Best Shots Advance Reviews: SHINKU, JAKE ELLIS, More

Greetings, Rama readers! Ready for tomorrow's reviews, today? Then hop on board with Best Shots, as we hit you up with some advance reviews! Let's start off with Jeff Marsick, as he takes a look at Ron Marz and Lee Moder's new spin on the vampire story, Shinku...


Shinku #1

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Lee Moder, Matthew Waite, Michael Atiyeh

Lettering by  Troy Peteri

Published by Image Comics

Review By  Jeff Marsick

Ron Marz, you had me at “samurai vampires." It’s tough these days to Ginsu something fresh from the vampire genre, but veteran Ron Marz is making a go of it here with Shinku. The titular character is a young woman, the last of a bloodline that traces back to antiquity and the samurai of old.  Back then, Shinku’s ancestors clashed on the battle plain against a rival house of vampires and they didn’t fare so well. As the last of her clan, Shinku has vowed to seek out and destroy every last vampire in Japan.  Enter Davis, a wide-eyed and socially awkward gaijin whom Shinku saves from the incisors of a hot but nasty vamp named Hideko, who’s going to become a part of Shinku’s master plan whether he likes it or not.

I was fired up at the previews, taken by the concept and the jumps-off-the-page artwork. Reading the whole issue, though, I was found wanting more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book and worth picking up. But I wanted it to be GREAT. In the final analysis it’s just another thrust-from-his-boring-life-into-one-of-adventure-against-his-will and gets-teamed-up-with-a-cute-vampire-huntress-with-seemingly-unlimited-bank-account story. You can gussy it up with cool samurai gear and call it unique, but it’s really just sleight of hand on a retreaded plot. And it didn’t have to be that way in the first issue. Shinku didn’t need to give her backstory, she could have been this mysterious and alluring figure. She plucks Davis, a complete stranger, from an alley just a moment before his jugularotomy, takes him home and reveals her all as if he’s been in her circle of trust all this time? Too easy. Too simple. And if anyone CAN make it mysterious and deeper, Mr. Marz surely is the man.

What saves the book is the artwork by Lee Moder, the inks by Matthew Waite and the colors by Michael Atiyeh.  The katana-dispatching of Hideko is a one-page splash of beauty, suitable for framing.  And the pair of double-page spreads of Shinku’s flashback to ancient days of samurai warfare are fantastic.  And while Shinku has the attitude of diamond-forged steel, she’s got a punk hotness about her that makes me want to see more of her in action.  If I have any complaints art-wise, it would be two.  The first is that with the action taking place in Tokyo, all of the non-foreigner characters are rendered Japanese-ish.  Without the informative dialogue on page two, you’d be forgiven if you thought this took place in Hawaii or some ethnic borough of New York.  Secondly, the vampires are still too pretty, despite interviews in which the creative team spoke of looking to break out of the Twilight mold and harken back to the basics of the vampire mythos.  When Hideko lets Davis get an easy second base off her in the alley (and yes, it’s full-frontal nudity), it’s hard to see the downside to being a bloodsucker.

I know.  I KNOW.  It’s a first issue.  There’s a lot more story to go so don’t burn the forest for the tree.  And I’m not at all condemning the book on the basis of this first chapter.  In fact I’m telling you to make sure it’s in your stack of comics this week.  The artwork is great, the samurai legacy is cool, and it could be a memorable addition to the vampire genre, we’ll see.  But I’m disappointed that I’m giving it a B when I really wanted to give it an A.


50 Girls 50 #1

Written by Frank Cho and Doug Murray

Art by Axel Medellin and Niko Koutsis

Lettering by Thomas Mauer

Review by Shanna VanVolt

Torn from the pages of a 1953 issue of Weird Science by the acclaimed Wally Wood, 50 Girls 50 #1 runs the risk of falling into the trap of overstretched rehash. Cho and Murray mesh Wood’s original with cult classics that have come after; but by the end of the first issue, it is clear that society needs to make way for some new space vagabonds at the helm. There is a thoughtfulness running through the pages that make this issue feel fresh out of elements that could have easily gone stale.

