Tuesday, July 10, 2018

New-ish Comics: The June 27 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman:  Prelude to the Wedding - Harley vs. Joker #1:  We learn the answer to the question many of us have been asking since “Batman” #49:  if Joker died in that issue, how is he alive here?  The answer is disappointing:  he’s not.  I mean, he is alive here, but this issue precedes issue #49.  I don’t know why DC didn’t ship this issue in time, but it really undermines what otherwise is yet another great story on Seeley’s part.  Harley is trying to prevent Joker from ruining the wedding because she wants to see a fairy tale come true, just once.  For his part, Joker lets her capture him because he admits he’s always been jealous of her death traps, and he needed inspiration for the one he planned for the wedding.  It’s a classic struggle, particularly with the revelation Joker was in control the entire time.  But, if you’ve read issue #49, you spend most of this issue wondering when it takes place, because Joker is (theoretically) dead.  It’s one of the too frequent examples of a creative team’s work being undermined by forces outside their control.

Detective Comics #983:  I don’t remember Black Lightning’s failure in “Dark Days:  The Forge” that Bruce mentions here, but it's pretty clear he's re-forming the Outsiders despite this failure.  If you’re worried the Bat-family already has enough people, you’re not alone:  an OMAC lookalike seems intent on killing members of the Bat-family for making “him” weaker.  In a way, it seems to be a rehash of Joker’s crusade in “Death of the Family” (though I'm not entirely convinced the "he" OMAC mentions here is Bruce).  Right now, it’s unclear how his war on the Bat-family will mesh with Batman pulling together the Outsiders, other than the possibility the villain isn't aware of them and they'll need to save the day.  We shall see.

Infinity Countdown:  Darkhawk #3:  Seriously how many times can Marvel ret-con Darkhawk’s origin?  We learn here the Gardener, one of the Elders of the Universe, created the Tree of Shadows.  He was obsessed with seeing where he could grow life, and he saw the Darkforce Dimension as a challenge.  He apparently forgot about the Tree after planting it.  However, millennia later, the Shi’ar and Skrulls somehow discovered it and fought over it.  A Shi’ar soldier gets to the Tree first and steals a seed, and it somehow transforms him into a set of “living armor.”  (I'm definitely not sure how that happened.  Did his armor take over his body?  If so, how and why did the Tree make that happen?)  Moreover, the soldier observes the Skrulls changing shape, which somehow allows him to change shape?  I don’t know.  At any rate, he seems to be the first Raptor.  Chris gets this information from Razor, who was supposedly dead but whose essence is apparently still rattling around wherever Chris’ consciousness/soul is.  Along those lines, I think the amulet is Chris' soul now?  He mentions how his soul is powering Starhawk; since Robbie became Starhawk when he got his hands on the amulet, the transitive property means Chris' soul is the amulet.  At any rate, Razor’s pep talk here means Chris can suddenly alter his armor again.  This time, he sheds his former armor like a skin and becomes a new set of armor that can turn into a ship.  I don't know.  This whole story just feels like a mess.

Multiple Man #1:  "Dammit, Jamie!  Stuff like this is why everyone finds you so annoying!"  Truer words, Beast, truer words.  The new New Mutants find one of Jamie's dupes in a sealed-off lab, though we're never told why they're looking for the lab in the first place.  It turns out this dupe had all of Jamie's science abilities and was trying to create a serum that would stabilize dupes and let them live independently from Jamie, in cases just like this one, where Jamie Prime is dead.  However, he's not as smart as Beast, so the serum only works temporarily.  As Beast works to stabilize the serum, Jamie swipes Bishop's time-travel device and heads to the future.  He returns almost immediately to stop something (we're not sure what yet) from happening, and he unexpectedly brings back versions of himself who are also Cable, Deadpool, Dr. Strange, and Hulk.  Yeah, it's confusing.  At this stage, Rosenberg hasn't hinted Jamie Prime survived the Terrigen Mists, so we're left to assume Jamie Prime is really dead.  But, that said, if Jamie could travel to the future, why not travel to the past, grab Jamie Prime, travel back to the present (skipping the Terrigen Mists), and have him reabsorb Jamie?  Anyone?

Peter Parker:  The Spectacular Spider-Man #306:  I've said it before and I'll say it again: this title is the Spider-Man title.  From his fresh take on JJJ, Jr. to his introduction of new characters (like Teresa), Zdarsky is telling a modern Spider-Man tale, not entangled in all the usual clichés and tropes Spider-Man carries with him after 55 years.  But, it's still a Spider-Man story at its heart.  In the present, Daredevil leads Peter and the gang to the Resistance's secret base in the Baxter Building.  There, T'Challa analyzes the device the Vedomi scout gave Peter and reveals it's a capsule that connects a biological consciousness with the Vedomi's hivemind.  The connected person would then be able to override the Vedomi's directive, making them see Earth as an empty planet.  Before anyone can react, Peter opens the capsule and absorbs the programming.  It allows him full access to his memories, including his parents.  He's overwhelmed, but Teresa encourages him to embrace it, a reminder that he needs to save the people who love him.  (He sees MJ at one point, and I wonder if the editors would let Zdarsky have Peter remember the deal with Mephisto...)  At any rate, these sequences are what makes this story a Spider-Man story, grounded as they are in Peter Parker and his experiences.  He tells Teresa he's not going to survive this adventure, since his body is overheating due to the presence of the programming.  He makes his way onto the ship, but, before he can merge with the core, the Tinkerer appears.  (Earlier he had hacked into Ironheart's armor and used her as a ride to the ship.)  Dun-dun-DUN!  Zdarsky even manages to upgrade the Tinkerer here into a threat in and of himself.  I'll admit I rolled my eyes at the claim that Peter is going to die, but, otherwise, Zdarsky is telling a great story here.  Whereas I'm bored of the similarly long "Daredevil" arc about Wilson Fisk as Mayor of New York, Zdarsky has managed to keep this tale fresh as we enter the last act.

The Realm #7:  Well, everything goes from bad to worse here.  Will and Molly agree they’re nervous of proceeding without Rook, but they had little choice as Rook made it clear she was traveling with Ben (as we saw last issue).  Her absence is almost immediately felt when Will trips down a ravine in search of water and gets kidnapped by creatures that look like a cross between Ewoks and nuclear reactors.  The group descends the ravine to find Will, but they're surprised when he's gone without a trace.  In their search, David reveals his power to the group when he uses it (whatever it is) to open the door of a temple.  (Earlier, he told them he sensed Will had been kidnapped.)  With only Eli, Molly, and Zack with him, the odds aren’t in their favor, I have to say.  Meanwhile, scary bloody lady from last issue reveals she’s been sent to check on Johny Eldritch, and he’s none too happy about it.

Star Wars:  Dr. Aphra #21:  Spurrier is clearly writing for the trade, because I had to re-read last issue and this one just to get a basic sense of the plot.  But, it's not just because there are twists and turns, because twists and turns are good.  It's because it's all lost in a variety of technical mumbo-jumbo that I find hard to understand but is unfortunately key to understanding the plot.  Moreover, the technical mumbo-jumbo consists of a string of overly convenient developments that even Aphra seems unlikely to be able to arrange.  This title keeps creeping down my list, to be honest.

X-Men #30:  These two issues have just been uncharacteristically terrible.  I barely care about Jimmy let alone Jimmy as the central figure in a storyline that continues from a cross-over event I didn't read.  It's like a particularly bad hangover.  Like last issue, this issue focuses on Jimmy as a Poison, something we're supposed to believe means he's functionally dead.  Yet, Bunn has already shown Jean was able to resurrect herself, so it's clear Jimmy will be able to do so, too.  As such, I'm not sure why Bunn made the decision to extend this story, when he has much more interesting ones to tell.  Whatever.  This series ends in six issues anyway.

Also Read:  Marvel Two-in-One #7; Ms. Marvel #31; Old Man Hawkeye #6; Pathfinder:  Spiral of Bones #4; Star Wars:  Lando - Double or Nothing #2; Thor #2

Monday, July 9, 2018

New Mutants #8: "The Road to...Rome?"

