Tuesday, May 22, 2018

New-ish Comics: The May 9 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman:  White Knight #8:  Murphy really nails the landing here, making this limited series one of the best "Batman" stories I've read since Snyder's "Black Mirror" run on "Detective Comics."  Batman and the GTO successfully take down Neo-Joker, liberating Clayface (and, as a result, the mind-controlled villains) and getting Mr. Freeze to the cannon in time to reverse its effects.  In the aftermath, Jack carries out his end of the bargain, releasing a video explaining how he controlled the villains and destroyed his own library to turn the city against Batman.  Bruce then confronts Harley, telling her Jack fingered her as the person who manufactured the pills that controlled the Joker as well as maneuvered Batman into administering them.  In fact, Murphy hints Harley had a much larger role in the events of this mini-series than we thought.  Right before he's imprisoned in a new cell (a reward for his cooperation), Jack comments how he "found" the Joker in his old cell.  When Bruce asks Harley what Jack meant by that, Harley (not convincingly) says she doesn't know.  (Did Harley create the Joker?)  Moreover, Bruce doesn't answer her question about why Jack never told her that he knew she was the one responsible for creating the pills.  Given these questions, I could see Murphy returning to this setting soon, like how "Batman:  The Long Halloween" followed "Batman:  Year One."  After all, Jack isn't the only character who evolves here:  Bruce also fulfills his promises.  He turns over the keys to all the Batmobiles to Jim, admitting not only that he was wrong not to allow the GCPD to use them in the first place but also that he enjoys hurting criminals.  He then reveals his identity to Gordon, with the intent to reveal it to the world, saying it's the only thing that'll make them -- but particularly Jim -- trust him again.  Finally, Bruce reads Alfred's note with Barbara and Dick, and Alfred expresses his joy that Bruce has finally embraced them as his family (as Alfred knew he'd have them with him to read the note).  Stories like this one can really reinvigorate a character, and I highly recommend this mini-series to any Batman fan out there.

Darth Vader #16:  This issue is devastating.  As the Inquisitors take out Barr's disciples one by one, Soule and Camuncoli show us the reasons why they were driven to join Barr in the first place.  Soule and Camuncoli do so without editorial restraint, making clear their disdain for Barr's deception in promising them they could defeat the Empire.  Camuncoli and the colorists are masterful in showing the hope the disciples feel as Barr offers them a future, making their deaths all the more poignant as they're eliminated.  Barr has his back against the wall as the issue concludes, left with only one disciple.  But, realizing the troopers accompanying the Inquisitors are clones, he orders them to execute Order 66, turning them against the Inquisitors as well.  It's a brilliant tactic, as Barr increases the odds that he'll take down as many Inquisitors before his death that he can.  But, it still doesn't answer what Barr thought he was doing on Mon Calamari.  He tells one of his disciples his plan now is simply to flee to another planet to sew more rebellion.  Knowing the high cost the Mon Calamari will pay for this rebellion, it's hard to see him as a hero.  Instead, he feels like an angry old man willing to resort to any means necessary to have a measure of revenge, even if it ultimately accomplishes nothing.  In a way, it reminds us why Leia is such a different (and inspirational) character, as she's driven by hope, not hate.

New Mutants:  Dead Souls #3:  We get right into it here:  the New Mutants are fighting the Mindless Ones in the Morlock tunnels when Prodigy calls for help from on board a crashing airplane.  Illyana manages to teleport them onto the plane, and Prodigy reveals the pilot is trying to kill him because of what they're doing (i.e., whatever Xi'an's plan is).  Guido asks what he means by that, showing that Prodigy is more in-the-know on said plans than the other team members (except, obviously, for Illyana).  The team begins bickering among themselves, likely due to the pilot's telepathic influence (as he's also turning the passengers against them).  In a way, though, their disputes actually make sense; Rosenberg reminds us that Guido murdered Rahne's son, so it raises the question why they're on the same team anyway.  (Illyana apparently helped Guido get back his soul at some point?  I re-read some of my "X-Factor" reviews to refresh my memory of that entire crazy storyline, and it really doesn't make any sense that Rahne is working with Guido without some explanation).  Illyana eventually uses her Darkchilde powers to get into the cockpit (as the pilot was telepathically blocking her mutant powers) and, not surprisingly, we learn Tran is possessing the pilot.  Illyana informs him he's dead, but he exposits he's really just trapped in Xi'an's body.  He also implies Xi'an and the New Mutants aren't necessarily the good guys here.  (Per the above point, Tran is the one who points out how weird it is they're all working together.)  Illyana is surprised to learn from Tran that Xi'an sent someone else after him, and she tells Tran that Xi'an hired her to imprison him in Limbo while Xi'an figured out what she wanted to do with him.  However, Tran claims he's going to save the world from Xi'an.  Tran doesn't seem to be the most reliable narrator here, but it all just got more interesting.

Peter Parker:  The Spectacular Spider-Man #304:  This issue is fascinating for a number of reasons.  First, "our" Peter discovers that Doom's warning about the Time Variance Authority didn't meant they couldn't alter the past; it just meant he couldn't return to his present.  In the new present, "past" Peter is the head of Parker Industries, but he's in a constant state of war with his wife, Gwen, given her support for the Resistance.  The Resistance, you ask?  Right.  Norman eventually leaves prison and builds a second career,  turning the Goblin Serum into a vitamin supplement after he convinced influencers "green is beautiful."  (Brilliant.)  He uses his funds to get Harry elected President and install Dr. Octopus as police commissioner.  (We don't see Harry here, so it's unclear at this point why he'd take Norman's bait, other than possibly the Goblin mania affecting him.)  Gwen sends "our" Peter to meet with the Resistance, i.e., Cap, Dr. Strange, and Riri, but it's grim.  Their only hope is freeing Dr. Doom from prison (after Norman had Harry invade Latveria years earlier).  But, the most fascinating part is JJJ, Jr. confessing to Teresa that this future scares him because it shows he was wrong all these years:  the world is worse without Spider-Man.  When you throw in a Venomized Ben Grimm as the prison's head guard, it's just a great time from start to finish.  I really dislike time-travel stories, but Zdarsky isn't just putting an innovative spin on the trope, but also successfully using it to tease out everyone's personalities.  Beyond JJJ, Jr.'s realization, you've also got the steady heroism of Gwen Stacy and the broken wreck of both Peter Parkers.  "Past" Peter is so afraid of losing someone that he can't live his own life, and "our" Peter realizes his inability to trust anyone puts him in the situations that cost him dearly.  Um, yeah, Peter.  Good job realizing it now.

The Wild Storm:  Michael Cray #7:  Well, I certainly didn't see that coming.  After getting a vision of the future from the gods he worships, Constantine sends for Michael Cray.  Surprised to be invited to meet the man he's supposed to kill, Cray arrives in Constantine's town house with the intent to kill him.  But, Constantine comments on Cray's increased loss of control, something Constantine's agent, Dion, also mentioned when she delivered the invitation.  It results in Michael delaying in killing Constantine long enough for Wonder Woman (Dion is her avatar, I think?) to lasso him.  The entity in Michael's brain was hot for him to kill Constantine, so I wonder if Constantine's going to reveal something about Michael's powers that's inconvenient for the entity.  On a side note, Constantine is also creating free energy for, I believe, Wonder Woman, though I'm not sure why.  Curiouser and curiouser.

Also Read:  Detective Comics #980; Oblivion Song #3; X-Men Blue #27; Youngblood #11

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

New Comics!: The May 2 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Astonishing X-Men #11:  I like Soule a lot, but I’m not sure what the story is here exactly.  If I had to guess, it sounds like the Shadow King created the X persona to win back his access to the psychic network Psylocke accessed at the start of the series (and accesses again here).  But, it's unclear to me at this point if resurrecting Proteus was an accidental by-product of this decision or a needed distraction.  Either way, we’re essentially where we started this series, with Shadow King in control of Psylocke once more.  It’s...anticlimactic.

Avengers #1:  To no one’s surprise, Aaron and McGuinness do an outstanding job here:  it really does feel like the band has gotten back together again.  They convey a certain excitement and scale that the Avengers have been missing for a long time.  In retrospect, even "No Surrender," for all its effort, failed to hit the marks that these guys do here in just one issue.  In a way, Aaron and McGuinness don’t have to use words to convince us how important Cap, Iron Man, and Thor are to the Avengers.  You can just feel the difference.  But, Aaron does actually use words to great effect.  The conversation that opens the issue reminds me of Bendis’ “Avengers Prime” mini-series.  In that series, they sat around a campfire and talked; here, they're at a bar.  (Don't worry, Tony has a Shirley Temple.)

