Best Shots Comic Reviews: DAREDEVIL, SUPERMAN, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews

Greetings, 'Rama Readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you for the big Monday column with the Best Shots team! And what's more, our team has multiplied — joining us is Rob McMonigal, reviewer extraordinaire and creator of Panel Patter! So let's give Rob a big round of Internet applause and start today's column, as Brian takes a look at the latest issue of Daredevil...

 

Daredevil #10

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Paolo Rivera, Joe Rivera and Javier Rodriguez

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

I’ve been enjoying Daredevil so far, but this week, Daredevil was even better than usual. With a heavier story and a truly moving resolution, Mark Waid perfectly mixes emotion and action in an issue that is probably the best Daredevil comic of his run so far.

The previous issue of Daredevil carried a different weight to it because it involved Matt searching for his father’s body, which was stolen from a graveyard by The Mole Man. But Waid balances Matt’s anger and sadness against Harvey Elder’s similar feelings of loneliness. Much of the issue is the fight between Matt and Harvey and their battle is loaded with feeling as Harvey speaks of the loneliness he felt due to the torture he faced as a “freak,” while Matt deals with the heartache of losing his father.

I used to think that Matt’s canes were a stupid weapon, but in the hands of Mark Waid, Daredevil’s weapons are as awesome as Punisher’s. The battle between Daredevil and the Mole Man is violent and fun, and while one wouldn’t think that Harvey is athletic, Waid proves otherwise that Mole Man is more powerful than he lets on. It’s a different element to a silly character, and one that redefines him for newer readers.

The other star of the issue is Paolo Rivera. He has a simple style to his art, but I don’t mean that as an insult. Whereas someone like Gary Frank or even Mark Bagley goes for explicit anatomical detail, Rivera, like Michael Allred, goes for unembellished character designs. This kind of style makes the comic easy to read, and fun to look at. And in the moments where readers are shown Matt’s point of view, the simplicity aids the visuals. Joe Rivera’s inks and Javier Rodriguez’s colors were also striking. Rivera knows how to craft mood, tone and emotion through light and dark, and since the issue is an emotional roller coaster for Matt, Rivera perfectly captures his feelings.

Additionally, Rodriguez is a consistent colorist, and while the colors tend to look muted or flat, these, again, aren’t negatives. For a story that deals so intimately with raw emotion, the lack of visual chaos makes the story easier to read, and therefore easier to engage with. By not being distracted by what they see on the pages, readers can pay more attention the tone of the comic, and the heartache that is felt by both Daredevil and the Mole Man.

In wrapping up the current conflict, Mark Waid seamlessly introduces the next. While this arc was a highly emotional one for Matt, the next arc looks just as promising. This is another great issue by a talented writer, and another great addition to a what has been a continuously impressive series.

 

Superman #7

Written by Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens

Art by Dan Jurgens, Jesus Merino, Tanya Horie and Richard Horie

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by Brian Bannen

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

I was thankful to see Dan Jurgens return to Superman given his long history and his comfort with the character. I was especially excited by Ivan Reis's beautiful cover — it gave me hope that this arc would be better than the previous arc. It has strong characterization and, for the most part, visually engaging art. It’s still not knockout, but it’s better than it was.

Jurgens and Giffen drop readers right into the action on the first page. This sets the tone for the rest of the issue because the story moves along quickly. But Jurgens and Giffen complement the action with humor, and even though the issue opens with a big battle, it doesn’t feel weighty. The major conflict involves Helspont, a member of the alien Daemonites originally from the Wildstorm universe, and one of his lackeys, who is meant to be both a challenge and a calling to Superman. Bystanders are used as comic relief, but a majority of the narration is through Superman’s thoughts, which provide insight into some of the changes in the DCU (like Superman’s costume), as well as providing a bit of humanity to the character. Everyone knows that Superman is a good guy, but that is reinforced when readers can see the internal conflict Kal-El faces when he battles one of Helspont’s minions in downtown Metropolis. More importantly, Superman is consistently depicted as a hero. From the first page, Giffen and Jurgens remind us that Kal is intelligent, thoughtful, and strong.

