Tuesday, April 17, 2018

New Comics!: The April 11 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ben Reilly:  Scarlet Spider #17:  This issue is an uncharacteristic miss for David.  Ben prattles on all issue about his soul and his deal with Mephisto, and at some point I realized I just didn't care.  I'm OK with the existing supernatural component of this series -- Ben's need to repair his soul after his brush with Death.  But, the deal with Mephisto just feels like overkill at this point, as if Batman suddenly spent all his time hunting vampires.  Even David winking at us -- with Ben berating himself for thinking he's the only person dumb enough to make a deal with Mephisto -- made me roll my eyes.  David is usually great at playing the long game, but even the premise of Ben having to save Abigail is starting to feel old.  I feel like we could use a refresh here.

Captain America #700:  I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure Waid is the best writer for “Captain America.”  He leans into Cap's corniness in a way that makes him even more unbelievable than he normally is.  Cap stories are usually their best when he's forced to question his ideals, but for most this arc Cap spouted nothing but inspiration-poster bromides.  When he finally faces a seemingly unwinable challenge, he caves completely.  It's not my Captain America, to be honest.

We start several weeks after Steve and his allies defeated Babbington.  Liang and Banner want to send Steve to the present, so he can stop Rampart before it launches the missile and prevent the future from happening.  Steve refuses, saying he can't just abandon the future for Banner's "Hail Mary" pass.  However, this commitment to the future felt dishonest.  Waid never really explored the psychological repercussions of Cap finding himself displaced in time yet again.  In fact, Cap seems not even to remotely care he's never going to see Sharon or his friends again.  He's just a stalwart of dependability and determination and we leave it at that.  In so doing, Waid winds up undermining Cap's bravery in committing to this era, because he makes it seem like he doesn't care.

We watch as Cap and his supporters spend a year trying to expel the foreign invaders who have taken over large swaths of America while also rebuilding the agriculture and infrastructure of areas they control.  But, when someone nukes New York just as Cap and his troops liberate Philadelphia, Cap just surrenders.  He faces the reality he entered this conflict too late, and he accepts the only possible option is Banner sending him to the present.  It's jarring, to say the least, for him to go so dark so quickly.  (Even Banner is surprised by Cap claiming hope isn't a strategy, but, per pet peeve #3, I'm not going to give Waid credit for having a character point out the logical failings of the plot.)

Safely in the present, future Cap sacrifices himself to stop the rocket, and the ensuing explosion frees present Cap from the ice almost immediately after he was frozen.  It means present Cap doesn't take with him the lessons future Cap learned, and I'm not sure where we go from here.  Waid seems to be returning to Cap traveling America, but I don't really get why we detoured from that story for this one in the first place.  I think my main problem is I'm intrigued by this arc's premise, where Cap can't save the day.  That would've been a story worth telling.  We could've seen a story like Remender's "Dimension Z," where we watch Cap lose more and more ground and see how he handles that.  Instead, Waid essentially jumps to the end, and it cheapens Cap exactly at a time we're supposed to be celebrating him.

Detective Comics #978:  Whoa.  One of the advantages of Tynion -- beyond being a
great writer with a clear sense of the characters he's portraying -- is that he's been working on Batman-related titles for years now.  He's been dropping hints for months about Tim's delicate mental state, given his alleged death, subsequent imprisonment, and Future Tim's subsequent arrival.  However, Tynion makes it clear we shouldn't have been worried, because Tim is still Tim.  Even in his weakened state, he rejects Ulysses' attempt to co-opt him, recognizing Ulysses is crossing a line that shouldn't be crossed.  In fact, Tynion takes a different perspective on recent developments than we've seen.  Previously, Tynion has mostly left the reader supporting Kate's position about some lines needing to be crossed to save lives.  However, Tim's resoluteness here reminds us how dangerous it is when someone like Ulysses -- and, by extension, Kate -- takes matters into his own hands.  Tim quickly realizes Ulysses is controlling the Colony soldiers while Bruce is at "stately Kane Manor" hearing from Kate and Jake that they didn't order the soldiers to open fire.  Watching the drama from afar, Ulysses wryly notes the Joker and the like have always had it all wrong:  the best way to take down Batman is to leave breadcrumbs to a mystery he feels a compulsion to solve.  Ulysses kicks up the crazy a notch here as he shaves his head and starts calling himself the General, using the Colony's integrated network to unleash the OMAC virus on its soldiers as well as Tim.  At this stage, the tension driving this story isn't just related to the (legitimately scary) rise of Ulysses and Brother Eye.  It also has to do with the sense Tim is quickly facing the moment where he will past the point of no return when it comes preventing his dark future.  We saw Future Tim was born when he kills Batwoman for killing Bruce for activating Brother Eye.  But, given the events of this issue, it's hard to see how that sequence of events would happen, particularly since Ulysses has already activated Brother Eye.  Does Kate take out Bruce because he activates it again at a later date?  Or, has Ulysses already changed the future (through his knowledge of it) by preemptively activating Brother Eye?  I guess we'll see.

Oblivion Song #1-#2:  In his letter in issue #1, Kirkland tells us he'll be telling a very different story at issue #30 than the one he's telling here, and it's easy to believe him when he says it's going to be a fast-paced story. As you read issue #1, you're pretty sure it's going to be a story about a man trying to find redemption by finding his brother.  Like Dr. Richard Kimble catching the One-Armed Man in the series finale of "The Fugitive," I expected Cole was finally going to find his brother Edward in the last issue and embrace him, a man at peace.  The only problem with that scenario is we've already met Edward, on the last page of issue #1.  It's a sign Kirkland means what he says; he's not going to dragging out stories too long.

The first two issues pretty convincingly lay out the basic framework of the story.  Somehow, Philadelphia and land from another dimension changed places.  Cole -- our main character -- was able to find the right frequency to access Philadelphia in this new dimension.  He and his team were able to save many people stuck on the other side.  However, at some point, Cole and his team stopped finding new people, and the government cut his funding.  We start the series with Cole in Oblivion (i.e., the transferred part of Philadelphia) finding and rescuing a married couple.  The couple reveals they were part of a group of 100 or so people living on the outskirts of the city; they only came into the city on supply runs, hence why Cole hadn't found anyone for a while.  Making matters worse for Cole, the couple have revealed their leader is named Edward, fueling Cole's anxiety over the possibility of finally finding him.  However, this group doesn't seem to want to be found, and we end the first issue with Edward observing Cole (not realizing who he is) and telling his followers to set a trap for him.

At this stage, I still don't think we know how people escaped Philadelphia after it was transferred to another dimension.  When Cole walks the couple through the museum dedicated to the "Transference," he explicitly mentions all sorts of people who escaped and survived in the first few days.  Did it take a while before the transfer was complete?  Cole shows the couple he rescued the barren area where Philadelphia used to be located, implying Philadelphia is (at least now) completely in the other dimension.  Moreover, we obviously don't know why the Transference happened, though it seems likely the government played some sort of role given their reluctance to keep funding Cole's excursions.  After all, why else would the government not want him locating people?  Cole is running everything using his own resources, so it's not like it would cost the government that much to give him a workable team.

Kirkland also doesn't sleep on the interpersonal drama.  Cole is supported by a married couple, Duncan and Bridget, though Bridget is carrying on an affair with the man she was dating before Cole saved Duncan from Oblivion.  Also, Cole asks Marco, one of his former team members, for help, but Marco refuses, commenting he has kids -- and sleep -- now.  It's an immediate refusal:  he doesn't even let Cole finish his beer before he walks into the house.  Cole himself is portrayed as a man possessed.  Although he's in a relationship with a woman who works for the government agency he wants to provide him funding,  Marco's comments on how Cole just appeared after a year of no contact imply he exists solely for the mission.

All in all, it's a strong début.  I wouldn't say I had the same visceral response to it as I did the first issues of "The Realm" or "The Wild Storm," but I'm definitely intrigued.

Rogue and Gambit #4:  Gambit and Rogue learn Lavish's powers here:  each time she drains someone of his power (which she then stores in a cloned body), she also steals his memories.  It's why Paraíso has so many mindless zombies wandering around the health unit.  Rogue realizes she and Remy have been getting along so well because, at this point in their stay, they've been stripped of almost all their baggage.  Disturbingly, Lavish can only access the power when she destroys one of the bodies (as she does here after Gambit injures her and she destroys a body with healing powers).  Rogue and Gambit make this discovery as they both take out one of the other's doppelgängers, resulting in them absorbing not only the other one's powers but also a specific memory.  (For Gambit, it's the love Rogue felt as he put the garter on her at Scott and Jean's wedding.  For Rogue, it's the hurt Gambit felt when Rogue didn't trust him enough to join the Avengers.)  They realize they need to take out only their own clones to limit their exposure to the other's innermost feelings and gain back their specific powers.  Rogue considers just standing pat, allowing them to leave behind their baggage by never reclaiming their memories.  But, Remy tells her essentially to have faith in them and their ability to find each other again.  Man, Thompson better keep them together this time.  I have a lot invested in this story.

