Best Shots Advance Reviews: CAPTAIN MARVEL #1, SILVER SURFER #1, DEVOLUTION #1

"Devolution #1" cover by Jae Lee
Credit: Jae Lee (Dynamite Entertainment)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Captain Marvel #1
Written by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters
Art by Kris Anka and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Carol Danvers' motto has been "bigger, faster, stronger, more" - and you don't get much "more" for a pilot than taking the plunge into space. Armed with a new mission, a new supporting cast and a new creative team, the relaunched Captain Marvel juggles a lot with its first issue, with its sci-fi setting giving this comic book more of a Star Trek bent than a superhero blockbuster. Still, writers Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters deliver a fun debut, which soars thanks to some superb interior artwork by Kris Anka.

While Kelly Sue DeConnick's run on Captain Marvel gave Carol some interstellar detours, Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters seem to lean into the alien side of Captain Marvel, as she steps up as the commanding officer to the orbital defense platform known as Alpha Flight. Readers of DeConnick's run will be happy to learn that Carol's brash characterization remains intact in this run - there is plenty of bureaucracy that is thrown at Captain Marvel in this new position, but she ultimately feels at her most free when she's launching into space and punching something that deserves to be punched.

But the other thing that Fazekas and Butters focus on is Carol's supporting cast, which has its hits and misses - but thankfully leaves most of those misses in the dust. James Rhodes as Carol's love interest never particularly clicked with me as a reader, but Fazekas and Butters establish him quickly before moving on to their stealth relaunch of everyone's favorite Canadian superteam, Alpha Flight. While it's a little discordant at first to have this team - which was defined primarily based on its Canadian-ness - suddenly taking orders from a hero who is second only to Steve Rogers in her American-ness, the feeling subsides as soon as you read Fazekas and Butters' take on Puck, who steals the show as the most endearing and likable character in the book.

Yet this book wouldn't be nearly as appealing without the artwork of Kris Anka. Anka packs in a lot of panels into his pages, sort of Chris Samnee-style, and while his work occasionally feels a little small and distant, Anka's compositions are right on the money. Action sequences such as Carol zooming through a space elevator or winding up to punch out an asteroid all look superb, with a great sense of speed and expressiveness. (There's one small panel of Carol where I swear you can still see the smirk on her face.) Anka also does double-duty with his sense of design - he recontextualizes characters like Puck or Abigail Brand and makes them look as fashion-forward as Carol herself, while his design of the Alpha Flight base looks like a fitting command post for Marvel's premier action heroine.

That said, there are a few bits of drag on Captain Marvel's launch - in particular, the idea of a brawler becoming a bureaucrat is something that's been toyed with in superhero comic books a ton over the past decade, so the story definitely slows down when Carol has to take a meeting to renegotiate (yawn) garbage disposal. Even while Fazekas and Butters lampshade this by showing that Carol is bored, too, it hampers the momentum of the story. Additionally, Carol's chilly dynamic with her second-in-command Abigail Brand doesn't quite have the spark that, say, Carol's friendship with Puck has. Finally, Captain Marvel's biggest weakness is plotting - while it's good that this first issue establishes Carol's new job, there's little setup to an overarching plot, which makes the final cliffhanger of the issue feel a little limp.

But for diehard fans of Captain Marvel, this series will almost assuredly be enough. Carol Danvers has gotten a promotion, and it winds up being the best of both worlds - we get the potential that comes with being in space, along with the humanity and familiarity of being close to home. Not only that, but the artwork in this book has gotten a huge overhaul, and that alone should bring readers to this book. With a new creative team and a new status quo, it's unclear if Carol Danvers will ultimately go "harder, faster, stronger, more" - but if this first issue is any indication, she's absolutely on her way there.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Silver Surfer #1
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Michael Allred and Laura Allred
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Despite Dan Slott's obvious love of all things Peter Parker, I get the sense that Amazing Spider-Man is the type of book Slott feels he should write, but when it comes to the book he can't help but want to write, it has to be Silver Surfer. While this book isn't as methodical, steeped in continuity or even as revolutionary as Amazing Spider-Man, there's a real sense of whimsy and fun to Silver Surfer. For many, though, that might make Norrin Radd's adventures more of an acquired taste, even if it reads as arguably a more personal work.

In a lot of ways, this relaunched series reads even more whimsical than the last installment, as Dawn and the Surfer make their triumphant return home to Planet Earth. But if you think the reason is for Galactus-sized peril, think again - this is a touchier, feelier kind of comic book, as our heroes bounce from a combination New Years/Halloween/Thanksgiving/birthday/Christmas extravaganza to an epic battle with alien versions of all of pop culture's greatest heroes, ranging from Sherlock Holmes to Doctor Who. If Amazing Spider-Man is the pinnacle of Slott's superheroic work, Silver Surfer is almost a repudiation of the form, focusing instead on the bits of human ephemera that some purists might see as beneath Norrin Radd, such as pregnancy announcements and singing along to the Wizard of Oz. Considering Mike Allred literally drew Slott into the book as Dawn's smiling father, think of this book as less of a stylish showdown and more of a party where everyone's invited.

Of course, once the story actually gears up, you realize that this really is a collection of Slott and Allred's favorite things - and when you're a comic book creator, oftentimes pop culture begets more pop culture. It's actually kind of daring how close to the source material Allred is cribbing here, from Doctor Who's trademark hat and scarf to Harry Potter's sweater vest, tie and robe combination. While I said before that this book isn't as revolutionary as Amazing Spider-Man, it's not to say that Slott isn't bringing his same level of insight to Silver Surfer, as he makes some sharp statements on the redemptive qualities of fictional heroes. But for people who don't necessarily resonate with the same characters that Dawn and Slott do, it can make for an awkward read - or at least one that isn't necessarily as gripping as it could be.

