Best Shots Reviews: WEIRDWORLD #1, STARFIRE #1, STRANGE FRUIT #1 Advance, More

Strange Fruit
Strange Fruit
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your Monday reviews? Best Shots has you covered, with this week's big column! So let's kick off with Jumping Justin Partridge III, as he takes a look at the first issue of Weirdworld...

Credit: Marvel Comics

Weirdworld #1
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Mike del Mundo and Marco D’Alfonso
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Despite your feelings about Secret Wars as a whole, at this point, its tie-ins are undeniably amazing. Not content to simply deliver a glut of books loosely associated with the larger narrative of their latest summer event, Marvel has opted instead to give their creatives carte blanche to spin whatever tale they wish, as long as it is set within the confines of Battleworld. This free reign is how we get out-of-this-world gems like Weirdworld #1, a breathlessly crazy and beautiful debut issue that raises itself beyond being just a tie-in and instead delivers something truly unique.

Writer Jason Aaron and artists Mike del Mundo and Marco D’Alfonso bring us the tale of Akron, a barbarian and former ruler of a kingdom called Polemachus who battles untold horrors every day and explores the shifting landscape of Weirdworld, ever searching for his lost home while trying to maintain his own sanity. Weirdworld #1 is no mere throwaway tie-in, instead it succeeds in being one of Marvel’s most insane and entertaining debuts to date.

Jason Aaron is no stranger to barbarians. As the main writer of Thor, Aaron has recounted the tales of noble Asgardians, vile raiders and various other denizens of the Nine Realms, but Weirdworld's Akron may be his most compelling yet. Set adrift in a world that is chock-full of things that wish him death, as well as a landscape that defies all conventional logic, Akron is nearing the end of his rope as every day is starting to look exactly the same. He wakes, he walks, he fights, and he adds things to his most precious possession, a homemade map of Weirdworld. While Mike del Mundo’s other worldly visuals may be the main selling point for some readers, Aaron’s deep take on Akron will end up surprising those same readers.

Aaron’s take on the barbarian is as blood-drenched and agile as we might expect, but Aaron also adds a strong layer of pathos to the character by having him struggle with his own depression and listlessness as he travels but goes nowhere. “I know how to kill with sword and axe and battle-bolt. With my hands and teeth if need be,” Akron laments. “I have been raised to do those things since birth. But how does one eviscerate despair? How do you strangle hopelessness?” Weirdworld #1 is a lot of things, including an artistic showcase for del Mundo, but never would you expect that it would be an effective and oddly inspiring take on the plight of depression.

A good Jason Aaron script is pretty much a given at this point, but the real stars of Weirdworld #1 are artist Mike del Mundo along with his co-colorist Marco D’Alfonso. Del Mundo, who made waves recently with Elektra, leaves everything on the page during this debut issue, committing fully to the bizarre landscape of Weirdworld and the savage nature of our lead and the creatures he faces every day. The first two-page splash of Weirdworld in all its nutty glory is a jaw-dropper as del Mundo and D’Alfonso present a world that flies in the face of logic and they make it look absolutely gorgeous. Del Mundo’s eye for action sequences is also on full display, as each scene is book-ended with a doozy of an action scene. First, from page one, Akron is locked in mortal struggle with a multi-eyed, many-armed devilfish and from there, they just get crazier. To actually recount them here would be a major disservice to you, the reader, but rest assured Mike del Mundo and Marco D’Alfonso absolutely make Weirdworld #1 and can only outdo themselves in future issues.

If this review imparts anything onto you it should be this: do not sleep on Weirdworld #1. In this column, me and my fellow reviewers have told you about countless forgettable tie-ins and weak-sauce spin-off books more times than we care to remember. Weirdworld #1 isn't anything like that. Written by a writer on an unprecedented hot streak and rendered by a duo of artists who consistently deliver dynamite interiors, Weirdworld #1 is unlike anything you have read from Marvel in a long while. If this sounds like hyperbole, I implore you to experience it for yourself because that’s exactly what this comic is - an experience, and one that has to be seen to be truly believed.

