Best Shots Advance Reviews: BATMAN #26 10 out 10, More

Batman #26
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Batman #26
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, and FCO Plascencia
Letters by Steve Wands Published by DC Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Here's what I love most about Batman #26: We know how the story ends but how we get there is something altogether unexpected. Bruce becomes the Dark Knight of Gotham whom criminals fear and cannot escape. Likewise, Wayne and Jim Gordon work out their differences and establish a relationship that helps keep Gotham safe(r). None of this should come as a surprise to readers familiar with the franchise. Yet, it is the way in which Snyder draws out the dynamic between Bruce and Gordon in this issue- a fresh take on an old relationship while maintaining the core precepts of what long-time fans love about these characters – that makes this issue stand out.

Credit: DC Comics

In previous issues of the "Zero Year" story arc, Snyder has dropped hints about Gordon's role in the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne and his possible involvement with the other crooked cops on the GCPD. Taking into consideration past accounts of the relationship between the two, i.e. Christopher Nolan's cinematic trilogy in which it is Gordon who partially inspires a young Bruce Wayne to bring hope to the traumatized people of Gotham, Snyder's vision is something that could almost border on sacrilegious to some diehard fans. Yet, things are not what they seem, as we recall from Batman #19 when Gordon hearkens to Wayne (in reality, Clayface) to remember the "Zero Year" – an appeal to a time when these two seemed to have forged some greater, mutual understanding. This issue, then, takes readers to those moments where the misunderstanding between these the young billionaire on a mission and a cop out to do right is laid bare – and it's not without its fair share of drama. I especially appreciate Snyder's ability to spin a story around a small story element, namely Gordon's trenchcoat. Most readers picture Commissioner Gordon in his all-too-familiar trenchcoat, and here we see how this seemingly unimportant jacket plays a pivotal role in the conflict between the two men. And with Bruce's accusation against Gordon at the end of this issue, it will be interested to see how Snyder brings the two together in Issue #27.

Credit: DC Comics

Another element of the story that I really liked was the way Wayne Corp – not Bruce Wayne or the Batman – is shown as the primary catalyst for the generation of many of the villains growing out of Gotham City. All too often, the argument is made that supervillains generally arise from the defeat of regular criminals who are unable to beat the superheroes they come up against. The premise of this argument basically blames superheroes for the presence of supervillains. It's a compelling argument - don’t get me wrong – but it's the same argument that was put forward almost thirty years ago by Alan Moore in 1986's Batman: The Killing Joke. Instead, Snyder turns this trope on its head and shows that villains such as The Red Hood, Edward Nygma (now styling himself as The Riddler by this point), Pamela Isley (soon to be Poison Ivy), and Dr. Death already had the seeds of villainy planted in their being well before the appearance of the Batman in the streets and skyline of Gotham. The villains, then, are responsible for the rise of the Batman – not the other way around, and the last three of those listed have direct ties to Wayne Corp (even the Red Hood was aided in large part by Uncle Phillip during Bruce's absence). It's a different line of argument, and it's a fresh and welcomed perspective in the greater discussion taking place within superhero genre over heroes, villains and their shared origins.

Credit: DC Comics

Artistically, it is clear that Capullo, Miki and Plascencia are a well-oiled machine that is able to deliver a highly polished, dynamic visual rendering of Snyder's scripts while adding their own voices to the story being shared. The panel layouts shift in and out of a more traditional grid format in order to emphasize certain sequences or drive the plot forward. There's always the danger of reader confusion when deviating from the grid and moving towards more abstract layouts, but Capullo always seems to keep himself and his team in check in this issue (and every other one to date). The opening sequence is a solid example of how this artistic team recreates a cinematic experience that effectively hooks their readers into the story. From the panel formatting to the texture of the borders, they are able to bring readers into the moment with ease through their creative approach. It's also fun to see Capullo get the opportunity to dig back into his past life as the artist on Spawn with the demonic Dr. Death and his horrific bone-growth drugs. His villain is one certainly worthy of full membership into Batman's Rogues Gallery!

Credit: DC Comics

Overall, I'm incredibly anxious to read the entirety of "Zero Year" once it is available in a collected format. I want to appreciate fully all of the moving parts to this grand narrative surrounding Bruce Wayne's becoming Batman, and sometimes, the serialized format of comics makes it easy to lose track of some of the smaller details from previous issues. Given Snyder's penchant for bringing everything together in a sweeping fashion, this format could be challenging for some readers. That said, I would avoid "trade waiting" on this series as part of the real satisfaction behind reading Snyder and Capullo's run on Batman is the unexpected twists within each installment of the larger story – and this is a series that most reviewers and news outlets will be quick to review and talk about. Although we all know the destination for where the story is going to end, Issue #26 underscores the point that readers will be taken along a very different road to get there than they might otherwise have expected.

