Best Shots Advance Reviews: JENNIFER BLOOD, D&D, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the Best Shots Team! We've got books from the past, present, even the future for your reading enjoyment! Want some more? Check us out at <a href="">the Best Shots Topic Page</a>! And now, let's give the soccer mom archetype some kick, as Amanda checks out Dynamite's latest Garth Ennis series, Jennifer Blood...


Jennifer Blood #1

Written by Garth Ennis

Art by Adriano Batista and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.

Lettering by Rob Steen

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Amanda McDonald

Starting with diary notes about a nice day with the family, Jennifer Blood seems like an ordinary blue eyed, blonde haired, mom of two, with a sweet husband, and a nice home. But c'mon. This is a Garth Ennis book, and her last name is BLOOD. And then... in between the everyday ramblings, we start to read rants on the over-prevalence of .45s and notes of slipping Valium Jr. into the kids' hot cocoa.

Jennifer is about to embark into a second life, as a nighttime vigilante. She's got the leather body suit, the dark glasses, the dark wig, and an armory of weapons hidden in her basement. We see her set off to break up a smuggling operation, as she details in her diary entries. The book has very little dialogue, as the story is told via these entries and the art. It's rather unclear what her motivation is until later in the book, and even then — there's a lot of story for Ennis to put into future issues to better clarify why she's going to such extremes as her family sleeps. All we know is she has five uncles, and that they are her primary targets — although she seems to delight in taking a side trip on the way home to take out an unpleasant auto shop worker she encountered earlier in the day.

As far as vigilantes go, Jennifer knows her stuff. She's adept at marksmanship but doesn't hesitate to enter into hand-to-hand combat, wielding a knife — though later she worries in the shower about bruises or marks. Luckily she's escaped this night's escapade unscathed, but I'm left wondering if we're going to learn where she acquired these skills and how her husband could have no idea.

She prides herself in keeping these sides of her life compartmentalized, but would that really make for that intriguing of a story? Of course not. Ennis alludes in his notes in the book to these worlds colliding as the series moves on. This is a pretty light book as far as Ennis' work goes, and is really a rather fun read. Oh sure, there's gore and nudity, but it's not superfluous or over the top. Jennifer's voice is distinctive and I heard any number of my suburban housewife friends in my head as I read the mundane ramblings of her daily life, aside from her nightlife.

Batista and Fajardo round out the book with art that supports the double life aspect of the story, with bright and cheerful pages depicting the family, and dark, chaotic pages as Jennifer starts her mission. Published by Dynamite, this book may not be on your LCS's shelves — but it's worth a talk with your shop owner to get it in and see what it's about. I look forward to seeing how it progresses.


Dungeons & Dragons #4

Written by John Rogers

Art by Andrea Di Vito, Aburtov and Graphikslava

Lettering by Chris Mowry

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by David Pepose

There's a lot of character in Dungeons and Dragons, and it's clear that that razor-sharp dialogue from John Rogers is the engine that keeps this series moving. While occasionally the relentless action gets a little numbing, the humor of this book makes it a charming book for readers of all ages.

"Don't provoke them!" "Got it — wait, don't?" John Rogers is the master of the witty exchange, and just like books like before it, Rogers manages to really illustrate the archetypes behind all the different "classes" of characters. It's a little sitcom-esque, which isn't too surprising considering Rogers' background in television, but I think that's refreshing in the otherwise continuity-laden comics industry. You don't really have to read any previous issues to get this — it's action, action, action, and you'll get to know the characters along the way.

And the art? Andrea Di Vito is really great, almost reminding me of Mark Bagley with his clean lines. I particularly love the expressiveness he gives the young rogue Bree — she's probably the best character of the bunch, only because you wouldn't expect this sweet little girl to be such a crazy rebel, and seeing the devilish grin on her face as she shoots an assailant with a crossbow is pretty great. Di Vito also does some great things with the action — there's a sequence where the party is fighting giant vampire bats, and the layouts really pop out, giving the panels some real depth and scale.

But that said, this book won't be for everyone. While the dialogue is the strongest part of this book, there's really nothing in the way of theme here, which means that readers wanting more than action and snappy banter are going to find themselves disappointed. Without a theme, this book won't be able to transcend the label of "light" entertainment. Additionally, the action is pretty frenetic, but the characterization still feels like it's missing an X-factor — exposition. There's a little bit here, with Khal and Tisha's pasts, but because you don't know where people are going and what their goals are, it feels more like a skeleton than a full-fleshed story.

Yet while this story doesn't quite have the heft that some might be looking for, Dungeons and Dragons does do some things extremely well. The art is sharp and inviting, and the back-and-forth between the characters is some of the best banter this side of Bendis. This is definitely a book that's easy to get into, and kids especially will find it fun. But with a little bit more theme and plotting, this book could easily level up its appeal.


