Best Shots Advance Reviews: CHEW, LONE RANGER, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews

Jumpin' gigawatts, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here with the Best Shots Team, bringing you tomorrow's reviews, today! We got a ton of new releases from Image, Dynamite, Top Cow and much more — and we've also got plenty more at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's take a nibble from the distant future, as we leap ahead to Chew #27...


Chew #27

Written and Lettering by John Layman

Art by Rob Guillory and Taylor Wells

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

Is John Layman crazy — or just smart as hell?

I'm going with the latter on this one, after reading Chew #27. No, this is not a trick, dear readers: The last issue was indeed #18. Jumping 11-or-so months into the future (at least according to the creators' estimated projections), Layman immediately sinks his hooks into hapless readers on the very first page, giving us nearly a year to be hopelessly invested in his central character, Tony Chu — even if we don't know what's happened in the intervening months.

Which is funny, considering this book largely stars the main character's sister, Toni.

I'm not going to give away too much about what makes Toni special — Layman doesn't say it overtly, but I think if you read between the lines I think it's fairly clear — but as a character, she shows just how well Layman knows character. In certain ways, Toni is her brother's exact opposite — bubbly, cheerful, even a little bit flirtatious — but she's still got that awkward streak that seems to run through the entire Chu bloodline. To be honest, Tony has a reason to be annoyed with his sister: She's charming as hell, and she just ran off with the spotlight for this script.

Rob Guillory, meanwhile, shows that he's able to have both a real lightness to the comedy as well as some substantial emotional weight. If it wasn't for him, you could probably argue that the tone of his book was a little all over the place, but Guillory's cartoony art style makes this book just a bright spot for your weekly stack. In particular, I got a great laugh when we were finally introduced to the psychedelic frogs seen on this issue's cover — Guillory treats us to a hilarious-looking rainbow haze complete with flying elephants, tiny planes and even a pretty, pretty princess. Well, maybe not too pretty.

This book has been described as a reward for continuing readers, and I think in that regard, Layman and Guillory have done an excellent job. This is a done-in-one chapter that's got some action, plenty of humor and more than a little bit of mystery about both Tony and Toni, who they are and how they came to be. With an opening splash page that basically demands your continued readership, I think Layman is smarter than we all thought. This isn't just a gift to readers — it's a fishing lure.

And now I'm caught hook, line and sinker.


Lone Ranger #25

Written by Brett Matthews

Art by Sergio Cariello and Marcelo Pinto

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

Hi-yo silver.

Eight months after the previous issue, Dynamite's Lone Ranger series finally thunders to a close, bringing some smartly crafted closure for those who have been following this often-overlooked gem. While I would certainly argue that the momentum on this 33-page book has been hampered by the extensive delays, there's still an enormous satisfaction that comes from seeing the dust clear and John Reid get his much-deserved confrontation.

Artwise, this book has always been gorgeous — certainly the most gorgeous work of Sergio Cariello's career. He's got traces of some of the legends on every page — a little bit of Romita here, a little bit of Kubert there — and Cariello's sense of composition and layout is nothing less than cinematic, and considering he's working in nothing but widescreen panels, that's even more of an accomplishment. I've said it repeatedly, but I'll say it one more time, since I won't have an opportunity to do so again: This is the best-looking book Dynamite has printed that I can recall since I ever started reading Dynamite books. This is the bar that I hope the publisher can continue reaching for.

Brett Matthews, meanwhile, has a little bit of a tougher mountain to climb. Cariello's easy on the eyes, and so it's easy to get invested with him early — but the delays to this book hamper him the most. With eight months having passed, it's tougher to remember John Reid's crisis about killing, or what makes Butch Cavendish a villain you love to hate. But with those elements in mind, Matthews brings up a lot of great beats in this book, particularly John's memories of his dead family beginning to slip away from him. And Cavendish — hoo boy, if you don't want Cavendish dead by the way he treats Tonto, you probably need to see a psychiatrist. But in keeping with the questions of morality and violence, Matthews delivers a third option, and while it's far from completely wrapped up, it leaves Reid's future open-ended for further adventures down the pike.

Now, that's not to say there aren't a few hiccups in this book, or choices that seem a little stale. Matthews' use of the word "Resolve" as a framing device feels a little tired even after the first usage, and arguably distracts from some of the more potent iconography (the mask, the sheriff's star, the horse, the gun) that get used later on in the story. Artwise, the big problem is that the way Reid finally finishes off Cavendish is a little bit confusing as far as the storytelling is concerned — the physics just didn't make sense to me, which is a shame considering that it was supposed to be the big fist-pumping moment of the series. Colorwise, Marcelo Pinto was just a touch bright for my tastes, but considering the fight begins in front of a stained-glass window and is supposed to represent good triumphing over evil, it's a tonal choice that can arguably work.

