Superior Spider-Man #18
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Ryan Stegman, Livesay, and Edgar Delgado
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Although Superior Spider-Man's 2099 crossover has been a recent high-point, there are still a few too many parts of the title that feel like they're spinning their wheels. It's clear that every arc has added new elements to Dan Slott's obvious long con for Otto Octavius, but the book is in danger of becoming like a sitcom that doesn't know when to shake things up, or a story with an obvious ending that will seemingly never arrive. That said, Superior Spider-Man #18 continues the trend of Octavius truly becoming Peter Parker's successor as his life crumbles. There are some really compelling bits in this issue, but it all walks dangerously close to the edge, living inside it's concept instead of really selling it.
As "Al Chem" continues it's takeover of Horizon Labs, Otto is forced to make some tough choices, the kind of decisions that Peter Parker had to live with every day of his life, but for all the wrong reasons. Where Parker was thoughtful, spreading himself too thin in pursuit of helping everyone, Octavius tries too hard to see things done his way, to run his life and everyone else's. Peter's altruism is Otto's arrogance, and that's made clear by the way he responds to affronts not only from Miguel O'Hara and Al Chem, but from people like Max Modell, who did so much for Peter, only to have Otto throw it back at them while wearing his face. Octavius is headed for a downfall, and clever eyes will see multiple new seeds planted for it here, but the plot needs motion for fear of falling into narrative traps designed to prolong its life.
And what of the 2099 plot itself? It's almost too cute for its execution, so while Slott's take on Miguel O'Hara is pitch perfect, it feels a little too much like a plot device rather than a story being told. While the ramifications of Horizon's troubles seem substantive, O'Hara's involvement almost feels perfunctory in spite of the threads which have clearly been laid to set it up. There's some kind of a disconnect between the plot and the story which makes the circumstances seem a little forced, rather than an organic extension of the obvious build up. It's less cathartic than coincidental. On the other hand, Ryan Stegman is putting forth his best work on this title by far. He's managed to strike a balance between his exaggerated characters and the textured grittiness of his lines, evoking a style not that far from Rick Leonardi's work on Spider-Man 2099. It's about time Stegman got this comfortable with this book, and his high energy layouts here don't hamper his storytelling, which has occasionally suffered from his focus on the more kinetic, pop-off-the-page elements at play. Inker Livesay manages to capture Stegman's lines perfectly, adding some touches that call back to the days when the 2099 books were actually on the shelves without feeling dated, and Edgar Delgado reins in some of his usual techniques, allowing Stegman's lines to better speak for themselves, and holding off on the sheen that his colors often have, which would be at odds with the grit in the line work.
All in all, what Superior Spider-Man really suffers from, and Superior Spider-Man #18 really shows, is that there is a compelling case to be made for Otto Octavius as Peter Parker's true heir, but in proving it, Dan Slott is building a scenario where Otto will never get to live out that role without some serious plot noodling. Otto Octavius is being set up for a fall, and some of those threads need to start tying off sooner rather than later, lest Superior Spider-Man fall under its own weight.
Batman #23.3 - Penguin
Written by Frank Tieri
Art by Christian Duce and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
The misadventures of Oswald Cobblepot and his attempts to go straight have so far been absent from the pages of Scott Snyder’s Batman, so readers that haven’t been keeping up with the events of Detective Comics will be at a momentary disadvantage heading into this Villain’s Month special. Tieri leads in the issue with some ill-fated, exposition heavy crooks that explain that Penguin has just regained his empire from the Emperor Penguin, but hasn’t lost his edge in the process.
Immediately distinguishing itself from some of the other Villain’s Months tie-ins by actually acknowledging the absence of Batman, Tieri’s Penguin takes no prisoners as he reflects on the schoolyard bullying that led him to a life of sadistic crime. It’s a motif that has been so common in many of these villainous titles that it’s entirely possible that “major childhood trauma” was an editorial edict from DC to its writers, but here Tieri connects this strand to the current Governor that is vowing to clean up the Iceberg Casino that Cobblepot now runs.
