Best Shots Advance Reviews: ARCHIE #700, MIDDLEWEST #1, GO-BOTS #1

Go-Bots #1
Credit: IDW Publishing
Credit: Archie Comics

Archie #700
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Marguerite Sauvage
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Few media properties are resilient enough to manage one successful rebranding, but in just the last five years, Archie Comics has managed to pull off two. With Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’ masterful relaunch in 2015, the company reforged decades of soap opera with an engaging and down-to-earth characterization. But just a year and a half later, Archie and his fellow students also became the subjects of a wild, over-the-top revamp in the CW series Riverdale. But threading the needle between these two wildly divergent takes is Nick Spencer and Marguerite Sauvage in Archie #700, which does an effective job at serving two masters while providing an easy jumping-on point for readers of all stripes.

To his credit, Nick Spencer knows that no matter where you come from, you will be bringing expectations to his series — expectations which allow him to play his readers like a fiddle before swerving with a subversion. For fans of the CW show, we do have Jughead Jones appear more like Cole Sprouse’s investigative counterpart — but the mystery he’s searching for isn’t about a grisly murder, but the secret that his best friend Archie Andrews is keeping from the town. Archie, meanwhile, gets to play in the familiar comic book love triangle with Betty and Veronica, but Spencer’s solution to this Gordian Knot is a refreshing one that might appeal to fans of Archie’s multimedia efforts.

With this kind of high-wire act to traverse, Spencer has a lot to cover in terms of introducing all of his characters, but he does so with a minimum of expositional drag — he isn’t able to reinvent the wheel just yet, but he’s doing a superb job at channeling the actors from Riverdale while still staying true to Mark Waid’s comic book characterization. There’s so much going on that it’s easy to miss some of the seeds that Spencer lays down closer to the end of the issue, teasing what happened to Riverdale’s various residents over the summer. But these blink-and-you-miss-it moments aside, make no mistake — this isn’t just a success, but it’s hard work that Spencer makes look easy.

Marguerite Sauvage, meanwhile, feels like the perfect choice for an Archie relaunch. She has a lot in common with Fiona Staples, in terms of being able to pack a lot of expression into her artwork — that said, she has a much bouncier style of linework, which I think gives this series a nice jolt of energy. Like Spencer, Sauvage has the advantage of being able to channel our expectations from the Riverdale show — in particular, you can see the Cole Sprouse vibe with Jughead, and even K.J. Apa’s strong eyebrows and wide grin seem to inform her take on Archie’s design. Sauvage’s colors are also just beautiful stuff, leavening the neon-infused environments of the TV show but still occasionally evoking the sense of menace that could be lurking just underneath this town’s happy veneer.

It speaks to the popularity of Archie Andrews and his Riverdale gang that these characters have endured for as long as they have — but in this critical moment in the company’s history, they needed someone with a sure hand to maintain the flagship title upon Mark Waid’s departure, one that could help lead this series as it charts a stellar multimedia path forward. And I gotta tell you, Nick Spencer and Marguerite Sauvage do a tremendous job at proving why they’re the right people for the job — no matter if you’re a fan of the comics or the television shows, Archie #700 is a perfect reintroduction to the town of Riverdale, and the kind of well-produced celebration that other comics companies would do well to emulate.

Credit: Mike Huddleston (Image Comics)

Middlewest #1
Written by Skottie Young
Art by Jorge Corona and Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Skottie Young is the first to admit that he’s fond of creating “kid-on-a-quest” stories. Given his background of adapting Frank Baum’s Oz tales, the magic of the Midwest also forms a huge part the Illinois native’s influence. From its violent winds to its otherworldly trappings, the alternate universe of Middlewest feels like something Young has been building towards for a while.

Following the Oz theme in a way, Young’s new collaboration with artists Jorge Corona and Jean-Francois Beaulieu begins with a dream. Just like Kansas, there’s a lot of wind on this side of the rainbow, although here it’s personified as a whirlwind monster that terrorizes the nocturnal rumblings of Abel, an otherwise average teen with a paper route. Young deftly juxtaposes these nightmares with the ferocity of Abel’s father, a strict tyrant who violently disciplines him for minor infractions.

Yet it’s also clear from this art-led story that this isn’t the Midwest we know. This is Middlewest. Abel’s casual conversations with a fox are the first sign of something different about this small town. As Abel and his friends skive off into town, buildings with giant round beakers filled with unidentified potions and airships dotting the skies speak to the hybrid world that Middlewest only hints at for now. To Young’s credit, none of this is ever explained or expanded on just yet. It’s a fully lived-in world that invites us to spend some time, and Young is determined to pull us in rapidly.

