Greetings, Rama readers, your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with some advance reviews from the Best Shots Team! We've got books from Aspen, BOOM! Studios and IDW for your enjoyment, and that's not all — we've also got plenty of back-issue reviews at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's put on your top hats and bust out the abracadabras, because we've got a sneak peek at Aspen's latest book, Charismagic...Charismagic #0
Written by Vince Hernandez
Art by Khary Randolph and Emilio Lopez
Lettering by Josh Reed
Published by Aspen Comics
Review by David Pepose
In a lot of ways, Charismagic #0 functions the way a zero-issue should — it's not the end of the world if you miss it, but this mini-comic gives a nice behind-the-scenes look at what the storyline will provide. And it doesn't hurt that it looks great, too.
Khary Randolph puts the charisma into Charismagic, but what interests me the most about this book is how much his style has already evolved. Compare this book with Randolph's other release this week — BOOM! Studios' Starborn — and you see a much more cartoony flair to his Aspen work, almost evoking hints of Jeff Wamester. Randolph has some exceptionally clean lines that really make his designs of warlocks, dwarves and demons seem appealing. Randolph's use of the double-page format is an interesting choice, but it's almost certainly the right one, given the abbreviated page count of this book — it makes everything feel more epic.
And that's a good thing for Vince Hernandez, who can use Randolph's appealing style to hook his audience in and throw as much mythology as you can shake a wand at. I'll admit that the characterization is not quite as strong here, as it feels more like the first five minutes of Lord of the Rings — but even two pages with stage magician Hank the Magnificent shows there's some potential. I also like the idea of hidden demons deciding to throw in the towel and go crazy on humankind while they still have time left — that's a nice little development that comes from the plot, and could lend some complications down the road.
That said, the big hurdle here is that even for an abbreviated price — $1.99 — this is still an abbreviated comic book. 13 pages of comic might be a little light for a reader, because with all that mythology being told in the comics pages, it is a slog to then try to get through another seven pages of prose. That's the point where this issue starts to veer off from complex to self-indulgent, and even Randolph's designwork doesn't make those pages flow faster.
All in all, the jury still is out on Charismagic, and that's probably not the worst thing that could happen with this book. This zero issue doesn't flat-tire the #1 by any stretch of the imagination, and while it doesn't quite grab me as far as character or mythology, the artwork is always the driving force behind Aspen's output, and in that capacity, it shines. Let's see if Randolph's return will spark up some magic when the story begins in earnest.Star Trek: Infestation #1
Written by Scott Tipton and David Tipton
Art by Gary Erksine, Cary Malony and Luis Antonio Delgado
Lettering by Chris Mowry
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by David Pepose
As much as I've (surprisingly) dug IDW's Infestation event, I have to say — this first issue with Star Trek is surprisingly lacking in bite. With a slow start and some artwork that never really grabs you, this feels less like gripping sci-fi horror and more like a rerun on TBS.
Part of that is on Scott Tipton and David Tipton's heads. I understand completely that they have to illustrate who these characters are and how they got to a zombie-infested planet — but there are ways to do it using fast-paced, character-driven techniques (see J.J. Abrams's Star Trek movie), and then there are ways to recite old catch phrases and just deliver some dumpy word balloons.
That said, the other problem the writing of this book has is that the aforementioned set-up? It goes on way too long, at the expense of setting up some real horror, of building up the threat that these zombies carry for Kirk, Spock and Bones. The latter half of this book does start to ratchet that claustrophobia up — there's a scene with a zombie deer that is really superb — but ultimately, with the characterization seeming recycled, the dissonance is more deafening than enthralling.
But all that being said — the writing could have been forgiven. The art, however, drives a nail into this book's coffin. Gary Erksine and Cary Malony's work feels enslaved by the photo-referencing, and while they spend a lot of time focusing on whether or not Kirk looks like William Shatner, the actual events going on don't have much in the way of panache. Luis Antonio Delgado manages to save the mood by the end of the book, giving a ghost-story vibe with the gray colorwork, but ultimately, it's not scary, and it's not stylish. So what's the point?
Ultimately, I think Star Trek: Infestation has a bit of an identity crisis here — while the injection of a zombie threat was meant to focus these properties to their most salient points, this first issue too often feels like same-old, same-old, taking the readers' love of the characters for granted and taking too long to build up the bad guys. Here's hoping that the next issue picks up, because this one is too much shuffle and not enough shine.Starborn #3
Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Khary Randolph and Mitch Gerads
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Lan Pitts
"My name is Benjamin Warner and, apparently, I'm about to die. Again."
Poor Benjamin. A few days ago, he was just a normal, ordinary desk jockey, dreaming of the big life as a famous and prolific sci-fi writer. Today, he is still running from and fighting creatures he though he had created for his stories. He's not alone on his journey as he is still aided by Tara, his childhood best friend, who is actually a being from another planet who acts as his bodyguard. Benjamin is given a special weapon, simply called the Gauntlet to fight off the opposition, but a new threat marches on the horizon.