Nearly five years after its first issue, it's been a heck of a journey following Dynamite's Lone Ranger. While I imagine the publisher is sighing in relief that it's finally finished, for this reader, I'm sad to see it end. While the deadlines were definitely in flux, the production values never faltered, and this book really was an overlooked gem for Western lovers only getting their fix through Jonah Hex. Gorgeously drawn and tightly written, Lone Ranger is a book that doesn't just deserve your attention — it demands it.


Moriarty #1

Written by Daniel Corey

Art by Anthony Diecidue

Lettering by Dave Lanphear

Published by Image Comics

Review by George Marston

If a hero and his nemesis are truly defined by each other, what happens when one of them is removed from the equation? Does the other feel the need to cease existing, as well? Or does something else occur? Moriarty answers that question by supposing that Sherlock Holmes's great enemy, the eponymous Professor Moriarty, not only survived the final conflict that, in the original story, saw them both die, but also flourished by becoming something much closer to Holmes himself. And in this sense, when the hero is gone, the villain becomes the hero. It's an interesting premise, and a worthwhile execution, but there's also plenty of room to grow.

In Moriarty, the Professor finds himself living under an assumed name in Edwardian, pre-WWI London, acting as a businessman, and occasional private investigator. When he's contracted by the government to find Mycroft Holmes, his long dead archenemy's brother, he quickly finds himself far too deep in a mystery that forces him to break many of his own rules. The story moves quickly, and in this oversized issue (which clocks in at 33 pages), there is more than enough space to establish Moriarty's status quo, his world, and his abilities. Writer Daniel Corey is swift in bringing out Moriarty's personality, and while the idea of a terse, often gruff, but still proper man of intrigue isn't exactly new ground, Corey treads it well with well-placed exhibitions of the kind of cunning that made the Professor a great villain before his heroic apotheosis.

If I have any complaint or criticism for the writing, it's that it's a bit verbose. The script often seems to re-iterate what Anthony Diecidue's capable art already conveys, and at times, ought to give the reader a bit more credit for unfurling the tapestry of disappearing noblemen, Greek mythology, and clandestine masquerade balls. I do concede that it's difficult to know, as a writer, exactly how to convey this type of mystery, particularly when your title character is supposed to be the one solving it. Corey's writing is never generic, though, and there's enough personality in it that, as this series continues, there is great potential to find that balance between showing, and telling.

Fortunately, veteran letterer Dave Lanphear brings a touch of class, and does a fine job of fitting all of those words into the pages without obscuring Decidue's delightfully macabre artwork, which falls somewhere between Guy Davis's intricate linework, and Ben Templesmith's oozing sense of atmosphere. The art strikes the perfect mood for the story, and when the action finally lets loose, it's dynamic and gripping. Corey's writing also takes off in these scenes, and it's almost as if he's a bit more comfortable with the sort of fast paced action that comes in at the end of the book than with the mystery that predicates it. The only thing that takes away from the art, however, is the coloring, which, while competent, is often a bit too soft, and comes off as somewhat drab. A more vivid palette isn't the answer, though, but perhaps a cleaner sense of style to match the linework is.

In all, Moriarty presents a strong story buoyed by dynamic, moody art, and an expressive cast of characters. Daniel Corey has a great voice, and once he finds the right measure for it, he'll be hitting all the right notes. This book is a worthwhile read for fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or just intricate mystery stories in general, and I for one hope it gets the chance to really hit its stride.


Netherworld #1

Written by Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin

Art by Tony Shasteen, Davy McCaig and Lee Loughridge

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

The dynamic duo of Hill and Levin has taken on the Heroes and Villains Entertainment concept of Netherworld. This five-issue mini is supposed to be a modern noir thriller with a supernatural twist. Drawing from inspirations such as Sin City, Se7en, and Blade Runner, one can only deduce that it will be a grim and twisted tale.

The protagonist is steely-faced, dark haired, blue-eyed former NYPD who’s now a private investigator with a substance abuse problem. You get the feeling that Ray Parker is not particularly excited by life, and isn’t doing much more than going through the motions. That is until he meets the beautiful woman with the green eyes. She wants him to find someone, a young girl by the name of Madeleine. Something Ray only becomes interested when local bad guys working for one, Cyrus Kane, also want to find the girl. His curiosity now gets the best of him. He is an investigator after all, and what in Netherworld makes this girl so special?

