Best Shots Advance Reviews: MOUSE GUARD, MAGUS, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews: MOUSE GUARD

Hey all! Regular BSA host David Pepose is flying to the dark and mysterious land we either-coasters call “The Old Mid-West,” so it falls to me, Brendan McGuirk, to bring to you the early word on this week's comics. One could say that makes me your “Best Shots Alternate,” but really, why would one go through the trouble of saying that.

We've got a strong sampling of tomorrow's most advancing titles from IDW, Dynamite, Archaia and more, so dig in and enjoy a preview of magic, monsters, mice and men.


Mouse Guard: Black Axe #1

Written and Drawn by David Petersen

Published by Archaia

Review by David Pepose

It feels like coming home.

For those who haven't read Mouse Guard, it's incredible how David Petersen has taken an off-kilter concept and made it sing, delivering a beautifully drawn, astonishingly consistent epic. Picture Lord of the Rings meets Watership Down, and you have an inkling of the quality Mouse Guard brings to readers. While you might not appreciate Mouse Guard: Black Axe as much if you haven't read the previous books, it's still a moody, mythic story told through the eyes of the smallest creatures of all.

Yet for those who haven't read the previous books, you might be forgiven in thinking the Black Axe doesn't make an appearance in this book. Instead, we meet the mouse behind the myth — Celanawe. Not quite as hard-bitten as he was at the end of Fall 1152, Celanawe still has an edge to his character, as Petersen gives him a world of emotion in his beady black eyes. The design that Petersen brings to this book is nothing short of astonishing — whether its pinecone rafts or bird skulls used as ornamentation, he fills this world with such a level of detail that you can almost touch it.

That world-building doesn't just end with the visuals — while the overall mythology of the Black Axe is only mentioned at the end of the book, it proves to be a shrewd move on Petersen's part, as he instead introduces the life-and-death battles that guardmice have to wage, that ceaseless war against the elements that makes these characters so compelling. While I don't know if a skirmish against a pack of ravenous otters will do much to progress the overall plot, it makes you sympathize with Celanawe and his distant cousin Em extremely quickly, not to mention illustrates the sort of shifting allegiances different members of the animal kingdom have towards mice.

The one weakness in this book is that I think Petersen and company tried to fix a problem that wasn't there — the lettering. The lettering in the original Mouse Guard books was pitch-perfect, and really gave a medieval, commanding "voice" to this silent medium. The lettering looks more like calligraphy in this book, and it makes for a little bit more of a difficult read. Still, this is a minor problem for a consistently fantastic book — this is the opening show for what looks like it could be the greatest epic in Mouse Guard history. Get in on the ground floor while you still can.


Magus #1

Written by Jon Price

Art by Rebekah Isaacs and Charlie Kirchoff

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Cover by Fiona Staples

Published by 12 Gauge Comics

Review by Lan Pitts

What would happen if magic were real, but locked away as a secret that very few people knew about, much less used? That is the concept at the core of 12 Gauge's new mini-series Magus.

I'm a fan of the more supernatural characters in comics. From Hellboy, to Witchblade, to Dr. Fate and Zatanna. I've always been attracted to the more mystical side of things, and when I saw a preview of this project at HeroesCon this year past year, I knew it was going to be something to watch out for. How right I was.

Our central character, Lena Cullen, is one of those people who can use magic, but cannot control it well due to the seal surrounding magic. It's a bit reckless. I mean, the issue opens with the display of all the destructive forces she can summon. She goes on the lam, eventually running into the rest of our supporting cast, including Father Swain. Swain is a minister that has access to magic of protective and healing properties, as well as a history of looking after people like Lena, the "Wilds." There are people after Lena, to stop her from disrupting reality with powers, to make sure no more harm is done.

Plot aside, Jon Pirce's creative story intrigues, especially concerning the mechanics of magic; how it is used and how it was created. A connection is drawn between the type soul a person has and what sort of powers they have. Lena is wild and unpredictable, and therefore in her case pyromancy comes natural. Father Swain, as mentioned, has healing properties because of his kind soul and protective nature.

Rebekah Isaacs has been on the indie scene for years, and Magus showcases her talents well. The world is like ours, mundane and average, but when magic comes into play, that's when the art really soars. The use of facial expressions from joy to outright panic comes across as genuine. The use of angles and landscapes are great, too, giving Magus a solid pace that never bores you.

This first issue sets things up rather well, and I would plan on catching the rest of the action. It's creative, bold, and is simply unique.


Doc Macabre #1

Written by Steve Niles

Art by Bernie Wrightson and Tom Smith

Lettering by Neil Uyetake

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Brendan McGuirk

When there's something strange in your (Los Angeles) neighborhood, who you gonna call?