Dead Body Road #1 cover
Dead Body Road #1 cover
Credit: Skybound

Dead Body Road #1
Written by Justin Jordan
Art by Matteo Scalera and Moreno Dinisio
Lettering by Pat Brousseau
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

On the surface, Dead Body Road might seem like a retread of an old Punisher story: a man’s family is killed and he will stop at nothing for revenge. But Justin Jordan doesn’t go as big as he might with a Punisher story. The story is grounded in a little bit of reality. The main character, Gage, does not have a battle van or spandex suit. And the book is so much better for that.

Jordan does a good job of putting the initial pieces in place. We come to understand the circumstances surround Gage’s wife’s death quickly and we are introduced to a number of the players. Gage is headstrong and anxious for vengeance. There are no long internal monologues about how he’ll exact his revenge or the inner workings of his plans and this helps the book read more like a primetime action TV pilot than a brooding detective story. Jordan is very economic with his dialogue and provides information at an excellent pace.

Much of the success of the book has to do with Matteo Scalera’’s incomparable art. His sketchy style is a perfect fit for Jordan’s script, injecting a sense of grit to the story that might be lost in lesser hands. His style still allows for dynamic moments, the best of which in this issue is a multi-page car chase that is, without a doubt, the best I’ve ever seen in comics. Car chases are hard to translate to comics because they rely so much on motion but Scalera pulls out all the stops by using multiple perspectives and heavy speed lines. Moreno Dinisio’s colors deserve mention as well. Strong color palettes keep scenes from bleeding together but still allow them to flow as one.

Dead Body Run #1 is a great debut by a talented creative team. They’ve managed to take a fairly stock concept and turn it into something worth reading. The mystery teased in the last few pages will give Jordan some room to make this book really unique. It’s exciting to know that we haven’t really scratched the surface yet and Scalera is already on top of his game. As long as the action and intrigue stay at high levels, Dead Body Road will definitely be a winner.

New Doc Savage covers
New Doc Savage covers
Credit: Dynamite

Doc Savage #1
Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Bilquis Evely and Daniela Miwa
Letters by Rob Steen
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Pulps have always resonated with me. It started as early as middle school when I first discovered the Howard Chaykin penned issues of The Shadow and continues even still into my tireless search of random antique malls for anything with a yellowed page and a ready for action protagonist on the cover. So naturally I jumped at the chance to take an early look at Dynamite’s new Doc Savage ongoing and I was shocked and surprised to find something that recaptured the feel and tone of those old stories. Though pulps helped pave the way for our modern action stories, they were mostly dialogue heavy affairs, centered around a central mystery or MacGuffin with the sporadic set piece thrown in to appease the kids. People don't usually write this kind of story any more, but Chris Roberson has recaptured this formula and this first issue shines because of it.

We haven’t seen The Man of Bronze grace the pages of comics since DC’s First Wave, and even still, a large group of readers are barely familiar at all with Doc and his Fabulous Five. Dynamite, who has already proved themselves the go to imprint for pulp characters with their well done Shadow ongoings, plus stellar titles following The Green Hornet, The Spider, and John Carter of Mars among many others, full understood this and put the wonderful Chris Roberson in charge of this new title, already proving himself a steady hand at handling these types of stories with the crossover event Masks. Chris Roberson guides us effortlessly into the world of Doc Savage by smartly introducing The Fabulous Five quickly and by showing us for the majority of the issue Doc as the man of science instead of just shuffling this to the side for mindless action beats.

The story picks up in a classroom in 1933, before the heyday of Doc’s adventures in the early 40‘s, Clark Savage, Jr. is giving a lecture (with Einstein in attendance, the first of many nods to Doc’s vast intelligence) when he is called away by his companions Monk and Ham. A sudden and unnatural riot has broken out in the city and Doc and his crew must stop it. Those looking for the rough and tumble non stop action of old will be disappointed as Roberson smartly introduces the problem and spends a great deal of the page count showing how Doc susses out the problem using logic and lateral thinking. Instead of just telling the reader that this is a character of considerable technical skill and intelligence, Roberson shows us Doc and his companions acting as super science detectives, all the while delivering pitch perfect dialogue true to the characters and time period. Roberson has clearly done his research and the issue is all the better for it. Roberson also eases the reader into the mythos of Doc Savage in an effortless way that never feels like forced fan service. Many, MANY nods are present here; the skull cap helmets, Renny’s huge fists, the automatic machine pistols, Doc’s solemn oath, and The 86th Floor headquarters are all on display here as if they had never left, giving both new and old readers of Doc Savage a concise entry point into this fantastic world.

