Best Shots Advance Reviews: DEADLANDS, SOLDIER ZERO

Best Shots Advance Reviews


Deadlands: Death Was Silent

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Bart Sears & Michael Atiyeh

Letters by Troy Peteri

Published by Image Comics

Review by Wendy Holler

'Rama Review: 7 out of 10

The Weird West of Deadlands is a wild west setting that never was, a view of an alternative 1879 that could never have been. Rife with magic, clockwork science, and strange horrors, the cowhands and Indians of Deadlands face challenges and opportunities that their real-life counterparts could not have imagined. In this issue, Ron Marz and Bart Sears take the world of Deadlands and nail a story right through its creepy little heart.

Like the previous issues in the series, the comic welcomes new readers; there's no prep work necessary to enjoy the story here. The first panel of the current issue shows a man riding into a western town on a rainy night. The panel's perspective pulls the eye from a close view of the weedy, ramshackle settlement and out to the horseman and the small, dark line of the horizon. The town, the figure, the horizon, and the rain falling on everything set the perfect western tone. As soon as the figure starts to the talk to the youngster who greets him, the child's questions suggest that there's something unusual about the rider, something even more unusual than the dead man draped across the saddle.

It’s a nice setup, and the art supports and extends the tone. The buildings and the characters look worn, but individually so. The line art and inking are particularly good at allowing open space to set off sections of the panels, so the rain looks organic and realistic. The coloring is as gruff as the art and the dialogue, and Michael Atiyeh assigns different base tones for the comic's different settings: blue for outside, brown for inside. The comic does a great job of presenting smoke, grit, cloth, and worn skin, all of which are elements you've got to nail to get this world right. Particular praise also needs to go to the main character's magical accoutrement, which is fun, creepy, and perfect for the setting.

The violence in the comic is graphic. The brutality is a reasonable, consistent extension of the comic's ideas and setting, but this isn't a comic that will find a comfortable home in libraries. A large portion of this issue might be summarized as "horrible things happen." The violence frames and dominates the second half of the comic; this killing is quite literally the issue's reason for being.

Providing a "dime store" backup section to the main story is an interesting idea. The comic seems designed to pull in and acclimate new readers with the main part of the issue, but then also provide the kind of continuing storytelling that this setting cries out for. When the narrator of the B-team is Billy the Kid, then the comic is clearly doing something right. The backup uses a story-within-a-story to explain a bit of the Kid's alternative past, and the action here is representative, quick, and self-contained. The panels make sense even for first-time readers, and this section covers three different time periods, a complicated fight scene, and a fair amount of exposition without being particularly confusing. The art, by Alejandro Aragón, helps to keep the story simple with clean lines and less detail than the main part of the comic. This is a smart decision that keeps the issue's second act feeling distinct. The overall impression is that there are many stories to tell in this setting and many ways to tell them, which is appropriate given the setting's origins as a role-playing game.

The issue's main drawback is that it is a good introduction to the world of Deadlands. The blend of western and horror motifs telegraphs the story's intentions clearly, and while that makes the outlandish ideas seem realistic and acceptable, it also cuts down on how new the story feels. Folks familiar with the setting can easily anticipate the comic's twists and the characters' revelations. Because the overall feel of the story is reminiscent of the kind of pulpy horror of the golden age, even folks not familiar with Deadlands stand a good chance of guessing where the story's going.

The world of Deadlands and the stories being told here are campy and rooted in old-fashioned adventure and modern sensibilities about violence. This series has energy and a commitment to fun that set it apart from the brilliant bitterness of, say, Jonah Hex. There's room for improvement, certainly, and perhaps the mini-series promised by the comic's back matter will produce the kind of consistent and sustained narrative that mark the best kinds of comic series. Regardless of the comic's future, though, this particular issue is a nice addition to the current crop of horror comics.


Soldier Zero #11

Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Art by Ramon Bachs and Archie Van Buren

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

They say that good art can elevate a bad story — but what happens when there's almost no story at all?

That's the pitfall that trips up Soldier Zero #11, a book that looks fine, but doesn't really have a whole lot of substance to back it up. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are sort of working on a character piece… but the action is so hollow, hearing a bystander's perspective doesn't end up feeling particularly compelling. A barely-known hero tackling unintelligible, unknown giants as a premise just feels like decompression, like jogging in place.

Which is a shame, because Ramon Bachs is drawing the hell out of this book. This is the best he's ever looked, and to be honest, it shows how much an artist's style can change in translation after you add on an inker and a colorist. Whereas on Red Robin his work was seen as blotchy, rough, and over-rendered, Bach looks open and inviting for Soldier Zero, particularly with the brighter colors of Archie Van Buren — even if the script doesn't give him a lot of room to maneuver, his characters are really expressive, and there's one splash page of Stewart that looks pretty darn cool.

That's not to say there aren't some nice moments in this script — I do like the beat between Stewart and Kaylee, where she actually expresses some concern for his well-being — but those moments get flat-tired by groan-worthy lines like "I feel like I could crawl up in the center of the Earth and they'd still find me." But ultimately, even with Bach's sharp artwork, what's there to hold up? People shouting "weapons hot" doesn't feel like anything I can relate to — it's just decoration.

It's sad, for me, because when I read the first issue of Soldier Zero, I saw so much potential for this character. And maybe that's the real issue here — less than a year into the series, Stewart Trautmann's character has been lost. If DnA want to save this book, they're going to need to rediscover the human heart underneath all this sci-fi madness.

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