Best Shots Advance Reviews: SAGA, ALABASTER: WOLVES, More

'Rama Readers, there's nothing wrong with your calendars — Best Shots simply is bringing you tomorrow's reviews, today! Lan Pitts starts off today's column with the sophomore issue of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' megahit Saga...

 

Saga #2

Written by Brian K. Vaughan

Art by Fiona Staples

Lettering by Fonografiks

Published by Image

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Last issue, Brian K. Vaughan established a universe that we see rarely in comics these days, rich in culture and political warfare, and filled with characters we instantly grew to love and root for. Here, we have our heroes and their newborn still on the run, and get a bigger scope on this universe as a whole. There's bounty hunters, magic and teenage woodland ghosts that I'm still not exactly quite sure what to think of.

Vaughan's ability to seamlessly weave multiple characters into a single cohesive plot is quite the feat. Especially when you consider that these characters are literally worlds apart. I'll hand it to him with some of the dialogue here. We know that Marko and Alana are a couple, but here we seen their interactions and can actually believe it. The secret that Alana tells Marko that aids a spell is priceless, and Marko's devotion to his wife and daughter is obvious and clear. In just two issues, Vaughan has told a love story, a war story, and a story about survival in a strange world that a lot of writers on the scene today would drag out. Here, nothing is wasted — every bit of dialogue counts for something and adds to the story instead of boggling it down.

Again, Fiona Staples shines and brings her art to a whole other stratosphere. Her talent to just give life to the inhabitants of these worlds is astounding. The design alone for the bounty hunter known as The Stalk is something to behold. The imagery close to the end balances contemporary horror with slices of sci-fi for good measure. While the layouts were still impressive, there were some pages that I thought could have been opened up a bit more, but nothing came across as boring or mundane. Her great use of facial expressions is top-notch and really sell the emotions of the characters involved. The muted palette is perfect for her style. It's laid-back, and makes her linework stand out all that much more.

Saga continues to weave it's magic on me and captivate me with far-out world, and monstrous creations. Honestly, if you haven't picked this up by now, you're more than just missing out—you're denying yourself a book that demonstrates the beauty of what the comic book medium can present to its audience.

 

Alabaster: Wolves #1

Written by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Art by Steve Lieber and Rachelle Rosenberg

Published by Dark Horse

Review by Rob McMoniga

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Never trade riddles with a werewolf! Something’s happened to the world that Dancy Flammarion inhabits, leaving her trapped against the evil forces of the supernatural where even the birds are against her. Dancy must rely on her wits — and a trusty sword — to survive.

Give Alabaster: Wolves and writer Kiernan a lot of credit, because she’s not afraid to leave any new readers confused by beginning this story in the middle, and that’s actually what attracts me to the comic over other #1 issues I read this week. The first time we meet Dancy, she’s already a feared warrior, supposedly acting in the name of God. However, the way she is portrayed, the doubt cast by her antagonist, and the visualization of her guardian angel by Lieber certainly bring that position into question, especially at the end of this first issue. The story quickly gets us up to speed without infodumping, however, using the dilapidated backgrounds and a few narrative boxes to help us understand Dancy and her world. No sooner does Kiernan do this, however, then she shows just how dangerous life can be for Dancy, refusing to dwell too long on what already happened and keep the focus on Dancy’s need to survive. (I do hope that we get a bit more information on the world over time, however.)

The bulk of the issue is a battle of words between a hungry werewolf (whom Dancy recognizes in human form because she continues to smell like a dog) and Dancy, while her “angel” looks disapprovingly on with its incredibly creepy four heads, bat-like wings, and flaming sword. Dancy knows that the wolf has the drop on her, so a delaying tactic is her only means of survival. It’s a great series of scenes in which the three actors on the page posture for position and power, with Lieber picking just the right moments to capture which best represent what Kiernan wants to focus on with her script.

Kiernan could easily have fallen into a trap with this structure, as it echoes the patented “let me talk the hero to death” pattern, but she sets it up by linking the dangerous game they play to the idea of a dog wanting to toy with its food before ultimately killing it. That makes the sequence work, and it has the bonus effect of ensuring that we leave the confrontation not fully trusting either Dancy or her angel. I love when Dancy is left to face the faces of her accuser for using deceit to remain alive. The implications of her actions should drive the narrative for the rest of the miniseries.

I last saw Steve Lieber’s artwork on his collaboration with Jeff Parker, Underground, and it’s hard not to compare the two work, because that is one of my favorite comics from the past few years. This time around, the scenes are a lot more wide open, and I think it’s a bit more difficult for Lieber to use the background as a character in the story in the way he did previously in that book and on the two Whiteout collections. Even so, his attention to detail, like having a couch on the porch of an abandoned South Carolina home or ensuring that the feet of a barefoot character are scuffed in just the right places, are present throughout the book. As noted above, his angel is arguably the scariest thing in the comic, and suggests a level of darkness that Kiernan may or may not reveal later. Lieber is especially good at placing Dancy in a way that strongly suggests her position as a cornered animal — the most dangerous kind of all. My only issue is that Dancy and the humanoid form of her wolf opponent look too much alike. This might have been on purpose, but I would have preferred a little more variety. Overall, however, the art really compliments Kiernan’s story in a realistic yet out-of-kilter manner.

Dancy and this world may come from Kiernan’s prose work, but it’s not necessary to have familiarity with those stories in order to enjoy this comic, which is shaping up to be another great psychological horror story in Dark Horse’s stable of comics. The journey that Dancy must take in Alabaster: Wolves is a long and lonely one. You should join her on it.

