Best Shots Advance Reviews: WWE #1, CURSE WORDS #1, STAR TREK: WAYPOINT #3

Image Comics January 2017 cover
Credit: Image Comics
Credit: BOOM! Studios

WWE #1
Written by Dennis Hopeless, Ross Thibodeaux
Art by Serg Acuna, Doug Garback, Jim Campbell, Rob Guillory and Taylor Wells
Published by BOOM!
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

WWE wrestler Seth Rollins is widely regarded as one of the most weaselly villains in recent wrestling history, but somehow writer Dennis Hopeless will leave you feeling sympathetic at the end of this week's WWE #1 from BOOM! Studios. Navigating a licensed comic book for a franchise that’s still on the air is tricky business, but Hopeless’ writing captures the spirit of these superstars in a way that meshes his behind the scenes vision with the stars’ real history on camera.

The debut of BOOM’s ongoing WWE title picks up a few months after Seth Rollins’ betrayal of his Shield brothers in the Then. Now. Forever. one-shot, and finds Seth confident in his decision to turn on them but questioning his place in the Authority faction he’s thrown his lot in with. Hopeless does an excellent job building a universe beyond WWE’s cameras, deftly weaving televised events with his own interpretation of events behind the scenes in a way that makes the series accessible to current fans and newcomers just dipping their toes in the waters of wrestling.

As with November’s one-shot, one of the strongest elements of WWE #1 is Hopeless’ ability and willingness to walk the line between a straight-laced drama about competitive athletes and a world that embraces the absurd twists and turns professional wrestling is known for. Rollins, as Triple H’s new protege and aspiring face of the company, is smug and insufferable to his former friends, but chafes under the unexpectedly firm hand taken with the path of his career. His frustration with being treated as a recalcitrant child and the building tension as he realizes he has no one to turn to to cope with it are palpable, but Hopeless and artist Serg Acuna break the tension with goofy moments that never go too far.

Dean Ambrose blindsiding Rollins out of nowhere in increasingly dangerous ways is a running gag that skirts the line of too weird to work but never quite crosses it, and Hopeless’ use of a surprise cameo by a wrestling legend to give Rollins an in-character motivation for one of the defining moments of his career will make longtime fans pop while new fans get the luxury of a much richer backstory than tv tapings provided for events they’re experiencing for the first time. WWE #1 is both a love letter to pro wrestling from Hopeless and a friendly invitation - Hopeless loves the business, and clearly wants readers to love it, too.

Acuna is a solid addition to the ongoing. He deftly executes matches with a sense of urgency and real physical impact. His work on the whole does an excellent job capturing Seth’s growing isolation and the physical and emotional toll his decision to turn on the Shield is taking on him, and his expressions elevate Hopeless’ dialogue by suggesting just the right amount of petty (if justified) rage from Ambrose or patronizing sneering from Triple H. Doug Garbark’s colors provide a clear distinction between the bright, blindingly lit grandiose drama of the televised matches and the more muted, grounded "behind-the-scenes" moments that helps create a three-dimensional world out of the often two-dimensional WWE productions. Jim Campbell, letterist for the full issue, does great work throughout, particularly laying out Rollins’ oft-interrupted inner monologue and emphasizing the indignities he rightfully suffers at the hands of his former Shield teammates.

Former (sorry, guys) tag-team champions The New Day continue their time-traveling adventures in "The New Day’s Optimistic Odyssey Part 2," a delightful short story from writer Ross Thibodeaux and illustrator Rob Guillory. Guillory and colorist Taylor Wells are a perfect team to bring the high-energy New Day to life on the page, and Thibodeaux’s story is a playful tongue-in-cheek look at wrestling moments from the past (the prehistoric past, in this issue). Xavier Woods powering up with his trombone is a highlight of the entire book, a moment so surreal and delightfully true to the New Day that you can’t help but smile.

Professional wrestling was, is, and will forever will be a somewhat unusual blend of showmanship and gravity- (and sometimes death-) defying athletic feats. WWE #1, from the start of Hopeless’ tale to the end of Thibodeaux, is an engaging issue that fleshes out the on-camera characters of these superstars with relatable motivations while embracing wrestling’s’ unusual quirks and showcasing the physical skill required to put on these matches night after night. It’s an excellent licensed adaptation all around, and absolutely one of the best wrestling comics to date.

Credit: Image Comics

Curse Words #1
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Ryan Browne, Jordan Boyd and Michael Parkinson
Lettering by Chris Crank, Ryan Browne and Shawn Depasquale
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

“Once upon a time there was a wizard, then it all went to hell.”

That’s the tagline for Charles Soule and Ryan Browne’s new series, and it does an excellent job of summing up their book. This is the story of a bad wizard going sort of good and the potentially actually good wizards that will stop at nothing to defeat him. Along the way, Soule and Browne fully embrace their goofy premise and inject it with a good amount of humor and action. Wizord, the wizard at the center of the story, is out for his own gain, and his literal interpretations of his clients wishes are entertaining from the get-go. Ryan Browne’s artwork is full of life and coupled with practically neon coloring, the world of Curse Words really effectively comes to life.

