Best Shots Advance Reviews: MAGDALENA, MOUSE GUARD, More

Top Cow Preview: MAGDALENA #3

Greeting, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here. Ready to read tomorrow's reviews, today? That's excellent, because we have some rockin' books from Top Cow, IDW and Archaia for your reading enjoyment! Looking for more? We got you covered, just check out the Best Shots Topic Page here! And now, let's let Lan start us off, with a look at that red-headed heroine of the Top Cow moo-niverse, Magdalena...

Top Cow Preview: MAGDALENA #3
Top Cow Preview: MAGDALENA #3
Magdalena #3

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Nelson Blake II, Sal Regla, and Dave McCaig

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

Click here for preview

"The boy's not here. Most of the cult is gone. They just left behind some goons...and that thing. Need a hand?" -- Patience, the Magdalena

I have to be honest here, this issue doesn't really move the plot along as it is a sort of boss battle out of a video game. Kristoff passes as a lost traveler and finds a luxurious manor with a not-so angelic hostess. Though, as you might have guessed it, he was prepared as the mistress of the house, Anichka, shows her true demonic form and pumps several rounds into her. Lucky for him, he is quickly joined by Magdalena. They do their best to make quick work of the situation and still try to get information concerning Kid Anti-Christ, who is already a few steps ahead.

From the first page you'll notice a simplistic layout, but Nelson Blake II's use of sharp angles keeps the story at a nice pace as well as engages the reader. Showing how Magdalena moved around the building a la Batman, was a change of pace and I just wonder how easy it was to creep around with that armor on. Blake's action shots are drawn beautifully with a high impact feel. When somebody is shot, stabbed, or punched, you can sense the impact he was going for. His demonic designs are creative and feel they impose an actual threat, without them being over done. Sal Regla's inking style compliments Blake's pencils exceedingly well. The first six pages of Mags prowling around is evident of that. Dave McCaig's colors are brilliant as always. The use of reds and yellows is still dominant, but he has a chance to work with blues and purples.

Ron Marz is no stranger to the realm of supernatural superheroes having done stints on Thor, and of course the characters at Top Cow for the past five years or so. He's put more than this stamp on these characters, he's breathed new life into them and expanded so much of their world. So, naturally, he excels in telling this sort of story. While Patience has a job and duty to withhold as the Magdalena, she is still having to kill a young boy. Then again, who better to take down Satan's kid than Christ's daughter? The dialog is sharp and Patience has a unique voice that comes across as militant with a feminine edge.

To be truthful if you're not picking up this book or any of the great stuff Top Cow is putting out, you're sorely missing out. Magdalena is no exception.

5 Days to Die #1

Written by Andy Schmidt

Art by Chee

Lettering by Robbie Robbins

Published by IDW

Review by Amanda McDonald

Opening with a husband (Ray) and wife arguing, and the annoyance expressed by their teen daughter this book's first impression was certainly not my impression upon finishing it. During the argument, the family is rear-ended in a fatal car crash that results in the death of his wife. Upon waking, he learns there is debris lodged in his brain and any motion on his part drives the debris further in. Any mobility at all will cause him to only have five days to live, or to. . . die, depending on how you look at it. His daughter is in surgery. Convinced the accident was the result of a disgruntled criminal, he insists on taking action to right this wrong and get the guy who did this to his family.

The book has the expected elements of a fast paced crime tale. A mysterious man was watching Ray in the hospital. Ray keeps asking where's Hoverman? Of course we don't know who Hoverman is, but we can only assume he's "the bad guy." Rather than wait for daughter to get out of surgery, he goes hunting for him, resulting in shots being fired along the way. This guy truly believes that finding the one responsible is what is best for his daughter. Meanwhile she's woken up from surgery and has been asking for him while he's busy off hunting for the guy.

I enjoyed this read, thinking to myself that it's fairly standard for IDW fare. The art style is unique, and completely controlled by Chee. It manages to appear both hard and soft, with hard-hitting content and colors, but a soft watercolor-esque style. The David Finch cover is intricately detailed in contrast and very eye-catching. In fact, one of the aspects of this series I'm really looking forward to are the cover artists for each issue of the remaining four issues: Michael Avon Oeming, Ben Templesmith, Gabriel Dell'Otto, Pablo Raimondi. Not only is the run limited to five total issues, but IDW's release plan is a change from the ordinary, with one issue coming out each Wednesday in September. Five Wednesdays, five issues, and it's done.

