Best Shots Advance Reviews: KIRBY GENESIS, '68, More

Best Shots Advance Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the Best Shots team, who delivers tomorrow's reviews, today! We've got a ton of books for your reading enjoyment, including books from Image, Dark Horse, Dynamite, IDW and BOOM! Studios. And now, let's kick off today's column with a look at the forgotten works of the King himself, straight from Dynamite Entertainment — Kirby Genesis #0


Kirby Genesis #0

Written by Kurt Busiek

Art by Alex Ross, Jack Herbert and Vinicius Andrade

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Aaron Duran

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There really isn't a point of going on and on about Jack Kirby's influence on modern comics. Do you love superhero books? Thank Jack Kirby. Period. End of story. Although Jack Kirby never stopped creating and mastering the craft he loved, there were still many projects and ideas left when he passed away in 1994. Working from original notes and concepts, Dynamite Entertainment brought writer Kurt Busiek, along with artists Alex Ross and Jack Herbert to bring Kirby's final dreams to life. Kirby Genesis #0 works as a wonderful 14-page primer for the grand adventures to come.

The book opens with a slightly meta concept as we see Jack “the king” Kirby himself at his drawing board preparing a piece of art for the Pioneer 10 deep space probe. An event that did indeed happen, but from there Busiek takes history and adds a bit of the fantastic. A great rift in space tears open, and the small example of humanity's curiosity and achievements is thrust into the cosmic theater. If this all sounds a little Wagnerian in scope, relax, it's supposed to. Kirby's work always suggested that we humans could rise to the level of the brightly colored heroes he loved to draw. That these characters were but extensions of our own desire for greatness. Busiek captures this tone perfectly, and yet is able to balance this rather over-the-top style with modern storytelling techniques. He quickly grounds the reader with the necessary “everyman” character in the guise of a couple of kids, one aptly named Kirby. As a short intro to the series, we don't have a whole lot to go on, but we know that these kids will be our proxy in this event. Kurt Busiek has a real eye for classic superhero storytelling, and while he isn't able to reveal much in this short intro, his narrative style is certainly up to the task.

For as fun and interesting the writing, it is the art in Kirby Genesis that is simply mind blowing. Alex Ross' thumbnails and layouts provide the perfect canvas for Jack Herbert to work upon. Every single line in this comic is a perfect match to the thematic tone. The humans look to the sky with a sense of wonder and awe. The different races and forces briefly encountered by Pioneer 10 are gorgeous. All the bright colors and symbolic lines often associated with Kirby's work leaps from the page. Even so, Ross and Herbert perform a similar function as Busiek when they temper some of Jack's more outlandish traits. Characters still reach out to the reader, as if to grab and pull them into the page. However, Ross and Herbert reign in the style just enough to prevent the art from crossing into parody. The work is quite simply brilliant, with even more credit owed to Colorist Vinicius Andrade. Coloring a Kirby inspired work requires someone that has no problem spreading the paint. These are bright and primal characters that inhabit this comic and the colors reflect that. Even the blackness of deep space has a certain glow to it.

I know it is a little self-serving to keep saying this, but the book is just very Jack Kirby. With 14 pages of storytelling, Busiek, Ross, and Herbert have poured the foundation from which I expect some seriously epic comic book fun. Acting as a primer for issue #1 with notes and sketches from Jack's original work as well as what is to come, Kirby Genesis #0 is the perfect example of how a company should release a teaser issue. When I finished this #0 issue, I had but one thought. I know it will sound as cliché as all get out, but sometimes you just have to roll with it...

The King is Dead. Long Live the King!


'68 #2

Written by Mark Kidwell

Art by Nat Jones, Tim Vigil and Jay Fotos

Lettering by Jason Arthur

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

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What's the opposite of a sophomore slump? Image's zombies-meets-Vietnam story, '68. While the first issue of the series didn't quite score a knockout with me, this second issue did, throwing aside all measures of restraint and good taste and just delivering a ton of memorable, sometimes even crazy, moments of horror and war.

And to be honest, I'm not sure who I think is most responsible for that. While occasionally he gets a little wordy, Mark Kidwell delivers both a really striking voice for all of his characters, and does a great job plotting the story out. Whether its starting with the good old-fashioned horror trope of a beautiful but self-entitled soon-to-be-victim or getting into the nitty-gritty of identifying the walking dead, Kidwell's script flows smoothly, never overstaying its welcome on any one scene. In so doing, it means we get to examine this guerilla-zombie conflict from a number of cleanly defined perspectives.

