Best Shots Advance Reviews: JOYRIDE #1, DEPT. H #1, More

"Hot Damn #1" cover
Credit: IDW Publishing
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Joyride #1
Written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly
Art by Marcus To and Irma Kniivila
Lettering by Jim Campbell
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Space ... the final frontier. Or in the case of BOOM! Studios' Joyride, an opportunity for some good, old-fashioned teenage rebellion and wanderlust.

Featuring two teens determined to break free of their sterile, xenophobic society, Joyride is a book that hums with potential as explosive as their rocket ship's quantum engines. Reuniting three-quarters of the team from Hacktivist, there's still some room to further refine these characters' chemistry and motivations, but thanks to Marcus To's artwork, there's still a decent hook to hinge the rest of this series upon.

From the get-go, writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly subvert the typical sci-fi dystopia tropes, with their future version of Earth seeming less gloomy and dangerous, and more sedate, almost tranquilizingly peaceful and boring. While from a tension standpoint that means the stakes feel a little low, it also lends a bit more veracity towards lead characters Uma and Dewydd's decision to escape to what they see as an entire universe of adventure and exploration — teenagers have always rebelled, no matter how safe their environments, so why stop here?

That said, while Lanzing and Kelly evoke writers like Brian Michael Bendis or Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner with Uma and Dewydd's jokey banter, it does come at the cost of this debut's pacing — this 22-page first issue does seem to take its time, but right now, I'm not quite sure the characterization justifies this yet. Uma and Dewydd still present kind of a mystery as far as why they work as a pair — there's a great line in this book where Uma recalls Dewydd saying "Wherever you're going, I wanna go too," but it's still telling rather than showing, and it's still unclear why the successful, straight-laced Dewydd would leave everything he's ever known behind to follow the free-spirited Uma.

But Lanzing and Kelly certainly have bought themselves time to hone that down further, thanks to some spectacular artwork from Marcus To and colorist Irma Kniivila. To's artwork has always been cartoony and fun to follow, but Kniivila's rendered colors give these pages a depth and weight that I haven't seen in To's work before. Uma is very clearly the star of the show, and it's clear that To finds her enthusiasm and pluckiness infectious. There's also some great design inspirations here, such as a race car-looking space pod as well as the insectoid Bot, who becomes one of the first aliens this group meets on their journeys. The bright blue spaceship that punctuates this series, almost like a rocket-powered exclamation point, provides a great final image to end the book on.

While there's still some tics to the writing that could be ironed out further, there's a lot to like about Joyride, and I sense that there's going to be a lot more as this series progresses. There's a real hook to the high concept of translating teenage restlessness into the context of space opera adventure, but it remains to be seen if these protagonists possess the right stuff to keep viewers intrigued.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Dept. H #1
Written by Matt Kindt
Art by Matt Kindt and Sharlene Kindt
Lettering by Matt Kindt
Published by Dark Horse
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Despite living on a planet that is covered in the stuff, the depths of the ocean hold a fascinating terror for most humans. Matt Kindt’s latest venture recognizes this immediately, wasting little time in submerging its hero beneath the briny blue. Kindt is known for his conspiratorial jaunts, and with Dept. H he applies some of that expertise to a locked-room mystery in one of the most secure places on Earth. The results are as tense and dramatic as one might expect, not to mention legitimately unnerving at times.

Against the better judgment and advice of practically every friend and colleague that has a say in the matter, special investigator Mia sets out to a deep-sea research station to discover the truth behind the death of one of the occupants. Kindt frames the narrative in shades of danger immediately, expressly noting that it’s “not the descent that bothers me…but the fear of never making it back up.” Details surrounding the identity of the victim, or any of Mia’s backgrounds or intense motivations for wanting to go underwater, are deliberately kept vague for the first half of the issue. Her companion on the journey down is a Queequeg-inspired head of security simply called Q, a hulking enigma who also warns her of the dangers, so Kindt really has us guessing from page one.