Flash Gordon: Invasion of the Red Sword #1

Written by Brendan Deneen

Art by Eduardo Garcia and Jok

Lettering by Richard Emms

Published by Ardden Entertainment

Review by David Pepose

It seems what we have here is a failure to communicate.

When you have a planet full of aliens and your Universal Translator gets busted, you've got a recipe for mistrust and disaster — and that's the perfect chance for the Red Sword to strike. While I'd argue that the learning curve for this book can be difficult, there's a lot of potential for Flash Gordon: Invasion of the Red Sword, which has plenty of action in an animated package.

Now, as someone who didn't have as much experience with Ardden's Flash Gordon line, I have to say that the main draw of this book is, well, the artwork. Eduardo Garcia has a line that reminds me of J. Scott Campbell, particularly with the exaggerated, cartoonish, sometimes sketchy way he draws women. (Granted, that might turn off a lot of women reading this book.) But that gives some real energy and flair to the action and composition, particularly when you have Flash Gordon leaping over a sword-swinging gladiator in a test of derring-do.

Writing-wise, however, it's a little more difficult. If you've read the previous trade paperback, the Flash Gordon book is a little easier to understand — but this is a #1 issue. Ideally, the goal is not to need prior reading, you know? Brendan Deneen gives Flash Gordon a reason for being — he wants to get home, and a near-death experience has reminded him why that's important — but some of the connective tissue here is missing. Who is Flash Gordon? Who was he before he got here? Can we learn a little bit more about Ming the Merciful? How about Flash's past victories? In that regard, I feel like there's some missed opportunities to bring people in on the ground floor.

I think part of that problem is there is a Deneen is trying to pack into his pages — sometimes, too much. Part of that misstepping is a team effort — even though Deneen says that Flash will likely compete in a tournament, it still comes as a bit of a surprise. But I feel like that script could have been executed in a way to really give Flash some real oomph as a character — I guess Deneen's scripting feels more cinematic, whereas Garcia's artwork feels more old-school cartoony. Sometimes, the two styles don't always work as well together as you'd like.

That's not to say that Flash Gordon: Invasion of the Red Sword is a bad book. I like the romantic tension that's built up, that gives Dale Arden some real importance within Flash's world. And the last page splash screams importance — even if you don't necessarily know what that importance really means. But I always see a #1 as the potential to get new readers on board, and in that regard, if the art doesn't hook the readers, then this series is out of luck. Here's hoping that the more we dig into Flash Gordon as a character, we'll get even more hooked.


Flash Gordon: The Mercy Wars OGN

Written by Brendan Deneen

Art by Paul Green

Lettering by Richard Emms

Published by Ardden Entertainment

Review by Lan Pitts

Now before I continue, I need to make something clear: I know little about Flash Gordon. I know there was a movie made in the 80's about him, he was in a cartoon with the Phantom and Mandrake (Defenders of the Earth), and that he was once a comic strip. That being said, I can honestly say I am open to any interpretation of the character since I have seen him handled in a few ways. Ardden's take is something more up my alley, playing up the sci-fi/fantasy angle and making Flash not so muscle-bound and unintelligent, though Flash still appears as athletic as ever.

Other characters appear from Flash mythos, including sometimes love interest Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkhov, the latter having gone missing and is being looked for by the former as he is suspected to be building a WMD. The story goes back and forth between Flash and the rebellion on Planet Mongo against Ming the Merciful (yes, there was a time he called himself that). Eventually, Flash, Dale, and Zarkhov become separated. Dale is seduced by Ming's wiles, Flash lands in the jungle and befriends Eldun, a jungle warrior who is not who she appears to be, while Zarkhov is taken prisoner by Ming. The three stories culminate to a fierce battle with all allied forces standing together for Mongo.

At first, Paul Green's style seems like J. Scott Campbell, but a bit more rounder and not as sharp. You can see the influence definitely, especially in the way Green constructs women's eyes and heads. While the art is easy on the eyes, some conversations seemed boxed in and restrained. Panels are made to where it feels as though it's constantly made of close up shots of eyes and mouths and soon becomes pages of "talking heads". It doesn't start off this way, in the beginning there is a sense of being open, but later while more characters are introduced, it just feels claustrophobic.

Green's use of colors and designs are something great as well. The colors have that perfect level of saturation that gives everything a smoother and polished look. Ming reminds me of Mr. Sinister from the X-Men, but with a more gothic flair (if that's possible). Though, going back to the Campbell influence, I kept doing a double take for Dale as Sydney Savage from .

Brendan Deneen has taken a classic character and re-launched it for a new generation. Some of the dialog comes across as bit cliché at times, but isn't too far out there to not warrant a read. He handles Flash like I've always seen him, and put a nice twist on Ming. For some reason I heard Jason Isaacs when I read Ming's dialogue in my head. This is my first real foray into the world of Flash Gordon, and I can easily say I'd check out more. This mini-series is a few years old, but finally collected into one trade, and for Flash fans, a new way to experience and old favorite.

In Case You Missed It!


