Best Shots Advance Reviews: WITCHBLADE #141, MEMOIR #1, More

Top Cow Preview: WITCHBLADE #141

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with your weekly dose of Best Shots Advance Reviews. We've got books from Image, Top Cow, BOOM! Studios and 12-Gauge Comics for your enjoyment -- and that's not all. We've also got a ton of back-issue reviews at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's see what's creeping over at Image Comics, with a look at the new book from Ben McCool and Nikki Cook, Memoir...


Memoir #1

Written by Ben McCool

Art by Nikki Cook

Lettering by Tom Long

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

There's no shortage of creepy, black-and-white suspense books in the comics industry -- but damn if Ben McCool and Nikki Cook don't make something spooky in their first issue of Memoir. With some off-kilter artwork and a nice edge to the characters, this is a first impression that will really punch you in the gut.

For me, it's tough to decide what I liked best about this book: the writing, or the art. Ben McCool's lead character -- journalist Trent MacGowan -- is sleazy from the get-go, but at the same time, he's that kind of bastard that you sort of hope can be redeemed, that intelligent yet uncouth kind of gentleman that can get himself into a world of trouble. As MacGowan investigates an entire town of amnesiacs, you begin to get that claustrophobic, haunting sense of Twin Peaks or even The Crazies. And the twist on the final page? Hooboy, that stuff'll haunt you.

Nikki Cook, meanwhile, is a fantastic fit for this book. She reminds me of that school of art, somewhat similar to Paul Pope or Nathan Fox -- that slightly askew, slightly rubbery, yet slightly more realistic than typical Big Two fare. Her linework oozes shadow and wrongness, and you just know -- you just know -- that something's wrong here. And I really like the way that characterization informs design here -- MacGowan has a cocky smile and an a-hole's haircut, while the hotel manager has a very disconcerting cragginess underneath his eyes.

What surprised me most about Cook's work, however, wasn't so much the skill (of which she has plenty) as there is just one shortfall -- she is so good at creating tension and mood that ultimately, the money shots can't even stack up. Compositionally, she does some great work for a page that's supposed to be the most horrific thing in the book -- but design-wise, she doesn't quite push the envelope enough on this page to show why we should be scared. That said, it could be a question of the tone of this book -- and that remains to be determined.

But as far as creating mood and setting up tension, I have to say that Memoir #1 is an extremely effective example of how to make a pit in your stomach. The art is great, and the characters (thus far) have a lot of potential to bring this story to different places. If you're looking for a book that oozes menace, this is the place to be.

Witchblade #141

Written by Ron Marz and Saurav Mohapatra

Art by Stjepan Sejic

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts


Some children just have to have a good spanking to keep them inline. The Nuemann children, Monica and Tripp, have Sara Pezzini after them, and that's more startling than anything my parents threatened.

Last issue we found out the two Nuemann younglings have the power to create whatever Trip would put on paper into the real world. Unfortunately, Trip's imagination mainly concentrated on demonic beasts that would dismember unlucky doormen. When Sara and Gleason approached the children, they wasted almost no time in trying to get rid of them by creating a small horde of monsters.

From the start of the issue, it's an almost non-stop massacre of Sara just laying waste to these oragami-gone-wrong creations. The chemistry between her and Gleason is still in top form, even in the heat of battle. When Gleason pulls out his pistol, Sara quips, "Really, Gleason? That's going to help?" "Can't hurt, right?" The two eventually split up, with Sara handling the creatures and Gleason out to stop the children from making the situation worse. The resolution came to bit of an interesting twist, and works in the situation. Though I wonder what Ron Marz's thing is with demonic children, as there is one haunting around in Magdalena.

As is the usual scenario, Marz, with assistance from Saurav Mohapatra, and Stjepan Sejic deliver a great read that doesn't contain too much back-story to get bogged down in. Sejic really does a wonder on a two-page splash and panel construction splitting up the adventure with Sara and Gleason's own confrontations. Sara's armor looks great and the monsters are incredibly rendered and come out horrific. I mean that in the best possible way.

"Paper Monsters" developed into a pretty good read, that I'm sure almost anybody can get into.


Soldier Zero #4

Written by Paul Cornell

Art by Javier Pina and Archie Van Buren

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

"And then -- stuff happens."

