Best Shots Advance Reviews: KICK-ASS 3, SKULLKICKERS, More

Credit: Icon
Credit: Icon

Kick-Ass 3 #1
Written by Mark Millar
Art by John Romita Jr., Tom Palmer and Dean White
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel/ICON
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

This is why we can't have nice things.

That's essentially been the message of Mark Millar's Kick-Ass, which has deconstructed the superhero genre and left it without any shred of dignity. With this third installment of Dave Lizewski's misadventures in full swing, this first issue is less of a bloody action romp and more of a mean comedy at its protagonist's expense.

Of course, the irony of that is that Kick-Ass is ultimately the personification of the worst impulses of today's fandom. Anyone who associates superheroism with freedom and power, take a look at Dave — even with his best friend Hit-Girl in jail, he's too much of a wimp to even try to break her out. It's sad, but also funny, in a perverse sort of way, as Dave poses Bruce Wayne-style in front of his father's gravestone. He and his friends are cautionary tales, sad losers who barely have an inkling of how devoid of meaning their lives truly are. Think of Peter Parker without the inspirational message and a ton of self-serving naïveté, and you get an uncomfortable glimpse of what this book is about.

Yet with the action at a minimum this issue, John Romita Jr. has to focus on storytelling and atmosphere rather than the gross-out gore that defined the original Kick-Ass. He starts off with tons of drama, as the bruised and bloodied Hit-Girl is taken to her prison cell, her eyes smoldering with fury as she's led by gunpoint. Romita's designs for Dave are also a nice change of pace, as you can see how different he looks from the boyish and youthful kid he was in the first volume. That said, occasionally some of Dean White's colors can come off more garish than atmospheric, with some of his greens and purples coming off a little too cool for this real-world story.

In certain ways, Mark Millar is actually producing an extremely user-friendly introduction to Kick-Ass, as you only need a passing familiarity with the central concept — nerd dresses up as superhero, fails miserably when confronting actual crime — to know what you're getting into. That said, you can also argue — shockingly — that this issue doesn't quite go as balls-to-the-wall as Millar's previous installments, which had little girls disemboweling scumbags and Dave getting sexted by his vengeful high school crush. Still, the stakes are fairly high for this third installment of Kick-Ass, and it will be interesting to see whether or not this hapless hero will ever truly step up to the plate.

Credit: Image Comics

All-New Secret Skullkickers #1
Written by Jim Zub
Art by Edwin Huang and Misty Coates
Published by Image Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

One of the general rules for writing comics is to limit the amount of text on a page. So, it’s no surprise Zub pokes fun at this convention when he loads up his opening splash with nine textboxes filled with expository background information before letting loose one of this trademark, self-aware jokes. And it only goes downhill from there… in a sophomoric, juvenile, laugh-out-loud sort of way.

What’s really impressive about the fourth part to this story arc is the way in which Zub is able to keep the humor fresh. It’s often said that humor is often one of the most difficult genres to write. I’d argue that making someone laugh once isn’t too difficult; writing in such a way to keep them laughing is the real challenge, and Zub comes up in spades once again. Some readers may find it somewhat tedious to sort through some of his pages where there is a greater amount of textboxes on any given page compared to the standard comic; however, readers who enjoyed the credits of Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail and cracked up over the various job titles and the people performing them as shown in the credits will certainly find much to enjoy about Zub’s personalized brand of humor as he embeds side comments and offhand remarks within the exposition. The map of the island is one such example of taking a mundane, but necessary visual and turning it into one of many opportunities for a few absurd and witty jokes. In many regards, this comic — perhaps more than even the past issues of the storyline — feels as though one had “switched on” the director’s commentary; in this case, however, the director’s become a little punchy and is having some fun at the expense of his own comic. 

Edwin Huang and Misty Coates continue to deliver the goods in their roles as artist and colorist. Huang brings a lively and dynamic style that complements the various action scenes in the story. His panels are smartly composed as seen in the “exploration montage” depicting the darkly humorous ways the remaining apes are brutally killed off while still moving the story along. Visually depicting monsters can also be a challenging task as readers are often looking for that difficult to find balance between “horrifying” and yet “cool.” Huang manages both well, and the monsters he draws easily look like something readers might have encountered while playing one of their favorite tabletop adventures one late, Saturday night. Coates’ contributions cannot be overlooked either. Her colors simply cause Huang’s art to come alive. In an over-the-top farcical fantasy adventure such as this, she does a great job of helping push the story up and over the edge with her vibrant color palette to spotlight the action, dark the threatening hallways, to making the goo look just a little extra gooier. 

