Best Shots Advance Reviews: CHEW #60, SHERLOCK HOLMES OMNIBUS

Image Comics November 2016 cover
Credit: Image Comics
Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

Sherlock Holmes Omnibus TP Vol. 1
Written by Scott Beatty, Leah Moore, and John Reppion
Art by Daniel Indro, Aaron Campbell, Tony Avina, Matt Triano, and Brennan Wagner
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Literature’s greatest detective receives a handsome and page turning collection in the Sherlock Holmes Omnibus TP, Vol. 1. Collecting the arcs “Year One,” “The Trial of Sherlock Holmes,” and “Liverpool Demon,” writers Scott Beatty, Leah Moore, and John Reppion present three classically structured Sherlock stories bolstered by their engaging take on the detective and his myriad of allies; straddling the line between the pulse-pounding modern incarnations and the drolly entertaining vintage Masterpiece Theater take on Baker Street.

Giving this collection a distinctly different visual palette are artists Daniel Indro, Aaron Campbell, and Matt Triano, all mainstays of Dynamite’s pulp offerings. Backed by the brackish, heavily-shadowed colors of Tony Avina and Brennan Wagner, each artist’s contributions to the collection give each story an eye-catching look and tone befitting of the case they are detailing, making this trade look more like a moody anthology series instead of a run-of-the-mill ongoing series collection. Though versions of Sherlock and Watson have reached the hundreds by this point, Dynamite Entertainment’s Sherlock Holmes Omnibus TP, Vol. 1 delivers three stories sure to delight mystery enthusiasts and keep them racing through the stories, anxious to solve each one.

While the stories found in this collection make great use of classic Holmesian set ups, such as a closed room mystery, the “supernatural” masking a fiendishly down-to-earth plot, and a theatrical chess game with Sherlock’s arch-rival Moriarty, it is the characterization of Holmes and his supporting characters that truly win the day. The writers collected here avoid connecting their work to one another, aside from tasteful in canon nods to Sir Conan Arthur Doyle, however Scott Beatty, Leah Moore, and John Reppion do a very fine job keeping Holmes in line with versions that both fans and newcomers can instantly recognize. Beatty even helps readers along by seeding some of the scrappier elements, both from the original stories and certain modern takes, into the central mystery of “Year One.”

But while Beatty’s younger Holmes isn’t afraid to jump into the fray should the situation call for it, they smartly keep this collection from devolving into a brawn-over-brains type affair. Aside from the more impetuous, but still brilliant Holmes of Beatty’s “Year One,” Moore and Reppion, for all intents and purposes, write their Sherlock as a compelling mixture of Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch’s performances; astute, little concerned with social graces, and unwavering in his intellect, but still armed with a desert dry wit and thirst for puzzles that makes him such a fun lead for the final cases that make up this collection.

The trio’s attention to character also thankfully extends to Holmes’ partners, pleasantly rounding out the cast instead of making them mere expository spectators. Watson throughout is ever bit an equal partner in each case instead of a bumbling annoyance, as most Sherlock Holmes tales tend to cast him as. Lestrade, both as constable in “Year One” and Inspector in the rest of the tales, is a bullish, but open ally, making him a welcome, if a bit skeptical foil for Holmes and Watson, instead of a narrative roadblock. And best of all “Year One’s” use of Irene Adler raises her up from the sexy lamp like plot device to fiercely intelligent third member of the investigation team, allowing one of literature’s most formidable women some much needed time in the spotlight.

As for the visuals Sherlock Holmes Omnibus TP, Vol. 1 comes armed with plenty of dynamic views of Victorian crime. Though all three artists come to the table with different styles and tonality, all flow well, starting with the sketchy, slightly rough pencils of Daniel Indro and then melding into the smoother, more defined pencils of Aaron Campbell and Matt Triano. All three artists are given hefty amounts of mood and fog-like haziness thanks to the colors of Tony Avina and Brennan Wagner.

But while all three art teams meld together for a strong cohesive set of visuals, the placing of Daniel Indro and Tony Avina’s pages do the collection a bit of disservice, just in terms of theatrics. For example, both “The Trial of Sherlock Holmes” and “Liverpool Demon” are presented like prestige BBC dramas, all cobblestone streets and fire lit sitting rooms, but “Year One” and its fast-paced “Twelve Caesars” case gets a grim limestone framing device around the scenes detailing each murder and naming the emperor the victim is meant to represent. It is a small, but grimly effective detail that serves as a great topper on a collection full of engaging visuals.

