Best Shots Advance Reviews: VAMPIRELLA, THE TRAVELER, More

Bringing VAMPIRELLA Back To Basics

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the Best Shots team with some of tomorrow's reviews, today! We've got looks at a trio of number-one releases, including books from Dynamite, Image and BOOM! Studios. Want more? We've got a ton of back issue reviews at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's take a look at a returned comic book icon, with the first issue of Dynamite's relaunched Vampirella...


Vampirella #1

Written by Eric Trautmann

Art by Wagner Reiss and Inlight Studio

Lettering by Marshall Dillon

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by David Pepose

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For those who say "image is everything," I counter with Vampirella #1 -- it's not the image that makes the brand. It's the mood.

Considering Vampirella has had a tumultuous publishing history over the years, moving from Warren Publishing to Harris Publications and finally with Dynamite Entertainment, it's a smart move that Eric Trautmann and company take their own spin on not just Vampirella as a character, but on her interaction with her environment. With a much more "urban" vibe to our heroine, there's definitely some potential to give Vampirella some bite as a franchise.

Where writer Eric Trautmann succeeds most in this script is the plotting. Trautmann is definitely an idea man, and seeing this very different Vampirella -- a street-fighting vampiress wearing a suit rather than a pinup wearing a disco space-thong -- brings some momentum to the character. Trautmann also plays up the idea of Vampirella fighting in an urban jungle, which grounds her a little bit more into some real-world stakes. Sometimes, I think the action comes a little too quickly -- like when some vampire cops come calling -- but ultimately, the story moves fast.

But I'll say this -- artist Wagner Reiss is the one that really sets the mood to the piece. He sets up the shadowy, almost claustrophobic nature of the city early, and really gives it a personality of its own. Reiss's art reminds me of a very rough Mike Deodato -- lots of shadows, some distended figures, a willingness to play with panel composition to make an impression. That said, Reiss's sketchniess can also make his work seem a bit inconsistent, particularly with his faces, with characters gaining and losing features even from panel to panel.

Ultimately, what will make or break this book moving forward will be whether or not Trautmann can make us really empathize for Vampi, and make her into a character that readers will root for, not just drool over. There's some potential here -- particularly when Vampi mentions her mortal lover who died -- and that sympathetic hook will give this overhauled character a storytelling engine to match.

But as far as first issues go, Eric Trautmann and Wagner Reiss do succeed in their intended goal: They've put their mark on Vampirella, creating a new world and a new tone for the original comic book bad girl. But now that they've set the mood, the real question with readers is this: Can they make a good enough impression to seal the deal?


Stan Lee's The Traveler #1

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Chad Hardin and Blond

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

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If I've learned anything from my younger brother, it's this: It's tough being the middle child, and BOOM! Studios' sophomore effort in its Stan Lee superhero line is no exception.

Whereas Soldier Zero had just enough of a spin -- namely, questions regarding disabilities, body issues and the freedom to choose your destiny -- to make it stand out, The Traveler is missing that sort of central theme. Coasting just on action, this first issue feels less like an effort to hook you, and more of a 22-page exercise in passing the time.

That's not to say that the action beats aren't particularly cool -- in fact, just reading the first issue you get the sense that Mark Waid thought about those sorts of real-world, time-travel mechanics even more than he did anything else -- but what hurts this book is the fact that action is pretty much all it is. While in theory that might be a smart move, after the slower first issue of Soldier Zero, there's no message to the madness, and little characterization for our titular hero.

Instead, this story almost feels a little bit of cart-before-the-horse, as it fills in some continuity gaps from its sister title in explaining the nature of the Split-Second Men, who really deserve some deeper characterization and sharper design to go with that awesome-sounding name. Instead, they just feel like stock villains with powers of magnetism and disintegration. What's weird is that Waid gives more character to the innocent bystanders than he does the Traveler himself -- certainly by the end he tries to shoehorn it in for our hero, but it feels a little too late.

The art, meanwhile, is really a mixed bag. Chad Hardin makes the super-speed moves look slick -- I like the way that our hero splits into two when he lands a knockout punch -- and he certainly has a clean superheroic line that's almost reminiscent of an early version of the Dodsons. But it's very much one step forward, two steps back, because Hardin is hobbled by some seriously questionable design for all these characters -- if you're going to hook readers with a new character, you've got to have a strong metaphor and an even stronger look, and "Blue Raspberry Hourman" looks so goofy that it even detracts from some of the cooler moments of the book.

I thought Soldier Zero was a great concept and a great execution, and maybe that high bar doesn't help The Traveler. There's nothing that's bad about this book, but there's something lacking about it, that keeps this first issue from really grabbing you. There's some nice action bits here, but that's ultimately icing with no cake underneath. Here's hoping that with the set-up now over, the second issue of The Traveler will focus on the man behind the mask as much as it did with the science of time-travel.


Firebreather Vol. 3: Holmgang #1

Written by Phil Hester

Art by Andy Kuhn and Bill Crabtree

Published by Image Comics

Review by Zack Kotzer

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There are some fairly universal themes in this world. Confusion, alienation, abandonment, grave material, and in the universe of narrative these little charmers seem to reside primarily in high school. These themes and that scenario have been cozying up to each other long before anyone even uttered ‘teen angst’, so to give them the run down yet again is something that dangerously balances on a sharp ledge. Hell, we’ve even seen superheroes with father issues in high school before. We’ve even seen it from Image Comics. As these facts rack up, your gut will probably start telling you that Firebreather may not have much to offer you.

But your gut should be a little more open-minded.

