Just because November 2 is over, doesn't mean election season is over -- not with Top Cow in business.
This year, they produced five comics -- 39 Minutes, Crosshair, Asset, Forever and 7 Days From Hell -- for their Pilot Season program. Their mission? To find the best of these series through reader votes, and let the winner spin off into its own continuing series. But which books are the best? Not only does Newsarama have free copies of all five books, but Team Best Shots has brought in some rapid-fire looks at the pros and cons of each book. Once you're done reading, do your part and vote in the Top Cow online ballot, and then let us know what you think! Ready, Rama readers? Then let's begin, as Erika starts us off with her take on Top Cow's Pilot Season offerings.
Erika D. Peterman:
Top Cow’s 2010 Pilot Season yielded a bumper crop. Each of the five books had a strong concept, a distinctive voice and an art team that brought the story to life vividly. Let’s start with Asset, the tale of a mysterious femme fatale who breaks hearts and skulls with equal skill. It’s definitely the spiciest and sexiest of the bunch, but it struck me as the one with perhaps the most limited range. Crosshair, a story about a family guy whose assassin past makes an unwelcome trip to his doorstep, is a pure, popcorn movie blast. However, things move so fast that I didn’t establish much of a connection with the protagonist. In the brutal 39 Minutes, a former U.S. Marine who was framed in Iraq is offered a chance to get out of prison. The catch is that he has to track down his fugitive comrades, who are shooting and looting everything in sight. Solidly executed, if not spectacular, it reminds me of an above-average police procedural drama. Near the very top of the heap is the thoroughly engrossing Forever. A twentysomething everyman finds out that his personal history is a work of fiction, and that his employer -- a creepy “life extension” company -- figures prominently in the deception. This thoughtful book had me on the edge of my seat, but, alas, only one can win.
Erika's Verdict: 7 Days from Hell is most worthy of the Pilot Season honor for a number of reasons. It’s got a killer plot that’s fueled by Life’s Big Questions about redemption, death and vengeance vs. justice. The main character, John Bishop, is a onetime killer-for-hire who’s now living a kind of half-life. Though he escaped death once, he’ll be dispatched straight to hell unless he kills a specific evildoer within a one-week period. His boss, so to speak, is a frighteningly serene demon named Mandy, and she’s the only thing standing between him and an endless bonfire. And, by the way, if Bishop dies on the job, she can’t save his life a second time. Bryan Edwards and Rob Levin have written a taut, thrilling story that illustrator/colorist Phil Noto conveys with pizazz. The story and the images stick with you long after the first read, and the concept begs for further exploration. Bishop’s dilemma is extreme, but a reader can’t help but empathize with him a little. More than any other Pilot Season candidate, 7 Days from Hell makes an immediate impact while displaying the most long-term potential. More, please.
7 Days from Hell has an intriguing intro: "Redemption can take a lifetime. John Bishop only has 7 days." With that hook, the sexy Brian Stelfreeze cover, and Phil Noto on interiors, I had high hopes for enjoying this book. Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin have developed a story with a lot of potential to keep up the action -- each time Bishop executes his target, his life is extended another seven days. However, I find the strongest part of this book to be in the set up of the story. When it comes to exterminating his target, the story wraps up a little to quickly for my tastes. On the opposite side of the wrapping anything up spectrum, comes 39 Minutes from writer William Harms. Granted, I'm not one much for military tie in stories, but I really find myself having a hard time getting into this storyline. We've got two threads -- one is a group of ex-Marines wrecking havoc on a small town, the other is their ex-commander in prison being offered a deal if he can help stop them. I'm sure there's a bigger picture, but I didn't see enough of it in this one issue to really care to see more. The only one of the Pilot Season books to have me actually exclaim anything out loud, this book has a twist right in issue one that I did not see coming. The premise of a man being controlled by someone who has programmed him to kill the president is certainly grim, but the book has a fun streak to it as well, as we see him traverse through his neighborhood hiding in dog houses and swimming pools. Finally, in Matt Hawkin's Forever we receive a sci-fi offering to consider for Pilot Season. Centered around the ability to slow one's aging, or rapidly increase one's aging, this story doesn't just cover the scientific side of this development, but the social ramifications as well. Add in the elements of disovering that research assistant Ryan Chambers received some sort of mysterious injection at the age of eight years old that saved his life, that his friends from his childhood orphanage are dying off at an unusual pace, and we have a story with high potential if it does continue.
