Best Shots Advance Reviews: BETTY & VERONICA #1, SNOTGIRL #1, BLACK HAMMER #1

Image Comics July 2016 cover
Credit: Image Comics
Credit: Archie Comics

Betty & Veronica #1
Written by Adam Hughes
Art by Adam Hughes and Jose Villarrubia
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

There’s a screwy sensibility to Adam Hughes’ Betty & Veronica #1, as Hughes’ photorealistic art becomes the backdrop for a manic stream of gags that — thankfully — hit the mark more often than not. While there are certainly some rough edges to this long-awaited debut, there’s something both unique and charming about this take on Riverdale’s classic best frenemies.

In many ways, Betty & Veronica #1 is a strange beast, in part because Hughes’ scattershot approach to dialogue keeps readers from locking in on a central plot - or even central characters - until well into the book. Hughes seems to be channeling his own Kevin Smith with his debut issue, with lengthy conversations about minutiae such as whether Ronald McDonald could beat the Burger King in a fight, or an extended bit with Betty smacking Jughead with a backpack, or Hot Dog serving as a surprisingly verbose narrator to the proceedings. Thankfully, Hughes establishes his silliness on the very first page, and it helps that some of his lines are actually pretty funny. (My particular favorite might just be the dad-jokiest of Hughes’ lines here, with Betty bemoaning that if a Riverdale institution is allowed to close, then “the tourists have already won.”)

But one could make the argument that this overstuffed quippy banter is lampshading some structural issues, and that person wouldn’t be wrong. One of the traps the new Archie-verse has is that it’s easy to lose focus and spend too much time with the rest of the Riverdale gang at the expense of your true leads. Indeed, for a book called Betty & Veronica, Hughes takes a while to get the spotlight on his heroines. Although Betty is an instantly charming if somewhat over-the-top character, imbued with seemingly superhuman strength and even more exaggerated morals, Veronica, by the characters’ own admission, is still a bit of a mystery. While that’s an easy oversight to forgive, given how fun Hughes’ takes on Archie, Jughead, Pops, Moose and Midge are, later on it feels like the writer/artist is starting to lose steam, particularly with a gag featuring two nearly-blank pages that feels like more of a cop-out than a clever bit.

Of course, when the art looks like Adam Hughes’ art, maybe there’s a reason why Hot Dog “ate” two of his pages.It’s unclear if Hughes’ cheesecake aesthetic will alienate Betty and Veronica’s preexisting fanbase, but it’s hard to deny that his characters — literally across the board — all look gorgeous, particularly with pop-outs of Betty and Midge stealing the show. But it’s also reductive to zero in just in Hughes’ character designs, because he actually does some great work selling the physical comedy here, like watching Betty, Veronica and the gang nearly get knocked over by a speeding coffee truck, or a running gag with Betty making Jughead her personal punching bag. The painterly colors of Jose Villarrubia adding a Norman Rockwell-ian feel to the mix.

For many reasons, Betty & Veronica might be an acquired taste, given Hughes’ admittedly shaky focus on his lead characters, not to mention his prolific but unorthodox scripting method. Yet there’s just enough good qualities to his work - particularly his beautiful art - that makes this book’s rough edges feel like a refreshing change of pace rather than a disappointment. While Hughes has a while to go before his writing is on par with his visuals, there’s a unique voice at the heart of Betty & Veronica - one that I think will only get stronger as time goes on.

Credit: Image Comics

Snotgirl #1
Written by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Art by Leslie Hung and Mickey Quinn
Lettering Maré Odomo
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Basing a comic book around social media and blogging may seem like old hat, especially from someone with their finger on the cultural pulse like Bryan Lee O’Malley. The creator of Scott Pilgrim and the superb OGN Seconds is no stranger to using elements of pop culture as driving forces in his works, including the gamification of his own narratives. With th recent "DC You" Batgirl and Black Canary being totems of millennial savviness, O’Malley’s latest is more than just a collection of tweets disguised as cool. It’s an exploration of self-image and self-worth, and the dual faces we all wear.

With Snotgirl, O’Malley’s avatar this time is Lottie Person, a fashion blogger that has a "[redacted]" number of followers. Her life is perfect, or at least the one that she presents to the world. In reality, there’s an allergy-ridden bundle of neuroses behind the keyboard who can only relate to the outside world through the language of social media, mentally noting anyone she meets more than once by secret handles like “Cutegirl,” “Gothgirl” and so on. When she meets someone that she instantly dubs “Coolgirl,” Lottie’s carefully planned world starts to spin out of control, and her reaction is surprising.