Doc Macabre, that's who. But if your problem's a doozy, do yourself a favor and remember your VISA.

The Doc is something of a weirdo. Younger than one might imagine the ordinary occult exterminator, Macabre appears to be a simple man of a single particular simple pleasure; putting the supernatural back where they belong. He's got the gadgets and the know-how, so whether folks face a zombie infestation, a rabid werewolf, a vampire weekend or the occasional stray spirit, Macabre makes for pretty easy one-stop-shopping.

There are moments of Doc Macabre #1 that give the impression that things are happening for little more reason than to see the legendary Bernie Wrightson bring them to un-life on the page, and that couldn't be less of an indictment. Each grave, ghoul and 'scaredy is rendered with the artist's classic sense of detail and verve. Wrightson and Niles have between them countless years of horror comics' experience, and each page serves as a celebration of that wonderfully twisted form. The cheery, toe-headed Doc makes for a perfect contrast to his life's work, and the tone of the book tone follows suit.

Comics have a long tradition of treating horror as more of a subject matter than as a viscerally gripping genre, and this follows suit. Doc Macabre is about how fun monsters can be, because clearly the Doc himself enjoys them. After all, why else would he surround himself with the ghastly creatures of the night? Why, unless that was a mysterious plot point that might be uncovered in stories to come...

Niles' script is direct and well-paced. No time or page space is wasted, and after 4 pages readers have a clear understanding of this book's intentions. He doesn't get bogged down, and all expository obligations are fulfilled by a nice newspaper-style feature interview with the Doc that serves as back matter. The story is funny, but less through LOL BWA-HA-HA moments than by peculiar characters and circumstances. Like Lloyd, Doc's loyal robot manservant; he's a flashlight, industrial tubing, and some claws. THAT is funny.

But again, it is seeing Wrightson bring that old-time dark magic to each panel that makes Doc Macabre a real no-trickeraion treat. As a reader, you root for a monster on each page, because whether its the sullen face of a zombie or just the ill-portent of shadowed eyes, seeing an artist showcase such a well-honed talent is, well, it's chilling.


Green Hornet #11

Written by Phil Hester

Art by Jonathan Lau and Ivan Nunes

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by David Pepose

In a lot of ways, it took Kevin Smith leaving Green Hornet to recognize the element that he brought to the book: Tension.

Not so much the tension in the plot, but the tension in the execution — Smith is a writer who occasionally has to struggle with his own self-indulgence, and seeing the restraint he and his editors at Dynamite showed made the occasional flippant remark bring real crackle to this book. It was a high-wire act, in showing whether or not Smith would divert his energy to the off-the-wall action, or if he would break character and let one rip in his scripts.

So seeing Phil Hester take over this book, well, it's a different beast. I don't know if he necessarily has that what's-he-going-to-do-next quality that Smith had, and the result might make for a slower read, at least as far as the pacing and characterization goes. But what hasn't changed is the action, as Green Hornet proves to be as quick on the draw as many of its superheroic peers in the Big Two.

Phil Hester, in many ways, is so solid with his scripts that it takes a bit to warm up and get his voice out there. It certainly makes for an almost seamless transition from the end of the last arc, however, as he ramps up the action early. Speaking of, I will say that Hester's plot idea is a smart one, upping the ante in Britt's war on crime with the power of fanaticism and fear. If Santa Muerte truly has powers over the streets — if God is truly on the bad guys' side — it'll make for a great uphill fight for Britt Reid. And even if it's a hoax, it'll make for an original mystery for the Green Hornet to solve.

But — but — I wouldn't say this work is as polished as it has been. Chalk it up to Jonathan Lau working with a new scripter, or maybe chalk it up to Hester trying to pack in a little too much into each page, but the pages feel a little too dense as far as the beginning goes. Lau seems to have taken a bit more of a "widescreen" approach with his artwork — it's not to say that he doesn't still bring an astonishing amount of clarity and speed to the images, but his use of vertical panels was one of his strengths, giving the page room to breathe. It'd be a shame to see that quality disappear.

That said, there are some moments to this first issue that show me that this book could be as unpredictable as it used to be. There's a moment where Kato launches herself from the Black Beauty like a missile, flipping on a fire escape and knocking a gun out of a thug's hand — that's only on the top half of the page, and it's absolutely gorgeous. And the idea of the Black Beauty going into a silver stealth mode wouldn't have been as memorable if it wasn't for Hester's nice line at the end: "Clutch never sleeps." In the end, that's been what's set Green Hornet apart from its peers — that unexpected sense of humor that creeps in now and then. If Hester brings that back — or makes a distinct step towards making this book his own — I have the feeling Green Hornet will be back and buzzing soon enough.

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

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