Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the rockin' reviewers of the Best Shots Team! It's Tuesday, which means we've got a ton of advance reviews for your reading pleasure. We've got looks at Image, BOOM! Studios, Aspen — and that's only the beginning, as we've got a ton of back-issue reviews over at the Best Shots Topic Page. (And for an early review of this week's Fear Itself #1, head over here!) And now, let's kick off the Tuesday festivities with Vanessa, as she takes a bite out of Chew #18…
Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
Lettering by John Layman
Published by Image Comics
Review by Vanessa Gabriel
Since the very beginning, through necromantic cannibalism to alien fire writing in the sky, Chew's momentum has never faltered. The progression of this series has been well-paced and highly rewarding for the reader. It is clear that John Layman has a cohesive plan, and it is unfolding in a most entertaining fashion. In fact, it was such a good time that I am compelled to shed light on the awesome within its pages.
Chew #18 is not only interesting, but also hilarious. I promise you will laugh. John Colby is a gem of a character, and by gem I mean an unapologetic, off-the-cuff anger-ball who provides infinite comic relief. He is the perfect sidekick for Tony, a by-the-book type. Colby is in all his snarky glory in #18. Throw some Voresophic intel, an all-female team of special ops USDA agents, sprinkle some FUBAR on your dynamic duo, and you know it’s going to be a great read.
Clearly, Chew is not your run-of-the mill adventure with simple conflict resolutions where the guy in the blue tights defeats the big bad — or walks everywhere. The conflicts of interest are character-based and many. Chu's boss Applebee, tired of pining after his one-night stand with Colby, takes matters into his own sadistic hands; Tony’s strained relationship with his daughter, Olive; and Mason Savoy’s rogue mission are just a few examples.
What's great is that these small reveals keep one engaged while feeding into the grand plan. Where so many mystery stories fail by alienating the reader with too much “what the hell,” and not enough exposition, John Layman succeeds with delightful character moments that pay off while maintaining the conspiracy-ridden, cop mystery.
As usual, the quirky and bizarre nature of the story is perfectly juxtaposed with Rob Guillory’s wonderfully stylized art. He puts the icing on this chicken-flavored cake. His art is consistently great, and full of fantastic details. Remember to always read the signs.
If you have never read an issue of Chew and have no intention to in the future, just read issue #18. It is well worth its weight in $2.99, and one of the greatest characters in the Chew-verse, and maybe comics period, makes an unforgettable appearance. You’ll be forever changed. Accept no substitutes: Chew is pure, comic book satisfaction.
Written and Illustrated by Nate Simpson
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
Comic book industry — meet Nate Simpson. Remember the name — I imagine that he's going to be making some waves for some time to come.
In a lot of ways, Simpson's freshman comics effort Nonplayer is one of those books that the industry wishes it could replicate every time. At the very least, you'll be knocked out of your seat by how gorgeous this book is, and it's got plenty of action, fantasy and science fiction to whet just about any audience's appetite.
For all the other creators out there, who are going to be jealous of how well this book does: Don't hate the Nonplayer, hate the game.
What's great about this book is that it reminds readers that comics are supposed to be a visual medium, rather than simply screenplays with attached storyboards. Simpson's linework is immaculate, evoking hints of Frank Quitely with the streamlined design of Rebekah Isaacs, the expressiveness of Kevin Maguire and even the smoothness of anime like Avatar: The Last Airbender. Everything breathes in this book, and Simpson's colorwork has that coolness to it that never overwhelms, but instead sets up the otherworldliness of this story of fantasy worlds and online avatars.
Make no mistake — Simpson's artwork is worth the price of admission, and as far as this first issue goes, it's not quite clear where the story is going. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it looks this good — Simpson is going the holistic route, giving himself plenty of opportunities to wow the audience with his chops not just for design or for action, but for the quiet, human moments as well. By the end of the issue, it's clear that Simpson has more tricks up his sleeve, and he plays up Dana's in-game competency — and her real-life lack of direction — into something that makes you feel for the character.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Nonplayer is the best new release of 2011, and certainly going to be the most-talked about book that Image prints for some time to come. And Nate Simpson absolutely has earned that praise. This is a comic that isn't just an entertaining story, but a true work of art. If you don't give this book a chance, you're not just being an obstinate consumer — you're part of the problem. Get in on the ground floor for a superstar in the making.
Peanuts: Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown! HC
Written by Stephan Pastis and Craig Schulz, adapted from the Peanuts strips by Charles M. Schulz
Art by Vicki Scott, Bob Scott, Ron Zorman and Hi-Fi's Brian Miller
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Russ Burlingame
“This book seems like it'll either be an instant classic or a complete travesty,” is what crossed my mind when BOOM! Studios recently announced that they would be releasing an original graphic novel based on Charles M. Schulz's beloved Peanuts characters. The fact that the graphic novel in question—tomorrow's Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown—was released to coincide with a new TV special of the same name did little to tilt the scales toward “classic” in my imagination, but I tried to keep an open mind.