In this conversation, Tony makes it clear he's not sure the Avengers need them.  He convincingly talks about how he could think of two dozen people that could take the Avengers to places they couldn’t.  Cap and Thor don’t disagree. Instead, they argue the opposite:  they need the Avengers.  Aaron and McGuinness really sell that idea, with Tony using their recent nicknames:  Nazi Cap, Coma Tony, and Unworthy Thor.  It’s time to get back their mojo.  The authors also give them a suitable threat:  dead Celestials start falling to Earth.  Carol Danvers manages to prevent one from falling onto Manhattan, but it’s obviously a problem.  Then, the Final Host arrives.  I figured they were just going to show up one day, but dead Celestials serving as their heralds is pretty awesome, to be honest.

Meanwhile, the Black Panther has called in Dr. Strange after a group of archaeologists died on a research mission.  The pair discovers a cavern buried deep in the Earth filled with green glowing pods.  The pods suddenly self-animate, attacking the pair; the new Ghost Rider has the same problem.  I’ve never been a Ghost Rider fan, but Aaron and McGuinness do a good job with the new kid; he's shades of the overwhelmed teenage hero Peter Parker once was.  When you add in there a Jennifer Walters trying to control her powers on the margins of the story, it’s a pretty great group.

Aaron is at his strongest when it comes to dialogue, and I’m really paying him a compliment there because, as I've made clear, the plot is great.  But, really, the scripting is even better.  The conversation between the guys at the bar really sets the stage, but other players, from Tony’s hilariously understated AI to Dr. Strange’s wonderful snarkiness, add to the fun.  Of course, I’m anxious for an entire issue dedicated to Carol and Tony having at each other over “Civil War 2,” but I’ll try to be patient.  In the meantime, it’s a great start to this series.  It’s one of the few times I believe restarting at #1 is warranted.  The Avengers are back, baby.

Batman #46:  OMG, I would pay money not to have to read a "Batman" issue with Booster Gold in it ever again.  Seriously, just let me know how much money you want, DC, and I'll see what I can do.  I just just don't understand what King wants to accomplish here other than shock us for no reason.  The ending of this issue is so gory -- Catwoman rips Thomas to shreds, Batman shoots Martha as he's trying to shoot Catwoman, Catwoman lops off Batman's fingers, Bruce shoots Booster -- that it reminds me of the final scene of "Hamlet" (clearly King's intent).  OK, we get it:  Bruce Wayne is destined to lose his parents, and if he loses them earlier rather than later it's better for everyone involved.  Cool.  But, I feel like we could've told that story without Booster fucking Gold.  To make matters worse, Booster's plan of reuniting Selina with Bruce makes no sense.  He gave up being Batman because his parents were alive, not because he forgot he loved Selina.  If anything, Booster should've killed Bruce's parents himself, to take away Bruce's justification for refusing to return to the prime timeline.  Yeah, the fact I'm recommending Booster kill Bruce's parents gives you an idea of how awful this issue is.

Captain America #701:  I can’t say I dislike this issue.  In fact, if it were the first issue of a mini-series like “Batman: White Knight,” I’d be pretty stoked, to be honest.  I love the idea of Steve’s great-great-etc.-grandson Jackson discovering Steve's legacy has been tarnished and finding himself in a moral quandary:  does he stop the President’s military advisor from using the Super-Solider Serum — now administered to every American as a matter of course — to turn America’s population into sleeper agents for the Kree, even if it costs him his son's life?  It’s the sort of dilemma even Captain America would struggle to resolve.  Waid implies the answer is going to come from Jackson’s son himself, whose inability to absorb the Serum now seems like a good thing.  But, I have to say, I really just want a Steve Rogers story.  I get what Waid’s been doing during his run, telling stories that highlight the philosophy Steve embraces.  You don’t have to read the ongoing discussion in the letters page about what Captain America means to the readers to know that.  But, Waid started his run in the midst of a much larger assault on the Captain America mythos:  Steve has to find a way to wind back America’s trust after the Captain Nazi business.  Waid has weirdly ignored that almost entirely, and I wonder when — if ever — it’s actually going to be addressed.  As much as I’m used to events being quickly forgotten, it seems unbelievable Marvel wouldn’t address the fallout of “Secret Empire” in “Captain America” beyond the brief fight with Rampart at the start of Waid's run.  Again, I'm not saying this story is bad, but I think we really should've addressed the Captain Nazi business -- even if it wasn't Mark Waid's mess to fix -- before getting into these sorts of hypothetical stories.

DC Nation #0:  If the goal of this free issue was to get me to buy any of these series, this issue really missed the mark.  I don't really have much to say about the "Man of Steel" and "Justice League:  No Justice" stories.  I was bored halfway through Perry White's first speech bubble, which was a problem, given the entire story was an extended rant on his part.  Any frequent Marvel reader would roll his or her eyes at the "Justice League:  No Justice" story, as its premise appears to be four Galactuses (Galacti?) are going to destroy Earth for energy.  Let's just say, it ain't novel.  The "Batman" story was much more interesting, as the Joker sits at someone's home waiting for the invitation to Batman's wedding.  At first, I thought this guy knew Bruce Wayne, and the story revealed the Joker also knew Bruce's identity.  That would be a development.  Instead, it appears he just chose a random guy to terrorize.  Um, OK.  I guess?  I get the Joker's mayhem doesn't need to make sense, but I'm also not quite sure what conclusion we were supposed to draw here.  How does the Joker know Batman is getting married if he doesn't know Bruce Wayne is Batman?  Do I even care about this question any more?  I mean, it was free, so I'm good, but meh.

Infinity Countdown #3:  This issue is sort of silly, but a bunch of important things happen in it.  First, Rich’s brother Robbie tells him the Fraternity of Raptors put him in some sort of simulator and he subsequently realized the entire Universe is essentially a larger simulation.  (I don't think we ever learn why the Fraternity put Robbie in the simulation in the first place, but whatever.)  Robbie seems to be the only one to realize this Universe is different and, ipso facto, the Power Stone is different.  For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, he tells Nova how to control the Power Stone:  as the chart at the start of the issue says, it’s mind over matter.  The Guardians and Nova manage to control the Power Stone just in time to fend off the Chitauri, which delivers the pretty great moment of Drax playing a Power Stone-powered sax.  (This issue wasn’t all bad, obviously.)  Meanwhile, Adam Warlock heals the Surfer from whatever it was Ultron did to him.  Surprisingly, the Surfer immediately flees, and Adam fails to prevent Ultron from launching his surrogates to take over the galaxy.  Meanwhile, Norrin tracks down Galactus (now the Lifebringer) to ask for him to return to his old ways to destroy the planet Ultron controls.

Nightwing #44:  I’m going to apologize if this review makes no sense because it was hard to focus on the issue when Dick and his hairy chest spent most of it shirtless.  Percy and Mooneyham really set a dark and somber mood here, one befitting Blüdhaven.  I mean, it’s not like Seeley and his various artists made Blüdhaven all sparkles and light or anything, but in just one issue this pair makes it clear Blüdhaven is Gotham’s opioid-addicted brother trying to convince him to lend him some money.  Percy goes a little overboard with Dick’s Ludditism, but it’s driving home the point he wants to make.  He makes you legitimately wonder if we’re only a few years from being the target of the attacks like the one we see here, where someone uses the lithium batteries in people’s smartphones as bombs.  Dick’s cybernetically enhanced new client seems the ideal suspect, but we also have a larger scheme at hand, as someone in the Blüdhaven government is furnishing shopkeepers with the Phantasma device.  At first, it seems to just project a hologram, but, when Tim gets his hands on a device, he realizes it actually accesses one’s nervous systems to create illusions that seem real.  (Dick selects “luxury” as a mood and instantly finds himself in Wayne Manor, able to feel and touch Alfred.)  It's not clear how the smartphone bombs and Phantasma devices are connected, but they clearly are.  I’m buying what Percy is selling here hook, line, and sinker.  It’s a fun new direction for this series, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen folks work together as well as Percy and Mooneyham here.

Rogue and Gambit #5:  Man, this series was awesome.  Thompson had done a great job of explaining how we got to this point, so it was really just a matter of Rogue and Gambit landing their final punches before the kiss (which, honestly, didn't feel inevitable, to Thompson's credit).  Rogue realizes their therapist was one of Lavish's golems, and she destroys her to take on Lavish's powers to return people's memories and powers.  She then destroys all the other golems, absorbing everyone's memories and powers (as she can now later return them, given Lavish's powers).  She then discovers Lavish herself was just a golem, making Gambit wonder if they ever really faced Lavish.  Rogue then returns everyone's memories and powers, including Remy's, after giving everyone a chance to refuse them.  She also tells Remy the experience made her admit she's always been running from him because it was never perfect; she realizes it will never be perfect.  They kiss, and fandom cheers.  As the editor says, this series was clearly a passion project for Kelly Thompson, and I really hope Marvel just hands her the keys to the kingdom.  This mini-series and "Hawkeye" were two of Marvel's brightest spots of the last few months, and she deserves whatever she wants.

