Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with books from the future! The Best Shots Team is at it again, with some sneak peeks at books from Image, Dynamite, BOOM! Studios, and even the relaunched Atlas Comics. Want some more? We've got your back, with tons of reviews over at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, Lan Pitts takes a look at the origins of a villain in the Batman: The Killing Joke-referencing Darkwing Duck Annual #1.
Darkwing Duck Annual #1
Written by Ian Brill and Tad Stones
Art by Sabrina Alberghetti, James Silvani, Lisa Moore, and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Deron Bennet
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Lan Pitts
Not every villain starts off as a villain. There comes a time when a man, or duck, must make his own path and either walk down the road of virtue and heroism or the more sinister and villainous path. In the first Darkwing Duck Annual, we dive into the origins and psyche of Darkwing's comical criminal, Quackerjack.
As most kids who grew up in the early 80's to early-to-mid 90's, I watched some of the best cartoons. Disney was putting out some of their best work in a while ranging from Talespin, Ducktales, the more "grown up" Gargoyles, and of course, Darkwing Duck. Being the only direct Ducktales spin-off, it was different from the other shows as it was a completely different character. Other shows at time had characters that had been around for a while, but Darkwing was new, cool, and just fun. The Darkwing Duck comic that BOOM! has been putting out is exactly everything a DW fan would ever want and then some.
There are two stories inside this annual. Unconnected, of course, but nonetheless fun, smart, and almost a bit heavy for the characters. The ending of the first story, "Toy With Me," which deals with Quackerjack's origin, is kind of sad, and I found very unexpected, but still very smart for what is considered a "kids' book." Again, the same with the second story, "The Untimely Terror of the Time Turtle," — it is smart, inventive, and just plain fun. The fact that Drake Mallard (DW's alter ego) is just as befuddled with the physics of time travel as the next guy, shows that it still doesn't take itself too seriously. Also, the fact that Tad Stones, the creator of Darkwing Duck penned the second story is just a real treat all by itself.
While both Sabrina Alberghetti and James Silvani deliver classic Darkwing imagery, I found that Andrew Dalhouse's colors popped just a bit more on the page, in comparison to Lisa Moore's. Nothing too drastic, but just something with an added oomph, as it were. Both put down creative panel layouts that were never boring and were actually quite dramatic in some instances. Great use of angles, especially on Alberghetti's half.
Darkwing Duck Annual #1 reminds me what it was like being that kid again who rushed home to make sure he didn't miss an episode of the TV show. It's good to see that the adventure lives on.
Written by Steve Niles
Art by Nat Jones and Mai
Lettering by Richard Emms
Published by Atlas Comics/Ardden Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
Reading a book like Wulf #1, you feel the weight of the expectations. It's not just the first issue of a series, but the first issue of an entire publishing lineup, a reimagined look at the Atlas catalogue under the standards of 21st century comics storytelling.
In that regard, Wulf #1 succeeds on its stylistic overhaul, if not necessarily on the gripping character work. Wulf himself isn't the main draw of this first issue — if anything, the villain Sanjon absolutely steals the show — but it's not to say that this book's ambitions don't make it an interesting read.
A lot of that had to do with Nat Jones' artwork. Jones draws a lot of inspiration from some very disparate sources — you see the scale of Bryan Hitch, the craggy musclework of Frank Miller, even the smooth, manga-esque faces of Michael Turner. Jones' designwork for Sanjon is another victory — it's a simple look, but his inkwork has just enough detail that it looks dirty, scratchy, just plain evil. Based on this first issue alone, it feels that the editorial ethos of Atlas is veering towards the artistic side, which is something I think often gets overlooked.
Steve Niles, meanwhile, doesn't quite hook you for the character of Wulf himself. In many cases, this would be a problem — and in future issues, it might be — but the book is buoyed by a really fantastic villain. Sanjon's high concept — evil priest who controls his blood as a weapon after wearing a helmet filled with nine-inch spikes — is one of those ideas that you say, "wow, only in comics." The other big victory that Niles has is that he subverts expectations on the last two pages — I won't give too much away, but he's taken what I think a lot of people might find to be a cliché, and reversed it in a way that might have some real storytelling mileage.
Now, this book isn't perfect by any means — in an industry with Conan, Kull, Samson and more, setting your character apart is crucial. But outside of that critical center, Steve Niles does a lot of things right — interesting villain, a fast-moving plot with a twist, not to mention really striking artwork from Nat Jones. If Niles can continue to build up his blond barbarian beyond being simply heroic, it'll only help to draw in more readers. Wulf #1 might not be an epic home run, but it's certainly strong enough to show that Atlas means business.
