Best Shots Advance Reviews: RAINBOW BRITE #1, MAN EATERS #1, FRIENDO #1, WASTED SPACE VOL. 1

"Rainbow Brite" preview
Credit: Tony Fleecs (Dynamite Entertainment)
Credit: Paulina Ganucheau (Dynamite Entertainment)

Rainbow Brite #1
Written by Jeremy Whitley
Art by Brittney Williams and Valentina Pinto
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Rainbow Brite gets a sweetly funny debut in Dynamite Entertainment’s much-anticipated relaunch. Helmed by The Unstoppable Wasp’s Jeremy Whitley and given a cartoonish, but emotive look by artists Brittney Williams and Valentina Pinto, this debut takes its time getting to the magical girl fun of the IP. But what it lacks in adolescent sword-and-sorcery,this story more than makes up for with a grounded, engaging narrative that delights with its charm and YA wit. Graced with girl power energy and a solid establishing narrative, Rainbow Brite #1 looks to be a dazzling debut.

Young Wisp and Willow have very active imaginations. Though Willow would prefer to call it “LARPing”, the pair go out and play what Wisp calls “Wizards and Warriors” most every day. Though Whitley plants the seeds for the magical hijinks early, much of the issue’s strength is drawn from the youthful excitement and infectious optimism of his two lead characters. While a bit more melancholy Whitley’s work on The Unstoppable Wasp, due to Wisp’s workaholic mom and latchkey upbringing, this issue really works hard to establish our cast first and then get to the fun second. Though this may lose some readers due to the sheer length of these expository scenes, it is nice to see Whitley’s attention to character hasn’t strayed.

But, never fear! Like all good young adult fiction, the turn toward the concept eventually comes, as Wisp finds herself swept up in the conflict against the the Shadow King, aided by her new Sprite companion Twinkle. It is with this back half of the debut that the creative team starts to stretch their action muscles and set the bar for what kind of set pieces the title will be dealing with in future issues. While Whitley’s exposition feels a little over-the-top as he has Twinkle constantly rattling off narrative groundwork, but he at least peppers the exposition with genuinely funny jokes building the new pairing’s rapport.

But better still, this finale sequence really allows artists Brittney Williams and Valentina Pinto some time in the spotlight. The pair’s style looks like a cross between the anime-inspired action of Steven Universe and the more comedic works of Kim Reaper’s Sarah Graley, making this a debut that’s easy to get invested in. The grounded real-world scenes at the beginning of the book showcases the artists’ knack for character-focused interplay — Williams makes the girls just over-the-top enough with their play-acting, but leans into their clear friendship with little things like Willow and Wisp’s lunchtime routine and or their homemade adventuring cosplay. But once the King of Shadow’s minions come knocking and stealing the color blue from Wisp’s neighborhood, the artists kick things into another gear, backed by a newly darkened color scheme as Pinto plays with the lighting in and around the creatures from the shadow dimension. This debut certainly takes its time getting to this fantastic finale sequence, but Brittney Williams and Valentina Pinto prove themselves capable of supporting the script’s emotion and action in equal measure.

Rainbow Brite has gone through more than half a dozen incarnations through the years, but this newest one from Dynamite and a solid bench of creative talents might be one of the better ones. Supported by heartfelt characterization and a genuine wit from Jeremy Whitley and expressively stylish artwork from Brittney Williams and Valentina Pinto, Rainbow Brite #1 is a grounded, but fun new take on the property, one that is brimming with potential. Sure to please long-time Saturday morning TV fans and a whole new generation of readers unfamiliar with her colorful adventures, Rainbow Brite #1 is a well-presented beacon of positivity.

Credit: Lia Miternique (Image Comics)

Man-Eaters #1
Written by Chelsea Cain
Art by Kate Niemczyk and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

They say the personal is the political, but in Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk’s hands, both of those things also lead to some wild — and violent — science fiction in the world of Man-Eaters. Set in a world where a unique strain of toxoplasmosis has turned women’s periods into the catalyst for cat-like transformations, Man-Eaters #1 is a series that already feels loaded with meaning and potential. While this first issue focuses more on establishing tone and building Cain’s world than delving into any specific characters, this definitely feels like a book to watch.