Spider-Man #240:  I really wasn’t sure how Bendis was going wrap up this issue, but it’s a testament to his brilliant understanding of Miles that he did so in the best way possible.  He manages to wrap up everything in a bow, from Ganke’s girlfriend confessing she loved him too much to sell Miles’ identity to a blog to Uncle Aaron sneaking into the hospital to tell him he was right that he could do better.  (I'm not sure the latter is necessarily a good thing.)  Bendis explains his thinking in the letters page better than I ever could in the letters page, so just read that.  I only joined Miles after “Secret Wars,” and I have to say I really felt privileged to get to jump on this bandwagon.  It's been a great journey.

Also:  Transformers vs. the Visionaries #1-#5; Star Wars #47; X-Men Gold #27

Friday, May 4, 2018

New Mutants #2: "Sentinels"

Countdown to "'Ah'm Nigh Invulnerable When Ah'm Blastin':"  "Mah power as Cannonball makes me practically invulnerable while Ah'm blastin'."

Summary
We begin where we left off last issue, with Dani trapped in the Danger Room's Savage Land simulation and fleeing the "hungry" creature chasing her.  She manages to scamper up a ridge and successfully escape it, but she's exhausted from the flight.  She marvels at the landscape -- a lush, mountain-ringed valley -- before her, but reminds herself it's all an illusion.  She recalls Professor X specifically telling them the Savage Land was a "top-of-the-line training sequence" and wonders how she found herself stuck in it.  Assuming someone is trying to kill her, she decides to head to the escarpment in the distance, assuming it's actually the Danger Room's wall and leads to the exit.  However, she's surprised when she turns a corner and comes face-to-face with a Brood Queen!  The Queen informs Dani she'd prefer for her to host her progeny, but, as Dani alone has sensed the Queen's presence, she's too dangerous to let live.  She pushes Dani off the ledge, and Dani thinks of seeing her parents in the "Otherworld" as she falls.  Hoping they'll be happy to see her, she lands with a thump.

At Salem Center Mall, Stevie and the kids exit "E.T.," with Rahne crying and expressing joy that E.T. was rescued.  Roberto somewhat coldly teases her for thinking it was a real person -- a "mutant like us" -- and tells her it was just a puppet.  Rahne says he seemed so life-like, admitting it all seemed like magic to her as she's never been to a movie.  Stevie leaves the kids to get ice cream while she phones the Mansion, and a group of local kids approach them, asking why they're not at school with them.  Roberto tells them they're students at Xavier's, and the leader of the group, Frank, notes it's a change for "you elite types" to mingle with the common folk.  Bobby's spoiling for a fight, but Sam puts a calming hand on his shoulder.  A girl named Diana tells Frank he's acting like a jerk.  She introduces herself to Rahne, who introduces herself in turn.  Diana compares the pronunciation of Rahne's name -- "Rain" -- to Moon Unit Zappa.  She compliments Rahne's hair, saying she wished she could get her hair to look that way.  She then asks if she's "punk" or "new wave;" Rahne replies she's "Scots."  Diana asks where everyone else is from, and Bobby runs down the list, shocking Xi'an when he adds at the end they're "international terrorists."

From a control room, Henry Peter Gyrich and Sebastian Shaw are spying on the kids.  The conversation at the mall is shown (presumably via a security camera) on a big screen and we see the New Mutants' names and vital statistics appearing on screens next to the image.  Gyrich tells Shaw Bobby's joke isn't a joke, as he views the kids as "as grave a threat to the security of the United States -- and the world -- as any madman with a gun."  He explains to Shaw it's why Project Wideawake was established.  Gyrich recalls some "evil mutants" boasting homo superior will replace and enslave homo sapiens and laments how mutants are "popping up like flies" throughout the world, as the kids' varied places of origin show.  He expresses concern to Shaw over what a Soviet-trained cadre of "super-powered mutant soldiers" could do to the balance of power.  He also worries even a smaller nation with the right mix of mutants could bring the United States to its knees.  He says he's committed to learning more about mutants, as they don't even know what specific DNA matrix creates which ability.  He tells Shaw it was the sudden appearance of Roberto's powers that led them to the others, and Shaw comments how he knows Roberto's father from the Hellfire Club.  Shaw then wonders to himself whether he could recruit Emmanuel da Costa to the Inner Circle, "dedicated to achieving political and economic dominion over the world."  Shaw pledges not to underestimate the children, as they easily defeated Donald Pierce despite some of their powers just manifesting.

Shaw then expresses outrage that Gyrich is considering turning "this equipment" (i.e., Sentinels, which we only partially see) on children.  Gyrich agrees the equipment Shaw's company built looks formidable, but caveats it's performance that counts.  He then dismisses Shaw's concern, saying the President gave him instructions to keep Wideawake under wraps so they'll only use the Sentinels on villains.  He trusts his agents to corral the kids.  He tells Shaw they're building a "facility for the containment and extermination of mutants," where the kids will be taken.  Via thought bubbles, Shaw makes it clear he intends to use the Sentinels against the kids so they'll be paranoid about anyone other than mutants.  That way, once he takes out Xavier, the Hellfire Club can recruit them.

At the mall, Stevie is disturbed when neither Charles nor Dani answers the phone, as they told her they'd be home all day.  Even if they left, she wonders why they didn't activate the "recordacall system."  She tries to convince herself there's an easy explanation, but a hand then goes over her mouth and pulls her into a nearby storeroom.  The man knows her name and tells her he's there as a friend to her and her students; if she promises to "behave," he'll remove his hand, as each second she delays puts the kids in "deadly danger."  The man introduces himself as Michael Rossi, a colonel in Air Force intelligence.  Stevie says she recognizes his name from Carol Danvers, "a friend of Professor Xavier's."  Rossi says they were colleagues, Stevie adds they were lovers, and Rossi tells her that was "a long time ago in a different world."  Stevie also remembers he was supposedly dead, and Rossi acknowledges it was a belief that served him well over the years.  As Rossi begins to explain why Stevie needs his help, a group of Gyrich's agents approaches the kids just as Diana invites them to their school's mixer the following month.  The goons ask the New Mutants to come with them, and Xi'an recognizes it as a command, not a request.  Xi'an asks why they want them to come, and one of the agents says it's just routine business.  Frank tells him to leave the kids alone, and one of agents tells him to shut his mouth before he gets in trouble.  Xi'an recalls how the police in Vietnam could barely be trusted, reflecting on how her uncle Nguyen was a national-police general and the "cruelest and most corrupt of men."  She recalls Stevie saying the police could be trusted in the United States (oh, the 80s), but she's clearly (and correctly) skeptical.  Roberto asks about Stevie, and one of the agents says they can call her at HQ.  Roberto insists they wait for her, but Xi'an tells him not to make a scene (privately reflecting on how, even if the agents are enemies, she doesn't want anyone to get hurt). 

The kids follows Xi'an's lead, despite their reservations, because she's the oldest, and Xi'an feels the responsibility of that decision.  Just then, Rossi and Stevie appear and tell the kids to scatter.  One of the agents calls base for backup as Rossi uses his stun gun to take out another agent.  Sam uses his powers to smash a car into another agent (who somehow doesn't die), and Roberto uses his powers to smash a car whose driver tried to flee.  Karma possesses a nearby agent before he can shoot Roberto while he's distracted, and Rahne transforms into a wolf and tackles the lead agent.  Sam expresses concern to Stevie that they just assaulted government agents, and Rossi tells Sam he's also an agent.  One of the goons calls "bull," and Rossi tells him it's tough talk for a guy working for a "technically illegal outfit."  Rossi suggests they retire to Xavier's, just as a Sentinel bursts through the roof!  The Sentinel announces the objective is to kidnap the children but identifies Rossi as the immediate danger.  Rossi yells for the kids to flee, as the Sentinels shouldn't follow them into the mall.  Roberto refuses to abandon him, and Rossi is telling him he's previously fought the Sentinels when it gasses him.  Sam blasts the Sentinel through the roof, only to discover other Sentinels waiting.  The Sentinels realize they have no information about Sam, so start recording.  Roberto tells "you women" to get Rossi to safety as he goes to help Sam, and Xi'an warns him to stop because he doesn't know anything about the Sentinels.  As Bobby prepares a cocky retort, two Sentinel hands appear to grab him.  He realizes he's already used too much energy to power himself, so he blasts through the wall into the sunlight.  However, he forgets he's three-stories high.  Rahne, Stevie, and Xi'an begin to carry Rossi...somewhere, and Xi'an feels helpless as her powers don't work on robots.  Rahne is petrified as she sees Roberto falling onto a car. 

