Best Shots Reviews: SPIDEY #6, DR. FATE #12, FUTURE QUEST #1, WEIRD DETECTIVE #1

"Weird Detective #1" cover by Guiu Vilanova
Credit: Guiu Vilanova (Dark Horse Comics)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Spidey #6
Written by Robbie Thompson
Art by Andre Lima Araujo and Jim Campbell
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

While Peter Parker has finally hit the big time in his flagship title Amazing Spider-Man, Robbie Thompson, Andre Lima Araujo and Jim Campbell continue to deliver fun one-off tales of a young Peter in Spidey. This month Spidey finds himself flirting with the big leagues as he teams up with Tony Stark’s “bodyguard” Iron Man in order to take down the Vulture and recover some of Mr. Stark’s stolen property. However, in true Spidey fashion, Peter is also struggling with a problem of the personal sort — how to ask Gwen Stacy to the winter formal. Though Amazing has been big, bold and sprawling in its storytelling, Spidey #6 continues the title’s streak of delivering grounded, personal stories starring our favorite web-slinger at a time in his life where he was at his most narratively rich, further enriched by Thompson’s firm handle on the voice of young Peter Parker.

Opening on Peter taking his long-dreaded history mid-term, Spidey #6 quickly gets to the meat of the team-up as Peter, in true awkward Parker fashion, quickly excuses himself from the company of Gwen Stacy in order to track down the source of his buzzing Spider-Sense. He soon finds himself face to face with the villainous Adrian Toombs, who is stealing something surely valuable from Stark Tower. What follows is a thrilling chase throughout the city with Spidey and the Armored Avenger in hot pursuit of the classic rogue in order to recover the device and put the city at ease.

While Spidey’s main strength as a title has been Robbie Thompson’s delicate balance of Peter’s heroic life and personal life, as well as his handling of young Peter’s motor-mouthed persona behind the mask, this sixth issue finally crystallizes exactly what makes this book so well month after month: its one-shot like format. Through not being tied to a larger narrative, Robbie Thompson is allowed the freedom to tell any story he feels like telling, whether its another showdown with the Lizard or a high-flying team up with Tony Stark, and so he does. Though it occupies a weird place between the modern 616 universe and a more classic timeline, Spidey is a title that can go wherever it wants to and Thompson takes full advantage of that, much to the book’s benefit.

Yet another mark in its favor thanks to this freedom is Thompson is allowed to simply introduce characters as if we have always known them, mainly because we have and yet another introduction would be pointless. As Spidey and the Vulture face off, Thompson simply runs with Peter’s sassy running commentary during the fight, breezing over any sort of recap of who the Vulture is and what he is all about. Opting instead to get right to the good stuff (i.e., the chase itself) and the same goes for Iron Man’s introduction. Though the characters have never met before, Thompson threads the usually boring groundwork into their interactions instead of bogging the story down with intros. Sometimes this one-shot format can make a title feel disjointed, but Spidey #6 shows how you can make that unmoored kind of storytelling work for your story and characters.

Though not as bombastic as original series artist Nick Bradshaw, artist Andre Lima Araujo along with colorist Jim Campbell are quickly setting their run on Spidey apart from the first few issues admirably; eschewing the splashy color saturated style of what came before and replacing it with intimate Steve Ditko-esque panels. Filled with classic character designs as well as kinetic, manga-inspired single color backgrounds that heighten the specific actions during the chase, Araujo and Campbell’s style is nowhere near as flashy as Bradshaw’s. However, by bringing the action in to the micro level they are able to engage the reader with body language and tight sequential storytelling, adding a visual layer to the already classic feel of Spidey. Araujo and Campbell’s style is much more substance over style, and while the pencils and sumptuous color pallet of the early issues were a treat, their style, to me, is much more in step with the tone of Robbie Thompson’s vintage Spider-Man adventures.

Spider-Man titles lately have found success by going big, but Spidey #6 shows that there is still fun to be had in going small. Robbie Thompson, Andre Lima Araujo and Jim Campbell, unfettered by a crossover or big overall arc, throw readers into the thick of it with an engaging one and done team up, supplemented by tight characterization and a version of Peter Parker that even the most novice of readers are familiar with and can connect to. Though Amazing Spider-Man is the flagship title, Spidey #6 shows that there is still plenty of fun to be had as well as stories to tell with a teenage Peter Parker.

