Best Shots Advance Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Ready for tomorrow's reviews, today? Well, the Best Shots team has you covered, with a few sneak peeks at some of this week's big releases from Image, Dynamite, BOOM! Studios and more. Want to see more Best Shots action? Then check out our treasure trove of back issue reviews at the Best Shots Topics Page! And now, let's let Vanessa kick off the column, with a look at the students from Morning Glories...


Morning Glories #4

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by Joe Eisma and Alex Sollazzo

Lettering by Johnny Lowe

Published by Image Comics

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

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Shocking, suspenseful, interesting, smart and mysterious are what Morning Glories has been so far. Morning Glories #4 only adds to the monumental buildup. Grand reveals are not the theme this month. Instead, the reader is invited to pay close attention. Nick Spencer keeps the suspense and drama moving right along with definitive dialogue, accented by tiny bits of comedic relief thanks to Ike and Pam.

The fourth installment of Morning Glories is not overtly high stakes, nor is there a great deal of action-oriented movement in the art. Thus, at first pass, Joe Eisma's art may seem overly simplistic. Spencer's story is refined intensity. But, Eisma brings this to life in his consistently charming way. He has created some really poignant panels eliciting the appropriate “oh, snap” response. He does this well with detailed facial nuance and subtle body language that creates emotional expressiveness. Spencer's snappy dialogue is great, but it is Eisma's art that gives a sense of who the characters are.

This issue is chock full of essential character moments, and though some of them are brief, they're still quite sufficient. Casey's cool demeanor has hints of PTSD, and one wonders if it is just a matter of time before she comes unhinged. Zoe and Ike seem to be no stranger to life-long trauma, leaving us with morally vapid and superbly snarky archetypes. Jun is the wild card. I get the sense that he is inherently good, but knows a great deal more than the rest of the kids.

With these character sketches come more and more questions. What is the purpose of the academy? What do all of these kids have in common? How old are the teachers, really? Who is the headmaster? What on Earth is worth this level of diabolical torture and murder?

Crawling and begging? Fire behind the eyes? All together, one and all? I have no idea what these obscure bits mean, but it feels like every little thing anyone says matters. While the academy staff assuredly has the upper hand, there are clearly some things and/or people that worry them. All may not be lost for the Morning Glories, but it looks dreadfully dark on the horizon.

Down every hallway at Morning Glory Academy is further uncertainty, and this makes me voraciously curious. That is the real draw with Morning Glories. Spencer is still keeping his cards close. He feeds us intriguing clues and subtle oddities in character behavior without yet revealing his hand. It feels like a high-stakes poker game, and I'm all in.


Soldier Zero #2

Written by Paul Cornell

Art by Javier Pina, Sergio Arino and Archie Van Buren

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

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When you think of a Stan Lee character, outside of the easy-to-digest high concepts, what ultimately comes up are flaws. Not "flawed" in a poor construction kind of way, but flawed in that they have some real chronic problems. Spider-Man had his lack of luck with jobs, his strikeouts with the ladies, not to mention his guilt over Uncle Ben's death. The X-Men were hated by a world they were sworn to protect. Poor Ben Grimm had to see a rockslide in the mirror every day, struggling with the overwhelming self-loathing and alienation triggered by his reflection.

And it's that sort of pathos that propels Soldier Zero #2. Writer Paul Cornell has clearly done his research, and with the veracity that comes with paralyzed vet Stewart Trautmann's struggles, you really feel for the guy. Combine this with some no-nonsense superheroic action, and you've got a charming book that stands to be BOOM! Studios' new standard for success.

Similar to Avatar before it, Soldier Zero's biggest hook is the emphasis on body issues, on feelings of freedom, mobility, guilt, and conflicting motivations. Sgt. Stewart Trautmann already had plenty to mull over in this second issue, but the idea that this Soldier suit could make him walk again, well, it's a conflict that works because of Cornell's nuanced approach. "You do not get to speak for me!" Trautmann yells to his brother, who tries to bargain with the suit to let Stewart walk. "Like when I'm in the chair, I'm still being talked about like I'm not here." Does the suit exploit him a little bit? Yes, but there's some real touching concerns here, like Trautmann not wanting to look like he's faking his paralysis — there's lot of little wrinkles to how the suit affects Trautmann's already-difficult coping, and that's what makes this book feel so unique.

