Best Shots Advance Reviews: ATOMIC ROBO, CHEW, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! With the 55th anniversary of time travel just in our DeLorean's rear-view mirror, the Best Shots team has a ton of advanced reviews for your reading pleasure, including books from Image, IDW, BOOM! Studios, Red 5 Comics and three of the newest books from Kickstart Comics. Want more, you ask? Well, jumpin' gigawatts, we've got the answer for you, at the Best Shots Topic Page here! And now, let's let Kyle kick us off today, with the newest chapter from Atomic Robo...

 

Atomic Robo: The Deadly Art of Science #1

Written by Brian Clevinger

Art by Scott Wegener and Ronda Pattinson

Lettering by Jeff Powell

Published by Red 5 Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

A review of Atomic Robo is kind of redundant. After all, the Atomic Robo phenomenon is bigger than any critic. With the recent scientific news revealing that reading Atomic Robo can cure Gout, reduce male pattern baldness and eliminate diaper rash, not to mention the millions of happy tykes around the world running around in official Atomic Robo shirts, Underoos and other assorted licensed tchotchkes, the title’s latest installment Atomic Robo: The Deadly Art of Science. Hardly needs my humble advocacy.

Nevertheless, let me offer some humble advocacy. Atomic Robo: The Deadly Art Of Science #1 is really neat. Keen even. Also, if you tape copies of it to your car, it will improve fuel efficiency by 34%.

Issue 1 of the new volume has an over-eager, adolescent Robo crossing paths with a Shadow/Spider style pulp adventurer. The normal hero-team up hijinks are eschewed, however, for a more comedic tale. Robo basically takes the role of an annoying tag-along to the avenger and Scott Wegener and Brian Clevinger plot it all beautifully. The dialogue is wonderfully witty, and the layouts are calculated precisely to the books comedic timing. Hey, it’s Atomic Robo. Nuff’ said.

Wegener’s sense of stylization, his closed confident line work and his sense of page design meld with the solid, minimally effected colors of Ronda Pattinson to make Robo one of the best books to read in digital format. Flipping through the stories panel-by-panel on an iPhone really clicks with the Looney Tunes meets Hellboy vibe of the book. The art, as well as the story structure, makes what would normally be a broken reading experience flow like an animated cartoon. Of course, Deadly Art of Science is not available in digital format yet, but this aspect of the franchise is worth noting for two reasons: first and foremost, it makes Robo a great case study for creators who want to see what styles of storytelling will work best in the oncoming digital age of comics, and, second, it means if this issue of Robo hooks you, you can pick up the previous volumes of the book on Comixology for about 5 bucks per trade volume.

From this first issue, it appears that The Deadly Art of Science will be a serial tale, unlike the previous Robo series Invasion of the Vampire Dimension, which consisted of four decidedly inconsistent stand-alones (although last series’ “Why Dr. Dinosaur Hates Atomic Robo” might have been Wegener and Clevinger’s finest hour… or finest 10, minutes depending on how fast you can read a comic…) As an intro, this new story lacks a degree of crazy, over-the-top action Robo excels at, but as a comedic character piece it is wonderful.

Of course, the Atomic Robo juggernaut doesn’t need my advocacy to propel it along. Nevertheless, I hope these humble words can convince some of the few unconverted to the cause to pick up this new issue. Besides, if you jump on the Robo rocket sled now, when the inevitable big budget Atomic Robo film starring George Clooney and Daniel Day Lewis outgrosses Avatar, you can tell all your friends that you were in on Robo at the ground floor.

 

Chew #15

Written by John Layman

Art by Rob Guillory

Lettering by John Layman

Published by Image Comics

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

We have reached the end of the first quarter, and Chew #15 is a game changer. Chew fans are not only treated to some pretty epic events, we also get a fancy-schmancy tri-fold poster and extra story pages.

Up to this point, we have had the pleasure of some fast-paced, alt-world, police mystery filled with good times and weird fauna. But as the plot inevitably thickens, Layman treats the reader to some vital character definition. Chew's ever-present laugh-out-loud moments are balanced by genuine, understated emotional mile markers. And of course, an issue of Chew wouldn't be complete without at least one WTF moment. The who's-who of Tony Chu's world takes center stage as Layman throws the ace character cards on the table.

Rob Guillory has already established his deftness at bringing these characters to life, but it is not just the players. It is also the background scenery, subtle details that say 1,000 words, the coloring, and Guillory's stylized semantics, which are not only unique, but essential. I am once again impressed by how he chooses to demonstrate a psychic ability. He uses stark color contrast and highly detailed tiling to give the reader a glimpse into the mind of Mason Savoy. It is through the art, not the words, that we are presented with Savoy's “badassness.” Clearly, it's on.