X-Men Red #3:  I was sort of skeptical where Taylor was going with this series, but I have to admit he got me with this issue.  Trinary reveals she believes humanity is being programmed to hate mutants; someone (Cassandra Nova?) is using algorithms that push decontextualized stories and lies to people with known biases and concerns.  In other words, someone has essentially weaponized social media.  (Sound familiar?)  Gambit sees that first hand, as he tries to save a young woman who dared to defy an anti-mutant mob.  However, he fails to stop a gun-totting protester (similar to the ones we saw in India who Jean couldn't control) from opening fire.  In India, we learned the trio was able to resist Jean's power due to the presence of nano-Sentinels in their bloodstreams.  Taylor is taking a page from Spencer's playback in being obvious in his disdain for the far right; it doesn't take a journalism student to recognize the allusion to Charlottesville when Gambit makes fun of the protesters for using tiki torches in their march.  As folks in the letters page said, this series feels like it matches our time perfectly.  It's not trying to capture an old feeling (like Guggenheim on "X-Men Gold"), but instead tells an updated story about the persecution mutants face in the present.  It would be wrong just to repeat "Fall of the Mutants."  Taylor is telling a new story even if the theme is familiar.  The letters page also focuses on the fact Jean is finally standing on her own two feet; she's no longer defined by Cyclops or Wolverine.  Cyclops repeatedly got to spread his wings without Jean; it's time for her to do the same.  Finally, I totally agree with Tom from Columbus, who says Jean not knowing what to do but wanting to do something is all of us right now.

Also Read:  Avengers #688; Bloodshot Salvation #8; Falcon #7; Star Wars:  Darth Vader #14; X-Men Blue #25

Friday, April 13, 2018

Almost-New Comics: The April 4 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Amazing Spider-Man #798:  OMG, this issue is soooo effing good.  Honestly, I’ve been disappointed with Dan Slott for a long time, but I love that he’s going out this way.  Seriously, I can’t imagine a better issue.

Norman is a completely over-the-top threat here -- as he should be -- and Slott hits the right notes at every point to make sure we understand that.  When he threatens the lives of the "Daily Bugle" staff, it’s not an idle threat, as he actually has a bomb connected to the tritium.  (Of course he does.)  When the "Daily Bugle" veterans — Joe, Betty, and Ben — play a game of verbal hot potato to keep him distracted, he sees right through it.  (He seems almost offended.)  But, it’s when he pretends to be impaled (once again) to lull Peter into a false sense of security that Slott and the art team really hit the gas.  Norman Osborn has been with us for 53.75 years (according to Wikipedia), but he enters a whole new phase the minute he laughs that red laugh.  Red Goblin is terrifying in his first interaction with Spider-Man, and you can feel Peter’s blind panic, as he himself calls it, as he struggles to clear his mind and think of a way just to land a punch, let alone defeat him.  (Peter’s initial response to Norman becoming Red Goblin -- a censored “Fuck me” -- felt totally organic.  I felt the same way, Pete.)

Of course, it's all made worse by the fact Norman now knows Peter’s identity.  Slott doesn't sleep on this part, as he shows JJJ, Jr. desperate to free himself from his bonds to save Peter.  In fact, JJJ, Jr. is so desperate I wonder if he isn’t long for this world.  Through JJJ, Jr.'s desperation, Slott shows how deeply JJJ, Jr. cares about Peter and how much he wants to prevent him from suffering the losses he himself has suffered.  But, it's so convincing I'm now worried, and I hope they don’t kill off JJJ, Jr. just as we see him in this new light.

That said, Slott is so convincing you actually sort of wonder whether Peter is going to survive.  In possibly the greatest development of the year, Norman unveils Carnage bombs, extensions of the symbiote that verbally harangue Peter as they fly at him.  One grabs Peter’s leg and explodes, and I wondered if Slott wasn’t going to have Peter lose said leg.  Instead, Slott does one better.  Norman demands Peter stop being Spider-Man or he’ll kill everyone he loves.  Peter agrees, attaching his jersey to a flag pole, and Norman laughs in triumph.  But, Peter vows to take out Norman as Peter Parker.  Slott seems to be building to a moment where Peter redeems himself, at least in his own eyes, as Peter and I can’t think of a better way for Slott to end his run.

But, Slott also has other irons in the fire, as “Emma” incapacitates Harry, Liz, and Mark with tranquilizer darts and grabs the children.  It's still not entirely clear who her employer is, though we're led to believe it's Norman.  Moreover, Slott has shown Normie as extremely jealous of Stanley, and I have to wonder if he'll bond with Stanley through the kidnapping or if Normie will ally himself with “Pop-pop” to disastrous results.  Man, it’s a good time to be alive.

Avengers #687:  “We are all exiles from the divine.”  Jarvis, everybody.  Can the guy give a rallying speech or what?  I totally cried, along with Bruce Banner.  As the rest of the Avengers scramble to try to save Vision and figure out a way to handle Voyager, Jarvis finds a despondent Bruce Banner sitting by himself in a ruined courtyard.  We learn Nadia brought Jarvis to the Mansion because she thought it would help his recuperation, and Jarvis remarks -- mostly to himself -- that she apparently thought they would serve him.  He's clearly not having it (evidenced by his tuxedo and forehead bandage), and his response to a broken Bruce Banner is to serve him tea.  Bruce tells Jarvis he can't face the Avengers, particularly Hawkeye, after what he's done to them, and Jarvis quotes “Paradise Lost,” reminding him the mind can turn heaven into hell and vice versa.  He then succinctly boils down the essence of Avenging in a way no one has:  they are avenging their own crimes and faults.  They all know they aren’t heroes, but they try to be.  Jarvis encourages Bruce to keep trying to be, because it’s the only thing that matters; it’s not the evil he’s capable of doing -- the only thing hsees -- but the good he does (and most importantly, to Jarvis' mind, wants to do).  Man, Jarvis, I really needed to hear that right now.

It’s not just Bruce who gets a pep talk, though.  Lightning is despondent he couldn’t stop the Hulk and save Vision, and Simon’s pacifism here works well.  Lightning is particularly disappointed he wasn’t powerful enough to fight off the Hulk, and Wonder Man reminds him they would’ve kicked out Hawkeye on the first day if it was all about power.  The best part, though, is Simon is poised to dive into the inspirational part of his speech when Quicksilver tells him to be quiet so he can focus.  It’s the perfect snarky Quicksilver moment; in the 70s, he would've made some sort of arch remark about Simon's inane prattling.  But, it's all the better because he’s not wrong: he’s trying to find something whizzing around them.  (It turns out being the “mite” that’s keeping everyone in stasis.)  Emily enters the room at the fuss, and Pietro can’t face her.  But, she tells him he did what he thought was best and she got hurt; it’s the price of heroing.  (I hope at some point we get a deeper dive into Synapse, because she really deserves it.)  At any rate, it's a good thing the Avengers had a minute to regroup, because the Challenger has decided to take out his fury over the Gamemaster's cheating (and likely disappearance, not death) by destroying the board, i.e. Earth!

Batman #44:  I'm not sure how he did it, but King somehow makes Catwoman looking for a wedding dress -- by breaking into a bridal boutique at 3:00 am -- into a perfect character study.

Batman:  White Night #7:  This issue is remarkably solid, as everyone is called on their bullshit in some way.  Jack is forced to admit the drugs are starting to lose their effect, making his confrontation with Neo-Joker all the more precarious as it's unclear if she'll face Jack or the Joker.  Jack holds it together through the confrontation (barely), but she demands he bring back the Joker, dismissing Jack as the "sane man" she was always worried would take the Joker from her.  Jack laments to Harley that he played by the rules to try to prove Gotham didn't need law-breaking vigilantes to save it, but he's still faced with a law-breaking criminal holding it hostage.  Harley brilliantly calls bullshit, reminding him he didn't play by the rules at all:  he used the Mad Hatter's technology to hijack criminals' minds to scare the city into giving him power.  Harley then does what Bruce knew she would do all along:  she sends Jack to Batman.  Bruce agrees to work with him only if he provides a full confession:  he attacked the financial district, destroyed his own library, and created the Neo-Joker (if inadvertently, in the latter case).  Jack agrees, but only if Harley goes free.

Jumping into the Batmobile, Bruce ups the ante:  he asks for the Joker's confession about Robin, but Jack admits he's been fighting the Joker to get that information.  Under pressure from Bruce, he concentrates harder.  (Honestly, this part was the only flaw in the issue.  Jack claims he's been trying to figure out Jason's fate, but he literally just scrunches up his eyes harder here to get it.  It's a minor complaint, but I mention it because Murphy had other options here, like Jack simply confessing.  I'm not sure why he went this way.)  He eventually breaks through the Joker's walls and reveals the Joker tortured Jason to get Bruce's identity, something Jason surrenders at the final moment, saying he wish he'd never heard the name Bruce Wayne.  But, we also learn the Joker let Jason go free, because it was much more damaging to know Bruce would mourn his loss and then eventually learn Jason hated Bruce so much he'd let him think he was dead.  (Jack also tells Bruce he knew he was Batman after discovering Wayne Enterprises funded the Batman Devastation Fund, not taxpayers.)

