Best Shots Reviews: X-MEN BLACK - EMMA FROST, POE'S SNIFTER OF TERROR #1

Ahoy Comics
Credit: Ahoy Comics
Credit: J. Scott Campbell (Marvel Comics)

X-Men Black: Emma Frost #1
Written by Leah Williams
Art by Chris Bachalo, Wayne Faucher, Al Vey, John Livesay, Tim Townsend, Jamie Mendoza, Antonio Fabela, Dan Brown and Carlos Lopez
Lettered by Corey Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

X-Men Black has been a series of one-shots about villains, giving each of the creative teams involved a chance to get to the heart of a particular antagonistic force, demonstrate what makes them tick and celebrate their longevity as thorns in the side of heroes. The results have been scattershot, albeit interesting. A couple - Magneto and Mojo - have made attempts at political allegory in today’s troubled times, while Juggernaut took a look at the character’s early history and connection to the major X-Men players. In what proves to be a perfect pairing of writer and artist, Leah Williams and Chris Bachalo successfully meld these two approaches in X-Men: Black – Emma Frost, the best of the bunch and a phenomenal one-shot in its own right.

There’s an elegance to how well the issue achieves its goals, something that’s clear from the title page itself. The other four one-shots have come with a small paragraph attached that gives a brief overview of who the character is. In the case of Emma, only four phrases are required: “Heiress. Educator. World-class telepath. A diamond shining amongst the dreary...” While the story is an extension of events in recent continuity, building off where Inhumans vs. X-Men and X-Men: Blue left off, this issue alone contains all of the essentials you need to know about Emma and what makes her such an intriguing force to be reckoned with.

The tale starts in an unlikely location - a supermarket - though the game being played is already in motion by then. Emma has no reason to wait for anyone, considering she knows what she’s capable of, and you’ll be caught up eventually. Bachalo’s style is instantly recognizable by way of the abstracted page layout, six panels of varying size and alignment on the page, though the content within said panels is of shakier quality, particularly when it comes to the faces. Bachalo’s distinctive aesthetic thankfully makes its appearance on the second page, though the varying quality of character’s faces is a problem that recurs through the issue, likely down to when Bachalo chooses to go for a close-up and coupled with the sheer number of inkers and colorists working with him.

Emma’s here to meet with Rogue about an opportunity: the Hellfire Club is weak, and if it is to be destroyed, now is the time to strike. Rogue is suspicious of the woman who was once the White Queen, and the tension in this brief scene is palpable, showing how strong a handle Williams has on the stable of X-characters. It’s a simple enough set-up, with additional layers to be uncovered over the course of the issue. Emma’s going to be the one to go after her former lover Sebastian Shaw, and much of the page count is dedicated to seeing her endeavour play out.

The depiction of Emma’s power-set is precise, with all involved running through a variety of outcomes in quick succession. One such page details an elevator ride upwards, with Emma telepathically “instructing” people on various floors. Some fall asleep, others dance, the most stunning panel sees her tell the people on that particular floor to fight. Only rather than show this, the panel displays Emma in profile, the top of her head cut off by the border, blood seemingly floating in the air around her. It’s an effective image for how the team know what they do and don’t need to show while still getting the point across.

Despite this talk of simplicity, it would be foolish to suggest that this story is designed to be a 20-page lark. X-Men Black: Emma Frost’s grander aspirations are made clear early on - quoting directly from Emma, “We cannot allow the whims of a few rich men to continue throttling the well-being of millions” - with the catharsis that comes by way of seeing Emma carry out her plan. By dealing with this issue through a character like Emma, the issue has both personal meaning and systematic understanding of what she and many others have been subjected to. Emma Frost’s presence has always been a commanding one, and under the pen of Leah Williams, seeing her carve her own path has rarely been so affecting.

As this is the end of X-Men Black, it also brings about the conclusion of Zac Thompson, Lonnie Nadler, Geraldo Borges, Rachelle Rosenberg and Corey Petit’s Apocalypse back-up. If the last part were a climax, this is more of a denouement, one where En Sabah Nur also takes matters into his own hands (to provide a connection to Emma’s story), albeit it one driven by a more physical rage. Apocalypse’s power comes across in how easily he deals with those in his way, though more notable is how Thompson and Nadler “conclude” their story - it ends with an “End?” - with something more contemplative.

