Best Shots Advance Reviews: EARTH 2, WORLDS' FINEST, More

Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for tomorrow's reviews, today? So is Best Shots, coming to you in our DeLoreans with a ton of upcoming releases! So let's kick off today's column with DC's big book of the week, as we take a look at James Robinson and Nicola Scott's Earth 2...


Earth 2 #1

Written by James Robinson

Art by Nicola Scott, Trevor Scott and Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Dezi Sienty

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It looks like second time is the charm — at least, it is when it comes to DC and Earth 2 #1. And if you think that it's a little too early for yet another new universe in the wake of The New 52, you might be pleasantly surprised by James Robinson's remix of the DC mythos. Familiar yet unencumbered by years of continuity, there's a specific tone and direction that this series takes that I'd say, just on first blush, actually feels like a stronger launch than Geoff Johns' Justice League.

Robinson starts off smart by establishing that, on Earth 2, everyone knew who the Big Damn Heroes of the DC Universe were — Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman — and shows us what makes them the best of the best. Superman, unlike his current New 52 incarnation, is defined by his reverence for life, and even Wonder Woman's violent, Wolverine-esque characterization is later tempered by an almost daughterly love for her Amazon pantheon. It's that sort of deeper world underneath the surface that lets Robinson have his cake and eat it, too, in a way that I think The New 52 has avoided to a self-conscious and even self-destructive extent — it alludes to a deeper history of the DCU, a bigger world than we know, one that we'll all uncover and discover together.

It also doesn't hurt that Nicola Scott is on art. She's got that dynamic Jim Lee composition and sleekness to her characters, but she also has that clean line of Ivan Reis and even a hint of that George Perez pop to the expressions and sheer scale of action on the page. Despite a stint on Wonder Woman, Scott's been an overlooked artist for awhile, but she's definitely earning some wider recognition here. Perhaps most interesting is the tone Scott's work takes, especially with colorist Alex Sinclair — even an extinction-level conflict with Apokolips is tinged with a swollen red, but at the same time, the clean heroes represent an optimism and hope that says maybe Earth will survive without a scratch. While that doesn't exactly wind up being the case, Sinclair's blue skies at the end of the book foster a sense of a new beginning, of a new age of true DC heroism. It's been missed.

Perhaps James Robinson's greatest trick in Earth 2 is that he manages to engage readers even as he spends most of the issue playing with characters that we likely won't see again. Like DC's best epics — think Kingdom Come or JSA — Robinson and Scott's Earth 2 is about living up to legacies... but it isn't solely defined by them. There's a new pantheon being born on Earth 2, a new history, a new generation of hero. This may be the relaunch we were all waiting for.


Worlds' Finest #1

Written by Paul Levitz

Art by George Perez, Scott Koblish, Hi-Fi, Kevin Maguire and Rosemart Cheetham

Lettering by Carlos Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Call it a one-two punch — after you check out the sweeping epic of Earth 2, get your fill of catchy characterization with Worlds' Finest, a slickly-drawn buddy-superhero book with a great sense of humor and a knockout punch of girl power.

From the first page, writer Paul Levitz does something interesting — he teases us with the potential continuity snarl that is Earth 2, and then reminds us on what's really important here: namely, defining Helena and Karen by their personalities. Their eyes are up here, boys, Levitz is essentially saying, we'll get to the continuity gymnastics later. And that's exactly the right call. Helena and Karen — better known as the Huntress and Power Girl, the former sidekicks of a parallel universe's Batman and Superman — are just plain fun in their own right. Confident, self-assured and quick with the jokes, Helena and Karen's dynamic is far different than the traditional Superman/Batman adventure. (Even the apostrophe in Worlds' Finest shows their bravado — these ladies are the best not just of one world, but two. And who knows — maybe more.) While there was always a hint of animosity with Bruce and Clark, Karen and Helena are defined by brashness versus (relative) subtlety, and more importantly, by optimism versus pessimism over their shared situation. And the one-liners are great: When Karen gets knocked through a wall, Helena helps her up with only a hint of a smirk. "He's ugly and glowing... and strong," Karen says. Helena's response: "Doesn't sound like your usual date..."