Roberto rouses himself and expresses shock when a Sentinel knows his name.  He wonders if they're really agents of the U.S. government or illegal operatives as Rossi said, and he believes his father -- a "man of wealth and influence" -- can intervene if Xavier can't deal with the threat.  Despite being nowhere near his peak powers, he attacks the Sentinel by lifting up its foot and tipping it.  But, he tips the Sentinel the wrong way and, in a great splash panel, it goes through the mall.  Roberto is thankful he didn't kill anyone, and he rips off the Sentinel's head before it can recover.  Meanwhile, another Sentinel uses "frigi-beams" to neutralize Sam as he flies at it.  The Sentinel observes Rahne and Xi'an can be captured unassisted and radios for assistance with Roberto as it heads towards base with a captured Sam.  Rahne and Xi'an watch as the Sentinel departs, and Xi'an uses her powers to wake up Sam.  She feels the same freezing sensation as Sam does, worrying she's going to be frozen, too.  But, she eventually establishes contact, sending him and the Sentinel high into the atmosphere.  (Apparently the sudden acceleration overwhelms the Sentinel's powers, making it unable to let go.)  However, Xi'an's forced to focus entirely on possessing Sam, given the tenuous connection.  Rahne is concerned she's a sitting duck, but a recovered Rossi tells Rahne he'll protect Xi'an and orders her to get the lead agent so he can order off the Sentinels.

As Rahne departs, Roberto arrives, bragging about bagging a Sentinel.  Stevie is suddenly frozen in fear over her choices:  they can save Xi'an and doom Sam or allow her to keep possessing Sam but possibly lose her and "the boy" (either Roberto or Sam) as well.  She notes she's just a dancer and not used to making life-or-death decisions.  But, she does, telling Roberto to grab Xi'an.  The Sentinel realizes Xi'an is incapacitated, but identifies Rossi and Sunspot as the greater threats.  Rossi tells Roberto the Sentinels learn from their mistakes.  Xi'an realizes Sam is now fully awake (given his increased mental resistance to her control) and releases him.  He awakens surprised to find himself in the atmosphere.  Sam realizes his invulnerability makes him able to survive any impact, so he slams the Sentinel into the Sentinel threatening Rossi and Sunspot.

Later, the team flees, though Xi'an uses her powers to have the lead agent confess to the cops, telling him that he's attached to National Security Council official Henry Peter Gyrich and  that he summoned the Sentinels.  The police chief tells his officers to take the agents downtown but not to book them until he's checked with Washington.  Xi'an expresses concern Rossi is having her use her powers on a man who isn't a criminal, but Rossi reminds her the agent was going to send them to the "functional equivalent of a concentration camp."  Xi'an observes two wrongs don't make a right, noting her brother had no qualms about using his powers to manipulate and even kill people.  She tells Rossi she refuses to be like her brother.  Rossi tells Xi'an he's a friend, but she responds he doesn't act like one.  However, Rossi tells her she has a choice to make, as Gyrich isn't done with them.

Back at the Mansion, Stevie and the kids find Dani unconscious in the Danger Room.  They awaken her with some ammonia, and a panicked Dani hugs Stevie.  Sam wonders if the Sentinels came after her and the Professor, but Dani tells them the story.  Stevie chastises her for using the Room on her own, as she could've inadvertently triggered the sequence.  But, Dani tells her she was outside the Room at the time the attack happened.  However, Stevie recognizes the Brood Queen Dani described as one of the creatures who kidnapped the X-Men months ago.  Realizing Moira is in Scotland, Stevie knows Xavier is the only other person able to activate the Danger Room.  We cut to Xavier sleeping on his desk with a young Brood Queen lurking over him, observing that Charles is unaware of the body growing in him...

The Review
I'm intrigued by some of the information we get here on Gyrich's computer screens, like how Bobby is the youngest (apparently only 13 years old, a year younger than Rahne) and Xi'an is significantly older (19 years old to Sam's 16 years old).  In fact, I hadn't realized Xi'an was initially the de facto leader of the group, given I started reading "New Mutants" in the era where Dani and Sam shared leadership.  But, Claremont makes Xi'an's leadership clear here, showing the other team members deferring to her specifically because she's the oldest.  It also makes sense given she's actually engaged in the sort of battle that eventually develops here.  That said, Rossi gives us a hint of things to come when he basically tells Xi'an in the car she isn't going to enjoy the luxury of never using her mutants powers on the unwilling for much longer.

Along those lines, Gyrich is a clear and present danger here.  His rant about mutants is a reminder of how Marvel portrayed them during this era, as a burgeoning threat many humans felt had to be neutralized.  Both Gyrich here and Pierce in "Marvel Graphic Novel" #4 explicitly refer to the mutant population exploding all of a sudden, and I wonder if we get a story at some point that explains whether this perception was a real phenomenon.  At this point, eight years after "Giant-Sized X-Men," you'd figure the world would be more use to mutants by now.  Or, is it really just the the X-Men and the Brotherhood at this point?

Shaw and Gyrich's competing plans for the team are fascinating if only for their brutality, another hallmark of this era that makes it different from the kinder, gentler present.  Gyrich is preparing Sentinels to send after adult mutants, but believes his agents will be able to capture the New Mutants on their own.  His decision not to send the Sentinels isn't because he's going easy on the kids; after all, he intends to send them to a facility built to contain and exterminate -- his words -- mutants.  He basically just doesn't want to waste money on deploying the Sentinels, as he thinks his agents should be able to handle a bunch of kids.  As we see, he's wrong.  If he did send them (more on that in a second), he at least didn't order the Sentinels to kill them, since the first Sentinel makes it clear they're there to kidnap them.  Of course, Xi'an has to use her powers to prevent one of the agents from shooting Roberto in the back, so I'm not sure how much credit the feds deserve here.  (Also, I'm not really sure how Rossi knew about Gyrich and his plans.  I wonder if we get more clarity on that later.)  Shaw is equally nefarious, hoping to make the kids so paranoid they'll trust only mutants.  However, I'm not sure if it really was Shaw that deployed the Sentinels.  After all, the agents radioed to base for backup, so it makes sense Gyrich would've sent the Sentinels.  I wonder if that becomes a plot point later.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

New Mutants #1: "Initiation!"

Countdown to "'Ah'm Nigh Invulnerable When Ah'm Blastin':"  "Ah can't be hurt when Ah'm blastin.'"

This summary is once again too long, and I'm not quite sure what I can do about it.  At this early stage, a lot of the descriptions and developments seem significant, as they tease out the characters' personalities and thoughts.  Dani's walk through the Mansion may seem insignificant, but it's the way Claremont conveys important information about where she is mentally at the start of this adventure.  But, I definitely can't keep you nine-paragraph summaries for the 225 issues I've identified as part of this project, so expect them to get shorter soon.

Summary

Xi'an is appalled when Stevie Hunter allows the other New Mutants watch as Stevie washes her hair.  Stevie tells Xi'an she couldn't have stopped them if she tried (though, given that Roberto and Sam are standing in the hall, it seems closing the door might've done the trick).  Stevie is giving Xi'an a new haircut, since her old one was "just plain awful."  Rahne laments her hair will never look pretty (as it never seems to grow), and Roberto kisses her hand, telling Rahne her hair suits her perfectly -- its color is as fiery as her spirit.  Stevie remarks to Roberto that he has style, but privately hopes he'll be careful with Rahne's feelings, since her "fundamentalist Scots upbringing" has left her terribly innocent and vulnerable.  Roberto insists admiring "what is beautiful" is simply good manners in Brazil, but Stevie's concern seems well grounded as Rahne rubs her hand and wonders privately if Roberto likes her.  Dani teases Roberto by dramatically telling him she wishes he would look at her the way he looked at Rahne and asking Stevie to perform her wizardry on her, too, as she's an ugly duckling yearning to be a swan. (Dani is clearly my favorite at this point.)  Roberto claps as Stevie tells Dani to hush and Xi'an ponders what she ever did to deserve her fate.

Suddenly, Dani's powers engage, and Xi'an is stunned to see her parents in front of her.  Dani's powers continue, showing Xi'an's father getting murdered in front of her a year ago as they fled Vietnam and Thai pirates attacking their boat in the South China Sea.  The images and narration make it clear the pirates raped Xi'an's mother and then her as she tried to protect her siblings.  Xi'an lunges at Dani, calling her a monster.  She screams she thought Dani was her friend but Dani showed the world her shame.  Stevie tries to pull Xi'an off Dani, warning Xi'an she's killing Dani (as she bashes her head into the ground).  Xi'an possesses Stevie in a rage, screaming at Stevie to release her, and Roberto smacks Xi'an to break her concentration.  Sam helps Dani to her feet as she apologizes, telling Xi'an she'd give anything for it not to have happened.  Xi'an asks what Dani'll say next time she's laid bare their very souls.  Xi'an tells Dani she intended to rip out her heart to make her suffer, but she can't bring herself to do it.  (Yeah, it's intense.)  Stevie tells Dani to take a walk while Xi'an "cools down," hoping it'll do them both good.  Stevie takes a bawling Xi'an to her breast, and Roberto expresses a desire to follow Dani, noting she looked miserable.  Sam stops him, saying that his experience with a "passel o' sisters" in Kentucky led him to learn the hard way "how t' handle 'em" and "it ain't by crowdin' her."  Roberto isn't convinced, noting Xi'an wasn't joking when she made her threats.  He then muses aloud it's hardly an "auspicious beginning" for the school.