As it turns out, like most everything released on a given week, it's neither a classic nor a travesty. That said, it's a very well done and enjoyable romp through the backyards of Schulz's imagination and I was more than a little surprised by how much I enjoyed seeing these characters in action again after a decade of rest and rejuvenation. I'm genuinely excited to see what's next, given how BOOM! has succeeded in keeping a consistently high level of quality for its kids' properties like The Muppet Show and Uncle Scrooge.
Like the TV specials of old, this graphic novel is still set up in many places like a newspaper strip—it's an interesting choice, because while it feels a little disjointed, it also gives the endeavor a sense of nostalgia that I was worried BOOM! would try to stay away from when relaunching a property like this. The technique also allows for writers Stephan Pastis and Craig Schulz to have a series of set-'em-up, knock-'em-down jokes that are the staple of not just Peanuts but all newspaper strips. When I think of the animated sitcoms that were made in the '90s based on strips like Dilbert and Baby Blues, it's difficult to remember them resorting to the tropes of their comic-strip origins...and they may have suffered for it, as they tried to stretch jokes and characters too thin. That's not at all the problem here, both because of the structure used by the creative teams and, presumably, because there's more history and character to draw from with the Peanuts gang than those other works.
The central story of the book follows Linus's attempts to “kick the blanket habit” after a menacing call from his grandmother. He meanders through the Peanuts neighborhood (it seems like “universe” is too strong a descriptor for this group's stomping grounds), asking help from everyone he sees and giving each character some pages to shine in the A story while the aforementioned one-page jokes give subplots like Lucy's unrequited love for Schroeder and Charlie Brown's inability to fly a kite an opportunity to breathe in between scenes. Even Pigpen has a bit of a Silent Bob moment, delivering an unexpectedly articulate defense of his own filth. And, as anyone who's ever seen the TV specials would expect, every time there seems to be a lull it's only because Snoopy is about to spring in from off-panel and steal the show.
After all's said and done, though, Pastis and Shulz do a terrific job of bringing the various plot threads together for a finale that addresses the one real concern I had reading most of the story: That after 11 years without new Peanuts content, the first big story featuring these characters had them operating almost exclusively in groups of two or three. Growing up, this was the first real group of fictional friends I had and I had started to feel a little antsy about the way they didn't seem to spend much time together anymore, but even just a couple of quick scenes on the baseball field and at Snoopy's doghouse, bringing characters together whose stories hadn't yet collided, were enough to establish that the separateness was a tool of the story, establishing the personalities of these characters to set the tone and deliver a moral.
It may not be an instant classic, but I certainly hope we see more original Peanuts content from BOOM! After Charles M. Schulz passed away—and odd cosmic timing of his schedule final strip running the next morning—many fans expected that we'd never get more of the Charlie Brown gang, and argued that it was probably a good thing, because when somebody new takes over a property, you never know what you're going to get. The involvement of Schulz's son, though, and of the hard-working folks at BOOM! Studios, has made Peanuts' return a joy to read and a fitting heir to the strip's amazing legacy.
Written by Vince Hernandez
Art by Khary Randolph and Emilio Lopez
Published by Aspen Comics
Review by David Pepose
Maybe we should call it the Zatanna Effect — but there's just something about a tuxedoed magician using his powers for entertainment that's naturally charismatic. Or in the case of Aspen's latest comic, Charismagic, a stylishly drawn read that takes a refreshing angle on the tried-and-true tropes of fantasy and magic.
Let's get this out of the way — Khary Randolph is the rabbit in this book's hat, the showman behind the magic, holding the audience's attention while more diabolical plotting takes place beneath the surface. It's fascinating to see how Randolph's artwork — combined with the lush colors of Emilio Lopez — differs from his work elsewhere, such as in BOOM! Studios' Starborn. Taking a little bit of a vibe from J. Scott Campbell, Randolph has a bit more of an exaggerated, smoother look for Charismagic, almost as if this were an animated feature rather than a static comic.
Randolph's expressive faces help anchor Vince Hernandez's storyline, in which he wisely focuses on his protagonist, Hank, the rakish master magician behind the Las Vegas show Charismagic. Like Zatanna before him, Hank has a bit of a laid-back philosophy about the otherworldly powers of magic, which actually helps make the mythology of this book seem less intimidating, more relatable. This is a wayward prodigy who is called to return to his heritage — and while that's not the most original concept in the world, there's a reason why it's stuck for so long.
Looking back on this review, perhaps calling it the Zatanna Effect isn't giving Charismagic enough credit — and perhaps is a bit misleading. I think, if anything, this book is such a milestone for Aspen because it shows the publisher is expanding its repertoire in terms of content and style — Charismagic isn't the ultra-sexy babes of Michael Turner, nor is it the grimy-and-gritty heroes of David Finch. This is an accessible, fun read that isn't self-indulgent or hard to follow, but instead has a lighthearted energy that's all its own.<br>