Best Shots Comic Reviews: SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #30, SANDMAN OVERTURE #2, More

Superior Spider-Man #30

Superior Spider-Man #30
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Art by Guiseppe Camuncoli, John Dell, Terry Pallot and Antonio Fabela
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Call it event fatigue. Call it excess shilling. But no mistake about it - for the past few issues, Superior Spider-Man had begun to lose its swagger. Even as Dan Slott and Christos Gage threw concept upon concept to generate buzz, the end result never seemed to live up to the hype. But just when we thought they had no steam left, Slott, Gage and Guiseppe Camuncoli have rallied, delivering a few narrative haymakers in the penultimate issue of Superior Spider-Man.

With the Goblin Nation turning New York City upside-down, it's been tough following Otto Octavius, as his penchants for melodramatic sniping and sudden busts of self-recrimination have done little to endear him to readers. But with the countdown to Peter Parker's return ticking quickly, Slott and Gage are finally pulling out all the stops. Does it all feel a little convenient, the way that Peter Parker extricates himself from Otto Octavius's memories? Maybe - but the inclusion of Peter Parker lends this comic an energy and (dare I say it?) a spirit that this book had previously been lacking. Part of the reason why Otto's adventures started to lag was because the growth of Otto as a character had been ground to a halt, but it's clear that if Dan Slott and Christos Gage know anybody, it's Peter Parker. Indeed, there's a great moment in the book where the writers analyze the true delineation between these two Spider-Men, and the pull between guilt, power, success and heroism really casts a great light on the Spider-Man mythology as a whole.

That said, the actual plot progression does continue to move at a breakneck pace, and that robs this issue of a little bit of its punch. Slott and Gage cram a ton into this book, including a twist on the Green Goblin, the return of Spider-Man 2099, a camero by the Avengers (and Spider-supporting cast members Cardiac and the Wraith), as well as the return of an innocent victim from many, many issues ago. These characters are introduced and then discarded at a blistering pace, seeming more obligatory than dramatically satisfying. On paper, the plot points move as they should - it's just the execution that still feels a little sleepy, particularly when it comes to the big game-changing moments for Spider-Man and the Green Goblin.

Artist Guiseppe Camuncoli, teaming up with three inkers, produces some decent work here, although he doesn't quite play up the potential of some of Slott and Gage's more out-there moments as much as he could. His characters, however, are rock-solid with their designwork, and it's a great touch to have Otto subsumed by the torn Spider-Man mask while Peter's expressive, human face is clear. Camuncoli's best work is when the two Spider-Men are swinging together in the Goblin-battered skyline. The colorwork by Antonio Fabela is surprisingly dull in this issue, but that may also play into the worn-down atmosphere of the story, particularly as the Goblins have wreaked havoc throughout the city.

If Superior Spider-Man has had a flaw, it might have been hubris - or at the very least, biting off more than it could chew. Dan Slott and company have put Otto Octavius through so much in so little of a time that it winds up leaving the reader feeling numb. But now that this creative team is tying it all back together, you can't help but warm up a little .Trading in characterization for high concept set pieces has always been a danger in comics, but with the return of Peter Parker, this series could be in for a resurrection in more ways than one.

Credit: DC Comics

Sandman: Overture #2
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by Vertigo
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Nearly five months after the first issue of Sandman: Overture, Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III are back in action, telling a tale featuring every Dream that ever was. It's a crisis of infinite Endlesses - its slow burn may read as overwrought to some, but there's no denying that this weighty story is heightened by Williams' evocative art.

The ironic thing, given this series' lengthy wait times, is that Neil Gaiman isn't afraid to take things slow. Tapping into the mythology of Sandman from years ago, he's not just telling a story about one champion of the Dreamscape - he's telling a story about all of them. Not only does Daniel, the successor near the end of the original series, get some justified spotlight, but the series' original protagonist, the ebony-cloaked Morpheus, takes center stage. The stakes are dire. The landscape is enormous. And those who are itching to dig deeper into the lore of Sandman will get exactly what they wish, as Gaiman and Williams treat us to dozens of Sandmen from throughout time. Considering how flexible the nature of a dream can be, it makes sense to have a cat version of our hero, or an Egyptian god, or even an emissary from a Cthulu-like creature from beyond the age of man.