All right, they’re all babes. The entire crew of the ESS Savannah is made up of women possessing the mysterious XXX chromosome makeup that makes them able to travel through wormholes unscathed. And they are all geniuses. Thankfully, 50 Girls doesn’t belabor these points. Cho and Murray do women, and readers, a favor by making the story less centered on establishing smart hot chicks than it is on achieving cool crisp action. The girls are just the characters, not the plot.

And they are great as characters. In the supplemental materials at the end, Murray points out that one of the reasons they chose Axel Medellin to draw and ink the book (after running a contest for the privilege) was because he excelled at differentiating between beautiful women. Issue One does not try to plow through explanations of all 50 girls; we get about six. Their versatility and well-roundedness had my head racing through comparisons: okay, she is Captain Kirk, wait, wait, no—maybe Sigourney Weaver?…. Hmm, now they are like the entire crew in Predator; Nah, this is totally Stargate. In the end, the girls are culled from all of these things, but they are mostly themselves.

As for the plot, Cho and Murray are on their game. The first installment is fine mystery box, pulling the reader through larger rooms, without giving away much of the endgame. Medellin is on task, with a keen eye for panel-arrangements and strong clean inks. It’s a solid marriage, with both art and text and moving the reader swiftly through the book. I see a lot of Cho’s Shanna The She Devil in the pacing — fast battle scenes broken with a second to rest before another ridiculous scenario befalls our tough heroines. There are also some gems of dialogue dotting the way: “Our make-shift corpse-balloon and this bottle of mono-molecular hydrogen are our only chance.” If that sentence alone doesn’t make you want to grab this book as fast as you can, I don’t know what could.

Not only is Medellin good at cooking up three-dimensional characters, his plating is excellent. Each page has a harmony to it, generally involving a dominating panel-scape or action, with the other panels complementing it and compelling the plotline. This means that you can easily eat through the art at break-neck speed — which is as dictated by the action— or you can slow down and taste each morsel of lithe women, foreign planets, and inventive monsters. Bold and tight inks help the glossy figures erupt gloriously from more painterly backgrounds.

Medellin does have his own derivative points: With Cho creating the characters, you can see that Medellin’s art is definitely taking off from Cho’s thick-of-thigh, large-of-breast mighty women. In fact, I didn’t realize that Cho had drawn the epilogue on first reading, the styles are so comparable. I don’t think this aping is a negative. Medellin’s art works beautifully with Cho’s plot, and we get two pairs of eyes with similar spectacular visions reviewing the work. At times, there is a bit too much radioactive blurry glow everywhere, but hey, it is outer space, and why not have a bite of realism? Fact is, the amount of times that sheen distracts the reader is negligible. Medellin’s figures and creations shine brightest through it all, inviting the reader to read through quickly, and then go back and just look at everything he has drawn.

Cho and Murray have a good old-fashioned pulpy spacehound tale here with 50 Girls 50. They show respect for the genre on every page, creating a balance of cheesiness and whimsy that lets their women transcend gender bias. Yes, sometimes they lose all their clothes, but that’s a petty loss when fighting monsters of the universe for the survival of their home planet. Murray’s supplement at the end gives hope that they don’t plan on stopping the surprises any time soon, and Cho’s written and drawn epilogue shows a thoughtfulness and understanding of how to amp up the action and suspense one notch further. If Medellin’s art can stay as crisp as it is here, 50 Girls 50 should have more than enough time for 50 personal introductions while finding and fighting the final frontier at every corner.


Who Is Jake Ellis #4

Written by Nathan Edmondson

Art by Tonci Zonjic

Published by Image Comics

Review By  Jeff Marsick

The voice in my head has developed a mind of its own.

That quote, ladies and gentlemen, is why this book is the best book Image has put out so far this year.  Yes, I did.  I put Who Is Jake Ellis on that pedestal.  And I defy you to prove me wrong.