My favorite part of the issue involves Clark at the Daily Planet. So often, Superman writers try to mesh Clark’s personal duties to the Planet with his duties as Superman, but few seem to be able to mix the two seamlessly, The focus is usually on one or the other, but rarely on both. Giffen and Jurgens, find a way to pair this responsibility with the rest of the conflicts in the issue so that Clark’s fight with Helspont has more riding on it then just telling an action story. Without meaning to, Clark agrees to let Jimmy stay at his apartment, agrees to pick up Lois’s sister, and promises Perry that he will change his writing style. The quick banter makes for a humorous situation but also a character defining moment because Clark, being the good guy he is, will not want to disappoint anyone — even if his fight with an alien menace may make it so that he cannot fulfill all his promises.

While his writing is strong, Dan Jurgens’ art is a mixed bag in this issue. On the one hand, there are moments, particularly involving Helspont, where the characters are beautifully drawn and colored. Tanya and Richard Horie color this issue, and do a fine job of it. Superman looks vibrant and powerful, and Helspont — from his flaming head to his massive body — looks like a villain who will offer Big Blue a serious challenge. Jurgens knows how to make Kal-El look heroic, and much like Gary Frank, Jurgens’ Superman always looks powerful and confident.

Yet the art stutters when it comes the composition and visual storytelling. Some of the lines are so thick that dense panels — those involving many characters or a lot of background detail — look cluttered. Because the story has so much going on, a lot has to be drawn so I don’t fault Jurgens for the compacted panels. Furthermore, some of the action scenes lack consistency. On one page, Superman is tossed through the air in the first panel, but he’s shown standing in the next panel, then in the panel after that, he’s holding up part of the road as a shield. This kind of clunky transitioning is noticeable and distracting, but thankfully this is the only time it occurs in the book.

That said, I enjoyed this comic more than the previous Superman issues. Jurgens has the history with the character needed to help sell his persona, and through working with Giffen, Jurgens has helped produce an engaging story that showcases the many different facets of Kal-El, Clark Kent and Superman. By being aware of Clark’s life outside of being a superhero, Giffen and Jurgens have added another layer to this story, one that makes for interesting conflicts, and one which makes me, as a reader, excited to see how the story is finished. I was a bit disappointed after he first arc, but now I’m more confident.

 

Bloodstrike #26

Written by Tim Seeley

Art by Francesco Caston

Lettering by CRANK!

Published by Image Comics

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Cabott Stone is a man who cannot die, a functional zombie operative of a top secret US Agency, doomed to fight things like cyborg terrorists in a European garbage dump. What is the point of this endless battling?

Unfortunately, that’s left open as a very good question.

Bloodstrike #26 is a continuation of Rob Liefeld’s Extreme line of characters for Image Comics. They are being resurrected mostly by other creators, including Tim Seeley, best known for his work on Hack/Slash. This is the third new series from Liefeld’s Extreme line, and has a lot to live up to, given the critical acclaim for the reboots of Prophet and Glory, both of which I read and enjoyed. However, I don’t think Bloodstrike is able to live up to the quality of its two sister publications.

Part of the problem may be the concept behind the character. Bloodstrike is a killer zombie backed by a corrupt government agency. Stone, like Lobo or Wolverine or Deadpool or any number of other characters, can deal out and take bloody punishment against replaceable opponents whom he kills by the score. But that makes his adventure in this opening episode is as generic as possible, with any number of other anti-heroes able to do the exact same thing.

Seeley tries to inject life into the idea by making Bloodstrike a former Believer who has lost his faith and will kill just to show how pointless life is, but all that does is make the character less likable, not more interesting. Dropping a down-on-his luck Deathstroke into this plot would require almost no changes to the story except the publisher, right down to Bloodstrike’s sarcastic, borderline nihilistic dialogue. While I did like the villains we saw here in terms of their design (especially the Mummies with laser guns), they just don’t do anything special to make this comic stand out for me from the many other similar stories I’ve read over the years.

