Best Shots Advance Reviews: SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE, More

DC First Look: SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, and Best Shots is bending time and space to bring you some of tomorrow's reviews, today! We have books from DC, Dynamite, BOOM! Studios and Radical — and we've got plenty more where that came from, over at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's start off with one of the biggest releases of the week, as I take a sneak peek at the new original graphic novel by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis giving a new origin to the Man of Steel: Superman: Earth One.

Superman: Earth One

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Art by Shane Davis, Sandra Hope and Barbara Ciardo

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

I have to tell you: Superman: Earth One is a book I've been looking forward to for a long time.

Consider the timing of the announcement: at the time, J. Michael Straczynski had been toiling away at non-tinuity tales on The Brave and the Bold, but the heavy-hitter hadn't announced any "big" projects yet — particularly not his controversial revamps of the Superman and Wonder Woman franchises. And after getting lost in translation with a too-heavy dose of space opera in the ongoing Superman titles, I was looking forward to seeing Clark Kent re-imagined and, more importantly, down to Earth.

Well, fast forward close to a year later, and Superman: Earth One has finally touched down. And while Straczynski still hews to some of the less-savory character traits that have pushed away some readers — myself included — from Superman's ongoing walk across America, he gives some context to his take on the Man of Steel, aided by a refreshing visual rendition from the top-tier art team the character deserves.

But let's start out with the undeniably good part of this book: Shane Davis, Sandra Hope and Barbara Ciardo give this a visual overhaul that Superman hasn't seen in quite some time. I don't think I'm understating it when I say that this is the kind of art style that an icon like Superman deserves — Davis has this talent of contextualizing these timeless designs for the 21st century, giving Superman just a hint of spikiness to his hair, a pout of bravado as he winds up for a powerhouse right cross. (His Jor-El, seen only in three panels of the entire book, is a great take, looking far more rugged than I've ever seen in any previous incarnation.) The cover alone shows that Davis is not just iconic, but cinematic — an effect that is owed to colorist Barbara Ciardo, who really gives this book a sense of weight and actual "lighting," washing Metropolis in sunshine rather than the moodless ambiance all too many books fall prey to.

Now all that being said, people are going to ask — what about JMS? And ultimately, the litmus test will be his run on the ongoing Superman book. In certain ways, JMS's Clark Kent feels almost like an unconscious reaction to Grant Morrison's invulnerable, easy-going All-Star Superman — whereas All-Star Superman is everyone's friend because he can afford to be, Earth One's Superman has a streak of irritability to him, that he feels disconnected because due to his Kryptonian strength and intellect he's, well, better than you (and judging the early sequences of this book, he knows it, too). I get that Straczynski is trying to show us that this Clark Kent had the whole world as his oyster, only choosing a higher destiny after much internal conflict — but because that conflict, that overarching metaphor feels submerged under endless flashbacks, all we get is an early unsympathetic vibe that gets hard to shake off.

But despite the central metaphor being a little underdeveloped, Straczynski does make a lot of steps in the right direction. First off, he deserves a lot of credit for introducing a brand-new villain for Clark to battle: Most writers would have gone for Lex Luthor, or General Zod, or maybe even Brainiac, so this burst of creativity — even if it's largely surface-level and largely due to Davis's design input — is still welcome. And perhaps most importantly, even if you don't dig the direction in characterization, Straczynski's best moments in the book are when he gives them some context, in the form of Ma Kent and the late Pa Kent. Seeing Clark float in front of his father's grave, essentially begging for permission to ignore his Kryptonian birthright, is a poignant scene, and it gives us a little bit of the vulnerable side of Clark we always loved, rather than the somewhat brusque persona he displays to "pass" through a life that could never hold him back anyway.

