Variant Coverage – March 26, 2014

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

This week packed a heck of a punch for us as far as new titles go. Lots of big books have releases this week, perhaps most anticipated of which is Sandman Overture 2, delayed by about half a year.

This week’s reviews don’t include Sandman. Though I didn’t mean to do it, I ended up pulling books that also mess with the concept of regular shipping schedules. There are major endings, major beginnings, and odd interludes. I thought it was interesting, anyway. Read on!

Superior Spider-Man 30 (Slott & Gage/ Camuncoli): The past few years have not been easy on ole’ Webhead, if you even call him that anymore. Since Doc Ock took over the show, just about every part of the character has changed, and whether or not it’s for the better remains a topic fiercely debated. This is a major turning point issue, and whether you personally like the story arc so far or not, this is an issue you’ll want to pick up. [8/10]
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The Green Goblin and co. have outmaneuvered Spider-Man at every possible turn, cutting him off from his resources, his allies, his sense of purpose. Now he’s got Anna Maria, “Peter Parker”’s latest love interest, as a hostage. As Spider-Ock’s dealing with all of that, the scant fragments of the true Peter Parker are drowning in the memories of Otto Octavius. Peter’s so deep that he’s actually starting to agree with Otto’s life choices. And, after so much time and teasing, the face under the Green Goblin mask is revealed.

This is going to hurt, because I’m cutting myself off from a lot of material, but I am NOT going to spoil this issue for you. There are plenty of corners on the web that’ll do that for you, but here’s a safe haven.

Of all the closure that is coming on swiftly in this series, the arguments surrounding it will not be among them. I was furious at the way Parker died in Octavius’s body, and the way it was written off for such a long time. Others weren’t. I appreciated the way Spider-Ock tried to intimidate the super-criminals of New York to lay off the whole crime thing, even if I didn’t agree with it. Others flat-out hated it, and still others thought it was a long time coming. Spider-Ock has consistently done things that inspire us as readers to take a very different look at what really separates Octavius as a villain and Spider-Man as a hero, whether we like what we’ve read or not.

But the Green Goblin, no matter who is under that mask, is a total jerk. The “best” ever, Phil Urich, fell into the destructive patterns all Goblins eventually succumb to, to the point that he took a demotion so he could join the “official” Goblin court. This edition of GG has embraced those patterns and is carving them into the whole city, collapsing the city’s first responders and crippling the abilities of the entire Avengers squad. The reveal, while still not wholly official, only works because some critical pieces of information have been held back, and yet if they’d been revealed earlier, it would have reeked of exposition and totally given everything away. I can’t be mad at that.

Whatever you may’ve gleaned from previews of future comic covers, nothing about Spider-Man will be the same again after this.

Suicide Squad – Amanda Waller One-Shot (Zub/ Coelho): Another character that makes readers mad, yet the world would crumble without their presence, Amanda Waller has always lived and thrived in the world of greys. Often authorizing actions many would call villainous but toward heroic ends, she’s often a hard character to classify. In this one-shot, we’re supposed to get more insight into how the New 52’s version ticks. [6/10]
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Before the Suicide Squad could function, there had to be a way to shackle super-powered killers without hampering their ability to function. In past versions, implanted bombs did the trick, but in the New 52, Waller had the budget to try something a bit more subtle and less likely to make a mess, but it meant dealing with an especially shady biotech company. Before she could even get a test run, Waller and her company are shot down by one of the company’s less-successful projects. Losing most of her people in the first volley, Waller’s constantly making decisions that protect the company’s chief and civilians, but rarely goods about it.

There’s plenty of action in this book. This actually reads a bit like a Michael Bay movie, only with less face-rippage, something I don’t think many will miss. As a chase sequence, it’s actually one of the better comics I’ve read. Chases are somewhat rare in comics, and it’s nice to see a successful one. The art is able to make every hit messy without crossing the line into gory, and there’s emotional range in every character drawn. Andre Coelho does a great job here.

Jim Zub, on the other hand, drops the ball every chance he gets. He opens with Amanda Waller bantering with her men. Nothing wrong with that except we’re supposed to believe this is a hard ex-soldier already used to ordering people to their deaths, so getting attached to people (even just exchanging playful jibes) comes off as setting herself up to get hurt. Her interior monolog is simply painful to read. She’s constantly telling us that she hates violence and feels regret for the lives she’s ended, either directly or by order. The thing is she’s so good at it, and doesn’t hesitate at all, meaning I don’t believe a word she says. If he wanted us to believe Waller as a conflicted character, we need to see that conflict. Anywhere. We don’t.

