Best Shots Advance Reviews: MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS #0, RED SONJA, More

"Red Sonja #1" variant cover by  Jay Ancelato
Credit: Jay Ancelato (Dynamite Entertainment)
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #0
Written by Kyle Higgins, Steve Orlando, and Mairghread Scott
Art by Hendry Prasetya, Corin Howell, Daniel Bayliss, Matt Herms, and Jeremy Lawson
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire and Jim Campbell
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

For diehard Power Ranger fans, it's always morphin' time!

Saban's Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was a '90s juggernaut that seemed unstoppable. Toys were flying off the shelves, the TV show was a success with kids, and there was even a movie down the line. It was the Masters of the Universe of its day. Of course, fans eventually outgrow the craze and the hysteria dies down, but there's still more than an ounce of love for the brand that I doubt will ever really die, and it's one that Kyle Higgins and company have distilled to great effect in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers #0.

This new take on these beloved characters starts shortly after Tommy Oliver, the much beloved Green Ranger - who eventually became the face of the franchise - has joined the team. Tommy had just been corrupted by evil space witch Rita Repulsa, but was freed of her control with the destruction of his enchanted Sword of Evil. Tommy, who still feels Rita's pull, is suffering almost from an element of PTSD and is full of self-doubt within the rank of the Rangers. Higgins has set the book in a modern age, instead of the '90's - which some fans wanted - that drives home the fact that these are in fact kids, and not some college-aged adults. Tommy's guilt burdens him, but we see hints of the budding romance between him and Kim starting to bloom. She was the one that always believed in him, even with others had their suspicions.

That's where Kyle Higgins sets the stage for the series. In the show, fans will remember that Tommy was embraced and forgiven rather quickly, but here, there's an aura of tension among the Rangers and Tommy. They understand that he wasn't himself when he almost single-handedly destroyed them, but some wounds don't heal so easily and Tommy is the hardest on himself. During the team's fight with the Bullzer, Rita's latest monster, Tommy feels as though he has to prove himself solo, even though the Rangers fight to survive by acting as a team.

What works here are a few things: one the being the awesome visuals by newcomer Hendry Prasetya, who has a slight manga edge with his compositions. The battle scenes are something right out of Pacific Rim, leaving behind any kind of cartoony impression that the show left behind. Also, the fact that we actually see the Zords act individually instead of just as the collective Megazord is a nice touch. The Sabertooth Tiger Zord tag teaming with the Triceratops was something so simple, but we've never seen before due to the show's limited Zyuranger footage. Even the Pterodactyl departing from Megazord's chest to save bystanders all make for an exciting book that makes you want to see more.

Another highlight is the chance to actually explore these characters in a proper way. The show's 23-minute format only allowed the team to be shown as two-dimensional with very limited exploration of who they are individually. On the show you only got the gist of who these characters are: Billy as the tech wizard, Zack as the cocky dancer, Jason as the stoic jock, Kimberly as the Valley Girl archetype, and Trini as the quiet, artistic one, but no real depth was involved. Tommy eventually got boatloads of depth just for the sheer fact was on so many iterations of the franchise.

The issue is also packed with two short stories, one centered about Bulk and Skull while another is a fight scene with Goldar that feels right out of the show with the dialogue and catchphrases. Those might be weaker in depth, but a nice dose of humor after Higgins brought the heavy, and any exploration of Bulk and Skull is a plus in my book.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #0 doesn't break the wheel as it tries to reinvent it. It's a contemporary take without being considered "dark" or "gritty" like that fan film last year. Higgins and Prasetya take into consideration what fans appreciate about the series and leaves the cheese behind, but still hang on to what Ranger fans know and love about these teens with attitude.

Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

Red Sonja #1
Written by Marguerite Bennett
Art by Aneke and Jorge Sutil
Letters by Erica Schultz
Published by Dynamite Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

We have seen Red Sonja play a lot of roles in her long and bloody comic bookcareer. We’ve seen her as avenger, sword for hire, and even savior of reality. However Red Sonja #1, the debut for the new creative team and new fantastic costume design, shows us a side of Sonja that I never thought we would see; a somewhat domesticated side. Marguerite Bennett, keeping the wry tone of the Gail Simone era of Red Sonja, starts from scratch with this new #1, depositing Sonja in her homeland and allowing the reader to get to know her better than we ever have before. Accompanied by the gorgeous and hard-hitting artwork of Aneke and Jorge Sutil, Bennett and her team give readers a perfect entry point into the world of Red Sonja while delivering the same sword-slinging smartass that fans connected to in the first place.

Sonja’s king is dying, and his queen and advisers are running out of options quickly. After exhausting every magical and supernatural means to keep himself alive, the king makes peace with his fate and offers the She-Devil the ultimate prize; the throne of her homeland, Hyrkania. Marguerite Bennett starts this debut off with a bang, showing Sonja in her natural state, battling some hellbeast to the death, before she drops the royal bomb on our lead and the audience. But unlike Robert E. Howard’s other glory-hungry creation, Conan, Sonja stops and deeply considers her king's offer, which leads to this debut’s major hook.

You see, Sonja knows exactly what kind of queen she would be; a poor one. So she refuses her king’s offer, and after his death wanders the world for a year. Upon her return to the kingdom, a new monarch has ascended and in turn made Hyrkania a safer, more civilized, and educated place - a place that bores the absolute hell out of Sonja. Bennett carefully clues the reader into Hyrkania’s new normal through the eyes of Sonja who is becoming increasingly more restless as time passes, as well as unsure in her place in this new world. This leads to the debut’s centerpiece, a dream sequence in which Sonja imagines different paths that her life could now take now that her home has no need for the She-Devil. She sees herself fighting and then bedding down with a handsome mercenary, as well as engaging in some choice innuendo with her orator girlfriend, and finally living a quiet life with a simple merchant.