Seeley’s rebooted Witchblade did a great job starting fresh and using what had come before. I was hoping for a comic in a similar vein with Bloodstrike. In Witchblade, Seeley seamlessly gave new readers like me information while setting up his take on the character and placing her in a new adventure. Here the action feels play-by-number and the attempts to provide backstory via a visit to a psychiatrist seem out of place in the narrative. Stone’s villains are just there to be punched right now, and I can get that anywhere.

I was disappointed that Seeley wasn’t innovative in his villain-hero interplay, either. I love a good fight scene as much as anyone, but when I’m new to a character, I want more than just exploding heads and torn flesh. The attempts to provide depth and character growth are all in flashbacks, and while they provide good material, the flow of the comic is like a PBS documentary mixed with a wrestling match.

Though I had issues with the plot in Bloodstrike, I thought Caston’s artwork did well with the material given to him. He slips seamlessly from the gory action scenes to Stone and the psychiatrist as well as the (mostly) bloodless action back at headquarters. Caston’s pacing of the story is clear from panel to panel and his depiction of beheadings, shootings, and other grim deeds are evocative without being gratuitous. His characters look smooth and flowing, contrasting nicely with angular, mechanical backgrounds full of plenty of details for the reader to linger over. It reminds me a bit of some Stuart Immonen comics I’ve read.

I also like the way emotions are shown on the face of Stone, Director Keyes, Comm Tech One, and even the monsters that Bloodstrike faces. Caston uses varied camera angles to keep the action moving, even when they are just talking heads and I never felt like the characters were posing for the reader. Their placement and reactions felt real to me, something that I find lacking at times when I read a superhero comic.

Right now the only thing that stands out about Bloodstrike is artwork that rises above the pedestrian storyline we receive in this soft reboot of the character. It’s hard to judge based on just one issue, but I left this one feeling like the action scenes were tripping over the characterization, leaving no clear path for either element to shine. Unless you really need another nigh-indestructible, cynical superhero comic in your life, you can live without Bloodstrike.

 

Avengers Vs. X-Men #0

Written by Brian Michael Bendis and Jason Aaron

Art by Frank Cho and Jason Keith

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jake Baumgart

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Summer is right around the corner and comic fans can feel it in the air and the racks of their local comic shops. That’s right: time for the big summer events! Avengers vs. X-Men #0 handles some of the house keeping needed before Marvel’s giant crossover event while still keeping the tone light yet still ominous.

At its core, AvX #0 moves the story components where they need to be before the big event kicks off. The first half of the story, written by Brian Michael Bendis, fills in the gaps since Scarlett Witch’s return. The story sees her in action with Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman against MODOK and establishes her relationship with estranged husband Vision and the rest of the Avengers. What’s really nice is that the pacing doesn’t feel rushed to cram in as many story elements as possible. The flow is very organic and not only does each of the Avengers featured get to clue the reader in to where they stand on Wanda’s return, but it doesn’t feel busy or forced. The start of the second half of the book, written by Jason Aaron, may be a little wordy, but the first few pages have been featured in the back of almost every Marvel book for what seems like months, so readers should be familiar with where Hope stands on Cyclops and his team of seemingly darker X-Men. Hope thinks she’s ready for the Phoenix force and her brutal beat-down of the Serpent Society seems to back up that point.

What’s nice is that both writers keep the tone somewhat fun. Bendis keeps Spider-Woman cracking wise and enjoying the experience of beating on MODOK and even Aaron has one of the Serpent Society members remark that they heard a “Whump” sound right next to the nondiagetic sound effect. Although Marvel’s two biggest teams might be on the edge of a major throw-down (again), the tone is still light enough to lure the reader into a sense of comfort before the first shots are fired. This is great of a #0 issue because new or casual readers can digest this issue easier than a dark and exposition-heavy first issue.

