Best Shots Advance Reviews: ARCHIE #5, LONE WOLF 2100 #1, LAST CONTRACT #1

"The Last Contract #1" cover
Credit: BOOM! Studios
Credit: Archie Comics

Archie #5
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Veronica Fish, Andre Szyanowicz and Jen Vaughn
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

With artist Fiona Staples passing the artistic baton, one might think that Archie would be in trouble - and that person would be wrong. Teaming up with artist Veronica Fish, writer Mark Waid's tales of high school intrigue continue to impress, as the love triangle between Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge feel more engaging than ever.

Archie #5's defining quality is introducing yet another Riverdale character - Reggie Mantle, "the closest thing Riverdale has to a supervillain." Mark Waid's take on Riverdale has been defined by exaggerated characteristics and big choices by his cast, and Reggie is no exception, as he joins Jughead and Betty on their quest to break up Archie and Veronica once and for all. From his sneering persona to his predilection for trying to hook up with local college girls, Reggie feels like the anti-Archie, and his inclusion makes Riverdale's colorful cast of characters feel complete.

With this new character introduced, Waid wastes no time implementing the next stage of Jughead and Betty's plan to break up Riverdale's newest power couple. Waid's main plot is a smart one, as Reggie uses his malevolent intellect to try to out Veronica as the monster she is - and this is where Waid finally starts to let up on the slow burn that is Veronica Lodge. Considering Riverdale's wealthiest teenager barely appeared in the first few issues of the book, Veronica's been a frustrating mystery compared to the instant reimagining the rest of the cast has received - but here, Waid slowly starts to show why Veronica would be into someone as vanilla as Archie (even if there's still an unsettling undercurrent beneath). It goes a long way towards humanizing Veronica, and more importantly, making her a legitimate romantic rival to Betty.

But ultimately, the big test this book has is whether or not it can survive without artist Fiona Staples - and the short answer is, it can. Veronica Fish channels much of Staples' angular style, albeit with a thicker inking style. While occasionally her page layouts can feel a little cramped, she does great work at maintaining the sort of realistic design that's made this version of Archie look like a modern-day high school. There are a few hiccups here and there - Sheila and Veronica, for example, wind up looking a bit too similar, which can confuse readers when they're reaching the final twist of the issue. Still, with colorists Andre Szymanowicz and Jen Vaughn maintaining Staples' hard-edged look, Fish proves she can take on this book and thrive.

While there are a few bumps with some of the twists - namely, how Sheila's art exhibit can be seen as anything other than super-creepy is a suspension of disbelief I'm not sure even Waid can pull off - but for the most part, Waid and Fish's infusion of characterization makes Archie a book that's well worth reading. Waid has reinvigorated this decades-old property, showing a veracity and deliberateness to these teenagers that I don't think I've seen since Brian Michael Bendis first took over Ultimate Spider-Man. If you haven't been reading this masterful series, you definitely owe it to yourself to start now.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Lone Wolf 2100 #1
Written by Eric Heisserer
Art by Miguel Sepulveda and Javier Mena
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Dark Horse Comics has had a long and fruitful relationship with the Lone Wolf and Cub series through its many incarnations. Starting with reprints of the original manga and the debut of the re-imagined 2100 series in 2002, Dark Horse has been home for the wayward samurai and his young charge for decades. Now with a brand new Lone Wolf 2100 #1 hitting shelves this week, the pair return home with a bloody, post-apocalyptic debut issue. It has been one year since a plague has devastated the population and the only hope for a cure lies in the blood of young Daisy Ogami. Writer Eric Heisserer throws a lot at the audience early but smartly balances the exposition with a healthy dose of sword slinging, kinetically rendered by artists Miguel Sepulveda and Javier Mena. It may have been some years since Lone Wolf 2100 was available in comic book shops, but this new #1 brings the android lone wolf and his cub back to the forefront.

After a comprehensive prologue on the credits page, Eric Heisserer drops us into the thick of this new, plague infected world. Less than 12,000 humans remain uninfected in this new world, and 3.1 million more lie dead thanks to the Thrall plight. The new normal is very grim, but standing as a single ray of hope is young Daisy Ogami, who is immune to the plague and on route, along with her robotic protector, to deliver the means for a cure to one of her father’s associates. Heisserer gets most of the world building out of the way during the credits and devotes the rest of this debut page count to just how far gone the world has become, both now and in the early days of the plague. While Daisy and Itto brave the Thrall-infested streets of Chicago now, Dr. Ogami and a cabal of American leaders grapple with solutions forty days in the past to little to no avail. It is an interesting juxtaposition to the action-heavy road movie that the Lone Wolf series has been known for and one I wasn’t expecting. All the same, these flashbacks provide interesting insight into the world before the fall and hopefully they will keep that up in later issues.