A devastated Dani wanders the Mansion's halls, thinking Xi'an bashing in her brains is no less than she deserved.  Dani recalls her grandfather sent her to the School from her "Wyoming mountains" to learn how to control her "accursed mutant abilities," but laments Xavier has thusfar only given her a costume and made her life miserable.  (True that, Dani.)  She stumbles upon a wing of the Mansion she's never seen before and realizes it's where the X-Men live.  She finds Kitty's room (without knowing who she is) and marvels at the "strange-looking people" in the photos on her bulletin board.  Dani looks at a photo of Peter holding up Kitty by her waist and recognizes Illyana in the background, because she's with Dr. MacTaggart in Scotland.  Noting she was a nice but "weird" kid, she wonders if she's a mutant like they are.  Dani observes the Professor never mentions the X-Men and concludes something terrible happened to them.  She wonders if his new students are supposed to take their place and if the same fate awaits them.  Dani then dismisses the thought, thinking she won't be at the School long enough to share that fate, given her powers are destroying her life and any chance she has of friendship just like they did back home.  She stumbles upon the staircase to the attic where Storm lives, thinking it was a storeroom where she could hide.  She marvels at the beautiful plants, but realizes they're all dying for lack of water.  She begins watering the plants, despite the fact the attic runs the width of the Mansion and it'll take her hours to do the job.  "Some considerable time later," she realizes she's starving (having missed lunch) and wonders if Xi'an is still mad at her.  She ponders how to put things right with her and if Stevie or the Professor could help, assuming they're also not mad at her.  Then, the Professor telepathically calls the new students to the Danger Room for their first training session.

Meanwhile, in Dublin, Moira and Illyana arrive at the Israeli Ambassador's residence, and Illyana asks Moira why they're there.  Moira says she doesn't know, and an ancient-looking (and cigarette-smoking) Gabrielle Haller greets them.  They have a "superb meal," and then Haller praises Moira's expertise in genetics.  She begins to tell her about her autistic child, and Moira interrupts her, telling her she's not a psychiatrist.  Haller informs her the autism is a side effect of his mutant powers, which she believes are psionic in nature.  She tells Moira she's tried to help him with every means at her disposal, but Moira is her last resort.  Moira says she's flattered, but her work is mostly theoretical.  She directs Haller to Xavier, but Haller says she doesn't want Charles involved.  Under pressure from Moira, she drops the bomb that Xavier is the boy's father.  (Hello, Legion!)

Back at the Mansion, Charles introduces the team to the Danger Room.  Before he begins, he enjoins them to resist their natural curiosity about the residents of the "Mansion's other wing," asking them to respect their privacy as much as they would want their own privacy respected.  Dani realizes Xavier is speaking to her as he clearly knew where she was when he mindcalled them.  Roberto asks whether they're going to be the new X-Men after reading about the history of the School in the library.  Xavier hastily shouts no, but then apologizes for snapping.  Charles says the School for Gifted Youngsters will continue, but there will never again be a team of mutant superheroes:  that chapter of his life has ended.  A chastised Roberto stammers they were all just curious, and Xavier quickly says the subject is closed.  (Oh, Charles.)  He then explains the Danger Room, telling the students not to use the room unless he, Dr. MacTaggart, or Stevie are present.  He shows them the gymnasium mode, telling them Stevie's physical-fitness classes will turn them into champion-level athletes.  He then informs them they won't be actively seeking out and combating evil mutants like the X-Men, but they must be prepared for the eventuality.  Roberto cockily states his father's house in Rio is as well equipped as this gym, and Charles then jauntily changes the Danger Room to the Savage Land, asking if Roberto's father's house can do that.  (Stevie oddly comments, "Far out," undermining the idea she's qualified to run the team through the Danger Room sessions if this display impresses her.)  A monster then seemingly attacks the windows.  Rahne and Roberto instantly shift forms as Sam tells the girls to rescue Stevie and Xavier while he and "Bobby" "hold that critter back."  Of course, it disappears immediately, and Bobby dismisses it as special effects.  Xavier explains the Room is a combination of primary training programs keyed to each student with environmental sub-programs capable of reproducing any "exotic locale imaginable" via "three-dimensional holographic projections."  But, he warns some functions are "painfully real."  He informs them their sequences have been prepared and asks who wants to go first.

Sam leads off the lesson, knowing full well the instruction to cross the room is too "darn easy."  He immediately slams into a concrete-looking slab, and Sam realizes his inability to stop on his own is his greatest weakness.  A fan then appears, and the airstream sends him to the start.  Rahne fares no better as a panel opens under her wolf form.  She moves into her transitional form in an attempt to grab the ledge below her, but the ledge flips her back through the hole, sending her to the start, too.  Bobby realizes the Professor has probably used his telepathic powers to turn their thoughts against them, though he hopes his thoughts make the professor blush.  His distraction costs him, as a robot appears from behind a sliding panel and grabs him.  Cocky as ever, Bobby dismisses the robot as an antique, fires up his powers, and strikes, only to discover the robot is made of a puddy-like substance.  He exhausts his energy trying to extract himself from the robot as the team laughs from the control room.  Dani is the lone exception to this laughter, as the Danger Room fills her with dread.  Xian goes next.  She notes she alone has experience with her powers, working with Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four to save them and her siblings and using her powers to destroy her twin brother, Tranh.  As such, the Professor created a real setting for Xi'an and asked the team to ambush her.  Karma easily takes control of a rocketing Sam and sends him careening into Sunspot, but she's surprised by Wolfsbane.  As Rahne licks Xi'an's face, Bobby wonders what the Professor has in store for Dani, given they're 0-4.

On cue, Dani is panicked in the control room, convinced she'll die.  (Interestingly, her codename at this point is Psyche.)  Xavier asks if she's OK, and she says she is, though she's worried he's read her mind and seen that she's a coward.  Her anxiety grows with each step to the Danger Room, and she wonders what hidden horror she'll unleash from the minds of her friends in the Danger Room.  She wonders if Xi'an still bears a grudge from that morning and plans on killing her.  She snaps, bolting for the exit.  Rahne goes to find her, and Dani is as hostile as ever in their exchange.  When Rahne asks Dani if she's OK, Dani asks why wouldn't she be.  When Rahne notes she fled without an explanation, Dani asks if the others sent her.  When Rahne says she came on her own, Dani postulates the others didn't care.  Rahne finally snaps back, telling Dani not to be daft:  she only knew something was wrong because of her scent.  (That seems weird, as someone had to realize Dani didn't go through the program.)  Rahne then compliments Dani on her scent and marvels at her powers.  Dani tells her she's glad her powers make her happy, as she'd give anything to be rid of her powers.  Rahne asks if it's why she's so miserable, and Dani asks if she could tell that from her scent.  Rahne says she's not sure, telling Dani everything is so simple and uncomplicated as a wolf she's tempted to stay that way.  Dani uncharacteristically tells Rahne she'd miss her, and Rahne says she'd never leave her friends, as she didn't have any friends in Scotland.  Dani tells Rahne she used to have friends until her powers manifested.  She says her parents and grandfather stood by her, but one night she pulled a nightmare from her dad's mind of a bear standing over the bloody remains of a Palomino pony and killing an eagle.  As her father was Eagle clan and her mother was Horse clan, she realized she saw their deaths.  They made light of her vision, and a week later her father packed for a trip to the high country.  With his best guns and bow, Dani says he looked like a warrior going to battle, and her mother insisted on going with him, leaving Dani in Black Eagle's care.  She never saw them again, and she fled into the mountains to live as a hermit.  She recounts seeing Black Eagle's death last month and laments she seems to be able only to hurt people.  She says she hated the idea of joining Xavier at first, but the team gave her hope she could live a normal life.  But, she realizes that dream is lost, as she's already hurt Xi'an and disgraced her heritage by fleeing the Danger Room.  Rahne assures her she was scared and reminds her they're all learning how to use their powers.  Rahne insists Xi'an knows it was an accident and reacted the way she did because Dani caught herself by surprise.  She insists Xi'an would tell her the same thing if she were there.

