Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with Team Best Shots for a trio of advance reviews from BOOM! Studios, IDW and Aspen. Want some more? Have no fear, just check out the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's let Jennifer kick off the column with a look at the second issue of Chip 'n Dale!
Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers #2
Written by Ian Brill
Art by Leonel Castellani and Jake Myler
Lettering by Jason Arthur
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Jennifer Smith
As a child of the early 90s, I remember watching Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers religiously. But over 15 years later, I barely remember the characters beyond the vaguest details – an Australian adventurer named after cheese, a pair of chipmunks, some kind of bug, and a girl who was pretty awesome. Unfortunately, after two issues of a comic book based on that cartoon, writer Ian Brill (who has done such wonderful work with Darkwing Duck) hasn’t helped me to expand that knowledge. The comic relies heavily on the reader’s previous familiarity with the characters, a familiarity that is fuzzy at best for most nostalgic readers and completely impossible for the current youth demographic. The result is a book that, despite a few high points, is more confusing than anything else.
As the book opens and the heroes escape from the Pi-Rats, the characters attacking them at the end of last issue, we learn that the Pi-Rats are usually their allies and are merely being controlled by the book’s MacGuffin, the Animal Rescue Signal. This is the kind of information the reader should have had last issue, making the cliffhanger “our friends are attacking us!” rather than “there are evil pirates!” But by moving that exposition to the second issue, Brill undercuts his own dramatic moment: readers without a comprehensive knowledge of the original series have barely enough time to register the change in their assumptions before the fight is over and the heroes are on to the next part of their adventure. This is illustrative of the book’s core problem: when even plot elements require knowledge of the cartoon to function properly, the story becomes very difficult to follow. And the lack of characterization for most of the main characters (or secondary characters like the bat Foxglove, who is introduced here with little explanation) gives the reader very little reason to keep reading.
The art by Leonel Castellani, while technically quite good and very close to the art of the cartoon, doesn’t help make the story any less confusing. The art is frequently static, with non-intuitive jumps between panels in action scenes. It also doesn’t change at all between the present-action scenes and the flashbacks, making the non-linear storytelling even harder to follow. While part of this is Brill’s fault – the jumps to flashbacks are rarely clearly delineated in the story, and tiny captions saying “earlier” are easy to overlook – a different artist (or a different colorist) might have done more to make the flashbacks stand out clearly from the present action.
The issue does have some nice moments. Gadget (the aforementioned “awesome girl”) remains the character with the most personality, as her ingenuity with inventions is repeatedly demonstrated at clever and opportune moments. While last issue we saw her in a flashback saving her father from a rushing river, this issue she manages to rig up a hot air balloon to lift herself and her friends out of danger. Another high point comes late in the book, when Chip has to comfort Dale after a tragic event and pulls him close, hugging him without a word. These are the moments that show the readers who the characters actually are and how they relate to one another, rather than just telling them on a recap page and calling it a day. With one simple hug, I learned more about Chip and Dale’s bond than I did in the rest of these two issues combined.
The plot itself is also compelling, with a standard video game “find all the hidden objects to build a bigger object” story spiced up by moral questions of technology gone awry, the limits of free will, environmentalism, and animal rights. The environmentalism aspect is especially fitting for the core concept of Rescue Rangers (animals helping out other animals that human authorities frequently overlook) and for the societal interest, both in the early 90s and in the current 2010s, in protecting the earth.
With any luck, future issues of Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers will hit their stride, combining the already-interesting plot elements with more compelling character moments and fewer confusing flashbacks and reliance on knowledge of the cartoon. Until then, however, I’m not sure I could recommend this series, even to nostalgic cartoon fans like myself.
