Best Shots Advance Reviews: MARILYN MANOR #1, DARK RED #4, DEADLY CLASS #39

Dark Red #4
Credit: Aaron Campbell (AfterShock Comics)
Credit: Marley Zarcone (IDW Publishing/Black Crown)

Marilyn Manor #1
Written by Magdalene Visaggio
Art by Marley Zarcone and Irma Kniivila
Lettering by Jane Heir
Published by IDW Publishing / Black Crown
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Magdalene Visaggio and Marley Zarcone’s John Hughes inspired, early ‘80s White House romp is a scattershot debut that feels like it ends just as it’s about to get going. And that’s a shame because there are a lot of endearing concepts here. We’ve seen presidential kid narratives before in movies like First Kid and First Daughter as well as more recently in shows like Veep. But Visaggio has a knack for finding the least expected way into this one - bleeding the arcane arteries of American history and letting them pour out over a period-specific pastiche of rock n’ roll and youth in revolt. Marley Zarcone’s art is paired well to Visaggio’s world, but the page count betrays the potential of this title.

In broad strokes, there’s a lot to like here. Visaggio pretty quickly nails down the tone of John Hughes ‘80s oeuvre. Our protagonist Marilyn Kelleher feels a lot like Ferris Bueller by way of Jem/Jerrica Benton. And the set-up feels like pretty standard fare at first glance: with her parents away, Marliyn wants to throw a party. Except her best friend, Abe, may be possessed by Abraham Lincoln, her babysitter is the Deputy Chief of Staff, and the White House is also the “mystical beating heart of the United States.”

It’s the magical twist that provides the biggest hook in the book, but Visaggio is pretty vague about what it means, and that provides a bit of a roadblock to getting fully onboard with the concept. Marilyn finds hidden passages and rooms throughout the White House and explains her connection to her namesake Marilyn Monroe, but that feels like a strange aside. She invites rock stars to her party and calls to action the “New Romantics” towards the end of the book, giving the whole affair a sort of Wild in the Streets kind of feel, but there are so many disparate threads that we only get a hazy picture of Marilyn’s motivations or the plot as a whole.

Marley Zarcone’s work is a great fit for the book, though. She seems very at home in this world, presenting the blander visuals of the American government with equal weight to the punched up aesthetics of ‘80s counterculture. There is an openness to her character design and lines that I almost get a sort of David Lapham meets Hellen Jo feel from her work. It’s not as heavily inked as Lapham tends to go or quite as stylized as Jo’s work, but there’s a happy medium that works exceptionally well for the book. Irma Kniivila is onboard with a period appropriate color palette as well that really provides excellent contrast between the present-day scenes and flashbacks as well as informs Marilyn’s transformation over the course of the book.

You mileage may vary with Marilyn Manor. The book feels like a loose assemblage of story elements at this point that aren’t completely in line with what the solicit copy teases. It’s steeped in ‘80s pop culture touchstones, but there seems to be a lack of intentionality in how they’re used. But the book looks good, and these are two creators with a good track record. If you like the pieces they present here, it’s only a matter of time before they give you a satisfying whole.

Credit: Aaron Campbell (AfterShock Comics)

Dark Red #4
Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Corin Howell and Mark Englert
Lettering by Marshall Dillon
Published by AfterShock Comics
Review by Adrian Care
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Excellent. That’s not hyperbole or fanfare. That’s an accurate, single word summation of a book that spreads its wings far beyond the vampire genre it lives in. Dark Red is a book that, like its protagonist, enthralling the reader in its crazy ride of rednecks, the undead, Nazis, politics, romance, hope, friendship, prejudice, and slushies.

This is an ambitious book that juggles a hell of a lot of ideas. But it does it so deftly that it never feels like an overwhelming assault on the reader. Reluctant hero Chip has just done away with Nazi vampire Victor. His friend Evie has just been kidnapped by Victor's clan. Good ol’ boys Stu and Cam have just stumbled upon the whole mess. In general, things are about to escalate.

Key to this is the way Seeley uses the dialogue as a conduit to deliver his ideas. The characters and the way they interact with one another are so well-written and realized, and the wit Seeley brings to the table is razor-sharp. Cam and Stu’s reactions to finding out Chip is a vampire are hysterical (yet ring absolutely true to the characters), while the banter between Stu, Chip, and Cam on movies as they try to get the jump on some vamps is spot-on. On top of this, Seeley also shades every character with their own personal tragedy and weaves it into the tight political tapestry of the current state of the country. It’s intelligent stuff that’s also very accessible for new readers.