Twelve-year-old Maude is like any ordinary kid — she draws pictures, has a wild imagination, has a well-meaning single dad who loves her more than crossword puzzles and the X-Files — but given that she also lives in a world where women’s reproductive organs are literally legislated for fear of transformed cat-women mauling them to death, it’s not hard to imagine where this story is gonna wind up. But to Cain’s credit, the first half of her book is a really charming, quirky way to introduce Maude and her father — it’s fun watching her riff and explore, whether it’s with a wheel with all of Maude’s dad’s favorite sayings, or a double-page spread at a strip mall that zips through all the bystanders’ thoughts and conversations.

But I would also argue that first half establishes Cain’s tone more than her characterization, which makes the back half’s exposition blast feel even more apparent. That’s not to say that Cain’s concepts are bad, however — it feels more than a little prescient to think of a line of young girls locked up or mothers turned against their daughters, afraid for their lives. It’s not as grim as The Handmaid’s Tale, but Cain is definitely playing in the same general ballpark — that said, it’s the sheer length of the exposition that saps this debut of its momentum a bit, feeling just a bit overcomplicated and overextended given its placement in the issue.

Meanwhile, artist Kate Niemczyk and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg deliver some engaging and endearing work here — in particular, they help Cain make a great first impression with Maude, who is adorable and expressive, along with her dad, who is also adorable and expressive in a much more dad-ish way. In particular, I like all the Easter eggs the art team throws into this book, whether it’s a poster for Bitch Planet or finding the source of half a strip mall getting the lyrics to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” stuck in their heads. But for my money, my favorite bits are where Niemczyk portrays not the outright violence of a horrific cat attack, but the sense of fear on someone’s face — watching a terrified mother pointing a handgun out of fear of her own child is the kind of messed-up dysfunction that we could absolutely see in today’s post-truth, science-averse landscape.

Man-Eaters is an imperfect read to be sure, but that’s not to say it lacks for ambition. Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk and company are tackling big ideas with over-the-top imagery, and the fact that they’re able to do so with a sense of whimsy (rather than the stark bleakness of today’s news and social media feeds) is all the more surprising. While the exposition bogs down this book’s back half significantly, it’s hard not to read that as a calculated risk on Cain’s part — now that she has all this backstory out of the way, she can explore her story however she deems fit. Man-Eaters is definitely a book to keep an eye on as the story continues.

Credit: Vault Comics

Friendo #1
Written by Alex Paknadel
Art by Martin Simmonds and Dee Cunniffe
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by Vault Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Friendo is the latest sci-fi offering from upstart indie publishing house Vault Comics, and at the very least it's a bold step for everyone involved. Alex Paknadel and Martin Simmonds’ near-futuristic take on the dangerous eventualities of American consumerism bites off a lot in its first issue, for better or for worse. There’s a certain otherworldliness to Simmonds’ art that eschews reality, and that works for the book as the creative team works to give us an experience that is somewhat untethered. But the premise of the book only feels very vaguely sketched out in this issue, and that hurts it overall.

“Consumerism is bad” is not a very bold statement ito make in 2018. While there’s a certain black comedy in the way that Paknadel delivers it, the familiarity of the idea does hold it back at points. Paknadel drops us into the world quickly and allows readers to parse the details on their own. Our lead, Leo, is an actor who performs ambush marketing stunts for money. In fact, the first time we see him as an adult, it’s in the aftermath of a car accident that has presumably killed his co-star. Leo doesn’t seem to mind. That’s the cost of doing business. While some of the concepts presented do feel like rehashes of observations made in work like “Black Mirror,” there’s a playfulness to the way Paknadel and Simmonds juxtapose the ideas at work with the sometimes extremely violent imagery that accompanies them. It’s an odd beat at first, but as Paknadel’s story continues we start to realize that the bleakness and desensitizing to something he’s attempting to comment on. The question is whether or not he’s able to effectively.

The hook of the book revolves around a malfunctioning virtual reality personal marketing assistant named Jerry. Through a series of questions, it take forms through a set of specialized glasses, and we’re off. Imagine if Siri was someone you could see that examined your surroundings and gave you suggestions at all times. That’s kind of what Jerry is. But the book takes a hard left turn at the end serving up some Wizard of Oz imagery as it sprints to a finish. Paknadel never really gets to make his own thesis statement, and I think that’s a major weakness of the book - what’s the hook?

Martin Simmonds’ art works really well in spots. The title page that features a destroyed Hollywood sign that now only reads “void” is a highlight. Coupled with Dee Cunniffe’s coloring, there’s a club scene that really stands out from the rest of the book. And in terms of delivering something that feels a bit more amorphous than your standard comic book reading experience, I think Simmonds does a good job of messing with readers sense of time and place, especially in the storm scene that closes the book. However, there are a lot of times where the lack of detail in Simmonds’ work is glaringly obvious, and it makes the book feel unfinished. I understand that there is likely some intent to keep from grounding the reader too much in time or setting, but the pages just feel too sparse too often.

