Best Shots Advance: BATMAN: GATES OF GOTHAM, ROCKETEER, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews

 

Batman: Gates of Gotham #1

Written by Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins

Art by Trevor McCarthy and Guy Major

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Scott Snyder has a plan.

If you've been reading his run on Detective Comics, it'll make more sense. Writers have talked again and again about Gotham City being its own character, being larger than life, being something more than just a set-piece for New York with additional gargoyles.

Teaming up with Kyle Higgins, Snyder's aiming to make good on this concept with Batman: Gates of Gotham. And while it will ultimately have to compete with an already large amount of Bat-books just to hold reader attention, there's a lot to like with this history lesson of Gotham 101.

For me, the best way of reading Gates of Gotham is more of a historical mystery, rather than something that will out-and-out win you over to Gotham's plight immediately. Getting invested in Gotham as an entity is already a big leap of faith for a lot of readers, and that's basically aiming for the continuity crowd rather than the uninitiated. But thankfully, outside of a three-page introduction, Ye Olden Gotham makes way for the present day, with Dick Grayson and Tim Drake tearing through the streets after an attack on the three main bridges of the city — in other words, the titular Gates of Gotham.

One thing in particular that stood out to me in this book was the dialogue, and in that regard, up-and-coming writer Kyle Higgins is definitely pulling his own weight. Just in terms of "hearing" the dialogue, it very much evokes that Kevin Conroy tone from the Batman animated series. And something that really interested me about this was that even though it's clear that Dick Grayson is underneath the cape and cowl for this book, he definitely sounds like Bruce while on the streets. To be honest, I think only the most anal of readers are going to have a problem with that — it may cut down on the differentiation between the Batmen, but the pacing for the speech is so punchy that I certainly wouldn't turn it down.

The real talent that bears watching in this book, however, is Trevor McCarthy. He's been hacking his way into the industry for more than a decade, but this is his big break — and his stylistic gifts are obvious. He has a fluid, animated style that's reminiscent of Rob Haynes and, with more time to perfect his composition, could be every bit as iconic a Bat-artist as Scott McDaniel. He's also a really striking fit for Guy Major, who's able to take the intricate linework even within Batman's cape and cowl and make it pop, setting blue lines on black cloth. That's not to say there aren't the occasional moments of static — there's an opening splash page that isn't particularly effective, and there's a beautiful moment of Batman tying together precariously-perched cars that looks great, but took a couple of reads to figure out what was happening.

With Kyle Higgins and Trevor McCarthy teaming up once more after their introduction of the character Nightrunner, it's particularly interesting to see two up-and-coming talents strut their stuff on a character that's as big as Batman. That's not to say that this book is a perfect read — the pacing does occasionally feel a bit jerky, just moving from scene to scene, and ultimately, I think the continuity-based concept is going to make things a bit difficult for new readers, even as it rewards diehard fans with all the cameos and guest stars. But just in terms of sheer execution, there are plenty of gems both obvious and hidden in Batman: Gates of Gotham — the question is, will you be willing to take a trip to the city to find out?

 

Rocketeer Adventures #1

Written by John Cassaday, Mike Allred and Kurt Busiek

Art by John Cassaday, Laura Martin, Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart, Mike Allred, Laura Allred, Jim Silke and Michael Kaluta

Lettering by Chris Mowry and Mike Allred

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by David Pepose

Just in terms of sheer design, The Rocketeer is one of those characters that's both a beauty — and a challenge. The jetpack, the leather jacket, the metal helmet with its trademark fin — The Rocketeer was showing readers the joys of technologically-enabled flight decades before the Iron Man film, just by looks alone. With that in mind, it's perhaps apropos for IDW to launch their Rocketeer Adventures storyline with a bevy of talented artists, many of whom will share that same visceral, visual joy with a new generation of readers.

Perhaps most interesting is how much freedom is allowed for the art teams in this book — because in the case of many of these short stories, they're the writers, as well. John Cassaday is a smart choice to open this book, with his cinematic style really showing the power and grace of the jetpack in action. Seven pages in length, Cassaday drops you into the thick of things early, and seeing Betty's reaction upon discovering Cliff's unorthodox plan shows that Cassaday isn't just an action man — he's expressive, too.

