Best Shots Advance Reviews: WITCH DOCTOR #1, SONIC: GENESIS

Best Shots Advance Reviews: WITCH DOCTOR

Hey Newsarascals! Brendan McGuirk here to deliver your sneak peak into tomorrow's haul. We've got the finest in IDW, Image and Archie on the docket, so let's dive in on our early (p)reviews!


Witch Doctor #1

Written by Brandon Seitfert

Art by Lukas Ketner and Sunny Gho

Lettering by Brandon Seitfert

Published by Image Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

You've probably seen the marketing blurb for Witch Doctor quite a few times now, “It's House M.D. meets Fringe.” First, I can't stand it when companies say something is like something meeting something. Second, that description is pretty dang correct. Except Witch Doctor is fun, strange, weird, and you don't want to punch the main character in the face for being a massive tool. The first original comic from Robert Kirkman's Skybound imprint comes to us from writer Brandon Seifert and artist Lukas Ketner. This 4-issue mini series doesn't waste any time in introducing the reader to the characters and the world they inhabit. Dr. Vincent Morrow, M.D. is a man of science, but the traditional scientific community hasn't quite caught up with his level of expertise and experience. Just because he doesn't think praying will cure a patient doesn't mean he doesn't believe in the demons that go bump in the night. He's backed by a mysterious girl name Penny Dreadful, who has a gift for the more overtly mystical. And finally, Eric Gast, a paramedic that fills the role of the mundane and acts as the eyes and ears of the reader. Morrow and his crew are called in to help a boy with demon possession issues, but this first case is more than your run of the mill head-turning and pea soup vomit.

I've always been a fan of entering a story, mise-en-scène, as it were. Brandon performs that very well within the opening pages of Witch Doctor. The world these character inhabit is similar to our own, but with a distinct sheen of darkness just under the surface. When Dr. Morrow listens to a morbidly dark podcast about the rising cases of deaths in the country, while on route to a case, it isn't just for shock value. His mind is constantly working, constantly researching. When Gast asks, “why does he sound like the Crypt Keeper,” I found myself responding almost as fast as Dr. Morrow; because it's funny. That is where Brandon's strength really shines in Witch Doctor. For all the darkness and vile imagery found within the book, it could have easily slipped into Alan Moore's Neonomicon territory. Seifert never once allows that to happen. He has an obvious understanding that a  slight undertone of humor is what makes the dark entertaining. That isn't to say the book doesn't have it's creepy turns, but like the above mentioned Crypt Keeper delivering horrible news, Witch Doctor keeps it fun.

Once you read this comic (and I highly suggest that you do so), you'll be very grateful for Seifert's balance of horror and humor, because Lukas Ketner is drawing some seriously screwed up panels. It is Ketner that firmly establishes the setting for Witch Doctor. Locations are familiar, but then someone took the imagery from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and draped it over the entire world. Buildings, trees, roads, even people have a twist, a bend, and shadow that places everything just shy of normality. The result is a wholly believable world that manages to poke at the spot in your brain that tells you to close the closet door at night and never let a leg pop out from under your blanket. While some of the closer facial expressions felt a little flat, this was easy to forgive when you step back and look at the amazing amount of detail he brings to the books. Some artists might cheat a little when it comes to the edge of a panel, but not so with Ketner. People and locations fade away when they aren't the focus, only to come blazing back when needed. Sunny Gho also turns in great work as the colorist on Witch Doctor. Considering Ketner's highly detailed settings and demonic characters, Gho had a huge task ahead of him. Gho knows when to let the darker shades play, and bright when primary colors need to take center stage.

Kirkman made a very wise choice in selecting Witch Doctor as the first original book from his Skybound imprint. It does what a debut issue should; introduces interesting character with a real history. A setting I can't wait to learn more about. It kept me smiling from the very first page. And most important, Witch Doctor #1 made me angry that I have to wait 30 days for Witch Doctor #2.


Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters #4

Written by Eric Powell and Tracey Marsh

Art by Phil Hester, Bruce McCorkindale and Ronda Pattison

Lettering by Neil Uyetake

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Licensed books can be tough beasts to tame. There can often be strict guidelines or parameters laid out, leaving creators constrained for options. Subsequently, the results are often bland, meandering and voiceless.

Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters successfully navigates those treacherous waters without being restrained or weighed down. It's fun, or at least as fun as a book about World War Monsters allows for.

Powell and Marsh pull every toy off the Toho shelf to tell their rip-roaring, fire-breathing story about today's America and its ills. The cultural observations are not terribly deep, but they accomplish the goal, which is to reflect just enough of our uglier side to make the savage beasts the sympathetic ones. Sure, maybe they're dealing in wanton destruction, but at least they have being mindless as an excuse.

This is a big budget production that strives to be very current so that when the world is torn apart it's not just some nondescript stage. And if  these fantastical monsters have ever been known to be a form wish fulfillment, well, they make at least one wish comes true in this issue.

Phil Hester' and Bruce McCorkindale's work is clean and effective. Their Godzilla doesn't have a ton of emotional range, but until some young human touches the dino-dragon's heart we may not need to see much range.

Hester's caricature of our world around is  a strength, but when the time comes for the monsters to clash, it doesn't really have another gear to shift up to.  It's effective but not necessarily dynamic. The sometimes stationary perspective might be a callback to the visual style of the rubber-suit, cardboard set movies, but not utilizing all the tools a comic page has to offer may be selling this project short.

I came away from the book thinking the artwork was a valuable and quality contribution, but that a more high-octane artist could have taken things to another level. On the other hand, it is his familiar style that grounds this book, so perhaps the trade-off is worth it.

If you wanted, you could extrapolate from this story a whole thing about how Lady Gaga is right, and humanity is the realest monster of them all, and this-and-that pseudo-intellectual babble. There's probably a case to be made for that. I think, though, that Powell, Marsh and Hester's story is one where the monsters are the monsters, but that some of those teeming masses running for cover during the chaos maybe had it coming. Or are at least no big loss.

Crappy human beings are a dime a dozen, but how many monsters are there that are as badass as Godzilla?


Drums #2

Written by El Torres

Art by Abe Hernando

Lettering by Malaka Studio

Published by Image Comics

Review by Deniz Cordell

Drums moves along with a relentless rhythm – deliberately and inexorably laying the groundwork for a neo-noir story filled with the occult and spiritualism – particularly involving the religion Santeria.  The tone draws heavily from some of the great Val Lewton thrillers such as I Walked With A Zombie and Cat People in the weighty, depthless foreboding that permeates every page and every panel.  Abe Hernando’s dark colors ably create a claustrophobic, unfriendly air, supporting all of the other storytelling choices at play here.

To say much about the story or characters would be to reveal too many of the intricacies of El Torres’ script – which blends mysticism and cynicism to great effect.  The opening three pages – set in a morgue – are chilling in their economy, and immediately establish a strong mood that will carry through the rest of the issue.  And, indeed, much as plot and characterization enter into the work, in this issue, “mood” is certainly the king here.  Every moment feels bleak, every sequence has an unease that is gradually developed through careful application of technique – particular praise should be given to Malaka Studio’s lettering – their onomatopoetic “THOOM” (the sound created by the titular drums) is a presence in nearly every scene, and the repetition of sound (and typeface) not only bolsters the storytelling rhythm, but creates the sensation of the inevitable – for the reader and characters alike, there is no escape from the drums.

Abe Hernando’s art is great – his panel choices are well done, and he encapsulates and synthesizes story and character beats into each image choice.  His depiction of the protagonist – Special Agent Martin Irons – as he is unable to sleep deftly show us something of the character’s inner life, as well as how events have affected him.  The relationship between Martin and his partner is well-executed, and Torres’ dialogue is concise and sometimes dryly humorous.  Perhaps Hernando’s finest achievement is his depiction of a paranoid reporter. He gives him a drained pallor, pinpoint pupils, and a drawn-out face that looks utterly devoid of life.  It’s a careful character study, and it is a very fine design.  The sequence involving him is constructed marvelously by Torres and Hernando as it is, but the look of sheer and unremitting terror on the reporters face amplifies the effect a hundred fold.