Friendo is a frustrating book because it certainly has something to say, but it never really gets there in the first issue. If Jerry is malfunctioning, it’s never really clear here. The reality of this world that is similar to our own is really only vaguely sketched out. And besides the protagonist and his computerized companion, there’s no character that stands out in the slightest. There may be a lot of potential in what Paknadel and Simmonds are doing here, but the decompression of the script leaves this debut feeling glitchy at best.

Credit: Vault Comics

Wasted Space, Vol. 1
Written by Michael Moreci
Art by Hayden Sherman and Jason Wordie
Lettering by Jim Campbell
Published by Vault Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Billy Bane was once the voice of the Creator, but now he spends his days trying to drown out the memory of the things he told people to do in his Lord’s name. Molly Sue is the current vision of the Creator, used by her father to show people their future. Both are prophets of a galaxy being torn apart by a war where they’ve both been used to justify the acts and cruelty of their leaders and soldiers. In an evangelistic galaxy, the idea that the Creator of all things guides the actions of the corrupt is truly a cause for a crisis of faith. Michael Moreci, Hayden Sherman, Jason Wordie, and Jim Campbell’s Wasted Space, Vol. 1 tells a story that may take place a long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away but, if you change around a few names, it could take place today, with its twisted politics and religions that ring more familiarly to us today than they should.

In the midst of an intergalactic war where faith and religion have been used as justifications, Moreci and Sherman frame their story in very specific and currently recognizable ways. Billy, the main character, is a broken Han Solo, roguish but beaten by a religion that he once believed in. He even has his own sidekick, the blue-skinned love/kill-bot Dust. It’s easy to see the two of them bouncing around from planet to planet, avoiding any real responsibility and just trying to remain off everyone’s radar. They get involved with the young, naive and idealistic Molly, a possible savior of the galaxy who needs to learn about her powers and the true nature of the ruling forces of the galaxy. With the shorthand of genre, it is easy to draw the comparisons to Star Wars, but it’s also a great way for the reader to get into the story. It gives Moreci and Sherman a structure to work with to take into wildly different directions than George Lucas or any of his followers ever did.

With this spine of a story rooted in science fiction, Moreci and Sherman layer in elements that make this more than a simple space opera riff. As the voice of the Creator, Billy endorsed the rise of Leader Yam, the fascist ruler of parts of the galaxy. Moreci and Sherman introduce the idea of religion and politics quickly into the book, taking aim at both of them as the story questions their relationship and even if they belong together. Wasted Space tries to be both spiritual and political as it explores humanity’s own responsibilities in its existence. It’s heady stuff that’s wrapped in a story about intergalactic war and personal vendettas against the establishment.

The gestural sketchiness of Sherman’s art establishes the personal uncertainty of this comic. His artwork and Jason Wordie’s vivid coloring show the reality-altering effect of the corruption that has shaped these characters and planets. The grunginess of Billy and Dust tell us almost all that we need to know about them and their existence. Call it “sin,” “corruption,” or “evil,” but there is a density to the artwork and designs that embody the moral uncertainty of Billy’s past life and his current attempt to escape it. This isn’t some perfect existence, with clean designs and perfect people. The work of Sherman and Wodie reflects the moral state of this galaxy and its fallenness.

Trying to disguise itself as a fun space opera, there are parts of Wasted Space that want to be edgy and subversive. Moreci doesn’t try to hide his disdain for what passes as the church and the state today — while it’s a world filled with aliens, spaceships, and other types of monsters, it’s easy to see Billy and Molly’s story in terms of fairly contemporary society. The fascism of Yam and the evangelistic forces that put him in power are easy targets in 2018. Moreci uses his story as a commentary of the state of our world, citing politics and religions as the causes of today’s troubles and conflicts.

There are big questions being asked in Wasted Space that Moreci and Sherman are probably stacking the deck a bit in favor of certain answers. Anytime you start questioning an all-knowing creator and the free will of its creations like Wasted Space does, there’s a cynicism that’s going to be involved in the answer but Moreci and Sherman use Billy and Molly to give two different point of views, one jaded and curmudgeonly and the other more innocent and optimistic about the future. Wasted Space, Vol. 1 is classic space opera that asks its readers to think a bit more than just who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.

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