Rahne stalks her prey through the Amazon jungle:  namely, Dani!  Despite the fact they're playing "hide and seek," Dani is angry at Rahne for startling her, fearful she'd inadvertently activate her powers.  (They probably shouldn't play hide-and-seek anymore then.)  However, she cuts off her tirade after Rahne almost faints from the heat.  Dani attempts to strip off Rahne's uniform, but she declares "'tis ni' proper" given the boys' proximity.  Speaking of the boys, Sam is concerned Rahne hasn't found them yet, but Bobby assures him they'll be fine.  They're surprised when they find her, as she's rolling in a snowstorm Dani created to cool her off a bit.  Realizing their game is over, Sam uses the Amazon to practice his powers and, namely, his ability to maneuver.  Sam is ecstatic to use his powers with abandon, but he loses focus and knocks over a tree.  Bobby uses his powers to destroy it before it hits him and the girls.  Angry at a sheepish-looking Sam for damaging the forest so, Bobby sets up the satellite-communication system with the Professor.  Bobby asks about Xi'an, and the Professor tells them they need to accept she's gone.  Bobby asks if they should return home, but Xavier says he's got his hands full with the new X-Men arrivals and training Team America.  (Them again?)

Returning to where their boat is located, the New Mutants discuss their frustration with the Professor's lack of concern over Xi'an.  Dani is convinced he's not telling them something, whereas Bobby just thinks he doesn't care.  Dani admits she would've agreed with him once, but now she wonders if he's trying to protect them.  Sam asks what he could be hiding from them, noting, not unreasonably, he should trust them if he cares about them as much as Dani implies.  Bobby laments the Professor and the other X-Men not taking them seriously, as they dismiss them as "X-babies."  They arrive at the shore and see their boat in the river.  Bobby posits it'll take the boat a half-hour to collect them, but Dani jumps into the water to swim to it.  A mustachioed man on the boat watches Dani jump into the water and recalls a comment Bobby made to the team earlier, about following his mother's guidelines for staying safe in the Amazon.  The man throws in some chum, attracting piranhas.  Dani sees the churn and realizes she's made a deadly mistake.  She uses her powers to distract them and calls for Sam to help.  Bobby is concerned he'll reveal his powers to the crew, but Sam wisely realizes Dani's in too much trouble to worry about that.

Sam grabs Dani hand as he rockets over her and pulls her to safety, but he struggles to find a place to land, crashing them into a river bank in front of some indigenous women carrying shields and spears.  One of them women kicks Sam in the face and he shouts a warning to Dani, who manages to hurl one of the women into the two remaining women.  Dani realizes they don't seem to be spoiling for a fight.  The three women Dani faced flee, but Sam is grappling with the fourth one.  Dani observes the tribe was watching the boat, and they take the woman with them in the hope Bobby's mom can understand what she's saying.  On the boat, the crew is upset over the revelation Sam and possibly his friends are "freaks," but the mustachioed man vouches for them.  The captain thanks the man, named Castro, for his support and orders the crew to get the boat moving before the indigenous people return.

That night, the kid are with Bobby's mom and the indigenous woman.  Nina has tried all the dialects she knows, but the woman isn't talking.  The woman was carrying two different types of arrows, one indigenous to the Madería and one from Perú.  But, she's neither indigenous to this area nor Peruvian.  She's also carrying a steel dagger of modern design, which Nina hasn't seen among any Amazonian tribes.  Meanwhile, on the banks, the indigenous women have returned with reinforcements, with one of them warning the others to avoid the men's rifles.  However, another woman tells the other women to put down their arrows, because they can't risk "Lady Amara's" life.  For now, they're watching until Amara sends the signal to attack.  Meanwhile, in Rio, Emanuel da Costa once again complains one of Shaw's agents (this time, Castro) is incompetent and observes it isn't an inducement to join the Hellfire Club.  Once again, Shaw notes how complicated the task is given da Costa's insistence they don't hurt Nina or Bobby.  Da Costa is agitated because he wants access to the "mineralogical treasure trove of incalculable dimensions" that is the Madería, telling Shaw the "wealth of empire" is within his grasp.  Da Costa pledges not to let anything stand in his way, and Shaw expresses surprise, saying he thought da Costa still loved Nina.  Da Costa responds feelings have nothing to do with business, observing Nina wouldn't be in trouble if she stayed home and behaved as a proper wife.  He then brings in some scantily clad women for "entertainment."  (A real gem, Emanuel.)

Back on the boat, Nina informs the kids they've reached the Madería and, in a day, they'll start hiking in its cloud-topped mountains.  Dani is impressed, even given the mountains at home in Colorado.  Foreshadowingly, the captain informs the kids that legend says "a city of gold ruled by gods from the other side of the world" exists in the valleys.  But, all the expeditions to find it have disappeared without a trace.  Rahne and Sam wryly note it's not exactly the vacation they were hoping to have, and the captain responds they're just stories.  (Dani then notes all legends are based in fact.)  At the upcoming fork, the captain ominously says they'll avoid one of the tributaries because of its strong rapids.  Later, Rahne is bringing food to Amara (and hoping the mountains are cooler than the river) whereupon she discovers Castro beating her for information.  Rahne tries to stop him, telling him Nina said Amara was not to be harmed.  He belts Rahne across the face and tells her to "run along" before he starts on her.  Rahne turns into wolf form and chases him from the room.  Rahne frees Amara and says her name is Rahne, and Amara responds by simply saying, "Rain."  Rahne then has a full-on breakdown, crying over Castro's horrified look as she transformed.  It reminds her of the look on people's faces in Scotland when her powers manifested, when people she knew her whole life suddenly believed her to be a monster.  She wonders sometimes if she isn't a monster and tells Amara sometimes she thinks she should remain a wolf forever.  Rahne asks Amara if she understood a word she said, and Amara simply repeats her name.  Satisfied, Rahne leaves to find Nina, but stumbles upon the captain dead of an arrow wound.  She's shocked, but she then discovers Castro, who knocks her unconscious with the butt of his gun.

She later awakens in a room with the other New Mutants and Nina, as Bobby is also coming to consciousness.  He wonders why Castro didn't kill them and smashes through the wall to escape.  He then wonders if the crew is allied with Castro because they're mutants, but then realizes Castro's attack could be related to the attempt on his mother's life last issue.  He makes his way to the bridge and realizes the boat is adrift and going down the tributary with the falls.  Finding the captain dead, Bobby tries to gun the engines to power the boat to the banks, but he realizes the engines are dead.  He calls to Rahne to wake up everyone as they plummet over the rapids!

The cold water wakes up Sam, who grabs Dani.  (Dani hilariously comments it's becoming a habit.)  Bobby makes his way to his mother, who's grabbing a rock in the river, but he's knocked for a loop by a piece of wreckage.  He mumbles his mother's name as he falls beneath the waves and Sam plunges into the water to save him.  He notes he doesn't see hide-nor-hair of Bobby's mother as Rahne uses her powers to skip over rocks to get to Amara.  She fights the current to pull Amara to safety, but she's shocked when she sees Amara is a blond white girl.  She tells Amara she can barely hold her and needs help and is shocked again when Amara responds in English.  Rahne is enraged that Amara listened to her confession, as it's something she wouldn't have even told her best friend.  But, despite the betrayal, she can't let her die, so Rahne shifts to her transitional form to pull Amara to the rock.  Sam flies by Rahne, asking who Amara is and if she's seen Nina.  Rahne confirms it's Amara (to Sam's surprise) and also that she hasn't seen Nina.  Sam uses his powers to bring Amara and Rahne to the bank where Bobby and Danny are waiting.  Bobby is beside himself when he learns they can't find Nina, and Sam tries to comfort him.  But, they're surprised when a group of Roman Centurions tells them to stand where they are and inform them they're now "slaves of Imperial Rome."

The Review
This issue starts the Nova Roma arc as Claremont essentially resumes the story he had been telling before the weird Team America detour in issues #5-#6.  The kids are again faced with challenges that force them to push their powers to the limit, all while Professor X remains nowhere to be seen.

- The snowstorm feels like part of the continuing evolution of Dani's powers.  It's consistent with her powers as we've previously seen, where she's able to create lifelike holograms that other people -- not just the intended recipient -- can see.  It also builds on her display last issue, where she pulled specific images from the Hellfire goon's minds.