The pair finally arrive at their destination:  Mr. Freeze reveals the existence of Thomas Wayne's tunnels under Gotham, which the Army used to help Baron von Fries build the weapon.  They return to GCPD, where Bruce provides the GTO with Batmobiles.  Jack struggles to control the Joker as Bruce shows Barbara and Dick a note Alfred wrote for him when he had Freeze save Bruce instead of him.  He tells them he can't read Alfred's last words to him yet, and he confesses the note he'd write the kids would tell them how he was no longer motivated by avenging his parents' deaths, but making Gotham a safer place so they could take off their masks.  They hug him, and, honestly, it's the moment for me.  It's one of the few explanations of his motivations at this point in his career that have ever made sense to me.  I hope someone adopts it into mainstream comics.  As everyone heads to war, Gordon tries to apologize to Bruce for arresting him, but Bruce won't have it:  he not only tells him he was right to do so -- that it all had gone too far -- but that he planned on revealing his identity once the caper is done.  (I assume that means he's going to die before that happens.)  He and Jack then head into the tunnels to find Harley as Jack, riding with Bruce, loses control for the final time.

Marvel Two-in-One #5:  Making it clear this title is leading to a reboot of the "Fantastic Four," Zdarsky does a great job using the alternate versions of them to make us hungry for the real thing.  Ben and Johnny learn Doom saving Earth as Galactus so broke this Universe's Reed Richards that he's done nothing to find a way to stop him, focusing instead of improving people's lives during the time they have left.  However, he comes to his senses when Ben and Johnny join this Earth's heroes in fighting Doom's legion of Doombot heralds.  The return of at least half of the Fantastic Four rallies the heroes, and Johnny saves Reed from one of the heralds.  However, Johnny's power misfires right then, and Reed saves him as he plummets to Earth.  Reed now realizes he has to do something.  Surprising no one, Doom from our Universe appears, having hitchhiked with Ben, Johnny, and Rachna.  Reed is momentarily distracted when learning of Ben and Johnny's plight, discussing his theory all metahuman powers come from a universal power source but admitting he never thought about an interpersonal one.  He starts to offer to help, but our Doom, offering his assistance, wisely keeps him focused on the task.  Ben and Johnny are sent to a farm where the Silver Surfer -- now human -- lives with Emma Frost.  We've heard a number of whispers about the terrible fate of this Universe's Johnny Storm, and Emma and Norrin's shocked reaction at seeing him shows how terrible it must have been.  At this stage, all we know come from Emma, who comments on how much Johnny and Norrin suffered.  That doesn't sound good.

New Mutants:  Dead Souls #2:  Rosenberg does a solid job teasing out the team dynamics here, as Julio takes Boomer and Tabitha to brunch (with Shatterstar!) to ask them if they trust Magik.  Of course, she appears with Strong Guy right behind him as he admits he doesn't trust her and whisks them all (minus Shatterstar) to October Revolution Island off the coast of Russia.  They quickly find themselves in battle with a frost giant, and Julio takes charge in getting the team to flee to safety after Magik refuses to acknowledge they're overpowered.  They make their way into tunnels beneath the surface and discover researchers were digging for an old Norse battle whose participants were frozen in time.  The team finds one of the researchers alive, and we learn someone named Tran was interested in his research on the battle.  Dun-dun-DUN!  After that, he remembers nothing else, including the fact his excavation released the aforementioned frost giant.  Magik teleports Boomer into the giant's belly to destroy him, but it doesn't really resolve the situation.  Rahne tries to talk some sense into her about her erratic leadership, but it goes to a point Rictor previously made at brunch, when he wondered aloud why Magik (and not Dani) is running the team and why Shan hired them in the first place.  (In fact, other than the obvious Tran connection, I'm not sure what the ruse was to get the team to come to October Revolution Island in the first place.  Did Shan pretend her company owned something here?  I'm not sure if Rosenberg ever established that.)  The issue ends continuing the B story from last issue, with some kids in Connecticut daring an alleged mutant their age to prove he's not a mutant by approaching the Alone Man's house.  It turns out the Alone Man is...Warlock!

Spider-Man #239:  It's hard to believe we're where Bendis wants us to be for his finale on this title, but it is what it is.  If you put aside the pressure of next issue, it's actually pretty solid.  Aaron comes very close to successfully delivering the helicarrier to Lucia van Bardas, but he underestimates Miles.  Bendis shows us Miles learning about a safe Aaron kept in his closet a decade ago, and he breaks into said safe in the present, looking for clues.  He finds Aaron's burner phone and, searching through its history, finds out where he's going.  Miles arrives with the Champions, and a pretty great battle ensues.  However, von Bardas acts like an actual villain, ordering her men to open fire on Aaron and Miles as they fight.  Miles told his uncle he was trying to save him, because he believes he's better than a thief.  The front cover of this issue implies next issue Aaron will die, but I'm not so sure.  Also, Ganke's girlfriend gives him some sort of note, but we don't know what it says.  I have no idea how Bendis is going to wrap up all these threads, but we'll see.  (All that said, Miles comparing himself to Batman was great.)

Star Wars #46:  Man, this issue is awesome.  The plot is tight, as the team successfully executes its plan to swipe the Moff and use his bio-signature, with the codes Trios stole for them, to enter the prison where they're keeping Lee-Char.  But, it's all the little moments of characterization that make it a thrilling issue, from Han not passing up a chance to profit (even when posing as a bathroom attendant) to Threepio's anxiety (and titillation) when Leia leaves him in charge of making sure the shape-shifter stays in character as the Moff.  The Moff's shock the Rebels were able to get their hands on such sensitive codes furthers the sense the Empire is going to quickly realize Trios is the weak link.  Dissecting it further would be a disservice, so I really just recommend giving it a read.

X-Men Gold #25:  Guggenheim's storytelling can feel random at times, and this issue is a great example of that problem.  "Iceman" #11 promised Bobby a shot at leading a team of X-Men, and this arc was supposed to fulfill that promise, as Kitty and her team were trapped in prison.  But, it doesn't happen that way.  As Scythian attacks Paris, Bobby and his team head over there, while Kitty's team laments their imprisonment.  That part makes sense.  But, then, Storm breaks from her confinement, because apparently the mutant-canceling technology isn't all that good if you're really, really mad.  She threatens the warden into releasing them, as if the warden actually had the power to decide that.  They arrive in Paris thanks to Magik, and Kitty just simply takes over giving orders; we don't even see Bobby for several panels, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't get in a word edgewise after Kitty's arrival.  Also, Storm's distress in imprisonment summons Stormcaster, an Asgardian weapon I vaguely remember her using in the day.  However, everyone stresses how even an amped-up Storm can't put a dent in Scythian, so the plan is merely to distract him until Magik can send him to Limbo.  But, then Kitty slams the Blackbird into him and that apparently does the trick?  Yeah, I don't know.  It's Guggenheim, so what can you do?  Also, the X-Men's actions in Paris not only mean that the NYPD apparently just forgives them for assaulting its cops but the Senate majority leaders says the deportation act is stalled.  Hurrah!  Cigars for everyone!  Honestly, I could've dealt with a little less Stormcaster, a little more sense here.

Also Read:  Astonishing X-Men #10; 
Nightwing #42

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Not-So-New Comics: The March 28 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avengers #686:  The authors continue to split their (and our) focus on the Hulk and Voyager here as we get more insight into both characters.  Simon appeals to the Banner persona he believes to be buried somewhere in the Hulk, but we appear to be dealing with an entirely different Hulk here.  This Hulk seems to be intelligent in his own right as opposed to the times he was intelligent because Banner was at least partially controlling him.  The Hulk dismisses Simon as an egotistical Hollywood star who's only a pacifist because he's immune to injury.  The Hulk threatens to injure him (making him question his pacifism), and Simon seems poised to face a spiritual crisis when Rogue and her team arrive.  Simon still believes he can appeal to the Hulk, but Rogue touches the Hulk, trying to drain his power.  She somehow sees inside the Hulk to Bruce, who exhaustedly tells her it's a whole new ballgame.  Meanwhile, Voyager confesses she's the Gamemaster's daughter, but pledges her support to the Avengers after their heroism inspired her.  When Gamemaster pushes her to activate the Pyramoid, she refuses, and she confirms for everyone -- including the Challenger -- her father used her to cheat.  But, the Hulk destroys the final Pyramoid, resulting in a negative point for the Challenger (since he was his pawn) and awarding the game to the Gamemaster.  Under blistering allegations of cheating from the Challenger, the Gamemaster offers a rematch, but the Challenger appears to kill him instead.  That's one way to solve the problem.