Written and lettered by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory and Steven Struble
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
It's issues like Chew #17 that show how well-constructed the premise of this series can be. Foodie crime, foodie justice, foodie conspiracies — while this issue may not be as laugh-out-loud funny as you'd expect, this is a snappy, entertaining read that's one of the strongest chapters of Chew I'd read in months.
The real strength to John Layman's story is the fact that he's able to use the medium of food in so many different ways. We've seen food used as evidence, food used as methods of communication — but in this issue, you see how food can be used as something even more dangerous. Layman also scores some points with bringing you up to speed quickly, with a cute scene between Chu's partner Colby and his daughter Olive — these are both some really spunky supporting characters, and their interactions go a long way towards hooking you.
Artwise, this might be one of the better issues that Rob Guillory has done, only because it represents some real growth on his part. In previous issues of Chew, if the script wasn't funny, the art seemed to fall flat — but not here. While there aren’t exactly a whole lot of overt comedic beats, Guillory is really expanding his repertoire expression-wise. Seeing a hostage-taker glower at Chu and Colby, or the speed of Chu diving for a last-ditch attempt at disarming him, these are some really evocative images.
And perhaps the most interesting thing about this book is that, seventeen issues into it, Layman and Guillory are getting comfortable enough in their own skin that they can afford to deviate from their tried-and-true formula a bit. Stodgier readers might resent that change, arguing that without the humor, or without going through a lengthy definition of ciboterrorism, Chew doesn't feel the same. My answer? It's good to change things up, and if anything, all these changes are bringing about a much larger storyline than you might expect.
While sometimes it feels like straight-man Tony Chu might get overshadowed by his more punchy supporting cast, I found that this issue was one of the better ones that Layman and Guillory have put out in awhile. Largely self-contained but still quite entertaining, this feels like a continuity-light entree not dissimilar to some of the more addictive shows on TV. I'm definitely on board to see where this story goes next.
Dean Koontz's Frankenstein #4
Written by Dean Koontz and Chuck Dixon
Art by Scott Cohn and Ale Starling
Lettering by Bill Tortolini
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
Character trumps concept.
That's something that, in a world where a Michael Bay Transformers movie can make insane dollars, might sound counterintuitive. But every great concept has a great character behind it, and a compelling protagonist — no matter how evil they might be — can grab you, can make you invested in a story even if you don't know everything that's going on.
Case in point: Dean Koontz's Frankenstein #4. This was my first time reading this series, and I did not have particularly high expectations — which is why I was so bowled over even on the first page. Starting off strong with the characterization, it didn't matter to me that I didn't know the entire backstory — this issue alone made perfect sense, and that's because of how well developed these characters are.
Between Dean Koontz's source material and Chuck Dixon's adaptation, this book succeeded in something that I think is surprisingly rare these days in comics: The killer first page. There's a lot of tension, as Victor Helios — the original Doctor Frankenstein — observes one of his creations reading… and growing. "In retrospect, he should have forbidden her to spend so much time with poetry and fiction," Dixon narrates. "Wise men had long warned that books corrupted. Here was the unassailable proof."
This sort of scene is just one of many that shows how chilling Koontz and Dixon can make these characters. You don't need to know about the history of Helios's experiments with his New Race to know that he's cruel, homicidal — and inhuman in ways that transcend physiology. It's no mistake to say that seeing the violence between creator and created is far more interesting than the boilerplate detective drama with Deucalion, the original Monster — you get to see just how dark a human can get when they know the truest story of their creation.
In certain comics, having a loud artistic style is the appeal — but in the case of Frankenstein, I think the bombastic choice would have been a misstep. Scott Cohn isn't the flashiest artist out there, but the expressions he gives his characters really help sell the story. The look on Victor's face when he suffers an unexpectedly painful wound, or the look on the literally home-grown clergyman Patrick, as he steps in fear of his creator, they really draw you into this story. Sometimes the colorwork, by Ale Starling, isn't quite as moody as it is muddy — there's a lot of greens and yellows that don't quite seem to coalesce into a particular vibe — but ultimately, this is very much the kind of comic where art serves the story, as opposed to props it up entirely.
Now, with all that being said, there is a slight learning curve to this book about midway through — Victor Helios looks a lot like the autistic, homicidal monster known as Randal Six, so it did take a couple of readings to figure out they weren't the same person. But that's a fairly small hiccup when you recognize that this is a story, and one that's well told at that. If you like that Avatar Press-style sociopathy to your horror, you may want to pick up Dean Koontz's Frankenstein #4. This is the perfect issue to jump on.