Best Shots Advance Reviews: CROSSHAIR, LADY MECHANIKA, More

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! Just as the New York Comic-Con excitement is beginning to heat up, team Best Shots is giving you an advanced look at some books due out this week! We've got books from Image, Top Cow, Dynamite, Aspen and BOOM! Studios, and that's just the tip of the iceberg — we've also got hundreds of reviews for your reading pleasure at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's get Top Cow's latest Pilot Season offering in our sights, as we check out Crosshair ...

Pilot Season: Crosshair #1

Created by Marc Silvestri

Written by Jeff Katz

Art by Allan Jefferson, Jordi Terragona and Michael Atiyeh

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by David Pepose

I'll admit — I was kind of skeptical about Pilot Season: Crosshair. Think about it: A comic put in a competition with four other comics ...  only this book got a movie deal. Doesn't seem like a fair deal, no? And then I thought: Man, it's just going to be a 22-page pitch for Hollywood, isn't it? It's great creators could get a ton of Hollywood cash for this concept, but what about the medium, man? The medium??

As you can tell, I was being just a teensy bit histronic. And even if the deck does seem a bit stacked in its favor, Crosshair is definitely a strong contender for the Pilot Season crown in its own right, and where it lacks in deep characterization it makes up to its audience with a slathering of high-concept action.

Writer Jeff Katz, working off a concept by the Top Cow himself, Marc Silvestri, manages to put a new spin on Manchurian Candidate's concept of the programmed assassin — and he does it by utilizing his environment. Whether its our hero Justin Weller finding gun parts in a neighbor's pool or stabbing someone with a spring-loaded picket fence, it's death by suburbia through much of the book's first action sequence. Think of a tongue-in-cheek Jason Bourne with a hint of sass, and you have the vibe that comes with Crosshair.

As far as the art goes, Allan Jefferson feels like a surprisingly unflashy choice for the typically hyper-stylized Top Cow. That's not to say that Jefferson doesn't get the job done — like Weller himself, you might not think much on your first glance, but Jefferson manages to juggle the goofy (Weller sliding down a plastic slide in his bathrobe while on the run from an assassin) to the hardcore (a strobe sequence where Weller quickly dispatches a cadre of thugs) with equal panache. Make no mistake, the execution is what's more important than the style, and Jefferson works hard to charm the pants off of you.

In fact, I'd say that's how the entire book works. Yeah, there are a few plot holes — seriously, if your spouse said they had to kill the President, would you let them leave the house? — and Weller himself is barely fleshed out as an actual character, let alone two sides of a lethal, programmable coin. But there's definitely some more story to be told, and if this first issue is any indication, it looks like Pilot Season: Crosshair will have the non-stop action that comic fans love, combined with the easy-to-digest high concept that Hollywood adores. Who says you can't serve two masters here? Even if you're not a fan of the comics-to-film movement, this is a book that I think does stand on its own merits — even if it's already got the deck stacked in its favor.

Lady Mechanika #0

Written by Joe Benitez

Art by Joe Benitez and Peter Steigerwald

Letters by Josh Reed

Published by Aspen Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

She’s feisty, clever and nimble with a gun, but the character at the center of Lady Mechanika is more than just another saucy heroine-of-the-week. She’s a human/mechanical hybrid who’s trying to piece together her origin story, and she makes an auspicious debut in Joe Benitez’s crisply written, lavishly illustrated book. It’s a creator-owned comic, and Benitez’s investment in his character is apparent in the entertaining script and Lady Mechanika’s highly detailed look. Bare midriff was probably frowned upon in 1878 London, but I loved every aspect of her costume — the dope brass goggles, the Victorian boots, the ornate rifle and her unapologetically un-modest top. (Interesting fact: Benitez said he drew some of his inspiration from Steampunk cosplayers at Dragon*Con.)

Issue #0 is a good setup for the character’s quest to figure out from where (and whom) she came. The only survivor of a serial killer’s rampage, Mechanika is both hunter and hunted at a time of intellectual conflict between superstition and science. She’s on the tail of a creature whose threat to humanity appears to have been greatly exaggerated, but unlike the zealots who see their target as an abomination, she seeks only information. The creature is said to be part mechanical, and when Mechanika bares her metal hand to challenge the trigger-happy mob, it’s clear that she knows a thing or two about being unfairly accused — and throwing punches. The battle between the fear/technology factions is interesting, because the story suggests that there are dangerous hardliners on both sides.

