Best Shots Comic Reviews: SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #31 (Final Issue), SINESTRO #1, More

Marvel previews for April 16, 2014
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Superior Spider-Man #31
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, John Dell, Terry Pallot, Antonio Fabela, Will Sliney and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Not a trick! Not a hoax! Not an imaginary story! Peter Parker is back. But after the visceral thrill of seeing the real Superior Spider-Man back in control of his own body, we're left with a final issue that feels oddly rushed in comparison with the slow build of the series as a whole. While a lot of this wrap-up is actually laying seeds for what's sure to come when Amazing Spider-Man relaunches, less attention is payed to really drawing the line between Otto and Peter, and the story suffers thematically for it. Superior Spider-Man #31 is definitely the ending the series has been building to, but its breezy execution leaves much to be desired.

While dealing with the Goblin Nation that built up under Doc Ock's nose, Peter is taken on a whirlwind tour of what Otto's hubris has wrought while driving Pete's body. And while some of this is clearly meant to show the divide between Peter and Otto - Peter would never have thought himself untouchable enough to let this mess get made - that line is not drawn clearly enough to really illustrate why Peter could defeat the Green Goblin when Peter couldn't. For a book that spent so much time dropping hints and leaving clues, the ending has felt remarkably cut-and-dried by comparison, and that's a little disappointing for those who might have pored over previous issues looking for hints at things like how Peter would return, and the identity of the Green Goblin.

It turns out, these things really aren't the mysteries we all thought they were. And while there are some twists along the way - particularly dealing with the face under the Goblin mask - they aren't exactly earth-shattering. Some mysteries are sown for Amazing's return, like what exactly is going on with Liz Allen and little Normie, but by and large this issue is about Peter fighting his way through the traps meant for Ock's particular brand of justice, and downright blasting past some pretty important conversations about what the heck has been going on with Spider-Man. And there are some great moments in there, like when the Goblin realizes it's Peter he's squaring off against, and not Otto, but most of the substance is relegated to the well-written but poorly rendered backmatter from Christos Gage and Will Sliney.

Sliney's art is too jagged and harsh for the low-key denouement, which follows Peter as he finally makes his way back to some of those conversations he was avoiding before, and that's the same issue that Giuseppe Camuncoli suffers from in the main piece. It's unclear whether Dan Slott's plot or Christos Gage's script is more to blame for never really sticking the landing of the main stories more emotional beats, but like the story, Camuncoli's high-octane art is only at its height when Peter is web-slinging and careening his way through Otto's mess, and locking horns with the various Goblins over-running the city. While the main story's final beat mostly lands, it doesn't have the impact it could have if more weight had been given to Peter dealing with his ordeal in Doc Ock's psyche. It's entirely possible that this is a matter for the series relaunch, but that doesn't help with the impact of the issue at hand.

And with that, Superior Spider-Man ends much like it lived, in a space of well-crafted action and myriad emotional hooks without the follow-through to really live up to that potential. Given how many of the series' previous issues felt a lot like filler, it's disappointing that so much is left on the table. It almost seems like this ending was written nearly whole cloth before the previous 20-odd issues were planned, given the amount of space they had, and the claustrophobic nature of the past two issues. But despite its lack of emotional reward, Superior Spider-Man #31 has certainly set up a status quo familiar to long time webheads, and one that certainly justifies a return to the Amazing Spider-Man moniker. Given Dan Slott's history with Spider-Man, it's likely that he'll pick up many of the threads left dangling, and use them in weaving his new web for Amazing Spider-Man.

Credit: DC Comics

Sinestro #1
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Dale Eaglesham and Jason Wright
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

I remember the heyday of the Lantern Corps, circa Blackest Night when the various titles were reaching the zenith of their popularity. At the time, nothing was a better Big Two read than Green Lantern, and Sinestro was an integral part of that success. He hasn't been featured much lately, but now, with his own title manned by Cullen Bunn and Dale Eaglesham, he has a big chance to shine the bright light of his ego down on us all.

Our first glimpse of Sinestro reveals a man looking more like Kraven the Hunter than the Korugarian we know. Wearing nothing but a traveling cloak and bandages, accented with a lovely tooth necklace, he skulks about the shattered remains of a temple, contemplating how he could have saved its former inhabitants from ruin. "I might have been their God," he muses. Same ol' Sinestro. The book starts out with him isolated and morose, a poetic inner monologue his only companion, but by the end of the issue he has returned to his Corps. I suppose he was never one for inaction.