- Charles continues to make a run at "worst teach of the year" here.  He decides he's too busy with Team America to train the New Mutants, instead sending them into the Amazon under the care of Bobby's absentee mother.  Given Bobby and Sam could both level buildings with their powers, it seems odd he'd instead focus on a group of adults who use their powers to form...a motorcycle rider.  I'm also not sure exactly what training he's giving Team America.  After all, all they can do is summon the Black Rider.  They don't seem to need exhaustive training (as they seem to get here, as they sweat profusely) to do that.  Thankfully, we don't seem ever to see them again.  But, man, they were the worst.

- The boat is allegedly 30 minutes from the banks where the New Mutants are standing, but it looks much closer.  Also, Dani decides to swim to it, something she presumably wouldn't have done if it really was 30 minutes from where they were standing.

- Emanuel needs to make up his damn mind:  he either wants Bobby and Nina to be safe or not.  He keeps telling Shaw that his failure to foil Nina's plans aren't an inducement for him to join the Hellfire Club, but I honestly have no idea what he wants Shaw to do.  Keep them indefinitely in a dungeon?  Given Emanuel doesn't seem to have any ideas either, I'm not sure why Shaw would want Emanuel in the Hellfire Club.  Moreover, he claimed last issue that he loved Nina, but the high-end hookers he hires here don't really support that claim.  Finally, I'm also not sure why Nina's expedition is so dangerous.  Does Emanuel know something we don't?  Otherwise, I'm not sure what Nina could find that would prevent him from exploiting the Madería's natural resources.

- I still don't get why Dani and Sam take Amara captive or, as Bobby himself says, why Castro didn't kill them outright?  I mean, I get the answer is "plot device," but Claremont is usually better than that.

Monday, July 2, 2018

New-ish Comics: The June 20 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Amazing Spider-Man #801:  This issue is lovely.  As I mentioned in my review of last issue, I have a complicated relationship with Dan Slott.  After I wrote that, though, I realized you have to have a complicated relationship with someone after ten years.  The people who claim they loved every issue of the 180-issue run?  I either don’t believe them or don’t think they’re paying that much attention.  Like Dan says, I’ve loved Spider-Man since I was eight years old, and I take that relationship seriously.  I couldn’t possibly love everything Dan did here.  In fact, the only real umbrage I took with Dan is the period when he implied if I didn’t love his work I didn’t love Spider-Man.  Thankfully, Dan moved off that position, and we’re better for it.  It’s like a relationship after successful couple’s therapy.  The scars are there, but you don’t focus on them anymore.  These last few issues — from “Go Down Swinging” to this one — are a reminder of the best Dan Slott had to offer, and I’m glad we got to go out this way.  Happy trails, Dan!

Avengers #3:  We don’t really learn too much here, to be honest.  Instead, everyone breaks into teams specifically to find out more.  Loki kidnaps Cap and takes him on an exposition tour of the situation, showing him the “Progenitor” Celestial at the center of the Earth who’s allegedly the cause of the current problems.  Carol and T’Challa head to Alpha Flight to learn more about the bugs emerging from the center of the Earth (the ones Dr. Strange and T'Challa fought last issue).  Tony takes Dr. Strange with him to see the Eternals and learn more about the dead Celestials.  Thor and She-Hulk go interrogate Odin about his role in the death of the Celestial that he and his Prehistoric Avengers allegedly killed.  Finally, Robbie hopes his car can track down Dark Celestials.  (I guess the car is his partner?)  All in all?  That's a bold move, Cotton.  Let’s see how it plays out.

Batman #49:  Usually, if I have a problem with King's writing, it's because he goes a little too Jonathan Hickman.  By that, I mean he exaggerates his economy of words to such an extent that it's unclear what he was trying to convey.  Here, we have the opposite problem.  Catwoman and Joker lie on the floor of the ruined church, clutching the wounds they gave each other to prevent themselves from bleeding to death.  So, despite Catwoman having clawed out his throat, Joker is able to hold up his end of a chatty conversation.  He insists Batman can't be both Batman and happy, and it's why he opposes the wedding:  if Selina makes Batman happy, Joker will lose his north star.  (For her part, Selina is able to hold up her end of the conversation despite a gun shot to the stomach.)  But, the final sequence is a little...much.  I had to re-read the issue to realize Selina's hysterical laughter in the last panel implies she won, taking Joker off the board.  But, are we really supposed to believe Joker is dead?  After all this time and all those deaths?  Plus, if he is, isn't Batman going to be furious?  The whole point of him and Selina going to Khandaq a few issues ago was because Selina wasn't the killer the authorities and public believed her to be; she needed the friend who actually committed the murders to confess to them.  But, it's OK for her to murder Joker now?  It seems unlikely Bruce is going to be OK with that.  Plus, it's problematic at this stage that we're getting almost all our information about the wedding from non-"Batman" sources, particularly the "Batman:  Prelude to the Wedding" miniseries.  If you were just reading this title, you'd really have very little context, after this arc and the terrible Booster Gold story.  I also still don't fully understand what King plans.  Is Bruce not going to marry Selina because she killed Joker?  Is all this hoopla really over a fake-y "superhero" wedding?  I can't have two of them in one month.

Batman:  Prelude to the Wedding - Red Hood vs. Anarky #1:  The fact Bruce asks Jason to keep an eye on Selina while he attends his bachelor party with Clark and Dick is a pretty good summary of their relationship.  But, Jason says he's honored in his own way, though not honored enough not to ask for $150,000, which he later uses to buy off the mob Anarky assembled.  (Lonnie is clever, I have to say.  He convinced everyone in the mob that she was meeting people who thought like her for a rally.  Instead, Lonnie assembled a series of groups with wide-ranging and conflicting beliefs and planned explosions to scare them.  As their fear hit a crescendo, he'd use the Anarky masks he sent them to show their affiliations, kicking off a riot.  Pretty brilliant, I have to say.)  The highlight of the issue is Jason punching out Lonnie as he laments how he was just a street kid who couldn't do anything right.  No one deserved that punch more.  I'm increasingly wondering why Seeley isn't writing all the Bat-family books, because I would 100 percent read his "Red Hood and the Outsiders."  His Jason is all about repression, where you feel his struggle to control himself to stay on the side of angels.  (He must do a lot of yoga.)  I'd love to read that Jason.

Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider #20:  I’ll admit I’m reading this series mostly from a sense of obligation at this point.  But, the good news is this issue is fun, and the surprise revelation at the end could set up a fun few issues.  (Hopefully.)  But, this Abigail storyline has to wrap up soon.  I don’t even understand why Ben is still working on it.  First, his face appears healed here, presumably after his heroics during “Damnation.”  I get that helping Abigail will help his soul, but he could probably do countless other things on a larger scale that would accomplish the same goal more quickly. I don’t understand why we’re stuck with this one.

Captain America #704:  OMG, this issue is a mess.  Man, I am glad Coates is coming soon.

Jack has somehow commandeered a laboratory that is conveniently full of scientists who know how to run a machine that can read Pursur's mind.  Jack has apparently deduced the Super-Soldier Serum is deadly to anyone with a Kree gene after he realized it was killing his son, Steve.  (Steve apparently has a recessive Kree gene, but we're never told which of Jack's ancestors mated with a Kree.  Whatever.  We have bigger fish to fry here.)  For some reason, after realizing the Serum was deadly to the Kree, Pursur decided to expose every human to the Serum rather than destroy it.  Jack says it's because destroying it would've raised "flags," but Waid never explains why exposing all of humanity to it was Pursur's only other option.  Plus, I'm still not sure what exposing humanity to the Serum accomplished for the Kree.  If they're all sleeper agents, why not activate them to prevent them from rioting and then use them against the Skull?  I mean, what's the point of sleeper agents if you can't activate them in time of distress?  Don't you have sleeper agents to avoid exactly the outcome we have here, where the Kree are forced to send its armada such a long distance to quell an uprising?  Anyway, Jack hopes to torture Pursur into revealing the locations of the storage facilities containing the Serum, but Pursur withstands the assault.  Jack then just uses his miraculous technology to painfully rip the information from Pursur's mind, uttering only a caustic "Pity" as he does so.  (Yeah, I'm definitely rooting for this guy, Waid.  He's a real winner.)