Frank Cho is the perfect choice for this book with a nonpartial style that doesn’t play favorites and delivers awesome artwork with clean lines and full of color thanks to Jason Keith. Instead of a highly stylized pencil choice and colors that set the tone in favor of one team or the other, Cho and Keith’s work reflects the writing with dynamic pages that can capture the fun of fighting MODOK’s animal-head robots and the frightened tension between Scott and Hope. Some of the best pages are the ones that feature the dialogue between Hope and Cyclops. With the camera always moving and choosing the best angles to capture the sentiments on the page, Cho presents an issue that’s full of exposition in a fun and attention capturing way that never slips up with strange facial expressions or contorted figures.

Cho really knows how to choose his panels well. The full-page reveal of Scarlett Witch is genuinely stunning and, frankly, just plain cool. The panel choices actually compliment the action in the scene with a car crash taking over the top half of two page spread or tight panels around Hope feeling intimate and secret. Cho also fills the panels full of detail, while still keeping the pages looking clean and tight. There are no useless hash marks to fill in negative space. Instead, each line adds to the realism of the surrounding buildings or mechanics while still keeping the focus on the characters. It’s nice to see that Cho has a good grasp on the shape and figures of the characters in the story as well. Cyclops actually looks slim and tall instead of the same build as Thor with a visor on his face. Hope also looks like a young adult and getting ready to come into her own.

Although it is a #0 issue and nothing as actually happened yet against the X-Men or Avengers, this issue doesn’t feel like a way to get your hard earned cash. It isn’t required reading, instead, its excellent supplemental material to this summer’s Marvel event and a fun read for fans of both teams.

 

The Fury of Firestorm #7

Written by Ethan Van Sciver and Joe Harris

Art by Ethan Van Sciver and Hi-Fi

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Out of all the titles to come out of the New 52, The Fury of Firestorm might be the most emblematic of this darker, less trusting iteration of the DC Universe. Teens Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch aren't so much superheroes as much as they are literal living weapons, as corporate-sponsored Humans of Mass Destruction. It's a scary concept, which has led Jason and Ronnie to face some even scarier threats. And while this book isn't quite the powerhouse it could be, some creative reshuffling has further defined the unnerving tone Firestorm has to offer.

While many comics artists these days seem to veer towards a Kubert or Lee-influenced house style, Ethan Van Sciver's biggest asset is his unique visual style. He's got a very sinister, almost horror kind of vibe to his art, whether it's a dank torture cave or a human being unraveling into a fire-charred skeleton. Even Van Sciver's characters, living in tilted panels, are covered in shadow and intimidating scowls. It's very memorable, and is a huge departure from the cleaner, more traditional work of Yildiray Cinar. But this jarring shift does one job extremely well — it further drives home the idea that The Fury of Firestorm isn't your run-of-the-mill superhero comic, but a dark, off-kilter arms race that has far more players than we may ever discover.

Working with Van Sciver on the plot, new scripted Joe Harris is also bringing this book closer to where it needs to be. While Van Sciver can get away with a huge visual shift, Harris has to be more cautious. He and Van Sciver smartly take a page from the Geoff Johns playbook as they compare football star Ronnie to a heat-seeking missile — which, as he flies into a Middle Eastern country ready for a fight, is probably an understatement of his power. Keeping up with the theme of the Firestorm being an all-powerful weapon that many people are striving to obtain, Harris also builds up the threat factor from some other nuclear-powered forces in the conflict, who interrupt a torture scene with some particularly gruesome consequences.

That said, this book still has plenty of room to grow. While Ronnie gets an overhaul in terms of characterization, Jason is still acting more as a plot device, needling his meathead partner and questioning the motives of their corporate sponsor Zithertech. Additionally, the political side of the Firestorm Matrix is a little too subtle for its own good sometimes — there's an opportunity for some real Mark Millar-style international mistrust, but the book is still finding its feet and doesn't have the time to dwell on our heroes' wider impact. (At least, not yet.) Van Sciver's big hurdle at this point is to maintain his unorthodox style, but to make us want to see our heroes — right now, he hasn't quite gotten the hang of the Firestorm costumes, with the poofy sleeves and the puckered expressions taking you out of the story a bit.