Cullen Bunn does reasonably well with the introductory issue. The pacing is pretty erratic, and the set-up for the rest of the arc was a little weak, but there are glimpses of good things ahead. The characterization of Sinestro is on point, equal parts brooding artist and megalomaniac with small hints of sanity. He continues to toe the same line he always has between hero and villain, never falling into neutrality. Bunn gives us a protagonist that radiates apathy and condescension, even in the midst of genuine feeling, which is no small feat. What the book could have benefitted from was more history, i.e. a clearer insight to why and how Sinestro came to be somewhere in forgotten space, especially for new readers. Bunn gives us the three bullet-points of his tortured past, and the rest is largely forgotten, but I suppose it is a very long story.

Dale Eaglesham does an admirable job in keeping with the look of previous Sinestro iterations, crafting visuals that fit seamlessly into the narrative. He seems to still be working out his overall style, as the look of the book is not entirely cohesive, but it doesn't detract much from the story. His line variations and detailing are appreciated, and the first panel with Lyssa Drak is particularly well done. Colorist Jason Wright does good work here, especially with the varied yellow and orange tones. It's hard to put that much bright color on a page and keep it from being overwhelming. He falters a bit in the middle with some color choices, but overall his work helps unify the book.

It's high time Sinestro had a solo title. He surely takes it as a personal affront that Larfleeze (lovable scamp that he is) got one first. There are still some kinks to work out, but with a few more issues under their belt, Bunn, Eaglesham, and Wright could have a great book on their hands. Here's to hoping.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Hulk #1
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessy and Jason Keith
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

The Hulk has always been known for disproportionate responses, and in that vein, Marvel has taken a page from that same Jolly Green playbook, following up Mark Waid's last cliffhanger with Bruce Banner with a whole new relaunch. Yet this issue feels less like a brand-new bag and more like the beginning of just a new arc - a new arc that is too hobbled by exposition and lackluster art to really smash expectations.

The end of Mark Waid's first run on Indestructible Hulk was as cruel of a twist as anything in comics these days. Stealing a page from "The Good Wife," Bruce Banner's (relatively) normal existence has been cut short with two well-placed bullets in the head. With the gamma-irradiated scientist clinging to life, Waid has a strong hook for the first issue of this new run. Yet with Banner hospitalized, Waid has to use a new narrator - Dr. Aaron Carpenter, the only brain surgeon skilled enough to possibly pull this off - and winds up using him mostly as exposition. There are brief moments, however, where Waid deviates from straight-up retelling the Hulk's origin, as there's a very human throughline where Carpenter wonders, if he had simply been a friend to Banner, might the horrors and violence of the Hulk not come to pass?

Yet beyond this exposition - as well as an interesting beats on the ethics of whether or not to try to revive Bruce at all - this still isn't really the Hulk's story. It takes most of Waid's precious page count to tell us who the Hulk is, as well as how someone finally put a bullet in his head when all the previous attempts had failed, and by the time we're done, there's barely enough room for Waid to incorporate the perfunctory Hulk action. As a result, there's nothing new or smart about the Unjolly Green Giant's latest bout of unexpected heroism. That said, there is one smart bit to this book - namely, the final twist at the end, which will prove to be an intriguing new spin on Bruce Banner's science-infused adventures.

But the one thing that unequivocably holds this book back is its art. Mark Bagley does project some soul into Carpenter's eyes as he weighs his own perceived role in the creation of the Hulk - but beyond that small flicker, there's not much spark to the visuals. There are only a handful of memorable panels to this book, such as the first image of the Hulk standing in front of some flaming wreckage, as well as the horrific final page twist. That said, there's 18 other pages to read through, and Bagley's style doesn't really convey the tension or claustrophobia that comes with Bruce Banner undergoing life-saving surgery commissioned by parties unknown. Jason Keith's colorwork doesn't help, as his use of greens makes the book look totally flat.

There is some potential to Mark Waid's new run on Hulk, but the overall execution leaves me feeling cold. Beyond the cliffhanger and Bruce Banner's potential new status quo - which, let's be honest, is a fun stunt, but still a stunt - what's to separate this book from, say, Jason Aaron's run? Or even tales from the Peter David years? Despite all those tons of gamma-irradiated muscle, there's just not enough meat for the first issue of the Hulk's newly relaunched series.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #30
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The final act of “Zero Year” is upon us and we’re approaching the inevitable defeat of the Riddler. The sheer size of this storyline and it’s place in New 52 history ensure that it will be remembered. But is it truly one of the best Batman stories ever or is it simply the best in a somwhat lackluster era for DC’s publishing line as a whole. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have really done their best to draw out the early days of Batman’s career but they still need to stick the landing.