And there's a lot more I could say about Earth One, like the surprisingly light portrayal of Lois Lane or the complete bad-ass (and absolutely accurate, from a photojournalism perspective) overhaul of Jimmy Olsen, but I don't want to give too much away. It's not unfair to say that Superman: Earth One is a flawed work, particularly since there are so many other recent origins for the Man of Steel (including Superman: Secret Origin or, my personal favorite, Superman: Birthright) that have had more solidity to their central premise. But as far as uncomplicated popcorn entertainment — and perhaps more importantly, something unencumbered by continuity or sci-fi weirdness that might scare off new readers — this is certainly a stylishly-drawn calling card to hook people into more of Superman's adventures.

Prince of Persia #4

Written by Jordan Mechner

Art by Tom Fowler and Cameron Stewart

Lettering by John Workman

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by David Pepose

Make no mistake, comics are a visual medium, and unless there's a real draw of personality around the writers — see Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Brian Michael Bendis, et al. — the tenet works like this: a great artist can elevate any writing, while a poor artist can drag even the best writers into the dirt.

Case in point: Prince of Persia #4. The fourth issue of a tie-in series of a movie that, well, self-destructed at the box office. Doesn't sound like much of a commercial success, right? But that's where Cameron Stewart enters the picture, and boy does he work some serious magic on this book. The story may be simple enough — almost a sword-and-sandals epic told in the deserts of Persia — but it's the art that makes this final issue of the anthology series well worth a peek.

Stewart, in a lot of ways, has almost an animated look to his characters, giving that wide-eyed expressiveness that must be oh-so-easy to capture on a silver screen. Seeing the geometry to Stewart's design is a real treat, like the squarish musculature of the lead character Roham, or the triangular cheekbones of Zahak's vizier, or even the oval-esque lines of the mad king himself. Everything is exceptionally clean here, and it's just one show of many of just how versatile Cameron Stewart is becoming. And then you add Tom Fowler to the mix? And you've got yourself a solid foundation to tell a great visual tale.

And that solid artwork helps — a lot. Jordan Mechner's writing is very much a take-it-or-leave-it proposition here, due perhaps exactly to the nature of the script: These are anthology stories, a cast of none-too-deep supporting characters telling their tales of the Prince of Persia himself. While it's nice to actually see the Prince himself here — not every issue I've read has had that — the story itself is pretty unremarkable: It's the story of a guy getting captured after being shipwrecked, fighting his way out, and getting revenge. It could be a lot more nuanced in the actual execution, but honestly, yeah, it's not that much more than that. The framing sequence, however, does give a little jolt of surprise, but it'll be more confusion than excitement if you haven't read the previous issues — not a great requirement, all in all, since it gives you all the disadvantages of an anthology and a continuity-bound read with none of the strengths.

Do I feel that Prince of Persia, as a whole, was a bit of a flawed venture? Absolutely — while it provided a wealth of artists the opportunity to get paid for a Middle Eastern-themed jam session, it's ultimately more of a win for the creators rather than the readers themselves. And to be honest, while it's great to give the artist's some serious free rein, it feels kind of disappointing that this tie-in comic didn't add much of anything to the Prince of Persia lore. Considering the character's history of jaw-dropping leaps and acrobatics, it's too bad that the comic, no matter how good it looked, never seemed to do more than run in place.

Abattoir #1

Written by Darren Lynn Bousman, Michael Peterson, Rob Levin and Troy Peteri

Art by Bing Cansino and Andrei Pervukhin

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Radical Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

The week of Halloween calls for some extra attention towards the various subgenres of horror, and one of my particular favorites has always been the haunted-house story. There's just something viscerally unsettling to me about a home, a place that is supposed to be a sanctuary against the vicissitudes of the outside world, turning on its inhabitants.

Abattoir #1, from the mind of Darren Lynn Bousman (director of several Saw films), hopes to provide a new, contemporary spin on the haunted-house tradition, but I have to question whether Bousman and his collaborators will devote enough attention to the more psychological, suspense-driven aspects of the situation, which to me have always been the more frightening and thought-provoking. Much as in Bousman's films, there seems to be a reliance on violence and shock value that may keep Abattoir from distinguishing itself as a work of substance. I refer particularly to the opening sequence here, which delivers a scene of rampant carnage that almost seems like the climax of some build-up that we've missed out on. Perhaps the idea was to pique the reader's interest by offering this up without any immediate explanation, but I find violence more effective when we have some idea of the characters and the stakes involved.