Speaking of those wait times - let's just get it out of the way. While the five-month delay definitely has hurt the momentum of this series, J.H. Williams III's artwork may just be worth it. Even when his layouts are confusing, there's still more care and thought put into his pages than almost any other artist on the stands. The details in the backgrounds, whether its a two-dimensional deer hanging in Dream's castle, or alien-inspired graffiti painted on the walls of a slum basement (complete with eyes, jaws and tongues peering out of the dessicated building), Williams makes bold statements on every page. Perhaps his greatest achievement in this issue are the different iterations of Dream that pop up halfway through the story - there's a ton of clever influences strewn throughout, whether its a Kirbyesque stone monster or a Rossian superhero in the background.

That said, this comic isn't going to win over any converts, however. Perhaps it goes without saying that you should be reading Gaiman's classic Sandman series before diving into this overture, but it bears repeating - if you try to read this book and you aren't experienced (if not well-versed) in the original mythology, you're going to have a bad time. Gaiman isn't looking to explain himself again or even put a brand-new spin on a preexisting character (besides a sharp, subversive bit of self-awareness when Dream realizes how "self-satisfied," "irritating" and "self-possessed" his mysteriousness can make him). Instead, this is the Crisis on Infinite Earths model, the sort of story that Spider-verse or Final Crisis have done - this is packing every iteration of the same character into one story, and watching at how they intersect and interact. It's a crossover of one.

Part grand fantasy and part magical detective story, Gaiman and Williams weave together a bold - if not necessarily accessible - second chapter for Sandman: Overture. While some may be turned off by the slow pacing of this comic (which will certainly be exacerbated by the publishing delays), those people will also have plenty of other comics to choose from. For the faithful, this is a return to form for Gaiman and company, a dream which many will hold onto for as long as possible.

Credit: Image Comics

Satellite Sam #7
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Howard Chaykin
Lettering by Ken Bruzenak
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

This month, Satellite Sam more than earns its For Mature Audiences Only disclaimer. Serving as almost the seedy, boozing uncle to Image and Matt Fraction’s other “dirty” book Sex Criminals, Satellite Same #7 presents us the darker side of human sexuality and the consequences of chasing some impossible carnal ideal. Above all, the book is about addiction and obsession, wrapped in a a history lesson about a bygone era of television. In #7, we begin to see just how far Michael is willing to go to understand his father, thus continuing the cycle of depravity, sending our protagonist spiraling into deep noir territory dragging the reader right along with him.

Satellite Sam #7 has a great deal going for it this month as Matt Fraction sends Michael further into the depths to his own perverted obsessions and as he starts to bring certain plotlines to a head. Always in the center of the melee is Micheal, who is starting to sound and act like his departed father more and more. As he continues to chaise the rabbit of understanding his father’s obsession with nudie pictures, Micheal replaces his first vice, booze, with an altogether different one, women. Fraction has done a terrific job balancing Micheal’s characterization as a man headed for disaster, yet someone who knows fully exactly how and why he will eventually end up there. Michael just wants to know who is father is and more over, he wants to know what he wanted from these women. As soon as he understands that, he will ultimately understand his father, but until he achieves this goal, he will keep going down the many roads that he is on, despite the fact that he knows that it could kill him just like his father. Matt Fraction has given us a quintessential noir protagonist; a man so consumed with solving the mystery that he is either unaware or just flat doesn’t give a damn that the pursuit of the answers may kill him in the end. Its a genre staple that is used to great effect here as Fraction has taken the meek booze hound that we saw in #1 and turned him into the man possessed by a myriad of personal turmoil that we see now and it makes for not only an interesting protagonist, but a hugely entertaining read.