Their conversation is interrupted by Stevie's car horn.  Rahne turns to her wolf form and Stevie steps from the car, annoyed at Xavier's refusal to search for Dani telepathically as well as concerned over his lack of concern over Dani.  Rahne leaps into the back seat through the car window, and Bobby tells her to be careful, as he's wearing a new outfit.  Xi'an observes they're lucky she's not wet and covered with mud like last time, and Sam says he hopes she doesn't try this "stunt" when she's full grown or they'll be squished.  Bobby notes he and Xi'an are the ones in danger as they're in the back seat, but then says Rahne being fully grown might have other "compensations."  Rahne remarks, "I beg your pardon," and then informs them she found Dani.  Xi'an asks if she's OK and coming with them, and Rahne says she appreciates the invitation but needs to be by herself.  Xi'an asks if that's wise, as she might need their help, but Stevie says she's old enough to know her own mind.  She reminds them Charles is there to help, though mutters "I hope" to herself.  A car full of government-looking types watches the car move down the road, and one of the men radios "Wideawake" to alert them Stevie and presumably Xavier's new students are departing.  He says they can't confirm the students' identities without blowing their cover and informs Wideawake that Lookout Two is covering the estate.  Henry Peter Gyrich appears on the TV screen in the car, ordering them to maintain only surveillance until other units join them.  The man asks if they should arrest them in town, and Gyrich says they're not to do so unless so instructed.

Meanwhile, Dani enters the Danger Room's control room, noting she didn't see any sign of the Professor.  She acknowledges she's not supposed to use the room alone, but she doesn't want any witnesses to see if she succeeds or fails.  She's figured out the controls from watching the Professor, though notes her hands are shaking as she activates the training sequences.  She realizes that her fear may be the point:  her parents and grandfather met their fates directly, and she has to do the same.  She might fail at the School, but she needs to try her best to hold her head high, befitting her family of courage and honor.  She enters the Danger Room, where she faces a series of robots.  Realizing her powers only work on the living, she uses the skills she learned playing with animals (her only true friends) -- fighting and avoiding traps -- and screws up her courage.  She takes out the robots and leaps out the door, thrilled she's passed the test, but then gets zapped in the face.  She later awakens on the floor of the Danger Room, still twitching from the stunblast.  A hand disables the Danger Room's "safety interlocks," and Dani opens her eyes to the Savage Land exercise, except this time it's "deadly reality" as the creature from earlier -- described as hungry -- approaches her.

The Review
Similar to the "Marvel Graphic Novel" #4 (i.e., the "New Mutants" one), Claremont pulls no punches here.  Within the first few pages, Dani inadvertently uses her mutant powers to expose to the group that Xi'an's father was murdered in front of her and that Thai pirates brutally attacked her and he mother, who subsequently died.  (Claremont doesn't use the term "rape" specifically.  I'm pretty sure my seven-year-old self would've missed the innuendo, but it's pretty clear what he meant.)  Xi'an's fury at Dani for revealing her "shame" is real, just as Roberto's anger over losing Juliana was so clear in the graphic novel.  In fact, despite her comments in the car, we don't see her and Dani reconcile in this issue.  In fact, no one comments on the images they observed or even Karma threatening to kill Dani when they all reassemble in the Danger Room:  Sam and Roberto just compliment her haircut.  (Yeah, it's weird.)  As if Claremont hasn't shown the kids suffering enough, Xi'an admits to killing her brother here.  It's hard to believe this girl isn't in some serious therapy at this point.  (We'll return to Xavier's irresponsible parenting in a minute.)

Meanwhile, Dani's retreat into Storm's room reveals how fragile she is, worried her mutant powers have once again isolated her and denied her the possibility of friendship.  In fact, we later learn she not only foresaw her grandfather's death (again, in the graphic novel), but also her parents' death.  (Given the fact Dani isn't certain what happened to them, I assume we'll revisit this story at some point.)  Claremont hasn't portrayed Dani as too outwardly interested in friendship so far.  In fact, her mockery of Roberto's flattery of Rahne would make Shannen Doherty proud.  But, her internal narration while in Storm's room and her later conversation with Rahne make it clear how lonely she feels.  These sequences reminded me that Claremont's ability to script internal narration and dialogue in organic ways -- and not overtly as vehicles for exposition -- is unparalleled.  Wrapping up Dani, I'll point out what seems to be an error here:  she says she's from Wyoming here though she's placed in Colorado in the graphic novel and, I'm pretty sure, later issues.

In addition to Dani and Xi'an, we get our first real glimpses of the other characters' personalities, too.  Professor X is an imperious and snippy asshole, though we're supposed to understand him as grieving the X-Men after their supposed death.  That said, it's clear the Xavier of this era isn't the kindly ol' professor we later see him portrayed as being.  The Professor X we get here seems exactly like the kind of guy to engage in the sort of unethical behavior everyone is later shocked to learn he committed.  For example, he embarrasses Dani here in front of the class (even though they're unaware he's doing so) as he warns them not to snoop around the X-Men's rooms.  You would've figured a teacher worried about his most isolated student might've pulled Dani aside and had that conversation with her privately.  He could've even invited her to keep Storm's plants alive.  But, no, he just tells her to keep to herself in front of everyone.  He's such a dick that even Stevie seems doubtful of his ability to shepherd the children.  I'm assuming we're going to blame his behavior on the Brood Queen's possession of him, but I think it's just the real Xavier.


Turning to the other students, Roberto is lecherous to a pretty extreme degree, not only commenting on how an adult Rahne would have certain benefits but also hoping the Professor blushes if he reads his mind.  I get Claremont is portraying him as a hot Brazilian Lothario, but it's also important to remember he's only 14 years old.  (Yes, I was a 14-year-old boy once, so I know how they think.  But, it's pretty shocking to see it portrayed so blatantly here.)  Meanwhile, Sam is already the stand-up guy we know he is, immediately jumping into a leadership role when he worries the Danger Room's Savage Land denizens are going to attack.  Surprisingly, Rahne is less of the sad sack that she later becomes, exulting in her mutant powers as she tells Dani she'd almost rather stay a wolf.  Stevie is the most intriguing to me, given her almost complete disappearance from X-Men comics that I assume happens soon.  It's hard to believe the level of trust the Professor has shown in her.  I understand she's a professional dancer, but it's hard to believe the carte blanche Xavier gives her in terms of running Danger Room simulations.  It's like saying I can train Marines because I lift weights every once in a while.

Finally, as we saw in "Marvel Graphic Novel" #4, everyone's powers are much more limited at this stage:  Sam can't change directions or stop on his own volition,  Bobby's powers exhaust themselves pretty quickly if he's not in the sun, Dani's powers obviously manifest at random.  Moreover,
Claremont does a great job here showing the differences in how the kids are responding emotionally to their powers:  Rahne finds a world alive with scents and smells as well as friends she never had, Dani is more miserable than ever, Sam is mostly focused on improving himself, and Bobby sees it as more justification for him to be cocky.

All in all, it's a solid first issue.  We have a clear idea of who the characters are, the struggles they face, and the challenges from their pasts that haunt them.  Now, if I can just figure out a way to describe all that in fewer than nine paragraphs, we should be all set!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

New Comics!: The April 25 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avengers #690:  This issue is your standard “What are we going to do with [x number of] [Avengers/X-Men]?” stories, but the art team does such a great job it really elevates it above its intellectual predecessors.  In fact, the only problem I see here is that the authors have created such compelling stories I’m disappointed with the sparse number of follow-on series.  At the very least, we seem ready for a “Rangers” series featuring Lightning and Red Wolf and an “Uncanny Avengers” reboot with Roberto (now Citizen X) and Rogue. I’d also love a Johnny Storm-led team focused on fun, with the Beast, Hawkeye, Hercules, Janet, and Wonder Man.  Instead, Marvel chose to throw together the most boring characters possible and spin off a Quicksilver series.  (The Hulk really is his own thing.)  I'm hopeful we could get an anthology series in the vein of “Marvel Comics Presents” for these teams.  Can't we?  A guy can dream.  At any rate, this event was fun.  I applaud Marvel for not making me buy nine million tie-in issues. It might not have been “Kang War,” but it was one of best “Avengers” stories in recent memories, particularly given its inclusion of characters like the Beast, Lightning, and Wonder Man.  Hopefully they manage to maintain the momentum in the new series, but, for now, I salute the entire creative team for reminding us what the Avengers can look like.