Credit: DC Comics

Starfire #1
Written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating 8 out of 10

Starfire #1 is all about new beginnings. It’s a comic that moves away from the overly sexualized New 52 version of Koriand’r, and carves out its own interpretation with Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti using the very well-worn fish-out-of-water concept, but making it work with aplomb as this version of Koriand’r is more sweet than seductive.

Conner and Palmiotti smartly start the comic with a brief history of the character, making this first issue very reader friendly. From there, we follow Kori and her new friend, Sheriff Stella Gomez, as Kori learns about life on Earth, trying to adapt to her new home while still maintaining a unique and instantly inviting naivete. The story is very much centered on the steps someone would take to being a new life, and watching Kori navigate this new world is both cute and hilarious. Her internal thoughts are shown as visual thought bubbles, and her interpretations of modern idioms is laughably clever.

Conner and Palmiotti also develop their world and their intentions for the first arc. Their supporting cast is made up of characters who, in some way or another, shape Kori and her new life in Key West, and while the romantic plans are a bit too overt, as one can clearly see the relationship that the story is leading towards, this isn’t a major aspect of the comic. The focus is instead on Koriand’r and her transition to life on Earth. What’s more noteworthy is how well they pace the issue, giving Kori a new persona and leading towards a conclusion that looks to tie all the characters together, albeit in the next few issues. But the pieces are all here, and they’re intriguing.

Most impressively, Conner and Palmiotti keep Starfire tasteful. This is not a comic book that follows in the footsteps of books like Red Hood and the Outlaws, and in doing so, it reinvigorates the character giving her a fresh start to combat the more controversial details of her initial reboot. This Koriand’r may be gullible, but she’s powerful, and while we only get a little glimpse of what she can do, readers definitely see that Conner and Palmiotti, above all else, want to remind us that Kori is strong and fearless, a spirited female lead, and a character who has her own identity rather than being a plot device for other characters.

While I was a little sad that Amanda Conner is not also at the artistic helm in this book, Emanuela Lupacchino does just as good a job, rendering Koriand’r in gorgeous detail. Lupacchino has a slickness to her art that’s reminiscent of Terry Dodson. The smoothness of her designs make the comic visually stunning, and coupled with Ray McCarthy’s lush inks, the imagery achieves an aesthetic lucidity, partially due to Hi-Fi’s stunning colors. The imagery has a vibrant and appealing elegance that give powerful life the characters, particularly Koriand’r.

I would call myself a Starfire fan after this issue. With the new way Conner and Palmiotti have approached the character, I’d be more willing to give her a shot as her story is more about her adapting to Earth, rather than her being a physical specimen to ogle. I like that DC is giving more leads to female characters, and given the success of Harley Quinn, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti seem just the people give the character the resurgence she needs and deserves.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ultimate End #2
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Mark Bagley, Drew Hennessy and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Mavel Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating 3 out of 10

What’s most puzzling about Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate End #2 is not its many mysteries, but its purpose. This issue comprises a sequence of events with a very tenuous narrative thread, a poor retread of some earlier Ultimate Spider-Man moments, and a climactic battle that seems thrown in for the sake of the issue needing some energy. What should be a powerful punctuation mark to close out one of Marvel’s greatest gambles instead becomes a weak goodbye, and one that isn’t fitting for the work the preceded it.

With the Ultimate and 616 universes trying to stave off disaster in the face of Doom, Bendis wastes no time in creating a dire situation as a death occurs on the third page. But without a solid set-up, the moment comes and goes without any recognition. Save for one other character making brief reference to it later, the situation is ignored as quickly as it occurred, failing to give the death the gravitas it strives for and really deserves.

Two other moments, meant to strike an emotional chord, fall flat due to the same lack of profundity. One is Tony Stark from the Ultimate universe having a heart-to-heart with himself, and the other is Peter Parker from the 616 universe visiting with Aunt May and Gwen Stacy from the Ultimate Universe. Tony Stark’s conversation explores the concept of talking to your younger self with the hope of avoiding the same mistakes, but the quickness with which Ultimate Tony overcomes his alcohol addiction robs the character of any personal solemnity. Instead it’s like Bendis needed to get it out of the way so people wouldn’t bring it up in future issues.