While the Gail Simone era kept Sonja a violent, sexually frustrated cypher, Bennett is already attempting to peel back the layers to show readers just what kind of woman that she is. We, of course, know the She-Devil, and a few times in this debut Bennett, Aneke and Jorge Sutil show us that in gloriously gory detail, like the opening scene with Sonja versus the thunder bull. However, this new in-depth look at Sonja’s dreams adds a whole other level to the character beyond the swordplay. On top of the new layers to Sonja, the plot of her returning home to find her homeland vastly different is one that seems poised to pay rich dividends going forward. Red Sonja #1 is starting small, but has its eyes on big things.

While Bennett brings the goods scripting-wise, penciler Aneke and and colorist Jorge Sutil offer up some gorgeously expressive artwork that makes this debut visually satisfying as well as narratively satisfying. Aneke, no stranger to the She-Devil after handling her adventures in Dynamite’s Legenderry line, leans into the sword-and-sandal-inspired visuals of Red Sonja with torch-lit interior shots, bustling street scenes, and high-flying swordplay from Sonja both against the snarling thunder bull and in her dreams against reavers. While Aneke handles the sparse action very well, her character work is also top notch. Sonja’s new costume as well as her full range of emotions pop from the page thanks to Aneke’s linework as well as Jorge Sutil’s vibrant color choices and that expressiveness doesn’t just extend to our lead. Each character is drawn with the same level of detail as Sonja which gives the characters she interacts with the same depth that Sonja has, making them more than just NPCs for her to talk to once and then leave in her wake.

Red Sonja has always been a fan favorite but with this new volume, I predict a massive, and well-deserved, surge in the She-Devil’s fanbase. Marguerite Bennett, Aneke and Jorge Sutil may be taking a less action-oriented course, but their character-first approach to this first story as well as the knowledge that Sonja’s sword doesn’t stay sheathed very long makes me think that this new series is going to get very big very quickly. Plus with Bennett’s new layered take on Sonja herself, all signs point to Red Sonja continuing Dynamite’s sword-and-sandal hot streak in grand fashion.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Gutter Magic #1
Written by Rich Douek
Art by Brett Barkley and Jules Rivera
Lettering by Nic J. Shaw
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Remixing tropes from noir, heist and fantasy fiction, Gutter Magic is a debut title that will undoubtedly cast a spell on readers. Serving as a showcase for writer Rich Douek and artist Brett Barkley, this series from IDW Publishing and Comics Experience moves so swiftly and so stylishly, you'll forgive it for any beginners' flaws.

From the very first page, you really get the sense of how much Douek and Barkley have thought about their world, as you see a New York City with steampunk blimps and old-timey buildings alongside magical obelisks and a Chrysler Building with a magically suspended hole in the middle of it. It's that mix of old and new that really defines Gutter Magic, as we meet Cinder and Blacktooth, a couple of down-on-their luck thieves who wind up getting caught red-handed by a magical high-roller.

Douek's script moves so quickly that you really have to fill in the blanks - Cinder's on a quest to find magic that will actually work for him, but the whys and wherefores of his life of crime aren't really established yet. Instead, Douek relies on the coolness factor to get readers hooked, and thankfully, he knows how to pick his moments. There's a familiarity underneath all those stylistic choices, like Cinder and Blacktooth regrouping in a seedy bar, or our heroes fleeing from a gang of tough guys, that helps ground this story and keep readers wanting more. And Douek delivers with his action - beats like Cinder making a makeshift magical grenade is a great moment, and watching Cinder and his partner run through an Escher-esque magical corridor is a wonderful flourish for Barkley.

As Comics Experience creators, many of these teams don't have the most credits under their belts, but I have the feeling we're going to be seeing Brett Barkley a lot in the years to come. Douek writes a dense script - often with five to eight panels per page - but Barkley never folds under the pressure. His layouts are deliberate, never sacrificing detail or quality with his shots. (This book looks great as a single page view, but I bet it will look even better on a phone.) Barkley isn't the most stylized artist, which I think lends to his versatility - he has a clear knack for design, but because he doesn't have a particularly iconic style, he can shift from architecture to monsters without skipping a beat. Colorist Jules Rivera makes Barkley's work sing, especially with Blacktooth's green skin or the blue nights of these New York City streets.

If there's anything that might hamper this first issue, it's that Douek's eyes might be a little bit bigger than his stomach in terms of how much he wants to cram into one issue. His pacing is great - you'll definitely feel no decompression here - but he definitely drops readers into this world with little in the way of explanation (unless you count the written intro on the credits page, which you should definitely not skip). Cinder feels a little underdeveloped as a character himself - it's clear that Douek has a story for him, but right now, there's very little to him besides his death-defying thievery and his tough guy attitude. While many of the questions behind his protagonist will likely be answered in future installments, I wish Douek had given his hero just a little bit more of an emotional hook.

That said, Gutter Magic is definitely the best-case scenario for Comics Experience, as this book definitely shows what a team of new creators can do with the right mentorship. This book moves fast and liberally cherry-picks from multiple genres to make this series feel at once familiar and brand-new. Cinder's quest for magic is as strong of a premise as any, and here's the kicker - this creative team has already found it.

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