Darth Vader #15:  The most interesting development in this issue is the revelation Jedi Master Barr doesn’t appear to be what we’d typically call a “good guy.”  Not surprisingly, Vader survived his plummet into Mon Cala's Great Ungeness Trench and, once the Inquisitors collect him, he orders them to go after the hidden Jedi immediately.  After all, he posits Lee-char will likely alert Barr once he can that he gave up Barr's location under torture.  (I didn’t realize that happened last issue and, upon re-reading that sequence, Soule made that vague.)  Members of the Mon Calamari fleet find Lee-char floating in the ocean and put him in the med-bay while Ackbar and Raddus prepare assaults on the Imperial troops.  Despite successfully taking out a skybase, Ackbar is aware the Empire will eventually bring overpowering force to win the engagement.  With Lee-char now awake, Ackbar presses him to offer a truce.  Lee-Char refuses, saying he needs to save the galaxy, and Ackbar interestingly asks if he — or the Jedi — feels that way.  The mention of the Jedi's name makes Lee-char realize he has to warn Barr the Imperials are likely on their way.  Meanwhile, Barr himself makes it clear to his students the conflict itself is the goal; he's not really all that concerned about the Mon Calamari's fate.  Barr is clearly playing some sort of long game, but I’m not sure what it is at this point.  That said, it makes you realize Leia in the main title doesn’t realize who she’s getting with Lee-char, particularly if his bravery in the face of the Empire was only due to Barr’s manipulation.  We shall see.

Detective Comics #979:  OK, game on.  Tim fights off Ulysses’ attempt to get him to accept the Brother Eye programing willingly, so Ulysses takes away Tim's choice:  claiming trauma is nothing but specific electrical currents through the brain, Ulysses inflicts the same damage on Tim’s brain as Tim's future self suffered witnessing the Bat-family die around him.  Tim becomes one with OMAC, and the Bat-family is now fighting one of its own.  Cass leads Bruce to Stephanie, who agrees to help once he personally appeals for it.  Kate also shows she’s not the mindless drone Future Tim thought she was, as she overrules her father’s view Tim is a lost cause to work with Bruce.  I’m ready to rumble!

Mighty Thor #706:  The thing about Jason Aaron is the man can tell a story.  It might seem simple to say that, but it isn’t.  In an era where every other Marvel comic seems embroiled in a fight over diversity, Aaron set about telling a very specific story with a very specific hero.  Jane Foster is no longer Thor because her story as Thor is concluded.  In a way, she’s the lucky one.  After decades and decades of stories, characters like Peter Parker and Steve Rogers carry a great weight.  They hit their wives or they become secret Nazis, and we all have to find a way to look past those moments to see the heroes they were.  Instead, Jane got to be the greatest Thor of all the Thors we’ve seen...and then call it a day.  She defeated Shi’ar gods and the Mangog.  She saved Asgard and kept Malekith from conquering the Realms.  Odin’s conversation with her at Valhalla's gates was excellent:  he embraces her as a warrior-born and invites her into Valhalla.  But, her pause at the threshold of the gates felt honest, and Odin’s commitment to help Odinson use the Mother Storm to revive her heartfelt.  Returning to Aaron's story, his genius lies in the fact that Jane's time as Thor isn't merely going to be an asterisk.  It's not like how Sam's time as Captain America seems already forgotten.  Everything doesn’t return to normal here; Odinson doesn’t simply pick up Mjolnir and become Thor.  As Jane says, she showed him what she could do with the hammer, but it’s time Thor shows us what he can do without it.  I’m just glad Thori is with him on this journey.  I’d honestly like to thank Jason Aaron and Russel Dauterman for some of the best issues I’ve ever read.  Jane’s time as Thor has been a story for the ages, and it was really special to be part of it in real time.  I’ve never cried reading a letters page (on an airplane, nonetheless), but I did this one.  I’m excited to see how the Asgardians rebuild Asgard.  I feel like we really all are a bit worse for wear, and maybe the answer is to stop complaining and put our shoulders into it a little more.  As corny as it sounds, I feel like Jane reminded me of that...and I’m going to stop now lest I make a scene on the airplane.  Thank you, Jason, Russel, Matt, and the team for telling a great story and making us all better for it.

Pathfinder: Spiral of Bones #2:  This issue improves over the first one as we learn it’s not simply going to be about Valeros wandering through the afterlife.  Somehow, the Powers That Be have confused Valeros with a warlord who later sought repentance.  Valeros’ attempt to convince them of their error doesn’t work, in part because Valeros is technically still alive in the Prime Material plane.  I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the gem he swiped, and Valeros himself acknowledges he’s not the kind of guy likely to figure out that mystery.  In other words, he's got a challenge in front of him.  We don’t often see these sorts of stories in mainstream fantasy, where a warrior has to think like a wizard or a wizard has to fight like a warrior, so I’m totally game here.


Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #303:  Man, I cried several times in this issue.  I cried when the Vedomi scout told JJJ, Jr. and Teresa that the Tinkerer just needed kindness and was his friend.  I cried when Peter cried and Aunt May told him they all just needed to go home.  I cried when Teresa told him she was really his sister.  I cried when Little Peter gave up being Spider-Man.  All those tears are a testament of how great Zdarsky is.  He also weaves in funny moments, like when Little Peter told the Goblin his costume had no theme (goblins with pumpkins?) or when JJJ, Jr. announced he yet again had to save the day.  It all shows how well Zdarsky understands Peter and his supporting cast.  I think the best example here is when Peter confesses to Teresa how hard it is to be in his past, when being Spider-Man was fun.  He has years of suffering ahead of him, and it's hard to process that all looking at his younger self.  (That said, if you’ve read those early “Amazing Spider-Man” issues, you know he’s engaging in some revisionist history here.)  With Slott delivering a parallel story as his swan song in “Amazing Spider-Man,” it’s just a great time to be a fan.

Spider-Gwen #31:  OMG, awesomesauce.  To start at the end, Earth-617’s Gwen is revealed to be the Gwen who appears before the Watchers at the end of last issue.  She admits she stole "our" Gwen from Earth-65’s timeline because it was getting too dark.  When "our" Gwen decided not to kill Murdoch, Earth-617 Gwen needed to prevent her from changing her mind.  (Latour doesn’t say that, but it’s implied in her text and later confirmed in her bio page at the end of the issue.  He also implies the anomalous actions of Ben — encouraging  "our"Gwen to take out Murdoch — drove Earth 617 Gwen to act, just as it did Earth 8's Watcher, Utaa.)  Earth-617 Gwen reveals a Council of Spider-Women made the decision, and Utaa expresses outrage they acted this way.  But, Earth-617 Gwen reminds him he also acted when he shouldn’t and stands by their decision that Earth-65’s future was getting too dark.  In the present on Earth-617, the Gwens gets help from Tony Stark and Hank Pym, who confirm one of the weak places in the Multiverse’s membrane is at the bottom of the George Washington Bridge.  (Of course it is.)  "Our" Gwen tries to convince Earth-617’s Gwen not to come to the top of the bridge with her, but Earth-617 Gwen insists.  As our Gwen dives off the bridge, Latour essentially resets the narrative of the bridge as a plot device:  as "our" Gwen says, so many Gwens have died on that bridge, but no one’s jumped.  In Earth-65’s present, Captain America threatens Murdoch by telling him S.H.I.E.L.D. surveillance video caught him going all ninja on the roof, and "our" Gwen approaches JJJ, Jr. with her story.  Along the way, Latour peppers the issue with truly great moments of characterization, like our Gwen’s exasperation with slimy Stark.  It’s just all great.  I can’t believe Latour has done such an amazing job of really advancing such an involved narrative issue by issue, but here we are.


Also Read:  Daredevil #601; Dungeons & Dragons:  Evil at Baldur's Gate #1; Old Man Hawkeye #4; Star Wars: Dr. Aphra #19; X-Men Gold #26