As I was reading, the question of “Where is this?” plagued me. The grit of the city is like New York meets Hong Kong, but the city itself isn’t explicitly stated. This is intentional on the part of Hill and Levin, and it creates the kind of uneasiness that comes from not having your bearings. One is pushed into the story with that feeling. This strong progression immediately acquaints us with the role of the characters. It is clear Ray wants to do the right thing, the moral thing, and that he has a protective nature, but his apathy and violent tendencies leave him shadowed in gray. The crime boss is named Kane. It’s a no-brainer that he is probably quite evil. The beautiful woman with the green eyes is a bit of mystery, but you get the sense that she’s on the side of the angels. The crux of the story is the pretty blonde, Madeleine. Even for the quick pace and character moments, this first issue feels shallow. I wanted more supernatural, and I was not very impressed by the noir. To Hill and Levin’s credit, the characters are believable, and the dialogue is well written. I’m not sure that is enough.

Tony Shasteen’s art has moments when it is good and there are moments where it is stiff. Really stiff. This lack of fluidity stems from the heavy inking, and it puts me off a bit. While the action sequences are dramatic and effective, they are not dynamic. The kicker is the pencils are very good. Shasteen is clearly talented, but I would expect some sort of smoothness to accompany the supernatural theme of the book. Maybe that could have been accomplished by the colors, but I found them to be very primary leaving me bored.

Themes of the dark and gritty man with a past coming in to “save” the youthful, innocent female leave a bad taste in my mouth. Madeleine is very obviously the person everyone wants to get their hands on, the prize if you will. And it’s up to Ray Parker to somehow protect her? This drug-addicted, violent, emotionally bereft man is the symbol of strength, and the sexy, young woman is the symbol of weakness, at least on the outset. This premise is over used, and subtly demeaning. The creators have promised there is much yet to be revealed, and I know these guys are talented. So to be fair, it is only the first issue, and in this case I’d like to be proven wrong.

The same intrigue that Hill and Levin brought to the pages of 7 Days From Hell does not exist in Netherworld. “We are all lost” is the tagline that mysteriously appears throughout the book. It happens to be true, at least for me. I’m lost and not entirely sure where this story is going. My interest is lukewarm at best but I’d give it one more issue, purely out of curiosity. 


Lose #3

Written, Illustrated and Lettered by Michael DeForge

Published by Koyama Press

Review by Zack Kotzer

I remember giving you folks my lowdown on Michael DeForge for Spotting Deer, but in case you missed it here are the Cliff's notes. Toronto, artist, fresh face, gross imagery, uncanny line work, uncannier hair style. His breakthrough release, Lose, was an introduction to his projected psyche, a depressed, pop-lush journey to cartoon hell which, along the way, traced the role an artist at constant conflict with his own creativity. Lose #2 was more like a freakshow oddity, creepier than the first one, which really does mean something, but tonally moving in a completely different direction. Now on to the third issue of his flagship series, DeForge can concretely assure us where he's taking his stream-of-conscious-esque endeavor. Be further down the path of disturbing adventures of children, a u-turn back to a personalized hangover from a lifetime of television, or somewhere completely different altogether.

Much like the first Lose, there are a handful of side-stories, one on the trials and tribulations of ant-life another on an improv night gone Lovecraft. The bulk of attention is given to the new world of Dog 2070. Dog 2070 takes place in a seemingly post-apocalyptic world where dogs walk on two legs, have speech, among other abilities, but most notably they act tragically human. A dog named Stephen is having trouble coping with the accumulation of his life. Not quite over a divorce, Stephen's increasingly concerned over the widening gap between himself and his also troubled children. Also he is a dog. Stephen has no grand scheme to rekindle his fading flame as much as he begins to make awkward little chips towards a solution, anticipating his kids' stay at his place, too far fixated on a goal more than any process. It isn't a sequel to his internet-popular onesie, Dogs in College, but there is certainly some carry over of the natural juxtaposed humor in minuscule human problems being presented by a whimpering cartoon canine.

I really enjoyed this story, and I think as a narrative it's one of DeForge's strongest, albeit one of his safest. It's hard for a second party to determine if he's completely removed his own identity as a literal factor in the story (that drooping dog hair flop could be a paranoia of things to come) but there seems to be a more cohesive emotional path than most of DeForge's other playrooms, regardless of personal affiliation. In playing it safe, I mean that the problems presented, as absurd as they come, are the most recognizable, where in the past DeForge usually takes a more obscure route. It pays off for a more cohesive and connected message, though fans of the freakish may wonder.