Amanda's Verdict: As a whole, Top Cow's Pilot Season offerings are a damn strong group of books. Of the five, there are easily three that I would add to my pull list. But one stands above the others for me, due to the combination of strong storytelling partnered with excellent art -- Filip Sablik's Asset. With a unique multi-media cover by Jenny Frison, and a cleverly crafted story of sex appeal and manipulation, I can't help but wonder what's next in Margaretha Zelle's world. This modern day Mata Hari story takes an old concept of a seductive woman manipulating men to do her bidding and places it in a modern setting. On top of that, we've got the mysterious element of wondering who is calling the shots and directing her manipulations. The art by David Marquez supports the story with its sexy appeal and adds to the story by telling more than just the dialog tells us. Not only would I add this one to my pull list, but I would recommend it to anyone I know that loves a story with a strong female lead. Voting is open for the rest of November, so do yourself a favor and take a look at all the Top Cow Pilot Season offerings!
Three out of the five books I really enjoyed. Forever, Asset, and 7 Days From Hell. 39 Minutes and Crosshairs didn't do much for your girl. The premise in 39 Minutes is quasi-interesting, particularly in regards to the military's monetary relationship with contractors. Soldiers, violence, and corrupt government could be good, or it could be Hollywood. I think I could do without 39 Minutes. As for Crosshairs, I am tired of the Jason Bourne character types. Maybe I've read one too many conspiracy theories with a guy who is supposed to be the most skilled government assassin … like ever, but this story feels worn. There is some good action, nice facial art, but Crosshairs didn't hook me. I found Forever to be intense and shocking, but I am not sure how "good" it was. I did enjoy it, so I am optimistic. It seems to be a grand mystery infused with heavy science. I certainly wanted to read more. Asset was appealing, and the main character is a kick-ass chick. I, of course, like kick-ass women. The art has a high cheesecake factor, but the story is super juicy. Asset would be a book I'd add to the pull list. Alas, the book that I thought was the most powerful with the most potential is 7 Days From Hell.
Vanessa's Verdict: I read 7 Days From Hell twice. THIS book is wicked cool. I loved the art; it had a smooth, painted style with color elements that really drove certain character aspects right on home. The premise for the story is epic as Hell. Pun intended. While it is wrought with religious dogma, it also offers a different perspective on right and wrong, power and justice, and how one is judged. There is a great dynamic between the two main characters, John and Mandy. They are made even more interesting by their roles as sort of anti-heroes. Beautifully drawn but quite tarnished in the beginning, I am dying to see their path to redemption.
To me, 7 Days From Hell was something that was right up my alley. With elements of the Darkness and the old Fox tv show Brimstone, 7 Days From Hell tells the story of John Bishop, a mercernary that makes a deal with a demon that basically retrieves Bishop from Hell and assigns him to kill people. Very cool art from Phil Noto. Byran Edward Hill and Rob Levin tell a story that seems it should already be a Top Cow book. Dialog is fierce, it's heavy on the action and violence, and contains a demonic element. I remember reviewing 39 Minutes a while ago for Best Shots, and I remember I compared to the heist movies of the year like Takers and The Town. It's cool to see crime comics back in full swing. The dialog seems forced at times, but the art team is dynamite. The stage is set for what could be a hearty series. Crosshair I felt was a solid government agent/spy story. There were definitely some cool action moments as you would expect from this type of story. Allan Jefferson's pencil seems a bit stiff at times, while other times you can feel the impact of the gunshots, kicks and blows. If there is one positive thing I can say, it's that it has a certain "Manchurian Candidate" feel, and not so much Jason Bourne. Finally, Top Cow publisher Filip Salbik goes behind the writing desk for Asset. It's the story of Madeline, a mysterious woman with a hidden agenda, but an interesting power that I can't quite put my finger on. She's a marvel at seduction and easily has a straight-laced cop kill another stand-up officer. There is one incredible fight scene that takes place on an escalator -- in general, David Marquez delivers solid figure construction and panel layouts that are far from boring. I loved Madeline's inner dialogue about chemicals and emotions and talk of weaponizing love. All in the art of manipulation.
Lan's Verdict: My pick this year is Forever. I think it has a solid story and a captivating mystery. This book could easily pass the next big tv show. Ryan Chambers, employee for Longevity, a company that performs supposed scientific miracles, but once he finds out the truth, joins the rebellion to bring down the corporation. Thomas Nachik's art is gritty, but reminds me of a mix of Alex Maleev and Cully Hamner's style. Nathan Fairbarin's colors add depth to the environment, giving the world that extra layer of mystery. I would love 7 Days From Hell to be picked up sometime later if applicable, as I already mentioned it just feels like it belongs in the Top Cow library. I hope to read more of Ryan Chambers as he uncovers the mysteries of life.
