Best Shots Reviews: QUINCE, HI-FI FIGHT CLUB #3, JUGHEAD: THE HUNGER #1

BOOM! Studios October 2017 cover
Credit: BOOM! Studios
Credit: Francesco Francavilla (Archie Comics)

Jughead: The Hunger #1
Written by Frank Tieri
Art by Pat Kennedy, Tim Kennedy, Bob Smith, Jim Amash and Matt Herms
Lettering by Jack Morelli Published by Archie Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Sometimes our eyes just get bigger than our stomachs. Case in point: Jughead: The Hunger.

It's not that Frank Tieri and Archie Comics didn't do what we asked them. I for one really enjoyed the initial one-shot of Jughead Jones turning lycanthrope, and welcomed the idea of more stories in the same twisted vein of Afterlife with Archie. Unfortunately, this return installment can't match up with the lunacy or the production values of its pilot issue, making Jughead: The Hunger a horror comic that is missing some necessary bite.

Part of the problem with this first issue is that, numbering aside, it's not an introductory issue at all — if you didn't read the initial one-shot, you're going to be lost, and if you do read it, you're going to be immediately struck with the downgrade in artwork and the continuity-heavy plot. Jughead: The Hunger unfortunately relies a lot on the surprisingly convoluted mythology Frank Tieri came up with last installment, but with not enough of the visceral scares he and Matt Walsh delivered. If you're interested in Betty Cooper's quest as a werewolf hunter or Jughead inexplicably running to the circus to try to get his werewolf side under control, you'll find a lot to like here — but this story seems to go out of its way to avoid the werewolf action, which is ultimately what people are going to be paying to see. Characters come and go with little fanfare or introduction, and outside of a semi-compelling but over-long intro, the first issue is mostly table-setting.

Last go-round, Tieri was also bolstered by artist Matt Walsh, who was able to let us climb in the head of Werewolf Jughead by letting us see and hear things from the beast's heightened senses. This is where artists Pat and Tim Kennedy let Tieri down considerably — there's a bit, for example, where Tieri has a mangled Reggie Mantle coding in an emergency room, but the Kennedys treat the wailing beeps of the heart monitor as an afterthought, giving letterer Jack Morelli little choice but to follow suit.

Meanwhile, later on, Betty Cooper gets a monster-hunting cousin named Bo, who sticks out like a sore thumb in design compared to the rest of the Riverdale crew, while later we get a distasteful upskirt shot of a beheaded murder victim. There are a lot of missed opportunities in that regard, but even big moments like the eventual reveal of the werewolf look overexaggerated but not even scary — not a good look when your book is about werewolves. That said, credit where it's due — the Kennedys do great work during the quiet moments when Jughead chains himself up in anguish, and they do a great job selling Tieri's inexplicable detour to the circus, with a series of insets that play up how unsettling this troupe is, sold to perfection by colorist Matt Herms, who does yeoman's work keeping this book within the rest of the Archie Horror style.

They say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but Jughead: The Hunger #1 expects readers to dive deep into some Byzantine lore while essentially forgetting that after months of hiatus, this first issue needs to be a solid introduction that stands on its own. Instead, this book unfortunately loses most of what made the original one-shot such an unexpected treat, while doubling down on the original's weaknesses in plotting. With a premise this delicious, one can hope this series ups its game in future installments — but the steep decline in quality may end this beast faster than Betty Cooper ever could.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Hi-Fi Fight Club #3
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: 9 out of 10

Where in the world is the lead singer of Stegosour? In this issue, Chris’ detective skills are put to the test as she discovers the biggest clue to unraveling the Rosie Riot mystery. Hi-Fi Fight Club #3 focuses on the creation of new friendships and the test of old bonds as Chris continues to try and figure out her place on the team.

In this penultimate issue Carly Usdin has a chance to put more focus on the team’s dynamic with each other now that Chris is completely in the fold. After discovering a clue in Stegosour’s lyric book, Chris is forced to work with self-titled arch-nemesis, Dolores. This introduced a pleasant heart-to-heart from former new girl to current new girl, even if it was a bit predictable this was still a needed scene to help solidify the team.

It was great to see Chris share panel time with all her teammates, but her relationship with Maggie is still the strongest aspect of Hi-Fi Fight Club. Maggie and Chris have shared some adorable moments with each other over the course of the series, but with this issue Usdin sets some needed obstacles for the pair.

For example, as the crew is working at the shop, Chris sees from the corner of her eye Maggie talking to a guy from the coffee store down the street. He was obviously flirting with her, and this gets Chris jealous - causing for some unlikely hostility between Maggie and Chris as they work with the team on their fighting skills. Nina Vakeuva aces the balance between action and emotion through this sequence as the girls’ unspoken feelings for each other come to the surface without either one of them speaking a word about the situation.