Given the tone that DC has been trying to set with The New 52, there's a lot of potential for The Fury of Firestorm. That said, it's still potential. Ronnie and Jason aren't making much progress in their journeys as heroes, weapons or even as human beings, and that's frustrating for everybody. It's fun to talk about this book, but I feel like it should be even more fun just to dive in. This is as good of a starting point as any, and if Harris and Van Sciver focus this well on Ronnie's other half next month, The Fury of Firestorm might be the juggernaut it was always meant to become.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #8

Written by Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz

Art by Dan Duncan and Ronda Pattison

Lettering by Shawn Lee

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Nostalgia is a pretty powerful force, especially when paired with pop culture’s uncanny ability to lodge itself in the deepest synapses in our brain. With Michael Bay’s recent Turtle-related announcement, IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles might seem like nothing more than the obvious precursor to a revival of a beloved franchise. But with original creator Kevin Eastman onboard, this book is more than simple fan service. It’s giving the Turtles a much needed update and the opportunity to become an excellent introduction to these reptilian brothers for a new generation.

With the story co-plotted by Eastman, writer Tom Waltz has been able to take the book in a new and exciting direction, taking time to build up and remix old threats as well as tease new ones. Issue #8 finds the Turtles in a familiar predicament — surrounded by a horde of Mouser robots. Meanwhile Krang threatens Baxter Stockman, the scientist tasked with tracking the Turtles and Splinter down and Casey Jones gets some alone time with April O’Neil. One of Waltz’s biggest triumphs is the level of balance that he achieves. None of the scenes drag on for too long. The main action is compelling despite the obvious answer to the question of “who will win the day?”, and worldbuilding is still placed at the forefront of the series. The series is also incredibly new reader friendly while still maintaining a draw for old fans because everything can’t play out the way it did before. While the general concept is the same, smaller details have been changed that prohibit some of the same stories from being told.

Dan Duncan is the best Turtles artist not named Kevin Eastman. And now, without Eastman providing breakdowns for each issue, he’s really been able to come into his own. I always feel that an artist is really on the mark when they provide characters with more than just a variety of poses and catalogue of facial expressions but rather an endless vocabulary of body language to call their own. The battle sequences in Issue #8 provide Duncan an opportunity to display his talents in that regard and he delivers. Raphael is reckless and ruthless. Donatello is more calculated and discerning. Mikey is silly and Leo attacks with precision and focus. Each Turtle commands a style as unique as their individual personality and it makes for some fun comic book fighting. The other two scenes are more reserved, talking head type scenes but even those are handled well in Duncan’s hands. Even if this were a silent issue, you’d understand everything that was going on. The trade-off for Duncan’s excellent storytelling ability is in the details. We get a few wonky faces and muddled minutiae. It’s generally small stuff, but even Ronda Pattison’s coloring is off a few times in the one place you don’t want to make a coloring mistake: the Turtles’ bandanas.

As a package though, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an absolute joy to read. It’s clear and concise enough for new readers. It’s compelling and enticing enough for old fans. And best of all, it’s a comic that transcends age. All-ages books can be done right, and this is one of the best examples of that.

 

Atomic Robo Presents Real Science Adventures #1

Written by Brian Clevenger

Art by Ryan Cody, Yuko Oda, Chris Houghton, John Broglia, Joshua Ross and Matt Speroni

Lettering by Jeff Powell

Published by Red 5 Comics

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

What’s better than one Atomic-Robo story? How about five? Over the decades of his life, Atomic Robo has met all sorts of characters, both famous and infamous, leaving readers of the long-running series by Clevenger and Scott Wegener asking for more adventures with their favorite characters. Enter Real Science Adventures, an anthology title where the focus isn’t always on Robo, but the sense of depth and fun is retained, all without requiring prior knowledge of the characters.

I’m a sucker for anthologies — one of the few single-issue series I kept in my collection was Marvel Comics Presents — and this is no exception. The stories are forced by length to be quick and punchy, with the point driven home as quickly as possible by Clevenger, whether it is to provide a silly joke, show the dark side of being Robo, or setting up a longer story, as is the case with the two serials that are mixed with three standalone shorts. There is also a definite attempt by the artists involved to match Wegener’s thin, fine linework, which I thought was a nice touch, though others might prefer more experimental takes in a short story format.

