Best Shots Advance Reviews: JAMES BOND - SERVICE #1, ARCHIES #1, RAPTURE #1, SOMETHING CITY

Something City
Credit: Ellice Weaver (Avery Hill Publishing)
Credit: Dynamite

James Bond: Service #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Antonio Fuso and Chris O’Halloran
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“It’s a nationalist time. You guys should know that. Now we work out what that means.”

Whip-smart British writer Kieron Gillen brings his specific brand of wit, heart, and action to the world of MI-6 in James Bond: Service, a new one-shot springing out of the current Bond ongoing. A new United States Secretary of State is making waves with incendiary comments about Britain’s diminishing role in world security, but what starts as a gaffe from a boorish American quickly spirals out of control as he draws the attention of a violent alt-right nationalist terror cell, prompting James Bond to step in to prove once again just what Her Majesty’s Secret Service has to offer.

Gillen is firing on all cylinders here, delivering a razor-sharp and disarmingly charming Bond that always has a quip at the ready. Even better is Gillen’s plot, one that leans into Britain and America’s current mercurial political climate and twists it to his own purpose, culminating in a Bond story that is actually about something and has a genuine point to make underneath all the action and banter. Giving that action crystalline pop art life are artist Antonio Fuso and colorist Chris O’Halloran. The G.I. Joe: Cobra artist re-adapts well to the world of spycraft, working with a considerably less bombastic world, but gathering real visual steam throughout the issue with fast-moving action laid out on the page in jagged, Dutch-angled panels that help sell this one-shot’s chaos, movement, and character moments.

Colorist Chris O’Halloran brings it all home with flashy, yet earth-toned bursts of colors that seem to soak into Fuso’s glassy pencils and radiate the tone and themes of the script outward like some sort of action comic stained glass window. O’Halloran’s colors are the right ones for Fuso’s pencils, but also provides Service a nice layer of visual continuity for fans that have been keeping up with Dynamite’s current James Bond output. Having done some obvious homework before taking on coloring duties on Benjamin Percy’s “Black Box” arc, O’Halloran’s shading, hues, and action scene pallette will remind readers of those of Guy Major from the “Eidolon” and “Vargr” arcs; the same kind of restrained, realist action comics that aren’t afraid to go a little broad when they need to.

But Fuso and O’Halloran have a fantastic foundation to build on, thanks to Kieron Gillen’s pointed script. Like O’Halloran’s colors and Fuso’s respectfully irreverent Matthew Vaughn-esque scene construction, Gillen dances well between the serious and silly, striking the same kind of balance between the two as more underrated cultish Bond film efforts like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and GoldenEye did. Making full use of Bond’s ancillary characters like the charmingly rumpled, put-upon Felix Leiter, a scene-stealing Moneypenny, the irascible Boothroyd of Q Branch, and this series’ no-nonsense and droll M, Gillen has something to say with this one-shot but he wants to make it as fun as possible; comic books' take on allowing you to have your dessert and your veggies at the same time.

Mealtime metaphor aside, Gillen isn’t trying to be subtle about the themes of this one-shot which gives the story an incendiary confidence. The plot revolves around a bullish new American power player (Sound familiar?) who steps on foreign soil and instantly makes an ass of himself (Sound familiar?!) and in doing so draws the ire of a paranoid radicalized sleeper cell of “patriots” who demand that the slight against England (read: white men) be answered in blood (Seriously, does this sound familiar?!?!).

Gillen has never been one to put blinders up to the world around him or to avoid touchy subjects, but Service is him at both his most political and at his most fun, which is great because this one-shot could have come across either tone deaf or self-serious thus killing any hope for enjoyment. But thankfully Kieron Gillen earns his Double-O status with honors with plenty of action, brains, and a barrel full of truly hilarious verbal barbs; “Well, Jack, who are your charming neo-Nazi friends?” being my personal favorite.

We all awoke this morning to the news of Roger Moore’s death. His was the longest consecutive run on the role of 007, and though his entries lean more toward camp, Moore’s performance always sold it, attempting to imbue a sense of gravitas even when talking about moon lasers or chasing down Christopher Walken. James Bond: Service, to me, is the best possible version of Moore’s attempts, providing a Bond for the world we live in now, racist warts and all. Dynamite Entertainment has made great use of the Bond license so far, and Service proves that they have no intention of slowing down quite yet.

Credit: Archie Comics

The Archies #1
Written by Alex Segura and Matthew Rosenberg
Art by Joe Eisma and Matt Herms
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

One of the best thing about Archie Comics in recent years is their willingness to try just about anything. In addition to their regular digests, they've expanded their line to include horror titles like Afterlife With Archie, a comic book counterpart to their hit CW show Riverdale and fun one-shots like Archie Meets The Ramones. This double-sized one-shot see the writing team of Alex Segura and Matthew Rosenberg together again for another look at the Archie universe with a musical bent. With every aspect of Archie’s mythology getting an update, it was only a matter of time before we got to see the modern origin of his band the Archies, and this story has a little something for everyone. Joe Eisma joins them on art, bringing along the expert expression work and clean lines that helped define another schoolyard tale in Morning Glories.