With all the world building and backstory done, Lone Wolf 2100 #1 finally gets to the sizzle along with its narrative steak: samurai action. After Daisy and Itto bed down for the night in a Thrall-infested museum, they are accosted by a gang of “reclamation agents” who mow down the monsters and then turn their aim to Itto. Heisserer gives the audience enough of a sense of Itto’s stoicism and unwillingness to fight unless it is absolutely required in the build-up to this fight. However, when it finally pops off proper, he promptly gets out of the way of artists Miguel Sepulveda and Javier Mena and allows them to render the fast and furious action without cluttering the frame with needless narration or dialogue.

And when I say fast and furious, I mean it. Sepulveda and colorist Javier Mena let the bullets fly and the sword sing for this issue-ending action sequence, putting their tight grid work displayed in the establishing scenes to work with more frenetic shooting and less establishing shots of characters talking. Sepulveda also does an admirable job of making Itto’s movements and attacks as precise as possible, employing a ghostly tracking pattern of his acrobatics, a la Chris Samnee’s Daredevil and Spider-Man flips and sprints. While his flips are easy for a reader’s eye to track, Itto’s attacks have no wasted movement or needless bullet spraying, unlike the agents he is up against. Every bullet that the android fires hits its mark and every sword swing hits true both to devistating effect, as rendered by Javier Mena’s incendiary yellow and red explosions amid the grey and white snow-covered buildings. Lone Wolf 2100 #1 may take a bit to finally get to the action but when it does Miguel Sepulveda and Javier Mena deliver.

Reboots have become the currency of the current comic book landscape, but if they were all like Lone Wolf 2100 #1, we wouldn’t think of the word “reboot” as a bad thing. Writer Eric Heisserer along with Miguel Sepulveda and Javier Mena don’t reinvent the wheel or over-think this new series. They simply take the concept of the original series and deliver an action and narrative heavy first issue to whet the appetite of fans and hook in new readers for this new adventure. Lone Wolf 2100 #1 isn’t a perfect return for the android samurai and his charge, but it is a fun one and sometimes that’s exactly what is needed to get a series started on the right foot.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

The Last Contract #1
Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Lisandro Estherren and Niko Guardia
Lettering by Ed Brisson
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

When a list of every hit carried out by a fearsome mobster is leaked, a retired elderly hitman known only as “The Man” finds himself a sudden target. Anyone incriminated by the list is vulnerable, forcing “The Man” back into action. Writer Ed Brisson and artist Lisandro Estherren bring you The Last Contract #1, a purposefully ugly and cruel comic book that places the troubles of old age in a murderous context while firing the opening shots of a tense and violent mystery.

Narratively, Ed Brisson's penchant for the grisly pushes the The Last Contract #1 firmly into horror territory. Burning, torturing, people getting thrown in enclosed places with rotting corpses... It's not nice stuff. Brisson uses overwhelming cruelty to establish the sociopathy of every character in the script, which often leaves the reader without anyone to root for. Our introduction to the series' nameless elderly protagonist finds him caring for an equally aging pet dog, but his warmth and love soon gives way to brutality. By the fourth splattered corpse, the shock and horror of that kind of thing loses its power, which doesn't bode well for a comic book which relies on that kind of reaction for tension.

Away from the violence, Brisson has crafted a sufficiently intriguing first issue here. Brisson absolutely nails how exhausting the life of a hitman would be, and Lisandro Estherren underlines that notion with every anguished expression of every aging heavy. The contrast between the visually fragile but intensely powerful nameless main character just begs questions about his past, with every character referring to shadowy past dealings that pique the reader's interest. A single, boxy panel of a fish with a discarded cigarette butt in its mouth provides the single moment of levity in the issue, exhibiting a wicked sense of humor that is in otherwise short supply.

Lisandro Estherren's artwork is all harsh angles and furrowed brows, which perfectly fits the mature mobsters that populate Brisson's script. He often composes panels from corpse height, dragging us down with the dead and forcing us to watch their murderers bicker in the background. Although his sense of perspective is effective, Estherren occasionally struggles with proportion. The Man's head seem to shrink and grow from panel to panel, turning from dimunitive elderly man to Beetlejuice-esque pinhead from one panel to the next. Atop Estherren's grisly pencils, colorist Niko Guardia sticks strictly to the hues of the night, daubing The Last Contract #1 in a combination of black, dark blue and sunset orange; the perfect shades for getting away with murder.

There's no denying the The Last Contract #1 is a well-crafted comic book, even if its brutal nature sometimes detracts from the overall package. Still, Ed Brisson's story of one old man forced back into a life of crime is rendered in an effective way by Lisandro Estherren's evocative, creased and scarred artwork. You'll already know if this one's for you.

Similar content
Twitter activity