Best Shots Advance Reviews: CASANOVA: ACEDIA #3, NINJAK #5, ZODIAC STARFORCE #1

"Zodiac Starforce #1" cover
Credit: Dark Horse Comics
Credit: Image Comics

Casanova: Acedia #3
Written by Matt Fraction and Michael Chabon
Art by Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba and Cris Peter
Lettering by Dustin K. Harbin
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Who is Casanova Quinn? This question has been at the center of Casanova: Acedia, but three issues into this new arc, this beating heart is in danger of skipping a beat. Matt Fraction, the mastermind behind Casanova and his insane swirling universe, is starting to draw the threads of this fractured universe together. Characters long thought lost to time have resurfaced, hints about Cass’ employers true identity are starting to come to light, and Casanova’s true name has come out in the open in true, weird, and fiery fashion. Anchored by the innovative and expressive artwork from Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, Casanova: Acedia #3 doesn’t put all its card on the table just yet, but it offers up just enough tantalizing hints as to the future of Casanova and his constantly shifting timestream.

Even though Casanova is all about super-spies, dimension-hopping and time traveling, Acedia #3 keeps its feet firmly planted in Casanova’s new fragile reality. Fraction, backed by another hilarious Mentanauts installment from Michael Chabon, sets up this third issue as a tale of two attempted dates, one with Kaito and the stunning Ruby Seychelle and another impromptu one between Quinn and Sabine Seychelle. Fraction is a writer who is more than skilled at positioning his characters in mundane situations and peppering in fantastical elements, which proves to be Acedia #3‘s bread and butter this month. Each page is filled with Fraction’s trademark gift for banter, yet there is something more than a little off throughout this issue. That feeling is persistent throughout even before the hulking time assassin Fabula even makes his appearance. We know a version of the characters we are seeing live their lives in Acedia #3, but they still feel just off of center, but that may not be the case for much longer now that Cass’ true name has been used as a weapon against him.

While Faction keeps the zingers and the weirdness coming, matching him step for step are artists Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, along with colorist Cris Peter. Moon and Ba’s artwork are some of the great stylistic pencils of our current crop of Image Comics’ talent and with each issue of Casanova they show yet another side of their talents. With other issues, they have shown how great they are at action sequences or even epic set pieces, but Acedia #3 is filled with characters just talking with the occasional thrust of action. Moon and Ba still make it feel dynamic without over-reaching themselves. Moon’s rendering of the two dates is understated, expressive, and even intimate especially during the sabotaged candle lit dinner between Kaito and Ruby. Ba’s Mentanauts installment is understandably a bit more over the top, but the story of a time hopping band of riot grrrl assassins kind of demands that. Anchored by the understated yet evocative colors of Cris Peter, both Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon show once again why Casanova is just as much their book as it is Matt Fraction and Micheal Chabon’s.

While other arcs have sustained themselves on action and bombast, Casanova: Acedia is a bit of a tougher sell. Acedia has felt like a murder mystery without a body; the central question being the why and how Cass is stuck, memory-less, in a time stream both recognizable yet wholly different. The story and characters feel familiar and we have tantalizing hints at Team Casanova’s endgame, but its hard to engage a story that feels like just a single piece of a larger puzzle. Thankfully Matt Fraction, Michael Chabon, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, and Cris Peter build each issue of Acedia as an entertaining story that can stand on its own. Of course, it will function better as complete work and the hints that one reader might find enigmatic, another reader might find frustrating, but that doesn’t make Acedia #3 any less entertaining. A lot of that has to do with Fraction’s gift of gab and Casanova’s indie rock visuals giving Casanova: Acedia #3 a life of its own beyond the larger Casanova narrative. Who is Casanova Quinn? That answer may come to him sooner than expected and something tell me that absolutely no one in his new time stream is going to like the answer.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Ninjak #5
Written by Matt Kindt
Art by Clay Mann, Butch Guice and Ulises Arreola
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

So far, Matt Kindt and Clay Mann have been mostly successful with their approach to the revival of Valiant's purple-suited resident secret agent. After an explosive opening, a so-so middle and a distinctive one-shot origin story, Ninjak sticks the landing of his first story arc.

Kindt leans heavily on Colin's past in this issue, hatching the eggs he's been laying over the course of the run. As usual, the few pages Kindt spends fleshing out Colin's childhood are narratively the strongest, this time revealing both Colin's parents and the depth of the future Ninjak's sociopathic deviousness. Elsewhere, last issue's single-issue villain origin story was incredibly welcome in a vacuum, but it has disrupted the flow of Ninjak's climactic battle against Kannon. Kindt summarily ignores our month away from the main story, immediately returning to the breakneck pace he had established prior to #5. It might be a little disorienting, especially if you read a massive pull-list of titles and don't have perfect recall

Kindt and Mann are well-suited to the fantasy of the modern super-hero, offering up impossibly lantern-jawed men and lithe, strong women. Mann is the kind of artist who could happily carry a fight scene for an entire issue if he wanted to. His blows have weight and substance behind them, a far cry from characters crashing through skyscrapers to little or no consequence. Ninjak crumples under overwhelming force, he falters and winces. Super-powered fights often feel like they don't quite subscribe to the laws of physics, but Mann makes sure they do here.