 

Glory #25

Written by Joe Keatinge

Art by Ross Campbell and Ms. Shatia Hamilton

Lettering by Douglas E. Sherwood

Published by Image Comics

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

The war is over and it looks like everybody lost. Riley’s link to Glory shows us a future that’s far darker than anything she might have consciously remembered, and what she dreams has deep meaning for our cast. If the future is to be changed, it will be up to Riley to do it — if she can.

I’ve been reading and enjoying the Glory series, as the new creative team of Keatinge and Campbell move the former Rob Liefeld property into its own direction, but this issue was definitely a step backwards, with a very thin story that has a lot of visual padding. Riley, a girl who dreams of Glory and is recruited into the world of the heroine, comes to a fateful choice that could overturn everything that her Glory is working for, as Keatinge places his protagonists at a crossroads and Campbell draws them looking about as hurt and vulnerable as he possibly can on the final page. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough built around that last scene, and it really hurts the quality of Glory #25.

The problem is that we’ve seen the alternative future trope too many times before, from the famous X-Men arc Days of Future Present to even the recent DC Flashpoint event. Alternate futures are no stranger to comics, and I think the idea is a bit over-used at this point, which is why this lost a few points off the rating for me. That being said, this future definitely gives the reader a lot to wonder over, as Keatinge doesn’t try to explain every detail of this possible outcome. How can Riley live for centuries? Just what happened to Earth in Glory’s war? Are any of the other Extreme Universe heroes still alive? Those are just a few of the questions left open-ended, with answers that may or may not ever be answered.

Some readers will enjoy the levels of mystery while others will feel like this is unnecessary padding, given that it’s unlikely that Liefeld would approve one of the writing teams to completely destroy his universe. Ironically, because this is a work-for-hire job in a creator-owned universe, I’m left unconvinced this dystopia can eventually exist. It would be amazing to be proved wrong.

Though I think the writing took a step back here in order to try and set up future conflict, the overall book design and Ross Campbell’s art is as solid as ever. I love the way each issue has had the opening panels separated by block credits, giving it a distinctive and familiar look each time out. The addition of the “Riley Dreams” and “Riley Awakes” pages works in part because we’re already used to seeing the book designed to accommodate large swaths of text around the artwork. However, in a comic that’s only 20 pages long, that’s a lot of storytelling room lost.

In the full pages of art, Campbell’s hyper-detailed, blocky artwork gives us a clear picture of the world within Riley’s dream. There are a plethora of strange characters given space within the first few pages, and his visceral depiction of Glory’s savagery is shocking when we reach it. I love that every way we’ve seen Glory so far have been slightly different, yet there’s no doubt that it’s the same character. Similarly, the figures that appear are varied in size and shape, demonstrating that Campbell is taking care to make the story visually interesting.

The problem, however, is that there just isn’t a lot for Campbell to illustrate. Several pages feature only one or two panels, adding to the impression that this is a filler issue before the important stuff happens later. No matter how detailed Campbell makes these semi-splash pages, they’re still not moving the story along at the pace I’ve grown accustomed to in this series or in other comics.

Any good story can use breathing space, and that’s the case in this issue of Glory, which probably could have been half of a more tightly plotted storyline. I’m willing to give it a pass here, but the next chapter needs to feature more meat to it and less visual trickery in order to keep me interested in the future of these characters as the series goes on.

 

Courtney Crumrin #1

Written by Ted Naifeh

Art by Ted Naifeh and Warren Wucinich

Published by Oni Press

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It's been quite a while since we've seen some Courtney Crumrin taking up space in our comic stores. Though you can now rejoice, as she's back and getting into much more than she can chew as she takes on an apprentice of her own. Ted Naifeh has kept himself busy as of late doing another Tales of Courtney Crumrin book, a sequel to Polly and the Pirates, a series with Holly Black, a backup in Teen Titans, and a Batman short story, so it makes sense why this has been a long time coming. Yet he hasn't missed a beat in this universe he created almost 10 years ago.

The most jarring thing that you'll notice is that unlike the previous installments, this story is in full color. Yes, even goths experiment with color here and then, and Courtney is no exception. Colorist Warren Wucinich adds a delightful pallet on top of Naifeh's sophisticated style. Naifeh has never been one for over-rendering his characters, and his line work is still comes across easy on the eyes and easy to comprehend. The colors don't over saturate the environment, and everything comes out looking moody, but not full on gloomy. Wucinich's use of purples and greens give the world a fantastical look, that's ready to be explored.

Even Courtney looks a bit older here. Not too old, but she's no longer the shy 12-year-old we've known, but a more confident and knowing young witch. Wizarding politics are still present here, but take a backseat to Courtney and the new kid on the block, Holly's relationship. Of course we do see some old favorites, and revisit some old stomping grounds like Goblin Town and its legendary market. Nothing misses a beat and it's like Courtney was never off our minds. I like the fact that it seems we've come full circle. Where her Uncle Aloysius taught Courtney the dangers of magical abuse, the lesson is repeated here, but some lessons people never learn.

Courtney and her Night Things may have been out of our sight for a while, but she's coming back swinging to what could be her biggest adventure yet. Naifeh, while has been off doing other things, this is his world and where he shines the most. The best part is older fans of the series will feel right at home, and new readers can jump right in. As a long time fan, I hope you'll join me. 

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