Best Shots Advance Reviews: DRACULA, THE DARKNESS, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! We're back from the future, and let me tell you, the flying cars are not what they were cracked up to be. But tomorrow's comics certainly are -- we've got books from Dynamite, BOOM! Studios and Aspen, all for your reading enjoyment! Want to see more? Then let's go back in time, to the Best Shots Topic Page, where we've got tons of reviews from last week... and beyond! And now, let's take a look at BOOM! Studios' latest crack on the vampire genre, with Dracula: The Company of Monsters...

Dracula: The Company of Monsters #1

Written by Daryl Gregory and Kurt Busiek

Art by Scott Godleweski and Stephen Downer

Lettering by Johnny Lowe

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

You'd think that "just" set-up between a corporate drone and the King of Vampires would be a bloodless enterprise -- but Dracula: The Company of Monsters #1 is anything but. With some surprisingly strong characterization combined with the strongest art of Scott Godlewski's career, this is a series that really will stick with you longer than you'd expect.

To start off with, it's stories like these that show the talent of Kurt Busiek and Daryl Gregory, just as structural artists. They manage to make a mildish-mannered corporate drone into an interesting protagonist, giving him some backstory, some problems, and some bizarre training that might just unleash a new era of darkness. Combine that with some real almost fantasy-style epicness to the backstory of Vlad the Impaler, and you have a book that's managed to keep you hooked on every single page.

But Scott Godlewski. Jeez. Scott Godlewski. Clearly this man has been eating his Wheaties, because this is a level up from his work on Codebreakers. That's not to just say there's a boost because there's more action -- although a splash page of a "forest" of impaled soldiers looks absolutely stunning, especially with the blood-red colorwork by Stephen Downer -- but the day-to-day "acting" of this book feels much, much stronger. Whether it's Evan putting his fingers to his temple in exhaustion or seeing the triumphant look on Vlad's face when you know he's going to cheat death, there's a lot to love here.

In a lot of ways, you'd think that this book would be hitting an already-saturated market, with X-Men and Ides of Blood hitting the stands. But clearly the vampire trend shows no signs of stopping, especially not with some strong storytelling and some eye-popping art coming from BOOM! Studios. You may think that a corporation taking on Dracula might make for a bloodless enterprise -- but far from it. This is one hostile takeover I can't wait to see continue.

ANI-MAX: The Everykid Becomes Any Animal
ANI-MAX: The Everykid Becomes Any Animal
Ani-Max One-Shot

Created by Sharad Devajaran, Gotham Chopra and Jeevan King

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Jeevan King

Published by Dynamite Entertainment and Liquid Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

Click here for preview

"It was like this wave washed over me. I could sense every animal in the jungle. I had this connection to them, I was in tune with them. I understood every growl and chirp and grunt. I understood everything." -- Max Duncan

Imagine if you will, a hero that is Ben 10 meets DC's Vixen, and what you get is twelve year-old Max Duncan, aka Ani-Max. While on a vacation to the rainforest, Max becomes lost and is confronted by a panther who passes the mystical object known as the Animus Stone to Max. The panther transforms into an old man who informed Max of an impending danger and runs off. Max now possesses the ability to become part animal he touches, and his duty is to protect the Earth Spirits.

Marz hasn't touched anything all-ages since his Dragon Prince two years ago, and while the story may be as old as time (or at least as old as Dial H For Hero) it still has an underlining message of environmental consciousness. The message conveying is that the youth can be responsible for the planet they will inherit, so it's not exactly a Ben 10 rip-off story-wise. Max is someone who is willing to accept his responsibilities as the new guardian, in somewhat of a Harry Potter mentality. We don't know much about Max's main threat, the Locusts, as they were just mentioned by the former protector and hinted at the end of the issue.

Jeevan King's art is pretty standard for something like this. It's Sean Galloway mixed with Bruce Timm with a slice of Mike Kunkel for good measure. Layouts are simple and easy to understand. As this is a one-shot, I've heard that this is merely an introduction to the character in preparation for a venture into an animated project, which could easily work since the world is thinking more "green" these days. As a comic, it easily stands on it's own merits and I would recommend this to any Elementary School who are adding more and more comics to their library.