It’s issue the fourth so we’re in the penultimate inning of Jon Lewis Moore’s quest to get to the bottom of the craziness that is his life, namely that voice in his head of seemingly omnipotence.  Jon’s journey takes him from Toledo to Morocco in search of vital answers, and he does more dodging and bobbing under Jake’s all-seeing eye to infiltrate a data center where answers lie. But Jake is starting to fuzz a little. There’s a woman he remembers, one that stirred an emotional response within him. But that’s impossible, given that Jake isn’t flesh and bone, but electrical activity within the kilometers of Jon’s synapses. Right? Or is Jake interacting with Jon’s memories?  And later on, Jake’s all-knowingness glitches.  “I think so,” “I’m not sure,” and “I don’t know” aren’t what we’ve come to expect from Jon’s spectre, and it ratchets up the tension to eleven before busting off the knob. Jon eventually finds himself in the records room, finds his file, and just as the alarm starts ringing, he finds Jake’s.  That last page is equal parts perfect and aggravating: The former because it’s the way the issue should end and the latter because it’s incredibly uncool by Nathan Edmondson to leave me hanging with my jaw a-slack for another month to get to the conclusion.

It’s perfectly paced. It’s tightly wound, addicting, and re-readable.  The artwork is simple, clean, effective and the style is the best match for the story with subtleties that require you to pay attention, as in the panel where Jon is hunching between two cars and as Jake advises him, Jake’s reflection appears in one of the waxed fenders. Very cool.

I didn’t think it was possible to find a book that compares to Criminal but this one is right there. If I was a Hollywood producer I would snatch up the rights to this book and do my best not to screw it up for a big-screen adaptation. If you haven’t been reading this book, shame on you, and consider yourself off my holiday gift list unless you redeem yourself by catching up and grabbing this week’s issue four. I’m a harsh judge so an A+ grade from me happens about as often as the Mets win a pennant, but Who Is Jake Ellis certainly deserves it.


Turf #5

Written by Jonathan Ross

Art by Tommy Lee Edwards

Lettering by John Workman

Published by Image Comics

Review by Colin Bell

Showcasing a full-on aliens and gangsters versus vampires smackdown four issues in the making, this final issue is an opportunity for creators Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards to cut loose after a consistent ratcheting of tension, and in Turf #5 they do so and then some. You could even say that this is where the pair "go to the mattresses," if you'll excuse the vernacular.

Detailing the brutal conclusion and aftermath of the final showdown between rival gangs in prohibition-era  New York, some more superhuman than others, this issue wraps up what has been a surprisingly dense first comic book from writer Ross. Paying tribute to the genres they've wielded together, Ross and Edwards make noir, science fiction and horror combine in a giddily entertaining fashion, and tropes such as loyalty, betrayal and redemption are nodded to as plot lines pay off in not wholly surprising, but resoundingly satisfying ways.

It's been enjoyable to see Ross take the step from high-profile comics fanatic to comics creator in a relatively seamless fashion. From the outset he's handled a sizeable cast of characters with varying agendas, and a veritable mish-mash of genre in a way that makes it look like he's been doing it for a lot longer.

From an over-abundantly wordy first issue, Ross has continually refined the dialogue on an issue by issue basis. However, if ever there was going to be a place for stirring monologues the finale was always going to be it, and so we lapse into the occasional overfilled wordballoons. That said, these ones don't obscure as much of Tommy Lee Edward's art as much as before, and kudos has to go to John Workman for making it all fit as naturally as possible. Workman's craft in the humorous way he portrays the sounds of alien weaponary does not go unnoticed either.

For all the wild imagination involved in putting together aliens, vampires and mobsters, it's been Tommy Lee Edwards' art that has brought this issue and the ones preceding it to life. By treating every fantastical element of the book — flying Romanians, alien technology-endowed mobsters, bloodsucking demigods — with as much seriousness as the gadfly girl reporter in over her head, or the period vehicles and architecture, Edwards has created a vivid and colourful world that bears revisiting.

There's no doubt that the occasional passage of time between issues may have hurt the book somewhat, or even put people off it. Read as a whole, Turf is a thrilling, off-the-wall pulp comic in the best sense of the term. Obligatory hints for a sequel crop up at the end, but I would love to see Ross and Edwards cut loose on a wholly new project. Here's hoping they team up again soon.

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