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Jason Schachat will one day
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Jason Schachat's Occasional Breakdown

Taking a break from the machinations of The Adversary and the squabbling in Fabletown, Fables #51 follows former princess/current spy Cinderella on a diplomatic mission to the Cloud Kingdoms.

As it turns out, the land of Giants discovered when Jack climbed up the Beanstalk rests over not only the Homelands but also our Mundy world AND The Adversary’s empire.

Unfortunately, Cindy learns that the High Kings of the land so loathe their duties, they abdicate the throne as quickly as possible. This means she only has a matter of days to get a treaty signed. Worse yet, the High King is stricken with an ear infection that keeps him moaning in bed like an 80 ft. tall baby, and his court physician thinks prayer is the only cure. Cindy disagrees, of course.

This issue makes for a great jumping-on point. All the style, literary references, and wit we’ve come to love in Fables in a lovely little oneshot. One reference to Bigby Wolf aside, new readers shouldn’t suffer. Rounded out by guest artist Shawn McManus’ warm, friendly style, it’s good times all around.

Marvel’s latest attempt to resurrect their flaming biker in Ghost Rider #1 is a bit harder to pin down. It reads more like a “#1/2" issue you’d get in Wizard than a relaunch. Artistically, Javier Saltares, Mark Texeira, and colorist Dan Brown make ol’ flaming skullhead just what fans want– but we have no clue where the story’s going.

But he always looks cool on a t-shirt.

Set in Hell (like all great romances), Ghost Rider narrates his situation: how Satan constantly teases him with hope of escape, how he never escapes, how possibilities for escape keep popping up, etc. 19 pages later, all we know is that Ghost Rider’s still a sucker and Satan’s still tormenting him. No plot development, but we do get a nice glimpse into Ghosty’s moral code.

The last two pages, however, hint at where the story really should’ve started. How this issue could’ve been summed-up in one page so we could get to an inciting incident. As usual, Daniel Way ignores the fundamentals of storytelling just so he can stretch out a thin plot. As with his dull “Peace in our Time” run on Incredible Hulk, this looks to be another waste of time. But that arc DID lead to “Planet Hulk”, so maybe there’s a chance Ghost Rider can stay alive. Without Way, that is.

Surprisingly, one of the most jam-packed plots this week comes in Green Lantern #12. After the initial arcs, it seemed like Geoff Johns’ crusade might already have run out of steam, but this outing weaves five or six solid threads into a fast-paced thriller.

Getting himself and Guy Gardner captured by Hank Henshaw (AKA The Cyborg Superman, AKA I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Dead), Hal Jordan learns that his last battle with the Cyborg delivered Henshaw into the arms of the Manhunters. They rallied and collected the fallen Green Lanterns Jordan left for dead and tapped into their power rings. Plans for universal domination to follow.

Amidst all this, we learn that Crimson Fox has completely changed her mind (or had her mind changed for her), and has now joined the new Global Guardians. Allan Scott isn’t buying it and calls up Oliver Queen. On the other side of the pond, bounty hunters argue over the contract on Jordan’s head (look for the Boba Fett cameo). Then, just when you thought we’d run out of Green Lanterns to resurrect, Jordan hits the jackpot.

Continuity-wise, this issue hits a few snags. First, it does the usual “oh, that character didn’t really die” thing a few dozen times. Then it somehow places the rings stolen by Jordan in Henshaw’s hands. And, of course, we again have to wonder about the rules on who’s able to control a ring and why.

Geoff Johns overcomes this by racing through the details like his pen is on fire. He also does us the service of remembering Jordan’s past sins, giving the character the depth he needs. If the story can keep building like this and not tuck tail between its legs, this might be the best run on Green Lantern in at least three years.

Just how great a game is it?

A three year wait also preceded Scarlet Traces: The Great Game #1, the sequel to Ian Edginton and Ben D’Israeli’s steampunk sequel to H.G. Welles’ War of the Worlds. Set 40 years after the British conquest of Mars staged at the end of Scarlet Traces, this tale sets itself in a world where Britain became the uncontested superpower. The War of the Worlds supplanted the World Wars, colonies never left British control, and almost all technological advances of the 20th century were founded on Martian technology.

This time around, the story switches perspectives from an Alan Quartermain to a Lois Lane. While the world chafes under English rule, Lotte begins to unravel a mystery tied into the Scottish terrorist movement and what really happened on Mars. All that stands in her way is the most powerful fascist dictatorship in the history of the world.

While the first Scarlet Traces delivered some great Victoriana, the ending did cheat readers a bit. The revelation of the states’ crimes was never intended as a surprise (and the empire was quite similar to Warren Ellis’ Ministry of Space), but taking the fight to Mars almost demanded a sequel. Now, we find ourselves well past that fight, but presented with a more tightly guarded mystery. What did happen on Mars? Did the warnings of the captured Martian from the first book come to pass?

Edginton’s story is certainly more of a nail-biter, but, as ever, D’Israeli’s gorgeous architecture and technology are the big draw. For those wanting more stories like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Welles groupies and fans of steampunk, this one’s definitely worth a look.

Though Superman #654 is one of the best issues in recent years and foretells a great run by Kurt Busiek, it missed out on a golden opportunity. THIS should have been the book to come out when Superman Returns hit theaters. It’s a oneshot with action, romance, and no confusing continuity to chase off new readers, unlike certain arcs involving Kryptonian battleships and infinite crises.

Playing like a “day in the life”, this issue takes us through the Man of Steel handling his duties as a reporter, husband, and defender of mankind. In lots of ways, it’s like trying to explain Santa Claus: some writers will say he fits it all into one day because he’s “magic”. Busiek, on the other hand, demonstrates exactly how Superman gets through it all. How the superpowers are used for more than just cracking skulls. He also reminds us of the weakest link in so many Superman stories: the importance of being Clark Kent.

Finally. A different angle
on a classic cover.

Lots of people talk a good game about how they’d write Superman, but Busiek is a master. This story is great for new readers to dive into and well worth the money. I do have a couple qualms with Carlos Pacheco’s choice to illustrate Supes’ more sadistic side, and there’s something odd about Lois spending most of her scenes running around in tiny panties, but this is one of the rare times where it looks like there’s hope for Superman.

The subtitle for Ultimate Spider-Man #97 nearly thrashed all hope out of me. “Clone Saga: Part 1"? What Bendis promised to never do? And the friggin’ Scorpion is on the cover? Dooooooooom...

But, as ever, Bendis is taking familiar titles and characters, beating them into submission, and setting up an entirely different continuity. Thank God.

The main plot of the story still centers on Peter Parker’s dysfunctional love life. Sure, he’s dating Kitty Pryde, but her neediness is giving rise to jealousy. But, then again, doesn’t he love MJ? Didn’t they only break up to keep her safe? Is it wise for them to pretend they’re just friends now?

Then, before we can absorb all these questions, the most deranged person to ever don Scorpion armor decides to blow up the mall. And, yes, you’ll recognize his face, but you won’t want to send hate mail to Bendis for it.

Bagley’s pencils may be a little more rushed than usual, but this book just keeps blazing along. Though the words “Clone Saga” strike fear in the hearts of many a Spider-fan, the Ultimate interpretation looks to be taking the same unique tac that made the “Carnage” arc a classic. In Bendis we trust.

Jason Schachat

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