Best Shots Advance Reviews: CLUE #1, SECRET WEAPONS #1, BEAUTIFUL CANVAS #1, BANKSHOT #1

Valiant Entertainment June 2017 cover
Credit: Valiant Entertainment
Credit: IDW Publishing

Clue #1
Written by Paul Allor
Art by Nelson Daniel
Lettering by Neil Uyetake
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Looking for a fun way to kill time this week? Paul Allor and Nelson Daniel, in the comic shop, with a deviously clever debut in tomorrow’s Clue #1 can help. IDW is one of the go-to publishers for licensed property adaptations, and Clue #1 is an excellent addition to their arsenal. Writer Paul Allor and illustrator Nelson Daniel have managed to turn one of the world’s finest mystery board games (and cult classic films) into an intriguing miniseries that plays with the boundaries of the comics medium to add humor and a layer of genuine mystery to the reading experience.

Clue #1 begins with a straightforward premise and largely familiar cast of characters from Clue’s long history: a band of presumed strangers with colorful names and equally colorful backgrounds find themselves invited to Mr. Boddy’s mansion for a classy dinner that takes a gruesome turn. Allor and Daniel give the cast a few modern updates - Miss Scarlett is now an Australian rapper, while Mr. Green is a “pharma bro” with a grating monologue straight from another pharma bro’s stints in the news headlines in recent years. Their dinner - and the story - is guided by Boddy’s butler Upton, a man of dry humor and wry insight who regularly breaks the fourth wall as the story unfolds.

It’s Upton who proves to be one of the most interesting elements in this week’s debut: Allor’s playful dialogue and the exaggerated smile and arched eyebrows Daniel’s art provides keep the series light despite the gruesome murders. He acknowledges up front he’s in a comic, and throughout the issue is the only character whose body leaves the orderly, straightforward panels. He crosses borders to leave rooms, or simply finds his tall body poking out of the top of panels, and even chastises series editor Carlos Guzman for a particularly cheesy and inaccurate joke from Allor.

With a premise as straightforward and a franchise as familiar as Clue, it’s difficult and imperative to find new ways to freshen up a new licensed property. But this book’s creative team has done an excellent job creating a world that visually evokes the orderly design and familiar cast of the board game’s long history while adding new elements that capture a hint of the campy, quirky charm that made weirder adaptations like the 1985 film so delightful to watch. Daniel’s layouts include full page scenes often overlaid with smaller rectangular grids that capture the spirit of moving across the original game’s board, and small elements like case file introductions of new characters are thoughtful callbacks to familiar gameplay elements. The first issue even offers up three different cliffhanger endings depending on the variant you pick up, almost adding a layer of gameplay to the series itself while adding to Upton’s creeping sense of dread as he begins to realize he doesn’t know as much about the events unfolding as he originally suspected.

Clue #1 is a fun, solid debut to a six-issue miniseries, and the mystery ending element makes it worth picking up monthly rather than waiting for the collected paperback. Allor and Daniel have provided a visually intriguing and playful adaptation of one of the most familiar board game franchises of all time, gamifying the comic reading experience in a way that’s true to the series. Each ending offers different clues to the circumstances surrounding the first murder and future events, pitting readers in as much of a race against the clock as Upton and the deceased Mr. Boddy’s reluctant dinner party guests to discover the culprit before the miniseries reaches its conclusion. Grab Clue #1 in shops this Wednesday before another player beats you to it... if you think you’re up for the challenge.

Credit: Black Mask Studios

Beautiful Canvas #1
Written by Ryan K. Lindsay
Art by Sami Kivela and Triona Farrell
Lettering by Ryan Ferrier
Published by Black Mask Studios
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Grittiness and polish aren’t descriptions often paired together. To many, they are mutually exclusive, two ends of one spectrum. But one of the most interesting parts of Beautiful Canvas #1 is the way that it manages to stake an equal claim to both words. Every component to this comic, from Ryan K. Lindsay’s strange yet human narrative to the art team’s unique and stellar blend of talents, contributes to the overall feeling of a meticulously plotted and drawn comic with a real sense of intensity and reckless abandon.