Meanwhile, we learn the Red Skull was able to broadcast Jack's message to all humanity last issue because somehow Jack's attack on the Cube imbued the Red Skull with its powers.  (That wasn't clear to me last issue.)  As such, he's now single-handedly taking on the Kree armada.  However, Jack realizes he can't do it alone, so, once he gets access to the Serum, he uses it to create large-scale chemical weapons and commits genocide on the Kree.  (Steve would def approve, Jack.)  With the Kree devastated, he then tries to warn the United States about the Skull, but the Skull stops him before he can.  He asks the Skull to honor their deal for the Skull to save his son, but the Skull refuses.  Although Jack was seemingly running the military base where the mind-reading machine was held, he now  claims he's a fugitive who would be killed by the first soldier who sees him.  I'm not really sure why, though.  He claims it's because he's collaborating with the Skull, but the whole problem is no one is aware of the Skull's existence.  If they were, Jack wouldn't need to rally them to his cause.  Anyway, Jack tells the Skull he'll capitulate to save his son, and the Skull is willing to accept his capitulation as a sign he won the war with Steve Rogers.  But, no, Jack doesn't have a change of heart at the last minute, realizing the real Captain America would abhor the tactics he used here.  No, instead he reveals the Skull is the Cube.  When Jack grabs the Skull's hand to kiss it, he reveals he's really using his touch to exert his will over the Skull as one would do over the Cube.  He then rallies all Americans to join their will with his will, defeating the Skull once and for all.  Later, he tells his son they have to show "eternal vigilance" as the cost of peace, as Steve taught them.

If Jack is supposed to be Steve's surrogate, Mark Waid apparently thinks Captain America is a genocidal, tortuous, xenophobic despot.  Oy.  Ta-Nehisi, take us away!

Peter Parker:  The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1:  Man, I teared up again over a JJJ, Jr. story!  Zdarsky is really re-inventing him as a character.  I didn't know he needed to be re-invented, but Zdarsky makes a convincing case for it here, as Jonah continues to face the mistakes he made in the past.  It's a pretty compelling story, folks.

Spider-Gwen #33:  Latour gives us a fascinating take on Gwen's imprisonment here.  First, he uses her relatively light sentence (after Foggy drops any charges related to Peter's death) as an exploration of privilege, as Gwen realizes anyone who didn't look like she did would've gotten a tougher sentence.  But, she also feels like the lighter sentence robbed her of the punishment she feels she deserves for her role in Peter's death.  Her light sentence denies her her penance, meaning her responsibility still weighs on her.  When Captain America tries to recruit her for an Earth-65 Suicide Squad, Gwen refuses in part because she doesn't want that sort of redemption.  She doesn't want to be saved.  It's hard to see how Latour is going to wrap up this story in one issue, but, man, I'm there.

The Wild Storm #14:  I'm not sure how, but it was only as Alex Fairchild was describing her Thunderbook implant rewarding her violence with strength that I realized Michael Cray was also a member of Thunderbook.  Based on the Wikipedia entry of Team 7, long-time Wildstorm readers obviously put together a long-time ago that Lynch is contacting former members of the team, as he does here with Alex.  His intentions are unclear, but we know he's going to go find Alex's daughter Caitlin...dun dun DUN!  Lynch mourns Alex here as she heads on a suicidal mission to take out the gang that harasses her adopted town, and Ellis hints pretty clear that she's doing it in part to silence the Thunderbook implant after too many years with it.  It's possibly the first time we've seen real emotions from him, and maybe he really is just on a mercy mission.  (Davis-Hunt and Buccellato have perhaps never been better than they are here, using the gorgeous emptiness of the Utah desert as a metaphor for Fairchild's lostness.  Moreover, the simple gestures Alex and Lynch use throughout their conversation make you forgot you're reading a comic and not actually witnessing two people chatting.)  Meanwhile, Miles warns a screaming Bendix that his crimes against IO -- hitting Hightower station, invading his servers, and killing Mitch -- results in this one warning.  Elsewhere, the Doctor cures the Mayor of his illness (which seems to drive his need to eat cities' pollution), and Slayton (I think) encounters a Skywatch "altered person," confirming his suspicion IO wasn't the only one to create them.

X-Men Gold #30:  This issue is beautifully drawn, which is a shame, because it's terribly written.  Unlike real life, everything one reads in a comic book comes from an author's mind.  The decisions characters make are ultimately decisions the author makes.  As the reader, we feel connected with those decisions if they feel right.  After years of following a character, you have a sense of how they'd respond to a given decision based on various authors using a consistent portrayal of them.  Remy proposing to Rogue on the spur of the moments makes sense, not only because he's a romantic but also because he loves her deeply.  Rogue accepting his proposal makes sense because, as Remy himself says, she sees in him the man he wants to be.  But, those decisions are based on groundwork other authors have laid, most notably Kelly Thompson in the recently concluded "Rogue and Gambit" mini-series.  Guggenheim's couple was Kitty and Pitor, and he fails them miserably here.  Kitty Pryde goes from the confident, self-assured woman she has always been to one easily swayed by her best friend's doubts.  She goes from taking the initiative to propose to Piotr to abandoning him in front of their family and friends when she suddenly realizes she can't marry him.  When he finds her, she can't even remotely summon an explanation.  Guggenheim is the one who ultimately set us on this path, and it seems unbelievable we end here.  I don't mean it in the sense that it's unbelievable we wasted so many issues to get to this moment.  I mean, it literally feels unbelievable that the events -- as they related to Kitty and Pitor -- would unfold the way they do here.  Everyone here -- Remy and Rogue, Kitty and Piotr, us readers -- deserved better.

Also Read:  Daredevil #604; Infinity Countdown:  Black Widow #1; Infinity Countdown:  Champions #1

Thursday, June 28, 2018

New Mutants #7: "Flying Down to Rio"!

Countdown to "'Ah'm Nigh Invulnerable When Ah'm Blastin':"  "Ah'm pretty near invulnerable when Ah'm blastin'."


Bobby stands on the shore, recalling the events of the previous evening.  After the Silver Samurai detonated HYDRA's headquarters (as seen last issue), Bobby used his powers to smash away the boulders hurtling at him as he and the other New Mutants fell into the ocean.  He heard Sam cry for help since he couldn't swim, so he helped drag him to the shore.  Dani and Rahne also made their way to shore; Xi'an did not.  Bobby reflects on how proud they were after they defeated the Viper and how quickly things change.  The three remaining New Mutants find Bobby.  Bobby accepts Dani's coat (he's soaking wet from standing so close to the surf), and Sam exposits the Professor and the X-Men searched all night but couldn't find Xi'an.  When Bobby suggests they may need to accept they don't have any hope left, Rahne breaks into tears, saying they have to maintain hope while at the same time fretting about the fate of Xi'an's younger siblings.

As they walk along the cliffs, Bobby laments their failure to catch Xi'an's killer, but Sam assures him she won't be free for long as they come upon the X-Men's makeshift command center.  Nightcrawler teleports to the kids to bring them cocoa, startling them.  (Rahne calls him "the demon.")  Storm laments Wolverine isn't there, since his tracking ability could help.  Rahne offers her services, but Storm says she doesn't have Wolverine's experience and might miss some clues.  Xavier reveals he had the New Mutants find Bobby because his mother is there.  A surprised Bobby enthusiastically embraces her, but then turns on her almost immediately.  He realizes she must know he's a mutant if she's there, and she confirms his father wrote to tell her.  He observes he desperately need her then, particularly with Juliana's death.  She apologizes, saying she was "on a 'dig' in the middle of nowhere."  Bobby comments she always is, and she defends herself, saying she loves her work as an archaeologist.  Bobby suggests she loves it more than him and his father, something she notably doesn't deny.  

Xavier reveals Bobby's mother wants to take them on an expedition to the headwaters of the Amazon and he thinks it's a wonderful idea.  Bobby is shocked and asks about Xi'an, but Xavier explains the search is a job for the X-Men.  Bobby is enraged.  He says they can't abandon Xi'an just as they couldn't abandon Dani, and he blames Xavier for Xi'an's death, because he was too busy focusing on Team America.  (Remember them?  I'd rather not, to be honest.)  As Bobby's professor, Xavier demands Bobby's obedience, and Bobby refuses, wondering whether it was time to quit the School.  After Bobby leaves, Kurt asks the Professor if it was wise to provoke him.  Xavier reveals, as always, he knows more than he's saying.  The moment they arrived, he sensed a "powerful - and malefic - psychic entity."  Xavier is convinced Xi'an is alive since he didn't feel her death, but the entity may strike again, so it's best if the kids are as far away as possible.  Xavier is afraid the team would demand to save Xi'an if they knew she was alive, so he allows the ruse to remain (and their anger to fall on him).