But then again, Nat Jones is an artist that's also a consummate craftsman. While not as flashy with his expressiveness and design as, say, someone like Tony Moore, but you can see the influence there. With some sharper inks from Tim Vigil, there's a hardness to the characters that I think suits their unforgiving environments. And there's one sequence of abject violence — surprisingly not zombie-related — that I don't remember from the first issue, but it definitely hits you in between the eyes like a runaway train.

Perhaps the greatest achievement for '68 is that it's a Vietnam comic far more than it is a zombie comic, although there are copious numbers of the walking dead roaming around the bush. There are plenty of traps and hidden agendas that aren't trying to cannibalize you, and I think that only amps up the tension to this book. There's definitely an old-school exploitation feel that starts from the first page on, but if you're looking for a different slant on the zombie genre from Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead, '68 might just be a good place to start.


King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel #4

Written by Tim Truman

Art by Tomas Giorello

Colors by Jose Villarrubia

Letters by Richard Starkings

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

Dark Horse’s latest Conan epic King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel is an interesting case study on the hazy definition of what it means to “read” a comic. I could sum up the plot of the final issue in one sentence and it wouldn’t even be a compound sentence. I could recount the events of the whole series itself in a paragraph and it would be a paragraph even shorter than this one.

Nevertheless, peruse King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel and you’ll find a rich “reading” experience. This is a lush, overflowing book that needs to be picked up again and again. It’s a primal adventure. A less charitable fan might say that a book like King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel isn’t really “read” so much as simply looked at, but that’s not giving artist Tomas Giorello or writer Tim Truman the credit they deserve. Even when the word balloons are sparse and the captions are minimal, these pages do not hold mere illustrations to be simply observed at in static appreciation. This is graphic storytelling that breathes and roars bellows and demands to be read, even if that definition of reading doesn’t necessarily entail a lot of pesky words.

Giorello and Truman’s Hyboria seems distilled from that brio that oozes like testosterone and incense from between the words Robert E. Howard put on the pages of his original Conan tales. Literary critics often discover they are at odds with themselves when talking about the Conan stories. Howard was not a sophisticated prose stylist by any means, he wasn’t a baroque world builder like Tolkien, and his sensibilities were often politically questionable to say the least, yet his stories are more alive, more infused with the wild yearnings and adventurous spirit of a man and his time than most of the thick-tomed high fantasy that came after. These comics evoke a similar feeling. What else is there to say about such simple tales of bloody adventure stunningly told? They crystallize the Conan experience, the “real” Conan experience, one born from a master pulp author’s idealized portrait of high adventure and thousands of years of ancient history and legend.

Those who have sought out the original Conan tales in prose have long realized that there is a great injustice in the fact that the name Conan has become a byword in pop culture for Neanderthaloid tunic-and-entrails male fantasies. The truth is, the world of Conan is much richer, much more textured and, in its own way, bluntly philosophical than most people think. Truman and Giorellos’ King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel is a crash course in the real Conan, the one you won’t see in the cinema or the posthumous novels penned by pretenders to the Hyborian legacy. Beyond that, King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel is just a gorgeous immersive comic highly recommended for anyone yearning for the days of high adventure.


Kill Shakespeare #11

Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col

Art by Andy Belanger and Ian Herring

Lettering by Chris Mowry

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by David Pepose

It must be terrifying to meet your maker. But what happens when your maker is William Shakespeare?

For those who haven't been reading Kill Shakespeare — and yeah, I was guilty as charged until recently — this is actually one of the better places to jump on board. While this book isn't an effortless read, think of instead as a superheroic crossover starring not Captain America and Iron Man, but Hamlet, Romeo, Othello in a magical struggle between freedom and conquest.

The thing about Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col's story that really moved me was how they mix these particular characters — while every character is the hero of their own story, you've got to pick a protagonist somewhere, and having Hamlet as the leader behind Shakespeare's last stand is a smart pick for the uninitiated. While I might argue that some of the nuance behind these characters gets a little muted for my tastes — after all, isn't Hamlet a symbol for inaction? Isn't Romeo a symbol for hotheadedness? Or Othello a parable of jumping to conclusions? — this issue is also about setup, and showing the pure spectacle of a world where words aren't just forgotten, but take on a life of their own.

I would argue, however, that the big learning curve comes from the art from Andy Belanger. That's not to say that his character design doesn't work — particularly, I dig his take on William Shakespeare, totally cut to hell after clashing with a magic weapon — but if anything, he's too thorough with his work. Detail upon endless detail is thrown on the page, and I'd argue that for new readers, it's an awful lot to take in at once. But at the same time, Belanger tears it up when he's got something for the reader to focus on, with a transformation of a faerie creature into something gigantic and menacing, a winged creature made of endless eyes and teeth. That's some good stuff.