If you missed Dynamite Entertainment’s first run of Holmes stories or are just looking for something new to satisfy your craving for classic crime fiction then Sherlock Holmes Omnibus TP, Vol. 1 would be a welcome addition to your to read pile. Filled with page-turning mysteries and thoughtful characterizations from three talented creative teams, this collection proves why Holmes was the world’s greatest detective years before Bruce Wayne ever even considered about capes and cowls. The games are afoot, and the Sherlock Holmes Omnibus TP, Vol. 1 makes sure that each one is more fun than the last.

Credit: Image Comics

Chew #60
Written and Lettered by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory and Taylor Wells
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“Meet Tony Chu. Tony Chu is almost always hungry, and almost never eats. Here’s why.”

Seven and a half years ago, John Layman and Rob Guillory used this line to introduce us to the cibopathic hero of Chew, a series that ends its acclaimed run this week. But that’s the thing with finales - there are always expectations involved. Yet after 60 issues of story, Layman and Guillory aren’t playing by those rules. This is a creator-owned story, and rather than wrap up everything neatly, the finale of Chew focuses less on narrative symmetry and more on two talented creators having one last triumphant jam session on their own terms.

Armed with a deft sense of humor and an even more impressive consistency, it’s easy to forget that Chew has jumped between several different storylines, ranging from the secrets behind the Bird Flu that made chicken illegal, to the threat of the Vampire, to the mystery behind the alien writing in the sky that threatens to wipe out all life on Earth. But Chew #60 leaves things almost maddeningly up for interpretation, jumping decades into a future that skirts the line of unrecognizable. As Olive Chu saves the day as a kickass FDA agent in a foodie-psychedelic sci-fi city, a lot of things have changed, but a lot of things have also stayed the same - there’s still the same crazy flashbacks to cases gone by, the same bouncy energy to the action, the same wild ingenuity for food-related powers ranging from chocolate swords to monstrous sentient seedlings. It’s an ending that, in many ways, reads like a beginning.

But with much of this issue focusing on Olive and the strange world she’s inherited, you might be forgiven for thinking that Tony Chu himself might get short shift in his own series finale. And in that regard, I think that might be Layman and Guillory’s way of saying goodbye to this series - it’s less of a farewell and more of a pulling the plug. It’s a Sopranos or Lost-style ending, one that’s almost infuriatingly open-ended… and yet, longtime readers will be rewarded with callbacks from issues long gone by (down to someone slicing his finger open while cooking, an image from the very first page of the very first issue), and even Tony’s bizarre and abrupt final pages make a twisted sort of sense, when you realize all the losses he’d had to withstand in the pursuit of law and order. The weird world of this series finale fits within the strangeness of Amelia Mintz’s last story - and Tony’s last stand feels like one final stab at exacting justice for all the people who had to die in order for this world to live.

Yet one could also make the argument that this finale is also about Layman and Guillory having one last hurrah together - and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say Guillory is pulling out all the stops. From furry-fied callbacks to the book’s numerous post-coital scenes to carrot land speeders to euphoria-inducing octopi with tiny hats, I’m going to miss Guillory’s take on this weird, foodie world, particularly the beautiful way he portrays an entire lifetime of memories drawn from just one fingernail. And Guillory ends his run with some particularly exciting action choreography, with Olive’s showdown with one Peter Pilaf demonstrating exactly how fun Chew’s premise can be. (And I have to say, the colors here are phenomenal, as Guillory and Taylor Wells make every page just pop with energy.) With this issue as well as many others, Guillory has often proved a leavening influence to Layman’s more serious-minded moments, and because of the larger-than-life cartooning going on here, Guillory helps make this issue seem like a celebration as much as a final sendoff.

To me, Chew has always held a place of special regard, and not just because the series started shortly after I began my own tenure as a comic book reviewer. To me, Chew has always stood out among the pack for a certain era of Image Comics storytelling, as Layman and Guillory helped Image cement its place as a home for innovative and imaginative storytelling, as an alternative to a corporate-owned platform like Vertigo, as a place that didn’t need licensed properties to keep the lights on, as a place that trusted in creators to tell the best stories that they could. And in that regard, I think Chew #60 is a fitting finale, one that might be the true end destination of a creator-owned book - this isn’t a finale that’s meant to wrap up all loose ends. It’s not even a finale that needs to necessarily make sense. But what it does need to be is a book that serves the creators first and foremost, a book that lets the creators say goodbye in their own way.

After giving us 60 issues that were this smart, this funny, this consistent, and this good, it’s the kind of ending that Chew deserves. It’s the end of an era, not just for Image, but for comics in general, one that leaves the industry a little bit lesser in its wake. Yes, it’s weird, and yes, it’s a curveball, and yes, the ending might even be an acquired taste - or maybe the best way to describe it is as a palette cleanser. And that metaphor might be a perfect way for this series to go. Because no matter the twists, no matter the strangeness, Chew is the kind of comic book feast we as fans often didn’t deserve, but it’s one I’d be happy to devour all over again.

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