. It isn’t looking good for the Darling clan.
But the character I’m most interested in is Nathan Cross, aka Capt. Hook. He lost his brother to Neverland’s horrors when they were still children, and artist Jean Paul DeShong certainly illustrates the disheveled Cross like a haunted man. The visuals in this comic struck me as are coarse and awkward, but the page showing Cross’ Neverland-induced nightmares is arresting.
Writer Joe Brusha’s story is fast-paced and engaging, and newbies should have no problem getting oriented. However, I’m undecided on whether to continue reading this series, mostly because of the raw art style and unremarkable color palette. There’s either too much going on — too many shadows, harsh lines and exaggerated muscles — or too little, which results in some panels looking hastily done.
In spite of those concerns, I have to give Neverland this much: Once you read it, you’ll never look at that flying kid in the green leotard quite the same way again.
Pocket God #2
Written by Jason M. Burns and Jim Hankins
Art by Rolando "Rolo" Mallada, Paul Little and Lucas Ferreyra
Lettering by Nick Deschenes
Published by APE Entertainment
Review by Amanda McDonald
This second issue of the comic based on the popular iPhone game includes two stories: a continuation of the Gem of Life from issue one, and Pocket Piranhas. For those unfamiliar, Pocket God is an episodic game centered around a crew of pygmies and is consistently a top selling game. In line with its technological roots, the comic is also available for download from the iTunes store. While I have not played the game, this comic does pique my curiosity a bit.
The issue kicks off with the group of pygmies facing a laser wielding shark. Yes, you read that right. As they conquer him, they wash ashore on an island inhabited by angry gorillas. The second story is a short — in which they decide to go for a swim in a pond infested by piranhas. They seem to be a pretty unlucky bunch of little guys. It's a fun read, and had me chuckling consistently. First off, they are adorable. From the little bones in their hair, to their wide eyes and even wider mouths, they've got a great look that adds to the comedy in the story. They have very distinct personalities and I quickly found a favorite: Nooby, a pygmy who is very attached to his best friend (a coconut) and has a childish innocence about him. Some of the pygmies are noticeably more intelligent and well spoken than the others, which provides the story with a good balance of humor and dialogue that drives the plot forward.
Speaking of the humor, if you don't like fart jokes then this isn't the book for you. Luckily I'm a big fan, and each one made me enjoy the book just that much more. There is a serious undertone to this book though, the pygmies discover that they can indeed die. As they lose their leader, they must restructure to continue their quest. There was a lot more meat to the story than I was expecting from a first look at the cutesy style of the book. I imagine if I was familiar with the game there would be nuances that I didn't catch on to, but independent from the game this was a genuinely fun book to read and also one I'd be quick to recommend to kids as well.
The art style of the book is well executed, and I enjoyed the extreme difference between the two stories. The first has a cartoony feel as one would expect, but the second shorter story had a very retro feel to it, absent of black line work and extremely colorful.
If you're a fan of the game, just looking for a break from the hero genre, or in search of a book to recommend to youngsters, Pocket God should be toward the top of your list.
Which comic are you looking forward to most this week?