Speaking of one-two punches, the art in this book will nail you right between the eyes. I've praised editor Wil Moss on juggling multiple artists over on the dearly departed T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and he continues his Midas Touch with Worlds' Finest. George Perez focuses on the mostly talky present-day scenes, and it's his skill with drawing a dinnertime conversation that is perhaps even more impressive than his detailed action beats. Perez's characters are beautiful, but not in a trashy or unrealistic way (and the one semi-evocative scene in the book Perez and Levitz save with a cocked eyebrow and the best line in the book). But I think Kevin Maguire might impress me even more, as he draws Helena and Karen's traumatic trip out of Earth 2. The inking is so smooth it just might lift your wallet, reminding me a lot of Ryan Sook, and the way that Maguire composes his shots he really sells the Robin, Supergirl and (especially) the Huntress costumes. Looking at the detail in Helena's armor as she dives through a skylight — it's utilitarian rather than arbitrary, with a wonderful sense of heft and depth. At least at first blush, I could watch Maguire draw a Huntress book for months.

Yet I'd argue that the most important thing about Worlds' Finest is that, like Gail Simone's Birds of Prey before it, these are some three-dimensional, personality-driven female characters that aren't defined by sex appeal or directed by their make counterparts. It feels more appropriate to call them Helena and Karen rather than Power Girl and Huntress, because those are the people we know and we root for. I've never been a die-hard Paul Levitz devotee like many Legion fans, but here he delivers an important lesson on accessibility and reader investment: Character first, costumes second. Talk about making a good impression — the Worlds' Finest may live up their name yet.


Dial H #1

Written by China Miéville

Art by Mateus Santouco, Tanya Horie and Richard Horie

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Dial H is more of an experience than necessarily a narrative, one that embraces the weirdness of its central concept rather than try to contextualize it. A true Vertigo debut snuck in as a Second Wave in the superhero-centric New 52, Dial H is one wild, whacked-out trip.

With his first published foray into comics, novelist China Miéville starts off seedy with our schlubby hero Nelson, a guy who's dumped, depressed and so overweight he's had his first heart attack before 30. Yet soon enough, a chance encounter with a magic phone booth takes the weirdness dial and cranks it way past eleven — Miéville takes the bizarre hero ideas of the original "Dial H for Hero" and takes them way outside of the children's ideas that they used to be. From the creepy, carcinogen-spewing Boy Chimney to the emo-superman Captain Lachymorose, these are less superheroes and more twisted creatures who are more prone to frighten than entertain. (And God help whoever tries to stand in Nelson's way.) Ultimately, aside from Boy Chimey's insane ramblings, Miéville's big stamp is more about ideas than his actual voice, but as he becomes more comfortable with the comics medium, I think that will change.

Ultimately, however, what I think is the truly memorable characteristic of Dial H is the artwork of Mateus Santouco. I don't know what his home life was like growing up, but Santouco's art is the stuff of nightmare fuel, particularly the distended, cane-like limbs of Boy Chimney, with his matchstick head and chimney top hat jutting through panels like an endlessly long knife. Santouco's characters are very cartoonish and angular, which only makes the brutal ways they are beaten seem that much more terrifying. Miéville may be creating all these weird alter egos for Nelson to transform into, but Santouco is truly what's selling this book.

That said, Dial H won't be for everyone. Right now, yeah, we've seen this story of "schlub stumbles onto great power" a thousand times in comics, and Miéville isn't reinventing the wheel in that regard. Indeed, there are some moments that are a little too convenient, particularly how Nelson could dial a four-digit number on a rotary phone in the middle of a mugging... and still manage to come up with the same four-digit number the next day. This is not a book you buy for the message, or even for the characters involved, but to see what kind of weird, effed-up stuff is going to pop up on the page. The result is that Dial H might not linger in your mind, but the bizarro experience you get while reading it may develop a cult following in the months ahead.


G.I. Combat #1

Written by J.T. Krul, Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti

Art by Ariel Olivetti, Dan Panosian and Rob Schwager

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

I wrestled with two questions as I read the newly relaunched G.I. Combat, featuring DC's classic "The War That Time Forgot": Is it J.T. Krul and Ariel Olivetti's fault that they couldn't sell a Michael Bay-style concept as simple as "tanks versus dinosaurs"? Or are we as comic readers simply too jaded to be excited by even concepts as crazy as this?

Ultimately, I still veer towards the former, because with a 14-page lead story, you can't help but think that maybe G.I. Combat needed a little bit more time in the oven than this. Krul starts off with a decent head of steam, showing some boyish bravado between Elliott and Tori, our two men on the ground. Unfortunately, with Ariel Olivetti on art, that hook dissipates pretty quickly — between his colorwork and overmuscled characters producing an uncanny valley effect, his actual storytelling feels pretty dull. And when you can say a splash page of a pterodactyl dive-bombing a military chopper looks dull, that's saying a lot. There's not a lot of movement inherent to Olivetti's pages, no choppers veering or trees shaking on impact, which is bad news, since Krul basically had to trust him with the choreography. Yet that said, Krul can't pawn off all the blame, as he falls victim to stock military movie lines that might be good for recon, but go in one ear and out the other for a reader.

