Best Shots Advance Reviews


Invincible #81

Written by Robert Kirkman

Art by Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn, Nikos Koutsis, and Mike Toris

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

"There has to be a better way."

If there's any one strength that Invincible #81 possesses, it's a singularity of theme — with all the craziness and carnage that has been following Mark Grayson and his family the past 80-odd issues, it was bound to happen that one day, someone would ask "is this all worth it?" Is solving the world's problems with your fists really the way to go, or is it just a way to make everything around you worse?

With a fast-paced script punctuated with staccato scene breaks, Robert Kirkman provides a surprisingly peppy and entertaining interlude, even if there are a few hanging threads and convenient plot twists along the way. The real important thing here is that the superhero deconstruction is becoming more and more overt here — it's not a fight to the death, there is always another way, even as the reader might be a bit more desensitized to all of this stuff than Invincible and his friends.

But that theme is what really brings us some satisfying storytelling, all while bringing new readers a little bit closer to the table. After the destruction of Las Vegas, everyone — including Invincible himself — is looking for our blue-and-yellow-clad crusader to step up his game. In so doing, Kirkman really gets a nice flow going with this book, introducing everyone to Mark's supporting cast. That said, there are some missteps here, due mainly to page space — there's one sequence in particular, where one of Mark's more persistent critics has an emotional break that seems a little too convenient, with not quite enough buildup.

Artwise, however, Ryan Ottley and company are still as expressive and accessible as ever. There is one fairly big misstep — due mainly to Kirkman's dense plotting and having a bit too much story to stick into one page — but otherwise, the layouts are clean, and the colors by Nikos Koutsis and Mike Toris are really bright and energetic. In particular, Ottley has some nice details of Invincible's costume ripping that are especially interesting — I don't think I've ever seen a mask tear that way before — and little details like Atom Eve containing a bad guy in cubes looks really slick.

All in all, while there are a couple of missteps in terms of pacing and motivations, it's not enough to derail this interlude issue, which reminds us that Invincible does have a place for street-level stuff as well as some of the grand space opera. It's a breather, but definitely a needed one, and seeing Mark angst over his track record as a hero reminds us of why we liked him so much in the first place. It's not particularly an issue that will drive continuity, but it's a welcome change of pace.


Terminator/RoboCop: Kill Human #1

Written by Rob Williams

Art by P.J. Holden and Rainer Petter

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Deniz Cordell

Once you get past the somewhat nonsensical title (but I defy you to find a title of this ilk that actually makes sense) what we have here is a thoroughly mixed bag – it will appeal to those who enjoy fast, gritty action in their comics, but it is, in essence, the equivalent of a summer action film – with broadly defined characters (partially because we have so little time to get to know them), dialogue that veers between the expository and the shouted – with little middle ground, and a healthy dollop of violence.  It lacks the relentless pacing and terror of the Terminator films, and the sharp satire and subtle humanity that RoboCop possesses.  Still, the book has some interesting moments, but it takes a bit of effort to find them.

The over-the-title billing is rather apt, for it is the marauding masses of Terminator robots that take center-stage here.  Therein lies one of the problems of this issue.  Taken on their own terms, the Terminator robots are excellent plot motivators, but they are also extremely uninteresting characters – primarily because, unless they’re given more human shading, they’re non-characters, who exist solely to crush, kill and destroy (I wonder if Dr. Smith had a hand in their programming).  The interest, therefore, lies in the human characters that are being chased.  Here, we are given Lauren – a woman on a last ditch effort to destroy Skynet (“I think I may be the last girl alive,” she notes), and apart from her expert ability in technology, little else is learned about her.  She is tough and terse, and it is through her eyes that we see the events of the issue, but – perhaps because the book is more interested in action scenes – we are never given a real sense of who Lauren is.

This brings us now to the other half of the double-bill: RoboCop.  Now, in the interest of full disclosure, you should know that because I have no life to speak of, I’m a tremendous RoboCop-phile.  In fact, one of my prized possessions is a complete set of conductor’s scores of Leonard Rosenman’s music for RoboCop 2 (a score ripe for rediscovery and renewed appreciation, by the way).  And it’s when dealing with the character that the book becomes problematic.  Simply put, RoboCop’s voice seems “off,” talking far more, filled with hesitations and redirection in his dialogue quite a bit (i.e. “I… I don’t know,” and “Is this… are we in Old Detroit?”).  Perhaps the purpose was to show a character more in touch with “humanity,” than one trapped in his no-exit situation.  Still, if that was the intent, it lacks the slightly wry quality that permeates the dialogue of the first two films – and his first bit of dialogue here, while intended to be weighty, comes off as silly in a way that seems ill-fitting.  The writing for the character is more akin to a generic police-type than it is specific to Murphy’s unique psychology.

It would be foolish to compare this piece work to Frank Miller & Walter Simonson’s RoboCop vs. Terminator miniseries from long ago – where the focus was squarely placed on the character of RoboCop, and his desire to change what seemed like an inevitable future.  That approach emphasized the character’s humanity through selfless nobility.  This story – based on this first issue, in any event – is focused more on the world of the Terminator, and how RoboCop finds himself trapped in it.  It’s an interesting angle, to be sure, and writer Rob Williams does come up with a few bits to emphasize the specific abilities of both leads.  He also fits in an ED-209 cameo that works quite well, although the lumbering buffoon of robots is not given any dialogue – some of which may have heightened the already good gag.

P.J. Holden’s art is cartoonish and bubbly – which undercuts some of the nastier moments in the script.  He uses big eyes, exaggerated, distended mouths, and tears that flow like white-water rapids to excess.  There are moments when his style meshes very well with the story - such as Lauren’s reaction to the confirmation of her belief, but there are other segments where the style proves a distraction, seemingly at odds with the nihilistic tone of the script.  Holden’s depiction of RoboCop resembles more the “Alpha Commando” incarnation of the character – with a smaller head, and much larger torso – a giant, rather than an elegant machine.  He also uses a foreground/background contrast to fine effect, creating a natural path and focus for the eye to follow.  His depiction of the “Skynet Museum,” where most of the issue takes place provides some interesting background details (though picking them out in Rainer Petter’s monochromatic wash on the scene makes it a little difficult), but it also raises an important question – namely, why would the terminators care so much about preserving relics of a man-made past?  It lends an aspect of vanity to the machines which is rather curious, and I’m hoping that Williams addresses the seeming incongruity at play.

Petter’s color work elsewhere is fine, emphasizing the filth and earth tones of the outside world, and providing a cold brightness to the interiors.  There is a dullness to the color of the weapons-fire, which is an unexpected small touch, that actually works quite well.

Perhaps my main criticism is that the issue feels slow – for all of the sound and fury, very little actually happens.  Much of the second-half of the issue takes place in a single hallway, and there is not very much to offer in the way of visual variety or inventiveness because of that.  In the opening segments, taking place in the wrecked outside world, the art is a bit more kinetic in the angle choices and utilize some creative lighting and shading techniques.

Still, there’s an unexpected conclusion that plays the abilities of the Terminators against Murphy’s innate humanity.  It packs a bit of a punch, and provides no real indication as to where the series might be heading next – which is both pretty neat, and mildly maddening.  The final words of the book echo the very first bit of dialogue – and it’s an interesting touch as a different character speaks them, changing the intent to a different sort of desperation.  It’s a fine bookend to the story so far, as the closing of the book places RoboCop in a situation to which there may be no actual escape, and there’s a deep horror in that notion. 

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