Michael White isn’t the only character getting some, so to speak, this month. In #7 we are also given sizeable check ins on other major characters as well, as Fraction gives Guy a bit of a triumphant moment and gives us a look at Gene in the thick of his new and weird show. But its Libby who finally steps into the spotlight with the reveal of just what exactly Carlyle White hired her to do with all that film stock week after week. Its this reveal that starts to show Fraction’s hand when it comes to the coming future on the title. Its a doozy of a reveal and one that shows that this title and characters have real legs beyond the streets of New York and the confines of LeMonde Television Studios. If he wanted, Fraction could have given us a story just about the central mystery that makes up the bulk of the narrative; who killed Satellite Sam? But now that we all know these characters and so many other sideplots have been seeded in issues previous, Fraction is giving the book’s audience and readership little nuggets of payoff and rising action and it does nothing but add to the quality of the book.

Howard Chaykin is still doing some of the best work of his long and illustrious career here. Though it may not be as prosaic as what the usual comic fan is used to seeing, readers receive a truly rewarding read every month from Chaykin’s pencils. Striking a balance somewhere between the look of a Billy Wilder film and Penthouse magazine, Chaykin gives a sleek cinematic feel to even the most depraved of scenes depicted. Chaykin has often spoke about the influence of film on his work and its on full display here, with smooth flashback transitions that even eagle eyed fans might miss and his almost picture-in-picture renderings of scenes on the sound stage, melding what is seen and beamed onto television screens in the studio with what is actually being captured on camera in real time, giving us a look at almost hyper-reality. If Satellite Sam is your first exposure to the works of Howard Chaykin then he is giving you prime examples of just why he’s a living legend in comics.

All of the best film noir protagonists have some deeply inherent flaw in their character that almost pushes them into anti-hero territory. The cast of Satellite Sam is no different. Its these character traits coupled with the compelling setting and storyline that make Satellite Same such a rewarding read month after month. In just the course of seven issues Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin have given us a full cast of characters that are already different people than they were when we first saw them slaving over a new medium delivering subpar children’s programming. This book is most certainly not for everyone, but for the degenerates that make up its audience, Satellite Same will plunge to the lowest depths and highest highs to bring you a well told and compelling story.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Guardians of the Galaxy #13
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli, David Marquez and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Call it The Little Crossover That Could, but all things must come to an end. Unfortunately, while the bulk of the Trial of Jean Grey provided some largely entertaining comics, the ending, handled in the pages of Guardians of the Galaxy #13, fizzles when it should be soaring. Don’t get me wrong, it is always nice to see eclectic groups of characters mixing it up and I love that Bendis’ take on the Guardians has had its tongue planted firmly within cheek since issue one. Its just after five issues of pretty great groundwork it feels like a bit of a letdown to give us a finale comprised of one fight scene and a bunch of talking heads.

Guardians of the Galaxy #13 picks up directly after the cliffhanger of All New X-Men #23 with Jean Grey surrendering to Gladiator and his Royal Guard, while the All New X-Men and Guardians run interference. In the subsequent fight, Jean discovers a new, immensely powerful ability and turns the tide of the battle almost singlehandedly. While this is a nice reveal, and a welcome change of pace to the damsel role that Jean has been playing throughout the events of this crossover, but its here that the comic loses its way a bit. The entire concept of The Trial of Jean Grey was to take two groups of characters and throw them into a situation that only they could handle; no single hero could withstand and all that, right? So, with that in mind, why does it feel like the Guardians of the Galaxy are playing second fiddle to the X-Men in their own book? The only member of the Gaurdians that doesn’t feel like a side character or a character used expressly for comic relief is Peter Quill and that is only because he comes into direct contact with Jean Grey and Kitty Pryde. Beyond that it just feels like the Guardians are just there to fly the spaceship and that is too distracting of an oversight. While the idea of a Guardians and All New X-Men crossover had legs in the five issues previous, Bendis cuts them out from under them just when it was starting to really cook.

Yet another detriment to the impact of this finale was the announcement of Greg Rucka’s Cyclops miniseries, which effectively telegraphed this issue’s big ending reveal of Young Cyclops electing to head back to space with his estranged father and The Starjammers. While this development might have had at least a gasp worthy reaction to someone coming into this issue cold, anyone else even vaguely aware or excited about this upcoming series would just look at this issue as marking time until Young Scott hops off the planet. A well done crossover should not only tell a good story, but utilize the characters involved in such a way that it all feels like one story starring two or more completely different casts. This crossover, while starting strong, felt more and more like a predominately X-Men related story and Bendis ended it as such. Peter and the Guardians were just the designated drivers and they deserve just a bit better than that.