This is the sort of thing you don't want to think after reading a comic book. But that's kind of what I was left thinking after the end of Soldier Zero #4. The end of the first arc, before Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning take over for DC's Paul Cornell, has a lot of fireworks, but not a lot of emotional heft behind it. For many comics, I'd write that off as endemic of the industry -- but considering the sheer potential that Cornell has been building up, this issue feels like it's just one step behind what it needed to be.

What do I mean? Paul Cornell has a lot of themes that he could play with, that he's seeded in previous issues as well as this one -- mobility, body issues, freedom, cooperation, even the increasingly thin rules of engagement. Is one man's hero another man's terrorist? This could have been particularly compelling -- but really, the big emotional beat to this issue? A secondary character saying "who suffers the most doesn't win a prize."

That could have been more compelling coming from our lead, Stewart Trautmann -- so instead, our hero doesn't seem to have much of an emotional arc to go through. Stuff happens to him and his supporting cast -- but it feels weirdly disconnected. Plotting-wise, yeah, there's plenty of threads to go around -- and in that regard, Paul Cornell is being extraordinarily gracious to his successors -- but a cliffhanger doesn't matter much when the character doesn't feel like he's evolving any.

The artwork is the other thing that gets to me in this book. Javier Pina started off strong in this series, but this issue has some issues -- first off, the character design has fluctuated quite a bit. While I understand that's to differentiate the good guy and the bad guy, it feels a little weird to suddenly have a darker, bulked up villain, even compared to earlier appearances for prior issues. The other thing here is that oftentimes, Pina doesn't even draw backgrounds -- sure, there's the occasional floor or busted wall, but you can only wash out the backgrounds in a cold gray so often before you start to realize there's nothing behind the characters. Combine that with some sometimes-shaky composition, and it's a step down from before.

It's weird, because I remember raving about the first issue of Soldier Zero -- and rereading it, I still think it's an effective first impression, introducing us to a compelling character with some real problems to be plumbed. Unfortunately, I know that violence sells, particularly in comics -- but I think that giving characters that moment of fear, that moment of discovery, that moment of learning is what gives them their power. What's the point, I asked myself. What's the message of Soldier Zero?

Hopefully, with a new team on board next issue, we'll find out for sure. Otherwise, it'll just be back to that crushing sameness as before. "Stuff happens."

RPM #2

Written by Mick Foley and Shane Riches

Art by Jose Holder and Michael Wiggam

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by 12-Gauge Comics

Review by David Pepose


I have to hand it to 12-Gauge Comics, because as an up-and-coming indie publisher, it certainly does one thing right: The art.

Look at 'em -- they've got talent like Rebekah Isaacs, Tony Shasteen, Guus Floor -- and R.P.M.'s Jose Holder is no different. Looking like Daimon Scott spliced with Cully Hamner, it's Holder that really brings the energy to this action romp, which is more fun than it has any right to be.

In the world of R.P.M., think of the Transporter meets the Bourne Identity, or maybe the sort of car-acrobatics of the Italian Job. In Holder's hands, cars do barrel rolls and flips, weigh down choppers until they crash into bridges, and generally speed down crowded highways with a hail of bullets in their wake. If this sounds up your alley, it'll be a pleasure (if, maybe, a guilty one) -- yeah, sometimes Holder's anatomy might be cartoonish, especially for the women, but I think that's informed by the hyper-stylized, instant-gratification nature of the book. Who cares about whether the romantic interest has enormous breasts when you've got night-vision goggle-wearing commandos about to break into the door?

So how about the writing? When I saw Mick Foley's name on this book, I wasn't expecting a whole lot of depth -- but I think pairing him with Shane Riches is an interesting choice, as there's a nice, if maybe overly earnest, poetry going on behind the scenes -- even if it's getting drowned out in all the gunfire. I like the idea of using Paul Revere's ride as a starting point for a book, and so tangents about Sybil Ludington and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow are a nice counterpoint to all this ceaseless action going on. In certain ways, it helps justify making this a comic instead of a live action show -- there's multiple layers of the story going on, and they help temper each other out.

Now, that all being said, this book still is a bit rough as far as the plot goes, as far as the reason for being -- what's the message of this book? Is it just action for action's sake? And I'd argue that the learning curve is still a little bit too steep for a second issue -- 12-Gauge needs all the readers it can get for this series, so making sure that people know exactly what's happening and why Revere is running is imperative. But that all being said, if you're looking for pure action that doesn't let up -- even for weak-ass niceties like theme -- R.P.M. is the book for you.

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