It might be a little bit of personal bias, but the story laid out here by Segura and Rosenberg feels a lot like what starting your first band is like. You move too fast. You book a show before you even have a name. You try out a million different potential bandmates. You dream big and get disappointed when things come crashing down to reality. But through it all, you’re doing something fun with your friends, and that’s always got to be at the heart of it. So the narrative rings fairly true here. What’s fun is that the writers are big music fans in their own right, so they play fast and loose with name drops to other bands. It makes the dialogue feel a lot more natural even when some of the references might seem a little bizarre. (I mean, I never considered that Archie Andrews would listen to Lightning Bolt or Death Grips, but hey, the kid’s got some diverse tastes!) The fun is in the beats along the way - the tryouts for the band, Betty being jealous of Veronica, Reggie and the Reggies, Betty and Veronica’s disguises. The narrative lands exactly where you expect it to, but that’s part of the charm of Archie comic books - smaller, relatable stakes that teach the characters (and maybe some readers) a life lesson.

Joe Eisma is really in his element here. Certainly no stranger to drawing high school kids, Eisma gives this book a really consistent sense of style that fits in with the main universe Archie titles. As mentioned in the intro, it’s his expression work that shines through everything else and when you’re dealing with teenage drama, that is key. Eisma helps the jokes in Segura and Rosenberg’s script land and includes fun little details like Archie’s T-shirts throughout the issue that help inform his musical tastes as much as the dialogue. (I spotted the Clash, Superchunk and TOPS.) And while music is a hard thing to really convey on the page, I think Eisma does a good job inserting some energy in the band sequences so the characters look less like they’re just posing as rock stars and more like they’re actually playing. That’s a small detail but a crucial one.

The Archies one-shot doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that’s a very good thing. It’s a heartwarming story about the birth of the Archies complicated by egos, just like so many other bands before them. And I think that speaks a little bit to the enduring nature of these characters and the concept of Archie comics. Something that we’re even seeing on TV today. These stories are evergreen and still malleable. They can be updated and tweaked but as long as the core remains the same, they still work. And as it stands, this is a great read for newer Archie fans and older ones alike.

Credit: Ellice Weaver (Avery Hill Publishing)

Something City
Written by Ellice Weaver
Art by Ellice Weaver
Published by Avery Hill Publishing
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Something City is an unusual book with an eerie charm. Billed by Avery Hill Publishing as “an exploration of modern day living through representations of the lives of different groups of people in an imagined place,” Ellice Weaver’s debut book follows the residents of the titular city through a series of events that feel strikingly modern against deceptively simple illustrations. Something City leads us through the city’s neighborhoods and attractions with establishing shots that evoke the playful charm of Richard Scarry’s Busy Town with thick black lines and a straightforward color palette that’s never too bold or overpowering for the neat, geometric architecture of Something City’s neighborhoods, or the small and unreadable faces of the neighbors and campgoers the stars of Something City’s vignettes interact with.

Weaver’s series opens with the tale of Jo Walker, an animal activist whose efforts to rescue dogs left a Something City resident in surgery and resulted in a legal battle that drove the Walker family out of the neighborhood into the posh neighborhood of UpperHaven Squaresville. Still haunted by anonymous texts and angry social media posts about the incident, Jo struggles to feel comfortable in a neighborhood where the residents are more concerned with juice cleanses and superfoods than animal welfare. Jo’s past comes back to haunt her at the end of her short tale in a way that feels uncomfortably familiar in an age where the Internet can remember the worst perception of all of our transgressions, no matter how hard we work to move on from them or what the truth of the situation may have been.

The art of Something City seems playful and strangely distant all at once; Weaver’s style is evocative but not necessarily intimate. The UpperHaven tale filled with Jo’s regret for the life she’s left behind and an underlying sense of dread at the anonymous internet vitriol Jo knows she’ll never truly be able to escape. But despite the emotional undertones, the panels feel static and easy to follow in the style of a children’s book, with faces that lack the detail to be deeply expressive.

It’s Weaver’s straightforward dialogue and the unusual situations paired with her strong artwork that still make Something City a deeply emotional book, dotted with bold patterns and individual clothing styles that make each neighborhood feel unique. The blues and pinks and galaxy-swirled decor of the Brook Field Terrace story are as beautiful to see as they are heart-breaking in the context of the young protagonist’s struggles throughout the brief tale. As recurring characters flit through from neighborhood to neighborhood, they carry with them the weight of each previous tale, the consequences of their actions flitting with them like a small-town butterfly effect.

