Best Shots Advance Reviews: SOLDIER 0, MORNING GLORIES, More

Cornell Goes BOOM! With Stan Lee

Greetings, Rama readers, your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! Team Best Shots is breaking the space-time continuum for you this week, with tons of advance reviews for your reading pleasure. We've got looks at Stan Lee's Soldier Zero, the new class at Morning Glories, as well as some eggplant-colored justice with Darkwing Duck! Want more? Take it! We've got plenty more reviews at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's let Amanda kick off the column with a look at tomorrow's release of the new Stan Lee/Paul Cornell venture from BOOM! Studios, Soldier Zero...

Soldier Zero #1

Created by Stan Lee

Written by Paul Cornell

Art by Javier Pina and Alfred Rockefeller

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Amanda McDonald

Click here for preview

This book has a lot of buzz to live up to, and I was admittedly skeptical. As much as I, like other fans, revere the accomplishments of Stan Lee — there are so many books on my pull list right now, that it takes something really special to make me want to add to it. Soldier Zero has that special something new and different enough to make it worth adding.

I had the pleasure of covering the BOOM! Studios panel at New York Comic Con for Newsarama, and we were repeatedly told that the goal of these Lee creations is to bring his creative talent into stories that fit the 21st Century. In Soldier Zero we meet Stewart, an Afghanistan War veteran who is now wheelchair bound as a result of injuries sustained in battle. But before we meet Stewart, we have just a couple pages of the Soldier Zero character zooming around in space. We don't find out until later in the book how Stewart gains this ability.

I enjoyed that we just get a taste of the super-hero element, and then the book dives into the regular life of Stewart. We see the challenges he faces as he adjust to life in his chair, and the resulting frustrations with friends, family, and even when it comes to dating. As someone who lives with a brother who happens to be paraplegic, I think I may have an added appreciation for Stewart's frustrations with people's perceptions of him as helpless. Use of a wheelchair should not be the main defining feature of a person, however Stewart is finding very quickly that it is a common occurrence among those who have never known a chair user closely. I look forward to seeing how Cornell further explores this aspect of society, that very few are aware of and will hopefully write it in a way that opens people's eyes to the assumptions they make, with out getting overly preachy about it.

The book retains the superhero pizazz that Lee is known for, but I agree that it does bring it a bit more up to date with what is popular in comics and comic hero movies as of late. We don't just see a hero, but we get a real taste of the person behind the cape, mask, cowl. This allows us to buy into the character so much more and as a result feel much more swept away into another world when they don their suits. Most people want to relate to their heroes as much as they can and Soldier Zero accomplishes this successfully.

Pina's art supports the story well and he depicts both the space scenes and day-to-day scenes with equal talent. The panel construction is fairly conventional and serves to support the story and dialog well. While I enjoyed the interior art, I admit to being a bit puzzled when it comes to the covers. I don't mind a variant cover or two, but upon seeing the great many variants for this title (as well as the two other Stan Lee created series), I couldn't help but roll my eyes a bit. We're faced with three regular covers, three virgin covers, and even a variant signed by the grand pooh-bah himself. There are some retailer incentive covers as well. Is this too much? What's next — covers with flashing LED lights, or sound chips featuring Stan Lee that exclaim "Excelsior!" when you open the cover? (Okay, I admit — I kind of like those couple of ideas.) I realize the argument for and against variants is beyond the purpose of this review, but BOOM! is clearly on the "for" side of the argument. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the Phil Noto virgin variant at New York Comic Con and amusingly realized that it's not that I'm so against variants, it's just my budget that is. I'm not sure if BOOM! plans to continue to have such a great number of variants for each issue, or if this is simply another way to draw more attention to the debut of the series. I guess just in that they are giving us some new choices for our pull boxes, they are also giving us some more control over the covers we want to see in our collections.

This is definitely the book I'll be most recommending to people this week. It's a heavy week for me and my pull list, but I'm adding this one without hesitation. It's got a great team behind it, a publisher that is supportive of new ideas, and I can't wait to see where it goes next.

Morning Glories #3

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by Joe Eisma and Alex Solazzo

Lettering by Johnny Lowe

Published by Image Comics

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

Morning Glories arguably has become one of the most anticipated books of the month. The enigmatic teaser images that were released last week revved up the excitement, and after folks get a hold of Morning Glories #3, I suspect the momentum will only increase. The qualities that made the first two issues so excellent continue here. But the engines driving this train are steady pacing and genuine suspense.