Kurt questioning the wisdom of the Professor's decision is shown as wise itself as Bobby's grief over Juliana and Xi'an gets the better of him; he uses his powers to break rocks, lamenting how his powers didn't help him save the girls.  As he cries how unfair it is, an approaching Sam coldly asks him what else is new.  Bobby is (understandably) perturbed, but Sam explains how angry he was when his father died.  They had so many plans for him to make something of himself, and Sam hated him for stealing that dream from him as he was forced to become the man of the house.  He puts his hand on Bobby's shoulder, telling him that he was right life isn't fair and all they can do is keep on living.  Bobby caustically wonders if they're just supposed to follow Xavier's orders; not surprisingly, Dani says of course they're not.  But, she acknowledges Xavier has a point, as the X-Men worrying over the kids would distract them from finding Xi'an.  Bobby acknowledges he misses her, and they all have a moment.

A week later, the kids arrive at Bobby's father's palace in Rio, and the narration explains Emanuel da Costa was raised in this house as a "barefoot houseboy," the son of one of the maids.  The butler, Simon, greets Roberto and his mom, snarkily commenting on how long it's been since she graced the estate with her presence.  He then equally snarkily informs the kids formal wear is required for dinner "if at all possible," prompting Dani to respond, "We like you, too, buster."  Dinner is  a tense affair, as Emanuel notes how dangerous the Madería is.  Bobby's mom (whose name we finally learn is Nina) remarks how he plans to send geologists there for business purposes, and Emanuel says he'll always follow profit.  Bobby is appalled at their hostility, and it gets worse, as Nina asks how much money they could possibly need.  Emanuel -- not incorrectly -- notes that sort of comment is something only a person who's never been poor would make.  He asks if she'd rather they live in the favelas, and she says she'd rather be happy.  He comments he is happy.  The kids are appalled as they have to watch the fight and sorry for Bobby over the humiliation; for Bobby's part, he silently pleads for them to stop fighting because they're killing him.  But, they don't, as Nina accuses Emanuel and other businessmen like him of sacrificing the future as each year the Amazon basin is destroyed.  Emanuel says it's progress, saying he knew her to be an idealist, but now he realizes she's also a fool.  He leaves.

The next day, the kids attend Carnival, where a scantily clad dancer kisses an embarrassed Sam.  Dani cheers on Sam, while Rahne says he should be ashamed of himself.  Dani tells Rahne they themselves should get some costumes and join the fun, scandalizing her.  But, she then seriously asks Bobby if he's OK after the fighting last night, and he tells her simply to pray for a miracle.  However, Nina overheard Dani saying she wanted to join the parade, so she brings them to a costume shop so they can get costumes for the Governor's Ball the next night.  Sam is nervous about the prospect of mingling with high society, but Nina tells him he can meet a lot of girls so he's game.  Meanwhile, a dark figure lurks outside, calling for an ambush.  Rahne feels beautiful in her gown, and Sam tells her she's always been, but never noticed.  The kids have fun with their costumes, and Nina is called to see her chauffeur.  However, Hellfire goons grab her and bustle her into a car.

Sam observes the kidnapping, blasting from the shop, but an axe strikes him, sending him tumbling into a nearby, derelict building.  Dani goes to help Sam while Bobby goes to follow his mom, but someone interrupts them, telling Bobby his mom is in "good hands."  A guy who looks like Mr. T with an axe announces his name is Axe (original) and tells the kids to stay put.  Bobby activates his powers and attacks, but Axe bats him aside easily.  Dani tries to pull out his deepest fears, but it doesn't work, and he wallops her.  Rahne flees, and Axe wonders why his boss was so worried about the kids.  Sam emerges from the wreckage and realizes he's too groggy to follow Axe (who leaps into a waiting car), particularly since he doesn't know Rio well enough to navigate its narrow, winding streets, particularly given his difficulties with maneuvering.  He finds Bobby and Dani coming to their feet, and he wonders what the Hellfire Club wants with Nina or if they're trying to use her to get to them.  He asks where Rahne is while Bobby asks the costume-shop owner to call the police.  (She's more worried about her shop, and Bobby has to assure her his father with pay for the damages.)

Then, Dani gets a mindcall from Rahne, who didn't flee but turned to wolf form to follow the kidnappers.  They're in an abandoned mansion, and Sam wants them to call the police or go "kick their butts" themselves.  But, Bobby is unusually the voice of reason, recalling how the goons are killers and he doesn't want his mother to be killed in the crossfire like Juliana was.  Dani uses her mindlink with Rahne, who's eavesdropping on the goons, to learn Nina is safe until morning when their employer arrives.  Sam mentions how Bobby's hero, Magnum, P.I., would know what they should do, which gives Bobby an idea.  Inside, the goons are spooked when they hear a howl; when Axe makes fun of them, one of the goons explains the "brilliant hideout" is a haunted mansion with ghosts that kill.  Axe is unperturbed and tells the goons to search if they want.  One of the goons dismissed Axe as a "stinkin' mutie" and nervously moves room to room.  The goon realizes he should've brought one of the other goons for backup, but then encounters a bunch of lovely ladies on the steps.  He notes they locked the doors and windows, but they urge him closer, as they're his hearts desire.  (Ruh-roh.)  They then turn into demons, what he fears the most.  He tumbles down the steps as he recoils in fear.  Dani is exhausted from the effort of pulling specific images from his mind, but suddenly she and Rahne are in danger as other goons have somehow found them and open fire.  Dani then takes on the three goons, using their greatest fears against them despite how terrible she feels.  Rahne then leaps into the fray in her wolf form; she takes out two of the goons while Dani punches out the other.  Dani observes she had doubts about Bobby's plan, since even Magnum isn't lucky all the time, but is glad they did their part.

In the main room, Bobby breaks through the wall.  Axe threatens his mother, but Bobby uses his powers to break the floor under him.  Sam then rockets into the room and grabs Nina, though worries about leaving Bobby alone with Axe.  Axe is confident in his ability to deliver a beatdown to Bobby, but Bobby makes quick work of him, explaining Axe caught him off-guard the first time they tangled.  A few days later, the kids help Nina pack the plane they'll use to go to the Madería.  Dani asks Bobby if he's OK, and he explains he's worried about his mom.  But, Sam notes she seems like a lady who can take care of herself as she enthusiastically waves on the kids.  Meanwhile, in a nearby car, Emanuel tells Sebastian Shaw his goons' performance was hardly an inducement to join the Hellfire Club, as he promised he'd "deal" with Nina.  Shaw reminds Emanuel that he wanted her unhurt, which complicated matters, though admits he thought Axe would be able to handle the kids.  He offers help again, but Emanuel says it isn't necessary:  "arrangements" have been made to make sure Nina's expedition to the Madería isn't successful.  Shaw then asks, "Even if that means the death of your wife and son?"  Dun-dun-DUN!

The Review
This issue kicks off the Nova Roma saga, one of the series' high points.  But, we first have to tie up the loose ends from the Team America story, one of the series' low points.  Claremont seems to find himself narratively trapped here.  As Bobby says, Xi'an is missing in part because Xavier took his eye off the ball.  If he hadn't been training Team America for weeks on end, he presumably would've been able to respond to Xi'an's call for guidance before they invaded the HYDRA fortress.  Moreover, if he had physically been present there, he probably would've been able to sense the "entity" before it had a chance to attack Xi'an.  As such, the terrible Team America story connects to Claremont's odd decision to remove Xi'an from the book so soon into its run.  The Nova Roma saga helps put the book on firmer ground, but it's in a rocky place when this issue opens.

- The scene between Rahne and Storm is weird.  I think Claremont felt the need to underline the fact that Rahne's inexperience is why she couldn't find Xi'an's trail, given she's found pretty much every other trail she's tried to find so far.  Storm implies the trail is too complicated for Rahne to find.  But, it's also weird because it almost seems like it didn't even dawn on Rahne to try.

- Bobby's mother is just a mess in the way she's presented physically.  She's constantly in athleisure wear (as if she should have a cigarette dangling from her mouth as she drops off the kids at school), she often looks like she's as old as Aunt May, and her cheeks are so rosy that she looks like she's Santa Claus' daughter.  I'm not saying Bobby has to look exactly like her, but at times it feels like she'd be better suited as someone's aunt in an "Archie" comic .