Peter’s return to Aunt May’s house just feels unnecessary. Perhaps Bendis could have prefaced this earlier by giving the moment some narrative set up because it falls a little flat in that Peter already saw May and Gwen in Spider-Men, and the moment held much more emotional weight. Here, it’s difficult to understand why Peter would want to return save for a friendly visit, which would be fine if the scene weren’t so awkwardly written. The characters look uncomfortable to see Peter so his return is anything but heartwarming, and it covers the same themes as the first time they met.

Lastly, the climax of the comic - a fight between the 616 Hulk and the 1610 Hulk - occurs without any pretense, so while we get a cameo by the Ultimate Punisher, even his purpose remains unclear other than to gape in horror at the destruction around him and the coming flood of heroes who are looking to stop the madness.

Even Mark Bagley’s art is a little thick and a little clunky. The inking at times makes the characters look stiff and blocky, lacking the usual Bagley panache that we became so accustomed to during his and Bendis’ historic Ultimate Spider-Man. The final battle between the Hulks - which judging by the cover should be the centerpiece of the issue - lacks any direct interaction between the characters save for two or three vague panels. We don’t get the same sense of chaos normally associated with the Hulk because he’s not really depicted doing anything active besides screaming and shielding himself. It’s as if Bagley is holding back, most likely because the story demands inhibit his space.

The final moment is meant to be the usual shocking Bendis conclusion, but it falls flat because the story lacks the usual conviction. The story is very perfunctory, like Bendis is running through a checklist of things that should occur as the Ultimate universe is ending, and this results in a comic that feels hollow. Unfortunately for Bendis and Bagley, we know what they’re capable of, so seeing a comic book with their names on it, and one that lacks their usual quality of writing and art, is both frustrating and sad. And it raises the question that maybe the Ultimate Universe should have been destroyed years ago when more people - including its creators - cared.

Marvel Zombies #1 First Look
Marvel Zombies #1 First Look
Credit: Marvel

Marvel Zombies #1
Written by Simon Spurrier
Art by Kev Walker and Frank D'armata
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Simon Spurrier injects a bit of Evil Dead into Battleworld with Marvel Zombies #1, a surprisingly fresh take on the seemingly played-out Marvel Zombies concept with a few rough edges.

In an area of Battleworld dominated by flesh-eating zombies, Commander Elsa Bloodstone valiantly battles against the undead. Outnumbered and suddenly forced to protect a little bald amnesiac, the determined and fierce daughter of Ulysses Bloodstone flees her post in search of safety from the horde.

Spurrier seems well aware that there isn't much novelty left in “your favorite superheroes... now craving brains!” and so wisely spends this issue's page-count establishing a fresh protagonist. Elsa Bloodstone appears here in much the same form in Nextwave - a quick-witted, tea-swilling psychopath - and she makes for the perfect foil for the undead legion.

Structurally, Spurrier writes a solid script, deftly balancing action and character with plot development. He wears his influences on his sleeve (Spurrier's spiritual home is undoubtedly 2000AD), balancing a healthy dose of Evil Dead-style gallows humor with a dash of the surreal. He also keeps things snappy, heavily relying on one-liners and a decisive protagonist to push the story onwards.

Marvel Zombies #1 is predominantly a comedy book, so Spurrier spits out as many jokes as each panel can possibly support. Inevitably, there's a few jokes here that miss the mark. The humor briefly relents for a panel or two at a time to flash back to Elsa's difficult childhood, which provides some brief but necessary backstory that simply sums up Elsa's antagonistic world-view. There's nothing in the way of filler here, but then again Spurrier's tendency towards three to five panels per page means there's barely any room to be.

Kev Walker's artwork is acceptable most of the time, and excellent when he's focused on a rotting corpse. His standard human faces often seem a little wonky and simplistic, although his zombified versions of Doctor Octopus and Juggernaut are truly disgusting creatures. Walker keeps his backgrounds simple, preferring to maintain a tight focus on character. It doesn't always make for the most flattering view, but it effectively communicates important character beats.