As Casey pushes forward after the traumatic events of her first day on campus, the evil that is Morning Glory Academy continues to rear its vicious head. This issue certainly broadens the scope while creating even more mystery. One thing is clear: Ike's unsavory personality may be an invaluable tool in saving their respective asses along the way. Nick Spencer is the ruler of the proverbial carrot, and the intriguing story leaves the reader wanting more. I did a double-take at the last page just to make sure there wasn't another, even though I knew good and well that I had reached the end.

Joe Eisma's style wants to put you at ease. The pleasant faces and simple lines lead you to believe this is a nice book about teenagers at school. That is not the case, a fact made clear by the image of Nurse Nine with a syringe. The terror that is inevitably unleashed is tempered nicely by Eisma's attractive illustrations and Alex Solazzo's soft color palette.

There have been more than a few shocking moments in Morning Glories, and I've found myself asking, "Did that just happen?" It is not the Mark Millar incest-babies brand of shock; thus, it does not come off as gratuitous or absurd. The moments support story development and help to define the characters. For every OMG, parts of a seemingly more diabolical picture are revealed.

Issue #3 sends the reader further into the dark depths of the Morning Glory Academy. From the look of things, Spencer's ominous unveiling process will provide surprises for many issues to come. I have the distinct impression that the scope of his plans for this story reach far beyond what any of us are imagining. Morning Glories continues to be a wickedly compelling mystery that deserves the fanfare.

Skullkickers #2

Written by Jim Zubkavich

Art by Edwin Huang and Misty Coats

Lettering by Marshal Dillon

Published by Image Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

Click here for preview

There’s a coy little Q&A spread at the back of Skullkickers #2, where the book’s creators slyly deflect a number of queries about the finer points of the fantasy world they have created. Jim Zubkavich and Edwin Huang’s sly hinting and furtive non-answers are amusing, and fit well with the tongue in cheek tone of their book, but the creators, for all the fun they seem to be having, might to do well to pay attention to some of those nagging questions, because Skulkickers is a book that could benefit from a little more context up front. This is a fantasy tale, and world building, although potentially unwieldy and often maddeningly idiosyncratic, is a big chunk of the genre’s appeal.

The casual approach to the setting can be largely forgiven in light of the picaresque nature of Skullkickers. The adventures of the yet-to-be-named protagonists are plotted like a Dungeons & Dragons session presided over by a DM who outlined his campaign on a cocktail napkin during the previous night’s bender. Places and people lack proper nouns, and encounters and action sequences blunder into each other in a sort of scalawag stream-of-consciousness. It’s fun, its charming, but its likely to get old pretty quick without some fleshing out, especially dribbled out in monthly chunks of a scant couple dozen pages.

Issue 2 has The Human and The Dwarf running afoul of body snatchers, a flesh golem, goblins, and poisoners on their quest to retrieve a nobleman’s corpse. There’s a good bit of Fritz Lieberesque rascaldom in the plot, with the duo rescuing a caravan they were planning to rob, and then extorting it for loot, and a number of pell-mell, clumsy brawls that might fit well into any contemporary “scoundrel-lit” fantasy novel. This is a pretty amiable low-fantasy, an entry in a subgenre which is slowly making a resurgence in the sections of bookstores. In graphic serial form, however, the genre’s inherent slightness means it faces an uphill battle. Readers expect more bang for their 3 bucks, and Skullkickers needs to get a bit more immersive to keep readers coming back. Action and attitude aren’t everything.

More characterization would be a big improvement. Great duos have to play off each other, volley dialogue back and forth, get on each others nerves or foil each other. There’s a little bit of that between our gold-hungry mercenary protagonists; Baldy is a bit more reserved than his inebriated, short-tempered dwarf buddy, but not so much so that there is a whole lot of comedic or dramatic sparks. The guys are too alike. The stories come off like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales only with two Fafhrds. The personalities need to be sharpened and struck together if this book really wants to spark.

Huang’s art definitely sells the concept well. Huang draws wonderful medieval backgrounds, well detailed, but dispensing with real-world grit that really isn’t required in a book so playful. Designs are on the comfortably recognizable side of conventional, this issues goblins, for example, would slide well into any pen and paper role-playing guidebook or MMORPG setting. The fight sequences are laid out in a calculatedly clumsy, sort of chaos, with touches in Scott Pilgrim style satire in the use of sound effects. Misty Coats’ colors are direct and dynamic, yet slightly muted, giving the book a palette reminiscent of a vintage animation cell or an old school- video-game cut scene. It’s a nice, storybook visualization spiced up with head-cracking violence that, nevertheless, never becomes gratuitous.