Daredevil #600:  Ho boy.  Matt's hole-filled plan for using New York's street-level heroes to take on the Kingpin proves how off his game he is.  Matt reveals the Kingpin has invited a group of Mob bosses -- including Black Cat, Hammerhead, and the Owl -- to a restaurant to discuss mayoral appointments right before his planned rally that night.  Matt plans on eavesdropping on the conversation and then using that information to call in the cops.  (His plan is based on the Supreme Court case he won, which makes information superheroes obtain legally admissible.  I'll admit I'm not sure why Matt would think a jury wouldn't find some reasonable doubt when it came to him testifying against the Kingpin.  Like, can we not get a recording, just to be safe?)  However, the heroes are skeptical, reminding him he's now Public Enemy #1 so the cops might not be so game to act on his tip.  Daredevil swears he has it under control, and they all get in position.  Meanwhile, "the Beast" offers Blindspot the power he needs to overcome the Muse, but Blindspot draws the line at killing him.  The Muse is irate at this refusal, running into flames on his own.  (This part made no sense to me.  I get the Muse is cray-cray, but I don't get why him killing himself somehow furthers "art.")  The Beast then pledges revenge for Blindspot refusing to take the Muse's life (though, again, I'm not totally clear why).  At the restaurant, Matt's plan goes awry when it turns out the Kingpin never appears; as Cat perceptively notes, he instead assumed the bosses would eventually turn on each other in the face of such boredom, which they do.  The heroes enter the fracas to stop them from killing each other, meaning they're on hand as the cops, who Fisk sent to the restaurant, arrive.  It allows the Kingpin to throw everyone -- mobsters and heroes -- in jail.  Daredevil escapes and confronts the Kingpin on the roof of City Hall, and the Kingpin beats him with a hammer after forcing Daredevil to stop him from beating himself (since he could blame the beating on Matt).  He then has Daredevil arrested.  However, even the Kingpin can't control everything:  the Beast sends the Hand to assassinate him.  At the rally, he's riddled with arrows as they swarm Central Park, and Daredevil thinks it's because the Beast is seeking revenge on him.  (If he isn't and it's because he's seeking revenge on Blindspot for breaking their deal, I'm not sure what his plan is.  Why attack the Kingpin to get revenge on Blindspot?  Matt thinks he's going after New York because it means everything to Matt, but I'm not sure it means as much to Blindspot.  If he is getting revenge on Matt, it does make sense, though presumably we'll see some other form of revenge involving Blindspot, too.  So much revenge, so little time.)  The plot thickens when the guy who had been reading all the regulations and rules to Matt reveals to Wesley that the Public Advocate used to be next in the line of succession, but the former mayor changed it when he ran for the third time and Kingpin hadn't changed it back yet.  The guy tells Wesley Matt had this information, which means Daredevil knows he's become acting Mayor given the Kingpin's incapacitation.  However, I'm not sure if that figured into Matt's plan.  After all, I'm pretty sure he wasn't expecting the Hand to incapacitate Kingpin while he was locked in a paddy wagon.  I guess we'll see.  (Also, I teared up a bit during the Foggy back-up story.)  

Detective Comics #977:  This issue is clever in a number of ways.  First, Ulysses shows Tim his future, and we learn it was Kate and the Colony assassinating Bruce in the Batcave --  on the President’s orders -- that sets up Tim’s confrontation with her.  It appears the  President ordered Bruce's execution because he again activated Brother Eye.  (I'm actually not sure when Bruce first activated Brother Eye.)  This development isn't just connected to some distant future, as Ulysses also introduces Tim to his creation (presumably Brother Eye) in this issue.  Ulysses says he’s helping Tim because he was furious to learn he (Ulysses) wasn’t part of the future at all; he wants to team with Tim so he can be relevant.  Tim isn’t sure he wants Ulysses' help, and Tynion does a solid job throughout the issue in showing Tim still reeling psychologically from the events of the last few weeks, including his time in Mr. Oz's prison.  Ulysses is disappointed with Tim's response, so he takes matters into his own hands when he hijacks two Colony troops and has them attack a bunch of criminals Batman is staking out.  Tim had just come to Bruce to ask for help, and Ulysses seems confident his actions will somehow get Tim to accept his offer.  I'm not sure I see the connection yet, but we'll see.

Doomsday Clock #4:  Unlike Snyder's race to the finish in "Dark Nights:  Metal" #6, Johns leaves you with the sense he has all the time in the world here, as he takes a detailed dive into the new Rorschach's origins.  We learn he was a quiet and socially awkward young man who spent most of his time with his parents.  Most importantly, his father was the original Rorschach's court-appointed psychiatrist, an outcome of his drive for fame and prestige.  (We see a scene from Rorschach's childhood where his mother begs his father to let them move from New York, as the Soviet Union is testing nuclear bombs every day Dr. Manhattan is involved in Vietnam.  Rorschach's father refuses to do so until his career gets going, and it's clear the blame Johns is pinning on them given their eventual deaths during Veidt's attack on New York.)  Rorschach is institutionalized after Veidt's attack, as he's consumed with rage (a reflection of the psychiatric impact many of the attack's survivors felt).  Mothman befriend him there and eventually teaches him how to fight, turning him into a one-man Minuteman.  Mothman would break free of prison from time to time to go flying.  On one trip, he returned with memorabilia from Rorschach's home, recognizing his longing for a connection to his parents.  Rorschach discovers his father's journal about the original Rorschach, but all but the initial chapter is missing.  He eventually decides to escape from prison, setting the institution on fire.  Mothman initially goes with him, but stops and enters the flames, saying, in a brilliant moment, he's been drawn to them lately.  But, he left Rorschach with a note -- including tickets to Antarctica and directions to Ozymandias' base -- saying he was invited there one time.  Rorschach arrives to kill Veidt, but Veidt collapses in remorse, realizing he's made a terrible mistake.  In the present, Bruce poses as a therapist to try to get Rorschach to tell him more about him, but fails, prompting Alfred to warn Bruce he severely underestimated Rohrschach.  Underlining the point, Jane Doe helps Rorschach escape Arkham after being disturbed by what she's seen in his mind.

Generation X #87:  I don't have too much to say here, other than the fact Strain does a great job maneuvering everyone into a solid place at the end.  Benjamin's love for Nathaniel is pure enough that it can survive (at least for now) his powers, and the X-Mansion seems like it now has two fewer virgins.  Quentin's powers are on the fritz, and he uses it as a justification for staying at the school.  Benji hugs him after his announcement, and it's a lovely moment, underscoring Jubilee's point that Quentin was more needed than he thought.  Quentin has always been a great character, and I'd love for someone to start teasing out his leadership potential, showing him a way to embrace the loneliness of leadership while getting past his ego to accept friendship (and love) when it's presented.  At the very least, he's gone a long way from Kid Omega.  Jubilee's resurrection doesn't feel forced, and Strain does a great job paying homage to this title by having Chamber, Husk, and Jubilee force Monet to remember who she is.  (To do so, they touch her, because Nathaniel purposefully "gave" her his powers, since he knew it meant they could use their links to her to overwhelm Emplate's link.)  Chamber gives Roxy a scarf as a sign of remembering who she is, and it's a really touching moment, the sort of non-romantic interaction we saw between Han Solo and Ubin in "Star Wars" #43.  In other words, all's well that ends well.  Like Grace on "Iceman," Strain clearly had other plans here, particularly when it came to often overlooked characters like Eye-Boy and Nature Girl.  I still find it hard to believe Marvel couldn't keep a teenage-focused mutant title running, but it is what it is, I guess.  All in all, Strain accomplished a lot in twelve issues, securing this next generation of X-Men in place after their absence since "Wolverine and the X-Men" ended.  I just wish it had been longer.

Moon Knight #193:  Although I like where Bemis takes us here, I found the fight with the Sun King concludes way too quickly.  Marc is pushed to the point where he thinks he’s going to die, and his personalities realize he has the “power of crazy,” i.e., the ability to make the truth irrelevant.  Motivated by Diatrice, Marc uses this power to beat the Sun King.  I get that part.  But, he really only gets in a few licks before he has the Sun King broken and recanting before him, claiming he now worships Marc.  At the end of last issue, Bemis seemed to be setting up Marc suffering a real crisis of faith, where he would have to reconcile his troubled relationship with Khonshu in the face of the Sun King's unwavering belief in Ra.  But, the personalities just basically have a chat, realize Diatrice is a good motivator for Marc, and send him into the ring to land a few punches.  It felt pretty anticlimactic.  That said, I like the idea of Marc taking over the Sun King's army as an advisor, teaching them how to "fight back against getting taking advantaged of like this again."  Every knight needs a few willing warriors, as he says.  We'll see how that plays.

Old Man Hawkeye #3:  Hawkeye arrives at Arcade's Murder World theme park at the start of this issue, and it's a pretty grim indictment of this reality (if you needed any more grim to make the point).  Hawkeye watches with profound dismay as some customers beat (possibly to death) the actor playing the "evil" Captain America, and it tells us everything we need to know about how Hawkeye feels about this brutal world.  But, he's there on a mission, and he achieves it:  he kills Atlas for siding with the villains.  As he makes his way to Atlas' tent, a seer -- whose identity isn't confirmed but almost seemed to be Rogue -- warns Hawkeye revenge isn't going to make him happy.  At the pivotal moment, Eric dares Hawkeye to kill him as memories of their time together as Thunderbolts race across Clint's mind.  Clint takes the shot, crying as he does so, proving the seer had a point.  Given the cover to next issue, he's going to move onto Beetle next, though Eric warned him Abner spends 18 hours a day making Doombots.  It was Eric's way of saying none of them benefited from this world.  But, Clint's got Bullseye and Venom-Madrox on his tail, so we'll see how that goes.

