Best Shots Advance Reviews: 4001 A.D. #1, 3 FLOYDS: ALPHA KING #1

"3 Floyds: Alpha King #1" cover by Simon Bisley
Credit: Simon Bisley (Image Comics)
Credit: Valiant Entertainment

4001 A.D. #1
Written by Matt Kindt
Art by Clayton Crain and David Mack
Lettering by Dave Lanphear
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Thousands of years in the future, the Valiant universe is a much darker place. Written by Valiant mainstay Matt Kindt and illustrated by Clayton Crain and David Mack, 4001 A.D. #1 presents a world that has moved on as well as taking us behind the floating steel walls of New Japan to find a city on the brink of destruction thanks to the city’s creator, the enigmatic and despotic Father, slowly losing his iron grip on his creations. Though bogged down by the sheer amount of backstory that Kindt has to frontload this debut with, 4001 A.D. #1 is a big beginning for what looks to be one of Valiant Entertainment’s biggest stories to date.

Opening with a gorgeous set of Japanese art-inspired pages from David Mack, 4001 A.D. presents us with a very different Valiant universe; though one that is still filled with familiar faces. Having been exiled to a ruined Earth by his synthetic creator after learning the truth behind his birth, Rai, our leading man, along with a wizened Giled Anni-Padda from Wrath of the Eternal Warrior and the dim but powerful Lemur are attempting to find a way back to New Japan in order to free it from Father’s control and save its citizens from the culling Father has subjected random sections of the space station to.

Matt Kindt, whose name is quickly becoming synonymous with the Valiant brand, really goes all out for this debut issue; firmly planting it within the Valiant universe, yet pushing the brand and its characters as big as they can go and delivering a dynamic opening to what is sure to be an epic tale. Kindt also gives artist Clayton Crain plenty of insane scenes to render in his metallically-colored style such as an harrowing opening scene of dinosaurs being vaporized as they fall to the surface of Earth and New Japan’s dense, futuristic streets. Scale and cyberpunk is the order of the day and Clayton Crain more than delivers with his polished artwork that looks like some kind of unholy union of Mike Deodato Jr. and Leinil Francis Yu. However, while 4001 A.D. #1 is the best kind of crazy and gorgeous to look at, it isn’t perfect.

Though this debut continues Valiant’s impressive streak of accessibility for new readers who are unfamiliar with the imprint, Kindt hobbles himself with the dense backstory of Rai and his struggle against Father. While enlisting a huge name like David Mack to render the opening pages of backstory in a style that is one hundred percent on brand for the manga-inspired Rai and the events of that title that heavily factor into 4001 A.D., Kindt’s own world-building for New Japan, the massive time jump for the Valiant universe, and the development of the title’s second lead character, Lula Lee, is undercut by the amount of pages this debut has to spend on getting the reader up to speed. Though I seriously cannot praise Valiant's editorial commitment to allowing each issue to be a clean entry point into their work as well as Kindt leaving the door open for other writers and artists to explore the new status quo in the upcoming tie-in one shots, the opening pages of 4001 A.D. are 'too much, too soon' and could have been delivered a lot smoother if they were threaded into the actual story, instead of pretty, but clunky recap pages.

Mack’s involvement is a move that is sure to get more casual readers and fans of his work for other companies in the door for this new crossover event, but after four pages of nothing but backstory, the opening of 4001 A.D. inches dangerously close to reading like an expansion module to a tabletop game that you haven’t quite mastered yet. When the actual story kicks off in earnest, Matt Kindt pulls out the big guns on all fronts, establishing the high stakes, the desperate pace of Rai’s mission, and Lula’s paranoid run from Father’s limitless influence, but I can’t help but feel that if he could have spent those four pages on more original content instead of narrative brick laying, 4001 A.D. #1 would have been a much more effective opening issue.

Though I applaud Valiant’s continued insistence on accessibility, that same accessibility proves to be 4001 A.D.’s biggest strength and weakness. Make no mistake however, this debut is bold, stocked with crazy slick visuals, and presents an epic entry point into an universe that is quickly and confidently holding its own against established imprints and household name characters. Minor missteps aside, 4001 A.D. #1 offers an ambitious new title that is tailor made for readers either looking to take a chance on a new imprint or those looking for a respite from the standard tights and fights of a traditional summer crossover event.

Credit: Simon Bisley (Image Comics)

3 Floyds: Alpha King #1
Written by Brian Azzarello and Nick Floyd
Art by Simon Bisley and Ryan Brown
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Comic books and craft beer have a closer relationship than you might initially think. Besides both having mainstream counterparts that are consumed by millions that will never ‘understand’ the obscure source material, the microbrew movement has long sought out comic book artists and artisans to help them create their iconography. Indeed, artist Tim Seeley has previously done the labels for 3 Floyds, where Chicago’s Arcade Brewery went one step further and told a six part story across 6 bottles of beer, with comic book heavyweights Jason Aaron and Tony Moore no less.

Alpha King takes the name of one of 3 Floyds' signature American Pale Ales and turns it into a comic book. Yet instead of simply being another merchandise centric tie-in, the kinds that are often used to cross-promote a new car or cola beverage, bonafide comic book creators Brian Azzarello and Simon Bisley tasked with crafting a beer-related story around a suburban home brewer who, along with his cat and girlfriend, are crafting a beer so powerful that it attracts a monstrous group of nasties to his abode, attacking him and unleashing the prophesied Alpha King unto the world.

There’s a definite tongue-in-cheek thread to the narrative of Alpha King, acknowledging the self-importance that some brewers (and their overenthusiastic followers on Untappd and brew pubs around the globe) place on a well-received IIPA or whatever the latest barrel-aged trend it. The elevation of the brewer to the level of god-king is the basic premise of this introduction, but it’s really an excuse to unleash a wholly metal expedition across this throwback to Heavy Metal, where the story would have certainly had a more sensible home. Floating out here in Image land, it feels a bit more like a vanity project, conceived after a couple of brews. It’s ofttimes a chaotic mishmash of images and text, never fully completing a thought before moving onto the next one, but that’s possibly just in keeping with the spirit of the thing.

Simon Bisley builds on the label art from Phineas X. Jones, creating a central character that is not wholly unlike the Lobo creations he is arguably most known for, albeit with a shock of red hair instead of Lobo’s trademark locks. These images are pure punk-fueled fantasy fodder, with big-breasted demons, impossibly musclebound males and decapitated cats all colliding for a potpourri of slightly sexualized violence that actually ends with the line “I will find my lady!” Like the narrative, the images serve to follow a random train of thought, a visual one-upmanship on the nastiness that preceded it. Bisley has no need for a filter here, and it’s undoubtedly the biggest drawcard of the issue.

Alpha King is a difficult one to examine objectively: the story is absolutely bonkers and makes little to no sense, its a thinly-veiled piece of marketing for a beer, and there’s at least one gratuitous shot of a cat’s hairy testicles. All three of these things make it completely at one with the metal heritage it embodies, cranking the volume up way past eleven with art that is designed to punch you squarely in the face. This may all become a little clearer in the next issue, but for now it is probably best to finish off that six-pack, crank up the tunes and let this one wash over you.

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