Welcome, Newsarabble, to this week's Best Shots Advance look at tomorrow's comics.
This week, the Best Shots gang digs in and takes a look at the latest in criminal psychodrama, adolescent prehysteria, battlefield undead, supernatural cowboying, men of time-mending medicine and tatted-up secret agents. Because, really, who can wait until Wednesday to get their sequential fill?
So strap in and enjoy some early Spring pickin's! And don't forget to check out the archives, over on the Best Shot topics page!
Super Dinosaur #1
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Jason Howard
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by Shanna VanVolt
One page into Super Dinosaur #1, I realized I was not the target audience. With this book, Kirkman and Howard have a dual purpose: to create something their children can enjoy; and to abolish the “all ages” stigma by making it entertaining for a mature audience as well. The simplistic dialogue and lack of “gory violence, boobies, or swears” (as Howard put it) does make the book more accessible to a younger audience. But as an adult reading this first issue, I felt like I had channel surfed into a pre-teen Disney Channel drama of doom.
Super Dinosaur #1 jumps right into the action… but the immediate voice-over dialogue of Derek Dynamo, the main kid character, kills the mood. Kirkman is trying to ease the reader into the story, letting the book's hero lay out the scene. The smart-kid-as-narrator is a device that dates beyond Twain, and admittedly has put generations of children’s imaginations in gear. However, when said narrator is currently fighting dinosaurs with his T-Rex best friend, as opposed to sitting down to dinner with annoying Aunt Sally, the voice-over serves only to dumb down the action. It’s a distraction.
Maybe this running commentary wouldn't be so bad if Derek Dynamo weren't so unlikeable. The kid is a genius with a dinosaur buddy who fights bad dudes, which is clearly a fantastic standing in life. However, if “kids these days” are even half as full of themselves as young Dynamo, I am sincerely worried about our future. Our hero utters the phrase “I am awesome” at least three times in Super Dinosaur #1, which is about three times too many. When a foe tries to ask Derek why they are fighting if they share a common enemy, the (G-rated) violence-hungry kid just shouts “Because you’re a bad guy?!” and deftly (and daftly) throws some more bombs. This is not a kid I'd like to attend high school with. Kirkman tries to open up his one-dimensional hero in the last page, but it only adds to the ego trip.
It is really a shame that the over-explanation and über-confidence runs contrary to what is, essentially, a fun concept. Originally influenced by an idea from Howard's son, Super Dinosaur, is well drawn and flooded with possibility. Howard's pencils and inks run with that creativity, and it looks like he has a good time trying to come up with different dinosaurs humanized into “dino-men.” Kirkman's punsmithing may grate — “Terrordactyl,” “Breakeosaurus” —but it is playful.
Unfortunately, Howard’s dynamic lines get swallowed up by poor color choices and vacuous backgrounds. A monochromatic pink/coral/orange page gracelessly transitions into one with shocking neon greens. The art succeeds when Howard allows himself to play with a full palette, but more often than not, a pallid glow of a randomly assigned color dulls strong inks. I thought maybe this could be a device to help kids differentiate good from bad, but the same electric celery that covers the lab of bad-guy Max Maximus later graces Derek Dynamo's room. The coloring thus became another distraction from the action.
In all honesty, I don't know anything about kids. I fully support Robert Kirkman and Jason Howards' desire to make a comic book that kids can read, to take them away from the TV and kick-start their imaginations with words and pictures. And dinosaurs are fun. But the youth plot devices and cocky teen narrator just don't resonate with me. I think I'll suffice to get my flying-dinosaur-who-fights-bad-guys dosage from the pure whimsical pages of Axe Cop and leave Derek Dynamo to the tykes.
The Sixth Gun #11
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt and Bill Crabtree
Lettering by Brian Hurtt
Published by Oni Press
Review by Scott Cederlund
Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt wrap up their second storyline with a shootout in a New Orleans cemetery. This story arc has shown that there are more people in this world who covet the mystical guns that Drake Sinclair and Becky Montcreif possess. Bunn and Hurtt are still in the process of building the world of The Sixth Gun, but they never lose sight of the western supernatural action that is the heart and soul of The Sixth Gun.