Peter Parker:  The Spectacular Spider-Man #302:  The thing I don't get here is that I'm pretty sure Dr. Doom said Peter and his crew can't change the past, so I'm not really sure what the stakes are.  Right now, the Peters exposing Norman's identity to the world has led to JJJ, Jr.'s death (possibly) and Norman learning Peter's identity.  It's obviously a pretty significant set of developments, so does it create a new reality?  Are we now on Earth-x or something?  If not, then will it all revert to the "normal" timeline once they depart?  I don't really see a third option.  As I've frequently said:  ugh, time-travel stories.  Right now, the biggest development seems to be proof that Mary and Richard Parker "faking" a pregnancy as part of a mission (to steal secrets related to the L.M.D. program) was just a ruse, as she was actually pregnant.  We'll see if that sticks.

Star Wars:  Dr. Aphra #18:  I spent the early part of this issue rolling my eyes as Aphra asserts the Imperials will swap the Rebel general for Triple-Zero's memories.  After all, the Imperials I know don't make deals; they'd just take the Rebel general off Aphra's hands and kill her and her team.  But, then Aphra disables the general's tracker so the Alliance can try to rescue her, bringing about the distraction she needed to slip on board Hivebase.  After all, as she says, "Imps" don't make deals.  Well played, Gillen.  Well played.

X-Men Blue #24:  This issue is great.  Bunn and Molina hit all the right notes, with each scene showing their grasp of the characters' histories and personalities.  Again, they're telling stories on so many levels here it's hard to remember them all.  First, Shaw initially overwhelms Magneto with his new powers, but Magneto's insistence that Mothervine's "gifts" have costs proves true when Shaw's powers start feeding off his own cells' energy.  In the Mojave desert, Miss Sinister's Marauders try to recruit Xorn, but he refuses.  Xorn is always a difficult character to read, as he's been through so many iterations.  I initially thought he was going to be a threat to Bloodstorm and Jimmy, but instead he seems to be more aligned to his iteration as a peaceful teacher.  Xorn attacks the Marauders to try to convince them to leave, but they return fire, with Mach II cracking his helmet.  Xorn is forced to focus on keeping his energy contained (as he has either a sun or black hole for the brain, depending on which Xorn we have here), and Bloodstorm and Jimmy rescue him.  Meanwhile, Malice makes short work of the Raksha (she pretty brutally breaks Norio's neck and wrists), expositing that she's an alternate universe version of Malice and part of Miss Sinister's Marauders.  Lorna eventually repels her, as this Malice is a weaker version of our Malice.  In perhaps the best sequence, Briar walks through a club in Spain to find a shirtless (and sexy as ever) Daken, handing him adamantine blades Magneto himself carved for him as an invitation to help.  Daken seems to bristle at the idea of working for Magneto, but Briar encourages him to think of it as more an excuse to employ his talent for chaos.  The issue ends with Magneto meeting Alex and his team at a secret safe house he maintained off the coast of Scotland.  He talks about it as a reflective place, though admits that reflection rarely led him to change course.  Alex asks Magneto to work with them, but Magneto brings Shaw with him to show how astray they've gone.  Alex is dismissive of the costs, and Bunn makes it pretty clear he's going to pay for that.

Also Read:  Ben Reilly:  Scarlet Spider #16

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Dark Nights: Metal #6, or OMG WTF?

Dark Nights:  Metal #6:  [Sigh.]  OK, let's do this thing.

I initially wrote a rage-induced review of this issue, but I slept on it, wondering if I'd feel the same way the next day.  Upon re-reading parts of the issue, I can say I revised some areas where I had a more positive reaction the second time.  That said, my initial assessment of this issue, and the event itself, stands:  I can't remember a cross-over event that started with more promise that ended as spectacularly disappointingly as this one.

I'm going to try to address the events as clearly and neutrally as possible, but I'm going to admit upfront I fail at that several times.

Barbatos makes the disastrous (some would say "convenient") decision to gather Aquaman, Deathstroke, Green Lantern, and Mister Terrific on Challengers Mountain, where Kendra and Wonder Woman are fighting his Armies of Darkness.  (Martian Manhunter is nowhere to be seen, even though he was with Green Lantern and Mister Terrific on Thanagar Prime when they were defeated.)  At Kendra's suggestion, Diana clanks Hawkman's Ninth Metal mace against her Eighth Metal bracelets, allowing her to communicate with the guys.  The four men rally at Diana's urging to fight the Armies of Darkness, and Cyborg and Flash helpfully arrive with various Batmen to join the battle.  (Somehow, these Batmen are connected to the chimps from the 53rd Universe from "Dark Nights:  The Wild Hunt" #1, but I'm not sure how.)

As the guys take over fighting the Armies of Darkness, Kendra lowers Diana via her lasso into the portal through which the Armies of Darkness came, to find Bruce and Clark.  Instead, Diana encounters the monstrous Hawkman, and a surprised Kendra calls to him, waking him (somewhat) from his stupor and allowing him to land some blows on Barbatos.  Diana then returns with Bruce and Clark, though her discovery of them happens entirely off-panel.  They're all wearing Tenth Metal (a.k.a. Element X) armor.  Batman initially says he only has a drop of Tenth Metal left (presumably after forging their armor), but he's able to use that "drop" to build armor for Aquaman and Green Lantern.  (Bruce and Clark discovering the Tenth Metal also happens off-panel.  All we're told is Tenth Metal is the metal of the Forge and thus the metal of "possibilities."  One of those possibilities was apparently the ability for Bruce to craft armor at will.)

Hawkman continues to take on Barbatos, who orders the Batman Who Laughs to enact the final plan:  he'll combine the captive Over-Monitor (positive energy), the Anti-Monitor's "astral brain" (negative energy), and himself (dark energy) to destroy all universes.  (Is there not "light energy?"  I assume we've learn more in the sequel, "Light Mornings.")  But, Bruce and the Joker arrive in his Batcave under Challenger Mountain to kick his ass, because apparently the only thing the man who plans for everything wasn't expected was them teaming up.

Bruce rescues the Over-Monitor (leaving the Joker fighting the Batman Who Laughs in the cave as it collapses), and the Over-Monitor informs the League it doesn't need the Tuning Fork Barbatos destroyed to save Earth -- they just need to believe.  Everyone holds hands (I'm not kidding) and uses the Tenth Metal in all living things to create a frequency (I think?) that lifts Earth from the Dark Dimension.  Earth is not only saved, but it breaks through the Source Wall, which apparently was saving us from even worse stuff happening.  (Apparently, the known Multiverse was like a fishbowl that's now been poured into the ocean.)  But, Bruce is going to build the Hall of Justice, so it's all OK.

The Less Terrible
If I'm being charitable (hence the good night's sleep), I'd say Snyder was just too ambitious for the space he had.  He introduced too many concepts late in the game, from the chimps of the 53rd Universe in "Dark Knights:  The Wild Hunt" #1 to Barbatos and the Batman Who Laughs' "final plan" to destroy all reality.  As such, he's forced to drop promising threads from previous issues, like the Court of Owls' role as the Judas Tribe, Dream's intervention to help Batman and Superman save the day, or the Batman Who Laughs' secret agenda.  Moreover, he's forced to shift the series' focus on characters abruptly at the end.  The League so easily defeats the Dark Batmen -- even before they got their Tenth Metal armor -- that I don't think any of them even got in a line in the issue.  A great character like Bryce Wayne is essentially just cannon fodder.  Even the Batman Who Laughs -- who seemed to be the only really running the show as Barbatos merely screamed his scream -- is suddenly demoted to lackey.  Meanwhile, the Joker appears from nowhere, lands a few punches on the Batman Who Laughs, and, as far as I can tell, dies in the Batman Who Laugh's Batcave.  (I'm assuming he's not dead, but it goes to the point that Snyder just drops characters and plots right and left here.)

The Ugly
If I'm being less charitable, I'd say there's a point where an author is expected to go home with the person he took to the dance.  Snyder doesn't do that here.  Despite the chaotic battle sequences throughout the book and WTF moments like the chimps from the 53rd Universe (yes, I know, I'm still having problems getting past that), he had plenty of pages to try to impose a coherent narrative, even if retroactively at the end.  For example, he could've used Carter Hall to explain the sequence of events that resulted in Thanagar Prime's canon, Hawkman's mace, and King Arion's crucible becoming capable of dragging Earth into the Dark Dimension when used together.  After all, Snyder never really explains the dynamic of this arrangement; he also doesn't explain how Barbatos became aware of this possibility and used it to his advantage.  He also could've used Batman's final confrontation with the Batman Who Laughs to draw a line under Batman as the common theme of this series, doing a better job than he did in issue #2 of explaining why Barbatos chose Bruce as his doorway or why he chose Bruce's Dark Dimension analogues for his general and foot soldiers.  I could also see him using the Over-Monitor for some additional exposition, like how the events of this issue resulted in the Forge getting rekindled (which Snyder doesn't explain) or what it means.  (Does the Dark Dimension still exist as the proving ground of the Orrery now?)  But, he doesn't do any of that.  He pivots immediately to this idea of the Source Wall and what its destruction means for the Justice League.  In other words, it was all an elaborate sales pitch for "Justice League."  It was like when I went to a friend's birthday party expecting day drinking and shenanigans but discovered he had turned it into a political fundraiser with canapés and speeches.

