Best Shots Advance Reviews: ROCKSTARS #1, YOUNG TERRORISTS #2

"Young Terrorists #2" cover
Credit: Amancay Nahuelpan (Black Mask)
Credit: Megan Hutchison (Image Comics)

Rockstars #1
Written by Joe Harris
Art by Megan Hutchison, Kelly Fitzpatrick and Tom Muller
Lettering by Michael David Thomas
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

It’s almost impossible to divorce music from magic and creators across various mediums have consistently gone back to the well. Joe Harris outlines Rockstars as “Almost Famous meets Supernatural,” and that’s a pretty apt description. But the territory might be too well-worn. The myths and conspiracies that surround the music business are fascinating but in an age of information, most of those have been debunked. Harris brings a detective bent to the narrative but it doesn’t really feel like enough to set the book apart, even with Megan Hutchison’s adaptive artistry in tow.

Harris comes right out of the gates talking about the mythology of rock n’ roll before diving right into the central mystery at the center of this issue. Jackie Mayer is the music aficionado narrator of the book. He’s a sort of dark arts-attuned William Miller (the protagonist of Almost Famous), and Harris communicates that effectively. The trouble is in the plotting. Jackie is trying to solve these disappearances to make his dead ex-roadie dad proud, but there’s not a compelling answer yet for why. By the time we meet the second lead, aspiring journalist Dorothy Buell, it’s kind of unclear how exactly we’ve gotten to where we are. Harris has waxed poetic about the mysteries of rock n’ roll, but for the entirety of the book, he leaves us in the dark about what’s actually going on. Now obviously, it’s the debut issue, and it’s a mystery/thriller. I don’t expect everything to be laid out right away. But I think Harris gets too into the mythology that surrounds his story and doesn’t get into the meat of it. As a result, the issue is almost just a teaser. It’s the comic book equivalent to listening to the 30 second previews of every song on an album on Amazon weeks before it comes out.

Megan Hutchison is the standout here. Her art exists as almost an amalgam of Tradd Moore and Robbi Rodriguez. From the first page, she sets the tone of the book better than the writing does, imbuing it with a sense of scale that I really appreciate. It’s so good that it makes some of the narration (and, at points, the dialogue) redundant. Part of that is because Harris’ script draws from a collective understanding of “70s rock n’ roll” as a cultural artifact as well as some of the tropes of stories from that era. But there’s something sinister in Hutchison’s lines and when she needs to tap into the supernatural side of the story, it’s feels like it was bubbling under the surface all along. Kelly Fitzpatrick deserves a lot of credit for her color work in this one as well. The backgrounds switch between more traditional, abstract splatters and watercolor washes but Fitzpatrick handles them all and gives them a good bit of continuity that helps sell the idea that there’s more going on than what we’re seeing. She also knows when to let the inks do all the work, never sacrificing contrast on a page with digital lighting effects or too much color. The art team is a really good fit for the subject matter and they work well with each other.

Rockstars is a relatively well-executed book. The characters could use some more definition. The plotting could be a bit tighter but the overall tone of the book feels right. Unfortunately, I think Harris has fallen a bit too in love with that aspect of the book, and that might be it’s downfall. He’s not saying anything new or different about conspiracies surrounding rock n’ roll. He’s just dredging them up again and trying to imbue them with something bigger than himself. Harris has talked about how the narrative is about people reaching for something higher, perhaps blindly. (Even the title of the arc, “Nativity in Blacklight” is a play on a misunderstood Black Sabbath song “N.I.B.” Fans thought that stood for “Nativity in Black.” Turn out they were wrong, it was just a reference to Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward’s beard which the rest of the band thought looked like a pen nib.) On some level, I think that might be what’s happening for the creators of Rockstars. This ground is well-trodden and not without potential, but they’re going to have to dig a lot deeper to find their unique way in.

Credit: Amancay Nahuelpan (Black Mask)

Young Terrorists #2
Written by Matteo Pizzolo
Art by Amancay Nahuelpan and Jean-Paul Csuka
Lettering by David Hopkins and Jim Campbell
Published by Black Mask Studios
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It's not even Christmas, and Black Mask Studios is giving us a present this week; an incendiary, super-crazy, and razor-sharp present in the form of Young Terrorists #2. Clocking in at a whopping 84 pages and collecting the last three chapters of the series' arc, writer Matteo Pizzolo blasts away the time between the debut issue and this one with a bloody and supremely ticked-off second installment; one that ends the first arc bigger than it began while still exploring strange science fiction and prescient social issues.

Like the debut issue, Young Terrorists #2 wastes little time getting crazy, violent, and crazy violent. Delving deeper into Sera’s war on institutions and her search for her brother, writer Matteo Pizzolo hits the ground in a dead sprint. Still using the disoriented and often naked Cesar as our audience surrogate, Pizzolo throws our hapless but sincere narrator into all manner of insane situations from being kidnapped by a brutal drug cartel to storming a factory farm that farms much more than just meat.

But while Pizzolo’s script is filled to bursting with off the wall science fiction like mushroom grown clones and superpowered agents of chaos, the theme of revolution is still very much at the forefront of Young Terrorists. Taking cues from socially minded books like The Invisibles and Transmetropolitan Pizzolo buoys his crazy, crowd pleasing plot points by burrowing them into a story exploring human trafficking, the war on drugs, and child soldiers. Couple Pizzolo’s densely entertaining plots with his gender fluid, queer, and morally grey cast and you have a title that sticks to its guns while aiming them directly at ideas that most books would shy away from.

As Pizzolo’s script goes big, artist Amancay Nahuelpan and colorist Jean-Paul Csuka match his towering and fast-paced script in kind with sketchy, expressive panels spread across tightly blocked page layouts. Much like the chaotic nature of the story, Nahuelpan’s pencils are equally volatile, but never muddy or hard to look at. Instead, he leans into the ugliness of the group’s actions, almost highlighting them during the issue’s many action sequences like Sera’s brutal battle with a drug cartel thug and the group’s continually escalating assault on a factory farm.

Right alongside him for this anarchy is colorist Jean-Paul Csuka, who displays a fantastic adaptability throughout Young Terrorists #2. From the opening sun baked desert setting to the inky black night sky of the finale and all manner of rich splashes of color in between, Csuka bleeds a wide array of hues across each scene, keeping in line with the rollicking nature of Nahuelpan’s and making the violence look as flashy as possible, even when it cuts deeper than mere spectacle.

At 84 pages and boiling over with action Young Terrorists #2 is more of an experience than a second issue. Matteo Pizzolo, Amancay Nahuelpan, and Jean-Paul Csuka take full advantage of the platform they are given, returning to shelves with an in your face finale that radiates both style and smarts while basically daring readers to try and keep up. Books like Young Terrorists don’t come along very often, and if they do, they usually end up losing their edge at best and at worst, watering themselves down in order to garner a wider audience. Thankfully, Young Terrorists #2 shows no sign of any of that going into its second arc. With a dual middle fingers proudly held above its head, Young Terrorists #2 is exactly the kind of pissed-off spectacle we deserve right now.

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