Credit: DC Comics

Doctor Fate #12
Written by Paul Levitz
Art by Sonny Liew and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Saida Temofonte
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

With DC preparing for its impending Rebirth, writers and artists have been tying up loose ends to make way for relaunched — and hopefully revitalized — new titles. But there are few titles that seem to have looked so promising on paper than Paul Levitz and Sonny Liew's Doctor Fate — which made the general indifference toward the book feel that much more surprising. Levitz and Liew end their run on a surprisingly human, down-to-earth story, but without making any real case for Khalid Nassour's place in this brave new DC Universe.

Khalid's final adventure has more than a few shades of Peter Parker, as this would-be med student is forced to pay the piper for his superheroing — but instead of Aunt May being manhandled for the umpteenth time, Khalid's very academic career is in peril. Yet when the dean who was ready to expel him suddenly keels over from a heart attack, Levitz and Liew come up with a nice plot wedding Egyptian magic and the afterlife with the very human struggle to preserve life at any cost.

Yet in terms of execution, this feels less like a victory lap and more of a stumble across the finish line. While bits like Khalid tracking down the dean's soul to the afterlife is a smart bit, the rest of his fight with the angry god Anubis feels both a little perfunctory and a little too convenient — deus ex machinas like the blood of pharoahs means that we never really fear for Khalid's life any more than we fear for his medical school career. Even from a characterization perspective, Levitz never really fleshes out Khalid as anything other than an Everyman — but we've seen Peter Parker before, and Khalid doesn't measure up to those years of history. We needed something more, and it just doesn't connect — which makes the implied reclamation of the Helmet of Fate by one Kent Nelson feel both obvious and more than a little disheartening.

Sonny Liew, meanwhile, has been a misunderstood artist from the get-go. His wiggly, cartoony style is an acquired taste to be sure, and it would work gangbusters on a certain type of project — unfortunately, Dr. Fate isn't it. While Liew excels with sequences like Khalid chasing down the birdlike spirit of the dean, he gets overpowered by Lee Loughridge's colors, and the scratchiness of his inks means that even the emotional sequences in this book don't quite connect. (Conversely, the big bad Anubis feels a little too scrawny with Liew's lines, robbing this last conflict of its tension.)

Ultimately, when buying a comic book, there has to be some sort of hook — a reason why you have to jump on it month after month. Oftentimes DC and Marvel will rely on continuity game-changers to goose their sales, but the most satisfying books in my mind are the ones that are so inventive with their execution, so engaging with their characterization, that you'd be willing to check in on them even without the artifice of a supervillain of the month. Unfortunately, Dr. Fate was a book that seemingly stumbled out of the gate by failing to get its readers to identify with its protagonist — and 12 issues later, Khalid Nassour may very well wind up relegated to a footnote in DC history. It's not an enviable fate — or a great note for Paul Levitz to end his legendary career at DC upon — but for all its talk about sorcery and mysticism, Dr. Fate was missing the kind of magic that would bring readers under its spell.

Advance Review!

Credit: Guiu Vilanova (Dark Horse Comics)

Weird Detective #1
Written by Fred Van Lente
Art by Guiu Vilanova and Mauricio Wallace
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Weird Detective #1 opens with a twist on a famous quote from H.P. Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu": "The most merciful thing in the world, I think… is the ability of the mind to correlate all its contents." Changing Lovecraft's original phrasing of "inability" to "ability" manages to bridge the utter indifference of cosmic horror with the vast, interconnected conspiracies littered throughout the noir genre. Both of which are genres that Fred Van Lente balances with impressive skill throughout a densely-packed opening issue. Despite some minor problematic elements, the entire issue, with its complete understanding and complete love of genres that I love, feels as though it were created specifically to delight me.

