Best Shots Advance Reviews: BINGO LOVE, ABBOTT #1, SOUTHERN BASTARDS #19

Southern Bastards #19
Credit: Jason Latour (Image Comics)
Credit: Genevieve FT

Bingo Love
Written by Tee Franklin
Art by Jenn St-Onge and Joy San
Lettering by Cardinal Rae
Published by Image Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Tee Franklin and Jenn St-Onge’s Bingo Love will reach shelves this Valentine’s Day, and its story is one that there’s a dearth of in today’s Western market. Romance comic books are few and far between, but queer romance comic books? Those are practically nonexistent. Franklin and St-Onge met on the Internet via the #teensthatlookliketeens hashtag that Franklin created, and their enthusiasm for diverse and intersectional storytelling led to the birth of Bingo Love. The result of their passion is a title that places and honesty and emotion at its core communicated beautifully through St-Onge’s whimsical, almost Pixar-like artwork.

This book is a quick read - owed partly to the fact that St-Onge’s storytelling is so strong that there’s no question about the flow of the narrative - but also due to the way Franklin frames the story. At the start, Hazel, one of the main characters, is recounting this great love story to another woman in the year 2038. We immediately jump back to 1963 and follow Hazel through her life as she meets Mari, comes to understand her sexuality with her, loses her, and then meets her again as an adult. The setup is fairly straightforward. If you have ever watched a romantic comedy or Lifetime movie, there are no surprises really to be had in the plotting. We’ve just never really gotten to see this narrative in a queer context, and that in and of itself is exciting. Franklin’s writing is very natural despite being a bit melodramatic at times, but that’s more of her playing to genre than anything else. But it's important to recognize the story that Franklin and by extension Hazel are telling. This isn’t a story about homophobia in POC communities, even though it does touch on that at times. This is not a story about the other characters in Elle and Mari’s orbit, even though they do exist and play a role. This is a story about an old woman recounting the love of her life to someone, and those are not the details that she places importance on.

But that does leave gaps in the finished product. They are arguably nonessential (and some of these moments will appear in bonus Bingo Love stories that will be available for free online sometime in the future), but reader mileage may vary. Those looking for a soft tug at their heartstrings will find it here. Those looking for an extensive commentary on queerness in minority communities will be disappointed. But it’s important to know that it's not that kind of story, and that simply by existing Bingo Love is carving out space for those stories to be told. Maybe by Franklin, maybe by someone else. But the fact remains that often when we get these works, folks look to them to be everything all at once. Frankly, this story would be worse if it tried to cram that in.

St-Onge’s work here really is just breathtaking. There’s a polish to her character designs that brings this entire book to life. Small details about the time period each portion of the story lives in help flesh out the world and make it feel real. St-Onge delivers incredible expression work that helps carry the emotions present in the story. And it's really not just the main characters - even minor characters in each scene are rendered with great detail and personality. If there’s anything that works against her its some seemingly sloppy design work. While all the double-page spread collages work incredibly well, there’s an odd tendency for St-Onge to slightly skew panels or let the art run fully off the page. Overall, this generally adds some motion to the book to keep it from being a bunch of square, talking-head types of panels. But sometimes it seems like the art is getting cut off in a way that’s a little jarring. There’s not a clear narrative or artistic reason for it, so it ends up looking like a mistake.

But overall, Bingo Love is an easy win. It’s a sweet, heartwarming and human tale that should remind readers why representation is so important. This book exists now for a whole new generation of queer folks and people of color to see themselves in. It may not be perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than the options those readers had before. It’s a reminder that there is a place and an audience for every kind of story, as long as it is crafted with honesty and without pretense.

Credit: Taj Tenfold (BOOM! Studios)

Abbott #1
Written by Saladin Ahmed
Art by Sami Kivela, Jason Wordie
Lettering by Jim Campbell
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Against the backdrop of a city haunted by racial tensions, crime reporter Elena Abbott finds herself haunted by something else entirely - a supernatural force brutalizing man and beast alike throughout the city of Detroit. As sloppy reporters scramble to find a way to tie the unsettling crimes to black activist “agitators” to drive a further wedge between two divided communities, Abbott finds herself in a race against time to uncover the truth, even if it means squaring off against a demonic entity she thought she’d never face again.

Saladin Ahmed’s Abbott #1, out this week from BOOM! Studios, is a stellar supernatural crime drama that perfectly captures the tensions of early ‘70s Detroit: a city on the brink, a burgeoning Black community and the segregationists who resented them, and the overwhelming emotional struggle of living in times that are changing too fast for some and not fast enough for others. Ahmed delivers an impressive and well-paced script that sets up this miniseries to be a haunting and compelling take on a well-tread genre for comic books. Ahmed navigates the full spectrum of bigotry from “minor” microaggressions to the overt racism of folks both fearful of change and fearless of consequences.

