Best Shots Reviews: GLOW #1, BAD LUCK CHUCK #1, FALLEN WORLD #1

Bad Luck Chuck #1
Credit: Matthew Dow Smith (AfterShock Comics)
Credit: Hannah Templer (IDW Publishing)

Written by Tini Howard
Art by Hannah Templer and Rebecca Nalty
Lettering by Christa Meisner
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Fans of the Netflix series will find lots to like in IDW Publishing’s series Glow, a best-case scenario for TV tie-ins if I’ve ever seen one. Writer Tini Howard tackles the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling with aplomb, while her tag-team partner artist Hannah Templer wows the crowd with some expressive cartooning that evokes the actresses of the show without ever getting heavy-handed or self-conscious. While the plotting moves a little slower than its spunky Netflix counterpart, you’d be lying if you described GLOW #1 as anything other than a winner.

That said, if you’re unfamiliar with the show, this is definitely not the place to start - instead, Howard is playing to the fans right from the jump, forgoing exposition in favor of plunking Ruth, Debbie, Sam and the gang directly in the midst of their latest hustle. The Reseda Wrestlefest is nigh, and given that cash is tight, Sam has booked the ladies of GLOW to perform - that is, if everyone can scrounge up travel cash to get there. Howard instinctively gets the winning personalities of the show, which is good given that few of these characters get dedicated introductions - it’s a smart play, for example, to use Ruth and Debbie’s status as frenemies as a way to earn money at Venice Beach, while Melrose and Rhonda use their own individual brands of hot mess to earn some scratch in some particularly funny ways. (Sheila, meanwhile, steals the show in her brief interludes.)

Still, Howard has to make some tough decisions juggling her 18-person cast, and that means some readers’ favorites don’t necessarily make the cut - while Sam, Ruth and Carmen wind up getting the lion’s share of the storyline, characters like Cherry, Arthie and Reggie are more blink-and-you-miss-it. But you can’t deny just how well Howard nails the voices of her main characters - Sam continues to get the best one-liners in the book, such as an ill-advised encounter with a fake valet, while you can almost hear Alison Brie’s voice when you read Ruth’s lines as Zoya the Destroya.

Even more impressive might be the art from Hannah Templer, who sets a high bar for comic book tie-ins for TV shows. Let’s face it - a lot of screen-to-page adaptations feel wildly inconsistent as far as the visuals go, but Templer really straddles the line nicely between evoking the actresses of GLOW, while never surrendering the flourishes of her cartoony style. On occasion, her establishing shots can feel a little wonky at times - the opening page of the book, for example, doesn’t quite hook us as much as it should, since Templer zooms out to establish both the gym and the women practicing in it - but her sense of comedy is really delightful, especially the scenes involving the extremely dense Rhonda and the extremely intense Sheila. Extra props go to colorist Rebecca McNalty, whose extra-bright colors might seem counterintuitive to GLOW as a comic book series, but who winds up giving the book its own energy and identity as a result.

If there’s anything that holds GLOW back from a flawless victory, it’s an issue of pacing - the story ends just as it starts winding up, and that does feel like a bit of a tactical error on Howard’s part. Like I said before, she’s not introducing readers to GLOW as a concept, but then why wait until the end of the issue to really establish the central conflict of the series? (Some of this might be an editorial or production hiccup as well - there’s a “casting” notice at the back of the book that I can’t help but think would have been much better served for readers at the front of the book instead.) Even a quick structural tweak like showing off GLOW’s newest rivals at the jump before cutting back a few days would have helped launch this series with even more power.

But quibbles aside, you’d be hard-pressed not to award GLOW with the crown for its winning adaptation of one of Netflix’s most charming shows. This comic’s all-female team - which is an exceedingly important move from IDW on this book in particular - does a tremendous job channeling the spirit of the streaming series, with a debut that will certainly make diehard fans happy, even if it isn’t necessarily the best introduction for those unfamiliar with the show.

Credit: Matthew Dow Smith (AfterShock Comics)

Bad Luck Chuck #1
Written by Lela Gwenn
Art by Matthew Dow Smith and Kelly Fitzpatrick
Lettering by Frank Cvetkovic
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Charlene “Chuck” Manchester delivers disaster on demand. Need something unfortunate to befall a local business? Did a friend wrong you in a big way, and you want a little petty revenge? Walking curse Chuck Manchester can lend a hand, and the best part is, it’ll always look like an accident - because it usually is. In this week’s Bad Luck Chuck #1, writer Lela Gwenn explores one woman’s quest to put her preternaturally bad luck to good use, and what happens when she lands herself in the middle of a scheme too big for her to mess up all on her own. After a mother hires Chuck to rescue her daughter Fayola from a cult, Chuck finds herself thrown into a scheme that none of her freelance insurance scamming has fully prepared her for. But with the promise of her biggest payoff yet, what’s she got to lose?

Bad Luck Chuck is just flat-out fun - Gwenn throws you into the middle of Chuck’s exceptionally weird circumstances with very little explanation, and watching the ripple effect of her presence on literally everything around her unfold in Matthew Dow Smith’s pop art style is captivating. Following Chuck is like constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop in a hall of mirrors; when it finally does, there’s another one, and another one, and another one, but somehow Gwenn, Smith, and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick manage to keep Chuck’s bizarre circumstances from feeling all that outlandish.