This is a good issue if you don’t read, you just like actionized art. Otherwise, move on.

All-New Ghost Rider 1 (Smith/ Moore): Ghost Riders in the past traced their power to some connection to Hell, be it a curse on one’s family or some pact with the Devil. This is one of several things that changes in the new version, one featuring a rider that was heroic in his own way before ever even smoldering. [9/10]
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Robbie Reyes works as much as he can at the local garage for unstable wages to keep his little brother, a special-needs fan of comics named Gabe, in functional wheelchairs. These wheelchairs are popular for local hoods to steal, something Robbie violently disagrees with. In an act of desperation, Robbie borrows his current garage assignment, a souped-up muscle car, and bets it in a street race to nab $50,000. His plan goes great until he’s targeted by a huey’s spotlight and sees a life behind bars flash before his eyes. He eventually pulls over and pleads with the cops to just hear his case. The men, decidedly not cops, are more interested in the massive amounts of drugs they’d stashed in their car, which Robbie borrowed. These men aren’t interested in his case.

Most of this story is told in the artwork. Robbie’s difficult situation would break a lot of people, and having stolen a car, maybe it did break him, but everything he does, he does to protect his brother. That’s noble, and because there aren’t dialog boxes dissecting every little thing, it reads as believable. This is a kid that doesn’t say much, and yet the more I read, the more I wanted him to win. This is one of those books where the writing and artwork work so closely together, I can’t tell who did what. That’s a good thing.

There’s one detail in this version that I don’t expect they’ll follow up on, but I really hope they’ll indulge me. It’s plainly obvious when and where the Spirit of Vengeance (whether it’s Zarathos or a new player isn’t known yet) gets involved in Robbie’s life, and it’s well before the transformative moment. Blaze and Ketch both were confronted with hellish circumstances before they became Ghost Rider, but here it’s almost predestined. This puts a new spin on the Spirit: it knows ahead of time when someone is going to be brutally wronged, but for some reason doesn’t do anything about it. This could mean it’s powerless without a human host to work through, or it could mean it doesn’t care about averting tragedy and is a self-righteous, violent jerk. The former is more likely just because that’s how it often works, but I’d love to read a story about the latter.

Not your traditional looking Ghost Rider, absolutely not Nicholas Cage, but very deserving of a look. Grab it!

Fables 139 (Willingham/ Leialoha): An older title but a regularly strong one, it feels like it’s been a while since I checked in on Fables. This being the first issue of a new (but short) storyline, it felt like as good a time as any to peek in and see what’s happening. [7/10]
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The regular cast was unavailable to be in this story, so we’re seeing some fables that, while as steeped in history and lore as any, are perhaps new to readers. Puss in Boots, Briar Rose (very different from Rose Red), Peter Piper, Seamus McGuire and Baby Joe Shepherd (of Little Drummer Boy fame) are minding their own business playing music for their fellow drunken sods when Seamus’s brother Danny pops up to bring him back to their home fable kingdom (just a hop from Scotland) and reclaim it from a wicked witch. This is one of those bands that don’t break up, so quite the party makes it through the gate and straight into a grand fight. They win the day, but at a price.

The lack of familiar fables may throw off regular readers, or it might give them a break from the intensity of the last few issues. Switching focus to fables that don’t get much attention is a risk, but one that succeeds. These “minor” fables each have their own quirks and ticks that make them entertaining to read and exciting to watch when they throw down. The set-up reeks of a set-up (CC Note: …what?), and the entrance into this fable kingdom keeps a high cliche count, but that can’t be trusted because these are fables, and as with so many fables, a lot is supposed to be taken at face value, no matter how strange it may seem.

As far as tone, voice, and basic look, this is very consistent with the series so far: thrilling heroics, bitter betrayals, and wit dripping from every pore. It’s everything regular readers expect from Fables, which can work for or against it depending on what you’re looking for from the book. This is a definite down-shift from the last arc, when characters that’ve been built up since the beginning of the series have been through huge changes and emotional turmoil. A new reader, one that doesn’t have much invested, will find a book with just enough introduction so they aren’t completely lost and the start of a story that presents exactly what the book is all about: different fables working together to free their homelands and enjoy a good laugh in the meantime.

A fresh place to jump in for newbies, a chance to relax for old hats.

Speaking of chances to relax, I am of to take on. See you next week!

Looking for older Variant Coverage Blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival?  They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues

Variant Coverage Review Blog by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival
Variant Coverage Review Blog by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival
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