Best Shots Advance Reviews: JAMES BOND: SOLSTICE #1, VOID TRIP #1

Void Trip
Credit: Plaid Klaus (Image Comics)
Credit: Ibrahim Moustafa/Jordan Boyd (Dynamite Entertainment)

James Bond: Solstice #1
Written by Ibrahim Moustafa
Art by Ibrahim Moustafa and Jordan Boyd
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

James Bond goes on a bold and beautiful holiday in James Bond: Solstice #1, the latest James Bond one-shot from Dynamite Entertainment. After proving his fan credentials with a series of stunning fan posters for the films, Ibrahim Moustafa gets a go at the real deal and acquits himself quite well during this one-shot. Along with colorist Jordan Boyd, who adapts well to the colder color scheme of the Dynamite Bond books, Moustafa takes the lantern-jawed Bond and livens up his adventures a bit, giving this one-shot a warmer, classic comic book-style look. Sporting a sharp wit and eye-grabbing displays of espionage, James Bond: Solstice #1 is the MI6 version of a Christmas miracle.

While Solstice looks largely similar to the rest of the current Bond line, Moustafa’s script takes a decidedly smaller approach. Shifting focus from the larger arc-based intrigue, Moustafa presents a simple boilerplate plot with more personal implications for Bond and his cast. This kind of downshifting in scale isn’t new to the Bond franchise, but it does show Moustafa’s pure intentions as a fan of the property. He knows that while the big splashy spy action of the franchise is what most people expect, it is the stealthy, pulp-infused character dynamics and motivations that keep people really invested in Bond and so he tailors his entire story to deliver as much as possible.

And, to be frank, he really nails it. After a drolly funny botched job in Turkey, Bond is summoned by M to handle a matter of grave personal importance, but he has to do it alone and with no backup. Tasked with the “handling” of a rogue foreign agent and the rescue of the affluent student in his thrall, Bond and the audience think this will be easy pickings for a blunt object like Bond, but as Moustafa flatly reveals in a plaintively beautiful scene between Bond and M, the student is much more than just a civilian to M and this is much more than just a simple hit for Bond.

But while the core plot is as personal as you can get, Moustafa still delivers the sharp trappings of a good Bond yarn, including a Bond and Moneypenny scene that crackles with electricity and perfectly captures their dynamic in just a few panels. Throughout this issue, Moustafa displays an almost slavish adherence to the Bond model of storytelling, but injects it with so much life and warmth, even when he is depicting Bond coldly beating the holy hell out of a guy. This attention to detail doesn’t stop with the script, however, as he pulls double duty as the penciler of his own script, armed with the rich brushes of colorist Jordan Boyd.

Though Solstice’s real strengths lie in the quieter character centric moments of the script, Moustafa and Boyd really go for it when Bond has to throw down as evidenced by the issue’s infiltration centered cold open and in its brutal, Neal Adams-esque finale fight. The scene starts like a Pixies song, all quiet until it boils over as Bond and his target fight to a standstill and then deliver a touch more exposition. But when the action goes off, it truly goes off, with Moustafa and Boyd following every ugly movement across a lavish hotel room with bold, infrared panel boxes detailing the men locked in mortal struggle. Bond’s business is an ugly one, but Moustafa and Boyd never shy away from that, giving audiences a more humanist look into Bond’s exploits.

James Bond may not have a biological family, but M may be the closest thing to a father he has, and Solstice shows just how far he is willing to go for his surrogate parental figure. Fueled by an energy and respect that only a fan could muster, Ibrahim Moustafa delivers classic Bond thrills for the more character minded audience of a new generation and provides the best of both worlds for both new and old Bond fans.

Credit: Plaid Klaus (Image Comics)

Void Trip #1
Written by Ryan O’Sullivan
Art by Plaid Klaus
Lettered by Aditya Bidikar
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

We can’t stop here — this is Froot Country.

A little bit Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a little bit Firefly, Ryan O’Sullivan and Plaid Klaus’s Void Trip is a low-key buddy comedy in space that is punched up thanks to its chuckleworthy dialogue and its seriously gorgeous artwork. With two ne’er-do-well space stoners traveling the spaceways looking to evade the law (and score some psychedelic froot while doing it), this debut is a pleasant diversion, even if it’s unclear if this road trip can last for the long haul.

In Void Trip, euphoria isn’t just a state of mind, it’s also a place — and it’s a place that Ana and Gabe are looking to call home. In that regard, writer Ryan O’Sullivan has a simple, basic premise to stretch across his five-issue series, as his two grifters begin their story by scamming a kindly old space trucker out of some fuel (which they had just been caught trying to steal in the first place). It’s the overall plot directions where O’Sullivan thrives the most — the actions that speak louder than words — particularly when Ana crashes their spaceship and forces them to take some R&R in a space froot joint.

That said, the actual voices of the characters still feel a little rickety, which makes it harder for Void Trip to sink its teeth into readers. From the jump, Ana is the wild child of O’Sullivan’s pair, perpetually high on froot and causing trouble. Unfortunately, she’s also not hugely likable at this point. But for her faults, Ana is one of the more memorable characters in this book, which is harder to say about her companion Gabe, who feels less sketched out as a character, and more just a pale foil so he can shake his head at whatever craziness Ana comes up with next. Ironically, O’Sullivan’s aliens are far more colorful and interesting than his lead characters so far — the stoic, unnamed villain of the piece is very menacing, while a psychedelic head trip with one of his henchmen is hilarious. Even the kindly, bamboozled trucker has a heart.

But much of this might also come from artist Plaid Klaus. Doing his own pencils, inks and colors, Klaus is the real deal, reminding me a lot of Scott Godlewski from Copperhead. Klaus’s alien designs feel vibrant, and his staging of these alien planets themselves — particularly a double-page spread that opens up the book — earns Void Trip a lot of goodwill. Klaus also nails the comedy with the psychedelic froot, with a scene of an alien henchman fighting a gang of sentient berries being a definite highlight of the book. Yet he also hits a little bit of a wall as well when it comes to Ana and Gabe — Ana’s main characteristics shine through her beanie hat and body language, but Gabe still feels a little directionless as a stout, dreadlocked, bearded guy. (But it’s telling I had to go back to the book to confirm that.) Klaus’s color work also deserves a ton of praise, where he’s able to really give a strong sense of place between a desert during day and night, or the cool contrast of a bar alongside hot pink psychedelic episodes.

The question of Void Trip, at this point, is whether or not the sweet, sweet taste of froot is enough to turn a one-time customer into someone jonesing for more. And that’s going to be an uphill battle for this book, particularly since we’ve seen similar threads in books like Joyride, Quantum and Woody, or even Image’s recently concluded Chew. But there is a certain bit of magic to Plaid Klaus’s artwork that makes Void Trip transcend some of its early growing pains, and it’s definitely a series I plan to keep an eye on in the future.

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