Torres’ also adds a woman to the mix – an expert on Afro-Caribbean religions, whose dialogue has an appropriately authoritative edge, but also a sympathetic component as well – she is not merely a deus ex academia, but a living, well-rounded character.  Her arrival and assistance leads to the final sequence of the book – involving a last-page reveal that creates a startling emotional punch – not only because of the power of the final image itself, but also because the impact on the characters is so keenly felt and developed by the creative team.

There are plenty of other things to like here, as well.  Martin’s encounter with a God-like figure is rendered with real power, and a hellish red-brown color scheme – the core mysteries behind the book are developed tantalizingly, providing only enough information to ensure that the story gets its hooks into you, and brings you back for the next issue.  The constant rain and thunderstorms also emphasize the atmosphere of the story, and allows for a constant darkness to the scenes.

Torres also provides a translation index to some of the terms used in the issue – it’s helpful to the reader, and also great proof of the research that Torres put into the work – but part of me feels that it might have been unnecessary.  Like in John Frankenheimer’s French Connection II, part of the great effect of the movie is the absence of subtitles – so that the viewer is just as clueless and helpless as Popeye Doyle is throughout.  Still, though – that minor caveat aside, it’s a nice addition to a story with clear storytelling, moody art, and an unrelenting build up of all manner of plot developments.  Though there’s a clear linearity to the story at hand, Torres adds a variety of different moments and complications that create a well-rounded world, and a number of sub-plots and events to continue to delve into and explore until their resolution.  It’s highly recommended for crime fiction fans, and horror fans who enjoy a less overt approach to the macabre, and something that gradually worms its way under your skin.


Sonic The Hedgehog #226

Written by Ian Flynn

Art by Patrick Spaziante, Tracy Yardley, Terry Austin and Matt Herms

Lettering by John Workman

Published by Archie Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

There must be something in the air at comic companies that are inspiring reboots. Of course we all know by now of DC's mega plans in September to revamp and relaunch their entire superhero line but surprisingly Archie Comics beat them to it by a couple of months as Sonic The Hedgehog #226 presents a new start for the video game character, shedding years of built-up stories and mythology to start over on a new fan friendly note. Years of continuity and characters have been stripped away to get back to the "essence" of the character, meaning anyone who has ever played a Sonic game should be able to pick up this new issue and have no problem knowing what's going on.

The problem is that this issue is a bit too much like the video games. Rather than naturally building up the story and letting the reader discover this new world, writer Ian Flynn spends too much time emulating the video game environment, telling us about the world and it's villain, Dr. Eggman. There are mysteries and backstory here that Flynn sets up only through exposition. It's incredible how many words there are in this issue when the story would have been better setup if Flynn just took his time and showed us Sonic's world instead of telling us all about it. We hear about missing people. We hear about missing animals. We hear about earthquakes but never see them. There had to be room to see at least one of those troubles in this comic book.

Patrick Spaziante and Tracy Yardley recreate the hustle and bustle of the video games. Sonic The Hedgehog #226 is full of the game environments and action. The setting of this story is a wonderful, illogical-looking worked that begs to be explored. Spaziante and Yardley create a fun book, with characters hopping everywhere and doing gravity-defying feats.

The other odd thing is how this issue keeps nodding and winking at its reboot. Rather than just making a fresh and clean start, Flynn keeps having the characters vaguely referencing hazy memories, like the comic itself isn't completely sold on the reboot.  It's clever when, on the first page, Sonic feels like he's just waking up from a sleep, but when other characters talk about feeling like they should know Sonic or a sense of deja vu about the fights that they are having, it goes from being clever to being annoying. Archie Comics may as well just admit that this isn't a new start on the comic page and start building its own Earth-2 mythology to have their fresh start while keeping all of their old stories in continuity.

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