Perhaps the only critique that holds this dark comedy back in some small way is that I found myself distracted once or twice from the art by the text-heavy panels. Much of Zub’s voice comes out as the voice over in his text boxes, and as mentioned before, he is able to captivate a reading audience as he delivers one joke after the next only to set up yet another zinger. I never found the text-laden panels burdensome — on the contrary, I found there were a few instances where I was paying more attention to this aspect of the comic than I was the story Huang and Coates were unfolding before me in the panels creating a slight imbalance between the text-driven humor and the humor created from within the events of the story itself. A great example of where this balance can be seen is the second page of “Where do forty 800-pound gorillas go?” To find out, you’ll need to pick up All New Secret Skullkickers and find out. Overall, Zub, Huang, and Coates prove high fantasy and humor can make for some really fun comics.

Credit: Image Comics

The Mice Templar IV: Legend #3
Written by Bryan J.L. Glass
Art by Michael Avon Oeming, Victor Santos and Serena Guerra
Published by Image Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

One of the old stereotypes about comics that has endured is that they are a disposable form of entertainment — meant to be read and then forgotten until the next issue is released, not so different from television soap operas. Arguably, many mainstream comics today take this approach in the types of stories they tell where drama is quickly manufactured through major events that are soon forgotten and whose impact is short-lasting. It doesn’t make these comics “bad” per se, but this approach to storytelling lends to a more impermanent and superficial reading experience. And it is clear that the team behind Mice Templar has set their sights on something far grander than merely entertaining its readers. Another way some comics have begun to be identified in more recent years is as a form of modern mythology for the current day and age. This is the sort that Mice Templar aspires to become, and Issue #3 take great pains to immerse its audience in a mythical reading experience. 

The series spans four volumes (1, 2.1, 2.2, and 3) and is now in its third issue of what will be a 16-issue finale. Glass is well aware of the expansiveness of the tale he has told with Oeming and Santos, and provides readers with an overview of those most salient elements of the previous volumes and issues in order for his readers to slip into this present moment. Although this is a minor detail, I liked how the issue opens up with a comprehensive recap as well as a character map. Because this is an epic story with a large cast of characters and factions, these sorts of extras help keep all the details straight for newer readers as well as long-time followers. 

Although its characters are diminutive in size, the drama and conflicts they experience in their journey are epic in stature. The Mad King’s dialogue in this particular issue drives home the epic nature in its elevated style, which recollects that of a Miltonic Satan. There is an immediate sense of tragedy in the once well-intentioned mouse, as we are reminded by through his consort, Lorelie. Glass is clearly playing on Christ’s words in Icarus’ first meeting with Lorelie as he preached of tolerance and acceptance to the mice around him in a past life. Santos and Guerra apply a lighter & brighter color palette with line work that is far softer than the present timeline connoting both the rose-colored tint of Lorelie’s memory as well as also the softer side of the now corrupt Anti-Christ, Icarus, whose likelihood of finding redemption before the end seems implausible at best. Like the Icarus of Greek myth, this fallen Templar is flying high on pride, but will no doubt fall back to earth with tragic results.

We also pick up with the story of Leito and Pilot as they continue on their journey—a sort of dark parallel to that of Karic and Cassius. It’s also an ironic take on the teacher-student relationship just as it was before in volume 1 with Pilot and Karic. Although Pilot makes himself appear as though he is “steering” these young Templars in the right direction, we know his nefarious nature and ulterior motives. Yet, Karic has gone on to become the spearhead to the movement against Icarus; likewise, Leito seems to be growing under Pilot even if we recognize the psychological damage he experiences under the tutelage of his fallen Templar mentor. Readers will recall the lure of the dark side of the force from Vader and Palpatine to the young Luke Skywalker as Pilot urges Leito to make use of his anger and passions to fuel his fighting prowess. And we all know how well that worked out for Anakin Skywalker. The question that remains, however, is what will happen if — or when — Leito is finally rejoined with the friend whom he thought lost, but is now the legendary Karic?

As mentioned before, the artistic duties are handled quite well in all regards. In what would otherwise be a typical fight scene, Oeming and Santos takes this as an opportunity to showcase the strength of Leito as a fighter in spite of his missing arm instead of relying on Glass to tell the readers about Leito’s growth. The ink work is also well done as it’s appropriately used to set tone and atmosphere throughout the book, notably with Leito following the conclusion of the bar fight as it helps set the tone for future conflicts later on as this volume and series as a whole builds toward the final conclusion. 

Some readers might not catch the many literary allusions Glass is making in this issue, and so, the dialogue might feel a little heavily weighted. However, the questions Karic asks at the end of the issue—concerns carried throughout the coming of age story of this young warrior—are ones many readers who’ve journeyed through adolescence into adulthood have asked and will respond to as they continue on with the series. Mice Templar is simply one of the best series out there for readers interested in high fantasy of epic proportions. But even better than that, it’s a wonderful example of how the comics of today are actively engaged in preserving the myths of yesterday in new and exciting ways.

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