- Xavier yet again leads through deception here.  I get his concern the kids would demand to help find Xi'an if he told them she was alive, but he basically concludes they're incapable of listening to reason.  Although he's right they're often emotional, they're usually in that position because Xavier has manipulated them into it.  Xavier rarely, if ever, deals plainly with them, so he's never really seen how they're more mature than he realizes.  But, this approach is also obviously a plot device to remove Xi'an from the title, at least for a while.

- I get Sam lost his father, so he's lost someone closer than Bobby.  But, Jesus, he's uncharacteristically cold here when he tries to comfort Bobby right after his fight with Xavier.

- Emanuel da Costa allegedly became a millionaire by the time he was 20 years old.  Is he a mutant?  Otherwise, how exactly does a barefoot houseboy become a millionaire by 20 years old?

- Axe really socks Dani in the jaw here, but she's somehow totally fine?  Also, what exactly are Axe's powers?  I was surprised to learn he was a mutant.  It seems very specific to have your mutant ability be, "wields an axe well."

- Claremont does a really solid job of showing the kids' developing, yet still limited, powers.  Sam is aware he can't maneuver the narrow, winding streets of Rio.  Dani displays a new-ish ability to pull specific images from people's minds, though it exhausts her.  Rahne again saves the day keeping on Nina's trail, making me raise an eyebrow again over her conversation with Storm.  Claremont shows they're learning, but also that Xavier is right not to be eager to throw them into battle.

- This issue starts a pattern of Bobby's father insisting someone "deal" with Nina while at the same time insisting she and Bobby aren't to be killed and then not providing an alternative solution to how his henchman could achieve this goal.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

New-ish Comics: The June 13 Marvel Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Infinity Countdown:  Darkhawk #2:  This issue is admittedly hard to follow, mainly because it once again descends so far into the constantly changing Darkhawk mythos that you feel like you’re reading a Wikipedia entry at times.  We learn the Fraternity of Raptors was created as synthetic versions of Ratha’kon, the Starhawk, allegedly the Phoenix’s predator (whatever that means).  The Fraternity has long been seeking the full power of the “celestial raptor” (i.e., Ratha'kon, I'm assuming), but it wasn't able to perform the necessary ritual, because it required a willing as well as forced sacrifice.  Enter Talonar and Darkhawk.  Robbie is perfectly happy to watch Gyre, the lead Raptor, seemingly kill Chris in cold blood by ripping the amulet from the Razor armor.  You have to wonder how Rich is going to respond (per “Infinity Countdown” #4) when he learns his brother is this far gone.  By taking the amulet from the Razor armor and giving it to Talonar, the ritual is complete and Dark Starhawk is born.  This part is fine, though I question why Gyre allows the host to be a human, given humans’ alleged incompatibility with the armor.  According to this issue, we learned in “Darkhawk” #51 that the Datasong was so overwhelming to Chris at times that his mind created false memories — “I saw things, remembered people and places that weren’t there.”  It was all presumably to ease the burden of the Datasong, though I’m not sure how it accomplished that.  I also don’t remember this part from that issue, but, as Sims and Bowers specifically mention it here, it’s presumably relevant.  If you’re willing to accept the Raptors' origin story and Chris' memory issues on faith at this point, it’s otherwise a solid issue.  I’m hoping Sim and Bowers put aside the exposition for now and give us the space opera Darkhawk always should’ve been but rarely seemed to be.  They infuse this issue with some rare humor for the franchise, and it makes it a much stronger read as a result.  They could really do a lot with Chris so long as they don’t repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.

Marvel Two-in-One Annual #1:  I’m not particularly a fan of Doom or Reed, so I’ll admit this issue was wasted on me a bit.  It was billed as containing the secrets of “Secret Wars,” and I was attracted to that, since “Secret Wars” never really explained how we wound up where we did.  But, the “secret” is really that Reed made Doom think he and Susan were dead so he could have a fresh start.  Robbed of his intense rivalry with Reed, would he become a better man?  The answer is...muddled.  At some point, Doom rants against Reed's imperiousness as he disapproves of Doom killing one of his alternate selves in combat.  In his rant, Doom focuses on Reed’s decision to let Ben and Johnny think him (and Sue and the kids) dead, a crime against the family he so allegedly prizes.  It’s a reminder to me that I probably won’t be collecting the new “Fantastic Four” series, because I still find Reed insufferable, in any iteration of him.

New Mutants:  Dead Souls #4:  This issue is great.  I was pretty sure Rictor wasn’t dead, but the revelation that Illyana's dream sequence was Tran manipulating her into revealing Xi’an’s plans was brilliant.  At this stage, we still don’t really know what those plans are, and it’s pretty clear Illyana is also getting impatient for them.  But, Rosenberg is drawing back the curtain a bit for us, as Prodigy asks Xi’an if she wants to activate the second team as they look for the missing plane.  Xi’an also seems to suspect Illyana might not totally be on her side anymore, making for an interesting conversation next issue.  As Illyana points out here in her dream sequence, the places Tran has appeared seem random, so it’ll be interesting to see what the connection (presumably) is in the end.  At any rate, as someone who just read the first few issues of the original “New Mutants” series, it’s hard to believe it’s taken this long for Tran to assert himself against Xi’an.  I’m totally game for this ride.

Peter Parker:  The Spectacular Spider-Man #305:  I love this series.  It lost its way a little there, but it rebounds here, as younger Peter realizes it’s time he stops hiding.  As Doom activates the time platform to send back JJJ, Jr., our Peter, and Tessa, younger Peter joins Gwen in trying to hold back the Sinister Six.  When our Peter realizes what’s happening outside the building, he joins the fray, and the Avengers and Tessa later follow suit.  Cap is killed during the fray, another moment that underscores for younger Peter that he can’t hide any longer.  Our Peter is reluctant to leave with Osborn still out there, but he finally realizes everything can't be about his guilt.  Happy to see younger Peter take up his role as Spider-Man again (and kiss Gwen), our Peter leaves with JJJ, Jr. and Tessa.  It’s hard not to draw parallels to the Trump administration here, as Zdarsky shows Osborn as the lunatic he’s always been.  But, our Peter tells Osborn he defeats him in every world in every way, and it inspires younger Peter to have the faith he can do the same.  It's a helluva lesson for us all.

Star Wars:  Darth Vader #17:  When Darth Vader tells you you’re an asshole, you’re really an asshole.  Barr reveals to Lee-char and Vader that he knew billions on Mon Cala would die, but he needed to set the stage for the Mon Calamari’s involvement in the Rebellion and thus the events we’re currently seeing develop in the main series.  (I assume it means Trios and Vader fail in their attempt to destroy the Mon Calamari fleet, but we’ll see.)  Lee-char is appalled (particularly after Barr admits to killing the Imperial ambassador, setting off the armed conflict), but his surrender doesn’t convince Tarkin to stop the bombardment.  It’s a tactical error on Tarkin’s part, as Raddus is left with no choice but to order the fleet to flee the planet, with three ships successfully breaking through the blockade.  In so doing, Barr succeeds, as the Mon Calamari who escape are clearly allied with the Rebellion from this point forward.  But, Soule makes Barr’s treachery clear; as he himself admits, Barr might not have been Sith, but he sure as hell wasn’t a Jedi.  An interesting loose end here is that Verla, Barr’s remaining apprentice, survives.  I wonder how she’s going to play in later issues.  At this point, though, all hope is loss; as Vader says to Lee-char, Mon Cala no longer exists; only the Empire does.

Thor #1:  I honestly don't have a lot to say here, despite this expanded issue relaunching Odinson as Thor.  Aaron is great as he always is, and del Mundo is an excellent successor (though not replacement) for Dauterman.  He imbues the story with a cinematic sensibility; you can hear the seagulls calling as Thor returns to his boat.  Thori and Toothgrinder make for excellent comic relief as always, and Loki’s presence adds the expected level of intrigue, as he offers to serve as Thor’s own Bifrost bridge...for an as-yet-unrevealed price.  Thor wisely pulls Loki with him as Loki opens a portal to the heart of the war, and they find Balder greeting them in Hel/Niflheim.  Aaron has been carrying on the War of the Realms for a long time at this point, and it definitely feels like it’s time for Thor to handle it directly.  But, hopefully it won't be over too quickly.