Of course, this book is not going to be for everyone. Those who want to kick up their shoes, have a relaxing, easy read — this issue isn't going to be that for them, with its classical source material and the extremely detailed artwork. But for what is essentially a war comic that hits the literary fanboy button, this is an issue that will be appreciated by diehards and new readers alike.


Duck Tales #1

Written by Warren Specter

Art by Leonel Castellani, Jose Massaroli, Magic Eye Studios, and Braden Lamb

Lettering by Deron Bennett

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

Duck Tales marks the third of BOOM! Studios’ attempts to bring new life to the cartoons of the 1990s Disney afternoon block – the beloved cartoons of my own childhood. But while Darkwing Duck has been a delight from the very beginning and Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers has grown better and better over time, it’s hard for me to imagine, from this first issue, that Duck Tales will reach similar heights.

The problem with Duck Tales is that it’s premised on the fact that Uncle Scrooge, his three color-coded nephews, and the pink-bowed Webby travel the world gathering artifacts from other cultures to increase Scrooge’s wealth. Scrooge is an essentially imperialist character, from his long history in comics to today, and his entire goal in life is the amassing of more money (and the protecting of the money he already has). This is the kind of concept that doesn’t sit very comfortably if you think about it too long – particularly if you think about the non-Western cultures he regularly steals from.

Sure, it's a kid's book, but Warren Specter seems to recognize this as a problem, and in this issue he explicitly raises the issue of Scrooge stealing from natives around the world, giving them trash and trinkets in return. The principled Webby begs Uncle Scrooge to return the items, and after consulting their trusty Junior Woodchuck guide, Huey, Dewey, and Louie agree that this is the only moral thing to do. Scrooge is hesitant, but when his rival John D. Rockerduck starts giving away his fortune out of a sudden attack of principles, Scrooge follows suit, unwilling to be beaten at anything.

By issue’s end, the story hasn’t been resolved; this tale will clearly be the foundation of the entire first arc. But I have to wonder how exactly Specter is going to get out of the corner he’s written himself into. After this, Scrooge has two options: never taking artifacts from anyone again (which would completely eliminate the central plot of Duck Tales, leaving little in its wake), or explicitly defying the moral objections that have been raised and justifying his actions anyway. By raising the problematic nature of the imperialist mindset, Specter has left himself few options for advancing his story.

He also, despite these explicit moral objections, seems to have no problem continuing to portray native peoples in stereotypical ways. A running gag about an island tribe in grass skirts all being named after American soft drinks would be in poor taste in any comic, but it’s especially problematic in a kid's comic that clearly recognizes the perils of racism and appropriation. Having these characters, even if they’re anthropomorphic ducks, speak in stereotypical broken English for the sake of comedy, is a bizarre blind spot for a writer who seems to be aware of all the potential pitfalls of that kind of writing. Specter also writes a phonetic Scottish accent for Uncle Scrooge, which, while not problematic in the same way, seems to me a poor choice for a comic aimed at kids who may not be experienced readers.

That presumed child reader is really the sticking point here. It’s easy to argue that this is a kids’ book, and serious issues of colonialism and imperialism shouldn’t be an issue. But children are a vulnerable audience, internalizing the things they read without being able to critically engage with them. Kids won’t recognize the imperialist problems or the stereotypes in this story, but they’ll learn from these characters what’s right and what’s wrong, and if stereotypes of native people are presented as humorous, kids will think they are humorous. Even comics have a responsibility toward the reader, and kids’ comics have even more responsibility.

The rest of the comic is well-written enough — the triplets don’t have individual personalities, but Scrooge is well-characterized and the issue does a good job of working in exposition, like how the triplets came to live with Scrooge and why Launchpad is hanging out with them. The art is also quite nice, despite the large group of artists working on it; it’s a benefit of the Disney house style that many artists can work on one project and create a seamless whole, and the pages are as fluid and dynamic as animation. I especially appreciated the way the artists managed to distinguish between all the characters, even similar-looking characters like Scrooge and Rockefeller, and Braden Lamb’s colors are as bright and cheerful as any fan of afternoon cartoons could want. Unfortunately, these artists would be better served on other Disney projects (and Leonel Castellani, at least, is doing great work over on Chip ‘n’ Dale), because from what I’ve seen of this issue, Duck Tales is not something I can recommend to anyone. 

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