The ‘90s setting is also another pleasure behind Hi-Fi Fight Club #3 as Carly Usdin and Nina Vakeuva use the time period to its fullest. There are some fun ‘90s references spread throughout the issue (including some water cooler talk about Buffy), but the most entertaining use of the series’ time period is how the team discovers clues without today’s technology. This was especially true when the clues pertained to music because the way we listen to music has changed drastically over the years. In the ‘90s, finding lyrics or new bands wasn’t as easy as pressing a button. You had to get your hands dirty, and actively look for your music, which was a big part of the listening experience.

Even as the series digs deeper into the story’s mystery and emotional layers, Hi-Fi Fight Club is still able to inject innocence and pure fun through Nalty’s bright colors, Vakeuva expressive pencils, and Usdin’s character work. Hi-Fi Fight Club is a must-read comic book series that I hope continues after this miniseries wraps up.

Credit: Emma Steinkellner (Fanbase Press)

Quince TPB
Written by Kit Steinkellner
Art by Emma Steinkellner
Published by Fanbase Press
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

What would you do with superpowers for a year?

Created by Sebastian Kadlecik and brought to life by the sister team of Kit and Emma Steinkellner, Quince explores power with a time limit. On the night of her quinceañera, Lupe Veracruz discovers a closely-guarded family secret when she finds out she’s got 365 days of super strength, flight, and telepathy to look forward to. Kadlecik and the Steinkellners deliver a charming and light-hearted coming-of-age story that explores a young girl’s relationship with her culture and her first stumbling steps into adulthood against the backdrop of an all-ages superhero tale.

The superheroic plot of Quince is almost an afterthought, but ultimately that’s part of the book’s charm. Writer Kit Steinkellner stretches the first two thirds of traditional superhero movies — training and the climactic reckoning with who you might be without your powers — into a full 15-issue run, choosing to focus on Lupe’s transition from childhood to adulthood (in the context of quinceañera tradition) rather than introducing increasingly dangerous villains to steal the spotlight. Quince is a story about a young girl who spends a year as a superhero, but more than that it’s the story about the value of kindness — kindness towards yourself, towards your family even when they’re pushing you, towards people who don’t have it in themselves to show the same kindness in return (within reason).

Kadlecik offers a concept rooted in a long-held Latinx tradition and together, the Steinkellners deliver an engaging and charming world that whole-heartedly embraces the ideas Kadlecik brought to the table. Kit’s writing is playful and her scripting is tight, and Lupe is a well-rounded young character who feels like a modern teenager without leaning on the “kids and their darn phones/slang/youth” crutches some bigger mainstream comics have struggled with in their recent teen-focused runs. Quince isn’t a book incidentally featuring a young protagonist, packed with winks and nods to “weird teen behavior” to make older readers chuckle. Instead, Kit Steinkellner and illustrator Emma Steinkellner deliver a title designed for younger readers that older readers will incidentally enjoy.

It’s also a delight to see a comic book unapologetically geared towards a Latinx/Hispanic audience. As a white, non-Hispanic guy, I’m not in a position to comment on the accuracy of the Steinkellners’ depiction of the Velacruz family or quinceañera traditions, and Quince isn’t a comic that sets out to teach non-Latinx/Hispanic readers about Latinx/Hispanic cultures. In the spirit of countless Spider-Man reboots, Quince is a story about a teenaged superhero, whose abilities are coincidentally marked by a huge right of passion for the culture Lupe was raised in. Lupe is a Latina superhero from a Latinx family that casually mixes in Spanish slang and terms of endearments into their conversations without putting them in brackets or italics or dropping translations with asterix at the bottom of the page for non-Spanish readers to check on later. Quince aims to be an authentic representation of a huge moment in a Latina girl’s life. In doing that, it trusts readers who don’t speak Spanish to be smart enough to pick up the meaning of simple phrases like “donde esta mi comida” up from the bevy of context clues Emma Steinkellner’s art provides.

Emma Steinkellner does an impressive job illustrating. Her style is almost Disney-esque, with wide, expressive eyes and long graceful lines. She goes out of her way to make each character visually distinct, from Lupe’s family to even incidental background characters. The range of shades and body types is a welcome change of pace from many comics, but Emma even goes out of her way to change up hairstyles from day-to-day, and these little touches go a long way towards building out the personalities of the large supporting cast of characters that surround Lupe throughout the book. These are kids who look and dress like kids, for once.

Quince is a beautiful comic, and both in terms of its content and its execution, a true testament to the value of collaboration and knowing when to trust others to help you bring the best version of yourself, or your ideas, to life. Sebastian Kadlecik had a unique concept about a young Latina superhero and found a team of talented women in Kit and Emma Steinkellner to bring Lupe’s coming of age story to life. Quince is a truly endearing all-ages story that took a concept with a limited run — a year of powers — and simply chose to knock a year-long story out of the park, rather than scrambling to find ways to reboot and extend its shelf life. It’s a refreshing change of pace for long time capes readers, but a wonderful book to use to introduce the joy of comics to other young readers in your life as well.

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