The Conclusion
Scott Snyder used to be a thoughtful writer.  His "Black Mirror" story in "Detective Comics" is just about the most perfect character-based story I've ever read.  He had a clear vision for where he wanted Dick Grayson to go and he articulated his journey to that point brilliantly.  I honestly can't say what story he wanted to tell here.  I thought he was telling a story about how Bruce played a certain role in the Multiverse.  After all, the first few issues (including "Dark Days") were all about Bruce trying to solve a great cosmic mystery, only to discover he was the smoking gun.  But, we didn't really get that story in the end.  The best shot I can give at a summary is Barbatos' failed attempt at destroying reality inadvertently resulted in the breaching of the Source Wall.  Maybe he just wanted to tell a story where Batman rode a Jokerized dragon.  That's totally cool!  But, that's not the event we were sold.

There's a certain type of comic reader who loves this sort of event for being an event, and a certain sub-type of that reader who'd troll me by saying I just don't understand how brilliant Snyder (or Morrison or Hickman) is.  Fine.  I'm glad they enjoy it.  But, I am mostly a proponent of Chekhov's gun:  if an author makes a big deal about something, I expect it to be addressed at some point.  For example, if I'm supposed to be awed by how formidable the Dark Batmen are as they chase the Justice League through the Multiverse in issues #3-#5, then I don't expect them to be wordlessly dispatched in issue #6.  Snyder basically collects a suitcase full of Chekhovian guns throughout this series and, pressing his audience's patience by running long, just hurls the suitcase at us in the last scene.  I'm sore now, and I'm just glad it's over.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Not-So-New Comics: The March 21 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avengers #685:  This issue mostly just moves the chess pieces around the board, as Dr. Voodoo volunteers to be "paused" so Vision can prevent the Hulk from killing everyone in the auxiliary headquarters in his march to get to Voyager and the Pyramoid.  But, Vision incorrectly dismiss the Hulk as mindless, believing the Hulk is too dumb to realize he's solidifying his fingers around the Hulk's brain.  The Hulk recognizes this trick, and he bashes the Vision over the head as he solidifies, possibly killing him.  Meanwhile, Simon arrives to try to talk some sense into the Hulk, and Voyager rebuffs her father's attempts to get her to activate the final Pyramoid.  Looking back, certain parts of this issue confused me.  First, everyone expresses concern that Simon turning into ionic energy to get to New York quickly might mean he won't be able to become flesh and bone again.  However, didn't he do exactly the same thing a few issues ago to visit Jarvis in the hospital?  Moreover, I thought it was a bit of a stretch that Wanda could suddenly chose someone to freeze in exchange for someone else.  If she can, shouldn't they bench the B and C Listers in favor of more powerful players?  I would think someone like the X-Men's Magik would be super-helpful right now.  On the plus side, I now realize Voyager was supposedly the Grandmaster's ace in the hole, but she's refusing to help him, given her anger of him treating her as little more than a pawn.  That wasn't totally clear to me last issue, but it makes more sense here.

Batman #43:  I'm not sure if this story is over, but, if it is, I call a massive foul.  We'll get to that part in a minute.  First, I'll say this issue was much better than last issue, as it was grounded in an unusually sensitive Bruce realizing Harley was the key to Pamela's salvation.  That part was beautifully and lovingly handled; King even implies it's Bruce's relationship with Selina that makes him able to see this answer.  But, the "foul" part enters the equation when it becomes clear King never explained how Pamela powered up so significantly she was able to control 8 billion people.  EIGHT BILLION PEOPLE!  It's really an unforgivable sin.  It's one of those moments where I just don't understand how an editor could've possibly let it pass.  Compounding matters further, Bruce tells Pamela she didn't actually kill the five men she thought she killed, the thing that seemed to set her on this course in the first place.  (King also doesn't explain why she's feeling this way now, years after the event.  Again, didn't the editor raise an eyebrow?)  I believe Bruce is saying the Riddler shot them dead but (again, for an unclear reason) wanted Pamela to believe she did it.  But, it doesn't explain why the Riddler would want her to feel the blame or how Pamela just overlooked the fact their bodies were ridden with bullet.  I just don't get it, and it's a shame, because King does such a great job with the emotional beats.

Mighty Thor #705:  This issue is suitably epic, though I'm not sure I have much to say.  Thor uses the chains the dwarves of Nidavellir originally created to restrain Fenris until Ragnarok to restrain Mangog and then sends Mjolnir with him into the center of the Sun.  Often climaxes of years-long stories feel oversimplified, but this one doesn't; the destruction of Mjolnir and subsequent death of Jane feel like the only way Mangog could be stopped at the point they occur.  Other options might've been available earlier, but this resolution is the only one that seems to work now.  It's hard to even know what we're supposed to feel.  After last issue's meditation on death, you get the sense Jane knew exactly what she was doing, so it's hard to regret her death here.  But, Odinson becoming Thor again feels like a regression, no matter the excellent job Aaron has done showing Odinson's march to worthiness.  He's certainly aware of that, so I'm intrigued to see how he bridges that gap and makes Odinson taking up the mantle of Thor again as invigorating as Jane's run has been.  He's set his own bar really high.

Ms. Marvel #28:  You guys, I totally cried a lot at this issue.  Like, a lot.

Nightwing #41:  This arc has been really hit or miss, and this issue itself is the same way.  On one hand, I liked Guppie's focus on getting Dick to forgive himself for letting the Judge run up the death toll he has.  Guppie points out Dick forgave Baby Ruthless and Detective Svoboda for their transgressions and is trying to get Guppie to forgive himself for killing his father, but Dick's unwilling to let himself off the hook.  It's a good point and a good insight into Dick's character.  But, I don't understand how Dick magically stopped the Judge.  Sure, I bought the idea he -- and he alone -- could resist the Judge's offer of living happily ever after in exchange for allowing the Judge to return to the sea.  But, he basically just tackles him underwater and calls it a day.  Was the Judge really that weak?  He was in his natural element, but he couldn't outwrestle Dick?  (I mean, I'm even giving Higgins a pass on the fact I don't think we ever learned how the Judge got his supernatural powers in the first place.)  It just seemed like Higgins knew he had to wrap up the story; he didn't need the Judge anymore, so Dick was now able to capture him.  Meh.

Pathfinder:  Spiral of Bones #1:  I love Pathfinder, but I have to admit this issue is a miss for me.  Valeros and company have come to Kaer Maga to learn more about Thassilonian magic.  Cool, I get that part.  Thassilonian magic has certainly caused them some trouble.  Valeros gets into a dispute with a troll fortune teller, but he's saved by Imrijka, a half-orc fuck buddy from his caravan days.  Imrijka is a inquisitor of Pharasma, and it's entirely possible it wasn't coincidence she ran into them.  I just don't yet understand why she would be tailing them, but Frasier seems to be implying something is afoot here.  At any rate, Ezren and Harsk get into trouble when Ezren accidentally teleports them into Kaer Maga's extensive undercity, and Ezren calls Seoni via a message spell for help.  Making their way to the undercity, Merisiel and Valeros have an odd conversation about kids, with Valeros saying he doesn't want to leave a kid without a dad if he dies on an adventure.  It's weird, but it's also a sign Valeros may have some honest-to-goodness emotions somewhere in there, so I'll take it.  Of course, Valeros then gets knocked through a wall during a skirmish, touches a mysterious gem, and finds himself held by a goat-horned, blue-skinned woman in the afterlife.  I appreciate Frasier's focus on Valeros as a person and not just a mindless brawler, but something about the setup here felt forced to me.  For example, touching a mysterious gem on an altar is a pretty rookie mistake for someone with Valeros' experience, and something about his relationship (such as it is) with Imrijka also felt totally forced.  We'll see where we go from here, I guess.

Spider-Gwen #29-30:  The story Latour was telling -- reaching all the way to the "Spider-Women" event and the Madripoor arc -- took a sharp turn in issue #29, as Uncle Ben's exhortation for Gwen to murder Matt Murdoch apparently created some sort of divergence in the time stream.  I didn't totally understand it at the time, but, having read issue #30 and now re-read issue #29, I feel like I can now review both issues.

In issue #29, Utaa, the Watcher of Earth-8 (the one where Gwen marries Miles and they create some sort of Spidertopia), visits Utau, the Watcher of Earth-65, to warn him something happening on Utau's world threatens Utaa's future.  Utau confirms Earth-8 is the future version of Earth-65's present.  Right off the bat, I have problems with this part.  As far as I understand it, the multiverse doesn't work that way.  Something had to happen to make Earth-8 diverge as a timeline from Earth-65.  Utaa tries to explain timelines are a continuum where time recycles itself and the "sturdier" timelines show little change.  Or, put another way, "we are delicately intertwined by a baffling paradox -- we know each moment diverges infinitely making all roads possible."  He says Earth-65's past has been "a reliable passage" to Earth-8's future, but that still makes no sense.  Something has to happen to make Earth-8 diverge from Earth-65; it's not a separate timeline if it's just the future of an existing timeline.  Earth-8's and Earth-65's futures at some specific point -- the same point in both Universes -- have to be different.  Ugh, time-travel stories.