Artwise, Javier Pina and Sergio Arino produce some solid work, even if it's not quite enough to blow you away. The character design is smooth and uncomplicated, and the look of the villain is a nice twist on our hero's new costume. I think that there could certainly be a little bit more mood, however, with some additional shadows — there's clarity here, certainly, but after awhile you start to notice that every character is in perfect lighting. But the expressiveness here is really nice — in particular, I love the look on Trautmann's face when the Soldier suit tells him how his interstellar squadron was "poorly armed, not ready for the conditions, on a mission that had become less and less clear." The parallels are obvious, and there's a sadness in Trautmann's eyes that I think is pretty wonderful.

When I first heard about Soldier Zero, I'm not going to lie — I really had some misgivings about the central concept of a paralyzed superhero, and was concerned that Trautmann's condition would be cast aside as an afterthought, or worse, as some sort of shrill melodrama. Cornell has proven us wrong, tapping into that well of sadness and resentment that all the best Stan Lee characters have — while on the outside this opportunity may look like a gift, Cornell reminds us that there's always misgivings, and that independence is more important than any deal. If you're not reading along with Soldier Zero, you really owe it to yourself to try — it's a surprisingly deep superhero narrative, and two issues in, one of the best books BOOM! Studios publishes.


Artifacts #3

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Michael Broussard, Facundo Percio, Stjepan Sejic, Paolo Pantalena, Sheldon Mitchell, Nelson Blake II, Sal Regla, Rick Basaldua, Joe Weems, Sunny Gho and IFS

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

"There is a war coming. Between those who embrace the future and those who resist it. My master will win that conflict." — Aphrodite

Thou shall not covet Ian Nottingham's sword.

Ladies and gentlemen, it probably isn't much of a spoiler to know that Ian Nottingham is back (he's on the cover) and kicking ass with his best feet forward and doesn't have time to take names. Well, frankly, he just doesn't care. The prison guards knows he's dangerous, we as readers know he's dangerous, but it's still good to have a scene as we do in the first few pages as a simple reminder at how lethal this man really is.

Last issue, Sara, Gleason, Dani, Jackie and Tom Judge get ambushed by a small horde of demons. It's not a huge part of the story, but makes them realize that somebody/thing is after them and it's over before you know it. It's a good scene to show readers what these characters as a whole and as a unit can accomplish. I love Broussard and company's attention to detail from the Darkness' armor and darklings, to Sara's armor and facial features. While we get more of an idea of the major players and Artifacts, as told by Tom Judge, this isn't really the heroes' story. No. This issue belongs to Aphrodite IV.

If there is one thing we've learned from the Top Cow Universe is that this cybernetic she-devil is beyond a force to be reckoned with. While she's low-key on the action here, her cunning ways are in full force as she makes a trek around the world to gather a resistance to Sara's alliance. Familiar faces abound, as lines are drawn in the sand. A war is indeed coming and you would have to cut the tension with diamond-edged chainsaw. The thing here is that twists are still coming. Three issues in, and some of the Artifacts are already changing hands in a sort of mystical, murderous, musical chairs sort of way.

Ron Marz has crafted an engaging series thus far. There are many players coming and going, but you get a sense of who they are and what purpose they serve to the overall story. For the more forgetful fan, or somebody who is not as enriched in Top Cow lore, there is an index of some of the characters that were highlighted in the issue. Just something to make the experience more accessible, and in turn, enjoyable. After last issue, I felt it was more set up, but in the process lost a bit of steam. Then again, with a strong first issue as Artifacts did, it came across as lighter in comparison. I feel as though we've regained some of that lost momentum and back on track with this third issue.

Michael Broussard is aided by a complementary team that still keep the feel of his style, but there are parts here and there that you know were all Broussard and when they weren't. It's not a distraction by any means, and still held up a solid pace to the story.

Thirteen issues might seem a lot to tell a story, but with the pacing and plot developments, it's the story that Top Cow has been needing and is long overdue.


Warlord of Mars #2

Written by Arvid Nelson

Art by Stephen Sadowski and Adriano Lucas

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by David Pepose

Regular readers of Best Shots might remember how I reacted to the first issue of Dynamite's Warlord of Mars, a book with some real potential that was absolutely flat-tired by some seriously questionable story structure. And while that ill-advised split structure continues in this second issue, this title is slowly but surely improving, as the characters of John Carter and Tars Tarkas begin to assert themselves to readers.

