Best Shots Reviews: DARK MULTIVERSE: DEATH OF SUPERMAN, BASKETFUL OF HEADS #1, MARVEL ZOMBIES: RESURRECTED #1

Basketful of Heads #1
Credit: Reiko Murakami (DC)
Credit: DC

Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Death of Superman
Written by Jeff Loveness
Art by Brad Walker, Drew Hennessy, Norm Rapmund and John Kalisz
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

DC continues their dark takes on classic stories with Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Death of Superman. Writer Jeff Loveness delivers a script that is so bleakly blackened that it manages to turn one of the greatest tragedies in the DC Universe into even more of one. This story isn’t really about the fall of Superman — after all, we know Kal-El makes his return — but instead, Loveness focuses on Lois Lane and the shape her grief takes. Brad Walker’s steadfast draftsmanship is on full display throughout the issue as the artist strikes a great balance between the classic nature of the source material and this new spin on it.

Loveness kicks things off with a more extended sequence with Tempus Fuginaut than the one we saw in the Knightfall issue and that gives the book a sort of “Twilight Zone” feel to it that I appreciate. It allows the writer to more carefully craft the lens through which the audience reads this issue. Loveness takes what was already an emotionally harrowing story and pushes it further. What does grief look like? How does it manifest? And what power does it have? The twist here is evident on the cover — Lois becomes the Eradicator — but Loveness is less interested in telling another “Lois Lane gets superpowers” story than he is in exploring the effect of Clark’s death on her. It’s a deft way to handle what could have been a completely overwrought and frankly boring Elseworlds-esque take.Instead, Loveness excels in exploring the loss of Lois’ humanity and how that correlates with how Clark Kent saw the world.

And it certainly helps to have an artist like Brad Walker onboard for this one. Walker goes big as often as possible - imbuing iconic scenes with an emotionality that is key to selling Loveness’ script. If you’re going to believe that Lois Lane would go this far, you need to see her resolve on her face. Walker delivers that as soon as the prelude ends with four pages that hit like a hammer — Superman fighting Doomsday, Superman falling to him, his body in Lois’ arms and then Lois’ grief and resolve. It is extremely effective visual storytelling that sets the stage for the rest of the issue. If I had to nitpick a little, while Walker’s anatomy is great throughout the issue, his design for Lois’s powered up form leaves a little to be desired. It’s clearly meant to callback to those polybagged issues, but it is kind of dull. Additionally, John Kalisz’ coloring loses its way a bit when Lois uses her powers. The red tone really overtakes the book in those moments.

Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Death of Superman is a surprisingly poignant riff on an old story that reminds us why these heroes have lines that they don’t cross. It emphasizes that Superman’s greatest power isn’t what he can do but that he chooses to do good and not be corrupted by the world around him. Lois Lane learns firsthand why Clark operated the way he did and in the process, she loses herself. Thanks to Walker’s linework, Lois’ grief and anger is palpable, lending heartwrenching stakes to a story that would not hit as hard in lesser hands. Tales from the Dark Multiverse is far from essential reading, but does provide at least an interesting remix on some classic stories.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Marvel Zombies: Resurrected #1
Written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson
Art by Leonard Kirk and Guru e-FX
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

When you boil down a superhero story to its deepest core, the narrative is always that of control — of having great abilities to right wrongs, to protect what’s good, to halt disaster in its tracks. But the idea of control can sometimes be an illusion — a fiction that can disappear just when you need it the most.

It’s a theme that permeates Marvel Zombies both as a concept — as the all-powerful heroes of the Marvel Universe quickly discover just how fast their control can slip away — but also in terms of execution. Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson is an up-and-coming talent who deserves a shot at the big leagues — yet while his scripting is creepy and claustrophobic, he finds himself working at cross-purposes with both the meat-and-potatoes superhero style of artist Leonard Kirk, as well as with Marvel’s general publishing decisions elsewhere. The end result is a book that will likely feel solid enough for any diehard Marvel Zombie, but lacks the bite that’s made this unlikely franchise a hit that’s spanned for nearly 15 years.

Perhaps the more pressing critique one might offer, unfortunately, has nothing to do with Johnson, Kirk, or even the rest of the creative team — but despite the Marvel Zombies track record and its Halloween Eve release date, it feels like a lot for Marvel to ask readers to double-dip on the “zombified hero” concept when its weekly series Contagion hasn’t even wrapped until today. Putting aside that the publisher is trying to draw blood from a stone from its fans financially, it also harms the book creatively — structurally speaking, there’s not a huge difference between Johnson’s first issue of Marvel Zombies and Ed Brisson’s first issue of Contagion, in the sense that we’re going to see superheroes wander into a dangerous situation and realize that this is unlike anything they’ve ever faced before. That’s particularly unfortunate, since even if this is new for the heroes, it’s not new for readers like us.