I can’t say enough about this book’s cool visuals, including Josh Reed’s stylized lettering to convey Mechanika’s inner dialogue. Colorist Peter Steigerwald’s sepia tones and deep blue-grays are perfect for the comic’s fusion of vintage and futuristic, and the character’s red eyes practically glow against the backdrop.

You don’t have to be a fan of Steampunk or even know much about it to get into Lady Mechanika, so this is an ideal first issue that’s as accessible as it is attractive.

Lone Ranger #24

Written by Brett Matthews

Art by Sergio Cariello and Marcel Punto

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

It's funny, because out of all of Dynamite's books, I think Lone Ranger is the one that gets overlooked the most. Which is a shame, because from a craft standpoint it's also — reliably — the best book they produce. If you're a fan of traditional superhero stylishness, imagine that sort of pacing and artwork transferred to the Western genre. And it rocks.

I'm almost not sure where to begin with looking at this book, but ultimately, I keep thinking of Sergio Cariello. This guy is a major talent, with his linework having echoes of John Romita Jr. and even Joe Kubert himself. There's a real elasticity to Cariello's faces, giving his characters expressiveness and experience without ever costing any clarity. His composition also works really well here — there's a tendency from some artists to do letterbox panels, and not really vary things up inside — not so with Cariello, whose use of angles and distance really maximizes the mood. The look on John Reid's face when he finally confronts his nemesis Cavendish is perhaps one of the best moments of the book, as the sadness and rage in his eyes is palpable and intense, aided by the icy colorwork of Marcel Punto. Dynamite, whatever you're paying these guys, keep it up, because this is an art team that is head and shoulders above the rest.

And Brett Matthews. Another overlooked talent. There's a degree of wordplay to hero comics that I think a lot of people overlook, but Matthews has that down cold. "It was always personal, Cavendish. Always." Simple, to the point, but Matthews has these one-liners throughout the entire book. I couldn't help but think of spaghetti westerns like "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly," where the characterization comes so quickly, so effortlessly, that you know who everyone is within a page of dialogue. That said, I wouldn't say that this issue is his strongest plotting — while Matthews couldn't go to 11 with John's main story for an entire 22 pages, Tonto's B-story feels a little bit like a drag. There's a resonance to revenge, which is why John has such a compelling arc — the understanding that Tonto receives is almost an anti-conflict, and feels a little more filler than killer.

Even if it isn't the team's strongest showing, there's still so much polish to the craft of Lone Ranger #24 that it's hard to be angry at it — whether you're a writing junkie or an art fiend, there's something for everyone here. For those who are looking to get somewhere outside of the superhero genre, this is definitely a great place to get your start — the big and broad artwork, the themes of justice and revenge, they're all still here, just having ditched the tights and draped itself in the trappings of the dusty Western. It may be an unassuming book, but once you give it a read, you'll learn that Lone Ranger is packing some serious artistic heat.

28 Days Later #15

Written by Michael Alan Nelson

Art by Alejandro Aragon and William Farmer

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

"Aw. Aw, no! No! No way!" ~ Me, after reading the ending of 28 Days Later #15

Michael Alan Nelson clearly has a problem. I mean, it's a good kind of problem — that is, unless you're the characters he writes for in 28 Days Later. Maybe he's just tired of being compared to The Walking Dead. Maybe he's just having a bad day. Maybe he's just been biding his time. Either which way, this issue takes a turn for the worse in a big, big way, and leaves me wondering what other kind of horrors that Nelson can dredge up.

When I checked out the first issue of 28 Days Later, I felt that Nelson was, in many ways, bringing back the spirit of the original film, with the quiet moments drawing us in and making us love these characters before the Infected swooped in and tore everyone apart. Now that we're 15 issues into it, I think there is a certain drawback to the comics medium — because you control the speed, there isn't that pervasive feeling of "what am I not seeing?" Nelson's answer is simple: Ratchet up the stakes. I won't give it away, but the last three pages were enough to make me do my best impression of Tracy Morgan or Steve Carrell at where he put Selena. And I mean that in the best possible way.

