Best Shots Advance Reviews: SCARLETT'S STRIKE FORCE #1, MINE!

Mine! Anthology
Credit: ComicMix
Credit: IDW Publishing

Scarlett’s Strike Force #1
Written by Aubrey Sitterson
Art by Nelson Daniel and Ryan Hill
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

This series may have a new name and a new Cobra Commander, but thankfully the same old fun reverberates through the debut of Scarlett’s Strike Force, the post-event relaunch of the current G.I. Joe ongoing. Masterminded by writer Aubrey Sitterson and rendered with the action-heavy energy and splashy colors of artists Nelson Daniel and Ryan Hill, Scarlett’s Strike Force is a rarity in the relaunch world — one that serves as a strong entry point but still retains the same momentum and characterization as the title “day one” readers have enjoyed.

The more things change for G.I. Joe, the more they stay the same, and writer Aubrey Sitterson jumps into that idea with both feet in this debut issue. Rocked by the recent reveal of a deadly and motivated new Cobra Commander (do not call her “Baroness”), but bolstered by the recent recruitment of Matt Trakker (Callsign: Spectrum), the Joes don’t stay on the ropes long. Longtime readers will be pleased to note that Sitterson’s characterization for the core Joe team remains largely intact, and still very much true to the spirit of the original comic books and cartoon (with a few noted exceptions). This attention to characters and their relationships, especially between the unexpectedly shippable pairing of Rock N’ Roll and Skywarp as well as the emotional rollercoaster that is Quick Kick, has long been Sitterson’s strength when it comes to his G.I. Joe work, but in this debut it acts as a strong scaffolding for his new reader-friendly “soft reboot” script.

Though no one is exactly thrilled that a book with a strong point of view like the last volume of Joe is getting a reboot, Sitterson and company really make it work for themselves and the readers, both old and new, taking the revelations of First Strike and neatly folding them into their main story. The inclusion of Matt Trakker and the new evil machinations of a reborn Cobra feel like the natural progression of events for Scarlett and her crew, instead of coming across rote or tacked-on. Though this series’ early cancellation adds a bittersweet quality to the fun, Scarlett’s Strike Force #1 is the best possible outcome one can hope for when it comes to the rebooted aftermath of a major line-wide event.

But while Sitterson’s script keeps the same punchy fun as the previous title, artists Nelson Daniel and Ryan Hill are given a golden opportunity to stake their own visual claim to the Joes and it is an opportunity they do not waste. Though not as defined or as ink-heavy as the work of Giannis Milonogiannis and Lovern Kindzierski, Daniel’s pencils lean into the expressive and specific beats of Sitterson’s script, giving this debut issue flashes of John Romita, Jr.-esque blocky action and emotive character models. This comes through especially in more intimate scenes like Trakker and Grand Slam working in the lab together and Quick Kick putting himself through brutal training.

But what would a G.I. Joe comic be without explody set pieces and laser-gun battles? I am pleased to report that Scarlett’s Strike Force and its creative team deliver plenty of that as well. Front loaded with a splashy, color soaked mission that we pick up in medias res, Daniel and Hill give up the goods early and in heaping helpings, coating the opening pages with rich, vibrant colors and easy to follow, character focused action blocking that gives readers a more propulsive preview of the kind of focus the team will cast on the emotional state of the characters throughout the back half of the issue. We may be only getting this title for three issues but Nelson Daniel, Aubrey Sitterson, and Ryan Hill seem to be hellbent on making each of these issues hit as hard and look as good as they can until the bitter end.

Credit: ComicMix

Mine!: A Celebration of Liberty Benefiting Planned Parenthood Anthology
Published by ComicMix
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Mine!: A Celebration of Liberty Benefiting Planned Parenthood is a star-studded, hefty volume of comics featuring the likes of Neil Gaiman, Gail Simone, Vita Ayla, Andrew Aydin, and the first published comics from Doom Patrol writer Rachel Pollack in 20 years (Refugee, an excellent Greek myth retelling with Fyodor Pavlov). All profits from the sale of the anthology are donated to Planned Parenthood, but editors Molly Jackson and Joe Corallo of ComicMix have done a stellar job putting together an anthology that’s both entertaining and informative in equal measure without actual Planned Parenthood clinics having to be the central location or sole focus of every short.

As is often a struggle with anthologies, this volume contains too many creators to name in one place - the full list of contributors is on the back of the print edition and included in the PDF, and can be found at the book’s initial Kickstarter campaign page (now closed for donations, though you can still preorder the book through their BackerKit).

Per Jackson and Corallo, Mine! has been in the works for over a year, well before the U.S. Presidential primary process ended and certainly before the general election. While the collection is certainly made more timely by the results of that election, and some individual stories take clear influence from current American politics, the works as a whole and the information and experiences within them are timeless.

Mine! features modern shorts about clinic visits, historical stories about the women who influenced and brought Planned Parenthood to life, genre sci-fi and fantasy tales where Planned Parenthood is more of a concept than a real location -- though for many rural towns in the United States, the absence of a clinic and affordable healthcare services are a stark reality rather than an absent fiction. Mine! explores these realities too, touching on the full scope of Planned Parenthood’s services and their impact on both individual lives and generations of families in stories like Joe Illidge and Will Rosado’s For Those in Quiet Graves, or Madeline Zuluaga’s softer, beautifully illustrated Because of you.

If there’s a target audience for Mine!, it’s folks who are half-heartedly supportive of or whole-heartedly ambivalent about what Planned Parenthood is in the first place, or who think of themselves as generally progressive but don’t really know what they can do to make a difference in a time where all battles over health care and equality seem destined to be fought only in the halls of Congress, where only your texts and e-mails and calls might make a difference. That’s true, but as stories like Sammi Chan’s Lessons demonstrates, change starts at home or in the hallways of your schools, too. Lessons is an adorable, charmingly illustrated story about the mean-spirited jokes and misinformation a boy has been spreading to his little brother about their sister — when his father and sister correct them, he takes that knowledge back with him to school, and suddenly his friends’ jokes about tampons aren’t as funny now that he knows his friends aren’t as smart as they’re claiming. And if nobody’s laughing, what’s the point of telling them?

There are biographical comics about women like Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger and lesser known figures like Matilda Gage — Eric Shanower and Laura Martin’s Matilda Who is fascinating and informative, though the lettering can be a bit dense and tough to read. Mine! is a who’s who of prominent voices and personal experiences from across all spectrums, including gender identity, a subject that sometimes falls by the wayside in conversations about access to reproductive rights and healthcare. Jude VIgants’ Mine is particularly compelling in this regard.

Inevitably, there will be comics that aren’t to a particular reader’s personal taste, but there are no comics in the anthology that are flat out misses in any regard. In terms of the construction of the whole book, the biggest flaw is the absence of a table of contents — if you get the print copy, get some sticky notes to mark your favorite stories. If you get the digital version, take good notes. There are lettering issues in a handful of stories that are dialogue-heavy, thanks to the limited space and the volume of information being delivered; this will especially be an issue if, like me, you have thick glasses and crave large, bold fonts.

Some of this could have been prevented with maybe a stronger editorial hand; there are one or two stories (particularly, the Margaret Sanger bio) that could have used another round of proofreading to deal with a few misplaced commas and periods that make longer sentences a little confusing to read. In a volume as hefty as Mine!, and in the grand scheme of all the work Corallo and Jackson put into getting the anthology together, these are pretty minor. With luck, Corallo and Jackson will be able to get a couple extra hands and eyes on deck for the follow-up volume.

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