Best Shots Advance Reviews: THE FIX #2, PENNY DREADFUL #1, SATELLITE FALLING #1

"Penny Dreadful #1" cover
Credit: Titan Comics
Credit: Steve Lieber (Image Comics)

The Fix #2
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Steve Lieber and Ryan Hill
Lettering by Nic J. Shaw
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

There’s something special about watching a pro operate in their element. Michael Phelps dominates in the water. Michael Jordan crushes on the basketball court. And for Nick Spencer, his sweet spot is the intersection between comedy and crime — a destination he and collaborator Steve Lieber have mined thoroughly in The Fix. Irreverent, intelligent and savvily self-referential, The Fix is a raucously funny crime caper that’s already proving itself to be one of Image’s best new series.

From the get-go, Spencer keeps readers on their toes, such as showing crooked cops Roy and Mac enjoying the world’s greatest bro day in Los Angeles — that is, before Roy has to inflict a grievous bodily injury to his partner (for the sake of the job, of course). It’s a classic Spencer trick, manipulating the pacing to lull his audience into a sense of security before pulling the trigger on a clever quip or a chilling burst of violence, but with The Fix, I think he’s perfected it — these two cops are charming and likable even if they’re screwed-up morons, and with homicidal suburban crime lord Josh on their tails, Spencer’s got just the right amount of stakes involved.

But like all heist stories, something always goes wrong — and while Spencer and Lieber have to follow certain tropes of the genre, it’s their execution that sets this series apart. Like Boomerang before him in Spencer and Lieber’s Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Roy is a terrible liar who still somehow gets everyone to believe him, and it’s very, very funny watching him bamboozle some do-gooder idiots in order to get a little bit of cash on the side. But unlike the licensed characters of the Spider-Man universe, Spencer gets to go a little bit deeper and a little bit darker into his characters’ points of view, culminating in a truly clever (and monstrously bleak) monologue about just how “good” a so-called good guy can be. In a lot of ways, The Fix seems to me like Spencer at his most free — he’s not shackled to expectations or corporate directives the way he would be writing Captain America, and it’s hard not to notice the enthusiasm he brings to the table when he’s free to follow his own muse.

But while Spencer has a great knack for witty dialogue, that voice wouldn’t come across without Steve Lieber’s pitch-perfect artwork to translate it. From the wide-eyed and cheery excitement of Mac and Roy as they tackle everything from Disneyland to the Hollywood Walk of Fame to eerie homicidal distance in Josh’s eyes as he offers a jar of homemade Kombucha to the readers, Lieber not only perfectly understands what Spencer is putting down, but he really elevates the material, as well. Seven and eight-panel pages don’t faze Lieber, who along with letterer Nic J. Shaw keeps the visual flow moving smoothly despite Spencer’s dialogue-heavy script. But perhaps the smartest thing that Lieber does is that he also knows when to play up the comedy visually, and when to let the one-liners and the lettering speak for themselves — in particular, there’s a great panel where Roy’s boss tells him, “there is somethings seriously fucking wrong with you,” and we don’t need a lot of detail to get a good laugh.

While there are a lot of great books coming out of Image right now, there are very few that aren’t resting in some form or fashion on high concept, leaning on some sort of genre tropes in order to hook in readers. But The Fix is a rare gem, a book that succeeds almost exclusively on its execution, not the out-of-this-world premise or the names of the creators involved. Production values like these are rare in entertainment as a whole, let alone a medium that can be as punishing with its scheduling as comics, but The Fix stands shoulder to shoulder with other Image gems like Southern Bastards, Sex Criminals and Chew as reliable, high-quality entertainment that shouldn’t go unread. The characters might be consummate liars and unrepentant scoundrels, but The Fix might be one of the most honestly good comics on the stands today.

Credit: Titan Comics

Penny Dreadful #1
Written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Andrew Hinderaker and Chris King
Art by Louie De Martinis
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Penny Dreadful should not work as well as it does. Showtime’s ambitious marriage of classic literary monsters and the bloody, sexy world of premium cable dramas has proved to be a critical and commercial success for the network and continues to garner a larger fanbase as it premiered its third season. Now Titan Comics looks to tap into that same vein with Penny Dreadful #1, and I am happy to report they succeed. Scripted by one of the show’s third season writers, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, working from a story developed by other members of the show’s writing staff, this debut issue functions as a lost episode from the first season, delving deeper into Vanessa Ives’ tragic life as well as her and Sir Malcolm’s war against Dracula for his daughter Mina’s soul. Along with some truly terrifying and beautiful visuals from Louis De Martinis, Penny Dreadful #1 is a confident and thrilling debut issue that shows that Titan Comics continues to show extra care to delivering the best possible versions of the properties under their imprint.