It’s the art of Abbott #1 that makes the story, though - Sami Kivela has a strong and expressive style that goes a long way towards building out the Detroit of Abbott with a substantial cast of distinct characters whose body language tells their own story of their lives in Detroit, no matter how fleetingly they appear on the panel - particularly the opening title splash page, littered with headlines and scenes from around the city that set the tone of the series. Kivela’s depiction of “the umbra,” the dark force beginning to plague the city, is eerie and unsettling but not wholly out of place against the muted palette colorist Jason Wordie employs.

Together, Wordie and Kivela elevate Ahmed’s writing to something atmospheric and engrossing. Their art makes Abbott feel as if it should be an old serialized newsstand comic, and something about Kivela’s bold black lines and the soft colors almost give the pages the texture of newsprint. Kivela gives Elena sharp pops of color in her ascot and stylish red blazer that stand out against the bland and boring suits of her journalist peers, employing similar eerie pops of misplaced magenta and vivid oranges that make the unsettling ghostly elements of the series seem out of place for Detroit but not so unnatural as to distract from the narrative.

There isn’t exactly an abundance of gore, but the two pages that feature it are gruesome and may be very unsettling to some readers; Wordie and Kivela handle it well, and the panels transition quickly from gore to eerie horror elements that take away some of the visual discomfort without sacrificing the emotional impact or going for cheap, sensationalized violence. This isn’t a slight against the series - it is a crime thriller, after all - but just something to keep in mind for readers.

Abbott #1 is an intriguing and atmospheric debut to a series that’s well worth your time; it’s a straightforward portrayal of the realities of ‘70s Detroit, for better and for worse, and through both the script and particularly the art, it weaves in an element of horror that makes the series stand out from other detective tales on the stands. Abbott has been one of the most anticipated comics of 2018 since it was announced last October, and its debut issue absolutely lives up to the hype.

Credit: Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)

Southern Bastards #19
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Jason Latour
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Man, I love it when a story comes together.

To say that Southern Bastards is a comic book that’s worth the wait might be an understatement. Despite the occasional delays between issues, Jason Aaron and Jason Latour throw you into the deep end without skipping a beat, as Coach Boss, Colonel McKlusky, and Berta Tubb all come crashing into one another for some particularly satisfying complications. Bringing together blood, crime and the politics of good old-fashioned Alabama football, Southern Bastards continues to be pound-for-pound one of the best Image books on the stands.

But even if Aaron and Latour are enjoying an winning streak, that doesn’t extend to all of their characters. Coach Boss might think of himself as the secret power behind Craw County, but as Sheriff Hardy mutters under the bleachers, “you fixin’ to run outta friends.” Humiliated in front of his rival, the smarmy Colonel Quick McKlusky, and with his high school football team’s perfect streak abruptly cut short, Boss is finding himself trapped in a corner - and as Berta Tubb waits in the shadows, there are threats coming to him that even he doesn’t see coming.

Aaron plays with all these threads like a virtuoso, melding together the backstabbing intrigue of The Sopranos with the football-over-all ethos of Friday Night Lights, and you can’t help but be transfixed as Aaron continues to zig-zag just outside of the reach of your expectations. Needless to say, just like Latour’s haunting title image featuring a trio of snarling dogs, a cornered animal is an animal at its most dangerous, and watching Boss explode into violence both deconstructs and reaffirms his reputation as a fearsome, ruthless crime boss.

Of course, so much of the mood of this book is all in Latour’s hands, as his angular, rough-hewn characters feel simultaneously ugly and lived-in. Latour’s take on Quick McKlusky - think a southern-fried version of Mister Miracle’s Funky Flashman, complete with a jersey-wearing capuchin monkey on his shoulder - is perhaps his most inspired design yet, and watching Coach Boss’s unique “negotiations” with the character is truly satisfying to watch. Latour’s color schemes are also something that should be praised here, with a gorgeous red-and-gray palette that feels oppressive and tense from the jump.

With its sterling characterization and its down-and-dirty artwork, Southern Bastards is a must-read series - and of that must-read series, this issue might be one of the strongest yet. There’s such a wonderful sense of pressure and tension to this series at this point, even as Aaron and Latour have veered from the lone antihero story of Earl Tubb and moved into murkier waters thanks to their brilliant Coach Boss arc. If you pick out one book this week, make it this one.

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