Seeley’s script shifts gears smoothly between comedy, suspense, frustration, fear, and rousing speeches. Although handled tastefully, the undercurrent of bigotry and red state attitudes can be unflinching subject matter — in particular, the mentions of clergy sex abuse and the suggestive nature of seductive vampires puts emphasis on the “mature” in mature readers. But if there is a real fault to this issue it’s that the pacing could do with a little more tempering. It’s not that things feel rushed by any means but the transitions from one event or reveal to another are so breakneck the reader would really benefit from a chance to immerse themselves in the moment and digest the information before feasting on more. We could spend a little more time sweating on the fate of Evie and her co-prisoner before zooming back to the villain’s plot or Cam negotiating his place in this horrific and unfair landscape.

Mark Englert lays down some fantastic colors that really fit the red state setting to a T. His neon washed nightclub scene is eye-popping without completely stealing the thunder from Corin Howell’s pencils. Howell’s visuals feel like they’ve been influenced by the quirky cult humanity of Steve Dillon’s Preacher work, with some simple, clean, yet expressive figure work that calls to Pia Guerra’s art on Y: The Last Man.

But there’s still more than enough originality in Howell’s pencils to distinguish her own style. The events never lose a sense of grounded humanity even though we’re dealing with the political plots of ancient undead marauders. Every time Seeley flips the switch to laugh out loud moments, Howard meets him to the last detail. When the tone changes to foreboding suspense, Howard obliges him. This series, this issue is a great example of when a writer and an artist’s collaborative effort is evident on the finished page.

Dark Red’s character work and story beats will take you on a journey from laughs to some truly tragic and provocative themes. Is this a book with something for everyone? Maybe not. It really straddles the line between an entertaining read and something more grim. But if you’re game for all this, Dark Red #4 definitely has a lot for most readers to relish sinking their teeth into.

Credit: Wes Craig (Image Comics)

Deadly Class #39
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Wes Craig and Jordan Boyd
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by Adrian Care
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Deadly Class isn’t shy in its ambitions. You can really see it strive for the same high notes and brass rings as its obvious influence - Chris Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men. But Deadly Class is more than just violent love letter to a watershed era of Marvel’s merry mutants. It’s the high school drama that the subversive CW Riverdale dare not be. A dangerous alternative to the behind the veil, secret schools like Hogwarts. The concept gets you through the door. The cast of characters is what keeps you in your seat.

Rick Remender’s story often works so well because he drenches everything he’s writing in authenticity via details. This issue’s high drama in high school exemplifies that, as Shabnam grapples with Marcus and Maria’s return to King’s Dominion as the new power couple of the school. But with Remender’s work in Deadly Class, everything is an exercise in immersion. The depth of dimension in the dialogue and art creates a setting that is a living, breathing, lived-in thing. The hardcore politicking and thinly veiled power plays amongst the student council are blatant and transparent, but deliciously so. It really brings the drama and intrigue to salacious levels. Shabnam, so threatening in other arcs, is a character that works just as well in reverting to the butt of Remender’s jokes. His “sticky” predicament is just one example of the flavor of humor that plays suitably well against the power struggles and mayhem.

The cultural attitudes and social issues of the ‘80s setting are another point of immersion in this issue. It’s interesting to juxtapose current attitudes to the attitudes on sexuality and gender politics of the past and the action-packed opening confronts the reader with this unapologetically. Meanwhile, the psychology in the writing not only cuts to the core of the characters, but is just as jarring to the reader. Statements have a way of halting everyone in their tracks, as it does when two gay teens under assault admonish their would-be protector with “Don’t kill them and say it was for us.” It’s an effective moment that takes full advantage of modern storytelling that Claremont paved the way for.

The art makes effective use of Remender and Craig’s working relationship as well as the strengths of the script. The violence is graphic, yet so very stylized. The look of the book is so punk, as counterculture in feel as it gets today. If there was ever a revival of The Invisibles, I’d love to see what an artist like Wes Craig could do on that book, because his layouts, in conjunction with the books signature coloring by Jordan Boyd, are so evocative of ‘80s comic books. They’re also sprinkled with the cutting-edge tricks of modern indie comic books. The result feels like Paul Pope banging heads with early New Mutants.

So much works in this issue that the one thing that feels out of place is Marcus leaning heavy on being a jerk to Maria. The reader is made aware that he’s a man with a plan, but it just feels incongruent with everything else going on between the other players in the issue. I get that Marcus is a loner at his core, but after almost 40 issues of character development, some moments like his Jesus speech can’t help but feel a little incongruent with what’s already been established.

Despite all the grabs for ascendency and Machiavellian movements that transpire this issue, Deadly Class #39 feels like a quieter moment before a storm comes blowing through. You can sense that these are all just chess pieces being moved around and into place ahead of the deadly game you just know is coming between Marcus and the rest of King’s Dominion. There are some great internal conflicts given weight and everything is delivered in an artistic and totally engrossing visual package. There’s a sting in this issues tale that reminds the reader — in the tradition of Chris Claremont’s renowned X-Men work — to expect the unexpected.

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