Best Shots Advance: AMERICAN VAMPIRE, MORNING GLORIES, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Ready for tomorrow's reviews, today? Best Shots has you covered, with a number of new releases from publishers such as Vertigo, Image, IDW, BOOM! Studios and Zenescope! And now, let's kick off this week's column with the latest iteration of American Vampire, in Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy's Survival of the Fittest...

 

American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #1

Written by Scott Snyder

Art by Sean Murphy and Dave Stewart

Lettering by Pat Brosseau

Published by Vertigo

Review by David Pepose

The bustling streets of the 1940s never looked so rough — or as exciting — as American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest. Running at a faster pace than any of this series' previous opening issues, Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy bring about a sharp sense of mood and tension to this new chapter of vampire lore.

For my money, artist Sean Murphy is such a great fit for this book — there's storytelling, and then there's storytelling, and Murphy's sense of detail is a real treat to drink in. Felicia Book, daughter of the first arc's doomed hero Jim Book, has brooding down to an art, her head down, her hands stuffed inside her pockets, a restless hunter with a deep, dark secret. But Murphy also takes care to really build up the world and give it a coat of dirt — there's a page where Felicia walks through a museum, and seeing the detail that goes into the backgrounds, whether its the enormous fish in the aquarium or a set of skeletons detailing evolution, that truly add a lot to the proceedings.

Scott Snyder, meanwhile, takes that momentum of Murphy's more angular pencils and really uses it to his advantage. He breaks out the action early, which is great for new readers to get a sense of what the American Vampire is truly like, even if the logic behind finding the first set of vampires seems a hair shaky. Perhaps even more impressively, he gives his badass heroine a real sense of humanity later on in the book, and almost effortlessly introduces her associate, a guy who's got some real twisted issues underneath those scruffy sideburns.

If there's one thing that slows down this iteration of American Vampire, it's that there is the implication that you've read some of the previous arcs — if you don't know who Skinner Sweet is, chances are you may be doing a little bit of catch-up before you really understand who's who. The other thing that I hope to see more of in continuing issues is how the time period will affect the narrative — why 1941? How will that limit their options? Still, this book looks gorgeous, and pacing-wise it's the strongest opener for American Vampire yet. We've met the players, and they look gorgeous — now let's see what happens when their journey begins.

 

Morning Glories #10

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by Joe Eisma and Alex Sollazzo

Lettering by Johnny Lowe

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

Somebody give a hand to the team of Morning Glories, because this is hands-down the best issue of the series to date. The story may twist and turn and leave you still uncertain of exactly what went down, but this is one of those rare comics that isn't satisfied with just being a story — this is a narrative that strives to be art.

And let me tell you, Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma and, perhaps most importantly, Alex Sollazzo absolutely succeed in their ambitions. Following resident emo kid Jade, this story flickers between reality, hallucination and perhaps something more, and it's clear that Nick Spencer is truly stretching himself in not letting you know which is which. Yet the thing that Spencer does with this book that is absolutely critical is that he makes you care for Jade — we sense her fear, her loneliness, her desire to escape.

Of course, Joe Eisma and Alex Sollazzo have a lot to do with that. Let me kick off with Sollazzo for a second, first — this is easily the best work Sollazzo has done, with some truly moody colors that never seem flat, but instead really amp up the otherworldly nature of some of Jade's more twisted thoughts. Sollazzo makes every page pop out, and that only adds some real weight and smoothness to Joe Eisma's pages. Eisma sense of layout is getting stronger with each issue, and while occasionally the lines still seem a little stiff, he's got such a great sense of expressiveness to all of his characters — particularly Jade, even as she remains silent during much of this issue — that you automatically feel for them.

The only types of people I might think would have a problem with this book are the diehard plot junkies, the ones who demand clear-cut progression in the story with no room for ambiguity or surprise. But that's what Morning Glories has been all along — it's a mystery, in the vein of The Prisoner or LOST. But this issue, even as it checks in with the various side characters, is really a beautiful character study on one of the more stereotypical characters of the cast. If you're into beautiful art and intricate storytelling, you must check this book out, because this is an A-plus effort from all involved.