On Earth-65 itself, Castle makes his way through the Hand to get to Murdoch, but Gwen saves him from Castle.  The Punisher is furious at her for doing so, but Captain America joins the fray, knocking out Castle and encouraging Gwen to let the justice system handle Murdoch.  But, her appeal to "justice" infuriates Gwen, and she lets her Venom persona take control.  She takes out Cap, and she's poised to kill Murdoch, much to his delight as he won't be alone when it comes to power corrupting people.  But, she stops herself, refusing to become him.  Right then, Murdoch's increasingly dinging watch he swiped from Gwen activates, sending Gwen outside the space-time continuum...to the original Gwen Stacy!

Issue #30 starts with Utaa taking Utau to Earth-8 to show him how Gwen intending to kill Murdoch is the first problematic feature of the timeline.  (Presumably it means she didn't do so in the existing Earth-65 and Earth-8 timelines, but I still don't understand the idea that they don't know when exactly their timelines diverged.)  Utaa says a "rot" has already set into Earth-65, and he expresses concern someone intentionally removed Gwen from the time stream.  Meanwhile, in original Gwen's world, Spider-Gwen seeks help from Reed Richards, but the Baxter Building's security system confuses her for Peter trying to get a job (they're not hiring, FYI) and shocks her off the building.  (Heh.)  She tracks down original Gwen and admits she's from a different universe.  Latour is brilliant here, showing original Gwen as the sort of genius even Stan Lee had problems showing her as being back then, as she quizzes Spider-Gwen about whether she's from an anti-matter dimension, like the Negative Zone.  She offers to bring in Peter, but Spider-Gwen hilariously says Peter's sweet, but makes it all about him.

But, it's where Latour goes next that really shows his brilliance.  Spider-Gwen admits to original Gwen she's Venom, falling under sway of a dark voice inside her head.  But, she also admits she knows original Gwen's father just died (after previously stumbling upon a flyer looking for Spider-Man in connection to his murder), so she knows original Gwen understand "dark."  At this point, original Gwen calls Spider-Gwen on her bullshit, telling her the rest of us have to deal with our bad moments rather than blaming it on black ooze.  Original Gwen talks about her particular era of a time, an era where anything she can dream is happening, but an era that still can't return Captain Stacy to her.  Spider-Gwen is forced to admit she went after Murdoch not to do the right thing, but because she was angry and felt helpless; revenge gave her an outlet.  Original Gwen explains Schrödinger's cat to Spider-Gwen, telling her each moment is unique, with everything hanging in the balance.  She tells her to embrace the fact her options are infinite -- no one has opened the box yet -- and go make her dad proud.  As original Gwen says this interaction gives her hope, where Gwen Stacy is a superhero and her father is alive, this Earth is suddenly designated Earth-617, making us all wonder what original Gwen will now do in this timeline.

But, Latour doesn't stop there.  To freak out everyone, he reveals the "mysterious hand" that removed Spider-Gwen from the timestream is Earth-8's Spider-Gwen...because she's also been Venomized.  Dun-dun-DUN!

Star Wars #45:  I have to say, after Marquez's great cover, I found Larroca and Guru-eFX's reliance of photo referencing has grown particularly tired.  The point of this series isn't to pretend we're watching some sort of intermediary episode between Episode IV and V, but to break new ground in telling the stories of these legendary characters.  Luke and Wedge exude actual emotion on the cover, whereas everyone inside the issue has started looking like claymation figures someone moves between panels.  [Sigh.]  At any rate, the story itself is solid.  Luke is thrilled to encounter Wedge in the mess hall at the Mako-Ta Base, where Han has taken him for a drink.  Han asks if he wants something stronger than milk, but Luke reminds him the last time he had something stronger he was fed to "some kind of bloodsucking alien queen."  Ha!  (Han acknowledges his point.)  Meanwhile, Leia informs the Jedi High Command of her plan to replace regent Urtya with King Lee-Char.  Some of the commanders ridicule her, as they've never had Lee-Char's location.  She reveals Trios (whose name she doesn't reveal) has provided it.  (This part is particularly interesting, because Leia actually notes aloud she's not telling the High Command Trios' name, making it clear Trios' anonymity is both highly valued and probably at risk.)  To free Lee-Char, she plans on capturing the Imperial Moff of the Calamari sector to use his access codes, and the commanders are shocked at the boldness of her plan.  However, she acknowledges a weakness in her plan:  the Imperials will change the codes once they realize the Moff is missing.  One of the previously critical commanders is helpful here, providing Leia with details of where she can liberate a shape-shifter.  Leia puts together the team, and they quickly acquire said asset from the "Dex Acquisitions Depot" on Meor Ain.  The caper involves Chewie posing as a Wookiee bounty hunter called Violent Bok and Leia punching out the shape-shifter when he pretends to be her father.  The issue ends with Leia agreeing with Chewie that they both need strong milks.  Please someone show us that moment.

Tales of Suspense #103:  Rosenberg does a great job here laying all the cards on the table in a way that make sense.  Natasha awakens after her death at Captain Nazi's hands in the Red Room, but she remembers more than she's supposed to remember.  We learn a telepath named Epsilon Red has a psychic connection to all the Red Room assassins, allowing him to serve as essentially an external hard drive where their memories are stored.  When they die, they are resurrected into a clone body with Epsilon Red implanting Red Room-approved memories into their minds.  The Red Room is also holding hostage Ursa Major (who can become a sentient bear), and he trades allowing Epsilon Red to pet his fur for Red installing all Natasha's memories into her new body.  Natasha then sets about liberating all the clones, using them as disposable agents:  she uses one to pose as Sally Blevins to be the victim of the Red Room's hit on her and later another one to throw off Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier after they spot her on the bridge.  She then kills her handler after the operation is moved to New York, and the story comes to the present as she encounters the dumb-founded boys on the rooftop.  She makes quick work of them, taking Bucky's arm and Clint's bow before trapping them in a panic room and exploding the building around them.  It's pretty clear she doesn't want them to get hurt as she goes after the remains of the Red Room.  My one question now is whether Epsilon Red made her remember her relationship with Bucky.  Fingers crossed!

Youngblood #10:  This issue is interesting, because Bowers again shows his willingness to explore the psychological impact superheroing has on people.  When a Hulk-like monster breaks free of a Japanese holding facility, Ryan deploys Team Youngblood.  The faux Hulk (Fulk?) quickly overpowers Dolante and Vogue, and Horatio only manages to stop him by stomping on him.  However, Fulk eventually breaks through Horatio's feet and proceeds to break two fingers.  Dolante makes a connection with the creature, but an enraged Horatio grabs him and intends to bite off his head.  Vogue tries to reason with him as Dolante threatens to incapacitate him, but Horatio tells Vogue she doesn't understand what he's seen because she hasn't been in the game as long as he has.  He's obviously traumatized from the period when he was working as a mercenary against his will, and he tells Vogue he can't have anymore blood on his hands.  However, Vogue has Dolante incapacitate him before he can kill Fulk.  The difference between Horatio's argument here and Kate's argument in "Detective Comics" is Bowers makes it clear other options exist to neutralize Fulk's threat before it kills anyone else (as opposed to Batwoman having to take the kill-shot to stop Clayface's rampage).  Ryan reveals the entire ordeal was tantamount to an audition.  As a natural leader, he needs a team to lead, and he's worked out an agreement with the Japanese Prime Minister.  She offers them official status, which they accept, on the condition Horatio isn't included.  I'm pretty sure they've just made their number-one enemy here.  I give a lot of credit for Bowers for where he's gone with Horatio.  After all, he's the whole reason Youngblood came together, so his immediate fall from grace is shocking, both to the reader and the team.  It's not something I feel like we'd see in DC or Marvel books.

Also Read:  Quantum & Woody #4; X-Men Gold #24

Friday, April 6, 2018

Not-So-New Comics: The March 14 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avengers #684:  We finally learn the truth about Voyager in this issue, as she reveals she's Grandmaster's daughter.  We also learn the Hulk is apparently more or less immortal now, which actually makes a lot of sense the way the authors present it.

If I'm following the story the authors are telling correctly, Grandmaster gives Voyager powers appropriate to each game he's playing, and he then uses her to make sure he wins.  Her current set of powers allows her to move through space and time and she can also use them to "move" through memories somehow as well.  As a result, she was able to implant the false memories about her in the Avengers' minds.  Apparently, the parasite in Jarvis’ memory center prevented her from altering his memories.