Together, Smith and Fitzpatrick create a sense of surrealism that elevates the supernatural (maybe) elements of Chuck’s circumstances without overwhelming the more straightforward mystery elements of the story Gwenn is building. There’s something about the use of benday dots that makes Bad Luck Chuck feel like living in the Matrix, if the Matrix was a little more tongue-in-cheek. Dow’s thick, sharp lines make Fitzpatrick’s colors pop, heightening the surprise of the accidents that follow Chuck around and deepening the mystery and looming danger of what Chuck has managed to get herself into. Not to mention the entire team’s excellent sense of comedic timing, from layouts to Frank Cvetkovic’s lettering - there’s a little humor to each of Chuck’s bouts of bad luck, but an extended sequence towards the middle of the book that’s laugh-out-loud funny thanks in large part to the excellent lettering layouts.

This book is excellent from start to finish, an engaging mystery with an edge of dark humor that never feels too grim or too cartoonish. It’s a delight to read - there are a lot of darkly funny, edgy books out there, often also about human disasters, but Chuck never quite feels like the kind of human disaster you’d ever really hate to be in a room with. Bad Luck Chuck is about a woman trying to make the best out of a bad situation, and while it would have been extremely easy for a book about a woman as (seemingly) cursed as Chuck is into a series of gruesome events, Bad Luck Chuck is instead a weird and delightful mystery. Without a doubt there are darker days ahead for Chuck and Fayola, but this week’s debut issue is a fantastic introduction into a strange world you won’t soon forget.

Credit: Jonboy Meyers (Valiant Entertainment)

Fallen World #1
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Adam Pollina and Ulises Arreola
Lettering by Jeff Powell
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

What comes after 4001 A.D.? 4002, and the literal fallout of New Japan collapsing all over the Earth after cyborg samurai Rai destroyed the AI despot Father. Fallen World #1 is indebted to the stories that came before it, and so there is a palpable sense of consequence as the characters deal with the aftermath of that event in different ways; all the while setting up readers for something new to be established in its wake. Perhaps writer Dan Abnett’s greatest strength is his ability to juggle multiple plot elements among a consistent overall arc.With the multiple stars of this book - Rai, Bloodshot, Father, Karana the Geomancer, and Gilad the Eternal Warrior, plus newly-introduced characters - and the myriad of locations and worldbuilding required for this far-future narrative, Abnett is in his element.

The difficulty inherent in this issue comes in catching up readers - and in particular, new Valiant readers - with who these characters are, what essential backstory is needed to prop up the story, and how they would believably interact. In that regard, Fallen World #1 is a resounding success. Readers are immediately introduced to Rai and Bloodshot, who each have been dealing with the scattered remnants of New Japan in their own way. While Rai deals with the bureaucracy that comes with freedom, Bloodshot is on a more violent path, as he unwittingly releases a villain from the past.

There are a handful of other plots that Abnett starts that surely have enormous implications for the five-issue limited series, and the fact that he was able to explore the consequences of a story he did not write, set up a plethora of new plot points, and begin allowing them to blossom all while introducing the robust cast is commendable. While a lot of the comic book’s suspense comes from artist Adam Polina and colorist Ulises Arreola, there’s no denying that Abnett is skilled at teasing a reveal, and his command of page turns is excellent throughout. With the amount of characters, Bloodshot gets the least amount of character time - Ray Garrison’s body is something of a Ship of Theseus, and while his physical being has been replaced entirely, he stops being Ray Garrison only when a new enemy overrules him. There’s also the kind-of class kind-of race proxy that is the Human/Positronic dynamic. There’s a few moments where Abnett highlights this as a racial divide, and even has Rai calling out characters for using a slur of Positronics, but it’s so little for such a heavy theme that the comic would have been better served without it.

Polina’s art is a high-detailed treat throughout Fallen World #1. One of his greatest strengths is in faces, and as such a lot of characters get some gloriously drawn close-ups throughout the comic books. It’s obvious that a lot of love went into both his new designs and his updates on existing designs, so seeing close-up half-page depictions of Raijin’s face or the Father-infected Bloodshot’s face is an absolute delight. Polina and Arreola are both in near-perfect sync in the quieter scenes of the comic’s middle act. After Arreola’s incredible coloring work and palette shift on Rai’s dream sequence, the two fill Rai’s chamber with harsh lines and darkness to highlight both the emotional state the character has when thinking of a lost love and the limits of what he really knows about the situation given that the dream added another layer of mystery. While the fight scene between Bloodshot and a pack of dinosaurs is a clunkier piece of art, everything that follows in the book is a joy to look at.

Fallen World #1 finds a sweet spot that will satisfy longtime fans of the publisher’s far future stories and entice new readers to buy into a world that is bursting with moving parts and characters. Abnett at the helm of a warrior-turned-leader-turned-warrior-again isn’t new territory, and given how well that balance is maintained, it’s clear he was the right choice for the book at this point. Polina’s art is likewise effective at striking a balance, this time between the pristine technology of the futuristic setting and the damaged wasteland of this being a post-apocalyptic world, and Arreola’s coloring serves both the art and the story well. It’s a strong comic that does so well with so much that it's easy to overlook its few shortcomings.

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