 

Love And Capes: Ever After #5

Written and Illustrated by Thomas F. Zahler

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Deniz Cordell

There’s a reason why Love and Capes is so well-beloved by those who read it – and this issue epitomizes many of the qualities that elevate Thomas Zahler’s story beyond its superhero-analogue trappings.

What brings the series its charm and style is Zahler’s cast of eminently personable characters – these are people, and heroes, that you wouldn’t mind running into on the street, or sitting down for coffee with. These are characters that whole-heartedly embrace the better parts of humanity, even when the normal, eternal failings and frailties show up (jealousy, and so on). This is further emphasized by the fact that while villains show up, they are seldom the direct focus of an issue – the capes and their friends, lovers and wives are always at center stage. It’s great to have a reasonably well-adjusted cast of characters (but still are about as dysfunctional as you or I… well, maybe you) and explore their lives in and out of danger, as opposed to wallowing in the psychoses of villains. There is such optimism and jeux d’esprit on display that the only real failing the series has is that there aren’t more issues.

Zahler’s art still has a cartoony aesthetic. It’s angular and bubbly, his coloring is vibrant and crisp. The art is very well suited to the style of scripting, and supports the narrative strongly. In particular, his use of an eight-panel layout through most of the story creates a consistent rhythm to the storytelling, which ably captures and allows for rapid switches in tone.

This is an issue that delves into tragedy and comedy in the purest senses of both genres – as the bulk of the story deals with the sudden death of a member of the Liberty League. Zahler both mines the event for emotional resonance, and brings his trademark dry humor. Part of the issue devotes itself to the particulars and procedures of a superhero post-mortem examination. It’s a funny sequence – its knowing nature and reliance on character makes it the comic centerpiece of the issue.

The story cuts back and forth between characters dealing with the death, and Mark (The Crusader) recollecting various moments he had spent with the deceased. The flashbacks are brief, and quite funny – which in turn adds a wistful, more emotionally honest dimension to the memorial services. Humor and pathos mix together very well here, as death makes philosophers of the characters, and topics as wide ranging as aging and the specifics of invulnerability are handled with a whimsy and warmth that highlights the way these characters care for each other. Naturally, some additional humor arises at the memorial service for the heroes alter ego, as our two leads, Mark and his wife, Abby, have to use a fabricated backstory to explain how they knew the deceased. A pretty funny gag comes out of the setup, and Zahler’s facial expressions really sell the joke. All told, it’s a pretty moving story, and a brief introduction from Zahler on the indicia page adds another shade of meaning to the proceedings.

This is a comic book that is refreshing, rejuvenating – there is an elegance to its action, a sparkle to the characters, and a clarity of form and purpose that is pretty marvelous. Zahler’s dialogue is sharp, breezy and natural, and the characters all have their own voices and idiosyncrasies. It’s a wonderful panacea for all of the doom-and-gloom and cynicism that seems to run rampant in other fictional worlds. It is filled with hope and intelligence.

Then, there are the final two pages, which – for lack of a better word – are just perfect. It’s a moment of well-earned catharsis, and is an exciting development for both the series and the characters. For those who haven’t been following the book, or have only glanced at the covers at their local shop, this is a terrific issue to start reading with. This is highly recommended by the likes of me. What are you waiting for? This is a superhero story that is never anything less than a joy, even when it has you reaching to wipe your eyes.

 

Fly #1

Written by Raven Gregory

Illustrated by Eric J, Michael Garcia, Nei Ruffino

Lettered by Crank!

Published by Zenescope Entertainment

Review by Jeff Marsick

I have two problems with comic books about characters with powers above and beyond the mortal. First off, being a glass-is-half-empty kinda guy when it comes to human nature, I don't buy it that as soon as someone discovers they can run fast/turn invisible/sweat phosgene gas that they are suddenly going to puff out their chest, stand with fists on hips and commit themselves to a life of protecting the innocent and downtrodden. Second, supers/metas/mutants are neither cognizant nor considerate of consequences of action. If a butterfly's flapping wings in Tokyo cause a hurricane in the Caribbean, so too should a speedster's dashing or a magnetism master's machinations have ramifications. If great responsibility is the MSRP of all great power, then darker depths of the total iceberg should be explored. Which is why Raven Gregory's new creator-owned book, Fly is such a great read.