It’s fun to watch Bunn and Hurtt spin a yarn about the frontier days, about supernatural weapons and about the men, women and demons who want to possess them. The battle in New Orleans is smaller than the battle that concluded the first story arc but it’s no less dangerous or exciting. While there are horrifying monsters running around in this issue, this is far from a horror story. Bunn is borrowing elements from westerns, horror and fantasy and mixing them up into a new cocktail. Bunn and Hurtt mixed genres the same way in The Damned, a darker, more dangerous story. Here they seem more intrigued by the adventure of Drake Sinclair and Becky Montcreif than in the darker elements of the guns. The guns are still macguffins; they’re the impetus of all of action but not the end all/be all of it.
Hurtt continues to deliver his easy and bright artwork. With Bill Crabtree on the coloring, the artwork in The Sixth Gun #11 is expressive and clear. Hurtt looks comfortable with the world of Drake Sinclair, whether it’s on the open plains or the crowed New Orleans streets. His cartoony artwork wouldn’t seem to fit in with the supernatural elements but Hurtt keeps his artwork simple enough that it fits perfectly with Bunn’s script. While their story has all of the trappings and dress of classic western stories, they keep the elements of the story and art broad enough that no one element of the book overshadows any other.
With the Sixth Gun #11, this title remains one of the best comics on the racks right now because it is one of the most enjoyable. With the cemetery battle and the craftiness of their characters, Bunn and Hurtt keep the fun rolling in The Sixth Gun even as they keep the readers on the edge of their seats with adventure, gun fights and monsters.
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn and Nikos Koutsis
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Skybound/Image Comics
Review by Colin Bell
After the best part of a year, the Viltrumite War is over. But where do you go from an eight-issue smackdown that had been brewing since the series' inception? For most comic book writers, you would give your hero some downtime — and whilst Robert Kirkman rewards Invincible with a re-establishing of his status-quo of punching supervillains and a tweak of his costume, he also ensures that this issue features a development that will leave an indelible mark on its protagonists. Suffice to say we're not going to spoil it here, but it's not the kind of event that's easily done away with by superhero-science or retconning — for all the usual hype and bluster of comics, this is something that will change things for Invincible.
It's a strange gear-shift for the title when, after half an issue of the usual Invincible blend of comedy and superheroics, the comic moves into to near soap opera for the last half of the book. Whilst it never feels in danger of veering into a 'very special issue of Invincible' it’s a fine emotional line that the last scene treads, even if it is undermined by a needless pithy remark that you have to wonder if it was put in to remind readers that the book still has a sense of humor. The subject matter at hand is one that I personally can’t remember seeing in a mainstream superhero comic before and requires a good deal of sensitivity in handling it, but Kirkman near blows it on the second last page with a jarring, misjudged gag.
It’s undoubtedly a brave direction for the storyline to go in, and it’s one where the fallout of the next issue and how it’s handled will be as important as the happenings in this issue in how this plot will be judged and remembered.
As much as the events in this issue might be debated, what won’t be is Ryan Ottley’s ever-dependable artwork. Conveying the raw emotion of what’s going on, with some particularly fine facial expression work when it comes to Atom Eve, Ottley holds his own and draws the final scenes in a way that never seems to obtrusive or exploitative for what may be a pivotal moment in the lives of the characters he draws. Similarly brilliant is his two-page depiction of Invincible checking in on his rogues’ gallery, as he whisks from villain to villain in an entertainingly kinetic six panels. Nikos Koutsis makes his Invincible debut on colors, and whilst not a majorly noticeable change from FCO Plascencia, colorist of the last thirty issues of the title, there are some minor lighting effects used that regular Invincible readers might pick up on.
Despite the surprising approach taken in this book, it’s still a solid issue of Invincible overall, where the unexpected is now known for its regular appearances. Kirkman continues to ensure that he never lets the grass grow under his characters’ feet by refusing to let the plot stand still, and I’ll be very interested to see how the ramifications of this issue play out.