Yet when you work with Michael Allred, oftentimes the tone is baked into the visuals. Allred's cartoony, pop art-style designs automatically keep Silver Surfer from getting too heady or too self-serious, such as the goofy opening sequence where Dawn sends a message to her family on Earth while the Surfer beats the heck out of some hapless aliens in the background. There are some fun visuals in here, such as the reflection of the Earth bouncing off Norrin's chest, and the display of shifting colors (thanks to colorist Laura Allred) as Earth's fiction is wiped out looks positively trippy. Additionally, the battle royale featuring all of Earth's pop culture heroes is like a visual Easter Egg hunt - spotting Marty McFly's vest or Willy Wonka's suit are just the beginning of the rewards for eagle-eyed readers.

But for some readers, Slott's inward-looking story might come off as self-indulgent, or at the very least, targeting an increasingly niche audience. Additionally, this series' one big flaw continues, in that the Surfer takes a back seat to Dawn's shenanigans through much of this issue - unfortunately, Norrin isn't quite as inherently interesting as, say, Doctor Who, and his space age stoicism means the weight of this book rests on Dawn's shoulders. While the thesis of Slott's run on Silver Surfer has been rendering Norrin's crazy universe new again by seeing it through Dawn's eyes, all good relationships are partnerships, where each person brings something wonderful to the table. As far as this first issue is concerned, this is the perfect opportunity to retune the Dawn-Surfer dynamic, but it still feels perilously out of balance.

Readers who have enjoyed Slott and Allred's run on Silver Surfer will likely still be on board, while critics and naysayers will likely only warm up to Slott's central conceit a little before moving along elsewhere. But with this run, that also feels a bit like Slott and Allred's prerogative - to belabor a point, Amazing Spider-Man might be for the fans, but Silver Surfer feels like a labor of love for the creators themselves. Only time - and sales - will tell if readers will join the festivities.

Credit: Jae Lee (Dynamite Entertainment)

Devolution #1
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Jonathan Wayshak and Jordan Boyd
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Rick Remender and Jonathan Wayshak offer up an action-packed opening salvo of one woman's struggle for survival against a horde of wooly mammoths and bloodthirsty cavemen in Devolution #1, but thw writer's adherence to the form of the archetypal zombie apocalypse story hampers what could have been a very unique comic book.

Devolution #1 revolves around a killer premise: the U.S. government tries to initiate world peace by detonating a biological weapon that eradicates the human brain's ability to believe in God, accidentally devolving most of the human race back into violent savages. It's an incendiary concept, made real with a cynical and sarcastic script that captures the bitterness of a version of humanity that has utterly failed. As Remender so eloquently puts it, “We shit everywhere and on everything. We loved shitting.” Needless to say, Devolution #1 is a foul-mouthed comic book. As its heart, this is an intensely moralistic tale that damns a culture for eating too much and engaging in percieved promiscuity. Remender attacks religion and government with overwhelming force, painting a portrait of a civilisation focused on the wrong things, needlessly working for nothing and worshipping Gods simply to war with those who don't believe. It's heavy stuff, filtered through the lens of a grotesque horror movie.

Raja, the issue's protagonist, is a mostly silent warrior. On a mission to “re-volve” humanity, she valiantly battles cavemen and unaffected humans who are as equally Neanderthal. Remender goes full-tilt into redneck stereotype here with his group of racist, unintelligent survivors who've banded together in a makeshift fortress. Remender's foul rednecks throw around racial slurs like they just popped out of a Tarantino flick.

The real highlight here is Jonathan Wayshak's evocative and expressive artwork. Wayshak brings his A-game to Devolution #1, contributing heavily detailed and dynamic lines that capture the leering ugliness of Remender's script. Wayshak's devolved cavemen come complete with impossibly sloped brows and thick, powerful bodies that seem ready to pounce. Wayshak is a caricaturist, and it's a hugely effective style that hones in on the core of Remender's characters and emphasizes his script. There's no gray area here; Wayshak's dumb brutes look like the dumbest brutes ever to have walked the earth, and Raja is every bit as solemn and hardy as the script suggests.

Jordan Boyd's earthy colors fill Wayshak's lines with the sun-bleached tones of the desert and the lush verdant green of the forest, covering everything in a thick layer of textured filth. Colorists often attempt to shock when it comes to gore, but Boyd wisely restrains himself here. He eschews the bright and shiny red that brain matter and viscera is traditionally detailed with, instead using a muted red that blends into the already disgusting scene.

Rick Remender's made a name for himself by putting unique spins on well-worn concepts (Frankencastle, anyone?), but Devolution #1 still struggles to stand out from the pack. Its core concept is solid, but the execution leaves us with a nasty little comic book that is as sexually violent as Avatar Press' most crass offenders. Remender relies on implied rape to establish his villains, and his cavemen are functionally no different from zombies. A little more imagination in the execution of the series' core concept wouldn't have gone amiss, and this reviewer hopes there's a little more to future issues than the fairly cliched apocalyptic scenario shown here. Technically, Remender's dialogue is well-realized and the issue moves at a fast and exciting pace, but we've all seen this kind of post-apocalypse done well a thousand times before.

Devolution #1 is an effective slice of apocalyptic horror, rendered even more potent by Jonathan Wayshak's stunning artwork. Rick Remender's script is foul of mouth and temper, but his reliance on the standard tropes of the post-apocalypatic scenario chokes the potential of its fantastic premise.

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