Chris Roberson is hitting figurative home runs left and right; Starborn is no exception. His grasp on what is simply "cool" is on par with Khary Randolph's style. The two create some pretty interesting panels with heavy action and intrigue. You really don't know what to expect with a title like this because it has such a strong start. We get more of Benjamin's backstory and how he grew up and what it was like to come back to reality as a child and start to "grow up." That going back and forth between the present day action and more explanation of the alien races after them. Roberson has taken his time with the pacing, and that's more than fine with me, but at the same time, needs to pick up soon.
I wanted to like this issue more than I did. While it's still a solid read, something just seems missing and I can't put my finger on it. The art by Khary Randolph is still strong, but doesn't come off as strong as the previous two issues. The "wow" effect is still in place, but it just doesn't have the edge I was looking for. Still though, it didn't distract me or wane me from wanting to see what happens next. Even if it's not the strongest issue yet, Starborn is probably the freshest new title I've read in a while. Do yourself a favor and take a chance on something a bit out there.Love and Capes: Ever After #1
Written and Drawn by Thom Zahler
Lettering by Thom Zahler
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Jennifer Smith
Thom Zahler’s Love and Capes, which makes its IDW debut this week, is aptly titled. To do what he does on this book, Zahler must truly love his work – and he must also, secretly, be a superhero. What else could explain his ability to write, draw, ink, color, and letter all of his own work in a rigid 8-panel grid that features incredibly likeable characters, a fully-realized independent superhero universe, stunningly expressive art and design work, and a hilarious punchline at the end of every fourth panel? It’s enough to make even the most industrious fan feel like a slacker in comparison.
But an inferiority complex is a small price to pay for the pleasures that Zahler’s work brings, and reading Love and Capes: Ever After #1 only reinforces that feeling. Zahler calls Love and Capes a “heroically super situation comedy comic book,” and it chronicles the adventures of Abby, an independent book store/coffee shop owner, and Mark, an accountant who also happens to be The Crusader, the world’s greatest superhero. The original 13-issue run, published through Maerkle Press, ended with Mark and Abby’s marriage and honeymoon, and the new IDW miniseries begins, appropriately enough, with the next chapter in their story: life as a married couple.
Love and Capes breaks the conventional wisdom of modern superhero comics in almost every conceivable way, and that’s part of what makes it so magical. Mark and Abby are both genuinely good people who love each other deeply and are completely committed to their relationship. Their friends and relatives are similarly kind and decent, despite some comedic foibles. All superhero action takes place off-screen and is resolved happily. Abby knows about Mark’s superhero identity, and their honesty with each other contributes to their solid relationship instead of acting as a burden. Even Mark’s ex-girlfriend, Amazonia, an alien princess superhero and celebrity, is portrayed sympathetically – occasionally jealous, but never a shrieking harpy or scheming seductress. In recent issues, she’s even hesitantly begun to bond with Abby.
Though no conversation in the book is ever far from the topic of romance and relationships, Abby has conversations with other women – her sister and Amazonia, at least – in every single issue, passing a modified Bechdel test. And Abby and Mark’s marriage, new as it is, is not a liability – the only relationship problems they have, as of this first issue of the new miniseries, are the problems of adjustment and acclimation that any new married couple experiences. “Grim and gritty” is not a phrase that could ever describe Love and Capes.
From all I’ve just described, some might assume that this is a boring comic. But nothing could be further from the truth. The aforementioned 8-panel structure guarantees at least two jokes on every page, and the jokes are frequently laugh-out-loud funny without ever-provoking cringe or offense. Zahler may call the comic a sitcom, but it’s much closer to the best romantic comedies and “Lois and Clark” than the mean-spirited TV comedies that have been in vogue over the past two decades.
The only thing Love and Capes truly has in common with modern sitcoms is its tendency toward self-awareness and meta-textual jokes, which are inherent in the very premise. Zahler does not try to disguise the homages to Superman and Lois Lane in the protagonists’ character concepts, or the obvious Batman, Wonder Woman, and other Justice League analogues. But Mark and Abby and the others are so much their own people, with strong, individual characterizations, that their origins feel like loving tributes rather than examples of parody or plagiarism. And that feeling of loving tribute extends to the rest of the book, where pop culture references to things like Castle and Battlestar Galactica abound. Love and Capes is a book made by a geek, for geeks, with no shame factored into the equation.
Longtime Love and Capes fans need not worry about the transition to IDW. Though this first issue is a perfect jumping-on point for new readers, with all necessary prior information conveyed in the recap page, it’s also a perfect continuation of the story Zahler has been writing all along. If anything, the series has only gotten stronger, with even funnier jokes, deeper characterization, and more brilliantly expressive art. The A-and-B-plots of the issue — about Abby and Mark trying to find a new apartment, then going on a double date with Amazonia and Mark’s best friend, Darkblade — are both cleverly executed, resolving satisfyingly by the end of the issue while still providing forward momentum for the next. This issue could easily be called #14, but for the sake of the book’s long-term success, I couldn’t be happier about the fresh start at a more high-profile company. Every comic fan has the capacity to fall in love with Mark, Abby, and Thom Zahler, and Love and Capes: Ever After #1 is the perfect opportunity for them to do so.