That said, the remainder of the book shows some promise, as real-estate agent Richard Ashwalt takes center stage, trying to sell the house featured in the opening mere weeks after the incident there. Richard seems like a more or less normal guy, scrambling to provide for his family, but some hints are dropped at a shadowy past that should provide some nuance to the character as he gets further drawn into the mystery of the house. From my reading of a brief interview with Bousman, it sounds as if he and creative partner Michael Peterson did only conceptual work, while Rob Levin and Troy Peteri are responsible for the actual scripting. They do an able job of it for the most part, the occasional awkward phrasing notwithstanding. Richard's quest to sell the house brings him into contact with an unsavory character whose appearance in some well-timed moments leaves both Richard and the reader off-balance. I don't know if the creepy, deliberate tone of this section of the book will be sustained throughout the miniseries, but I much prefer it to the over-the-top opening.

Cansino and Pervukhin's art is very effective throughout, with a painted look that has a lot of texture to it and summons up the world of 1980s Middle America very well. Pervukhin's colors bring a lot to the table, contributing a great deal to the atmosphere of dread tingeing the pages. Cansino's figures can be somewhat stiff and his proportions are a little off in places, but overall there's a lot to like with this book's visuals.

In that interview I mentioned, on the FEARnet site, Bousman described Abattoir as "not like any [haunted house story] you've ever seen before." Based on this first issue, I wouldn't go that far. It might not shy away from the horrific, but it also hasn't done much yet to stand out from the pack. That said, there's enough going on here that I'm willing to come back for future installments, and if you're a fan of this kind of story, I imagine you will be as well.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: Dust to Dust #6

Written by Chris Roberson

Art by Robert Adler, Andres Lozano and Javier Suppa

Lettering by Jimmy Betancourt

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

A few days ago, the question came to my mind: How can you tell when you have some great characters?

Reading Dust to Dust #6, I had my answer. Great characters are like friends you're always happy to see, who don't have to go out of their way to impress you. Great characters don't have to make or break worlds to be compelling, or even make huge strides along their personal arc. So reading this issue, even though it didn't go too far, it didn't matter to me: Chris Roberson makes his characters so cool that you're glad to go along for the ride.

I think one of Roberson's understated talents is his ear for dialogue, and how he's able to bridge not just the aural divide, but the visual one, as well. "If you could have androids fight your wars for you, why would you want to go do it yourself?" the android Victor Charlie narrates. "In the years since, androids have become very, very good at fighting." There's a real panache to Victor's prose, which you can either read as robotically serene or weirdly human. And Victor's human foils really strike a strong tonal balance in this issue: Reed's plight now shows just how ruthless his android kidnappers are, while Samantha steals the show with her personal arc, an examination on fear and human emotion that also doubles as the metaphor for this chapter.

Art-wise, jeez, Robert Adler shows that not only does he own mood, but he also dominates in action sequences. The first panel of Victor trading fire against some android assassins is immaculate in its composition, bringing the "camera" in through the window right in the heart of the crossfire. Adler's linework is pretty scratchy, but at this point, that's more of the BOOM! Studios house style. Of course, that's not to say that Adler doesn't have plenty of other skills, particularly the fact that he is able to conjure up a world that reeks of decay and erosion — his establishing shots in particular really help set the tone of this book, aided by the moody colorwork of Andres Lozano and Javier Suppa, who drown the pages in rusty reds and oranges and cold hard blues and purples.

To be honest, while I know BOOM! Studios is coming back hard on the superhero genre, with Irredeemable and Incorruptible and the Stan Lee line of books, Dust to Dust is one of the deepest, most consistently entertaining reads that they produce. There are a lot of fireworks that can be told in the battle of man versus machine, of emotion versus cold hard logic. With some moody artwork and some absolutely rock-solid storytelling, Dust to Dust is a book that would make Philip K. Dick himself proud.

What are you looking forward to reading most this week?

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