With "The War That Time Forgot" clocking in at only 14 pages, DC had to deliver something to justify that $3.99 price point, so they're trying (again) to relaunch "Unknown Soldier," as well. Now, maybe I'm still smarting over the end of Joshua Dysart's Unknown Soldier, which had a message and a purpose. Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti's Unknown Soldier... does not. Don't get me wrong, if you're into Schwarzenegger-style shoot-em-ups where a bandaged soldier kicks ass and takes names, then you'll be fine here. Me, personally? I've seen it a million times before, and Palmiotti and Gray don't do anything new or even memorable with the character's origins here. Artist Dan Panosian at least makes it look halfway interesting, with his sharp lines evoking shades of masters ranging from Chaykin to Kubert to Miller, but here's the thing — what do people like about war movies? They like the stakes, and they like character development. Gray and Palmiotti's Unknown Soldier is more like a superhero, in the sense that he'll likely never die, and even worse, he'll likely never change.

What's that say about the state of war comics? It's great that DC is trying to keep pushing this genre, despite the numbers saying otherwise. Yet like Sgt. Rock before it, DC isn't trusting the war genre by itself — it's clearly got to have superhero trappings or a sci-fi bent to get readers. And while I don't doubt that dinosaurs wouldn't potentially bump up sales, I'd offer another perspective: storytelling matters. Characters matter. Eric Trautmann and Brandon Jerwa's Shooters is a war comic that, with this kind of marketing presence, probably could show that there's a niche for war comics. But G.I. Combat is going to prove the exact wrong message: that readers don't like war comics. But considering the successes of movies like Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line, I know that that's the wrong conclusion — they just need their war comics to be good.


Mouse Guard, Labyrinth and Other Stories

Written by Jeremy Bastian, Nate Cosby, Royden Lepp, Jim McCann, Ted Naifeh and David Petersen

Art by Jeremy Bastian, Chris Eliopoulos, Cory Godbey, Janet Lee, Royden Lepp and David Petersen

Lettering by Deron Bennett and Dave Lanphear

Published by Archaia

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Free Comic Book Day was started to celebrate the medium as well as attempt to attract new readers. Since 2002, it’s been one of the industry’s more successful endeavors and one that eschews the hype and empty promises that usually abound. But while many companies are content to simply throw their biggest characters into undersized mags, Archaia has taken this initiative to the next level. Archaia’s Free Comic Book Day Offering is a 48-page hardcover anthology that showcases some of the brightest talent in comics while remaining new reader friendly. Archaia has really pulled out all the stops, tapping their best talent to create material that supplements work that is either already on the shelves or slated for release in the next year.

The first story is set in the world of David Petersen’s Mouse Guard. But this isn’t a traditional Mouse Guard story. Petersen manages to rather impressively wrangle the whimsy and wonder of his work into a shorter form in an unexpected way: he puts on a puppet show. The story is told in a more expositional, storybook format but the narrative device lends itself to it and thankfully is still allows for Petersen’s lush artwork to be on full display The story is a fairly standard fable, pitting the a brave mouse against tradition, stagnation and fear but it serves as an effective microcosm of Petersen’s larger work.

The second offering might be my favorite of the bunch. Entitled “Hoggle and the Worm,” Archaia digs back into the magical world of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth and gives two of the property’s most beloved characters the spotlight.Hoggle needs someone to kiss at the Gobbler’s Glade. The Worm ends up telling him how he got his Missus and sends Hoggle on a mission. Ted Naifeh captures these character’s personas perfectly. Hoggle is the cranky curmudgeon we know and love and the Worm’s way with words leads to one of the funniest gags I’ve read in some time. Coupled with Cory Godbey’s expressive character renderings and detailed linework, this story feels a couple of puppets away from being pure Henson.