Doctor Who: A Fairytale Life #1
Written by Matthew Sturges
Art by Kelly Yates, Steve Bird, Brian Shearer,
Rick Ketcham and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Neil Uyetake
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Teresa Jusino
I generally have a rule about not reading comics based on television shows that are currently airing. Why read a comic based in a world in which I’m already watching stories happen? But Doctor Who is different. By virtue of the show’s format, anything can happen at any time, and it never need interfere with the show’s canon. Oh, Rory’s not in this comic? That’s OK, because this story probably happened in the time between episodes before Rory was on the TARDIS full-time!
And no, Rory’s not in “A Fairytale Life,” the four-part story arc that begins the new run on IDW’s Doctor Who comic with the Eleventh Doctor.
The Doctor and Amy arrive on a human-colonized planet called Caligaris Epsilon Six, a “holiday planet” which is engineered to look like a medieval fantasy land complete with knights, swords, and damsels (despite Amy’s insistence that she’s not one). Oh, and by the way, the planet’s been quarantined because of a deadly plague to which Amy’s now been exposed. Oh, and the TARDIS is missing.
It’s just another adventure with The Doctor, and a strong start to what could be an intriguing story. The idea of a holiday planet being faced by a plague and victimized by a mysterious monster who seems to feed on sick children is an interesting one, despite having certain similarities to the Series 5 Who episode, “The Beast Below.” Matthew Sturges has done a wonderful job fleshing out the periphery characters in only a few panels. For example, his opening pages featuring a group of children playing are warm and funny, but quickly become terrifying — a hallmark of Doctor Who that Sturges executes well. His voice writing as Matt Smith’s Doctor is absolutely dead-on, and it made me able to see The Doctor flailing around in my head. The only problem was his characterization of Amy. I think he focused on her feistiness at the expense of her intelligence and experience. For example, at this stage in the game, why would she even ask why The Doctor is taking a sonic screwdriver to a potted plant when a minute ago he just said that he was looking for an information panel? And why, when The Doctor mentions “damsels in distress”, she takes issue with it by saying “I’m no damsel!” What she should’ve said to make her point was “I’m not in distress!” Her insistence in not being a damsel seemed, well, too stupid for her. She would know that a damsel is simply another word for “woman.”
More so than the story, I had a bit of trouble with the artwork. Kelly Yates’ work at times has gorgeous detail (freckles, great facial expressions, a beautifully drawn TARDIS), but it’s inconsistent. Just as often, faces (particularly Amy’s) look stretched out or disproportionate, and the landscapes and characters seem generic as often as they pop with personality. I hope that Yates’ style finds its footing as the story goes on.
“A Fairytale Life” is a good, if flawed beginning. What it does best is remember that Doctor Who is supposed to be accessible to all ages. In much of the writing for the Tenth Doctor in comics, writers often got caught up in The Doctor spouting technobabble. Here, we see that The Doctor is clever without resorting to making everything sound like gibberish. It’s a strength of the Eleventh Doctor that Sturges captures perfectly. That despite his vast knowledge, The Doctor is someone even a child can understand.
Written by Mark Kidwell
Art by Nat Jones, Tim Vigil & Jay Fotos
Lettering by Jason Arthur
Published by Image Comics
Review by Brendan McGuirk
In Image's latest zombie ongoing, February 13, 1968 was the day the war in Vietnam started to take a turn for the worse. And it's even worse than we remember. In <'68, a platoon of soldiers have their hands full trying to contain and destroy VC's. And then the VC's start coming back to life.
Zombie stories are, generally speaking, about being overwhelmed by a mindless majority. They are stories of isolation, paranoia and imminent, unstoppable, overwhelming doom.
In popular culture, Vietnam is the war used to illustrate that war is not black-and-white, right-and-wrong. It is a cultural touchstone that can inspire regret and shame as readily as valor and camaraderie. It reminds us that the world is, and always has been, extremely complicated.
So why not put the two together? It's a match made it...well, not heaven, but somewhere inspired.
Beyond being a good idea, '68 is a well-crafted comic. Nat Jones handles art chores on the lead story, and his marked-up, gravelly style is perfect for both aspects of the subject matter. His rendition of the landscape is fleshed out, his characters act and sell their emotions convincingly, and his undead, well, the guy does not struggle with the grotesque.
