Best Shots Advance Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, bringing you tomorrow's reviews today with the Best Shots Team! We've got books from Image, BOOM! Studios, Top Cow and more! Want more reviews? We've got a ton, over at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, school's back in session, as Colin Bell takes a peek at a school of very unorthodox students. You're now enrolled — over at Gladstone's School For World Conquerors!


Gladstone’s School For World Conquerors #1

Written by Mark Andrew Smith

Art by Armand Villavert and Carlos Carrasco

Lettering by Fonographics

Published by Image Comics

Review by Colin Bell

Coming off the back of his Amazing Joy Buzzards and the excellent New Brighton Archeological Society, writer Mark Andrew Smith offers up another original gem in the shape of Gladstone's School For World Conquerors.

A Hogwart's for supervillainy, the titular Gladstone's is a place of learning where the children the world’s greatest ne’er-do-wells come to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Smith wastes no time in rattling off the origins of the school in the first few pages, setting the pace for the rest of the book and juxtaposing the banalities of school with the fantastic - it’s a school on Mars and the curriculum counts “oversized reptiles” and “so you’ve started a criminal organization” amongst its classes. A host of various characters from all walks of evildoing – super-powered beings, mummies, ghosts, Martians, and manga-esque kid Batmen – are effortlessly sketched out with expediency, and much of what’s enjoyable about the book comes from the simple day-to-day interaction of the kids in their school life.

Teasers for the book first appeared three years ago, and you'd be hard pushed to argue that it wasn't time well spent, especially when you look at the gorgeous art of Armand Villavert. Together with colorist Carlos Carrasco he provides clean, bright cartoon art, coming on strong like a cross between Mike Avon Oeming and Mike Allred. There are some wonderfully inventive character designs for both main characters and ancillary cast milling about in the busy backgrounds of the school's classrooms and cafeteria, and Villavert demonstrates a talent for both strong, expressionist character moments and big, slobberknocker action in one notably scrappy dust-up involving who I’m betting on being the breakout stars of the book.

A twist ending offers tantalizing hints at a greater conspiracy at play. The prospect of the book's young cast learning the true nature of their legacy is one rife with potential for some teenage angst, and therefore sure to lure me back for more. All-ages books are often overlooked on the shelves, mainly because for some the term 'all-ages' equates to 'for kids'. Asides from doing a great disservice to books such as Bone, making that assumption may cause you to overlook what is a fresh, winsome and overall fun book. World conquering has never been such a blast.


Atomic Robo: The Deadly Art of Science #5

Written by Brian Clevinger

Art by Scott Wegener and Ronda Pattinson

Lettering by Jeff Powell

Published by Red 5 Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

So, another series of Atomic Robo has come to an end and, once again, the world of comics has been irrevocably changed. I, for one, am quite tired of all the media hype regarding the shocking developments revealed in this series. I’m weary of the political pundits weighing in with their ill-informed opinions on the significance of the Tesla/Edison rivalry and what its says about the conflict between Direct and Alternating current. I’m fed up with the cultural watchdogs and their vociferous exclamations regarding the appropriateness or inappropriateness of robot/human romantic relationships as depicted in The Deadly Art Of Science.

But, alas, this is what a fan of the world’s most important comic comes to expect with each new issue of Atomic Robo. Sure, its kind of galling constantly seeing tabloid snapshots of multi-billionaire creators Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener club-hopping with Charlie sheen and Randy Quaid, and I’m not too happy that the soon-to-break-ground Atomic Roboland theme park is being built on an ancient indian burial ground that is also the last habitat of the endangered spot-rumped grackle, but at the end of the day you can still see why Robo is an international icon. It’s because Atomic Robo is still a great comic, even when its not firing on all cylinders.

This final issue is definitely the high point of this series. Robo’s contentious team up with masked vigilante Jack Tarot concludes with bolts of lightning, explosions of wisecrackery, and two-fisted moments deadpan humor. This is a relief because, for Atomic Robo, this story has veritably dragged along. The series has a level of plot Clevinger and Wegener would usually cram into one installment of Robo. Of course, there’s still more action in each issue of Deadly Art of Science than a meticulous book like Invincible Iron Man manages in a year, but this whole series still seems a bit restrained by Robo’s standards, a bit stretched. The fact that a story that includes an evil Thomas Edison, a giant robot in a bowler hat, a lightning throwing Nikolai Tesla, and a gangster fighting pulp hero can be called “restrained’ probably tells you all you need to know about Atomic Robo.

Wegener’s art is predictably subdued. The sight gags don’t quite punch like they do in the franchise’s best moments, and Clevinger's script doesn’t really give Wegener many opportunities to really go visually gonzo. Although this final installment has a few power-packed spreads, the action is not as kinetic as one expects. the whole thing just doesn’t pop and zip along like usual. To put it in comic reviewer clichés: it’s merely solid instead of the usual giddy.

The Deadly Art of Science is not an ideal introduction to Atomic Robo. It’s a bit too laid back. It does give some sharp characterization to Mr. Robo, and provides at least the minimum number of requisite classic one-liners. Its not top grade Atomic Robo, but for a fan its more than good enough. Good enough at least, once you look past the media firestorm and the celebrity hype. God bless America, and God bless Atomic Robo.


Elric: The Balance Lost Free Comic Book Day Issue

Written by Chris Roberson

Art by Francesco Biagini and Stephen Downer

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Jeff Marsick

Well, Free Comic Book Day is just four days away and do you know what book you should have in your “To Get” pile? That’s right: this one. Elric, he of the bleached-skull-colored flesh and the crimson and moody eyes, wielder of the soul-eating blade Stormbringer and arguably the coolest fantasy character outside of the Middle-Earth zip codes. A prequel for the series coming in July, this issue sets up something of a crisis on multiple Michael Moorcock worlds, wherein Elric will meet other established characters from the master’s oeuvre such as Dorian Hawkmoon and Corum, the Prince in the Scarlet Robe.