X-Men Blue #29:  You’d be forgiven for thinking you missed a dozen or so issues picking up this one.  Only a brief footnote lets us know that, in “Venomized” #5, all the Poisons were destroyed except the one inhabiting Jimmy.  (I thought they were indestructible, which is why Scott had all the sads for Jean?)  You’d also be forgiven for not caring.  This storyline was maybe interesting for two or three issues, but it’s always been a forced cross-over event driven by the fact Bunn happened to write both series.  Neither Venom nor the Poisons bring out anything particularly interesting in the team.  It’s time to put this one to bed.

Also Read:   Hunt for Wolverine:  The Adamantium Agenda #2

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

New-ish Comics: The June 13 Everyone but Marvel Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman:  Prelude to the Wedding - Batgirl vs. the Riddler #1:  This issue is a miss, though it's hard to put my finger on why.  First, it feels very color-by-number, as Babs easily solves the Riddler's wedding-themed clues.  But, I think it's mostly because of the Riddler's creepy and unexpected expression of love for Babs.  I get where Seeley is going with it, as other installments of this series have supporting characters reflect on what the wedding means and how it's going to affect their lives.  (For her part, Babs calls Dick at the end.)  The Riddler wonders why he doesn't have a lid for his pot.  He admits he would have to fall for someone like Babs, who's smart enough to answer his riddles.  But, it feels forced.  Given their long histories, you'd think the Riddler would've previously come to this conclusion, whereas Damian and Dick's crises were much more directly tied to the feelings the wedding inspired in them.  At any rate, it's not a terrible issue, just an odd one.

Bloodshot Salvation #10:  Is Ray going to have to kill his son to save his daughter?  ‘Cause that would s-u-c-k.  It’s probably true, though, knowing Ray’s luck.

Oblivion Song #4:  Kirkman is making it pretty clear Nathan has stopped listening when it comes to the various people in his life warning him about his overly rosy view of his crusade.  Bridget confides to him that Duncan just isn’t getting better, after he almost beat her in his sleep the previous night during a nightmare.  Duncan has also refused to attend a survivors' group and gets mad at Bridget whenever she suggests it.  Nathan simply suggests she try harder, a sign of how blithely he seems to take the consequences of his actions.  In his mind, he’ll always be the hero, even if it’s more complicated than that.  Meanwhile, Ed’s team forces Keith to reveal the location where he encountered Nathan, so they’re ready for him when he eventually reappears.  When Nathan does reappear and mentions Ed might be his brother, the group's leader asks if he's Nathan, and he displays a shining grin.  But, Kirkman has hinted Ed might not be as happy to see Nathan as Nathan will be to see him, so we'll see where we go.  In other developments, someone is spying on Nathan as he works in the storage shed that serves as his lab.  Also, the group's leader insists Keith is a pariah for killing his family, refusing to believe his claim something called the “Faceless Ones” did.  In a world of monsters, I’m not sure why they’re so quick to dismiss the monsters Keith describes.  But, I guess we'll see.

The Weatherman #1:  Wow.  That issue was fucking intense and not just because they killed the dog.  RIP, Sadie.  :(

LeHeup does a great job of using media reporting to give us the background we need; it's particularly appropriate since our protagonist Nathan, as the title suggests, is a weatherman on the local news for Redd Bay, Mars.  The year is 2770; seven years earlier, a group called the Sword of God killed everyone on Earth, all 8 billion people.  (It’s unclear if all Earth was destroyed or just the people on it.)  We also learn about how telepaths are persecuted on Mars like Marvel’s mutants and “nemo” addition rates are increasing.  

In the present, a group of space pirates, for lack of a better term, are en route to Mars; someone named the Pearl has hired them to take a prisoner.  One of the pirates, Kade, is worried another of the other pirates, Marshal, is going to kill the prisoner first over a "debt."  Meanwhile, on Mars, after his hilarious news broadcast, Nathan manages to convince a bartender named Amanda to go on a second date with him.  They stop by the Earth memorial we saw Amanda visiting at the start of the issue with an older woman, and Amanda is rattled when Nathan approaches it so cavalierly.  He apologizes later, and Amanda wonders if they’ll ever get over their collective grief.  He says it would help if they caught the perpetrator, and Amanda asks who he lost in the attack.  He says he lost everyone, but he tries not to think about it; in fact, he hopes his antics help people forget about their own grief, too.  At that moment, someone shoots his beloved dog Sadie in the head, and Amanda is suddenly fighting off the space pirates as she calls for backup.  A hysterical Nathan eventually kills Kade before he can kill Amanda and then clutches Sadie’s body in his grief.  Then, Amanda and her team arrest him for the murder of 8 billion people.

In other words:  whoa.  I admit I’m all shaky after reading this issue, since the murder of the dog is pretty graphic and, yes, I care more about the dog than the people.  (People suck.)  But, LeHeup and the creative team somehow completely immerse you in this story from the first moment, and I honestly cannot believe I have to wait a month to see what happens next.

Also Read:  Detective Comics #982; The Wild Storm:  Michael Cray #8

Monday, June 25, 2018

New-ish Comics: The June 6 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Astonishing X-Men #12:  I like Charles Soule, but, man, this story was a mess.  We learn the Shadow King has been pulling the strings all along, using Proteus to seed the world with reality gardens that Farouk could then use to control the world.  (I still don't understand what these "reality gardens" are at this point, but whatever.)  Then, it turns out X was pulling the strings.  Surprise!  He teaches Betsy how to ask -- not demand, as they did last time -- every psychic in the world join their Psychic Friends Network, and Betsy somehow uses this energy to dismiss Farouk.  (It's not entirely clear the mechanics of that, but, again, whatever.)  Wrapping up loose ends, X finishes giving the X-Men his "gifts," wiping all memory of his existence from their minds...except for Betsy's.  Despite his claim to be free of Farouk's influence, he allows Betsy to retain her memory of him, just in case he isn't.  Um, OK, way to reassure us, X.  I don't really know what Soule wants us to feel here.  Xavier...I mean, X...could've easily just set up the Network the first time they tried it.  Why wait until now?  In other words, Soule doesn't explain why Xavier suddenly realizes permission is the key to harnessing the Network's power fully.  Moreover, X doesn't remotely feel like Xavier.  To be fair, he insists he's not Xavier, but then who is he?  He feels more like the latest iteration of Xorn, a convoluted plot device that future authors are likely to use and abuse for their own purposes.  It's just a mess, from start to finish.

Batman: Prelude to the Wedding - Robin vs. Ra’s al Ghul #1:  This issue is great.  Seeley draws such a good bead on the characters that every development flows logically from the previous one, as characters respond the way you think they would.  But, it doesn’t mean they don't surprise us with moments of growth either.  The issue starts slow, with Selena taking Damian to be sized for his wedding outfit and Damian rehashing his troubled origin for her as a way of saying he doesn’t need her.  Damian pops into the arcade to try to best his previous score on Cheese Viking, but he finds himself confronting Aion, who claims to be Bruce and Selena’s son from the future.  The conflict shifts to the future, where Damian from "Batman" #666 seemingly awakens from hallucinating the arcade sequence only to face Aion in his present.  But, the miniature Nightwing on his shoulder lecturing him about not killing Aion is his clue this moment, too, is a hallucination.  He then finds himself in the arcade once again, realizing his grandfather is his enemy.  He knows the drugs al Ghul used on him brought out his subconscious fear that Bruce will replace him with a "real" son.  For his part, al Ghul is here to kill Damian for allowing Catwoman to replace him.  Damian doesn’t win the fight so much as he persists.  Later, as Selina returns from her bachelorette party, he asks if she and Bruce are going to have children.  She resists answering the question as she doesn't see it as part of his business, but Damian puts his anxiety on display for her, a surprising sign of how deeply concerned he is.  But, Selina also surprises as Seeley allows her to be the adult we rarely see her be.  She tells Damian she can’t imagine raising a child, because s/he would have to carry not only her/his own baggage but also hers (and, implicitly, Bruce's).  Bringing a tear to everyone's eye, she then says she could never have a child who could overcome that baggage, because they'd never be as strong as Damian Wayne.  Damian is surprised and touched by this confession.  Selina tells him they need to stick together, as the only people in the house who aren’t goody-goodies.  She promises to have his back if he’ll have hers, and he agrees, with a smile that lights up his face.  It’s a lovely moment, and it feels hard-won.  Damian may be the bastard child Aion said he was, not raised from birth by Batman as Aion allegedly was.  But, Seeley makes it clear here he’s all the son Bruce and Selina need.  (That said, I’d be totally down with DC bringing back Aion!)  For all the cynicism I feel about this perceived money-grab series, this one is really worth the money.