While the actual plot of Jim McCann’s “Steps of the Dapper Men” might leave most readers scratching their heads, Janet Lee’s artwork is absolutely stunning. Lee’s artwork is rife with detail and her unique approach its creation (Return of the Dapper Men’s original pages could actually almost be considered sculptures!) brings a vivaciousness to the character’s and their surroundings that isn’t seen in other works. This story acts as a precursor to the next Dapper Men title, Time of the Dapper Men but it is still able to stand alone as an introduction to McCann and Lee’s creation. It might be easy to write this story off as confusing without prior knowledge of the Dapper Men, but the story is meant to spark curiosity. McCann is a masterful storyteller, and the hints he drops are here are sure to resonate in Time of the Dapper Men, especially for those that are paying close attention.

Royden Lepp’s Rust story features a boy named Oswald writing a letter to his father who is away at war. Jet Jones, the mysterious, goggle-wearing jetpack pilot, is wearing Oswald thin, and he needs to vent a bit. Lepp tells the entire story through Oswald’s letter and really manages to dial up the emotion by doing so. Lepp’s background in video game animation shows through in his artwork. The sepia tones of give the story a classic, stylized feel while his character designs are very simple and clean. Lepp doesn’t waste lines. If something doesn’t absolutely need to be drawn, it isn’t included, which allows the reader to focus in on the most important details. All in all, this is a heart-wrenching little tale and a great showing for a relatively unknown talent.

Jeremy Bastian introduces us to his Cursed Pirate Girl in “Ramblings of an Old Sea Dog Who Likes To Be Called Alice.” The old sea dog in question tells his grandchildren of the most famous pirates to ever sail the seven seas. Bastian uses this as an opportunity to stretch his funny bone. Just about all of the pirates that Alice mentions have some sort of hilarious deformity. It’s actually hard to believe that it’s only four pages because it has so much jammed into it that it feels longer. Bastian’s artwork also stands out from the rest of the book because it’s in black-and-white with shades of gray. Just like with his writing, his art is filled with information. there are details in every nook and cranny of each panel and it makes for an immersive experience.

The book comes to an end with Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos’ Cow Boy. Boyd, the prepubescent protagonist continues his quest to round up his outlaw family, this time tracking his aunt to the town of Chickenbone. Cosby’s script is laugh out loud funny and begs readers to act the voices of the characters out loud. Eliopoulos’ artwork is playful and bright channeling equal parts Calvin & Hobbes and Peanuts. It’s a great match and a great example of what happens when two creators have a good creative partnership.

Archaia’s Free Comic Book Day offering sets a standard that I doubt many comic book companies will be able to reach. From their always beautiful production to the sheer quality of work contained within the pages, this one is going to have comic fans clamoring for a piece of it come May 5.


Rex, Zombie Killer #1

Written by Rob Anderson

Art by Dafu Yu and Kevin Volo

Lettering by E.T. Dollman

Published by Big Dog Ink

Review by: Jeff Marsick

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

When it comes to zombies, it's pretty much all been done and everything that follows is hash that's been re-warmed and re-served as "new." Leave it to Rob Anderson, though, to carve out a niche with a perspective unique to the genre: the animals all the humans have left behind.

A small entourage of wayward domesticates (three dogs and a cat; there's always a cat, isn't there?) along with a baseball bat-wielding gorilla are on their way to Nevada from California, trying to stay one step ahead of the "rotters" who fancy quadruped meat as much as the bipedal varietal. Problem is, our furry group discovers that the living are even more horrific than the undead when a pack of bikers starved for quality entertainment get their Michael Vick on by collecting stray dogs and pitting them against zombies. When Brutus the pit bull is nabbed, it's up to the team to not only search and rescue their friend, but live to tell about it.

Rob Anderson has created a simple, straightforward story of heroism and camaraderie but spares us the cutesy pretentiousness inherent of most animal tales. Each animal not only has a distinct personality but a skillset that defines their value to the group. The one complication I feel is that the titular Rex, the leader, is upstaged by the charms of his coterie. Especially in comparison to the little Corgi, Buttercup, whose heart dwarfs his physical size. Don't be fooled: Rex may be on the marquee, but this is a team book.

Dafu Yu's pencils, along with Kevin Volo's colors, lend a more cartoony feel than comparables such as Beasts of Burden or We3, but I think it serves to elevate our compassion for these furry innocents caught between the horrors of zombies on one side and the baser instincts of humans on the other. The artwork also makes the book accessible to younger readers: tame on the violence and gore content that seems to be a prerequisite to anything zombie.

Big Dog Ink puts out pretty books on slick stock and this is one of their best. It's 56 pages for $3.50 that is just as good on a re-read. If that final splash page is any indication, Rob Anderson has much more story to tell, and it will only get better from here. I highly recommend this.

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