Team Layman/Guillory's special brand of humor and wit makes Chew festive to the tenth power. I always have fun when I read an issue, but beyond the fun is a layered story that offers mystery, sci-fi, fascinating grotesqueness, and interesting character relationships. It's like X-Files smoked some really good weed.

Typically, when I enjoy a book this much, I am filled with anxiety that the writer or artist will change, thus ending my joy ride. We already know that this story is 60 issues, and Chew is John and Rob's baby. They're 15 issues in, and thank goodness we have 45 more issues at this level of awesome to look forward to. Keep it up fellas. You have a really good thing going.

 

Rift Raiders OGN

Written by Mark Sable

Art by Julian Totino Tedesco and Juan Manuel Tumburus

Lettering by Bill Tortolini

Published by Kickstart Comics

Review by David Pepose

If Rift Raiders is the flagship of Kickstart Comics, I have to say — this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Imagine National Treasure mixed with Runaways and throw it through time instead of space, and you've got the basic gist of Mark Sable and Julian Totino Tedesco's new book. Broad enough to embrace new readers and way more stylish than it has any right to be, there is a whole lot to like about Rift Raiders.

While the overall structure of Rift Raiders isn't anything too revolutionary, what Sable succeeds in doing is packing in as many flights of imagination as he can into his globetrotting treasure hunt. And why not? He's got all of history (and even mythology) to choose from, so why not pack in things like Medusa's head or steampunk exoskeletons or weapons of mass destruction disguised as pyramids? And something else that works in his favor is the wittiness of all of his characters, who move so fast that even if you recognize that they're just playing to archetype, at least they're being entertaining about it.

But the real success story in this book is Julian Totino Tedesco, who pulls a page from the Sean Murphy playbook with some looser, more cartoony lines than his work on Unthinkable — and man, does it look absolutely slick. Dodger and his friends could have been a lot more two-dimensional, but Tedesco manages to take the stock characters and really give them some expressiveness and speed. His work looks the best when there's some action going on, as Tedesco plays with panel angles and motion lines to really bring everything home. But it’s the cartoony lines that make everything so stylish, and that's the true charisma of this book.

Granted, there will be those who argue that the broad nature of the book — the stock characters, the time travel, all the things that show there aren't a lot of bold choices being made — but I'd argue that that's why this book will succeed in its chosen market. Comics are an intimidating beast for a lot of people, so why toss your most convoluted high concept to customers at Walmart? This is the sort of book that is easy to get on the ground floor, and almost demands sequels, just like any good cartoon series. Rift Raiders is so fun and so beautifully illustrated, it's a fantastic first impression for the Kickstart Comics platform.

 

Hero Complex OGN

Written by Adam Freeman and Marc Bernardin

Art by Javi Fernandez and Thomas Smith

Lettering by Bill Tortolini

Published by Kickstart Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

There’s a reason Superman keeps his day job. Even if you save the day several times a week, there’s still rent, utilities and phone bills to pay. Unless you’re willing to sell out, market yourself, or both, you’re just a schmuck in Spandex who has to haggle with the landlord.

That’s the cold, hard reality for Captain Supreme in Hero Complex, and his struggles make for a sharply funny, richly rewarding new comic. I lost track of the number of times I laughed out loud while reading this story that winks at Big Two archetypes while establishing its own endearing identity.

Warren, aka Captain Supreme, is a principled guy; an all-around Boy Scout who wants to do good for good’s sake. But as his loyal sidekick, Randall, aka Geniac, keeps reminding him, pure-hearted heroics don’t serve the bottom line. The crime-fighting roommates are broke and on the verge of being evicted, just in time for Warren’s 10-year high school reunion. Meanwhile, brooding antihero Eclipse grabs all the glory, largely because of his edgy, tortured soul routine. Warren and Randall don’t buy it, but the public and the press can’t get enough of the guy. Writers Adam Freeman and Marc Bernardin mine this injustice for comic gold in a bank robbery scene where Captain Supreme and Geniac are upstaged yet again. Even the cops are swooning.

“Captain Supreme and what’s-his-name tried to rush me out of there before I got my free toaster,” an ungrateful bystander says. “Thank God Eclipse showed up. He got me my toaster AND a lower interest rate.”