I have to be honest, I feel like everything related to Jarvis has been plain old bizarre.  I don't understand why the authors spent so much time making him immune to Voyager's powers.  I'm pretty sure all the events that have happened so far would've still happened in the same sequence if he hadn't been immune.  It just meant Hank accepted he was telling the truth when he woke from his coma, because Hank had been inside his brain.  But, this knowledge doesn't have any impact on the story; Voyager is still able to swipe the spirit Pyramoid.  Moreover, the authors didn't have to use some cockamamie excuse that her teleportation powers somehow allow her to alter memories.  As the daughter of an Elder of the Universe, it would've been totally believable that she had advanced telepathic powers as well.  But, whatever.  It is what it is.

All that said, Voyager's motives are less clear than we first thought.  She seems tired of helping her father rig his games, so it's unclear what she plans to do with the spirit Pyramoid.  I guess we'll see.

Meanwhile, the authors make the compelling argument the Hulk is immortal.  They review all the times he’s died and survived, and they imply he survives because his rage keeps a spark of life alive in him each time.  I totally buy that.  The authors do require a pretty significant knowledge of Hulk’s history to understand the nuance of the story they’re telling.  I accept I'm not going to follow everything about every character, and they do include a helpful guide at the end of the issue tying the events to specific issues of the various Hulk titles.  But, the entire sequence is made confusing through the use of a third-party narrator talking about a door (presumably to resurrection) that I didn’t quite follow as a metaphor.  (I think the Challenger was the narrator, but I'm not sure.)

At any rate, the authors right the ship once the Hulk is fully resurrected, showing how awesome he is as he tears through the skeleton team guarding the back-up HQ where Toni is working and Voyager has fled with the spirit Pyramoid.  (This part is clearer now.  Last issue, I thought she was in a bunker in the hospital, but now it's clear she teleported to the HQ once she grabbed the Pyramoid.)  The other teams are racing back, but the only thing standing between the Hulk and Voyager right now is...Iron Red Hulk!  Awesome sauce.  (Also, I’m pretty sure Hulk killed Captain Glory and Mentacle. R.I.P., Mentacle.)

Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider #15:  You don’t really have to pick up “Damnation” to follow this issue.  David makes it clear enough Dr. Strange’s attempt to repair Las Vegas allowed Mephisto to open his “Hotel Inferno” on the Strip, unleashing hordes of demons onto Vegas like “Inferno” did to New York.  In his usually brilliant fashion, David uses the event to advance the series’ plot, revealing the little girl who kidnapped Aunt June works for the Diogenes Initiative.  It apparently has an augur on staff who predicted this event, and the girl instructs Ben to find the Midnight Sons.  When he does, he drives a cement truck into a group of demonized Avengers poised to attack them.  Yeah, it’s pretty great.  I’m guessing we’re going to learn Ben is immune to demonization because of Death’s hold on him, but we’ll see.  It’s all very reminiscent of the “Circle of Four” event in “Venom” from a few years ago, but David does his best with the hand corporate has dealt him.

Detective Comics #976:  Man, Tynion is really playing a long game here.  First, I love Bruce admitting Batgirl was right.  He so rarely admits fault, but it's important he do so here, as he uses this fault as justification for shutting down the Knights program.  Tynion goes beyond that, though.  Bruce tells Tim he has Batgirl monitoring the city so he can talk to Tim, and it doesn't take an empath to draw the same conclusion as Tim, that Barbara has raised in Bruce's esteem over Tim.  Tim responds as you'd expect an increasingly traumatized teenager would, fleeing the Batcave in a rage.  Meanwhile, Kate is getting her revenge by taking over the Colony, creating exactly the sort of peace-keeping force Tim wanted the Knights to be.  With Ulysses offering to show Tim his future self's history, it's not hard to see how dangerous these unstable boys feeling the sting of rejection could become.  Tynion is possibly showing us the start of Tim following in the footsteps of Jason and becoming an enemy, and it's gripping to watch.

New Mutants:  Dead Souls #1:  As someone who possesses every issue of the original "New Mutants" run, including the cross-over event with "Dazzler" during "Secret Wars II," I'm obviously game for this mini-series.  Rosenberg makes it clear he's got big plans.  Shan has hired Magik, Boom Boom, Rictor, Strong Guy, and Wolfsbahne to work for her company, Hatchi Corporation.  Their first job is taking out a bunch of zombies attacking a hurricane-relief center Hatchi is running in New Orleans.  It turns out the foreman (allegedly) stole a ring from a dead woman who happened to be a witch, and she "overreacted" by infesting the area with zombies.  (Removing the ring apparently forced her soul to get stuck in Limbo because it broke certain seals of protection she had put on the neighborhood, hence the ability of a dead woman to "overreact.")  Oddly, Magik just lets her go once she reunites her with her ring, something Shan finds objectionable.  After all, she was responsible for killing a not insignificant portion of the town.  But, Rosenberg makes it clear something else is going on here, as the foreman himself didn't really know why he stole the ring and Shan refuses to answer Rictor's question why Shan needs paranormal investigators in the first place.  Rosenberg also does a solid job establishing the status quo of each character, as Shan says she settled for this crowd because everyone else from the New Mutants -- Cannonball, Magma, Skids, and Sunspot - had their lives together.  But, something feels...off here.  I think it's the fact the paranormal angle feels somewhat forced, but I think that might be on purpose.  I'm definitely willing to give Rosenberg some space here.  That said, if he really wants me for the long haul, Shatterstar should be popping up soon.

Peter Parker:  The Spectacular Spider-Man #301:  This issue is really all about Joe Quinones, given his ability to nail the retro look this issue needs to make you believe it's happening in the past.  It's his ability to distinguish between older (and extremely handsome) Peter with younger (and so young) Peter.  The look of shock on both JJJ, Jr. and Peter's faces as they confront how young he really was is both hilarious and moving.

Star Wars:  Darth Vader #13:  This issue is really interesting, because it serves as a prequel to the story Gillen is telling in the main title, namely the fall of Mon Cala.  The Emperor sends Darth Vader to help Governor Tarkin take over Mon Cala for two reasons.  First, he believes it is time to show the Empire's citizens that the Empire isn't a successor of the Republic, but an entity unto itself under his sole control.  Second, he believes King Lee-Char is receiving help in negotiating the terms of a trade agreement from a Jedi, and he wants Vader to crush him.  (In the main title, Lee-Char is being held prisoner, and Mon Cala is suffering under the Empire's thumb as punishment for its rebellion.)  Tarkin is urging caution among his troops, reminding them Mon Cala has many resources they don't want to destroy.  However, upon Vader's arrival, the Imperial ambassador's ship mysteriously explodes, prompting Tarkin to launch the invasion.  Soule has made it clear this fight is a proxy for Vader's internal struggle, as we begin the issue with him replaying his fight with Obi-Wan on Mustafar in his mind but this time winning.  Is Obi-Wan the mysterious Jedi helping the Mon Calamari?  We'll see.

The Wild Storm:  Michael Cray #6:  One of the challenges of this series is that Cray is essentially unstoppable.  As Dr. Shahi suggested, he begins to converse with his parasite here, allowing him even further control over his ability to detonate matter.  (As we see with him detonating Curry's manor from the shore, he doesn't even have to touch it anymore.)  But, it also means no one really poses that much of a threat; his fight with Aquaman is over in minutes if not seconds.  He also continues to fail Trelane, as he refuses to turn over Curry's research to her.  Trelane herself acknowledges she probably has to kill him now, as it's the second time he failed to provide her data (after the Flash destroyed his research before Cray could recover it).  He seems to know he's on his own at this point, and he weeps over the creature he's becoming.  We learn he's going to seek out Jonathan Constantine, who tortures a seer to death to learn more about Cray.  It's just hard to know what the outcome is here.  If IO and Skywatch have set Cray loose, where does he go from here?

X-Men Blue #23:  Holy shit, this issue is an effing barn-burner.  We have multiple threats building at once.  First, Emma Frost and Havok are working with Bastion and Miss Sinister to launch Mothervine, some sort of artificial intelligence (I think) that will quadruple the mutant population within a year and help bring about secondary mutations.  (Bastion wants more mutants just so he can slaughter them, and Alex and Emma assume Miss Sinister wants to rule them all.)  Meanwhile, Miss Sinister's agents are tracking someone, and Bloodstorm and Jimmy are on their trail.  However, since they're not from our Earth, they don't recognize Xorn when he reveals himself to the trackers.  The Raksha arrive at Magneto's house to inform him they fought some Hellfire Club goons right there in Madripoor, and Magneto realizes it's time he takes out Sebastian Shaw, even though Briar is pretty sure it's just Emma trying to distract him.  If it is, it works, as Magneto goes after Shaw, but is surprised when Shaw reveals a secondary mutation (thanks to Mothervine):  he can now collect ambient kinetic energy.  In Madripoor, Gazing Nightshade uses her powers to see Lorna believes she can save Alex from his inversion, but Bunn complicates matters when Ferris presents her a necklace he found in Jean's effects:  Malice is back!  In other words, this series isn't really about the original X-Men anymore.  It may be in the future, but Bunn is clearly using their absence to advance some long-simmering plots, bringing Alex and Emma from the shadows and even raising the possibility of Alex getting cured.  Based on this issue, though, that might be too optimistic of a read of the future.

Also Read:  Astonishing X-Men #9; Falcon #6; Marvel Two-in-One #4