Writer Ryan K. Lindsay wastes little time in referencing The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, a Dario Argento classic, by showing his protagonist, Lon Eisley holding a copy of the film shortly before the comic reveals its title in a clever play on the layers of text with “Lon Eisley stars in The Hitwoman with the Crystal Plumage.” Like the film, the violence of the comic is graphic, but has a sense of weight and consequence. Lon is perpetually haunted by what she has done as a contracted killer and seems genuinely conflicted over her current assignment. When her mark’s young son Alex stumbles upon his mother’s body, he thanks Lon, who promptly attempts to drive the boy to safety. In the world that Lindsay has created, not much is as it initially seems, with the final page revealing a supernatural aspect to Alex’s character that plays with the audience’s initial expectations.

The pairing of artist Sami Kivela and colorist Triona Farrell gives this comic an immediately distinct identity. Kivela’s style is one that is ultimately grounded in realism, but which has enough of a sense of unease that it could switch to strange or, as is the case in some of Beautiful Canvas #1’s more gruesome moments, downright horrific. Farrell, whose distinct and vibrant coloring made Weavers and Big Trouble in Little China/Escape From New York as visually memorable as they were, wastes little time in establishing the visual language of the comic with pink-tinted blood and blue-tinted backgrounds that at once catch the reader’s attention and allow the subjects to pop against them. Together they perfectly capture the claustrophobic lushness of the giallo aesthetic that Lindsay explicitly references.

While it is a relief that Lindsay didn’t waste any of his 22 pages with an exposition dump or simply telling readers about the situation or backstory, the sheer number of moving parts in this comic will undoubtedly leave some readers confused, as character names are require multiple reads to stick. Motivations are, for the most part, less murky, but again some will likely be confused as to the inclusion of certain scenes that don’t have a payoff in this issue, and which seem at first to be largely disconnected from the central narrative.

Beautiful Canvas #1 is messy, visceral, and cinematic in its presentation and scope. It often expects readers to latch on to subtext in a way that other comics usually don’t. This might make parts of the comic seem alienating to some readers, but will further entice others. It is visually stunning, with something interesting in every panel, and with a vibrancy in terms of art and colors that rockets it above most other books currently out. It all makes for a strong debut that is satisfying in its own right and will leave many readers eager for the next issue.

Credit: Valiant Entertainment

Secret Weapons #1
Written by Eric Heisserer
Art by Raul Allen and Patricia Martin
Lettering by Patricia Martin
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“It’s okay. There is at least us three.”

Valiant Entertainment gets their own X-Statix in the debut of Secret Weapons #1. Taking a break from writing Oscar-nominated feature films, writer Eric Heisserer sets his sights on the Valiant Universe and gives us a thrilling, often hilarious look at the heroic misfits of this world of immortals, unkillable assassins, and cybernetically enhanced ninja spies. Anchored by Valiant heavyweight Livewire, Heisserer delivers a story that is fully entrenched in this vast universe, while at the same time being so entertainingly accessible that you’ll feel like you’ve been reading these books forever.

Keeping the visuals refined and potent are penciler Raul Allen and colorist Patricia Martin. Allen has been all over Valiant the last few years, and in my opinion was the artist who gave Wrath of the Eternal Warrior a signature look comparable to Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin and Chris Samnee’s run of Daredevil. But while his intricately explosive action is largely absent in this debut, his attention to detail is not, nor is his focus on character beats through sequential movement. Made complete by the inspired colors of Patricia Martin, Allen’s artwork takes full advantage of the opportunity provided to prove once again why he's been a consistent artistic presence in the Valiant Universe for as long as he has.

But while this debut is very charming and undeniably impressive on a production level, there is a drawback to being so entrenched in past Valiant continuity. On one hand, it’s great that Heisserer strips Livewire’s history down to brass tacks and presents her more as an empathetic, capable lead beyond her recent exploits. At the same time, I can see readers both familiar and unfamiliar with Unity and its shady origins being frustrated that more isn’t given about Livewire, her fallout with bigwig Toyo Harada, and the devastating information leak currently wreaking havoc across the Valiant Universe.

That said, this “clean slate” approach to Secret Weapons is much more blessing than curse. Using the Valiant canon as foundation, Heisserer introduces us to Martin, Owen and Nikki, three survivors of Harada’s Harbinger program and recent escapees from their remote holding psiot-holding facility, The Willows. Heisserer quickly establishes the stakes of this series as he sets a murderous hulking psiot-killing cyborg after them, but that constant forward direction never hinders Heisserer’s characterization of the cast, most of whom come out the other side as fully fleshed-out and fun characters.

