Best Shots Advance Reviews: X-FILES DEVIATIONS 2017, ONCE & FUTURE QUEEN #1

Dark Horse Comics March 2017 cover
Credit: Dark Horse Comics
Credit: IDW Publishing

X-Files Deviations 2017
Written by Amy Chu
Art by Silva Califano, Elena Casagrande, and Monica Kubina
Lettering by Shawn Lee
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Fan fiction dreams come true in X-Files Deviations 2017. Kicking off IDW’s second wave of Deviations, writer Amy Chu gender swaps Fox Mulder, imagining a world in which he was abducted and his sister Sam took up his obsessive quest. But instead of making this one-shot a “monster of the week” lark, Chu goes full Mytharc on us, featuring the shape-shifting alien assassin the Cigarette Smoking Man, and even the Lone Gunmen. Though Chu doesn’t quite capitalize on Sam’s inclusion as much as I would have liked, her script still delivers classic X-Files fun.

Artist Silva Califano, inker Elena Casagrande, and colorist Monica Kubina also get in on the fan-fiction-y vibe as Califano’s ship inspiring pencils, cleanly defined by Casagrande’s inks, and topped off with hazy, almost videotape like colors from Kubina give this one-shot the look and feel of those early, mystery filled episodes. Bootstrapped by strong characterization and engaging visuals, X-Files Deviations 2017 creates an alternate world that fans will enjoy exploring for a time.

After a matter of fact “previously on” detailing “What Really Happened,” Amy Chu wastes little time establishing her story’s pocket reality. This one-shot begins like any episode would, Sam and Scully are headed to Black Hills, South Dakota where Sam thinks she’s found another X-File in the form of three park rangers, all exactly identical with the same last name, but with different middle initials. Of course, the pair quickly find themselves entangled in a larger plot involving the Syndicate and alien invasion. This one-shot feels big and that lands squarely on the shoulders of Amy Chu, who takes a bolder approach to this story instead of scaling down like so many do.

Also great is Samantha Mulder herself. Though she doesn’t share her brother’s taste for sunflower seeds, Chu generates genuine chemistry between her and Scully as they settle easily into the classic skeptic/believer dynamic. Like her brother, Sam is also a huge dork, and Chu endears her very quickly to the audience as she rattles off trivia and sheepishly admits to knowing the Lone Gunmen through her Dungeons and Dragons group. While I would have liked for Chu to delve a bit more into Scully and Sam’s working and possibly budding romantic relationship or perhaps a version of Sam earning her brother’s reputation as the FBI’s “spooky” agent, its still enough to make this one-shot a substantial read.

And speaking of substantial, the art team of Silva Califano, Elena Casagrande, and Monica Kubina make a meal out of Amy Chu’s script and provide this one-shot some tense displays of alien action backed by plenty of kickass feminity. As I said above, Califano, Casagrande, and Kubina nail the look of early 90s television; the screen’s contrast is turned way up thanks to Kubina’s vibrant take on the drab colored clothing and mundane sedans Mulder and Scully always find themselves in.

But providing a strong and beautiful skeleton for those colors are penciler Silvia Califano and inker Elena Casagrande. The idea of a Rule 63 Mulder surely conjures all sorts of images, but Califano and Casagrande approach Sam with a clear respect and power, giving her the confident gait of Fox along with his dorky confidence. But more than that Scully and Sam are rendered as sexy, but never sexualized, handling themselves in the field with a trained, grounded action and interacting with each other with a comfortable familiarity that conveys their relationship well to readers. Though IDW has done a great job with their visual depiction of women in the X-Files, Silvia Califano, Elena Casagrande, and Monica Kubina show just how important and beneficial female creatives are to stories about women.

X-Files Deviations 2017 could and should become your go to example for how great comics with all-female creative teams can be. Briskly plotted and firmly rooted in Mytharc lore, Amy Chu’s script drops us in a world not unlike the one we knew on Fox all those years ago and promptly starts to mix things up. The art team of Silva Califano, Elena Casagrande, and Monica Kubina keep pace with Chu’s script every step of the way, applying honed pencils and colors to the one-shot, giving it a keen visual edge. The 2017 crop of Deviations may be just starting, but X-Files Deviations 2017 starts them off strong.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Once and Future Queen #1
Written by Adam P. Knave and D.J. Kirkbride
Art by Nick Brokenshire
Lettering by Frank Cvetkovic
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

New from Dark Horse this Wednesday, Once and Future Queen #1 is the typical coming-of-age tale we can all relate to: you have a bad day, stumble into a cave, and walk out the future queen of England. In this first issue of their five-part miniseries, writers Adam P. Knave and D.J. Kirkbride promise an intriguing premise and an endearing cast in a well-crafted and strangely endearing tale that abandons some of the typical tropes of teen superhero stories with contagious glee.

Rani Arturus is a young chess prodigy whose family trip to Cambridge, England for a tournament sets her on a thrilling but dangerous path. By her own admission, she has little else in her life but her chess standing, and the other young leads introduced in the book seem similarly flat at first glance as the story seems to fly through Rani’s origin story in an effort to end the issue with all actors on stage together at last. Gwen is cute and flighty, and Lance, in his brief introduction, could be described as beleaguered at best. But despite these very brief introductions, Knave, Kirkbridge, and artist Nick Brokenshire do their best to build the world and characters of Once and Future Queen through art and dialogue in a way that gives a clear sense of Rani’s values and priorities without seeming hamfisted.

She may not do much else outside of chess, for now, but Rani’s a clever tactician who throws herself into strategizing before tournaments, who works at her best with a driving beat in her headphones, and her relationship with her parents is charmingly close, evidenced by her father William’s good-natured ribbing and her mother Durga’s careful concern after a cute girl causes Rani to fumble her defense during a big chess match. Rani reveals her newfound royal heritage to her parents without hesitation, blowing past the typical tales of teen secrecy and instead exploring how strange it is when your parents seem to accept your mystical sword tattoo almost as fast as you do.

Nick Brokenshire’s style gives Once and Future Queen #1 an aesthetic that’s at once timeless and almost retro, emphasized by the book’s excellent logo and Frank Cvetkovic’s bold lettering. Little touches like Rani’s smartphone or brief and more emotionally impactful scenes like her East Asian mother being held up at airport security while Rani and her father pass through with ease make the book feel technologically and politically current, but Brokenshire’s use of color harkens back to early days of color comics and makes this issue feel appropriately like an age-old story being rediscovered by new eyes. Brokenshire’s brighter, vibrant blues and pinks to capture the mystic world Rani has stumbled lends to the book’s otherworldly feel. Ghostly Merlin, a space-suited time-traveler here, almost seems to glow in every panel, and Brokenshire keeps these pops of color as a consistent theme throughout to emphasize potential mystical allies or enemies on the page.

This isn’t the first time Brokenshire has worked with Knave and Kirkbridge (very fitting names for an Arthurian retelling, as it happens), and Once and Future Queen #1 is further proof of the strength of their collaborative skills. The artwork is beautiful throughout, and the way Knave and Kirkbridge manage to develop Rani in this introductory issue hopefully suggests they’ll be able to build her new friends (and maybe crush) Lance and Gwen in a similar fashion in future issues to make up for their introductions here. Tomorrow’s debut issue isn’t perfect, but it’s a beautiful and fun read, offering up a thoughtful twist on an age-old tale that will have you going back for future readings to see what subtle hints you might have missed.

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