Batgirl #18

Written by Bryan Q. Miller

Art by Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs and Guy Major

Lettering by John J. Hill

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

Bryan Q. Miller writes this book well on a consistent basis, but when it comes to teaming up Stephanie Brown with other members of the DCU, "writes well" is far too weak a phrase to describe the quality of the issue. In this Valentine's Day themed issue, Steph meets Klarion the Witch Boy, performing a magical ritual with the torn out heart of a pimp in his hands. Charming, right? As the issue progresses Steph teams up with Klarion in search of his familiar (a cat, who has turned to a were-cat) and assists him in finding a mate for his cat. There's teleportation, encapsulation in an over-sized snow globe (would have been the perfect opportunity to include a Power Girl reference, but I digress), even an awkward kiss.

This issue allows Miller to really play up the fun side of Steph's personality, and each issue I read endears me to her even more. She's a bit rough at the edges, for good reason, but has a innate sense of fun about her as a girl her age very well should. This has been evidenced in her carnival romps with Supergirl, and more recently in taking Damian Wayne to a bounce house after a day of kicking ass. Does this issue advance the story of this series? Nope. This issue IS a great way for anyone curious about the series to jump in and see what the buzz is about. However, as much as I love these fun team-up issues, I do find myself wondering what is next. It feels a twinge like the story line here is stalling until we see how the "Death of Oracle" arc in ends. Oracle's character was integral to the start of the series, and I'm crossing all my appendages that we see her return soon. And where did Wendy go? Hopefully we get those answers sooner than later.

The great writing alone should make you want to pick this book up, but let's be real — we all want a comic that looks good too. Dustin Nguyen lends his distinctive style to the entire issue, with watercolored pages starting and finishing the book that are charming as all get out. Fridolfs colors help differentiate the settings throughout the story, and the result is a visual treat that rivals the strength of the story itself. This issue, and this book in general, is one you really don't want to be missing out on.

Matt Brady Returns with BUCK ROGERS
Matt Brady Returns with BUCK ROGERS

Buck Rogers Annual #1

Written by Matt Brady and Troy Brownfield

Art by Carlos Rafael and Carlos Lopez

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Jaime Trecker

<a href="/11682-first-look-dynamite-s-buck-rogers-1.html">Click here for preview</a>

First, some disclosure: The book under review was written by the former editor of Newsarama and the former editor of Best Shots. While I am not a regular contributor to Newsarama, I do know both men socially, so caveat emptor.

Dynamite has made its way as a publisher of competently written, decently drawn titles drawing largely on a stock of pulp heroes from the early 20th century. Taken as a whole, I have found their books to be average. (by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson) remains a standout but other titles — such as , , — are professionally done but not compelling.

My only exposure to Buck Rogers before this book came from the late 1970s film and TV serial. The concept seemed dated to me then, and when Dynamite launched this title last year, I felt no reason to seek it out. Bluntly, I went into this particular book naked, and haven’t a clue where it fits in to the other issues of the series.

Let’s start with the art, credited solely to Carlos Rafael. It’s competent, but seems rushed. There are few detailed backgrounds, and Rafael has a bad habit of using Xeroxes to fill out pages. For example, the entire opening page is based on a single drawing. In firmer hands the effect could have been gripping. Here, it seems as if corners are being cut. More damaging is the fact that Rafael also doesn’t bring a good sense of drama to the page: his facial expressions seem frozen and his layouts are at times disconnected to the words on the page. A test of a good comic artist is if you can follow the story without reading the words; in this case, you cannot.

Still, Rafael’s splashes are solid — he is clearly influenced by Yanick Paquette, which is not a bad thing — but he needs to broaden his range. His everyday objects simply don’t stand out enough. I think he shows promise, but this particular story feels like the work of a relative newcomer.

Brady and Brownfield have done a better job with the story. Fill-ins and annuals are actually pretty tough things to write. Because one-shot authors cannot “seed” clues and plot lines for later use, they are denied a couple major tools that writers of serial fiction depend upon to build tension and action. That’s why a lot of annuals and fill-ins focus on the subjects we usually associate with literary short stories: tiny moments of personal drama that, if well-executed, reveal something about the character’s inner life. As such, this is a “quieter” story than your average space-faring action comic, a tale about Rogers’ past and his late girlfriend.

The duo does a solid job of communicating Rogers’ emotions, and a scene involving a long-overdue message from the past is particularly well done. The other two characters — Dr. Huer and Wilma — are more sketchily drawn, and surely depend on the reader knowing something of their backstory and character, which this reviewer does not. But, to their credit, the authors leave Rogers with a bit more depth than they found him with.

I’m less convinced by the action in the book, which seems pro-forma. The book takes a few pages too long to get moving, and the fight scenes are fairly stock. The “big bad” will be familiar to fans of the genre, and the book wraps up rather abruptly for my taste. Still, I see promise. Not many debuts are this polished or this professional. I might even read this particular Dynamite book again.

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