Kidwell's script, pacing and characterization all impress, as well. Kidwell seems aware that both war and zombie stories have pretty familiar, even trite beats they often lean upon, and avoids any clichés like a minefield. None of these characters are straight out of central casting, and subsequently the book reads as much more than a one-line hybrid pitch.
Tim Vigil does the pen-and-ink thing for '68's backup, and brings to it a raw, E.C. flavor. The backup is more action-horror than the lead's thriller-horror, and Vigil's work reflects that.
It would be a stretch to say that there's much about this book that is out-and-out unexpected. War sucks, men are cruel, and zombies are hungry. But we don't necessarily look to genre to find the unexpected, we look to it to be impressed by the stories crafted with deft manipulations of the familiar. It's somewhat surprising that “zombies in Vietnam” are a genre mash-up that have yet to be thoroughly mined, but the '68 gang find a way to bring twisted new life to known staples with a story that is original and haunting.
There just aren't very many original zombie stories left out there, but '68 is going to be one of them.
Bullet To The Head TP
Written by Matz
Illustrated by Colin Wilson
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Jeff Marsick
Bullet To The Head is Dynamite’s toe-dip into the deep end of the crime-noir genre and it’s one of those books that you buy just from a browse of the cover: written by Matz, the captain of the sensational Archaia book, The Killer; artwork by Colin Wilson who drew the even more memorable Point Blank from the master of noir comics himself, Ed Brubaker (as well as one of my favorite comics of all time, The Example). Then there’s the tagline: “Two cops. Two killers. A political scandal. One beautiful corpse. And a city gripped with fear….a classic crime tale of violence and revenge.” Faster than you can say, “yes, please”, your wallet’s twenty bucks lighter.
Originally presented as a six-issue English translation of the French Du Plomb dans la Tete (which is now going to be made into a movie called Headshot starring Sly Stallone), the story is gathered here in a very nice hardcover and broken into three chapters which are a better read than the serialized version and in line with the original French presentation. We’re first introduced to a pair of hired killers, Louis and Jimmy, a less distinguished imagining of Jules and Vincent that allows for Matz to give voice to his inner Tarantino. Replace “French Big Mac” with “two-thousand dollar Italian shoes” and you’ve got pretty much the same shtick. Fourteen pages of banter-play interrupted briefly for an actual hit on a senator and his underage hooker gets the book off to a plodding start. Interesting? Maybe, but it’s not the kind of beginning we’re used to from Matz, nor from the genre itself. The thick dialogue-for-dialogue’s sake (with word balloons oftentimes so obese they make Chris Claremont’s look downright economical) continues when we meet their nearly literally mirror images, the cops Philip and Perry, who have picked up the case. The seeds of a political scandal are planted in the first chapter and it’s a solid enough set-up that the next chapter starts in third gear and the Matz we’ve come to admire appears.
It’s this middle act that really is the most solid of the book. More action, more allusion to something bigger lurking in the background, with cover-ups and extreme lengths someone with a lot of power will go to in order to keep their skeletons firmly secreted away in the closet. Tragedy befalls Jimmy almost at the same time it hits Philip and just as Act Two closes, a very interesting alliance has formed. Unfortunately, the final third of the book derails quite early into something of a twisted Tango and Cash remake and never recovers. There are never really any stakes at play and nothing is at risk between this odd couple of revenge, Jimmy and Philip, a point hammered home at the very end by police chief’s mitigation of Philip’s complete disregard for ethics and duty. Even the political scandal never really dives deeper than the superficial, with its resolution terribly forced and rammed home far too quickly in a matter of pages. What is billed as a feature-length film turns out to be just an episode of a television procedural: I wanted Sharky’s Machine, instead I got Starsky and Hutch.
What saves the book, however, is the amazing artwork by Colin Wilson. He’s got this Howard Chaykin/Frank Miller/Terry Dodson hybridization going on that is probably the best noir feel you’ll find this side of Sean Phillips. Beautiful women, jumps-off-the-page action, and an eye for perspective that really takes some of the teeth out of the talkiness of the book so that it’s not all one head yapping to another. It also adds a grittiness, a realness to the story that really puts you right there, smack dab in it. You can almost smell the dog crap on the soles of Louis’s Italian imports, or feel an urge to wipe bloodspray off your face. And bonus points for being able to lay out a twenty-panel page without letting the voluminous balloons crowd out one iota of detail. I want to see Colin do Daredevil or Punisher, which I think he could just knock out of the park.