Clevenger is very good at balancing humor with action and a serious look at the world he and Wegener co-created in the longer stories about Robo. Here, however, the balance is tipped more towards the irreverent side of things, which unfortunately sets one story adrift because of its tone. “The Revenge of Dr. Dinosaur” short is the high point for me, with Clevenger building the story up to its hilarious conclusion that I don’t want to spoil here. Artist Yuko Oda gleefully shows the dedication and genius of Dr. Dinosaur, as he plots a terrible vengeance on his nemesis that only the demented raptor could enact unironically. The manic pace of the art, which skips from place to place, matches Dr. Dinosaur’s plan perfectly, and I really hope it’s not the only time we see this inept but deadly villain in the series.

Similarly silly is “Rocket Science is a Two-Edged Sword,” a reprint story that’s in black-and-white. Clevenger has Robo cosplay Bucky’s death while precisely predicting the insane ramblings of his antagonist piloting the rocket, Jack Parsons. It’s all in a day’s work for Robo, and I love the way that Joshua Ross uses panel placement to give the feeling of falling without being confusing to the reader. Unfortunately, Ross’s art is the weakest in the anthology, with his characters feeling badly out of proportion and looking as though he may be struggling to stay on model.

Only getting four pages of the story makes it hard to judge the two serials, one of which teams up Robo with Bruce Lee and the other gives fellow adventurer Sparrow the spotlight as she fights a frequent Robo foil — Nazis. Artists John Broglia and Ryan Cody both work hard to retain the feel of Wegener’s design and there is a good match of visual gags and dialogue, especially in the Lee serial, where Robo gives up trying to explain he’s a robot not a demon. However, more exposition would have been welcome. I don’t know where either story is going after the opening pages, and that’s a bit frustrating.

With the jokes and explosions flying fast and furious in most of the book, “City of Skulls” feels completely out of place. The darker side of Robo’s world is hard to capture in only four pages, and “City of Skulls” doesn’t have enough room to generate the sense of gravitas that it requires to work. I thought Chris Houghton tried his best to evoke feelings in the reader with his art choices, but the end result is forced. I think it would be better if Clevenger stuck to lighter stories or gave the more serious ones room to spread across multiple issues.

Real Science Adventures #1 is a fun anthology with a few minor flaws that captures the feel of the pulp magazines its cover evokes. I recommend it to longtime fans and those who like their comics smart and irreverent. Neither will be disappointed.

 

Judge Dredd Megazine #322

Written by Robbie Morrison, Leah Moore, John Reppion, Andy Diggle, John Smith, Matthew Badham, Joel Meadows, Michael Molcher and Andrew Osmond

Art by Gary Erskine, Chris Blythe, D'Israeli, Jock, Colin MacNeil, Len O’Grady and Dee Cunniffee

Lettered by: Simon Bowland, Annie Parkhouse, Clem Robins and Ellie De Ville

Published by Rebellion

Review by Edward Kaye

‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Judge Dredd Megazine is the sister publication of popular British anthology comic 2000 AD. Like 2000 AD, the Megazine is an anthology style magazine, featuring comic strips written and illustrated by some of the British comic industry’s finest creators. As well as comic strips, the Megazine also features a number of creator interviews, industry related articles, and reviews of the latest movie releases.

With a name like Judge Dredd Megazine, you know that Judge Dredd is pretty central to the magazine, but while each issue does feature a Judge Dredd strip, it’s not all about old stoney face though, and Rebellion uses the magazine to showcase a number of stories featuring periphery characters, tales from the wider world outside of Mega-City One, as well as the occasional creator-owned strip.