Writer Chris Roberson has a daunting task: introduce Elric, make the un-savvy dig him, introduce the other pawns on the chessboard, then spring enough of a trap that you’ll be enticed to come back for issue one. In ten pages. Tough trick, but he pulls it off. It’s a little tell-y than show-y in places, but it’s justifiable given that there are a lot of basics you need to know about the emperor of Meliboné, not to mention the crossover stars and little real estate in which to do it in.  

If for nothing else, this issue should get you drooling just off the pencils by Francesco Biagini and the colors by Stephen Downer. When Stormbringer sings free of its scabbard, this art team transforms Elric into something so lethal and foreboding that even Conan would pause a moment before stepping to. It’s great work and it will surely be a sell-out hit for BOOM!.

Besides ten pages of tease you get a few pages of concept sketches and a nice ode to Elric by BOOM! CEO, Ross Ritchie. It’s a good piece affording a timeline of Elric’s appearances in comics; it’s interesting to see how many different companies the character has danced for since his Marvel debut in 1972.

As an Elric fan, this was a nice appetizer and I’m looking forward to the regular series debut. Make sure you pick this up.


Artifacts #7

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Whilce Portacio, Joe Weems and Sunny Gho

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

We're officially halfway there.

With Top Cow's heavy hitters all in one big skirmish in the previous issue, it all comes down to a misunderstanding. After Cyberforce and the Artifact-bearers went toe-to-toe, under the misdirection of Aphrodite IV, come to terms that there is a bigger threat afoot. With the mysterious Survivor revealed as the main antagonist, we get a glimpse of his power and intellect, as well the means he will go to get the Artifacts. Of course, the "big" reveal at the end of the issue hits you hard, I'd say almost more than the death of Julie.

Ron Marz delivers the action and drama we've come to expect from this maxi-series/event. I've grown to just love the voice he gives Jackie Estacado and the dynamic relationship he presents Sara Pezzini and Jackie having. It's part Moonlighting with a slice of Kill Bill on the side. The dialog is full of Marz's trademark snappiness, as I think he gives these characters a distinct voice that new readers can easily pick up on. Again, the reveal carries much weight, and something even I, a big Top Cow fan, did not see coming.

What didn't work for me here was the art. It's always interesting to see Marz work with somebody else besides Witchblade collaborator, Stjepan Sejic. Whilce definitely has presented a different flair compared to Michael Broussard, who worked on the first four issues of Artifacts, and it's been hit and miss. It's interesting to see his panel construction, which is more stylized and jagged, that usually works great with these characters.

The more I think about it though, the main flaw here is colorist Sunny Gho. His muted pallet here works to an extent. At the same time, however, he seems to be relying on one color to anchor every page, and it kinda leaves things flat to me. Just an array of light greens and browns. So different from the first arc. I think it's because Portacio is so ultra-stylized already that he doesn't quite play to Gho's strengths here. Gho, to me, works best when he can give a little bit of additional depth to a piece, like Kenneth Rocafort on Velocity.

The art isn't bad where I immediately shunned the issue, but I felt some places were lost in translation, save for the big reveal on the final page. Portacio has one more issue before Jeremy Haun takes over art duties. This issue has made me even more curious on what Haun will bring to the table.


Blue Estate #2

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev and Andrew Osborne

Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox and Robert Valley

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

With last month's debut of Blue Estate, it felt that the heavy exposition was tough to swallow, even alongside all that gorgeous art. But the second issue of this series shows that that's nothing a chaser of strong, solid characterization couldn't fix, as the character of Rachel Maddox brings a more resonant, more appealing look into this world of Hollywood excess cut with the Russian mob.

This book also starts off with an artistic bang — Nathan Fox is a great fit for this book, and the art styles of Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress and Robert Valley are each similar enough in terms of style, tone and color that the individual differences don't derail the story in the slightest. Instead, we've got that flawed beauty that creeps through the streets of L.A., but whether its seeing the Lindsay Lohan-esque Rachel Maddox give a weak smile as she walks out of A.A., or seeing the genuine affection of her new sponsor, Johnny, these things connect a lot more than the first issue, which dove into the world of crime without giving us someone to really hook onto.

Following Maddox is, in many ways, a fascinating ordeal — she's certainly a flawed character, but Andrew Osborne, working off a story idea from Viktor Kalvachev and Kosta Yanev, really manages to cram in the character beats with gusto. Little things like Maddox tossing a bottle of Jack away from her by saying "one day at a time" to learning her sponsor-in-shining-armor's dirty little secret, that's a full story in and of itself. And the team isn't stopping there — while there's admittedly a bit of a disconnect between the A-story and the B-story, Osborne still manages to evoke a palpable darkness in a strip club with the mobster, Tony. There's back rooms and then there's back rooms, and Osborne and company show you that you don't want to know what's going on behind the scenes.

Now, this all said, considering the sheer number of people involved in this book — three people on writing, four people on art — you'd think that there might be some sort of machine-made, assembly-line feel to this story. After all, isn't half the praise coming from the fact that you did it yourself? But the number of voices to this book, I would argue, actually brings a lot of depth to Blue Estate, with is a crime book that doesn't just look good, it feels right. With a character to believe in and root for, this sophomore issue did what the first one couldn't — and that's get me interested for the next month. If the gang behind Blue Estate can keep up with this mood and character now that the backstory is over, this will be the best crime story this side of Scalped. 

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