Batman: Prelude to the Wedding - Nightwing vs. Hush #1:  This one is, too!  Man, who knew a tie-in series could be so good?  Seeley again nails characterization here.  Clark and Dick are taking Bruce to a pocket universe to go fishing for his bachelor party (after dinner at Batburger), but Hush unexpectedly attacks.  He and Dick tumble through the portal and find themselves in the Betwixt, a place where people without strong senses of self go to disappear.  The ghosts of these people attack Dick and Tommy, and their (convenient) guide to the Betwixt tells them to flee to Wayne Manor, since it’s where their identity is the strongest.  Seeley’s greatest twist here is to have Hush realize something he (and, frankly, we) should’ve realized long ago:  he wanted to be Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne’s best friend, not Bruce himself.  He reveals he’s changed his face to look like Dick, but the ghosts arrive and ultimately absorb him as he has no personality of his own.  Bruce and Clark rescue Dick, and, as he recovers, Dick overhears Bruce telling a departing Clark not to forget the ring.  Dick then asks Bruce if he made Clark his best man and Bruce awkwardly confirms he did.  When Bruce starts apologizing, Dick tells him not to do so:  Clark is always there for him, but Dick isn’t, because he left for Blüdhaven to find his own path.  Just as Selina is the unexpected adult in Robin’s version of this series, Dick is so here.  In other tales like this one, Dick could never accept this outcome.  But, here, he owns his decision to leave Bruce's side.  After the wedding, he makes Bruce promise they’ll spend time together, much to Bruce’s glee.  Like the Robin issue, this issue isn’t perfect.  Just as Damian’s recitation of his origin story was a drag, Hush’s insistence on becoming Bruce’s friend is so cartoonishly juvenile it's annoying.  But, it’s still a solid character study that reveals not really Hush’s fear, but Dick’s:  he, too, is afraid he’s being replaced.  But, like Damian, he realizes he needn't worry.  Meanwhile, Hush confirms it’s the Joker telling all of Batman’s villains about the wedding.  Oddly, we also learn Bruce and Selina themselves aren’t actually getting married, lest it raise too many questions about their secret identities.  After all, a billionaire marrying a criminal is a bit of a stretch.  (I still don’t understand how they’re going to keep that under wraps.)  Finally, can I make a pitch for Wilson drawing “Nightwing?”  Dick Grayson is often handsome, but he’s never been more handsome than he is here.  All in all, it's just a great issue.

Captain America #703:  I'm honestly just enduring this arc until we get to Coates.  Looking over the nine issues Waid has penned on this title, I'm still not sure what point he is trying to make.  First, I'm not sure it was a great idea to spend so much time so early in this run on two alternate-reality stories, particularly as one of them didn't feature Steve at all.  But, even if you put that aside, it also doesn't help that Steve's descendant Jack is a bumbling idiot.  He survives here only because his enemies -- first General Pursur and then the Red Skull -- very conveniently get so busy they ignore him.  Continuing with overly convenient plot devices, Jack gets out word that Pursur is using humanity as sleeper agents for the Kree via the Skull's apparently supernatural ability to manipulate technology to broadcast Jack's discovery to everyone.  Um, OK.  At this stage, we're also supposed to believe that Jack's son Steve is the key to somehow fending off the Kree, whose armada Pursur has dispatched to destroy Earth lest it successfully rebel.  We're supposed to believe Jack is a master strategist because he was "chosen" as a historian, but it's hard to believe he is if he didn't see Pursur taking this step, which he apparently didn't.  Unless we learn Jack's son Steve is the Phoenix, it's hard to believe he's going to single-handedly fight off the armada.  But, even if he does, I still don't get what this story tells us about Cap.  To repeat myself, it's a mess, from start to finish.

Dazzler:  X-Song #1:  I (heart) Dazzler.  I have every issue of her 1980s series.  Hell, I even read her cross-over appearances in "Secret Wars II."  Unfortunately, I'm sad to say she deserved better than she got here.  I'm not saying this issue is awful.  In fact, the premise is great:  Dazzler has to grapple with the fact anti-Inhuman mutants start appearing at her solidarity shows to make it clear that Inhumans aren't welcome.  However, Visaggio stumbles as every conversation in this issue dissolves into activist speak.  Although it makes sense, to an extent, that anti-Inhuman activists speak in talking points,Visaggio overdoes it.  Alison repeats her lines like a robot, particularly when it comes to rebuffing Piotr's oddly persistent attempts to get her to join the X-Men again.  If it were just a filler issue it would be OK, but it isn't OK when this issue was supposedly issue #43 of that 1980s series.  It's a disappointing color-by-numbers enterprise.

Infinity Countdown #4:  This issue is weirdly anticlimactic.  Surfer convinces Galactus to become the Destroyer once again, taking out Ultron's planet before he can spread his virus throughout the Universe.  (In exchange, Surfer becomes Galactus' herald again.)  Surfer's intervention helps Warlock get back the Soul Gem, though Ultron manages to escape.  After the Guardians squabble amongst themselves and with the Nova Corps over the Power Gem, Drax takes the Power Gem as Nova departs -- against Gamora's wishes -- to find his brother.  We also have a weird interlude where the Collector and Gamemaster present Peter with an Infinity Gem from another Universe.  That Universe's Phyla-Vell and Moondragon appear to collect the Gem, and we learn they're also looking for the identity of someone called Requiem, who seems to be the menacing figure in the intro pages these last few issues.  The weirdest part is how easily the Gems change hands throughout the issue; at one point, Adam Warlock literally just lops off Ultron's hand to grab the Soul Gem.  We'll see where we go from here.  Although the Gems have changed hands a few times, I'm not sure this mini-series is really bringing us to a different place than where we started.

Nightwing #45:  This issue is clever because it's so obvious.  Stories about AI and VR going haywire are rife at this point; Remender's "Tokyo Ghost" covered that ground well.  But, Percy goes one further here, as Wyrm -- the entity behind the Phantasm devices -- makes his play for Dick.  He comments how most people's information is useless, but some people's information is really important.  Figuring the former ward of billionaire Bruce Wayne is privy to a lot of secrets, Wyrm has uploaded a virus into Dick to steal them.  Meanwhile, Mirage -- the company behind Phantasm -- is rebuilding the train line destroyed as part of the "crypto-attack" where saw last issue (I think).  It's a project the mayor of Blüdhaven is (ominously) calling "Blüdhaven:  the City of Tomorrow."  It's clear we've got more going on here than just Wyrm making a play for cash, and Percy does a good job of building the suspense even as we learn more.

Star Wars #49:  The resolution of the Mon Cala rebellion is anticlimactic and rushed.  Despite an entire sky full of Imperial Star Destroyers, the Mon Calamari and Millennium Falcon manage to hold on long enough to allow some ships from the Rebellion fleet to join the battle.  Ackbar sacrifices one of the Mon Calamari ships to take out an Imperial Star Destroyer, somehow breaking the entire Imperial blockade.  (I guess the other Destroyers were only there for moral support?)  Initially, I thought Gillen was building to a long overdue defeat for the Rebellion; instead, they yet again miraculously pull out a win.  Moreover, I still don't understand the events of last issue, where Urtya goes from confiscating the video of Lee-char's call to arms to hurriedly playing it for all Mon Calamari.  Urtya claims he had to act quickly because the Imperials were imminently going to seize the Mon Calamari fleet.  Didn't he already know that?  I feel like their intent was pretty clear.  If he did know that, why not just explain the situation to Leia when she and the guys arrived on Mon Cala with the videotape?  If he didn't know that, how did he just suddenly learn that?  Did it happen off panel?  I don't feel like we saw any such revelation last issue.  At any rate, the good guys win.  Yay.  Gillen tries to make it interesting with the revelation that Trios has been working for Darth Vader all long and they intend on destroying the 12 fully crewed Mon Calamari ships.  I'm hoping Leia sees this treachery coming, because if she doesn't, I'm going to start losing some faith here.

Also Read:  Batman #48; Ben Reilly:  Scarlet Spider #19; X-Men Gold #29; X-Men Red #5