Despite the surreal nature of some of Weaver’s tales there are still hints of good-natured humor, from a petty crime prisoner who makes friends growing cacti for protection to a roving moose who finds himself in the care of Something City’s Amish neighborhood. Pages from the Something Times dot the narrative, fleshing out the off-beat vibe of the city at large and offering updates on earlier tales with tongue-in-cheek twists.

At times Weaver touches on the social media-wary vibe of Black Mirror’s “Fifteen Million Merits” - particularly in Jo’s tale and the world of Old Network Square - but she never gets heavy-handed with it, simply presenting her character’s tales as stories of people who have made choices and must deal with the consequences in much the same way a young woman has to deal with a potential break-up during a girl’s night out, and as her boyfriend has to cope with his grandfather’s reluctance to move into a retirement community. The existence of social media doesn’t seem to spur anyone to be better or worse than they would have in its absence; instead, Weaver illustrates the ways it has changed our day-to-day lives, and highlights the uniquely modern spin it gives quandaries we may have faced without it, such as exploring what face we want to present to the world and how we react in the face of what we may see as an injustice done to our community.

Something City is an impressive debut, and an utterly engaging tale from start to finish whose visual style belies its emotional depth. Weaver is a clever and talented storyteller and illustrator with a unique perspective on modern living. Her ability to build a fully-realized world that feels authentic in its depiction of community living and its off-kilter nature in a few simple vignettes is incredible, and make Something City an irresistible tale that offers new visual details and emotional insights to enjoy with each subsequent read.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Rapture #1
Written by Matt Kindt
Art by CAFU and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Matt Kindt and CAFU deliver a solid opener for Valiant’s latest team-up series, Rapture. Featuring the Geomancer, Ninjak, Shadowman, and Punk Mambo’s descent into the Deadside, Kindt’s storyline may adhere to tried-and-true superhero beat-‘em-up structure, but his deft use of characterization makes his heroes compelling to watch.

In many ways, Rapture #1 feels split into two wildly different stories. At first, Kindt takes his time by letting us follow Tama the Geomancer, as she engages in a trek that’s more than a little reminiscent of Indiana Jones’ first adventures in Raiders of the Lost Ark (or Kindt’s previous mind-bending fantasy work on Ether). From bounding through an ancient riddler’s gauntlet to showing genuine kindness to an all-knowing demon chained to the top of a mystic floating tree to waxing philosophical over her genuine love of books, Kindt makes the young Tama an imminently likable character, both precocious and big-hearted as she aims to stop calamity from occurring. This charisma winds up rubbing off on the indefatigable super-spy Ninjak, whose usual unflappability gets upended when he’s approached by this all-powerful little girl.

Unfortunately, as Kindt adds in more characters, the story begins to hit diminishing returns. While Tama has the advantage of a lengthy lead-in, and Ninjak shines in her proximity as a foil, thus far, Shadowman and Punk Mambo feel a little bit extraneous, serving more as a method of transportation back to the Deadside (which Tama herself even says is only an alternative to how she’s traversed from our world to theirs). While Kindt buys himself a little bit of slack by saying that Shadowman and Mambo are required by destiny to show up, there isn’t quite enough meat to these latter characters to make them truly satisfying. And given that the book’s second half is more traditionally structured - the team is brought together, then winds up dropped in an area filled with nameless baddies, while an evil bad guy smiles fiendishly in the distance - the drop-off in characterization makes the story feel a bit more rote.

But that all said, Valiant’s been a great place for superhero artists who, for whatever reason, didn’t find the toehold they deserved over at the Big Two. CAFU is just a beastly artist, who could really stand shoulder-to-shoulder with artists like Steve McNiven or Ivan Reis - the character designs in this book are always immaculate in terms of their rendering, and even masked characters like Ninjak or Shadowman get some great acting through their body language. (Indeed, CAFU shores up a lot of the characterization for Shadowman, whose hulking physique seems to shrink ever so slightly as he makes the decision to go with Tama and her crew.) I’m still getting used to colorist Andrew Dalhouse’s rendering on CAFU’s art, particularly the way he uses gradients on his rendering in a way that can sometimes evoke the Uncanny Valley, but his work is undeniably consistent and energetic, which works wonders for a book that’s meant to be grounded in reality the way Valiant’s books often are.

That said, the jury is still out on Rapture, given that this issue’s strengths largely reside in a section of the book that may not be similar to the rest of the storyline. Ultimately, that’s Valiant’s main goal in a nutshell - how do you differentiate yourself as a superhero universe when you’re competing against publishers with decades of backstory? - and Kindt and CAFU provide a nice case study in what to do (and what not). Trying to compete with the same kind of spectacle as Marvel and DC is a sucker’s game. But if Kindt can continue to showcase these superheroes as unique and vibrant characters, Rapture may turn out to be a religious experience for those tired of the same old cape comic books.

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