Now, I know I disparaged Matz a little, and don’t think that’s something I take lightly. I’m a big fan of his, but I’m spoiled by his previous work (so, in essence, he only has himself to blame for setting such a high-water mark). This book isn’t terrible, nosirree, not even slightly. But the writing and the plot could be much more solid and the dialogue could afford a cut and a snip in several places. I am going to slap a buy rating on this book, which hits shelves tomorrow, and give it a solid grade of B, simply because of the artwork that really saves the whole piece. I’m even willing to overlook the sitcom-ish ending just by re-reading the action sequences. It’s a visual feast that I’ll come back to again and again.
Suicide Girls #1
Written by Brea Grant with Steve Niles and Missy Suicide
Art by David Hahn, Cameron Stewart, and Antonion Fabela
Lettering by Shawn Lee
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Teresa Jusino
How do you turn a website into a comic? This was the question I asked myself when I heard that there was a comic coming out based on the famed alternative pin-up website, SuicideGirls.com. Luckily, we have the talented Brea Grant, along with Steve Niles and Missy Suicide, creating a world in which those pin-ups also happen to be a secret organization fighting for individualism in a world where “being yourself” can land you in prison.
The story begins with a woman named Frank, who had been put in prison for breaking into the headquarters of the Way of Life, a corporation that seems to be religious in nature and has the power to bend the laws to their whim, creating a dystopia. She is seeking her friend, Xenia, who disappeared after telling Frank that she’d found out something about Way of Life more sinister than they even imagined. The Suicide Girls break Frank out of prison in an attempt to recruit her in their fight against Way of Life, and the game is on! What makes the comic really interesting is the fact that the Suicide Girls organization is supposed to have existed throughout history, as exemplified by a secondary story written by Steve Niles featured in the back of the issue titled “From the recovered annals of history of the legendary Suicide Girls.” It tells of an SG recruitment in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 during the witch trials.
Grant’s deft pacing and snappy, concise dialogue make Suicide Girls an entertaining read, while the ideas behind them make it a thought-provoking one. On the one hand, I found myself cheering these renegade ladies on in their mission to make the world safe for free thought. On the other, I balked a bit at the clichéd portrayal of religion as an oppressive force, not to mention the fact that, for all that the Suicide Girls website claims to promote non-conformist beauty, there’s really nothing terribly non-conformist about skinny young White women with tattoos being hot (see: Angelina Jolie’s entire career). While the website is more all-inclusive than, say, Vogue, it’s not terribly hard to be more diverse than Vogue, is it? And yet, this story is told from such a truthful place that, disagree in places though I did, it gave me lots of food for thought. After all, just because it promotes a specific type of beauty doesn’t mean it’s putting down others, and that’s kind of the point of both the website and the comic. That allowing individuality does not mean promoting one version above another. It means that all types should coexist, and we should fight those who say they shouldn’t. Everyone deserves a place at the table.
I was pleased that there is a Black girl and a Hispanic girl on the team, and Frank seems like she could be either Asian or biracial, so there is diversity at least where race is concerned, if not body type. Each character is worth hearing more about, and I already love the character of Porter, the cute, lovable nerd. David Hahn’s pencils are gorgeous. The panels and the layouts were crystal clear, and each character in the story has as much personality in the way she’s drawn as the girls do in their pin-ups on the website (from what I can tell, each girl is based on a real Suicide Girl). I just hope that somewhere down the line Hahn is called upon to draw a girl who is perhaps a bit bigger, or maybe has a prosthetic leg, or something.
The Suicide Girls comic is in the unique position to do what the website can’t. The website, being in the real world, still has to cater to a certain clientele looking for a specific type of beauty. The Suicide Girls comic can go further and stretch the boundaries of what acceptable beauty and strength is. I hope that Grant and Co. take advantage of that opportunity rather than simply giving us more of the same. However, we can all look forward to what's sure to be an exciting ride!