Effectively saving this issue from being a total wash is the crack art team of Sara Pichelli, David Marquez and Justin Ponsor, who once again knock the visual aspect of the book out of the park and then some. Pichelli and Marquez’s art styles are so in sync here that they look like the work of a single artist. Both of them have proven quite adept at balancing expression with high action and here is more of the same, but just because we’ve seen it before doesn’t mean that it still isn’t worth mentioning. Pichelli has really taken to the galactic setting of Guardians of the Galxay and with each issue she brings something bigger and weirder to the cast, in this case drifting cartoon hearts along Groot’s head as he encounters some of Earth’s raccoons. Justin Ponsor is another big reason that both of these artists mesh so well as he colors everything with a thick, glossy coat of brighter-than-the-sun pinks, yellows, and greens. While the script may not pop as much as it should, the art more than makes up for it, at least sending this crossover out on a gorgeous note.

They say its better to burn out than to fade away, but sometimes neither is the best option. Both Guardians of the Galaxy and All New X-Men have been consistently entertaining feathers in the cap of Brian Michael Bendis and crossing both titles over will be looked at in the future as largely successful. Yet pushing aside the cast of one book to make room for developments that will only effect the events of the other book in the mix caused this crossover to end on a needlessly sour note. You don’t always have to stick the landing, but it helps when you at least give us some sort of high note as we head toward the next thing.

Credit: DC Comics

Suicide Squad: Amanda Waller #1
Written by Jim Zub
Art by Andre Coelho, Scott Hanna and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Amanda Waller’s new look in the New 52 caused a bit of an uproar from a comic book community that valued diversity that week. Waller proof that a differently sized, woman of color could be a major player in the goings on of the DC Universe. With Waller’s sleeker look came the opportunity to put her in different (and more typical) situations. While Suicide Squad writer Matt Kindt forced her into the more strategic role she previously filled, Jim Zub and Andre Coelho set out to show the full range of Waller’s strategic thinking and combat skills.

Coelho takes a few pages to really settle in but his art is just about what you’d expect for some of DC’s B and C-list titles. He’s working strictly within the confines of what comic book fans have come to expect from the unofficial New 52 house style: fairly straightforward visual storytelling, one or two stock body types applied wholesale across the book, decent expression work with a few missteps. Coelho falters when he works outside of that. The plane crash layout is a jumbled mess that might be meant to be disorienting (it is a plane crash overall) but the lame “shattered glass” effect doesn’t translate well. And for a book with so few characters, it surprising that he would draw Waller and one of the other survivors almost exactly the same save for their clothes. Coelho has the unfortunate disadvantage of a comic set almost exclusively during a blizzard and while it could provide good opportunities for contrast, it doesn’t do him any favors in trying to communicate the action.

Jim Zub gets to tell a story that is supposed to flesh out Waller’s identity in the New 52 and provide context for the actions she takes in Suicide Squad. (This one-shot takes place before issue #24 of that book.) And he excels at portraying her as a no nonsense leader who isn’t afraid to make the hard decisions. But she’s a classic military archetype. She struggles with balancing responsibility with doing what’s right. Zub’s best moment comes when Waller wonders briefly whether or not the situation she finds herself in in akin to the missions she sends her Suicide Squad out on. It’s an attempt to give her some perspective. But considering where we know Suicide Squad goes from here, she doesn’t ruminate on the idea for all that long. Maybe having Zub and Kindt on the same page would have helped with character consistency and made this one-shot more valuable in the long run.

Fans of Amanda Waller’s current incarnation might like seeing her in action but this is by no means a must-read issue. For those unfamiliar with Waller, this isn’t a great place to start. Her New 52 characterization has been uneven, and this just adds to it. Here’s an issue of a comic that, at the end of the day, is mostly inconsequential. There was no big demand. It takes place over six months ago (in terms of the publishing schedule). No other notable DC characters make an appearance. DC didn’t try to put out a top-tier product by placing big-name creators on it. I’m sure that the creative team gave it their all, but it’s not enough. The Wall might be the big dog at Belle Reve, but this issue is all bark and no bite.

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