Best Shots Advance Reviews: SHIPWRECK #5, HI-FI FIGHT CLUB #1

BOOM! Studios August 2017 cover
Credit: BOOM! Studios
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Hi-Fi Fight Club #1
Written by Carly Usdin
Art by Nina Vakeuva, Irene Flores and Rebecca Nalty
Lettering by Jim Campbell
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Kat Calamia
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The year is 1998! Chris, your average 16-year-old girl, has just started her dream job at her local music shop, Vinyl Mayhem. And just like any new employee, she’s still figuring out the terrain, but Chris quickly learns that Vinyl Mayhem isn’t your average place of employment - it’s also a vigilante fight club. With all this laid out, Hi-Fi Fight Club #1 is both cute and feisty, as the creative team gives the reader every reason to want more.

Writer Carly Usdin’s biggest strength is the voice she gives to Chris and her fellow co-workers. Chris is your standard fish-out-of-water character - she’s a new employee at Vinyl Mayhem, still trying to figure out her relationships with her co-workers. Irene is the cool store manager and leader of the group, Kennedy is the store’s music encyclopedia, Dolores is Chris’ self-proclaimed arch-nemesis, and Maggie is the girl Chris has a huge crush on.

Usdin seamlessly sets up these dynamics to deliver a team that you want to follow as a reader, as these different personalities unite for the common cause of music and justice. My favorite interaction is between Maggie and Chris as Usdin gives the most panel time to this relationship, setting up an adorable will-they-or-won’t-they plot between the two.

This first issue is able to perfectly create likeable and relatable characters, while also weaving in an interesting mystery for the main plot. The reason Chris’ co-workers reveal their vigilante double lives to her is because famous singer Rory Glory is kidnapped. Chris joins the team just in time for a rock n’ roll driven mystery, a plot thread that was nicely paced as the book led into its fight club twist. This showcases that Vinyl Mayhem is not your average store, even though the girls for most of the issue try their hardest to portray normalcy to Chris.

The pencils by Nina Vakueva and colors by Rebecca Nalty are a perfect fit for Carly Usdin’s script. Nalty injects bright colors to every panel. Including soft, simple colors for background work, which allows the characters themselves to take center stage in every scene. This color palette fits the cheery tone Vakueva brings through her pencils.

Chris’ personality is electrifying as Vakueva perfectly portrays the awkwardness of a teenager starting a new job and dealing with crushes. But Vakueva and designer Marie Krupina’s biggest accomplishment is the unique styles they give each Hi-Fi girl – allowing the characters’ personalities to easily shine throughout the book.

Hi-Fi Fight Club #1 is the perfect first issue as it introduces a great paced mystery, a relatable lead, and a team with an already addicting dynamic. This premiere leaves the reader wanting more as it instills pure fun with every page - the only negative is the month we will have to wait for the next issue.

Credit: AfterShock Comics

Shipwreck #5
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Phil Hester, Eric Gapstur, and Mark Englert
Lettering by Marshall Dillion
Published by Aftershock Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

An eye-scorching artistic showcase grounds the Lynchian horror of Aftershock Comics’ Shipwreck #5. Though Warren Ellis’ current output runs the gamut from high-tech superhero spy fiction (The Wild Storm) to dystopian ecological horror (Trees), Shipwreck continues to be refreshingly straightforward. Our lead, Dr. Jonathan Shipwright, is still trapped on a hazy, seemingly unraveling parallel Earth, but is moving ever closer to rescue and still on the trail of his flight’s saboteur. But while this sounds fairly mundane, Ellis and his team of artists twist it into something so much more than just a chase story.

Picking up after the last issue’s cliffhanger, Shipwreck #5 finally reveals the exact nature and horror of the titular wreck between Earths and the chaos looks absolutely breathtaking in the hands of artists Phil Hester, Eric Gapstur, and Mark Englert. Acting as a kind of explosive anchor point for the overall plot, this sequence is instantly arresting and offers a fiery and welcome change from the kind of cloudy, dreamlike pencils and colors the series has made use of in the first four issues. Straight to the point and loaded for bear artistically, Shipwreck #5 is a poetically bare-bones showcase for a few of comics’ most skilled storytellers.

Contact between worlds has been made and already things are going horrifyingly pear shaped. Ellis, after steadily dropping hints as to the severity of the wreck through flashbacks, finally gives up the ghost in Shipwreck #5 and reveals the exact moment everything went to hell for Shipwright and his crew, and it looks stunning. I have often talked about how Ellis has an uncanny knack for getting out of his artist’s way in terms of visual storytelling, and Shipwreck #5 is another in a long line of examples.

In a largely wordless opening, Ellis provides the groundwork and then simply lets what will be be as Phil Hester, Eric Gapstur, and Mark Englert are given scripting inches and then take beautifully destructive miles. The wreck itself plays out like a particularly vivid nightmare as Hester’s hard angles and blocky scene construction are suddenly awash with blazing reds, yellows, purples, and oranges so bright and oppressive they almost seem weaponized.

Inker Gapstur has provided some fantastic definition throughout Shipwreck, giving Hester’s pencils a hard outwardly lined form that kept his scenes from running together. However, during this stellar sequence his inks become a bit washed out due to the sheer amount of colors on the page from Englert. Gapstur’s contributions don’t become clear again until the sequence’s finale, which is a grim visual call back to the series opening scene of Shipwright slowly sinking as the world fades out from his view, but that doesn’t lessen the power of this opening scene; it merely dulls one of his visual tools for the time being.

And speaking of dull, the argument could be made that Shipwreck’s fairly simple plot could be considering boring or pedestrian, to which I would respectfully disagree, and would probably get less respectful about it as the conversation went on. Aside from the jaw-dropping opening, Ellis and his art team deliver more of the sort of weird, slightly off kilter storytelling and plotting that has sustained the series thus far. Sure, the actual plot is pretty simple to explain (a rarity when it comes to Ellis’ work), but simplicity doesn’t equal poor storytelling here. In fact, quite the opposite is Shipwreck #5 and something tells me that before this whole thing is over, simple is the last thing it could be called.

And so armed with a explosively beautiful opening sequence and a plot that one could sum up in three sentences or less Shipwreck #5 proves that there is power in simplicity when you have artwork as good as it does. Warren Ellis, Eric Gapstur, Phil Hester, and Mark Englert might not be reinventing the wheel with this series, but they are damn sure making that wheel look dangerous and strange making a worthy new addition to the Warren Ellis canon. Shipwreck might not be the first title readers think of when they think of new Ellis works, but after #5, I have a feeling that that could (and should) change.

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