The clever thing about Snotgirl is how is manages to disarm you with its self-aware formatting. Lottie’s casual dismissal of anything “norm” betrays her own desperate need to be seen as normal or cool, and her consciously constructed world has predetermined what this should look like. O’Malley is aware of these modern cultural expectations, and plays on them to dupe the reader into thinking that Snotgirl is one type of story before pulling the rug out from under you. Like some of his previous works, O’Malley achieves this by riffing on the preexisting character archetypes present in Japanese manga, for example.

Leslie Hung’s artwork is an essential ingredient to this, visually conveying those same tropes that O’Malley is playing with. It’s no mistake that the first we see of Lottie is covered in the titular “snot” and in a near-fetal position of regret, only to be quickly replaced by the beautiful stills which to our eye seem more in keeping with standards of beauty. Other characters she encounters are instant caricatures: Misty is a wide-eye doll, others are defined by their physical or cultural attributes. Like O’Malley, Hung is coming at the artwork with a specific cultural influence, one that we can mentally acknowledge familiarity with through a kind of common cultural currency.

What starts as something lightweight and self-derogatory rapidly takes on the form of a European thriller, and does so in such a subtle and natural manner that you’ll be flipping back a few pages to make sure you didn’t miss something. Unlike O’Malley’s previous Seconds, we don’t have the advantage of reading this all in one hit, but have to wait for the next chapter. The serialized approach adds to the delightful melodrama of it all, and it will be interesting to see where intense character study goes next.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Black Hammer #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Dean Ormston and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

By carefully melding the mundane and weird, Black Hammer #1 finds great success both structurally and tonally. With this first issue, writer Jeff Lemire follows a group of the world’s greatest superheroes 10 years after their retirement and seclusion from the world on a rural farm. Along with artist Dean Ormston, whose pencils mimic those of Lemire himself, and the colors of Dark Horse Comics’ mainstay Dave Stewart, this debut is a quiet, yet engaging first issue that builds its world and characters well while never straying into well-worn tropes of superhero deconstruction.

Even if it wasn’t dripping with a very precise tone, Black Hammer #1 would be a winner just based on its near-perfect structure. Opening on the farm where the heroes have made their home, Lemire wastes little time letting the reader get to know each cast member and the interpersonal dynamics of the group itself through curt but engaging scenes of them interacting. Our main character is Abraham Slam, the patriarch of this family unit that’s been assembled not out of love, but out of necessity, made up of Silver Age-inspired heroes like Col. Weird, an Adam Strange surrogate who is slowly losing his mind, and Barbalien, a mash-up of Conan and the Martian Manhunter.

Lemire expands the world out a bit further by taking a few characters off the farm and having them interact with the nearby townfolk, raising the action and taking the characters out of their established comfort zone right when they need it. While there is tension between the characters on the farm, mainly stemming from Golden Gail, a powerhouse trapped in a nine-year-old’s body, the tension between the group and certain citizens of the town is palpable. Like all good pilots, Black Hammer #1 has a very clear intent and feeling in the reader it wishes to evoke and delivers on both.

While Jeff Lemire has a clear direction with his script, artists Dean Ormston and Dave Stewart help that direction along with moody colors and lithe character designs. Employing visuals that look a lot like a combination of Mike Mignola and Lemire’s own sketchy pencils, Ormston’s work slots itself perfectly into the brooding tone of Lemire’s script, with bursts of Silver Age flashbacks peppered alongside the regular down-to-earth drama. Hammering the tone home are the grimy yet striking colors of Dave Stewart, who brings a bit of that Mignolaverse darkness thanks to his charcoal like blacks, dusky grays, and splashes of brighter colors that still look a bit too dark to be truly vibrant.

Though not as flashy as some debuts, Black Hammer #1 is still a great debut from a creative team that seems to be in lock step about the kind of story they want to tell. Unhindered by the need to delve into what it means to be a hero or the tendency to poke fun at Silver Age silliness, Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston and Dave Stewart deliver a debut that is structurally sound and packed with the kind of dark allure that one would expect from Dark Horse Comics. Simply put, Black Hammer #1 isn’t blockbuster filmmaking, but the indie drama that stays on your mind long after the credits have rolled.

Similar content
Twitter activity