Best Shots Advance Reviews: FARMHAND #1, THE SEEDS #1, DOCTOR WHO: ROAD TO THE 13TH DOCTOR #1

The Seeds #1
Credit: David Aja (Dark Horse/Berger Books)
Credit: Rob Guillory/Taylor Wells (Image Comics)

Farmhand #1
Written by Rob Guillory
Art by Rob Guillroy and Taylor Wells
Lettering by Kody Chamberlain
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Roby Guillory’s Farmhand is weird. That’s probably not surprising from the co-creator of Chew. Here the artist takes on writing duties as well, goes from table to farm, and effectively tells a story about coming back home. Of course, it’s one that begins with a zombie father and several dead chickens.

Following the violent delights of the opening pages, we are introduced properly to Zeke Jenkins, along with his wife and children. Following a period of estrangement from his farmer father Jedidiah Jenkins, Zeke and his clan return home to his childhood home of Freetown, the Oasis of the South. Yet the old family farm is now a high-tech biosphere, where replacement human parts are harvested like any other kind of produce. Rather than laden us with exposition, Guillory’s fun motif takes us on a literal guided ride as though this were an attraction at Disneyworld.

Underlying the biotech trappings is a well-rounded sense of character. More than that, Guillory’s depiction of this family is grounded and real. Bursting a tension bubble almost immediately, a few quips is all it takes to have Zeke and Jedidiah embracing like no time has passed at all. Moments later we’re back in the world of corporate espionage, some dark revelations, and a fair bit of body horror. Yet this early balance will serve Guillory’s narrative well as the story progresses.

Guillory’s distinctive art style is made for this material. Or more accurately, Guillory has written himself a playground in which he can flex his creative muscles. An actual nightmare of plant-zombie hybrid opens the tale, beginning with a blinking eyeball in the dirt and reaching its tentacles out to envelop characters whole. Where the art soars is when technology, the grotesque, and imagination collide, such as an organically grown arm grafting itself onto a new host and latching on with vicious teeth. It’s a real trip, people.

Joining Guillory on art duties is Taylor Wells, the color assistant on Chew, once again providing the color art to Guillory’s madness. During the aforementioned “ride,” the colors are psychedelic mixtures of pink, blue, and yellow. As the tone shifts, he employs a more muted palette.

In the backmatter, Guillory talks of developing the idea for over 18 months, and this debut issue is bursting with a bumper crop of ideas as evidence. There’s a whole world here waiting to be explored, and this iceberg’s tip certainly warrants some further exploration. So whether Farmhand is to your taste or not, it will be impossible to feel ambivalent towards it.

 

Credit: David Aja (Dark Horse/Berger Books)

The Seeds #1
Written by Ann Nocenti
Art and Lettering by David Aja
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The Seeds #1 is an uncomfortably scary book. The innate sense of dread that it creates might be supplemented by writer Ann Nocenti’s conspiracy-laden, pre-apocalyptic cyberpunk world and artist David Aja’s unmistakable and unrelenting visual style, but that isn’t at the heart of what makes this book work so well. The Seeds #1 is a story with purpose and intention in a way which many books are not, and in a way which is almost a given Nocenti’s bibliography. Whereas Nocenti’s earlier creation Mojo might be frightening in how prophetic it turned out to be, her latest outing with Dark Horse’s Berger Books imprint is so upfront and accurate with our culture’s relationship to sensationalized news, mythmaking, and narrative that it’s hard not to feel that you are reading something special.

Nocenti gives readers a few different threads for her plot. While there is overlap between them, they each serve to build a different portion of the world she’s building. It’s an effective way to convey a lot of exposition without making readers feel like they are just reading information dumps. The world and themes are built with each character introduction. The main thrust of the story is a journalist named Astra who is struggling to forward her ideals as somebody who wants to spread public awareness about the mainstream, tech-driven world she lives in and the tech-less “neo-luddite” world of Zone B. While Nocenti’s opening narration posits that though the story opens with a world divided by a wall, don’t be fooled into thinking that the binary of tech-free Zone inhabitants and tech-drenched everyone else is the lens with which to view the story. Nocenti wants you to be aware that there are “fifty sides” to every narrative, and that The Seeds is going to explore the idea of perspectives.

Astra’s occupation as a journalist enhances this theme in obvious ways, but also serves to build the world through her interactions with her editor Gabrielle in one of the comic’s best scenes. Gabrielle is fairly upfront about how the world around them treats the stories and narratives they tell as truth, and that accepting lies as truths eventually make them into truths. She tells us how gossip leads to self-fulfilling prophecies, and how the alien sightings of the 1950s served the specific purpose of covering for secret military weapons experiments. (This discussion of lies transforming into truths also sells the book’s final twist nicely.) Gabrielle’s referring to Astra as honey is a subtle touch to a script that has a recurring motif of bees and pollination, and show that Nocenti’s skill is not exclusive to her ability with larger ideas, but also in the panel-to-panel moments.

