Best Shots Advance Reviews: MORNING GLORIES, ARTIFACTS, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews

 

Morning Glories #8

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by Joe Eisma and Alex Sollazzo

Lettering by Johnny Lowe

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

I have to give it to Nick Spencer — he certainly knows how to give his protagonists some interesting problems. Case in point: Morning Glories #8, which really stands out by blurring the lines between character weaknesses and external terror. Focusing on the nerdy character of Hunter, Spencer is making a surprisingly compelling case for someone who could easily be just a cipher — to the point where I think he actually overshadows the overarching story underneath.

And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Spencer not only gives us a reason to root for Hunter, but cleverly sets up a mystery behind his past, as well. For those who haven't read Morning Glories, I've described it as The Prisoner meets the Breakfast Club — but maddeningly, nothing is ever really as it seems. For some, that might be a bit of a turnoff — and I'm not altogether sold yet myself in that regard — but as Spencer finally peels away at why Hunter's always late for class, work and even dates, the answer is pretty interesting. What does it mean for the rest of the book? Who cares! I'll admire a smart idea when I see one.

I'll also say that this issue's content really plays to Joe Eisma's strengths. Eisma's work is occasionally a little bit rough, with the faces sometimes being a little angular for my tastes — but at the same time, he's also getting to be incredibly expressive, and when he does hit the mark, he's got an almost animated look that can even remind me a bit of Francis Manapul over at DC. His enthusiasm is his major strength, and it clearly bleeds through to Hunter's character when he finally gets someone to go on a date with him — again, the whole point of this issue is to make you care for the geek, and Eisma definitely goes a long way in that regard.

So what do I think holds this book back? Surprisingly, it's when it gets back to the greater Morning Glories saga as a whole. Spencer's trying to incorporate a pretty wide spectrum of tones in this book — teen romance, coming-of-age angst, sinister conspiracies, even straight-up slasher horror — and in that latter regard, I think it ends up stretching the book past most consumers' range of taste. In certain ways, he actually does too good of a job setting up Hunter's character, to the point where him getting kidnapped by bullies — and then watching them get slashed to death — well, that part didn't quite hook me as well. Maybe I'm just having a hard time believing that they're actually in danger. Maybe I just need to know more about them and why they're there to really worry about whether this is the end.

And that problem with the high concept will likely be what makes or breaks this series as a whole for a lot of people, regardless of how strong the characterization of one issue is. Comics, in many ways, come at a distinct disadvantage in both the amount of content that can be packed, the frequency of release and the overall pricing than, say, a serialized TV show like Lost. You have to choose your targets well, both to draw in new readers and satisfy returning readers. That's a tough balance overall, and one I'm not 100% convinced Morning Glories has hit yet. But as far as single issues go, I definitely feel like this is a strong one.

 

Artifacts #6

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Whilce Portacio, Joe Weems and Sunny Gho

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Image Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

Chaos reigns in Artifacts #6 as the first major battle rages. Tricked by Aphrodite IV, Cyberforce attacks Sara Pezzini, Jackie Estacado and their allies. Ron Marz’s story is a standard heroes-mistakenly-fight-each-other story as the usual mistaken identities, wrong assumptions and just some characters general dislike of other characters spur on the battle as unknown forces attempt to gather the 13 mystic artifacts and the Pezzini and Estacado’s daughter. Marz and Whilce Portacio deliver the first big battle of Artifacts where more characters are brought together and join forces to fight the big bad.

The first four issues of Artifacts was pretty dense as Marz introduced a lot of characters and divvied them up into factions, those with the Witchblade and Darkness and those siding with Aphrodite IV and her mysterious master. Those issues moved deliberately and covered a lot of ground. It’s odd that a giant battle issue would be the breather point in the series. Marz has most of his characters where he needed them and it’s a nice nod to Top Cow history to bring Cyberforce into this series. After the patient way he built his plot, it’s a welcome release to have this issue bursting with energy. Every now and then, you need a release and this issue is it as characters hit, punch, shoot and rip apart other characters and demons.

Whilce Portacio delivers some of his best artwork, focusing almost purely on the pandemonium of the artwork. His artwork this issue is a blur of movement, like he’s rushing through the drawing, creating gestural and expressionistic superhero artwork. And when he does get a moment to just stop and focus on an image, such as one scene of Aphrodite IV just stopping to watch an explosion over a double-page spread, he still packs a lot of energy in a still and reflective moment. Portacio is able to incorporate some of original Artifacts artist Michael Broussard’s art style while making the book look like pure Portacio.

Around just half over, Artifacts has been an intriguing story and has featured some lovely art. As Marz and his artists have slowly built the drama and mystery, they let go in this issue, letting the energy they’ve built explode as everyone fights everyone else. For all of the trauma and heartache Marz has put Sara Pezzini in during this series, it’s good to see her be able to fight and have an enemy to focus on. This fight issue was needed; now the characters will be able to focus on their target and find Sara’s daughter and the unknown master of Aphrodite IV.

 

Soldier Zero #6

Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Art by Javier Pina and Archie Van Buren

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

Ultimately, a comic can't just be defined by a fight sequence — although that's not to say that Soldier Zero doesn't make a valiant effort to prove otherwise. While this book is still missing some firmness to the high concept, the actual execution of the fighting has some new life to it, thanks to new writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.

Now, if you've been expecting heavy character work — or hell, even a lot of exposition — this is not the issue for you. Abnett and Lanning assume you've read the previous five issues of this Stan Lee sci-fi superhero, and instead give Stewart Trautmann some room to really strut his stuff. And while in reality this book is kind of just one dude blasting another dude, Abnett and Lanning are able to give it that sort of superheroic flair — calling things "context spheres" and "planck blades" give that whiff of mythology that'll give the book a little bit more of a personality.

Meanwhile, colorist Archie Van Buren really makes the most out of Javier Pina's artwork — Pina has an increasingly smooth line for his characters, giving that sort of clean superhero look, but he's far from A-list yet. The fact that he's not drawing much in the way of backgrounds leads to the images being a bit more nondescript and undetailed than I think is necessarily appropriate — and while he's able to really pump up the action, ultimately the ever-present green backgrounds start to drag even this rock-‘em-sock-‘em fistfight.

Yet I'll give Pina some credit as far as his design chops go — in particular, he makes the villains known as the Clowns look particularly fearsome, a sort of hulking armor that's reminiscent of the Fallout game series. Abnett and Lanning make these foes really stand out as ruthless beings who take absolutely no prisoners — in that regard, this book picks up dramatically by the end, even to the point where the new bad guys steal the show from the once ultra-compelling protagonist.

And maybe that's the key balance that Soldier Zero needs to strike — the characterization, and the action. Make no mistake, this issue is all about the fight sequence, and in that regard, it does charm you in spite of its flaws. But at the same time, this isn't exactly the best issue to introduce Trautmann's status quo, or even to remind readers of the interstellar enemies that he's fighting. All in all, this issue may be a little bit of a lightweight, but it's also more entertaining than it deserves to be.

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