Merciless: The Rise of Ming #1

Written by Scott Beatty

Art by Ron Adrian and Roni Setiawan

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Merciless: The Rise of Ming is a series that's good — but if it took one step further, it could be great. Yet with some striking artwork and a surprising amount of magnetism from Flash Gordon's arch-foe, this spin-off is far more engaging than it has any right to be.

Writer Scott Beatty does something very interesting at the beginning of this book, and I think it goes a long way towards getting people on this future despot's side — namely, we get to see his relationship with his father. Ming starts off as a resolute soldier rather than as a tyrant, as you can see him bristle to earn his father's respect. Beatty carefully toes that line between high expectations and out-and-out dismissal, and it both explains Ming's drive as well as achieves some resonance with the reader. At first, you get the sense that Ming tear down the universe, if given his father's command.

At least at first.

Where I think Beatty stumbles is in the second half of the book, once Ming takes a turn for the worse. On the one hand, we learn how cruel Ming the Merciless is... but even though we're given a very human reason for his inexhaustible energies, Beatty never explains why Ming is actually . Taking revenge is one thing, but petty murder takes the complexity Beatty was building and squashes Ming flat. There's a focal point here that's missing, that I think could have ultimately made for an even more compelling character.

Something that cannot be dismissed, however, is how great this book looks. Dynamite can be kind of hit-or-miss with their titles, but Ron Adrian and Roni Setiawan are definitely an artistic dream team. Adrian reminds me a lot of Ivan Reis, in terms of his clear figurework and striking compositions, but he also has a blotchier inking style that reminds me a bit of Neal Adams's work on . Adrian's Ming comes off as both regal and ruthless, as petulant and powerful, reminding everyone that before Green Lantern's Sinestro, there was another mustachioed intergalactic badass in town. Colorist Roni Setiawan also makes some fascinating choices with these pages, conjuring up an arid alien world with hot reds, yellows and greens.

Merciless lives up to its name in action and menace, and despite its flaws is a surprisingly good balance between character and plot. There's a little bit of humanity missing, if Beatty and Dynamite are truly serious about getting readers to root for and follow Ming on his journey to the throne, but on the other hand, that random malice makes the character almost shark-like, striking at his whim. They say a hero is only defined by his villains, and if this first issue of Merciless is any indication, Flash Gordon may have a bigger fight ahead of him than he would ever expect.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #9

Written by Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz

Art by Dan Duncan and Ronda Pattison

Lettering by Shawn Lee

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

What do we want? Turtle equality! When do we want it? Eight issues ago!

I'm being glib here, as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #9 has come a long way from the Raphael-centric lovefest that was the relaunched series's first few issues. But this progress is only relative — this book sick as ever, but the story is still troublingly off-balance.

Tom Waltz's story, based off Kevin Eastman's outline, looks good in principle — the Ninja Turtles are scrambling to rescue their rodent master, Splinter, from the mutated cat Old Hob — but when you look at it closely, there are plenty of plot holes and imbalances to be seen. In a step in the right direction, Waltz and Eastman give Donatello something to do, and of course Raphael gets the best moment of the book, with a slick team-up with Casey Jones (whose familial affection for the Turtles is both underrated and one of the best parts of the book). Leonardo and Michelangelo, however, barely make a blip on the radar, which is a shame, considering this is supposed to be a team book (and a small team, to boot).

The other problem with this issue is that a lot of times it's just too convenient — there is absolutely zero reason why, say, April should volunteer to help with the Turtles this early on in the game, let alone easily accept their existence (or their apparent reincarnation, which is an awkward idea in total). There are a lot of pacing issues in general here, as Splinter and Hob's scenes feel a lot longer than they are, robbing the Turtles of some badly needed stage time.

The art, however, remains impeccable. Dan Duncan adds some serious grit to the Turtles, particularly Leonardo, who is still bloodied from the events of his single-issue micro series. Scratchy and angular, Leo looks like he could even give the rebellious Raph a run for his money, and that's even after a dynamic allez-oup fight sequence featuring Casey Jones. Expression-wise, though, Duncan is a little bit hit-or-miss — his designs look great, and Donatello smiling at his own handiwork gives his small moment some real power, but at the same time, the Turtles do look a little too similar this issue. There is a villain behind the scenes, however, who looks as menacing as he does fluid, reminding me a bit stylistically of 's Nathan Fox.

Any parent would tell you that you have to love of your children, and I think that's a lesson that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles needs to learn. Not everyone is a diehard Raphael fan — and even those diehards (like me) would love a reason to be invested in the other Turtles, as well. Comics are a visual medium, for sure, but they can't get by on just looks alone. This book could be a lot better, and that's a shame for everyone.

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