The fun really begins when Warren heads home to Tinyville, where his parents, unaware of his alter ego, give him a hard time about being a slacker. His dad, who has a penchant for hilariously inappropriate one-liners, also misinterprets Warren and Randall's friendship.

“Don’t be silly, Stan,” his mother retorts. “Warren’s not interesting enough to be gay.”

Javi Fernandez’s illustrations are easy on the eyes, and he has an energetic, expressive style that works with the story. He’s clearly a multifaceted artist who can handle shoot-’em-up action sequences and quieter moments. The art is a bit inconsistent though. Some panels look rushed and a little sloppy, while others, like a scene of Captain Supreme ferrying Geniac through the sky in a homemade sling, are fantastic. Thomas Smith’s colors are luminous in the comic’s heroic moments and more subdued where appropriate. On the whole, it's an attractive package.

Many comics stumble in trying to make their heroes relatable, but Hero Complex pulls it off in a way that’s sincere, witty and believable. It’s an effortlessly winning book with legs, and quite a bit of heart.

John Rogers on DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Comic
John Rogers on DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Comic
 

Dungeons & Dragons #1

Written by John Rogers

Art by Andrea Di Vito, Aburtov and Graphikslava

Lettering by Chris Mowry

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by David Pepose

Reading this book made me think about the nature of the #1 issue, and how it's changed over the years. What does a #1 issue seek to accomplish anymore? Should we even take that number at face value?

Dungeons & Dragons, in many ways, showcases the talents of John Rogers and Andrea Di Vito, particularly as far as creating engaging, quippy dialogue between the group of tabletop-inspired adventurers. But those top-notch team dynamics aside, there's a hook missing in this first issue, that I can't help but wonder if it was addressed by the earlier #0 issue of the series.

While Rogers opens up with probably the funniest opening line in recent memory, he does stumble a little bit by the in media res-ness of it all, with Khal the dwarf getting dumped and the sorceress Tisha joining the team. It doesn't sound particularly engaging when I write it, and that's the problem — we don't really get a good sense of the characters as individuals, so it's harder to root for them as a team. I'd be a bigger loss, however, if Rogers wasn't such a pro with the dialogue — this is the guy who helped give Blue Beetle much of its charm, and that does translate with the jokes between the crewmembers. "Are you not the handsomest dwarf in your stead? Are you not her true love?" the elf Varis asks Khal. "You have a point," the dwarf replies. "No, I'm asking, I have no idea if you're a handsome dwarf." It's like streamlined Bendis in the best possible way.

I will say that Andrea Di Vito is not going to get nearly enough credit for his contributions to this book, which is a shame. Maybe it's because of the medieval weaponry or the overall bright tone of the colors by Aburtov and Graphikslava, but there are hints of Mike Wieringo to Di Vito's lush lines, tempered with the lithe physiques of a Tom Grummett. Considering the surprising density of the plotting, Di Vito makes it look relatively easy — although the battle scenes do lack a little bit of that explosiveness, those striking splash images that really stick with you. While there's only one real hiccup to the visual storytelling here — there's a female character that shows up at the very end with jarringly little introduction elsewhere in the book — but there's a real playing-it-straight element to Di Vito's artwork that allows Roger's humor to have a real subversive streak.

But the question remains — how does this book work as a #1? Is this really the jumping-on point for new readers, who have grown up creating their own D&D mythologies? There I don't necessarily agree — while the group is entertaining enough, I wish I knew more about each member of the team, so I could really understand who they were as characters and why I should care about them. But that said, Rogers' talents with balancing dialogue, action and humor alone are a rare commodity in this industry, so here's hoping Issue #2 helps bring in the empathy as well as the laughs.

Screenwriter Kickstarts Comic Work
Screenwriter Kickstarts Comic Work
 

Bad Guys OGN

Written by Philip Eisner

Art by Augustin Padilla, Alejandro Sanchez and David Hueso

Lettering by Bill Tortolini

Published by Kickstart Comics

Review by Patrick Hume

And so another grand experiment begins. Kickstart Comics becomes the latest in a long line of attempts for comics to break back into retail stores, shipping several original graphic novels this week to major chains as well as your local comics shop.

I had an idle, passing thought about this whole concept that I'd like to share with you all now, if I might. The avowed purpose of Kickstart's new comics line is to draw the general public into reading comics. My question? How, when multimillion-dollar, hugely popular blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Iron Man 2 haven't driven hordes of people to seek out their source material, do you expect to plop down a few OGNs in the local Walmart and somehow magically find an audience for them?