Colorist Frank D'armata keeps it simple as well, drowning Walker's lines in flat color. There's enough detail in Walker's pencil-work that D'armata's coloring feels like it's doing a disservice to the art. D'armata's palette evokes a cinematic look through the liberal use of orange and teal, eternally drawing the reader's eye to the fiery Elsa as she stands against the cold backdrop of a dead world.

Marvel Zombies #1 is a comic book that'll live or die depending on the reader's sense of humor. It isn't the best looking comic on the shelves this week, but there's a snappy exuberance to Spurrier's script that brings to mind Al Ewing's excellent Zombo. There's definitely legs in the ongoing adventures of Commander Elsa Bloodstone, even if this first issue suffers from some visual roughness.

Credit: DC Comics

Red Hood/Arsenal #1
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Denis Medri and Tanya Horie
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

You’d think that in the aftermath of Convergence, DC might mothball a few concepts in order to bring them back with a stronger sense of direction and core concept. Unfortunately for fans of Red Hood and Arsenal, that wasn’t the game plan here. Scott Lobdell returns with a lackluster attempt at a buddy action comedy, and considering the relative popularity of the titular heroes, it’s somewhat surprising that DC would let them return with such a middling #1. There’s just nothing to get excited about here, and it makes for a disappointing debut for “Rockabilly Batman” artist Denis Medri.

That’s not even to say that Medri’s talents are wasted here. The artist had a run of Internet success with both his “Rockabilly Batman” costume redesigns and his take on Star Wars as an ‘80s high school. But the quirkiness and vision that he displayed in both of those projects doesn’t carry over to Red Hood/Arsenal. Part of that has to do with the setting, which is nothing more than a few dozen square feet of desert. Medri’s sensibilities come across similarly to artists like Carlo Barberi or Ale Garza. He’s effective in his ability to tell the story without making his page or panels too busy, but there’s nothing for readers to really latch onto. The result is a book that feels fully forgettable despite the fact that his character designs are charming and efficient. I was excited to see Medri get a chance, but he doesn’t do enough to make any new fans.

An artist can only draw the script they’re given, though. Scott Lobdell opts for a narration-heavy reintroduction/recap of Arsenal’s adventures to this point which is an effective (if entirely dull) way to catch readers up. His tone works for the book, and he’s clearly got a handle on Arsenal’s voice. But my issues aren’t with characterization. The plotting of this issue feels like trying to slog through quicksand - it’s a painfully slow and ultimately, fruitless endeavor. By the time the issue is over, we get a hint of Lobdell’s plans for the book, but we’re left with something that feels more like an out-of-place one-off story than anything resembling a clear cut direction for the title. Even the most diehard Red Hood and Arsenal fans will probably be disappointed with this one.

Removing Starfire from the Outlaws equation seemed like a move that could work. (After all, the book wasn’t great with her in it - could it get worse?) But Lobdell fails to do anything new with the characters that remain. That’s the problem with the book. It’s not going to be the worst book on the stands, but it doesn’t even feel like it wants to be the best. I’d rather see creators try and fail to execute big ideas than deliver something so textbookly mediocre. That’s not to say that this book can’t get better, but it feels like this title has a low ceiling - and worse, that the creators are okay with that.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Kanan: The Last Padawan #3
Written by Greg Weisman
Art by Pepe Larraz and David Curiel
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Since the acquisition by Disney, the return of Star Wars to Marvel has brought with it a sense of continuity. The previous network of games, novels and Dark Horse comics that made up the expanded universe (and are now known as Star Wars Legends) could often be excellent, yet to the outside observer it might seem like a lot of ephemera that had nothing to do with the characters from the movies. The freshly minted approach under the new management sees a streamlined take, where stories can easily be seen in their context to the canonical media. Case in point is Kanan: The Last Padawan, itself a spin-off from the animated series Star Wars: Rebels.

Rather that simply trading on the goodwill generated from the television show, writer Greg Weisman has spent the series to date giving us good reasons to invest our sympathies in Kanan. Indeed, he is so far removed from the reluctant master in the series that this really is about exiled padawan Caleb Dume, and his transition to becoming the Rebel known as Kanan. On the run is a character who was just starting to find his way as a Jedi apprentice, and is now forced into becoming something else. That we know ultimately where he will end up is of little consequence, as Kanan is such an unknown quantity at this point as to give every revelation a little bit of drama.