Ok, so right there based on the art and the fact that I can read the whole series without committing to years of book-buying has me pretty into this title. And then... the issue ends with a letter from creator, Andy Schmidt. I literally had to take a moment. I had been multi-tasking away, reading this comic, chatting online, watching the local news, sneaking bites of cucumber salad in amongst all this -- but that all screeched to a halt and I had to just sit back for a few minutes to think about why his letter hit me so hard. I could tell you more about the letter, but I really feel strongly it's best read with no preconceived notions. Andy Schmidt has not only created a good crime story, but his personal explanation of his own story has added a level of emotional involvement  that isn't usually as evident in this genre. For anyone on the hunt for a good noir style crime story, pick it up -- and from the look of this first issue, you'll get that plus a whole lot more.

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #3

Written by David Petersen, Jason Shawn Alexander, Katie Cook, Guy Davis and Nate Pride

Art by David Petersen, Jason Shawn Alexander, Katie Cook, Guy Davis and Nate Pride

Published by Archaia Entertainment

Review by Erika D. Peterman

I never thought a panel of a grieving mouse could be so moving, but then again, I’d never experienced Mouse Guard. Believe the hype about David Petersen’s critically acclaimed creation. This is a ravishing book, and it reminded me of how much comic books enchanted me as a child. Which is not to say that Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #3 is a kiddie book, though it is certainly appropriate for children. However, it would be a mistake to assume that this comic is less than sophisticated because of the storybook connotations. It’s simply a work of art.

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #3 is a mini-anthology of fables, each bearing the distinctive mark of a particular writer/artist. The juxtaposition of David Petersen’s Old World illustrations and, say, Katie Cook’s charming, animation-style art is pretty genius. Each tale stands on its own and brings a different flavor to the comic. Take Guy Davis’ wordless chapter, which is both funny in a smart Saturday morning cartoon kind of way, and frightening in a childhood nightmare kind of way. Let’s just say that, from a mouse’s perspective, a cluster of gangsta owls is the most terrifying sight on Earth.

The most haunting contribution by far is Jason Shawn Alexander’s adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” You really feel the main character’s anguish over the loss of his dear Lenore — and the fact that he’s a rodent is wholly immaterial. It’s hard to go wrong with Poe, but Alexander’s shadowy, melancholy illustrations bring the story to life. And there’s more where that came from, thanks to this book’s assembly of talented writer/artists. Best of all, you don’t have to be familiar with the original series or the two previous installments of this comic to dive right into the bewitching world of these mighty mice.

G.I. Joe: Hearts and Minds #4

Written by Max Brooks

Art by Howard Chaykin, Antonio Fuso, Aburtov and Filippo Flores

Lettering by Neil Uyetake

Published by IDW

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

Do you want to dive into the mind of a monster? Max Brooks knows that you do, and it's this side of the coin that's the most interesting in his two-part tale on the doctors of Cobra and G.I. Joe.

Let's start with the good: Dr. Mindbender. It's interesting, because this story isn't so much character study on Mindbender, but a meditation on evil, a justification of monstrous behavior in the name of "freedom" and science. "Ethics... morality," Mindbender tell us. "The obsolete shackles of lesser minds." To see him push for human experimentation and the utter destruction of other human beings is a frightening concept, made all the more frightening by the fact that Brooks makes it organic as hell. This is human blasphemy on an epic scale, and Howard Chaykin's scratchy lines give Mindbender's "patients" a look of almost mutated pain. It's horrible. But it's absolutely a rockin' read.

But I can't say the same for the Joe's side, with Doc. Doc just comes off as... well, a boring character. I guess it's true about villains being the more fun to portray, because the only characterization I got from this guy was the fact that, yes, Doc is all about being a doc, and he's totally cool asking for help if he needs it and being sympathetic to others and all that stuff. Would I want him on my HMO? Absolutely. Do I really find that kind of existence dramatic? No. Which is a shame, because you'd think a globe-trotting war doctor would be plenty dramatic. Antonio Fuso really gets the short end of the stick with this -- he's got some fantastic composition, giving every image some great space, but the story behind it robs him of all his weight.