Fly is all about repercussions. In a flashback, we see Eddie Patron as a nice high school kid, a cool cat who's smooth with the ladies and friend to the walleye-visioned geek set; an electron in his own conflict-free orbit about the teen-aged social nucleus. One day he saves the resident punching bag, Francis, from bullies, and Francis repays the favor by introducing him to a spooky little designer drug, a syringical get-high from his father's secret stash. It's called Fly. A couple cc's later and Francis is floating--literally--off the floor. You don't need the foreshadowing reflection in the syringe of a smiling Eddie to guess where this is going.  

But Raven Gregory throws a monkey in the wrench by also showing us the present: Eddie getting the life beaten out of him by a woman, one he met in high school and eventually married. The one we can deduce discovered the intoxication of Fly via Eddie and who has come back demanding more, having chosen the rush of power over the commitment of love. Thanks to Eddie, she is now a monster of his own creation, the hurricane to his butterfly.

Issue one is a portent of dark and serious stuff. Sure, take this and you can fly. It's just that easy in all the super-hero books. But Raven Gregory makes it edgier by making you look into the depths of the consequences. What happens when the high wears off? How do you handle your addiction? More importantly, who loses when you share the experience with someone you love? As a story, Fly is given more gravity after you read the excerpt from the USA Today article about the book and discover that this something of a demon exorcism on Raven Gregory's part, a working through of his own experiences with addiction. It helps that he's got a terrific artist in Eric J, an impressively adept artist who spins two completely different styles: a lighter, almost cartoony look for the flashbacks and a harder, more serious one for the present day. The coloring team of Michael Garcia and the always impressive Nei Ruffino assist to sell the downward spiral of Eddie's life since meeting Fly, lending a palette of innocence to those high school years before turning it bleak and dark and industrial in the present. This is an art team who would do well on a Batman or Punisher story.

Raven Gregory wowed with his previous creator-owned book, The Waking, and this book might end up being even better. It's a terrific first issue and one of the best to hit the shelves so far this year by Zenescope Entertainment.

 

Space Warped #1

Written by Herve Bourhis

Art by Rudy Spiessert and Mathilda

Lettering by Deron Bennett

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Kyle DuVall

Space Warped is a Star Wars parody comic imported form Europe. The book, originally titled “Rustic wars” was created by writer Herve Bourhis and artist Rudy Spiessert and essentially transports the plot and characters of Star Wars to a medieval setting. Wagons mounted with gunpowder cannons replace starships, crossbows stand in for blasters, and Vikings substitute for wookies.

Star Wars has always been a ripe subject for parody, inspiring parody versions like Hardware Wars almost the moment it was released in 1977. Fans themselves make a pastime out of poking fun at their beloved trilogy and any gathering of friends watching the film is likely to inspire accompanying commentary rife with in-jokes and wry observations.

As Star Wars parodies go, Space Warped, at least in this translated form, is pretty thin. The leap from space fantasy to medieval saga is not a very far one, so simply making Darth Vader a black knight named Salvador or turning Obi Wan into a reclusive monk named Bernard doesn’t innately strike comedic sparks. Star Wars already has a medieval fairy-tale/hero’s journey structure as its backbone. The transfer, basically, is too easy a fit to generate a sense of absurdity or audacity. This comes out most prominently in artist Spiessert’s charming but limited artwork. It only takes a couple of artistic flourishes on some characters, say the addition of Viking-horns to Darth Vader’s helmet, or the refashioning of Chewbacca as a bearded Viking, to convert them.

For others, though, like Obi-wan and Luke, there’s no comedic innovation at all. Just imagine what sort of artistic fixes and parallels Spiessert would have had to create if, instead of a medieval setting, Space Warped transferred the saga to, say, a story of rival baseball teams, or maybe a family restaurant staving off a the dominance of an evil fast food chain. I’m just riffing here, but the point is, good parody is not making the easy connection, but the hard one, the odd one.

There are a handful of clever observations and gags based on the plot of Star Wars here, but there’s a lot of space between the jokes. The choice to split the story into two installments makes an awkward break as well. Perhaps the book’s shortcomings can be partially blamed on the translation process. For American readers, that hardly matters. Importation glitches or none, Space Warped, in this form, is an amiable yet totally forgettable Star Wars goof.

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