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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 02/06/07
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Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears #1
writer: Garth Ennis
artist: Clayton Crain

Just when I'd about given up on Garth Ennis, he turns around and delivers something like this. Trail of Tears doesn't seem exploitative (yet). Though occasionally grotesque, it doesn't wallow in ridiculous horror. Maybe the biggest surprise is that it's taken Marvel this long to really market this pretty obvious truth: Johnny Blaze isn't the first Ghost Rider.

Well, we knew that, as Marvel did have a Western character by that name before. But Ennis sets this story at the tail end of the Civil War, and so far Travis Parham doesn't look like some sort of avenging cowboy. Instead, he's a Confederate soldier learning his humanity just in time, it would seem, to lose it to a flameheaded vengeance demon.

Talking about how war is Hell is nothing new, especially the Civil War, er, War Between the States. You'll find no revelations here on that front, though Clayton Crain handles the battlefield scenes particularly well. He's an artist, however, that does scream "supernatural" horror, so even when it's just man's inhumanity to man, you're waiting for something from beyond to somehow make it all seem more rational.

Reasonably enough, Parham reaches conclusions that seem pretty low-key, and Ennis resists the urge toward lectures or sudden dramatic turns. This first issue telescopes time a bit, but lets the characters progress in a realistic fashion, giving us just snapshots of their thoughts.

Despite the quick appearance of something like the Ghost Rider in the last third of the book, this story might even work without Western superheroics. The cliffhanger leads us to an obvious guess of where the second issue will go, but Ennis might not play things out quite so obviously.

In a flood of Ghost Rider product, and there is a flood in anticipation of next week's movie opening, let's continue with the surprising observation that it's also the best product the franchise has ever gotten. Ennis finally broke away from Vertigo themes and delivered a Marvel book, and though the casual movie fan might not pick this one up after seeing Nicolas Cage tear it up on screen, it should be the one he goes for.

Also on the Stands:

Bullet Points #4: Once again, this issue offers a take on a Marvel icon getting a radically different origin and identity. This time around, Spider-Man gets the treatment. Of course, since Peter Parker already became the Hulk, this one might surprise you. Or not. By the end, we do understand where this series is going for its final issue, but it still feels poorly paced, assembling all these pieces and sounding portentous to bring us a conflict that we've already seen a dozen variations on.

Fell #7: What an horrific crime. What a shocking twist. What a terrific book. At $1.99, this isn't just the cheapest book you'll buy this week; it's really the best value. That comes as no surprise. Buy this, or get the imminent trade. Every issue of Fell has been a great read, and the trend continues.

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #17: Yes, he's Back in Black! Stuck in the middle of an event in which he had no idea if the reasons for it would be revealed in time, Peter David manages to vaguely allude to Spider-Man's new motivations without ever being specific. Within the confines of the story, it's okay, but this is just ridiculously frustrating. We've been told Peter would don the black suit after a devastating personal tragedy and well…not only would you not learn what it is in this issue, Spider-Man just doesn't seem that devastated. At least the Sandman doesn't really act out of character just to fit the movie's conception.

The Incredible Hulk #103: A lot of questions have been answered. A lot more will be raised. And the biggest one is: why is Greg Pak not the new master of Marvel? Sorry, Bendis. Sorry, Brubaker. Pak is the guy. In all this time, we've never really questioned the status quo of the Bruce/Hulk dynamic because everything was so good. Then in just a couple of panels Pak reveals it and …it's still just so good. Despite this storyline putting an acceptable epilogue on the Hulk's saga, Pak even naturally spins into World War Hulk. Suddenly, I can't wait.

Ms. Marvel #12: Is a Greg Horn cover enough to get you to buy a book? Clearly, Marvel thinks it is. Actually, the insides aren't terrible. Brian Reed's story isn't too bad, though it's dealing with a lot of really obscure history that he hasn't managed to make any less obscure. It's just badly paced art-wise, with characters disappearing and reappearing in a confusing manner. Let's just say it's nowhere near as pretty as Greg Horn makes you think it would be. But remember he did the covers for Marville, too.

Newuniversal #3: Warren Ellis explained his take in the second issue, and already he can't resist turning it on its head. With this much going on in such a short amount of time, it feels like you've gotten your money's worth and will continue to do so. Another bonus: Salvador Larroca dials back on his obvious casting of characters, letting his artwork breathe a little bit more. This is a cosmic saga done right, and right here on Earth.

Phoenix Warsong #5: More Paktastic goodness, closing one book on Grant Morrison's X-Men run while planting seeds for more storytelling. Though the artwork is a little uneven, this book never lets up, and never talks down to the readers. It's not for the casual reader, but it is tremendously rewarding for long-time fans.

The Pirates of Coney Island #4: Basically, it's an excuse to further define the two opposing gangs as they get into a rumble. Rick Spears ignores the other menace he had set up in the beginning, but it's forgivable as the characters finally find some focus. It's still not exactly my cup of tea, but it keeps drawing me in because I want to like the concept better than I do.

Spider-Man Power Pack #4: Somehow, Marc Sumerak made Venom cute. Actually, it's not exactly Venom, but turning the littlest Power into a symbiote ends up with a plausible explanation that shouldn't damage young minds too much. Unfortunately, the Mini-Marvels strip in back continues referencing too many dark things in the Marvel Universe to let this be a perfect book for younger readers. If the trade paperback skips those, this will be a great gift for kids about the time of Spider-Man 3.

Squadron Supreme: Hyperion Vs. Nighthawk #2: Mr. Guggenheim, you've officially made Nighthawk into a bigger badass than Batman. This Kyle Richmond will do anything to make a point, and yet in the context of Guggenheim's plot, you can hardly blame him. The story also delves deeper into Hyperion's psyche than most issues of Squadron Supreme have allowed. All of it, of course, gets topped by Paul Gulacy's art, which is just some of the best in the business.

Uncanny X-Men #483: Ed Brubaker rewinds from the end of the previous issue, showing us how we got there. While interesting, it's unnecessary at this point, because he's set up so much at the tip of action. Like reviving Bucky, though, it's surprising that an idea this obvious has waited for Brubaker to pluck it out of the ether. You could skip this issue and wait for #484 and not have missed much.

Sight Unseen:

Action Comics Annual #10: Actually, I have no idea what it holds, but there's this vague but persistent buzzing in my head that says I must buy this book.

Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #1: Maybe you've heard of this one from some up and coming writer by the name of Stephen King...

Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil #1: Maybe that buzzing comes from Mr. Mind. Regardless, you'd be foolish -- FOOLISH -- not to pick up this first post-Bone work from Jeff Smith. It will be fun. Oh, yes, it will be fun.

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think, or talk about it on the forums!

Derek McCaw


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