Best Shots Advance: GATES OF GOTHAM, ALL NIGHTER, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews

Happy Tuesday, Newsarabble! Brendan McGuirk here on sub duty once again, bringing you an advance look at some of the titles that will be hitting the comic shelves first thing tomorrow.

 

Batman: Gates of Gotham #2

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

Batman: Gates of Gotham is an interesting conceit with a less-than-perfect structure — it analyzes the secret history of Gotham City and ties it into a present-day manhunt by the greater Batman family. There's clearly passion to Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins' story, and while there are some understated character beats for attentive readers, the big hurdle for this sophomore issue is that it never really decides what kind of story it wants to be.

For my money, the more interesting parts of this story actually end up being the scenes in the past, where Snyder and Higgins introduce us to the ancestors of a number of Gotham citizens now on both sides of the law. While you'd think that this is really continuity-heavy — which might be a bit of a moot point eventually anyway, depending on reader enthusiasm and how extensive the DC relaunch might be in September — it's actually a chance for Higgins in particular to really rely on character rather than concept. By introducing a protagonist who creates for a reason, Higgins helps flesh out this metaphor of skyscrapers in a much brighter Gotham City. In a lot of ways, our historical narrators really do steal the show, as they're defined by their wants and temperaments rather than any powers that they might wield.

But on the downside, this 20-pager doesn't quite get enough time to devote to the past, making the present-day adventures feel a bit more obligatory than exciting. Fans who are upset with the lack of spotlight for characters such as Cassandra Cain and Tim Drake are going to be happy to see them racing across the rooftops of Gotham, however, and it's clear that Higgins gets the characterization for most of them down pat. (And it's clear that Higgins is having a lot of fun with one Morrison-defined character, something that not many other writers quick get a knack with.) But the present-day sequences, even though they're supposed to establish the stakes of Gates of Gotham as a whole, don't quite wow me — it's frenetic with action, but outside of a temper tantrum from one Bat-family member, there isn't a whole lot of deeper meaning or thematic thrust to the proceedings.

Artist Trevor McCarthy also seems to struggle just a bit on this issue, as Snyder and Higgins put together a story with a bit of dense dialogue and exposition to get across. There's surprisingly not that much fodder for real visual fireworks in this issue, and the reliance on horizontal panels — even six per page on occasion — means that the layout sometimes feels a little bit too small, a little wasted in terms of opportunities. But McCarthy does still excel in terms of design, evoking that Marcus To-style of clean linework, with an image of Dick Grayson glowering straight at the camera, his cowl damaged from the fight. Colorist Guy Major continues to be a great fit for the art team, however, with some real mood and fluidity to his purples, maroons and blood reds.

Ultimately, I applaud Snyder and Higgins for trying to drop a little bit of history for Gotham City in this issue, but at the same time, the serialized chapter breaks are hurting the momentum of this mystery a bit. I don't necessarily think this is a matter of the authors not committing to their conceit as much as they need to — you've only got 20 pages, what else are you going to do, not have Batman in your second issue? — but at the same time, the whiplash ends up drawing attention to what might be the bigger themes and messages at play. Right now, this is a slickly illustrated book with a ton of potential not just as continuity fodder, but as a real injection of historical fiction to your regular superheroic fare. And if Snyder and Higgins can crystallize their theme and justify the time jumps soon, Gates of Gotham will truly be firing on all cylinders.

 

All Nighter #1

Written by David Hahn

Art by David Hahn

Lettering by Aditya Bidikar

Published by Image Comics

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

As with any new book, I do my best to have an open mind. Sometimes it is a struggle to be open to a story you typically may not read. All Nighter #1 is a black and white indie book with no capes, which may not be “typical” for many a comic reader. But I assure you, it is worth a look. Within a few pages, I found myself totally in the moment, and engrossed in the story.