Bilquis Evely, along with his colorist Danelia Minwa are along for the ride with Roberson on the reboot and they do a fine job rendering our lantern jawed heroes, along with the bustling world of New York in the 30‘s, with a smooth, classic looking panels and fit Roberson’s prose heavy script like a glove. Evely gives Doc and the rest of his Fabulous Five a distinctly handsome look, with Doc, naturally, standing out as the matinee idol of the bunch. Each man is also smartly dressed, which is something that never really stands out to me, as a comic reader, but the costuming choices that Everly made are not only appropriate for the character but every stitch of clothing is period appropriate and its amazing to see that level of detail put into a title. The colors also lend a sense of warmness to the story as a whole. Evely and Minwa clearly work very well together and the color choices add another layer of retro flair onto the already pulpy feel of the script.

I think some people will be disappointed in this first issue though, mainly because the story offered behind the bombastic Alex Ross cover is more cerebral fare than the ham-fisted check that the cover writes, but I think there in lies the beauty of this debut issue. Roberson isn't concerned with giving people what they think they want with this kind of story, nor is he content to give us some sort of rehash of old material, though through the script, you can tell that he holds these stories and characters in very high regard. Its that regard that allows him to give us the kind of story that would be right at home between the tattered covers of an old nickel novel. I'm sure people will bemoan the fact that its a largely action-free comic, save for the thrilling beat of Doc leaping from the Empire State Building to save the story's heavy and I am sure a few people in the comments with blast the book for just being a book largely featuring men standing around talking, but those people don't understand the work that Lester Dent offered.

Audiences today have become so saturated with shallowness disguised as action storytelling that they have no idea the amount of skill it took to not only introduce a cast of characters quickly, but why they were interesting and worth coming back for a another adventure. Here, with this #1 issue, Roberson and his team quickly introduces a brand new generation to the character of Doc Savage, and the type of story that he inhabited, but in a way that displays the charm of Doc and The Fabulous Five hold and beautifully packaged for the next generation of pulp fans who found these stories and characters through comics. Chris Roberson just flat-out gets it. He understands pulp storytelling and knows how to deliver scripts true to that genre. If this isn’t for you, then pulps may not be for you - but that won’t stop Roberson and his team from staying true to the format and the characters.

Credit: Image Comics

Drumhellar #2
Written by Alex Link and Riley Rossmo
Art by Riley Rossmo
Lettering by Kelly Tindall
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Few debuts were as exuberantly impenetrable as Alex Link and Riley Rossmo’s first issue of Drumhellar. Right out of the gate, it is a book that didn’t only refuse to fit inside a box, but attempted to deconstruct (and reconstruct) the box in every other panel. Indeed, the deliberately abstract approach to storytelling willfully left readers stranded out in the middle of Paris, Texas by way of a Japanese western. Yet it didn’t leave us empty handed, giving the audience just enough hooks to find solid ground in the middle of their narrative vertigo.

This sophomore outing suffers, or benefits depending on your point of view, from many of the same issues as the first chapter. It begins with our spiritual detective trying to find a rogue bog zombie by walking around South Dakota in spirals, accompanied by his ex-girlfriend Padma, and a purple ghost only he can see. The format is merely an excuse to continue Rossmo and Link’s acid trip of a structure, which is still intriguing even if it does constantly leave you wondering if you’ve missed a page or two as the duo whips us from one scene to the next.

This issue seems to be making a conscious effort to create a more linear story out of the chaos, especially in opening pages. However, about the time “Bogdan” is first mentioned, the progression becomes muddied, introducing us to a relationship in media res, but without the corresponding context to fully convey the significance of that relationship. The allusions to Hellar’s past are another one of those threads that tantalizingly invites us back for yet another month, but in the meantime keeps us off-kilter enough to prohibit full enjoyment of whatever it is Link and Rossmo are building to. As an encounter with this possibly jilted ex escalates into a full-scale cafeteria outbreak of nasties, literally turning people inside out, it’s often difficult to know exactly what we are supposed to be looking at.

This is certainly not an issue with Rossmo’s art, which remains one of the most stunningly original unions of color and style. Sometimes it resembles the spiritually darker influences that filled his recent Dia De Los Muertos anthology, especially as we learn of the hanging fate of some lost souls later in the book, at other times it is retina branding in its psychedelia. Rossmo, who also colors and shades his own line art here, frames his simple figures against often spartan or minimalist backgrounds. Yet his use of contrasting colors, including aquamarine skies or pink walls against lime green clothes, creates the sense of a constantly shifting landscape. Rossmo also excels at the beautifully ugly (and vice versa), whether it is a close-up of a mouth chewing a burger or the giant entrails that splash out across several pages.

Perhaps Drumhellar is not designed to be read in the same way as a traditional comic book, and is more akin to a visual puzzle than a straightforward detective yarn. It certainly makes no immediate claims on the latter, short of a having a ronin “Constantine” type at the helm. When it isn’t deliberately obfuscating, there’s plenty of levity to be had in the interaction between the main players too. In fact, to change a single frame of it would be to alter what makes Drumhellar a bit special in the first place, but at least then it might start to make a little more sense.

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