Edge of Doom #3
Written by Steve Niles
Art by Kelly Jones and Jay Fotos
Lettering by Neil Uyetake
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Scott Cederlund
Don and Lola are a married couple on the fast track to a divorce. All she’s waiting for is him to sign the papers but he’d rather take his chances in court. Where on Earth they could be driving together at the beginning of Steve Niles and Kelly Jones’ Edge of Doom #3 is anyone’s guess but it doesn’t really matter one way or another. All you need to know that it is night and they are driving down a curvy road while arguing about his alleged infidelity and their lack of children. After a blowout where their car flips over, they find themselves rescued and taken to (cue the dramatic music) THE CIRCUS OF SURGERY!!!!!!!! There, they find themselves the unwilling test subjects of Doctor Gorgon’s amazing new drug, a mass enhancer that will make any part of the body humongous and totally independent of its host body. Imagine what such a drug could do to, oh say, the lower intestine?
Well, you don’t have to imagine that at all. Niles and Jones show you exactly what happens in this enjoyable droll horror story that’s much more concerned about the horror than the story part of the book. Niles’ story is simple and funny in the “I can’t believe he just did that” department. Injecting Don’s extracted intestine with the drug produces a bloody little monster sticking out of his stomach. It’s both kind of gross and kind of funny as you wait to see what Niles does next. After all, he has both Don and his wife trapped by the Circus of Surgery so the next demonstration naturally has to be on the wife. The resulting experimentation is just so over the top that you have to chuckle at it and delight in the wild ride of Niles’ story.
Kelly Jones has always been great at delivering these dark horror comedies. His shadowy style is just loose enough to let you know that they’re not playing this as a straight horror. Doing his best Bernie Wrightson impersonation, Jones perfectly captures the tongue-in-cheek horror that Niles is going for, creating exaggerated images that make you focus purely on the horror while building up those images for a giant release that’s a bit shocking but completely absurd. Kelly plays Niles’ story up, creating larger-than-life images that are a bit frightening but completely enjoyable in a dark, twisted way.
There are twists and turns to Edge of Darkness #3 which suggest that Steve Niles and Kelly Jones are going for laughs as much as they are going for screams. Creating a fun diversion, Niles and Kelly tell an absurd horror about surgery gone wrong. Or was it about finding true love on the operating table? Maybe it’s about the rights of sentient intestines. Whatever they were trying to tell a story about, Edge of Darkness #3 is a quick, fun horror story that leaves you wondering just what are they going to do next.
Written by J.T. Krul
Art by Marcus To, Richard Zajac and Beth Sotelo
Lettering by Josh Reed
Published by Aspen
Review by David Pepose
"What's wrong with you?"
There's long been a trope in the power-centric comics industry, examining the relationship between power and responsibility. Ultimately, isn't that what distinguishes a hero and a villain? And underneath all the flashes of energy and idiosyncratic mythology, that's the question that defines Soulfire #9, a story that starts off a bit slow but soon ramps into something with some decent weight behind it.
Now, before I start, confession time: Soulfire's a book that's been relatively new to me, and so I came to the table without a strong background in the mythology of the series. And make no mistake — you likely won't understand all of the emotion behind the fireworks without that prior knowledge. But even without the accessibility factor, I'll say this — J.T. Krul does bring the story back to the land of relatability by the end, giving a great moment where we actually care about these characters. It's more emotional than anything I've seen out of him previously, which is a good sign for a book with such ornate fantasy behind it.
But what's likely this book's biggest strength is the art. Marcus To has a clean line that keeps your eye on the page, giving Soulfire a second chance that the story's learning curve might not otherwise have afforded it. In certain ways, To has a solidness that reminds me a bit of Jim Cheung mixed with Tom Grummett and the late, great Aspen godfather Michael Turner — while sometimes the action feels wasted with bright flashes of nondescript energy, the character design itself is clean and appealing, especially with the electric colorwork from Beth Sotelo.
Of course, pretty art might not be enough for some readers — accessibility ultimately leads to investment, and for much of this issue, it's tough to really understand who these characters are, let alone understand the importance of dragons and the like. As the saying goes for this serialized medium, "every issue is someone's first," and it does feel like a little more exposition — even a flashback, to get the visual content up — could have come out of the more extended fight sequences. But while it's not a home run, the emotional crux to Soulfire, while coming late, does end this issue on a much stronger note. With more moments like this and some more explanation for readers-come-lately, Soulfire could really cultivate more of its untapped potential.What comic are you looking forward to reading most this week?