Book of the Week: SCARLET SPIDER #12
With Christmas less than a fortnight away (and the shopping for it seeming to last longer and longer every year), series writer Chris Yost has chosen to bookend his first year on this relaunch of a 90’s AMAZING SPIDER-MAN spin off with a tale dripping with the flavor of the holidays. Thankfully because his lead character – the reformed but still violent and angry clone Kaine – hardly embodies things such as tripe cliches or maudlin morality, the result is an action packed comedic romp of an issue. Regular artist Khoi Pham takes a break and is filled in by Reilly Brown, whose pencils have always proven reliable for action/comedy stories in INCREDIBLE HERCULES and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (among others). Besides the art and the Christmas theme, what carries this issue is what is presented on the cover; the supporting cast Yost has crafted for his hero. Many ongoing titles and/or franchises struggle to give their lead a strong and defined supporting cast, which is at their peril. BLADE, arguably, has suffered that problem for decades. The concept of Kaine becoming a superhero in Houston, Texas and getting handed Ben Reilly’s old code name is difficult enough to initially swallow; yet it has survived beyond a year based in no small part to Yost’s balanced cast.
As a done in one story, things are kept simple and Kaine’s supporting cast are spotlighted more than the titular hero himself. Coming off the heels of the MINIMUM CARNAGE crossover with VENOM, Kaine has seen some bizarre otherworldly stuff and once again decided to give up being a masked vigilante. Unfortunately, he has chosen to get himself drunk just as a gang of robbers decide to steal a “once in a lifetime” fortune in diamonds being held at the luxury hotel in which Kaine lives. The robbers all dress as Santa Claus and all seem to give each other similarly themed code-names in radio communications. It is left to the psychic mystery girl Aracely, bartender/singer Annabelle Adams, police officer Wally Layton and his husband, Dr. Donald Meland to stall the robbers long enough to survive and for Kaine to sober up. While the conclusion of this caper isn’t in any doubt, Yost and Brown sell it via sheer execution. The dialogue is crisp, the one-liners are fast and furious, and all of the characters are displayed distinctly. While they’re a motley bunch, and Kaine is hardly an ideal superhero, that’s the hook of the series; these diverse characters who have found themselves in Houston and become a family of sorts. Brown’s artwork is as strong as ever, and enhanced by the inks of Terry Pallot and the colors of Andres Mossa.
Overall, this issue perfectly embodies this series’ strengths and why it has lasted a year (and beyond) in a very rough and competitive market. It has defied expectations and produced something which is unique to the current slate of mainstream Marvel superhero titles, and followed the tradition begun by Rick Remender on VENOM. It proves that not all relaunches of faded 90’s franchises have to be empty exercises to maintain a trademark, but are opportunities for something original and exciting. Chris Yost continues to cement his position as solid solo writer without frequent collaborator Craig Kyle alongside him. While it may not be the best comic ever (but seriously, what is), SCARLET SPIDER is a mainstream Marvel superhero comic which doesn’t seem as if it were pitched, concocted, and carried out via a corporate assembly line, and is one to embrace accordingly.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES #17: A mere fortnight after the previous issue shipped at the end of November, IDW’s exceptional recreation of the TMNT franchise continues onward with a new artist to introduce a new story arc. While Dan Duncan forged a distinct feel for the series drawing it for a year, Andy Kuhn drew the previous four issues and now Ben Bates is on board for at the very least this latest story line. Having mostly drawn for various ARCHIE COMICS titles over the years, Bates has a more mainstream style to his pencils than Kuhn did which matches well with Ronda Pattison’s regular color work. Writers Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz build from the end of their last arc while continuing their long term subplot involving General Krang and Baxtor Stockman, as well as mingling characters from the 1987 cartoon series with an homage to the earlier Mirage Studios material. This series has chosen to imitate the late 80’s cartoon in terms of having Krang be a warlord from Dimension X seeking to conquer planet Neutrino with an armada of advance technology and genetically created rock soldiers. The Fugitoid was remade as one of the Neutrinos and in this series the characters of Dask, Kala, and Zak are remade from being “hot rodding teenagers from Dimension X” to rebel fighters seeking to defend their king as well as their world from Krang. To this end they stumble upon the Ninja Turtles, Casey and April as they seek to investigate Stockman’s more nefarious operations and naturally a battle ensues. All of the Turtles seemed split in different directions after their battle against Slash and are recovering from it in different ways. Splinter seeks to unify their unit, which is foreboding given the finale to the issue. Aforementioned finale actually does a good job of paying homage to the end of the original TMNT #4 from 1985, with the Turtles and some opponents being accidentally zapped into space. The artwork is terrific, the action is kinetic and all of the characters feel distinct. The Neutrinos themselves appear to be stock rebel fighters, but at least they’re not irritating as they were in the cartoon. While Peter Laird was often unhappy with the compromises to the original cartoon and mostly avoided them in things he produced, Eastman has been willing to embrace some of them, which is in part why this series has been successful for IDW. The other part is, naturally, terrific writing and great art, which is a tradition this issue continues. Ninja Turtle fans new and old always have much to enjoy with this series, month in and month out.
ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #5: Valiant Entertainment’s relaunch of a beloved 90’s franchise, along with writer Fred Van Lente’s spiritual sequel to INCREDIBLE HERCULES begins its second arc with a new artist in tow. Emanuela Lupacchino takes over for Clayton Henry, with colors by Matt Milla and inks by Guillermo Ortego, which matches the style established for the series by Henry nicely. Having accidentally caused the death of an ancient mystic called the Geomancer in the previous issue, Archer and his immortal ally Armstrong are now on the run from the Geomancer’s personal avenger. Unfortunately, he is Armstrong’s equally immortal brother Gilad, who is doggedly determined and immune to both injury and compromise. Thus the unlikely duo have to seek to escape and survive battles with Gilad while finding a way out of this situation. Much like with previous issues, Van Lente offers enjoyable dialogue between his tag team of heroes which can shift from heartfelt to hilarious on a dime. The next issue promises to introduce the next Geomancer, which will likely produce more hilarious results. There are plans to have all of the Valiant comic books mingle with each other as time goes on, which could be a shame if it interrupts the flow of this one, which is quite excellent. Any misty eyed fans of INCREDIBLE HERCULES who missed the chance to read this merely let their pro-Marvel bias show, or their shops unfortunately under-ordered it. Either reason is no excuse to avoid tracking down the latest buddy adventure comic by Fred Van Lente.
Other Good Reads: Amazing Spider-Man #699.1, Dark Avengers #184, Iron Man #4 & Winter Soldier #13 (Marvel Comics)