As the first issue of an arc, Snyder has a little bit of setting up to do and he does through expository dialogue. The whole of the issue is essentially two conversations and a monologue by the Riddler. Snyder plays with pacing by (over)employing decompressed storytelling devices to help give the illusion of substance but there’s not much here. Does it set the stage for next issue? Yes. But is it compelling enough to really stand on it’s own? Not a chance. That Nygma’s speech starts getting into Hero’s Journey meta-commentary is exhausting because almost as though he’s willing himself to be defeated. And (spoiler alert) Bruce Wayne saves the city. If he didn’t, “Court of the Owls” and “Death of the Family” wouldn’t have happened already. So Nygma’s posturing and bravado as means of adding weight to the story falls completely flat.

Even Capullo’s art looks tired in this issue. Bruce Wayne has the same pained expression on his face in almost every panel. Gotham has been taken over by vegetation but rather than use that to enhance the character of the city, Capullo completely loses it’s identity. Maybe that was a conscious decision given the workings of the plot but it causes so much of the book to take on a similar look. Gotham is a powerful presence in Bat books. IT’s odd to not at least see it leaking through. Capullo’s representation of The Riddler’s takeover is excellent though. Shades of 1984 abound as the all-seeing eyes of Nygma’s question marks loom over the city. Capullo doesn’t get much else to draw outside of one action sequence and this issue comes across as overwhelmingly subdued compared to the last one, lacking in anything resembling energy.

I hate to bring up “Year One,” because comparing “Zero Year” directly to it is unfair to what Snyder and Capullo were assigned to do. But part of the reason that “Year One” worked so well as a prequel story was the efficiency in its storytelling. Everything you needed to know and wanted to know could be found in one place. “Zero Year” has been a sprawling mess of an event that’s crossed over with too many titles and involved too many other creators of varying levels of talent. Snyder and Capullo can only control what happens in their book, and they’ve done all right on that front. But the scope and length of this event has robbed them both of the ability to imbue this arc with the stakes necessary to tell a great story. They were able to manufacture some in the first two acts of “Zero Year,” but so far it hasn’t carried through to the final act.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ultimate FF #1
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Mario Guevera, Tom Grummett, Jaun Vlasco and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

There is a fine line between genius and insanity, but sometimes it takes a team of geniuses to protect us from the insanity. After defeating Galactus, The Ultimate Universe is fractured with dimensional bleeds cropping up all over the world. With the world’s heroes scattered or dead, who will rise up and protect us from this onslaught of another dimension? Enter the Ultimate Future Foundation, a team of misfits and weirdos led in the field by Susan Storm and facilitated by Phil Coulson. They are humanity’s first and last line of defense against the rising tide of strange and unusual events that flood into our reality. Welcome to tomorrow, readers.

After to devastating events of Cataclysm the majority of the casts of various Ultimate books were either without books of their own or just outright dead. Joshua Hale Fialkov, at this point a veteran of the Ultimate universe, quickly scoops up an eclectic cast for his new Ultimate venture and the book is all the better for it. I was quickly intrigued by the title mainly because of its completely insane cast and Fialkov makes full use of them in this first outing. Fialkov quickly presents a problem for the team to face right out of the gate while still giving it a connective thread into the events of Cataclysm. This first issue is designed to be very user friendly, while still acknowledging the gravity of the previous event. New readers to the Ultimate universe will find a very fun and witty story within the cover of Ultimate FF #1 while long time readers of the Ultimate universe will find what feels like the next narrative step for the versions of the characters that they have been reading for ages. Fialkov nails the Illusion of Change; giving us a fresh, easy to connect with story while still taking established characters and putting them into a situation that feels natural.

Fialkov also brings a few things to the table that have become hallmarks of his work with the Ultimate line. One being his razor sharp wit and the other being his tendency to fully embrace the somewhat ridiculous nature of comics. One thing I was not expecting was this comic to be funny, but with a team full of wise crackers, its hard to imagine that it wouldn’t be. Fialkov keeps the banter coming all through out the comic already letting readers know that this isn’t your normal heavy handed Ultimates book. Ultimate FF #1 as a title conjures up the image and memory of Jonathan Hickman’s FF, but Fialkov takes the hardest right turn he possibly could away from this groundwork and presents us something fun, witty, and slightly over the top in the best possible way.