What makes it tricky to properly assess is the small section isn’t enough to judge by itself. Regardless it is tantalizing, and much like Williams’ Emma Frost story, will hopefully lead to something more substantial be it a mini or an on-going. Both of these stories manages to celebrate their central characters, offering a summation of what makes them compelling and a new direction to take them in moving forward. X-Men Black may not have been a wholly successful endeavor, but these two stories means the grand scheme was definitely worthwhile.

Credit: Ahoy Comics

Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror #1
Written by Tom Peyer, Mark Russell, Cienna Madrid and Hunt Emerson
Art by Fred Harper, Peter Snejbjerg, Carly Wright, Hunt Emerson and Michael Garland
Lettering by Rob Steen
Published by Ahoy! Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

This year in particular it feels as though we have a smorgasbord of Halloween horror anthologies, but few feel as memorable and filled with potential as Ahoy! Comics’ Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror. Taking that E.C. Comics grotesquerie and filtering it through the black comedy lens of Tales From The Crypt, this may be Ahoy!’s best series yet, even if some rigor mortis in the pacing gives this anthology somewhat of a herky-jerky feel.

While some readers may be looking to horror stories for their scares, Snifter of Terror is really at its best when it’s skewering the self-seriousness of the genre. Writer Tom Peyer and artist Fred Harper take no prisoners with this opening prologue, one that shows Poe himself in his natural habitat — drunk self-loathing, as he has to, erm, “adjust” thanks to his ongoing bout with syphilis. It’s bleakly hilarious watching this celebrated author veer from confident storyteller to over-the-top self-flagellation in the span of a single panel — I mean, are there any writers who haven’t beaten themselves up over perceived rookie mistakes?

It’s with that prologue that Peyer than swerves into an adaptation of Poe’s Valdemar, putting a baking twist on a story of artificially-induced zombification. Admittedly, Peyer and Harper’s work shares many of the same qualities as Poe’s introduction, although I think the effects are significantly different because we have no emotional attachment to the characters — instead, watching a baker hack and cough phlegm across his elaborate cakes delivers hits of revulsion, thanks to Harper’s detailed artwork, and the story’s overall crescendo is an explosive bit of gore that brings a bit of adolescent humor to the mix. Like a cake covered in snot, Peyer and Harper’s lead story feels like two very different tastes being slammed together, but the end result is still a decently funny bit of storytelling.

But what will likely set Snifter of Terror apart is Mark Russell’s latest riff on pop culture, a story that gives a dark origin story for Count Chocula — err, the Marquis du Cocoa. It’s here that Russell delivers one of his strongest stories since Snagglepuss, as the Marquis is a vampire trapped between a rock and a sunny place — before being turned into a creature of the night, this nobleman was renowned for his elaborate breakfasts, forcing him to play a game of chicken with his guests as the dawn threatens to burn him where he sits. Artist Peter Snejbjerg smartly plays the story straight, his linework having just enough bounce to give the story a sense of humor without driving things into outright slapstick. That gives Russell’s one-liners some extra punch, whether it’s with a parody of Captain Crunch, or the Marquis earnestly telling us that his wife’s love “fortifies me with eight essential vitamins and minerals.” It’s superb, hilarious stuff, and honestly it’s probably worth the price of admission alone. To steal from another cereal icon, you might even say it’s grrrrrrrrreat.

Still, even despite the excellence of Peyer and Russell’s work, if there’s anything that holds Snifter of Terror back, it’s that as an anthology as a whole, it feels a little incomplete. This may be personal preference, but I feel like three comic stories are usually the bare minimum to make an anthology feel justified, even with Snifter’s reasonable $3.99 price point. Instead, we really only get two comic stories — with one of them being essentially broken in half as a savvy meta-prologue and an over-the-top gross-out gag. Yes, there is a third prose story by Cienna Madrid, as well as a two-page MAD Magazine-style short by Hunt Emerson, but those things should be the garnish rather than the meal, and pull you out of the vibe of Peyer and Russell’s stronger stories — when you think of all these things and the sheer number of editors’ notes and creator interviews stuffed into various sections of the book, it’s hard not to think of what a meaty third story might have lent to this promising anthology instead.

While one more story might have truly sealed the deal, there really is a lot to like about Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror. Many comics hit the wall of establishing their own voice, but with an anthology, there’s really more of a question of setting a coherent tone amongst your stories — and thus far, Snifter really hits that perfect cocktail of horror and humor in a way that really stands out among the pack. Mark Russell’s story in particular gives this anthology a unique enough spin that it’s worth checking out — that said, just a bit more focus on the comics side of the equation would make this series a total slam-dunk.

Twitter activity