I immediately felt like I knew Kit, our darling protagonist. It is easy to like an admittedly flawed character; we are all flawed in our own way so empathy takes hold. Kit has got some bad habits that she’d be well served to let go of, including the on-again off-again thief boyfriend. He’s the kind of habit that you kick yourself for. Kit lives with her solid-gold best friend, and a shallow roommate. The girls are looking for another roommate to stave off some of their financial woes. They all hang out at the All Nite Diner, known to them as the All Nighter. Kit is trying to do better, trying to grow up. Through the first person perspective of Kit; Hahn drops a few bombs about what’s going on inside Kit’s head, letting us know there is much yet to be seen.

Without giving too much of the good stuff away, Hahn has revealed that one of the characters disappears. Hahn uses this as an opportunity to explore the cultural phenomenon of the “missing white woman,” and the effect that will have on the lives of the 20-something characters. Doing what I think comics do best, this is sure to be a thought-provoking social analysis, as well as a good story.

I love David Hahn’s art in this book. His clean, animated style subtly reminds me of Cliff Chiang or Darwyn Cooke, but not quite as retro and with an edge that is distinctly his own. He is an exceptional cartoonist. The facial expressions and body language of his characters are so telling. It adds depth to the experience. In the opening page we see Kit perched on the roof of the All Nighter, anxiety in her eyes and confident apprehension in her body. She knows what she should do, but isn’t sure she’s going to do it. Hahn’s simple lines and black and white storytelling mesh well with the vivid emotion of the characters.

Image continues to publish interesting and unique books, which I think is great not only for the creators, but for us as a comic book audience. The diversity is welcome, and needed. While a book with young and on the verge of responsibility type characters could end up in pretentious limbo, the authenticity of these characters will keep All Nighter thoroughly grounded. Based on the first issue, this is going to be good. 

 

DuckTales #2

Written by Warren Spector

Art by José Massaroli, Magic Eye Studios & Braden Lamb

Lettering by Deron Bennett

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Deniz Cordell

The simultaneously wonderful and sometimes disappointing thing about comic books based on licensed properties is that we impose our private memories and our connections to all elements of the fictional universe onto the narrative at hand. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the idea of voice, the presence of the performers – and though Scrooge McDuck appeared in comics decades before he was brought to theaters and televisions the world over – for me, it’s nearly impossible to read Scrooge McDuck’s dialogue without hearing the perfectly cast voice of Alan Young – with all of his delightfully idiosyncratic cadences and bluster and humor. It’s a terrific testament to writer Warren Spector’s talent that his dialogue for Scrooge reads as though it is being effortlessly delivered by the great Mr. Young. That’s just one of DuckTales’ many pleasures.

The art by José Massaroli and the team at Magic Eye Studios is crisp and buoyant – the characters are rendered with an ease and charm that lends the whole enterprise a brisk energy. Massaroli’s staging emphasizes light comedy, and does so with aplomb – the timing for the physical comedy bits is well done, and the page layouts are refreshing in their variety. The characters' facial expressions are exaggerated without being over-the-top – you’re never at a loss for figuring out what the characters are feeling or what their internal monologue is like. Braden Lamb’s color work is lush and varied – there’s a straddling of the line between a more modern school of coloring; allowing for shadings, shadow, and natural lighting effects – and a more traditional “comic book” aesthetic with colors that zip, pop, and draw the eye wheresoever’s it chooses.

Spector’s script is taut and funny – it winds up in the manner of great screwball comedy, as opposed to playing out in a more laidback style – and it’s a wholly appropriate choice that works quite well. Spector ensures that all of the lead characters are given equal panel-time, and have their own moments in the storytelling sun – my personal favorites belonging to the character of Farquardt, who comes across as an amusing mix between J. Wellington Wimpy and Frank Nelson. With his nonchalant stride, and penchant for sudden cowardice – he makes for a strong character type, and a fine foil for Scrooge.