To those just starting with Firebreather, and the start of this volume is very welcoming to new audiences, one may encounter some familiar style and material. Content wise, you’re looking at something not too unlike a combination of Hellboy, Blue Beetle and Invincible, and art wise there seem to be some heavy cues from Mignola, Hamner and even Erik Larson. This reader, is your first trial. Will you, in an instinct of time management, immediately begin to seek out something completely unlike anything before, or will you break this hurdle and continue to search for promise?

Kuhn’s art, which does take some obvious cues, is quite nice and still potent with identity. I’m especially fond of the colour pallet, simple but striking, and they all create a very nice sense of flow as the tones cooperate. The story, full of social terrors and teen inadequacies like you’ve seen before, still near the end there’s a pretty great curveball that turns the bulk of Firebreather’s brand of angst on its head when he learns a genuinely unexpected lesson in double standards.

The start of this new season, so soon before the premier of the animated version, isn’t a guaranteed hook. Some will slide through, not seeing much in the way of the unconventional; others will see a creative team just warming up. Hester and Kuhn are fans of the medium who recognize the strengths of talents that have come before them. They accumulate, adapt and continue, and while it’s a slow start, it doesn’t stumble, it’s steady. I have every reason to believe Firebreather will fly up from here, and if I’m wrong, no harm, no foul.

Incorruptible #12

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Marcio Takara and Nolan Woodard.

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Jennifer Smith

It’s easy to overlook Incorruptible.  Unlike other comics, with their extreme highs and lows, the trademark of Mark Waid’s books is their consistency, and without the higher profile and attractive high concept of its parent book, Irredeemable, Incorruptible slips under the radar.  It’s not a bad book; in fact, it’s a very, very good book.  But month in and month out it simply tells the next quality chapter of its story, without fanfare, leaving readers and reviewers without much in particular to say.

Issue twelve does not break this mold, but it’s worth talking about the quiet things that make this book so good.  Waid is an expert at giving characters psychological depth, and as we get to know more about the protagonist, former villain Max Damage, and his change of heart, we also learn more about the secondary characters, including sympathetic cop Armadale, new sidekick Headcase, and the Plutonian’s ex-girlfriend, Alana Patel.  Scenes that would play as cheap humor in another comic, like Headcase’s drunken babbling, are granted depth when paired with Armadale’s status as a recovering alcoholic and Headcase’s descent into PTSD in the wake of her family’s murder.  And the presence of two different women of color as heroic, if traumatized, figures helps to mitigate the potentially gratuitous racism of the white supremacist villains, the Diamond Gang.  Alana has some particularly amazing scenes in this issue, taking charge and turning the tables on villainous Senator Swain, and her victory is cathartic after her captivity in earlier issues.

Waid parcels out his plot developments and reveals in bits and pieces, each issue building upon the one before, adding depth to both the characters and the world around them.  Though this issue revolves around a tense standoff that could result in the destruction of an entire city, it never descends into melodrama or meaningless “high-octane” action.  In fact, the issue is a slow burn, taking the time to focus on characterization and to satirize our celebrity-obsessed, easily manipulated news media. Incorruptible is a comment on real society and morality as much as it’s a comment on superhero comic books, but Waid’s writing never feels preachy, always embedding its critiques in a compelling, original work of fiction.

New artist Marcio Takara is settling into his role well.  His self-inked art is sketchier and more angular than that of previous artist Horacio Domingues, whose cartoony, exaggerated style never quite fit the series’ tone.  Takara’s art is more reminiscent of original series artist Jean Diaz, a superhero house style with just a bit of unsettling edge that matches the comic’s left-of-center superhero tone.  Takara’s action scenes are especially compelling, as he renders science fiction technology with flair, and his characters are extremely expressive.  Colorist Nolan Woodard, meanwhile, has muted his previously bright palette to complement Takara’s art, lending to the comic’s dark, tension-filled tone.

Incorruptible #12 is not a groundbreaking comic.  There are no huge reveals, no shocking moments, and very few explosions.  But in a world in which so many comics are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, it’s refreshing to read a comic that signifies so much without the sound or the fury.


King City #12

Written and Drawn by Brandon Graham

Published by Image Comics/Tokyopop

Review by Brendan McGuirk

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It’s taken 3 years and two publishers, but with Wednesday’s issue #12 release, Brandon Graham’s King City finally wraps up. With its departure goes a world of cat-wrangling, sight gags, silly sexiness and pages that take 15 minutes apiece to even begin to fully appreciate.

Since its beginning, the mega-metropolis slice of surreal life that is King City has been an irresistible work of imagination. Graham’s commitment to his own hustle reveals itself with each and every meticulously labored page. With its fervid detailing and bombastic hi-jinx, it’s almost easy to overlook the very real and well-reasoned story structure at the heart of all the visual “noise.” King City is a Mos-Eisleyian world; it’s colorful and dangerous and they ID at the door, and its array of denizens promise infinite stories of infinite variety.

The biggest action pieces of King City have already wrapped by the beginning of issue #12, so what readers are treated to is a final peer into the formative cat-mastering days of hero Joe, and satisfying resolutions to the many relationships that have been thrown into upheaval throughout the series. In the end, King City wasn’t just a story about coming home, but about coming to grips to what one comes home to. Graham brings a real sense of clarity to the story, almost as if it took him this long to see where he wanted the book to go, but now that he’s gotten there things never could have gone any other way. So don’t let the co-publishing fool you; King City as a whole has been a truly singular vision all along, and because of that, there simply isn’t another comic anywhere like it.

What are you excited about this week?

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