This issue of the Megazine opens with the second of a two-part Judge Dredd strip called "The Guile Show." The story, which is written by Robbie Morrison, is about a tabloid talk show host who makes his living from his exploitative TV show that allows guests to air their grievances with each other in a public forum. As the show’s host he presents himself as the moral compass, however, his whiter than white image becomes threatened when his criminal past comes back to haunt him, and it’s not long before Dredd comes calling. While the Dredd strips in 2000 AD tend to focus on the ongoing epic tale of Dredd’s illustrious career, the stories in the Megazine are often a lot more lighthearted in nature, and this strip is a good example of this — Morrison uses the story as an opportunity to poke fun at the trashy talk shows that fill daytime TV schedules, particularly the Jeremy Kyle show (the presenter is named Gregory Guile). Gary Erskine is the artist on the strip, and brings Mega-City One to life with his eye-catching cartooning style that brings to memory classic British comics of the '70s and '80s; the look is finished off by a vibrant color job by Chris Blyth.

The second strip is a "Tales from the Black Museum" story, in which unusual and mysterious cases from Mega-City One’s past are presented. This installment of the series is written by Leah Moore and John Reppion, and marks the couple’s first submission to the publication. The story is called "Scouting for Bots," and tells the tale of a team of Boy Scouts who get stranded in the wilderness of The Cursed Earth, and their android troop leader decides to use the opportunity to train the boys in extreme survival tactics. It’s a brilliant standalone tale that does everything that a great "Black Museum" tale should do — it is packed with action, excitement, thrills, and lots of good laughs. The story is illustrated by D'Israeli, and is drawn with bold minimalist linework, luscious greyscales, and amazing inking that makes great use of negative space.

Next up is a new creator-owned strip called Snapshot that reunites the The Losers, Lenny Zero, and Green Arrow: Year One creative team of Andy Diggle and Jock. The story is a crime thriller about a twenty-something slacker who finds a cellphone in a park one day, only to discover that its memory is filled with pictures of a murder victim. After he answers a call to the phone, his life is changed forever. This is a great series debut, and features a highly intriguing premise that grips the reader in just a few short pages. The characters are highly relatable, and the characterization is spot on. Jock’s artwork here has a really raw and gritty feeling to it, and he uses lots of heavy blacks against stark white backgrounds to create a high level of contrast. There’s some nice "brushy" inking on the strip, and lots of creative use of screentone to play with textures of shadows.

The final strip is the fourth part of a "Strange & Darke" strip, about a branch of the Brit-Cit Justice Department that is responsible for investigating and cataloguing the weird and endangered life forms of future Britain. Being the fourth part of an ongoing story, this probably isn’t a great jumping-on point, but it’s definitely worth catching up with, because it’s a really creepy and quirky story that pays homage to classic British horrors like Village of the Damned. The plot is enthralling, and a lot more straightforward than what readers have come to expect from John Smith, whose stories are typically very high-concept and complex. The artist on the story is by Colin MacNeil, whose cartooning style here reminds me strongly of the British comics of my youth. He brings this quaint welsh village to life beautifully, while at the same time hinting at the pervasive horror hiding just out of panel.

Elsewhere in the magazine we get an interview feature on writer/artist Steve Parkhouse, as conducted by Matthew Badham, which spans his entire career and provides some great insights into his method. We also get an interesting article on the recent resurgence in popularity of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom saga, and a featurette on the new album ‘Drokk,’ which is a Portishead side-project that aims to create music inspired by Mega-City One. All of the articles are very well written, though the I have to say that I find the section on movie and DVD reviews to be a bit out of place, and not exactly very timely, due to the delay between release and printing.

Judge Dredd Megazine #322 is a fantastic issue that highlights the fact that the Megazine doesn’t just do great sci-fi, but also does tense thrillers, eerie horrors, topical parodies, and insightful articles and features. If you buy 2000 AD but don’t pick up the Megazine then you are missing out of some truly great comics.