There always seems to be a new detail in his style that DeForge is fixated on. In the first it was recreating iconic cartoon characters, the second had the most grotesque of decay detail while Spotting Deer was his most robust jaunt with color. Now, which is actually kind of hinted towards with the cover, DeForge seems interested in fleshing out intricate backgrounds and surroundings. Certainly his dogs and figures are increasingly attended to, Stephen's face in particular is carrying a Charles Burns vibe to it, but the backgrounds and the overall page feels heavier, thick and greasy. There's more good clutter, there's more good mess.

I won't refrain from telling you that when I read Lose #2, it was a bit of a disappointment, it was overtly alienating, even if that was the point, but the third issue has lifted my spirits back up again. It's still a completely different affair than the first issue, but it's an affair I'm digging. It worships emotional sophistication over a guttural gross-out. Lose #3 presents a decaying profile in a decaying world, a character who you sympathize with while still recognizing he himself is the most crippling element in his life. DeForge is trying out new things, as always, and now we've learned that the Lose 'pattern' is really no pattern at all, other than placing passionate anchors in cute shapes with hyper-graphic details.


Thickness #1

Art by Jonny Negron, Katie Skelly, Ze Jian Shen, Derek Ballard & True Chubbo

Edited by Ryan Sands & Michael DeForge

Type by Michael DeForge

Published by Ant Seibei Printopia

Review by Zack Kotzer

When did sex become something comic books became afraid of? Maybe it was the media attentiveness of the 90s, but bundled in the clash-back of the 70's comic movement, with ample arm space between Heavy Metal and Milo Manara, was a legitimate aggressive and exploratory sexual nature that faded much faster than the violence. Now it's just 'pornography', an element exploited by people for whom drawing implausible breasts is their forte, if not otherwise coming up as a punch-line. Alan Moore doing Lost Girls or Manara doing X-Men seemed 'odd' to critics and ignited more juvenile giggles than anything (okay, maybe Manara doing X-Men is, in fact, really funny) while sex, and the wide world of artistic representation of it, seems lost in comics. So in comes Thickness. A proud new graphic (I mean graphic) series of getting down and dirty with a bevy of some of the biggest up and coming talents.

So what drew me to Thickness? I have been waiting, for a really long time, to have something in print by Jonny Negron. The blaxploitation circa manga artist has been causing a stir online (an earlier release of his is Demon God Goblin Heaven) and the idea of finally owning some of his print work, regardless of genitalia, was titillating. I mean tantalizing. I mean. Listen, I'm not a pervert. I just really like this porno comic is all.

Negron's story Grandaddy Purple, Erotic Gameshow, which is the longest in the compilation, feels of like a porno parody of Diabolik with surreal pedals of Jodorowsky littered about the design details. It's got a great pace and a sliver thin seam of suspense, a work that has its tone safe and concrete and an early page (a non-porno page) that I'm not shy to admit floored me. Katie Skelly's swamp romp, Breeding Season, has a Peter Max gone Cinemax vibe, where two pop-style, bubbly creatures of a strange world get natural. Skelly's created a brief but visually interesting critter, who syncs, clicks and slides in with another in a highly aesthetically pleasing way. Ze Jian Shen's Pearl Divers bears the most modest depiction of the human form, though what will really stand out for many is a dual punch line that will be appearing on your Tumblr soon enough (if it hasn't already.) Derek Ballard's Trap Shadez gets crowned the weirdest, and probably my least favorite. Hard to follow, though the jab at virtual reality's ero cliché has a lot of potential.

Thickness is the first comic in a while that uses sex as a theme instead of a selling point. I look forward to the next issue, even if I don't know what I'm looking forward to, mostly because Ryan Sands' taste in talent is top tier. Now all you have to do is explain to everyone you only bought it for the art-icles.

Pellet review!


Magdalena #6 (Published by Top Cow Productions; Review by Lan Pitts; Click here for preview): Recently I had a friend exclaim that he did not know that Magdalena was still around. Oh, Patience never left, dear reader. In the final issue of this first arc, we see Patience do what she was born to do: beat the holy Christ out of the Devil. I felt this time around, the art department here came unleashed and really let their talents be seen. The layouts came across as more cinematic and powerful that really gave the issue a sense of epic drama. Nelson Blake II with David Marquez lead by example with fantastic scenes, and mesh perfectly with Sal Regla inks. Dave McCaig keeps with the warm color palette and amplifies the environment, giving the overall mood as if you're in Hell's mouth itself. Ron Marz scripts a great end to this arc, which leaves the reader wondering what will happen next for Patience's path... or is a new Magdalena around the corner? Top Cow has made a niche for itself as the predominant force in supernatural adventures and this issue, and series thus far, does not disappoint. 

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