In the 2010 installation of Top Cow's Pilot Season, mercenaries, murderers and soul-sucking suits, all accustomed to living life outside the system, are ripped from their happy existences and dragged down to humanity's lowest depths. Each Pilot Season offering comes complete with a piercing story hook, stylish and fitting artwork, and enough blockbuster action to fill an entire Saturday morning cartoon programming block. True to its promise, Top Cow's Pilot slate delivers a diverse array of action-fare, with a range in both written and visual tones. In William Harms' 39 Minutes, rendered by Jerry Lando, with Jay Leisten on inks and Brian Buccellato on colors, a domestic hostage and terror situation reveals a far-reaching conspiracy that invokes `The Rock,' while pitting the U.S. Military against a Blackwater-like mercenary force. Jeff Katz and Allan Jefferson bring Marc Silvestri's Crosshair into readers' sights with the frenzied sprint of a retired killer, forced to say goodbye to his retirement and anniminity when his past comes back to haunt him. In Matt Hawkins' Forever, brought to the page by Brad Inglesby and Thomas Nachlik, the corporate machinations of `Vanilla Sky,' meet the science of a stem-cell fountain of youth. With `Longevity,' customers can buy years of life for themselves; of course, the universe must always have balance, and nothing, not even virility, can be created without cost. 7 Days in Hell is Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin's take on an Earth-bound purgatory for a hit man, brought to the page beautifully by Phil Noto. A deceased assassin faces the prospect of a Hell-bound eternity, unless he kill his way to salvation.
Brendan's Verdict: While every issue of Top Cow's Pilot Season offered intrigue and strong fundamental storytelling, it was Asset that stood out from the pack. Almost every offering spotlighted a professional, trained to perfection on the art of pointing a 9mm and using it to make opponents go away; Asset got the same result through more subtle means. Now, understand, no one wants all female characters to be diminished to mere caricatures, either as damsels or vixens, but the fact is that as surely as the shorthand of fiction needs tall, dark and brooding strongmen, so too can it create compelling women whose subdued mastery of guile and provocation gives them the deepest control. Comics' is full of muscly dudes, and even muscly women who sometimes talk and act and solve problems like those selfsame dudes. Asset acknowledges that we don't all use the same means to achieve results, and why should trained killers be any different? After all, in the real world, being a beautiful woman is a super-power.
David Pepose, Best Shots Captain:
This round of Top Cow's Pilot Seasons were an interesting batch -- while the previous, uncompleted run from Robert Kirkman focused primarily on different angles on the superhero trope, this round focused a lot on straight-up action. For me, the weak link was also the first entry: 39 Minutes had the flow of a bank heist, but the overall hook -- military man called in to stop his own renegade subordinates -- didn't grab me. Meanwhile, Forever felt like it was treading similar waters to Top Cow's other medical conspiracy book, Rest -- the scratchy art by Thomas Nachlik in particular kind of turned me off, a little too rough to get that Maleev vibe. As far as longevity goes, I saw some real potential in 7 Days From Hell -- there is obviously a lot of replay value for an assassin who has to kill to be redeemed, and Bryan Edward Hill and Robin Levin get some nice character beats in, and that Brian Stelfreeze cover is to die for. What didn't grab me as much as Phil Noto's art -- there are plenty who dig his style, but for me, it comes off as a little stiff, a little moodless, a little flat. If Stelfreeze did the interiors, this book would be a slam dunk for me. Crosshair really won me over, in spite of itself -- it'll win Hollywood bucks regardless, but I thought the suburban parkour from Jeff Katz was a really cool touch, with weapons being hidden everywhere. The only drawback? I wasn't sure how sustainable the franchise is -- it's a good gag, but I think it's got a one-time use.
David's Verdict: For my money, however, I agree with Brendan: It was Asset that was the cream of the Top Cow crop. The depth that Filip Sablik gives his characters is a testament to his skills not just as an editor, but as a writer, and in today's comics culture, a series starring an amoral femme fatale is something that (surprisingly) we're not seeing too much of. It's clear that Sablik did his research, with pheromones and other tools of the spy trade really helping illustrate Maddie's methods, if not her world. The other selling point for this book, of course, is David Marquez, who is going to be a name we're all going to have to watch out for in the next couple years. Just as far as "house style," Marquez feels most at home in the Top Cow stable, with some stylish and smooth linework all the way. There's intrigue, romance, betrayal -- out of all of the stories of Pilot Season, there's the most room for creative storytelling here, because Maddie is a character who has to think her way in (and out) of situations that most other characters would blast their way through. With some strong storytelling and an artist to be reckoned with, Asset would live up to its name as a Pilot Season winner.That's what the Best Shots team thinks! Click here to read the 5 issues yourself and vote! Which book are you voting for?