 

Rachel Rising: The Shadow of Death

Written and Illustrated by Terry Moore

Published by Abstract Studios

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

There are a couple of times in Rachel Rising: The Shadow of Death where Rachel is told that she doesn’t look like herself, and that she’s not actually Rachel. As she goes looking for her friend Jet, one person tells her that she looks different while the next flat-out tells her, “You’re not Rachel.” Even her Aunt Johnnie, a mortician, believes that Rachel is just another one of the many ghosts that she talks to nightly as she prepares bodies for funerals. You see, Rachel died, or was nearly killed: the book opens with her digging herself out of a shallow grave in some secluded woods. The question that Terry Moore poses throughout the first book of this series (and never quite answers) is just how dead is Rachel, and what kind of town is Manson where a dead girl has to try and solve her own murder?

Terry Moore sets out to create a Hitchcockian story by way of Robert Kirkman The Walking Dead. In its rawest form, Rachel Rising is about how did a girl end up in a shallow grave. It’s a simple mystery in that way. Moore quickly introduces it and everything that happens in the book is built on that mystery. Going beyond that though, there’s the more complex questions about Rachel and her current state of being — is she dead or alive? Her throat is bruised and her blood vessels in her eyes have burst as if she was strangled. More than just Rachel, the whole town of Manson seems to be caught up in some supernatural grip as if the spirit of death has descended on it and is using the town as its playthings.

Moore is caught in this precarious balance of creating a character-driven piece with Rachel and her friends and family and a story that’s as much about its odd location, like a Twin Peaks, and he never quite settles on one or the other. Rachel’s one and only trait is that she’s dead; that she woke up in that grave in the woods and doesn’t understand what is going on with her. Who is Rachel? Who is she to the people who mean something to her? Moore never gives us anything to know about the character. If people can’t recognize her as Rachel, how does the audience know that without being told it? If she doesn’t look like Rachel, what did she look like? Even in her reactions to her predicament, she seems so even keeled, not really reacting to the fact that she may be dead. While the people all around her are shocked, scared and curious about her current state of being, Rachel herself displays maybe only a bit of curiosity but Moore does not do anything with that to really define his character.

By not building his title character at all, Rachel and her situations end up being the least interesting parts of this book. Aunt Johnnie, the mortician who thinks that she has nightly conversations with Elvis and the other dead bodies that she works on, is a better constructed character than Rachel is. Even the other denizens of Manson, who are all about killing and death and talking to ghosts, have more personality than Moore ever gives Rachel. Through a lot of the horror and suspense, Moore develops most of the characters except for Rachel. By the end of the first book, Rachel is the least developed and least interesting character as she is surrounded by characters who actually do things and react to the strangeness around them. Rachel just moves through his book like she’s already dead and that’s the end of her story.

In just the opening pages, Moore’s stunning black-and-white artwork, showing the woods where Rachel’s grave was, sets the scene perfectly. Moore uses every trick at his disposal to visually describe the world. He uses a multitude of techniques to build texture and mood in this story. In modern comics, cross hatching is often seen as a crutch, a way to hide things that the artist cannot draw but Moore shows that every technique can have its place in the hands of an artist. The opening in the woods, with a character walking among the plants and leaves until she finds a small ravine, perfectly captures the feeling and setting of an overgrown forest. You can practically hear the leaves crunching underneath her footsteps.

Moore just draws the world and that makes this story just that much creepier. From Aunt Johnnie's Corvette to the characters actually being dressed to suit the season that they are in, there’s not a moment where Moore doesn’t make you feel that that story is actually happening. That suggested realism just makes the moments of horror that much more shocking. As a little girl is caught burying a body, Moore tweaks the scene by showing the patterns in the girls night robe. Those touches and details pull you into the story and make you forget the terrible things that are happening until Moore sucker-punches you with the shocking imagery that makes a girl clawing her way out of a grave seem like a tame opening for the book.

Rachel Rising: The Shadow of Death is a gorgeous book to look at and to try to figure out just how Moore’s artwork is the perfect balance to his story but ultimately you’re left wondering why you should care about this story? Who is Rachel and why should we care if she’s alive or dead? We don’t know her and Moore does not give us any sense of who she really is. For as much as he creates fascinating supporting characters in this book, they mean nothing when the main character does nothing. Even through the fantastic situations that are swirling around her, Rachel remains a blank slate. Moore develops the mood and tone of the story but without a character behind them, they mean nothing.

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