Adding to the zany feeling of the series are series artists Mario Guevera and Tom Grummett who give the book a sketchy, Sean Murphy like look; yet another departure from the smooth lines and bombast of someone like David Marquez or Mark Bagley. Guevera and Grummett render the panels in what could be mistaken for a a very rushed job, but the rough hewn pencils give the book all sorts of personality to go along with Fialkov’s script. This is a team unlike any other in the Ultimate universe so, obviously, they shouldn’t look like any other team. The star of the book’s art team though is clearly colorist Rachelle Rosenberg who imbued the title with a out of nowhere color palette of purples, metallic blues, and sharp hunter greens, lending to the out there nature of the FF and their crazy adventures. Though this title’s art direction may turn some readers off, I feel that it’s hurried look and vibrantly cool color scheme sets this title apart from what we are used to getting from Ultimate titles.

First impressions are key in comics and judging from Ultimate FF #1 the geniuses/insane cast that Joshua Hale Fialkov and his art team have assembled has made one doozy of a first impression. Comparisons to Hickman’s run and most likely Fraction and Allred’s run as well will be made eventually, but that seems to be missing the point in a big way. This isn’t about what the other titles have have carried the FF name were or did. This isn’t about a legacy or upholding some sort of tradition. This book is about the future and the fun of exploring every possible outcome. This is about barreling forward into the void of the unknown. The past is history and the future is a mystery. One that the Future Foundation intends to solve.

Batman Eternal #2
Batman Eternal #2
Credit: DC Comics

Batman Eternal #2
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley
Art by Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

while I wasn't sold on the first issue of DC's latest weekly series, Batman Eternal, even I have to admit that it's getting better with its second issue. But after the dust has settled - and now that Jim Gordon is in a cell following a botched police chase that resulted in a train collision - this weekly is starting to pick up steam, as Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and company begin to draw in characters from across the Bat-universe.

Of course, this issue still isn't perfect, as structurally it takes awhile for either Batman or Jim Gordon to get spotlight. For the majority of this issue - well up until the first half, at the very least - Snyder and Tynion bring in the various members of the Bat-family in the wake of Gordon's incarceration, including Batgirl, Red Robin, Batwoman, Batwing and the Red Hood. You can't help but feel a little charge with these cameos, as the Bat-family has been diverse but far from cohesive since the relaunch of the New 52. Indeed, the only time we usually see these characters is during a crossover, and even then, it's usually just from their perspective, so an honest-to-goodness team-up sounds great. Near the tail end of the book, things also perk up some more with Batman and Catwoman, as the writing team reveals a foe in the shadows that hasn't been seen in Gotham in quite some time.

But when you get beyond some of the surface-level thrills, there are some things that rob Batman Eternal of some of its weight. First and foremost, the human cost of Gordon's error still doesn't hit home - last issue it was described as triple-digit casualties on the head of Gotham's top cop, and yet there's little sense of mourning, even from Gordon. Additionally, why is Gordon being hit with a criminal suit, rather than simply being disgraced and stripped of his title? The lack of a human connection keeps this story from hitting too hard, as well as the too-fast reveal that of course this is a machination from a hidden villain, rather than a tense mystery of whether or not Jim Gordon really did commit a crime.

That said, I do have to give some credit to Jason Fabok, who has gotten all the kinks out of his layouts and delivered a strong, sleek take on the Dark Knight and his friends. In particular, the last sequence featuring Batman and Catwoman is as energetic and fun as anything I've seen Batman do lately, as Catwoman leaps through the air to dodge a volley of razor-sharp batarangs. Fabok does have a little bit of room to grow, however, as his take on a villain in the shadows seems a little self-conscious and over-the-top. Still, Fabok's inks look tight and are lush when appropriate, and his take on each of Gotham's residents is completely on point.

While I think there's still something to be desired for making Batman Eternal a story that will really hook readers, you can't deny that both issues of this series at least draw the plot forward with something concrete. In the last issue, it was a train disaster - this issue is the return of one of Gotham's most insidious foes. With Jason Fabok's artwork giving this series a stable framework - at least, for now - this comic has done just enough to keep me interested for next week. At least for now.

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