Ironically, the things that make Skullkickers unique are the sort of things that may keep people form ponying up another 3 bucks every month to follow it. It’s a smart-alecky, amusing little book with a lot of character even when it lacks characterization. A little more density in the stories might help Skullkickers chances in hooking an audience, then again that could also rob the book of some of its flavor. Skullkickers may very well not find a lasting audience in today’s marketplace, but if it doesn’t it’s probably more reflective of the state of comics as a whole rather than the quality of the work on the pages.

Darkwing Duck #5

Written by Ian Brill

Art by James Silvani and Andrew Dalhouse

Lettering by Deron Bennett

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

If there's one rule I've always held onto for comics, it's this: this is a medium for showing, not telling. There's a surprising amount of wordiness to Darkwing Duck #5, and while I always enjoy checking in with the Terror That Flaps In The Night, there's a part of me that's a little disappointed with the overall construction of the introduction to D.W.'s sophomore arc.

That's not to say that Ian Brill is producing necessarily bad work -- but certainly it feels slower. The narrative focus of the first arc — "Darkwing Duck returns" — has set a high bar for the writer, and so having what I could essentially call Crisis on Infinite Darkwings feels a little too scattershot for my tastes. The big issue here is the sheer amount of verbiage that Brill puts on the page, which clogs the story and clutters the visuals. Darkwing's motivation of trying to make St. Canard the safest its ever been could be a strong conflict, but instead of seeing him run himself ragged, we just hear him talk about it. There's a couple of continuity gags, for example, that could definitely have seen the axe, giving more room to show the conflicts surrounding Darkwing, the newly-CEO-ed Launchpad McQuack, or the Gizmoduck-in-training Gosalyn.

James Silvani and Andrew Dalhouse, meanwhile, swing for the fences, and only have the occasional miss. Dalhouse's colorwork is by and large some of the best colorwork I've ever seen on a kid's book — in certain ways, he grounds Darkwing Duck with the use of cool colors and subtly different shades of purple, but at the same time, it gives that sort of "real world," tongue-in-cheek visual vibe that the book's been cultivating since Issue #1. Silvani, of course, plays up the expressiveness big-time — in particular, a look of Launchpad looking up at a hairstyle malfunction is hilarious, and Darkwing himself has a face for every situation. Still, they don't always succeed — given the freedom that Brill's script gives Silvani, there are a number of "alternate" Darkwings that fall flat — particularly a Caveman D.W. riding on a weirdly misshapen T-Rex.

But all that being said, Brill does have one subplot that tugs at the heartstrings — the return of a longtime supporting cast member that Darkwing struggles to rescue. In a lot of ways, this scene ends up being the heaviest in the book, and may appeal to adults even more than the kids, but there's a lot of sweetness, sadness and just a touch of humor to these beats. It left me wondering, to be honest: Why not more scenes like this? The spectacle, unfortunately, didn't seem quite imaginative enough to really merit all those pages, and as a reader, it's the duck behind the mask I'm really rooting for.

Now, I know Darkwing Duck may be a bit of a talker, but there's no reason to let that ease up on the narrative throttle. There's clearly some heart to this book, and the very conceit that Darkwing has been away for so long means that not only can this series play up the past, but can mature for the future. Whether its the humor or the high-concept, what I'm hoping will come out of future issues is that it's the character that matters most on the streets of St. Canard.

Guarding The Globe #2

Written by Robert Kirkman and Benito Cereno

Art by Ransom Getty and FCO Plascencia

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Image Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

Click here for preview

There is nothing clever about Robert Kirkman and Benito Cereno’s Guarding The Globe. That probably sounds like a criticism, but it’s not. “Clever” ideas are a dime a dozen in comics. Going back to basics is almost a gimmick unto itself nowadays, and Guarding The Globe is about a basic as a team book gets; Set in Kirkman’s Invincible continuity, it diligently ticks off all of the expected team-book beats, but with entertaining efficiency and singular focus.

On the other hand, I guess you could consider the timing of this book rather clever. As Kirkman’s mainline title, Invincible, burrows deeper into its painfully delayed yet momentously epic and entertaining “Viltrumite War” storyline, Globe has stepped in to fill a handy little niche. In Globe’s pages Kirkman and Cereno can indulge in the sort of ramshackle, irreverent mythologizing that have been put on hold in Invincible. Globe lets Kirkman and his fans have their cake and eat it too. While Invincible is off planet basking in the bloody payoff of several years of subplotting in his own book, The Guardians of the Globe are on Earth smacking around obtuse bad guys and fleshing out Kirkman’s auteur-controlled milieu in breezy, irreverent adventures.

