Best Shots Reviews: THE DREAMING #1, SILVER SURFER ANNUAL #1, ASGARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1

Silver Surfer Annual #1
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Jae Lee (DC Comics/Vertigo)

The Dreaming #1
Written by Simon Spurrier
Art by Bilquis Evely and Mat Lopes
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Vertigo
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Dream may be missing (again), but the stories continue in the handsomely drawn debut of The Dreaming. Picking up after the Dreaming sequences in the Sandman Universe one-shot, writer Simon Spurrier and artists Bilquis Evely and Mat Lopes delve deeper into this new, chaotic version of the realm, fleshing out new leading lady Dora and the myriad of problems that are seeping into the fantasy land. Though The Dreaming #1 is very much an establishing issue, Evely, Lopes, and Spurrier leave it all on the page, making this return to the dreaming a powerfully entertaining and fun debut issue.

Lucien the Librarian has got 99 problems, and Daniel of the Endless is certainly one. In the godling’s absence, the Dreaming has once again fall into chaos; a chaos that is further fuelled by new series lead Dora and her rambunctious ways. Though the idea of the Dreaming being in disarray isn’t a new one — indeed, that was the crux of the original series’ opening arc — Spurrier makes his version of the Dreaming in upheaval feel altogether different than the one we saw in “Preludes & Nocturnes.”

While the original series merely hinted at the chaos that enveloped Dream’s kingdom in his absence, Spurrier puts us on the ground to see just how bad things can get. This makes the story feel all the more personal for the reader as we see first hand how fan-favorites like Merv Pumpkinhead, Matthew the Raven, Eve of Stories, and Lucien himself are coping. Spurrier even goes a step further, peppering in heartbreaking lapses in memory for the librarian as he struggles to lead the Dreaming while keeping his own increasingly addled mind intact. It is all very “boots on the ground,” but with much more dark whimsy than the opening one-shot.

But this issue’s real star is the scene-stealing Dora, who first hopped through dreams and into the Vertigo-verse back during the Sandman Universe one-shot. While Spurrier and the artists are working to establish their new volatile version of the Kingdom of Dreams, Dora gets a juicy side plot, elevating her from mere scene-stealer to full-tilt leading lady. Cooped up in her “toy-box” of a home (her words), she is the only person in the Dreaming who can actually sleep, though she never dreams. She also has the power to flit from dream to dream, a power once thought to only be held by Dream himself.

Spurrier smartly keeps Dora moving through the story, gingerly dropping hints about her status in the Dreaming, her power set, and her appetites, which are also physical - another drastic change from the regular citizens of the Dreaming. We still don’t know much about her just as a person nor do we get any more answers as to her deeply felt grudge against Dream, but at the very least, she blossoms in this issue into a really fun and often hilarious lead that I am very curious to see what she gets up to next.

As impressive as the character work and world building in this debut issue are, Bilquis Evely and Mat Lopes’ artwork stands as just as impressive - perhaps even more so. Rich with detail and a consistent sense of wonder, Evely’s pencils knock it right out of the park, scaffolded by Lopes’ coppery colors. Though the pair’s panel layouts are fairly straightforward, the artwork contained therein is anything but, as Evely and Lopes are completely uninhibited by little things like the laws of physics and the rules governing matter thanks to the Dreaming’s fantasy landscapes. If the one-shot was an audition, then The Dreaming #1 is an impressive opening set, and from the looks of how they render Dora’s dream-hopping powers and the mournful emotional arc of Lucien, they can only get better from here.

The Dreaming is where stories are born, and The Dreaming #1 brings one hell of one into the waking world. Respectful of the previous Sandman entries, but never too reliant on them, writer Simon Spurrier, along with the wickedly talented Bliquis Evely and Mat Lopes, pay loving tribute to the realm of stories, breathing brand new life into Neil Gaiman’s characters for a whole new generation of readers and dreamers anxious for the Dream King’s return.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Silver Surfer Annual #1
Written by Ethan Sacks
Art by Andre Lima Araujo and Chris O’Halloran
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The Sentinel of the Spaceways makes his return to comics with an interesting little one-shot from Old Man Hawkeye’s Ethan Sacks and Avengers A.I.’s Andre Lima Araujo. Acting as a sort of prequel to the Silver Surfer’s first appearance in Fantastic Four all those years ago, Sacks and Araujo attempt to dig into what makes Norrin Radd the character that we’ve come to know and love. In a vacuum, the idea works pretty well, as the structure of the narrative and their reasoning for it is solid. The problem is, they’re answering a question that has already been worked out by years of later continuity. So while the craft is pretty on-point here, there’s an extraneous quality about Silver Surfer Annual #1 that puts a ceiling on its potential.