Weisman does an excellent job of balancing out the subtlety of the character, while spelling out some of the subtext more clearly for younger readers. For example, as Caleb/Kanan returns a stolen ship to a Kalleran named Kasmir, the latter accuses him of being “used to following a master - so you’re in the market for a new one.” It’s a touching moment, while being easy enough for younger readers to follow along with as well. In this sense, Kanan: The Last Padawan hits the tone of the Rebels as handily as the main Star Wars comic does with its source material, although Weisman doesn’t have Jason Aaron’s luxury of using the version of the character we’ve come to know over the last year.

Pepe Larraz’s art similarly tackles a world that is only partially familiar to audiences, caught somewhere between the familiar elements of The Clone Wars and the original trilogy. The opening ship chase uses simple backdrops against the elegant designs, but that allows for a fluidity of motion in these initial moments. The art comes into its own in the back half of the book, as Caleb/Kanan “suits up” into a proto version of his Rebel attire, with Larraz taking elements of that design and ‘devolving’ them slightly for the character’s younger age.

Kanan: The Last Padawan shows that even within the more limited scope of the new expanded universe, there are still a myriad of stories to be told. With the mini-series now half over, hopefully this sets the tone for more stories set in and around this untold era of Star Wars history.

Advance Review!

Strange Fruit
Strange Fruit
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Strange Fruit #1
Written by J.G. Jones and Mark Waid
Art by J.G.Jones
Lettering by Deron Bennett
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Sometimes comics can tell a message with subtlety, and sometimes they hit you over the head with a symbolic hammer. So far, Strange Fruit #1 is coming in with some weight and a mighty big swing. The real question though, is the story compelling or preaching? And even if the book is preaching, is that necessarily a bad thing these days?

Co-written by J.G. Jones and Mark Waid, Strange Fruit is a book we’ve seen many times before, in that it examines the well-traveled heroic myth road. But this time, Waid and Jones take that myth and toss it head-first into America’s own tangled and rather ugly racial past during the great Mississippi flood of 1927. As the waters rise ever higher and threaten all, regardless of skin color, so too does the tension between the black and white residents of the area. Made all the more tense when a black man with apparent god-like powers crashes from the heavens.

Indeed, Waid and Jones don’t even attempt to hide the obvious comparison to Superman in Strange Fruit #1, save that this stranger from the skies arrives fully grown and powerful. We just don’t quite know what side he’s on yet. As a pure narrative, Jones and Waid have a pretty strong grasp on the moment in time, and even some of the dialog. Still, it was hard to shake the feeling that this was a comic written by a mere observer. Which is true, as there is simply no way two modern writers could be expected to know exactly what it was like in the Mississippi of 1927. As it stands, the comic reads like someone that knows all the facts of the era, but it's missing the emotional honesty. And that doesn’t discredit the good work going on in this book, it’s just hard to shake that nagging thought that neither writer could truly put to paper the emotions the story demands.

Visually however, this comic is a pure gem. It is obvious this is a deeply personal work for J.G. Jones, who is pulling double duty as co-writer and artist. This is some of his best pencil work to date, and you would not be wrong in comparing this to some of Alex Ross’ work on Kingdom Come. And while this might seem sacrilege to the comic faithful, Jones is showing an even greater understanding of physical composition and expression in Strange Fruit #1 than the previously mentioned landmark comic. His attention to detail on every panel is truly gorgeous and brings the South to life, both the wonderful and the horrible are given their dues. The dense watercolor palette adds an even greater depth to the issue, augmenting the overall tension of the work. The very air itself has a density that distorts the background, the future where we all look; while bringing the immediate dangers of life under Jim Crow to a glistening sheen.

In the end, Strange Fruit #1 is an impressive debut coming from the best intentions, yet somehow manages skip a real emotional connection. Still, this is just the first issue, and both Jones and Waid do a great job in painting the picture of the era and place, while staying true to the mythical roots they’re attempting to sow with this comic. Although it lacks the raw passions of the Billie Holiday song of which it shares a name, it’s still a worthy read that will hopefully start a conversation - and that alone is a good start.

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