Jorge Corona is a perfect complement to Young’s visual sensibilities. As an artist and writer, Young knows when to let Corona and color artist Beaulieu take over and tell his story for him. Following the visually dynamic opening, Corona is skilled at the more subtle moments as well. There’s a three-panel sequence in which Abel knows he is about to be chastised by his father: without a single word on panel, Corona and Beaulieu convey more emotion in a single frame than some comics do in entire series.

Corona, Beaulieu and letterer Nate Piekos work seamlessly together. The text of Abel’s weak attempts at rebuffing his father’s anger literally grows in size until a giant expletive dominates the middle third of the page. The massive cacophony of anger is given form as a storm rages behind Abel and his physically abusive father. Those Oz parallels return, with a series of anthropomorphic occurrences manifesting the deepest fears of Abel. Color art switches between muted deep purples and blues of the everyday and depressive to the technicolor of the extraordinary, perhaps analogous to Dorothy crossing the monochrome threshold in a certain 1939 classic film.

If this first issue of Middlewest was a standalone one-shot, it would still contain all the elements of an outstanding narrative. We’re introduced to a young boy longing for the ‘other’, deal dramatically with domestic violence, and see Abel and his animal companion embark on a childhood adventure in a world just beyond our own. Taking the best bits of old school fables and modern sensibilities, this comic might be the best thing that’s happened to the Midwest since the Cubs won the World Series.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Go-Bots #1
Written, Illustrated, Colored, and Lettered by Tom Scioli
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Writer/artist Tom Scioli returns to the world of transforming robots in the debut of Go-Bots #1. Marking the first time the franchise has had an ongoing comic, Scioli delvers a densely drawn but fast-moving opening issue. He sets up a world in which renegade Go-Bots plan to wipe out humans in order to rule the world, rendered in his trademark newsprint style and punchy scripting. Though the Go-Bots have a reputation for being “discount Transformers,” Tom Scioli aims to make them a marquee name with a fun and handsomely rendered debut.

But wait? Don’t know anything about the Go-Bots? Then this is the best place to start — Tom Scioli realizes that most readers are in the dark and presents this debut issue as a “101” class of sorts. Though his simplistic, but entertaining script, Scioli gives readers everything they need to know about the franchise along with some truly tremendous artwork and set pieces. We quickly meet fighter pilot Nick and his jet fighter companion Leader-1, the young and optimistic A.J. and her chipper robot friend Scooter, and the famous Go-Bot racer Matt Hunter and his sassy car friend Turbo. All of these characters basically star in their own vignettes set in this new world of robot and human symbiosis, but Scioli peppers in some great world-building throughout their introductions. Instead of just bald-faced exposition, Scioli uses their day-to-day routines to thread through some essential information about the impact Go-Bots and their tech have had on society. It might not be an exhaustive history, but it is fun and substantial enough to give layman readers a great sense of the world.

But with progress comes conflict, and while most humans and Go-Bots live in harmony, there is a section of renegades, led by the violent Cy-Kill, that wish the humans dead. This is the main crux of Scioli’s plot, which is slowly layered into the narrative through the introductions. It becomes pretty explicit once Hunter is shown a Go-Bot fight club, where Cy-Kill is the grand champion, but it is nice to see that he took his time getting there, building up the world, before threatening to tear it down. Humans and robots going to war isn’t exactly the most novel of plots, but the one found here has some real political stakes and civic repercussions, which makes it far more interesting than just “robots hate humans.”

Though the political implications of this issue gives it a solid narrative hook, it is Scioli’s art that undoubtedly steals the show. Each page is absolutely stuffed with detailing and Ben-Day dotted colors. While it is more classically laid out than some of his more trippy works (most pages are caged in tight panel grids), Scioli’s sense of perspective and momentum is still very much alive and well here. There are multiple prime examples of this throughout the debut, but perhaps the best one is when Leader-1 and Cy-Kill start throwing mechanical fists. Though set in a tight panel grid, the whole page is off-kilter slightly, slanted in a dynamic diagonal. It is a small variance, but it really gives the scene a visceral feel, highlighting each punch and line of dialogue. Like I said, this is just one of many great artistic feints from Scioli, who packs this debut issue with plenty of Kirby-esque colors and character staging.

The goal of this issue is to take readers who know next to nothing about the Go-Bots and turn them into fans, and thanks to Tom Scioli’s accessible, engaging story and his unique artwork, I think this can be considered a success. Though this franchise might not have the name recognition of IDW’s Hasbro properties, I think after this debut issue, fans both old and new will finally give the IP the recognition it deserves, on the strength of Scioli’s artwork if nothing else. Standing as a clear entry point for new and returning fans, Go-Bots #1 could arguably be this week’s dark horse pick of the week.

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