So ultimately the choice is yours: do you buy a book you know is a 50-50 venture? Well, it's your call -- honestly, as much as I dug Max Brooks' first story, I know you can read his other words to get his unique take on the degradation of the human mind. If you're a die-hard G.I. Joe fan, then you should definitely pick up this book. It's not to say that it's a bad book -- far from it, Brooks has his construction down pat -- but you ultimately read this book and feel it could have been something more. Sadly, no hearts or minds were won here.

Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier #2

Written by Andrew E.C. Gaska

Art by Daniel Dussault

Lettering by Nina L. Kester

Published by Archaia Entertainment

Review by David Pepose

Think of The Aviator or The Right Stuff in space, told with the art of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and you've got yourself Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier #2, a book that immerses you in political intrigue and a rich playboy's journey to the stars.

I think a lot of what anchors this book is the artwork, by Daniel Dussault. It's definitely in the manga style -- which may turn off some readers -- but I think Dussault's painterly colors give his fluid pencils a nice sense of heft and weight. This is a fully-fleshed world, with cybernetic tech pits and micro-singularities that really give character and tone to this story. And where Dussault succeeds best is with the sheer act of flight -- there's a moment in here, where a space prototype is launched for the first time, that you're really on the edge of your seat. It's fantastic.

Meanwhile, writer Andrew E.C. Gaska continues to flesh out Thomm Coney's life and times. He comes off as part Bruce Wayne in his foppishness, but all Howard Hughes in his intensity towards his mission: hitting the final frontier. Gaska does his best when he's not overwriting -- and yes, there are a few pages where there are some exposition bombs -- but again, it's all about the worldbuilding here. Seeing the environmental impact of this future world adds some real stakes to everything, and it keeps building upon the forward thrust of the narrative. Is this journey a rich kid's spending spree, or is it mankind's last hope?

That said -- down to the credits at the beginning, this book reads very much like a storyboarded film rather than a comic for a comic's sake. It's got some high production values, but it's like walking into a movie 25 minutes late -- you're going to be hitting a massive learning curve, and you'll have missed out on some of the most evocative images in the book. I want to know how Thomm's voyage could go so wrong -- and this second issue is well on its way towards delivering on that promise. If you haven't read the first issue, go pick that up, and then read Critical Millennium: Dark Frontier #2 -- it's an ambitious read that reaches for the stars.

Starkweather: Immortal HC

Written by David Rodriguez

Art by Patrick McEvoy

Lettering by Charles Pritchett

Published by Archaia Entertainment

Review by David Pepose

In a lot of ways, Starkweather: Immortal hits all the notes that comics do: there's the arrested development, the wish fulfillment, the hulking mythology. Think of an edgier Harry Potter, and you've got this book in spades.

The writing, by David Rodriguez, is the real draw of this book. He really manages to cram a lot into this book, ranging from spellcraft conspiracies to the immortal soldier Cartaphilus Longinus. But I think what the strongest part of this book is -- even if it's a little on-the-nose -- is the character arc of Starkweather himself. He's one of those characters that really is difficult to like, but you also have to take into consideration that he's broken in a very real way. Seeing him own up to his potential is something I think everyone can relate to, and it's those moments that the book is at its strongest.

That said, I don't know if Patrick McEvoy is necessarily the best fit for this book. I think Starkweather would have really gone for the throat more with a striking visual style, but McEvoy's painted panels feel more dull than gripping. The colorwork is particularly dark and muted, which I think robs a lot of the action of its energy -- and the character designs I think could have been a lot more consistent and a bit more imaginative, as Starkweather's long hair, trenchcoat and soul patch aren't really fooling anybody. Still, when he gets into the magical combat, he shines, with the rage just screaming from our traumatized hero's eyes.

But when you take the writing for what it is -- and you add on a nice Piers Anthony prose tale with Cartaphilus, who helps give this book a unique flavor -- there's definitely some magic to this book. With some powerful resonance for many a comics reader on top of a surprising balancing act of competing mythologies, if you're a diehard magic and fantasy fan looking for a modern twist, give Starkweather a read.


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