Best Shots Advance Reviews: COLD WAR #1, DEATH OF LOVE #1

Cold War #1 variant
Credit: Juan Doe (AfterShock Comics)
Credit: AfterShock Comics

Cold War #1
Written by Christopher Sebela
Illustrated by Hayden Sherman
Published by AfterShock Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Cold War #1 is an unusual comic book that perfectly executes its premise to the point of discomfort. Panacea Cryonics seems to promise utopia by preserving its clients’ heads until they can be rebuilt in a body and world free of danger and disease - instead, it delivers them straight into hell by announcing they’ve been drafted into a war with no end in sight. Writer Christopher Sebela and illustrator Hayden Sherman promised and deliver an uneven and unsettling war story with no clear-cut heroes and villains, just reluctant soldiers who have seen their pricey dreams snatched out from under them.

Sebela delivers a tight, clever script with genuinely unexpected twists and turns that give Cold War #1 a jarring, uneven pace that perfectly suits the nightmarish world Panacea’s clients have been unceremoniously dumped into. Sebela turns the common tropes of war fiction on their head and, in the surreal and unsettling future built by Hayden Sherman’s art, creates a core cast of characters made relatable by their discomfort and their longing for the world and families they’ve left behind.

But it’s Sherman’s art takes center stage in Cold War #1 from the outset. The miserable future Rook, Vinh, and the other victims of Panacea’s deception find themselves in can’t exist without Sherman’s sharp, distinctive style and the rough textures he uses to build this world and the characters that inhabit it. There’s an anonymity to the Panacea release suits that emphasizes the tragedy of the situation as much as it serves to dehumanize the dozens of Panacea clients released into the wild earth in the opening panels of the comic book - unfortunately, these uniform elements and Hayden’s rough, textured art makes it difficult to distinguish between characters until late in the comic.

Sherman’s art relies often on shadows and silhouettes, putting the burden on his lettering and Sebela’s script to eke out character traits. For flashback sequences centered around one or two characters, both excel, elevated by Sherman’s sharp lines and his muted colors. In wide shot scenes, particularly panels featuring multiple characters, Sherman’s lettering sometimes gets tricky to follow. His panel layouts are intriguing but there are individual panels, particularly those overwhelmed by lettering effects, that feel claustrophobic in a way that doesn’t quite sit right with the narrative of the page.

Hayden Sherman is an exceptionally talented illustrator, and Cold War #1 undoubtedly wouldn’t quite succeed without him as Sebela’s collaborator. Where Cold War falters is the moments where it’s tough to determine if an artistic element is in service of the narrative’s natural disjointed nature or a poor fit. Given the comic’s themes, it certainly shouldn’t have the smooth, easy pace of lighter comics fare out there, but what keeps Cold War #1 from being a truly stellar debut is the fine line its choppy pace and art walks between befitting the theme and hindering a truly engrossing reading experience. This is a fascinating comic book, from its script to its art, but at time uneven and off-putting to the point where it makes it difficult to fully engage with its premise or characters, and whether or not it will ultimately succeed isn’t immediately clear from issue one. Sebela and Sherman have delivered something as tough as it is interesting to read, making for one of the most unique debuts of 2018 to date.

Credit: Image Comics

Death of Love #1
Written by Justin Jordan
Art by Donal Delay, Omar Estevez and Felipe Sobriero
Lettering by Rachel Deering
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

This Valentine’s Day, writer Justin Jordan and artist Donal Delay aren’t looking for love. Nope - they’re out hunting Cupids. And in that regard, their new Image series Death of Love is a concept that’s filled with darkly comic potential - but as far as reader-friendliness goes, it can still be a bittersweet pill to swallow. With its Nice Guy antihero at the helm, Death of Love #1 is a debut that is almost daringly alienating - or depending on your viewpoint, exactly the kind of trope that needs skewering.

Despite what you might expect from the cover, though, we don’t actually get to see a ton of Philo Harris in the act of massacring those adorable, arrow-slinging cherubs of romance - aside from a bloody double-page splash and a couple of brief visions toward the end of the book, this first issue is all about the setup, about establishing Philo and his world… which is designed to tick you off. A whiny, fedora-wearing loser, our first real introduction to Philo is him complaining about how his local barista Zoe doesn’t understand what a Nice Guy he is. As Jordan rightly says in his own backmatter, Philo’s an asshole - and for some, his entitlement and nastiness is so cartoonish and over-the-top that he almost comes across as a strawman. Because Jordan stacks the deck so heavily against his lead - having Philo visiting pick-up artist seminars, having his best friend Bob tell Philo his relationship with Zoe is transactional, watching Philo try to neg a very-suspecting target - it’s world-building, but there’s so much negativity that would make you want to recoil that Jordan forgets to include enough reasons to keep us coming back.

But that said, I had to step back, not as someone who is regularly consuming news, think pieces and pop culture regularly railing against this sense of male entitlement - but to think of this book from the perspective of one of these clueless “Nice Guys,” as well as the women who are regularly their targets. In today’s #MeToo era, you’d think it’d be hard not to develop at least some sort of clue, but there are loads of guys out there who are every bit as toxic as Philo. Fed on a diet of stale romcoms and archaic stories of their parents and grandparents’ courtships, there are men who are sublimating with hatred and aching loneliness who are primed for exploitation and outright aggression. In that regard, Jordan is actually playing with some subversive, combustible content - not only do we see how gullible and aimless Philo is in order to be duped by a pick-up artist seminar and a mysterious man offering love pills, but the idea of him turning to violence (even against cupids) evokes all-too-real recollections of the UC Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodger, who went on a killing spree after railing against being a virgin at age 22. For anyone who’s ever been a target of a “Nice Guy” - violent or otherwise - it’s easy to see how cathartic Philo’s journey could become.

Meanwhile, artist Donal Delay delivers some solid work with this table-setting first issue, even if he isn’t given a ton of over-the-top sequences to really strut his stuff yet. Teamed up with colorists Omar Estevez and Felipe Sobriero, the opening beats of the book look spectacular, with cool blues punctuated by bright reds as we see Philo get ready to dive into a crowd of Cupids, chainsaw in hand. But even without those big bursts of action and humor, Delay’s character designs are wonderfully expressive and with clear intention - part of Philo’s innate repellence is just in his look, as he’s the kind of guy who just screams disingenuous, while the big and brawny Bob is the immediate voice of reason, his eyes wide in horror as Philo’s taken him to a pick-up artist seminar. Still, there are a handful of beats that Delay trips on, particularly with the introduction of Zoe, Philo’s crush - rather than getting in close so we can actually see this character, we wind up not actually getting a good look at the character for a page and a half, with some of her expressions being so over-the-top it winds up obscuring what we need to recognize the character later.

That all said, Jordan and Delay have a point to Death of Love, but it remains to be seen if they can stick the landing over the course of their next four issues. Tackling romance, sex, entitlement and gender dynamics can be a thorny topic, particularly when taking a bleakly comedic and action-packed route - and indeed, there are bits of this story that do come across as a little awkward and inorganic, particularly in the character of Bob, whose dialogue sometimes comes off as overly didactic. But there’s more to this concept than just hunting down Cupids - and now that the set-up is officially over, it remains to be seen if Death of Love and its problematic lead will find some way to warm themselves up to audiences, or if this antihero's repugnant attitude kills the romance once and for all.

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