Owen, Nikki and Martin are all lovable losers, all either hitting the skids or in the process of doing so, and to make matters worse, they are saddled with pretty lame powers like making everything you touch glow (but not explode) or uncontrollably conjuring items out of thin air at random. Heisserer smartly keeps the plot moving forward as the trio are consistently on the defensive or on the run from Rex-O, the aforementioned murder-bot. But never once does Heisserer allow the plot to leave the cast behind as he makes time for endearing moments like the one containing the quote at the top of this piece, where Livewire finally gets Owen and Nikki to relative safety and stops a moment to offer sincere reassurance.

Giving this debut an extra edge of artistic cleanliness and detailing is penciler Raul Allen and colorist Patricia Martin. Allen trades the expansive scope and Rube Goldberg-like violence of Gilad Anni-Padda’s world for the concrete and neon of Oklahoma City. Allen’s precise lines and sometimes scarily accurate architecture shine here, but it is his character beats like Nikki talking to her birds or Owen or Livewire demanding the Willows resident list from her contact, along with Martin’s focused, bombastic colors that make Secret Weapons truly sing.

This debut is not without action however, as it contains a tensely hilarious panel grid chase sequence and a showstopping display of Livewire’s abilities, as she constructs a Mega Man-like blaster arm and fires upon Rex-O. This beautifully focused fight sequence is capped by searing pink and harsh white backgrounds inlaid behind the gleaming silvers, rusted ambers, and dull red rubber ringlets of Livewire’s free-floating weapon parts from Patricia Martin.

But while Secret Weapons #1 has moments of the epic action and heady superhero science fiction Valiant is known for, Eric Heisserer, Raul Allen and Patricia Martin make the characters and their personalities the spectacle and that is this debut’s real achievement. Taking cues from misfit team books like the West Coast Avengers and Valiant’s own Generation Zero, this debut issue takes Harada’s “disappointments” and puts them on the road to stardom with a charming, heartfelt debut that also just happens to be a blast to read.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Bankshot #1
Written by Alex De Campi
Art by Chriscross and Snakebite Cortez
Lettering by Alex De Campi
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Alex De Campi is one of those rare breeds of writer that has a solid understanding of visual storytelling. Known in the comics world as the scribe behind Image Comics’ No Mercy, she has also worked with artists as diverse as Amanda Palmer and Flipron in the world of music videos. With Bankshot, de Campi uses every inch of those skills, working with creators Chriscross and Snakebite Cortez deliver something that’s equal parts action movie and explosive thriller.

This debut issue focuses on Marcus King, who is most definitely not a terrorist. Indeed, he’s more akin to a soldier of fortune. In fact, Marcus King might not even be his real name, as de Campi sets up a mystery from the get-go. Sent to take care of a dictatorial warlord in North Africa, we get an early indication of King’s particular set of skills before things go inevitably and horribly wrong.

The moral ambiguity of an anti-hero is always tempered by setting up someone who is either more virtuous, or more objectively “evil” than our lead. Here it’s the latter; with The Dutchman an amalgam of every European Bond villain with an army you can name-check. Yet despite a few clandestine conversations about the players and their stakes, de Campi leaves us very little time to ponder such broad notions of “good” and “bad.” Instead, she is intent on maintaining the momentum of multiple action films rolled into one. On this level, Bankshot is every bit the success that its swagger would suggest.

The artwork of Chriscross and Cortez certainly helps sell the scale of the action. While there isn’t quite a body count from page one (we have to wait until page three for that), Bankshot wastes little time in bringing a sense of movement and size to the narrative. You can feel the vibration trucks rumbling across the desert, with onomatopoeic splashes and speed lines amping up the velocity. Chunks of out-of-focus dirt in the foreground obscure characters in a style borrowed from cinema. As vehicles collide, the artists are not content with letting us watch the resulting explosion, they want us to reach out and touch it.

Yet it would be too easy to say that this is a film slowed down, or a comic sped up. The resulting firefight of the aforementioned truck chase showcases a dynamic art style that is actually moving. The impact of these moments is amplified by the rapidity of the paneling. As Marcus becomes aware of the aftermath of the action, a series of quick cuts to web videos dictates the pace of the moment, so our reveal of The Dutchman mirrors King’s.

A white-knuckle ride of a first issue, it is difficult to not get completely suckered in. Giving us just enough information to demand some more answers, it ticks all the boxes of a debut by inviting us to stay a little longer and find out how this (anti)hero gets out of peril.

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