Slotted firmly into the narrative of the first season, Penny Dreadful #1 follows Vanessa as she receives her first ghostly vision of Nina, her estranged best friend, who is locked deeply under the thrall of Dracula and his undead legions. Eva Green’s Vanessa has long been a pillar of the television show and writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns smartly uses her to hook audiences into this debut issue as well. Fans of the show will marvel at her smooth transition from screen to page thanks to Wilson-Cairns’ firm handle on her proper-yet-pointed voice as she demands to see Sir Malcolm despite Sembene’s objections, and her insistence on accompanying them into battle against the Master.

While Krysty Wilson-Cairns does a fantastic job giving us an accurate characterization of Ives, she extends that same attention to both Sir Malcolm and Sembene. Though the cast is a bit thin, aside from a very shocking surprise character who makes his debut in the Penny Dreadful universe after numerous mentions, Wilson-Cairns makes the most of their inclusion and provides more than enough for fans and newcomers alike to mull over long after the issue has done.

While Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ script falls in lock step with the pulpy gothic tone of the show, Louie De Martinis hammers that tone home with dark, bloody and engaging panels that will look all to familiar to fans of the Showtime hit. His smooth, yet wild looking pages push this debut into full on horror territory much sooner than the television show did with his opening pages of Dracula and Mina’s den of horrors as well as a harrowing attack on Sir Malcolm’s coach by a pack of enthralled wolves. Coupled with his photo realistic renderings of the actors, Louie De Martinis renders Penny Dreadful #1 like a stylized fever dream, eschewing the period accurate sets of the television show and replacing them with hazy backgrounds and digital colors that heighten the supernatural elements of this debut; providing a distinctly different visual pallet from the show, but one that still looks and feels right at home in the world of Penny Dreadful, taking full advantage of the fluidity of comic book visuals instead of making it look like just a static episode of the series.

Though clearly marketed toward diehard fans of the television show with its teasing glimpses of the story within the story of season one, there is a lot to love about Penny Dreadful #1 for fans and non-fans alike. Krysty Wilson-Cairns and Louie De Martinis use the solid base of the show’s established characters and narrative to deliver an adaptation and side story that isn’t afraid to stand on its own as a single story, instead of using the show as a crutch to be relied on throughout. And it does so confidentially thanks to the attention from the writers, blood soaked visuals, and an imprint that goes out of its way to deliver unto fans exactly what they love about the show, just in a different medium. While Penny Dreadful became an unlikely hit for Showtime, there is nothing unexpected about the quality of this debut issue from Titan Comics.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Satellite Falling #1
Written by Steve Horton
Art by Stephen Thompson and Lisa Jackson
Lettering by Neil Uyetake
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Writer Steve Horton made an impressive splash with the Amala’s Blade mini-series a few short years ago, but with the exception of a few notable pieces in Dark Horse Presents it’s been fairly quiet on the creative front. His pirate cyber/steampunk mashup in that earlier mini-series showed an imaginative voice with a unique spin on sci-fi and speculative fiction, and Satellite Falling makes good on the promise of that prior work, with an honest and beautifully illustrated new series.

Throwing us in at the deep-end of an established and already lived-in world, cab driver and bounty hunter Lilly solidifies Satellite Falling’s mix of dry humor and introspection with a neo-noir narration. As the lone human on the titular satellite filled with aliens, a few poor choices and a bit of bribery put her smack-bang in the middle of the lion’s den. That, as they say, is where her troubles begin.

Satellite Falling is a rare breed of science fiction that doesn’t feel the need to burden the reader with lengthy exposition, nor do we need to know how this satellite or its players came to be. The world with all of its quirks simply exists, and Horton plays to this immediately by hitting the ground running with a non-stop sequence of events designed to draw us deeper into the menagerie. Lilly plays the noir bounty hunter type to the letter, but the somewhat obligatory sex scene defies expectations with a gender fluid character, adding a further layer to Lilly’s story. She is someone with a past that she is desperately trying to run from, and a lost love looms large in that past, and that is palpable without Horton adding a single page of explanation.

Horton’s approach wouldn’t be possible without the detailed approach of Stephen Thompson, who sets the scene perfectly from the first panel. A flyover of the pristine landscapes gives way to the back-alleys of the lower levels, where fluid holo-technology is revealed. Despite the fantastic elements, Thompson is always careful to bring them back down to earth (so to speak), with the aforementioned sex scene being a rare combination of casual and seductive without being exploitative. Alien creatures have weight to them, and environments feel lived-in. The unreality is still made tangible by Lisa Jackson’s vivid combinations of not-quite-real colors.

Satellite Falling doesn’t give us everything at once, and instead is the start of a mystery adventure with something genuinely fresh in the world of comic book sci-fi. Horton, Thompson and Jackson have taken a familiar bit of plotting and placed something simultaneously otherworldly and believable on top of it, ensuring the audience is hooked and there are plenty more pieces to be unpacked in future issues.

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