Which is a shame, because I think Johnson’s scripting is ultimately much stronger than the Contagion weekly that he’s being unfairly thrown up against. He flexes nicely with his sense of setting — namely, the corpse of Galactus has floated to Earth, leading a team of A-list Avengers, X-Men and the Fantastic Four to investigate this gory terrain. Given the space setting and the interpersonal dynamics Johnson is playing with, it’s a fair comparison to think of the Alien franchise — particularly seeing Wolverine’s dynamic with Illyana Rasputin, which effectively humanizes them both before they inevitably get mowed down by undead hordes. The other great thing that Johnson does is he’s genre-savvy enough to know that heroes like Captain America, Thor and War Machine are different from the civilian hero population — they’re unsentimental enough to know that if things go wrong, they’ll take decisive action. Which only makes what happens next feel all the more tragic and terrible.

But much of this is lost in translation because of the art. Kirk is as traditional a superhero artist as they come, and while he’s done great work in the past in terms of fisticuffs and pyrotechnics, his style doesn’t really bring the kind of mood, atmosphere or tension that Johnson’s script really requires. Beats like having the heroes exploring Galactus’ rotting corpse feels almost like generic caves, rather than the creepy horror-fest that’s been written — even downright shocking moments like the Human Torch having his throat torn out or the reveal of zombie space heroes feels swallowed up rather than reveled in. The thing is, though, blaming Kirk for this is getting it backwards — because ultimately, he’s delivering the style that he’s well-known for. But whatever the reasons why they did it, putting an artist with Kirk’s style on this particular book feels like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole, and it takes what should have been an electrifying debut and just makes it an average one.

Yet that might be the scariest thing about Big Two comics as a whole — learning how quickly the illusion of control can be dispelled. If Johnson was able to call every shot on this book, I imagine we’d be reading a very different Marvel Zombies — but he can’t control his publisher’s catalog, or their choice of creative partners. He can only control himself — and in that regard, he performs admirably well. While its timing and its artwork don’t necessarily do the book any favors, there’s lots of potential to this series, particularly thanks to its stalwart writer — and given that the rising body counts often act as a force multiplier for series like these, chances are Marvel Zombies will shake off some of its rigor mortis in its relentless shamble to your local comic book shop.

Credit: Reiko Murakami (DC)

Basketful of Heads #1
Written by Joe Hill
Art by Leomacs and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Deron Bennett
Published by DC’s Black Label/Hill House Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

DC’s newest pop-up line kicks off with the surprisingly plotty Basketful of Heads #1. Though imbued with the sort of “everyman” dread that one would expect from author Joe Hill, the first entry into his Hill House Comics imprint is light in real horror, but heavy in set-up. It’s September 1983, and a storm coming to Brody Island, Maine. It’s an idyllic, affluent, but isolated community; one governed by an outwardly jovial, yet hard-nosed Mayor and noble Sheriff. But to make matters worse, a group of prisoners from the nearby Shawshank Prison have escaped from a work detail and now roam the island free.

We experience all this through the eyes of our main characters Liam, a bright-eyed but well-meaning volunteer deputy, and his psych major girlfriend June, who is down to the island for the weekend. Unfortunately, aside from a bleakly hilarious opening, Basketful of Heads #1 is more groundwork than actual scares. It surely looks fantastic thanks to the classically inspired layouts and character focused expressiveness of Leomacs and colorist Dave Stewart. But with a name like Basketful of Heads, one would expect at least one beheading in the opening issue, right?

Starting with the good, Basketful of Heads #1 is a classic slasher movie set-up. We have an isolated setting, about to be made even more so by the oncoming storm. We have a whole heap of suspects in the escaped Shawshank prisoners (which in itself is a pretty canny shout-out to Hill’s father, the iconic Stephen King). We even have two oblivious leads in Liam and June, both of whom are too wrapped up in getting hot and heavy with one another.

And the whole of the opening issue look tremendous thanks to Leomacs and horror comics staple Dave Stewart. Though much of the script is focused on expository scenes and character building, the art team draws us deep into the Island thanks to their carefully constructed, grounded set construction and life-like character models. Stewart also outdoes himself, leaning into the amber-gris warmth of the “last night of summer” and rich blue-blacks once the storm clouds roll in.

Unfortunately, Joe Hill never really upshifts with any of it. Though we start on a high point, seeing the titular basket and it’s bickering contents, being transported through the driving rain by a hooded and armed stranger. This opening is another real high point for the art team, capped off the ghoulish “logo” and credit page of the title. But from there we spend the rest of the issue’s page-count in the “Before,” when the sun was still shining and the basket empty and unseen. Hill uses the majority of these scenes to introduce the rest of the cast, mainly the Sheriff’s unconventional family and their stately, artifact-filled mansion, but it’s all firmly set in exposition mode. Which is a bummer considering the garish promise of the cold open and the gleefully pulpy title. It does evoke the folksy, hyperspecific mode of horror of Hill and King’s brands, but I just wish this first issue had a little more blood to spill to really kick off this imprint properly.

Though not a complete wash, as it looks appropriately old-school both in its striking layouts and rich artwork, Basketful of Heads #1 is a disappointment. Which is a shame, both for lovers of creator-owned horror and horror-focused imprints. Joe Hill is clearly playing a longer game and in prose, you can get away with that. (Hell, even in comics sometimes. Just look at his Locke & Key.) But this opening issue is weirdly restrained for the horror maven and for the opening salvo of a whole line of comics. Hopefully next issue we can get more of the pulp and slasher antics promised, but for now, Basketful of Heads #1 isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds.

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