THE DARKNESS: Four Horsemen Interview
THE DARKNESS: Four Horsemen Interview
The Darkness: Four Horsemen #1

Written by David Hine

Art by Jeff Wamester and Felix Serrano

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Dark Horse

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

There's no other way to say it -- The Darkness: Four Horsemen is just plain fun. There's a real exuberance here, a no-nonsense thrill of violence, not to mention some refreshing visuals... even if you don't know much about the mobster-gone-demonic-weapon Jackie Estacado, this is the kind of book that'll make you root for the bad guy.

But let's focus on the book's true strength here -- Jeff Wamester and Felix Serrano bring the goods, with some artwork that's like a cross between David Lafuente and Rafael Albuquerque. It's particularly interesting coming from Top Cow, who you associate with the ultra-detailed linework of Nelson Blake II or the computer effects of Stjepan Sejic -- I don't think I've ever seen art like this on their books. And it looks great -- in a lot of ways, Wamester excells with people in their civilian clothes even more than the demonic armor, giving the acting and expressiveness some real weight. His composition is also really well set, particularly with a two-page sequence where the Darkness runs wild -- you combine that with some lush colorwork from Felix Serrano, and this book is worth it for the visuals alone.

Yet let's not ignore writer David Hine here. He gets us into the story extremely quickly, giving you just enough exposition to run with Estacado and his demonic crew. His dialogue also has that snappy flow to it, particularly in the sequences with the gangsters: "They said you were smart, Jackie. They tell me you lead a charmed life. Survived more hits than Castro." And while method of the exposition can get a little obvious, Hine also brings in some interesting villains in the form of the demon biker gang known as the Four Horsemen. He gives them some nice street cred with the virulent horror that they inflict -- they're less hands-on criminals and more murderers by proxy, which I think will give Jackie some challenges to deal with.

That said, of course the book isn't perfect. I think that Hine could have gone a little bit deeper with his protagonist -- while die-hard Darkness fans have no problem knowing Jackie's personality and backstory, it'd be nice to give that ground-floor entree, especially given Wamester's alternative style. And I will say that despite Hine building up the Four Horsemen as threats, Wamester's designs for them can't help but look a little bit goofy -- it's not a requirement to have a stylish villains, but it would certainly help improve the fireworks a bit. Still, this book can be forgiven for some of its missteps -- this isn't meant to be the defining moment of the Darkness's career, only a hard-hitting romp for Jackie Estacado and some soon-to-be dead bikers. And in that regard, this first issue puts its foot on the gas and doesn't let go.

The Scourge #1

Written by Scott Lobdell

Art by Eric Battle and David Curiel

Published by Aspen Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

Click here for preview

There’s a paint-by-the-numbers quality to The Scourge — a patching together of ideas that are too familiar to have much impact: The tough cop who can handle anything on the streets, but not his personal problems; the mild-mannered good guy who mysteriously mutates into something unrecognizable and horrific; the intense buildup to the inevitably monstrous final panel.

There’s a good bit of action in this comic but, unfortunately, not much genuine suspense or character development. By page seven, it’s pretty obvious that bad things are in store for NYPD officer John Griffin and his best friend, dentist Peter Newburgh. They’re on a rock-climbing adventure abroad to help Griffin take his mind off of a nasty divorce, and faster than you can say “glowing purple eggs,” Newburgh does the dumbest thing imaginable: He messes with the weird objects. Seriously, if you’re already dangling from a cliff, do you really want to further tempt fate by jostling a creepy object you’ve never seen before?

The buddy aspect of The Scourge is somewhat enjoyable, though the dialogue between Griffin and Newburgh can’t decide whether it belongs on the Hallmark Channel or Spike TV. Their friendship feels more like a plot device than an authentic relationship, and Griffin’s ex-wife, Claire, gets the one-dimensional treatment. We see her lounging in a hot tub with a glass of wine, presumably to make Griffin look like even more of a standup guy and committed father to their young son.

Eric Battle has a jagged, raw illustration style that works well in some spots, like the dramatic opening panel of Griffin on a cliff in front of a full moon. In others, the drawing is too harsh and exaggerated, and the characters’ faces are noticeably inconsistent. However, there is a cool moment of visual foreshadowing above New York City as Griffin and Newburgh race toward the hospital.

A comic titled The Scourge ought to leave a lasting, chilling impression. Instead, this first issue lands with more of a dull thud.

What're you looking forward to this week?

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