Monday, April 30, 2018

Almost-New Comics: The April 18 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Amazing Spider-Man #799:  Holy fucking crap, this issue is amazing.  In fact, this arc is so good I feel like Slott is redeeming himself for all the terrible storylines over the years.  (I’m looking at you, “Superior Spider-Man.”)  First, Slott reminds us how strong Peter’s “web” of “amazing friends” is:  the Human Torch is watching MJ, Miles is watching Aunt May, and Silk is on the “Bugle” team.  Peter asks Anti-Venom to keep an eye on JJJ, Jr., and Flash reports he already has JJJ, Jr. (as we saw last issue).  But, JJJ, Jr. bolts from Flash to run to his apartment and FaceTime Peter so he can tell him he slipped and revealed Peter's identity to the Goblin.  Peter’s stoney faced look is amazing (and handsome, oy), and JJJ, Jr. is panicked when Peter cuts off the connection.  JJJ, Jr. pledges to make it right, and I’m more sure than ever he’s dying next issue.  Meanwhile, Peter contacts Clash, letting him know he’s been watching him and approves of his Robin Hood schtick.  He then asks him to watch the Osborns like the hero Peter knows he is.  With all the players set, the game begins.  Harry, Liz, and Mark awaken to discover the boys are missing, but Liz reveals she had Normie chipped.  As such, they head to the Port Authority, where they find them with Emma.  Emma tells them they're idiots, as she was trying to save the boys before Norman found them.  On cue, Norman arrives and reveals “Emma” is Harry’s long-thought dead mother, Emily.  Dun-dun-DUN!  ("The Clone Conspiracy" maybe?)  Clash reports the Goblin's arrival to Peter, and the Torch arrives to work with Clash, hitting the Red Goblin (and, most importantly, the symbiote) with fire and sonics.  However, Norman reveals the combination of the Carnage symbiote and Goblin serum gives him all the powers of Carnage and the Green Goblin but none of the weaknesses.  He not only makes quick work of this pair, but also dispatches Miles and Silk without breaking a sweat.  Flash gives him more of a challenge, as he's surprised by Flash's ability to harm the symbiote.  But, he correctly plays to Flash’s sense of heroism, as Flash spreads himself too thin trying to heal the dying heroes surrounding him.  Norman overwhelms him, and Peter (with Immonen showing us a lovely shot of his abs) pulls on his costume and leaps into action, busted leg and all.  Norman chases after his family, and Peter arrives to marvel in the devastation.  Flash uses his last ounce of power to heal Peter’s leg, just as Norman does what I was worried he’d do:  he turns Normie into a symbiote.  When Harry suggested he take Stanley and Liz take Normie, Normie had once again complained Harry cared more about Stanley than him.  Norman clearly plans to use that rage against Harry.  It’s...brilliant.  Honestly, I don’t know how Peter wins here.  Norman is all-powerful, and it’s not in an unbelievable way.  Slott has built this story slowly, and the combination of Carnage and the Green Goblin really just feels like Norman may have found the key to winning.  You almost believe he really is going to kill everyone next issue.  Plus, Slott’s weakness is usually his scripting, but he’s solid here.  You can feel JJJ, Jr.’s desperation to make things right with Peter.  Moreover, Peter is legitimately scared, not only by what Norman may do to his family and friends, but also for himself.  It's legitimately exciting.  Throwing in the fact Immonen and the art team are on fire, this title is finally at the top of Marvel’s game where it deserves to be.

Avengers #689:  The authors do an OK job wrapping up the story here, though I'll admit I felt something missing.  Maybe it was because Lightning's gambit to save the Earth (as well as the Human Torch and Red Wolf) via a game of Texas Hold 'Em with the Grandmaster felt too self-servingly heroic.  He wins the game because he's willing to be forgotten.  In fact, it's probably more the narration surrounding the game that does it, as Lightning keeps telling us how heroes don't do what they do to be remembered.  Making matters worse, the fight with the Challenger was ridiculous at points, from Jan (and not Nadia) creating "nano-acid" arrows for Hawkeye to Sam connecting telepathically with the Challenger because Doreen guessed he evolved from birds or dinosaurs because he was an alien.  (No, really.)  In fact, the Challenger never really seems like a threat beyond the moment he seemingly obliterates Wonder Man; everyone else -- including Squirrel Girl and the Wasps -- easily lands punches.  In the end, Wanda casts a spell that seems to channel the Avengers' hearts and souls into a magic blast that destroys the Challenger, and it's so effective you wonder why she didn't do it earlier than she does here.  (I think we're supposed to believe she was inspired when Voyager rallied the Avengers by reminding them what being an Avenger meant to each one of them.)  I'm not saying the issue is awful; it's OK, due largely to the art team really conveying a cinematic scope to the fight with the Challenger.  But, if they dialed back Lightning's over-the-top narration and showed the characters really struggling with the Challenger, it would've been a lot stronger issue, where we would've been kept guessing from start to finish.

Batman #45:  If the goal of this issue was for me to find Booster Gold hi-lar-ious and subscribe to his series, it was a major fail.  His schtick was tedious by the third page, and I can’t believe I was subjected to an entire issue of it.

Infinity Countdown #2:  Holy crap, Robbie is Talonar!  No way!  This issue is insane, and I mean that in the best possible way.  Something about the Guardians lends itself to a certain amount of believable ridiculousness.  Duggan plays that card expertly here, from Rocket appearing on Xitaung in a Galactus suit to Groot wanting to murder everyone.  That said, it's still hard to tell where Duggan is going.  Last issue, he used the fight on Telferina as a stalling tactic, and, in this issue, the Guardians are still fighting to protect the Power Stone.  You have to wonder when something will...happen.  But, it's fun, so I'm game.

Ms. Marvel #29:  This issue is really, really lovely, and I’m just happy it’s out there in the world.  Bruno’s honesty with Kamala is bracing, and Kamala has to find a way to match it if they’re going to coexist (if not become friends) again.  Her initial response to his overture feels immature, as she blames Bruno for hiding Mike from her.  Bruno makes it worse for her by continuing to show how much he’s matured:  he reminds her that he found her kissing the Red Dagger on the Circle Q rooftop and confesses that he always thought he’d be her first kiss.  Her subsequent conversation with Sheikh Abdullah is an amazing testament to Wilson’s skills as a writer, as it perfectly encapsulates the divide between children and parents when it comes to love.  Amidst it all, Wilson also imbues the issue with humor, from Bruno’s roommate hilariously asking Bruno to be his cultural interpreter in a developing country like America to Zoe falling for the new meaner girl version of herself.  It's hard to imagine a better comic-book series than this one.

Nightwing #43:  Moreci does a solid job getting down everyone’s voices here, with Dick feeling overly responsible for this ad hoc team, Roy just happy to be throwing some punches with his bro, and Damian being...Damian.  It’s not necessarily the strongest issue in terms of plotting.  After all, Roy magically understands the complicated science behind the League of Assassins' plan to use a device to suck the oxygen from Gotham but doesn’t know what “subterfuge” means.  But, it’s still fun, and I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing more of characters like Arsenal and Damian in this series.  Higgins did a solid job building out a supporting cast for Dick with the Run-Offs, but something about having Dick’s old-school allies and friends appearing in an issue really kicks it up a notch.

Tales of Suspense #104:  As Rosenberg says in his letter at the end of this issue, Bucky, Clint, and Nat are three of my favorite characters, and it was a real joy seeing them together.  I loved that Bucky and Clint don’t develop a deep sense of respect for each other at the end of this issue; Clint thinks Bucky’s a homicidal maniac, and Bucky thinks Clint is an incompetent buffoon.  That feels right to me.  I also loved that Natasha is in charge from start to finish.  She has a mission, and she intends to complete it.  Rosenberg made it clear Natasha had to eliminate any possibility of her returning in another cloned body, because she couldn’t find herself under the Red Room’s control once again.  (My only real question is that I honestly didn’t understand the role Anya and Yelena played.  I thought all the clones Natasha used on her various missions were her own clones, and not Anya and/or Yelena's.  It’s probably the only instance of Rosenberg writing for the trade here, as I’m sure their roles would be clearer if you read all five issues together.)  I also totally bought that Natasha had to let go of Clint.  His vision of her as a better person might have worked before she died, but it doesn’t work any longer, after what she has to do here.  But, I also love that it pushes her to chose Bucky, at least as a partner.  (Rosenberg made it clear she doesn't actually need either of them.)  In other words, Rosenberg returns Natasha to the land of the living in a way that stays consistent with her character but doesn’t come without consequences.  I couldn't ask for more.

X-Men Blue #26:  Now, this issue feels like an old-school “X-Men” story.  The entire creative team in on fire here.  Alex and his cronies unleash Mothervine, and the new X-Men scramble to help the emerging mutants handle their powers.  They encounter Unuscione as she tries to fend off two Sentinels arriving to "help" her and two emerging mutants.  However, her secondary mutation proves to be unstable; Xorn and Daken try to calm her to prevent her from randomly blowing up everyone and everything around her while Lorna and the rest of the team battle the Sentinels.  (See?  Old school.)  The Sentinels claim they’re there to help, but no one believes them.  They shouldn’t, either:  it turns out Alex and his cronies can control everyone Mothervine affected.  Emma is appalled, but Alex assures her they’ll have taken out Miss Sinister before she can use that army against them.  (I’m...doubtful, as Emma is.)  Meanwhile, they send the Marauders after both the new X-Men and Magneto, while using their control of the emerging mutants to bolster the Marauders' numbers.  It’s a tough time to be an X-Men.  Bunn’s plotting isn’t just excellent; his scripting is great.  Lorna gets in a solid one-liner as she encourages anyone other than Bloodstorm or Daken to comfort the victims, and Jimmy is demonstrably upset over the idea his DNA (and the DNA of other mutants from his world) was somehow used to create Mothervine.  The art team is also great, delivering a kinetic battle with Sentinels and using unique perspectives — like showing Magneto and Ferris through the gauze of a hospital curtain — to keep you engaged.  This continues to be the main X-Men title for me, and I'm actually loathe for the kids to return.

Also Read:  Quantum & Woody #5