Sacks is setting out to explain why someone as altruistic as Norrin Radd could be come as cynical as the Surfer we meet in that first story. That poses a few problems - namely, that this story is just a one-shot of the exact arc we get in the Surfer’s first arc in Fantastic Four. While we didn’t get the same context in that story regarding Zenn-La etc, it’s not really necessary. I think that Sacks’ instincts are right, though. This issue works, and by the end really comes around in a satisfying way. Sacks is very talented at tying up his loose ends and getting us out of the story before it has worn out its welcome. And unlike Silver Surfer from 1968, Sacks doesn’t bog us down with too much Zenn-La continuity. His story here distills aspects from a lot of past stories into their best parts, updating with a more modern storytelling sense. But arguably, you could just read Fantastic Four #48-50 and read a story that has the larger context of the Marvel Universe surrounding it.

Andre Lima Araujo turns in a good effort. He cites Moebius as a main influence on his work and it’s impossible not to see here. I think that more than anything, this issue shows off just how impactful Araujo’s work can be. One panel in particular - the Silver Surfer riding over the rings of Saturn - sticks out as a moment of quiet cool that illustrates the tone that inhabits the entire book. It’s hard not to want to see more of Araujo's Surfer, even if he’s just drifting through space. And Araujo's interprets Sacks’ script with an eye toward delivering those moments but never shying away from the big beats that script calls for, either. The splash pages feel enormous in this issue, and the book is better for it.

At the end of the day, the thing missing from Silver Surfer Annual #1 is emotional resonance. The Surfer is one of the most emotionally wrought characters in the Marvel Universe - oscillating between extreme anger and passion to sadness. Araujo does a good job of trying to communicate that especially as Surfer hears the song of the civilization he has decided to doom. But Sacks doesn’t quite get us there because we’ve already been there years before - he doesn’t have anything new to add. But this is a very competently made book, and it’s a great introduction to certain aspects of the Silver Surfer’s character. Despite the warts on its silver sheen, you could do much worse than checking out Silver Surfer Annual #1 this week.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Asgardians of the Galaxy #1
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Matteo Lolli and Federico Blee
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

With the announcement of Asgardians of the Galaxy, it felt like the perfect genre mashup after the success of Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War, bringing together Asgardian magic and the Marvel cosmos in a big Kirby-infused bang. But now that the series is here, writer Cullen Bunn and artist Matteo Lolli stick to the classics here, with this book feeling much more like a Thor spin-off than necessarily a bold addition to Marvel sci-fi. Briskly paced with the requisite action, Asgardians of the Galaxy #1 is a solid piece of superhero storytelling, but it’s hard not to imagine what this dynamite concept might have looked like with a bit more risk-taking.

Of course, much of this comes from the high bar Asgardians’ sister titles have set — Jason Aaron and Mike Del Mundo’s Thor already evokes Walt Simonson’s epic run and reinvents it with a metal edge, while the Guardians of the Galaxy films have essentially cast the tone for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole with its unique, retro-infused sensibilities. It all comes down to voice, and that might be Asgardians of the Galaxy’s biggest weakness — despite its high concept roots, the storytelling is so middle-of-the-road that it’s hard for Bunn’s personality to really shine. Even the cast itself — Angela, Destroyer, Skurge, Valkyrie, Throg and Thunderstrike — doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises or avenues for new character dynamics, making this series feel perhaps too familiar already.

But while it’s easy to get hung up on this series not living up to its A+ title, this debut also isn’t without its charms. First and foremost, while mortal Annabelle Riggs (the alter ego of Valkyrie) serves nicely as Bunn’s point-of-view character, I’d say he hits a bigger success with Angela, making her an imposing figure that evokes a bit of classic Big Barda. Given how hit-or-miss her characterization has been since her introduction to the Marvel Universe, it’s surprising to see her fit this seamlessly as a team leader. Additionally, Bunn’s pacing as he puts the Asgardians through their paces is also rock-solid, bouncing from character to character as we get to see their powers (if not their actual characterization, in the case of Throg and Thunderstrike) unfold.

Matteo Lolli’s artwork, meanwhile, fits in that same milieu as Sara Pichelli with a touch of Ryan Stegman — Lolli actually excels most at the emotional moments, like Annabelle sharing a quiet evening with her girlfriend, but thanks to colorist Federico Blee, also makes big spectacle moments like Angela and the Destroyer teleporting in feel mythic and full of grandeur. It’s clear that Lolli and Blee are swinging for the fences, and they do turn in strong work — that said, whether it’s due to the meat-and-potatoes quality of the script or just missed opportunities during the layout process, there aren’t as many memorable moments to this script either, beyond Angela’s arrival and the final page cliffhanger. None of it feels wrong, but at the same time, there's not enough visual weight to make this book stand out just yet.

That’s the problem with having a title as good as Asgardians of the Galaxy — suddenly you have to back it up in a major way. And while Bunn and Lolli deliver some decent (if routine) superhero adventures, it’s hard not to think about what might have been. While this book's title screams newness and exploration, the execution therein still feels like it’s looking backward, a loving nod to nostalgia that never approaches the heights of that original work or finds anything new to say or do, new settings and new villains notwithstanding. Competent pacing and action aside, it’s not hard to find a lot of books that can hit that marker these days — while there is plenty of potential to be found Asgardians of the Galaxy, but this team will need to stretch themselves more if they ever hope to reach it.

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