There’s a scope to the storyline that’s enjoyable – there’s never a want for complications or twists, and plot and character are balanced admirably. There’s a clearly defined quest, a mysterious, obscure villain from another Disney Duck franchise (whose gimmick is revealed in a surprisingly off-handed, trivial fashion, and whose speech bubbles are shaded a sinister green), and hints at events from Scrooge McDuck’s past – carrying on the sense of history that lies behind the character. The tropical, candy filled island of Rippan Taro (one of many pun-names throughout) gives the adventure its distinct setting – crucial to the Globe-hopping, Barksian spirit of its animated forefather. As Scrooge, his nephews, and his compatriots explore the island – we spend time with natives who speak in a sort of Pidgin English that wouldn’t be out of place in any Disney or Warner Brothers cartoons of the forties or fifties. It’s a surprising homage to the heritage of the stories.

All told DuckTales relishes its light tone, and has a pleasant air that is well tempered with a soupcon of jeopardy – as the issue reaches its climax. The characters are likable and resourceful, the tempo and pacing is rather rollicking – even in its textually and visually dense pages, and it makes sure to never linger too long in one place. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable diversion that wouldn’t have been out of place in a boy’s adventure magazine – and its humor, mined from situation and character, is quite winning.

 

Infestation: Outbreak #1

Written by Chris Ryall and Tom Waltz

Art by David Messina, Claudia Balboni, Gaetano Carlucci and ScarletGothica

Lettering by Shawn Lee and Chris Mowry

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Infestation: Outbreak is just about as good as any lowbrow summer popcorn fare.

Do with that what you will.

As readers of IDW's previous Infestation series no doubt remember, the CVO unit (that's Covert Vampiric Operations for the acronym-challenged among you) is a government, erm, operation headed up by shady dudes in suits and shadier dudes with horns. The world has been overrun by creatures of various paranormal breeds and, oh yeah, the ones tasked with corralling them have all been compromised and become somewhat monstrous themselves. And they also have crazy tech. As part of their bodies.

If the rag-tag gang of Universal Studios-esque monsters wasn't enough to satisfy the masses, Waltz, Ryall, Messina & co. get their genre stir-fry on and introduce aliens to the mix. Which, let's be honest, is probably exactly what the book needs. Because sometimes more is more.

If the CVO cats were merely “super-powered,” and if they were merely products of nefarious government experiments, this would be a comic we've seen a million times before in the last 25 years. The characters that make up the team aren't particularly distinct or compelling beyond their individual abilities. There's the stoic one, the angry one, the firecracker and the probably doomed one. But there's a reason these archetypes are so familiar; within a certain set of parameters, they work. If you're the type that wants to spend a couple hot summer days in a darkened room with junk food at the ready while you watch stuff blow up, chances are you aren't that interested in finding out what makes the expert marksman tick. You'd probably rather spend that time seeing more stuff blow up. Or, in the case of Infestation: Outbreak, see stuff get stabbed through the heart.

So it is the horror-tinge that sets Infestation: Outbreak apart from the other books about covert action teams. There are a good amount of fun ideas strewn here, and the hodgepodge of it all gives it a certain feeling of whimsy that warmed my inner 13 year old.

But I'm not quite sure that whimsy is the most effective tone for a book about things that were conceived to be scary.

IDW has had tremendous success with horror, and even some with sci-fi, but the thing that has consistently set their work apart has been distinctive and appropriate artistry. 30 Days of Night didn't just read scary, it looked scary. And so while Messina and friends have delivered a book that looks every bit the blockbuster it is meant to be, I can't help but wonder if the story would be better served if it were a little more opaque and stylized, since it is that very conceit that sets this story apart from its peers.

That isn't meant as a total indictment of the artwork, though. It is clean and effective and gets the job done. It is perfectly suited to an action comic. But that's the rub- if you're going to do the comic version of a blockbuster, you don't compete with the big screen. You make it a blockbuster comic with art and style that can only exist on the drawn page. It's gotta look the part.

Maybe as the sci-fi ramps up throughout this series, its visual voice will seem more in tune with the story it is telling, and maybe the versatility offered by the somewhat neutral look will pay off as stakes escalate. Either way, it's probably not worth worrying about too much. Because sometimes thinking just gets in the way of a good time.

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