That said, I think Nelson does a real mitzvah for artist Alejandro Aragon, by giving him a few pages to really set up the visual mood. Aragon still has the use of shadows that his predecessor Declan Shalvey had, but there's an edge to the characters' features that almost evokes people like Pat Gleason — and his use of composition is really superb, taking what could be some middling ideas (like a car chase with what looks like a Mini Cooper) and giving some real panache to the payoff. But what I don't think Aragon will get enough credit for is the expressiveness, the fear — that key ingredient that I think this series has been lacking for so long. The look on Selena's face when she realizes just how in over her head she's in will stick with you long after you put the book down.

As someone who's been keeping up with this book pretty frequently, I have to say that 28 Days Later #15 is a clear escalation on every front. "Much improved" seems to be an understatement — this is perhaps one of the first issues that I think has really gone off on its own, taking the bedrock foundation from the movies and added in a little bit of the creative team's own personal depravity. Michael Alan Nelson may have a problem, but I'll tell you one thing: It isn't a problem with his book.

Frankie Stein HC

Written by Steven T. Seagle

Art by Marco Cinello

Published by Image Comics

Review by Zack Kotzer

Happy Halloween everyone. I know, we still have the majority of the month left, but golly it’s a great holiday. It’s a light-hearted, innocently spooky evening of monsters and ghouls. In the spirit of this, Steven T. Seagle and Marco Cinello’s Frankie Stein is much more akin to a children’s book than a comic, someone more hardcore than me can argue the semantics between the two, but holding it myself I get the feeling it’s supposed to be instead held by a child.

Frankie’s a lonely child living exclusively with his family and servants atop a spooky mansion. He’s also a monster, though he’s never really had a comparison to gauge such a thing. From here, Frankie will experience sensations of curiosity, exclusion and alienation as he decides on Halloween of all nights, to try and understand the world around him. They are complex human issues boiled down to kindergarten fare, but issues children of all ages resonate with. But as who specifically is supposed to be reading this is sometimes contested by the writing itself. Seagle is writing on the behalf of Frankie. Frankie’s voice, fostered by a secluded and adolescent life, isn’t really one of perfect syntax. Even I, fully-grown, had to read, “Dinner in the dining room that night is everything I like best!” twice before even assuming I sort of got what it meant. An adult will choose to just pass on the clarity but a child, depending on how clingy they are to comprehension, may not give up so easily.

But heck, I can’t remember a full line of text from Amelia Bedelia, but I sure know what will come to mind if I see a maid playing baseball. Where’s Waldo isn’t exactly known for its narrative structure either. The art alone contends to be the real story here, and what’s given in the package is somewhat inconsistent. At the best of times, backgrounds and scenery look very lovely, lively, with soft but deep colours that really bring the page to life. Some pages would rival Jill Thompson’s work. But at the same time some of the art, and this applies mostly to the drawn characters, really drops the ball. Many of the characters, the central figures especially, clearly weren’t drawn along with the rest of the book. The designs lack a certain pizzazz, Frankie specifically looks like a dwarfed, leprous Riff Raff. Instead of a brushed look like the environments, they are digitalized, clean-cut colours that feel more stickers popped in. It removes them out of the image like misfits, and they look more akin to drafts for animation models as if they were pitching a Saturday morning cartoon (and who knows, Cinello’s no stranger to animation, so I may be speaking too soon).

I’m no expert on children’s novels, but from memory alone I don’t think this one is a landmark. The art bears resemblance to party decorations, the story’s moral is far from exclusive and a few narrative hiccups leave a worse indent than they should. If you desperately need a nostalgia synthetic this early before Samhain — and trust me, I know exactly where you are coming from — you could do a lot worse. But if you live near a place you can have a haunted hayride and go apple picking I would suggest that instead.

Pellet review!

The Green Hornet: The Golden Age Remastered #3 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Lan Pitts): Color me enthusiastic on this novel idea. Take some old Green Hornet comics from the 40's, dust them off, re-master them and publish them for this and future generation to enjoy. The original art is intact, with the coloring spruced up. Four classic tales that anybody who is an old-school fan of the Green Hornet or somebody just getting into the character can easily enjoy. Any fan of old style pulp comics will surely get a kick out of this as well. The Fran Striker stories have never looked better.

What comic are you looking forward to most this week?

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