Kindt still suffers from Ninjak's unintentionally amusing levels of preparation, although not quite as extreme as it has been in issues past. The classic “Bat Shark-repellant” came to mind more than a few times over the course of this arc, but Kindt mostly reins in it here; brought to life by Ninjak's surprisingly no-frills approach to finally defeating the dastardly Kannon.

Clay Mann continues his superior work here, offering up dynamically arranged panel layouts for Kindt's script. Luckily, Kindt isn't a wordy writer, and so Mann's larger-than-life work is given more than enough room to breathe here.

As always, Matt Kindt and Butch Guice provide the back-up strip. A more sedate and noir-influenced story than the main feature, “The Lost Files” is a sombre tale of Colin King's early days in the MI: 6. Colorist Ulises Arreola flexes his range here, adapting to the tale's grisly happenings by toning down his palette to reflect the darker tone.

Overall, Ninjak #5 is a solid finale to a rollicking rollercoaster of a first arc. Kindt's scripts haven't always been the sharpest tools in the drawer, but Mann's chiselled heroes have offered the perfect accompaniment to this light tale of martial-arts infused espionage. Ninjak #5 is unambitious, but ultimately aware of its place in the market. There's nothing wrong with enjoying a mindless action & adventure every now and then, and Ninjak #5 is perfectly formed to give exactly that.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Zodiac Starforce #1
Written by Kevin Panetta
Art by Paulina Ganucheau and Savanna Ganucheau
Lettering by Paulina Ganucheau
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

What is it they say about the road to Hell and good intentions?

Okay, maybe that's a little bit melodramatic, but the same theory could apply for Zodiac Starforce #1, a series from Dark Horse that has its heart in the right place, even if the end execution comes across a bit flawed. Kevin Panetta and Paulina Ganucheau take a page out of the Sailor Moon playbook by showing what happens to a group of former teenage superheroes after they break up, but this first issue takes place a little too in medias res to really hook anyone besides the ultra-nostalgic.

From the beginning of this script, Panetta and Ganucheau distill the true appeal of teenage superheroes, as everygirl Emma studies diligently in the campus library - that is, before she's attacked by a dark alien monster. It's a nice mashup of the normal and the weird, but quickly enough, the thrill goes away, as Panetta rushes to bring Emma into contact with tough gal Kim and the rest of the Zodiac Starforce crew. Unfortunately, as the script rushes ahead, we don't get a chance to really differentiate these women - they barely even work as archetypes, and the dialogue-heavy pages feel more about exposition than revealing anything about the characters in a visual sense.

Unfortunately, this script has a dilemma on its hands, and Panetta never really decides which way he wants to go: Does he want to put together a sharp twist on college stories, or does he want to focus on the larger-than-life superhero world that these girls have left behind? Without committing to one or the other, Panetta winds up getting the worst of both worlds - there's a lot of offhand exposition that will likely sail over readers' heads because they haven't connected with the girls yet, and when we do see Emma and company in their natural habitat, the campus life seems particularly banal, with a fairly lifeless party (even amid the various talk about boys or foreshadowing about other relationships).

But ultimately, the art is what I think is going to be the most divisive part about Zodiac Starforce. Bold and bright, Paulina Ganucheau feels like she could hold her own in the same realm as a Steven Universe or a Lumberjanes, with some particularly smooth cartooning that'll evoke Sailor Moon and other similar shows. That said, think her page layouts and occasionally monotonous color work also wind up holding this book back - like Hawkeye or Batgirl, Ganucheau packs a lot onto each page, and ultimately I think this is the kind of book that'll read much better on a smartphone, panel by panel, than necessarily as a unified page. As a whole, though, there's a lot of cramping here, particularly with some of the fight sequences, while there's also an overreliance on narrow, letterboxed panels, which cause normal conversations to feel crushed.

For many, Zodiac Starforce's premise and potential will be enough to keep them interested, and they're not wrong for feeling this way - this book feels targeted for a very specific demographic of anime-loving women, and that representation will likely go a long way with a lot of people. But I'd also argue that Zodiac Starforce's biggest sin is that it's preaching just to the choir, rather than showing any new converts why this genre is so compelling in the first place. Now that the team is back together, here's hoping Panetta and Ganucheau can work some starforce magic.

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