The story, in its broadest strokes, recalls Fred Van Lente's X-Men Noir with its strange murder opening and noir grit. Where that miniseries was content to merely hint at the supernatural, Weird Detective dives directly into the strange and unusual. The opening establishes both what the comic does best and its missteps. The way that Van Lente weaves Detective Sebastian Greene's introduction, a brief and ominous overview of his unusual abilities, the frighteningly odd murder at the public swimming pool that he is investigating, and the way that the characters around Greene inform us about everything they know about their odd coworker. As an open, it's a masterful display of storytelling matched by Guiu Vilanova's artwork, with a striking early standout being a panel of Greene holding examining an arm that has been drained of all bones and blood.

That all said, the story is not without its flaws. One example is when Greene and his new, far less likable partner Sana Fayez investigate the locker room, Greene discovers the world's most conspicuous hidden camera. It turns out that the man who set up the camera and sold the video feed was just a despicable pervert who is completely unrelated to the body found at the pool. With the commitment to its own grittiness, it suffers from some shortcomings that gritty works often have – namely that it goes too dark, too quickly. When a work is desperate to show how horrible its world is, it gives off impressions of either trying too hard to shock or of trying to make up for a lack of storytelling ability.

The latter of which is definitely not the case. As far as narrative is concerned, the story is overflowing with originality. Modern iterations of Lovecraftian horror can occasionally seem like they are cashing in on another writer's vague imaginings. H.P. Lovecraft had a lot of interesting ideas that he colored with just enough detail for the readers to fill in the empty spaces. Van Lente manages to give those story elements humanity by grounding them in Greene. The problems in the issue stems entirely from the drive to be edgy, resulting in some serious tonal whiplash, and the art matches the writing in this regard. It will go through the motions every now and then, as though it's not quite sure how dark it wants to go with its sleek and modern pulp style, before exploding with some truly dazzling panels. Late in the issue there is a panel of Greene walking through a park at night, and it is rendered in such a surreal and stylized way that I found myself lingering on it for a minute in appreciation. Colorist Mauricio Wallace's ambient blues and greens round out the comic's strongest piece of art.

Despite those overbearing moments, Weird Detective understands something that many horror-themed works simply do not – the importance of levity. The closest thing Greene has to a friend is a foul-mouthed housecat that he communicates with telepathically. When the humor comes from natural character interactions, it succeeds. When Detective Fayez is baffled by Greene's odd behavior, another officer reassures her, "You do know he's Canadian, right?" To which she replies, "Why do people keep saying that like it's an explanation?" which addresses a recurring beat about Greene reminding everybody, and everybody around him casually dropping the fact that he's Canadian. It's just a really funny moment in a genuinely scary story, and it works. It helps make Fayez in the back half of the issue much more likable than she is in the first half.

At 46 pages, Weird Detective offers a lot for you to sink your tentacles into. Despite some occasional hiccups in tone, it offers a really solid story, moody atmosphere, and unique lead character. The pacing of the major plot is laid out well, with Van Lente scattering just enough breadcrumbs for readers to tell that all of the strange things happening in the pages are connected somehow. Vilanova's artwork is often stellar, and is in top form during some late-issue splash pages showing us multiple elder gods. This is preceded by the brilliant juxtaposition of Sebastian's narration boxes with Sana's notepad narration. The narrative and art work together to progressively raise the stakes as the world of the story expands rapidly outward. The last third of the issue is by far the strongest, and if that momentum keeps going, this series can really be something special. With a strong start, it is definitely weird.

Credit: DC Comics

Pellet Review!

Future Quest #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Justin Partridge; ‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Future Quest #1 is the most fun I’ve had reading a debut issue in a long while. Though I went in having reservations about DC’s ambitious Hanna-Barbera crossover, they were quickly wiped away thanks to Jeff Parker’s engaging plot, organic team-building, and his firm handle on the vintage voices of all my favorite classic cartoon heroes and villains. Future Quest #1 is also armed with a very effective artistic one-two punch of Evan “Doc” Shaner and Steve “The Dude” Rude, whose styles mesh almost seamlessly and made even more rich by the vibrant Saturday morning cartoon-inspired colors of Jordie Bellaire, who truly hammers home the kinetic and fun panels found within. Never in a million years did I think that I would see Dr. Zin and his army of walking eyes grace the pages of a major comic publisher, but Future Quest #1 granted that wish and did so in the middle of a truly great and infectiously fun debut issue. 

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