Wizord’s life motto seems to be a twist on “be the change you wish to see in the world.” In this case though, he’s the one who can enact the change as long as his clients can follow three simple rules: “No cures. No wars. No love.” Soule is doing a good job of establishing not only a premise for the book but some rules regarding the magic that Wizord uses. Let’s face it, magic becomes a pretty dubious storytelling device when it feels like anything is on the table. With three simple rules, Soule’s effectively putting some limits on Wizord’s power. We don’t actually know if he can enact change regarding any of those things, and that’s part of the mystery. I will say that outside of Wizord and the other magical characters, there’s a bit of a lack of imagination in the proceedings. The tension in the script feels a bit forced on the reader. There’s a lot of mystery and a lot of questions that will be answered in the next issue, but it’s hard to care too much about what’s going on. Soule has yet to establish real stakes.

Ryan Browne’s artwork is definitely worth the price of admission. He has a lot of fun with his character designs, taking the trope of the old gray wizard and dressing it up for the 21st century. But if there’s a knock against him, it’s his overly busy layouts. There are definitely times when more standard/traditional layouting would benefit the flow of the story, but Browne opts for a lot of angular panels that cause some weird crops. It’s understandable that he’d want to vary the visual language of the book, but it occasionally gets in the way. The colors are big and bright when they need to be and that lends a lot to the overall feel of the title. The day-glo color instantly stands out, and while it might not be for everyone, there’s no doubt that it works well in tandem with Soule’s story.

Curse Words is an effective enough debut. The back matter is very aware that readers are going to have a lot of questions. That’s a potentially dangerous way to hook readers, but for those that are sold on the premise presented here, there’s almost no way this book will be missing from their pull list. As the story continues, Soule and Browne will be able to bring some more clarity to the world they’re creating, but the calculated chaos of it all definitely has a certain appeal. Curse Words is a little harried and scattered but it’s fun because it embraces some of it’s own silliness. Soule and Browne are hugely self-aware of the toys they’re playing with and how they’re executing their story, which is a really good sign moving forward.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Star Trek: Waypoint #3
Written by Mairghread Scott and Cecil Castellucci
Art by Corin Howell, Jason Lewis, Megan Levens and Sarah Stern
Lettering by Andworld Designs
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Star Trek: Waypoint continues to approach its stories in novel and heartfelt ways in its third installment. Bringing together the casts of Voyager and Deep Space Nine, writers Mairghread Scott and Cecil Castellucci make the most of their page counts with focused short stories that reveal the more lighthearted and emotionally moving aspects of the Star Trek universe.

Each story is also provided a game art team in order to truly convey the scripts’ tone; X-Files: Origins artist Corin Howell and colorist Jason Lewis give Scott’s Voyager story “The Wildman Maneuver” a cartoonish playfulness that charms instantly while Madame Frankenstein’s Megan Levens and colorist Sarah Stern absolutely nail the complex emotions at play during the DS9 story entitled "Mother’s Walk." Delivering another satisfying double feature, IDW Publishing continues to have the canon anthology game cornered with Star Trek: Waypoint #3.

Waypoint so far has been a successful venture for the Star Trek line at IDW, but this third issue is perhaps the purest example of what makes it such a success; its delicately balanced tone. This month readers are presented with “The Wildman Maneuver” and “Mother’s Walk,” two stories that couldn’t be more different in terms of tone and construction, but nevertheless coalesce into a wonderful reading experience.

Mairghead Scott’s opening story is molecularly designed for fun as it focuses on the fantasy life of Voyager’s littlest crew member, Naomi Wildman, as she constructs a fantastical tale in which her and Seven of Nine save the ship from boarding aliens. Cecil Casellucci’s story, however, takes a much different and much more harrowing approach. Major Kira is caught under a black cloud as a Bajoran tradition marked by the sight of a little-seen constellation is upon her, but she has no living family to celebrate with, prompting the station to rise to the occasion.

Both stories feel like polar opposites, but therein lies the title as a whole’s real strength; that sort of disparate storytelling. Unlike the truly episodic feel of the ongoing titles, Waypoint has the ability to be whatever the writers and artists on that particular issue want it to be, as long as it is Star Trek. That freedom allows the teams to explore what Trek means to them and from that we get honest, emotional stories like “Mother’s Walk” or funny diversions like “The Wildman Maneuver.” Though I would like to see what a pulpy, serialized Waypoint story would look like, as long as it keeps allowing its creative teams the freedom it has been then Star Trek: Waypoint will be a consistent source of interesting one-off stories.

Keeping the stories fenced into their own looks and color schemes are Corin Howell, Jason Lewis, Megan Levens and Sarah Stern. Howell’s pencils, along with the chalky colors of Jason Lewis, slot in perfectly with the playful tone of Scott’s story as they render the inner mind of Wildman just like her sketchy crayon drawings peppered with childlike details with starships with faces and sunglasses on the crew when the day is saved. Pulling a tonal 180 is the team of Levens and Stern. Levens and Stern play their artwork relatively straight, focusing instead on the emotions of the characters and the dusty and sparse visuals of Bajor before and after the occupation made complete by the rustic color palette of Stern. Like the stories they are drawing and coloring, the art teams work can’t be called similar, but still gel into a visually appealing experience all around.

While it doesn’t contain the propulsive energy of a ongoing plot, Star Trek: Waypoint #3 still delivers its own brand of compelling Trek storytelling. Backed by a full bench of talent and using the backdrop of two well established pillars of the Trek franchise, this third issue Waypoint continues to stand confidently apart from the rest of the line thanks to the creative freedom it gives its writers and artists.Star Trek: Waypoint #3 again shows what creatives are capable of when they have so much unexplored space around them.

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