Greetings, 'Rama Readers! Dazzling David Pepose here, back once again to bring you a pair of Best Shots reviews for two of tomorrow's top new titles. We'll kick off this dynamic duo of advance reviews with a look at God Country #1 by Pulchritudinous Pierce Lydon.
God Country #1
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Geoff Shaw and Jason Wordie
Lettering by John J. Hill
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Big concept? Check. Solid characterization? Check. Gorgeous art? Check. There’s a lot of like in Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw’s God Country, and a lot to love, too. Despite that, it’s held back slightly by its own pacing. Cates really wants to set the stage here in a big way. By combining his Texas roots with the larger-than-life stories he grew up reading, Cates lays an essential foundation for this sci-fi/fantasy epic. He’s joined by frequent collaborator Shaw, who has only continued to improve since their work together on Dark Horse’s Buzzkill. God Country is gigantic in scale but also a hugely personal story with greater stakes beyond the fantastic elements, and that’s what makes it so effective.
A lot of times, pacing is a matter of personal preference. Cates opts for a fairly decompressed approach in God Country #1. That serves to draw readers into the story slowly and become a bit more intimately familiar with the characters. Family dynamics are set up right away; a son returns home with his family to care for his Alzheimer's-stricken father who is on a path to be a danger to himself and others as his disease wracks his brain. Alzheimer’s can be a tragic affliction and Cates doesn’t shy away from showing how quickly it’s affected this family unit. It’s a deft bit of characterization that really buoys the pacing. Once the plot turns the corner to embrace its fantasy beats, there’s a grounding to the proceedings that helps anchor readers as they move forward. And kudos to Cates for some real scene stealing narration at the end of the book. It’s so good that it makes the page count feel really frustrating. It’s what they call in the business “leaving them wanting more,” and Cates does that with style.
Geoff Shaw is an excellent artist to have onboard. Honestly, the partnership between the writer and artist feels like it has the makings of one of those classic pairings that we’ve seen in comics history. I’m not saying they’re a Morrison/Quitely or Loeb/Sale yet, but in reading their work together, it’s clear to see less direction and more collaboration. Shaw’s art has maintained its edge but gotten sharper. The Sean Murphy-esque line work remains but there’s a bit of Jason Latour thrown in there for good measure. The inking really stands out to me as incredibly textured and intentional, which is fitting for the harsh West Texas setting. Panel and page composition is really strong as well. Shaw lets his excellent expression work dictate his shot choices and that helps readers feel the emotional core of the story more effectively as Cates slowly rolls out the conflict. Jason Wordie’s coloring deserves mention as well, providing a really impressive color arc over the course of the book that mirrors the plot.
God Country is another in a line of Image titles with really strong core concepts. It’s proof that creators are most at home in the worlds that they build wholesale. Shaw and Cates are a rare sort of pairing that we’ve gotten to see grow with each new collaboration, and this book really shows them crystallizing into something of a force. It’s easy to see the DNA of a title like this from contemporaries such as Jason Aaron, Rick Remender and Mark Millar, to the looming influence of The King himself, Jack Kirby. If you haven't been paying attention to what Donny Cates has been doing, jump on the bandwagon now and pretend you’ve been here the whole time. God Country is without a doubt one of the best books on the stands this week.
James Bond: Felix Leiter #1
Written by James Robinson
Art by Aaron Campbell and Salvatore Aiala
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
One of Bond’s closest allies gets a droll but tensely entertaining solo outing in James Bond: Felix Leiter #1. Working as a private investigator but lent out to the Japanese Secret Service as an outside agent, Felix Leiter finds himself in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo tasked with identifying a dangerous Russian agent from his past. Writer James Robinson, using the foundation set by the previous Warren Ellis arcs, presents a more rough and tumble Felix than we saw during those arcs, playing up his dry wit and aimlessness as he makes his way through the rain soaked streets of Tokyo.
Giving this debut a tightly blocked and neon infused look and tone are noted Shadow artist Aaron Campbell and colorist Salvatore Aiala. Adapting well to the bustling setting and the noir inspired script Campbell and Aiala deliver sketchy, rough and tumble pencils made complete with dusky, yet effusive displays of splashy colors beaming from the Japanese streets. Though not as thematically focused as the title it was inspired by, James Bond: Felix Leiter #1 still stands as a neatly compact solo outing for the fan-favorite co-star.
The CIA have a saying; when a mission goes south that’s called “going Felix,” and that’s exactly what the man who inspired the saying would like to avoid. Tasked out to a foreign government for a simple ID, this debut issue opens with Felix beating the pavement in Japan looking for a dangerous spy — one that just so happens to be a former field partner of his. Right from the jump, James Robinson sets this story apart from the high-tech intrigue of the ongoing Bond comics. Aside from his cybernetic artificial limbs and a partner in the form of another woefully underused Bond co-star Tiger Tanaka, Felix takes point on the mission, tackling it like a weathered gumshoe instead of slick secret agent.
This grounded approach is the debut’s ace in the hole, both in terms of plot and characterization. Robinson’s Felix is not a completely broken man, but one that knows the game well enough to know that things get ugly and fast most days and he faces it with a dry wit and a good Japanese whiskey if he can. Even better, Robinson dulls Felix’s edge, making him the kind of detective that can do the work, but is just a bit slower and maybe a bit sloppy, adding another interesting dimension or perhaps even handicap for our man going forward.
The plot also is a welcome grounding from the high-level intrigue and action of the ongoing titles. A simple identification leads to a possible international incident as Felix finally tracks down the agent, the deadly Alena Davoff, but she slips from his grasp. This leads to a shocking final page, but one that doesn’t quite put the title into end-of-the-world territory just yet. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this title going into it, but Felix Leiter #1 starts this series off on a sardonic high note.
Matching Robinson’s street-level tone are the stony pencils of Aaron Campbell and the heavy-brushed colors of Salvatore Aiala. Campbell is no stranger to hard knuckled leading men facing crime and espionage on darkened streets and that energy does James Bond: Felix Leiter #1 a wealth of good. Inspiring comparisons to the work of Carmine Di Giandomenico, Campbell’s pencils seem to move along the characters, capturing every crease of the brow and every wrinkle of the cast’s impressive costuming. But unlike Di Giandomenico, Campbell’s work here seems more detailed and focused, standing steady in its blocking, which also shines here, particularly in the fight between Felix and Davoff, instead of rattling with loose energy like the Flash artist. Campbell’s artwork is given a sleek luminescence thanks to the colors of Salvatore Aiala who makes tremendous use of the pale lighting and intricate displays of neon that the Shinjuku setting demands. If the ongoing Bond titles are the big budget tentpole films visually, then Felix Leiter #1 stands as the stylish film noir counterpart that we didn’t know we needed.
Stepping out of the shadow of the infamous 00 agent, Felix Leiter receives a solidly constructed debut issue. Dynamite Entertainment has gotten a lot of mileage out of the Bond property since its inception, but I was unsure how exactly they were going to stretch six issues out of a character whose main claim to fame is being attacked by a shark. Thankfully, James Robinson, Salvatore Aiala, and Aaron Campbell take a novel and respectful approach to this story, delivering a worthy outing for Bond’s favorite American.