On paper Guardians Of The Globe is as generic as a team book gets. The Guardians themselves are all just slight twists on existing tropes, and all have personalities that fulfill time-honored team ensemble slots. You’ve got Brit, the grizzled veteran and leader, The fish-out-of-water alien Shapesmith (who is also the comic relief), the journeyman hero with something to prove (Bulletproof), an opportunisitic, underpowered wiseass called kaboomerang, and the fresh faced , fawning kid, Yeti, who also happens to be the team’s big man.

Plotting in Globe so far has been just as simple, and issue #2 is a pretty straight-up escapade in the krackling Kirkman tradition. The freshly recruited team helps the wishy-washy monarch of Atlantis ward off the threat of second-tier villain Octoboss: a bad guy with a cephalopod for a head and a tendency to talk like LOLcat. It all unfolds like a vintage Invincible story. The elements of the tale seem irreverent to the point of goofiness, but there’s an intensity and respect for the material that keeps the whole outing from being a self-referential joke. It’s a funny story, but Globe isn’t a humor book. It’s a conventional superhero book executed with style and skill. Fights are energetic and well plotted, and action is the order of the day.

Ransom Getty’s pencils put Invincible fans in comfortable territory. He doesn’t take any liberties with character’s appearances or even the level of stylization and detail penciler Ryan Ottley has established in the flagship book. Fco Plascencia’s coloring is,as always, beautifully bold and primary, and the compositions are classically arranged for exaggerated action and melodrama. This is by-the-book stuff, but it’s done with energy and skill. Conventional does not always mean “boring.”

Invincible fans should definitely hit up Guarding The Globe #2. Whether or not this book will garner interest beyond Kirkman’s existing fans is a different story. But in a world where the JLA consists of…whoever is in the JLA right now, and ten thousand  Avengers titles have diluted that franchise into separate servings of the comics equivalent of room-temperature, watered-down beer, The Guardians of The Globe just may be the no-nonsense super-team we need to save us all.

Haunt #10

Written by Robert Kirkman

Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, Todd McFarlane and FCO Plascencia

Lettering by Comicraft

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

Looking at the character of Haunt from a visual standpoint, you'd be forgiven for thinking that he might be a little bit derivative of Todd McFarlane's two biggest success stories: Spawn and Spider-Man. But similarities in character traits aside, this comic also reveals an enormously personal style to it, as you can feel McFarlane's shadow bearing down on what becomes a surprisingly fun enterprise.

Reading this book, you get that sort of ultra-violent, moody atmosphere that you remember when reading old issues of Spawn. Yeah, you might associate hard-core torture beatdowns with Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., but Robert Kirkman reminds you that McFarlane and company pioneered that sort of ultraviolence way back before Millar was even a blip on the comics radar screen. As we see Daniel Kilgore get beaten within an inch of his life, Kirkman also remembers that every issue is someone's first: We get enough of the high concept to know that Kilgore's superpowered suit is the ghost of his dead brother, Kurt. Boom. Turn the key, we have ignition.

But I keep talking about personal style here. While you can't escape the notion that Greg Capullo and Todd McFarlane teaming up is almost an exercise in nostalgia, the fact remains that McFarlane's gritty, yet sometimes cartoony sensibilities are all over this book. Seeing Daniel hang from a chain, his swollen eyes and lips covered with copious amounts of blood, or watching Haunt scowl as he shatters through a door, this book looks dirty, it looks scratchy, it looks rough — and it fits the scene perfectly. In particular, I think Capullo's use of vertical panels is a rare find in today's world of literalized widescreen storytelling — but I think it makes for an effective use of space and speed, especially when Haunt takes an unexpected trip out of a skyscraper window.

Now, is this book for everyone? Hardly. With all this talk of style, there are going to be plenty who (rightly) complain about a lack of substance — we know the central premise of the book, but we don't get that strong of a vibe of who Daniel is. Other than him getting the ever-lovin' crap kicked out of him, there isn't that much to make the character resonant or sympathetic (although, hey, mortal danger is enough to get the ball rolling). And there are going to be those who decry the level of violence-for-violence's-sake, but at the same time, if that's what you're complaining about... why are you reading this book, when you know these creators are on board?

It may play a little close to some previously-established comics creations — Spidey, Spawn, Venom, even Deathlok — but ten issues in, the complaint is a little light. What sets this issue apart from being solely derivative is the sheer signature that Todd McFarlane casts upon this book, down from premise all the way through its bloody execution. It may not have the personality that much of Kirkman's previous work does, but let's be real: comics are often about the looks. And this issue is a sharp-looking intro for anyone who wants to join in on the Haunt.

What comic are you looking forward to most this week?

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