If the point of this issue was to reassert Penguin, now a recruit in the Crime Syndicate’s Secret Society of bad folk, as a power player in the DCU, then it’s a roaring (or more appropriately a ‘waddling’) success. Cobblepot is an amalgam of his various personas over the year: an agile killer in single combat, but also a cunning godfather skilled at destroying those who stand in his way through fear and intimidation. It’s a fairly straightforward and familiar tale, but it is effectively told in a single issue and doesn’t even pretend that its titular villain is anything but.
Christian Duce isn’t afraid of depicting Penguin in all of his pointy-noised glory, a near caricature that the ‘darkness’ of modern comics often shies away from. To his credit, Dalhouse uses shadows and light effectively to keep this most ridiculous of 1940s characters a sinister present over 70 years later. In particular, the final panel shows a quietly reflective Cobblepot surveying his handiwork, and is lit with all the foreboding of a Francis Ford Coppola figure.
While many of these villain’s titles are simply de facto “Zero” issues by any other name, at least this one manages to neatly set up an existing headline villain for future appearances within the leading title. With Zero Year still raging for quite some time, it isn’t too big a swing to guess that Mr. Cobblepot will feature in Bruce Wayne’s formative years in the not-too-distant future.
Detective Comics #23.3: Scarecrow
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Szymon Kudranski and John Kalisz
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Lindsey Morris
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
Jonathan Crane is one of the latest characters spotlighted for Villains Month in this week's Detective Comics: Scarecrow. I had hoped that, like other one-offs from this event, Crane would be given some fresh story, perhaps a new origin. Something of import or interest to me, the reader and fan of this specific character. What I got instead was a short, uninspired set-up for the events to come in the approaching Arkham War.
I don't want to make it seem like there weren't any redeeming qualities to this book. Tomasi writes the Scarecrow quite well. There are a number of impassioned monologues that are an absolute pleasure to read, brief as they are, and the story is well-paced. But no new layers were added to the character, no further insights given to his background. It was a straight up building block for a tie-in series, and that is really disappointing given the possibilities.
Tomasi takes us on a leisurely stroll about Gotham, where Crane visits a number of fellow ex-Arkhamites in order to warn/enlist them in the impending war against Blackgate. A number of old faces crop up like Freeze, Riddler, Croc, and Ivy. It was interesting to see them in this setting, with Gotham now shrouded in darkness 24/7 and Scarecrow taking the reins on the events to come. His exchange with Freeze and the Riddler were particularly good reads, very bleak and introspective. But as the issue goes on, both the writing and the art start to suffer. Perhaps there was a crunch, perhaps it is due to the sheer volume of one-shots like this that are being produced, but there was a marked shift halfway through the comic where things start to go bad.
Szymon Kudranski and John Kalisz do a pretty mediocre job in the art department. The book is done in high contrast, with tons of solid black shadows highlighted by various bright silhouettes. The opening panels with Freeze are the best in the comic, standing out spectacularly with his glowing red goggles and hazy blue aura. After that the panels become a bit more dull with hints of orange and green replacing brighter primary colors. The comic looks rushed after this transition, with backgrounds that appear to just be blurry photos, and little attention given to the details of characters. The action shots are also an issue, not always being clearly executed and leaving me wondering what exactly had just happened.
Crane is the big sell to this book, but his character gets strange camera time. The cover and opening page are the best shots we have of him in the entire comic, since most of his appearances are close-ups of his eyes or full body shots from a distance. As a villain that breeds fear and sports a signature mask, it was a bummer to not have those things brought to the forefront and capitalized on. The issue would have benefited greatly had a strong tone of fear been cultivated. As it is, the mood set seems to be largely casual, which doesn't add up with the character or the story.
Tomasi and company have created a comic true to the nature of the Scarecrow, but it falls short in regards to story and visuals. There is some great back and forth in the dialogue, but when it comes down to it, this comic sees no real conclusion and should only be read if you intend to follow up with Arkham War.