Dept. H, as its slightly punny title would imply, has an incredibly amount of depth for a debut issue. While the title refers to the titular department named for Dr. Hari Hardy, it suggested that a lot more lurks beneath the surface. As such, the narrative itself reads as a puzzle, the forward momentum never being lost through the frequent use of flashbacks that provide crucial pieces to Mia’s backstory or simply clues that will become important in later issues presumably.

This is undoubtedly one of the most gorgeous books to look at, Matt Kindt’s light sketch style given glorious life by Sharlene Kindt’s beautiful and appropriate watercolors that look as though they are still drying in the panels. The pages themselves look like water-stained files, as though the images have been directly transposed onto the pages in the comic book equivalent of found footage, aching to break free of its own margins. Flashbacks are shown with a flatter palette, albeit no less dimensional than the sequences set in the present moment. Despite an art style that lends itself to splash pages, the tight panelling builds the tension in the crucial reveal of the body, with a half-page and unique floating crime scene preceded by a page filled with a dozen close-ups, all delicately colored to highlight various clues.

The narrow list of suspects for this apparent murder makes the piece all the more fascinating, but not as tantalizing as the possibility that none of the people we’ve met so far is the killer. Dept. H follows all the hallmarks of a classic Agatha Christie-style whodunit, but nevertheless manages to be shockingly original in its executive, characterization and the precise beauty of its artistic presentation.

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Credit: IDW Publishing

Hot Damn #1
Written by Ryan Ferrier
Art by Valentin Ramon
Lettering by Valentin Ramon
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The D4ve team of writer Ryan Ferrier and artist Valentin Ramon reunite for another piece of alternate world-building, this time looking at post-humanity in an entirely different light. Instead of envisaging a world where humans have been replaced by robots, Ferrier’s latest imagines what comes next for the wicked people condemned to a lifetime of damnation. Much like D4ve’s post-apocalyptic robot utopia, Hell is not entirely what we’d expect it to be, here replacing the monotony of a soul-sucking office job with an eternity of anxiety.

Ferrier and Ramon’s Hell is a support group that never ends, forcing the recently departed Teddy Graham to come to terms with the horrible things he’d done in his life. Ferrier’s fascination with the inherent comedy in bureaucracy and corporate life continues in Hot Damn, depicting Heaven and Hell as rival corporations more than enemies and polar opposites. Teddy’s sponsor, a demon named Costello, encourages him to go along with the monotony, but can’t help but get them both into deeper water when they take an unauthorized possession out for a spin.

Hot Damn lends its to a dark sense of humor, and in many ways is a pure stream of consciousness. The sense of humor is definitely an acquired taste, not quite going to extremes of one of Garth Ennis’ jaunts through the afterlife, but still running the gamut of bodily fluid gags throughout the issue. One of the drinks served at the dive bars in hell is horse semen, if that’s indicative of the level this is pitched at. The excesses themselves are good natured enough, although we’ve had so many comic book trips to hell in the last few decades that it is getting increasingly harder to shock audiences. If there is such a place in the afterlife, or indeed if there is an afterlife at all, mass media has severely tainted it for us.

Valentin follows a similar style to his previous collaboration with Ferrier, eschewing the cleaner lines and ennui of the robot world for the aforementioned excesses of the underworld. Downtown Hell is modelled after any seedy downtown area of a major city, although the art really hits home when Valentin drains the colors of all but reds and greys for a flashback showing Teddy’s descent into the realm. Goat-headed case workers are especially creepy in the way Valentin catches the unique shape of a goat’s eyes, and as would be expected, the devil is in the details that make up the background characters and scenarios. In fact, it almost doesn’t go quite far enough: by stopping just shy of complete depravity for the sake of parody, Hell doesn’t quite succeed on either level. Nevertheless, this is whole world envisaged by the creative team, one that has had a lot of thought put into it, even if some of that material is familiar.

In D4ve, the narrative told us that the weird thing about robots was that they ultimately adopted the nuances of their human creators. If we follow that line of thinking, then Hot Damn is the thematic sibling to the creative team’s previous outing, and we have only just scraped the surface of what it has to offer. Whether this is a redemption story of a bit of fantasy tourism is yet to be seen, but the final hook of this debut has damned us to return for another look when the sophomore issue hits.

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