An obvious point of comparison with David Aja’s often nine-panel and occasionally glitchy aesthetic is Mitch Gerads’ work on Mister Miracle, but whereas those panels relied on repetition to enforce the character’s deteriorating mental state and visual disturbances to relay dissociation of the self, Aja is always showing you something different, and his glitched panels serve to build both tone and the cyberpunk quality of the setting.  His panelwork never sacrifices character, but it always serves to create a sense of space. The world of The Seeds #1 feels real in a way that many comics rooted in speculative fiction sometimes fail. It’s not just tech in the background, it’s filth, too. It’s highly detailed backgrounds but also open space. Aside from people and a few bees, nothing feels alive in this world. His lettering throughout the issue deserves mention as well, as it often breaks from a dialogue-delivery convention and serves to enhance the sense that technology and digital communication is ubiquitous.

Most writers would kill for the kind of skill that Nocenti displays in her craft. While her work in the Big Two has been legendary, it’s hard to argue that she is at her creative best when she has free reign over character and narrative. The Seeds #1 offers that, plus a freedom in worldbuilding that shows the veteran writer telling what is potentially her best story. And as distinct of a voice as the writing has, Aja’s nine-panel onslaught of tone, filled with multiple standout panels, makes an already memorable book truly one-of-a-kind. With a creative team that spends nearly 30 pages flexing without a single superfluous panel or line, The Seeds #1 has everything a reader looking for something heady and thought-provoking in a comic could ever want.

 

Credit: Titan Comics

Doctor Who: The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor - Tenth Doctor Special #1
Written by James Peaty and Jody Houser
Art by Iolanda Zanfardino, Dijjo Lima, Rachael Stott and Enrica Angiolini

Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor makes a stop off Route 10 in its debut issue. Playing up the episodic nature of the property, writer James Peaty, along with the lithe and energetic artwork of Iolanda Zanfardino and Dijjo Lima, delivers a fast-paced and accessible “one-and-done” Tenth Doctor story. Materializing on a ship in deep space beset by murderous ghosts, The Tenth Doctor and his companions, Gabby and Cindy, must save the crew of the ship while avoiding becoming spectres themselves. Though Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor is only glimpsed in a teasing backup story from the incoming creative team (set during one of David Tennant’s most beloved episodes), The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor #1 is still a fun and new reader friendly jaunt with a past Doctor in honor of the incoming Doctor.

In terms of Doctor Who, this debut issue’s story is a pretty run of the mill one. Intercepting a distress call from deep space, The Doctor and his current TARDIS crew land on a mysterious ship where ghosts are taking out the crew! But also like the best Doctor Who stories, nothing is what it seems, and the Doctor and his friends suddenly find themselves in the middle of an advanced weapons test and corporate intrigue.

Writer James Peaty, a steady hand at Doctor Who stories at this point, really leans into what made David Tennant’s incarnation such a hit with audiences. Better still he leverages that with his snappy rapport with his comic exclusive companions and the whimsically deadly stakes that most of his stories enjoyed. Right from the start, Peaty throws us right into the thick of this story, delivering exposition on the run as the Doctor, Gabby and Cindy work to get to the bottom of the ghosts and their corporate overloads controlling the ship. Doctor Who has always been about character and big ideas and thankfully this miniseries’ debut has plenty of both.

But the real stars of The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor #1 are artists Iolanda Zanfardino and Dijjo Lima. Like Peaty, the pair make great use of David Tennant’s cheeky personality and translate it beautifully onto the page. Supported by Lima’s blazing, pop art colors, Zanfardino’s pencils nail the big personalities of the Doctor, Cindy and Gabby as well as selling the spooky stakes of the story with some truly creepy monsters, made up of free floating nervous systems and brains a la Doctor Manhattan in his pre-blue phase.

But moving beyond the pair’s handle on the characters and the space-faring setting, they really convey the momentum of this story (and the Tenth Doctor’s era in general) well. Guided by Peaty’s smart script, the art team really fill out Ten’s trademark red Converse and sprint along with him, Gabby and Cindy bringing the words on the page to life in a snappy, but satisfying way. Readers need look no further than the pair’s many hero shots of the trio and the showtopping two-page splash of a ghost attack on the bridge of the ship for examples.

Not to be outdone, the incoming art team on the Thirteenth Doctor’s series, Rachel Stott and Enrica Angiolini, give us a teasing, if a bit slight tease of what to expect from their looming title. Set during an unseen moment of iconic episode “The Girl in the Fireplace,” Stott’s realistic, but stylish pencils and Angiolini’s stony colors provide us a neat window into both the past and future, which is one of the many things only a title like Doctor Who can get away with. While I would have loved for the backup to be a bit more substantial and possibly given us a quick scene between Tennant and Jodie Whittaker’s Doctors, the pair give us just enough to want to come back on top of a damn fun Tenth Doctor yarn.

And so The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor is off to a smooth start thanks to a solid, accessible script and dynamic artwork. Though some readers might be turned off by the standalone nature of this miniseries, this first issue makes great use of the episodic structure the show employs in order to set the stage properly for 13’s introduction. By looking to Doctor Who’s past to tease its future, The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor #1 is a path well worth taking.

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