Mike Allred's story, meanwhile, is slightly confusing, only because it feels like setup for a story that I'm not altogether sure is going to have a conclusion. While Allred throws in his trademark exaggerated, overly fluid poses — this is definitely a story with its tongue firmly in cheek, as Cliff smooshes his face against Betty's, literally pulling on her eye with his fingers. That said, there's a mystery afoot — namely, a second jetpack and a mysterious offer — that's teased but not ever fully explained outside of "there are dark forces lining up."

Kurt Busiek, the only full-time writer of the bunch, takes on his third story, which has a heck of a punchline, I'll also admit, takes a little long to get there. Part of it is we don't feel that invested in Betty's storyline — in fact, it was unclear at first glance whether she's reading a letter or whether she's narrating, and figuring that out hurts the flow of the story. What's interesting, however, are some of the little touches he gives Michael Kaluta, whose art style evokes a little bit of Michael Chaykin, a little bit of that Geoff Darrow ultra-detail — while we're seeing the day-to-day normalcy of 1940s New York, we get these awesome, high-concept images of the Rocketeer fighting giant sword-wielding apes and mechanical squid. Those, sir, are keepers.

If there's one complaint I have about this book — and unfortunately, it's a doozy — is that outside of the Rocketeer's sleek and iconic look, this book doesn't focus much on getting us to identify with Cliff Secord. The audience's enthusiasm with the character is expected rather than earned — and unfortunately, with movies like Iron Man out there that have already explored the joys of flight, we need a little more investment to bring in new converts, rather than just preaching to the choir. But from a purely visual standpoint — and to be honest, that's always been the Rocketeer's great strength — this is an opening volley of artistic talent that's also stretching beyond their comfort zone. As an artist who also expanded his horizons as a writer through the Rocketeer, I can't help but think Dave Stevens would be proud.

 

Deadlands: The Devil's Six Gun #1

Written by David Gallaher and C. Edward Sellner

Art by Steve Ellis, Oscar Capristo and Jacob Bascle

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

Hold onto your cowboy hats, because Deadlands is not your average western. Tying together the tried-and-true western set pieces with something altogether supernatural, David Gallaher and Steve Ellis really kick off this series of game-related one-shots off right, bringing together a sharp, snappy story that not only introduces an entire playing universe, but even more importantly, stands on its own two feet.

Of course, considering Gallaher and Ellis's long-standing partnership with High Moon, perhaps its no surprise to see how simpatico the two are working with one another. Stylistically, Ellis is a consummate designer and storyteller — just the first page alone, while lacking any flashy composition or layout tricks, hooks you in with sheer craft, as a sinister-looking man has a conversation with a stray cat. There's a real sharpness to Ellis's linework — think of Max Fiumara, albeit much more restrained, with a hint of Scott McDaniel. The other great advantage that Ellis brings to the table is that he colors himself — this is a smart move for all involved, and it ensures that the artwork doesn't feel flat or monotone, but instead captures the foreboding mood among the dust.

Gallaher, meanwhile, sets up a strong example of how to establish theme and character. He's only got 20 pages, and for the most part he makes the best of them — in many ways, this story comes off as a dark twist on the Iron Man film, where you have a character who's not only defined by his ingenuity and tinkering, but is ultimately consumed by it. What do you do when you're presented with an impossible challenge — in this case, transform an unknown element into a gun that can kill the Devil? You feel Copernicus Blackburne's struggle, and that makes even the first page is a great hook: "Don't make the same mistake I did. Don't dream too far or too much. It will only bring you sorrow."

The only misstep I would argue that Gallaher makes in this book is likely just due to a matter of length — Blackburne has a bit of a heel turn into the world of the supernatural that feels a little too abrupt and a little too short. But the moment passes, and the story moves on. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the back-up story by C. Edward Sellner — with only five pages at his disposal, he absolutely knows what to do with them, maximizing the tough, shadowy figures of Oscar Capristo and giving a very smart twist at the end.

Ultimately, the best test of this comic is whether or not you know its a tie-in to a role-playing game. While I think that brings added context to everything, the best thing I can say about Deadlands is that you don't need any prior knowledge to appreciate the heck out of this story. Going strong on craft and heavy on the storytelling, this is a weird western that'll truly knock you for a loop. 

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