But I'm not here to review Kickstart's business plan, I suppose. I'm here to review Bad Guys, one of their debut titles. Perhaps I was just trying to put off said review because of how disappointed I was in this book. It's not bad, by any stretch - it's just adequate. It tells another variation on the recently popular "the villains have to save the world" trope, and does so with a reasonable degree of competence from Philip Eisner and his art team.

Eisner's best move is to give us a set point of view in the form of Femme Fatale, a luck-bending thief who brings us into the world of the villains that have to save mankind from our resource-deprived alternate-reality counterparts. Fatale's characterization is even somewhat interesting, as we come to understand the true consequences of her abilities. Unfortunately, a late twist involving another member of the cast seems to exist solely because the creators felt the book needed a love story to appeal to the broadest possible audience, never mind that it doesn't make sense given what we already know about Fatale.

Eisner falls victim to this weakness — taking the easy way out from a storytelling perspective — over and over again. Perhaps it's a product of the book's brevity, or its need to be palatable for the intended demographic (which is what, again?) Whether it's these or something else, though, outside of Femme Fatale we get a cast of generic hero and villain rip-offs whose introductions and exits barely make an impression, as they execute the beats of a pretty standard invasion scenario. Oh, and it's a little jarring to have these career thieves and murderers substitute "give a thing" for "give a shit" and so forth — kind of stretches credibility, right? I guess cursing might put off this hypothetical mainstream audience, though.

On art, meanwhile, Augustin Padilla and his colorists don't really give much of an accounting for themselves. Part of the problem must have been in the scripting, but Padilla's reliance on medium and close shots makes it difficult to follow the action throughout, while the lack of distinctive character designs leaves you scrambling to figure out who's who. There was one apparently major character who I don't even remember seeing introduced. Sanchez and Hueso don't help matters, with their attempts at moodiness serving only to further muddle the narrative.

At the end of the day, I suppose I'm reviewing Kickstart as well as Bad Guys, in that I don't think my standards for the book would be so high if it weren't for the publisher's stated objectives. Is this really the best we can do? Is that what we want to show the world as an exemplar of what comics are capable of? Instead of taking advantage of the best talents and concepts the industry has to offer and creating some comics that might actually have mass appeal, however, Kickstart has instead chosen to roll out the same old diverting but disposable material that's been crowding the shelves of comics specialty shops for years. Likely as not, if you saw this book in the store, you'd flip through it and put it back on the shelf. So what's someone who's never read a comic going to think?

 

Toy Story: Tales from the Toy Chest #2

Written by Jesse Blaze Snider

Art by Morgan Luthi and Mike Cossin

Lettering by Deron Bennett

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

Miss Woody and the gang after the last Toy Story movie? Have no fear, Jesse Blaze Snider and Morgan Luthi have your back with Tales from the Toy Chest, a story that feels just as true to the Toy Story mythos as anything from the crew at Pixar.

In a lot of ways, Snider's stakes are what bring up that feeling of familiarity — Andy's toys are on a mission, and that mission is to have as much fun as they can on a family cruise! One of Snider's chief strengths is the voices he gives each character, so the little one-liners that he uses to fill up the story have some real chuckles to them — in particular, Mr. Potato Head saying that "I don't want to bake unevenly," or a Monopoly game piece looking dejected when Jessie rejects it. But Snider soon ratchets up the stakes, and he shows you that just because this is a kid's book, you can still gasp a little bit in fear. Tonally, this feels just like the Toy Story films, which is great if you've got a young reader who wants more.

Artwise, however, Morgan Luthi is a little bit hit-and-miss. He excels the most when he's drawing the expressions on characters like Jessie or even Andy — there's a nice cartoony shorthand with the mouths and eyebrows here that the CG cartoons of the films are too detailed to provide. But on the other hand, his linework is extremely scratchy, particularly with the character of Buzz, and that may turn off readers who are used to the polished perfection of the Pixar productions. Colorist Mike Cossin makes the beginning of the book really pop, but there are the occasional weird choices that he makes, such as drawing background characters with blue lines rather than black to show distance, or the garish pinks and teals he gives a sunset.

The one disadvantage that I think the comics medium has against the Toy Story films is the idea of completeness — in the movies, you're invested for two hours, and you get the beginning, middle and end of the story, without really having to pause to digest the story or weigh it by its merits (or forget about it midway through). I think Toy Story the comic is running uphill a little in that way, having to hold onto attention spans that might not last a month at a time. But if you have a younger reader who wants more Buzz Lightyear, there's a lot of talent going into this book, which storywise could be just as solid as the original three Toy Story films.

What comic are you looking forward to most this week?

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