That's not to say, of course, that this isn't a flawed work — far from it. Arvid Nelson's plotting works well enough, but he weighs the story down at first with some needlessly long captions. In certain ways, I chalk that up to a learning experience — if your captions are 45 words long, chances are your eyes will glaze over by the end of the third or fourth line. Yet where Nelson succeeds is that he gives both Carter and Tars some real humanity as both warriors and heroes. In fact, I'd argue that Tars really steals the show, with some displays of mercy that really inform what a bedrock supporting character he will become.

Now, the best thing about this book has to be Stephen Sadowski, whose visual storytelling chops bear the majority of the weight of this story. You may blank out on some of the longer captions, but you still can completely understand what's going on based Sadowski's images combined with the dialogue. He gives Carter a bit of a roughneck charm to him, his nostrils flared and his sideburns long. That said, at the end of Carter's story, things get really weird, really fast — usually artists are able to work with shadows or smoke to censor nude characters, but Sadowski weirdly distended hips and hairless bodies just stops the story dead in its tracks. I'm sure he didn't mean it, but drawing this much attention to John Carter's "Little Warlord" is something that'll take you out of the story pretty quickly.

To say that Warlord of Mars is hitting its full potential would be a falsehood — but looking at this issue in a vacuum shows that it is definitely making strides in that direction. The art, hiccups aside, is a solid, although not revolutionary, take on the character — and if you're reading the second issue and beyond, you'd better be willing to accept that what could have been a solid narrative through line is going to be bifurcated instead. I'd say that this issue is okay, but with some real reservations. But given the pedigree of the John Carter mythos, it's a crime for this sci-fi treasure to be anything less than stellar.


Vision Machine #2

Written by Greg Pak

Art by R.B. Silva, DYM and Java Tartaglia

Lettering by Charles Pritchett

Published by the Ford Foundation and Pak Man Productions

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

Forget Frankenstein, forget SkyNet — the biggest threat in the world is... your iPod?

Well, maybe not your iPod, but its stand-in, the ubiquitous digital recorder known as the iEye, sure has some sociological bugs to get worked out, at least as far as Greg Pak's Vision Machine goes. It's an interesting animal, reviewing this book, as it's available for free on any number of digital platforms, because soon enough you'll be able to check it out and agree or disagree at will. Whereas I felt the first issue was a little lacking in strong conflict, Pak and company completely go in the other direction with this sophomore issue, creating a future that seems almost too bleak. Still, interesting ideas abound in this book, and it looks like the third issue could make for an interesting denouement.

Considering the Ford Foundation commissioned this book, it's pretty cool to see how effortlessly Pak makes the implications of the iEye device work. Streamlined and standardized copyright laws, product placement in the workplace, you can tell that Pak has done his research. But at the same time, whereas there was a bit of a utopian vibe to the first issue, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction here — don't get me wrong, this claustrophobic feeling finally giving something for our characters to push back against, but at the same time, it also feels a bit jarring in its abruptness. And Pak's if writing has one weakness, I'd say that the world-building here sometimes gets to the point where it overwhelms the characterization.

I think the art, in a lot of ways, is what's causing this dissonance here. R.B. Silva, while sporting a bit of a rougher style than he is in the Jimmy Olsen backups he's doing with Nick Spencer, still has a very cartoony vibe about him. This makes the visual tone still feel very warm and soft, even if Pak is writing about an increasingly Orwellian society. His characters are certainly expressive, and his design sense isn't bad, but occasionally, the visual flow also gets hampered, tripped up due to the pop-up windows that come through much of the story.

But at the same time, what'll be interesting is to see how you look at this book. It's certainly a didactic read — which was the point — although I think that point of view oddly comes off as a little too forceful. But more importantly, this book is free, which means a lot more people will be reading, and, likely, a lot more people will be cutting it some slack. Do I necessarily think that the iEye would transform the government into a truly overt danger to its citizens? No, and maybe that's what keeps me from embracing Vision Machine #2 as much as I could.

What comic are you looking forward to reading most this week?

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